A Note from the Founders

Like so many others, we were hit hard by the loss of The Canadian Jewish News. The coronavirus collided with greatly diminished advertising revenue and ever fewer subscribers to kill off Canada’s only national Jewish voice.

How was it possible, we wondered, that Canada, with the world’s fourth-largest Jewish population (going on third largest if trends continue in France) no longer had a Jewish voice?

After all, Jews are generally voracious readers with opinions often loudly and persistently proclaimed. Jewish journalism in Canada has had a long and honourable history but its future no longer seemed tenable (see journalist Andrew Cohen’s article on Canadian Jewish journalism in this, our inaugural issue).

And, it seems, many others were feeling the same way. Through social media, we heard from hundreds of people bemoaning the loss of an official Jewish voice of record.

Thus was born the Canadian Jewish Record.

Journalists, academics, pundits, communal personalities and others have come together and donated their time to develop this online presence. It is a modest effort (for now) but one needed in a time when so many hunger for Jewish information.

We hope to keep the Jewish news engine humming smoothly as we all struggle through strange and unprecedented times.

The Canadian Jewish Record is truly a labour of love. It is akin to an old-style collective, but dressed in twenty-first century digital clothing. We will work toward providing news, views, arts and culture, features, rabbinic perspectives, and all the things you would expect from a quality Jewish publication – and it will all be original content.

Please enjoy … and if any budding writers out there want to contribute, please send pitches or completed work (700 words max) to canadianjewishrecord@gmail.com

Keep well and safe.

Bernie M. Farber and Ron Csillag

Israelis are ‘Thieves, Murderers,’ Toronto al-Quds Rally Told

B’nai Brith Canada has again filed a complaint with police over this year’s al-Quds Day event.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic blocked the Toronto al-Quds Day committee from conducting its customary rally in downtown Toronto but did not prevent it from spreading hate on the internet, B’nai Brith alleged in a May 18 statement.

The al-Quds rally, which originated in Iran in 1979 and has drawn thousands to the streets of Toronto each year to protest Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, this time moved online to comport with COVID requirements.

B’nai Brith pointed out that while the annual rally “is supposedly held for the benefit of Palestinians, not a single one of the 12 speakers at [the May 17] event was Palestinian.”

The Jewish advocacy group noted that Paul Larudee, an Iranian-American activist addressing virtual attendees, proclaimed, “Let us make Zionist citizens of so-called Israel unwelcome anywhere in the world,” adding, “We must treat them as we would treat any thieves and murderers.”

Iranian-American activist Paul Larudee addressing the online al-Quds Day rally this year. (YouTube)

His remarks were welcomed by virtual rally host Farman Ali, who described them as “great words,” B’nai Brith added.

B’nai Brith said it is filing a complaint with Toronto police “over this act of hatred against Israelis based on their nationality.”

Throughout the event, Ali repeated, “Judaism yes, Zionism no,” but “this did not prevent the use of antisemitic tropes during the rally,” B’nai Brith said.

Earlier in the afternoon, organizers played a video entitled “The Palestine Pandemic,” which described Zionism as a “Satanic endeavour,” according to the BB statement.

It added that the video went on to identify Zionism with “the military-industrial complex, elite-run societies, corporatocracies” and “the one percent who rule this planet.” It concluded with the words: “Free Palestine, free Jerusalem, free the world.”

Meanwhile, one speaker alleged that “Apartheid Israel” was an “ally” of COVID, while another described the Jewish state, as “a cancer that has been growing, a cancer that has been spreading,” BB stated.

“The hateful, antisemitic content of this event demonstrates exactly why it should never again be allowed on Toronto’s streets,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada. “Even after the COVID restrictions pass, we expect the City of Toronto to follow the lead of world cities like Berlin in permanently banning physical al-Quds marches.”

B’nai Brith also pointed out that this year’s rally took a partisan political turn, with remarks by Dimitri Lascaris, “who used the occasion to boost his campaign for leadership of the Green Party of Canada.” The event host then told Lascaris that “when the time comes, you can absolutely count on us.”

For many years, speakers at Toronto al-Quds Day rallies have praised terrorists and incited hatred against Jews and Israelis, BB noted, citing:

In 2018, a featured speaker said he was praying for the “eradication” of Israelis. In 2013 and 2016, speakers called for Israelis to be shot. In 2014, a Muslim cleric called for “Yahoodi” (Arabic for “Jewish”) to be “dismantled.” Last year, another cleric brandished a sign referring to a massacre of Jews.

In a statement to the CJR, Martin Sampson, vice president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said that despite being held online, this year’s al-Quds Day protest “– an odious project initiated by the Iranian regime to promote Israel’s destruction – featured the same antisemitic themes we see every year, including calling Israel a cancer.”

Sampson said CIJA “continues to expose the antisemitism that pervades the Al-Quds day rallies to law enforcement and to elected officials at all levels of government.”

Rabbis Offer Alternatives to Kaddish-as-Usual


Among other challenges facing the Jewish community because of COVID-19, mourners who would otherwise say Kaddish as part of an in-person minyan no longer have that option.

Most Orthodox rabbis do not consider online minyanim acceptable for reciting Kaddish or for other aspects of the service that require the traditional prayer quorum of 10. The chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, has suggested a memorial prayer called the Hazkarah, which was written in medieval times and can be said without a minyan.

In Vancouver, Congregation Schara Tzedeck, which is modern Orthodox, is offering twice-daily online Torah study in lieu of the daily minyan and Kaddish.

“The idea is that people should do a mitzvah in memory of their loved one,” said Rabbi Andrew Rosenblatt, the synagogue’s spiritual leader.

He added that in the middle of Passover, Schara Tzedeck held a virtual Yizkor service, which had close to maximum shul attendance.

In Montreal, Rabbi Anthony Knopf, spiritual leader of the modern Orthodox Congregation Beth Ora, has arranged to have Kaddish said on behalf of some congregants through Aish HaTorah’s minyan in Jerusalem. The Aish website states that its minyan is held “in accordance with the directives and guidelines of Israel’s Health Ministry.”

Beth Ora also has a weekly online Mincha/Ma’ariv service, where worshippers observing yahrzeit or shloshim are given the opportunity to speak about their loved one. “There are different ways of finding that meaning and that connection,” Rabbi Knopf said.

But at least one Orthodox synagogue, the Yachad congregation in Tel Aviv, has approved saying Kaddish in a virtual minyan.

Rabbi Benjamin Lau, an Israeli Orthodox scholar and community leader, wrote in a Times of Israel column in March that he participated in a Zoom minyan organized by the congregation after consulting with Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, who has published extensively on Halachah (Jewish law). 

In the Conservative movement, there are also a variety of approaches. Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am, an egalitarian Conservative synagogue in Toronto, holds Zoom services twice a day with the exception of Shabbat and holy days.

To deny mourners the opportunity to say Kaddish “would create great emotional stress,” said Rabbi Philip Scheim, the congregation’s senior rabbi. He said his sense was “that we had to respond to a very pressing human need.”

Rabbi Philip Scheim

In mid-March, the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly posted a document titled “Guidance for Remote Minyanim in a time of COVID-19.” In lieu of Kaddish, the document recommends alternative prayers or mitzvot, such as text study. The directive also noted that some members of the movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards recommend a more lenient approach based in part on sources that suggest worshippers can be counted in a minyan if their faces can be seen. 

