We fail as Jews if we ignore this injustice

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.

The Canadian Jewish Community Must Do More

This week has been a week of pain and feelings of sadness. We as Jews of Colour now have one year anniversaries of remembering victims of police brutality or police misconduct. Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the passing of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a Black-Indigenous woman from Toronto who mysteriously fell off her balcony to her death. And two days before was the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder. The Jewish community in Canada said sadly, not much of anything for either, the perpetual silence whenever it comes to issues of race. How many times can something be written, stressing that at least a token statement be released by a major Jewish organization to say something; anything on this issue?

For many years, Jews of Colour Canada have patiently done our best through panels to raise community awareness of Jews of Colour firstly. Then the racism and microaggressions within the Jewish community we face in everyday life. However, we are not an organization like the Federation, Hillel etc. Organizations that have larger community approach and directive. By remaining silent, it almost seems like complicity or lack of care because it does not affect a majority of Canadian Jews. However, it affects Canadian Jews of Colour but it affects non-Jewish people of colour every day.

Will Jews of Colour or No Silence on Race, have to make these sorts of statements every year? The only Canadian Jewish groups to do so? If you believe in human rights and human dignity, how can you sit and remain silent when police brutality and violence is no longer an “American thing.” In fact, it was never an American thing. Canada has had a long history of police violence stemming from indigenous people, Black people, and LGBTQ2S+ people. This is a history we can not ignore, but an ongoing history that we should embrace and confront.

Jews of Colour Canada will remain committed and dedicated to continue push Canadian Jewish organization to due their diligence in combatting racism and discrimination within our wider Canadian society but at home within synagogue and Jewish communal centres. We will continue to provide an avenue for Jews of Colour and Jewish allies to destress and decompress, to rant, to grieve, and to celebrate.

If no one else will do it, who will be our kin who can dwell together?

May our prayers bring peace

By Tyler Samuels

Like many here in Canada and abroad, the events occurring in Israel are troubling and distressing. Like many Canadian Jews, I have people I care deeply about now under the barrage of rocket fire and violence. While I am angry at those who I considered friends, posting a slew of information that couldn’t be further from the truth. I am reminded that we are thousands of miles away from the comfort of our homes. Whether we make a pro-Israel/pro-Zionist statement or a pro-Palestinian/pro-Zionist statement, it does not matter. Our Facebook posts will not shake two governments into action and to instead fight for the peace rather than blood. Many will lose friends and family over this situation here, in anger because of posts and messages on social media. However, Israelis and Palestinians will lose friends and families in the literal sense because of this explosion of violence.

I make no secret of my stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, many have disagreed with me for years about. I have lost many friends recently due to it, however this does not bring peace. Once this violence is over, like all violence that has occurred over the decades, we move on. That is the pessimistic nature of this conflict. I hope with all my heart that I will live to see the day of a peaceful outcome, whatever it is. I hope to see when Israeli and Palestinian children do not have to die because of the political consequences that they did not make.

I grew up with the Debbie Friedman version of Oseh Shalom. We find Oseh Shalom in many liturgy pieces in Judaism, importantly when we recite kaddish/mourner’s kaddish.

Oseh shalom bimromav Hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu V’al Kol Yisrael

He who makes peace in His high places, May He bring peace upon us And upon all Israel, And say Amen.

Since these trying times have occurred, I recite these words more often than most from a person who struggles with the concept of faith and religion. However, I wish for safety and peace; I yearn for the day when news about violence in Israel and the West Bank & Gaza cease. We owe it to the creator or master of the universe, whatever you believe in for us to find the peace rather than run away from it.

I don’t pretend to be the Prophet Samuel, a name that means “God heard” or “name of God.” I don’t intend to preach to you about peace, nor who is right or wrong about this conflict. However, the dynamic should be what we will do to bring about peace so we can one day live in a land of milk and honey once more.

Why Sarah Halimi Mattered

By Tyler Samuels

Dr. Sarah Halimi studied medicine for seven years and was a family doctor for many years, according to her son. A mother of three, when she retired and her husband died; she went back to work at pre-school in Paris. Some would call this life a boring existence, but it was her own quiet existence she could be proud of. Sadly, Dr. Halimi never got to enjoy her quiet existence with her family. In 2017, in April, her murderer, someone who lived in the same apartment, brutally beat and tortured her. He then threw her off out the window of the balcony. According to French media, the police could not determine if she died being pushed or if she had died long before, to the savageness of her murderer.

One would think of her murderer would be tried, sentenced to life imprisonment for a murder that was a hate crime. As she lay dead outside, her murderer yelled, “I killed Shaytan!” and to add insult to injury said “God is Great” as well. However, that did not happen. Since he smoked marijuana, the court found they could not hold him responsible, and that he was unfit. In 2021, bringing more pain to her family, the Court of Cassation which is France’s last court of appeal; found that Dr. Halimi’s murderer was not criminally liable because of his heavy use of marijuana during the murder.

The sad thing about this is, I find similarities between Dr. Halimi and other people of colour who have been killed unjustly or murdered. Whether the state kills them (police) or whether it is a hate crime and the consequence is the person is murdered, and the state refused to prosecute; it is very similar.

Years ago in an article I wrote for Tablet, I said being Black in America is a death sentence. It is now the case that being Jewish in France is also a death sentence. Some may argue that I am being dramatic, however how does one explain the murder of Mireille Knoll, a 85-year-old French-Jewish holocaust survivor? Who was brutally murdered in which one suspect said, “She’s a Jew, she has money.” A murder that happened in 2018. Or the list of French Jews who have been killed in France for more than a decade now.

We live in a world now that has bred unprecedented levels of Antisemitism. As Jews of Colour we face not just racism from not only the Jewish community. We face the same antisemitism from non-Jews like any other Jew would. There won’t be a special card that we can get out of a violent antisemitic attack, we face the brutal truth that there are those who just despise Jews.

However, we must build a fair world, not a tolerant world. We should never strive just for tolerance, but full accountable acceptance for all those who just want to be left alone with their families in peace. No one deserves to be murdered just because they are Jew, no one deserves to be killed just because they might have fit the description.

We must do better, we must call out hate of all kinds better. Dr. Halimi’s memory should be the one that she had with her family.