“Welcome to the Real Ottawa!”

by Rabbi Michael Goldstein Executive Director, Congregation Machzikei Hadas 

In the early hours of Thursday November 17, 2016, our members arrived at synagogue for the morning prayers to find racist graffiti spray painted in the outer walls of our building. These were messages of deep hate and violence, and it created feelings of fear amongst our congregants. Of course it was no surprise that there are individuals in the world who espouse that kind of hate, but it was shocking to consider that someone who felt so strongly had been physically present on our grounds and took steps to act on that hatred. Nonetheless, morning services carried on as scheduled, as did all other operations of the synagogue. Police were notified of the crime, and they arrived quickly to engage in their investigation. Within a few hours the graffiti was cleaned up, and on the surface it appeared as if nothing had happened.

For our congregants, however, the markings of this incident on their psyche did not go away so quickly. Having this act of hate perpetrated on our premises created a sense of vulnerability and fear. For many of us, this is the place where we bring our children every week for Shabbat services, and it was unsettling to think that this hateful criminal or criminals had been on these very premises bringing their hateful intentions into reality. And with the perpetrator(s) still at large, we all felt very much at risk.

It was in this context that we decided to invite Mayor Watson and Chief of Police Bordeleau to speak at our synagogue on Saturday morning following Shabbat services. This would be an opportunity for our congregants to hear from these civic leaders about the status of the investigation, and about their commitment to keeping our community safe. For a variety of reasons this modest idea quickly blossomed into something much greater, with MPs, MPPs, Premier Wynne, and many other religious leaders coming to the synagogue to show their support. We were also joined by the leaders of other houses of worship that had also been victimized by this hate. But most importantly, we were joined by close to 1000 citizens of Ottawa who came to show their solidarity and support.

Starting off the program, Rabbi Bulka stepped to the podium and declared “Welcome to the real Ottawa!” The crowd rose to their feet in applause, and from that moment on the feeling of warmth, support, and love was felt in a palpable way. The impact on our congregation of that display of love from our broader community was immense. In the 45 minutes of that short program we reversed all the fear and vulnerability, and had it replaced with love and support. It was a morning of great healing, and reaffirmed for everyone there that there is a much more love in the world, and in our city, than there is hate.

To the individual who perpetrated this crime, I would offer him support and love. He is clearly misguided, and on a path of hate that is leading his life in a destructive direction. But if he had been present on that Saturday morning in November he would have experience what we all experienced – that the world really is a good place, that people really are good people, and that the joy of friendship and love far surpasses the temporary satisfaction he achieved from his hate.

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