Practice What You Preach

Jewish Community Comes to Terms With Islamophobia

Growing up in an observant Jewish home, there are values that are generally bestowed upon you. You learn valuable lessons about Tikun Olam, the concept of healing the world. Unfortunately, as you grow older, you learn that often this concept is forgotten when the touchy subject of Jewish-Islamic relations are concerned.

Despite paying lip service to the fact that Islam and terrorism are not synonymous, there is an undercurrent of Islamophobia in the Jewish community that often goes unremarked. It is neither violent nor public, but is destructive just the same.

When five synagogues and a Jewish day school were vandalized by thrown rocks last week, the immediate reaction from many local Jews was that it must have been the work of Muslims.

Though rabbis and community leaders insisted it was too soon to talk about who was behind the damage, in private, many in the community came to the conclusion that—like the firebombing of the United Talmud Torah of Montreal school in 2006—the perpetrators were adherents to Islam taking out their anger over the Israel-Palestine conflict.

I know this because of conversations I have had with friends and family. I know this because it was my own first reaction. And it is not a racism born out of hatred, but out of laziness and fear of an unknown other.

There have been attacks on synagogues and Jewish centres going back longer than most care to remember, and for reasons that have run the gamut from killing Christ to military action in the Middle East. Let’s face it—there are a lot of screwed up assholes out there who hate Jews. And yet the assumption wasn’t that a group of skinheads or extreme Christian fundamentalists wandered into Cote St. Luc, stones in hand.

Yes, there has been tension between the two communities. Yes, passions often get stirred up when it comes to Israel and Palestine. And with good reason—many in Montreal have relatives in the region, and are thus more vested in what happens beyond important, yet ethereal, concepts like human rights. But it is because of that tension that we need to strengthen the ties between our religious families. By ending the demonization, perhaps we can end the violence, at home if not abroad. If this seems like a vague suggestion that the solution is to hug thy neighbour, well, it is. But it’s as good a place to start healing an unnecessary rift as any.

Let’s wait for all the facts to come out. And then, once a court of law has reached a decision, we can condemn the perpetrators based on their actions, and not on their religion.

This article originally appeared in The Link Volume 31, Issue 20, published January 25, 2011.

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