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Shinewald: Welcome to the new Jewish world

Mourners hold candles in the aftermath of the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Oct. 27. (Aaron Jackendoff/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images/JTA)

If Pittsburgh was an earthquake, Poway, Calif., was an aftershock. But the earthquakes and aftershocks are not subsiding. Jews once again live on the world’s most active fault line.

That fault line lies where age-old anti-Semitism brushes up against poisonous politics, access to guns and toxic social media – and the tremors are just starting.

Adapting to our new reality is suddenly the key challenge of our times. Israel advocacy, school funding and tikun olam are meaningless for a community that feels unsafe. We urgently need to figure out how to deal with the increasing number of murderous attacks on our community, which are collectively certain, but individually unpredictable.

Though our Canadian community has been spared thus far, we are still vulnerable. Many of us worry for our safety while davening at shul, dropping our kids off at day school or going for a schvitz at the Jewish community centre. Surely some already have lost their nerve to enter Jewish institutions in the first place.

We’ve also been desensitized. After Pittsburgh, we largely heeded calls to #ShowUpForShabbat, but after Poway, weaker calls to do the same fell on deaf ears. Even the passionate and eloquent Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who lost a finger and a friend in Poway, couldn’t motivate us. We’re quickly adjusting to our new normal.

The world is losing interest, too. Less than 24 hours after Poway, it was the 19th story on CBC’s news app, two down from an item about a veggie burger. The Globe listed it eighth.

Even the rings of peace, which started out as a touching interfaith gesture to help heal faith communities that are under attack, have become a bit tiresome. Been there, done that.

So here’s the sad reality: returning to shul with vigour and in numbers might make us feel momentarily strong, but the truth is that it’s as effective today as it was for our ancestors in Hitler’s Germany or Tomás de Torquemada’s Spain. Importantly, unlike our ancestors, our government and opposition parties care for us (though that is far less certain in other Western Diaspora communities). And we can also take meaningful steps our ancestors couldn’t, like beefing up shul security and even getting our rabbis to teach us how to shelter in place.

But defiantly marching into shul doesn’t put some magical forcefield around us. Nor does it change the fact that simply being Jewish is more dangerous today than it was yesterday, and that it will be even more dangerous tomorrow. There is no easy response to more people who really want to kill Jews.


So we face a horrible choice: living our Jewish lives in fear by attending shul, or living our Jewish lives in fear by not. Welcome to the new Jewish Canada.

That new Jewish Canada increasingly resembles the old Jewish Europe. No, not the Europe of cattle cars and yellow stars, but the Europe of heavily armed guards checking tallit bags at shul entrances and book bags at day schools.

But the European model is failing, too. In the past few years, Jews have been murdered on synagogue steps in Copenhagen, in a day school in Toulouse, France, in a kosher grocery store in Paris, at a Jewish museum in Brussels and elsewhere.

Educated, well-integrated, otherwise comfortable European Jews are responding the only way they can: they are fleeing.

Over 10 per cent of French Jews have already moved to Israel. Smaller European communities are following suit. And almost 40 per cent of British Jews say they’d consider joining them, if Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn comes to power.

And why not? Israel remains the only country where Jews really can be free to be Jewish. A few more Pittsburghs and Poways, and we too may be enrolling in an ulpan and following our kids and grandkids to Israel.

Our European cousins may turn out to be early adopters, guiding our way. We just might be at the very earliest beginnings of mass Canadian aliyah.

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