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Reading the obituaries of the 11 murdered victims in the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting and all I can keep thinking about is how these people sound so familiar.

Richard Gottfried was a dentist around my parents’ age. He ran a 10km race every year. He also had a nephew in BBYO, the same youth organization I belonged to as a teenager.

Joyce Feinberg was Canadian, from Toronto. Her late husband was a statistics professor at Carnegie Mellon. She, like so many members of Montreal’s Jewish community, became more involved in the shul after her husband’s passing.

Daniel Stein, a new grandfather and past president of the shul, shared my last name. No relation to me as far as I know, but then again, who knows? I look at the photo of him and think, he looks not unlike my father, my uncle, my family. He wasn’t related to me. But he could have been.

Melvin Wax was an accountant, just like my father and grandfather. A family friend described how he used to do the taxes for his daughters for free, as a favour, just like they did / do.

These victims are not statistics. They feel as real to me as people just like them who I’ve known all my life.

I’ve seen other friends talk about how close to home this has hit them, more than other horrible mass shootings or even similar hate crimes that have targeted other groups in the past months and years. And I admit, I feel that way too.

And then I feel guilty for feeling that way, because every life is as valuable as the next. I don’t live in Pittsburgh and I didn’t know any of the victims. Why am I more affected by this than I was by shootings in an African-American church, in a Quebec mosque, in a gay nightclub, in a daycare centre? Those were horrific crimes too. And they obviously upset me.

And yet, somehow, this feels different. More personal. This feels like someone was targeting my people, my family, my community. We Jews — religious or secular, Orthodox or Conservative or Reform, practising or not — are all connected in this inextricable way where we feel an attack on any of us like a punch to the gut. Because I keep thinking, that could just as easily have been my community on a shabbat morning, on a High Holiday service. My friends, my neighbours. My people. And because I feel like this wasn’t an isolated incident, but a signpost in a rising tide of hate and insecurity that we as Jews are facing with this global wave of fascism. Because this threat isn’t something in a history textbook or a story told by our grandparents’ generation, but is very real and very present.

And then I wonder, if every community mourns in isolation from one another, how will we ever truly connect? How can we unite in the face of this global wave of hatred, racism and fascism? Because we’re gonna need to. None of us can do it on our own. We don’t have enough strength as individual groups. We need each other.

And how exactly is that going to work if we can only seem to emotionally connect on this level with an attack on our own people?


Trump fans: Yes, this is your fault

This piece in The Atlantic makes the direct link between Trump’s anti-migrant hysteria and the shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue that left eleven people dead yesterday:

Before committing the Tree of Life massacre, the shooter, who blamed Jews for the caravan of “invaders” and who raged about it on social media, made it clear that he was furious at HIAS, founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a Jewish group that helps resettle refugees in the United States. He shared posts on Gab, a social-media site popular with the alt-right, expressing alarm at the sight of “massive human caravans of young men from Honduras and El Salvador invading America thru our unsecured southern border.” And then he wrote, “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

The people killed on Saturday were killed for trying to make the world a better place, as their faith exhorts them to do. The history of the Jewish people is one of displacement, statelessness, and persecution. What groups like HIAS do in helping refugees, they do with the knowledge that comes from a history of being the targets of demagogues who persecute minorities in pursuit of power.

[ . . . ]

“As for those who aided the president in his propaganda campaign, who enabled him to prey on racist fears to fabricate a national emergency, those who said to themselves, ‘This is the play’? Every single one of them bears some responsibility for what followed. Their condemnations of antisemitism are meaningless. Their thoughts and prayers are worthless. Their condolences are irrelevant. They can never undo what they have done, and what they have done will never be forgotten.”

Trump has been deliberately inciting this violence and fanning the flames of hate in order to win votes. He not only knew this would happen, he wanted this to happen. He stacked the deck and then waited for these cards to flip over. And flip, they did.

If you don’t acknowledge the link, if you support Trump, if you stand by and let it happen, then yes, this is on you.


The worldwide rise of fascism continues, with Brazil only the latest example:

Mr Bolsonaro’s pledge to fight crime and corruption following a string of scandals have won him mass support.

However critics are worried by his praise of Brazil’s former dictatorship, and by his comments on race, women and homosexuality.

In one infamous incident in 2015 he told a fellow lawmaker she was too ugly to rape.

