A Note from the Publisher: The Bridge is Now Completed

Dec. 23, 2020

The Canadian Jewish Record was born at a fraught time in the history of Canadian Jewish journalism. Our lofty goal in April 2020, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, was to be a bridge between the recently shuttered Canadian Jewish News and its hoped-for return.

Despite nay-sayers who predicted that our fledgling news/opinion service would stand little chance of success, we persevered and became exactly what we strived for: An outlet for Canadian Jews to receive information of Jewish interest, news that touched both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities, and opinion from all sides of the Jewish thinking world.

We did all this, as they say, on a hope and a prayer. A few Jewish philanthropists donated some start-up funds. We developed a utilitarian but ultimately well-liked platform, and then began to ask Canadian Jewish journalists, many of whom were out of work because of COVID, if they would write for us…pro bono. And without hesitation, many did.

Some of the top names in Canadian Jewish journalism gave of their time and considerable talent to help create and sustain the CJR. Co-founder Ron Csillag (I was the other) took on the onerous responsibility of editor. He worked tirelessly, up to nine hours a day, to make sure our content read professionally, was properly edited, and error free. He assigned stories, sought out commentators, got pitches almost daily, and dealt with spokespeople, flacks, and the odd irate reader.

Zack Babins was our techie. He ensured that our daily allotment of stories and columns were posted to our website and on social media, and did so with unfailing good cheer. Zack was also among our stable of new young writers who gave the CJR a fresh tone. More on this later.

Barbara Silverstein used her vast knowledge of food and cooking to produce one of the most popular items on our site: a weekly blog that highlighted recipes, often timed to coincide with Jewish holidays, and goings-on in the worlds of local eateries, world-class chefs, and cooking classes.

Michael Marmur of Pinpoint National Photography was our photo editor. He ensured that every picture you saw on our site was fresh, crisp and uniform. Irv Osterer was our talented graphics editor who designed our unique banner and all other sketches and graphic illustrations.

Carol Elman helped balance the books. Her competency with numbers and dollars kept us in the plus column, while lawyer Jordan Cohen took care of legal affairs, ensuring that i’s were dotted and t’s crossed.

Suanne Kelman, retired from 21 years of teaching at Ryerson University’s journalism department, and Josh Tapper, a former reporter for the Toronto Star, currently completing a PhD, rounded out our editorial board with sage advice.

And then there were our columnists. It’s no secret that Jews are rarely speechless, and our opinion writers covered the waterfront – left, right and centre. They included well-known writers and pundits like Dahlia Lithwick of Slate and MSNBC fame; Canadian columnist Andrew Cohen; and McGill University professor and international pundit Gil Troy.

It was unavoidable that some readers would decry the opinions the CJR carried (but did not necessarily endorse). Other praised us for opening the opinion pages to a diverse array of viewpoints – refreshing for a Jewish publication, but frankly easier if there are no donors or advertisers to offend.

That was the other thing: The CJR did not have advertising to clutter the site. We made an early decision not to accept any, despite synagogues, organizations and even governments seeking to advertise. Monetizing the site was not in the cards.

One of the really beautiful aspects of the CJR was the chances it gave to young and aspiring writers. The opportunity to submit one’s own creations to a professional editor and become published for the first time can make young hearts sing. Old ones, too.

Speaking of singing, one of our most popular columns was “On the Record” by David Eisenstadt, who provided deep dives into the worlds of often little-known Canadian Jewish musicians.

“Rabbinic Reflections” from Ilana Krygier Lapides was one of our more popular regular reads. By the time you read this, Ms. Lapides will be days away from being ordained as Rabbi Lapides.

Many of our weekly editorials were reprinted in other Jewish publications, as well as the National Post and the Toronto Star.

Much gratitude to each and everyone who made the CJR their success and gave Canadian Jewry news, opinion and information during a very difficult time. It was a labour of love and a deep chesed, an experiment that could only happen in a Jewish community like Canada’s.

It was a good run and we are all proud of the part we played keeping Jewish news and opinions alive. As we hoped, The CJN has returned. The bridge work is done and we can finally rest. We wish CJN editor Yoni Goldstein and his team hatzlacha, and hope that some of those who found their Jewish writing chops in the CJR will find a new home at the CJN.

We are indeed all Am Yisroel. We thank you for joining us on this journey and look forward to reading the new CJN with you.

– Bernie Farber

She Smiled Again: Ruth Lowe’s Biography Hits the Right Notes

Dec. 23, 2020


The long-awaited biography of Ruth Lowe, the Jewish songwriter from Toronto who helped launch Frank Sinatra’s career, has finally been published.

I’ll Never Smile Again held the No. 1 spot on Billboard for 12 weeks in 1940 and has since become a standard that’s been covered by many jazz legends, including Billie Holiday. Lowe wrote the song, recorded by Sinatra with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, in 1939, a year after her husband died.

Lowe’s biography, Until I Smile At You: How One Girl’s Heartbreak Electrified Frank Sinatra’s Fame (Castle Carrington Publishing), is by Peter Jennings, with contributions from one of Lowe’s sons, Tom Sandler. The book includes a foreword by Sinatra’s daughter, Nancy, and contains plenty of photographs and memorabilia from Lowe’s storied career.

It covers the two acts of Lowe’s life: her musical pursuits during her teens and 20s, and her semi-retirement from music, after remarrying and having a family. Jennings interviewed scores of people for the biography, some of whom knew her personally and others who knew her only for her brilliant song.

Born in 1914, Lowe grew up poor in Toronto during the Great Depression. Her father, Sam, a butcher and grocer, experienced successive business failures. Lowe’s younger sister, Muriel (Mickey) Cohen, describes their father as a man who was longer on entrepreneurial spirit than business smarts. “He and my mother, Pearl, seemed to always struggle to keep ends together,” she said.

But Sam Lowe was a charming man, and musically gifted. “He could sing and dance and loved to entertain. Ruthie caught that bug from him,” Cohen said. Despite their poverty, the Lowes always had a piano at home. Lowe took a few lessons, but as a natural talent, she was mainly self-taught.

At 16, she dropped out of school to help out at home, playing piano at a “song shop,” where customers could hear tunes before buying sheet music. When Lowe’s father died in 1935, the family’s financial situation became even more precarious. Lowe earned extra income by performing in a two-piano nightclub act with the singer Sair Lee and she became the staff pianist for a Toronto radio station. In 1935, Lowe joined an all-female touring band, The Melodears, led by the singer and dancer Ina Ray Hutton.

Lowe married Harold Cohen, a music publicist, in 1938. Hardly a year later, Cohen, 29, died of kidney failure during routine surgery. Devastated, Lowe left Chicago, where she and her husband were living, and returned to Toronto. One evening, she sat down at the piano and transformed her mood into the melody for I’ll Never Smile Again. She also wrote the lyrics, unusual at a time when most songwriters worked in pairs, one writing the music and the other the words.

Lowe returned to Toronto and got a job playing piano at the CBC, where she met the Jewish bandleader Percy Faith. He recorded I’ll Never Smile Again with his orchestra. When Dorsey came to town with his orchestra, Lowe pitched the recording to him, a year before Frank Sinatra joined the band.  Sinatra’s rendition backed up by the Pied Pipers, became, as they said, number one with a bullet.

To this day, Sinatra holds the unique distinction of singing on the first Billboard #1 single. I’ll Never Smile Again went on to sell nearly one million copies.

The song’s release during the Second World War was a factor in its early success. “Ruth’s ballad, born from her own sad loss, managed to catch the mood of Americans – and then the world – reflecting the delicate nature of all wartime romance,” Jennings writes.

The song’s popularity endured even after the war, with contemporary artists like Canadians David Clayton Thomas, Michael Bublé, Molly Johnson, and Alex Pangman recording it in recent years.

Bernie Taupin, Elton John’s lyricist, told Jennings that he considers the song to be “in the top 50 of great American songs.”

The music producer Quincy Jones first heard I’ll Never Smile Again when he was 10 years old. “Not only do I only remember the song, I remember the story behind the song. It was one of the songs that inspired my career,” Jones told Lowe’s son.

I’ll Never Smile Again was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003, and the Dorsey-Sinatra recording was honoured with a Grammy Hall of Fame award in 1982.

Lowe co-wrote a second hit song for Sinatra, Put Your Dreams Away (For Another Day), his signature closing number. Although Lowe is remembered for the two songs, she was a prolific songwriter in the early 1940s, often collaborating with other writers at the Brill Building in New York, an incubator of talent.

Ruth Lowe with Frank Sinatra (left) and Tommy Dorsey (Photos courtesy Tom Sandler)

Lowe’s success was her ticket to a glamorous world of the celebrities of the era – musicians, songwriters and comedians like Duke Ellington, Sammy Cahn, Henny Youngman, Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Buddy Rich, and Al Jolson. But Lowe tired of the pace of living the high life in New York. “Mom told me she’d got to the point where fun was fun, but this had become a little much,” Sandler told Jennings. “It was relentless, and maybe a little overwhelming for her. It had lost its allure.”

Bob Hope and Ruth Lowe

On her return to Toronto, Lowe went on a blind date with a Toronto stockbroker, Nat Sandler. After a whirlwind two-month romance, they married in November 1943, when Lowe was 29. They had two children, Tom, named for Tommy Dorsey, and his older brother, Stephen.

Aline Sandler, Tom’s wife, confirms that Lowe missed the New York music scene. “I do know she missed the limelight,” she told Jennings. “I mean, it’s hard for a performer not to perform. Don’t get me wrong: she loved her life, she loved Nat, and she loved her children and grandchildren. But you can’t replace the celebrity experience she’d been through, you just can’t.”

In 1951, Nat Sandler opened a posh nightclub, the Club One-Two on Adelaide Street in Toronto, and Lowe used her connections to book the talent. The story was that Sandler had bought the club during an afternoon of drinking at a pal’s house, after leaving a synagogue service.

Music was a passion for Lowe, who continued to play piano and write songs in the living room of her Toronto home. An upbeat gospel song, Take Your Sins to The River, which she wrote with her son Tom, was recorded by The Travellers in the 1960s. But songwriting didn’t come so easily for her any longer.

Sandler told Jennings he thinks his mother, who died of cancer in 1981, had more great songs in her. “But she had become tied to a new lifestyle: a family and different values to which she decided to dedicate herself,” Jennings writes.

