I have been writing about terrorism and anti-Semitism in recent columns, and it has occurred to me that perhaps I’ve been too depressing and too downcast in my outlook. I do think about things like that and how I wish it were different.
Growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s, my parents told me about anti-Semitism but I always thought I was living another experience. I was a post-war baby boomer who thought the world had learned its lesson, and I would never see the day when being Jewish would again mean being the target of people who, plainly, hate Jews.
To be fair, I did know there were people who didn’t like, even hated, Jews. But I thought they were a small minority, not really worth thinking about or losing sleep over. Growing up, I experienced overt anti-Jewish remarks directed at me only twice – and that wasn’t enough to ring the alarm bells in my head about Canada or anywhere else.
Today, approaching old age, I see black clouds and a gathering storm. When I read about a motion at New York City Council to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau being met by a loud protest by anti-Israel activists, I wondered what those people who claim anti-Israel activism has nothing to do with anti-Semitism would say about that.
As a young boy, I read Black Like Me, journalist John Howard Griffin’s story about changing the pigment of his skin to experience what it was like being a black person in the United States. That 1961 book was my introduction to the realities of racial discrimination.
Could I ever have imagined that, 50-odd years later, I would read about Christian journalists in Sweden putting on kippahs to experience what it was like to live as a Jew in Sweden? Worse still was reading the journalist’s account from the city of Malmö, which has become too well known for its many anti-Semitic attacks on persons and property.
Patrick Reilly was the first of the journalists to put on a kippah in 2013.
“As an Irish person living abroad, I have never felt remotely threatened, but wearing the kippah for a few hours was enough to install feelings of fear. Even when I didn’t feel afraid, I was made to feel different and unwelcome,” Reilly wrote.
Last month, TV reporter Peter Lindgren put on a kippah and a Star of David and ventured out into the streets of Malmö with a hidden camera and microphone.
The video showed one man called him a “Jewish s–t.” Another person hit him and called him “Satan Jew.” As he kept walking, he eventually provoked a whole crowd of people who started to threaten him only because he was wearing a Star of David and a kippah. People in the neighbourhood, alerted to the walkabout, started to shout abuse from their windows.
Malmö is Sweden’s third largest city with a population of 300,000 of which 20 per cent are Muslim. There are only 600 Jews left there.
And what about last month’s news from Argentina? In 1994, 85 Jews were killed and hundreds more injured in a terrorist bomb blast at the AMIA Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires. Last month, Albert0 Nisman, a Jewish prosecutor investigating the bombing, was found shot in the head the day before he was to present his case implicating Hezbollah and Iran in the bombing – and the Argentine government in covering up the Iranian connection for 20 years.
These are bone chilling events, so terribly raw, jarring and ugly that it is hard to read about them without worrying – a lot.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to Shabbat services at Agudath Israel. As I walked in, a fellow congregant said he liked reading my column. I thanked him.
After the service, he continued the conversation. He said he found my columns well worth reading. But, then, hesitating, he added that he’s recently found them depressing. I made no apologies and I make none now.
Pretending everything is fine is both foolhardy and futile.