Are Jewish Children Safe to Wear a Kippah on the Street?
06/11/21: Dear Friend: Shabbat Shalom and welcome to TheFridayReport. I have given thousands of speeches over the years. Never before was I brought to tears like this week when a 13 year-old student at Associated Hebrew School asked me in front of 250+ students (on Zoom) the following question:
"Mr. Benlolo, is it safe for me to wear my Kippah outside while walking on the street in Toronto?"
I have been asked this question before. My world view is that we should never back down or acquiesce to antisemitism, discrimination or terrorism for that matter. Those of you who know me, you know I have literally put myself in the line of fire to stand up and speak out for the Jewish people. I have been threatened with murder for being a Jew.
But this was different. I was speaking to elementary aged students. We are responsible for them as a community. The weight of the question literally brought tears to my eyes. How do I answer it? Do I lie or tell the truth? I spontaneously started tearing because the weight of my next few words mattered. The realization of our situation crashed against me.
The last three weeks have been completely emotional and sleepless. I spoke to people late into the night and researched in the middle of the night. I found myself having to triage the issues coming my way. The war between Hamas and Israel was beyond our control. The war on the streets of Toronto, Montreal, New York and Los Angeles was a completely different matter.
Jewish people were assaulted by pro-Palestinian "protestors" - because they were Jewish. Video after video had been released showing mobs of rioters swarming Jewish people on the street and at restaurants. In Toronto, protestors at City Hall were accosted - one man was badly beaten by a mob while others had to run from rocks and bottles thrown at them.
Jewish people began fearing for their lives. The violence was so grave that Jewish citizens were reaching out to me about setting up patrols in neighbourhoods. University students, teachers, academics, child aid workers, bankers and public servants plead for help.
Antisemitism in Toronto
Reports of vandalism. Of skirmishes. Of broken windows in Jewish businesses. Of cyber attacks on Kosher restaurants became rampant. They still are festering.
My emotion was based in this backdrop -about the state of affairs. A state of affairs that now sees silence from elected officials and many business leaders. It's just not good enough to condemn Antisemitism over twitter. Seriously. And a "conference" is also not good enough. We have seen plenty of these.
Hamas Flag at a Protest in Toronto
To make matters worse, the tragedy that unfolded before us with the horrific murder of the Muslim family in London showed that we are all potential targets of hate. After vigorously condemning their murder both online, in the media and by reaching out to the Muslim community - I was horrified by the missed opportunity that happened next.
We were all shocked that despite our outpouring of love over hate that one of the speakers said on live television to a round of cheers and applause: "Whatever is happening in Jerusalem and Gaza is related to what is happening in London, Ontario". Although he has since said that's not what he meant, it was met with criticism by the Jewish community.
Moreover the deafening silence from the political leaders who sat in the front row and heard these remarks is being discussed all across the nation in Jewish homes and by friends of the Jewish people. We have taken notice. Under these circumstances how can we say that our safety and security is assured?
As I wrote in my National Post column today, Canada has changed in a matter of weeks:
"After the violence of the last number of weeks, our social fabric is coming apart. Canadians no longer feel safe and secure in their own homes. In one of my lectures this week, a Jewish child asked me if its still safe to wear a kippah on the street. Our political leaders have begun engaging in partisan politics, exacerbating internal fear and strife playing into the recent conflict between the terrorist group, Hamas and Israel. Shockingly, some Parliamentarians have been issuing letters critical of Israel to their constituents and to Parliament itself — which have only fanned inter-communal animosity. Some public groups have issued statements supporting the anti-Semitic boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel while Jewish staff have reached out to me about feeling discriminated against in their own companies and organizations".
Its with this context in mind that I counselled the Hebrew school students to take every precaution if they are going walking while wearing a Kippah. While adults are safe, Jewish students I said should walk with their parents or an adult - at least for the moment while passions are running high.
Having grown up in Toronto and walked to Shul with a Kippah throughout my life, the weight of this statement to 250 Jewish kids is beyond comprehension. Yet given the violence and reported assaults, their safety must come first.
It underscores the terror that has been inflicted on the Jewish community over the last few weeks. We can no longer afford to stand by and let our children grow up into a world that frightens and terrifies them. When we said NEVER AGAIN - this is what we meant.
I for one will continue fighting, advocating and passionately reaching out to diverse communities to build bridges of peace and tolerance.
May this Shabbat be one of peace and blessing. Shabbat Shalom!
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ABOUT: Avi Abraham Benlolo has been described as the nation's most prominent and noted expert in Holocaust studies, in countering Antisemitism and promoting human rights. He has dedicated nearly three decades in executive capacities, was founding President and CEO of a major organization in the Jewish community, has raised over $150 million for charities and is a leading voice in Canada. His academic research, graduate degree, Ph.D. coursework and nearly three decades of professional work has focused on these arenas in addition to peace and security in the Middle East. He has published hundreds of articles in these areas. In recognition of his national and international leadership in this area, he has received numerous awards including an Honorary Doctorate from a prestigious Israeli university for his work in Holocaust studies and combating antisemitism; an Order of Vaughan for his distinguished contribution to anti-racism, equity and diversity; the Queens Diamond Jubilee Award for his contributions to Canada and a race relations award for best practice, based on distinguished service in promoting human rights.
As a supporter of Israel, he is proud to have established "The Avi Benlolo Scholarship Fund in National Security" at Haifa University.