Perhaps Lowe’s lifestyle was no longer fertile ground on which her songs could sprout. As Sandler told Jennings, “trying to write a hit song and get it out…is a huge amount of work.” He goes on to ask: “Are you going to do that? Or raise a family?”

Nonetheless, it is a shame Lowe had to make a choice.

Jennings tells Lowe’s story in a cheerleading, conversational style with quite a few digressions, some of them more relevant than others. He provides quite a bit of biographical information about Percy Faith, described as “a gentleman who would go on to fame in the U.S. and worldwide.”

In a preface to his interview with the singer Dinah Christie, who was involved in the staging of Smile Company’s 1987 show about Lowe, Ruthie, Jennings goes into detail – perhaps too much, describing the community surrounding Christie’s “100-acre spread in Grey County, Ontario.” Mentioning that the community hosts the Holstein Maplefest and the Holstein Rodeo Expo has nothing to do with Lowe.

Some of the best parts of this biography are Tom Sandler’s loving memories of his mother.

While Until I Smile At You may be a rambling account of Lowe’s life, we’re fortunate to have a biography of her. If you’re a music lover, it’s worth checking out.

It’s Short, but Film About Birthright Packs Meaning

Dec. 22, 2020


In only 24 minutes, Israeli filmmaker Inbar Horesh delightfully unpacks a complex account of identity, language, and belonging in her short film Birth Right.

This brief but evocative piece is based on the true story of its lead actress, Natasha Olshankaya, and the experience of a Russian tour group on a trip offered by Taglit Birthright, an organization that takes Jewish teens from around the world on trips to Israel.

The girls we meet have different reasons for taking the trip: Natasha is hoping to escape family drama at home, while another girl is hoping to find a husband. The organization’s ulterior motive – encouraging Jewish immigration – lingers in the background.

Horesh portrays some of the lighthearted drama of a classic Birthright trip: Trying to “hook up” with cute Israeli soldiers, getting drunk and dancing to Hebrew songs that no actual Israeli listens to, trying to tan but accidentally burning after a lengthy camel ride – while also touching on many of the complicated rules around who is or is not a Jew according to Israel’s immigration laws.

Horesh explains: “Israel is deliberately and officially encouraging immigration of people that don’t consider themselves Jews and didn’t grow up Jews.” While the film may not seem political on its surface, it subtly draws out highly contentious themes and raises important questions.

One of the big questions Horesh contemplated while making the film, as she told the CJR, is “if Israel is encouraging immigration of non-Jews…why is Israel avoiding giving citizenships to people who already live here?” The film carefully challenges notions of nationhood and Jewish identity by telling the stories of characters whose connection to Israel and Judaism does not match the stories typically paraded out to Birthright’s donors.

While it is not uncommon to see Russian-speaking Israelis in Israeli media, their portrayal strikes a notably different tone in Birth Right. Horesh remarked that while casting Russian speaking extras for the film, many actors said it was their first time playing a normal Russian young person, rather than one to do with “drug dealing, prostitution, or being a cleaning lady.” Instead, Horesh portrays the multi-faceted experiences of being Jewish in Russia and being Russian in Israel.

The film, in Russian and Hebrew with English subtitles, showcases two soldiers who are asked to talk to the Birthright tour group, Ilya, who speaks in broken Russian, and Shlomi, who fluently sells the fantasy of immigration to Israel. Some of the trip participants are decked out in Magen David necklaces, while others admit they hardly feel Jewish at all. 

Horesh mostly cast non-actors and ended up incorporating many of their own personal stories into the film.  Rather than telling the more mainstream story of Jewish nationalism, she does not shy from showing the many sides of Israeli and Jewish identity.

In the film’s cleverly crafted final sequence, Horesh shows two tour buses trying to pass each other on a narrow bridge. This scene smartly shows, as Horesh explains, “the feeling of an ongoing factory, this assembly line” of Birthright trips that pass through Israel’s most popular tourist spots every year. Horesh takes a step back from the very individual and personal stories to remind audiences of the sheer scale of this tourism and immigration industry.  

As a tour guide proudly declares, “Welcome to your historical homeland,” Horesh shows us a group of genuine, confused, and excited young people who are exploring a new country for the first time – a country they are told they belong to, despite its troubled history and complex present.

Horesh beautifully dances around complex and political issues of identity and nationalism in a touching, personal, sometimes tragic but also funny way. Her film is artfully shot and carefully constructed to be subtle and vulnerable.

The film leaves its audience contemplating critical questions about homogeneity, nationhood, and identity, and provides a nuanced and intimate connection to individuals who have restarted life in a new country where they do not know the people, the language, or how exactly they fit into their “historical homeland.”

To view a trailer : https://vimeo.com/357166278

Birth Right can be seen at several upcoming film festivals, including the Toronto Jewish Film Festival June 3-13, 2021.

Sophie Hershfield is a recent graduate of the University of Winnipeg and studies literature, film, and culture.

Complacency Leads to Complicity

Dec. 22, 2020


My Zaida’s best friend Andy was born in Hungary. He grew up very comfortably but his idyllic childhood did not last long. In March 1944, the Nazis occupied Hungary, and he came to know the horrors of the Holocaust firsthand.

Recently, I interviewed Andy. He told me that he, his mom, and his sister survived the Holocaust by chance because an axle on their railcar broke, and they were marched to another camp instead of to Auschwitz. He was quite ill, and his mother carried him on her back for many kilometers. Otherwise, he would have been shot.

For a 15-year-old like me, growing up in multicultural Toronto, something like the Holocaust is very difficult to grasp. The human mind cannot imagine what six million dead looks like. And this was not that long ago. Questions abound: How could Adolf Hitler, whose antisemitism was open, as he wrote about it in Mein Kampf in 1925, and his Nazi Party form a government? How could the Holocaust have been masterminded in one of the most cultured and sophisticated countries in the world?

Propaganda was used to make Jews less than human. As a young child in Germany, if this is what you were taught, not only by your family but by your government, how would you know any better?

However, adults in Germany did know better. One of the important reasons to study history is to ensure that terrible events do not repeat themselves. What I take from this is that we must be careful about how lies and propaganda can influence us. That is why a strong, free and fiercely independent press is so important to our democracy.

Crimes against the Jewish people in Germany started small and gradually but by the late 1930s, escalated dramatically even before the Second World War. Public book burnings began in 1933, and Kristallnacht, the night of widespread pogroms, was in 1938. Nazi mobs burned synagogues and beat Jews publicly. Some Germans were appalled by these events – but not enough were.

One of the most significant issues in Nazi Germany was the compliance of the general population. When Jews were forced into ghettos, their neighbours were not forced to move into their homes. Neither were they forced to steal their possessions. It was their choice. Doing so and knowing that your neighbours might be abused or murdered by gas, gun, or at the hand of another human being is absolutely twisted. There is no question that complacency leads to complicity.

One hundred years before the Holocaust, the German poet Heinrich Heine wrote, “Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.” If complacency and complicity occurred in a high culture like Germany’s, it can happen anywhere. This is why it is important to be true to yourself and true to others.

Even after the horrors of the Holocaust, antisemitism continues to exist, even thrive. Andy told me, “When my mother returned to Hungary after the war ended to retrieve her silver, her neighbours were not excited to see her. They told her they wished she would have disappeared in the Holocaust, so they could keep her things.”

As individuals and as a society, we have a responsibility to think about what is happening around us and to not always go with the mob. Being a bystander and being silent in the face of hate and intolerance is one of the most dangerous things for a free society.

Today, we continue to see terrible acts against Jewish, Black, and Indigenous people and many other victims of hate. I am still too young to vote, but I discovered that voting is key to combating hate, which can rise up during tough economic times, like we are experiencing today. Tapping into fear and scapegoating minorities is wrong and dangerous. We always need to think of our own welfare, but we also have to ensure that we look out for the marginalized in our society and protect the rights of minorities.

Standing up for others is the best way to erase hatred and to build a stronger democracy.

Ellie Deegan
Ellie Deegan

Ellie Deegan is a grade 10 student at Greenwood College School in Toronto

Canada Announces More Funding for UNRWA

Dec. 22, 2020


Canada has announced more funding – up to $90 million over three years – for Palestinian refugees through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

The funds will “help respond to the rising needs of vulnerable Palestinian refugees in UNRWA’s five areas of operation: the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan,” said a Dec. 21 statement from Karina Gould, Minister of International Development.

The previous release of regular funding to UNRWA was in 2018, when Canada announced a contribution of $50 million over two years.

This time, the funds will contribute “to meeting the basic education, health and livelihood needs of Palestinian refugees, especially women and children,” Gould’s office stated. 

It will also provide “emergency life-saving assistance to an estimated 465,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria and Lebanon, through UNRWA’s Emergency Appeal for the Syria regional crisis. In addition, it will complement UNRWA’s response to the new and emerging needs created by the COVID pandemic.”

Canada’s funding of UNRWA continues to be a hot-button issue in Jewish circles. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government eliminated aid to the agency in 2010 over its ties to Hamas. The Liberals restored funding in 2016 with promises of more stringent oversight. The latest tranche puts Canada’s combined commitment at about $200 million.

There have long been allegations that funds and supplies to UNRWA are diverted to terrorist activity, black marketeering, and to bankroll antisemitic and anti-Zionist propaganda, especially in Palestinian schools.

B’nai Brith Canada said it is “extremely disappointed” at Canada’s latest round of aid to the agency.

The move represents “a missed opportunity to leverage our international leadership to foster conditions for a durable Middle East peace during a time of transformative regional change,” B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn told the CJR in an email. The agency’s core objectives “are not conducive to finding equitable solutions for Palestinian ‘refugees,’ and its educational efforts help perpetuate a feeling of hatred towards Israel and the Jewish people. This must end.”

Mostyn called it “intolerable that UNRWA schools continue to indoctrinate Palestinian children toward antisemitism and eternal war, rather than peace and acceptance. Canadians deserve to know that their international aid dollars are not supporting terrorism or incitement in any way, shape or form.”

Shimon Koffler Fogel, president and CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, sounded a more conciliatory tone. He said CIJA supports Canadian humanitarian aid “to those genuinely in need, particularly the victims of the devastating conflict in Syria where the humanitarian situation remains extremely dire.”

Over the years, Fogel said CIJA “has communicated our concerns about UNRWA’s accountability and neutrality to the Government of Canada. We appreciate both the government’s acknowledgement of these concerns and the measures Canada has now put into place to ensure meaningful accountability and oversight.”

