Jordan Michael Smith | Longreads | May 2019 | 10 minutes (2,744 words)
If someone spits bigotry at you while you’re a kid, you’re unlikely to forget it. You’ll remember it not because it’s traumatic, though it can be. You’ll remember it not even because it’s degrading and excruciating, though it is certainly those things, too. No, you’ll remember it because it instills in you an understanding that people are capable of motiveless evil. That humans can be moved to hate because they are hateful. You aren’t given a reason for why people hate you, because they don’t need a reason. You’re you, through no fault of your own, even if you want desperately to be anyone else. And that’s enough.
I am a Canadian. I was born in Markham, which is a small city about 30 kilometers northeast of Toronto. That distance meant a great deal. Markham was a large town of middle- and working-class families when my newlywed parents moved there, in the late 1970s, with a population that hovered around 60,000. It was pretty mixed demographically, I recall, though containing a white majority. My older sister and I were the only Jews in our elementary school, except for one other family who arrived after we did and seemed not to attract much ire; I imagined it was because they were beautiful and popular (we were neither).
We were one of the minority of Canadian Jewish families living outside Toronto or Montreal. More than 71% of all Canadian Jews reside in these two cities, according to Allan Levine’s serviceable but unexceptional new book on the history of Jewish Canada, Seeking the Fabled City. Levine describes a familiar story of an immigrant group gradually gaining acceptance (and some power) in a once-largely white Christian country. For the first half of the 20th century, Jews in Canada were arguably detested to a greater degree than in America. By the 21st century, Canadian Jews felt as safe as Jews anywhere felt safe. Levine quotes a Toronto rabbi as saying, “Living in Toronto, my children don’t know that Jews are a minority.” Read more…