The recent murders in Quebec City of Muslims at prayer deeply upset Canadians, including those in our own community.
Yet official Jewish voices were low key at best. Yes, there were pro-forma statements of regret, but frankly, it took one rabbi, Yael Splansky, of Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple, to give the community both a needed voice and an opportunity to demonstrate our real care and concern for the Muslim community.
Rabbi Splansky said the idea to form “rings of peace” around local mosques was inspired by events in Oslo, Norway, in 2015, when Muslims reacting to terrorist attacks targeting Jews in France and elsewhere came together – 1,000 strong – to create a circle of protection around Oslo’s synagogue. In Toronto, hundreds gathered to create “rings of peace” around seven different mosques.
I participated with many other Toronto Jews at the Imdadul Islamic Centre. So moved was the imam that he told me, “Look at all the people who came out in support of us. We are so happy… we feel more secure and reassured that we have friends here that have come in our time of need.”
‘those who purport to speak on our behalf have failed to do so’
I also spoke to many congregants arriving for noon prayers. They were overwhelmed. It’s clear that such actions bring us closer together. Civility and hope will always trump fear and hatred.
Yet where were the representatives of the so-called official Jewish community? Why were they not at the forefront of planning this needed symbolic action? Perhaps there were representatives from B’nai Brith Canada, the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies at some of the other sites, but they certainly weren’t at the Imdadul mosque. And if they were at other sites, they were quiet as (forgive the expression) church mice.
Today, more than at any other time in our history, we must step up to the plate. At a time when the world’s strongest democratic nation has turned its back on Muslims and many other minorities, it’s up to all of us to stand together. At a time when white supremacists, racists and anti-Semites have wormed their way into the White House and the halls of world power, we must stand strong.
Let’s take a lesson from our American Jewish brothers and sisters. With a deep understanding of the need to walk in solidarity with victims, they have taken action. Jewish leaders and personalities have stood up and spoken eloquently against President Donald Trump’s proposed racist travel ban, and some promised to embrace U.S. Muslims if lists were ever created to identify them. That is leadership.
Rabbis protesting in front of Trump’s hotel in Washington and being arrested for siding with their Muslim American cousins: that is leadership.
But here, those who purport to speak on our behalf have failed to do so. Moreover, when an important opportunity presented itself to show support, our community failed spectacularly. Liberal MP Iqra Khalid has proposed a private member’s motion asking Parliament to condemn the present climate of “hate and fear” targeting the Muslim community. It also denounces “all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”
Of course, the expected cacophony on the ultra-right screamed its opposition, citing free speech, forgetting that similar motions condemning anti-Semitism were passed in provincial and federal parliaments not too long ago.
CIJA, the proclaimed voice of our community, joined the chorus and has refused to support Khalid’s motion. Other Jewish advocacy voices have been mute.
How can it be that fellow Jews, who better than most understand what it means to be hated because of their faith, deny the very same protections they would rightly demand for themselves?
It’s such parochialism and selfishness that in the end advances anti-Semitism.
Given the new Trump world order, where racism and bigotry are being normalized, now more than ever, we must embrace our diversity and reject hate. Our Jewish leaders must step up and be counted.