In his recent editorial “On Spellings, Antisemitism and Free Speech” (June 12, 2020), Bernie Farber defends the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism by arguing that 1) it is not a threat to free speech because it states that “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”, and that 2) the vast majority of Jewish groups fully support it.
Regarding point one: This proviso has in no way prevented the IHRA definition from being utilized to shut down Israel-critical speech. Donald Trump’s 2019 executive order incorporating the IHRA definition into U.S. law has increasingly been used to prosecute allegations of antisemitism related to criticism of Israel on university campuses. High-profile cases investigating student activism in particular have arisen at UCLA Berkeley, Columbia, UC Irvine, UMass, Duke and UNC. The message these investigations send to students, faculty and administrators is this: Harshly criticize Israeli human rights violations and you risk prosecution and/or withdrawal of funding.
Farber’s second argument, that there is essentially global consensus on the definition, is clearly debatable. Kenneth Stern, the definition’s co-author, has stated that it “was never intended to be a campus hate speech code. [Trump’s] executive order is an attack on academic freedom and free speech, and will harm not only pro-Palestinian advocates, but also Jewish students and faculty, and the academy itself.” Moreover, many Jewish organizations oppose adopting the definition, including J Street, Independent Jewish Voices and dozens of others. Others may oppose it as well, but are afraid of the potential impacts of speaking out.
Recently, Independent Jewish Voices published an open letter from over 400 Canadian academics (including many Jews) who oppose adoption of the IHRA definition on their campuses. The signatories fear that the definition’s adoption will imperil academic freedom. We need to heed their voices and protect the right to research, teach and yes, protest violations of Palestinian human rights.
As Holocaust scholars Amos Goldberg and Raz Segal have argued, proponents of the IHRA definition have managed to change the discourse, diverting attention away from Israel’s human rights violations and focusing instead on what is allowed and what is prohibited when criticizing Israel. In conducting this campaign, proponents of the IHRA definition risk not only stifling legitimate speech; they also divert attention from the rise of real Jew-hatred worldwide.
Regarding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s attempt to secure a seat on the United Nations Security Council:
I honestly believe that Trudeau communicates well with the world. I commend him for his strong and effective leadership in this time of COVID crisis.
But I wonder if all the tax dollars and time spent to win a UN Security Council seat was really worth it.
As dictators and murderers in Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, and Syria literally get away with murdering their own people, I ask myself, “why?” Why not use our tax dollars and time to stand up to these bully countries, and condemn those countries that vilify Israel?
In Israel, one can be gay and live freely. Not in Iran and the others. Let’s stand up to Iran on behalf of our fellow 57 Canadians who were killed when Iran shot down flight 752 in January.
Canada knows the truth: That Mahmoud Abbas heads the Palestinians’ “pay for slay” policy, in which he rewards terrorists’ families with salaries. Keep Abbas accountable!
I ask Trudeau respectfully: Let’s invest our tax dollars and time in the most constructive way.
A friend posted that her adorable toddler has discovered the magic and wonder of the word, “no.” Apparently, regardless of the question, the answer is always, “no,” spoken loudly, with hands on hips and a defiant twinkle in the eyes. Such is the power of finally having language with which to dissent.
We all go through this stage as we grow. For some of us, it lasts longer than for most, and for others, it never really passes. We all know contrarians who will insist that the sky is not blue because they enjoy the act of arguing too much to acquiesce, even when common sense says otherwise.
As Jews, we understand this compulsion to disagree and to question as a way to advocate for change. As I wrote in my previous Parsha, much of our motivation is for betterment, and that is apparent in our Holy Books.
When we read Parshat Korach in the book of Numbers, we learn that Moses’ first cousin, Korach, is leading a rebellion. He petitions to remove the seemingly arbitrary hierarchy of Moses as leader and Aaron as High Priest, and he gives a superficially reasonable argument: “You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” (16:3).
Moses does not question Korach’s right to argue about this. In fact, Moses begins making arrangements to come to a reasonable resolution. Then comes the kicker: Two of Korach’s followers, Dathan and Abiram, spit in the face of Moses’ efforts at diplomacy and say, “Is it not enough that you have brought us out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the desert, that you should also exercise authority over us?” (16:13).
Moses is stunned that, yet again, a false memory emerges, this fake news, of how wonderful life was in Egypt. He is so distressed by this bald-faced lie that his diplomacy departs and he ends up, with G-d’s help, dispatching the rebels to an abrupt and sandy death.
The Sages make clear that arguing was not the crime here. For them, it is the motivation behind the argument that determines its righteousness, or lack thereof. “Any dispute for the sake of Heaven will have enduring value, but every dispute not for the sake of Heaven will not have enduring value. What is an example of a dispute for the sake of heaven? The dispute between Hillel and Shammai. What is an example of one not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and all his company” (Mishnah Avot 5: 21).
In our daily interactions via email, social media, and family conversations, Korach can be a good “check engine” light. What’s going on under the hood? Are we gossiping? Are we tired, sad, lonely, hungry? It’s ok to disagree, as long as our motivations are for good. As the poet Rumi wrote, “Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates: Is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?”
It’s tiring to always have to be the grownup; sometimes our inner toddler comes out. Our culture today is full of off-the-cuff remarks, comments that sting, and trolls who want a laugh. But our problems are not going to be solved by juvenile responses. It will be kindness combined with understanding, and a heart full of well-meaning, that will bring us peace in the tumultuous days to come.
Ilana Krygier Lapides is a Jewish educator and storyteller. She is currently attending rabbinic school at the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute and will be ordained in June 2021.
Three short months ago, anyone who entered a bank wearing a mask would have triggered a very serious response. Today, wearing a mask or bandana in a bank or any institution, hardly garners a glance. And that is how it should be.
Coronavirus has changed our way of life. In the last three months of lockdown, we have gone from no masks, to accepting the fact that wearing masks is highly effective in halting the spread of this potentially deadly virus. And yet, for many, this seems not to have sunk in. In stores around Toronto, too many shoppers are still unmasked and many still disregard the rules of physical distancing. Even more astoundingly, store staff have been seen without masks. During the past week, many Torontonians taking advantage of the beautiful weather congregated at Cherry Beach in the hundreds, disregarding all health rules,from masking to physical distancing. What’s the matter with us? Do we want a second wave of COVID, which health professionals warn may be far worse than what we have already suffered? If people refuse to do the right thing to safeguard lives and health,then governments must step in to regulate behaviour and impose heavy fines. This is not the preferred option, but given the ignorance or callousness of too many, it may very well become the only option.
For more on wearing masks, see the first Canadian Jewish Record video, a new feature.
When people see my last name, “Silverstein,” there is no mistaking it: My Jewishness is obvious. But the question is, more often than not, “So, I guess you’re married to a Jew?” I am light-skinned and wear a Star of David, so the assumption that I could not be mixed race is odd. My favorite is when I’m asked, “How did that happen?” While I generally hold my tongue, I often want to respond, “how did your parents conceive you?” to point out how ridiculous that question is.