Ottawa said it is continuing its support for UNRWA’s “ongoing efforts to promote neutrality in its operations and among its staff.”

On its website, the federal government referenced the “Framework for Cooperation” between Global Affairs and UNRWA, a 3,000-word document that lays out such issues as monitoring, reporting, oversight, policies of neutrality, and compliance with Canadian anti-terrorism requirements. It was signed in April 2017 by Pierre Krähenbühl, Commissioner General of UNRWA and Peter Boehm, Deputy Minister of International Development.

In August 2019, B’nai Brith and CIJA called on Ottawa to suspend funding to UNRWA after a damning report alleged widespread mismanagement, nepotism and wrongdoing at the agency.

Last April, Erin O’Toole, then a candidate for the leadership of the federal Conservatives, told The Canadian Jewish News: “I will end funding for UNRWA unless it is significantly reformed. It cannot under any circumstances provide support to terror organizations or their affiliates. It also cannot create dependencies, which serve as a deterrent to lasting peace and deter resettlement efforts in other parts of the world. Canada will not continue funding if these reforms are not underway by the midway point of our first term.”

Gould’s Dec. 21 statement said the needs of Palestinian refugees “are undeniable, especially during a global pandemic: they face high rates of poverty, food insecurity and unemployment,” continued. Ottawa’s continued support for UNRWA “builds upon Canada’s long-standing commitment to Palestinians while also contributing to stability in the region.”

She said this latest round of aid will help more than half a million Palestinian refugee children receive quality basic education.

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), which supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel, expressed concern that Canada “still refuses to support UNRWA politically or diplomatically.”

Earlier this month, Canada abstained on a UN resolution to renew UNRWA’s mandate, and voted “no” on another motion supporting the activities of UNRWA, the group noted in a statement following the announcement of Canada’s latest round of funding.

“It is hypocritical when Canada funds UNRWA to the tune of $90 million, but then refuses to stick up for the agency politically on the international stage,” said Michael Bueckert, vice president of CJPME.

JSpaceCanada welcomes the government’s announcement.

“This funding will provide Palestinians with crucial education, health, and livelihood supports – making important contributions to regional stability and peace,” the progressive group said in a statement. It also applauded Canada’s “continued work to ensure meaningful oversight and accountability of UNWRA and of all foreign aid commitments.”

Letter to the Editor: Dec. 22, 2020

Agrees on CIJA

Andrew Cohen’s excellent analysis and critique of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) is most welcome and long past due. (“Unelected, unaccountable, untroubled: CIJA says what it wants and then says it speaks for us” – Dec. 16)  In the eyes of the non-Jewish community and of legislators in Canada, the high profile and well-funded CIJA appears to be the voice of Canadian Jews. But it is not that voice, as Mr. Cohen points out, but rather an advocacy group with a single agenda and a single point of view.

It was a sad day when CIJA replaced the Canadian Jewish Congress under a cloak of mystery. Canadian Jews had a representative and accountable body to speak for us. We need one again; CIJA is not that body.

Donnie Friedman

Retired Supreme Court Judge to Head U of T Hiring Controversy

Dec. 21, 2020


A former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada will head an inquiry into how the University of Toronto handled the hiring of a scholar with a history of anti-Israel activism to head a law school program.

Honourable Thomas A. Cromwell C.C
Retired Justice Thomas Cromwell

Retired Justice Thomas Cromwell, who left the high court in 2016, will review how U of T’s law school handled the controversial hiring of Valentina Azarova to head its International Human Rights Program.

The probe was supposed to be led by former Trent University president Bonnie Patterson. She stepped down, however, over public concerns about the impartiality and credibility of an investigation commissioned by university administrators who might be among its subjects.

As the public face of the review changes, B’nai Brith Canada released a 17-page submission it intends to make, and questioned the focus of media coverage of the affair.

In a news release, B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn said too much media attention has been focused on allegations of donor interference in the appointment and not on the fact the job was offered to a scholar whose extensive record of anti-Israel work would ultimately harm the human rights program and the academic freedom of Jewish students in it.

Valentina Azarova

“Azarova’s longstanding commitments amount not to impartial academic work but rather to an obsession with delegitimizing Israel, and to working with a variety of extreme anti-Zionist organizations,” he wrote.

“We believe it’s vital to draw attention to a side of this story that has somehow escaped the attention it deserves,” Mostyn added. “How someone like Azarova, with a background of extreme hostility to Israel, was not only seriously considered by U of T Law’s Search Committee to lead the IHRP, but was reportedly the unanimously chosen candidate to do so, cries out for a thorough airing.”

Azarova and her supporters say she was offered the position as head of the human rights program, but the offer was then withdrawn after objections from a university donor.

The law school dean has never denied being approached by a donor, but rejected suggestions that coloured his decision. He has said an employment offer to Azarova was never made because of unspecified immigration problems.

Tax Court Judge David Spiro has been identified as the donor who objected to Azarova’s hiring. His conduct is currently being investigated by the Canadian Judicial Council, the disciplinary body for judges.

In its brief to the Cromwell review, B’nai Brith argues the hiring committee should have taken a harder look at Azarova’s “extreme one-sided history of seeking to delegitimize and demonize Israel, and her active and visible association with a multitude of virulently anti-Zionist organizations.”

B’nai Brith also urged the review to find that the university should have stopped Azarova’s candidacy once it was determined the hiring committee hadn’t addressed those issues; and that the university adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism as a guide to the application of its policies on freedom of expression, freedom of speech and academic freedom.

The Cromwell report is scheduled to be submitted in mid-January directly to university president Meric Gertler, who has promised to make its conclusions public.

The Tailor Project: Our Brothers’ Keepers


In the spring of 1948, Max Enkin, a prominent Toronto Jewish community leader and clothing manufacturer, spoke to a gathering of his peers. He had recently returned from visiting Europe’s post-war displaced persons (DP) camps, where he led a small team of garment industry manufacturers and labour leaders on a mission.

Their goal was to bring as many Holocaust survivors and their families to Canada as they could squeeze through obstructive, antisemitic immigration restrictions. Enkin and his colleagues – Sam Herbst, Sam Posluns, Bernard Shane and David Solomon – had been deeply moved by the plight of the survivors they met in Germany and Austria. They were shocked by the degrading conditions they witnessed in the DP camps, many constructed on the sites of former concentration camps.

Limited by the government to a quota for Jewish tailors, the five men were forced to make heart-wrenching decisions about who could be included among the chosen. They returned determined to inspire their fellow Canadian Jews to do all they could to help the survivors when they arrived.

Through articles in the Jewish press and public speeches, the team pleaded with community members to open their hearts and homes to the survivors who were beginning to arrive as garment workers. They faced a community both exhausted by its pre-war failures at rescue and unable to comprehend the uniqueness of the survivors’ experience and their desperate need to rebuild their lives.

“I am beginning to doubt,” Enkin told them, “if many know or appreciate how these people find themselves there, who they are, and what we owe them if we are to justifiably uphold our own respect and genuinely acknowledge that we are our brothers’ keeper.”

The Tailor Project (the book, which came out in October), is a study of Canadian Jewry’s efforts to rescue Jews stranded in the killing fields of post-war Europe and find homes for them in Canada – to be their brothers’ keepers. Prof. Harold Troper’s introduction summarizes the obstinate restrictive government policies that preceded the post-war opening of Canada to immigration. The authors then examine the post-war bulk labour schemes and how these programs were devised to import skilled and unskilled single men into the growing post-war economy.

Young, unmarried Jewish survivors were more than willing find a way out of the camps by applying for Canadian labour schemes; their applications, which noted their “Hebrew” religion, were invariably rejected. Realizing the potential these programs offered for opening the doors to Jewish DPs, the Jewish Labour Committee, Jewish clothing manufacturers and the Canadian Jewish Congress banded together to create the Tailor Project.

In our book of the same name, we explore the personalities and community politics that coloured the attempts to bring survivors to Canada after the Second World War. This is also a study of the Jewish-dominated garment industry and the Tailor Project’s unprecedented collaboration between garment manufacturers and unions.

Funded by the Canadian Jewish Congress in conjunction with the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society and other agencies, they succeeded in settling some 2,500 European Jews in cities across Canada in 1948 and 1949.

The history of the Tailor Project is complemented by the reminiscences of the survivors and their families who established new lives in Canada. Some were trained as tailors before the war and continued working in the garment industry. Others were barely able to sew a buttonhole and forged other careers after their arrival. All understood that the program was their chance at rebirth.

Survivors and their children describe their journeys to Canada, the challenges of their early years of settlement, and the extended survivor families they created in their new homes. The Jewish garment workers and their families were the first large group of Holocaust survivors to gain entry to Canada. They were soon followed by DPs who joined other labour programs initiated by the Jewish community – notably by the furrier and hat-making industries.

Mendel Good was one survivor who came to Canada with the Tailor Project. He was 23 and an experienced tailor when he arrived in Ottawa in 1948, sponsored by the garment workers program. After suffering over six years in ghettos and camps, the only survivor of his extended family, Mendel spent three years recovering his health. He met and married Valerie Blau, another survivor who had come to Canada under the domestic bulk labour program.

Mendel established the M. Good Tailor shop in the Byward Market, a business still open today. His positive spirit and gregarious nature left a lasting impression on both his clients, and the thousands of Ontario students he educated about the Holocaust.

Mendel died last month at the age of 95. Rabbi Reuven Bulka eulogized that Mendel “became a tailor because he wanted to stitch together a better world.”

The Tailor Project is the story of how Canadian Jewry came together to rescue the remnants of European Jewry, and how Holocaust survivors like Mendel reshaped Canadian life.

Paula Draper

Paula Draper is co-author of The Tailor Project. How 2,500 Holocaust Survivors Found a New Life in Canada (Second Story Press) with Andrea Knight and Nicole Bryck, introduction by Harold Troper

Meet the Authors: The Tailor Project

On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Dec. 18, 2020

Dave Cohen (Aug. 8, 1985 – ): Country Music Keyboard Player, Songwriter, Producer


“Nashville cats, play clean as country water
Nashville cats, play wild as mountain dew
Nashville cats, been playin’ since they’s babies
Nashville cats, get work before they’re two…”

Defined by that Zal Yanovsky/Lovin’ Spoonful lyric, country music keyboard player and producer Dave Cohen is a “Nashville cat.” And he’s Canadian.

