I recently visited Israel and witnessed the events that unfolded on October 7. The conflict began when Hamas, the ruling power in Gaza, breached Israel’s border defences on October 7, deploying three thousand fighters for acts of violence. It’s worth noting that regular citizens played a vital role in swiftly stopping the attackers on the first day, even before the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) arrived. The rapid response and intervention by the local people can be considered a remarkable and fortunate occurrence, given the seriousness of the situation.
Upon my return to Canada, I attended a conference in Ottawa on October 16 and 17, focused on addressing the issue of antisemitism in present-day Canada. The event, organized by CIJA (Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs), had been planned before the outbreak of the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict. The conference brought together a diverse group of 1,500 individuals, including 250 students from high school and college, as well as professionals from different fields, such as educators, law enforcement, NGO leaders, and scholars. They all came together to address the problem of hatred, particularly the insidious strain from social media platforms.
Notable figures, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and opposition leader Pierre Polievre, gave keynote addresses, emphasizing the gravity of the cause and reinforcing the collective resolve against bigotry. One of the most impactful accounts came from a teacher at Ottawa Public Schools, who courageously highlighted the persistent bullying faced by Jewish students. This revelation galvanized attendees, igniting discussions beyond the conference halls.
The gathering was an excellent opportunity for intimate dialogues with Members of Parliament like Sherry Romanado and Brad Redekopp. Their openness highlighted the potential for collaborative action. These interactions paved the way for sustained advocacy, a commitment shared by all participants determined to confront antisemitism head-on.
The conference taught us an important lesson: speaking out against hatred rather than being silent. Being silent only enables it to continue. The conference also highlighted the power of collective efforts and how they can bring about significant change. However, even as the conference ended, it was evident that we must remain vigilant, as demonstrated by the increased security measures and the presence of Palestinian protesters. It served as a stark reminder of the obstacles that we must overcome. Given these realities, we must reaffirm our unwavering commitment to fight against all forms of bigotry, utilizing the lessons of the past to guide us toward a more inclusive and just future.
Resilience and Unity: How the Jewish Community Responds
The Jewish people have a long and proud history of solidarity with their brethren, exhibiting remarkable resilience in adversity. For centuries, Jewish communities have consistently demonstrated their commitment to caring for orphans, widows, and strangers. In Montreal, this noble endeavour is entrusted to the Federation-CJA, which tirelessly works to provide for those in need. Every year, the community comes together for a fundraising campaign, gathering funds for these essential services. This year’s mission includes raising urgent funds for the war effort initiated on the first day of the conflict.
Our enduring traditions, commitment to Torah study, and alignment with Torah principles have provided sustenance for the Jewish people throughout millennia in both prosperous and challenging times. This emphasis on regular Jewish practice is pivotal in our collective efforts to support Israel’s existential war of survival, including the eradication of the threat to our people from Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran. Whether inside or outside Israel, we are all dedicated to the common good, working towards the recovery of our captives and the elimination of threats like Hamas, ensuring the safety of our people.
The issue of antisemitism, which is the ongoing hatred and discrimination towards Jews, has been a long-standing problem. The Jewish community acknowledges this issue, as stated in the following passage from our Passover seder:
Through the ages, many groups have risen to destroy us. But the Holy One, Blessed Be, always saves us from their hand!
She’ lo echad bilvad amad aleinu l’chaloteinuV’ha Kadosh, Baruch Hu, matzileynu mi’yadam. (Hebrew)
On April 7, 2020, the talented Ishai Ribo enchanted the audience with his rendering of this Passover classic, ‘Vehi She’amda.’ With his mesmerizing vocals, he breathed life into the timeless lyrics, reminding us that throughout history, many have tried to bring harm to our people.
We must actively engage in the world to witness God’s miracles. As a collective responsibility, we must confront and oppose evil. It is the duty of every individual, regardless of age, to join the ranks of the Divine army to combat those who seek to harm us. As individuals and a unified community, we must consistently contribute to increasing goodness worldwide. This call extends to both Jewish and non-Jewish members of our society.
We hope to usher in the Messianic times only when we have successfully eliminated such malevolence. These are the times when ‘the lion shall lie down with the lamb’ – a peaceful world committed to universal well-being, health, and happiness.
Chazan Mutlu of Central Synagogue in NYC recorded this prayer that we all recite on behalf of our brethren facing adversity, wherever they may be on land or sea. We pray, ‘May the boundless mercy of God free them from distress to comfort, from darkness to light, and from slavery to redemption now, soon and speedily in our time – Hashta ba’agala uvizman kariv.’