From the Desk of Yair Szlak: COVID 19: Tisha B’Av in the age of COVID
From the Desk of Yair Szlak

July 29, 2020

We are living in a time of extremes when political opponents are thought of not as simply holding different opinions but are caricatured as evil. Moderation is rejected and nuance has disappeared. Extreme times like these are ideal breeding conditions for baseless hatred.

With the arrival of Tisha B'Av this week, we are reminded how dangerous and utterly destructive baseless hatred can be for the Jewish people. Throughout history on this day, the Jewish people have witnessed an almost unfathomable number of horrible events – from the destruction of the First and Second Temple in Jerusalem to the bombing of the AMIA building in Argentina in modern times. Today, we are seeing an accelerating growth in baseless hatred and violence. As a Jewish community, we must declare unequivocally that we do not tolerate any form of racism, discrimination, or antisemitism. Hatred has no place in civil society, and we must stand united against it.

Historically during times of crisis, the Jewish community has played the role of scapegoat. The convenient target to blame for all that has gone wrong. Our time is no exception. Our first priority is physical security. As you know, Federation CJA invests significant resources each year into enhancing the security of our community to help prevent, prepare for, and respond to hate-fueled violence. Last year, your investment in our Community Security Network (CSN) amplified our efforts to secure the Montreal Jewish community and the institutions that signed on to be a part of the CSN. Throughout this COVID-19 crisis, Federation CJA and the CSN have been vigilant in securing our Jewish institutions and working with the SPVM and Public Security to ensure the safety and security of our community.

We also recognize that our posture towards the world, despite the threats, should not and cannot change. We as a community continue to reach out to all communities. We continue to build bridges, form alliances, and engage in dialogue. Marginalized groups will always know that we stand with them. This is the Jewish way.

Tisha B'Av also reminds us of the dangers of Sinat Chinam (שנאת חנם) – baseless hatred of one Jew against another. More than ever, as we find ourselves struggling to deal with the new and harsh realities of this COVID-19 pandemic, we must remind ourselves that our obligation is Ve-ahavta le-re'acha ka-mocha (ואהבת לרעך כמוך) – loving your neighbour as yourself. Let our values that transcend generations guide us during these difficult times. Let us find strength in morality and Maasim Tovim (מעשים טובים) – good deeds, and not be distracted by the baseless hate and accusations cast upon us by others. 

This pandemic has already required us to make difficult decisions. Federation CJA is facing challenges head on by ensuring that the essential needs of our community members are addressed – basic needs such as food or shelter; Jewish education and Jewish identity; personal and community safety and security. Our community is facing a time of consolidation. We will need to shrink our communal footprint to meet our realities. All difficult choices that must be guided by our values and with greater purpose so that we can come out of this crisis even stronger, more resilient and sustainable for the future.

Jewish tradition, entrenched in our learnings, reminds us that what we do is for generations to come. The Talmud speaks of Choni the Circle Maker, who one day saw a man planting a carob tree. Curious, Choni asked the man, "This tree, how long will it take for it to bear fruit?" The man responded dutifully and honestly, "70 years." Choni was appalled. 70 years? That's a really long time for a tree to grow. Why would anyone plant a tree that wasn't even going to bear fruit in their lifetime? Choni asked the planter this question, the man simply responded, "My grandparents planted a carob tree so that I would be able to reap its fruit. Now I shall do the same for my grandchildren."

Hope is our greatest strength. Because our parents and grandparents embraced the future with resilience and optimism, we have the lives that we do, and the community that sustains us. Our children and grandchildren deserve no less from us.

Tisha B'Av is a time of reflection and mourning. We are all eager and anxious as the world around us re-opens and life begins to return to normal – a new normal. Now more than ever we must remind ourselves that as dramatic as change is, our values never change: Kol Israel Arevim Zeh Bazeh (כל ישראל ערבים זה בזה).

Let's make sure that we continue to take care of one another.

Yair Szlak, LL.B
Chief Executive Officer, Federation CJA

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