Two Ottawa mothers express fear for their children’s safety amid rising antisemitism

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Questions rise over how Canada is combating antisemitism
WATCH - Questions rise over how Canada is combating antisemitism – Feb 26, 2024

Two Ottawa mothers recently sat their young children down for a difficult conversation about antisemitism — much earlier than they had planned.

The mothers say they now fear for their Jewish children who were recently targets of hateful remarks, as reports of antisemitism across Canada continue to prevail.

Anna, who grew up Jewish in the Soviet Union, says she advised her 11-year-old daughter to no longer leave the house with her Star of David visible after a schoolmate told her a few months ago she has to end her life because of her heritage.

“She said… ‘one boy told me a lot of Jews have to die and I have to (commit) suicide because I’m a Jew,’” Anna said on the Roy Green Show Saturday.

“I can’t even describe how I felt at that moment. She’s like ‘mom, I’m so confused. I’m Canadian… how come I have to hide my identity?’”

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Global News agreed not to use Anna’s last name as she fears for her family’s safety. After moving to Canada and starting a family, she says she never imagined her children would experience the adversity that she did in Russia for being Jewish.

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Antisemitism victims speak out amid surge of cases in Canada: ‘It’s just hatred’

“We came to Canada because we believed it’s a beautiful, safe country that embraces diversity and inclusion, and we can raise our children here. And here I am again. I’m afraid, I’m scared,” Anna said. “I’m very concerned about her safety.”

Tejaswinhi Srinivas is Indian-American married to a Canadian who is Jewish. She says she “wasn’t prepared” for her son to be singled out for his identity at the young age of five-years-old.

Srinivas told Roy Green Saturday that her son recently confided in her husband that an older child on his school bus had “asked everyone Jewish to raise their hand.”

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“And my son told his father that he knew not to raise his hand because the kid sounded mean,” Srinivas said.

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She says hearing about the incident was “completely shocking.” Her son’s understanding of being Jewish had always been attached with positive memories such as lighting candles for Hanukkah, she said, but that has now been tarnished.

“Over the last several months his attention has shifted from the sheer joy of those traditions to an awareness that there are people out there right now who don’t like Jews, who wouldn’t like him if they knew who he was,” she said. “And when you’re just a kid trying to make sense of the world, that can just be shattering.”

Srinivas says she knew a conversation with her son about his heritage would come one day, but not so soon.

“At some point we know we’ll have to have the talk that many Jewish families have with their kids. How is it that a whole part of daddy’s family was killed in the Holocaust? But we have not been prepared to go that far yet.”

Antisemitism surges across Canada: investigation

The response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel has sparked a dramatic surge of antisemitism across Canada, according to a Global News investigation in February based on documents, interviews and figures compiled from police forces.

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Homes, businesses, schools, places of worship, neighbourhoods and institutions have all been targeted in what community leaders are calling an unparalleled spike in hate crimes against Jews.

“We are living in unprecedented times,” said Nico Slobinsky, Pacific Region vice-president at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. “We have seen the mainstreaming of antisemitism.”

A 15-year-old was arrested on terrorism allegations in December 2023 for what the RCMP said was a plot toward the Jewish community in Ottawa.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said after the arrest that the rise in antisemitism in Canada is “terrifying.”

“What we’re seeing, particularly right now with the rise of antisemitism linked to what’s happening overseas right now, is terrifying and it is something that we absolutely have to act on and we are acting on,” Trudeau said in a year-end interview with Global News Ottawa bureau chief Mercedes Stephenson.

This past week saw three high profile shootings targeting a Jewish school in Toronto Saturday, a Jewish school in Montreal Wednesday, and Friday a synagogue in Vancouver saw an “incendiary device” thrown at its front doors.

Trudeau said Thursday after the Montreal shooting that he’s “disgusted by these vile and despicable acts of antisemitism.”

Click to play video: 'Rising Hate: Global News investigates a dramatic surge in antisemitism since Oct. 7'
Rising Hate: Global News investigates a dramatic surge in antisemitism since Oct. 7

'Silence is not an option,' one mom says

Srinivas, who is also a clinical psychologist, says she has approached the topic of antisemitism with her son gently since his experience on the bus.

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“It’s so important that kids at that age know that they can come to their parents, that they can be forthcoming. So just creating that space for him to share that it’s okay, that we’ll support him in whatever way he needs (is) so important,” she said.

Srinivas also published an op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen last week about the normalization of antisemitism in Canada. She told Roy Green that her son’s incident made her realize “silence is not an option.”

“We need social support, we need to stand together against antisemitism because it’s the normalization that has likely allowed incidents like this (to happen).”

with files from Global News’ Roy Green, David Baxter, Mercedes Stephenson, Stewart Bell and Jeff Semple

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