Toronto Jewish Film Festival Goes Virtual

By RUTH SCHWEITZER

Adapting to restrictions imposed by the spread of COVID-19, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival is going virtual.

The festival’s program director, Stuart Hands, said that instead of postponing the event when the virus hit the city in March, festival organizers decided to try to create the festival experience online.

Half of the festival’s 2020 offerings will be shown this spring and the remainder will be presented in the fall.  

From May 30 to June 7, the TJFF will show 39 films reflecting the international Jewish Diaspora. Each of the films can be viewed on television or on a digital device for 24 hours. Zoom Q & As with directors, producers and actors are scheduled daily from May 31 to June 8. 

The mini-festival opens with The End of Love, by Israeli filmmaker Keren Ben Rafael. Unfolding through Skype conversations, the film follows Julie and Yuval, a married couple with a new baby, as they try to maintain a long-distance relationship between Paris and Tel Aviv while Yuval waits for a visa renewal. 

An archival series honours three Canadian Jewish artists who died recently: mystery writer Howard Engel, documentary filmmaker and actor John Kastner and writer and producer Earl Pomerantz. 

Capturing Cooperman: A Not So Private Investigation of Howard Engel, directed by Scot Morison, celebrates the life and career of Engel, a mystery writer who was known for his Benny Cooperman private-eye series.

The film Dawn stars Kastner in Elie Wiesel’s story of members of the Jewish underground in the British Mandate of Palestine waiting to assassinate a British officer in retaliation for the hanging of a Jew.  Adapted and directed by Jack Kuper, this production of Wiesel’s novel was made by the CBC but never aired.

Pomerantz was a television writer who churned out scripts for award-winning series like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, The Cosby Show and Cheers. TJFF presents a rarely screened pilot of Pomerantz’s western spoof, Best of the West.

The TJFF is honouring Israeli filmmaker Ram Loevy, whose films over the past 50 years demonstrate his keen eye for the divisions within Israeli society. The festival presents the Canadian premiere of Loevy’s 2019 film, Dead of Jaffa, about three children from the West Bank who are smuggled into Israel to stay with distant relatives who live in Jaffa. Childless Rita embraces the children as her own, while George is wary of the potential ramifications if they are caught hiding illegal aliens. Dead of Jaffa plays alongside Loevy’s 1966 short film, My Name Is Achmad, the first Israeli film that focused on the struggles of an Arab-Israeli. 

The festival closes with Israel, Land of the Series, a documentary about the Israeli TV industry. One out of four Israeli TV shows are either adapted or sold overseas. Series like Fauda, Shtisel and Euphoria are international favourites. The doc’s Zoom Q&A session, June 8 at 1 p.m., includes director, Olivier Joyard; producer, Joachim Landau; the co-creator of Shtisel, Ori Elon; and the head of yes Studios, which produced Fauda, Danna Stern. 

Israel, Land of the Series, is a documentary about the Israeli TV industry
Israel, Land of the Series, is a documentary about the Israeli TV industry.

Highlights of TJFF’s Virtual Festival

When The Apricots Bloom

This is a documentary about children of Russian Jews, the Frenkel brothers, who lived in Egypt after the First World War and became famous as the first Egyptian animators. They created Mish-Mish Efendi, the “Mickey Mouse” of the Arab world. Forced to leave Egypt in 1948, the brothers migrated to France, where success eluded them. After their deaths, their nephew, Didier Frenkel, discovered their films in the basement of the family house. He began restoring them and, in the process, uncovered the story behind their rise and fall, as well as the reasons his uncles kept this surprising chapter of their lives under cover.

When The Apricots Bloom is about the creators of the “Mickey Mouse” of the Arab world
When The Apricots Bloom is about the creators of the “Mickey Mouse” of the Arab world.

Before Tomorrow

A 1969 release, this is the first Israeli feature film that was directed by a woman. Ellida Geyra’s Before Tomorrow is made up of two short love stories centred on unlikely companions. The first segment, “Spring,” is an experimental drama about a young couple’s brief love affair. The second part, “Fall,” co-written by celebrated writer Yoram Kaniuk, is a comic love story between an elderly German-Jewish woman and an old Iraqi falafel seller.

Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn 

Roy Cohn established his career prosecuting Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and advocating for their execution. The wide-sweeping effect he had on the conservative American political landscape is examined in this comprehensive documentary, directed by Ivy Meeropol, the Rosenbergs’ granddaughter. Covering his life and career, from counsel to Joseph McCarthy through to his years as a New York “fixer” and personal lawyer and mentor to Donald Trump, this portrait unveils a complex figure whose closeted homosexuality was masked by his outspoken conservatism. Recently unearthed archival material is combined with interviews with figures such as lawyer Alan Dershowitz, playwright Tony Kushner and filmmaker John Waters. The doc’s Zoom Q and A, June 1 at 3 p.m., includes director Ivy Meeropol and Michael Meeropol, the Rosenbergs’ son.

For more information about the festival, visit https://tjff.com

Creating a Global Jewish Communications Network

By JON ALLEN, ALON LIEL, and BARBARA LANDAU

For those of us who are life-long supporters of Israel, who share the ongoing concern for her security and well-being, and who long for a two-state resolution achieved through peaceful negotiations, this has been a frustrating time. We are relieved that there is finally a coalition government that can respond to the global pandemic. However, the terms of the coalition agreement raise concerns about whether Israel is slipping further from its inspiring fundamental democratic values, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence.  

Many have raised concerns about the consequences of the commitment to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, by a simple vote in the Knesset, as early as July 1. The implications for Israel’s democracy and its security, the possible disruption to significant peace treaties and gas deals with Jordan and Egypt, as well as its standing internationally, create anxiety in the hearts of those who love Israel.

Out of the shared concerns for Israel’s future, a group of committed community leaders in Israel and around the world, decided that an international communication network was needed to speak out in support of Israel’s key values. Over the past several months, J-Link was born with the support of more than 40 progressive organizations around the world. J-Link works closely with JStreet, NIF, Yahad, Peace Now, Ameinu, J-Call in Europe and many others. Our starting point is Israel’s right to exist safely and our commitment to Israel retaining both a Jewish and democratic identity.  

The J-Link Mission Statement was written by an impressive group of former ambassadors, political science professors and community leaders, among them Jon Allen, Canada’s former ambassador to Israel; Alon Liel, a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa and one-time Director General of Israel’s foreign ministry, and representatives from Canada, the U.S., Europe, South Africa, Latin America, and Australia.

J-Link is intended to be a communication network that improves understanding among groups with shared values worldwide and motivates them for action. Our goal is to support and enhance democratic voices, not to compete with the wonderful work already being done. Through our global connections, we learn new perspectives and share creative approaches.

To date, our focus has been on the critical issue of the proposed unilateral annexation and its consequences for Israel’s future. What if the unintended consequences of Israel’s proposal are a choice between remaining a democratic or a Jewish state? This is a dilemma we want to avoid.   

Said Allen, who served as Canada’s ambassador to Israel from 2006 to 2010: “I’m hopeful that coalition partners Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi, both former Chiefs of Defence Staff, and other IDF generals and senior officials currently serving in the Shin Bet and Mossad, will make their voices known and signal their opposition to an annexation plan that could put Israel’s security in jeopardy and seriously threaten the country’s democratic character.” 

Liel shared the hope that concerns being jointly raised are in Israel’s interest:

“I have been fighting against the West Bank occupation almost from the day I ended my government service. It was a frustrating uphill battle,” Liel said. “The contemporary battle against the planned unilateral annexation is a different matter. We are not alone anymore. I feel that the majority of Jews living outside Israel are extremely worried about this mistaken idea.”

In a statement to the CJR, J-Link said it “share(s) a love of Israel and a commitment to democracy, human rights, religious pluralism, and a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. We believe in the values enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, according to which the State of Israel, as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people, ensures ‘complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.’

“We are greatly concerned by initiatives such as the Nation-State Law and policies of unilateral annexation that will defeat the prospect of a two-state solution. J-Link aspires to work with our respective local Jewish communities, our national governments, and international organizations to advocate for our values and vision for Israel.”


Jon Allen is a Senior Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and former Canadian Ambassador to Israel. He participated in writing the J-Link Mission Statement.

Alon Liel is the former Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Economy and Planning, and former ambassador of Israel to South Africa. He is the founding coordinator of J-Link.

Dr. Barbara Landau is a board member and chair of the Shared Society Committee of JSpaceCanada and the Canadian representative on the J-Link Coordinating Committee.

BGU Scientist Invents One-Minute COVID Test

An Israeli scientist has invented a one-minute Coronavirus breath test which could be on the market within months.

Prof. Gabby Sarusi of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba has invented the almost instantaneous, affordable breath test based on spectroscopy, which outputs the positive or negative result in less than one minute – and possibly in as little as 20 seconds.

