A mixed reality for Canadian Jews

January 18, 2023

Column

Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce announces mandatory Holocaust education in elementary schools during a press conference at Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue in Toronto in November.

By Michael Levitt

Yes, indisputably, a disturbing number of Canadians have a problem with Jews. No, this isn’t new. Yes, we should be deeply concerned by growing antisemitism. No, Jews don’t have their suitcases packed and passports at the ready — at least not yet.

To be sure, 2022 will go down as an awful year in the annals of antisemitism in Canada and many other countries, with all bets off on how it will play out in 2023. Few people seem optimistic things will improve significantly any time soon.

History gives Jews good reason to worry about antisemitism. Beset by 3,000 years of near-constant persecution, with a genocide thrown in for good measure, the current reality sets off alarm bells. Decidedly, today’s growing hostility toward Jews is unsettling, especially for Holocaust survivors who’ve witnessed the horrors that can result when hate is left unchecked.

But amid these dark days, we mustn’t lose sight of the sources of light in Canada. We should take a degree of comfort in policies by all three levels of government on hate and tolerance, legislation and protection against discrimination, Holocaust education and commemoration and freedom of worship being a constitutionally protected right. There remains much room for improvement, but the situation isn’t all bleak, even if, at times, it may seem like open season on Jews.

Consider the following actions:

  • Federal government and five provinces adopt IHRA working definition of antisemitism.
  • Ontario introduces mandatory Holocaust education in elementary schools and antisemitism course in teachers’ college.
  • Toronto City Council’s launch of the Toronto for All campaign against antisemitism.
  • Federal funding for major new Jewish community institutions in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.
  • Growing acknowledgment in private and public institutions of need to include fight against antisemitism in EDI (equity, diversity and inclusion) training.
  • Ontario funds development of classroom resources on antisemitism.
  • Increased commitment of police forces in Canada for more effective training and better enforcement of hate crime laws

Each of the above by itself might be of limited consequence but, collectively, all these initiatives — and many others not included here — add up to a serious, significant commitment to do right in the fight against antisemitism. The response, like the problem itself, must be multi-faceted.

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