Mr Bolsonaro’s controversial comments, his pro-gun stance and his populist approach to politics have led to some media dubbing him “Trump of the Tropics”.

What’s truly terrifying is sitting here wondering whether any country will escape this epidemic. When persecuted people inevitably need to escape, will there be anywhere left for them to go?


If you’re struggling to make sense of the horrific violence of today’s Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, a few thoughts:

Judaism has never really been a “thoughts and prayers” kind of religion. It’s an action religion. Judaism teaches that we are all judged by the way we behave towards our fellow human brings, and the things we do while on this earth to make the world better.

So with that in mind, here are a few actions you can take today:

  1. Vote. Wherever you live, vote against the candidates who are cozying up to white supremacists or using the politics of division and fear. Vote for the candidates who believe in inclusion.
  2. Donate to HIAS, a fantastic organization doing great work to help refugees from all over the globe. Today’s shooter called them out as part of his motive for targeting the Jewish community (because they help resettle Muslim refugees), which is all the more reason to support them. I used to work with them on fundraising and I can attest that they’re the real deal. (Here in Montreal, you can also donate to Ometz, which encompasses JIAS, our Canadian equivalent.)
  3. Demonstrate and protest. There will be Havdalah vigils tonight in dozens of cities. But more than vigils, show up to rallies against racism, to protests against xenophobic policies and laws (like the one proposed by the Legault government to ban religious symbols in the public service), and to demonstrations that denounce violence.
  4. Stand up and loudly denounce racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy wherever and whenever you encounter it, whether you feel personally affected or not. If you see someone being attacked, don’t stand idly by and let it happen.
  5. Help someone. Sponsor a refugee. Volunteer at an organization to help migrants. Give your time and your compassion.

The Jewish concept of “tikun olam” means “improving the world”. Everyone, regardless of belief or background, has an obligation to take part. So ask yourself: What have I done today to make the world a little bit better?


We minorities are in this together

More than ever, we need to stop petty squabbling between minority groups, and unite together to fight hatred, xenophobia, and white supremacy. This shit’s only gonna get worse before it gets better. An article in the Forward reminds us that we can’t focus on attacking one another when this is our collective fight:

American Jewish groups like HIAS and Bend the Arc have tirelessly organized in opposition of Trump’s cruel policies targeting refugees. These organizations are drawing on a well-spring of support in the Jewish community. That support exists because most Jews recognize that when minorities are targeted by a white-supremacist friendly administration, it’s not only right to fight back; it’s an imperative because we know Jews will be next.

The right never stops at Muslims or black people. As the Charlottesville rally and now the Pittsburgh shooting show, Jews remain under the deadly threat of white supremacist violence.

This is relevant not just to Americans, but to us Canadians and Quebecers as well. In January 2017, a man walked into a Quebec City mosque and killed six and wounded nineteen people. Today, a man walked into a Pittsburgh synagogue and killed at least 11 and wounded dozens of others. He said he did it in part because of Jewish support for Muslim refugees in general, and for HIAS, a refugee and immigrant aid organization that helps refugees in particular.

Meanwhile, our new premier wants to ban religious symbols and pick a fight with religious minorities, including Jews and Muslims, because he’s appealing to the same white supremacist attitudes: the fear that ‘newcomers’ are ‘taking over’ from the white Christian majority.

These are not unrelated events. We all need to recognize that it’s time to set our differences aside and stand together to fight back against this threat.

Martin Luther King Jr. famously said that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” It’s time we recognize that the fight for ANY minority rights must be our fight, too. It’s not enough to stand up against antisemitism if we’re not also standing up loudly against injustices and hate against people of colour, other religious minorities, LGBTQ people, immigrants, refugees, First Nations, and anyone else who knows what it feels like to be vulnerable.

Vigils and thoughts and prayers are not enough, as long as people keep voting for parties and policies who appeal to white supremacist right-wing Nazi nutbags to get elected. This shit needs to end now. And the only way that it will is if everyone — majority, minority — conclusively denounces the politics of racism and fear, and rejects any candidate or party that runs on that basis.

ETA 10/29: American Muslim groups raised over $120,000 to support the Jewish victims of the Pittsburgh shooting in under 48 hours. Sometimes, tragedy really does bring out the best in people.


