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Saturday, October 25, 2014

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The Roma and our ongoing fight

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I just returned from a Baptism celebration for a Roma child. This family wants to stay in Canada, but since the time they arrived, they have been swindled by a “refugee agent,” handcuffed in front of their children and schlepped off to a detention centre for a month where they were frisked three times a day. They have lost their medical assistance, and if their newborn should get sick, they will likely be turned away from a hospital and most doctors will not treat him. (See doctorsforrefugeecare.ca to find out about a national day of action on June 17).

Stephen Harper’s government has targeted the Roma in the bid to once again decrease the flow of refugees into our country – this despite the fact there are 90,000 Roma living in Canada as decent, tax-paying citizens. Is it possible that our government buys into the absurd idea that the Roma are Gypsies, tramps and thieves? Are we too good for the Roma child wanting to have a higher standard of education than the classes they are tossed into by Hungarian educators?

One must ask why Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney flew to Hungary and used tax dollars to advertise to the Roma that Canada has no interest in welcoming them. He must be familiar with the violence against the Roma in Hungary, and how deeply they are hated by many Hungarian nationals.

Hungary is not a friendly place for minorities, certainly not for Jews and the Roma. To live in Hungary and to be a Jew or Roma is to expect, at some point, a swift kick in the groin, or even a beating to death. This is not a secret.

Canada needs great leadership to counter the damage we are causing the tired and poor arriving at our shores. It therefore brings me great joy knowing that our community has struck committees to work diligently on the Roma/refugee issue.

One committee member is Bernie Farber, who also happens to be Ve’ahavta’s new chair.

I state this because it is becoming increasingly clearer that we, the Canadian Jewish community, are slowly drawing upon strong voices of advocacy that challenge national and domestic policies. Bernie is that sort of fellow. He is vocal and robust in his activism. His style is similar to that of my late father, Rabbi Philip Rosensweig, who fought bravely against antisemites his entire life, and against those who would undermine the Jewish People, Israel and our freedoms. 

These are gutsy guys who use the tools of the street fighter, as well as the elegance and gentlemanly trappings of the statesman. They are old-school leaders who can persuade the new school through well-crafted sermons and editorials, as well as grassroots planning and strategy.

Welcome Bernie. We welcome your renewed leadership to the Toronto Jewish community and across Canada. We look forward to your participation on the Holy Blossom Temple’s June 5 panel on “Why the Roma?”

I write this column to educate our community about the Roma today, people whose families walked to the ovens of Auschwitz right next to ours. I write this article to congratulate Bernie for agreeing to be a role model once again for the battle we Jews must accept and fight with a voracious desire to make the unjust, just.

Speak loudly! Defend the rights of those who want the freedoms we cherish. It’s the Jewish thing to do.

Avrum.rosensweig@veahavta.org

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