On March 1, Concordia University in Montreal evacuated three buildings on its downtown campus because of a bomb threat contained in a vicious letter full of anti-Muslim hate.
On February 27, swastikas were found painted in a classroom at York University in Toronto and Calgary’s Jewish community centre was evacuated because of a bomb threat. Since January 1, 2017, there have been more than 100 bomb threats made to Jewish community centres and Jewish schools across the United States [and several in Canada], mostly in waves. They began on January 9 when 15 JCCs and schools received bomb threats; other waves of threats were reported on January 18, January 31, February 20, February 27 and March 7.
During this same time, Mount Carmel Jewish Cemetery in Philadelphia was desecrated, just a few days after a similar incident was reported in St. Louis, Missouri’s Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery. In total, several hundred gravestones were toppled over and broken. In Philadelphia and St. Louis, Jewish and Muslim clergy, activists and compassionate citizens have come together in solidarity to raise money and do the physical work of restoring the cemeteries.
How much organization and effort is required to take down several hundred gravestones? How much organization and effort is required to right them again?
Earthquake and drought followed by freezing followed by war.
Flags are blossoming now where little else is blossoming
And I am bent on fathoming what it means to love my country.
The history of this earth and the bones within it?
Last year, several congregants from Or Haneshamah participated in a reading group led by Patti Lenard, associate professor of political philosophy at the University of Ottawa. Together, we studied Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.” We were floored by Arendt’s detailing of both the German policies and the necessary compliance by other states that led eventually to the Final Solution, and we were haunted by Arendt’s portrait of Adolf Eichmann who defended himself, throughout his trial, as an ordinary man living in an amoral, totalitarian society.
“For the lesson of such stories is simple and within everybody’s grasp,” Arendt wrote. “Politically speaking, it is that under conditions of terror most people will comply but some people will not, just as the lesson of the countries to which the Final Solution was proposed is that ‘it could happen’ in most places but it did not happen everywhere. Humanly speaking, no more is required, and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation.”
Arendt puts the onus on her readers to think about their own potential for complicity, their own willingness to stand up against injustice – even when the world in which they live has gone mad.
A patriot is not a weapon.
A patriot is one who wrestles
for the soul of her country
as she wrestles for her own being,
for the soul of his country
… as he wrestles for his own being.
These days, I often think our world has gone mad. And, when I think about this, my instinct is to want to escape. But, now, I understand that the dream of physical escape is as impossible as emotional escape always was. I thought I had “escaped” to West Africa this past January. But, even though we didn’t have electricity for five days in a row, we eventually heard that a gunman in Quebec City had opened fire on a mosque during prayers and killed six men.
Because we learned the news belatedly, we were able to learn all the details at once, including the name of the mosque, which is our teacher’s mosque when he lives in Canada. And then we learned that two of the men who were killed were from Guinea and they were friends of our friend we had been dancing with for days in Guinea far from everything.
What is this cycle of violence we are in? My heart is aching, and we can never escape, not ever, not when these stories feel all too familiar as if they are our own bones, as if we have lived them before, over and over and over again throughout time.
that every flag that flies today is a cry of pain.
Where are we moored?
What are the bindings?
What behoves us?
Note: The poetry verses in this column are from “An Atlas of the Difficult World” by Adrienne Rich.