We were not prepared for this

November 2023
Jason Waxman

Diaspora Jews in their thirties and forties have been living in a dream world — a perceived reality of security, tolerance and support.While antisemitism has always permeated North-American society in one form or another, it has mostly been relegated to the sidelines. 

I can honestly say that in my entire life, I have not experienced any real antisemitism. I have never felt threatened walking down the street wearing my kippah or discussing my religion. 

This naivité was shattered with the abhorrent slaughtering of our brothers and sisters in Israel on Oct. 7, when reactions of so many in Hamilton and around the world proved that hatred of Jews is alive and well. 

These events were a harsh and permanent punch to the gut and to the hearts of Jews around the world. The simple fact that we are witnessing the resurgence of real and dangerous antisemitism in Hamilton in 2023 is devastating, disheartening, but most of all, frightening. The almost embarrassing sense of security and freedom I felt as a Jew was instantaneously destroyed. 

The most difficult aspect of this deeply unsettling situation were my children’s reactions.

I have four beautiful children ages two, four, seven, and eight. Thankfully, my younger two are oblivious to the impact this will have on their lives, but older girls, who have friends in Israel, were asking questions. 

In my desperate attempt to articulate some comforting responses, I realized that they were grappling with something that never even entered my realm of consciousness before Oct. 7. 

Like many parents, my mind quickly shifted from comfort to security. All four of my children attend the Hamilton Hebrew Academy (HHA). 

While there have always been security protocols in place, no one was prepared for this new reality. Thankfully, the HHA and the Hamilton Jewish Federation moved swiftly to ensure that a robust security plan was implemented to protect our children and calm the understandable panic of parents. There was a police presence at the school the entire day. This has continued almost uninterruptedly over the last few weeks, thanks to Federation support. 

In addition to paid-duty police officers, the school has hired private security, tightened drop-off and pick-up procedures and ensured extremely limited access to the building even for staff and parents. 

They have created a new security room and increased monitoring of CCTV cameras. The fact that all of this has become the necessary price of being a Jew in the year 2023 is monumentally sad. 

The parents’ response has also been one of vigilance. A volunteer group of parents has been formed to patrol the school as an additional set of eyes on top of the other robust security measures. The group should be applauded for their efforts as we navigate this unprecedented environment. 

I do not profess to speak on behalf of the entire HHA parent body, but although far from perfect, I believe my children are as safe at school as possible. 

Amid the darkness there is light. 

The community has come together to put our kids first. They have mobilized to react to the real needs of our children’s collective safety. 

It is vital that the community remains vigilant. At the same time, we must never capitulate to the temptation to hide in the shadows. While these days are eerily reminiscent of 1930s Nazi Germany, one fundamental distinction comes to mind—the State of Israel. We must continue to teach our children to be proud Jews. We must teach our children to love Israel.

Am Yisrael Chai! 

Jason Waxman is president of the Hamilton Jewish Federation.