At 35, Cohen is one of the most in-demand musicians in Nashville, playing on many Top 40 Country hits with artists like Big & Rich, Chris Young, Ed Sheeran, Florida Georgia Line, Joe Nicols, Josh Turner, Kip Moore, Old Dominion, Rascal Flatts, Reba, Steven Tyler (see photo above, Cohen left, Tyler right), Toby Keith, and Wynona Judd, among others.

He was born in Toronto to Robert and Shelley Cohen, and the family moved to Calgary in 1989.  His father played the guitar, and Cohen started playing piano at five. As a teenager, he joined the PT Junction Blues Authority, a group that included my cousin Sandy Shuler’s son, Josh Goldenberg, as guitarist and lead singer. She told me about Cohen and how they won the battle of the bands at his high school, Henry Wise Wood.

Kid Rock and Dave Cohen

Rachel Barsky noted in The Canadian Jewish News that Cohen didn’t plan to become a musician. “It was in Grade 12 when he was accepted to Humber College’s jazz program in Toronto that he started thinking about becoming a professional musician.” 

Cohen told me, “I wasn’t that passionate about jazz itself as an art form. More so as a tool to learn music and become a better player. A soon as I had an opportunity to go on the road as a sideman, I dropped out.” 

He continued to work as a freelance musician in various groups in Toronto. “That’s how Cohen got his first major gig, as the keyboard player for Amanda Marshall, which led to playing with her at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto in front of 55,000 people,” Barsky reported. That was in 2006, and led to working with Scottish-Canadian country music artist Johnny Reid.

After touring with a few Canadian acts, “I realized there was a ceiling as to how high my career would go if I didn’t move to a larger market,” he told me. So Cohen headed to Nashville in 2007.

Tired of the rigours of the road in 2012, he settled into a studio musician’s life. Speaking with Hanna Jessica of Building Our Own Nashville blog, he said, “Every artist does things differently, but broadly. We get set up and ready to go at 10 a.m. We listen to the songs we’re going to play that day and make charts so we can all be on the same page. Then (we) make music until 9 p.m. some days. Everything I play in a session is improvised. We often have a demo recording of how the songwriter intended the song to be played, but we’re not locked to that. We’re free to give ideas.”

In 2017, he received the Academy of Country Music (ACM) Piano/Keyboards Player of the Year Award. “My first thought was that my career was peaking too early and that I was destined to fade out early,” he told thecountrynote.com. “Those thoughts quickly turned to how I could live up to that title. It’s obviously a huge honour to win an award like that. A lot of the records I have worked on are consecutive and it’s a very cool experience to have your own rapport with the artist you’re working for. Many times in the studio, you just show up and do your job and don’t really feel connected to the project. With consecutive records, it’s cool to have a relationship to build on and use as inspiration for the tunes.”

His Jewish connection to music came from his family and growing up in Calgary.

“My years at Camp B’nai Brith Riback in Pine Lake, Alberta were where I got together and sang songs with my camper peers,” he recalled. “During high school, my bandmates were Jewish and all members of BBYO, playing at dances and band battles. I owe a lot to the Calgary Jewish community for laying the groundwork for me both musically and socially to be able to thrive in this career.”

Of late, Cohen has been doing more producing in addition to songwriting and session work. Musicrow.com reported that he recently signed a worldwide publishing deal with Spirit Music Nashville as “co-producer of eight No. 1 songs and session musician on over 50 No. 1 songs. He joins a roster including songwriter Jonathan Singleton, Grammy-winning songwriter David Garcia, a MusicRow Song of the Year winner and Grammy-nominated writer Jeremy Bussey, and ACM Guitar Player of the Year Derek Wells as well as Bobby Hamrick, Brinley Addington, Frank Ray and Neil Thrasher.” 

Not bad for a Nashville cat from Calgary.

David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is founding Partner of tcgpr.com the Canadian Partner firm of IPREX Global Comunication. He is a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.

COVID Slams Hamilton’s Shalom Village

Dec. 18, 2020


Hamilton’s Jewish retirement home kept COVID infections at bay for nine months, but now, Shalom Village is being hammered by the deadly infection.

By Wednesday of this week, Shalom Village’s interim CEO, Larry Levin, reported that four people died from the virus and another 81 were infected throughout the campus.

Dr Larry Levin
Dr Larry Levin

“I appreciate that this is a time of tremendous stress, fear and sadness,” Levin said in a note to residents. “Indeed all of us at Shalom Village  (myself included) are devastated to know that so many of the Shalom Village family are impacted by the COVID virus, and saddened to have lost four of our residents to this pervasive, and deadly virus.”

Levin said that as of Dec. 16, 40 staff had tested positive for the virus, and with those people required to stay home, staffing at the facility was maintained with the help of workers hired through a private contractor recommended by St. Joseph’s Healthcare.

“This has had a dramatic effect on our ability to staff the home,” he said. “We are in close contact with public health every day and we are making progress on this.

The staffing problem was so severe that the Hamilton Jewish Federation issued a call for volunteers to help with food delivery to residents confined to their rooms. Levin said on Wednesday, however, that those volunteers will not be used until the outbreak has been defeated. Any shortage of staff will be made up with workers from a private contractor suggested by St. Joseph’s Healthcare.

“This should meet our need until the outbreak has been cleared,” Levin said in an email exchange. “Any community volunteers will not be deployed until the outbreak has been declared over.”

“Right now we are managing with our existing model,” he added.

Levin reported six of the infected residents are in the facility’s apartment complex while 35 are in its long-term care facility.

Shalom Village has been ordered by the public health department to allow St. Joseph’s Healthcare to monitor, investigate and respond to the outbreak.

“St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton will be working in partnership with Shalom Village to monitor, investigate and respond to the infection prevention and control matters needed to prevent further spread of COVID. We welcome this partnership, which will assist us with additional education and training support, and expertise,” Levin said in his letter to the community. “Here in Hamilton, St. Joe’s has been working with a number of long-term care homes, retirement homes and congregate settings to support them through the COVID pandemic .

“The entire team is working together to minimize any additional spread of the virus, as well as its impact on those already infected,” he added. “Please be assured that Shalom Village is working closely with Public Health and with St. Joseph’s Healthcare to ensure that everything that can be done to deal with this outbreak is being done and we pray that the outbreak will be speedily resolved.”

Shalom Village is the sixth long term care home in Hamilton to have infection control orders issued by the health department. Five of those homes were still in outbreak Wednesday, accounting for 444 of the city’s 779 cases.

From March until this week Shalom Village managed to stay COVID-free through a combination of regular testing of staff and residents in its 127-bed long-term care unit with 81 apartments and a ban on visitors.

On Thursday, Hamilton’s congregational rabbis called for a community-wide prayer service for the residents and staff of Shalom Village.

The online event is set for Saturday at 7 pm on Zoom.

“As the rabbis of Hamilton’s Jewish community we watch with sadness and trepidation as the numbers of those infected with COVID-19, as well as the numbers of those dying from it, continue to rise. We fear for all residents of our beloved city, Hamilton. And we are especially distressed by the outbreaks at Shalom Village, which, with constant dedication and tirelessness, cares for the beloved, treasured elderly members of our community. We are concerned for the vulnerable residents, and we are equally concerned for those who care for them” Rabbis Jordan Cohen, Hillel Lavery-Yisraeli, Daniel Green and Aaron Selevan wrote.

The rabbis added: “Our prayers are only as good as the actions which accompany them. We would like to use this opportunity to remind everyone of the religious obligation to meticulously follow all current health regulations and recommendations: Stay home whenever possible, do not gather in groups, stay two metres away from others, wash your hands frequently, and wear masks.”

A Family History is Told Through Possessions Left Behind

Dec. 18, 2020


MONTREAL—Clearing out a home after a parent dies or moves to a care facility is bound to evoke memories and often turn up surprises.

Sharon Kirsch
Sharon Kirsch

Toronto writer Sharon Kirsch’s widowed mother’s departure for a seniors’ residence and the sale of the family home set Kirsch on a years-long research project. She delved into her parents’ relationship, and hers with them, as well as the lives of long-dead relatives they rarely talked about – for very different reasons.

Kirsch’s new book The Smallest Objective (New Star Books) is a very personal memoir set in the Jewish Montreal of the 20th century, fascinating for its frank examination of mothers and daughters, revelation of family secrets, and showing how the past is always somehow present.

It’s about what material goods we leave behind say about us – and her parents left an awful lot behind.

Born in 1960, Kirsch was the only child of Rene née Rutenberg and Dr. Archie Kirsch. She grew up in the suburban split-level her parents bought new in 1955, the same house Kirsch was tasked with disposing of after her mother’s worsening dementia made it impossible for her to continue living on her own.

Rene Kirsch signs the registry on her wedding day, April 4, 1955 at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal

Kirsch avoids pathos. In fact, the book starts out as a mystery. Her father, a Second World War veteran 17 years older than her mother, always claimed he had buried a treasure under the floorboards of the master bedroom.

Kirsch spends considerable time and expense, even hiring experts in ground penetrating radar, but finds nothing. It was only the beginning of obsession.

Sharon Kirsch’s great-grandfather Abraham Kirsch (father of Simon), who brought the family to Montreal from Lithuania.

That micro exploration grows to the macro level as Kirsch methodically goes through her parents’ stuff. While not exactly hoarders, the couple seem to have kept all manner of ephemera, in addition to the usual photos and documents, letters, postcards, invitations, recipes, grocery lists, newspaper clippings and obscure collections.

These prove to be a more valuable trove than the illusive hidden booty. The ever-unfolding memorabilia contrasts with the mental decline of her mother, a once fashionable and fastidious woman, until her death in 2013.

Kirsch comes to a better understanding of her mother’s lifelong anxiety and the fractiousness that marked her marriage. Although she had attended college and become a teacher, Rene, typical of her generation, gave it up for an idealized domesticity.

The title, The Smallest Objective, is a term that expresses the magnification power of a microscope, a found object that takes Kirsch on a journey back to the generation before her parents. It also suggests the minutiae which affords a glimpse into the bigger picture.

The microscope had belonged to her father’s father, Simon Kirsch, a Lithuanian immigrant and son of a peddler who got into McGill University and studied botany, earning a PhD in the early 20th century.

Sharon was named for Simon but he died long before she was born and was only mentioned at home in vague terms.

Simon Kirsch would work for the U.S. Forest Service in the Wisconsin woods, then become a McGill professor, unusual for a Jew, she finds out. He then branched into real estate and left academe to make a modest fortune investing in land and mining around Quebec. At his death, he was regarded as a respected Jewish community leader.

