Like the people who inhabit them, some cities have nicknames based on their characteristics. Chicago is the “Windy City,” New York is “The city that never sleeps.” Toronto has, at least as far back as I can remember, always been referred to as “Toronto the Good.”
Torontonians always took pride in that designation; we were a big city with small town values. We lived in a cosmopolitan metropolis — with imposing skyscrapers seemingly touching the sky and trendy picturesque neighborhoods — but we could leave our doors unlocked at night.
We were filled with a smugness that bordered on arrogance when we compared ourselves to our counterparts south of the border — Detroit, Miami, New York, Los Angeles, just a few comparable cities beset with high homicide rates and racial turmoil and violence. We in Toronto were above all that — we were more civilized, tolerant, and law-abiding.
During the last quarter of the 20th century, when the “feel good” philosophy and “anything goes” mentality that permeated Western culture led to the gradual disintegration of family values and societal respect, Toronto the Good (when compared to its younger self) became just Toronto the OK.
Young people became ever more disrespectful to their elders, to authority — teachers, police, etc. — and to each other. Crime, both petty and violent, escalated, and leaving one’s door or even one’s car unlocked was no longer an option. But everything is relative, and compared to our American neighbors, Toronto was still “good.”
The senseless murder of David Rosenzweig — the boy who lived down my street as I was growing up, my brother’s friend, neighbor and minyan-mate, the father of six who just recently celebrated the birth of his first grandchild — has forced me to revise my assessment of my native city.
Toronto is “good” no longer. Not when a dreg of society, known to the police, has the freedom to murder an upstanding citizen for no reason, snuffing out the life of a stranger as casually as one steps on an ant on the sidewalk. At this moment, police have not labeled this senseless annihilation of David’s life a hate crime.
If indeed this cold-blooded murder was not motivated by unwarranted hatred, then David was the random victim of soul-less, unfeeling deviants, with no shred of empathy or human compassion. A very disturbing thought. If he indeed was a victim of a virulent anti-Semite, if he was killed solely because his clothing, yarmulke and beard identified him as a Jew, than his death is equally horrific.
Canadians like to think themselves as being an open-minded, peaceful bunch, willing to accept and even encourage the cultural differences of the myriad people who have come to her shores. We can be smug no longer.
And the Jewish community of Toronto can no longer walk around with a “we’re safe here” mentality. In a recent column, I mentioned the deep concern voiced by an acquaintance over sending her daughter to Israel for her seminary year. She was so worried for her daughter’s safety, as indeed are many other North American parents who are reconsidering their children’s trips.
How ironic that David was slain in front of one of the most popular pizza places frequented by the kosher community, one located in the most concentrated Orthodox neighborhood in the city, often full of young people on a motzei Shabbat. One considered very heimish and safe.
If there can be anything positive coming out of David’s petira, it is that more of us will realize that what happens to you is pre-ordained. We must not let fear stop us or our loved ones from doing what we know is right — showing our physical and economic support of Israel by visiting.
If you are afraid the Angel of Death may find you in Israel, then you have no option but to cower behind your covers and hide in your bed, because death may just as well be waiting in good old Toronto — or Los Angeles or Cleveland or Brooklyn — just outside your door.
David was universally recognized as a “nice guy,” the kind of person who would take the time and trouble to say “Gut Shabbos, how are you” to my stroke-stricken mother in her wheelchair, rather than taking the comfortable route of avoiding her.
Without question, everyone in the community had a similar tale to describe David’s menschlichkeit and his ahavat Yisrael. The son of Holocaust survivors, the middle of three sons, David was an endless source of nachat to his parents, especially to his mother, who survives him. It is beyond comprehension that a survivor who so brutally witnessed the deaths of parents and siblings — the generations of her past and present — now must cope with the death of a child — the generation of her future.
May she, along with David’s wife, children and all other loved ones, be comforted in knowing that David died al kiddush Hashem and has earned an immediate spot at Hashem’s table in Gan Eden.