BALTIMORE — It’s a reporter’s worst nightmare!
You catch wind of a disturbing incident and rush back to your office to scour the net for more information, only to find that said happening has hardly made a blip on the world’s collective radar. So, you start to dig. You find the original social media post where the incident was reported – try to contact the poster – but you never get a response. Undeterred, you reach out to his companions at the center of the storm, but you hit a wall there too. You also reach out to local law enforcement, only to be rebuffed in an offhanded way.
By now, the frantic minutes — that turned into hours — have turned into days, and the story you could never confirm for certain slowly fades away.
Life goes on.
Then, like a certain Babylonian feast, there’s an undeniable moment of sobriety, and you realize the disturbing incident no one wanted to talk about was a harbinger of things to come.
Put another way, if you are shocked by what is happening in Canada right now, what follows should show that — in the fall of 2020 — the handwriting was clearly on the wall.
Let’s scroll back to September 28, 2020, and my heretofore unpublished story:
Did Montreal Police Raid Synagogues on Yom Kippur?
Montreal – The Neilah service on Yom Kippur is unquestionably the holiest moment of Judaism’s holiest day. It is believed that, during this fleeting hour, as the sun starts to set, that the gates of Heaven are mercifully held open – leaving a pathway for prayer and earnest supplications for the truly repentant.
What could be more urgent for the faithful at this hour than beseeching the Almighty for forgiveness? For members of Beth Chabad Cote St. Luc in Montreal, Canada, the answer was allegedly provided by the local police. Montreal resident, Berel Solomon, explained what took place via a video post on Voz IzNeias.
“I just came back from synagogue after Yom Kippur,” begins Solomon, “and we had a very unpleasant experience that happened. Every single person in that synagogue was wearing a mask; every single person was social distance; and every single guideline from the government was followed. And yet at the holiest part of the day – at the end of the day – we were raided by police officers who came into the synagogue without a warrant, and forced the entire (congregation) to disband. (They) forced all the worshipers out into the street, and once we were out on the street, they chased us with cop cars and forced us to leave the area.”
Solomon went on to say that at least 7 other synagogues were also “unfairly targeted” – a situation which he avers has been taking place since the beginning of the pandemic.
“It has been since the beginning of this epidemic that the Jewish community has experienced unprecedented harassment from the media and from the police,” said Solomon. “You can go to a bar and you guys could go to all kinds of parties and we can also riot in the streets, but when it comes to our synagogue we are disbanded with absolutely no explanation whatsoever. It is not right and it must end right away.”
* * * * *
Unlike incidents here the US – where it seems everybody has a cell phone camera set to movie mode – corroborating Solomon’s story was a tad trickier. Orthodox Jewish law prohibits the use of electronic devices on the Sabbath and on holy days, so it is unlikely anyone in the crowd would have recorded what Solomon said took place.
As I noted in my intro, I reached out to Solomon via both email and social media. To date, the visibly shaken Solomon has never responded.
I also reached out to the leadership of Beth Chabad Cote St. Luc in Montreal. Once again, no one ever responded – even though I was immediately put on the email list for general news from the synagogue.
Failing any sort of response from the aggrieved, I reached out that same week to Montreal Police Media Relations and asked:
(1) Did such incidents (as described by Solomon in his video) in fact occur?
(2) If so, how many synagogues in total were closed/disrupted?
(3) Were the congregations breaking any particular laws or directives? If so, would you please cite the directive(s).
(4) Have any churches, mosques or other houses of worship been closed in a similar fashion?
(5) Are businesses, such as bars and restaurants, being limited or entirely shut down?
(6) Are protests, sporting events or other public gatherings being limited or entirely shut down?
Media Relations quickly replied:
“We are gonna decline your interview request.
“For questions regarding COVID-19 directives, we invite you to contact the Québec public health department.”
I sent two followup questions to Media Relations, asking (1) if the police in that district wear body cameras, and (2) if the police cars had dash cams or any similar recording devices?
Media Relations’ abrupt rejoinder read:
“We don’t have body cameras” and “No such recording devices.”
