Fighting antisemitism is a task for everyone

This week members from our Jewish community attended the Antisemitism: Face It Fight It conference which our partner, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, has been planning for nearly a year. Over 1000 Jews from across Canada attended to learn about antisemitism, engage in advocacy on the issues we face, and speak directly with elected officials. Our Edmonton delegation consisted of Federation staff, Hillel students, the leaders of Jewish organizations, and citizens. We met with MPs and Senators to bring our message that antisemitism is a problem in Canada, and we paired our problems with specific policy asks. 

The timing of the conference was uncanny. In the last two weeks since the genocidal Hamas terrorist attack on innocent Israeli citizens took place, antisemitism has reared its ugly head in unimaginable ways across the globe. Here, abroad, and in the online sphere, we have seen a surge in antisemitic incidents and hate crimes. All of these manifestations of antisemitism seek to harm Jews for being Jews, and they seek to deny Jewish people their right to exist. We are not the only ones who are horrified by what is transpiring. At the conference, the Jewish community received unprecedented and unwavering support from the political leadership of Canada. The leader of each Federal party spoke to members of the Jewish community, and in the keynote address, the leader of each party noted that hate will not be tolerated in Canada, that the Jewish community is not alone, and that Israel has the right to defend itself against genocidal terrorism. As a community, we will now have to hold them to their words, with advocacy at every level, for the world now faces an inflection point in the history of democracy and the history of the Jewish people. 

There were many takeaways from our time in Ottawa, the first being how important it is at this moment in time to come together as a community in our collective grief. The second is how important it is to move beyond the echo chamber of what we know as Jews to be true and unjust. We must move outside of ourselves and let others know what we are experiencing as Jews and as a people. The third was the learning we did on how to address antisemitism when we meet it and see it. We learned how ordinary people, confronted with antisemitism in their lives dealt with it and fought it through the honing of their skills and on-the-ground efforts. From the student who wrote a letter to faculty to express how anti-Zionist rhetoric impacted students on campus, to the teacher who documented antisemitic incidents in public schools to get Holocaust education mandated, to the computer analyst who discovered the correlations between online hate and in-person incidents as a way to mobilize law enforcement to become proactive in preventing hate crimes, to the radicalized anti-Zionist Muslim who started speaking out against Jew-hate after reading the Case for Israel, to the journalist who started calling out the media lies to hold journalism to account, we learned how to speak about antisemitism and how to navigate institutional systems so that it can be fought where we find it.  

To this end, one of the most important moments was on the topic of erasure. In all of the antiracism, anti-hate, and BIPOC mobilization, the Jewish experience remains relatively unheard and unseen. Even though we are the most targeted group for violent religiously motivated hate crimes in Canada, still we find that our experience with hate goes unnoticed. When we speak about antisemitism, others seek to define it for us, when we experience antisemitism we are told we have white privilege, and we are erased from the conversations, policies, and actions to address hate. This is where each and every one of us has an opportunity to turn the tide. We cannot allow our experience of Jew-hate to go unseen and we cannot allow those who seek to deny our experiences to get away with doing so. In each encounter we have with the non-Jewish world, whether it is a simple conversation or in a lobbying context, we need those in power to understand our experience of Jew-hate, our experiences in the Holocaust, our experiences of intolerance, our experiences with exclusion, and our experiences when others deny our eternal connection with the land of Israel. It is our duty to voice our experiences so that they are known and so that our calls to action can be heard. 

The Midrash identifies three ways to win a war, all of which are equal and necessary. The first is prayer (tefillin) and charity (tzedakah), the second is identifying and winning allies, and the third is physically fighting.  When we wish to do something in this war, we have the opportunity to pray, give charity, and to find allies. These are important and equally necessary and of equal value according to our teachings. 

For tzedakah, the Federation has set up an emergency appeal for Israel. Dollars will be donated for the safe evacuation and relocation of the vulnerable population in Israel, critical assistance to the victims of terrorism, and mental health and resilience support. Our UJA campaign is necessary for the Federation’s work locally. Donations to UJA help facilitate local security, peer-based programming, community mental health support, and advocacy at every institution including the school system, law enforcement system, and the halls of political power and lawmaking. More than ever our staff has had to mobilize to keep our community safe, connected to each other, and heard by others. 

For finding allies, no matter what you do in your non-Jewish life, you have the opportunity to be an advocate for the Jewish people. You can speak to non-Jews about your experiences with Jew-hate, how you are personally impacted by the war, and say what would improve the situation. If you or your child is in a school, you can speak about how students are impacted by the war in Israel and the terrible atrocities committed by Hamas, and you can ask the school to make learning a safe and hate-free environment for all students. If you work in the law, you can speak about the gaps in the Criminal Code of Canada for convicting hate crimes, and inform your colleagues about how the laws need to change. If you own a business, you can speak up when your business is targeted for being a Jewish business and speak to law enforcement and your business association about how to ensure all business owners have the right to operate free from harm. All of us have an arena where we live and work, where we have connections to the outside world, where we can share our experiences and also tell people what we need to improve our situation as Jews so that we are not living in fear or with hate. 

While at moments you may feel hopeless, this is not a hopeless situation. As the Honourable Irwin Cotler said in his keynote address: It is important for us to understand what is different today in 2023 compared to 1943.  In 1943, no world leader spoke up to defend the Jews, in 2023 many world leaders have spoken up to stand with the Jewish people. In 1943, no politician would meet with the Jews, in 2023 countless politicians are meeting with us. In 1943, we did not have our indigenous homeland to return to, in 2023 we have Israel. 

Empower yourself, do tzedakah to help, speak up for what is right when and where you can, and be the light for others in their darkest hour. 

Am Israel Chai.