By David Sachs
These are difficult times for the Jewish community.
Just three weeks ago, we were traumatized by the synagogue hostage-taking in Texas. Two weeks ago, no sooner did we finish the mourner's kaddish at Ottawa's International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony than we watched our own local news showing symbols of Nazi oppression, swastikas, and yellow Stars of David, used by a small minority of protesters at Parliament Hill.
Many in our community have been traumatized to see this. Whatever the protest is about when individuals appropriated Holocaust imagery for their cause. When they compare themselves to Jewish victims, or the government to Nazis, they just need to stop, and others need to speak out. It's an insult to our history.
As a Jewish minority, it's easy to feel alone, even gaslit, as the pain we feel is not always reflected in the society around us. We are together in this feeling and fighting as a community. We want the community to know that while we can't make the problem disappear, we can push back, and work to keep our community safe.
The Jewish Federation of Ottawa and our advocacy partner, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) closely monitored the protests as the problems presented themselves that January 28 weekend. Throughout, Federation's Head of Security, Andrea Blaustein, was in close contact with Ottawa Police Services, who determined that there was no indication of unusual threat to the Jewish community. That same weekend, Federation CEO Andrea Freedman issued community and media statements condemning these hate symbols. The statements were picked up by news outlets, supported by elected officials, and amplified over all social media channels into the broader public. Andrea continued to share the Jewish community’s concerns in various media interviews and joined Her Excellency Germany’s Ambassador to Canada, Sabine Sparwasser, in writing an op-ed condemning the Holocaust imagery that appeared in the Hill Times, and another in the Canadian Jewish News.
As a community, we are taking every measure possible to make sure our position is understood while ensuring our community is safe. To really make a lasting difference, we need to work outside this specific problem, at the bigger issue of growing antisemitism and disappearing understanding of the Holocaust.
A major study just released showed one-third of Canadian and American students are ignorant of the Holocaust, or think it's a hoax or vastly exaggerated.
It's easy to see the link between the misunderstanding of the Holocaust and protesters wearing yellow stars and comparing Canada to Nazi Germany. It is also easy to link this to the now too-common perception that Jews, the most targeted minority for hate crimes, are privileged, and that we don't need to worry about being targets of hate.
Meanwhile, drowned out in the noise around the Ottawa protests, Ontario announced funding for antisemitism resources for schools and security grants for religious institutions. Federation and CIJA are working with the schools to help educators increase their level of awareness of antisemitism, and their ability to respond properly.
As a community, it is imperative that we continue to dedicate ourselves to Holocaust and antisemitism education. We must also strive to stop misunderstandings that are actually racism, whether it's in social groups, schools, unions, or elsewhere.
To support this, Federation is working on resources to help when confronting antisemitism. Here are some tips to help when antisemitism is dismissed, or Jewish concerns minimized:
- Jews are the most targeted minority group for hate crimes in Canada.
- Antisemitism did not begin or end with the Holocaust, it is a 2,000-year-old history of persecution and violence, and its attitudes are deeply embedded in Western society.
- Minimization, trivialization, appropriation, and generalization of the Holocaust is not only offensive for the direct hurt it causes Jews, but also erases the specific evil and catastrophic harm of antisemitism, which makes antisemitism more dangerous in the present.
And above all, even in such times of turmoil, be reassured:
- That we live in one of the most accepting countries and cultures for Jews in 2,000 years.
- That our elected officials, security services, and school leaders, are dedicated to keeping it that way.
- That the Jewish community has never been so connected worldwide.
To put this in perspective, just a generation ago, when my father came back to Ottawa after his medical residencies abroad, he was told that Ottawa already had a Jewish surgeon, so he would be wise to set up shop elsewhere. At that time, Jews were systematically kept from many professions, social clubs, and schools. Now, that seems as archaic as the horse and buggy.
Things can get better. Lastly, remember that Federation is here for you.
If you experience or witness antisemitism, or are looking for support, please contact us. I can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling 613 798-4696, extension 256. If you witness a hate crime, please contact Ottawa Police Services at 613-236-1222, extension 5015, or report it online here.
- David Sachs is the Federation's Community Relations and Antisemitism Specialist