While I realize there isn’t an overwhelming number of people who look like me within the tight-knit Jewish community, we exist and we’re not going away.
The questions started even before I was born. “I don’t know if we can be seen in a restaurant together, and what would you do with the children?” My grandfather had – let’s call them “questions and concerns” – when my father, an Ashkenazi Jew, introduced my Black mother, who had emigrated from the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, to his family.
I can comprehend his disappointment at her not being Jewish, but I can’t help but wonder that if she were white, would the concern of being “seen” have come up?
I was raised in the Caribbean in a predominantly Black society, and the only remnants of a Jewish community are a synagogue and cemetery from the 1700s on the sister island of Nevis. I visited Canada at least once a year and would spend lots of time with my father’s extended family. I have many wonderful memories of Passover seders, Chanukah celebrations and trips out to London, Ont. to visit with aunts, uncles and cousins.
I have a wonderful relationship with my father and his family. Even my grandfather came around. After he passed away, I was overwhelmed helping to clean up his apartment, decorated with numerous photos of me, my sister, and her son, his first great-grandson, his absolute favourite.
When I returned to Canada and completed my undergraduate degree, I wanted to learn more and become more involved in the Jewish community. A Jewish coworker told me about Birthright Israel, and I was accepted on a trip in the spring of 2017.
I was nervous at first, assuming I would be the only Black participant. The voice in my head kept telling me I wasn’t Jewish enough. I had never gone to Hebrew school or had a bat mitzvah.
These fears were mostly unfounded. I wound up having a wonderful experience, and even celebrated my bat mitzvah on Masada. Meeting an Ethiopian Jewish woman and seeing many other ethnicities represented in Israel opened my eyes to the diversity of the Jewish people. And while I was the only Black participant on my bus, at least 15 others were from mixed marriages. I subsequently led a Birthright trip two years later.
My decision to lead a trip stemmed from my gratitude at being given such a wonderful gift, one that allowed me to develop a Jewish identity and be proud of my heritage in a way I did not understand before. I wanted to ensure no one feels like an outsider, and to remind them that being Jewish does not mean the same thing for everyone. I recently joined the Birthright Israel Foundation of Canada’s youth leadership counsel.
This is my story, but I’ve haven’t always felt as accepted as I let on. Many people in the community still don’t see me as Jewish, and when they do, it’s only because I’ve had to explain my existence.
Instances of blatant racism towards Black people are still far too prevalent. I was recently getting to know a new friend. She’s Jewish and has lived in Thornhill for 15 years after emigrating from Israel with her husband and son. She adapted quickly to the community and had many friends and relationships. But when she and her husband divorced, and a few years after she began dating a Black man, she was shocked by the hurtful and racist comments and responses she received from many Jewish friends who she had previously thought were open-minded, kind and accepting.
Late last year, I attended a diversity and inclusion workshop where a Jewish lawyer spent considerable time venting her frustration and shock towards the openly and unapologetic vocal racism her parents frequently expressed towards BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour).
Why is this behaviour so troubling? As a community, we have suffered immense trauma, oppression, and discrimination in the form of antisemitism. What group understands better how propaganda, harmful stereotypes, and systematic forms of discrimination and dehumanization can lead to unimaginable horrors?
We have, in many ways, become an insular society that prides itself on protecting and preserving our cultural heritage and religious traditions. This is beautiful, and many aspects of such a tight-knit community fill the stories my father tells me of his upbringing in London’s Jewish community.
However, Ashkenazi Jews in North America have benefitted immensely from their “white-passing” privilege, ensuring that they have been able to bypass certain systemic forms of racism which have disenfranchised BIPOC. As a Black Jewish woman, I cannot help but feel hurt and frustrated at the overwhelming silence from the Jewish community on most issues of race and the overt perpetuation and participation of racist behaviours towards Black people in particular.
Our Jewish teaching of tikkun olam is a concept defined by acts of kindness to repair the world. It’s a fantastic calling and crucial responsibility to which I want my Jewish community to take the lead, and to call out and be true allies against any form of racism against BIPOC.
While I have, for the most part, been made to feel welcome in many Jewish spaces, I often wonder if I were single and happened to be dating an Ashkenazi Jewish man, would his family accept me in time, as my grandfather had? Would my Blackness be an issue? Would someone in the family still be concerned about being seen with me in public?
I would be remiss not to mention that over the last few weeks, I have been inspired by the numerous posts, personal notes and a true commitment to listening, understanding and being part of the proactive change that I have seen from some of my Jewish peers.
I’m hopeful that meaningful change may come about as true allies are developed with friends who can support, fight for, and work to undo the systemic racism and oppression still facing BIPOC. As someone who proudly identifies as a Black Jewish woman, I am asking you to take a hard look in the mirror and decide which side of history you want to be on moving forward.
My dream is to see both of my communities united in the fight for equality, liberation and the right of self-determination for all.
Akilah Allen-Silverstein lives in Toronto. She is a Certified Financial Planner, passionate about community engagement, gardening, cooking, exploring the outdoors, and travelling.
Hillcrest Progressive School senior kindergarten students weren’t going to let a quarantine prevent them from going ahead with their production of The Wizard of Oz. These talented kids got creative.
Staff at the Jewish pre-school, located on two acres of wooded land in Toronto’s Hogg’s Hollow neighbourhood since 1955, were determined to help the graduating students perform their year-end school play. Parents fully backed the effort.
“Because of COVID, we didn’t want them to miss out on this amazing experience that every SK class has at Hillcrest,” said Melanie Fux, school board member and mother of two Hillcrest students.
Founded in 1929, Hillcrest is Ontario’s oldest Jewish pre-school. Its slogan: “Every day is a special day,” is meant to encourage children to investigate the world and find their place in it.
“One of the things this play did was to turn the pandemic into a challenge, and see it from the positive side, with good energy,” said Fux. “Taking what life gives you and making the most of it – that is something these kids will take with them to the future.”
How did Hillcrest execute a virtual theatre production?
“It was a family effort,” explained Fux. “We had to rehearse, prepare the scenery, perform and film from home. This gave each kid the opportunity to be creative with their family.”
Hillcrest’s principal, Queenie Spindel, brainstormed with several teachers.
Families were sent a weekly task. Kids received the songs, both just lyrics and just music, and then record their voices over the musical track, Fux explained.
“They missed being together but being able to see such an amazing result of all their hard work was sort of a surprise to them,” said Fux.
The Zoom production required time-crunched editing and was filled with special effects that brought genuine smiles to students.
“I listened to the songs over and over and I practiced with my Mom, explained five-year-old student Alec Fux, who played the Cowardly Lion.
“I loved dancing and being a lion. It was amazing to see the final video I loved the special effects,” Alec told the CJR.
