An American Pickle: A Bland Concoction

By SHLOMO SCHWARTZBERG

An American Pickle, the first feature film offered by HBO Max, (showing on Crave TV in Canada), doesn’t really move much beyond its basic idea.

Seth Rogen plays Herschel Greenbaum, an immigrant to the U.S. who works in a pickle factory, circa 1919. When he accidentally falls into a pickle barrel, the brine preserves him, until he is discovered a century later. When he emerges into our world, he has to adjust to its myriad changes while also trying to bond with his great-grandson Ben (Rogen, in a dual role).

In many ways, the movie, written by Simon Rich, and adapted from his serialized 2013 New Yorker short story Sellout, never allows its viewers to suspend their disbelief as, for example, the fish out of water (literally) movie Splash did so well. Would the pickle factory, condemned right after Herschel’s accident, actually survive as untouched real estate for that long? Do they expect us to accept that that the scientists who get hold of the revived Herschel would not prepare him for his new world by showing him what has transpired since he was pickled? Yes, An American Pickle is a fantasy, but even that genre has to function logically.

Mind you, with its flat depiction of Herschel’s Eastern European birthplace (called Shlupsk – not as funny a name as Rich thinks it is), it’s apparent that the movie lacks imagination, resorting to lame Cossack jokes and quaint societal portraits. This isn’t Fiddler on the Roof, not by a long shot.

An American Pickle is pretty thin, as Herschel, after fighting with Ben, sets out on his own to make a success of himself. He undergoes a series of adverse events before finally connecting with his relative over their shared loss of family. That’s the whole basic, banal, plot.

What we’re left with are some jokes about Herschel’s perceived “authenticity” – his pickle business goes viral after a blogger raves about him – and how his backwards, prejudiced, early 20th century views are a perfect fit for our current age of ignorant Twitter utterances and internet trolls.

The movie does try to have it both ways, however, suggesting an innate genius for business on Herschel’s part, but also positing that he is not smart enough to keep his retrograde views to himself. Those include opinions on Christianity that no Jew, much less a put-upon one from the shtetl, would ever utter in mixed, non-Jewish, company. Yet, there’s also a commensurate and curious lack of antisemitism manifest in this world, where Herschel riles up so many Americans.

An American Pickle, directed indifferently by Brandon Frost, is also not that Jewish. Yes, Ben is very assimilated, which shocks Herschel. And Herschel is angered when he sees a billboard ad for vodka hovering over the neglected Jewish cemetery where the Greenbaums are buried, associating that drink with the dreaded Cossacks of old. But this is comparatively weak stuff. The movie never matches the scene in Knocked Up, in which Rogen’s Jewish character kvells with his Jewish pals over Steven Spielberg’s Munich. Finally, they can relate to a movie in which Jews kick butt and take names, instead of – as usual in films – having their butts kicked. And there’s nothing in the movie that’s as brilliant as the concept of Woody Allen’s Zelig, with that character symbolizing the Jewish affinity for melding into whatever milieu he finds himself in.

Rogen’s performances are also problematic. Herschel has some character shadings, though he barely seems to register that he’s in an entirely different world than the one from his past. But Ben’s persona is so pallid, that he fails utterly to register emotionally. And what were Rogen (who co-produced the movie) and company thinking in wasting the talents of Sarah Snook, who plays Herschel’s wife Sarah and was so great as the scheming Siobhan Roy in HBO’s superb TV series Succession? At least Simon Rich’s short story proffered a female love interest for Ben’s character, which would have made for a perfect opportunity for the filmmakers to utilize Snook in a deeper, present day dual role, rather than the blink-and-you-miss-her near walk-on part as Sarah Greenbaum.

And if you’re wondering if this film will offend you in light of Rogen’s recent intemperate comments about Judaism and Israel he made on Marc Maron’s podcast, don’t worry. It’s too tame and innocuous to raise anyone’s hackles, except for those who actually expect comedies to be funny.


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. (www.criticsatlarge.ca)

Canadians Help Fund Education, Cancer Research in Israel

Aug. 12, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Canadian philanthropists are giving more than $3 million to Israeli universities to fight cancer and clear hurdles to higher education for Ethiopian Israelis and Israel Defense Forces veterans.

For Sylvia Soyka of Markham, Ont., the money her family’s foundation is giving to Canadian and Israeli pancreatic cancer researchers is a personal commitment to overcome the disease that killed her father.

Sylvia Soyka
Sylvia Soyka

“This is very personal for me, and that’s why the project is named for my father,” Sylvia Soyka said in an interview. “The one thing I’ve come to understand about this disease is that nobody understands much about it, other than it’s very bad.

“There is an urgent need to shine a light on this disease now,” she added.

The Soyka Foundation’s grant will finance the second phase of research projects in the two countries looking for treatments and early diagnosis techniques.

Alex Soyka
Alex Soyka

Early diagnosis of the disease is especially important, Soyka said, because while her father was 90 when he was stricken, its victims are usually much younger.

“This is a young person’s disease,” she said. “Its victims go very quickly and often leave young families. It’s a horrible disease.

While progress is being made – when the first stage of the research started in 2014, the five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer was less than five percent – today it is nine percent.

“We’re making huge progress, but even doubling the survival rate still leaves you in a pretty scary place,” she said.

Soyka would not discuss the specific amount of the donation, other than to say there’s still a huge need for support.

“To a large degree it doesn’t matter because no matter how much it is it’s still just a drop in the bucket,” she said. “There is a huge need because there is still such a knowledge gap in this field.”

The Soyka Foundation’s support will finance researchers from Hebrew University’s Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC), the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, and Israel’s Sheba Medical Center.

Ethiopian students hoping education will be their ladder up in Israeli society will get a boost from the Morris and Rosalind Goodman Family Foundation grant.

Morris and Rosalind Goodman
Morris and Rosalind Goodman

Morris Goodman, now 89, co-founded Pharmascience Inc., now the second largest privately-owned pharmaceutical company in Canada. The Goodman Foundation was endowed in 2008 and focuses on scientific research to improves public health, experiential and informal education and community capacity building.

The Montreal-based foundation is partnering with Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University to provide scholarships for needy Ethiopian Israeli students who are engaged in social, community or academic leadership activities.

Divided equally between the universities, the gift will support students pursuing graduate studies while highlighting the importance of higher education in this demographic and promoting community engagement.

Foundation president Maxyne Finkelstein said Ethiopian Israelis are held back in life because they’re denied the chance at higher education.

“In Canada people go for a second and third degree because they want to achieve the most they can,” she said in an interview. “In this case, you have a population where very few of them are able to access these opportunities.”

Israel is home to about 150,000 Ethiopian immigrants who started arriving in the country 35 years ago. According to a news release from Canadian Friends of Hebrew University, about half live below the poverty line, they are sharply under-represented in the country’s universities, and often face financial hardship in pursuing education.

Finkelstein noted that in a country where up to 45 percent of the general population has 16 years of education, only about 10 percent of Ethiopians get through to a bachelors degree.

“We looked at a gap in society and asked if there was something we could do to create greater social mobility and a real step forward toward greater financial independence and family stability for the future,” she said.

The scholarships will cover tuition and living expenses and are not targeted at any particular field of study. The only condition on the support is that applicants must do some form of community volunteer work.

“We want to advance Ethiopians in fields where they want to advance and where they feel they can make a contribution to society,” Finkelstein said. “We feel these people can be role models to other young Ethiopians, and this is an area where we can create a real social change.”

Finkelstein would not disclose the value of the gift. Applicants for the next university semester are already being recruited.

Lenny and Faigel Shapiro of Calgary are investing more than $550,000 in a five-year program of scholarships for young Israelis who have completed their mandatory military service but who lack money for further education.

Lenny and Faigel Shapiro
Lenny and Faigel Shapiro

“I have always been attracted to the IDF soldiers, these young people who come out of the army at age 22 and have no money to go to school,” Lenny Shapiro said in an interview.

“I want them to be able to have an education and get a degree,” he said. “When I was a young man in Montreal, I didn’t have that chance until I could go to night school.”

Shapiro made his money as head of Allied Resources Management in western Canada’s oil business. The scholarship program is currently supporting 60 students and he hopes to expand that to 100.

The value of each award is being increased. In addition of portion of the Shapiro gift will be matched by Canadian Friends of Hebrew University and Hebrew University.

The Shapiro scholarships cover tuition costs only. 

Tribute to Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz Recounts Personal Meetings, Influence

Aug. 11, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—Reading Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s popular work on Kabbalah, The Thirteen Petalled Rose, not only changed Murray Dalfen’s relationship to Judaism, but led to a treasured friendship with the author that lasted three decades until the eminent scholar’s death this month.

