INSIDE UJA: In the fight against antisemitism, each of our stories counts

Noah Shack joins UJA as our new Vice President, Countering Antisemitism and Hate after nearly 15 years of advocacy with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and its predecessor organization, the Canada-Israel Committee. The Snapshot team sat down with Noah to discuss the evolving nature of antisemitism, the power of each community member’s personal story in reshaping the conversation around hate, and the upcoming Face It, Fight It conference in Ottawa—a community-wide show of force and unity in the fight against antisemitism.

What led you to take on this role at UJA?

This week marked the 90th anniversary of the Christie Pits riot, when more than 10,000 Jewish and Italian young men stood shoulder to shoulder against Nazi-inspired hate in our city. My grandfather was among them. I took my son, his great-grandson, to the commemoration and played baseball with him in the park. It was moving to reflect on how far Toronto has come since that dark time, because of the undaunted efforts of people who have each done their part to build a brighter future. With antisemitism and other forms of hate on the rise in Toronto today, we all have a role to play, and I’m excited to make an impact at UJA.

UJA is uniquely able to bring together a coordinated community-wide approach to countering antisemitism and hate in the GTA. I’m very proud of the collaboration between CIJA, the Ontario Jewish Archives, the Hogtown Collective, the Ontario Government, and the Toronto District School Board to commemorate the Christie Pits riot – a great example of how we can achieve more working together. Thousands of grade 8 and 10 students from across the GTA participated in an immersive theatrical experience that transported them back to 1930s Toronto, to learn the lessons of the past and apply them to our current moment. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what we can do to move the needle on antisemitism in Toronto when we harness the power of diverse groups working together. I’m excited for more to come.

You’ve been in the fight against antisemitism for most of your professional career. How have you seen antisemitism evolve over the years?

If you look at the data, there’s been a steady trend of increasing hate crime in Canada since before I started working at the Canada-Israel Committee in 2007. Recently, this steady growth has accelerated. Statistics Canada notes a 79% jump in reported hate crimes since 2019, of course with many more going unreported. Last year, the Jewish community, around 1% of Canada’s population, was the target of 14% of all reported hate crimes, and 67% of hate crimes targeting a religious community – more than any other group. Ten antisemitic hate crimes were reported to police every single week in Canada, on average. These numbers only tell part of the story. Hate crimes by their very nature don’t just target a single individual, place, or piece of property – they target an entire group of people. The impact of hate is felt more broadly than just its immediate targets.

This increase of antisemitism in Canada corresponds with an explosion of antisemitism and hate online. During the pandemic, even people who were not social media users began to rely on these powerful platforms as an important source of interaction. As beneficial as this was, there is a lot of harmful content online and it is very easy for people who don’t know better to be taken in by antisemitic conspiracy theories or assertions. Unfortunately, there’s no one silver bullet. CIJA has advocated for federal legislation to address online hate. That’s an important component. Also important is making sure social media users have the tools to recognize online hate. This is one of the reasons CIJA, the Toronto Holocaust Museum, and Facing History and Ourselves Canada, in partnership with the Government of Ontario, developed Unlearn Antisemitism - a resource for educators and parents to address some of the shocking anti-Jewish racism seeping from the online world into the school environment.

At the same time, UJA-commissioned research from 2018 found that 41% of Jewish Torontonians downplay their Jewishness. Remember, we are only 1% of Canada’s population. This means most Canadians have never knowingly interacted with a Jewish person, so their perception of us is more easily shaped by what they see online or hear about from others. This is a vacuum we need to fill with our own voices, with Jewish pride, Jewish joy, and a strong, resilient Jewish identity.

What can people do right now to make a difference?

It’s amazing to see so many people in our community putting up their hands and asking what they can do. Everyone has a role to play, but it can seem overwhelming. What can you do? You can join us at the Face It, Fight It conference in Ottawa on October 16 and 17 this year. CIJA and Jewish Federations across Canada are bringing people together from coast to coast in a show of unity and force against antisemitism. This is an important opportunity to learn more and to make an impact, on Parliament Hill and beyond. I hope to see you there!

To learn more about the Face It, Fight It conference and register, click here.