How is he handling leaving the school now that he’s graduated? The Cowardly Lion is anything but in real life.
“I don’t want to leave,” he admitted. “I am a teensy bit scared [for Grade 1] but I will be fine later.”
The production was presented privately last week and published on YouTube June 19. To date, there have been a little over 300 views between the mini-clip and full play, a number the school says is growing.
Susan Minuk is both humbled and heartened by everyday stories with the power to touch or inspire her readers’ lives.
Kenneth S. Stern, The Conflict Over the Conflict: The Israel/Palestine Campus Debate New Jewish Press, 2020 296 pages
Reviewed by MIRA SUCHAROV
While international conflicts have been known to exhibit ripple effects far from their borders, nowhere is the microcosm of ideological tensions over Israel/Palestine more apparent these days than on university and college campuses.
In a smart, personal and engaging book, Kenneth S. Stern, director of Bard College’s Bard Center for the Study of Hate, takes us on a tour of today’s American campus Israel/Palestine debates in the context of a full-throated argument for free speech.
While Stern focuses on American college campuses, Canadians might read this through slightly different eyes, given that our respective laws around speech are not identical in their scope. Unlike the U.S. with its First Amendment provisions (which permits all speech except for direct incitement to violence – so-called “fighting words”), Canada does have hate-speech provisions, although hate speech cases are notoriously hard to prosecute in this country.
The book takes the reader through the polarized debate around antisemitism, anti-Zionism and different views of academic freedom, stemming from the controversial 2001 Durban conference on racism and the rise of the academic boycott movement against Israel.
Stern describes how he founded an academic group called Alliance for Academic Freedom, devoted to opposing the academic boycott of Israel (a group in which I was involved from the ground up before I eventually resigned, my views having changed slightly; full disclosure, since he mentions me in the text).
In the contemporary culture wars, Stern’s is an argument against such current phenomena as “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces.” And perhaps surprising to some, given that he proclaims himself a Zionist in the book, Stern is concerned by a current chill on campus speech brought about by the incorporation of anti-Zionism into the contemporary antisemitism definition much used today.
It may also read as ironic, given that Stern was instrumental in drafting the definition that is now much debated, and which has been adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (and last year by Canada). But this is where the strength of the book lies: It is a principled discussion of free speech, whether or not one agrees with his threshold.
Stern takes us deftly through the debates around Donald Trump’s “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2019”, which uses the IHRA definition to define what is acceptable to say on campus. Stern opposes using this definition to assess campus speech. “Decrying anti-Zionism at the UN or in bilateral relations or recognizing it for data collection is one thing,” he writes; “declaring anti-Zionism as antisemitic for campus application can only chill free speech.”
Where I think the book’s argument falls short is around much of what is known as the “deplatforming” debate: The robust opposition to having certain speakers come to campus. Stern sees speaker freedom as akin to the principle of free speech. But I would argue that Stern’s argument should provide more scaffolding about who deserves an invitation to a given campus, not only on one’s right to constitutionally protected speech. Campuses are distinct entities: a campus invitation comes with resources: advertisements, space, security, and so on. And such invitations also come with a certain amount of conferred prestige: a speaker invited to a university can put the event on their CV; not so if one simply stands on a soapbox in a public park and opines.
Stern’s view is that as long as campus officials or student groups follow proper procedures in inviting a speaker, any idea should be fair game for airing. His is an argument that relies on the marketplace of ideas to weed out bad ideas and elevate good ones.
But I might challenge the idea that campuses should be viewed as akin to unregulated markets. I would suggest that they should apply specific intellectual standards: They are institutions of learning, not simply open-air streets where ordinary speech laws should apply.
Others will wonder whether Stern’s view opposing safe spaces and trigger warnings lacks pedagogical compassion. And indeed, there is a bit of an inherent built-in tension in parts of his book, as when he recounts an evening around a dinner table with a group of students who noted that they felt so much more comfortable talking with him about the sensitive issues around Israel/Palestine than they do on campus, where they often meet vocal and vociferous opposition.
Readers might wonder whether the students’ appreciation stemmed from Stern actually having, over the course of that evening, provided a “safe space” for the exchange, however defined.
These quibbles suggest a book worth reading; a narrative worthy of wrestling and conversation.
Mira Sucharov is professor of political science at Carleton University in Ottawa.Her most recent books are Public Influence: A Guide to Op-Ed Writing and Social Media Engagement (author) and Social Justice and Israel/Palestine: Foundational and Contemporary Debates (co-editor)
As a teenager, my Zaide, Don Jubas, made headlines when he refused to enter a skating rink after his Black friend, Harry Gairey Jr., was denied entry. While a seemingly small act, his story influenced my perspective as a Jew and emphasized the necessity to combat racism in all forms. Today, I see this anti-racism work as core to my own Jewish identity.
When I was younger, I learned about the Holocaust and white supremacy while in elementary school, and was unnerved to think someone would want to hurt me because of my Jewish heritage. We were partly exposed to these ideas through books like The Diary of Anne Frank or Hana’s Suitcase. Sometimes it was through guest lecturers at school assemblies. I cannot recall specifics beyond the sentiment, but I do remember each speaker reliably using the phrase, “Never again.”
“Never again” is a vow – made among Jewish and non-Jewish communities – to prevent another Holocaust.
The discrimination afflicting the Black community now is reminiscent of events from our own history. Recently, protests have erupted across continents following the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man choked and killed by a police officer in Minneapolis. This is unfortunately one instance in a pattern of police brutality toward Black Americans, and against the backdrop of Black oppression faced over the last several centuries. The global response has brought together people from the United States, Canada, Japan, and several European countries to demand police reform and broad institutional changes to end anti-Black racism.
As Canadians, we sometimes compare ourselves favourably to the United States, believing that we are not as afflicted by racism as our southern neighbours. Not only is that wrong, but it diminishes the urgency needed to tackle white supremacy in our own communities. A report from the Ontario Human Rights Commission found that Black people were over-represented in police statistics, making up 28.8 percent of use of force cases, 36 percent of police shootings, 61.5 percent of deadly use of force encounters, and 70 percent of fatal police shootings. Yet, Black Torontonians comprise only 8.8 percent of the city’s total population. A deep-seated, or systemic, racism reaches far beyond police encounters, and affects Black Canadians’ income and employment status. Through the Indian Act, the starlight tours, and ongoing governmental policy, we also see systemic racism towards Indigenous communities in Canada.
What is happening to members of the Black community looks different than what we white Jews have experienced. But the foundation – the seed beneath the soil – is the same. White supremacy is white supremacy is white supremacy. And we should be infuriated by all of it.
But change is possible, and we can play a crucial role in it.