Digging deeper to try to ascertain whether or not the worshipers were somehow at fault, I paid a visit to the Québec public health department web page. That search revealed that – at the time of the alleged incident at the synagogue – Montréal was under the Phase 3 (Orange) Alert of Québec’s Covid-19 directives.
Phase 3 allowed for social distancing worship services of no more than 250 people.
Comparing that directive to photos I found at the time of the 2020 high holiday set-up on the Beth Chabad C.S.L. website, I can honestly report that I did not see a problem.
It’s important to note that, as the holidays approached, the Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Montréal had issued the following statement (September 17, 2020):
COVID-19:UPDATE FOR THE HIGH HOLIDAYS
On the eve of the High Holidays, we continue to be concerned about potential outbreaks of the COVID-19 virus across the city of Montreal. In response to the recent rise in the number of cases, Public Health authorities are proposing that we adopt a number of preventative measures during the Days of Awe. The precise recommendations are as follows:
•Limit gatherings in indoor places to 50 people, including synagogues, rented halls and community halls;
•Outdoor Services are preferable;
•People at high risk of developing severe symptoms or complications, especially people aged 70 and over, should not participate in gatherings;
•Ensure that symptomatic people and those who have been in contact with a case confirmed COVID-19 strictly follow public health instructions, especially with regard to isolation and screening.
•Strictly apply distancing measures and wearing a face cover, if people are unable to maintain a distance of 2 meters between them.
The JCC statement then concluded:
Although implementing these recommendations require an adjustment in our plans, we must acknowledge that the virus is still amongst us, and that we must do everything we can to protect the health and well-being of our neighbours, family and friends as well as ourselves.
* * * * *
Did Solomon’s congregation (or any of the other local congregations) flout the rules? It hardly appears so. As near as I could tell, Beth Chabad C.S.L. did everything they could to play and pray by the rules. Apparently that wasn’t enough for Canadian officials.
And when the government decided to make an example of the Jews, not a word was spoken outside of the Orthodox community.
Where have we seen this act before? And where does such apathy toward the “other” lead us?
I think we all know the answer to that vexing question.
Theologian Martin Niemöller summed it up succinctly, when he spoke of his own experience of looking at “others” during WWII.
It may be fair at this juncture to ask why the Jews of Montréal weren’t more vociferous about the alleged Yom Kippur raids? After all, this is Canada, eh? Not Germany or Russia or Babylon.
Some might guess that – because of their long history of enduring persecution – the Jews knew better than to speak out. Yet, if they had spoken out, who would have listened to their plea? The local police, who while “following orders” sound as if they were behaving like cowboys on a cattle drive? The media, which – by and large – has acted as nothing more than a condescending echo chamber for the state?
What is presently happening to the truckers (and their supporters) in Canada is no less disturbing than what happened to the congregation at Beth Chabad C.S.L. The main difference is it appears an emboldened government has simply widened the scope of its “enemies” list, and in so doing is driving a stake into freedom’s heart.
With the President’s Day weekend upon us, and a celebrated statesman like George Washington on our minds, it behooves us to ask if Canada’s predicament could happen here in the United States, or in other democracies around the world?
Take a long hard look at your leadership and its caterwauling crusaders. It’s there you will find your answer. But know that many governments have been moving steadily to see how far the general populace will allow them to go – even as there inevitably comes a point of no return.
The story of the Handwriting on the Wall is an interesting account to consider in these turbulent times. What appears to some critics as an embellished saga of kingly-comeuppance may in fact be a most prescient cautionary tale. Read it for yourself, and then ask:
“Just how far afield must any society go before someone or something intercedes and drives the devils — drunk with power — from the throne?”
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Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A one-time newsboy for the Evening Sun and professional presence at the Washington Herald, Tony’s poetry, photography, humor, and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore!, Destination Maryland, Magic Octopus Magazine, Los Angeles Post-Examiner, Voice of Baltimore, SmartCEO, Alvarez Fiction, and Tales of Blood and Roses. If you notice that his work has been purloined, please let him know. As the Good Book says, “Thou shalt not steal.”