The Reform movement now permits online minyanim “only under the unusual circumstances of a global pandemic,” Rabbi Yael Splansky, senior rabbi of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, told The CJR in an email. Her congregation is offering twice-daily minyanim, and she said they have been “surprisingly meaningful for many.”

All the same, Rabbi Splansky wrote, “I long for the day when we can return to welcoming each other into the small chapel, carry the Torah in procession, offer Yahrtzeit candles as gifts of comfort from the Temple Brotherhood, and gather over bagels after the service for in-person conversation. In the meantime, however, this [virtual minyan] is a powerful tool for uplifting prayer, meaningful connections, and sustaining rituals.”

SIMONS: A Study in Others’ Conversation


The time has come in my life when I must freely admit I honestly miss going to Toronto’s United Bakers Dairy Restaurant just by myself for breakfast and sitting at my new favourite table at the south-west corner.

Perhaps I should explain. I choose my table very carefully, as I do my friends – not that there’s any similarity between them. My friends are neither square nor rectangular nor suffer from the same identical height, and they certainly don’t have a wobbly leg or screech when they move around.

I know from the regulars who visit UB for breakfast that they have one thing in common: They take great pleasure in being scanned by other patrons as they walk into the restaurant. For the life of me, I have no idea why – and they revel in endorsing UB’s superb breakfast of orange juice, two scrambled eggs, hash brown potatoes, a slice of cucumber and tomato, with a toasted bagel accompanied by jam, all washed down with a bottomless cup of coffee.

Which seems to me quite odd, since I’ve never witnessed any of them eating this meal. We shouldn’t make too much of this, for if UB is known for anything special, it is that its patrons can be categorized as “characters.”

Take for instance the two elderly ladies of an age far greater than mine who were sitting on my left. To distinguish the two, I will call one Luca, who I immediately recognized as speaking stereotypical Hunglish. The other I will call “the second woman.”

“Tell me, darling what do you think? How’s my hair looking?” asked Luca. “Earlier this morning I went to Mario’s. Be honest, do you think Abe will notice me?”

To which the second woman replied, “So, when are you going to have your hair done?”

Their urbane conversation abruptly stopped, reminding me of what George Bernard Shaw had to say. “She had lost the art of conversation but not, unfortunately, the power of speech.”

Conversation during breakfast makes UB a superb location to visit. Let me give you a further example. Take the dialogue between Ruthie and Fran, two ladies out of a vaudeville act.

Ruthie: “My only brother is in town. The one I don’t talk to. He’s in town with his ‘thing’ that we don’t mention.”

Fran: “His thing?”

Ruthie: “Yes his thing. He married her 25 years ago. No one knew. He didn’t tell the family. Me, his only sister, he didn’t tell. Now, after 25 years, he phoned me. I said, ‘do you want to get together?’ He says he’s busy! Who’s he busy with? Her, the thing!”

At this time – need I say it? – Ruthie and Fran received my full attention.

Fran: “He’s in town after 25 years?”

Ruthie: “I’m not seeing him. After so many years I should see him when he didn’t invite me to his wedding?”

At the next table to their left, an elderly man, dressed in old-fashioned bright polyester – one might see in Florida at the early-bird dinners – struggled to get up to leave. Oblivious to the two women, he slowly shuffled past them heading for the exit.

Ruthie: “Oi Fran, say nothing! Shush! Not one word. Just look at me!”

Fran: “What’s up, Ruthie?”

Ruthie: “It’s him!” she croaked, pointing to the elderly man. “It’s my brother!”

I’ll tell you frankly, there is no doubt that if I were a theatre critic, I would have been the first to stand and applaud the performance of these three thespians. However, the very thought of doing so at such close vicinity while attempting to move my table and not spill my coffee and glass of water settled the matter for me.

I have heard from time to time of similar conversations at United Bakers. But with such great stress put on me while eating my breakfast, to my credit, I have now found a table far from such animated dialogue.

I think this will count toward a longer life.

Don’t Neglect Physical Activity in Lockdown


Uch. You roll over, blurry-eyed. You check the time (insert your wake-up time). Perfect. One more snooze. Ding! Your snooze alert startles you out of a deep sleep. You press it with the intention of dozing just a little longer but (insert child’s name, business name, pet’s name) reminds you that although we are in isolation, someone needs you awake.

You throw on a pair of sweats/tights/leggings/sleep pants/ shorts and pour a cup of (insert your morning vice) and start your day, which is eerily similar to the one before and the one before that. It is hard to stay focused on health and fitness when one day seemingly rolls into another. With so much to balance these days, the best you may not be showing up. 

As a personal trainer and fitness coach for over 20 years, I have learned a few things about people’s love/hate relationship with working out and why it’s so important to maintain the love part during times like these. 

First, be kind to yourself. We are in extraordinary times. We are balancing work/life/kids/isolation/desperation and mental health as best we can. If your regular fitness routine has slowed or ceased, don’t beat yourself up. It’s not too late. We know that exercise is good for the body and soul especially in times of strife and uncertainty. Feel-good endorphins and increased blood flow help regulate mood, which is undeniably important. So here are few ways to get going or to help you continue on your way. 

Set a schedule. Planned workouts are like meetings for your body. If it’s scheduled, we are more likely to keep the appointment. If we wake up and say at some point, “I will,” then something will always get in the way. If we wake up and say, “from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. or at 5:30, I will work out,” we are more likely to stay committed to exercise.

If you miss your scheduled workout, you must throw out the notion that exercise can only come in the form of going to the basement and logging hours on a machine. When you’re home with the kids and just being alone in the washroom uses up all your personal time, you have to get creative. Ride a bike, walk, rollerblade or play a game of catch to boost your heart rate. Fifteen jumping jacks between hopscotch turns, squats while waiting your turn in basketball, five push-ups at the top of each flight of stairs, and sprints with your kids are all good ways to sneak in some fitness through the day.

Be accountable. Get a friend, a trainer, get in a class – just get something that helps make you accountable. I have found that when my clients have sessions booked, they are less likely to cancel due to work, family or “I don’t want to.” A friend waiting for a socially distant walk will hold you to the walk. Most things are better when done as a shared experience.

Set a goal. “This week I will start a running program. I will maintain my weight through COVID. I will get 12,000 steps a day. I will go for a 30-minute lunchtime walk each work day.” Any goal will do. Just make one and strive for it. When you succeed, set another. If you don’t, luckily, we have nothing but time at the moment to achieve it.

Get outside as much as possible. The fresh air is a super complement to actual physical activity. Backyard workouts can be just as rewarding as those using basement machines, as the chirping birds and brisk air can help remind us that things won’t always be like this.

Vicki DePass has been a personal trainer and fitness coach for 21 years.

Havdalah on the Porch


During the week, my husband and I are in Zoom meetings much of the day, while our kids are in online school and we scramble to help them. I am grateful we have jobs and can continue to work. I am grateful that we can afford day school so our kids are learning from dedicated teachers who are doing their best to make it work.

But for all of us there is something exhausting about communicating online. It looks like the real thing, but it feels emptier. We yearn for real contact with real people.

When the quarantine began, I heard of people in Italy playing music on their balconies. The trend caught on, with impromptu concerts and singing heard from balconies all over the world. I wanted to do something that would capture some of that spirit

Organizing something for our whole downtown Toronto street seemed daunting. I thought of Havdalah. None of us felt drawn to the numerous online Havdalah services, no matter how tuneful. But we have a few Jewish neighbours and I invited them to join us (with proper social distancing) as we did Havdalah on our porch.

