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Move Towards Peace….

August 21, 2017

I don’t often talk about the prejudice and bigotry I have experienced, but in the wake of Charlottesville, I think it important to mention.

I remember as a child of maybe eight or ten, riding my bike home from Sunday school, being pushed off my bike, punched in the forehead and being called a dirty Jew. At the time, we lived in the Jewish part of Toronto and I was returning from Hebrew School. This was my introduction to prejudice and hatred because otherwise, I was sheltered having lived in a predominantly Jewish community.

I remember when we moved to Thornhill in 1967. Thornhill at the time was predominantly white Anglo Saxon Protestant. I entered middle school and was immediately taunted and bullied. Other kids rolled pennies down the school hall at me and called them “JTs” (Jew testers). Apparently only a Jew would be so cheap as to stoop to pick up pennies. I didn’t understand. I picked them up. What I thought was a game was to turn to a source of shame.

In high school, I was intimidated by a student with a knife. He called out to me, “Jew”. It was a flick-knife which exposed the blade with a series of wrist flicks. I quickly distracted him by commenting on how well he was able to maneuver the knife and expose the blade so easily. It really is a skill that requires practice and when the skill is achieved, it is intimidating to be on the receiving end of a demonstration. However, my quick compliment and interest in his skill was enough to distract and change his interests. I won with flattery essentially.

As an adult, we had a neighbor at the cottage who continually let his dog void on our property. I would have to shout over the hedge to have the neighbor come clean his dog’s mess. He would do so at his leisure. The occasion that broke the camel’s back, so to say, was when the neighbor said he would do it after the weekend while driving away. I took the dog’s wast in a plastic bag and placed it, in the bag, by his front steps. He couldn’t miss it upon his return but it would not cause any problem apart from him having to pick up the bag to place in his garbage. When the neighbor returned home after the weekend, he shouted over the hedge to ask if I placed the waste on his property. I advised that I did. He shouted over the fence, ” Stay off my property. I always knew you were a dirty Jew.” It seems he may have been most upset that I would have come onto his property, than by leaving his dog’s waste. That was in 2011. In 2012 we moved from our family cottage of 56 years to another cottage a few streets over where the neighbors were decent people.

Those are four of my experiences with hate and prejudice that stick most in my mind, having been exposed to many others. None of these experiences had anything to do with me as an individual, but rather as the member of an identified minority, even though still white skinned. I can’t even imagine what life may be like for those whose skin color is not white or who have audible accents in addition to other skin colors.

Black Lives Matter.

Of those who may take exception to Black Lives Matter, most are white. Their comeback is, all lives matter.

Quite frankly, I don’t think anyone really disagrees that all lives matter.

However, one need understand the context of this movement. Firstly, it is not to imply that black lives matter MOST, just that they matter too. All this infers is that persons of color should have access to all the rights and privileges as white people; that they should be able to move safely in any community and have access to the same resources. By the way, you can also say that LGBTQ Lives Matter; that Jewish Lives Matter; that Muslim Lives Matter and that Native American Lives Matter – for all the same reasons as Black Lives Matter. The lives of minorities matter.

If you really want to overcome prejudice, you must examine your own upbringing and values and what you have subtly internalized about people and societal hierarchy, usually beyond your awareness.

As a Jew born post WW2, I do recall having to come to terms with my own prejudice against Germans, Muslims and Palestinians. Culturally, it is embedded not to trust  people who represent these groups. I have long since extended myself to people of different origin, faith, ethnicity, sexual orientation and culture. I continue to learn.

We overcome our prejudices with a healthy dose of curiosity and interest in others who appear different from ourselves. We get to know people for people. We rebuild an image of other cultures and minority groups by acquainting ourselves with people from those groups, one at a time.

From this perspective, we learn that all people need and want access to resources to survive and thrive. We learn that all persons take interest in their family and community; We learn that all people are inherently drawn to peace, except where they suffered emotionally and socially fracturing experiences.

We do not beat prejudice and hate by meeting it with prejudice and hate.

We beat prejudice and hate with kindness and openness wherever possbile.

While first we must be safe and unequivocal that prejudice and hate are unacceptable, we must then bridge divides. We must expose ourselves and others to our differences. We must invite people to learn about our ways and be curious about their ways. We built relationships.

