Manitoba·First Person

There is no room for acts of hate in our society, rabbi says after Muslim family run down in London, Ont.

Acts of hate serve as a direct affront to God, to values which are held dearly by the overwhelming majority of Canadians, writes Rabbi Kliel Rose, who can relate in some way to the fear and the panic felt by someone whose religious identity is easily noticed.

'While I cannot fathom the magnitude of pain being felt … I can relate in some way'

Yumna Afzaal, 15, left, Madiha Salman, 44, centre left, Talat Afzaal, 74, and Salman Afzaal, 46, right, were out for an evening walk when they were run over and killed. On behalf of his congregation, Rabbi Kliel Rose offers his deepest condolences to the family, their loved ones and the entire Canadian Muslim community. (Submitted by Afzaal family)

This First Person article is the experience of Rabbi Kliel Rose, the spiritual leader of Congregation Etz Chayim, who was born in Israel and grew up in Winnipeg. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

I grew up in the north end of Winnipeg, in the Seven Oaks neighbourhood. To be more precise, our house was located on Matheson Avenue, west of Main Street between Salter and Powers streets.

I lived less than a block away from the Talmud Torah day school and the synagogue; both were housed in the same building. These were two significant institutions in my life as a child. 

Across from this was Matheson Park, where I spent a great deal of my time playing with friends and neighbours. 

Our street was filled with many Jewish families as well as people from various backgrounds.

I have so many wonderful memories from my childhood; my friends and I were free to roam and explore easily within this small and secure contained area of our city.

I must add that rarely, as someone who always wore a kippa (a skullcap, perhaps what might now be referred to as a visible minority), did I ever feel that I would be threatened or attacked for being openly Jewish.

That perception of security unravelled for me rapidly when I was only seven years old. My outlook about my personal safety, as someone who was identifiably Jewish, shifted in a dramatic way. 

While my recollection of the details are a little foggy, I do recall hearing that one of the older students from the synagogue I attended, who lived a block over from us (someone I deeply admired who taught me how to chant Torah), had been beaten up on a Friday night while walking home on Shabbat. 

His attackers noticed he was wearing a kippa and decided "that this Jew needed to learn a lesson" and understand why his kind was not tolerated in their neighbourhood.

This particular incident deeply impacted me. 

In some ways it fractured my innocence as well as the freedom I had in meandering without difficulty in this magical place. My relationship to my neighbourhood was never quite the same. 

I never stopped wearing a kippa, but as a result of this incident, I became more vigilant about my circumstances and who was around me. 

To have to carry that fear and anxiety at seven years old felt terribly unfair. 

My perspective over 40 years later has not changed.

Just this month — on June 6 — there was what police called a targeted attack on a Muslim family walking in their neighbourhood in London, Ont. Four members of one family were killed and a nine-year-old boy remains in critical condition in the hospital.

While I cannot fathom the magnitude of pain being felt by the members of this family and their community, I can relate in some way to the fear and the panic felt by someone whose religious identity is easily noticed every time they enter public space.

There is no room for such acts of hate in our society; this latest act, and others like it, serve as a direct affront to God, to values which are held dearly by the overwhelming majority of Canadians.

Jews know all too well what it is to be victims of suspicion and hatred based on our religion and ethnicity. Perhaps this places added responsibility on us to call out hatred and injustice when we see it.

The time has come for all the best of religious conviction to denounce the activities and beliefs of those who are filled with the worst of ideological credence, before they desecrate the democratic values we hold dear as Canadians.

On behalf of my family and congregation, I offer my deepest condolences to the family, their loved ones and the entire Canadian Muslim community. We also add our prayers of healing for the recovery of the nine-year-old boy who remains in the hospital.

For the sake of our children and for the preservation of our sacred Canadians values, we must resolve to speak out against xenophobia, antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism, homophobia and hatred of any kind that seeks to diminish the value of any human being.

May the memory of the Afzaal family continue to be a blessing.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kliel Rose was born in Israel and grew up in Winnipeg. After being away for 26 years, last year he returned home with his family. He is the rabbi and spiritual leader of Congregation Etz Chayim.

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