Chavi Feldman
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Canada’s refusal to sell arms to Israel harms its legacy as a protector of Jews

My grandparents wouldn’t recognize the country that offered them a safe haven after the Holocaust
Demonstrators wave Palestinian flags during a protest in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, October 9, 2023. (Cole Burston/AFP)
Demonstrators wave Palestinian flags during a protest in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, October 9, 2023. (Cole Burston/AFP)

When you grow up as the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, you begin to understand what hatred of Jews is at a very very young age. I don’t recall exactly how old I was when I learned about what my grandparents endured at the hands of the Nazis, but I was young. And I wasn’t alone. Most of my friends had grandparents with numbers tattooed on their arms, most of them spoke Yiddish and broken English and all of them had a fragile haunted look about them, like they weren’t a hundred percent trustful that this peaceful life they now lived was going to last.

It wasn’t something that was said out loud, but it was right there in their actions. My grandparents had a basement that was essentially a food bunker. If canned corn and peas were on sale, they didn’t just buy a couple extra cans – they bought cases. And they didn’t touch them. They were “in case.” My grandparents lived in the smallest most modest house on the street. But in reality my Zayda had invested in real estate, building a mini empire, so there was money to escape. “In case.”

Times were pretty good in the years following the Holocaust for Jews in Canada. They worked hard, kept their heads down, and integrated into society while still keeping their faith. They shed their refugee status as quickly as possible, built schools and synagogues and cultural centers and libraries and kosher shops and restaurants and they successfully raised proud Jewish families in the wake of the Holocaust.

Antisemitism wasn’t really palpable back then. Sure, there were isolated incidents, but few and far between. As a young girl, I walked 25 minutes every Shabbat to shul and back with my family – kippas out, and my dad with his black hat and tallit bag – and no one noticed, or cared. In fact, Canadian politeness had everyone walking past us wish us a good day. Jewish schools and synagogues – and Toronto has many – did not have policemen or private security personnel manning all entrances and exits like they do now.

But when I was eight months pregnant with my oldest child – who’s almost 30 now – I experienced antisemitism firsthand. And I remember how much it shook me. I had been living in a predominantly Orthodox neighborhood and had walked my husband to shul for the afternoon mincha prayer on Shabbat afternoon. Our apartment was a five minute walk from the shul, so after he went inside, I started walking back home.

All of a sudden a big pick-up truck honked the horn and when I turned around I saw the truck had come up onto the curb and then onto the sidewalk and started to come up behind me. FAST. I started running and they revved the engine. They shouted out the window, “Dirty Jew!” and kept chasing after me, a visibly pregnant young woman alone on the street. At some point they pulled back onto the street and I caught them laughing their heads off as they sped down the street, and I collapsed to my knees on the sidewalk, out of breath and in complete shock.

This was 1994. This was DECADES after the Holocaust. This was Canada. A place that was all about freedom of religion and respecting all ethnicities.

This wasn’t supposed to be happening.

My husband and I had been talking about making aliyah long before this incident – it was in the plans, but after that experience, it just cemented things for me.

Aliyah was a scary move for me. My husband had a lot of family already in Israel while I had no one. I was nervous about it, and scared about what life would be like for me with no immediate family. Yet after that incident, I pushed for it. One of the reasons I pushed harder for it, aside from it being our homeland, was Jewish defense. Our ability to protect ourselves is a priceless gift, not just a duty. So within four months we had packed up our apartment and when our baby girl was a mere five month old, we officially became Israeli.

I didn’t grow up on the stories of my grandparents to not learn from them. To me, they weren’t just stories, but life lessons. These weren’t fairy tales, but shocking, horrifying and frightening lessons – and they were lessons that needed to be heard. And learned from. For me, those lessons didn’t go to waste.

In a way, I’m glad my grandparents aren’t alive to see what’s become of this world; what’s become of the Canada that had reluctantly offered them a safe haven back then. It’s certainly not the same Canada that I grew up in, that I truly loved. They would be alarmed and appalled to see the same kind of Jew hatred from 1930s Europe rising up again, even more disturbed to see that it’s rising not just in Europe but all over North America, as well. They would be shocked to see that Canada did not learn THEIR lesson from when they infamously said “none is too many.”

Canada’s current government is dangerously close to fostering the same kind of anti-Jewish sentiment that it had in the 1940s. Their decision to halt arms sales to Israel is effectively stating very publicly and politically that they no longer recognize Israel’s right to defend itself. For a country that once turned European Jews away only to be sent back to die at the hands of the Nazis, they know all too well what Israel’s existence means for the Jewish people. To announce that they are no longer willing to lend a hand to their ally and the only democracy in the region is essentially siding with evil. Here’s mytaw hope that they can pull back from that and change their course so they can steer Canada back to staying on the right side of history.

Because the Holocaust is not just six million stories of six million Jews that perished during the world’s darkest time in modern history. It was six million lessons. Six million existential and vital and painful lessons that so many people have forgotten.

If Canada and the rest of the world refuses to learn from the stories and lessons of the past, what kind of future is there for our people?

About the Author
Chavi Feldman has a degree in graphic design and advertising and works primarily as a music teacher. She has lived in Israel for more than two decades.