'We are all responsible' for fight against antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism: Winnipeg rabbi

In light of incidents like the hostage-taking last month at a Texas synagogue and racist and antisemitic symbols seen during recent protests in Canada, Winnipeg Rabbi Kliel Rose says everyone is responsible for the fight against antisemitism, Islamophobia and racism.

'One does not have to be guilty — actually committing hatred — to be responsible for it': Rabbi Kliel Rose

A vigil was held in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, 2018, for the victims of a shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Incidents like that, and a recent hostage-taking at Texas synagogue, are a reminder of how vigilant those in the Jewish community need to be about protecting the safety of all who enter houses of worship, says Winnipeg Rabbi Kliel Rose. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)

This column is an opinion by Kliel Rose, the rabbi and spiritual leader of Congregation Etz Chayim in Winnipeg. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

It has been a few weeks since a hostage-taking occurred at Congregation Beth Israel, a Texas synagogue. And this past Saturday, our family saw a local anti-vaxxer truck convoy — some decked out in racist and antisemitic symbols, and who could be heard from the comfort of our home, where we were trying to enjoy a Shabbat of peace.

The attack in Texas, just like the one following the 2018 killing of 11 Jews at prayer in Pittsburgh, has profoundly shaken the spiritual and physical security of our community. I'm still reeling. The noise of the convoy only adds to a feeling of anxiety.

This is a terrible feeling to carry. 

I believe attacks and hate acts against Jewish people are on the rise. Antisemitism is real and the hostage-taking in Texas is another sad reminder of how vigilant we in the Jewish community need to be about protecting the safety of all — Jews as well as others — who enter our houses of worship. 

The fear of being attacked in a house of worship is not just a reality for Jews. In recent years, heinous actions have taken place inside other faith settings. We have seen, with increasing alarm, the attack and killing of six innocent people in a Quebec mosque in 2017, as well as the shootings at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019.

There are ways in which those who are not Jewish can help to eliminate antisemitism, bigotry, and Islamophobia. 

Jews need to educate those outside of our community about the dangers of antisemitism; we also ask non-Jews for their help to eradicate this form of bigotry so that it is not just a part of our Jewish reality.

We in the Jewish community, as well as those who are Christians, people of all faith and of no faith, must rally together to rid our society of the rampant Islamophobia we are witnessing in our country. 

'There are ways in which those who are not Jewish can help to eliminate antisemitism, bigotry, and Islamophobia,' says Rabbi Rose. (Submitted by Kliel Rose)

One week after the hostage-taking in Texas, members of Beth El Synagogue in Durham, North Carolina, welcomed Imam Abdullah Antepli, a local Muslim leader, to their Shabbat morning services.

Imam Antepli is an associate professor of the practice at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, and also holds an appointment at Duke's divinity school as associate professor of the practice of interfaith relations. He is also a senior fellow on Jewish-Muslim relations at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. 

Extending "deepest condolences, love and sympathy and prayers of strength and resilience to Jewish communities," the imam called for "morally required tough conversations" about the rhetoric and attitudes that feed antisemitism and hatred of the other.

Antepli called on people to look within themselves and within their own communities to challenge antisemitism. As he put it, "Your prayers mean nothing if you are not doing anything. If you only offer consolation [after the fact]. It means nothing if you are not doing and saying anything before, and if you are not doing and saying anything after."

The imam reminds us that one does not have to be guilty — actually committing hatred — to be responsible for it. 

In a masterful way, Imam Antepli is paraphrasing the sage words of Rabbi Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel, a leading theologian and philosopher of the 20th century, and a social justice activist.

In 1972, explaining his involvement in the peace movement, Heschel mused that we all must bear responsibility for ending the suffering of all people, saying that, "morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible."

That is the call of our day. We are all responsible.


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