For years I’ve put my reputation on the line defending Judaism and Jewish values. I’ve fought to keep Jewish curriculum in schools, fought against non-Kosher restaurants in Jewish establishments, took on Federation opposing school mergers and the opening of the Y on Shabbos. I’ve dedicated most of my life fighting the fights that don’t get you awards or get you feted in the community, that get you fired from your job, that get you condemned from every corner of the Jewish and sometimes the non-Jewish world.
Years ago, at around the beginning of the World Wide Web, I founded a site called Jewishactivist.com. The site acted as a blog site, before blogs existed and I posted often on it. One of the main topics I covered was an anti-Israel site called Montreal Muslim News. The rabid, false and offensive articles published by that site really bothered me, so I countered each one with an accurate version of whatever story they were telling. This, of course, drove them nuts and after a little while of the back and forth, the writers on the Muslim site decided on a better strategy. They started subtly attacking Jewishactivist.com and later came after me personally.
I was flattered by the attention. One day, they published an article by Samer Elatrash, a radical Muslim, who was suspended from Concordia University in Montreal for three years due to his instigation of the 2002 riot that stopped current Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu from speaking on campus. In his article, Elatrash personally attacked me in a libelous way. I threatened to sue, the site retracted the story and the editor resigned his position. After he left, the site, which still exists today, became much more moderate focusing mostly on Muslim religion and issues relating to the Muslim community.
Not long after winning that battle, I got a call from then Executive Director of Bnai Brith Canada, Yechiel Glustein z’l. He asked me to come to his office to discuss matters of extreme importance with me. It wasn’t odd that the establishment wanted to talk to me, they always seemed to be upset with something I did. For a time, a week didn’t go by without Canadian Jewish Congress or Bnai Brith condemning me for something I said or did.
When I got to Glustein’s office, he was sitting with Michael Crelinstein, then Executive Director of Canadian Jewish Congress. It was odd that the two directors would be sitting together, the organizations were at odds with each other and cooperation between the two was very rare. We walked into the boardroom and I was told to sit down.
Crelinstein started the conversation by telling me how much he and the Jewish Community appreciated my zeal to do good for the community. Glustein said that Bnai Brith Canada was very proud of my activism. I waited, knowing full well that the other shoe was going to drop. Suddenly, all the smiles disappeared. Crelinstein leaned forward, his elbows on the table, his eyes glaring into mine. He told me that he had heard that in response to some muggings of old Jewish ladies in a bad neighbourhood of Montreal, I had started a Jewish Security Force.
The Jewish Security Force was an effort to create a walk safe program for the elderly who were being attacked in the Snowdon neighbourhood of Montreal. Three or four old ladies were mugged, and one had her arm broken by thugs trying to steal their purses. At the time, I was the founding President of Save All Jews Everywhere (SAJE) a Montreal based activist group which eventually expanded and opened a Concordia University Montreal Chapter. As President, many people came to me with many ideas on how we could help the Jewish Community. We were well-funded and ready to do whatever was necessary to ensure the safety and security of our Jewish Community.
A young Russian man named Natan approached me with the idea of starting up a Jewish Security Force. His idea was to create a well-trained Jewish security team that would be available to walk scared seniors to the supermarket and walk them home. He was a black belt in Krav Maga and was willing to train young Jews to protect more venerable older ones. I told him I thought the idea was amazing, but he would have to go about it on his own. I would supply moral and logistical support, contacts, advice, but that SAJE would not be a major part of the founding of this group, nor would the group be a division or part of SAJE.
A word of mouth call was put out and over 300 young strong Jews had volunteered to be trained and serve as part of the force. Classes were quickly setup and training had started. A donor had come forward with equipment, including highly visible t-shirts and radio communications. At this point, Natan felt that the force could be bigger and arranged for an article to be written in the Suburban Newspaper, first announcing his organization, The Jewish Security Force and secondly, calling for volunteers. The day the newspaper came out was the day I was called to the Bnai Brith meeting.
I looked at Crelinstein and told him that I had nothing to do with it. Glustein said he didn’t believe me. I denied involvement again and pointed to the article which clearly stated that Natan was the founder and director of the organization. They both said, almost in unison, that they knew that I was actually the founder and that if I continued with this organization, I would pay the price. Leave security to the organized Jewish Community they told me. They gave me an ultimatum, close the organization or they will have to act. I insisted that I had nothing to do with it and they were talking to the wrong person. They told me to leave.
I left the Bnai Brith office and went to the nearest pay phone (cell phones didn’t exist at the time). I called Natan and told him about the meeting. Natan said he wasn’t worried, he had already gotten another 100 calls and the organization was taking on a life of its own, with or without the blessing of the community.
Training continued for another month. One day my phone rang. Detective Sargeant Jean Francois Brisson was on the phone. He asked me to come to Station 25 to have a discussion regarding the Jewish Security Force. I explained to him that I had nothing to do with the force, he insisted I come to the meeting. Having nothing to hide, and against the advice of my lawyer, I made my way downtown to attend the meeting with the detective sergeant.
Walking into the police station, I was greeted by Natan who had also been summoned. We were brought to the second floor and put into an interrogation room. Two police officers walked into the room and sat down across the table from us. The first officer introduced himself as the Detective Sergeant.
He looked at us and said that he didn’t want to spend too much time on this, from what he saw, we weren’t breaking any laws, but if we continued with the organization, the police would be so “far up our asses, it would hurt to take a crap”.
He then looked at Natan, “I see you are a recent immigrant, he said, keep in mind, something like this can get you deported.”
Two days later, Natan’s father received a call from the RCMP threatening that if the organization wasn’t immediately shut down, deportation proceedings would start. He was given 24 hours.
Ten minutes later, Natan called and told me that the organization was dead.
For years I was disturbed by the fact that major Jewish Organizations would turn young Jews trying to help in to the police and RCMP. It bothered me that instead of inviting us to join them and work towards a common goal, they instead chose to bully us into submission.
Natan and his family were not deported, but they stopped being involved in the Jewish Community. Natan said, “if that’s what the community is about, turning other Jews into the police, we didn’t have to come here, we could have stayed in Communist Russia. We escaped Communism to get away from that. So I don’t want anything to do with this anymore.”