Rabbis condemn racist message left for city councillor

Hamilton city councillor Nrinder Nann, who was the target of recent hate messages. (Photo courtesy of The Hamilton Spectator.)

HAMILTON, Ont. – Racist messages directed at a Hamilton, Ont. councillor have drawn condemnation from the city’s four congregational rabbis.

In an open letter released Jan. 21, the rabbis expressed they were “shocked and outraged” at the messages and offered “our steadfast solidarity with the Black community.” Rabbis Hillel Lavery-Yisraeli, Jordan Cohen, Daniel Green and Aaron Selevan were responding to an incident just after the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

City councillor Nrinder Nann, the only person of colour on council, received two voice mail messages in which a man said he would buy a machete and handcuffs and summon hate groups like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Sons of Odin to arrest Black people he labeled as criminals and confine them to a container.

Nann revealed the incident publicly at a city council meeting recently. Nann, who did not return a phone call from The CJN seeking comment, told CBC and The Hamilton Spectator she knows the man who left her the messages. She reported the incident to Hamilton police who interviewed the man and concluded there was no threat. The councillor praised the diligence of police but continued to have questions about whether he has ties to the hate groups he invoked.

Rabbi Lavery-Yisraeli, of Hamilton’s Beth Jacob congregation, heard about the incident and felt the Jewish community needed to respond. “When something bad happens to us we always look to others to show support,” he said in an interview. “We have to show the same support for others when they suffer from hate and racism.”

He drafted the letter and got immediate endorsements from the rabbis of Temple Anshe Sholom, Adas Israel, and Shalom Village.

In their letter, the rabbis stress if Hamilton is to achieve its goal of being a good place to live “Hamiltonians, and all Canadians, must be on guard for each other, supporting each other’s right to safety and security. While we strongly condemn the actions of the individual who chose to leave these abhorrent messages, even more strongly we condemn the latent feelings, beliefs and ignorance behind them.”

Despite years of anti-racism work, Rabbi Lavery-Yisraeli said the incident lifts the cover on the degree to which hatred continues in Canada. “The fact that someone was foolish enough to leave these messages on her machine isn’t the worst part of it,” he said. “As much as we hear about racism, we don’t hear all of it and that doesn’t mean it’s not there.“

I think people are being more careful about expressing such opinions and that’s dangerous in itself because one day it will all bubble up in a much more dangerous way,” he added.

One example of that dangerous bubbling up was played out in Montreal recently where the city’s Shaar Hashomayin synagogue was defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti.As the rabbis expressed their solidarity with the Black community, No Hate in the Hammer, a local anti-hate coalition, coalition issued its own statement “denouncing the vile anti-Semitic vandalism against a place of worship.” Rabbi Lavery-Yisraeli is a founding board member of the group.

“Sadly, we remember that Hamilton synagogues, too, as well as houses of worship of other religions, have suffered similar acts of desecration in the past few years. We are pained when we think how members of those synagogues who now call Canada home might come there to pray, only to see the same symbols that in their youth were worn by those who brutally murdered their loved ones. This must stop,” the coalition’s statement said.

The Hamilton incident is a black eye to a city struggling to overcome its reputation as the hate crime capital of Canada – a title it earned in 2018 when Statistics Canada data showed it had the highest rate of hate crimes in the country.

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