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Thank You, Canada, For Being A Place The Jewish Community Can Call Home

While our work in countering poverty, racism and exclusion is far from done, the Canadian experience has been a marked success.

06/27/2017 12:39 EDT | Updated 06/27/2017 14:14 EDT

As we approach the 150th anniversary of Confederation, Jewish Canadians are both thankful and vigilant.

We are proud of our democracy. Canadian Jews enjoy a high degree of integration, success and safety. Few Jewish communities around the world enjoy such a strong sense of confidence in both law enforcement and the courts.

But history teaches us that pride and gratitude must be balanced by vigilance, both for our own safety and for the well-being of Canadian society as a whole.

swissmediavision via Getty Images

Recently, disturbing information concerning hate crimes in Canada has reinforced both our gratitude and our anxiety.

Hate-motivated crimes deserve special denunciation and punishment. A country that monitors and condemns such crimes is to be celebrated. The Jewish community's perennial experience as a target of racism confers a special responsibility to do both.

First, the bad news: some 1,362 hate-motivated crimes were recorded by police across Canada in 2015, the year covered in the most recent Statistics Canada report.

Jewish Canadians were more than three times as likely as members of any other religious minority to be the victim of a hate crime. Hate-motivated crimes against Muslims increased alarmingly. And nearly half of all hate crimes were racially motivated.

Let's be clear: a racist attack on any Canadian harms us all. It makes no difference if the target is a member of a religious or visible minority, LGBTQ+ or indigenous community. Hate-motivated crimes leave a special, searing impact on both the direct victim and his or her community. What's more, such crimes damage the unique fabric of Canadian society.

But the depressing fact that hate crimes continue to be committed should not distract from the broader reality. Things are far from perfect. But rarely have they been as good. We should put these statistics in perspective.

We are a country of many peoples. Members of Canada's First Nations were joined by French and English-speaking populations, and then by successive waves of immigration from every continent. Our collective identity is continually re-forged in this shifting mix of languages, cultures and religious traditions.

We are the descendants of landless Europeans who came seeking a better life for their children. Our ancestors fled clearance and famine. They paid the head tax, set sail on the Komagata Maru, and were sent to Canada as orphaned Home Children. Our parents and grandparents survived Auschwitz, the Holodomor, Rwanda and the Armenian genocide. Our neighbours escaped chaos and destruction in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Kosovo and Syria. All Canadians contend with the brutal legacy of Canada's residential schools.

While we struggle with problems of poverty, racism and exclusion, for many of us the Canadian experience has been a marked success.

Critically, our success as a unified nation requires us to see beyond those individual experiences and identities. That's why Canada emphasizes and reinforces a set of common values, among them the democratic rule of law, the boundaries between individual religious choice and secular public institutions, and the equality of men and women.

It is this remarkable vision that has allowed successive generations of Canadians to flourish.

The extent of our diversity is astonishing. One in five Canadians -- some 6.8 million of us -- were born outside Canada. We speak 200 languages, including some 60 aboriginal languages alone. We follow a range of religious traditions, or none at all. Almost 20 per cent of us are members of a visible minority.

And while we struggle with problems of poverty, racism and exclusion, for many of us the Canadian experience has been a marked success. According to reports, a staggering 86 per cent of first-generation Canadian immigrants obtain a post-secondary education. And children of immigrants to Canada enjoy upward mobility rates that are comparable to those of native-born Canadians.

The Jewish Canadian experience fits squarely within that successful trajectory.

Getty Images
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walks through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also called the Holocaust Memorial on Feb. 17, 2017 in Berlin, Germany.

With the first Jewish immigration to Canada dating back some 250 years, the Jewish Canadian community has grown to some 385,000 members.

Those fleeing pogroms and the Second World War were followed by Hungarian Jews who arrived after the 1956 revolution. Jewish refugees from Iraq and Egypt came to Canada during the 1950s, followed by a wave of Romanian Jews in the 1960s. Jews from the Soviet Union began to arrive in the 1970's, along with substantial numbers of Jews from North Africa, especially Morocco. Argentinian and French Jews are more recent arrivals.

All of us stand together today as proud Canadians. We condemn all forms of racism because of our collective and personal experience. We know that classical anti-Semitism is not dead, although it is certainly far less active than it has been in other times and places.

We shine a bright light on these dangers because we know with certainty that is the only way to defend against them. But that light also illuminates the reality that we are very fortunate to live in Canada, a country that shares that knowledge.

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