My Zaide’s story always ended when he and Harry left the rink. It was not until he passed that I learned what had happened, in a memoir by Harry’s father, Harry Gairey Sr., a civil rights activist at the time. Motivated by his son’s experience, Gairey Sr. approached his alderman and requested a meeting with Toronto’s city council. Gairey Sr. presented his case for racial justice, arguing that Black Canadians must receive the same rights as other citizens if they are also to be subject to conscription. Soon after, the City of Toronto passed a landmark ordinance that prohibited discrimination based on race, creed, colour, and religion. Gairey Sr. acknowledges the role of non-Black community members in his victory, remarking that, “I was the man that caused that ordinance to be passed, with the help of the good White people of Toronto.”
Our efforts are essential. As non-Black folks, we must listen when Black Canadians tell us about their encounters with racism, amplify their voices, and provide them opportunities to speak about their experiences.
“Never again” means that these tragedies should not ever happen – in any form – to anyone. There is no asterisk. Harry Gairey Sr.’s experience shows us that we can make the progress we need and ensure discrimination does not define the generations that come after us. And right now, our Black neighbours need our help responding to police brutality and other manifestations of systemic racism. Their battle is ours and no fight is too small.
Here is a short list of educational resources and actionable items we can use to get started:
Daniel Jubas-Malz is a graduate of the Master of Public Health program at the University of Toronto. Through his writing, he hopes to encourage thoughtful dialogue and the development of open spaces where challenges can be identified and solutions co-created among communities.
Germany has awarded Canadian Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, a national decoration.
Germany’s embassy in Ottawa announced that on June 19, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier would award Abella the Knight Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit (with badge and star) of the Federal Republic of Germany.
It’s the second-highest federal German decoration; the first is for heads of state.
The award recognizes Abella’s achievements in the protection and promotion of the rule of law, human and minority rights, and the development of close relations between Germany’s Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Canada.
It also pays tribute to the engagement of Abella and her husband, historian Prof. Irving Abella, in Holocaust remembrance and reconciliation between Jews and Germans.
Due to COVID, the award was presented in a virtual ceremony by Germany’s ambassador to Canada, Sabine Sparwasser.
“We were at home in the garden of the German residence [in Ottawa] and Rosalie and her husband Irving were at their home in Toronto,” Sparwasser told the CJR. “We toasted Rosalie over Zoom.”
“Decorations are a nation’s way of saying thank you,” said Sparwasser. “It is an honour to say thank you to Rosie but also to bow to Rosie – a person who has drawn the lessons out of her family’s history, the country that has caused so much pain and suffering to her family. We are bowing to her to her wisdom and to the values she stands for, and for what she and her husband have done to keep the remembrance [of the Holocaust] alive.”
Abella was “very moved” by the award, “and so was I,” the ambassador noted.
“Through her influence in many legal battles over the decades, women’s and minority rights in Canada have been granted better protection,” stated a press release from the German embassy. “Her definition of equality and discrimination formed the basis of Canadian law under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and became a model many other countries adopted.”
Abella was born July 1, 1946 in a displaced persons camp in Stuttgart. Both her parents had survived the Holocaust. Her father, Jacob Silberman, was liberated in 1945 from Theresienstadt; her mother Fanny (Krongold) Silberman from Buchenwald.
Their two-year-old son, as well as Jacob Silberman’s parents and three younger brothers, were murdered in the Treblinka death camp.
The family arrived in Canada in 1950. Rosalie graduated from the Royal Conservatory of Music in classical piano in 1964, becoming one of the institution’s youngest alumni. She subsequently attended the University of Toronto, where she earned a BA in 1967 and a law degree in 1970.
Motivated by her father, who was unable to practice his profession as a lawyer when he came to Canada because he was not a citizen, Abella, at age 29, became the youngest judge in Canada when she was appointed to the Ontario Family Court.
Abella was the first Jewish woman appointed to the Supreme Court, and is the longest-serving current justice, having been named in 2004.
Abella “has been very instrumental in creating close links between our two courts,” said Sparwasser. “The fact that she was born in Germany meant a lot to her, and that Germany awarded her is a rare honour. It’s not something given out very often to foreigners.”
The voices of Canadians opposing Israel’s plan to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank continue to get louder.
Earlier this month, hundreds of professors of Jewish Studies in North and South America, Europe, and Israel, including about a dozen in Canada, signed a letter opposing the Likud government’s plan.
On June 19, three Jewish organizations released a letter, sign by 58 prominent Canadian Jews, urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “to speak out strongly” against Israel’s annexation plans.
The letter was sponsored by three Canadian progressive Zionist organizations: The New Israel Fund of Canada, JSpaceCanada, and Canadian Friends of Peace Now. The organizations say they “share a commitment to seeking peace for Israelis and Palestinians via a negotiated two-state solution.”
The Likud government’s stated intention to annex swaths of the West Bank “assails not only Palestinian rights and national aspirations but also Israel’s founding values as outlined in its Declaration of Independence, the letter stated.
It added that the unilateral annexation is “illegal under international law” and “could provoke a new cycle of violence, lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, jeopardize peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt, undermine Israel’s security, and further destabilize the region.”
The signers said they support Canada’s long-standing policy of support for a negotiated two-state solution “that upholds the right of both peoples – Jews and Palestinians – to self determination and to live in peace and security.”
Those who signed the letter comprise prominent rabbis, former diplomats, academics, authors, and human rights advocates. They included Jon Allen, a former Canadian ambassador to Israel; Prof. Robert Brym of the University of Toronto; Rabbi Baruch Friedman-Kohl, Rabbi Emeritus of Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto; Julius Grey, a human rights lawyer in Montreal; Stephen Lewis, former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations; and Bernie Farber, former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress and now co-founder and publisher of the CJR.
The letter from the professors, which was posted online in English, Hebrew and Arabic, warned that the “most likely outcomes of annexation will be further unequal distribution of land and water resources on behalf of illegal Israeli settlements, more state violence, and fragmented Palestinian enclaves under complete Israeli control.
“Under these conditions, annexation of Palestinian territories will cement into place an anti-democratic system of separate and unequal law and systemic discrimination against the Palestinian population,” the letter went on.
Among the Canadian signers were: Naomi Seidman, Rebecca Comay, Rachel Seelig and Willi Goetschel of the University of Toronto; Carol Zemel, Stuart Schoenfeld and Ian Balfour of York University; Roy Shukrun of McGill University; Mira Sucharov of Carleton University (and a CJR contributor); and Meir Amor of Concordia University.
Also this month, four former cabinet ministers from the Jean Chretien era were among 58 one-time Canadian diplomats and politicians who added their names to a letter calling on Trudeau and his government to show stronger resistance to Israel’s annexation plans.
Among the signatories are former ambassadors to Israel who served under both Liberal and Conservative governments, as well as many other diplomats who represented Canada in the Middle East.
“Territorial conquest and annexation are notorious for contributing to fateful results: War, political instability, economic ruin, systematic discrimination and human suffering,” the letter warned.