After finding clippings of his obituary, Kirsch then set her sights on the family “black sheep,” her great-uncle Jockey Fleming, born Moses Rutenberg at the end of the 19th century to a Russian immigrant family.

Charitably, Jockey was a colourful Runyanesque character who hobnobbed with entertainment and sports figures and was a favourite subject of Montreal newspaper gossip columnists. More realistically, he was a ne’er-de-well who lived on the margins of the law, scalping tickets after earlier stints as a featherweight boxer and singing waiter.

Kirsch was 14 when he died in 1974 but she only saw him by accident on a downtown street. Her mother quickly steered her away from him, muttering the family was ashamed of him.

As she does with Simon, Kirsch spins bits and pieces into an imagining of the larger historical and social circumstances that made Jockey into who he was.

The other relative almost as rarely mentioned by her parents was her aunt Carol, her mother’s younger sister and sole sibling. The reason was not shame; on the contrary, Carol Rutenberg was beautiful, talented and outgoing. She had a career as a physiotherapist and married a dashing ex-Air Force pilot.

Pregnant with their first child, Carol miscarried and died days later at age 26. Kirsch, who was not yet five, has only vague memories of her. It seems the shock and grief was so great, her mother simply shut her emotions away with cherished mementoes of that short tragic life she kept in albums and boxes.

These were the true buried treasure.

As Kirsch concludes, “I began The Smallest Objective by studying possessions and myself became possessed, claimed by my subjects.”

Make Fruits And Vegetables the Foundation Of Winter Meals

Dec. 18, 2020


Shabbat Shalom and welcome to “Kitchen Talk,” the weekly food blog of the CJR. Hanukkah ends this evening, three days before the Dec. 21 solstice that marks the official start of winter.

Last winter, I baked up a storm and by the spring, I could barely fit into my sweatpants. This year, I’m looking at healthier options – more vegetables and fruit. Two of this week’s recipes – Braised Cabbage and Roasted Cauliflower with Green Tahini Sauce – fit the healthy-eating bill.

I have made some changes to the cabbage recipe, which is from Bon Appétit Magazine. (https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/roasted-cabbage-apples-italian-sausage.) I’ve omitted the sausages. I added caraway seeds, as well as an optional garnish of sour cream and fresh herbs.

The Cauliflower-and-Green-Tahini recipe is adapted from Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi. The Caramel Apple Galette recipe was created by Anna-Olson’ s recipe, the Food Network’ s baking maven (https://www.foodnetwork.ca/recipe/caramel-apple-galette/6754/) The galette is actually a brioche dough, a popular French breakfast bread. I added extra sugar to the galette recipe.

Community Spotlight

DANI is a Community Source For Kosher Dairy Meals And Treats

Hanukkah has been a very busy time for DANI, a charity dedicated to enhancing the skills and knowledge of individuals with physical and cognitive challenges.

DANI, an acronym for Developing and Nurturing Independence, offers its clients a variety of services – vocational, educational, life skills, recreational and social programs – in a community setting.

An important source of funding for these programs is the kosher catering business operated by DANI (905-889-3284), under COR supervision, according to Anita Miller, manager of catering and business.

During Hannukah, demand for latkes and sufganiot in the community was very high. “We sold 2,000 latkes and 2,000 sufganiot,” she noted. “The money raised from the sales is funnelled back into the organization to support our programs.”

Now in its 14th year, DANI is a social enterprise, “a business with a social twist,” Miller said. The catering and food sales offer vocational opportunities for clients and revenue for the various social and educational activities, she said. “The only reason we have catering is to fund our programming.”

DANI provides services to 30 adults. Miller stressed the importance of keeping them engaged. “We have never missed a day due to COVID,” she said. For short periods, when circumstances have necessitated, DANI has resorted to virtual programming.

DANI’ s Clark campus, adjacent to the Garnet A. Williams Community Centre (501 Clarke Ave. W.) in Thornhill, is the programming and catering hub. A satellite location at 401 Magnetic Dr. opened earlier this year.

Some clients have learned food-prep skills at the Clark campus, where daily meals that are prepared with some assistance from DANI’s clients. However, this food training program has been suspended during COVID, Miller said. “There is a now strict separation between programming and food prep.”

A number of DANI clients participate in pop-up lunches, a program – now temporarily suspended – that gives them the opportunity to interact with the community while developing, social, financial, and organizational skills.

The DANI crew would visit a corporate and/or community location where they would set up a temporary or “pop-up” kiosk to sell kosher lunch items like soups, chili, quiches, and muffins.

The organization also runs the DANI Café, a kosher dairy restaurant/ café at the Clark campus The space, which doubles as the DANI Event Centre, can accommodate up to 150 people for business meetings, parties and life-cycle celebrations, Miller said, pointing out that DANI caters off-site events as well, including business luncheons, weddings and bar mitzvahs, and provides shivah platters and corporate meals, while pastry and cookie platters are also in high demand. “We sold more than 500 gift baskets at Rosh Hashanah.” 


½ head red cabbage, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 medium apple, sliced
2 sprigs thyme
1 tbsp (15 ml) red wine vinegar
2 tbsp (30 ml) olive oil, divided
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp (30 ml) maple syrup. 
½ medium apple, sliced
1 tsp (5 ml) caraway seeds
optional: sour cream for garnish
optional: ¼ cup (60 ml) chopped fresh dill or parsley for garnish

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Toss cabbage, onion, apple, thyme sprigs, vinegar, 1 tbsp (15 ml) oil, and ¼ cup (60 ml) water in a 13-x 9-inch (23-x 33-cm) baking dish; season with salt and pepper and roast, covered, until cabbage is wilted and softened, 45 minutes.


1 large cauliflower
2–3 tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
1 tsp (5 ml) salt (or to taste)

To Roast the Cauliflower

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Wash cauliflower well and cut into large florets. Spread in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt; toss to combine. 

Roast the cauliflower uncovered, for 40–45 minutes, until golden and crispy. Half way through cooking, stir the florets. When done, some of them will be blackened around the edge, which is okay.

Remove the cauliflower from the oven and transfer to a serving dish. Pour the Green Tahini Sauce (recipe below) over the cauliflower. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

Green Tahini Sauce

¼ cup (60 ml) Tahini
¾ cup (375 ml) parsley, roughly chopped
1 small garlic clove crushed
1/3 cup (90 ml) water 
3 tbsp (45 ml) lemon juice
Flaked sea salt

Pour the tahini into the small bowl of a food processor. Add the parsley and garlic. Pulse for 1 minute, until the tahini is green. Pour in the water and lemon juice and season with ¼ tsp salt. Pulse until you have a smooth green sauce with the consistency of heavy cream. Add a touch of tahini if it’ s too thin or a splash of water if it is too thick.



3 tbsp (45 ml) tepid 2% milk
1¼ tsp (6 ml) instant dry active yeast
**6 tbsp (75 ml) sugar, divided
1¾ cups (435 ml) all purpose flour
¾ tsp (4 ml) salt
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
½ cup (125 ml) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg mixed with 2 tbsp (30 ml) water for egg wash
**original recipe only called for 3 tbsp (45 ml) sugar


56 large Granny Smith, Braeburn or Honeycrisp, peeled and sliced
1 tbsp (15 ml) lemon juice
¼ cup (60 ml) unsalted butter
¼ cup (60 ml)sugar
2 tbsp (30 ml) brandy (optional)
½ tsp (2 ml) cinnamon

Crust: Stir together milk, yeast and 3 tbsp (45 ml) sugar. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, salt and remaining sugar. Pour in milk mixture and add eggs. With electric beaters fitted with the dough attachments or in a stand-up mixer fitted with dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until blended. Add the butter in pieces to dough and beat for 3 minutes until it becomes an even, silky consistency. Place the dough in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight.

For the fruit: Toss the apples in lemon juice. Heat the butter and sugar over high heat in a sauté pan and once bubbling, add the apples. Sauté the apples until nicely browned, about 10 minutes, and stir in brandy, if using, and cinnamon.

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).

Place ring of 10-inch (25 cm) springform pan on baking sheet lined with parchment.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough into a 14-inch (35 cm) circle and place in springform pan, overlapping 2 inches (5 cm) on the outside of the pan. Spoon in the apples and fold the crust edge back over the apples. 

Brush the dough with egg wash. Bake for 25 minutes, until the edges of the tart are richly browned. Let cool for one hour before unmoulding and slicing. Makes 10 portions. The galette can be rewarmed before serving.

Saks Calls on O’Toole to Condemn ‘Vile’ Theories; Conservative Tweets Hail Party’s Record; O’Toole Calls Out Liberals on IRGC

Dec. 17, 2020


Newly-minted Liberal MP Ya’ara Saks (York Centre) has written to Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole asking that he condemn “vile antisemitic theories” surrounding billionaire philanthropist George Soros “promoted” by some Conservative MPs.

Yaara Saks
Yaara Saks

“Since the onset of the pandemic, several members of your caucus have promoted baseless conspiracy theories and hateful rhetoric,” Saks wrote in her letter to O’Toole on Dec. 14.

“I refer to the misinformation around George Soros and the vile antisemitic theories about the World Economic Forum. To date, you have yet to publicly denounce this behaviour or reprimand your members,” Saks wrote.

The latest episode took place in the House of Commons on Dec. 8 when someone called out “George Soros” as Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland was speaking.

Following question period, Liberal MP Omar Alghabra said it was Conservative member John Brassard (Barrie-Innisfill) who had shouted Soros’s name.

“Maybe he wants to explain what he said here in the chamber,” Alghabra said.

Soros is a frequent lightning rod for antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories. A Hungarian Holocaust survivor, he’s a heavy funder of liberal causes and a favourite target of the far-right, which accuses him of helping fellow financiers plot a global takeover in a “new world order.”

Freeland wrote about Soros during her previous career as a journalist and has met with him since entering politics.

After being accused by Alghabra, Brassard was defiant.

John Brassard
John Brassard

“There was nothing in what I said that was in any way antisemitic, and I am not going to sit here and take what they are doing in this situation lightly,” he told the House.

“I encourage you, Mr. Speaker, to listen to what was said. There was nothing in there that was in any way antisemitic, and I am not going to sit here and take what they have to say.”