Dalfen, head of a major North American commercial real estate company, described his awe at the late rabbi’s intellect, astonishing capacity for work, and genuine love of people at a virtual tribute to Rabbi Steinsaltz held by Chabad of Westmount on Aug. 9.

Rabbi Steinsaltz, best known for his monumental lifelong project of translating the entire Babylonian Talmud into modern Hebrew, making it more accessible even to the lay person, died in his native Jerusalem on Aug. 7 at age 83.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

He visited Chabad of Westmount on three occasions, most recently in 2013, giving memorable lectures and leading joyous farbrengen (gatherings) each time, said the centre’s director, Rabbi Yossi Shanowitz.

“He had a profound impact on everyone there, people from all walks of life,” Rabbi Shanowitz recalled. “He took lofty concepts and communicated them to people of all levels, getting to the essence of the matter.”

Born into a secular family and later trained as a scientist, Rabbi Steinsaltz became religious as a youth and was affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch community.

Dalfen, a leading benefactor of Chabad of Westmount, said that after reading The Thirteen Petalled Rose, first published in 1989, he was determined to meet its author. The slim volume, which aimed to make esoteric Jewish mysticism intelligible and relevant, was life-altering for Dalfen.

Getting a personal audience with this towering sage was not so simple, but Dalfen managed to meet Rabbi Steinsaltz in Israel. He would visit him there numerous times over the ensuing years. “I find it unbelievable that I was able to know him for 25 or 30 years on a close level.”

Dalfen later sponsored and raised money for the publication of several of the rabbi’s many books, including one of the more than 40 volumes of the translated Talmud.

Dalfen provided some insights: “He was not humble, but was approachable. He had strong opinions and expressed them.” But he was also kind and had a great sense of humour.

Rabbi Steinsaltz had an “extraordinary memory and knowledge, it was limitless,” and even a stroke in 2016 that robbed him of his speech did not impede his ability to think and continue to write, Dalfen recounted.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Whenever he was in Jerusalem, Dalfen was sure to find a seat opposite Rabbi Steinsaltz at the shul he attended near the Kotel. What surprised him is how the rabbi would reach out to everyone there, even interrupting prayers to speak to someone who needed him.

“I only saw him lose his temper once,” Dalfen recalled. “It was at my home. Someone criticized one of his books on the Talmud. That person got quiet quickly.”

He recalled a bit of wisdom the rabbi imparted once when they were walking the streets of Westmount. “He said: ‘If one changes their direction even one degree, one ends at a different destination.’”

Chabad of Westmount Rebbetzin Devorah Shanowitz, who emceed the tribute, also had an indirect connection to Rabbi Steinsaltz: They shared a sister-in-law. Prior to the Zoom event, Shanowitz spoke to her to gain a glimpse into the man, whom she called “the Rashi of his generation,” whose work will endure forever.

Observing that his impact was felt beyond the Jewish world, Shanowitz cited Time magazine’s description of Rabbi Steinsaltz as “a once in a millennium” figure.

The tribute heard that he never went to bed before three or four in the morning because he was so engrossed in study and writing, despite health challenges he had for years. Yet at the end of his life, Rabbi Steinsaltz regretted that he had accomplished only a fraction of what he had wanted in unlocking seminal Jewish texts for the benefit of all.

Shanowitz also learned that Rabbi Steinsaltz, on a visit to Eastern Europe, was made aware of the existence of a grave of an ancestor. Time was limited and he was scheduled to speak to a group of young people. “He vacillated, but decided the living take precedence and forwent going to the cemetery.”

Connecting with young people was important for him. Shanowitz related that years ago, he was disappointed and a little angry that only a handful of students showed up for a lecture he was to give in Minnesota because it conflicted with final exams.

Long after, Rabbi Steinsaltz was approached at the Kotel one day by a young man. “He told him he had been among those few students [who attended the lecture] and that hearing Rabbi Steinsaltz had transformed his life, and that is why he was there (praying).”

The tribute concluded with an excerpt from a conversation between Rabbi Steinsaltz and Dalfen during the 2013 visit to Chabad of Westmount. Dalfen asked what the mood in Israel was during that violent and turbulent period. “Do you want to hear propaganda or the truth?” Rabbi Steinsaltz answered without missing a beat.


A Conversation with Rabbi Steinsaltz and Murray Dalfen

Click for video: A Conversation with Rabbi Steinsaltz

Rabbi Adin Even Yisrael Steinsaltz sat down for a conversation at Chabad of Westmount in Montreal, Canada. In this frank and informal discussion, he talks about politics, love, family, and more with Murray Dalfen.

The content in this video is produced by Chabad.org, and is copyrighted by the author and/or Chabad.org.

Report anti-Israel Signs, CIJA Urges

Aug. 11, 2020 – The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) says it is “aware” of signs posted in Toronto which falsely alleging Israeli involvement in the recent explosion in Beirut that killed some 150 people and injured many more.

The bizarre signs, which have been seen along the Bathurst Street corridor, especially at Lawrence Ave., Sheppard Ave. and Steeles Ave., refer to the Beirut tragedy was a “nuclear blast,” adding the words “Isreali (sic) missile video,” and a warning that “Damascus is in peril.”

Readers are urged to visit the website “Hearthelordjesus.com,” which offers wild conspiracies about the Christian end times and various apocalyptic scenarios involving COVID.

The signs have been affixed high on utility poles, indicating a ladder was used to put them up.

“These kinds of outrageous conspiracy theories are both absurd and dangerous,” CIJA said in a Facebook post.

“If you encounter one of these signs, please call 311 to report it as a violation of Chapter 693, Article IV of the Municipal Code. Be sure to note its location and ask by-law officers to remove it. Then send us an e-mail at info@cija.ca that includes a photo of the sign and the location where you saw it so that we can follow up on your report to the city,” the organization added.

In recent days, social media has lit up with news of the signs. Some have proudly indicated they have removed the signs themselves. There have also been photos posted of a white van with an electronic sign at the back that displays similar messages.

KlezKanada Goes Online for 25th Anniversary Edition

Aug. 11, 2020 – By RUTH SCHWEITZER

KlezKanada is taking its annual summer festival of Yiddish music and culture – its 25th anniversary edition – online this year.

KlezKanada festival 2019. Photo Avia Moore

More than 60 virtual workshops and classes, and several concerts are scheduled for the five-day KlezKanada festival, scheduled for Aug. 24-28.

The organization’s executive director, Sebastian Schulman, said cancelling this year’s festival due to restrictions imposed by the COVID pandemic was out of the question, adding that the culture of eastern European Jewish life teaches about how to persist in difficult times. 

Asya Vaisman Schulman and KlezKanada executive director Sebastian Schulman. Photo Avia Moore

“There’s so many examples of Jews, and Ashkenazi Jews specifically, being able to create in the most dire of circumstances,” he said. 

“Our minds might go most immediately to the war and to the Holocaust. I think there’s (also) a really rich history for centuries of being able to look in the face of fear or catastrophe and to sing, to laugh, to dance.

“And that is a very Jewish way of facing a crisis. The world is in the middle of a crisis right now and our community says, ‘well, let’s put on a festival. Let’s celebrate life as best as we can.’”

Naoki Hishinuma, left, Adam Matlock and Aaron Blacksberg. Photo Avia Moore

While a virtual festival can’t replace KlezKanada’s camp, which has been held at Camp B’nai Brith in Lantier, Que., in the Laurentian mountains for 24 years, the online festival has its advantages.

KlezKanada festival 2019. Photo Avia Moore

For one thing, KlezKanada is expecting registration to be higher than usual this year, with hundreds of attendees from around the world, including many people who have been unable to attend past festivals, Schulman said.

Some workshops, like Transcription Corner, where students will learn how to create sheet music from recordings, will be even more effective online, he said.

Having sheet music helps learning how to play klezmer and Yiddish music, as their sources are old recordings. The instructors will go through the different technologies for transcribing music.

“You could do it in person, but it would be a very dry class in person. If you do it online, you can really get into the nitty-gritty of the technology,” Schulman said.

The festival offers klezmer music instruction ranging from “Klezmer 101” for new players, to a variety of workshops for intermediate and advanced students. The ambitious program also includes Yiddish language courses, lessons in visual arts and Jewish cooking, film screenings, dance classes and children’s activities.

Performers on KlezKanada’s virtual main stage will include the Grammy award-winning band The Klezmatics, and Josh “Socalled” Dolgin, a genre-defying artist who’s known for fusing Jewish music with hip hop. In concert, Socalled will be singing Yiddish songs backed by a string quartet.

Concert Highlights

“Where Have You Been?: 25 Years of KlezKanada in Lantier, Quebec,” based on research into KlezKanada’s camp location in Lantier, combines theatre and music. The piece was created in collaboration with indigenous historians, musician and writer Geoff Berner, and puppeteer Jenny Romaine.