The kids chalked a sign on the sidewalk in case we missed anyone.

I got a folding table and an aluminum tray. We brought out our candle, siddur and grape juice in a non-breakable cup. We were able to find a use for the tiny besamim (spice) bags my cousin Susan made for her daughter Hadar’s bat mitzvah party last November, which we had been ignoring in favour of our larger but more fragile spice boxes. Hadar learned to play singer-songwriter Debbie Friedman’s version of Havdalah for her bat mitzvah, so she brought out the sheet music and her guitar.

Mendelsohn Havdalah on the porch
Aurora Mendelsohn and her family (top left) enjoy Havdalah on the porch with neighbours.

Our neighbours down the road, whom we know well, came with their two girls and their own havdalah kit. Our next-door neighbours came out too. Even our non-Jewish neighbours across the way, who spends their days making meals for healthcare workers, stepped out on their porch and tried to hum along.

By the second week, it was clear this would be a tradition we’d all be keeping until the end of the quarantine. I told everyone, that when it is over, we’ll have everyone over for Havdalah — inside our house.

Unlike Zoom, Havdalah engages all five senses. We feel and see the heat of the flame. We taste the wine. We hear the prayers and smell the fragrant spices.

Havdalah is supposed to mark the transition from the holiness of Shabbat to the ordinariness of the rest of the week. Last week, looking out over our porch at everyone singing, I think we were able to hold on to the holiness for just a little bit longer.

Aurora Mendelsohn is an administrator at the University of Toronto and lives downtown with her husband and three children. She writes about Judaism, feminism and parenting at the blog Rainbow Tallit Baby.

My Sister-Wife and ME


My sister came to visit for a week and has now been living in my house for two months. Yes, she came that week…the first week of March, after which the world closed down. My husband, my two kids, my dog, my sister and I have all been isolating at home together, and all I can say is, I think polygamists are onto something. Having a “sister-wife” is amazing!

She is a gourmet cook who doesn’t mind doing the grocery shopping (or paying for it), likes to organize things, cleans up after herself, is respectful of personal space, and, as opposed to my husband and kids, enjoys playing Scrabble daily. What more could a woman ask for?

Living with extended family is nothing new for members of “the tribe.” But as Jews moved from the shtetl to cities and eventually the suburbs, we shed more than a family member or two along the way. Today, living with extended family is more the exception than the rule.

My oldest sister has lived in the United States for the past four years. Three of her children live in Toronto, so she visits quite often. When she comes, she often stays with us, as we have plenty of room – and a pool. It’s generally a pleasure. Does she talk on the phone a little too loudly? Yes. Does she offer an unprompted opinion now and then? Yes. But so do my husband and kids. And they don’t cook like she does.

I love my husband and kids, but I have to admit that I am happy to have my sister here during this crazy time. We can relate on so many different levels that I can’t with my spouse or children. Maybe it’s a sister thing, maybe it’s a woman thing, or maybe it’s a mother thing, but she just gets it. Whether it’s dealing with an understandably stressed husband, or the two stir-crazy kids, a knowing glance at the right moment, a small smile or nod lets me know she gets it.

Most of the time we have spent together has been routine. We go for walks, play Scrabble, do yoga, and cook (okay, it’s mostly her). But there are also some unforgettable moments, like the first time I tried to colour her hair. A hilarious debacle resulted in a lot of laughs and a lot of leftover grey! 

Of course, there are times I would like my privacy. Like everyone else, there have been stressful times, arguments, annoyances and outright tantrums. There are times I would have been happy not to have a witness to some of the goings-on in my house. But it’s not like she ever thought we were perfect anyway, right?

If you would have asked me who I would choose for my “desert island” before this pandemic, I’m not sure my older sister would have made the top five. We normally don’t speak every day, like I do with my best friends. But if living together is the true test of compatibility, then maybe I need to rethink my list.

Like many people, I have spent much of the last two months Facetiming, Zooming and Houseparty-ing with family and friends. I am a little surprised by both who has been checking in on a consistent basis and who I am reaching out to first. We prioritize our time even when we have nothing better to do. So much Netflix to stream, so little time.

While we all look forward to when we can socialize again and get together with friends and family I hope that I remember this as a time of strengthening and deepening the relationships that work in my life. It’s really kind of simple: I want to spend my time with the people I care about and who care about me.

And of course, people who can cook like a gourmet chef.

Elyse Tytel is a freelance writer who lives in Toronto with her husband, two children and chocolate labradoodle (and currently, her sister too).

OPINION: Why Canadian Jews Need JSpace


More often than not, discussions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seem to be needlessly polarized. This happens both within the Jewish community and in Canadian society at large. As young Canadian Jews who study at universities or work as young professionals, we have all seen disrespectful, demeaning, and hateful slander far too often. That is why we have helped build JSpaceCanada, a pro-Israel, pro-peace organization that serves as a forum for respectful dialogue about Israel and promotes a peaceful solution to the conflict.

Through its biennial conferences, frequent events, and now webinars, JSpaceCanada invites a wide range of speakers to share their lived experiences and ideas. These include Israelis, Palestinians, and professionals who have worked in diplomacy and peacebuilding. Only by listening to all perspectives, including those of Arab citizens of Israel or those living under Israel’s military occupation in the West Bank, can we understand the present situation and strive to identify solutions.

We have been honoured to welcome guests ranging from former Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler, to Israel’s consul general in Toronto, Galit Baram, who appreciate our efforts to hear different perspectives and build a consensus for peace. To their great credit, organizations like the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) have been supportive of our efforts to promote exchange and discussion. Instead of engaging in provocation, violence and defamation, we choose to contribute to peace by hearing others’ experiences, providing our own, and listening to people with whom we might sometimes disagree.

JSpaceCanada provides an important forum to showcase the health of our community. After all, Canadian Jews need unity, not uniformity in the way we approach Israel. It is no secret that within our community, there exist significant differences on issues like settlements, peace plans, or the best way to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. We believe these disagreements are healthy, and in fact, mirror the same disagreements in Israel. Many young, progressive Israelis, including those who serve their country in uniform, oppose the policies of their current government not because their Zionism is lukewarm, but because they love their country and believe its government and the Palestinian leadership must do more to promote peace. We want to hear from them, and from young Palestinians, about what actions we can take to help promote a bilateral, negotiated peace agreement leading to a two-state solution, fulfilling the right of self-determination for both peoples – Jews and Palestinians. Diverse views are good for our community. Rather than excluding those with whom we disagree, or worse, using vile slurs to intimidate them, we at JSpaceCanada choose to work together and build as broad a coalition as possible to support Israel and a negotiated peace.

That, in turn, will help expand the number of Canadians who support the Jewish, democratic state of Israel. We know that we can most persuasively make the case for Israel through honest, critical thinking, not by defending every action or policy of the current Israeli government. Just as some of us might oppose policies of our own governments while remaining patriotic Canadians, the same is true of our relationships with Israel. Indeed, we feel the need to raise our voices against policies like settlement expansion and annexation precisely because we love Israel and want to see it live up to its founding principles. By pushing Israel to do more to live up to the values enshrined in its Declaration of Independence, we demonstrate that the values of equality, democracy and peace are also Zionist values. In so doing, we broaden the pro-Israel tent and can make the case that Israel merits the support of all Canadians.

