Anti-Semitism: A Centuries-Old Problem Resurfaces in Canada
Amid warnings about fascist philosophies becoming a global trend, concerns exist about the growing threat of Anti-Semitism taking root.

Amid warnings about fascist philosophies becoming a global trend, concerns exist about the growing threat of Anti-Semitism taking root.

Read any current news headlines and you’ll encounter one troubling trend: hateful actions motivated by race, religion, ethnicity, immigrant status, gender, or sexuality. Some hit close to home, such as the January 2017 attack on a Quebec City mosque. Amid warnings about fascist philosophies becoming a global trend, concerns exist about the targeting of religious minorities. In Canada, some warn about a marked increase in anti-Semitism.

A Brief History of Anti-Semitism

While the term “anti-Semitism” dates to 1879, the Encyclopedia Britannica discloses that its ideological roots are much older. Before the advent of Christianity, imperial rulers often expressed ire at Jewish communities’ refusals to assimilate and adopt the dominant culture’s religious beliefs. Later, Christians around the Middle East and the Mediterranean distanced themselves from their Jewish neighbors. Once Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, Jewish people were further marginalized as anti-Semitic thought found its way into public opinion and theological teachings.

During medieval times and in modern Europe, Jewish communities grew, thanks in part to success in trade and banking. At the same time, members of these communities made significant contributions to a wide range of scientific, philosophical, and artistic disciplines. Yet during less tolerant regimes, Jewish people became targets of ugly stereotypes. Hateful rhetoric included passion plays that reenacted Jesus’s persecution and cast Jewish people as villains as well as blood libel accusations that they murdered and sacrificed Christian children. Anti-Semitic ideas picked up more steam prior to World War I, leading to horrific action by Nazis through the Holocaust.

Canada and Anti-Jewish Prejudice

As many Jewish refugees fled for their lives during the 1930s, Canada’s response was less than welcoming. An archived CBC News clip from 1982 discussed the closed-door policies of former Prime Minister Mackenzie King. Out of an estimated 800,000 total who attempted to flee Europe, Canadian authorities only allowed 5,000 to enter. Especially egregious was the Canadian government’s refusal to allow the landing of the MS St. Louis, a ship that left Europe in May 1939 carrying 900 Jewish refugees. A November 2018 Reuters piece detailed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s apology for this incident.

Worrying Trends in the 21st Century

While anti-Semitic harassment, vandalism, and hate crimes have increased in the United States, they’ve also been on the rise in Canada. A November 2018 Haaretz article cited Statistics Canada’s findings, revealing 360 anti-Jewish incidents reported to police departments across the nation. An April 2018 CTV News piece referred to B’nai Brith Canada’s report, which included several instances of anti-Jewish graffiti in Toronto, hateful messages targeting a family in Winnipeg, and several synagogues across the country receiving threatening photos.

Experts are trying to determine the causes behind the apparent increase in anti-Jewish hatred. Some point to our southern neighbors as the problem, citing examples such as the October 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally in August 2017. Yet an April 2018 Globe and Mail article divulges a disturbing trend all over the West, with anti-Semitic ideologies gaining more noticeable and brazen expression throughout Europe and North America. Journalist John Ibbitson tries to unpack the problem, suggesting a few factors that may contribute to the rebranding of anti-Jewish conspiracy myths:

  • A disdain for globalization
  • Conflating criticisms of Zionism with anti-Jewish sentiments
  • The rise of nativism and populism

Fighting Hatred on Canadian Soil

In December 2018, B’nai Brith Canada released an action plan focusing on additional training for law enforcement, improved legislation, and measures for handling hate speech both online and at public universities. Others call upon the Canadian government to go beyond apologies with honest assessments of Canadian history, more education, and combating Holocaust denial and similar ideologies. In the meantime, Jewish Canadians seek answers and watch for the safety of their friends, families, and communities.

Making Atonement During Yom Kippur
Yom Kippur Letterpress

Yom Kappur is considered a day of atonement.

The Jewish community celebrates the New Year in the fall. They call the holiday Rosh Hashanah. It begins a period of 10 days known as the High Holy Days and commences with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur is probably the most sacred holiday to the Jews. Even secular Jews attend synagogue. It might be the only day some Jews go to temple, much like Christians attending church service on Easter or Christmas Eve. You may not be Jewish, or even believe that there is a supreme being; however, you can learn from this holiday and approach the upcoming traditional holiday season with a clean slate.

Traditions of Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is the day when Jews make apologies to God for their sins. In order to approach God, it’s traditional to fast and pray for 24 hours. In addition to fasting, Jews do not have marital relations, do not wear leather shoes, do not wash and do not bathe during Yom Kippur. Orthodox Jews may immerse in a mikveh before Yom Kippur as a symbol of purity. Many Jews will wear white, as another way of presenting themselves as pure.

Prayers of repentance are said during services at the synagogue. Public and private atonement is made before God, depending on the desire of the individual. The process of asking for forgiveness is called Teshuva. It involves:

  • Regret of having committed the sin
  • A resolve not to commit the sin in the future
  • Confession before God

Also, Jews will give charity to those less fortunate on Yom Kippur. This year, Yom Kippur falls on October 12, but it actually begins at sunset on the day before and ends at nightfall on the actual day. Following Yom Kippur, families might have a feast in celebration of completing the fast.

What We Can Learn

In 1982, the band Chicago came out with a song, “Hard to Say I’m Sorry.” The song might be referencing two lovers who had a disagreement, but most of us, if we were really honest, don’t like to admit when we’re wrong or we’ve done something to injure another person’s feelings. Maybe you don’t believe in God, but it’s probable that you may have hurt someone in the past. We all make mistakes and say things that we probably should have thought about before opening our mouth or typing them at the keyboard. Learning how the Jews apologize to God, we can actually learn how to apologize to others.

Have you ever said to someone, “I’m sorry you feel that way” or “I’m sorry if I hurt you”? Take a second to look at those phrases. Although it may seem like a case of semantics, you might make them feel as if you’re dismissing their feelings when you say those words. Are you sorry for your actions or for how they reacted to your mistake?

A better way to apologize is to say, “I’m sorry I did . . . I cannot excuse my behavior, and I won’t let it happen again. Please forgive me.” There may be extenuating circumstances. Maybe the other person made you mad, but you cannot control anyone’s behavior but your own. Think about your own attitude when you say you’re sorry. And remember that all you can do is make the apology. The other person does not have to accept your apology. It could happen that day, but it might not happen for years. Don’t make the situation worse by forcing someone to forgive you.

Christmas and the New Year are coming up. Think about making amends with family members or neighbors this year to have a clean conscious. Fix those relationships that are broken and truly celebrate the good will of the upcoming season.