It was signed by former Liberal cabinet ministers Lloyd Axworthy, André Ouellet, Alan Rock, and Sergio Marchi. It was also endorsed by former Canadian ambassador to Israel James Bartleman, and more than two dozen former ambassadors.
As previously report by the CJR, no major political party in Canada supports Israel’s pledge to unilaterally annex West Bank territories.
“Canada remains firmly committed to the goal of achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. We have long maintained that peace can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties,” a Global Affairs Canada spokesperson told CBC News.
He added: “Canada is very concerned that Israel moving forward with unilateral annexation would be damaging to peace negotiations and contrary to international law. This could lead to further insecurity for Israelis and Palestinians at a critical time for peace and stability in the region.”
Trudeau telephoned both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and “Alternate Prime Minister” Benny Gantz on May 18 in a call described as customary following the creation of Israel’s new government.
It was not known whether Trudeau addressed annexation in the call. But in a later statement interpreted by some as a soft rebuke to annexation, the prime minister’s office said: “In these times of uncertainty, our commitment to international law and the rules-based international order is more important than ever.”
Netanyahu told a Likud Party meeting on May 25 that his July 1 deadline for starting the process of absorbing some West Bank lands into Israel proper will not change.
The area in question is about 30 per cent of the land between Israel’s internationally-recognized border and the Jordan River, including the Jordan Valley.
Canada’s Jews are committed to working with the country’s Black community even though there are people in both groups who oppose co-operation, a senior member of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) said in a webinar with board members of the Federation of Black Canadians (FBC).
“There are people who do not want this partnership between the Black community and the organized Jewish community to work. I’ve heard from them and I’m pretty sure the Federation of Black Canadians has heard from them as well,” said Richard Marceau, vice-president of external affairs for CIJA.
“We have to stand firm against those marginal and fringe voices that have no interest in building up all of us,” he said.
The two organizations have recently been working together on confronting online hate, he said. Leaders of the FBC attended the World Jewish Congress’ international meeting in Ottawa in 2019, Marceau pointed out.
About 400 people participated in the June 17 webinar, organized by CIJA “to provide our community with this opportunity to listen directly to the experience of Black Canadians,” Marceau said in an email to The CJR after the event.
“Though we can sometimes disagree on some issues with the numerous partners we work with, we are united in our desire to make Canadian society free of bigotry and hate,” Marceau said in the email.
“Supporting the Black community does not come at the expense of the ongoing fight against antisemitism,” Marceau said on the webinar, as he introduced the four board members of the FBC. “We’re all part of the same struggle to overcome hate and push back against racism and discrimination.”
The hour-long call gave the FBC, a national advocacy group formed in 2017, a chance to outline the challenges its community faces and to present its three-point platform.
Black Canadians were already struggling with higher than national rates of poverty, unemployment and incarceration before COVID struck, board members said. Since then, the virus has had a disproportionate impact on the community.
“The challenges that we are facing are life and death,” said FBC chair Dahabo Ahmed Omer.
“During COVID, we have seen the impact of this pandemic on top of anti-Black racism, which is another form of pandemic,” Omer said. “What we are asking for is dedicated funding for Black communities to be supported in different gaps: housing, healthcare, business, the justice system and education.”
Although the federal government has launched several income-supplement programs, the Black community is still falling through holes in the safety net, she said.
For instance, Black businesses which rely on seasonal and temporary help have had trouble qualifying and accessing programs because they don’t meet government thresholds for payroll, as have grassroots organizations which rely largely on volunteers, said Chris Thompson, vice-chair of the FBC.
The FBC is also asking for all levels of government to collect race-based data to measure, among other things, the impact of racism and COVID on the Black community, Omer said.
“The third ask and recommendation that we are making is around this massive conversation around defunding police,” Omer said.
“We believe it is critical that we look at the resources that police institutions are getting today and what they are doing with those resources. We do not want our police institution to be about law enforcement, because hopefully our police institutions are about safety, they’re about wellbeing, and about caring for the needs of people.”
Citing recent instances in which police involvement with people who are mentally ill escalated into lethal confrontations, Omer said the FBC is calling for more investment into community social services to address issues such as homelessness and substance abuse, rather than having police handle those concerns.
In response to a question, Omer acknowledged that there were some antisemitic sentiments in the Black Lives Matter movement.
“But I also know that Black Lives Matter should not be painted in one brush because there are so many types of organizations that fight for Black lives,” she said.
Referring to Marceau’s comment about opposition to the communities working together, Omer agreed that it was important for Jewish and Black organizations to be allies.
“We have to combat the narratives that our communities can’t work together, because the narratives are there, and I think we have to do a lot of work to fight that.”
Trustees of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) have approved a motion calling on the Ministry of Education to make genocide education “compulsory learning.”
The June 17 announcement said board chair Robin Pilkey will make the following requests to the ministry:
• That the current grade 11 course “Genocide: Historical and Contemporary Implications” be accredited as part of the Ontario curriculum as a “university” or “mixed” course.
• That examples of genocide form “a comprehensive study” as part of the mandatory “Canadian History Since World War I” Grade 10 course;
• That the province convene a working group of experts to look critically at the Ontario curriculum to ensure that students graduate with a better understanding of human rights, and how to protect those rights and take effective action if they or others experience hate, racism or others forms of discrimination and violence.
The motion, which passed unanimously, is also supported by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Project Abraham, National Holodomor Education Committee, Liberation75 and the Armenian National Committee.
“Now more than ever, we, as part of the public education system, have the responsibility to educate against hate,” said Pilkey in a statement. “Our calls to action to the Ministry of Education will help ensure that students have the necessary knowledge of past atrocities so that they can actively fight against hatred of all forms, now and into the future.”
Genocide education is critical in fighting against intolerance, said TDSB director John Malloy. The board looks forward to working with the Ministry of Education “to ensure that genocide education is compulsory learning for students across the province.”
The motion was lauded by Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, which said genocide education is “critical for students to help them appreciate and advocate for human rights.”
Mother’s Day is often associated with elegant brunches – crepes, French toast, fancy omelettes and all kinds of poached egg specialities.
But Father’s Day is all about the meat. Usually, people celebrate with a barbecue of some kind because the weather tends to be warm and many Dads like to flaunt their barbecue prowess.
Some men, like my brother-in-law David, are terrific grill masters. My husband, on the other hand, tends to burn almost everything he barbecues.
In keeping with COVID guidelines, my family will be gathering in our backyard for Father’s Day. A barbecue is the simplest and safest plan for dinner. My husband will be manning the grill, but we’ll be limiting the main course to hot dogs and hamburgers.
I’ll be preparing some side dishes and serving them because a buffet-style spread has to be avoided during the pandemic.
It’s still asparagus season and Teriyaki Asparagus, will be a nice addition to the meal. This recipe comes from Meal Leani Yumm! 800 Fast, Fabulous & Healthy Recipes for the Kosher (or not) Cook, by the late Norene Gilletz.
