Hatred, bigotry and anti-semitism have no place in Prince Edward County

September in Prince Edward County is likely the best month of the year if we are being honest. The pace is slow, the weather is usually fantastic and the leaves are just about ready to create a wonderful kaleidescope of colour.

But not all is beautiful in this bucolic ‘burgh and the rift within our community, complete with insidious undercurrents, was detailed recently in a heart wrenching piece of authentic and raw writing undertaken by PECI student Talia Epstein.

For those of you who don’t know her, Epstein is a developing community leader who helped orchestrate the PECI portion of last spring’s student day of action protesting the cuts to education by the Ford government.

Studious and organized, thoughtful and bright, Epstein is going places in this world and will change them for the better. There’s no doubt she has the capacity to be a difference maker. We hope her dreams are realized on a provincial, national and global scale.

But this corner’s other hope is that her submission helps to reconcile and heal our community. Judging by what she’s written of her experiences growing up in Prince Edward County under the proudly-waived Loyalist banner, there is plenty of soul searching to be done.

Late last week, your humble scribe and Epstein shared a correspondence. Raw, gritty and unflinching in her writing that was complete with unedited anti-semitic slurs, swearing and hate speech, The Gazette explained that, as presented, the piece would not fit inside our constraints as a family newspaper without a large amount of editing. Likely too much to the point where her effort might not have the gravity this topic should have. After some back-and-forth, Epstein understood and respected these constraints.

Her words have ultimately made it to social media and reached a far broader audience than Canada’s Oldest Community Newspaper ever could facilitate and are available to read at https://peopleofpec.wordpress.com/2019/09/17/my-future-is-prince-edward-county-talia-epstein . Please read it and have a tissue ready. And then share it with someone else who needs to understand this community, despite its wondrous beauty, is not immune to hideous hate.

While these heart wrenching slurs can’t be reprinted in this newspaper, the acts of cowardly hate she endured as an elementary student here in Prince Edward County can. Anti-Semitic jokes about Anne Frank, Stars of David with “JEW” written in them and attached to her clothing, having swastikas drawn on her books and coins thrown at her feet in the hallway were part of her experience at school. Disgusting is one of many ways to describe it.

And if that wasn’t appalling enough, it was often cloaked in the ugly, self righteous tenor of the ‘Old Prince Edward County’ stock, those of the abhorrent ‘We were here first, we don’t like change or outsiders and we especially don’t like hearing it from ones different from us’ crowd.

What is it about having lived on this island their whole life that gives some the sense of unearned entitlement and an assumed monopoly on wisdom? A bad combination, those two traits.

Amongst children in senior elementary and junior secondary school, one could only assume these actions and words were coached and taught anti-semitic bias by unknown individuals who are old enough to know better.

In her message, Epstein asks if we are a community that wants to drive people away when they bring attention to its flaws?

“Or do we want to welcome that criticism as an opportunity to make our home a home to anyone else who might want to join us? Prince Edward County is a beautiful place. It is full of beautiful, compassionate people. It is full of people who are so admirably connected and caring. It is and always will be my home, and home to other Jews and other minorities. This is a chance for all of us to broaden our horizons and learn about things and people we might never have had the chance to. I know that the county is capable of being the most amazing place on earth, and it hurts to see that potential not being reached. It hurts to think the magnificent sense of community the county has built over the centuries is being expressed at the expense of other people.”

We agree whole heartedly.

It hurts the heart to know a young woman in our community was forced to endure this hate. We hope it steels her resolve as she moves forward in life. We hope her words can bring change to the world.

May it start with Prince Edward County.

Jason Parks