Klezmer trombonist Rachel Lemisch and Jason Rosenblatt perform from their home in Montreal. She comes from a family of klezmorim that goes back generations, and he is one of the world’s leading performers of klezmer on diatonic harmonica.

East Meets West Revisited looks back to the 1980s, a time in contemporary Yiddish culture when artists from eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union reconnected with their counterparts in North America and western Europe. The concert features Michael Alpert (USA/Scotland), Efim Chorny and Suzanna Ghergus (Moldova), Sasha Lurje (Germany/Latvia), and the Strauss Warschauer Duo (USA).

Workshop and Class Highlights

Klezmer 101 Yoni Kaston and Ariane Morin teach the basic klezmer genres and explain modes and harmonies, and students will learn tunes in a play-along session.

Klezmexperimental Ensemble In this experimental music workshop, led by Dan Blacksberg and Frank London, for intermediate and advanced students, participants will explore creating pieces with no set tempo and try out different kinds of musical layerings, while they push the limits of what kind of music they can make live. 

Alternative Voice Techniques for Folk Singing Yiddish singer extraordinaire Sasha Lurje will help vocalists learn how to control their voices and use them as instruments. The class is open to both experienced singers and people searching for their voices.

The Beauty in Ugly Stuffed Vegetables – One thing that nearly every Jewish community – from Romania and Poland to Syria, Morocco and India – has in common is an affection for stuffed vegetables, the culinary technique that transforms a bit of meat or starch into a soulful and seductive centrepiece. Leah Koenig, the author of The Jewish Cookbook and Modern Jewish Cooking, explores the cultural particularities of this universal Jewish food. Recipes will be provided in advance of the class for anyone wanting to cook along.Dancing

Together Apart Avia Moore and Magdalena Hutter will lead participants in exploring Yiddish dance in relationship with the screens that are currently so central to our lives. They will explore concepts such as space, tempo, shape and gesture through Yiddish dance and ScreenDance. They will then send participants out into the world to record their own movement explorations, starting with a zhok (Yiddish dance) step.


For more information, visit http://klezkanada.org

Edmonton Police: Defacement of Statue Not a Hate Crime

Aug. 10, 2020 – By JEREMY APPEL 

The late-2019 vandalism of an Edmonton monument honouring a Nazi commander is no longer being investigated as a hate crime, police say.

A statue of Roman Shukhevych, who commanded the Nazi-trained Ukrainian Insurgent Army that massacred between 10,000 and 15,000 Jews and 60,000-90,000 Poles, stands outside the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex in Alberta’s capital, where it has been since the centre opened in 1973, with the assistance of a $75,000 provincial grant.

In December, the bust was defaced with red tape around its face and its base spray painted with “Nazi scum.” The case was referred to Edmonton police’s Hate Crime and Violent Extremism Unit (HCVEU).

The CJR has learned that earlier this year, police dismissed hate as a motivating factor in the vandalism.

“That investigation was concluded and was categorized as a mischief incident,” Edmonton Police Service spokesperson Cheryl Voordenhout told the CJR.

There are no suspects, Voordenhout said in an email, adding that “if more information comes to light, the investigation would continue.”

The HCVEU is called in when a crime is determined to have been possibly motivated by hate towards an identifiable group, or when it is reported directly to the unit, she said. 

“The involvement of HCVEU does not necessarily mean that a file is a hate crime – determining that is part of the investigation,” Voordenhout emphasized.

Abe Silverman, B’nai Brith’s Alberta public affairs manager, said he doesn’t see how the vandalism could be construed as an act motivated by hatred against Ukrainians.

“I don’t know how anybody could be charged and logically convicted of defacing a war criminal’s statue – and he is a war criminal,” Silverman said.

Silverman said he has a “dossier that is three-inches thick” with extensive documentation of Shukhevych’s crimes written by top historians in the field, in addition to work by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust authority.

“He was the head of an SS battalion and that was what the SS did – they went around killing people,” said Silverman. 

This was not the first incident this year that the vandalism of a Ukrainian Nazi collaborator statue was investigated as a possible hate crime.

As the CJR previously reported, a memorial to the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS at St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Cemetery in Oakville, Ont., was spray painted in June with “Nazi war monument,” which Halton Regional Police investigated as a potential hate crime before backtracking and apologizing. 

There is a monument to the same division at St. Michael’s Cemetery in north Edmonton. 

Silverman said B’nai Brith is working to have proper historical context affixed to the monuments, at a minimum.

“It’s something that occupies a lot of my time,” he said, adding B’nai Brith “will not allow these statues to remain in the form that they’re in right now.” 

Silverman said he has been in touch with the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex, which he said rejected his overture.

The complex didn’t respond to the CJR’s request for comment by deadline.

However, representatives told the Progress Report, which first reported that the HCVEU had opened an investigation, that documentation of Shukhevych’s responsibility for Nazi war crimes was fabricated by the Soviet Union and Communist East Germany to discredit Ukrainian nationalism.

“The statue of Roman Shukhevych is on private property. He heroically led the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, seeking freedom for Ukraine from Nazi and Soviet rule and died in battle against Soviet operatives in 1950,” their statement read. “We will not succumb to false accusations.”

(Disclosure: This writer is a regular contributor to the Progress Report).

* For more on this issue, read columnist Belle Jarniewski’s take in the Commentary section.

Nazi Monuments in Canada Must be Removed

Aug. 10, 2020 – By BELLE JARNIEWSKI

As Canadians continue to confront the ongoing influence of colonialist monuments in our country, one memorial commemorating the 1st Ukrainian Division of the Ukrainian National Army, initially known as the Waffen-SS “Galicia” Division, was recently “vandalized.”

As reported on these pages, graffiti spray-painted on the memorial, located in a private cemetery in Oakville, Ont., read, “Nazi war monument,” which, of course, describes it accurately. The Division was, after all, part of the Nazi Waffen SS. Many of its members were from the region of Galicia and served in the Nazi killing machine under the direct control of SS Chief Heinrich Himmler.

In fact, in a speech to this unit in May 1944, Himmler issued a pep-talk to its members: “Your homeland has become more beautiful since you have lost – on our initiatives, I must say – the residents who were so often a dirty blemish on Galicia’s good name – namely the Jews. I know if I ordered you to liquidate the Poles, I would be giving you permission to do what you are eager to do anyway.”

In a bizarre move, Halton Regional Police initially announced it was investigating the vandalism as a hate-motivated offense. Police have since apologized and continue to investigate the event as an act of vandalism.

Another monument in Edmonton memorializes Roman Shukhevych, a Ukrainian nationalist who was one of the commanders of Nachtigall Battalion, and commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), which was responsible for the massacre of Jews and Poles. The bust of Shukhevych, which stands at the entrance of the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex in North Edmonton, was funded in part by taxpayers through programs designed to promote multiculturalism.

As several have pondered, the bigger question is why such monuments exist on Canadian soil in the first place.

One argument presented in their defense is that they memorialize the fight against Communism. They portray individuals like Shukhevych as national heroes and play down their active and voluntary participation in the murder of Jews and others.

Journalists and scholars who have written articles critical of these monuments have found themselves accused of writing “pro-Kremlin propaganda” and subject to campaigns to discredit them.

For instance, in 2012, some Canadian Ukrainian organizations sent a letter of complaint to the vice-chancellor of Lund University in Sweden regarding Per Anders Rudling, now an assistant professor at the university. Rudling has been researching eastern European nationalism for the past 15 years and his research has been peer reviewed and published in prestigious academic journals.

However, Rudling came under attack for writing about the emerging cult of personality around Shukhevych, as well as pointing out his wartime crimes against Jews and Poles. A number of Ukrainian Canadian groups remain steadfast in their claims that Shukyvych should be remembered as a Ukrainian national hero, and they dismiss any accusations of Ukrainian complicity with the Nazis as “fake news” manufactured by the Kremlin.

In addition to Rudling’s scholarly work, journalists Scott Taylor and David Pugliese, among others, have written about the Nazi monuments, and articles on the subject have appeared on many sites, including Radio Canada International, the Ottawa Citizen, Esprit de Corps, and The Nation. Their assertions have been supported by eminent Canadian historian John-Paul Himka.

Oddly enough, voices from the Jewish community remained silent, for the most part, until the recent “vandalism” in Oakville. Until then, the loudest voices opposing the monuments came from outside the organized Jewish community.

The ongoing existence of these monuments is a clear example of Holocaust distortion. At the most recent plenary session of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) under the German presidency, a statement was issued “condemning all attempts to rehabilitate the reputations of persons who were complicit in the crimes of the Holocaust and the genocide of the Roma.”

