Anti-Semitism: An Enduring Reality

Canadian Speeches, March-April 2003 | Go to article overview
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Anti-Semitism: An Enduring Reality


Anti-Semitism has flourished in Canada's past, and endures today. Jewish Canadians have made great contributions to Canada's success as a nation, yet are often still discriminated against. It is imperative that the government and public continue to denounce and abolish any prejudice towards them, or any other group. Toronto, Ontario, February 9,2003.

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I was born in Baie Comeau, Quebec, then a small town on the St. Lawrence River, in 1939, the year the Nazis marched and the allies responded.

My only recollections of the war are scenes of my dad -- then a father of three young children -- marching proudly up Champlain Street with fellow militia members, getting ready to serve if called. And I can still remember children's whispers of German submarines lurking off our shores and my electrician father at dinner telling his family of the horrors of Hitler and why he had to be crushed if civilization were to be saved. My sisters and I listened attentively but understood very little of the unspeakable reality he sought to describe.

There were no Jews in Baie Comeau. Just plain old Catholics and Protestants, French and English, living together in a degree of serenity that would, lam sure, surprise some future Quebec leaders.

I met my first Jew in Chatham, New Brunswick in 1965 when I attended St. Thomas High School. His name was Bobby Jacobson, a local haberdasher and a respected member of the Miramichi community. I liked him at our first encounter.

I moved on to university in Nova Scotia and had friendly but intermittent relationships with some members of the Jewish community there but it was not until I entered law school at University Laval in Quebec City in 1960 that I really came to know Jews for the first time. I was by then 20 years of age.

I had two Jewish classmates there, Michael Kastner and Israel (Sonny) Mass, one from a wealthy family and one working class like me. They were both intelligent, interesting, pleasant classmates. We became friends and remain so to this day. I learned about the tiny but impressive Jewish Community there but little of its history and challenges in Canada.

It was when I graduated and moved to Montreal to practice law in 1964--almost 40 years ago -- that I first came into contact with a large Jewish community which, as it turned out, ignited my interest in and support of the Jews and Israel.

By this time of course the horrors of the Holocaust and the systematic persecution of Jews was well known and fully documented. Why, I asked myself would such evil be visited upon anyone, including and specifically the families of this large and vibrant community I was getting to know for the first time.

The Jews of Montreal were, in my judgment, remarkable. Families were close, values were taught, education was revered, work was honored and success was expected: these principles had spawned over the decades an extraordinary community of teachers, doctors, lawyers, writers and business leaders.

How could it be, I often wondered, that the progenitors of such a law abiding and productive group that was demonstrably making such a powerful contribution to the economic, cultural and political life of Montreal and Canada were reviled over centuries and decimated in a six year period, beginning in the year of my birth. Thus began my first serious reflections on and encounters with anti-Semitism.

Following the Holocaust, the cry of "Never again," became both affirmation and promise. We expected that humanity would forswear anti-Semitism forever. The founding of the State of Israel in 1948 reinforced this hope. Unfortunately, today, Jewish communities and the world's only Jewish State globally confront this re-emergent evil.

This latest anti-Semitism did not surface suddenly, in a vacuum. Rather than constituting a new phenomenon, it forms part of a historical continuum that was only briefly interrupted, if at all, in the years immediately following the Second World War.

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