You can never go wrong with potatoes. I’ll be baking Hasselback Potatoes. The recipe I’ll be using comes from I Heart Kosher: Beautiful Recipes From My Kitchen by Kim Kushner, a Canadian cookbook author based in New York City. I’ll also be making Kushner’s Sexy Red Kale with Beets & Fresh Dill in Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette. This colourful, bold-flavoured salad should give the meal some extra pizzazz.
1½ lb (750 g) asparagus, trimmed and cut diagonally into 2-inch (5 cm) slices 2 tbsp (30 ml) teriyaki sauce 1 tsp (5 ml) minced fresh ginger 2 green onions, chopped ½ to 1 tsp (3-5 ml) toasted sesame oil 1 tbsp (15 ml) honey 1 tbsp (15 ml) fresh orange juice ½ tsp (3 ml) Dijon mustard 2 tbsp (30 ml) toasted sesame seeds
Soak the asparagus in water and drain well. Place the spears in a 1-quart or (1-lL) casserole and drizzle with the teriyaki sauce. Sprinkle with the ginger and green onions.
Microwave on high for 6 or 7 minutes, until the spears are barely tender. Let them stand covered for 3 minutes. Stir in the sesame oil, honey, orange juice and mustard. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and serve immediately.
To toast the sesame seeds: Place the seeds in a small pan and roast them on medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Watch carefully to prevent burning.
SEXY RED KALE WITH RED BEETS & FRESH DILL IN MEYER LEMON VINAIGRETTE
4 –6 cups (1–1½ L) red kale leaves, washed and stored, roughly chopped 2 Belgian endives, leaves peeled off whole 1 red beet, peeled and thinly sliced 1 cup (250 ml ) frozen shelled edamame, thawed and rinsed 1 cup (250 ml) roughly chopped fresh dill Juice of 3 Meyer lemons ½ tsp (3 ml) whole mustard seeds ¼ tsp (1 ml) crushed dried rose petals (optional) 1 tbsp (15 ml) honey ¼ cup (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil Splash of balsamic vinegar Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Combine the kale, endive leaves, beet, edamame, and dill in a large bowl or platter. Toss them all together.
Pour the lemon juice into a glass jar, add the mustard seeds, dried rose petals (if using), honey, olive oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Shake well. Spoon the vinaigrette over the salad just before serving. Makes 6 –8 servings.
6–10 medium to large Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and dried Light olive oil Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line an extra large rimmed baking sheet (or 2 regular baking sheets) with parchment paper.
Working with one potato at a time, cut thin slits into the top of the potato from one side to the other, cutting almost, but not all the way through, almost like a fan. Drizzle the olive oil over the potatoes and season generously with salt and pepper. Use your hands to rub in the seasonings and ensure that the potatoes are completely coated with the oil, salt, and pepper.
Place the potatoes, uncut side down. Cover the baking sheet with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake until the potatoes are crispy and golden, about 30 minutes longer. Makes 6 to 10 servings.
Barbara Silverstein is a Toronto-area journalist and an award-winning food writer. She was a freelance writer and food blogger for The Canadian Jewish News. Her articles have also appeared in Homemakers Magazine, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail and Tablet Magazine.
The annual hate crime report has been released in Canada’s largest city by the Toronto Police Service (see the CJR’s news coverage today). And it will come as no real surprise that again, Toronto’s Jewish community which makes up 190,000 of Toronto’s 6 million people, or less than four percent of the total, continues to face the brunt of reported/investigated hate crimes.
Fully 42 percent of the reported crimes of hate targeted Jews in the City of Toronto. In York Region, Jews also led in reported hate crimes, collecting 32 percent of all incidents. Muslim Canadians, LGBTQ and Black Canadians closely followed.
However, we cannot regard these numbers as definitive. Police statistics have always been difficult to totally accept. Most minority groups face serious barriers to reporting alleged hate crime to police. Fear of police and fear of retaliation from hatemongers are very much part of those barriers.
For the most part, according to research from the Canadian Anti-Hate Network (whose board CJR co-founder and publisher Bernie Farber chairs), police do not share the number of reports they receive – only those in which some progress has been made in investigation.
According to the “General Social Survey on Victimization,” a population survey conducted every five years, the real incidence of hate crimes might be up to 20 times higher than reported.
As for collecting information by organizations representing minority communities, the data and the processes for gathering, investigating and reaching conclusions are not always fully realized. Community groups simply do not have the resources to make full assessments, so at best, these reports should be seen more as a snapshot of ongoing trends.
It is absolutely necessary for police and authorities to up their game in monitoring, collecting and analyzing hate crime statistics. This is most especially true when it comes to online hate. There are online tools available to track sentiment and issues around various vital matters including anti-Black racism, antisemitic hate speech, Islamophobic and homophobic sites. We are not currently aware if any groups, including police, are making use of these important tools.
At a time when hateful conspiracies are being freely bandied about on social media, when individuals, especially young people, are being radicalized into hatred, society must begin to devote resources to fight this scourge. Failure to do so will encourage extremist hateful elements to continue down their road of poison.
Jews were once again the most targeted group for hate crimes in Toronto in 2019, according to the latest annual Toronto Police Service report on hate activity.
The report for 2019 reveals that 32 percent of the 139 hate crimes in Toronto last year targeted the Jewish community, even though Jews account for four percent of the city’s population.
In 2019, Jews, followed by the LGBTQ community, the Black community, and Muslims were the most frequently victimized groups, stated the report, released today (June 19).
In 2018, Jews were victimized in about 36 percent of total hate crimes, remaining the single most targeted group.
In addition to the 44 hate incidences directed at Jews last year in Toronto, the report also notes another five hate crimes targeting Israelis specifically, as well as eight “multi-bias” hate crimes that included anti-Jewish sentiment, the report stated.
The three most frequently reported criminal offences motivated by hate in 2019 were mischief to property, assault, and uttering threats, the report went on. The Jewish community was the most frequently victimized group for mischief to property and uttering threat occurrences, the study noted.
In York Region, Jews were targeted in 40 out of 133 total recorded incidents, amounting to 30 percent of all incidents, a 2.7 percent increase from the year before, an earlier report showed.
Other highlights of the Toronto report include:
• There were seven acts of mischief motivated by hate to religious property and educational institutions in 2019, compared to 10 in 2018. Once again, the Jewish community, followed by the Muslim and Catholic communities, was the predominant victim groups for mischief to religious and educational property last year in Toronto.
• Vandalism and graffiti were the two primary forms of mischief reported, and the most common offence locations were schools/universities, dwellings, parks and streets/laneways. Jews and the LGBTQ community were the predominant victim groups for mischief occurrences in 2019.
• There were 25 incidents of uttering threats motivated by hate in 2019, compared to 15 in 2018. Jews were again the predominant victim group for uttering threat occurrences in 2019.
