Last year, I shared the story about two students who spontaneously wrote a speech for the flustered and unprepared non-Jewish delegate from Israel at Model UN.  This year, one of those students and the Jr Head of Model UN at TCW, Josh Benjamin, challenged the Model UN organization.  Of all the burning issues taking place in the world today, the organizers picked Islamophobia.  Josh questioned MUN’s priorities, and I proudly share his brave, articulate, and respectful inquiry below and its response.

Here’s what Josh had to say:

To whom it may concern,

I am curious to know why combating Islamophobic violence is number one on the topics for the UNHRC.

While Islamophobia is an issue, in the US for example, there are roughly four hate crimes against Jews for every hate crime against Muslims. So maybe we should discuss combating global antisemitism instead. Additionally, Jews are persecuted in Muslim countries and there is a mass exodus of Jews from Europe due to the large amount of antisemitism happening there.

Millions of people are oppressed by tyrannical regimes in the Arab world, Africa and Cuba. Women are treated with the same respect as cattle in Saudi Arabia, gays are thrown off the roof of high rise buildings in Iraq, but somehow Islamophobia is the topic of discussion.

How many Muslims are killed around the world because of Islamophobia compared to Jews and Christians?

Additionally, there are no topics on fighting global anti-semitism, persecution of Christians and minorities like Yezidis, radical Islamic terrorist groups, and rogue nations.

I heavily urge SOMA to rethink your topics to something more appropriate for today’s world.

Thank you, Josh Benjamin

 

Josh received this response:

At SOMA, there are only a limited number of issues which we can address each year. For our 2016 conference, we sought to select areas of discussion that were topical and pertinent, and would result in fruitful discourse with a variety of perspectives. Given the concerning global rise of Islamophobia that has been exacerbated in recent months, we find that the issue of Islamophobic violence is more than relevant to our world, and should be considered in our global dialogue. You are free to disagree; in fact, many nations do. This is exactly the kind of variety of perspectives we encourage at SOMA, and which are the goal of bodies like the United Nations. That diversity of opinion, however, does not negate the severity of the problem.

Choosing to focus on one issue, does not mean that others do not exist. Our choice to have a discussion on the subject of Islamophobic violence, does not mean that anti-semitic violence, and similar acts against other religious minorities, are not transpiring. We do not, and would never, wish to minimize or diminish the horrors of such acts. However, we must ultimately make a choice to focus on certain issues for our conference, and we found that the issue of Islamophobia is certainly pressing and undoubtedly growing.

We believe that any form of undue violence against a religious minority should be considered to be an issue, and engagement in the question of which form of religious-based violence is the worst is ultimately meaningless. Religious based violence is unacceptable. Full stop. Bodies like the UN must respond to these issues, and we are proud to have this reflected within our choices for discussion topics for SOMA XLIV.

We hope that this has answered your concerns sufficiently. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to let us know.

Sincerely,

Owen Torrey

USG Communications

SOMA XLIV

 

Rabbi B and Josh Benjamin

 

The following letter was sent to TanenbaumCHAT graduates at McGill University earlier this week.

 

Dear TanenbaumCHAT graduates at McGill University,

I read in this week’s CJN the good news that the student-led motion in favour of BDS was voted down after the Student Society initially passed it.  I know that many of you were in the forefront of campaigning, educating, and networking to defeat this anti-Semitic motion. Todah Rabbah and Yishar Koach!

I understand that although the BDS motion wasn’t ratified, 43% of the students voted in favour of it.  I can only imagine how uncomfortable it must be to study in an environment where nearly half the student leadership believes that your people, our people, the Jewish people, should be denied the right to national sovereignty.  I also imagine that some Jewish students have begun to hide their identity and deny a connection to Israel.  That’s why I am even more proud of you for remaining loyal to the Jewish people, to the State of Israel, and to the values that you were raised on both at home and at TanenbaumCHAT.

Whatever role you played, you should know that a community of over 1000 students, 200 teachers and staff, and 7,000 alumni stands behind you and supports you.  Behind you is the Canadian Parliament as well. Our national leaders understand that BDS supporters, cloaking their arguments in the language of human rights, have one true goal–Israel’s destruction.  Our elected officials know well that the obliteration of our homeland negates fundamental Canadian values and interests and is bad for the entire civilized world.

As well, our Parliamentarians understand that Israel is a place that provides the Jewish people the best opportunity to be Jews not just in our homes but in the public sphere as well.  To deny Israel that right and compel us to hide who we are–to deny our inalienable right to self-determination– is to rob us of a fundamental human freedom.  I am proud to live in a country where at least our politicians understand this; hopefully university students will one day get the message too.