Prof. Gabby Sarusi is develpoing a One-minute Coronavirus Breath Test

The device, which can test one’s breath – another breakthrough – or use nasal or throat swabs to test for the coronavirus, is still undergoing validation. Mass production may start as early as September.

It’s believed that the device, based on 20 seconds per test, will be able to perform as many as 4,500 tests a day, Sarusi says.

Early clinical trials completed with the Israel Defense Ministry on 150 Israelis had a success rate of more than 90 percent.

When on the market, the test kits will cost around $50, lower than prices for the customary laboratory-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

These new tests will not require a laboratory setting, allowing them to be used at critical locations such as airports, stadiums, and more.

“Right from the beginning of the trials, we received statistically significant results in line with our simulations and actual PCR tests that were conducted in parallel,” says Sarusi, who is deputy head of research at the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and a faculty member of the Electro-Optical Engineering Unit at BGU.

“We are now validating the robustness of the test and preparing to submit for FDA accelerated approval.”

In a statement, Mark Mendelson, CEO of the Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University, said he “cannot express how proud I am of the efforts made by the scientists at BGU.”

Mendelson called Sarusi’s invention “a game-changer.”

LITHWICK: We Chronicle in Times of Mayhem

By DAHLIA LITHWICK

It is not news that the news media are dying. It’s not news that Jewish newspapers are also vanishing. Writing in The Forward this week about the future of Jewish media, Rob Eshman, national editor of The Forward and former publisher and editor-in-chief of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, points out that “for years now, the forces that have wreaked havoc, forced change and inspired innovation in the general media have done exactly the same in the confines of Jewish media. Tens of thousands of journalists had already been laid off. Free digital news and social media feeds had already battled paywalls for eyeballs and attention spans. Print advertising and subscriptions had already tanked.” COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem, resulting in lost advertising, industry-wide furloughs, and a public unwilling to spend scarce dollars on something they would prefer to get for free.

There is, however, a cost to free media. As the adage goes, if you aren’t paying for the product, you’re likely the product. The media revolution of the past decade means not just that the sale of your private information has been the engine behind growth, but also that if you aren’t supporting journalism, you are captive to the interests of those who do pay. Mass consolidation of print and broadcast journalism has meant that the reporting you consume may not be the reporting you want or need. And the unfortunate endpoint of this experiment in drying up a free press, is a collective loss of trust in whatever remains. If we don’t zealously support the real news we crave, we invite “fake news” to fill the vacuum it leaves behind.

I was struck in reading last week’s parasha, Bamidbar, that even as the Children of Israel wandered through the wilderness for 40 years, they took painstaking care to account for the names, and lineage, and tribes of the community they had created. It would have been easy in the confusion of constant, rootless, travel and uncertainty, to simply give up on the arduous task of census-taking and record-keeping; after all, what did it matter who was in the mobile collective and who was not? Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has suggested that this act of careful, meticulous counting, even in the wilderness, perhaps especially in the wilderness, reflects Judaism’s “principled insistence – like no other civilization before – on the dignity and integrity of the individual.” So that even as the Children of Israel appear to be a homeless, undifferentiated mass, the essential nature of the individual cannot be lost.

There are so many ways in which the story of COVID-19 is captured by the tension between individuals and collectives; whether it’s skirmishes over the wearing of masks, or the pain and isolation of sheltering alone. But I think another lesson from the period of wandering and uncertainty in Bamidbar, is that careful counting and accounting and chronicling and reporting are urgently needed in times of turmoil, more so than in times of tranquility.  It’s easy to dismiss the need for record-keeping in crisis as a luxury; something that takes time and resources better directed toward food, navigation and shelter. But this year I was struck by the lesson that we keep records even in times of panic and precariousness, not simply as a means of preserving the dignity of every individual, but also a way of signalling the values and priorities of the group, even when the group is inchoate and uncertain.

By that token, journalism isn’t just, as the cliché holds, a first draft of history. It is also a census, a record, a marker, of what was happening and who was present and where they went and what their names were.  I am reminded again this week that a core Jewish value is that we chronicle in times of mayhem, as well as in times of repose. That means that if you can afford to support quality journalism, it needs your support now more than ever, and if you can afford to support quality Jewish journalism, it, too, needs you desperately as well. Our ancestors endured, cohered, and even flourished in the wilderness. We know this because they took the time to record who they were and what they did. Like them, we will endure, cohere and maybe flourish through this pandemic. But news cannot thrive in the wilderness. We must fight for it, work for it and protect it, and in exchange, it will remind us of who we were.