• Of the 15 hate occurrences that were categorized as multi-bias (cutting across more than one religious or ethnic category) in 2019, the Black community was targeted in 11 and Jews in eight.
The latest numbers “are no surprise to members of the Jewish community in Toronto,” said Barbara Bank, chair of the Centre for Jewish and Israel Affairs, Toronto in a statement.
“Year after year, Jewish Torontonians are the most frequently targeted group when it comes to hate crime. Whether the immediate targets of hate are individuals or community institutions, these crimes leave a lasting, harmful impact on victims and the broader community,” Bank said.
She noted that Ontario lawmakers are currently considering Bill 168: An Act to Combat Antisemitism, which, if passed, would empower Queen’s Park to address contemporary forms of antisemitism.
“We urge every [MPP] to support their bill and affirm their commitment to combating antisemitism,” Bank said.
In a statement, B’nai Brith Canada said the police numbers for last year are “consistent” with the organization’s 2019 Annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents, which found a 62.8 per cent increase in the number of incidents in Ontario compared to the previous year.
CEO Michael Mostyn called on all levels of government to adopt B’nai Brith’s “Eight-Point Plan to Tackle Antisemitism.”
Every year, the Jewish community remains the most targeted group when it comes to hate crimes, pointed out Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, director of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Campaign Against Antisemitism.
Kirzner-Roberts called on city leaders “to recognize the urgent need to fight antisemitism and hate in our city and take strong, decisive action to help ensure the safety and security of our community.”
The police report also noted that in February 2019, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto held a one-day conference, “Combating Hate Speech and Antisemitism” in Toronto. The conference was attended by community leaders, legal professionals, and police officers.
B’nai Brith also pointed out that nationally, Jews have been the country’s most targeted minority for the past three consecutive years, according to data from Statistics Canada.
VICTOR FELDBRILL – Conductor, Violinist (Apr. 4, 1924 – June 17, 2020)
The music world said goodbye to a Canadian champion today.
Conductor extraordinaire and classically-trained violinist Victor Feldbrill died in Toronto yesterday at the age of 96.
A Harbord Collegiate alumnus, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants Helen (Lederman) and Nathan Feldbrill, he was destined to pick up a baton and lead orchestras around the world, starting in high school.
For future conductors, it was all about leadership. “Authority comes from being prepared,” he once told the Toronto Star’s classical music columnist Bill Littler.
During his high school years, the young violinist also conducted student orchestras, and after sharing his ambition with Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) conductor Sir Ernest MacMillan, Feldbrill enrolled in Ettore Mazzoleni’s conducting class at the then Toronto Conservatory of Music. He succeeded his music theory teacher John Weinzweig as the University of Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s conductor in 1942-‘43.
His TSO conducting debut took place on March 30, 1943.
Stationed in London during the Second World War with the Royal Canadian Navy, he played violin in the Navy Show while continuing his violin, harmony, composition and conducting studies for two years at the Royal Academy, but returned to his fiancée Zelda in Canada, ultimately holding concertmaster and assistant conductor positions from 1945-‘49 with the Royal Conservatory of Music Symphony Orchestra and Opera Company.
He was TSO’s first violin from 1949-56 and freelanced as a violinist and conductor for a variety of CBC-TV and radio programs.
The maestro had a special interest in young musicians and during the 1950s, he conducted for Ontario School Broadcasts and National School Broadcasts.
Always honing his skills, he became TSO’s assistant conductor in 1956-‘57 and took the reins of the Winnipeg Symphony in 1958. His stable leadership over the next 10 years helped give Canada, for the first time, a symphonic ensemble with a serious commitment to Canadian music.
Feldbrill never regretted building his career in his home country.
There were guest appearances over the years with symphony orchestras across Canada, the UK, China, Italy, the Philippines and the Soviet Union, followed by a short-term teaching engagement which led to a professorship and principal conductorship of Tokyo National University’s Geidi Philharmonic.
For several years, he conducted nine of Tokyo’s ten symphony orchestras.
Throughout his career, he included, when possible, one Canadian work in every concert he conducted. A highlight in his 50th year of conducting for the TSO was leading the premiere of Srul Irving Glick’s The Reawakening.
A recipient of many accolades and honours, including the first Roy Thomson Award in 1985, Feldbrill was made an Officer of the Order of Canada that year and named to the Order of Ontario in 1999. Toronto’s Arts and Letters Club recognized his body of work, bestowing upon him the Sir Ernest MacMillan Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Toronto Musicians’ Association.
David Eisenstadt is founding partner of tcgpr and a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.
For Faye Blum, lead archivist on the Ontario Jewish Archives’ (OJA) recently-launched Bathurst Manor project, a possible silver lining to the current pandemic is that people who have lived, worked, or attended school in “the Manor” might have more time to look for memorabilia.
Although the project wasn’t promoted more “officially” until April, Blum – who grew up in the north Toronto suburb herself – ran an initial focus group in February. Early outreach efforts on social media, as well as through UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and word of mouth, have yielded “a terrific response” and more than 40 conversations that have revealed “powerful narratives.”
Common themes and memories of life in the Manor include houses bought on a handshake deal, the childhood freedom of running in and out of people’s houses, and the importance of transit for early residents in the 1950s, Blum told the CJR.
As well, Jewish organizations, synagogues and local shops “figure prominently. It was virtually part of everybody’s experience to go to the cigar store [at Wilmington Plaza].”
The neighbourhood, home to Canadian-born and Holocaust survivor families, was “such a big part of their life,” she said, adding that it’s not uncommon to hear that people who grew up in Bathurst Manor thought the whole world was Jewish.
Some demographic records from 1961 put the Jewish population at 75 percent, Blum said, but anecdotal evidence would suggest a much higher proportion.
Oral histories, an integral part of the project, have been put on hold until the fall, with the hope that they can be conducted in person. The OJA has received funding for a City of Toronto Spark grant to train students to conduct such interviews.
Part of the impetus for the project was the redevelopment of UJA Federation’s Sherman Campus, which houses the Prosserman Jewish Community Centre and community offices, including the OJA. The campus, on Bathurst Street north of Sheppard Avenue West, is at the eastern boundary of the Manor. The neighbourhood extends from Sheppard to Finch Avenue West, and from Bathurst to Dufferin Street.
As well, the OJA has a relatively small number of holdings for Bathurst Manor, compared to other historic Toronto Jewish neighbourhoods.
Blum is interested in learning what drew residents to Bathurst Manor, and what life was like there. Part of her work involves finding evidence to corroborate residents’ stories – items like photographs, home movies, correspondence, floor plans, and documents like brochures, house deeds, and agreements of purchase and sale.
The COVID pandemic has taken a toll on businesses across the world. With so many stores shuttered and restaurants relying on take-out orders, the recent release of David Sax’s book, The Soul of an Entrepreneur: Work and Life Beyond the Startup Myth (Public Affairs), seems well timed.
In a telephone interview, Sax, a Toronto-based writer, acknowledged the book’s relevance in this era of COVID. However, he said, the pandemic has not been conducive to book sales, given the economic climate. Sax, like the people he profiles in his book, is an entrepreneur himself and relies on book sales and speaking engagements to cover his mortgage and childcare bills.
He defines entrepreneur as a self-employed individual operating as an independent purveyor of goods and services. Varying degrees of financial uncertainty generally underlie the entrepreneurial experience. For some of the book’s subjects this unpredictability is an acceptable trade-off for the independence, freedom and pride that self-employment affords them.
Such financial risk-taking does not necessarily apply to the enterprises emerging out of Silicon Valley, the California-based Mecca of high-tech innovation. Sax views the tech startup as a “standardized, prescriptive model of entrepreneurship” mainly funded by venture capital. He describes the people pitching their ideas as “mostly wealthy young white men from Ivy League schools” who are coached to raise capital, and if their companies fail they are losing investors’ money rather than their own.
Given the media focus on celebrity tech magnates like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and PayPal founder Elon Musk, one would naturally think that the Silicon Valley model typifies U.S. entrepreneurship. But Sax points out that these ventures make up less than one per cent of American companies. He says the attention on startups minimizes the efforts of the majority of business owners.
He profiles a range of people who are more representative of North American entrepreneurs. The book begins with two Silicon Valley types in Palo Alto attempting to launch a startup. From there, Sax takes the reader to a cafe run by a surf-loving pastry chef in the New York City borough of Queens. He features a range of other businesses including a Syrian food shop in Toronto, a Californian dairy farm and an African American hairdresser in New Orleans.
While The Soul of an Entrepreneur is well researched, it’s not a dry account of business ownership. Sax intertwines the personal stories of the owners of the businesses he spotlights.
Their aspirations and struggles are compelling: whether it’s the dairy farmer trying to keep the family farm or the African-American hairdresser attaining social media stardom.
The focus on these entrepreneurs is the strength of this book. “I can’t imagine doing it any other way,” Sax said, pointing out that all his earlier books – Save the Deli, The Tastemakers and The Revenge of Analog – have revolved around personal histories.
Sax weaves his own story throughout the book. He is the third generation of an entrepreneurial family. Both his maternal and paternal grandfathers owned businesses. His father (Michael) is an independent lawyer and investor and his mother (Julia) ran a shmatta business.
He said his family typifies the Jewish experience.
“Our people relied on entrepreneurship for survival. We identify Jews with the shmatta business and diamonds and food. In the old countries where Jews were prohibited from so many professions, they had no choice but to create businesses,” he said. “It’s allowed us to thrive and re-establish our communities.”
There’s a parallel, he said, between the Jewish narrative and that of the Syrian refugees portrayed in his book. “Their story is not that dissimilar to the Jewish immigrants. If you were denied access to money and power you have no choice. They built it (their business) on their own like Jews.
“[The thinking is], ‘If no one is going to give me a job then what can I do within my community?’ That’s the bigger picture that we have lost sight of.”
He lamented that like so many businesses, these small ethnic establishments are vulnerable to the ravages of COVID.
Asked what kind of business he thought could survive the pandemic, Sax deadpanned: “Scuttling cruise ships.”
Canadians are cautiously emerging from the strict restrictions of the global pandemic as Ottawa implements the next stage of the COVID- recovery plan.
Wearing a face mask is critical to its success.
In response to the global mask shortage, TakeCare Supply was created in April by a team of Canadian entrepreneurs. In that short time, TakeCare has sold more than 250,000 evidence-based, reusable face masks across North America.
Working out of a re-purposed clothing factory in west-end Toronto, the team employs some 150 people. The masks are intended for non-health workers with essential jobs.
“All of the factory employees are either first or second generation Canadians,” said Ilan Orzy, TakeCare’s public affairs manager.
On June 10, five community leaders gathered at the Lipa Green Centre, the hub of Jewish communal organizations, for TakeCare’s donation of masks to nonprofits and social service organizations in the city. The inaugural gift of six hundred masks went to Jewish Family and Child Service (JF&CS).
“The important part about our masks is not just that we make them and they are Canadian but we are serving the Canadian public with them,” said Orzy. “Our founders decided they were going to take the extra step and donate masks to agencies in need, especially front-facing agencies that give social services or other services to constituents in Toronto and in the GTA.”
Brian Prousky, executive director of JF&CS, expressed his gratitude.
“I’m grateful for the generosity of TakeCare Supply – they clearly have a social conscience,” said Prousky.
He said the masks are going to all staff and to volunteers, foster parents, and caregivers who work with youth and children.
York Centre Liberal MP Michael Levitt told the CJR: “We are getting to the very front line needs of our community.” He said he toured the factory last week.
“It’s a wonderful venture, really proof positive that when good people get together with good intentions, even in the face of a crisis, positive things can happen at a business, commercial and a philanthropic level.”
TakeCare was founded by Anna-Maria Mountfort, a Canadian accessories fashion designer; Kevin Vuong, a social entrepreneur and public affairs leader; and Larry Lau, a social entrepreneur and startup investor.
“The idea was to have a Canadian shop make these masks with Canadian materials from Canadian vendors, and produce as many as possible to better serve the community here in Toronto and across the country,” said Orzy. “We have even shipped to Australia.”
The masks have a filter pouch into which the wearer can substitute common household items, like coffee filters, dryer sheets, or dried baby wipes, for added protection.
“It’s an intimidating thing to wear a mask,” Orzy explained. “You don’t get to see people’s face or smile, so when people see the mask and it says ‘TakeCare,’ we hope that leaves them with a better image than what they might otherwise walk away with.”
Avi Benlolo is “no longer employed” by Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies (FSWC).
In response to queries from the CJR on Benlolo’s rumoured departure from his long-held post, Avital Borisovsky, associate director of communications for FSWC, on June 8 said that Benlolo was President and CEO of FSWC.
On June 16, Borisovsky sent the CJR another email stating, “Avi Benlolo is no longer employed by FSWC.”
“We are not able to provide any other information at this time,” Borisovsky said on June 17.
UPDATE: A statement from FSWC on June 17 said Benlolo “will be moving on from Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center following 20 years with the organization. The Board of Directors and the Board of Governors of FSWC thank Avi for his longstanding service and commitment and for his meaningful contribution in helping position the organization as one of Canada’s foremost voices in the fight against anti-Semitism. As a next step, the FSWC board has activated a search for a CEO whose responsibilities will include leading the day-to-day operations of the organization and the management of its staff, donors and associates. In the interim the center is being managed by FSWC Chairman Fred Waks and Rabbi Meyer H. May, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s long-serving executive director based at the Center’s international headquarters in Los Angeles.”
The CJR is watching this story and will report details as they arise.