These monuments are explicit attempts at doing just that, and they must be removed.


Belle Jarniewski
Belle Jarniewski

Belle Jarniewski of Winnipeg is Executive Director of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada. Since 2013, she has served on the federally appointed delegation to IHRA, as a member of its Academic Working Group and the Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial.


For more on this issue, read the latest update from Edmonton by Jeremy Appel in our News section.

MP Deletes Tweet That Falsely Accused Israel

Aug. 10, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

A Hamilton, Ont., Member of Parliament has quietly deleted a tweet that accused Israel of demolishing a COVID testing centre in the Palestinian city of Hebron.

The controversial June 19 tweet drew angry responses from the Israeli Embassy in Ottawa and Jewish advocacy agencies, including B’nai Brith and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).

“Pleased to see MP Matthew Green belatedly delete his false anti-Israel tweet, but an MP should be transparent enough to admit such a mistake, so that his followers aren’t misled,” B’nai Brith Canada tweeted after discovering that Green’s posting was no longer available.

In June, Green, the NDP member for Hamilton Centre, said “hundreds” had contacted him with “serious concerns” over allegations that Israeli forces had demolished a badly-needed COVID testing centre in Hebron.

Matthew Green
Matthew Green

“I condemn this blatant disregard for human life during this pandemic,” Green stated.

His tweet missed its mark on several fronts. Just before it appeared, the Jerusalem Post reported that the civil authority in Hebron tore down a building there in July, but it was a car dealership being constructed without approval.

Only after the building was demolished did the owner post a notice claiming it was to have been a COVID test centre.

In April, Israel did demolish a planned but unapproved COVID clinic in the predominantly Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan, just outside Jerusalem’s Old City.

The Israeli Embassy said the structure was operating without required municipal permits, and pointed out that there are several health centers close to Silwan that provide free COVID services to anyone.

“There are dozens of health facilities within a 5km radius of Silwan (excluding 7!! major hospitals) legally administering #COVID19tests and treatment to ALL, regardless of religion/cultural background,” the Embassy tweeted.

“Like Canada and its municipalities, lawful permits are required to build new structures, especially ones that administer health care.

“Just as it would not be acceptable for an unauthorized makeshift ‘testing’ facility to be constructed in someone’s front yard in Hamilton, it is also the case in Israel,” the Embassy’s statement added.

An unnamed Civil Administration spokesman told the Post that “contrary to the false claims, this was not a center for coronavirus testing,” and not a health clinic. “That’s a total lie. We condemn the cynical use of a global crisis at the expense of the Palestinians in Hebron,” he added.

Green did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment.


Steve Arnold
Steve Arnold

More Helpings of Iconic Kosher Cookbook

Aug. 7, 2020 – By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

Due to popular demand, Second Helpings, Please!, the iconic kosher cookbook, is back in print.

After 50-plus years, this best-selling Canadian cookbook has returned to its roots: The new edition the 18th is being published by B’nai Brith Canada, the volume’s original publisher 52 years ago.

Second Helpings Please

In 1965 a group of young housewives, all members the same B’nai Brith chapter in Montreal, decided to create a cookbook on a whim. 

The women were good cooks and bakers, but had no experience writing recipes. They also knew nothing about publishing.

The book launched the career of the late Canadian kosher cooking maven Norene Gilletz, the editor of Second Helpings. “When we started, we thought the project would take three months. It ended up taking three years,” she recounted in 2015.

Nevertheless, when Second Helpings finally hit stores in 1968, it was a huge success. The book became one of Canada’s bestselling cookbooks. By 2008, 175,000 copies had been sold worldwide.

One of the many copies tucked away in kitchens everywhere

According to Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, Gilletz was instrumental in bringing the book back into the fold of the organization.

He said Second Helpings had gone out of print in 2008, and until 2017, people were paying large sums for second-hand copies sold online.

In 2017 Gilletz helped get the 17th edition published by Act to End Violence Against Women, the organization that had evolved from B’nai Brith Women.

That run sold out, Mostyn said, noting that the 17th edition had been a photocopy of the original. The 2020 edition, he explained, has been digitized.

“We retyped whole book…It took a lot of work to digitize the book. We put all this effort into the cookbook so we can be assured that it won’t go out of print again,” Mostyn said.

And once this run is completed, there will be 19th edition, he said.

“We’re committed. As long as there’s a demand for the book we’ll keeping publishing future editions. I want my children to have a copy of this book.”

There are slight changes from the original book, like colour tabs for the various sections, he noted. B’nai Brith worked with the cookbook publisher, Whitecap, which will allow for broader distribution of the volume.

“We have heard stories about the book all the way across Canada.

“It’s incredible that what started as a project has spread not just in Canada, but globally,” said Mostyn.

The two recipes below Tangy Sweet and Sour Meatballs and Dutch Apple Cake are among the many classic recipes that have kept Second Helpings in the forefront of classic kosher cuisine since 1968. The newest edition is available at Indigo and Amazon.

TANGY SWEET AND SOUR MEATBALLS

1½ lbs (750 g) minced MEAT
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
½ tsp (3 ml) pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 egg
2 tbsp (30 ml) matzah meal
1½ (375 ml) cups ketchup
2 cups (500 ml) ginger ale

In a large bowl combine the meat, salt, pepper, garlic, egg, and matzah meal. form the mixture into balls.

Combine ketchup and ginger ale into in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Drop the meatballs into the sauce. Cover and simmer 2 hours.

Makes 6 servings as an appetizer or 4 servings for a meal.

DUTCH APPLE CAKE

375 ml (1½ cups) sugar, divided
3 eggs
1 cup (250 ml) oil
¼ cup (60 ml) water or orange juice
3½ cups (875 ml) all purpose flour 
2 tsp (10 ml) baking powder
3 lbs (1½ kilo) apples, pared and sliced
½ cup (125 ml) white or brown sugar
2 tsp (10 ml) cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease a 9 x 13-inch (33 x 23-cm) pan

Sprinkle the apples with ¼ cup (75 ml) sugar and cinnamon and set aside.

Combine 1 cup (250 ml) sugar, eggs, oil, and liquid and beat well. Sift the flour and baking powder together. Add the dry ingredients slowly, kneading in the flour to make a soft dough. Divide the dough in half. Roll each half into a 9 x 13-inch (33 x23-cm) rectangle. 

Place the first rectangle into the prepared pan. Top the dough with the prepared apples. Cover the apples with the second rectangular dough and sprinkle the top with remaining sugar.

Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, until the top is light brown.


Barbara Silverstein
Barbara Silverstein

Barbara Silverstein is a Toronto-area journalist and an award-winning food writer. She was a long-time contributor to The Canadian Jewish News. Her articles have also appeared in Homemaker’s Magazine, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, and Tablet Magazine.

Survivors Seek to Shame Facebook Into Removing Holocaust Denial

Aug. 7, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

A new campaign seeks to shame Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg into pushing Holocaust deniers off his popular social media platform.

Dubbed #NoDenyingIt, (http://www.claimscon.org/nodenyingit/#clips) the drive is led by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (the or Claims Conference), the New York-based agency that pushes for compensation for survivors of the Holocaust.

The effort will see 30-second video messages from Holocaust survivors around the world posted to Facebook and other social media sites urging Zuckerberg to finally take action against Holocaust denial on the site he leads.

“This is something you’d think would be pretty straightforward,” said Conference president Gideon Taylor in a CJR interview. “We’re saying that Facebook has an obligation to history and to survivors to ensure this terrible kind of speech is not being promoted.

Gideon Taylor
Gideon Taylor

“We have Holocaust survivors every day issuing calls for Facebook to take down Holocaust denial,” he added. “We want him to sit down with Holocaust survivors and hear directly from them.”

Taylor added two factors make the campaign especially important now: The ever-decreasing number of first-hand witnesses to the Holocaust, and the steadily increasing number of voices claiming it didn’t happen.

“Facebook is a platform being given to these groups to make the voice of hate louder,” he said. “We’re asking that Facebook not let itself be used as a megaphone for that hatred.”

Survivors taking part in the campaign include famed Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld; Roman Kent, an Auschwitz survivor and head of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors; Eva Schloss, step-sister of Anne Frank; and Charlotte Knobloch, who survived Kristallnacht.

Joining them are Canadians Pinchas Gutter of Toronto and Sydney Zoltak of Montreal. Both say rising antisemitism around the world makes the effort critically important now.

“A huge amount of people now believe things that are lies,” Gutter said in an interview. “The Internet creates a platform for these lies to be spread and it has to stop.”

Gutter was seven when the Second World War started. His family was eventually confined in the infamous Warsaw Ghetto. In April 1943, during the first three weeks of the ghetto uprising, the family was discovered and deported to the Majdanek death camp.

