EDMONTON — On Shabbat morning, Jan. 17, we arrived for services at Beth Israel Synagogue in Edmonton to find our building desecrated with hateful anti-Semitic graffiti. The mood in shul that day was one of shock and fear as we were awakened to the reality that baseless hatred of Jews isn’t confined to the Middle East or Europe. Here, in multicultural Canada, in our thriving city of Edmonton, anti-Semitism had reared its ugly head.
It wasn’t the first attack on an Edmonton place of worship in recent weeks. Previously, a Sikh temple was the target of hate. It seems the perpetrators were trying to take revenge for the Islamist terror in France and mistook the temple for a mosque. All were swift to condemn the horrible act: how dare these bigots make our Canadian brothers and sisters – Muslim or Sikh – feel unwanted in our wonderful country!
What followed, however, was the sad story of the Jewish People throughout our history. Whenever an attack is perpetrated on innocents by hateful extremists, targeting Jews is never far behind. Hitler began his reign of terror by attacking neighbouring lands, but this was merely a precursor to the annihilation of our people. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, then began lobbing missiles at Israel. In Paris, Islamist terrorists went on a rampage at Charlie Hebdo, followed promptly by the Hyper Cacher massacre.
While the violation of the synagogue doesn’t in any way compare to those tragedies, when the Sikh temple was attacked, we should have realized we would be next. We must always stand at the forefront of combating prejudice and bigotry directed at any minority, in Canada and worldwide – primarily because it’s the right thing to do, but also because we know that extremists might begin with one minority, but history has shown we’re never immune. My greatest regret is that I didn’t immediately issue a public statement condemning the attack on the Sikh temple.
The good news is that the outpouring of sympathy and support has been heartwarming. I’ve received countless emails and phone calls from random citizens expressing solidarity, from as far afield as a pastor in Cold Lake, Alta. Federal Minister of State Tim Uppal issued a public condemnation and personally called me to offer support. A local imam reached out to me. A Muslim university student volunteered to assist with the cleanup. Words can’t express how overwhelmed we feel by the love and care we’ve received from our fellow Canadians.
The most important thing to remember is that the evil perpetrators are individuals. Most Canadians – of all stripes – are peace-loving, tolerant people. Indeed, outside Israel, Canada is the best country in the world for Jews today, and perhaps all of history. Last January, I accompanied Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Israel. At the end of the trip, in a private moment, I told him, “Mr. Prime Minister, not since Cyrus the Great have the Jewish People had a world leader like you. You are the new Cyrus.” He humbly said I was too kind. But he, along with Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney, Foreign Minster John Baird and Uppal, are leading the fight against anti-Semitism and intolerance worldwide.
And they’re not just paying lip service to the cause. They take positions internationally based not on what’s easiest and most comfortable, but on what is the moral, right thing to do. They understand and recognize the reality of anti-Semitism and bigotry, and are fighting the forces of evil. One of their major contributions to Canada is the National Holocaust Monument, now being built in the capital, in which they’ve invested millions of dollars, because they want to show Canada and the world that we’re committed to ending prejudice and bigotry.
On behalf of Edmonton’s Jewish community, I want to wish much strength to our Sikh neighbours and offer my blessing to Edmonton police that they find the perpetrators of these terrible acts and bring them to justice so that we can all sleep sounder knowing that we’re living in the safest and most secure country on the planet.
Rabbi Daniel Friedman is spiritual leader of Beth Israel Synagogue in Edmonton and chair of the National Holocaust Monument Development Council.