And as friends of Israel, it is our obligation to support Israelis to realize their founding values and reach a peaceful solution with their neighbours.

By providing Canadians with a pro-Israel, pro-peace forum for discussion and advocacy, JSpaceCanada has become a vitally important community organization. If you, like us, love Israel and care about peace, please consider joining us in JSpaceCanada as we exchange, listen and learn together.

L-R: Sophie Hershfield of Winnipeg, Daniel Minden of Montreal and Michael Morgenthau of Toronto are all members of JSpaceCanada’s Next Generation Leadership Initiative.

ROYTENBERG: Thinking About Annexation


After more than a year and three elections, a majority in the Israeli Knesset has agreed to form a government. Article 29 of the coalition agreement says, “As of July 1, 2020, the Prime Minister will be able to bring the agreement reached with the United States regarding the application of sovereignty for discussion by the cabinet and the government and for the approval of the government and/or the Knesset.”

Annexation of territory by Israel in the absence of a peace agreement with the Palestinians is controversial in Israel, even more so in the rest of the world. Other than the Trump administration in the U.S., no foreign government supports it. Nevertheless, the new government will begin to address the question this summer.

What are the arguments for and against annexation? What can we expect to happen if the government goes ahead with it? Now is the time for a calm examination of the case for and against annexation.

Arguments against annexation rest on different premises. Some are moral. For example, some argue that Palestinian Arabs are a dispossessed people who have already lost most of their land to Israel. “Surely,” this argument goes, “they are entitled to a state in the territory captured by Israel in June 1967, a territory which represents only 28 percent of pre-state Mandate Palestine.”

Other arguments are legal: Lands beyond the Green Line are occupied Palestinian territory, they argue. Israel has no right to keep territory acquired by force. Occupation may continue as long as there is a security risk, but the legal status of the territory cannot be changed by Israel unilaterally.

Yet another line of argument is pragmatic. The status quo favours Israel. Even if Israel has a right to annex the territory, this line of reasoning says it is foolish to do so because it will inflame the Arab population living under Israeli rule, anger Israel’s peace partners – Jordan and Egypt – destroy diplomatic progress with other Arab governments, turn global public opinion against Israel, and mobilize neutral governments behind a campaign to punish Israel diplomatically and economically.

For those who advocate annexation, there is a similar mixture of arguments.

The moral argument for annexation is that all the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is rightly the heritage of the Jewish people. We were driven out of it by force in ancient times and again at the 1948 War of Independence. Neither the ancient nor modern conquest was just, and now the territory has been reclaimed in a defensive war. To relinquish territory that we hold now would be a betrayal of the Jewish people and the God of our ancestors.

Moreover, the land under discussion represents only 21 percent of the territory of Palestine as constituted under the British Mandate after the First World War, while 79 percent was set aside for the Palestinian Arab majority. To ask the Jews to give up part of the remaining 21 percent for another Palestinian Arab state is unjustified.

The legal argument for annexation rests on the British Mandate as endorsed by the League of Nations at the San Remo conference in April 1920. This measure designated Palestine as a homeland for the Jewish people and envisioned a future Jewish majority as the oppressed Jews of Europe and elsewhere returned home. The mandate guaranteed the civil rights but not the national rights of the Arabs in the Jewish homeland. Israel is obligated to extend equal rights to its Arab population, including any territory that is annexed. Palestinian Arab national identity can be expressed in the Kingdom of Jordan.

The pragmatic argument for annexation is that Israel has tried the path of negotiation and compromise, and those have proven futile. After opening the door to territorial concessions in the Oslo Accords, the result has not been peace but decades of terror, launched from the area where Israel had given up control. For the sake of peace, it would be worthwhile to cede Jewish land for another Palestinian Arab State, but peace is not on offer. Therefore, we should assert our claim.

Wherever you stand in this complicated discussion, it is useful to understand the reasoning behind the arguments. While it may seem like a dialogue of the deaf, each position rests on different premises and different readings of history. Annexation is a significant departure from the cautious Israeli behaviour of the past 25 years. It will be useful to bear these arguments in mind as events unfold in the months to come.

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.

More Than Six Acts of Antisemitism a Day, BB Audit Shows


Antisemitic incidents in Canada set records for a fourth consecutive year, according to B’nai Brith Canada’s annual audit.

The 2,207 reported incidents in 2019 represented an eight per cent increase over the previous year. The Jewish community remained the most targeted religious minority in Canada.

There was an average of six anti-Semitic incidents per day last year, said the audit, which was released late last month.

While harassment, both online and in person, almost doubled in 2019 and accounted for over 90 per cent of antisemitic incidents, of most concern to B’nai Brith is the increase in violent incidents, which went up by 27 per cent compared with 2018.

The audit also found that assaults became more brazen and violent in 2019, with several occurring in broad daylight and some directly before eyewitnesses.

 “The record numbers of incidents we have documented in recent years have become the new baseline for antisemitism in Canada, and they are alarming,” said Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B’nai Brith Canada.

“These figures, and the brazenness of the incidents we are seeing, would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago. Instead, they have become a loathsome reality in this country,” Mostyn went on. “It is not only Jewish people who must be appalled by this pattern. It’s any law-abiding, decent human being.”

Reported incidents of violence include an assault against a visibly observant Jewish man by a Montreal taxi driver; a physical attack against two young observant Jews in a Toronto-area public park; and a construction worker spraying tar on some Hasidic children in Outremont, Que.

The most dramatic spikes in anti-Semitic incidents occurred in Ontario, with a 63 percent increase over the year before, followed by Quebec with an increase of 12 percent.

While the Prairie and Atlantic regions experienced decreases in incidents, their numbers remained higher than they were before 2017.

Another alarming trend found in this year’s audit is an increase of more than 11 per cent in anonymous online harassment, much of it advocating genocide and Holocaust denial.

In addition, post-secondary institutions were shown to be significant breeding grounds for antisemitism in Canada, including through a rise in far-left activism against Israel.

According to the audit, Jewish students are increasingly reporting incidents of vandalism and threats of violence.

“We have seen private homes, public spaces, high schools and universities defaced with Nazi imagery and antisemitic conspiracy theories,” noted Ran Ukashi, national director of B’nai Brith’s League of Human Rights.

“Individual students and student organizations were harassed, discriminated against, and, in some cases, attacked on university campuses. Jews were beaten on Canadian streets – similar to alarming trends seen in the United States and Europe,” Ukashi said.

The 2019 audit also calls out “the antisemitic and discriminatory policies which were enacted in Canada, such as Quebec’s Bill 21, which overtly discriminates against Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and others who wear religious articles by limiting their opportunities in the public sector.”

The audit includes an eight-point plan for government officials to tackle antisemitism. Instituting dedicated hate crime units in every major city, declaring a zero-tolerance approach to government funding of anti-Semitism, and holding post-secondary institutions accountable for campus antisemitism are a few of the points outlined.

The audit’s numbers are based on incidents reported to the League for Human Rights through its Anti-Hate Hotline, as well as data collected from police and law enforcement agencies.

Late last month, Toronto police said they were investigating after anti-Semitic graffiti were spray painted on a garage and a coffee shop in the city’s west end. In one incident, the Aroma coffee shop near College and Bathurst streets, part of a chain of cafés founded in Israel, was tagged with the message “Zionists are not welcome.” It was the second time that month that the same café was vandalized with a similar message.