Pichas Gutter
Pichas Gutter

On the day they arrived, Gutter’s parents and twin sister were murdered. The boy, however, was sent to a work camp. He later passed through several other concentration camps, including Buchenwald and Theresienstadt, where he was liberated by Soviet troops on May 8, 1945.

Today, he does what he can to educate people about the Shoah, and sees the #NoDenyingIt campaign as an extension of that effort.

“The only thing I can do now is educate people and the program is about educating the world,” he said. “It’s time to deal with all these lies and malignancy before they lead to killings and other terrible things.”

Zoltak is also a child survivor. His family was confined in the Siemiatyzce ghetto but escaped during its 1944 liquidation, eventually finding refuge in the barn of a family who remembered a small kindness once given them by Zoltak’s mother.

Sydney Zoltak
Sydney Zoltak

In an interview, Zoltak said he has “a special dislike for Holocaust deniers,” something he tries to ease by telling his story as often as he can.

“I don’t know what Mark Zuckerberg is thinking by allowing Holocaust denial to go on,” he said. “He says that denying the Holocaust is not hate speech, but it is.”

Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and a former Canadian representative to the Claims Conference (Farber is also publisher of the CJR), said, “the very fact that survivors have to do this in 2020 is disgusting. Deniers are using Facebook to express ideas that are unquestionably antisemitic and hateful.

“(Facebook) has to say clearly that Holocaust denial is a vile spreading of hatred against Jews and will not be tolerated.” He said the social media giant has been pushed for two years to remove such material.

In an e-mailed statement, a Facebook spokesperson said the platform will “take down any post that celebrates, defends, or attempts to justify the Holocaust. The same goes for any content that mocks Holocaust victims, accuses victims of lying about the atrocities, spews hate, or advocates for violence against Jewish people in any way.

“We know many people strongly disagree with our position – and we respect that. It’s really important for us to engage on these issues and hear from people to understand their concerns,” the statement continued. “We have a team that is dedicated to developing and reviewing our policies and we welcome collaboration with industry, experts and other groups to ensure we’re getting it right.”

A random search of Facebook, however shows such statements still make it on to the platform.

In one public group called “Did the Holocaust Really Happen?” one participant argued that claims of six million dead must be false because there simply wasn’t enough time during the Second World War to kill and cremate that many victims.

Another claims the “Holocaust myth” is nothing more than the theft of “billions of dollars from hardworking German taxpayers…to fund the brutal occupation and genocide of the Palestinian people.”

Since 1952, the Claims Conference has negotiated the payment of more than US $80 billion in indemnification to survivors. This year, the agency will distribute approximately $350 million in direct compensation to over 60,000 survivors in 83 countries and allocate approximately $610 million in grants to over 200 social service agencies worldwide to provide Holocaust survivors with home care, food and medicine.


Steve Arnold

Blame Jews for COVID: Toronto Polish Newspaper

Aug. 7, 2020 – B’nai Brith Canada has filed a criminal complaint with Toronto Police after a local Polish-language newspaper twice suggested the COVID pandemic is a creation of “organized Jewry.”

The “hateful” article, entitled “Coronavirus, or the Fake Pandemic,” was the front page story in the March 25 edition of Głos Polski, and was published again in the April 22 edition. Głos Polski is edited by Wiesław Magiera and affiliated with the Polish National Union of Canada, according to the Union’s website.

Aside from blaming COVID on Jews, the article also asserts that “ISIS/ISIL terrorists [were] brought into evil existence by organized Jewry and completely controlled by it,” and said Soviet dictator Vladimir Lenin, Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan were or are all secretly Jewish, B’nai Brith said in an Aug. 6 news release.

The piece also describes Israel as “the cause of all the world’s woes” and “an emanation of the Devil himself,” while alleging that Jews intend to take over Poland and create “Judeo-Polonia,” B’nai Brith alleged.

“Propagating the lie that Jews are responsible for COVID must be met with criminal charges, especially when someone does so repeatedly,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada. “This horrifying pandemic has killed thousands of Canadians, ravaged our economy and turned our lives upside down. Blaming it all on an already disproportionately targeted minority group is loathsome, not to mention a recipe for disaster.” 

An Aug. 7 report in the National Post revealed that the Polish National Union of Canada received $146,000 in 2018-19 from the provincial Trillium Foundation to help renovate a community space, and $130,000 in 2012-2013 to replace a roof on a community centre and buy new energy-efficient kitchen appliances.

In June, Andrzej Kumor, the publisher of Goniec, another Polish-language news outlet based in Peel Region, was arrested, warned and released without charge after publishing a string of antisemitic articles.

Magiera, Głos Polski’s editor-in-chief, joined Kumor as an unsuccessful candidate for the far-right Konfederacja party in Poland’s October 2019 parliamentary elections, B’nai Brith pointed out.

The National Post also noted that the website polishcanadians.ca describes the newspaper as one that “searches for the Truth, protects the good name of Poles and reminds us of the Polish culture and history.” The same page says Głos Polski’ is “edited by” the Polish National Union of Canada.

On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Louis Applebaum: April 3, 1918 – April 20, 2000. Film Score and Theatre Composer, Conductor, Theatre Administrator

Aug. 6, 2020 – By DAVID EISENSTADT

While looking for a full-time gig after graduating from Carleton University’s School of Journalism, I thought the National Film Board (NFB) might be an interesting place to work, but received an unexpected offer from the Canadian Film Institute (CFI), a non-profit, non-government film repository in Ottawa. That’s where I spent many a day, over a year and-a-half, in a darkened screening room writing short descriptors for film catalogues.

As it turned out, CFI managed the distribution of NFB productions that were available for rent or sale to universities, community colleges, schools, churches/synagogues, and community service and business organizations across the country.

Many of those NFB films I screened were scored by Toronto-born Louis Applebaum, and I have never forgotten his name.

Louis Applebaum

Records show that over 18 years, Applebaum composed the music for about 250 NFB productions. Three notable credits, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia, include Royal Journey in 1951, The Stratford Adventure in 1954 and Paddle To The Sea in 1966.

Applebaum received a 1947 Academy Award nomination with a co-composer for The Story of G.I. Joe film score, and, as listed in Canada’s Awards Database, he received a 1968 Canadian Film Award for his non-feature music score of Athabaska and a 1989 Gemini Award for the Best Original Music Score for a Program or Mini-Series for Glory Enough For All.”

Applebaum began writing music when he was 15 and honed his skills at the University of Toronto with such luminaries as Boris Berlin and Sir Ernest MacMillan, and with Toronto Conservatory of Music’s Leo Smith. He also studied in New York with Roy Harris and Bernard Wagenaar. The multi-skilled Applebaum also wrote ballet music, and symphonic, chamber and choral works.

He served the NFB as music director and as a consultant from 1942-53, but his most stellar achievement, according to Playbill, was that he was considered “the dean of Canadian theatre composers” and as first director of the Stratford Festival’s music department, a position he held under founding director Tyrone Guthrie beginning in 1953.

Over 43 seasons, he wrote and conducted music for over 75 productions, working with eight Stratford Festival artistic directors. His fanfare composition marking the beginning of each Festival performance is well-recognized by theatregoers.

There was a confluence of the compositional and administrative aspects of Applebaum’s career; divergent to some, but not to him.

He moved to the private sector in 1960, becoming president of a TV production company, Group Four Productions, while serving as a music consultant for CBC-TV. He chaired an Advisory Committee for the National Arts Centre in Ottawa from 1963 to 1966 and wrote a federal government commissioned report leading to the creation of the National Arts Centre Orchestra, which included a first-time music department at the University of Ottawa.

During the 1960s and 70s, Applebaum held senior leadership positions with the Composers, Authors and Publishers Association of Canada, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, the Canada Council, the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, the Canadian Music Centre, and the Canadian League of Composers. 

From 1971 to 1980, he headed the Ontario Arts Council and, as chair of the Federal Cultural Policy Review Committee, co-authored the important Applebaum-Hebert Report – “the first review of Canadian cultural institutions and federal cultural policy since 1951,” reported the Canadian Encyclopedia.

“Essentially I’m working to improve the lot of my colleagues and I have been doing that for many years – at the same time staying on as a functioning artist,” he told Canadian Composer in 1974.

Known and respected as a strong supporter of young Canadian composers, Applebaum received many awards and commendations including the Order of Canada in 1976 (he was promoted to Companion in 1995) and the Order of Ontario in 1989.

The Ontario Arts Foundation established the Louis Applebaum Composers Award in 1998, and the University of Toronto created The Louis Applebaum Distinguished Visitor in Composition in his honour.