In August, British Columbia Conservative MP Kerri-Lynne Findlay apologized after retweeting a video of Freeland interviewing Soros when she was a journalist with the Financial Times in 2009.

Findlay said Freeland’s closeness with Soros should alarm every Canadian, and that Freeland listened to him “like student to teacher.”

Findlay said she had “thoughtlessly” shared the video, whose source “promotes hateful conspiracy theories…I have removed the tweets and apologize.”

In her letter, which does not mention Brassard or Findlay by name, Saks said “this kind of misinformation amplifies the rise in antisemitism and antisemitic conspiracies that have arisen during the COVID pandemic and that Jewish Canadians know all too well. It threatens the safety of Jewish Canadians and subjects them to hostility, prejudice, and discrimination, but its ultimate result is the erosion of public trust in democracy. As Members of Parliament, we have an obligation to take a stand to ensure that the rights of all Canadians are upheld. The failure to address antisemitism within your caucus remains unacceptable.”

Saks, who won York Centre in October’s byelection, called on the Tory leader “to condemn this antisemitic rhetoric and uphold the rights and trust of Canadians.”

Erin O'Toole
Erin O’Toole

Neither O’Toole nor Brassard returned the CJR’s requests for comment. As of this writing, Saks’ office says it has not had a reply from O’Toole.

The day after Saks sent her letter, Winnipeg-area Conservative MP Marty Morantz issued a series of tweets championing his party’s support for Israel and Canadian Jewry:

• “Conservatives have unequivocally supported Canada’s Jewish community and the state of Israel. Any statement to the contrary is misleading and wrong.

• “Under our Conservative leadership, Canada became the Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). As Chair, Canada committed to an ambitious campaign to raise Holocaust awareness and fight antisemitism at home and abroad.

• “I’m proud to work with elected officials from around the world as part of an Online Antisemitism Taskforce. Our taskforce aims to work with online platforms like Facebook and Twitter so that hateful antisemitic comments are treated as hate speech and dealt with appropriately.

• “Let’s look at the Liberal record. The Liberals voted against Israel at the United Nations General Assembly and committed new funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. This is an organization whose schools have been used as storage facilities for Hamas rockets to be used against Israeli civilians, and whose facilities have served as breeding grounds for anti-Israel and antisemitic sentiments. The Liberals have doubled down on these anti-Israel activities, even after badly losing their [bid for a UN Security Council seat],” Morantz tweeted.

And in a conference call with ethno-cultural media earlier this month, O’Toole took the Liberal government to task for failing to list the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist entity.

O’Toole reminded reporters that in 2018, the House of Commons passed a Conservative motion supporting the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist group, “and the Liberals themselves voted for it, and then they did nothing on it.” 

The Liberals “have dragged their feet for several years. It will really take a change in government to have this issue taken seriously,” he said.

In 2012, under the Stephen Harper government, Canada listed a subgroup of the IRGC, the Quds Force, as a terrorist organization.

Film Review: Valley of Tears: Competent but Ho-Hum

Dec. 17, 2020


Valley of Tears, the latest Israeli television series to arrive in Canada, comes laden with accolades for its accuracy and commentary on its expensive nature – $1 million per episode, pricey for an Israeli production. (It was sold to HBO Max in the U.S, but premieres with two back-to-back, Hebrew language, English subtitled episodes on Dec 19 on Hollywood Suite in Canada. It only recently finished airing in Israel.)

I can’t quarrel with those facets of the 10-episode series, reportedly the first of at least two planned seasons, but neither can I endorse the show, or at least the episodes I’ve seen. As of this writing, five episodes had been made available as streams to reviewers.

Set just before and during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Israel was caught in surprise attacks by Egypt and Syria on Judaism’s holiest day, the series attempts to paint a picture of this fraught time when the country seemed, briefly, on the brink of extinction. It links various individuals, all apparently based on real people, caught up in the chaos and maelstrom of war.

They include, among others, Yoav (Aviv Alush), commander of an intelligence outpost overrun by the Syrians; Dafna (Joy Rieger), Yoav’s girlfriend, who’s trying to link up with her boyfriend; Melakhi (Maoz Schwizer), a member of Israel’s Black Panthers, a militant Sephardi group fighting for its rights in the Ashkenazi-run country and who is attempting to get back to his tank unit after escaping from jail; Marco (Ofer Hayun), another Sephardic soldier, trying to keep the peace in the same (squabbling, battle scarred) unit; Menny (Lior Ashkenazi, from Foxtrot and Walk on Water), a reporter and counterculture writer looking for a son he doesn’t know who recently came to Israel from Paris to bond with his absent father; and Avinoam (Shahar Taboch), who serves in an intelligence unit and is the first to realize an Arab attack is imminent but, mostly, functions as an hysterical irritant, scared he’s going to be tortured and killed at any moment.

Taboch’s performance is annoyingly one-note, but the rest of the cast, though adequate, aren’t particularly interesting as characters, with the Sephardic ones pretty much reduced to pouting and occasionally giving in to anger.

I had no use for HBO’s other purchased Israeli series, Our Boys, a one-sided and distinctly unsubtle pro-Palestinian screed based on the true story of the murder of an innocent Arab boy in 2014 by Orthodox Jewish settlers bent on revenge after three of their own youth were murdered by Palestinian terrorists.

But that series, monotonous as it often was, at least seamlessly integrated its various personalities into a coherent whole. Valley of Tears awkwardly juxtaposes its storylines which, too often, come across as flat and contrived. That applies especially to Menny’s plight, and though I’ve long considered Lior Ashkenazi to be one of Israel’s best, if not its very finest actor – he had a small part in Our Boys, too – there’s not much he can do with what amounts to a cardboard cut-out role.

The hackneyed rendition of the Black Panther story is particularly galling, as it’s an important part of Israeli history that many Jews and even some Israelis I suspect don’t know. (That Sephardic anger had much to do with fuelling Likud’s victory in 1977, as Menachem Begin capitalized on that community’s disgruntlement, wresting power away from the long-ruling, Askenazi dominated Labour party.)

Even the movie’s battle scenes, though scrupulously authentic, utilizing tanks that were actually used in the Yom Kippur War, are pallid, particularly when stacked up against the powerfully visceral war scenes in films like Samuel Maoz’s Lebanon or even Ari Folman’s animated Waltz with Bashir. That flatness can be laid at the feet of director Yoav Zilberman, who co-wrote many of the episodes too; the series was created by Ron Leshem.

Zilberman’s credits include the fine documentary Watermarks, about a famed female Jewish swim team many of whose members return to Austria decades after the Nazis chased them out, and A Late Quartet, an American drama about a string quartet roiled when one of its members is diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

Zilberman directs fact and fiction in a very low-key manner, befitting the former but undermining the latter. But that laid-back quality is deadly for a production that needs to be running on adrenaline to be dramatically effective.

In the episodes I viewed, I never felt the country’s turmoil and angst as it transformed from a remarkable military victor in the Six-Day War in 1967 to an army seemingly falling apart at the seams a mere six years or so later. There is one attempt to humanize the Syrian enemy, beyond otherwise portraying them as faceless killers, but, unfortunately, it’s the most predictable scene of all the ones I saw.

There’s a mild political subtext running through Valley of Tears, whether it’s a soldier cursing Prime Minister Golda Meir when the war breaks out, or Menny’s referencing of General Moshe Dayan’s infamous quote that he’d rather have Sinai without peace than peace without Sinai. Menny’s declaration that Dayan, in effect, goaded Egypt into the war because of what he said might shock Western viewers, but it shouldn’t. Israelis have long debated the facts behind the seminal turning points in their country’s history, but let’s face it, there’s always been a patina of propaganda overlaying what Diaspora Jewry is taught or believes about key events like the Six-Day and Yom Kippur wars.

I fear, however that I’m making Valley of Tears seem more provocative and probing than it actually is. It’s competent enough but, mostly, and ultimately, ho-hum.

Shlomo Schwartzberg
Shlomo Schwartzberg

Shlomo Schwartzberg is a film critic, teacher and arts journalist based in Toronto. He teaches film at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, the Prosserman Jewish Community Centre, Ryerson University’s LIFE Institute, the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies and the London JCC, among other venues. He is also the co-founder of the noted Critics at Large cultural web site. (ww.criticsatlarge.ca)

Vaccine Rollout Brings Hope to Maimonides

Dec. 17, 2020


MONTREAL—Every December, Beverly Spanier has organized a Hanukkah party for her friends. That celebration, held in a favourite restaurant or hotel, continued even after she moved into Maimonides Geriatric Centre five years ago.

Planning the party was a project the retired high school teacher worked on for weeks in advance. A paraplegic, she got to the site via the city’s adapted transit service.

That, of course, did not happen this year. Spanier, 75, has not left Maimonides since the pandemic began in March except for three hospital visits. In fact, she has been confined to her room for the past nine months, save for some time in its garden during the summer.

Beverly Spanier
Beverly Spanier

For the first months of the pandemic, all visitors, including paid caregivers on whom Spanier relied, were barred from Maimonides, and remain restricted.

For Spanier, Hanukkah has been limited to looking at the menorah in a municipal park from her fifth-floor window.

When Maimonides was selected as the first site in Montreal for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine rollout, she didn’t hesitate to consent. On the afternoon of Dec. 14, Spanier was among the first of the first in Canada – and indeed the world – to be inoculated.

Maimonides, a long-term care institution in Cote Saint-Luc, and a Quebec City nursing home, Centre d’Hébergement St. Antoine, received the first vaccine shipments to Quebec. The highly anticipated cargo landed at Mirabel Airport north of Montreal on the evening of Dec. 13.

Maimonides took delivery of two boxes of 972 doses each, and 150 residents and staff received their first shot on Dec. 14. Almost 95 percent of Maimonides’s approximately 350 residents have agreed to be inoculated, as have, at time of writing, 40 percent of its roughly 500 employees, according to CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, the regional health authority that administers Maimonides.

Surplus doses from this initial batch will be made available to workers at other health care facilities in the local network.

The day after the first of her two shots, Spanier said she felt fine, with only a little redness at the injection site on her arm. Although she has much faith in medicine – her late brother was a doctor – Spanier was nervous about any adverse reaction and wondered if Maimonides had sufficient medical support on standby should a problem arise.

(CIUSSS officials reassured the public that it does have a trained team in place and precautions, such as a “crash cart,” to treat anaphylactic shock.)

“It is miraculous how the scientists and pharmaceutical industry have been able to produce an effective vaccine in such a short time, but you do worry,” Spanier said. “We are still, in a sense, in the midst of an experiment.”

On balance, she realizes that her risk of catching COVID is far greater than any associated with the vaccine. The consequences for Spanier, who has respiratory issues, could be fatal.

She also has a sense of responsibility toward society. “I think that we all have to do what we can to overcome this terrible disease and allow the world to return to normal.”

The psychological toll of the pandemic has been brutal, she said.

Maimonides has been hard hit by the coronavirus, twice. In the first wave, a third of residents were infected and 39 died, according to government information. It took the assistance of the Canadian Armed Forces and, after that, the Canadian Red Cross to help overwhelmed staff get the outbreak under control.

In early October, Maimonides was proud to announce there were no more active cases. But within weeks, the numbers went from zero to over 50 and, after trying to care for the sick in an isolated ward, transferred many to hospital.

On Dec. 16, Maimonides site coordinator Jennifer Clarke made public that, in the second wave, a total of 88 residents have had COVID and 19 have died. There are currently nine active cases, she reported.

Spanier compares her life to being on a “battleground,” with its fear, disruption and grief.

“We are a community here. I knew some of the people who died, or know someone who knew them,” she said. Her hope today is tinged with solemnity because she can’t forget the havoc the virus wreaked.

Much hoopla surrounded the rollout at Maimonides, with Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé and federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu on hand for a ceremony held outside the building just before the first shot was administered to resident Gloria Lallouz, 78.

The politicians hailed it as a historic occasion. Hajdu, who did not hide her tears, said, “I see this as the first step toward the light.”

Spanier is more cautious. The first battle to be won is ending the pandemic, but the definition of victory in the long term, she believes, is changing society’s disregard for the institutionalized frail elderly.

“If any good has come out of this, it is that light has been shed on what is happening in chronic care places. We can’t just dump people, and the resources have to back that up. One orderly for 35 patients at night is not feasible anymore.”

Unelected, Unaccountable, Untroubled: CIJA Says What it Wants, Then Says it Speaks For Us

Dec. 16, 2020


Since its induced birth a decade ago, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has offered full-throated support for the government of Israel. As official advocate of Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA, it suggests it speaks for Canadian Jewry.

That CIJA “represents hundreds of thousands of Jewish Canadians affiliated with the federation,” is as empty as its claim that it is non-partisan. It isn’t really, at least not when it comes to Israel.

CIJA can scarcely utter a discouraging word about the harshest policies of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, from expanding settlements on the West Bank, to undermining the multi-party Iranian nuclear treaty.

Three years ago, for example, when the United States announced it would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, CIJA quickly assembled an on-line forum of three panelists. All heralded the decision, a breathless exercise in propaganda from an organization which celebrates “educating Canadians about the important role Israel plays in Canadian life.”

Because Likud has been in power longer than CIJA has been in business, we don’t know how CIJA would react to a moderate government in Israel. But we do know how it reacts to a more moderate government in Canada on Israel: CIJA complains and complains.

In 2015, CIJA was quick to jump on Justin Trudeau, then in opposition, for “trivializing” the Holocaust. Yet it was unfazed when Steven Blaney, a Conservative minister, did much the same two days later.

More recently, when CIJA joined two other Jewish organizations in criticizing Canada’s vote at the United Nations in favour of Palestinian self-determination, it showed, once again, how CIJA is out of step with opinion at home and abroad.

CIJA issued a joint statement of protest with B’nai Brith and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. Each representative was quoted independently, as if none would take responsibility for the other – or, out of vanity, each insisted on his own megaphone.

Jon Allen, Canada’s former Ambassador to Israel, rejected their woolly-minded argument in the CJR. More than most Jews, he knows Canada is an unflinching friend of Israel. He explained persuasively why we voted with the rest of the world, including every one of Israel’s long-standing allies (other than the United States).

But that wasn’t enough for CIJA. Nothing is but the orthodoxy. This happens when your board of directors includes the perfervid John Baird, Stephen Harper’s foreign minister, beloved by CIJA; when he resigned unceremoniously in early 2015, CIJA saluted “his clear and conscientious foreign policy vision of which all Canadians can be proud.” Actually, many Jews were appalled, and helped defeat the Conservatives that October.

The Liberals can appoint Bob Rae as Canada’s Ambassador to the UN; they can avow moral and material support for Israel until the coming of the Messiah; they can appoint Irwin Cotler envoy on anti-Semitism (which CIJA uncharacteristically praised). CIJA is rarely satisfied.

Then again, why should anyone care what CIJA thinks? Its officers are unelected, unaccountable and untroubled by criticism, which it reliably ignores or dismisses. Sustained by the Federation, which is sustained by tax-deductible donations, CIJA says what it wants – and then says it speaks for us.

CIJA has lacked credibility since it was mysteriously established in 2011. Some say it was the product of a hostile takeover of the Canadian Jewish Congress, engineered by wealthy conservative Jews with the blessing of the governing Conservatives. That may explain its defensiveness.

For an organization which sees itself as a communicator, CIJA has clownish media relations. Despite its self-described legion of “analysts, public affairs specialists, web and social-media practitioners, relationship builders and media relations experts,” it is among the least responsive advocacy organizations I’ve seen in 43 years in journalism.

CIJA boasts of its work on Jewish issues in Canada (curiously, it does not have “Canada” in its name), which are detailed on its website. For fighting antisemitism, encouraging Jewish education, protecting kosher food, and other campaigns – wonderful. I applaud that, although it’s hard to judge its effectiveness or its value for money. Its budget is said to be $8 to $11 million, of which 40 percent, goes to advocacy on Israel. (CIJA refuses to say). To push this and other causes, it has 10 or so lobbyists.

For all its resources, though, how is CIJA the voice of “hundreds of thousands” of Jews in a country of 390,000 Jews? By what arithmetic, and with what authority?

The Canadian Jewish Congress, a venerable Jewish parliament, did not worry about its legitimacy. It had the confidence of Jews because it tried to represent all of them. It was a forum of conciliation between faiths, a voice of immigrants, and a champion of social justice. It had authenticity and loyalty. This we can say with confidence: The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs is not the Canadian Jewish Congress.

The Federation can address the problem with CIJA. It can tell CIJA to stop advocating for Israel in Canada, and focus exclusively on education and other domestic issues. It can allow donors skeptical of CIJA to designate their support to other worthy charities within the Federation. Or choose others outside it.

As the pandemic strains many charities heroically serving our community, CIJA is one progressive Jews no longer want to hear – and need no longer subsidize.

Andrew Cohen
Andrew Cohen

Andrew Cohen is an award-winning columnist with the Ottawa Citizen, a professor of journalism at Carleton University, and the author of Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made History

Interview: Rabbi David Hofstedter, Founder of RoadMetric

Dec. 16, 2020


Earlier this month, RoadMetric, an artificial intelligence (AI) powered traffic management solution, was acquired by Australian company Redflex. RoadMetric is headquartered in Jerusalem and founded by Toronto-based Rabbi David Hofstedter (shown above), with clients around the world. Rabbi Hofstedter is also the founder and CEO of the real estate and property management company Davpart Inc and is well known in Israel and beyond as the founder of The Dirshu Organization, providing scholarships to encourage Torah study.

The CJR interviewed Rabbi Hofstedter to learn more about this deal and his own unique path to success as a pioneer in the growing fields of AI and computer vision, and a community leader.

CJR: It’s not every day that we interview a rabbi about the acquisition of his technology company. Can you tell our readers about your career path and how you combined these two very different callings? How have these two aspects of your life complemented each other?

Rabbi Hofstedter: As a child of Holocaust survivors, the notion of not only living one’s life but also fulfilling one’s obligation in life was instilled in me at a very early age. This belief was reinforced during my teenage years and as a young adult studying in yeshivos. My marriage to a woman who is also a child of Holocaust survivors reaffirms our life’s mission, and that is to utilize all that has been bestowed upon us, whether financial, intellectual or any other benefits which shines G-d’s light upon the world.

I wouldn’t classify myself as a technology founder. My business involvement is primarily in real estate, as CEO of Davpart Inc. The establishment and my involvement in RoadMetric relates fundamentally to its enormous capability in protecting and saving lives.

Can you explain what RoadMetric’s technology does and how its primary customers use it?

Roadmetric is a leader in advanced vision analytics and leading-edge artificial intelligence tools which law enforcement agencies around the world use to run the full gamut of enforcement from traffic violations to security threats. Our advanced technology is a powerful tool maintaining road safety and the prevention of loss of life. Law enforcement agencies equipped with our cameras and video surveillance systems are able to track reckless driving, infractions such as speeding, running red lights and stop signs.

Municipalities can equip their buses and track any vehicles driving into bus lanes. Security forces of all kinds can track suspicious drivers and vehicles. Our cameras record the infractions, have advanced license plate reading capabilities, can upload the information and alert officers, and issue tickets immediately and seamlessly

RoadMetric has operations in both Toronto and in Israel. What have been the challenges and opportunities of building a company in these two countries?

RoadMetric’s headquarters is in Jerusalem, Israel. We do business around the world. I am located in Toronto. Certainly, the logistics challenges of maintaining quality control and our corporate culture have been enormous.

What can you tell us about RoadMetric’s acquisition by Australia’s Redflex? How did this deal come together? Will members of the RoadMetric team continue to build the product at Redflex?

The Redflex acquisition was a natural fit. We had been working with them for some time as we were integrating our systems to serve customers across North America. It became apparent that joining together would provide the best platform for RoadMetric to grow and expand to the next level.

Tell us more about your work with the Dirshu Organization.

It has been my life’s mission and passion. But if I begin to describe it, it would fill volumes. 2019-2020 was a particularly significant year for Dirshu. During the period between December and February, we celebrated the Dirshu World Siyum highlighting the enormous accomplishments of our participants. Events reaching massive crowds around the globe, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Paris, London, Manchester, Johannesburg, Newark, and many more were hosted.

The Dirshu World Siyum, in addition to providing a rallying point for our dedicated scholars, particularly those who struggle financially in spite of the generous scholarships that we provide, served as a phenomenal unifier for the Jewish people.

What advice would you give to young tech entrepreneurs building solutions with AI, Computer Vision and related technologies?

This is a new, fascinating and exciting area of business but nevertheless it is a business just the same. It is governed by the same business principles and regimen that govern all businesses.

 • To learn more about RoadMetric and its recent acquisition, you can read the official press release here.