If for starters, you want to develop a better appreciation of Black Lives Matter, consider the following two minute message about “the talk” developed by Proctor and Gamble.

Consider the “talk” you give to your kids. What does it mean to have “the talk” in your family? This message from Proctor and Gamble gives insight into the meaning of “the talk” from the perspective of black lives. This talk is anything but the talk most parents think of giving with regard to the birds and the bees…

After watching the message, ask yourself if you have ever had to suffer or have ever been physically threatened from a race, faith, culture or sexual orientation perspective. Ask yourself if you can see inequality. Ask yourself if you can speak up and hold out your hand in support of those who might otherwise be oppressed. Ask others of their experience with prejudice, bigotry and hate. Ask yourself how you will use your voice.


Today I used my voice. Where is yours?

Move towards peace.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. Check out all my services and then call me if you need help with a personal issue, mental health concern, child behavior or relationship, divorce or separation issue. I am available in person and by Skype.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

Linked In

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America. He consults to mental health professionals as well as to mediators and collaborative law professionals about good practice as well as building their practice.

  1. sarah gayer permalink

    I could not have said it better myself having grown up in the North part of Winnipeg as Jewish immigrant. it is sad that humanity has not learned form its mistakes and past history, history just keeps repeating itself.

  2. sarah gayer permalink

    You are lucky to still have her. Ask her is she knew Issac and Clara Kleit who lived in the north end form the 1950s on. They were form Poland

    • I will ask, but she may not have met them. She moved with my dad to Toronto just after the war. My dad was raised in Wynyard Saskatchewan, having immigrated from Poland as a toddler with his family. It was common for the Jews in small town Saskatchewan to come to Winnipeg to meet potential partners. It worked for my parents.

  3. Abbey Friedman permalink


  4. Abbey Friedman permalink

    Gary did we know each other from 80’s when I worked at The Hamilton Programme for Schizophrenia? You look soooo familiar.

    • No. In the 80’s I worked at Thistletown Regional Centre. I often get recognized though because of the TV show I hosted (Newlywed, Nearly Dead) and because of all my appearances on CHTV (News at noon with Don McLean and Connie Smith, Morning Show with Bob Cowan and Square Off with Mark Hebscher) as well, my picture appears weekly in the Hamilton Spectator as I am the family life/relationship/parenting columnist…

  5. Darsi Beauchamp permalink

    Thank you. But there’s much work to be done with anyone exposed to this kind of hurt as a child because it fragments who we are and hurts who we become on all levels. Trauma is not simplistic and cannot be just overcome because of admission and learning about others.

    I’m Jewish and the prejudices although sometimes more subtle than what you experienced are still real.

    There’s so much work to do on this earth, but people must be willing to listen and collaborate towards a better world of humans. That’s all we must look at, we are all humans. The divisions are created by religion, color, origins, and political aspirations. When we stop thinking that only those factors matter, then we can focus on just being human. Then we can coexist as one race-the human race.

  6. Thanks for speaking up—you give me added courage to speak up not just on paper but in person on a daily basis.
    Did you know I put you on my top twelve blogs for first time parents to read?
    I’m going to share this on my Papa Green Bean Facebook page.

  7. Kathryn Winning permalink

    Hi Gary, Thank you for bringing morality/ethics to the Linked In page. I agree that many of us want to interact with personnel/companies that share our values. The P and G bit brought tears to my eyes. I grew up at Bathurst and Finch; we “Christian” and “Jewish’ children knew nothing of prejudice. We had harmless debates about whether or not Jesus was the son of God, because, apart from that belief, we saw that we were all just the same. Yes, a little jealous that the Jewish kids had more school holidays, some rituals and customs that differed, but otherwise we were alike. I thought that the holocaust had happened eons ago, in an unenlightened time,an ignorant time, before people knew better. We were the living proof that prejudice is learned. I can’t explain why it was different at our school, maybe because the non-jews were in the minority,, I don’t know. As an adult I see the prejudice everywhere and my heart breaks. I have a marvellous, wonderful Israeli son-in-law and a beautiful perfect Jewish grandson. As you have written, It is important to have a voice in these matters. If we don’t speak up, who will?

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