Pittsburgh synagogue shooting

Four thoughts on this morning’s shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue:

1. Of course it was a hate crime.
2. Yes, Trump incited it.
3. We’ve seen this before.
4. It’s gonna get worse. Much worse.

We Jews are sick of being the canary in the coal mine. We have lots of experience at it. 2,000+ years of it. Believe us when we say you need to take this shit seriously. Vote, protest, do whatever you can. Do not stand idly by.


I’m glad to see so many people recognize the hypocrisy in François Legault wanting to prohibit religious symbols worn by public servants, and yet keep the cross in the National Assembly:

Simon Jolin-Barrette, a spokesman for the transition team, said Tuesday there is no contradiction between the new government’s plan to impose strict secularism rules on certain public servants and its desire to maintain the crucifix.

“The historic position of the CAQ is to keep the crucifix in its current position,” he said. “It is a heritage object.”

He says the crucifix, which has hung in the national assembly since 1936, is “part of our history” and “an accessory” to the issue at hand.

Let me be clear, though: Even if he were to remove the cross, that wouldn’t make the ban on religious headwear any more acceptable.

The state should be neutral. That means respecting every individual’s freedom of religion. For the state to be gender neutral, that wouldn’t require all representative of the state to be genderless. Nor would the state being racially neutral require all representatives of the state to have no racial background.

The number of people who want to remove people’s religious freedom in the name of protecting religious freedom baffles me.

Banning people whose religions require them to dress a certain way from holding positions of authority is exactly the opposite of neutrality. It’s state-mandated atheism, which is no different from any other country that requires or prohibits the practice of certain religions. That’s the true hypocrisy here.


Religion is a private matter

“Religion is a private matter. People should keep it at home, not out in the streets.”

— said by members of the Quebecois majority who are nonetheless perfectly fine with:

  • Public Christmas tree displays.
  • Christmas lights hung by private citizens outside their homes.
  • Easter egg hunts for kids organized by the city.
  • Every store, from Dollarama to Wal-Mart, stocking aisles full of Christmas, Halloween, Easter, etc. decorations.
  • Paid statutory holidays on Christmas and Easter (but not, y’know, on Rosh Hashanah or Eid or Diwali or…).
  • Kids dressing up and going trick-or-treating on Halloween.
  • A giant cross on the top of Mount Royal.
  • Company “holiday” parties that are Christmas themed.
  • Ugly Christmas sweater contests at schools or workplaces.
  • The cross hanging in the National Assembly.

The only conclusion to possibly be drawn is that people are fine with public displays of religion… as long as it’s their religion and nobody else’s.


As speculated, Philippe Couillard has announced he will be retiring from politics. And he’s chosen to base his exit speech on an impassioned plea for minority rights and respect for diversity:

“It’s a fundamental democratic principle. Quebec must remain a welcoming and inclusive society where all are invited to the table — a place where we judge humans for what they have in their heads, not on their heads, and for what they bring us in their hearts.”

M. Couillard, I was never your biggest fan. But you wrapped up your political career with class and dignity. And your plea for minority rights needs to be heard urgently by all Quebecers.


So our new premier-elect, who swept to power last night on votes from people living in places where they’ve probably never met a member of a religious minority, thinks it’s such a priority to ban Quebecois citizens — most of whom live in ridings that DIDN’T vote CAQ — from being able to freely practice their religion that he’s willing to overrule the constitution in order to do so:

But when asked by reporters about the notwithstanding clause and his immigration policy, he didn’t back down. 

“I think that the vast majority of Quebecers, they would like to have a framework where people in an authority position must not wear a religious sign,” Legault said.

Political leaders generally have been reluctant to use the notwithstanding clause, which is viewed by many as politically perilous.

Let me break it down for people who are still wondering about this religious symbols thing: The state being neutral on religion doesn’t require every PERSON in the state to be religiously neutral, any more than the state being neutral on gender requires people working for the state to cut off their genitals.

The effect of this nonsense will be to effectively ban members of religious minorities from many sectors of the workforce, or to force them to make the impossible choice between practicing their faith or having a job. It will heighten xenophobia and pander to the racist majority — who are so butthurt over the notion that someone may choose to wear a scarf on her head that they made this issue into a voting priority — over the basic human rights of minorities. And it will perpetuate the notion that only white, Christian, ‘pur-laine’ Quebecers have rights in this province.

I’m so unbelievably disgusted with my fellow citizens right now. How could this guy be our new premier?