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Anthony Housefather and Marco Mendicino: Antisemitism is running rampant in Canada. We must do more for our Jewish neighbours

Commentary

People take part in a protest in support of Palestine in Montreal, Friday, October 13, 2023. Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press.

Since October 7th of last year, the world has turned dark and dangerous in ways that harken back to 1930s Germany, right before the Holocaust extinguished the light of six million Jewish souls. Some will no doubt scoff at this idea and the “never again” hashtag.

However, over and over again, Hamas has promised that they will not stop with the butchering of 1,200 Israeli residents, including eight Canadians, and instead pursue their agenda of martyrdom until they wipe the Jewish people and the state of Israel from the face of the Earth. Such is the depth of evil that fuels the existential threat that confronts Israel, every single day. However, that hatred is not only being felt within Israel.

Over the last ten months, Jews in Canada have been subjected to a relentless barrage of attacks. Day schools, synagogues, businesses, community centres, Holocaust museums, and hospitals have all been targeted, including in the ridings we represent. Canadian citizens who are Jews have been targeted with gun violence, Molotov cocktails, bomb threats, assaults, and death threats.

Just this week, Anthony was targeted by antisemites who put up posters featuring swastikas in the streets of Montreal, comparing Jewish contributions to Canada to those of the Nazis to Germany. The signs said Zionists were not wanted here and Anthony, a Jew, should get out of the country. A country, by the way, that he was born in and his family has lived in since the 19th century.

Yes, October 7th unleashed a tidal wave of Jewish hatred. Indeed, B’nai Brith’s annual audit on antisemitism reported 5,791 antisemitic incidents committed in 2023, more than double the year prior. Jews represent about one percent of the Canadian population. Just 390,000. But they are the group that, by far, suffers from the most hate crimes. Most Jewish Canadians do not feel safe, and they will not feel safe until laws are enforced and they see concrete action by all levels of government and support from broader civil society.

Michael Geist: When antisemitism strikes too close to home

Commentary

Two men look at a bullet hole in the door of the Bell Yeshiva Katana school Thursday, May 30, 2024 in Montreal. Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press.

In the months since October 7th, at least 12 synagogues and 18 Jewish schools and community centres have been attacked or vandalized in Canada. The latest two synagogue attacks took place last weekend in Toronto, which struck particularly close to home since one of the targets—the Pride of Israel synagogue—has been my family’s synagogue for decades. It was where I had my bar mitzvah, where my mother served as president of the Sisterhood committee, and where we attended annual high holiday services.

The Pride of Israel did not start as a synagogue. It was founded in 1905 as a sick benefit society to provide medical aid to its members, primarily Jewish immigrants newly arrived in Canada. Much like the Jewish immigrant community, it gradually moved north, first as a synagogue on Spadina in the 1940s and later to its current location near Steeles and Bathurst.

This attack shattered glass doors and stained glass windows, leading to what has become a terrifying ritual: the Jewish community pointing to the incident in the hope that leaders and the broader community will act, the same handful of politicians denouncing the incident, and the far larger group of politicians and community leaders remaining silent even as the Canadian escalation of antisemitism attracts international attention.

I tweeted about the attack, which elicited what also has become the standard response: words of support mixed with shameful claims of false flags, references to exaggerated antisemitism fears, and suggestions that this is to be expected in light of the war in Israel/Gaza.

In the early months of the antisemitic wave, politicians would often say “This is not who we are.” They rarely say that anymore since, as I wrote in late May, it is readily apparent that this is precisely who we are. In fact, as I think about having attended services or events at the Pride of Israel synagogue for more than 45 years, I realize it is far closer to who we have always been. A police presence was always part of attending high holiday services as congregants were asked to show their tickets to police and ushers before entering the building.

My children attended a Jewish day school with active security during recess and two sets of locked front doors as visitors were required to be identified by security and buzzed in through the first doors and then the second. After school, the kids sometimes walked over to the Jewish community centre, where identification was displayed to an external camera followed by two sets of entry doors.

I don’t know when police at synagogues or extensive security at Jewish schools and community centres became normalized in Canada, but I cannot remember a synagogue, school, or community centre without those precautions. This may not be standard for other communities, but it is so deeply ingrained in being Jewish in Canada that needing security for a school or synagogue is just part of the routine.

My concern is the antisemitic escalation of the past nine months—12 synagogue attacks?! —is also becoming normalized as the shock value wanes and silence from the broader community becomes impossible to explain away. Combatting antisemitism must start with our leaders, neighbours, and colleagues acknowledging this is who we have been and who we are now. And we must commit to ensuring the normalization of this torrent of antisemitism is not who we will become.

This article originally appeared at michaelgeist.ca.