A public funeral for this larger-than-life personality took place on April 23, 2000 at Toronto’s Temple Sinai. I wish I had been there.


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is founding partner of tcgpr.com and a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary

Editorial: Mark Zuckerberg Doesn’t Care About Holocaust Denial

Aug. 6, 2020 – No less a thinker than Homer Simpson once pronounced: “It’s not that I don’t understand, it’s that I don’t care.” It is difficult not to consider these words when confronted by the actions of Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook.

Facebook is arguably the most important social media platform of our time – maybe the most influential information outlet of all time. It has brought together old friends and lost relatives; it has allowed for the continuation of friendships around the world; it has spawned groups dealing with everything from recipes to physics. But Facebook also has a dark side, which prompts our thoughts today.

In years past, in order for hate groups, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and Holocaust deniers to spread their vile messages, they were mostly forced to stand on busy street corners, handing out their abhorrent messages. If two people walked away with a leaflet, it was considered a good day.

In 2020, all that is required for hatred to seep into our communities is a laptop and internet hookup. Consider numbers that would make legacy media hyperventilate: Worldwide, there are over 2.7 billion monthly active users of Facebook, and 1.8 billion people on average log onto the site every day – a 12 percent increase over just a year ago.

Facebook has been confronted often with requests to take more corporate responsibility by guarding against its use, or misuse, by hatemongers. From time to time, some individuals have been deplatformed. Sadly, the numbers are few and the will from Facebook seems weak.

For the Jewish community, the focus is on the numerous Holocaust deniers who use Facebook as their vehicle of choice to spread their poison. Those of a certain age might remember Toronto-based Ernst Zundel, who was once the largest purveyor of Holocaust denial material in the world. He would salivate today at how Facebook could distribute his lies.

It may seem unbelievable, but Facebook has consistently refused to recognize Holocaust denial as a violation of its “community standards.” Indeed, consider the opening statement of the site’s terms of reference for its standards when it comes to hate speech:

“We do not allow hate speech on Facebook because it creates an environment of intimidation and exclusion and in some cases may promote real-world violence.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League, Zuckerberg explained in a 2018 interview: “I don’t believe that our platform should take that [Holocaust denial] down because I think there are things that different people get wrong,” notably adding, “I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong…”

News flash for Mark Zuckerberg (who was raised in a Jewish home): Holocaust denial is not just getting historical facts “wrong,” it’s intentional all right, and the most contemptible form of Jew-hatred imaginable.

In recent weeks the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, or Claims Conference, has begun a campaign dubbed #NoDenyingIt!

It’s an online campaign “to ensure the voices of Holocaust survivors are heard by Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg and that is: ‘Holocaust denial posts on Facebook must be removed!’ As one survivor put it, ‘They are calling us liars. We are witnesses,’” the Claims Conference stated.

Holocaust survivors have been sending short videos every day to Zuckerberg demanding he stop this hatred. It’s horrible that in the dusk of their lives, these elderly men and women must ask Facebook to do the right thing. It’s time for Zuckerberg to stop doing a Homer Simpson and to show he understands – and cares.

Ice Cream and Togetherness for Yachad Toronto Members

Members of Yachad Toronto come together in a socially distant manner at Beth Emeth Synagogue’s parking lot on Aug. 3 to celebrate summer with an ice cream truck party.

Many members have not seen each other face to face since the pandemic began. The event was meant to raise awareness for people with disabilities that Yachad Toronto is offering daily programs during the pandemic, some online and some in small groups.

For more information on Yachad Toronto, please email torontoyachad@ou.org

JIAS Helps Yazidi Kids Rebuild Lives Through Education

Aug. 5, 2020 – By SUSAN MINUK

Precisely six years ago, the world witnessed the horrific attempted genocide of the Yazidi people in northern Iraq. It was on Aug. 3, 2014 when ISIL fighters entered the Yazidi city of Sinjar, beginning a killing spree that claimed an estimated 5,000 civilians and the widespread raping of women, including girls as young as nine. Thousands of prisoners were kidnapped and turned into slaves.

In all, ISIL’s murderous actions resulted in approximately 500,000 Yazidi refugees.

In November 2017, some 1,200 Yazidi arrived in Canada as refugees, with about 250 settling in Richmond Hill, north of Toronto. They continue to face multiple barriers to integration, including adult illiteracy and post traumatic stress disorder.

To combat those, Jewish Immigrant Aid Services of Toronto (JIAS) has launched an online school support program for Yazidi refugee children aimed at boosting basic literacy, love of learning, and self-confidence.

The pilot program is funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation and runs through Aug. 13. 

“The importance of welcoming the stranger has been ingrained 36 times in the Torah,” Elise Herzig, executive director of JIAS Toronto, told the CJR. “It’s the one commandment that’s been repeated more than any other.”

For refugee students, education is a particularly healing and empowering process, Herzig said.

“Many of these individuals are illiterate both numerically and unable to read in their own language. The idea was that these children would be provided additional skills to supplement what they were learning in the school system.”

JIAS serves 14 families in the Yazidi community. There are 48 Yazidi children in the summer school support program.

JIAS supplied families with tablets but faced the challenge of how to run an online learning program for a largely illiterate population – and during a pandemic.

“How do you teach families lacking basic English language and literacy skills to use technology when you can’t sit with them in person?” asked Herzig. “What happens when you need to troubleshoot?”

It was “hours and hours” of work. First, a translator had to find out whether families were able get online. If they could, did they know how to turn on the device?

“We had to think in ways we never imagined,” Herzig went on. “We basically found out that every kid could click on the number 9. We set it up in a way that if they clicked 9, the account that we preset up for them automatically recognized the 9 and put them into the Zoom room.”

Sometimes, kids forget to sign in. JIAS has to call and remind them because they don’t know how to tell time.

The curriculum includes English as a second language, virtual field trips and an arts-based mental health program to help the kids “deal with their past experiences and everyday stress that all kids go through, including COVID,” said Herzig.

JIAS partnered with Project Abraham, a registered charity that supports the resettlement in Canada of victims of genocide, ethnic cleansing and abduction.

One program participant’s mother remarked that her son “now has courage to try to read as he sees his friends are reading in the program.” 

What can we learn from the Yazidi?

“They are strong and have incredible resilience,” said Herzig “The way they form community and the way they support each other is quite remarkable.”


Susan Minuk
Susan Minuk

Susan Minuk is both humbled and heartened by everyday stories with the power to touch or inspire her readers’ lives.

MP Levitt Quits Politics to Take Over FSWC

Aug. 5, 2020 –

Toronto-area Liberal Member of Parliament Michael Levitt has announced he is retiring from politics to become president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC).

Levitt has represented the riding of York Centre since 2015, when he defeated Conservative Mark Adler. He was re-elected in last year’s federal vote. His final day as an MP will be Sept. 1.

In a message to his constituents posted on Facebook, Levitt said the job of MP in Ottawa took a toll on his personal life.

“It hasn’t been without consequence to those I love most, and while it is an incredible privilege to serve the people of York Centre, I know deep down that now is the time for me to put family first and come back home, both physically and mentally,” he said.

Despite that, he said he “loved every minute” of political life. “…it has been the adventure of a lifetime.”

Among a handful of Jewish MPs, Levitt chaired the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group; the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development; and the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on International Human Rights.

He will replace Avi Benlolo as head of the FSWC. No reason was given for Benlolo’s departure from the organization earlier this summer.

“FSWC is excited to welcome Michael Levitt as President and CEO,” the group’s chair, Fred Waks, said in a press release. “As the Member of Parliament for York Centre, Michael is deeply rooted in the community and his work in the fields of foreign affairs and human rights has garnered him respect from advocates at home and abroad. His distinguished career advocating for human rights, and his support for Israel and the fight against antisemitism, bring a high level of leadership and profile to our organization. We could not be more excited for the future.”

As an MP, Levitt frequently spoke out on Israel and issues of concern to Canada’s Jews, co-sponsoring a 2018 bill to make May of each year Canadian Jewish Heritage Month.

He was visible when Canada said it would adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, and he often addressed anti-Jewish incidents in the country.

But Levitt found himself on the defensive last autumn when Ottawa abruptly changed its vote on a resolution at the United Nations to oppose Israel, which filed a diplomatic complaint against Canada.

Levitt was also a member of the Raoul Wallenberg Parliamentary Caucus on Human Rights. Before entering politics, he helped found the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee.

In the FSWC statement, Levitt said he plans “to continue the organization’s proud legacy and the work I’ve done over the past five years in fighting antisemitism and promoting human rights, including bringing a renewed focus to the issue of systemic racism in Canada and how we can work together to address it.”

