(The news story can be found here.)
The first time I can remember encountering anti-Semitism was as a child of seven. An older child had spotted my kippah and started to make exaggerated faux "sneezing" sounds, saying "ah-Jew", with a sharp emphasis on the J. She repeated it several times, to make it amply clear what her true intent was.
As a young child, you aren't sure how to react. Do you start a fight? Do you shout? It'll make you look sillier. So you walk away, more comfortable avoiding anti-Semitism than confronting it.
Most of my life I have worked among Jews and lived in Jewish neighborhoods, and I’ve only had a few small experiences with anti-Semitism. And so, when I heard a vandal had broken a window in my synagogue, I went about my business, much like I had as a seven year old boy, some forty years ago.
My initial reaction is a common one in the Jewish community. After all, we think, this attack is not the end of the world. A broken window is a minor headache, several hundreds of dollars in damage and a five minute cleanup. So Jews shrug off petty attacks like this, realizing that they don’t even merit a footnote in the history of anti-Semitism.
Jews understand that we have it a lot better than our counterparts in Montreal 50 years ago, let alone our ancestors in the middle ages. So we ignore minor attacks, a defense mechanism that allows us to cope with world’s longest hatred. And when anti-Semitism does reach toxic levels, Jews have always found the courage to carry on in the face of persecution.
But when I got home and told my children about the attack, it felt uncomfortable. My children are less cynical than I am, and expect more from Canada. Yet I was telling them that their synagogue had been attacked. It was then that I realized I had reacted the wrong way.
Even when Jews try to forget about petty anti-Semitism, it really hurts inside. When someone has a break-in in their home, they feel their personal space has been violated and their sense of security been undermined. The broken window at our synagogues brings a similar sense of violation, and more. The perpetrators broke this window because they hate Jews; they hate me, they hate my wife, they hate my children, and they hate my community. They hate us just because we’re Jewish. I shudder to think of what these perpetrators would do if they found one of my children alone in a dark alley.
So a broken window is also a lot more than a broken window; it’s a direct attack on the Jewish community. And the Jewish community deserves better in Canada in 21st century.
The question that keeps popping up is "what can we do?". Well, we can start with the basics - condemn anti-Semitism. This may seem like motherhood and apple pie, but it's not. Some groups hide their anti-Semitism behind inflammatory slogans, using political conflicts to pursue an agenda of hatred. Others find it difficult to condemn anti-Semitism, thinking that because Jews have achieved remarkable success, the threat of anti-Semitism is unimportant. They feel that if you can well afford to fix the window, the broken window doesn’t hurt. These critics belittle anti-Semitism, seeing it a minor headache unimportant to most Canadians.
What we need to understand that Anti-Semitism is not just a Jewish problem; it’s everyone’s problem. History has shown that any tolerance for hatred opens the door for greater hatred. Anti-Semitism is an ideological illness, something that can spread if left unchecked. For the last century, the Jews have been the proverbial canary in the coal mine; the people who first target Jews continue on to murder millions of others. For the fomenters of hatred, Anti-Semitism is merely a phase in a grand plan of upheaval and destruction.
We cannot underestimate the violence of one broken window, and as Canadians, we cannot tolerate this type of hatred in our country. It’s time for public figures and the leaders of faith communities to condemn these attacks. Because anti-Semitism is not only my problem, it’s your problem too.- Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz