Repairing the World: Looking Back on 25 Years of Ve’ahavta

Dec. 2, 2020

By AVRUM ROSENSWEIG


Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; Aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; Defend the cause of the widow.

 – Isaiah 1:17

I was born into a rabbinical home where my siblings and I were shown a high level of empathy. I am therefore blessed and cursed with feeling for those who are oppressed. If you have experienced this, you will understand. It is a blessing because defending justice reminds us of the Jewish people’s covenant with God. And the curse? It reminds us there is little time to exhale as injustice hardly ceases.

In 1994, I was worked at United Jewish Appeal. It was the year a genocide erupted in Rwanda. It was bloody. Up to one million people were macheted to death by their neighbours. And the world was mostly quiet. The Jewish community, despite our commitment to “Never Again,” barely uttered a word. A finger, it seemed, was rarely lifted to help. Stillness.

This 100-day bloodbath awakened in me the realization the Canadian Jewish community did not have a humanitarian outlet. Christians did. Muslims did. But we, the bearers of “knowing the stranger” were unprepared to respond the way we had expected others to do for us.

So, in 1996 Ve’ahavta became a legal entity. Its mission was to encourage Jews to play a role in repairing the world (tikun olam) through the sharing of our personal and collective gifts and know-how. I just knew we could live up to the biblical imperative of Ve’ahavta L’reacha Kamocha (“love thy neighbour the way you love yourself”) in a universal way. And we did.

In 1997, Ve’ahavta launched its first program, a MASH-like medical mission to the impoverished country of Guyana in South America.  To start things off, we assembled a formidable team of Jews and non-Jews – doctors, nurses, pharmacists – and received donations of $500,000 in pharmaceuticals from the late Barry Sherman, head of the generic drug maker Apotex, and his wife Honey (may they rest in peace), and from Leslie Dan, founder of Novopharm.

The Toronto Jewish community was a giant partner in our Guyana mission. Synagogues, temples, schools, organizations, rabbis, families, and individuals donated funds and humanitarian items. CHAT students collected Flintstones vitamins to distribute to children with vitamin A deficiency, a condition that can cost a child their sight or their life.

Our teams, led by an extraordinary staff and lay leadership, then flew to the land of 1,000 rivers and set up makeshift clinics in forests, jails and along water banks. School rooms were turned into check-up areas. Desks were reassigned as beds. Sheets separated one cubicle from another. Men, women, and children trudged for miles to visit us.  And we helped them. We saved lives.

Our Guyana medical missions were the genesis I had dreamed of for Ve’ahavta. It was Avraham and Sarah hospitably standing by the door of their tent greeting “the stranger.” We were rocking!

Further on the international front, Ve’ahavta sent volunteers to the Howard Hospital in rural Zimbabwe. There, we helped patients with HIV/AIDS and conducted medical studies on decreasing mother-to-child transmission of the disease. The results were published in prestigious medical journals and implemented around the world. Tikun olam at its best.

Then there’s the Mobile Jewish Response to the Homeless (MJRH), our local van program. In the early days, we partnered with Toronto’s NaMeRes (Native Men’s Residence). I was the first person to ride with Simon McNichol, NaMeRes’s outreach driver. I was nervous and obsessively chatty. But as the evening wore on, Simon and I both settled in and a Jewish-Native relationship was born, as was Ve’ahavta’s homeless program.

One morning, following the vandalization of a Jewish cemetery on Royal York Road, I got a call from NaMeRes staff. They had heard about the swastikas scrawled all over the tombstones. They were stone masons. They wanted to help. We embraced their offer.  For days, our Native counterparts scrubbed the stones until the swastikas disappeared.

Upon visiting the cemetery, I met a young man helping with the cleaning. He was not Jewish or Native. He was from Scarborough. I asked him why he had come.  He responded, “I wish I were born earlier so I could have fought the Nazis and helped the Jewish people. But I wasn’t, so when I heard about this I volunteered to help.”

I was verklempt. I had always hoped Ve’ahavta would play a role in defining the real Jewish narrative for others, gain friends and fight antisemitism. It did.

Over the years, Ve’ahavta has created the Ve’ahavta Street Academy and the annual Creative Writing Contest for the homeless, with judges like former British prime minister Tony Blair and Canadian novelists Joseph Boyden and Michael Ondaatje. From our van, we have implemented harm reduction. Internationally, Ve’ahavta’s volunteers delivered conjoined twins in Zimbabwe who were separated at Toronto’s SickKids Hospital through our efforts. Our teams worked closely with Israel on several international crises, including in Haiti, the earthquake in Ducze, Turkey, and floods in Pakistan. Ve’ahavta staff drove to El Salvador in a school bus following an earthquake there. We left the humanitarian goods and the bus to villagers. The years were magical.

If I were to print all the name of the Ve’ahavta’s beautiful chairpeople, board and committee members, staff and volunteers, this article would be lengthy. Suffice to say that my success was entirely predicated on the work of thousands of caring, decent, kind and loving peoples of all backgrounds. They know who they are.

While I am sad this is over, and I am no longer an employee of Ve’ahavta, I am thankful to God for giving me the strength to create and lead it. I am also completely confident in our new leadership, the soulful, creative powerhouse executive director, Cari Kozierok.

We all look for the accomplishment that justifies our existences. For me, it is first my son. Then, it is Ve’ahavta. Yashar koach to everyone who helped make my Ve’ahavta journey flawless. It gave me my purpose. It gave me my life.

If you are not a better person tomorrow than you are today, what need have you for a tomorrow?

– Rebbe Nachman of Breslov


Avrum Rosensweig

Avrum Rosensweig is founder, now Ambassador, of Ve’ahavta,


A Jewish Humanitarian Response to Poverty.

* There will be an online “fireside chat” with Avrum this Thursday, Dec. 3 from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in which he’ll look back on Ve’ahavta. For details, visit:

https://www.facebook.com/events/389091498810362

Despite long shutdown, YM-YWHA Looks to Future

Dec. 1, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL — A 110th anniversary should be an occasion for celebration, but the Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA has had to postpone the party until COVID is history.

Since mid-March, the Y has been open just one week and the current red-zone restrictions preventing it from normal operations will remain in place until Jan. 11.

At the Y’s virtual annual general meeting on Nov. 24, the association’s leaders nevertheless struck an optimistic tone, as they looked to the more distant future.

Outgoing president Rick Rubin, who completed a two-year term, reported that pre-pandemic, the Y’s fortunes were looking up. When he took the helm, its facilities were aging and could not compete with other fitness centres in the city. Membership was declining.

The Y Country Camp, opened in 1962, was also becoming outdated and losing its appeal.

A generous donation from businessman Sylvan Adams, formerly of Montreal and now living in Israel, helped reverse the downward trend. Major renovations to the fitness facilities have been completed and a kosher cafeteria been added.

The Y is working with Federation CJA, of which it is an agency, to “get on the path of sustainability…The Y is an undeniable requirement for our community,” said Rubin. “I am confident that when we reopen we will rival and surpass any other facility in Montreal.”

Although the Quebec government permitted gyms to reopen in June, the Y remained shuttered until Sept. 30, the day before Montreal went into a 28-day partial lockdown in response to a surging second wave of the coronavirus. Gyms were added to the list of places to be closed on Oct. 8.

Revenue dropped to almost zero, Rubin said, and senior staff had their salaries reduced.

Treasurer Jeffrey Kadanoff reported that by the fiscal year ending on May 31, the Y had incurred a deficit of just under $673,000.

The Y Country Camp in the Laurentians, like other overnight camps, was not permitted to run a regular program this summer.

The downtime was used to revamp its facilities and programming, Rubin said, and the camp is looking forward to reopening next season and enrolment should be high, judging by the response to early-bird registration.

Incoming president Tina Apfeld said, “My vision is that the Y be the centre of the Jewish community. The Y should be welcoming to all members of the Jewish community, whatever their age or affiliation…The Y will not only survive but flourish; our children and grandchildren will also consider it a second home.”

Besides enhancing its recreational features, Apfeld said the Y, with support from the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal, will be increasing its Jewish programming, including creating an after-school program for children who do not attend a Jewish day school.

She said the Y has consulted with the management firm EY on it financial situation and will soon be making public a sustainability plan. “We are reimagining and repositioning the Y for the future.”

The new Y chief executive officer is Elyse Rosen, replacing Marla Gold who retired in June after seven years.

A longtime Y member, Rosen said she chose to leave her law practice partly because she is the daughter of Holocaust survivors and feels a duty to work toward Jewish continuity.

“The Y must be open and inclusive, where young and old, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, able and disabled, observant or not can come together, a place that builds Jewish identity and inspires engagement in Jewish life…We are going to come out of this crisis stronger than ever.”

Complex Yet Critical: Where Does the Jewish Community’s Relationship with the Trudeau Government Stand?

Dec. 1, 2020

By ZACHARY ZARNETT-KLEIN

The multicultural mosaic of Canadian society is a critical pillar, one that makes our country unique. It adds to the vibrancy and richness of the fabric of our great nation. However, it also results in ongoing complexity as communities navigate their relationship with each other and with the federal government.

It’s first important to recognize that the Jewish community, like other ethnocultural groups in Canada, is not monolithic. To assume so would be to take a reductionist perspective. The pursuit of unity of purpose, despite disparity of opinion, is a lofty yet laudable objective.

On Nov. 25, the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed human rights advocate and former Justice Minister Irwin Cotler to the newly-created post of Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism.

Based on Cotler’s impressive body of work in law, academia, and politics, he’s an excellent, unifying choice. I want to fully acknowledge the importance of this announcement. While we wait to learn details of his mandate, we should watch his work closely and contribute when possible.

However, I cannot help but be troubled by this announcement’s timing, as it comes on the heels of Canada’s jarring vote at the United Nations on an Israel-related resolution.

Each year, the UN General Assembly considers the same basket of 20 or so motions on the “Question of Palestine,” but which serve to single out Israel, apply an unfair double-standard in assessing its policies, or worse.

One such resolution, which Canada approved, affirms Palestinian self-determination, but without reference to the same rights for Israel, and defies Jewish connections to what it classifies as “East Jerusalem,” including the Western Wall.

The vote marked the second consecutive year that Canada opposed Israel on this key resolution, while supporting Israel on most others.

This was a break from 14 years of Canadian foreign policy that refused to support UN motions singling out Israel, and which the Trudeau government upheld during its first term. Many community members feel betrayed by this policy reversal, since Liberal candidates in the last election promised to keep with this longstanding government position.

At this juncture, it is appropriate to consider where the Jewish community’s relationship stands with the federal government. On one hand, Cotler’s new post is good news. On the other, some might view this gesture as a cynical attempt to regain Jewish trust, after strong disappointment from a broad coalition of Jewish advocacy groups and community members with Canada’s UN vote reversal.

To navigate this relationship going forward, it’s important for us to own our end of the partnership. First, I would argue that based on Jewish history, including the Holocaust, it is often difficult for Jews to be fully trusting of government actions, especially after that trust is tarnished. I am hopeful that through this new post, more Canadians will become aware of key aspects of Jewish history, and that governments will become more sensitive to the caution inherent in our trust.

It is also important that our community be empowered and know our worth. We are worth, simultaneously, having our past recognized and our future protected. Grassroots community members deserve greater opportunities for direct engagement with government officials as a complement to the commendable advocacy work undertaken by Jewish organizations. We should feel supported unreservedly, without grounds for doubt in the government’s intentions.

Finally, it is important to remind ourselves of the inextricable link between the Holocaust, antisemitism, and the modern State of Israel. Israel’s founding and continued vitality represent a haven for Jews around the world. Any attempts to recognize the impact of the Holocaust and antisemitism are half-hearted without support for the State of Israel. This is the message we should continue to convey to our elected officials and to our neighbours.

Canadian Jewry’s relationship with the government of Canada is both complex and critical, and vice-versa. Despite challenges, we must not walk away, and we trust that our partners likewise engage in good faith. Let’s continue striving for better.


Zachary Zarnett-Klein
Zachary Zarnett-Klein

Zachary Zarnett-Klein is a university student from Toronto. His passions include community involvement, civic engagement, and human rights.

Breaking News: Maimonides Sends COVID Patients to Hospital to Curb Outbreak

Dec. 1, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL – A rapidly worsening COVID outbreak at Maimonides Geriatric Centre has been brought under temporary control by transferring infected residents to hospital, but family members say more needs to be done to prevent a recurrence.

On Nov. 29, 20 residents were taken by ambulance from the Cote Saint-Luc long-term care facility’s “hot zone.” Two acutely ill residents were brought to the Jewish General Hospital and the rest to Hotel Dieu Hospital, which has a unit dedicated to less severely ill patients from nursing and seniors’ homes.

Maimonides’s hot zone for active cases, located on its uppermost seventh floor, is closed for now.

The move was made after some relatives held a demonstration outside Maimonides on Nov. 26, fearing the facility had lost control of the viral spread. They claimed infection prevention measures were inadequate, that a shortage of nursing and support staff was resulting in repeated movement between cold, warm and hot zones, and that infected residents were not getting the medical treatment they needed.

They appealed to Premier Francois Legault to take immediate action.

Active cases went from zero to over 50 in a couple of weeks, the most at any long-term care home in the province at that point, although not the highest per capita rate. Eight residents had previously been sent to hospital. Ten residents have died, while others recovered.

In addition, more than 20 staff members and about a dozen registered caregivers – either family members or workers privately hired – have tested positive and had to quarantine at home.

Maimonides was hard hit by COVID in the first wave, when one-third of residents had the virus and 39 succumbed to it, according to Quebec government statistics. Members of the Canadian Armed Forces and later the Canadian Red Cross were brought in.

During this second wave, administrators had insisted the situation was in hand, that stringent infection prevention measures were in place, and that staffing overall met government requirements, until relatives raised their voices ever louder that this was not what they observed. They received support from Cote Saint-Luc Mayor Mitchell Brownstein and local Member of the National Assembly, David Birnbaum.

In a Nov. 29 public message under the heading “Mission accomplished!” Barbra Gold, an official of CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, the regional health authority that manages Maimonides, confirmed that the residents’ transfer to hospital had been completed that day.

“We hope that this temporary closing of our hot zone will break the cycle of infection in our facility,” she stated.

Gold said that 10 other residents with active COVID who had been in the hot zone remain at Maimonides, explaining, “our medical team determined they could be safely returned to their rooms (in other areas).”

Caregivers are not allowed to visit the residents at Hotel Dieu, she said, but an effort is being made to set up FaceTime calls. They were accompanied to Hotel Dieu by the nurses and orderlies who had tended to them at Maimonides. The CIUSSS has arranged for kosher food to be available there.

Gold added that a virtual town hall with families is being planned to address concerns.

The day before, Gold communicated that an evaluation of Maimonides’s COVID isolation unit by public health authorities, infectious disease specialists and the institution’s health care professionals had been conducted. A “contributing factor” to the virus’s rapid spread, they believe, was “a high density of very contagious individuals in a relatively small area that has not been built to accommodate them.” That seventh-floor wing was sealed off with plastic sheeting.

Another CIUSSS official, associate chief executive officer Francine Dupuis, told the media that the ventilation system may have been another factor. She also said the origin of the outbreak was traced to a caregiver, who was asymptomatic and later tested positive.

The Family Advocacy Committee, which staged the demonstration, is now calling for mandatory weekly testing of all employees and visitors to Maimonides. Its chair, Joyce Shanks, whose 92-year-old father is a resident, deplored that testing is now voluntary and only required when a positive case occurs in a unit.

The committee would also like to see the return of the Red Cross or of the health department’s “swat team,” which shores up staff when an outbreak reaches a critical level.

The CIUSSS says that, as of Dec. 7, all registered caregivers at Maimonides and other CHSLD under its jurisdiction, which includes the Jewish Eldercare Centre, must be tested every two weeks, either on-site or at any testing centre in the province. Written proof of a negative result must be shown or they will be barred. Maimonides has an on-site clinic three days a week, and Eldercare twice a week.

Since the second wave began, the 320-bed Eldercare has had total of 17 cases among its residents of which 10 are now active, attending physician Dr. Mark Karanofsky reported. Two residents have died. Two positive staff are currently isolating at home. Karanofsky himself came down with COVID in late October and has recovered.

On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Nov. 30, 2020

Erica Goodman (Jan. 19, 1948 – ) Harpist 

By DAVID EISENSTADT

When I think about the harp, the first person who comes to mind is Harpo Marx. Though he said he played the instrument “the wrong way,” according to imdb.com, he taught himself well enough that when he took proper lessons from various harpists and music teachers in New York and Los Angeles, many were fascinated by his approach and even adopted his techniques.

So I was intrigued by a recommendation from friend and neighbour Sheila Katz Levine, who told me about Canadian Jewish harpist Erica Goodman. Robert Cummings, writing at allmusic.com, called Goodman “arguably the most prominent Canadian harpist of her generation, and easily among the top several from North America. Her technique is all-encompassing and her interpretive skills incisive and imaginative.”

Her father, also Toronto and Jewish-born, was violinist and teacher Hyman Goodman. She began piano lessons with Myrtle Guerrero at 10, and at 11, started to study the concert chromatic harp. A performer in her teens, she played under the baton of Igor Stravinsky when he recorded in Toronto. Erica’s teachers included Carol Baum at UCLA in 1966-‘67; summer sessions with Charles Kleinsteuber at Interlochen in Michigan from 1959 to 1965; and with Judy Loman from 1958 to 1965 at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.

In Philadelphia, she studied with Marilyn Costello at the Curtis Institute of Music and performed as a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

After graduating from Curtis, Goodman joined the newly-created National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa under Mario Bernardi, who gave her the honour of playing, as a soloist, Harry Somers’ Suite for Harp and Chamber Orchestra at the orchestra’s New York Lincoln Center debut performance in 1972, reported galleryplayers.ca. Music critic Jacob Siskind of the Ottawa Citizen wrote that Goodman’s “tremendous technical ability makes the listener believe that the harp has no restrictions.”

Goodman is “acclaimed as one of the world’s outstanding solo harpists,” lauded Artoftimeensemble.com.

She has appeared at international festivals and across Canada, the United States and Europe, and in hundreds of radio and TV productions, commercials and film scores. She’s performed with Tony Bennett, Gene DiNovi, Percy Faith, Hagood Hardy and Henry Mancini, among many others.

In 1978, she was the first co-winner, with Lawrence Pitchkin, of the Mona Bates Award, a scholarship established to honour the respected pianist-performer and teacher at the Royal Conservatory of Music. Two years later, Goodman garnered the Grand Prix du Disque Canada for her recording Flute and Harp with Robert Aiken, and then a Juno Award for her solo album Erica Goodman Plays Canadian Harp Music. A NOW magazine “Best of Toronto” readers’ poll selected her as Best Classical Musician in 1996.

She is a member of Toronto’s Esprit Orchestra, with which she played Alex Pauk’s Concerto for Harp and Orchestra, composed for Goodman in 2005, and is frequently featured as a concerto soloist with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra.

Over the years, Goodman has also appeared with Camerata, the Elmer Iseler singers, the Festival Singers, her father Hyman Goodman, flutist Suzanne Shulman and opera soprano Riki Turofsky. Canadian composers Marjan Mozetich and Jeffrey Ryan also wrote works expressly for her.

A New Music Concerts Ensemble charter member, she has recorded three albums on the Naxos label featuring the music of ToruTakemitsu (awarded Editor’s Choice by Gramophone), George Crumb and Elliott Carter).

Check out her albums on tidal.com: For There and Then (2012), Jeux A Deux (1982), and Erica Goodman and Friends (1992). Reflections: Romantic Duets for Cello & Harp (2007) is guaranteed enjoyable listening. My favourite is Heavenly Harp from 2013.


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner of tcgpr.co, the Canadian member of IPREX Global Communication. He is a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.

Montreal-born UAE Chief Rabbi Expects Jewish Influx to Gulf State

Nov. 30, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—Jews from around the world are migrating to the United Arab Emirates and will increasingly make their home there with the normalization of relations between that Gulf state and Israel, says the community’s Montreal-born chief rabbi.

“I expect the number to balloon dramatically and quickly,” said Rabbi Yehuda Sarna in a webinar hosted by McGill Hillel and Princeton Hillel on Nov. 22.

Rabbi Sarna was appointed chief rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates after it was established early last year, and said to be the first organized Jewish community in the Arabian peninsula in centuries.

The council is the official representative to the UAE government, responsible for the community’s religious and educational needs.

Rabbi Sarna, 42, has been a chaplain at New York University and executive director of its Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life for 18 years. Since 2006, he’s had a high profile in interfaith activity, especially with Muslims. He helped establish an NYU campus in Abu Dhabi 10 years ago along with NYU Muslim chaplain, Imam Khalid Latif.

Rabbi Sarna

Rabbi Sarna returned every year to interview high schools students from abroad for the four-year undergraduate program. His role grew into “negotiating mutual respect” between “the Arab host culture” and the Western educational institution, a quasi-diplomatic role that earned him the regime’s trust.

As chief rabbi, he does not live in the UAE but visits regularly, pandemic restrictions permitting. The Jewish Council, based in Dubai, has over 100 active members. Rabbi Sarna estimates about 1,000 Jews live throughout the country today.

They come from North America, South America, Europe, Israel and elsewhere, he said.

“They are moving there for, number one, economic opportunity and, number two, for safety, because of antisemitism in Western democracies…And they are establishing themselves there, marrying, raising families. They see a future in an Arab country,” he said.

They have resident status that allows them to work, but gaining citizenship is more difficult, he said.

A temporary resident active in the Council is Canada’s Ambassador to the UAE, Marcy Grossman, a Montreal native like Rabbi Sarna, appointed in October 2019.

Rabbi Sarna said the distinctive Emirati culture explains why Jews would choose to settle and feel welcome in the UAE.

“Deep in the Emirati DNA is a kind of radical hospitality…The Emiratis were a Bedouin people. They knew about desert living and opened the proverbial tent to those who wanted to be with them. You see the modern manifestation of that in the airports, the hotels.”

It wasn’t always that way, he acknowledges. Ten years ago, the few Jews living there were a “private community,” if not exactly a clandestine one, he said. They would meet homes for prayer in Dubai and instruct their children not to tell classmates they were Jewish.

“All that changed overnight on Aug. 13, 2020,” Rabbi Sarna said, with the Abraham Accords signed by Israel, the UAE and the United States. “People stepped out of the shadows.”

But change was underway before that. The UAE declared 2019 the Year of Tolerance. It invited Pope Francis to the country and opened a multi-faith complex containing a mosque, church and synagogue, he noted.

Rabbi Sarna celebrated this Rosh Hashanah with the community at the spectacular Atlantis, The Palm resort in Dubai. He hopes to return at Hanukkah and host a party inviting the diplomatic corps as well.

In October Lebanese-born Elie Abadie became the Jewish Council’s in-resident rabbi, arriving from New York. The Council is now applying for World Jewish Congress affiliation.

“Rabbi Abadie and I are sharing spiritual and diplomatic roles,” Rabbi Sarna explained. “We have different backgrounds – Ashkenazi and Sephardi – and connect to different people, both locally and internationally.”

Of the accords, Rabbi Sarna commented, “the UAE took the great leap to full normalization, not incremental and with no conditions. By all accounts, this will be a very warm peace.”

Rabbi Sarna thinks a “demystification” of Israel has taken place among the Emirati people. “My sense is that there has been a normalization of disagreement…Israel is now seen like other countries. They may not see eye-to-eye on everything, but that does not mean they should not have diplomatic relations.”

After the pandemic, Rabbi Sarna expects that hundreds of thousands of Israelis will annually flock to the UAE, which has directed its hotels to provide kosher food. He hopes that Israelis will respect the culture of the country and not regard it as their “playground.”

Rabbi Sarna is concerned that Israel finds a way to equally welcome Emirati tourists and not subject them to the strictures often imposed on Arabs and Muslims arriving in the country.

Rabbi Sarna graduated from Hebrew Academy in Cote Saint-Luc, where he was inspired by one of his teachers, Montreal Chief Rabbi Avraham Dovid Niznik. He left Montreal to study at Yeshivat Har Etzion on the West Bank, before entering Yeshiva University in New York. He maintains strong ties to Montreal, where his parents live.

Asked if Montreal influenced what he is doing today, Rabbi Sarna replied, “Growing up in Montreal, in a bilingual, multicultural society, gave me a very interesting understanding of different cultures. I’m very grateful.”

Calling all Canadian and Israeli R&D, Tech Companies

Nov. 30, 2020

The National Research Council of Canada and the Israel Innovation Authority have placed a call for Canadian-Israeli collaborative Research and Development project proposals for the 2020-2021 year. Although this call will help fund proposals related to any technological or market area, applicants in the following sectors are highly encouraged to apply:

– Health & bio-sciences
– Digital technologies
– Agricultural & agri-food technologies
– Clean & low carbon economy technologies

To be considered for funding, applicants must form a consortium comprising of one Canadian small or medium-sized enterprise (SME), and one Israeli R&D-performing company.

For over 30 years, Canadian and Israeli partners have worked closely together, achieving great success in various R&D fields. This strong partnership is now more important than ever, as we face the COVID pandemic, alongside a rapidly changing climate, and various other global challenges.

In combining efforts, Canadian and Israeli R&D partners can rise above with new ideas and technologies, and help in global efforts facing these challenges.
Deadline for proposal submissions is Jan. 21, 2020.

For more info, or to apply, visit: https://nrc.canada.ca/en/irap/about/international/index.html?action=view&id=79
Israel link: https://innovationisrael.org.il/en/opencall/canada-israel-2020-21-call-for-proposals

Martow, Lantsman Vie for Tory Nod in Thornhill

Nov. 27, 2020

By LILA SARICK

Two women, Gila Martow and Melissa Lantsman, both Jewish and both with deep roots in the Conservative party, have announced they are seeking the federal Tory nomination in Thornhill riding.

Peter Kent
Peter Kent

Last month, Conservative MP Peter Kent, who has represented the riding since 2008, said he would not run again.

Martow, 59, and currently the MPP for the riding, says she was “inundated with messages” from Thornhill residents who urged her to seek the nomination when Kent announced he was retiring from politics.

“My team thinks that we need effective local representation to hold the riding blue (Conservative) in the next federal election,” she told the CJR.

Martow, an optometrist, was first elected in 2014. Recently, she was credited with proposing legislation that eased the rules on patio seating for restaurants during the COVID pandemic. She is currently parliamentary assistant to Minister of Francophone Affairs Caroline Mulroney.

Gila Martow
Gila Martow

In 2016, Martow introduced a motion making Ontario the first province to reject the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

Thornhill, which has the highest concentration of Jews of any riding, estimated at 37 percent, cannot be considered a safe Conservative seat, she said. Although Kent held the seat for 12 years, he worked very hard every election to keep it a Tory stronghold, she said.

The nomination meeting will be held early in the new year. Martow said it’s unlikely the Conservative party would appoint a candidate, as the federal Liberal party did recently in two high-profile Toronto byelections. The public “wants to see strong candidates and the way that you get those candidates is by having those nomination meetings,” she said.

Interest in the race is high, and party memberships “are flying out the door.”

A few weeks ago, Martow said that she and Lantsman agreed that Lantsman would seek the provincial seat in Thornhill and that the two candidates had agreed to support each other.

However, Lantsman said she is attracted to federal politics.

Melissa Lantsman
Melissa Lantsman

“It’s where my interest is, it’s where I spent most of my time in politics. I think I would bring a new fresh voice to the Conservative party under [leader] Erin O’Toole and to the constituents in Thornhill.”

Lantsman, 36, was chief spokesperson for Ontario Premier Doug Ford during his 2018 election campaign. From 2007 to 2015, she served as communications director for federal ministers of finance, foreign affairs, trade and environment.

“I think it’s important to bring a new generation under the Conservative banner. We’ve lost many, particularly around the last election, that didn’t see themselves in the party,” she said.

“I’ve spent the better part of my life speaking on issues that I just don’t think we speak about enough.” Among the issues Lanstman wants to raise are gender and racial equality, and the environment.

A federal election could be called anytime, depending on the fortunes of the minority Liberal government, Martow said. “We need to be ready for a spring election.”

In the meantime, the competitive nomination race is a good sign for the party, Lantsman said.

“Having strong women with a history of activism and community involvement in the Conservative party speaks volumes to what this party is going to attract in the next election.”

Parshat Va’yetzeh – Jacob’s Ladder and the Angel Lilah

Nov. 27, 2020

By ILANA KRYGIER LAPIDES

As a b’nai mitzvah teacher in the early 90s, I would teach my students the midrash of Lilah, the Angel of Conception and the Midwife of Souls, who watches over all babies as they grow in the womb. For nine months, Lilah keeps a lamp lit so the babies can see from one end of the world to the other. She makes the babies feel loved and whispers all the secrets of Torah and Paradise and the universe into their little ears.

When a baby is born, the angel gently touches her finger to the baby’s lips and says, “shhhh.” The baby forgets all that they have learned and are left with the mark of the angel’s fingertip above their lip – the same mark we all still have above our upper lip today.

My students loved this sweet midrash, not only because there’s something comforting about an angel watching over us, but because it explains why, when we learn something, the moment often feels not new but like we are remembering. How often have we heard a piece of information and found it so obvious that we wondered why we hadn’t figured it out for ourselves? According to our tradition, it’s because we aren’t learning, we are remembering.

Our Torah reading this week, Parshat Va’yetzeh, brought to mind the angel Lilah. The parsha begins as Jacob is fleeing to find refuge from his enraged brother Esau, from whom he’s stolen their father’s birthright and blessing.

When evening falls and Jacob stops to rest, he falls asleep and dreams about a ladder on which angels of G-d are traveling up and down. In this dream, G-d appears by Jacob’s side and gives Jacob the same blessing of posterity and protection that was earlier given to his father and grandfather, Isaac and Abraham. When Jacob wakes up from sleep he says:

אָכֵן֙ יֵ֣שׁ יְהוָ֔ה בַּמָּק֖וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה וְאָנֹכִ֖י לֹ֥א יָדָֽעְתִּי”

“Surely Adonai is present in this place, and I did not know it” (Gen: 28:16).

Commentary on this passage usually centers around the fact that Jacob thought this resting place was like any other – he doesn’t recognize the holiness. But soon enough, we experience Jacob’s sense of wonder and appreciation that G-d was there, in that holy place, all along. Jacob says he “didn’t know” of G-d’s presence, but there is some discussion that Jacob did know – he just needed a reminder. G-d’s presence is always there, always everywhere; the dream simply helped Jacob remember.

Dreams can be a helpful way for us to recognize our emotional and mental state, for our inner life to convey to our consciousness what we are feeling. For Jacob, the dream of the ladder communicated G-d’s message directly and unmistakably: “Remember who you are. I am with you.”

Parsha Va’yetzeh is a good lesson, a reminder for all of us to not get too attached to what we think we know. The memories that the angel Lilah whispered to us in the womb are buried deeply within us and sometimes, it takes a while, and some faith, to unearth them. If we keep our hearts and minds open, there’s no telling what we can learn and what we may remember.


Ilana Krygier Lapides
Ilana Krygier Lapides

Ilana Krygier Lapides lives in Calgary. She has three adult children, one of whom lives at home with her and her husband and their very large dog. Ilana is a rabbinic student with JSLI in New York. She will be ordained next month. 

Virtual Cooking Events Showcase North African Flavours, Russian Foods

Nov. 27, 2020

By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

Shabbat Shalom and welcome to “Kitchen Talk,” the weekly food blog of the CJR.

When COVID struck, Carolyn Tanner Cohen, founder of the Delicious Dish Cooking School, had to reinvent her business. She had been running her popular cooking school from her home.

She was able to build an online following and has made the transition to a virtual cooking school.

On Dec. 3, she’ll be doing a fundraiser for Grandmothers Partnering with Africa (GPWA), part of the international Grandmothers Campaign of the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

The campaign provides financial support for millions of African grandmothers who are raising their grandchildren. They have been orphaned because their parents died of HIV/AIDS.

Participants in the GPWA fundraiser with Tanner Cohen will be making Moroccan Spiced Lentil Barley Soup and Cauliflower Fritters with Dukkah, along with other recipes inspired by North African flavours.

This week’s recipes range from exotic to everyday. Tanner-Cohen’s Marinated Crispy Tofu with Sriracha Tahini encompasses a range of international flavours.

COMMUNITY SPOTLIGHT:

Lea Zeltserman is a Russian-born, Toronto-based writer specializing in Russian food and Russian-Jewish issues and culture. On Dec. 6, she will lead a virtual cooking workshop on how to make rassolnik (Russian pickle soup). See Culinary Calendar below for details.

Lea Zeltserman
Lea Zeltserman

I tried to match Ashkenazi dishes that resemble some of the Russian foods described by Zeltserman. The Food Processor Bible by the late Norene Gilletz was my source. Her Easy Cottage Cheese Pancakes are very similar to Russian syrniki. Zeltserman said buckwheat groats are a Russian staple so I have also included Gilletz’s recipe for Kasha Knishes.

Zeltserman may have spent only two years of her life in her native Russia, but her knowledge of the traditional foods of her homeland is extensive.

She said many dishes considered to be Jewish in North America are the familiar Russian foods of her childhood. “I grew up eating Ukrainian or Russian borscht…This food is part of my Soviet Russian heritage, not my Jewish one.”

There’s a lot of overlap between Russian and Ashkenazi Jewish foods, she noted, except the Jewish roots of these dishes, like those of other cultures, were “stripped away” during the Soviet era. “That government was anti-religious.”

For instance, Russian Jews eat a chopped liver-style paté. She said it’s hard to know if these dishes were originally Russian or if were borrowed from Jewish cuisine and “Sovietized.”

She pointed out that Russians have a preference for sour tastes like sour pickles and sauerkraut. The rassolnik (pickle soup) was originally made with beef kidney, but Zeltserman uses stewing beef. “It’s a very adaptable recipe. If I have beef bones I use them. Any sour pickle will do.”

Kasha, she explained, means porridge in Russian. The buckwheat-groat dish referred to as kasha in North America is called grechka in Russian. “In my house we always had a pot of buckwheat on the stove… It was a staple.”

Soft cheeses like farmer’s or cottage cheese are frequently consumed by both Ashkenazi Jews and Russians, Zeltserman said. “I often make syrniki or cottage cheese pancakes for my kids.”

One of her favourite meals is blinchiki, thin crepe-like pancakes that resemble cheese blintzes. Instead of cheese, however, blinchiki are stuffed with ground chicken, she said. “They are amazingly delicious!”

MARINATED CRISPY TOFU WITH SRIRACHA TAHINI Carolyn Tanner Cohen

1 block (about 350 g) firm or extra firm tofu
2 tbs (30 ml) neutral oil like grape-seed or sunflower

Marinade

¼ cup (60 ml) low sodium soy sauce or tamari
1 cup (250) water
2 tsp (10 ml) garlic powder

Coating

¼ cup (60 ml) toasted sesame seeds
¼ cup (60 ml) wheat germ
½ tsp (2 ml) garlic powder
½ tsp (2 ml) kosher salt
Pinch of black pepper

Sriracha Tahini

2 tbsp (30 ml) tahini paste
1 tbsp (15b ml) lemon juice
1 tsp (5 ml) sriracha, more to taste
Ice water to thin
Pinch or two of kosher salt

Cut the tofu into 1–2-inch (2–5 cm) cubes.

Combine the tamari or soy, water and garlic powder in a flat dish. Lay the tofu cubes in dish, marinate 

(turning occasionally) for 10 minutes up to 6 hours.

Combine the sesame seeds, wheat germ, garlic powder, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor.

Process until the seeds have broken down and a breadcrumb-like texture is formed.

Heat a large fry pan over med-high heat. Add the oil. Coat each piece of marinated tofu in the sesame 

seed mixture. When the oil is hot, pan fry the tofu cubes until each side is golden brown.

Sriracha Tahini: In a medium size bowl and using a whisk, mix together the tahini, lemon juice, sriracha and 2 tbsp (30 ml) ice water. The consistency should be similar to ketchup. As you add the lemon and water, the tahini will thicken at first, thin it with additional water. Taste for flavour, it should be spicy with a hint of lemon. Add more water to achieve the desired consistency.

Serve the tofu as is or over rice or noodles. Drizzle the Sriracha Tahini or use it as a dip.

EASY COTTAGE CHEESE PANCAKES Norene Gilletz

1 cup (250 ml) of firm cottage cheese, (farmer’s cheese style, basically a fresh white cheese)
¼ cup (60 ml) sour cream
2 eggs 
1 tbsp (15 ml) melted butter or margarine
½ cup (125 ml) flour
¼ tsp (1 ml) salt
½ tsp (2 ml) baking powder
½ tsp (2 ml) ground cinnamon
A combination of oil and butter for frying

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until fairly smooth, about 20–25 seconds.

Melt about 1 tbsp (15 ml) of oil and butter in a large skillet. When it bubbles drop the cheese mixture from a large spoon into the skillet. Brown on medium heat until it becomes golden. Flip the pancakes and brown on the other side. Repeat with the remaining cheese mixture, adding more oil and butter as necessary. Makes 2 dozen pancakes.

KASHA KNISH Norene Gilletz

Kasha Knish
Kasha Knish

1 large onion, halved 
2 –3 tbsp (30 ml) oil
1 cup (250 ml) coarse or medium kasha (buckwheat groats)
2½ cups (750 ml) boiling water or chicken soup
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Knish Dough

1 egg
¼ cup (60 ml) oil
¼ cup (60 ml) warm water
¼ tsp (1 ml) salt
1 tsp (5 ml) baking powder
Egg wash (Optional): 1 egg mixed with 2 tbsp water
Flaked sea salt (Optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F (170°C) and place parchment paper on a sheet pan.

Dough: Fitting the food processor with a steel blade, process the eggs, oil, water until mixed, about 5 seconds. Add the remaining ingredients and process just until blended, about 8 seconds. Do not over-process the dough or it will become tough. Let the dough stand while you prepare the filling.

Filling: With the steel blade process the onion with 3 or 4 quick on-off pulses, until it becomes coarsely chopped.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté. Add the kasha and brown, stirring often. Then add the boiling liquid to cover the onions and kasha. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 8–10 minutes, until the water is absorbed. Let cool.

Assembly: Divide the dough into 2 pieces and the filling in half. Working with 1 piece of dough at a time on a floured surface, roll out the dough as thin as possible into a rectangle. Starting 1 inch from the edge, place half the filling in a mound along the longer side of the rectangle. 

Roll up the ends and place on the prepared baking pan with the seam side down. Brush with egg wash (if using) and sprinkle with sea salt.

Bake in the preheated oven for 35 minutes. Yields 2 rolls, each making 12 slices

CULINARY CALENDAR

Dec. 3, 5:00 p.m.: Cook Global Cuisine with Carolyn Tanner-Cohen, sponsored by Grandmothers Partnering with Africa, Stephen Lewis Foundation. Email:GPWafrica@gmail.com

https://mailchi.mp/e0fe14de93a7/save-the-date-yoga-for-africa-2642778?e=b145ad6660

Dec. 6, 3 p.m.: Dec. 6 at 3 p.m. Lea Zeltserman will be leading a virtual cooking workshop for Russian Pickle Soup, through Building the Jewish& Cookbook, presented by the Miles Nadal JCC. https://www.facebook.com/events/192408629142347

Dec. 8, 7:30 p.m.: Latkes and Vodka Workshop with National food columnist and author, Bonnie Stern, and Rabbi Elyse Goldstein. Virtual cooking demo for latkes, cocktails and dessert. To register: https://www.cityshul.com/form/latkes-vodkas.html

Dec. 8 & 9 Shoresh Chanukah Markets: Place advance orders for beeswax Chanukah candles, Chanukah Miracle Bundle, Bela’s Bees Raw Honey and other sustainable natural products. Pick up locations south of St. Clair on Dec. 8, north of St. Clair on Dec. 9. https://shop.shoresh.ca/

Dec. 22 1:00 p.m.: Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese Food Lecture presented by YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Andrew Coe, author of Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States, traces the history of Ashkenazi Jews’ affinity for Chinese food from the turn of the century to today. To register: https://secure2.convio.net/yivo/site/Ticketing?view=Tickets&id=102421

Critical Thinking on Israel, not Coddling, Needed for Jewish University Students: Expert

Nov. 26, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

A veteran of the wars against antisemitism warns Jewish students are being harmed more than protected when their universities stifle criticism of Israel.

Kenneth Stern has been fighting against antisemitism for more than 25 years, first with the American Jewish Committee and now as head of a major hate studies institute.

He argues in his new book on the Israel-Palestine debate that “safe zones” on campuses and speaking bans on Israel critics aren’t preparing modern students for the world they will have to face.

He told the recent annual meeting of JSpace Canada that rather than being sheltered from uncomfortable ideas, today’s students should be taught the critical thinking skills that will let them counter anti-Israel ideas with better ones of their own.

“Today’s students are being quarantined from difficult ideas, but we are all going to have to face disturbing ideas in our lives,” Stern told the online meeting. “There is too much of a push now saying students are fragile and need to be protected.”

In his new book, The Conflict Over the Conflict: The Israel/Palestine Campus Debate, Stern argues that honest and free debate over Israel and the policies of its government are being stifled in the name of protecting students from uncomfortable ideas.

“There is a kind of group-think today that says some things shouldn’t be explored,” he said. “Our students need to learn how to fight over ideas.”

Stern’s book, which appeared earlier this year in the United States, was officially launched in Canada as part of the meeting. JSpace bills itself as a progressive Jewish voice.

Stern is director of the Bard Centre for the Study of Hate, a lawyer and an author. For 25 years, he was the American Jewish Committee’s expert on antisemitism.

Reviews, like the one in The Jewish Independent, have described Stern’s book as “the most comprehensive assessment” of the Israel/Palestine debate. The reviewer also found it free of bias, noting the author “offers proof that the pro-Israel side is far from innocent of engaging in disgraceful tactics…” 

The real core of the book, however, is an argument for free expression and the exercise of academic freedom, the review stated.

Stern told his JSpace audience that rather than suppressing anti-Israel ideals, universities should sweep away their anti-hate speech codes and instead empower students to speak out when they are faced with bigotry and hatred.

“In an ideal environment you want students to be able to say what they think, but if bigotry becomes normalized, some are going to feel uncomfortable,” he said. “It’s important that students learn to speak out against things that make them uncomfortable.”

Before a civilized debate can be held, however, Stern has argued that terms must be defined: What actually is antisemitic as opposed to a legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies.

On that point, critics have found irony in the fact Stern was instrumental in helping to draft the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism currently being adopted by governments and universities around the world.

Canada adopted it last year, while Ontario recently imposed it through an Order in Council. Several Canadian cities and towns have endorsed it.

Critics of the definition have attacked its 11 attached examples of antisemitism, noting seven of them specifically equate criticism of Israel with Jew-hatred.

Carleton University political science professor Mira Sucharov, who reviewed Stern’s book in June for the CJR wrote: “It may also read as ironic, given that Stern was instrumental in drafting the definition that is now much debated, and which has been adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (and last year by Canada). But this is where the strength of the book lies: It is a principled discussion of free speech, whether or not one agrees with his threshold.”

Stern told the JSpace audience the IHRA definition was created as a way of gathering data on antisemitism in Europe and was never intended as a club to stifle free debate on the topic.

“The idea that some people are using it as a hate crime measure on campuses is despicable,” he said. “It was never intended to be used this way on campus. That is an absolute abuse of it.”

One result of efforts to censor anti-Israel speech on campus, he said, is to drive some students away from on-campus Jewish life when they find organizations fully committed to an “us-versus-them” vision. That is especially true, he said, of graduates of Jewish day schools who feel betrayed when they arrive on campus when suddenly faced with attacks on Israel for the “occupation” of Palestine.

One example of that, noted by the Jewish Independent reviewer, is Stern’s critique of the “Standards of Partnership” adopted by Hillel International. It “proscribes engaging with groups or individuals that deny Israel’s right to exist, or who delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel, who support BDS or who exhibit “a pattern of disruptive behaviour towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.”

In the end, Stern argues that rather than turning anti-Israel speakers into martyrs by denying them a chance to air their ideas on campus, Israel supporters should be armed with the skills to refute those claims.

“Both sides are harming the academy by trying to chill the other,” he said. “Campuses should not be places where we censor free speech. They should be places where we mine it for what it is worth.”

The alternative to that environment of free speech, he said, is for government to define truth, “and I see danger there.”

Natan Sharansky and Irwin Cotler: ‘Mr. No’ and ‘Getting to Yes’

By GIL TROY

My wife jokes that the two reasons she failed to learn constitutional law at McGill University’s law school are named Irwin Cotler and Natan Sharansky.

In the mid-1980s, Cotler, her constitutional law professor, was busy flying to Moscow and missing lectures in an effort to free Sharansky from the Gulag. Today, I joke that two of the reasons I don’t get a lot of sleep are named Cotler and Sharansky.

At the age of 80, the indefatigable Cotler sets such a high standard of productivity and impact, you want to keep up. Just yesterday, he was named by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as Canada’s first Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism. Meanwhile, his younger 72-year-old friend, Sharansky, and I just finished a three-year-marathon writing and rewriting and more rewriting project, which resulted in our new book, Never Alone.

These days, I hope, young people will joke that two of the reasons they balance their deep pride in being Jewish and Zionist with a broad commitment to human rights and fixing the world are named Cotler and Sharansky, too.

Sadly, in our either-or world, these human rights activists and traditional liberals risk being unfashionable. Beyond supporting Israel, they dare to be complex thinkers. When people demand they choose liberalism or nationalism, identity or freedom, Jewish particularism or universalism, they answer, “yes, both.” They understand that to row effectively, you need two oars; that for a bird to fly, let alone soar, it needs two wings.

In the late 1970s, Cotler, already a renowned McGill law professor and human rights lawyer, started representing Sharansky, essentially deputized by Natan’s wife, Avital. Back then, even some Israeli operatives read Zionism too narrowly. As we describe in Never Alone, these Zionists-with-blinders feared that Sharansky’s work with the Soviet human rights icon Andrei Sakharov and the broader dissident movement endangered the Refusenik movement’s fight for free emigration for Soviet Jews to Israel. The Israelis didn’t understand that to the KGB, seeking to leave was as threatening as speaking out. Still, they pressured Avital, suggesting she divorce her husband because the KGB was going to jail him, and Israel wouldn’t be able to protect him because he crossed some line They also pressured Cotler, among others, to stay away from Sharansky. None of them broke.

