Earlier this week I posted on social media about a recent experience of direct antisemitism. At the time, I debated whether to share it because it was so uncomfortable, but I think it is important to make the point that this happens nearly every day and it is not brought to wider attention.
On June 13, I went to my daughter’s graduation at Canada’s Wonderland, an amusement park. Many of the parents there were visibly Jewish (wearing kippot, modest dress, sheitls).
As families were walking, a group of young people passed by and yelled out “stop killing Palestinians.”
These parents are Canadians. They are in Canada. This was not a public event nor had it anything to do with the conflict, it was a high school graduation. They are just visibly Jewish.
This is so wrong. It is collectively blaming Jews for a foreign conflict. It’s hate, it’s antisemitism, it’s dangerous, and it needs to stop. Exporting the conflict damages the fabric of our society here as Canadians.
No one should ever fear being who they are. Those parents did not feel safe, not for themselves or their children. It is not their job to argue against these accusations delivered with such hate, and they should never have to stand alone.
Later in the evening, which otherwise was wonderful for our kids, I spoke with other parents about what had happened. Unfortunately, many of those families are resigned to this antisemitism. That is extremely worrisome.
None of this is their fault. Everyone should be free and proud to express themselves. It is shameful that for many in the Orthodox Jewish community, this comes with the real risk of being targeted and suffering antisemitism. No one should have to hide their Jewishness or else be at risk. But it is understandable that after having endured this so regularly, they are resigned to it.
I cannot accept that.
As leaders, as communities, we must address this. Hate allowed to fester only grows. It leads communities to silo themselves rather than working collaboratively to address this.
We need to build bridges across communities and we must do it now. We need to educate about what and how hate spreads. We need to stand up and call it out to make sure that those young people know what they did was wrong and will not be tolerated in any quarter.
But more than that, those young people need to know why it was wrong, why it is so harmful and so hurtful.
There cannot be any question in polite society that hate is unacceptable, in any form, no matter how laundered. Since last year’s Israel-Gaza conflict, we have seen an increase in antisemitism and especially this form of collectively blaming Jews for grievances levelled at Israel.
Solidarity and concern are legitimate, but erasing narratives, micro-aggressions and drawing zero-sum conclusions, and acting out these positions on communities here cannot stand.
Language matters and statements like those that were levelled at those parents amplify divisions and, yes, hate. Claiming that this type of language and these types of actions is advocacy or solidarity only gives permission for hate to fester and grow.
Dealing with this is not easy work, it is not quick work, but it is essential. It requires community leadership and for us to talk to one another, between communities, to get to the heart of this. We need to build bridges so that, when crises like last year’s war arise, we have connections to allies—to work with them and through them to separate out legitimate issues and expressions from antisemitism.
Being conveners for community and building bridges is by no means simple and takes real time and effort. It involves some very uncomfortable and difficult conversations to open spaces of understanding. Not every item will be agreed on, but it is important to humanize and support one another in moments of crisis and in escalating environments of hate.
It is a long-game commitment and it starts at home with a commitment to investing in people and creating foundations for communities to live safely alongside one another and to grow, here and everywhere.
Ya’ara Saks represents the riding of York Centre.