Canadian Envoy to Israel leaves post for UN Job

Special to The CJR

Canada is without an ambassador to Israel for the time being.

Deborah Lyons, who served as Canada’s envoy to the Jewish state since 2016, retired from the civil service and on March 24, was named Special Representative to the Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

The UN describes the office as a political mission “established at the request of the Government of Afghanistan to assist it and the people of Afghanistan in laying the foundations for sustainable peace and development.”

Lyons succeeds Tadamichi Yamamoto of Japan in the UN role.

A career diplomat, Lyons was Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan prior to her Israel posting. Four years ago, she replaced Canada’s ambassador to Israel at the time, Vivian Bercovici.

A lawyer, Bercovici served as Canada’s representative in Israel from January 2014, appointed by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, until her dismissal in June 2016, and was known for her strident views. She later sued the Canadian government, alleging she had been mistreated as ambassador and was owed pension funds.

Lyons joined the Foreign Affairs department in 1999 and was posted to Tokyo and Washington. In Ottawa, she held positions with the Department of Natural Resources, the Privy Council Office and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

In contrast to Bercovici’s, Lyons’ tenure in Tel Aviv was low-key. It included the modernization last year of the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement.

Lyons was “one of the most successful and prominent Canadian ambassadors to Israel, ever,” enthused David Weinberg, director of the Israel office at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

Weinberg said Lyons “indefatigably sought to advance the Canada-Israel relationship in the fields of trade, technology and scientific cooperation, and culture. Her constant refrain was that ‘Israel sizzles with creativity and ingenuity,’ a message that she repeated to hundreds of Canadian business and tech executives across her almost-four-year diplomatic tenure in Israel.”

Lyons often said, “There is no other diplomatic post in Canada’s foreign service more exciting than the role of ambassador in Israel,” related Weinberg.

The ambassador managed the visit to Israel of then-Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland in November 2018, and undertook several cross-Canada tours to promote academic and business ties with and tourism to Israel.

Lyons effectively articulated Israel’s strategic concerns, mainly about Iran and its proxies, to Ottawa, Weinberg told the CJR.

“She was an active participant in behind-the-scenes diplomatic dialogues regarding the Palestinians involving the UN Special Mideast Envoy and her American and European diplomatic colleagues. Her role was particularly important when Hamas protestors first confronted Israeli troops on the Gaza border in March 2018, a deadly confrontation that led to some tension between Ottawa and Jerusalem.”

Once a replacement Canadian ambassador to Israel is made, “it will be announced via news release and available on the Global Affairs Canada website,” Global Affairs spokesperson Angela Savard told The CJR.

COVID-19: When Home is Not Safe


Social isolation is having direct and negative impact on women and children experiencing domestic and sexual violence and child abuse. In Canada, statistics collected during the COVID pandemic show that one in 10 women are extremely concerned about suffering abuse during this period.

That was some of the stark information relayed by a panel of experts working on the frontlines, and presented in a May 6 virtual event, “COVID-19’s Unique Impact on Women: When Staying Home is Not Safe” by Holy Blossom Temple Women’s Advocacy Group.

The panel featured Pearl Rimer, director of research at Boost Child & Youth Advocacy Centre; Janice Shaw, manager of the Woman Abuse Program at Jewish Family and Child Service of Greater Toronto; and Tamar Witelson, director of legal services at the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic.

Jill Witkin, vice-president of tikkun olam at Holy Blossom Temple, was moderator.

The overriding question posed was, “As frontline professionals, how has COVID-19 affected your organization’s service delivery?”

“Our biggest concern is that children no longer have their circle of protective adults they can talk to or who can keep an eye on them,” said Rimer. “They have very limited access to teachers, child care staff, even to their neighbours, parents and caregivers.”

She said there has been a “huge” drop in calls to child protection services – about 30-50 per cent down across the country.

JF&CS’s Shaw agreed there has been a reduction in reported domestic violence.

“It’s part of what the media are calling the ‘eerie silence’ that is going on, which is scary for those of us working in the field,” she said.

JF&CS is facing some of the same issues as prior to the current crisis, “but the intensity has magnified ten-fold.” Fears among women that their children will be safe during visits with fathers have “intensified.”

During COVID, “we have shifted into crisis counseling,” Shaw said. “Our workers are calming women down, trying to ground them and to help them stay present in the moment.”

Witelson of the Schlifer clinic said it’s important to get the message out that Family Courts are still operating to hear urgent matters.

Where should women turn if in trouble?

Shaw advised calling 911 for emergencies. She said shelters are open and required to follow health protocols and social distancing.

Sometimes hotels are used to house women. Witelson said that if a woman has physical issues that have taken her to hospital, and if she presents with any COVID symptoms and does not have a safe place to go, the hospital will admit her, “and that also facilitates her moving into a shelter if it becomes available.”

As for children who are struggling because they lack safe space  and people to talk to, “it’s really important for us to help children feel safe during unpredictable times,” said Rimer. “We should be saying to kids, ‘Come and talk to me if you have worries or questions.’ Make it okay if they want to talk to other safe and trusting adults.”

Shaw advised victims of abuse to develop a code word, “something very simple if [someone] is in trouble. We will call the police and get some intervention. Because we are a trauma induced program it just takes longer to get to the same place as we would have pre-COVID.”

Despite quarantines and lockdowns, “do not give up hope,” Witelson said. “We are continuing to provide services.”For a list of resources visit: https://holyblossom.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/wag-covid-19-panel-resource-list-pdf.pdf

B’nai Brith Seeks Charges over Antisemitic Prayers in Toronto

TORONTO – B’nai Brith Canada has filed a complaint with Toronto police after a video recently surfaced showing a local imam allegedly advocating violence against Jews.

In a video posted to YouTube by Kamil Ahmad in August 2014, and recently unearthed by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Ahmad allegedly calls on Allah to “deal with the Jews” and “destroy them completely.”

B’nai Brith said it has independently verified the translation of Ahmad’s words from the original Arabic.

The description of the video on YouTube notes that it was recorded at the Abu Huraira Center, a mosque on Yorkland Blvd. in Toronto. Ahmad’s personal website identifies him as a Toronto-based assistant professor at the Islamic Online University, with degrees from the Islamic University of Madinah and Qassim University, both in Saudi Arabia.

In another sermon posted to YouTube a week earlier, Ahmad alleges that “most media outlets are controlled by the Jews,” who are conspiring to produce pro-Israel coverage. That sermon was delivered at the al-Risalah Islamic Center, another Toronto mosque, according to the description of the video on YouTube.

Kamil allegedly concludes this sermon by saying: “Allah, inflict your misery and disgrace upon the enemies and the Jews…Allah, destroy them completely.”

According to B’nai Brith, an article posted on Ahmad’s website identifies “the true nature of the Jews” as being “the severest in enmity toward the believers,” “violating agreements and treaties,” “initiating wars and causing mischief in the land,” displaying “extreme cowardice” and “killing prophets and scholars.” These same antisemitic canards were repeated in his sermon at the al-Risalah Islamic Center.

“The ongoing abuse of religious pulpits to spread hate against Canadian Jews cannot be allowed to continue,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada. “These ugly incidents will occur again and again until someone is charged and prosecuted for doing so.

“There is no statute of limitations for indictable offences in Canada, and acts of this nature are so serious that they demand the judiciary’s full attention, even during a pandemic,” Mostyn added.

