I sat in on a video-conference last night, cuddled in an armchair in my living room, the wind blowing snow into thick drifts, marking the return of winter after a few weeks of seductive thaw. The raw weather suited my mood as I watched the disembodied heads of other community leaders appear on the screen. We were physicians, teachers, small business people—your average collection of middle-class Canadians—each logging in to hear about the topic that is keeping us up at night these days how to keep our communities safe in a time of rising anti-Semitism.
There have been Jews in my small Northern Ontario town as long as there have been non-Indigenous people of any variety. Jewish settlers were among the first to build homes and businesses here. While we Jews are a small community, we punch above our weight in terms of our involvement in organizations, non-profit boards, and interfaith activities. To say that we are well integrated into the fabric of the community is a monumental understatement, but it also doesn’t unwrap the complexity of a community whose members include many converts; people who, like me, were members of the community at large long before we were Jews.
For me, the fear that’s been nagging at my stomach lining is two-fold. The bomb threats and cemetery desecrations aren’t just threats against me as a Jew, they’re also threats against the safety I have always felt here, the belonging I’ve always taken for granted. On my paternal grandmother’s side of the family, our roots stretch back to Quebec in the 17th century. My kids have Mohawk heritage. Two of their great grandfathers served bravely in World War II. There is no way in which we are not Canadian to the core—in fact, I’ve always thought that becoming Jewish was one of the most Canadian things I’ve ever done. The freedom to choose my religion, even if that meant breaking from family tradition, is the raison d’être of this country. It’s why, in a generational sense, we’re here and not in France, or Ireland, or Italy. Our ancestors went looking for freedom and we stand on their broad and stubborn shoulders.
So I’m making an effort, in the froth of anxiety about lockdown plans and CCTV cameras, to keep remembering why I did all this in the first place, to remain connected to the Judaism I love. I’m saying the shema with new intention. To be honest, though, I look at my children and I wonder if I’ve made a terrible mistake—it’s hard at moments like these not to wonder what it would be like if we were just another secular Christian family with our inflatable Santa gathering dust in the basement. There wouldn’t be any need to worry about safe rooms then, because every room would be a safe room.
When I climbed out of the mikveh, the rabbi’s words rang in my ears. I was tying my destiny to the fate of the Jewish people, like Ruth: “Your people will be my people and your God, my God.” Thirteen years in and I’m beginning to understand what that really means. As a convert my place of privilege and my particular fears are nuanced but I’m still a Jew and, as such, I stand ready to engage, to defend, and to push back against this hatred. My ancestors chose to be Canadian; I chose to be Jewish. The promise of this country is as much mine as it was theirs, right now maybe even more so.