By: Samantha Goodman
Photo by Angela Tilley
For me, being Jewish has not always been that easy. Growing up, I went to Jewish day school and lived in a predominantly Jewish area. I was able to flaunt my religion while being surrounded by people who celebrated the same holidays and understood completely what it meant to be Jewish.
As I got older, I attended schools with only a few other Jews. I faced anti-Semitic remarks for the first time in my life and got a glimpse into what the world is really like.
As a university student, I did not advertise my religion. I refused to wear my Star of David necklace around campus. I would not bring up being Jewish in a conversation unless I had to.
This was instinctive for me because I was worried about what people would say or think. There are a lot more anti-Semitic people out there than you realize, and I did not want to be seen differently.
Over the last few weeks, the Ottawa community has been hit with three instances of anti-Semitic graffiti. As a relatively warm and friendly place, this comes as a huge shock to many residents, but not to me.
The first instance occurred at a Jewish prayer center. Rabbi Anna Maranta, who runs the centre, awoke in the middle of the night to a swastika and the word “k–e” spray-painted on her glass window door. Maranta told the CBC she believes this happened because Donald Trump was elected as president of the United States.
A fact that is often overlooked is: there are racists out there. Just because Trump might be the figurehead they needed to come out and act on their racism doesn’t mean it wasn’t there to start with—which is the problem we should be focusing on.
A second hate crime took place three days later when a Jewish congregation south of downtown found bright red swastikas, racial slurs, and hateful messages painted on the walls and property. The congregation of Machazikei Hadas synagogue was shaken up, alongside the entire community.
An outpouring of support came from both the Jewish and non-Jewish community after this. The mayor, the head of the United Way, the head of the Islamic Association, the bishop, and many others contacted the Rabbi at the synagogue.
I am not surprised by the support towards the Jewish community. The Jews are people who have been through so much from years of immense hatred, leading up to the Holocaust where six million Jews were killed under Hitler’s reign. Things were not perfect for the Jews after that, and this hate crime proves that anti-Semitism still exists in society today.
Right before the attacks, I attended a Jewish conference in New York with the Rabbi who runs the Chabad house in Ottawa. I was surrounded by 2,000 Jewish students and their Rabbis, and I stayed with a host family in a town called Crown Heights where the most observant and religious Jews live.
This experience was one of the most incredible ones I have had in my life, because the feeling of being around people who understand your struggle, but are able to celebrate their faith is inspiring. As I was standing arm-in-arm with thousands of other Jewish students, I was finally proud of my religion.
With these anti-Semitic attacks, I am more proud of the Jewish community than ever before. We all stand together during this time and support the communities that have been hit. It will not stop us from carrying on and celebrating our religion. We have proven time and time again how resilient we are, and I am proud to be part of a religion that picks themselves up when horrible things happen.
In honour of this I dug out my Star of David necklace, and now proudly wear it around campus. I am through with caring what other people think, because it is more important to support the community that I am so lucky to be a part of.