What Can I Answer…

by Arliene Botnick, October 31, 2023

Many of our parents have been calling me in the past two weeks asking about extra security. I understand their fears, anxieties, concerns. There have been several incidents in our public schools in which our small Jewish student population has been harassed, intimidated, and outright threatened. I have been able to say yes; we have extra security. Thank you to Peel police and Frank Kay. We are watching your kids. We have kept our doors locked. There are police cruisers in our parking lot. That is the answer I have been able to give them thus far to alleviate their worries. It is comforting for them to hear my answers. What I can’t answer is … Why again? Why does 1/4 of 1% of the world population have to go into a form of “hiding”? Why are some of our adults thinking about removing visible mezuzahs from their doorposts? Why are many of our Beit Sefer Solel students told by their parents that they should not wear any clothing or jewelry that identifies them as Jews? We all supported the rights for our Sikh neighbours to wear turbans, our Muslim women to wear head coverings, for our LGBTQ community to be able to define their gender as they wished. Who is fighting to protect us and to say that we, our kids, our community should not have to fear being identified as Jews. We should not have to hear, as many of our Beit Sefer Solel kids said to me, that they “need to keep a low profile, invisible profile.

We do have some community support. But how much? There have been numerous rallies in Mississauga, and elsewhere. Palestinian flags are being waved from cars as they are driven around many of our streets. But, as Rabbi Pollack and Rabbi Englander said, the flags being waved should be flags of peace. When our children are being harassed, it is not with words that usually have to do with Israel. They are being challenged because they are Jewish. When kids in a school yard start chanting all Jew must die, what can I answer to explain this form of hatred from kids who actually have no idea what or who a Jew is? Well before there was a state, there was Jew hatred. Well before this most recent terrorist attack, there have been numerous terrorist attacks, pogroms, brutal, inhumane treatment of captives. How do I answer why, with or without the state of Israel, Jews are the target of hatred!

Shakespeare wrote the” Merchant of Venice” in the late 1500’s. Jews had been expelled from England in 1290 and did not return til Cromwell in 1656. Basically, Shakespeare had probably never met a Jew. But he clearly continued to depict the stereotype that he understood, as he portrayed the money grubbing, cruel, pound of flesh demanding Shylock. That’s the way the play, more often than not, is taught! Read the Canterbury Tales (1387 – we had already been expelled from England) in which Chaucer propagates the myth in the Prioress tale of Jews slitting the throat of a young Christian child because he sings a song in praise of Mary. This was the excuse to torture and slaughter Jews, fuelled in the poetry in the Canterbury tales. Unbelievable that Jews, if found, were to be slaughtered because Chaucer “knew” what he was talking about, though, once again, probably never having met a Jew.

What can I answer when I do not believe in censoring literature, but I do believe freedom of speech has to have boundaries. No one should have the freedom to spread hatred against any group. No one should have the right to stir up the rabble rousers and fuel angry mobs. I want to answer our kids and our parents with words of comfort and ask them to be proud of their Jewish identity. I want this to be a world of peace and respect and understanding! I want to, one day, be able to say that we don’t have to hide, nor take off our mezuzahs, nor put our Magen Davids necklaces under our shirts.

Let’s start here in Canada and see what we can do. Right now, no one knows yet how to establish peace in the Middle East, but we have to make sure there is peace here in Mississauga, in Canada. Speak up to the politicians whose bias is antisemitic. Not acceptable! They are our elected representatives and should not be taking sides. Write letters to the press where it is blatantly one sided; talk to the school boards if they do not respond to Jew hatred in their schools. Our kids should not be attending school in fear. No child should. One day, I want to be able to answer that, as proud Jews, we need not be afraid, that we can openly identify as Jews and not have to “hide” Talk to your friends and neighbours and help them understand who we are , the values we share , the wonderful holidays we celebrate. Let’s create peace here and hope we can export goodwill and not import hatred. We have to keep trying. Abraham was told by God, “Lech Lecha” – go forth, Neither the length of his journey nor the exact location was given. But Abraham had faith. Let’s continue on the journey with faith, and maybe, just maybe, peace will be the destination we reach. Key Y’hee Ratzon May it be God’s Will.

Filed under: Educator's Message

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