Anti-Semitism-Just hit delete


My mother and father met in Toronto during the war. Toronto, Canada’s largest city, was at that time mostly white, mostly Christian and very much tied to England, which was mostly white and mostly Anglican. My mother told me stories about racism in Toronto. There were anti-Irish and anti-Semitic sentiments in the city. Signs posted in public “No admission of Jews dogs and Irishmen.” Canada was anti-Semitic.

In the 1930’s there were quotas for Jews in the universities, many professions, medical schools and industry. Some were still in place in the 1960’s and 70’s. There were employment policies that froze out Jewish applicants. Clubs were “gentile” only. There were boycotts against Jewish companies. Sound familiar?

On the advice of her high school teacher my mother changed the spelling and pronunciation of her surname to give it a French or Christian flare in order to find employment. She also changed her first name to Susan from Sarah. My father’s Hebrew name is Abraham-so I am Devorah, the daughter of Abraham and Sarah!

Canada was neither accommodating to, nor tolerant of Jews already living in Canada. It became even more difficult for Jews to immigrate to Canada during the reign of hitler(I prefer to use lower case letters-he has no right to a capital letter at the beginning of his name) when the negative attitude toward Jews didn’t improve. My mother worked in places where derogatory remarks about Jews were as common as tea and crumpets. She feigned illness around the Jewish holidays so she could be home with family and celebrate her tradition and beliefs. It required finesse to pull this off each year. Perhaps the saving grace was that most people had no idea when our holidays take place.

Canada behaved shamefully during the Second World War.  Frederick Charles Blair was the head of immigration during Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s administration.  He compared Jews clamouring to get into the country to hogs at feeding time.   “Why don’t you people learn to live with your neighbours wherever you are? Why are you hated?” Blair remains infamous for his response  to the number of Jews Canada was willing to take in as refugees. “None is too many.”

For the seminal work on Canada’s anti-Semitism during the Nazi horror read None is Too Many, by Canadians Harold Troper and Irving Abella.

Anti-semitic sentiment was greatest in Quebec and unfortunately, it is still a problem, today. Many young Jewish people left Montreal, the city with the largest number of Holocaust survivors, decades, ago. Talk of separatism, of Quebec leaving Canada tends to send the Jewish people packing. I think of our people like canaries in a coal mine: attacks against us are just a prelude to attacks against others. Christians around the world are under attack, now, by the same terrorists that have been killing Jews.

But, anti-Semitism lives in Ontario, too. I live in a small rural community. Mostly white. Mostly Christian-in name if not practice. Imagine my surprise when I was listening to my local radio station and heard a talk show host talking about Ashke-Nazis. A play-a sick one at that-on the word Ashkenazis-Jews from Eastern Europe via the diaspora of 70 CE and expulsions from countries all over Europe-leading to the expression, the Wandering Jew.

She dropped the word ever so casually, without any concept of possible offense, never expecting repercussions. I wonder if she uses the “N” word that way, too. I’ll never know. She’s off the air.

I doubt if there are a hundred Jews within a 30 kilometre radius from my little town. Yet my town was listening to someone express her disdain for Jews, for how long, I don’t know, by comparing Jews to Nazis. And it was done in the context of Israel and the Palestinians.

I contacted the clergy from the area and told them I was appalled by the show and asked them to help remove this anti-Semite from the air. Not a word. I got to know the United Church reverend. She was unbearably ignorant of the Jewish people. Born in the United States, she had switched her Christian denomination many times and now seemed content with the United Church-Canada’s number one anti-Semitic church through its promotion of BDS.

We met one morning to talk about the comments on air. I asked her how many Jews she thought there were in the world, based on the fact there are 7 billion people. She thought about 200 million. This from an educated woman.

We emailed and spoke several times. She arranged for me to meet with clergy from the entire region to talk about anti-Semitism. It took a year.

The meeting didn’t go well. I was politely interrupted 10 minutes into my presentation. I didn’t even receive an email thank-you for my time. I didn’t hear from any of the ministers for about 6 months.

The United Church minister, Felicia, called. Not to apologize. She wanted me to remove her email address from my list of names to whom I send my blogs. She had asked several times via email. I’d ignored them.  But, it gave me the opportunity to tell her that I had found her behaviour shameful. All the energy she put into sending emails and then calling when all she had to do was hit the delete button.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could get rid of anti-Semitism the same way?

About the Author
Diane Weber Bederman is a multi-faith, hospital trained chaplain who lives in Ontario, Canada, just outside Toronto; She has a background in science and the humanities and writes about religion in the public square and mental illness on her blog: The Middle Ground:The Agora of the 21st Century. She is a regular contributor to Convivium: Faith in our Community. "