As a white, straight, Christian male, I have never experienced persecution, discrimination or exclusion because of my race, sexuality, beliefs or gender.
I don’t know what it is like to feel overlooked or underpaid, or worry about sexual harassment, like many women do.
I don’t worry about how I might be viewed or treated for what I wear or believe, or be lumped in with those who commit acts of terrorism because they claim to be part of the same faith.
I don’t fear violence or discrimination because of who I choose to love and marry, like my LGBTQ friends.
And I don’t have to worry about whether or not my religion is acceptable. Canadian society is set up to accommodate my beliefs, even giving me Christmas and Good Friday off.
You could say that I am a lucky man, born into the right place, person and privileges.
So when something like Charlottesville happens, and the copy-cat anti-immigration rallies here in Canada, they alarm and concern me. But they don’t affect me personally.
I am not the target of their discrimination and hate.
If I want to know what it feels like to be fearful for my safety, or that of my family, I need to ask those they are rallying or marching against.
And so I reached out to a couple of Jewish friends.
While Islamophobia is a constant and pressing concern, and should never be taken lightly, the chants of marchers in Charlottesville—“Jews will not replace us” and the Nazi-inspired “blood and soil”—still echo in my mind.
How do my friends feel about the current situation? And do they feel safe in Winnipeg? I asked Rabbi Alan Green of Shaarey Zedek and Belle Jarniewski, President of the Manitoba Multifaith Council.
“For the last 20 years or so, Winnipeg has been a model of peaceful co-existence,” says Green of how different faith and ethnic groups have got along.
“In that context, I don't think there is anywhere on earth safer to be Jewish than Winnipeg, and I think most Winnipeg Jews would agree with me.”
That said, the anti-Semitic graffiti and alt-right marches “certainly are a concern,” he says.
But, he adds, “if enough people demonstrate visible opposition to what for now is a fringe phenomenon, I believe the white supremacists can be stopped dead in their tracks.”
Green especially welcomes statements from non-Jewish groups that condemn anti-Semitism—like the one issued by the Anglican Diocese of Rupert’s Land and the Manitoba and Northwestern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church following the events in Charlottesville. But he wonders why more local faith groups haven’t done the same.
“There is a fearful part of me that interprets the silence of so many others as the same indifference that made the acceptance of Nazism by millions of people possible in the 1930s,” he says.
For Jarniewski, what she’s seeing around her now is also “a repetition of history.”
In the 1930s, she says, “Hitler was spouting that kind of thing. Nobody believed him, or took it seriously, nobody thought he would follow through. Similarly, with Trump when he was running for office, nobody thought he would really believe follow through on all things saying. But he really is.”
She has learned “that when someone says hateful things, we better believe it. History has shown us it is true.”
She notes that the local Jewish community is always on guard, especially for the high holidays. That’s when her synagogue hires off-duty police officers are hired to provide security.
As for life as a Jew in Winnipeg, she personally isn’t frightened.
“But there are worrisome signs, like anti-Semitic graffiti, and when an Eritrean family is threatened by a neighbor,” she says.
“What is good to know is that the majority of Winnipeggers oppose this kind of hate.”
Winnipeggers who are concerned about the rising levels of hate and animosity towards Muslims, Jews and others were able to show their support for an open, welcoming and caring community on September 9 at the Winnipeg Diversity Rally Against Hate.
Everyone was welcome at the rally, including white, straight, Christians like me.
Maybe especially Christians like me.
From the Sept. 9 Winnipeg Free Press.