Our old neighbourhood had a large orthodox community, so I was always reminded both of the holidays and of my non-observant status. Every year at this time, uniformed police officers would appear on our sidewalks, a practice begun by one Rudy Giuliani to sew up more Jewish votes. (To my knowledge, there had never been anti-Semetic violence in Washington Heights.)
No such reminders here in Port Credit. Maybe if I lived in Toronto or Montreal I'd see more Jewishness?
In today's Globe And Mail, there's a column about the state of anti-Semitism in Canada. I have a brief free trial subscription which lets me read their columnists online, so I can bring it to you here. The writer is honorary legal counsel of the League for Human Rights of B'nai Brith Canada.
Is the glass half full or half empty for Canada's Jews?L'Shana tovah tikatavu, may you be inscribed in the book of life.
by Marvin Kurz
As Canadian Jews file into synagogues this week to celebrate the Jewish New Year, they are being met by the scrutiny of security guards. What's happened to make us feel insecure in our places of worship?
For years, the main threat to Canadian Jews came from the extreme right. But the Heritage Front and its ilk have been largely neutralized. Ernst Zundel languishes in a German jail. Shouldn't Canadian Jews be resting easy? Not according to B'nai Brith's annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents that shows a marked increased in each of the past few years. Incidents include the fire bombing of a Jewish school in Montreal, suspicious fires in a number of Canadian synagogues, numerous cemetery desecrations, as well as the spray painting of anti-Semitic graffiti on synagogues, Jewish schools and homes. We have even seen a murder motivated in part by anti-Semitic rage.
All of this flies in the face of a post-Holocaust atmosphere in which anti-Semitic sentiment in Canada was widely denounced, and Canadian Jews moved from the margins to become an integral part of mainstream society. Over the past year, however, many prominent Jews have attracted attention for more than their achievements.
In December, the Supreme Court heard the appeal of Rwandan war criminal Leon Mugesera. His lawyer, Guy Bertrand, argued that Mr. Mugesera, accused of war crimes against other Africans, was the victim of a Jewish conspiracy. He argued that Canada's Justice Minister, Irwin Cotler, a Jew, spurred on by a lobby of prominent Jews, appointed a Jewish judge, Rosalie Abella, to the court just to decide this case. (In fact, Judge Abella had already withdrawn from the case.) In rejecting these offensive claims, the Supreme Court reprimanded Mr. Bertrand, who claimed, in response, he had been "crucified."
More recently, Mr. Cotler was attacked by marijuana crusader Marc Emery, whose website described the Justice Minister as a "Jew-Nazi" and a "Nazi-Jew." When this was discovered in August, Mr. Emery amended the site to brand Mr. Cotler a kapo (a Jewish concentration camp inmate who assisted the Nazis). This was more than personal. The slur singled out the Minister for his religion, and posited an equivalence between Jews and the perpetrators of the Holocaust.
Mohammed Elmasry, the president of the Canadian Islamic Congress who was denounced last fall for claiming that all Israeli adults are fair game for attacks, recently made another offensive remark. He claimed that two Jewish policy advisers in senior Ottawa positions should be fired because of their support for Israel. He argued this support rendered them unable to impartially advise the two cabinet ministers who appointed them. A similar allegation was recently levelled against Monte Kwinter, the Ontario Minister of Community Safety. Mr. Kwinter, a Jew, joined a group of police chiefs who met their Israeli counterparts to discuss security issues. Despite the fact that the group also met their Palestinian counterparts, one pro-Palestinian group reportedly labelled Mr. Kwinter "an agent of a foreign country."
Of course, these brazen verbal attacks are not the reason that Jews need security guards at their synagogues. But both are manifestations of an atmosphere in which Canadian Jews are increasingly feeling under attack. This distress is spurred by campaigns from the elements of the left and of the Muslim and Arab worlds to vilify Israel, the Jewish state, as the Jew among nations. Last year's arson at a Jewish elementary school in Montreal was the clearest example: The perpetrators attempted to justify their crime against Jewish schoolchildren by their anger at the Israeli government.
Almost three years ago, I wrote in these pages that it's "still great to be a Jew in Canada," that the scale of recent persecution experienced in Europe and elsewhere was not to be found here. Since then, we've seen further appointments of Jews to high office, but we've also witnessed invective against those very people and other acts of anti-Semitism.
So, is the glass half full or half empty for Jews in Canada? The answer may be found in an old joke. A group of elderly Jewish men met weekly for a bagel and a gloomy chat about world affairs. One day, the dour Max surprised his friends by announcing that upon reflection, he's an optimist after all. Sam observes his friend's still sullen demeanour and asks, "If you're such an optimist, why are you still looking so worried?" Max replied: "Do you think it's easy being an optimist?"
Like Max, I refuse to be pessimistic about a wonderful land like Canada. However, as a guard checks my bags at synagogue this high holiday, I'll have to work a bit harder to retain my optimism.