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Sunday, April 20, 2014

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Important stuff we sometimes forget

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I’ve carefully followed reporting on the 2011 census with a sense of pride. Although I have concerns about the generalizability of the findings from the National Household Survey and its utility for Jewish communal planning, the data indicating increasing multiculturalism and racial and ethnic diversity appeals to deep values that I hold as a Canadian and as a Jew.

I’m proud of the diversity of our country, the tolerance among these diverse groups, and the valuing of different religions, ethnicities and cultures. Canadian multiculturalism has fertilized the growth of Jewish living.

In particular, the neighbourhood where I grew up and where my parents still live is one of the most ethnically diverse in the country, with more than 70 per cent of respondents identifying as a visible minority. It’s astounding to think that the majority of residents are visible minorities, with many speaking heritage languages.

It’s in this culture of diversity that I wear my religion on my sleeve. For nearly two decades, I’ve chosen to wear a kippah in public. Occasionally, I have received curious questions about the headdress, which I answer with confidence. But in Canada, I’ve never received a racial slur or derogatory comment.

I’ll be spending the better part of this summer in Budapest. On the advice of locals and others in the know, I’ll wear a hat over my kippah. As I prepare for the trip, I’ve also noticed just how many of my T-shirts and sweatshirts are from Jewish schools, camps and programs. Culling those from my wardrobe, I’m left shopping for new non-identifying clothing. In part this is due to my lack of familiarity with the city, but mainly out of concern for safety in a place where antisemitism can manifest violently and, in the words of World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder, is “dragging the good name of Hungary through the mud.”

Having lived most of my life in a tolerant Toronto, the experience of camouflaging my identity will be foreign. The everyday reminders of my Judaism – in clothing, language and deportment – are such natural parts of my self-expression that it will be disorienting for me to cloak them.

These sentiments are unique to someone growing up here and now. Nowhere else and at no other time have Jews experienced such acceptance.

It hasn’t always been this way in Canada. I know the history of Christie Pits in Toronto and the postwar policy of “none is too many.” While I view wearing a kippah without disturbance as a right and a choice that I make – rather than an identifier imposed by the government – I remind myself that this has rarely been the case. 

I am not a visible minority. I have the luxury of choosing to wear my religion on my sleeve or not, to cover my kippah or take it off. But I am blessed to live in an age and a society in which I feel comfortable keeping my kippah on.

It’s easy to overlook Canada Day as an opportunity for barbecues and fireworks. But it’s on this day that the words of Jeremiah in his letter to the first Jewish diaspora ring true: pray for the welfare of the state, for in its prosperity you shall prosper.

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