His appointment earned praise from former justice minister and international human rights advocate Irwin Cotler, who said Levitt’s “extensive experience and expertise dovetail perfectly with the mission and purpose of [FSWC], acting on the universal lessons of the Holocaust – combating racism and antisemitism and safeguarding Israel and the Jewish people.”

According to iPolitics, Levitt’s departure will trigger the first byelection of the current Parliament and will be the first during the COVID pandemic.

– CJR Staff

Book Review: The A-Z of Intermarriage, By Rabbi Denise Handlarski

The A-Z of Intermarriage, By Rabbi Denise Handlarski (New Jewish Press, 2020)

By DAVID ROYTENBERG

This new volume tackles the fraught subject of Jewish intermarriage in a hopeful, good-humoured, occasionally pugnacious and humane fashion. The core idea is that intermarriage is not nearly as much of a threat to Jewish continuity as are unwelcoming Jewish communities who treat those who are different with fear and suspicion.

The A-Z of Intermarriage

In response to this characterization, the author is uncompromising in her advocacy of courage, compassion and kindness, both on the part of intermarried couples and of the families and communities that nurture them. She also expresses a deep-seated optimism that conditions are changing for the better, which augurs well, she believes, both for intermarried couples and for the Jewish future.

The book offers advice to already intermarried couples on how to make the most of their marriages, as well as to parents and family members on how to take a loving and supportive approach to the choices made by their loved ones.

It also expounds a robustly optimistic faith in individual freedom and the importance and possibility of finding personal fulfillment in all the activities of life.

Until last month, Denise Handlarski was rabbi at Toronto’s Oraynu Congregation for Humanistic Judaism. In an article for Kveller in which she announced her departure, she confessed that she “found it impossible to juggle the responsibilities of my job alongside caring for my children during COVID – the strain had become untenable.”

Rabbi Denise Handlarski
Rabbi Denise Handlarski

Her former congregants are adherents of secular Humanist Judaism, a movement of those who value their identity as Jews but don’t hold to traditional Jewish religious beliefs. Rabbi Handlarski herself is intermarried and she writes freely about creating a Jewish home and raising Jewish children in an intermarried family. Everywhere in the book she makes the argument for seeing intermarriage as an opportunity rather than a problem – for the couple, but also for their families and communities.

The volume is structured as a reference book, organized alphabetically by topic, from A for “Acceptance” to Z for “Zygote.” But it can be comfortably read in order from cover to cover. Rabbi Handlarski’s idea of what constitutes Judaism differs from that of this reviewer and will differ from that of many readers, but her attachment and commitment to Jewish community and Jewish identity radiates from every page.

The key ideas are worked out in longer sections, such as the one on Assimilation, in which she argues that an exclusionary attitude to intermarriage has backfired. Rather than preserving Jewish continuity, she claims, community restrictions on intermarriage have driven away people who might otherwise have remained engaged and raised their children in a Jewish community.

Rabbi Handlarski argues for a glass-half-full reading of statistics on intermarriage, which show that most intermarried couples raise their children with some form of Jewish identity. She sees this as a direct result of many Jewish communities becoming more accepting of intermarriage.

In the section on Marriage, she begins by asserting that all marriages are intermarriages, in that for all people have in common, there are always differences to be negotiated. She sees differences over values as potentially more challenging than those over religious beliefs and traditions. Every marriage must manage and resolve such differences if it is to be successful. She argues that a successful marriage requires “struggle, grit and perseverance,” whether the partners come from the same religious or ethnic background or not.

In the section on Parents, the author makes a passionate case for respecting the choices of your children. After first acknowledging that parenting is difficult, she goes on to cite all the reasons the children that you love deserve your support.

“Your kid is in love, is independent enough to make their own choices and is choosing to include you in their lives. Celebrate!” Rabbi Handlarski advises. “Your kid made a choice you wouldn’t have made and that’s hard for you? It’s their job to decide who they are and what they believe. If they are able to do that, you did a good job of parenting.”

In the section on Tradition, she explains that in her branch of Judaism, tradition gets a vote but not a veto. She remains attached to traditions that bring meaning to her life. Shabbat is an example. She is a strong advocate for bringing joy and celebration to as much of life as possible. Jewish tradition is a way of doing this for her, but working hard for joy and meaning is the core value. She discusses various traditions (thanking God that you are not a woman) that don’t, in her view, bring joy, and these she abandons. Tradition is only meaningful if it is congruent with contemporary values.

If you are intermarried, have a family member or friend who is, or are interested in how intermarriage affects Jewish communities, this book has something to offer to you. The author’s optimism, good humour and belief in each person’s capacity to find fulfillment will charm any reader willing to approach its important subject with an open mind.


David Roytenberg
David Roytenberg

David Roytenberg is a computer consultant living in Ottawa. He is Secretary of MERCAZ Canada and chair of adult education at Kehillat Beth Israel congregation.

Questioning the Two-State Solution: A Dilemma for Progressive Jews

By JEFFREY WILKINSON

Recently, liberal Jewish thinker, journalist and teacher Peter Beinart wrote a highly provocative article in the journal Jewish Currents, followed by a shorter piece in the New York Times calling the two-state solution “dead” and advocating for a binational state with equal rights for all.

In his longer piece, “Yavne: A Jewish Case for Equality in Israel-Palestine,” Beinart reflects on moments in Jewish history where seismic shifts happened in religious and cultural practices that may have seemed threatening at the time, but were instead movements that propelled us to be better and stronger. So how will we respond to Beinart’s call for another seismic shift in our thinking and practice?

Predictably, there were rebuttals from many sides, including complete rejection from the more rigid advocates of Israel, calling Beinart irrelevant. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) went so far as to call him antisemitic (a rich claim to be aimed at a devout Jew).

The focus here is on the response from the “progressive” Jewish community. While the term “progressive” encapsulates a wide swath of Jewish thought, I refer specifically to the large numbers who refer to themselves as Zionists but also voice concern, to varying degrees, over Israeli government policy, particularly in terms of the occupation, settlements, possible annexation, and Palestinian human rights. Beinart has long been a part of this progressive Zionist movement, though he has been retreating from the two-state camp for some time.

He makes three key points. The first, holding on to the two–state solution, based on today’s political realities, including the lack of viable left-leaning political movement supporting it, is akin to supporting the status quo indefinitely.

Second, a binational state has been successfully achieved in other places in the world, so it is attainable.

Lastly, the focus on Israel as the liberation of the Jewish people and the only “insurance policy” against another Holocaust can no longer be used as the sole justification for defending injustice and inflicting suffering on Palestinians.

The dilemma for progressive Zionists is that if the very idea of “progressiveness” is to be willing to challenge the status quo and resist injustice, how do we respond when we ourselves are being called out for maintaining the status quo? In order to answer this, we need to reflect on why so many are resisting Beinart’s call for a re-examination. Is it not innately “Jewish” to reflect and re-examine?

While there are layers to dealing with this dilemma, we must begin with what I would offer is the root of the challenge: Trauma. Historical trauma, present trauma, and the fear of future trauma.

The challenge that Beinart’s article presents for progressives is really a challenge that is already baked into the idea of progressive Zionism: To be pro-peace, pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel. I would suggest there is an existing irresolvable tension in supporting Palestinians while also supporting the very institution that oppresses them.

In spite of these seemingly incompatible goals, there are many deeply committed to this trilateral cause to support peace, support Palestinians, while remaining steadfastly Zionist. I have struggled with these contradictions for many years. To deal differently with Beinart’s call, and with the two-state dilemma more broadly, we need to deal with the built-in contradictions in our “pro-pro-pro” stance.

The key to this journey, in my own experience, is in recognizing that that this “pro-pro-pro” commitment is viewed through a 1967-forward lens. If we dig more deeply into this, it means viewing Palestinian oppression only in terms of settlements, the occupation, and the daily injustices that the Israeli government and military inflict on Palestinians.

The two-state solution is entirely a ’67–driven solution: Returning to the pre-’67 borders, sharing Jerusalem, ending the occupation, and resolving the settlement issue. This allows us to maintain Israel without acknowledging or addressing the core trauma for Palestinians: 1948.

It is, in many ways, a “have our cake and eat it too” solution. Yes, it does involve compromise from us, but not in terms of trauma. We get to have our liberation from trauma (Israel), without deeply addressing Palestinian trauma.

There have been many responses to Beinart’s article from Jewish progressives. They centre on the idea that abandoning the two-state solution is tantamount to cultural suicide. In a recent webinar, Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of JStreet, a strongly progressive lobby group in the United States, asked Beinart why he would “abandon the Jewish State at a time Jews are under such threat?” That this fear of impending trauma continues to dominate the progressive Jewish narrative means that we have not found a way to deal with the central contradiction of being supporters of both Israel and Palestinians.

