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Even in a diverse country like Canada, I’ve remained cautious about openly displaying my faith

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There was an uncomfortable feeling of being a Jew in Canada this spring after protesters cloaked their antisemitic statements as being merely anti-Israel. (Photo: Israeli Canadian Council)

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I think Canada is a wonderful country. In a conversation, someone once said to me that living in Canada is like winning the lottery. However, the last few months have resulted in some sobering thoughts. I recently read a post by someone who said that they used to consider themselves a Canadian Jew. Recently, they feel more like a Jew living in Canada.

I’m thankful to Canada that my grandparents found refuge here before World War Two. Like many immigrants to this country, they came with little and managed to forge a decent life for themselves and their children. 

Canada has allowed me freedom of religion, a right historically denied to Jews in many other parts of the globe. I’m freely able to worship at synagogues and not hide my faith. My kids have been able to get both a quality secular and Jewish education.

I grew up in Toronto. My family was traditional but not religious. While not so observant, it was relatively easy to feel Jewish. All it took was a drive down Bathurst Street and you were in the heart of Jewish Toronto.

After getting married we moved to Kitchener, Ontario. Feeling Jewish in a small community was much different. There was no section of our new home to go and get that old feeling. Soon we became involved in local synagogue life.

Whereas in Toronto, we were anonymous as Jews, in Kitchener-Waterloo that was more difficult. Suddenly I’m called for weekly minyans. The synagogue asked my wife to be on the board of directors. In Kitchener-Waterloo, if you didn’t step up, there was no one else to do it. 

 

We became slightly more observant. On Saturday mornings we went to synagogue. In the afternoon, we played board games at friends’ houses. It became a nice break from the hectic week.

There were occasional hints of antisemitism as there might be anywhere, but nothing too concerning. We thrived and made friends within both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities.

As far as we knew, our kids were the only Jewish students at their public school. The school asked us to give presentations on Hanukkah and Passover in our kids’ classrooms.

Although I’m proud to be Jewish, I must admit that even in a diverse country like Canada, I’ve remained cautious about openly displaying my faith. After leaving a synagogue service, I instinctively took off my kippah and replaced it with a baseball hat. At work I would tell customers, when asked, that I was off for a couple of days, not mentioning that it was because of a Jewish holiday. 

I’ve always considered myself a Canadian Jew. But was I? In the past, I didn’t hide my religion, but I also never talked about it much in public, unless specifically asked. During conflicts between Israel and its neighbours, I generally laid low, hoping the usual outbursts against Israel would pass. They generally did, at least on the surface, and we went back to our regular routines. 

Yet this time, during the most recent Israel/Hamas conflict, things really did seem different.

There was an uncomfortable feeling of being a Jew in Canada. The protests seemed more vicious and violent. The distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism has always been tenuous. But the line between them is disappearing completely, with slogans like “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

Social media has always been mostly anti-Israel. But the attacks have become more vitriolic. It seems that, increasingly, Jews and Israel are interchangeable as targets. The attacks aren’t rational. “Israel is a genocidal state.” “Zionists control the media.” Many of these comments get hundreds or thousands of likes. Meanwhile, news about the persecution of Muslim Uyghurs forcibly placed in camps in China gets no comments or media interest.

Celebrities are parroting their anti-Jewish talking points to millions of followers. Entertainers who so fervently advocate for other minority groups, have little issue singling out Jews and the only Jewish state in the world with libelous accusations. Listening to Dua Lipa or The Weeknd will forever be different.

Canadian politicians were quick to condemn specific attacks against other minorities. Yet when Jews were the main targets of hate, the statements tended to be general condemnations of racism or pairing antisemitism with islamophobia.  

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Canada certainly has its historic faults. The tragedy of the residential schools. The restrictions on Jews fleeing from Europe under the phrase “None is too many.” Japanese and Italian internments. But modern Canada has also been a model to the world of acceptance, opportunity, and freedom.

I hope this Canada continues. Yet it’s also prudent as Jews to be realists. Jews have found places of temporary refuge throughout history. And in most cases, those tolerant societies have eventually turned on their Jews and forced them to flee or die. 

I’m certainly not suggesting that is the case in Canada today. However, this year was the first time I can remember seriously discussing with my wife my thought that it might be time to consider looking for a place in Israel, just in case.

I’m still proud to be a Canadian and a Jew. But lately it’s felt a bit strained. It wasn’t that long ago that my ancestors arrived here. Maybe it’s better to think of myself as a Jew still living in Canada.

Mark Shiffer is a freelance writer for a number of publications and to The Blogs of Times of Israel. One of his main interests is history and especially Jewish history.

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We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

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Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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Happy reading!

Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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