June 11, 2021
Hamilton’s rabbis have joined the national chorus of shock and horror at the killing of a Muslim family in London.
In a letter of solidarity issued this week six religious leaders and the chief executive of the Hamilton Jewish Federation said the entire community “recoils in horror upon learning of the deplorable act of murder perpetrated in London …” and called for tough penalties on the attacker.
On Sunday June 6, a man drove his pickup truck onto the sidewalk, apparently targeting a Muslim family enjoying an evening walk. Four members of the family were killed in the attack and a fifth was injured.
A 20-year-old London resident has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder in the incident.
For Hamilton’s rabbis, the increase in race-based violence across the country is turning Canada into a frightening place.
“The increasing prevalence of hate, racism, xenophobia and self-entitlement in Canada is sickening and inexcusable,” they say. “Especially in 2021. Incidents like this are occurring with an unforgivable frequency. We are stunned and disappointed and pray that this will be the last.”
The letter, signed by rabbis Hillel Lavery-Yisraeli (Beth Jacob), Yonah Lavery-Yisraeli (Hamilton Midrash), Jordan Cohen (Temple Anshe Sholom), Aaron Selevan (Shalom Village), Ben Shefter (McMaster Hillel) and Daniel Green (Adas Israel), along with Federation CEO Gustavo Rymberg. It was written by Hillel Lavery-Yisraeli.
“The moment I learned what had happened I thought that as a Jewish community we needed to issue a strong response,” he said in an interview. “I think it’s important for religious leaders to lead the way in showing their people how to deal with things like this.”
The rabbinic letter closes with a call for outreach to Muslims.
“At this incredible and frightening time, Hamilton’s rabbis and its Jewish leadership reach out to our Muslim brothers and sisters and to their leaders, extending our empathy, solidarity and support. We cry with you and we mourn with you. We yearn for a day when every human being can live in this country true to her or his beliefs without a drop of fear. And we pledge to work with you shoulder to shoulder to bring this about.”
Rabbi Cohen warned, however, that establishing that outreach might be difficult in the current post Gaza-Israel war environment.
As recently as three years ago, Cohen said, some progress toward Jewish-Muslim understanding was being made: a local Imam was invited to speak at the Temple during Pesach services and visits were exchanged between the synagogue and a Hamilton mosque.
Support for those efforts, however, remained cool among Jews, but the attacks on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, have brought the issue back onto the public stage.
“We’ve shown that we can get together quickly in the wake of a crisis, but we have to do more,” he said. “Since Gaza there hasn’t really been much opportunity for us to talk.”
In the wake of Israel’s actions to defend itself against terrorist rocket attacks from Gaza, he said, small overtures toward solidarity have been spurned in favour of attacking Israel for casualties among Palestinian civilians.
One expression of that feeling was a wave of social media posts claiming the man accused in the London attack is Jewish.
As reported by the Canadian Jewish News, B’nai Brith Canada debunked that rumour. “Contrary to incendiary speculation and dangerous misinformation spreading online, the suspect in the attack is not Jewish. B’nai Brith Canada is concerned that disinformation of this type could fuel attacks against innocent Canadian Jews, and it must be called out,” the organization said in a news release.
Despite coolness from the Muslim side, Cohen said Jews still have a responsibility to stand with victims.
“As Jews we are always sympathetic for the victims of these atrocities, but while we want to be in solidarity with victims, we’re not getting a lot of reciprocity here,” Cohen said.
“We’re not saying our pain is greater than yours, only that we should be standing together,” he added. “It’s hard to believe there is such a concentration of hate, but we are still always willing to stand with other human beings.”
The sentiments of the Hamilton leaders echo the thoughts and prayers offered up by Jewish organizations across Canada that issued statements following the attack.
“This is not the Canada that honours diversity, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and welcomes refugees and immigrants from around the world,” said a release from the Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation.
“This is the act of a terrorist, someone influenced by hate, ignorance and an inclination to do evil against others for no reason other than their differences, whether religious, racial, political, physical,” the group added.
CAEF added its voice to calls for “all levels of government to turn their attention to confronting sources of hatred, inspirations for it whether online, in institutions, in groups or organizations, and from abroad. Foreign funding of hate groups and foreign influence from societies that are intolerant, must be countered.
In its statement, B’nai Brith Canada said it “condemns in the strongest possible terms what appears to be a hate-motivated mass murder …”
“There must be no tolerance for Islamophobia in Canada, or anywhere else. Hatred should have no place in our society, and we must be resolute in its condemnation and prevention.”
One concrete action urged by Bernie Farber, a founder of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, is for groups such as CIJA and B’nai Brith Canada to back a revived Private Member’s bill to Parliament to condemn Islamophobia.
In a Facebook post Farber noted the groups opposed that bill when it was introduced three years ago, adding now may be the time to drop that opposition.
“Yesterday following the tragic mass murder of 3 generations of a Canadian Muslim family by a young Islamophobe motivated by hatred, CIJA wrote a thoughtful letter of sorrow and regret. I did not see a B’nai Brith letter but I’m sure it wrote one as well,” he wrote. “But words are simply not enough. Surely, they will now both reconsider their ill-advised decision and do the right thing.”
CIJA, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said “Our hearts are broken by the horrific attack … Canada is not Canada without its vibrant Muslim community. We join Jewish Canadians across the country in solidarity with our Muslim neighbours …
No Canadian should live in fear because of any aspect of their identity.
There must be zero tolerance for Islamophobia, and we expect the perpetrator to face the full weight of the law.
Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center said it was “horrified” by the attack while JSpace Canada added “there are no words. Muslim communities in Canada are mourning yet another tragedy caused by Islamophobic violence. Our complete solidarity is with all impacted by this senseless attack.”
The Ontario region of the Rabbinical Assembly, the association for Conservative rabbis, condemned the “atrocious attack on our Muslim brothers and sisters,” and affirmed its commitment to work with leaders “of all faiths so that no Canadian will practice their religion in fear of intimidation or violence.”