Elchanan Poupko

An Urgent Letter to Fellow Canadians

The front doors of Congregation Beth Tikvah in the Montreal suburb of Dollard-des-Ormeau were hit with a firebomb, November 6, 2023. (B'nai Brith Canada via JTA)

Dear Fellow Canadians, the silent majority in Canada.

The majority that has seen the chaotic scenes from Toronto and Montreal and watched silently, not wanting to take sides. You have seen Jewish communities besieged by crazed protesters marching with Palestinian flags, or chaotic scenes coming out of your local universities with young Kafiya donning students chanting “intifada intifada” or “from the River to the Sea Palestine will be free!” and have chosen to remain silent. After all, who are you to take sides on a complicated conflict taking place halfway around the world from where you are? I am writing to you.

You may know me, or perhaps you know my family. Perhaps my grandmother has been your hockey coach on Vancouver Island, or your teacher in Osooyos and Westbridge in Rural British Columbia, perhaps you went to UBC on a scholarship my uncle helped fundraise for, or maybe you are one of the children who would stop by for dinner in my family’s home in the Comox Valley, or maybe you attended a Youth Music Camp my grandmother volunteered to help run. Perhaps you have been my neighbour in North York who watched me playing ball with my daughter in the backyard or one of the thousands of patients helped by a physician in my family. It may not be me; it may be another Jewish person you may have known who impacted your life in Canada in a positive way and needs to realize how painful your silence has been.

No, you do not need to take sides on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but you do need to take a stance when your Jewish neighbours cannot send their children to school safely. Jews are the only minority in Canada seeking options for emigrating out of Canada, and that is a moral crime future Canadian generations will have to deal with.

You do not need to take sides on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; you do need to take sides when you see Jewish schools requiring more security than government offices. You do need to take sides when a Jewish school in Montreal is repeatedly shot at. You do need to take sides when in Candada–one of the world’s most tolerant societies–Jews are hiding their Jewish neckleces and religious symbols out of fear for their personal safety. You do need to take sides when police and public officials fail to protect Jewish neighbourhoods. That is not political, it is the human and Canadian thing to do.

This week, as a crazed mob with Palestinian flags gathered outside Montreal’s 250-year-old Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, which was established by the descendants of Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal in 1492, I thought of the words Don Isaac Abravanel shared with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella upon the edict expelling all Jews from Spain.

“As we are reminded of our own powerlessness, so your nation will suffer from the forces of disequilibrium that you have set in motion. For centuries to come, your descendants will pay dearly for your mistake of the present…In the course of time, the once great name of Spain will become a whispered byword among the nations: Spain, the poor ignorant has-been; Spain, the nation which showed so much promise and yet accomplished so little.”

History has shown time and again that countries that become unsafe for Jews quickly become unsafe for freedom, innovation, free-thinking, and tolerance for other minorities. Canada is quickly going down that path. Jews can no longer comfortably send their children to Canadian universities, go to synagogues without worrying about protests outside their synagogues, or host a cultural event without the prospect of an angry mob besieging their venue. The mobs and the protesters are not what is making your Jewish neighbours doubt their future in Canada; it is the lack of public outcry. The painful silence is what pains them most.

Speaking to my uncle in Toronto the other day, we were lamenting the lack of safety Canadian Jews have been recently experiencing. Growing up, someone who is now an NDP official had lived with our family as a child for an entire year. I asked him if she had done anything to speak out against this wave of hate making Canada unlivable for Jews. “No,” he said, but in her defense, he said, “We had not reached out to her to ask for her to say something,” I asked him what he would do if the group she belonged to were persecuted. It was obvious that had this member of the NDP’s religion or ethnicity would be targeted, we would have come out publicly and forcefully in her defense. Canadian Jews deserve no less from the Canadian public.

My fellow Canadians, the time to speak out against hate is now. Why? Because being Canadian is about doing the right thing. Because if one day there is a Canada with no Jews, you will be the generation to have remained silent about that moral atrocity. Because a Canada that is unsafe for one minority will end up being safe for no one. Ask your local elected officials, police departments, and universities what they are doing to make sure Jews feel safe. Let your Jewish neighbours you are there for them, and speak out after any kind of show of hate in your community.

For the sake of Canada, for the sake of your children, for the sake of our children, for the sake of what is right, the time to speak out against antisemitism in the clearest and loudest way possible is now. Be the one to speak out.


About the Author
Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a New England based eleventh-generation rabbi, teacher, and author. He has written Sacred Days on the Jewish Holidays, Poupko on the Parsha, and hundreds of articles published in five languages. He is the president of EITAN--The American Israeli Jewish Network.
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