Rabbi Ilyse on a light blue background, banner reads The Word from the DJC.

IntRIGuiging Thoughts: Antisemitism on Campus…and a big JEW hat

In early 2023, I had a conversation with DJC member Alan Gotlib (exemplary human being/lay leader/dedicated volunteer) about my desire to see a clothing and accessory line in the marketplace proudly representing Judaism. To my great delight and surprise, Alan crafted a hat for me that perfectly matched my vision: a white cap with the letters “JEW” embroidered in two shades of blue, boldly proclaiming my identity. He presented it to me on Yom Kippur.

Thirteen days later: October 7. Everything changed. In the days and weeks that followed, I pondered whether I should wear my hat. Was I concerned for my safety in Davisville? On the Danforth? On Queen West? Despite my apprehensions, I decided to wear it. As I went on my adventure, part of me expected nothing to happen, while another part was sure something would. Walking on Mount Pleasant, I encountered a couple with a baby, busy doing something with papers and tape on lamp posts. My heart skipped a beat as I initially feared they were tearing down the “Free the Hostages” posters. However, upon approaching them (with the cap on my head), I breathed a sigh of relief, realizing they were actually putting up hostage posters, not removing anything at all. 

On subsequent outings wearing my “JEW” cap, I encountered no second glances or issues. I have since worn it four more times, each time without any negative consequences. Thank God. Grateful to live in Canada. Grateful to feel safe as a Jew on the streets of Toronto.

But something seems to have shifted over the past few weeks, both south of the border and here in Canada. College and university campuses have been hijacked by pro-Hamas students/anti-Jewish students. From Columbia University to UCLA, Jewish students have been screamed at, harassed, assaulted, and barred entry into university spaces. Here in Canada, McGill, UBC, University of Ottawa, and TMU are similarly experiencing pro-Hamas and anti-Jewish activity, including the establishment of encampments deemed illegal by school administrators.  

Quebec MP Anthony Housefather has been vocal about the importance of Jewish (and all) students feeling safe and welcome on university campuses. In a tweet from three days ago, he writes:

In its latest statement @mcgillu advises the encampment has tripled & that many, if not the majority are not from McGill. It also condemns the unequivocally antisemitic language & intimidation occurring. 

As an update to what is happening on the McGill campus, two days ago he tweeted:

Latest from @mcgillu is efforts to resolve the situation through dialogue have been unsuccessful culminating in the emergence of disturbing antisemitic rhetoric. McGill has moved to next steps of its procedure as there are threats to security & hateful rhetoric flagrantly used.

A colleague and former classmate, Rabbi Lisa Grushcow is the senior rabbi at Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom in Montreal. I turned to her wisdom in light of recent events in the form of a piece published in the Montreal Gazette in November 2023. It remains even more relevant today, on May 1, 2024. She writes: “As a rabbi and ex-student activist, my advice to protestors: I see what is happening on university campuses. What would I tell today’s students? It comes down to two things: humility and humanity.” I encourage you to give it a read.

My heart hurts for what is happening in our Canadian universities. More than that, I hold the fear and uncertainty that our students feel at this time. No student should have to hesitate before leaving their dorm room to navigate their campus for basic necessities or to study in the library. And no Jewish student should endure harassment or discrimination simply for being a Jew. If you have a child/grandchild/family member who is facing anti-Jewish discrimination, please let me know so I can reach out to them to offer support.

As for me and my “JEW” cap, do you think I’ve been wearing it in these recent days?

White baseball cap with embroidered letters in two tones of blue reading JEW

From Rabbi Ilyse Glickman:

This is our ongoing blog series to introduce the DJC community to podcasts, books, websites, and other media offerings that may expand our understandings of the current war in particular and Israel/Palestine more broadly. I hope you listen/watch/read these recommendations with curiosity, openness, and empathy. Please let me know what you think about today’s offerings: rabbiglickman@djctoronto.com. I look forward to the conversation.

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