Canada has become a cautionary tale of what happens when you let antisemitism run unchecked

June 4, 2024


< Back to News Room

When will it stop? Is an end in sight? Just when we want to believe we’ve seen the worst in antisemitism in Canada and hope that the surge in anti-Jewish hate crimes and related incidents that began after Oct. 7 will subside, we’re hit with a fresh reality check.

Indeed, it’s now almost as if each new day brings more troubling headlines for Canada’s Jewish community about yet another disturbing antisemitic action.

Events of recent days are a stark example. Last Thursday night, a synagogue in Vancouver became one of the latest Jewish targets to be violently attacked. Vancouver Police are now looking for the person who set fire to the front doors of the Schara Tzedeck Synagogue, one of the city’s oldest Jewish congregations.

Fortunately no injuries were reported and little damage was caused. However, the arson attack’s significance and the danger it represents shouldn’t be minimized, especially as it comes amid an unprecedented level of anti-Jewish rhetoric and hate incidents in Canada since Oct. 7.

As Canada’s Special Envoy for Combating Antisemitism, Deborah Lyons, so aptly said in response to the synagogue attack: “Incendiary rhetoric leads to incendiary violence.”

Just think of what easily could have happened had the flames spread and burned the Vancouver synagogue to the ground. Just think of the other firebombing and shooting attacks against Jewish buildings in Canada over the past eight months alone, not to mention the torrent of other antisemitic incidents across the country.

Add them all up and you have a litany of heinous actions of dizzying proportion that reflects poorly on what we want to believe about our country.

Such is the current frequency of anti-Jewish actions that each new incident is soon overtaken by news of the next.

Case in point: The May 25 shooting that targeted the Bais Chaya Mushka Elementary School in Toronto followed 72 hours later by a similar attack against Montreal’s Belz Yeshiva Ketana, a school housed in a synagogue, are now both overshadowed by last Thursday’s firebombing of the Vancouver synagogue. I shudder to think what’s next.

Worryingly, the fact that antisemitic attacks have now become so common makes them, on one level, less “shocking” to some people. Heaven forbid non-Jewish Canadians become desensitized to such heinous acts and that antisemitism becomes almost normalized.

In such a situation, we would be facing an even more ominous reality than we’re living through today.

To be sure, we must remain clear-eyed. One never wants to overreact but it’s anything but hyperbole to say that what’s happening now on our streets and on university campuses is nothing short of alarming, made even worse by the lack of response from those in positions of authority to this vile scourge of antisemitism.

As a Jewish community, we’ve spent years, if not generations, looking at other places in the world and thinking, my goodness, thank God we live in Canada, as we viewed with dismay unabashed, even deadly, anti-Jewish hate in the streets of Europe and elsewhere.

But now we see similar antisemitism happening here, in our own backyard. For us, it’s no longer distant or theoretical. Clearly, Canada has no immunity from this age-old virus. We too have become a global hot spot for antisemitism.

Our country is now part of the cautionary tale of antisemitism going unchecked. Whatever fear and anxiety the Jewish community may be feeling, we cannot and will not be quiet, neither collectively nor as individuals. Silence is not an option, especially given the void in leadership of so many public officials.

It’s the responsibility of Jews and non-Jews alike to demand from our political and civic leaders urgent, concrete actions to fight antisemitism before it leads to more dire, even tragic, consequences.

What’s at stake for our country cannot be overstated. If you think I’m exaggerating, I urge you to reflect on the dark lessons history has taught us.