While appealing to international tribunals and Soviet courts, snaring the Communist dictators in their own hypocrisies, Cotler helped score a huge victory. Two months after Sharansky’s arrest in 1977 on trumped-up charges of espionage, rumours were flying about him in the West. Cotler and other lawyers, especially his Harvard law school colleague Alan Dershowitz, turned to Dershowitz’s former student, Stuart Eizenstat, then U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s chief domestic policy adviser. Eizenstat convinced Carter to break from standard American policy and declare that Sharansky wasn’t an America spy. Denying one accusation risked implying that others might be guilty. Carter’s bold statement helped tremendously.

For all their similarities in vision and ideology, for all their contributions to Zionism and human rights, there’s a profound difference. Our book is divided into three parts – 9-9-9 – for Sharansky’s nine years in Gulag, nine years in the Israeli government (he served in four cabinets, including as interior minister and deputy prime minister), and nine years as head of the Jewish Agency for Israel. He often jokes that he doesn’t know where he suffered most, but usually replies, “in politics.”

Not that he wasn’t effective. His many accomplishments range from helping Russian immigrants settle, to furthering Israel’s privatization, to building bridges between Israeli Arabs and Jews, the ultra-Orthodox and others, and between Israel and the Diaspora.

Still, Sharansky hated being a politician: the compromising, the posturing, the nattering. He jokes it was easy in prison. “All you had to say was ‘no.’” He describes his political “failure” by saying: “I was in four prisons and never resigned; I was in four governments and resigned twice.”

By contrast, Cotler served for 16 years as a Member of Parliament, as a Minister of Justice and Attorney General for three of those, and thrived. He retired, somewhat reluctantly, in 2015 at age 75, having been selected by his peers as Canadian Parliamentarian of the Year. Recalling that when he was 11, his father told him the Parliament represented vox populi, Cotler said: “This is the voice of the people. This is the seat of governance. This is where the laws of the country are made. This is where the national debates take place. This is where coalitions can form across party lines on certain cases and causes and move them forward.”

Note the power of programming. Sharansky survived in the Gulag as “Mr. No.” Cotler thrived as a lawyer, professor, activist, and parliamentarian by getting to Yes. Democracy in general and human rights work in particular requires both skill-sets – from different practitioners. You need Sharansky-dissidents taking those stands as outsiders, and you need Cotler-lawyer-legislators as insiders building the platforms on which those stands are made – as well as the safety nets to save the dissidents when necessary.

I have benefited immensely by learning from both. Their lives prove that when you belong to the Jewish people you are Never Alone – and that no matter how brave or visionary you are, you cannot accomplish much alone. You need teamwork, people with different skills, changing the world step by step, insiders and outsiders, “Mr. No” and “Getting to Yes,” working together.


Gil Troy
Gil Troy

Recently designated one of Algemeiner’s J-100 – one of the top 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life” – Gil Troy is a Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University, and the author of nine books on American history and three books on Zionism. His book, Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People, co-authored with Natan Sharansky, was recently published by PublicAffairs of Hachette.

Hate Incidents Surface in British Columbia

Nov. 25, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

A pair of nasty hate incidents have appeared in British Columbia.

In the first, a convicted hatemonger has been handed a conditional sentence and more probation for breaching an earlier probation order to stop posting antisemitic claims on the Internet.

The sentence came a month after Arthur Topham was found guilty of breach of probation. That restriction was imposed following a 2017 conviction for willfully promoting hatred against Jews.

Under the terms of the first probation order, Topham was banned from posting any online content related to Jews, the Jewish religion, Israel and Israelis, and/or Zionism.

Topham was first charged in 2012 after he had called for Jews to be forcibly sterilized, claimed that Canada is “controlled by the Zionist Jew lobby,” and described Jewish places of worship as “synagogues of Satan.” He was convicted by a jury in November 2015.

He then launched a failed constitutional challenge to Canada’s hate speech laws, which delayed his sentencing until March 2017.

Though facing a maximum penalty of two years in prison, he received a six-month curfew and ban on posting online. At the time, B’nai Brith condemned the sentence as a “mere slap on the wrist,” warning that it failed to establish a deterrent against future offences.

Originally ordered not to post comments about Jews or Judaism for two years, Topham was accused of violating those conditions.

“This decision is a positive development in the fight against antisemitism and hate speech in Canada,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada. “We need accountability for inciting hatred in this country, and Topham can now serve as an example to remind people that there are real consequences for these sorts of actions against your fellow citizens.”

Both Topham’s original conviction and his re-arrest for breach of probation were made possible through the work of Harry Abrams, a long-time B’nai Brith volunteer based in British Columbia.

In a new incident, B’nai Brith announced it is reaching out to police after learning of another act of incitement by a firebrand religious figure.

In a Facebook post flagged on Nov. 23 by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Younus Kathrada calls Jews “brothers of monkeys and khanzeer” (pigs in Arabic), and calls on Allah to “tear them apart.”

Younus Kathrada
Younus Kathrada

The post was made in 2014, but remains online. Kathrada, who preaches for the “Muslim Youth of Victoria,” made the same allegation in 2004, prompting a police complaint by B’nai Brith at that time.

In his 2014 post, Kathrada also prayed for the success of Chechen jihadists. Notably, one of his congregants travelled to Chechnya to fight Russia and was killed there in 2004.

In October 2019, Kathrada advised his followers not to vote in last year’s federal election, arguing that all Jewish and Christian candidates were “filthy” and “evil.” In January of that year, Kathrada suggested that wishing Christians a merry Christmas was a sin worse than murder.

In April, B’nai Brith warned the B.C. Hate Crimes Unit of YouTube sermons by Kathrada calling on Allah to “humiliate the unbelievers and polytheists” and “destroy the enemies of Islam, the heretics and the atheists.”

Kathrada also beseeches divine aid to “grant victory to those waging jihad on your path in every place” and “grant them victory over their enemies and your enemies.” In October, he called French terrorism victim Samuel Paty “a cursed, evil-spirited, filthy excuse for a human being.”

“There must be consequences for years of relentless hate and incitement against Jews and others,” Mostyn said. “The law enforcement and legal system in B.C. showed last week that it can act effectively against hate – but consistency is paramount.”

Canada Votes at the UN: A Response to the CIJA, B’nai Brith Canada and Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center

Nov. 25, 2020

By JON ALLEN

I am writing in response to the recent joint statement issued by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), B’nai Brith Canada, and Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center regarding the Nov. 19 vote by Canada on a United Nations resolution affirming the right of Palestinians to self-determination.

I was surprised to receive the statement and I fundamentally disagree with it. I was surprised because it leaves the reader with the impression that this is a new resolution, a different vote from the one last year, and that the government has rethought its policies and has now betrayed the “Jewish community,” which these organizations purport to represent.

Just to be clear: This is the same resolution that the government, along with 163 other states, including all Europeans, the Nordics and New Zealand, supported last year. There were good reasons then for Canada to support the resolution and it is arguable, given recent events in the region, that there are even better reasons to support it this year. Moreover, it would be highly unusual for a government to change its vote one year as it did in 2019, and then, barring changed circumstances, reverse the change the next. Thus my surprise at both the tone and aggressive nature of the statement in question.

First, the reaffirmation of the right of Palestinians to self-determination and to an independent state is wholly consistent with Canadian government policy, and has been for decades through the Chrétien, Martin, Harper, and now, the Trudeau governments.

Second, some have suggested that the resolution is flawed because it does not specifically mention Israel, its right to exist or the two-state solution. This is a clear misreading of its intent and substance. The resolution is not about Israel or its right to exist. Israel exists and has since 1948, no matter who or how many times its existence is challenged. As the name of the resolution suggests, it is about the right of the Palestinian people to a state. The second to last preambular paragraph (preambular paragraphs set the context for the operative paragraphs that follow) specifically refers to a “lasting and comprehensive peace settlement between the Palestinians and the Israeli sides” and then cites: the Madrid Conference, the Arab Peace Initiative, and the Quartet road map, all of which assume, support and encourage a two-state solution.

Third, as mentioned, if Canada was correct in supporting the resolution in 2019 – and I believe it was – then given recent events in Israel and the territories, the vote this year is even more justified. The last year has seen significant expansion of illegal settlements, including into areas deep into the West Bank and around East Jerusalem. Such activities threaten the very viability of the two-state solution and the self determination of Palestinians referred to in the resolution. We also should recall that 2020 was a year in which the Israeli government threatened to annex approximately 30 percent of the West Bank, including much of the Jordan Valley.

Finally, I take exception with any statement of this nature that suggests that it represents the views of “the Jewish community.” It does not represent my views or those of the tens of thousands of progressive Jews for whom the two-state solution is seen as the saviour of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. It would be more accurate, if in future communications, the organizations in question would make clear that they speak on behalf of themselves and not the Jewish community at large.


Jon Allen is a Senior Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto, and served as Canada’s ambassador to Israel from 2006 to 2010.

Breaking News: Irwin Cotler Named Special Holocaust Envoy

Nov. 25, 2020

Canada has named Irwin Cotler, the internationally respected human rights advocate, founder and chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, and former Justice Minister, as this country’s first Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism.

According to a Nov. 25 press release from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office, Cotler will lead the government’s delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), “working with other member countries and both domestic and international partners to strengthen and promote Holocaust education, remembrance, and research in Canada and around the world.”