To face Beinart’s call head on, we need to be able to see justice for all as a response to the genesis of the trauma for Palestinians. We need to examine whether our call for a two-state solution is in fact “progressive” or is it clinging to the status quo? We need to ask if the binational state is really the existential threat to Jews that we have made it out to be. Granting that this is a genuine fear, does holding on to the status quo create greater safety for Jews in the long-term, and even if it does, is it a just solution for all, including Palestinians?

While I agree with Beinart and have come to similar conclusions myself some time ago, my purpose here is to remind us that re-examination is an essential tenet of our tradition, and that we should never feel that the call to question is inherently dangerous. We are strong enough to have this difficult conversation with ourselves and we must have it if justice for all is indeed our guiding light.


Jeff Wilkinson
Jeffrey Wilkinson, PhD

Jeffrey J. Wilkinson, PhD, is an educator, facilitator and researcher focused on the psycho-social causes of intractable conflicts, researching not only how these conflicts are formed, but also how they may be undone over time. His doctoral dissertation explored the Israel/Palestine conflict through the experiences of Canadian Jews and Palestinians. He is the co-author, with a Palestinian, of an upcoming book addressing the current polarization in Jewish-Palestinian discourse within the two diasporas.

Comper Revamps Group that Fights Antisemitism

Aug. 4, 2020

The rise in antisemitic incidents has revitalized FAST.

Fighting Antisemitism Together, or FAST, was founded in 2005 by former Bank of Montreal CEO Tony Comper and his late wife, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth and Tony Comper

It had the backing of some 30 blue-chip non-Jewish business executives, including leaders of Toronto-Dominion Bank, Manulife Financial Corp., Bombardier Inc., Stelco, Bell Canada, and BCE Inc. Each executive put $10,000 toward the effort.

Over the past 15 years, FAST has fashioned free education programs geared to middle schools and high schools, and has reached 4.4 million students at more than 22,000 schools.

According to a recent report in the Globe and Mail, FAST is now joining the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism (CISA), a scholarly organization that publishes the academic journal Antisemitism Studies. CISA founding director Catherine Chatterley, who teaches modern European history at the University of Manitoba and edits the journal, is taking over as FAST’s chair and president.

Polls and surveys show that antisemitic incidents continue to rise in Canada, and that in Toronto and suburbs, Jews are the most targeted group for hate crimes.

According to B’nai Brith Canada’s most recent audit, there were 2,207 antisemitic incidents nationally in 2019 – more than six a day – an eight percent increase over the year before. It was the fourth consecutive record-setting year for antisemitism in Canada, and online harassment was up by 11 percent, the audit revealed.

“The obvious question is, if you’re doing such a wonderful job, why isn’t it having an impact on antisemitism?” Comper was quoted as telling the Globe. “The increase in the incidences justifies exactly why we’re doing what we’re doing and the need for it.”

The classroom is the ideal incubator for change, he said.

Tony Comper. Photo University of Haifa

“To fundamentally change, you need to focus on education of young people and equip them with an alternative narrative to what they’re hearing either at home, or in the street or in the school yard,” Comper said.

He has promised to fund FAST for the next two years, and plans to stay on as an adviser working with Chatterley to build fundraising and administration.

CISA is “very pleased to be affiliated with FAST,” Chatterley told the CJR via email.

“We plan to build on FAST’s demonstrated success and ensure that all Canadian students have an opportunity to study this award-winning human rights curriculum with an emphasis on anti-Semitism,” she added. “We hope to work toward making these subjects a permanent part of the school curriculum in all regions of Canada.”

CISA one of seven institutes in the world dedicated to the scholarly study of antisemitism.

If You Want to Fight Antisemitism, Engage Allies

Aug. 4, 2020 – By REBECCA KATZMAN

Anti-Israel groups have hijacked student governments on many campuses. Their aggressive, often malicious rhetoric and programs are bigoted and hateful, causing Jewish and pro-Israel students to feel marginalized. Although bigotry against Israel is often considered free speech, it is actually hate speech and antisemitic, at least according to the IHRA definition. It should be socially unacceptable on every university campus in Canada. It is not civil discourse, and far too often, it shuts down any kind of dialogue about the complexities of the Middle East conflict.

These groups are loud, angry, and their demonization of all things Israel contributes to making campus a hostile environment for Jewish and pro-Israel students. The relentless propaganda of the global BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement to delegitimize Israel has led to overt acts of antisemitism. Although BDS motions are generally toothless and university administrations may disavow them, the damage to student life is real.

From 2012 to 2014, the BDS movement passed 11 anti-Israel resolutions on campuses across the country. Since then, Jewish campus organizations have worked together to defeat such campaigns at 11 universities. Even as we continue addressing challenges on campus, we must become more proactive. We must empower students to educate new audiences, make friends, and create alliances.

We have to bring student leaders to Israel and Israel to students! Working for StandWithUs Canada, the game-changing Israel education organization, I recognized that our community can do more to overcome antisemitism and ignorance on campus.

That is why earlier this year, I asked students who went through StandWithUs Canada’s Emerson Fellowship, which equips student leaders to proudly bring Israel to their campuses while challenging misinformation about the Jewish state, to reach out to student government presidents, executive members, journalists, and influencers on their campuses across the country to offer them an in-depth tour of Israel and the Palestinian Authority – from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to Ramallah.

The trip was funded by two wonderful community philanthropists, Tammy Brown and Tamara Fine, their friends, and other members of the community who shared our vision.

StandWithUs Canada led its first campus mission to Israel, called InSight, this past February. I felt so privileged to lead the delegation of 14 prominent student leaders from Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, St. John’s, and Winnipeg on a life-changing and educational 10-day adventure.

We started in Jerusalem, where we arrived in time to see the beautiful celebrations at the Western Wall on Shabbat. We toured Yad Vashem, where we learned about the atrocities of the Holocaust. Student leaders mentioned that they had never learned anything about the Holocaust during any of their school years. I watched the students learn, become emotional, and even shed tears. 

We went to Ramallah and Ariel to hear from Israelis and Palestinians, the people on both sides of the conflict. Participants met with students from Ariel University in the West Bank, and asked them what life is like in their community. Later in the day, the students went on a tour at the Achva factory, where they sampled warm halva straight from the mixer.

The group visited Save a Child’s Heart to learn about the humanitarian organization that offers life-saving heart surgeries for babies from the Middle East and North Africa. One day ended with dinner in Usafiya, a Druze village in the north of Israel, at the family home of a student ambassador for peace.

We visited the SodaStream factory in the Negev, where participants saw Palestinians and Israelis working side by side in peaceful coexistence. SodaStream’s facility in the West Bank had been a major target of BDS, and we heard from Palestinian workers about how this anti-Israel campaign endangers their livelihoods.

We visited the Gaza “envelope” – communities and towns that border or are very close to the Gaza Strip, including Sderot so the students could understand the real threat of Hamas terror, with missiles often raining on these places and families driven to bomb shelters with just 15 seconds to find safety.

We heard from Danny Tirza, the architect of the security barrier that was built to stop terrorism from the Palestinian territories during the second intifada. We learned about other security threats Israel faces as well, along with the difficult choices the Israel Defense Forces must often make during emergencies. Participants gained a deeper understanding of how complicated the situation is, and our conversations became more nuanced.

A highlight of the trip was the Ethiopian cultural centre, Beteh, in Tel Aviv. Bettae was created by former StandWithUs employee Ashager Araro.  It showcases Ethiopian food and culture. The students learned the story of Ethiopian Jewry and gained a deeper understanding of Israeli society.

Towards the end, we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, considered by Christians to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection. To cap off this amazing trip, we toured Jaffa and the Peres Centre for Peace, went to the beach, and enjoyed the vibrant nightlife of Tel Aviv. The students got to see Israel as a complex and vibrant country, a place with a rich and diverse culture, and a home to people who found countless unique ways to make the world a better place.

In the end, this trip resulted in a whirlwind of emotions for everyone. On departing Israel, hearts and minds were more open, more reflective, and more connected. “Though each participant was different, as a group we shared one important trait: Curiosity,” one student wrote. “I was absolutely inspired by the open-mindedness of my peers, their desire to learn, and ask uncomfortable questions.”

I’m very excited about the relationships and partnerships we are building with many diverse campus groups and student leaders from many backgrounds. The more we can build understanding about Jews and Israel, the more allies we will have in the fight against hatred and antisemitism. 


Rebecca Katzman
Rebecca Katzman

Rebecca Katzman is the Campus Director for StandWithUs Canada. She is also an alumna of the 2015-2016 StandWithUs Canada Emerson Fellowship. For more about the fellowships and help fighting antisemitism on campus, contact Rebecca at: rebeccak@standwithus.com