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Judy Haiven: Today, the Jewish Day of Atonement– a day to “repair the world”

Featured image above: Writing by Zakaria Al-Zubeidi, killed by Israeli troops two days ago.

I will tell you: when I was young, I went to religious services at the synagogue, Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto for 11 years of Jewish High Holidays – the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah), and 11 years of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur—which began last night at sunset). I will tell you: these were family occasions. My sisters and I, dressed in tweedy skirts, pale sweaters, nylon stockings and patent leather shoes, were accompanied by my parents who only attended the synagogue on the High Holidays.  We kids saw all our friends there, since we all went to religious school on Saturday or Sunday mornings. When I asked why religious school shut down for the summer, my father told me God needed a holiday too. My parents, who did not believe in God and were skeptical about faith, believed that going to synagogue on the High Holidays fulfilled their religious and community obligations. 

On Yom Kippur began, Jews are meant to fast for 24 hours, attend services at the synagogue and atone for their wrongdoings. 

I no longer go to synagogue.  Indeed I consider myself a non-practising Jew. While I have little to do with the religious aspect of being Jewish, I have a big commitment to social justice and choose to focus on tikkun olam  — “repairing the world”. 

Today I ask the 330,000 Canadian Jews to think about “repairing the world.”  We have to start with examining our role in supporting what Israel is doing to the Palestinians.  The progressive world’s gaze is now fixated on opposing settler colonialism, and fighting racism and inequality. It is Jews’ responsibility to force Israel to end its illegal and brutal occupation of Palestinians’ lands.  However, the mainstream Canadian Jewish community insists that being Jewish means total and uncritical support for Israel. 

Uncritical support for Israel has made it possible for the Israeli Defence Forces to kill more than 10, 238 Palestinians, including 1228 children in the West Bank and Gaza since 2000.  48,488  Palestinians have been made homeless by Israeli attacks and airstrikes their homes, schools and hospitals since 1967.  Uncritical Jewish support for Israel has made it possible to make Gaza the biggest open-air prison in the world, with 2 million people in an area little bigger than Halifax Regional Municipality.  Gaza has been under siege and a blockade by Israel since 2007.

Let’s look at what Israel does to Palestinians who dare stand up against them. Nine Palestinians were killed and more than 1300 seriously injured — men, women and children in Gaza shot dead by Israeli snipers in the Great March of Return in 2018-19. The US organization, Jewish Voice for Peace, says they were killed for merely protesting their conditions. 

Poster for The Freedom Theatre summer camp, 2021., supported by Les Amis du Theatre de la Liberte de Jenine.

On Sept. 6, six Palestinian prisoners broke out of Gilboa jail in Israel.  One of them, Zakaria Al-Zubeidi, was a co-founder of The Freedom Theatre, which I visited in the Jenin Refugee Camp in the West Bank, just over 10 years ago.  The Freedom Theatre was also co-founded in 2006 by a well-known Israeli actor, Juliano Mer Khamis, son of  a Jewish mother and a Palestinian father.  The theatre founded as a community hub to   “join the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation with poetry, music, theatre, cameras.”  Al-Zubeidi was one of dozens of youth who had participated in the theatre, and wanted to use it to channel their outrage at the Israeli occupation. 

As a teen, he was shot in the legs for throwing stones at Israeli troops in the streets of Jenin.  After four operations and left with a permanent limp, he became more involved in fighting the Occupation. Needless to say he was arrested and imprisoned many times by the Israelis.  Two weeks ago, when the six Palestinian prisoners dug their way out of the prison, the manhunt for them began.  The IDF found Al-Zubeidi hiding in a West Bank village, captured him and according to sources today – beat him severely. Though he did not die, he has serious injuries.

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Tonight it’s time for us Jews to think about what we can do to repair a world which our fellow Jews in Israel have broken. It’s time.

Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV) is a grassroots organization grounded in Jewish tradition that opposes all forms of racism and advocates for justice and peace for all in Israel-Palestine. We oppose Israel’s perpetual war including the Jewish settler violence against the Palestinian people. I’m one of the founders of IJV-Canada, an organization which began 12 years ago and now spans Canada. To see more of what we do, check us out here. Please donate to IJV here.

Please note: We have corrected this story. Al-Zubeidi was not killed but serious beatings by Israeli authorities resulted in a broken jaw and broken ribs among other injuries.

Judy Haiven is on the steering committee of Equity Watch, an organization that fights discrimination, bullying and racism in the workplace.  Contact her at equitywatchns@gmail.com

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