Safety and Freedom

by Roselyn Allen, October 30, 2019

October 27th marked the first anniversary of the Tree of Life shootings in Pittsburgh. Eleven lives were tragically lost, others in the congregation were physically injured, and all Jewish communities across North America were shaken. For many in Canada, a complacency that we are accepted members of our towns and cities was lost. We had heard that anti-Semitic acts were on the rise, but perhaps didn’t feel it deeply as broken gravestones and fascist graffiti aren’t people.

Solel Congregation of Mississauga has always been an open and welcoming place. Besides being a Jewish home for those in the western GTA, on a daily basis we open our doors to our neighbours, to interfaith meetings, to individuals and school and community groups wanting to learn about what it is to be Jewish. We have an Invite Your Neighbour service to show our community how important they are to us and that we feel we are an integral part of Mississauga. We have built the foundations for Pathways and the Mississauga Foodbank to make sure the community around us is cared for – no matter their religions. And synagogues all over the world do the same.

And yet, in the year since Tree of Life, anti Semitic acts continue. On average, every third day a visible member of the Orthodox community in New York is physically assaulted. Swastikas continue to be painted and it seems vocal hatred, not just of Jews, seems to be bolder. And people have come to me, as President of Solel, to voice their concerns. But how do we find balance between our fear and our love of our community? How do we keep ourselves safe and welcoming at the same time?

When I was 19 years old, I was hired as the first female summer campus police officer at the University of King’s College in Halifax. This was a big deal as I felt I had pushed feminism forward. For my parents however, it was worrisome. This was the first summer after the Ecole Polytechnic murders and I would be patrolling the campus, as tiny as it was, by myself on evenings and weekends. They insisted I take a self-defense class, but despite that my father was worried and my mother had to calm him down. I felt I’d struck a balance between safety and freedom. And to be honest, I felt like declining the job because of my family’s fears would be a defeat of my strong, feminist identity.

I think back to this time in my life when dealing with the safety concerns of our synagogue. Some of you may have noticed small changes over the past year. We have been in consultations with Peel Regional Police and others, have a plan to move forward with security features within our upcoming general renovation as well as increased safety training. But we still must balance some common sense security solutions with our freedom to exist as Jews in Canadian Society, to pray, to welcome our neighbours, to give back to our community.

So, in this time between the secular date of Tree of Life, and its Hebrew yahrzeit the weekend of November 16th, consider the balances we need to exist as a Jewish community in safety and freedom so hard fought. For the 11 who were murdered, may their memories be for a blessing and HaMakom Yikom Damam.

Filed under: President's Message

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