Farber: The enemy within

Jews often focus on the hatred that is spewed upon us from outside our community, but there is also an insipid hatred that percolates within our own Jewish community – as I recently witnessed first-hand.

On the weekend of Nov. 2, JSpaceCanada held its fourth biennial conference in Toronto. It was attended by over 300 Canadian Jews who fervently believe in progressive Zionism, but have serious concerns with the manner in which it has found expression, especially over the last decade under the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

JSpaceCanada maintains its commitment to a two-state solution in which Jews are no longer occupiers; a solution that will bring peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

There are those who disagree with the entire concept of progressive Zionism. There are others within the progressive Zionist movement who disagree amongst themselves. Yet, for the most part, we all find ways to engage in passionate civil discourse.

Sometimes we find common solutions and other times we simply agree to disagree. Either way, Jews have engaged in raucous debates for thousands of years. From time to time, we need to remind ourselves that our rabbis have warned us about the dangers of evil words and the need to treat each other with dignity, even when we passionately disagree.


Sadly, following the JSpace conference, I received a flurry of posts and comments on my social media feeds that didn’t just disregard the words of our sages, but engaged in the worst forms of slander and lashon ha-ra, or evil talk. Aish Hatorah describes lashon ha-ra as “any statement that is derogatory or potentially harmful to others – even if it is true. Although there are other distinctions in Jewish law, the term lashon ha-ra is also popularly used to include tale bearing (rechilus) and slander (motzi shem ra) or spreading lies.”

Below is one example of a flurry of lashon ha-ra messages I received following my participation in the JSpace conference. For the record, the vast majority of messages have been kind and supportive. Some were critical, but in a fair and respectful manner. The following comment was not even the nastiest, but will give you some indication of the level of vilification and contempt that festers in our community:

Bernie M Farber I’m sure (name omitted) is gutted that you’re blocking her (real mature, there, Bernie, old pal!). And let me add my thoughts (and PLEASE feel free to block me too!) You are a kapo and a traitor to the Jewish people (note I don’t say “your people” because you don’t deserve us). I hope you achieve your goals of having everyone love you for being so non-patisan (sic) and progressive. By associating with known BDSholes you legitimize their nefarious cause and further endanger the lives of those of us who have made israel our home, saving it for self-loathing Jews, such as yourself, for the day you HAVE to leave your cushy homes and flee here with your tail between your legs. You are an embarrassment.”

Yes, I have blocked her, as I have blocked the half dozen or so others who followed her post with even more hateful and detestable messages. I believe that our community must keep our tent as wide open as possible. Kudos to Israeli Consul General Galit Baram, former Ontario premier and interim federal Liberal leader Bob Rae, CJN Editor Yoni Goldstein, CIJA’s Paul Michaels and Jess Burke, along with the many others who spoke at, and supported, the event.

In the end, we must not let those very few with loud, obnoxious voices bully and belittle the work we do. I am quite proudly a progressive Jew and a Zionist. I will continue to work for tikun olam and continue to pursue tzedek (justice), for that is the rock upon which Judaism is truly founded.