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Holocaust Remembrance Day

Friday, January 27th was observed as Family Literacy Day here in Saskatchewan, but it was also the day the world marks as Holocaust Remembrance Day. Naomi Rosenfeld, executive director of the Atlantic Jewish Council, said in November 2021 during Holocaust Education Week: “I think the lessons to be learned about hate and discrimination and the importance of human rights are more important now than they were for a very long time. We are seeing an increase in hatred and only an increase in division between people, and the Holocaust provides very, very important lessons about the worst possible outcome of these trends.

The Honorable Irwin Cotler, Canada’s Special Envoy for Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism, said in 2021: “Jewish communities across Canada are being threatened and attacked in their neighborhoods, on the streets, on campuses and in their communities . We have burned synagogues, defaced monuments, vandalized institutions and desecrated cemeteries. Historically, and still today, Jews have been one of the most targeted minorities in terms of hate crimes worldwide and in Canada. This is further provoked by the inflammatory anti-Semitic hatred we see on social media platforms that incite offline violence.”

Anti-Semitism continues to rise across Canada, and the Prairies are no longer immune to a rising anti-Jewish tide, according to recent statistics from B’nai Brith Canada. The prairie region ranked fifth in 2018 with 131 total reported incidents, but the number of incidents increased 142 percent from the previous year. Antisemitic incidents in Canada increased for the fifth straight year in 2020, representing an 18.3 percent increase in crime in 2019, according to B’nai Brith Canada’s annual Antisemitic Incidents Review. A record 2,610 offenses were recorded in 2020, with an average of seven offenses per day and 50 incidents per week. For 2021, B’nai Brith’s annual audit found there were 2,799 anti-Jewish hate crimes, including beatings, vandalism of synagogues and swastikas in schools. That’s an overall increase of seven percent from the previous year, but the number of violent incidents rose more than 700 percent, from nine in 2020 to 75 in 2021. Anti-Jewish abuse rose sharply in Alberta and has spiked in the United States more than doubled Prairies and Nunavut.

In July 2021, federal government officials, including Prime Minister Trudeau, met with leaders of the Jewish community for a summit to explore how organizations, communities, individuals and the federal government “can work together to increase public awareness and strengthen community security.” , combating misinformation and hate online, and identifying new actions needed to combat antisemitism.” (Press Release: July 21, 2021, The Government of Canada Concludes National Summit on Antisemitism) According to those published by Statistics Canada in August 2022 Data, however, Canada has seen a sharp rise in hate crimes targeting religion, sexual orientation and race since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Canada, which prides itself on calling itself a diverse and welcoming country for immigrants and refugees, saw a 72 percent increase in hate crimes between 2019 and 2021. According to experts, this increase was partly due to the pandemic, which has exposed and amplified security and discrimination issues. Israel Unger von Fredericton, a professor at the University of New Brunswick, sees it this way: “I think what we’re seeing now is not rising anti-Semitism, I think what we’re seeing now is overt anti-Semitism. What we see now is that anti-Semitism never went away. It just wasn’t polite anymore.”

On Friday, January 27, 2023, the Prime Minister addressed a Holocaust Remembrance Day memorial in Ottawa, where he warned Canadians of the dangers of complacency. “We wonder what could ever have driven humans to such cruelty. But hate never comes over us all at once. It’s creeping up inch by inch,” he said. And with the power of social media, it’s becoming easier and easier to sow hate and distrust in vulnerable minds. Celebrities like rapper Kanye West, who publicly praised Adolph Hitler amid a litany of anti-Semitic posts last year, are exerting an incredible influence on young people, and if we ignore anti-Semitism, it will only increase and increase. Noah Shack, vice president of the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said in a radio interview on Friday that this is already happening and the violence is happening. A study commissioned by Canadian charity Liberation75 last year found that one in three of the 3,000 students surveyed believed the Holocaust was fabricated or incorrectly reported. “You can’t go to a gathering of the Jewish community, whether it’s for prayer, school, or youth programs, you can’t go to a gathering like that outside without safety,” Shack revealed. But teaching the history of the Holocaust isn’t the simple answer when it comes to fighting anti-Semitism — Canadians also need to acknowledge what’s happening now, he said.

In 2021, Shimon Koffler Fogel, President and CEO of the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), concluded the National Summit on Antisemitism, saying, “Anti-Jewish hatred is a growing and ever-changing scourge that must be fought with the resolve of all Canadians. ….While today’s summit focused on anti-Semitism and Jewish life experience, the lessons and actions taken will be instructive and valuable for all vulnerable minorities. All Canadians – Jews and non-Jews alike – have a role to play in creating the Canada we want to live in, one free from hatred, racism and bigotry.”

Among the words used by the government at the end of this summit were the promises to engage, explore and innovate, and while these are all beautiful words of action, if they remain just words, nothing changes. By pledging to work with Jewish communities as the government develops its next action plan, to explore potential adjustments to existing anti-racism programs, or to build on “insights to improve digital literacy and tackle misinformation,” government ministers could do the same just patted the Jewish delegate on the back and said something as mundane as “We hear you.” In fighting racism, whether against Jews or First Nations people, the answer lies not in the courts but in the conversations we have every day. The struggle is in our homes, in our workplaces, and it is within us. People need to believe that hate breeds hate and that evil grows in the dark corners of our society where we allow it.

Carol Baldwin, reporter for the Local Journalism Initiative, Wakaw Recorder

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