Last week in this space, we addressed some of the challenges facing the Jewish people globally, which were put into stark relief by the latest edition of an Anti-Defamation League report titled Global 100. The most recent annual review of antisemitic attitudes worldwide paints a disheartening picture.
There are (at least) two inferences to draw from the report: that what we’ve been doing to confront antisemitism isn’t working or, perhaps more disturbing, they are working and, without them, the situation would be much worse.
First, a point that deserves repeating. Antisemitic ideas are most rampant in places where there are few or no Jews, because antisemitism is far less about Jews than about the antisemites and their need for scapegoating or other psychosocial outlets. But that fact is of limited comfort for the Jewish woman attacked on the subway or the hundreds of people evacuated from Jewish community centres around New York state last Sunday due to bomb threats.
We who are writing these words and you who are reading them can, for the most part, do little about the global situation, but the familiar saying, “Think globally, act locally,” rings as true as ever. While there are myriad organizations working nationally and internationally in the interests of the Jewish community and Israel – and we would like to see more of that, as well as some means of quantifying their results – the greatest impacts most of us can have are probably right here in our own neighbourhoods.
Again, advertising the great achievements of Jews and Israel may not be the best strategy. There is no need for, or value in, diminishing Jewish achievement and pride, but there is value in simultaneously reinforcing the universal humanity of Jewish people.
Without reopening that can of worms about whether Trump (or Bolsinaro or Orban or Modi or Mohammad bin Salman) is bad for the Jews – because we have national and international organizations operating on those macro-diplomatic fronts – what can ordinary folks like us, who feel afraid, helpless and perhaps disenfranchised, do to have an impact and, no less crucially, feel less isolated and disempowered?
As individuals, we can engage with others in our midst: with the church down the street, the service clubs in our communities, the ethnocultural groups that abound in Vancouver and across Canada, and the pet parents we meet at the dog park. The objective, we think, should not be a full court press to persuade these people that Jews are awesome. The point should be to rebuild the relationships that Jewish communities and individuals have enjoyed with the broader Canadian mosaic; not to advocate for these other groups and individuals to stand with us, but to stand with them so that, together, we form bonds of mutual understanding and care.
It is sometimes noted, especially on social media and in conversations among friends – you’ve certainly heard it – that some of the most concerning voices today are not coming from far-right radicals (though these are troubling) but from ostensibly reasonable people on the left. Ameliorating this challenge is not going to come from declaring them the enemy and polarizing our voices with their opposite – which is what is happening quite frequently in a perilous form of the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend construction (see Trump/Bolsinaro/Orban/Modi/MBS above). The challenge will be addressed by rebuilding or strengthening the bridges between our communities and causes – not because it is the expedient thing to do, but because it is the right thing to do.
Last week on the front page, we featured two (of many) individuals in our community who are leading local voices in the movement against climate change, each using different strategies toward the same goal. They are not doing this as ambassadors of the Jewish people, of course, but they are doing so as Jews, motivated by their values and urgent commitment to saving the planet. They are Jewish allies in a diverse mix of dedicated activists.
Countless other Jewish community members are working across faiths and cultures to advance all the communities they encounter. Holocaust survivors are partnering with indigenous residential schools survivors in joint educational initiatives, and there are Jews who are actively supporting the Japanese community’s call for redress from the B.C. government for its role in the grave mistreatment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War. Local Jewish groups and individuals are doing everything from working to stop human trafficking to sponsoring Syrian refugees to participating in interfaith activities to making food for the homeless.
The pages of this paper are filled regularly with stories that are not, let’s say, Jewish-specific, but of Jewish people making positive contributions to the world. Motivated by a vast range of factors, often by their Jewish values, these points of light in the world are acting on issues important to them and building interpersonal and cross-community bridges in the process.
When we began this two-part conversation last week, we pointed out that, if we had the solution to antisemitism, you would have heard it. We don’t. It seems nobody does. The work being done at the national and international levels by the vast network of Jewish and Zionist organizations is mostly admirable and should be supported. But each of us also needs to look closer to home and remember that, as Margaret Mead said, a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world – and perhaps make some friends along the way.
While celebrating and preserving what is unique in our Jewishness, we should also enhance what was successful in parts of the 20th century: allying with the diversity of individuals and groups in our multicultural society to remind them – and ourselves – that we are not alone, but part of a larger human enterprise.