In the wake of two synagogue shootings, members of IfNotNow Toronto recently held an educational event on combatting anti-Semitism in North America. We knew our community needed to come together and discuss how anti-Semitism functions in 2019, the role of fear and intergenerational trauma in our communities, and how we can build safety for Jews and all people facing violence.
Held at a downtown Toronto church, the event brought together more than 30 Jews and allies, committed to understanding and combatting anti-Semitism and white nationalism — the thread that connects the recent synagogue shootings in Pittsburg and Poway and the violent targeting of mosques, black churches and many other acts of hate-motivated violence. This is the number one threat facing the North American Jewish community today.
And yet, in the days leading up to the event, we learned that another Jewish group planned to protest our gathering. The newly launched Herut Canada grossly mischaracterized our event as one of “hateful anti-Semitism,” encouraging others to join them in “protesting [our] Jewish self-hatred” and suggesting their members register under false names in a deceitful attempt to disrupt our event. Online comment discussions involving Herut supporters quickly turned into labelling us “Self-Hating Jews,” “Rent-a-Jews” and “as Jewish as the kapos and the Judenrats.” Herut’s online posts were quickly amplified by the Jewish Defence League.
As the workshop began, and expecting Herut protesters would be outside, we wanted to make sure our participants felt welcome and comfortable. Twenty of us, a group of mostly young people in our 20s and 30s, Jews and non-Jewish supporters, immigrants, and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, gathered outside the church. We held signs that read “Jews & Allies Against Antisemitism” and “United Against Hate.” We were singing Olam Chesed Yibaneh (“We will build this world with love”).
Across from us stood a small group of Herut supporters holding Israeli flags and video cameras. “I’m so glad my parents aren’t alive to see this,” one woman screamed at us. Some passersby were confused. “Aren’t you both on the same side?” one asked. Yes, I answered to myself – or at least we should be. When another person asked, “Aren’t you both Jewish?” an organizer with Herut was quick to answer: “We’re Jewish. They say they are — but they aren’t.” (One protester held a sign that read “Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitism,” proving that Herut and its supporters do not understand the basic principles of IfNotNow, which does not take a position on the question of BDS or anti-Zionism.)
Stoking this kind of hatred and divisiveness doesn’t help us fight anti-Semitism. And it doesn’t make our community safer. We know that joining together with others facing oppression is how we will ultimately end anti-Semitism. That’s what our event was all about. We can build safety through solidarity.
It took me years to realize there was room for my questions and values in Judaism, after so many of my peers and religious leaders tried to demonstrate otherwise. Jewish institutions simply cannot afford to push the next generation of questioning, young Jews away from their Jewish identity. And yet, this is precisely what Herut and its supporters attempted to do to us.
It’s heartbreaking to see members of our Jewish community so entrenched in fear that they believe our safety requires the oppression of others. We will keep fighting to transform our community and build a future of safety and freedom for Jews and all communities who live under threat of violence. And we will not be intimidated by people calling us “self-hating Jews.” We will not be deterred.