Also in 2014, Montreal imam Sayyed al-Ghitawi twice led his congregants in a prayer to “destroy the accursed Jews.” Inexplicably, prosecutors failed to charge al-Ghitawi with any criminal offences. In 2017, a Jordanian imam visiting Canada, Muhammad ibn Musa Al Nasr, was charged with willful promotion of hatred after calling for Jews to be killed, but returned to Jordan before he could face justice. He died a few months later in a car accident in Saudi Arabia.

Shimon Fogel on COVID: ‘Everyone at CIJA has been affected’

The following is a statement from Shimon Koffler Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), to The CJR, regarding the COVID pandemic and how it has affected his organization:

“CIJA has, as you can imagine, been intensely busy trying to ensure that our stakeholders – who are on the front lines of providing services and supporting the most vulnerable – have the resources to carry out their mission.

“As the community pivots to address those needs, all of us have had to make adjustments. In some respects, the COVID circumstances made the decisions for us.

“Schools and universities have closed, so the regular activities associated with those programs have been suspended, with the resources being deployed to social service agencies and the like.

“So the financial impacts have been real and have touched all of us. I won’t elaborate on the specifics, but everyone at CIJA has been affected. Temporary lay-offs are being experienced by all agencies, as well as reduced work weeks and salary cuts even for those remaining on fulltime duty.

Programs have also been affected and our advocacy agenda has been temporarily contracted to focus on COVID-related issues and the ongoing fight against antisemitism, which has asserted itself in new ways as a result of the pandemic. 

“We hope and expect these measures to be temporary and in the interim, the CIJA team is doing extraordinary work in ensuring communal institutions and agencies benefit fully from government programs introduced by all levels of government. We have seen the tangible differences our efforts have had and the sense of fulfilment and satisfaction derived from those accomplishments helps sustain us during these difficult days. The continued support of the Federations and the broader Jewish community is both gratifying and encouraging.”

Mikvah Use Differs Across Country During Pandemic


Jewish women are very worried about using a mikvah in the midst of the current pandemic, but despite their concerns, they are continuing to observe the monthly mitzvah, says the co-chair of one of Toronto’s ritual baths.

“Women are petrified,” conceded Lisa Berman, co-chair of the Maddie Leventhal Mikvah Centre at Beth Avraham Yosef of Toronto, a large Orthodox synagogue in suburban Toronto.

 “We’ve had some women who have foregone going to the mikvah for a month [because of health concerns] and then they return the next month,” she told The CJR. “Some people embrace it. They will do their utmost to come and they put their fear aside.”

Immersing in the mikvah is a monthly obligation for women, unless they see themselves living a “life of chastity with their husbands,” said Rabbi Daniel Korobkin of the BAYT, who likens the mikvah to an essential service. He said a number of women have reached out to him and expressed their concerns about visiting a communal bath during the pandemic.

“I completely sympathize with their anxiety,” he said. “At the same time, I explained and said ‘please look over the standards, they are meant to protect you.’ ”

The mikvah at the BAYT, like others in the Toronto area, has changed the way it operates after consulting with doctors and pool experts, said Berman.

Women must first call and answer a set of screening questions to determine if they can make an appointment, and some women who may have been exposed to COVID-19 have been asked to delay visiting the mikvah for a month.

Women are required to shower and prepare at home instead of at the mikvah, and then to immerse as quickly as possible.

Appointments are made to ensure that no two women are in the same area at one time, and mikvah attendants wear gloves and masks and keep their distance from the woman immersing.

While the mikvah has traditionally been a moment of respite in a busy life, that is not the situation right now, said Berman. Still, “99.9 percent of women have been onboard and they’re just grateful that we’re open.”

The number of women using the BAYT mikvah spiked in March, when it was one of the first in the city to adopt stricter hygiene protocols, but numbers have since returned to their usual levels, Rabbi Korobkin said.

About 140 women use the mikvah monthly, Berman said.

But the situation is not uniform across the country. In Montreal, police closed Mikveh Israel in Cote-Saint-Luc on March 31 because four or five people were there, according to the Montreal Gazette.

Other reports said officers found two employees, two volunteers and a woman inside the building.

Mikveh Israel could not be reached for comment.

Mikvahs in Montreal are officially closed, but it is clear that some are still operating, said one person who is knowledgeable about the situation.

Rabbi Saul Emanuel, executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Montreal, declined to comment on whether mikvahs were operating in the city. “We should be respecting the privacy of people and not publishing articles about it,” he said.

In Vancouver, the mikvah attached to Congregation Schara Tzedeck has remained open for use by women, although it is closed to men, who do not have the same halachic obligation to immerse, said Rabbi Andrew Rosenblatt.

Early on during the pandemic, closing the mikvah was briefly considered, but the idea was rejected, since the water in the bath is chlorinated and does not pose a risk, Rabbi Rosenblatt said. As in Toronto and other locations, women in Vancouver are asked to prepare at home instead of at the mikvah.

However, not all mikvahs have remained open during the pandemic. The Toronto Community Mikvah (formerly called the Reform Mikvah of Greater Toronto) decided to shut its doors temporarily, said Robin Leszner, co-chair of the facility.

The mikvah, located in a school in Thornhill, Ont., has few monthly users but is used by Reform and Conservative rabbis for conversion. Women also use it before getting married and to mark significant events and transitions in their lives, such as after a miscarriage, Leszner said.

The mikvah is used by about 25 rabbis in the city and performs about 150 conversions a year. It hosts hundreds of parents, students and educators annually for visits.

“The rabbis are in support of this. They felt their conversions could wait until it was safer,” Leszner said.

After consulting with the rabbis who use the mikvah, it was decided to drain it and use the down time to do some needed repairs and cleaning, Leszner said.

Seventy-five Years in Northern Ontario … and Still Here


In October 2020, Beth Jacob Synagogue in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. will celebrate its 75th anniversary. Needless to say, our small community is quite excited about this milestone and has been planning a weekend-long celebration to mark the occasion.

Beth Jacob Synagogue in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

It would not surprise me to hear that many of you had no idea there is (or perhaps still is) a Jewish community in Sault Ste. Marie. Many hours away from any big city, we have to do without many of the resources and connections Jews have in larger places. With approximately 30 active families, we proudly wear the title “small but mighty.”

There has been a Jewish presence here since the mid-1880s, usually merchants of one kind or another who came from Russia, Poland and Germany by way of Montreal and Toronto. The Rosenstein and Rosenberg families were among the early arrivals. At one time, the Jewish population peaked at about 100 families in the 1950s and 60s.

The only ordained rabbi we had was Rabbi Beryl Fishman from 1931 to 1956. His son Alec led services for many years.

But children were encouraged to leave this small, isolated community in search of bigger and better opportunities, and many never returned.

Those of us who still here have watched families leave and membership decline; the average age of our current membership is over 50, and there are very few children. There is no longer an active Hebrew school, and even getting a minyan cannot always be counted on.

And yet, we are still here.

We are still here, living and worshipping as Jews. Here, in communities (Beth Jacob Synagogue serves both Sault Ste. Maries in Ontario and across the border in Michigan) where many of our neighbours and acquaintances are surprised by the presence of Jews, where people who have lived here their entire lives have no idea there is a synagogue.