Irwin Cotler
Irwin Cotler

“The Holocaust was one of the darkest chapters in human history,” Trudeau’s statement said. “Seventy-five years after the liberation of Nazi concentration and extermination camps revealed the full horrors of the Holocaust, Jewish communities in Canada and around the world face rising antisemitism. The Government of Canada will always stand with the Jewish community, and fight the antisemitism, hatred, and racism that incite such despicable acts. We will also continue to preserve the stories of survivors through younger generations, and work to promote and defend pluralism, inclusion, and human rights.

“That is why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named the Honourable Irwin Cotler as Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism,” the statement continued.

“The Government of Canada is committed to reinforcing and strengthening Canada’s efforts to advance Holocaust education, remembrance and research, and to combat antisemitism as key elements of the promotion and protection of human rights at home and abroad.

“With a longstanding record of leadership in the fight against racism, antisemitism, and hate, and extensive experience in human rights and justice including in cases related to mass atrocities, Mr. Cotler will lead the Government of Canada’s delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). He will work with other member countries and both domestic and international partners to strengthen and promote Holocaust education, remembrance, and research in Canada and around the world.”

The statement noted that the federal government adopted the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism in June 2019 as part of its anti-racism strategy.

As special envoy, Cotler will also support advocacy and outreach efforts with Canadians, civil society, and academia to advance the implementation of the definition across the country and its adoption internationally, according to the statement.

“We must never forget the painful lessons of the Holocaust, or the memories of those who lived through it,” Trudeau stated. “As Canada’s first Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism, Irwin Cotler will use his vast knowledge and experience to promote Holocaust education, remembrance, and research as we continue working with partners in Canada and around the world to fight against hate and intolerance. Because antisemitism has no place in Canada – or anywhere else.”

As envoy, Cotler will work with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, and other departments to inform government policy and programming.

The IHRA includes 34 member countries and eight partner organizations with Holocaust-related issues as part of their mandate. Canada joined it in 2009.

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center said it was “thrilled” to learn of Cotler’s appointment.

“This announcement is a major step forward in the fight against antisemitism in Canada and shows a much-needed seriousness in our government’s commitment to this promise,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada. “We very much look forward to working with Mr. Cotler in his new role.”

“Mr. Cotler is a Canadian icon who has been tirelessly advocating for human rights for decades. Canada has demonstrated leadership by creating the position of special envoy, in discussion for months, and we are pleased Mr. Cotler was chosen to fill this important role,” said Joel Reitman, Co-Chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Board of Directors.

Editorial: Effi Eitam Must Not Head Yad Vashem

Nov. 25, 2020

The inestimable Avner Shalev has headed Yad Vashem, the world’s foremost Holocaust museum and memorial, since 1993. Shalev oversaw great changes at the renowned institution in Jerusalem, including growth, strong fundraising, and great advances in digital research. He took an already well-reputed venue and buffed it to an even higher gloss. Now 81, Shalev is retiring.

Nominated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to replace him is a notorious former Israel Defense Forces general, Effi Eitam. Usually, such a high-level appointment is carefully considered. After all, Yad Vashem is the collective memory to the world of the Six Million Jewish victims of the Shoah. It stands as a clarion call against evil and represents the epitome of human rights and dignity. Surely, the chairperson of such a vitally important institution would adhere to and represent the values of Yad Vashem.

But dozens of Holocaust survivors, Jewish ethicists, academics and others have called on Netanyahu to drop Eitam. To date, the prime minister has remained unmoved.

Who is Effi Eitam? Why is he the most unjustifiable person to lead Yad Vashem? You don’t have to look far.

In 1988, then Commander Eitam was in charge of the Givati Brigade, which had captured an alleged Palestinian terrorist. On Eitam’s orders, brigade members murdered the handcuffed, unarmed prisoner, Ayyad Aqel. The soldiers were court martialed and Eitam received a severe reprimand recommending he never be promoted.

But he did move up the ranks and ended his career as a brigadier general.

It was then on to politics. He served in the right-wing National Religious Party, where he held various portfolios. During this time, and even before entering the political arena, he advocated for the ethnic cleansing of the entire Arab population of what he termed Judea and Samaria. In fact, Eitam has called Arab Israelis, who are citizens of Israel, an “elusive threat” that “by their nature resemble cancer,” an illness “in which most of the people…die because they were diagnosed too late.”

Rabbi Michael Melchior, Israel’s former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Minister of Social and Diaspora Affairs, tells this story of Eitam in a Times of Israel piece unsubtly headlined, “Effi Eitam is a deplorable choice to head Yad Vashem”:

“I heard Effi Eitam give a drasha at Fifth Avenue Synagogue in Manhattan shortly after 9/11. He explained to the audience that what happened that day was God’s way to return to the world arena and stir the world to a religious war. I was at that service along with the late Elie Wiesel, who was in utter shock that a Jew was able to utter such assertions.”

Today, we live in a world where Holocaust denial, antisemitism and hate have made giant leaps forward. Appointing Eitam to head the most auspicious example of Jewish dignity, a museum which speaks to the evil of racism, genocide and hate, is reprehensible.

All Jews of good conscience must speak out boldly and clearly in rejecting Eitam, who has blood on his hands and bigotry in his heart, to head Yad Vashem.

Not Yet Hanukkah: A Story of Miracles

By BERNIE FARBER

November is Holocaust Education Month, a time we tell stories of survival. My father, the sole Jewish survivor of his small Polish village, used to say that it took 1,000 miracles to survive the Shoah because 999 were simply not enough.

The following is not only the story of 1,000 miracles, but at its conclusion we will understand what the circle of life is really all about.

In 1939, when Samuel Pisar was 10 years old, both the Nazi and Soviet armies invaded his native Poland. Interestingly, Samuel came from Bialystok, 50 kilometers from my father’s village of Bothki. When Adolf Hitler broke the Nazi/Soviet pact in 1941, Samuel was captured along with thousands of other Jews. He was young and strong and survived incarcerations at Majdanek, Auschwitz and other camps whose only purpose was to murder Jews.

His final camp, Dachau, became the concluding volume in this first chapter of his life. It was the spring of 1945. Young Samuel was out on a Nazi slave labour detail as Allied forces approached. Nazi SS guards gathered the work detail and marched them away from the advancing Americans. They marched for three days with little water or food. Many succumbed. Still young, Samuel stayed alive.

It was on the third day when a number of Allied fighter planes spotted both the Nazis and their slave labour detail. Thinking it was a column of Nazi soldiers, the planes’ pilots descended sharply and strafed the area. Taking advantage of the ensuing confusion, a number of prisoners made a break for the forest. The bombing and Nazi bullets mowed most of them down but young Samuel used up one of his thousand miracles and made it to the safety of the embracing forest.

Starving, emaciated, Samuel hid in an abandoned hayloft. A few mornings later, he was awakened by the sound of a rumbling motor. Cautiously looking out from his hiding place, sure that he would see the dreaded swastika, he saw instead an American insignia.

Washed over with relief, he stumbled from the hayloft in tears of joy. The hatch of the tank popped open and emerging was Corporal Bill Ellington, the son of a former slave and member of the storied 761st Tank Battalion, known for being comprised primarily of African-Americans. They were the original “Black Panthers.”

The son of a former slave and the young survivor of the Nazi death camps held each other while Samuel cried the only words he knew in English, “God Bless America.”

He was just 16, the sole Jewish survivor of his family in Poland when he emerged into what would become the second volume of his life.

Miracles followed Samuel. He was raised by the remnants of his French and Australian family, graduated from the University of Melbourne, and later earned doctorates of law from Harvard and the Sorbonne.

His rise was rapid. He worked for the United Nations and UNESCO and was appointed a special advisor to President John F. Kennedy. He counseled the State Department and worked as legal adviser to both the House of Representatives and Senate. He was one of the youngest, most respected government advisers – so much so that in 1961, through a special act of Congress, Pisar was awarded U.S. citizenship.

His legacy continued. He counselled governments and world- renowned personalities from pianist Arthur Rubenstein to tech whiz Steve Jobs. His passion became human rights and he took up the causes of the novelist Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.

He became a trustee of the Brookings Institute, was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and has addressed international conferences and world leaders at Davos, the International Monetary Fund and the European Parliament.

Samuel was twice married upon his death in July 2015 and left two daughters, one from his first marriage, Leah and Norma, from his second wife, Judith.

Here’s the promised kicker: Samuel also left a step-son from his marriage to Judith: Antony Blinken who, on Nov. 23, was nominated to become U.S. Secretary of State in the administration of President-in-Waiting Joe Biden.

Samuel Pisar was a man of many miracles, maybe even 1,000. May his memory continue to be a blessing.


Bernie Farber
Bernie Farber

Bernie Farber is publisher and co-founder of the Canadian Jewish Record, Chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a writer and human rights advocate. 

Liberals Defend Canada’s UN Vote Against Israel

Nov. 24, 2020

Canada’s recent vote against Israel at the United Nations sparked spirited discussion in the House of Commons.

On Nov. 19 – the same day Canada voted for a resolution affirming Palestinian statehood – Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong demanded an explanation for Canada’s vote.

Michael Chong
Michael Chong

“Today, the Liberal government voted against the state of Israel at the UN General Assembly for a second year in a row, contrary to our long-standing Canadian policy of opposing all resolutions that single out Israel, a policy that former prime minister Paul Martin had put in place,” Chong said.

