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?

We Must Be Bold With Police Accountability

In 2020, we saw the brutal slaying of George Floyd over a counterfeit $20. A Black man’s life was cut short due to $20, in the moments where he cried out for his mother and told his murderer he couldn’t breathe as a camera rolled, video taping his last moments, it made it clear Black life just was not worth it. Today’s verdict in Minnesota is not justice but a reckoning that we as a society need to hold police accountable for their actions and that we must condemn police brutality in all means.

As Canadians and Jews, we insult our traditions by pointing our finger at the United States and condemning their sickness of police brutality, when we suffer from the same disease. Black and Indigenous people in Canada face exactly the same issues with police like our counterparts in the states. However, while American Jews and American Jewish institutions mostly have made great strides in fighting against police brutality against racialized people, Canadian counterparts have mostly been silent.

JOC Canada is an organisation run by Jews of Colour. We have dealt with racism and microaggressions within the Jewish and non-Jewish Canadian society. We have also dealt with the death cult that is police brutality like so many other Canadian POC who have had negative interactions with police across this country.

We struggle and fight for our Canadian Jewish organizations to be diverse and have Jews of Colour represented. However, why are they silent in most cases of police brutality not just in the United States but here? There was silence when Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old Afro-Indigenous Toronto woman, fell to her death from her balcony after the police entered her balcony.

There was silence when D’Andre Campbell, 26, an Afrikan man, was shot and killed in Brampton, Ontario in his home. After he called police for help due to his mental health issues.

There was dead silence when Sean Thompson, 30, of Little Saskatchewan First Nation and Pinaymootang First Nation, died in the custody of unnamed Winnipeg police officers. His family stated they saw many injuries on his body after finally being able to see his body.

Releasing statements condemning anti-Black racism when the societal moral compass has swung towards speaking out is not an excellent ally. The wider Jewish community of this country must look deep and asking themselves whether silence or near silence is the best outcome for police brutality and accountability within this country, not just the United States.

At JOC Canada we mourn the fact that while George Floyd got his own justice of seeing his killer convicted, ultimately he had no justice as he is dead.

Like many persons of colour in Canada where police are hardly ever even tried and convicted.

We as a Jewish community must do better and demand change rather than point to the United States.

Privilege Checklist



Ashkenazi Privilege Checklist

___ I can walk into my temple and feel that others do not see me as outsider.

___ I can walk into my temple and feel that others do not see me as exotic.

___ I can walk into my temple and feel that my children are seen as Jews.

___ I can enjoy music at my temple that reflects the tunes, prayers, and cultural roots of my specific Jewish heritage.

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