Ryerson communications student Marlee Socket is not one to be idle in the wake of anti-Semitism. She said she was growing increasingly alarmed by the recent rash of bomb threats against JCCs in the United States and Canada.
Since January, there have been reports of more than 120 bomb threats against Jewish centres across North America, including JCCs in Vancouver, London, and Toronto.
When the Miles Nadal JCC was targeted on March 7, Socket, 19, felt compelled to act. “That was the last straw. I said, ‘We have to do something.’”
And she did. She organized a student rally against anti-Semitism that took place outside the MNJCC on March 13. About 70 participants of varying ages, as well as almost every major local and national media outlet converged at the corner of Spadina Avenue and Bloor Street for this event.
Even Toronto Mayor John Tory showed up. Addressing the group, he said, “I stand in solidarity with you…There is no place for anti-Semitism in this community.”
He said Toronto was a model for the world on how people from diverse backgrounds can coexist peacefully. “We have found a way to live together…We are stronger because of our differences.”
Rally participants were upbeat despite the blustery weather. They held up posters, waved Canadian and Israeli flags and cheered when passing cars honked in support.
They applauded a roster of speakers who expressed their concerns about the recent wave of anti-Semitic incidents.
“Hate is not acceptable,” Socket told the group.
She was supported in her endeavour to organize the rally by Rabbi Daniel Wolnerman of Aish Toronto and Robert Walker, executive director of Hasbara Fellowships Canada, a campus-based advocacy organization that helps students fight anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
Both Walker and Rabbi Wolnerman spoke at the rally.
The rabbi said a benefit of adversity is that “it gets people to take a stand…one person made a phone call and all these people came out” to protest.
Walker likened the Jewish community to the proverbial canary in the coal mine. The perpetrators of hatred may begin by aiming their vitriol at Jews, but he pointed out that these campaigns of hatred usually escalate and target other groups as well.
Serena Lee, a Chinese Canadian, spoke about the “deep respect” she had for Jewish people. She recounted how her father, a new immigrant to Canada, was welcomed and supported by the Jewish community in Halifax.
It was a Jewish person who gave him his first job, she said, while another Jewish person introduced her parents to each other.
Community activist Vivienne Ziner gave an impassioned speech condemning hatred. When it comes to government legislation, she stressed the importance of governments’ treating all groups equally.
Other speakers included Aedan O’Connor, Aidan Fishman, Eton Ziner-Cohen, and Veronika Ressina, who are also students. Ruchie Shainhouse brought greetings from the office of Toronto city councillor James Pasternak.
Ruth Schonblum, a Grade 2 teacher at the Paul Penna Hebrew Day School, joined the rally during her lunch break. She said she had been a part of the evacuation of Paul Penna students a week earlier during the bomb threat at MNJCC, where the school is housed.
The evacuation went very well, according to Schonblum. “I was holding two babies from the day care as I led with my class over to the church next door.
“We practiced for this kind of event. It all went smoothly, because we were prepared.”
After Ellen Cole, executive director of the MNJCC, thanked everyone, the crowd dispersed.
Socket said she thought the rally went very well despite the frigid weather. She was particularly buoyed by Tory’s show of support.
“He came on behalf of the city. His presence made a big difference. It was more important than his words.”