“Even [Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations Bob] Rae said he disagreed with the preamble of the resolution. Why did the government break with long-standing Canadian policy and vote against the State of Israel at the UN General Assembly today?”

Bob Rae
Bob Rae

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland did not directly address the question in her response.

“Let me just be very clear: Israel is a close and important friend of Canada, and Canada will always stand with Israel,” she said. “Let me also be very clear to Jewish Canadians in my riding and across the country: We stand with them, particularly today when we are seeing an appalling rise in antisemitism here and around the world.”

Chong then asked when the Liberals would “restore Canada’s long-standing opposition to these anti-Israel resolutions, which were upheld by previous Liberal and Conservative governments and put in place by former prime minister Paul Martin?”

Chrystia Freeland
Chrystia Freeland

Freeland replied: “Let me speak to Canada’s place in the world and to our foreign policy. We are living in a world today where there is a worrying rise of authoritarian regimes, a worrying rise of anti-democratic populism – and our country in that world will always stand up for human rights and will always stand up for the rules-based international order,” Freeland said. “That may not always be popular but that is the Canadian way.”

For the second consecutive year, major Jewish organizations denounced Canada’s vote in favour of the resolution as one-sided against Israel.

Entitled the “Right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,” the resolution stresses “the need for respect for and preservation of the territorial unity, contiguity and integrity of all of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.”

The resolution passed 163 to five, with only Israel, the United States, and the Pacific Ocean nations of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Nauru voting against, and 10 other countries abstaining.

In a joint statement the day after Canada cast its ballot, Jewish advocacy groups expressed their “deep disappointment,” saying the resolution fails “to affirm Jewish self-determination in the indigenous and ancestral homeland of the Jewish people” while “intentionally erasing historical Jewish connections to Jerusalem – including the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site.”

Independent Jewish Voice of Canada, which supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, lauded this country’s vote as “commendable.”

Until last year, Canada had voted against the annual resolution, part of a basket of pro-Palestinian measures introduced at the UN this time of year.

A year ago, Ottawa’s abrupt shift on the measure – skipping over abstention to support – shocked many in the Jewish community and led Israel to say it might lodge a complaint.

Canada’s support this year “is a reflection of our longstanding commitment to the right of self-determination for both Palestinians and Israelis,” said Canada’s UN Ambassador Bob Rae in his explanation of the vote (EOV) to the General Assembly.

“From the time of the earliest resolutions of the Security Council on these issues, we have endorsed the principle of ‘two states for two peoples,’” Rae said. “While we do not agree with some elements of the preamble, Canada will support this resolution because of its focus on these important, core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Rae also said that Canada “does not and will not support any resolution that unfairly singles out Israel for criticism.”

He referenced the “destructive” role in the Mideast conflict of such “terrorist organizations as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah.”

– By CJR Staff

A Modern Stone-Age Look at Social Connections

Nov. 24, 2020

By DOROTHY LIPOVENKO

Hello, bonjour, Wilma Flintstine here. 

Name sound familiar? Distant cousins have a long-running TV show. The one with the dinosaur that vacuums. 

Our side of the family has been Flintstine for millennia, narrowly escaping a name change when the family tool business went public in the Iron Age. The underwriter, Morgan Stonely, argued that Flint would be an easier sell on the IPO road show, upsetting the older directors. Legend has it the founder’s granddaughter, Rockel, cast the deciding ballot for keeping tradition, and was named Flintstine’s first female CEO in 1000 BCE.

The media promptly crowned her “The New Millennium’s New Power Tool.” Sales exploded, and short sellers in the company’s stock lost their togas. One sore loser publicly groused women should stick to their looms running a shmatta business. 

But traders who bet on her liked to say Rockel had a man’s head on a woman’s shoulders.

Soon enough, her success attracted the wrong attention. But not for long; outraged women shareholders sent corporate raiders fleeing in an uprising famously known as Balabustas at the Gate.  

Fast forward 3,000 years: Flintstine Industries cycled through numerous incarnations and eventually was gobbled up by some entity. The family yichus is nice as pedigrees go, but makes no difference when the 21st century is moving on without me.

True, my house, built in 1895, has running water and a flush toilet, but such modern conveniences I can get behind. I don’t have a cell phone (and I’m in good company on this one with Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards); my refusal to open a Facebook account is a bigger headache for Mark Zuckerberg than his company’s data breaches. Birds tweet, not me; Instagram I initially mistook for an itty-bitty unit of measurement.

So how much longer can one hold out against the forces of technology? Is resistance futile? Or is resistance masking an attitude problem?

Answers: Don’t know. Probably. Maybe.

But does my living off the digital grid interest sociologists? No. Seems every week there’s new research on the impact social media is having, or wreaking havoc, on human behaviour.

Aside from spawning depression, loneliness and the latest bugaboo – cancel culture – the laundry list reads like Yom Kippur’s confessional rap sheet: Envy, mockery, indulgence, boastfulness, shaming, resentment, anger.

My favourite is FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) but of what, exactly? Even toddlers, once thrilled to flush toys down a toilet and watch the bathroom flood, are now hunched over digital screens like middle-aged accountants. Kinderlach, where’s the mischief?

Is it too late to curb the appetite for social media? Yes, because so many are hooked on popping virtually into kitchens and closets around the corner and around the world, obsessing that everyone else seems to be living a better life. 

But look no further than social distancing for the real shakeup in personal behaviour. And it’s not limited to six feet of empty space between you and the next customer in the checkout aisle.

Social distancing was not invented during this pandemic. 

On a personal level, we decide with whom we want to socialize, who our children can play with, who merits our time and attention, who gets to join our book clubs and social cliques. We may distance ourselves from people who don’t share our values, and we gravitate to the influential. Political differences, once the stuff of lively debate over coffee, have grown elbows sharp enough to bruise friendships, or turn newcomers away.

At some point, COVID will be over and we can happily return to standing next to someone at the supermarket without worrying whether we’ll catch something. Perhaps we’ll also learn to narrow other types of self-imposed distances.


Dorothy Lipovenko montreal
Dorothy Lipovenko

Dorothy Lipovenko is a former newspaper reporter who lives in Montreal, where she can be reached on a landline phone. She can be found in the kitchen, not on Facebook.

Jewish Community Critical of Quebec’s Rejection of Hanukkah Gatherings

Nov. 24, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL – Community leaders say it is unfair that the Quebec government is denying Jews the right to celebrate Hanukkah in the same manner as has been granted to those who observe Christmas under new pandemic rules.

Many in the community find it galling that a government that places such a high value on secularism appears to be privileging Christian tradition in its relaxation of the ban on private gatherings.

When asked by the media about the decision, Premier Francois Legault replied that the lifting of the prohibition on gatherings during four days around Christmas will not be similarly applied to the holidays of other faiths. The eight-day festival of Hankukah begins December 10th.

Rabbi Reuben Poupko, co-chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs-Quebec, said Jews should be allowed to get together for the first four days of Hanukkah, observing the same rules that have been set for Christmas.

Rabbi Poupko montreal
Rabbi Poupko

“It is bewildering that the government would prioritize the holiday of one faith community over the others,” Rabbi Poupko said. “I think equality and common sense would demand that every religious community in Quebec be treated fairly and a similar indulgence be extended to each of them.”

Rabbi Poupko, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel Beth Aaron, noted the government did not show any flexibility during the High Holidays. The Jewish community did not ask for any, and it abided by the rules, he said.

Legault, along with Health Minister Christian Dubé and the province’s public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, announced on Nov. 19 that Quebecers will be allowed to gather at home in groups of up to 10 people from Dec. 24-27.

But the premier asked that they enter a “moral contract” under which they minimize their physical contact with anyone outside their household for one week before and one week after that period. Although 14 days is the standard quarantine length, public health officials said symptoms of COVID typically appear five to seven days after infection.

Schools are to close two days before they were scheduled to do so, and the government is asking employers to allow personnel to work at home where possible to enable them to comply with the two weeklong isolation periods.

Elementary schools will reopen on Jan. 4 as planned, but high school students will not return to class until Jan. 11 because coronavirus transmission in this age group is higher, authorities say.

This suspension of the ban on private gatherings is contingent on no spike in cases occurring beforehand. The province is seeing an average of close to 1,200 new COVID cases daily, higher than in the first wave.

B’nai Brith Canada said the government should have consulted the Jewish community and other minority religious groups when establishing pandemic rules that impact their practices.

“The Quebec government must take the needs of minority communities, including the Jewish community, into consideration and work pro-actively with these communities prior to the lifting or imposition of unilateral COVID restrictions. There must be no favouritism. The premier must be the premier of all Quebecers,” stated Toronto-based B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn.

Since the beginning of October when the Montreal region entered a partial lockdown, later expanded to much of the province, the rule has been that no one can enter a household who does not live there, with a few exceptions like elder care or tradespeople.

Gatherings outside, such as in a backyard, are also prohibited. That ban has been extended to Jan. 11, at least.

Rulebreakers may face a fine of $1,500 per person.

Previously, the limit had been six people after Montreal went orange under the province’s colour-coded alert system on Sept. 20. 

Houses of worship are permitted to have 25 people inside at a time.

Legault said a “concentration” of time was necessary to make an easing feasible, and the days chosen represent what most Quebecers want. Public health officials added that the days from Dec. 24 to 27 also are in the middle of the school break and most workplace shutdowns.

“We are in a critical situation,” Legault said at the Nov. 19 press conference. “We can permit gatherings during four days only and we say that the majority of Quebecers would be happy that those four days be at Christmas.”