As the Head of School of TanenbaumCHAT, I am proud of your courage and persistence and thank you for standing up for Israel in the face of what is often the toughest opposition:  the hostility of peers.  Chazak Chazak V’nitchazeik!

Sincerely,

Rabbi Buckman, Head of School of TanenbaumCHAT

I’m always impressed when our students make their mark on the outside world.  This week the March 1 edition of the Globe and Mail published an essay that Laura Goldfarb (TCW, Class of 2016) wrote for the Facts & Arguments column.  I recently had the pleasure of studying with Laura in her Jewish history class and was struck by her intelligence, maturity, and inner calm.  Laura’s insightful and well-written essay about the power of speech confirmed my impression.

Laura agreed to be a guest columnist in my blog.  Below is her fine essay.

 

I was diagnosed as clinically mute not long after I learned how to talk. I spoke solely to my immediate family members and sparingly so, even to them. It was not that I couldn’t speak or that I didn’t understand the utility of language. Rather, it was my hyper awareness of its power that made language a precarious resource and one that I dared not use recklessly.

Kindergarten was an ordeal, to say the least. I dreaded “play hour,” the seemingly endless portion of the day allocated to compulsory socialization. I would regress into a catatonic state at the mere thought of having to approach another child and ask to play. When my teachers would become frustrated and plead with me to “use my words,” I would hyperventilate, turn blue and pass out. (This was a function of my cyanotic spells, with which I was subsequently diagnosed.)

For years, I persisted in my silence. On multiple occasions, I rode all the way home in carpool without my seat belt on because I couldn’t do it up myself, and I was too afraid to ask for help.

“You’ve been sitting here all this time without your seat belt on?” the carpool mother would say. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

I thought but never said, “Because I’m terrified of speaking.”

I was almost seven years old when I “broke my silence,” so to speak. I was on a walk with my mother when we bumped into her good friend. She was a woman whom I was well acquainted with and also a woman whom I had never uttered a single word to. When I saw her approaching, I promptly performed my routine procedure, concealing myself behind my mother’s legs.

As I observed the two women converse, I felt unaccountably moved to say “hello.” It was hard to fathom this impulse; it was so foreign, yet so instinctual. The desire to talk came over me like a tidal wave – wholly and forcefully; it was a phenomenon that was not a result of perseverance, but a product nature.

Having had no experience with the task of greeting someone, I managed a meagre “hi” before cowering in confusion at the sound of my own voice. She didn’t hear me, but that didn’t matter. Because, with that one word, I unleashed myself into the realm of talkers, inexplicably leaving behind my trepidation.

My shyness no longer debilitated me, but I remained frugal with my words throughout elementary school. My brothers would return home from school and share drawn-out stories about their day or excitedly exchange predictions about the upcoming hockey game; they spent their words frivolously. I, on the other hand, preferred to express myself through drawings and diagrams, providing brief verbal explanations where my artistry failed me.

“Is that a ladder over there?” my mother asked softly, with one hand pointing to the fence that I had drawn and the other resting gently on my shoulder as she carefully examined my artwork.

“It’s a fence,” I explained.

As I matured, I became increasingly liberal with my use of speech. The gnawing fear of words that once controlled my life eventually dissipated. I was completely emancipated from my childhood anxiety. I was unrestrained. I was reckless.

When I was in seventh grade, I learned what shame tastes like. I was sitting with my friends at lunch, chatting mindlessly about TV shows and the latest gossip. One of my friends began remarking about the new haircut of a girl in our grade.

“She looks like a boy,” my friend snickered.

“I know,” I replied, “it looks horrible!”

Our words were careless. Idle. But powerful, nonetheless.

The following day, I found myself in conversation with that girl; we were discussing our work during class. After a few minutes, she looked down at the ground and whispered to me, “I don’t like my haircut, either.”

I had never felt so ashamed, and, in that moment, I realized that my words were possessing me in the very same way that my silence once did.

That was in seventh grade – the day I reclaimed my fear of words, and that fear has remained within me ever since. I know this now, as I knew it when I was in kindergarten: Words are powerful, far more so than the person who speaks them; perhaps silence is not my disease, but my remedy.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/facts-and-arguments/reclaming-my-childhood-fear-of-speaking-i-realized-the-power-of-words/article28969603/

Goldfarb Laura