Stèle_ancienne_synagogue_renversée_par_une_auto_2_mars_2019 by Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons - cc-by-sa-4.0, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Stèle_ancienne_synagogue_renversée_par_une_auto_2_mars_2019 by Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons - cc-by-sa-4.0, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

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When Antisemitism Strikes Close to Home

In the 269 days 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 this place this 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 weekend’s 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.  On this Canada Day, combatting antisemitism must start with our leaders, neighbours, and colleagues acknowledging this is who we have been and who we are now. And commit to ensuring the normalization of this torrent of antisemitism is not who we will become.

3 Comments

  1. These attacks, and the silence of the authorities, are both reprehensible. You have my condolences in particular for this latest attack on your own family’s and community’s temple. I’ve been disgusted by the Trudeau government’s equivocations on the question of antisemitism in Canada.

    I’d also like to note that this ongoing desecration of places of worship, driven by a self-righteous genocidal movement with its origins in the identitarian left, is the second such wave of violence in the last few years. Three summers ago, dozens of churches were burned down by arsonists and defaced by vandals following the “mass graves” hoax in Kamloops, in which 215 soil disturbances were misreported in the press as human remains of “murdered children”. Three years later, with only 15 of the 215 soil disturbances excavated (total human remains recovered: zero) and zero murder investigations opened (what a strange way to treat 215 “murders”!), the hoax remains unretracted on newspaper front pages worldwide, and indeed, Canadian media outlets continue to report on the incident with claims that those remaining 200 soil disturbances are graves of “murdered children”.

    The silence from the political class that has greeted the synagogue attacks in Toronto this year, as despicable as it is, at least doesn’t rise to the level of Trudeau calling the church burnings “completely understandable” and the head of the BC civil liberties union calling to “burn it all down”, which both happened in the summer of 2021. Perhaps this kind of rhetoric is a further assault the Jewish community will face in the coming years as antisemitism becomes even more acceptable in mainstream Canadian society; I hope not.

    I say all this, not to diminish the gravity of the recent wave of antisemitism or to set up a competition for attention or sympathy. But I do think that it would be admirable if you, Prof. Geist, used your platform and your authority as the leading expert on the Trudeau government’s pending censorship legislation, to point out that the 2021 Kamloops hoax and its subsequent mythologization, by the press and the government, is precisely the kind of thing that:

    1. Sparked a wave of church burnings, which the government encouraged.

    2. Is therefore a vital issue that needs to be openly discussed in Canadian civil society.

    3. If discussed frankly, with reference to the publicly known facts, after passage of Trudeau’s censorship bill, will result in criminal penalties specifically aimed at suppressing honest discussion of this topic, namely the so-called “residential schools denialism” provisions, which falsely seek to conflate challenging the demonstrably counter-factual government narrative about the “mass graves” [sic], by pointing to publicly known facts, with something as stupid and toxic as Holocaust denialism.

    Long comment; I apologize. And again, my sympathies go out to you and the Jewish people of Toronto and of Canada during this disgusting wave of antisemitic violence. Stay strong.

  2. Thanks for continuing to report what you know. I agree with you. Committing acts of vandalism and violence for any reason is unacceptable. Anti Semitism is unacceptable. Leaders at all levels of government have a moral obligation to speak out against violence and vandalism. They also have a moral obligation to lead by example.

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