Monday, October 01, 2018

#HateFreeYEG Lanches

#HateFreeYEG is a new grassroots community initiative to work towards eradicating Edmonton of hate and racism. The initiative launched on September 30, and I was asked to speak at the launch as a community organizer about how we can eliminate hate, as well as my own experiences with anti-Semitism. Here is a video of my talk, as well as my notes.


Shalom and thank you for inviting me to speak this afternoon and to join my voice with all of us here who proclaim that hate is not welcome in Edmonton. I am with the Edmonton Coalition Against War and Racism and the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education. I am also a Jewish woman.

As a Jewish woman, the growing resurgence of ultra right-wing hate groups concerns me greatly. My own community has been affected recently, with swastikas being spray painted on buildings in several southwest neighbourhoods. It stands to reason that the same kinds of people who would express hate towards immigrants, Muslims, and people of colour are the same kinds of people who would be anti-Jewish. Also, as a Jew I feel a need to stand up against hatred because of my roots and my faith. Many Jewish people of my generation are the descendants of immigrants and refugees. I am also vigilant against Islamophobia not only because hatred is just plain wrong, but also because of the shared Abrahamic roots of our faiths.

In fact, my commitment to social justice and human rights stems largely from my Jewish background. In Judaism, there is a value called tikkun olam, which translates to healing or repairing the world. We all have that potential within us, regardless of our background, to make the world a better place. It doesn't have to be through grand gestures or high-profile acts – every day, we all have opportunities to make the world around us safer, and to fill it with more compassion, hope, and love.

At various times in my life I have had experiences with anti-Semitism. It's often been a subtle undercurrent, sometimes taking the form of jokes or comments perpetuating various stereotypes like being cheap, or being part of some kind of power conspiracy. Anti-Semitism has sometimes crossed over into sentiments that are misogynist, like body shaming, or calling a Jewish woman a nag, or the ubiquitous Jewish mother jokes. I've been told at times I don't “look” Jewish, as though that is a compliment. It isn't. Some anti-Semitism I have faced or witnessed also crosses a line into been ableist, like being referred to as neurotic or controlling – attributing to one's culture symptoms of mental illness which may or may not actually be real. After all, you don't always know what someone might be struggling with.

I recall when I was accosted by a man on an isolated street in the inner city. He had seen my Star of David around my neck, and thought it was appropriate to stop me – a complete stranger – and ask if I was Jewish. I said yes, keeping a wide physical distance from this person. He then proceeded to interrogate me, asking where I was from, and not accepting Edmonton as the answer. He finally backed off when I gave him some general response about my distant Eastern European heritage. After that experience, I have found myself feeling defensive when someone asks about my choice of jewelry. I enjoy meeting new people and talking about myself and learning about them, but being “othered” time and time again can sometimes make a person overly sensitive to inquiries about their background, which is unfortunate because having conversations about ourselves can lead to greater understanding.

Planting the seeds against racism and hate need to start early. We also all know that kid from school who was always being picked on, pushed around, made fun of, teased, beaten up, and pushed around some more. I know – because I was that kid. I believe that a lot of my values towards kindness, love, and being against racism and hate comes from the fact that I was badly bullied as a child and teenager and I don't want to see that happen to anyone. When we see bullying, when we see people being made fun of because they are somehow different, when we see hatred in our midst we have an obligation to stand up, intervene and say that this is wrong.

In closing, I also wanted to say that I am a board member with the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education and Action, and what we do is to seek to achieve peace and harmony and an end to racism in the world through teaching about different faiths, not from a religious point of view, but from an educational one. I encourage you to look us up and see what we have to offer, and to become a member and get involved.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Good for you, Paula!