During the last 12 months, as the world began to recover from a pandemic that dramatically impacted all our lives and the people of Ukraine were unconscionably and viciously attacked by Russia, the Jewish community experienced a disturbing surge in antisemitic hate at a level not seen in more than 75 years.
Anti-Jewish speech and action, inextricably intertwined with anti-Israel and anti-Zionist rhetoric, grew exponentially in social media, in public discourse, and on Canadian campuses until it felt like a constant barrage of one horrific incident after another, increasingly frequent, and each more incendiary than the last.
But we also saw some reason for hope! Accounts on social media were removed, profitable sponsorship contracts were canceled, and many individuals, celebrities, and politicians stood with us and denounced the normalization of any racist vitriol.
Governments began discussing legislation to hold social platforms accountable for content and to define and criminalize hate speech and Holocaust denial to combat this surge more effectively. Across Canada many jurisdictions adopted the IHRA definition, and we successfully secured over $50 million in federal grants for vital community projects.
Powerful new programs, such as Rise Up Ottawa! organized by the indomitable Lisa Levitan, saw hundreds of community leaders, politicians, dignitaries, and everyone in between come together to hear stories from students who experienced firsthand what a scourge antisemitism is. Their experiences demonstrate it’s not a relic of the past, but a real and present hate to which our children are exposed.
In Hamilton, we saw the local Jewish Federation put together the #nomoreantisemitism conference, which showcased keynote speakers, exhibitions, and various displays and booths from community organizations to confront the regular occurrences of Jew-hatred in Hamilton and across the world.
In November, I traveled to Rome, where I participated in a historic moment in Christian-Judeo relations, as the Catholic church hosted the World Jewish Congress executive meetings on Vatican premises. Pope Francis welcomed us personally, shook each of our hands and, to the representatives of Jewish communities from more than 50 countries, the leader of the Catholic church had this to say:
Our two communities of faith are entrusted with the task of working to make the world more fraternal, combating forms of inequality and promoting greater justice, so that peace will not remain an otherworldly promise, but become a present reality in our world.
An important accomplishment, one that CIJA will launch nationally early next year, was the debut in Ontario of Unlearn It, a resource hub for educators and parents to learn about, identify, and take action to address antisemitism. It is a collaboration between CIJA, the Toronto Holocaust Museum, and Facing History & Ourselves Canada. I encourage you to watch some of the videos that are used to guide meaningful discussions among students about the harm of antisemitism, which you can find here. Also encouraging is the decision by the Ontario Ministry of Education to make Holocaust education a mandatory learning requirement in the Grade VI curriculum. This is sure to help younger students gain a deeper understanding of the significance of the Holocaust and a policy for which we are advocating in other jurisdictions across Canada.
These are just a few examples. At CIJA, we know that we must stay vigilant. We must call out injustice every time we see it! We must continue to work with our government representatives to ensure they have all the facts, and that misinformation and false information are repudiated with accurate knowledge. We must name it and shame it and invest our efforts in education at all levels and in respectful and civil dialogue. We must also resist the urge to “cancel” our adversaries so that we keep the channels of communication open and maintain the means to change the narrative.
And we must make sure our voices are heard. To this end, I invite ALL OF YOU to join the CIJA team and our partner Federations from across Canada in Ottawa on October 16-17 for Democracy In Action, a conference that will provide an unparalleled advocacy opportunity to showcase the strength, diversity, and vitality of the Canadian Jewish community.
We will bring together 1,000 representatives of communities and partner organizations from across Canada to explore the challenges facing Canadian Jewry and the ways, as a diverse yet united national community, we can address them. There will be speakers, workshops, lobbying and advocacy training, and an opportunity to share our priorities with our elected officials. Together, we will celebrate and galvanize support for the Canada-Israel friendship and express our collective and determined opposition to antisemitism in all its manifestations. The conference will include a special advance program, beginning on October 15, dedicated to our campus constituencies and providing customized training for students.
We’ll have more information in the weeks and months ahead, but I cannot urge you strongly enough to hold these dates in your calendar now. This will be one of the most ambitious and important community events we have ever undertaken, one that will lay the foundation for our public policy advocacy agenda for the future. The strength of our voice must be amplified, but it cannot happen without each one of you! Its success is your success.
As this year ends, I wish you and your families a healthy and peaceful 2023 filled with mutual respect, understanding, and acceptance. And, while there were dark periods this past year, as Chanukah continues, I’m reminded of the purpose of the candles we light on our menorahs: to make the darkness itself shine.
May that darkness be behind us with only light ahead for our entire community.
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