Dan Flatt
Dan Flatt

Dan Flatt is a Toronto-based entrepreneur, business consultant and recovering lawyer writing about technology and business topics for the CJR. He is the founder and “chief neighbour” of Naborino, a platform (launching soon in Toronto) that will help neighbours in residential buildings to build community with each other and access unique group buying opportunities.

Letter to the Editor: Dec. 16, 2020

Re: “Reservist Should be Tossed for Racist Ties, Navy Agrees,” Dec. 15, 2020

The simple truth remains that, if asked, most minorities would likely say they do not think the Canadian military has their safety in mind when performing its duties. My home city is a short drive from Base Borden and I cannot ever recall seeing multicultural or ethnic soldiers that were not visiting foreign personnel or officials.

The Armed Forces needs to do a better job of weeding out hateful individuals from its ranks if they are to shed any misconceptions about their agenda and prevent dangerous weaponry and training from falling into the wrong hands.

The former soldier claims his time in the military helped him “shed” his evil views, but that is a debatable point best answered by investigators and psychiatrists. He did offer weapons to hate groups and willfully promoted hatred, both of which are criminal offences. The ongoing “reformation” of the military ought to be something parliament takes very seriously as well as finding ways to boost multicultural recruitment. 

Christopher-Michael Mansour
Barrie, Ont.

From Lab Coat to Power Suits: One Women’s Journey in Science Success

Dec. 16, 2020


Turning in her lab coat for a business suit was never part of Julia Levy’s career plan.

Her world was test tubes and the battle against disease, not profit and loss statements and the endless battle for another few pennies a share in profits.

In 1995, however, she made the leap from the lab to the boardroom of the company she had helped found and, as a result, helped create one of Canada’s leading biotech success stories.

Her success was even more remarkable because it all happened in the days when a woman was still more likely to be taken for the company CEO’s secretary than the boss herself.

Levy, 86, tells her story in a new memoir, In Sight: My Life in Science and  Health Innovation, recently published by University of Toronto Press. As well the personal story of a woman’s life spent in search of new medicines, it’s the tale of how Canada carved out a place for itself in the world of biotechnology.

“I thought it might be a useful thing to do for other people wanting to go into the biotechnology field in Canada,” Levy told the CJR in an interview from her home in British Columbia. “It gives the background to what it’s like to be an academic and then move into business. That is quite often quite counter to what a basic scientist thinks is important in their lives.

“If I had been asked in 1970 if I could envisage myself going into a business and being successful at it, I would have thought people were certifiably crazy,” she added. “I never had any inclination to do that at all because my big passion was science and teaching science. I loved to do that. Perhaps the memoir is my final lesson in teaching about science and technology.”

Born in Singapore and sent to Canada with her mother and sister as refugees just ahead of the Second World War, Levy was raised in Vancouver and graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1955 with a BA in immunology and bacteriology. She followed that with a doctorate in experimental pathology from the University of London before returning to UBC as an assistant professor in 1959.

In those days, she said, life could be difficult for a woman in science.

“I was a woman doing graduate work in the 1950s. The world has changed a lot, but it also hasn’t changed a lot,” she reflected. “I certainly suffered from that when I was in graduate school. The gender bias comes in, and the harassment and all of the unpleasantness that women have to put up with. It’s much worse when you’re just starting out.

“The other thing of course is the assumptions people make when you are starting out. If you’re a young woman and you’re at a scientific meeting and you’ve got a faculty position and you’re on your way, you have a lab of your own, you would still automatically get the question, ‘whose lab do you work in?’ That happened to me so many times.”

In the world of science, however, that pettiness falls away with time and a record of achievement in research papers published, she went on.

“That kind of harassment and bias tends to go away in science because your accomplishments are readily quantifiable. You can say on a piece of paper, ‘I published this many papers this year in these kind of journals,’ and there is no way anyone with a bias who wants to hold you back can do that,” Levy said.

Levy spent 27 years pursuing knowledge in her UBC lab, but two developments in the 1980s changed her life’s trajectory entirely.

The first happened on land, where she and her husband, Edwin (Ed) Levy, a physicist at UBC, were planning to build a vacation home. As related in a company history, in getting ready for that cottage, Levy gave her seven-year-old son Ben a machete and let him clear weeds on the property. One of those weeds was a plant called cow parsley, and Ben attacked it with such enthusiasm, his skin was soon covered in fluid that, when exposed to the sun, caused the skin to blister.

Intrigued, Levy learned that a substance in cow parsley’s leaves can attack and destroy certain kinds of tissue, skin cells included, when activated by exposure to light.

She started to think about the potential of photo-activated drugs and embarked on research that lead to her co-invention of photodynamic therapy (PDT).

What she helped to develop was a two-step process that started with an injection of a drug that collected around abnormal blood vessels. The drug could then be activated by a dose of non-thermal laser light, triggering a process that destroyed abnormal cells.

Seeing great potential for this kind of drug in treating cancer and other conditions, Levy and colleagues John Brown, Jim Miller, Anthony Phillips, and Ron MacKenzie formed a company they called Quadra Logic Technologies, now QLT Inc.

The company’s initial financing came from its founders, with Levy mortgaging her home to raise capital. That was after they approached UBC and a number of investment banks.

“It was a pretty naive scene in the early ‘80s, when biotech was just barely rolling in the U.S. and Canada,” she recalled. “The biggest thing was that investment money in Canada in those days was all resource based. The banks either hadn’t heard of biotech or thought it was pretty squirrely.”

QLT’s initial office and lab was over a Vancouver bakery where the founders worked after hours to turn their ideas into marketable drugs. In 1985, that search took on a personal element for Levy when her mother began to develop age-related macular degeneration, an incurable deterioration of the central portion of the retina and a leading cause of blindness in people over age 50.

Levy noticed that, like cancer, the eye condition manifested itself by forming new, abnormal tissues. Finding a way to attack those tissues with the light-activated drugs became her mission.

It took 15 years, but by 2000, that work resulted in regulatory approval for Visudyne, a drug that became QLT’s signature achievement.

“With Visudyne we had no competition for the first few years; I mean we sold a million dollars worth of the drug on the first day it was approved. It was hundreds of millions of dollars a year that we were making,” Levy said. “It was a very big product and the company was valued at over a billion dollars because of it.”

Julia Levy, David Dolphin, Visudyne
Julia Levy with David Dolphin, creator of the Visudyne molecule, in 1990

Visudyne was released in April 2000. By the end of the second quarter of that year, sales hit $25 million and more than doubled within a year to $56 million as the drug spread to more than 50 countries.

During Visudyne’s tortured trial and approval process, the other founders of the company had left and it was decided Levy should take over as president rather than risk bringing in someone entirely new.

“I felt comfortable doing that because by that time our company was quite mature and we had a great finance department and good human resources, we had all the divisions properly taken care of with senior people who knew what they were doing,” she said. “To find someone who was up to speed to take over was just impossible. We were working very well as a team so at that point I said I would do it. It was the right thing to do.”

Levy held the top position until 2002, leading the company through a period of explosive growth before stepping down. She continued to serve on the board of directors until 2006, when she became director emerita, and was actively involved with its scientific advisory board until 2008, when she retired from QLT entirely.

Today, she remains actively involved in mentoring and investing in early stage life sciences ventures and serves as an advisor to several academic and non-profit programs.

Her scientific reputation has been marked with seven honorary doctorates from Canadian universities, research chairs in her honour at Johns Hopkins University and the University of British Columbia departments of ophthalmology. In addition, the Chemical Institute of Canada awards the Julia Levy Award for successful commercialization of innovation in the field of biomedical science and engineering.

Beyond its actual products, Levy said she hopes QLT has helped create a vibrant biotech industrial scene in Vancouver.

“There were no role models when we started, but today, the biotech scene in Vancouver carries the hallmarks of the QLT experience,” she said. “I think that’s one of the best things that we did was to help create that environment where other people flourished too.”

Book Review: The Village of Little Comely-on-the-Marsh

Dec. 16, 2020

(2020), By Alan Simons


So here’s the conceit: A sturdy band of Welshmen, the progeny of intrepid pioneers, have established themselves in an isolated village in the south of France. They eschew any contact with the locals, and live as if they have never left Wales.

What happens when a stranger, injured in a car accident, is brought to the village to recover? Of course, he becomes an instant curiosity, and turns the village inside out and upside down, especially when the town elders have to determine what to do with him when he recovers.

And let me tell you, the ending is a total surprise.

So what’s the Jewish connection, you may ask? Well, that’s part of the surprise. Author Alan Simons has a Jewish affairs website read worldwide. And he has a long record of Jewish organizational activism and leadership in the Toronto community. He’s also the author of several books, for all ages.

But more to the point, what does a nice Jewish lad like Simons, born and bred in London, know about Welsh village life or the jaw-breaking Welsh language for that matter? It turns out he had relatives who were shopkeepers in just such places, and he used to visit when he was a kid. Obviously, something stuck.

Simons’ characters are delightfully loopy, the product no doubt of generations of inbreeding. They are not so loopy that we can’t identify with them, and Simons spends a good part of the book elaborating on their peculiar ways.

Like one of the town councillors, who is accompanied everywhere he goes by a blown-up balloon of a blowsy partner attached to his ankle and waist, but of course is a real person to him. And would you believe nobody in the village bats an eyelash at such behavior? He turns out to be another interloper. How did he integrate so well? That’s what we find out…at the end.

Speaking of the town council, it meets frequently at the local pub-restaurant for a full Welsh breakfast, described in detail. It takes up so much of their meeting that not much in the way of town business is ever accomplished. But what a breakfast!

The book is less than 100 pages and in that small space, we have hived off to another world, like the intruding stranger in the story, and like him, with our heads swirling. We’re more than engaged. We come away imagining the story as a staged farce, or an animated Disney version, vying for which part we’d like to play ourselves.

It just sends our imaginations spinning, and I mean for any age level. After all, the characters are all adults – kind of. And in fact, Simons has promised us a sequel, if the book finds its audience, and lets him know they want more.

Ralph Wintrob
Ralph Wintrob

Ralph Wintrob is a former journalist, teacher-librarian, longtime instructor at The Life Institute (the senior studies program at Ryerson University) and presenter at seniors groups in Toronto. With his wife Kitty, author of I’m Not Going Back, Wartime Memoir of a Child Evacuee, and a proper Cockney, he has seen Wales in all its natural beauty and human charm.