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Canadian Jews shocked, angered by Ottawa shooting

‘Canada is the most big-hearted place I know. It hurts to see that upended into so much pain’

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

The Canadian Centre Block parliament building. (photo credit: CC-BY-SA Daryl_Mitchell, Flickr)
The Canadian Centre Block parliament building. (photo credit: CC-BY-SA Daryl_Mitchell, Flickr)

The news of a fatal shooting attack in Ottawa on Wednesday reverberated among Canadian communities at home and abroad. Residents of the capital city, citizens throughout the country, and ex-pats living abroad said they were deeply affected by the news of gunfire ringing through the halls of Parliament and the shooting death of a soldier guarding the National War Memorial.

The suspected terror incident took place just two days after a radicalized Canadian convert to Islam was shot dead by police after ramming his car into two Canadian soldiers in St. Jean sur Richelieu, near Montreal, killing one of them.

Members of Canada’s 380,000-strong Jewish community were among those struggling to understand the attack in Ottawa allegedly carried out by 32-year-old Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a convert to Islam who had been prevented by federal officials from obtaining the necessary travel documents to go to Libya to study the religion.

Ottawa resident Alex Lithwick was not entirely shocked at the incident, especially given that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has strongly sided with Israel and has recently taken a clear stand against ISIS.

Earlier this week, Canadian jets took off for Kuwait to join an international combat mission against Islamic State militants in Iraq.

“I guess I had a cynical lack of surprise. Islamist terror is something that I expected would eventually affect us,” he said, referring to suspicions that Zehaf-Bibeau was motivated by religious radicalism.

“We have been living in a glass bubble here in Canada for a long time,” he said.

‘We have been living in a glass bubble here in Canada for a long time’

Tirzah Tward of Toronto sees the attack as a wake up call and thinks it is time that Canadians confront the threat of Islamist terror.

“We will all be forced to face some difficult facts about this world. Until that fog that most people live in lifts, we will continue to be viewed as easy prey for evil,” she said.

Although Lithwick did not worry that Ottawa’s small Jewish community would be specifically targeted, he was glad that the organized Jewish community, both local and national, responded swiftly to the news.

According to the Canadian Jewish News, the Jewish community campus in Ottawa’s west end entered a state of “heightened security.” The campus, which houses the Jewish Federation, a school and a retirement home, is located 15 minutes’ drive from Parliament Hill.

“We are not particularly scared – [the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs] put out an alert that there is no threat as such to the Jewish community, but everyone knows someone who works around Parliament Hill,” Michael Regenstreif, editor of The Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, was reported as saying by the CJN.

Similarly, Paul Estrin, the former president of Canada’s Green Party and a resident of Quebec City, noted that his Jewish friends across the country were expressing on social media concern for the safety of friends and loved ones in the military or working for the government.

“People don’t seem scared, but they are angry. They are angry that this is happening, that Canadians are under fire,” he said.

A Royal Canadian Mounted Police intervention team walks past a gate on Parliament hill in Ottawa Wednesday Oct. 22, 2014. (photo credit: AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Adrian Wyld)
A Royal Canadian Mounted Police intervention team walks past a gate on Parliament hill in Ottawa Wednesday Oct. 22, 2014. (photo credit: AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Adrian Wyld)

Vancouver marketing professional Jay Eidelman pointed out that Canada has suffered shooting attacks before.

“The claims that ‘this ends Canada’s innocence’ being peddled are nonsense,” he said. “Unfortunately, there have been many attacks like this over the past 40 years and Canada is anything but innocent. We’re not even that polite. What we are, to our credit, is hopeful.”

Hopefulness and other positive national characteristics are what some members of the Jewish clergy are focusing on in communicating with their congregants following Wednesday’s events.

“The news of the day is only the latest evidence that if someone is set on doing harm and inflicting terror, he or she will initially be successful. But ultimately, the good will and the greater collective strength of the majority will overwhelm him. Canadians are united by the core values this country stands for,” said Rabbi Yael Splansky of Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple.

Even though they live far away, ex-pat Jewish Canadians remain proud of their native land and its national character.

‘Canada is the most big-hearted place I know. It hurts to see that upended into so much pain’

“I really hope [the suspected terror attack] doesn’t change things. I hope Canada keeps its openness and its ability to be a welcoming, multicultural society,” said Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder, a Canadian living in San Francisco. Abusch-Magder is originally from Hamilton, the home of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, the soldier killed in Ottawa.

Herzliya lawyer Yosef Weinstock finds himself somewhat inured to news of such attacks.

“Even when it happens here in Israel, I don’t get thrown. Of course, it’s tragic, but daily life has to continue,” he said.

For Canadian Jews who have made aliyah to Israel, terror is not an unfamiliar phenomenon. “I guess I was surprised to hear about the attack in Ottawa, but when I think about it, I really need not have been. There is no reason that Canada should be immune. Unfortunately, we have to live with this kind of thing in the modern world.”

To Dahlia Lithwick, who lives in the US and writes about the courts and the law for Slate, Wednesday’s attack seemed “chillingly familiar.”

This time, however, she was watching on as events unfolded in Ottawa, where she grew up and where her brother Alex and his family still live.

“Seeing images of familiar streets and landmarks in the grip of a terror attack is shattering. Canada is the most big-hearted place I know. It hurts to see that upended into so much pain,” she said.

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