Jews, Muslims share experiences of targeted hate

Interfaith Dinner: Kalman Green introduces presenters at an interfaith event at the Imdadul Islamic Centre in Toronto on Nov. 19. (Photo credit: Alex Rose)

Kalman Green didn’t know what he would do after the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh last year, but he knew he had to do something. So Green, a recently retired consultant and congregant of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, reached out to Bernie Farber of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and Karen Mock of JSpaceCanada to brainstorm. They eventually settled on the idea for a series of programs addressed to Muslim and Jewish people, with the goal of identifying, countering and uniting against hatred.

The first event, held at Holy Blossom in June, featured Imam Hassan Guillet, who spoke at the funeral for some of the victims of the 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting, and Marnie Fienberg, daughter-in-law of Toronto native and Pittsburgh shooting victim Joyce Fienberg. That was followed up by a September workshop defining and identifying anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. A third event, held on Nov. 19 at Toronto’s Imdadul Islamic Centre, focused on how to respond when encountering hatred, either as a direct victim or as a bystander.

“Jews and Muslims are the two groups most targeted for hate in the country, and have both had recent incidents about our sanctuaries being shot up,” Green said in an interview before the event. “We felt that it would be valuable to have both these targeted communities come together and try to learn from our experiences and try to become more allies in the future.”

Around 80 people filled the 10 tables at the event, each one mingling members of the Muslim and Jewish communities. Attendees ate dinner and got to know each other during the first portion of the night, before a series of presentations about countering hatred.

Farber said it was the first event of its kind that he’d seen in over 30 years of working with the Jewish community.

“We’ve never really had just ordinary Canadian Jews and Muslims sit down in an organized fashion to begin a dialogue…. This is the start of what we hope to be a road of understanding, maybe a little bit of reconciliation,” he said. “We’ve travelled parallel roads, but rarely have we intersected, if at all. Sometimes pain has a tendency to bring people together to find ways to resolve that pain. And so, this will be the first of what we hope will be a number of other exercises like this in the future.”

Aasiyah Khan, the education outreach co-ordinator with the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), gave a presentation about Islamophobia. She opened up her talk with a recording of a voicemail that a woman left at NCCM’s Ottawa office after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada would accept Syrian refugees. The voicemail was filled with hateful racist and Islamophobic stereotypes, and the woman’s declaration that no single Syrian refugee would enter Canada was reminiscent of the 1939 statement by a Canadian official who, when asked how many Jews should be allowed into the country, said “none is too many.”

Khan also introduced the concept of the six Ds of intervention, tools to use when a racist event is taking place in public: discover, distract, direct, delegate, document and delay. She showed a video with an example of a bystander becoming a rescuer by employing the distract technique, in which the bystander pretended to recognize a victim of Islamophobic harassment and started a conversation, thereby neutralizing the harasser.

“Hate… is impacting all of us, and so, I think coming together is actually a really, really nice way to show that. Rather than working in silos, doing interfaith work is really, really powerful. I don’t think we can really intervene in the silos. We have to come together, work together to actually fight,” Khan said in an interview before the event.

Len Rudner, a consultant and advocate for Jewish issues, spoke about anti-Semitism, explaining how seemingly positive stereotypes can quickly morph into world-domination conspiracies. Like everyone else who spoke on the night, he was heartened by the two communities coming together.

“It is a marvellous day,” he said during his talk, “and hopefully we have many more to follow.”