Thursday, September 13, 2001
After the World Trade Center went down, after images of celebrating
Palestinians were shown on TV, Mike Gitelman of Edmonton decided
he had to take action.
Gitelman got out his telephone book. He looked up Arab and Islamic
organizations and started calling.
"I wanted to find out, 'Hey, are you guys happy or are you sad?
Are you dancing or are you crying?' I had to know."
Gitelman, 35, is a construction worker. He's also Jewish. A Toronto
boy who spent his 20s hitch-hiking around and working odd jobs,
including a six-month stay on a kibbutz in Israel.
On Tuesday, like most everyone else, Gitelman was appalled and
frightened by what he saw on TV, particularly by the Palestinian
He had a paranoid reaction to that, he says, and started to think
about the large Muslim temple outside of Edmonton. He wondered
if the Arab-Canadians out there were celebrating, too, maybe planning
to come out of the basement with guns and start shooting.
At that point, Gitelman told himself to calm down.
From his time in Israel, he knew that most Arabs might not like
it that Jews dominated the area politically, but only a few were
interested in taking violent action.
He recalled how one day in Israel, Palestinian radicals had declared
that the Arab market had to shut down to honour a certain Muslim
martyr. That same day, Gitelman was out shopping in the market,
when gangs of Arab teens with chains came by, smashing in the
window of any store that remained opened. One Arab store owner
closed shop when the teens were around, then promptly opened up
again right after, Gitelman recalls.
That's what most of the Palestinians are like, he thought, just
normal people, the kind who work hard, go home, care for the kids,
watch some TV, rest.
Still, to make sure things were OK in Edmonton, he started calling
the Arab groups.
The first person he got on the line was Khalid Tarrabain. Tarrabain,
a small businessman, came to Canada from Lebanon 15 years ago
and is now president of the Canadian Islamic Centre.
Over the phone, Tarrabain assured Gitelman that he, too, had
been horrified by the bombing.
"Terrible, terrible," Tarrabain says of the act. "No human would
do something like that.
"All Muslim leaders and Muslim countries, they denounced the
At that point, Gitelman came up with an idea, to have a meeting
between Edmonton's Jews, Christians and Arabs at the local Canadian
Blood Services office.
"I wanted to dispel other people from having the fear I had,
and to show that Edmonton's separate races aren't hating each
other," Gitelman says. "I wanted to show that all Arabs aren't
killers, and all Jews aren't Israeli soldiers, and that people
Every human has blood, Gitelman thought, so people could show
their common humanity by donating it. "We're all brothers. We
all care about life, and giving blood is a statement about that."
Tarrabain was keen to participate. "We wanted to get together
so that people don't think we're apart," he says. "We are one
community here, and we live together, and that's the way it should
Gitelman lobbied numerous local religious groups to come: Jewish,
Christian and Arab. In the end, only a handful of people showed
up Wednesday night, including Gitelman, a dozen Arab-Canadians,
and Unitarian minister Brian Kiely.
"There's so little we can do," Kiely said. "But we all bleed
red. It's the one concrete thing we can do."
The entire group signed up to donate blood. Gitelman was satisfied
with the effort.
"I wanted to do my part," he said. "I at least wanted to try."
To me, Gitelman succeeded. No, he didn't persuaded 500 Jews,
Arabs and Christians to come out and hold hands on a cold Edmonton
night, but that's not likely to happen, certainly not now, not
with people feeling so shattered and confused, not even in as
moderate a city as Edmonton.
But Gitelman had made a journey himself, from paranoia to fellowship,
from ignorance to knowledge. In doing so, he showed guts, bravery,
and a calm head, qualities that will be needed in coming weeks.