It is not always easy. Kosher foodstuffs at the grocery store are practically non-existent and kosher meat must be imported. There are no Jewish community centres or schools, no programming of any kind, no real recognition by the broader community of Jewish holidays or festivals.

And yet, we are still here.

So what does it mean, really, to be Jewish in small-town Northern Ontario? It means that we hold those who are here very close. Congregation Beth Jacob has been our family and our centre since 1945.

We get together as often as we can for Shabbat services and to honour and celebrate holidays and festivals. We share food and prayer and togetherness. We support each other in finding a meaningful Jewish practice, despite the things we are not able to access. And we all work together to take care of the synagogue.

The celebratory weekend we were planning, along with many wonderful events, has been put on hold in light of COVID-19 precautions. Originally planned for October 2020, the 75th anniversary festivities will likely be pushed forward to the spring of 2021. Whenever it happens, we hope that former members will come back and join us for the milestone, recognizing the long history of survival here in Sault Ste. Marie, and once again filling the synagogue with Jewish life.

Some of the events planned include a theatrical adaptation of native son Morley Torgov’s A Good Place to Come From (if you haven’t read it, do) and an historic exhibit in partnership with our local museum. We have been collecting stories, photographs, and memories from people who grew up here, combing through archival collections and diving into the depths of the internet. It is not a small collection, and it is growing.

The Jewish community of Sault Ste. Marie might be small, isolated, and occasionally overlooked. We might have to work hard to be Jewish here. But judging from the expanding collection of photographs, artifacts, and stories, from the beautiful building that still stands, and from the strength of the community that it houses, Congregation Beth Jacob is most definitely still here.

Although a firm date is to be announced, watch for online celebrations on our website. Donations to our celebrations or to the upkeep of the synagogue can be made directly through our website, http://www.bethjacobssm.ca/

For a 360-degree view of the synagogue, visit https://synagogues360.bh.org.il/gallery/congregation-beth-jacob/

For more information, please email Tova Arbus at tova.arbus@gmail.com

Sylvia Ostry, Economist, Civil Servant, dies at 92

Sylvia Ostry, a distinguished economist and Canada’s first female federal deputy minister, died in Toronto on May 7. She was 92.

Photo courtesy Statistics Canada.

A polymath mandarin and expansive thinker, Ostry tallied a long and prestigious list of achievements that represented breakthroughs for women in the workplace. She was the first and only female Chief Statistician at Statistics Canada, and was the country’s first female federal deputy minister in several government departments before becoming the chief economist at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris.

“Sylvia had a very sharp mind,” former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney told the Globe and Mail in its obituary on Ostry. “She was able to explain the government’s position in down-to-earth terms. She was a loyal public servant. I liked her personally and felt that as a woman, she didn’t get the recognition she deserved,” said Mulroney, who tapped Ostry to help represent Canada at several international meetings, including the Group of Seven summit in Toronto in 1988.

She was born in Winnipeg in 1927 to Morris J. and Betsy Stoller Knelman. According to the entry on Ostry at the Jewish Women’s Archive, her father (1894-1982), a businessman, was born in Odessa and arrived in Canada in 1910. Her mother (1893-1982), a school teacher, was born in London, England and also came to Canada in 1910.

Ostry studied economics at McGill University, where she earned her BA in 1948 and her MA in 1950. She earned her PhD from Cambridge University in 1954, and went on to teach at McGill and the University of Montreal.

From 1990 to 1997, she chaired the Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto while serving as Chancellor of the University of Waterloo.

While in England in 1956, she married Bernard Ostry, a native of Wadena, Sask. A historian, professor, and media personality, Bernard Ostry served for a time as CEO of TVOntario. He died in 2006.

Sylvia Ostry’s government career tallied a long list of posts: She was Chief Statistician of Canada (1972-1975); deputy minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs (1975-1978); chair of the Economic Council of Canada (1978-1979); deputy minister for International Trade and coordinator of International Economic Relations (1984-1985); ambassador for Multilateral Trade Negotiations, and the prime minister’s personal representative for economic summits (1985-1988).

From 1990 to 1997, she was Chair of the University of Toronto’s Centre for International Studies.

According to the Jewish Women’s Archive, although never actively involved in Jewish affairs, Ostry once served on the academic advisory board of World ORT.

In her time, Ostry was something of an Ottawa celebrity and knew everyone who was anyone in the nation’s capital. Statistics Canada’s website relates that a lengthy Saturday Night magazine profile about her, written while she was working for the OECD in Paris in 1981, noted that “next only to Pierre and Margaret [Trudeau], no pair had more celebrity in Ottawa in the 1970s than the Ostrys.” The article also remarked: “Two things almost everyone – including Sylvia Ostry – says about her are that she is intensely ambitious and that she works like a dog at whatever she is doing.”

She wrote, co-wrote or edited some 80 publications, most of them focusing on policy analysis.

She was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1978 and elevated to Companion in 1990. Since 1992 the Sylvia Ostry Foundation has sponsored a prestigious annual lecture on international affairs.

Ostry leaves her two sons, Jonathan, an economist at the International Monetary Fund in Washington; and Adam, who works at the OECD in Paris; and two grandchildren, Daniel and Joshua.

Canadian-born Rabbi, Legal Scholar dies at 92

Special to the CJR

A Canadian-born rabbi who headed a Toronto synagogue and became a world-renowned authority on Jewish law, died in Israel on May 6.

Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch was 92.

Rabbi Nahum Rabinovitch

He was dean of the Birkat Moshe hesder yeshiva in Maale Adumim on the West Bank and a highly respected posek (Jewish legal scholar and decisor) on issues of Halachah.

Yeshivas in the hesder movement combine service in the Israel Defense Forces with Torah study.

Born in Montreal in 1932, he studied at Yeshivas Ner Israel in Baltimore, where he received smichah (ordination). He went on to earn a master’s degree in mathematics from Johns Hopkins University, and later completed a PhD in the philosophy of science from the University of Toronto. His doctorate examined statistics as they apply to probability in the Talmud.

From 1952 to 1963, he was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Charleston, South Carolina. He served as spiritual leader of Toronto’s Clanton Park Synagogue from 1963 to 1971.

Rabbi Rabinovitch established himself as a leading expert on the Jewish sage Rambam, Clanton Park’s Rabbi Yehoshua Weber, told The CJR.

“I was always mesmerized by his range of knowledge. He was famous for his magnum opus in the Rambam, he was the consummate rosh yeshiva, a leading halachic authority, and he had an unusual way of addressing contemporary issues in an exceptionally open-minded, sensitive way,” Rabbi Weber said.

After Toronto, Rabbi Rabinovitch moved to London, England, where he served as dean of the London School of Jewish Studies and became a close spiritual advisor to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who went on to become the United Kingdom’s chief rabbi.

Rabbi Sacks eulogized Rabbi Rabinovitch as “one of the intellectual, moral, and spiritual giants of our time…a bold and formidable posek.

“He was above all a teacher, raising up many generations of Torah scholars and fighters for the State of Israel,” Rabbi Sacks wrote on Twitter. “He was my Rav, I was his disciple, and I count that one of the greatest blessings of my life,” he added.

Rabbi Rabinovitch assumed duties at the Birkat Moshe Yeshiva after making aliyah in 1983.

In 2015, he co-founded the Giyur K’Halacha rabbinical courts, which provided conversions to Judaism outside the state-run Chief Rabbinate, and he was remembered as a champion of easing the process, the Times of Israel reported. He served as the court’s senior rabbinical judge.

