By Tyler Samuels
For many years I have composed lengthy articles from the Tablet to Tribal Herald; condemning, admonishing, criticizing, and pleading for Jews to do better for social justice within the community and outside of it. There have been several panel discussions like, An Evening of Deep Listening: Facing and Combating Racism With/In the Jewish Community where I have been direct and blunt to convey the message that Canadian Jews can no longer be restrained, no longer be naïve to the oppression of other minorities groups… This includes Regis Korchinski-Paquet, George Floyd, Sammy Yatim, Rodney Levi, Jimmy Cloutier, Jason Collins, Eishia Hudson and the 215 children at the Kamloops Residential School, even with all that death and grief I continue to encounter, indifference from certain Jewish organizations in Toronto. Paraphrasing from Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, the moderate Jew,
“Who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace, which is the absence of tension to a positive peace, which is justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.”
Gone are the days of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel or Jim Letherer, a Jew who marched on Selma with one leg and on crutches. Paraphrasing Martin Luther King from that same letter, I have sadly concluded we do not have a Heschel or a Letherer in our community.
The week of May 31st 2021 has been a week of melancholy. From remembering Regis and George and embracing the horror and shame of the cultural genocide on this land, it has been heartbreaking. However, it seems only certain Jewish organizations have made their heartache known, such as Jews of Colour Canada, Hillel Ontario, B’nai Brith Canada, The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and The Reform Jewish Community of Canada. However, that is all the organizations I have seen say anything as I write this. Frankly, as a Black and Jewish person, this grieves me. We believe in the tenets of tikkun olam. Our common humanity believes in achieving good on this planet; our faith believes in justice, justice. Yet time and time again we have failed to take action to do good trouble as former US Congressman John Lewis used to say. The Jewish organizations of this country have failed me in every sense of the word. Failed to preserve a spirit that is for justice and reconciliation. Even now we tackle equity and equality for all racialized people, this community remains silent and closed off.
In 2015, I wrote prophetically in an article for Tablet, “Why White American Jews Should Rethink Race,” that, “The United States has become a country where being black is a death sentence.”
I still hold that view. That view is the same for Canada but in a much different way. In Canada, the victims of police brutality and state violence undergo a second death; silence and disappearing from the consciousness of Canadians. Violence against Black bodies reaches the same outcome as the United States. In Toronto alone, “The likelihood of a Black person being shot by police in Toronto is just as high as for a Black person in the average city in the United States,” according to Ena Chadha, Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
We require social action to bring genuine change, for example challenging this federal government on its commitment to real truth and reconciliation. It is time Prime Minister Trudeau be true to what this government says on paper concerning multiculturalism and reconciliation. It is an injustice that residential school survivors have to fight the government for compensation for surviving a system of cultural genocide.
As Jews, we know what genocide is; we know what it is to see our cultural identity almost destroyed. We can not be silent on this issue, nor can we be silent on mandatory minimums that affect Black and Indigenous people in the prison system. We can fight for and campaign for this government to issue more pardons for marijuana offences that significantly impact Black and Indigenous people. When so far only 395 pardons have been issued as of March 2021. Neglecting the fact that there is a laborious $644 process fee possibly preventing low-income Canadians from even getting these pardons.
Now is the ample time for Canadian Jewry to open the doors to justice. It is time we open them so we can make good trouble, open them to achieve a little of repairing of the world. We can no longer be silent in such grief, nor just offer words.
We can no longer worship God and see such suffering.