Casey Babb is a senior analyst at Public Safety Canada, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London and a PhD candidate at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa.
Eight months ago, my wife and I found out we were expecting our first child. After many months of trying, the news we had a baby on the way was an incredible thrill. Finding out I was going to be a dad was the happiest I’ve ever felt.
However, as the days and weeks went on, and the physically distanced get-togethers with family, friends and colleagues waned, something dawned on me. I’m Jewish, my wife is Jewish and therefore my son will be Jewish. As someone who believes deeply in the survival and growth of the Jewish people, this was an emotional and consequential realization. Yet at the same time, it was also unsettling in a way I had not anticipated.
Discussing with a child or young person the tragedies and horrors that in large part have characterized the Jewish experience is hard enough. Preparing them for future prejudice, hatred, bigotry and potential acts of violence they might encounter is something entirely different.
Growing up in Canada, I didn’t necessarily know what anti-Semitism was, but I knew from a young age that Jews were targeted. In some ways, life was different for us – and it was probably going to be different for me the older I got. My father told me about his time at one of Canada’s premier undergraduate universities, St. Francis Xavier, where young men hissed as he entered the classroom, turning on imaginary gas valves with their hands. In other instances, a deep whispery voice from somewhere in the room would call out, “Jewwwww.” I had heard of the golf clubs across the country that had signs that read “No Dogs, No Jews” and my parents had, in their own way, told me about the Holocaust and the struggles of Israel.
Sure enough, once I entered university and started to embrace my own version of Jewishness, I too began experiencing anti-Semitism. As a teenager working in Halifax, my boss once said to me, “Aren’t you people supposed to be good with money?” when I raised an issue with my paycheque. Another time, a fraternity brother intentionally threw loose change on the ground and said, “Casey will pick it up.”
Despite these, and countless other offensive situations, I never shied away from my Jewish identity – in fact, I embraced it and made it known. I was able to do this because, for the most part, I felt safe. Anti-Semitism and other forms of racism were there, but I never felt physically threatened for being Jewish.
Times seem to be changing, however, and I’m not so sure I feel as safe any more. If I feel this way now, how bad could it be for my son?
In Canada, despite often living under the erroneous assumption that there is less discrimination here than in America, history and recent events suggest otherwise. At an anti-Israel rally in Mississauga this past July, protesters shouted anti-Jewish slogans. In October, stickers were pasted around my hometown depicting the Star of David with the words, “The Bug That Backfired COVID-19.” In Vancouver, a Grade 9 student recently spoke out publicly after a fellow student told her to take a “gas shower,” and a federal government employee at the Privy Council Office is now under investigation for anti-Semitic Facebook posts alleging that Israel engages in “ethnic cleansing” and harbours pedophiles, among other things.
When my wife and I had started trying to get pregnant, I envisioned taking a similar approach to raising a Jewish child that my parents had. Of course, I’d teach them about the challenges of being Jewish, but bagels and Seinfeld would be a bigger part of their identity than suffrage or vigilance. Unfortunately, I can’t think this way any longer.
Between emboldened right-wing extremists who spread anti-Semitic vitriol on social media and carry out deadly attacks on Jews in person, to those on the left suggesting Jews are part of the white, racist, illegitimate system that must be done away with, I fear we may be on the precipice of another perilous chapter in Jewish history.
What might all of this mean for my son? How do I explain these things to him – and how can I prepare him for the future?
My parents taught me how to live. Will I have to teach my child how to survive?
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