With the rise in anti-Semitism in Toronto and around the world recently, one might think that NCSY Canada is having a more difficult time spreading our mission to connect teens to their Jewish heritage. The truth, however, is not only counter-intuitive, it is surprising! NCSY Canada is experiencing a surge of interest in our programs with more and more teens clamoring to join our shabbatons and programs than ever before.
This is a welcoming but also a curious bit of trivia in light of the spate of anti-Jewish incidents that has rocked Toronto recently. Just several weeks ago, a swastika was drawn on a gratitude mural located in a school’s main foyer at one of NCSY’s JSUs (Jewish Student Union). One of our most successful outreach programs (there are currently 18 JSU programs running across Thornhill and Toronto), JSU is where NCSY leaders engage Jewish students in their local public schools on their lunch break.
This ugly occurrence is similar to an incident that took place at Northern Secondary School last year when a flyer advertising a Jewish club was defaced with swastikas and anti-Semitic messages. These incidents seem to reflect a rising tide in hate, discrimination, and intolerance that Jews are experiencing— one that is not only rocking our city, but is becoming a tragic feature around the world as well.
At NCSY Canada and Torah High, we remain cognizant of these realities and strive to inoculate our teens by educating them about what they are likely to face as they move on to university. Torah High held a seminar recently in partnership with Hasbara Fellowships, which presented families—both parents and their teens—with information about how to identity anti-Semitism on campus, and what they can do to combat it.
I believe our message is resonating powerfully in spite of the challenges. Recently, over 400 teens from North American, 70 of whom were from Canada, chose to learn Torah and engage in Jewish learning in New York City at Yarchei Kallah, NCSY’s flagship learning program.
Then there was the Winter Regional Convention, which attracted more than 100 teens from Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. The theme of the convention was “dreams.” The teens were inspired to widen the scope of their dreams to include not only the typical markers of success, but markers that went deeper… to something that would resonate with their values and bring fulfillment and meaning to their lives. Concurrently, 90 teens from Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary attended an NCSY West Shabbaton in Edmonton, Alberta.
It is certainly tragic that we, as members of the Jewish people, have to contend with a recurring phenomenon—anti-Semitism—that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon. While there is room to discuss how to combat this terrible scourge from a legal and civil point of view, at NCSY Canada and Torah High, we choose to emphasize Jewish pride and identity as the answer.