When Dr. Ayelet Kuper reflects on Jewish Heritage Month, she thinks about celebrating and honouring her heritage while also bringing awareness to antisemitism.
“It would be disingenuous to just focus on the celebration. It wouldn’t reflect the lived experiences of Jewish people,” says Dr. Kuper, a general internist at Sunnybrook and the Senior Advisor on Antisemitism in the Office of Inclusion and Diversity at the University of Toronto. “We need to do both. Let’s celebrate what it means to be Jewish at Sunnybrook, but let’s also be real about what it means to be Jewish.”
Part of that reality has been increasing violence toward the Jewish community in 2021, both in Toronto and across the country. In Canada, violent incidents toward Jewish people rose to 75 in 2021 from nine in 2020, according to Jewish advocacy group B’Nai Brith.
“Over the past year or so, it really has reached a crisis point,” says Dr. Kuper. “It has become almost socially acceptable to be antisemitic.”
In her role as Senior Advisor on Antisemitism, Dr. Kuper provides education to medical students, residents, faculty and leaders around Jewish issues on campus, including antisemitism.
“This includes examining its impact, and looking at the current, recent and historical lived experiences of Jewish faculty, staff and learners,” she says, adding it includes many people who work at Sunnybrook because the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.
Dr. Kuper says Sunnybrook’s legacy of being a welcoming place for Jewish people is something the hospital should be proud of, and it’s also why it’s important to recognize Jewish Heritage Month across the organization.
“I think Jewish people at Sunnybrook like to know that — at a time when there is an increase in violence toward the Jewish community across the city, province and country — the organization is still committed to being a welcoming, inclusive place for Jewish staff, physicians and learners,” she says.
And it is also an opportunity to celebrate Jewish heritage.
“Despite a lot of adversity, despite deliberate exclusion from faculties of medicine and teaching hospitals, Jewish people have made incredible contributions to our faculties, to our hospitals and to health care in Toronto, and in Canada,” she says.
And when she thinks of Jewish health-care professionals, she often thinks of the Jewish concept of tikkun olam that means “to heal the world.” Dr. Kuper says it is a fundamental Jewish value that pairs with another precept, which states that a person who saves a life has saved an entire world because every person has the potential within them to change the future.
“I am proud of my colleagues who bring those core principles of Judaism to their work every day,” she says.