The decision to set up an independent conversion court was opposed by some senior rabbinical figures in the religious-Zionist community for undermining the Chief Rabbinate, The Jerusalem Post reported. But Rabbi Rabinovitch persisted.

Rabbi Rabinovitch’s death was also mourned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Rabbi Rabinovitch was a polymath — a tremendous scholar, a prominent legal decisor and an educated scientist,” said Netanyahu in a statement. “Maimonides was his model of the educated Jew merging Torah and wisdom. His love of the land of Israel brought Rabbi Rabinovitch to the hesder yeshiva in Ma’ale Adumim, in which he groomed Torah scholars serving in the IDF. His spiritual leadership was characterized by merging devotion to Halachah and social sensitivity. The issue of conversion was dear to his heart and he sought to bring people closer.”

The head of the Association of Hesder Yeshivot, Uri Pinsky, mourned “the loss of a great luminary and teacher to thousands” and as “one of the most important arbiters and disseminators of Torah in our generation, who established generations of students who sanctify the name of Heaven in everything they, and in whose footsteps they go.”

The Orthodox Union eulogized “one of the greatest poskim in the religious Zionist world in Israel.”

Rabbi Rabinovitch was the father of six children. His daughter, Dina Rabinovitch, a columnist for The Guardian, died in 2007 of breast cancer at the age of 45.

BULKA: Rabbinic Reflections for the Record


For the Record, mazal tov on the launch of The Canadian Jewish Record!

You begin The CJR as we start a new book of the Torah, B’Midbar, often referred to as the Book of Numbers, even though the word B’Midbar means “in the desert.”

The desert is where Israel received the Torah, at Mt. Sinai. This reading, the first portion in the “Book of the Desert,” precedes Shavuot, when we recall the revelation on Mt. Sinai.

In the lead-up to Shavuot, we would expect a reading that is full of inspiring exhortations, a sampling of the ethical and moral obligations that comprise the Torah.

Instead, we get numbers – a census report of the population of each tribe. What are we to make of this?

There is an interesting nuance to the census worth contemplating. According to the Torah, the counting was via mispar shemot – “by the number of the names” (Numbers, 1:2). What exactly does that mean?

The sages Ralbag and Malbim explain that everyone who entered the census gave their name and wrote it down, and afterward the names were counted. The census did not reduce the people to numbers. Everyone came to be counted, and came with a name, with an identity.

Everybody was a somebody. Coming as this does within the immediate proximity of Shavuot lends a powerful impact to this census. This most important message in advance of revelation is that the community is much more than numbers, that everyone is important, that everyone counts.

The ethical principles, the moral directives, derive from this critical idea. Once this essential idea is entrenched in our minds, the rest follows with potent logic. Absent this essential notion and all the regulations fall into a sea of obscurity.

The names were written, and everyone who gave their name also gave a half-shekel. To be counted, one must be a giver, however minimally. Everyone takes from the community in some way. That is what community is designed to provide – something for everyone, materially or spiritually.

But everyone must perforce be a giver, a contributor. That is the best way a community can thrive.

In different ways, these two ideas have come into blunt reality as we wrestle with COVID-19. On one hand, the avalanche of deaths threatens to dull our sensitivities, to see this as merely numbers.

But each death is a true human tragedy. We cannot let this happen.

When we are free of this dreaded virus, we should expect an explosion of bottled-up grief, and a strong desire by many families to memorialize their dearly departed who were not properly mourned. If called upon, we must respond with sensitivity and caring, however emotionally draining it will be.

On the other hand, this tragic time has been a true community time, when our actions have made us all givers. Our staying at home, our physical distancing, normally innocuous actions, became lifesaving actions for the entire community.

It is an odd confluence of actions and emotions. When the pandemic leaves us, our caring action of staying away will hopefully give way to the caring action of embracing those who will need our support as they confront the losses they incurred.

I can think of no better way to prepare for revelation and of affirming the sanctity of God’s word than by thinking of ways we can and will help God’s sacred creations, who need us now and in the coming months.

Rabbi Dr. Reuven P. Bulka is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa and President/CEO of Kind Canada Genereux.

UJA Walk With Israel to be Replaced By Virtual Version


UJA Federation of Greater Toronto has recently had to make some tough, creative decisions in today’s new COVID 19-inspired realities.

For the first time in its 51 years, UJA’s popular Walk with Israel, which year after year turned the streets of Toronto into a veritable sea of blue and white, has been cancelled and replaced with a virtual version.

This year’s Walk was scheduled for May 24. It still is, in a different form.

UJA Federation also had to take what it called another “painful decision.”

According to Adam Minsky, UJA Federation’s president and CEO, the organization was forced to lay off 25 percent of its workforce, while its senior staff has taken substantial voluntary pay cuts.

“While we have reviewed all relevant government programs in an effort to mitigate the impact on our team, unfortunately none are fully adequate at this stage, Minsky wrote in a recent letter to UJA donors.

“We are saddened to share that it was necessary for us to significantly reduce the size of our staff, including through a mix of permanent terminations, temporary layoffs, and contract cancellations,” Minsky explained. “Senior management and other staff have also voluntarily absorbed temporary but significant salary reductions so that more resources can be directed to our crisis response.”

One component of the crisis response to which Minsky referred is UJA’s recent launch of its Emergency Campaign for Community Resilience, launched to help blunt the economic and other fallout from the virus.

“While we have mobilized many times in the past to support Jews in crisis overseas, never before have we faced an emergency on this scale in our own community,” said Minsky.

He said current needs in the Jewish community are projected to grow by $25 million due to the pandemic.

Through this one-time campaign, UJA’s goal is to raise funds “over and above” its annual drive in two key priorities across the GTA: Supporting the Jewish vulnerable, and preserving access to the essentials of Jewish life for Jews in financial crisis.

Despite the cancellation of the physical Walk with Israel, Minsky remains upbeat.

“Every year, the sight of tens of thousands of Jews united in the streets of Toronto – young and old, secular and religious – for UJA’s Walk with Israel has been a beautiful statement of the power of Israel to unite and inspire,” he said.

The Walk has also been a reminder that Toronto “is home to one of the strongest and most exceptional communities in the Diaspora. While the pandemic means we can’t gather in person, we’re doing what Jews have always done when faced with adversity: Adapting with resilience.”

Through the creative use of technology, unity with Israel will be celebrated at the first-ever Virtual Walk with Israel. “Maintaining that sense of community unity is more important than ever during this terrible pandemic,” Minsky said.

With continued support of this event’s title sponsors, RioCan, Mizrahi Developments, Metropia, and Yogen Fruz, and the presenting sponsor for the Renee and Irwin Nadal Street Festival, Peerage Realty, the virtual Walk will be held, as mentioned, on May 24, 2020.

The morning of the event will see a celebration of the last 50 years and include Canadian and Israeli talent to showcase the connection between the two nations.

The Walk will kick off around 10 a.m. and last about two-and-a-half hours. The afternoon will be an opportunity for families to participate in their own Walk activities, all while maintaining proper social distancing protocols.

For more information, or to register for UJA’s Walk with Israel, visit walkwithisrael.com. 

“Everything we do as individuals and as a community during this pandemic will shape and define who we will be when it is over,” Minsky said with a note of caution mixed with determination. “I have no doubt that our community will emerge stronger than ever.”