There’s a lot of strife in the world. Violence in Israel is at a frightening peak right now, and there is a collective holding of breath in the Jewish community as we brace for the next bad headline. In the big cities, there’s a palpable sense of wariness and mistrust amongst Jews towards the Muslim community that is growing just as we are struggling to maintain our numbers. Here in Canada, we’ve just endured an election where the niqab became the focus of debate for far too many days. It’s all left me thinking about you, the mother of my son’s new friend.
I want you to know that in our small city I, as a Jewish mother, am so grateful that you’re here—regardless of what you choose to wear on your head. When my son first came home and told me that he had a new friend, Ahmed, I admit that my breath caught in my throat for a second. Would it be a problem, I wondered, when you realized that your son had a friend with such an obviously Jewish name? Were there ever any conversations about Israel at your house? How would our sons react to the differences between them? I prayed that they would be too busy talking about Pokemon and playing tag to notice.
When it came time to write birthday invitations, it was clear that Ahmed’s name would be on the list. Scavenger hunt in the park, lunch on the deck, a beautiful day, and kids so wound up you could have plucked them like a guitar string—we couldn’t have asked for better.
Ahmed’s birthday party was the following day. We both served pizza—no pepperoni. When I came to pick up my son, you invited me into your backyard to watch the kids jump on the trampoline and you offered me a plate of cake. Your neighbors were there, cuddling your small daughter. There were women in headscarves and women without. The conversation moved between French, Arabic, and English. The people in that backyard were the reason that “all of the above” boxes exist on surveys. And none of it mattered. We were all swatting mosquitoes and eating cake together—voracious Northern Ontario insects don’t keep halal or kosher and cake is, well, cake.
At bedtime recently, my son confided that, “You know, Mom, Ahmed’s not a Christmas person either.” For him, the world is divided that way: Christmas people and not Christmas people. The fact that there’s another person in his class whose life runs on a different calendar, one other than the normative Christian one, is a big deal. For him, it validates us as Jews that we aren’t the only people celebrating weird holidays.
Oddly, having a Muslim child in his class makes it easier for him to be Jewish. It’s also made me more aware of the consequences of these cultural debates when they’re approached with such disregard for the real people behind the veil. It’s gotten me thinking about my values as a Canadian and Jew. So, thank you. I hope you know I’m happy you’re here.