Dahlia Lithwick covers the courts and the law for Slate and hosts its legal podcast, Amicus.  

CHAT Student Wins National Bible Competition

By SUSAN MINUK

Yemina Goldberg’s approach to life and to Bible study, marked by determination and resolve – paid off when the TanenbaumCHAT student won the Chidon HaTanach Bible contest earlier this month.

Goldberg will represent Canada next year at the international competition in Israel, which is broadcast on Yom Ha’atzmaut.

“It is unusual for someone in Grade 9 to win the high school division, it’s really quite a distinction,” said Laura Wiseman, chief judge of the Bible competition, held May 3-5 in Toronto.

Born with cerebral palsy, the 14-year-old has needed every ounce of that determination.

“Yemina’s physical disability affects her speech, the use of her hands and she needs help to walk,” said Shoshana Hahn Goldberg, her mother.

Goldberg wrote the test separately from the other students in her own Zoom room, with a proctor.

Yemina Goldberg studying Tanach on her computer using Sefaria (A Living Library of Jewish Texts) (Photo by Moe Goldberg)

“Yemina needs help to turn the pages of the Tanach, and because she has to say the answers out loud, someone else writes them down for her,” said her mother.

In preparation for the contest, Goldberg attended Chidon Club meetings at school and met with her coach weekly. With the onset of the COVID pandemic, she transitioned to virtual coaching.

Students study chapters from Torah – Nevi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings) – depending on grade level.

“The most challenging part was to remember everyone’s names…you really have to know each person and which book and story they are in,” said Goldberg. “There are so many people to remember.”

Goldberg has been competing in the Bible contest since Grade 5. In Grade 6, she won her first competition.

“I’ve been at a Jewish school for a long time. I read the Tanach over and over. I wanted to win,” she said.

Chidon Canada is presented by the Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Education in Toronto and the Bronfman Jewish Education Centre in Montreal.

The contest is open to students in grades 5-11 from Jewish day schools, part-time Jewish education programs, and independent schools, and draws hundreds of contestants.

“The participants were from all backgrounds of Jewish life,” said Wiseman. “It’s a real connector. I think the students who participate really appreciate one another because they know how much work, time and effort goes into the preparation.”

Chidon HaTanach has two parts, a regional test and the national competition. The regional rounds were held in March, testing students’ knowledge on details of biblical stories with difficulty based on grade level. The top scoring students continued on to the national competition, held on alternating years in Toronto and Montreal.

The Bible contest questions were constructed by local educators.

“They really crafted the questions well for breadth,” explained Wiseman. “The term we use for familiarity is called bekiut – an abiding familiarity with content and details, and it’s a base for Bible knowledge for life.”

The panel of nine judges included students who were previous winners.

“The vibrancy in the judges’ room comes from the energy from previous contestants,” said Wiseman. “There is a concept called Torah lishmah, Torah for its own sake.

“These are students who just love learning and find a connection to their yiddishkeit, their Jewish education to their people and to their community through learning Torah.”

Goldberg has been celebrating her victory with friends and family, who have showered her with treats and congratulatory messages.

“The best part has been learning it,” she said.

Her message to other students is simple: “Always try your best and do things that are fun.”

The Jewish Response to Marriage and Separation During COVID

By JOHN SYRTASH

During COVID, we are either getting closer to our spouses and loved ones, or are ready to kill them. If you have “had it” with your spouse or kids and are seriously considering separation and divorce, consider the following.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught that if you have a negative thought, like resentment or annoyance, then force yourself to think positively. For those facing the break-up up of their marriage, being positive will go a long way to reconcile or to make the divorce process go more smoothly and less costly.

So, learn the following strategies on how to resolve potential conflicts. This is especially true with the change in the Canadian Divorce Act coming into effect on July 1, 2020.

General Rules of Self-control:

• If you’re a victim of physical violence and constant verbal abuse, go your separate ways.

• Otherwise, in the absence of abuse, a bitter financial or parenting dispute can be costly. It can bankrupt you.

• If you feel that a nasty argument is about to happen, then it’s better to be smart than right. Leave your differences to when both of you are in a better place.

• Never raise your voice for any reason, no matter how bad the behaviour of your partner. 

• Ever say something you later regret? Stop. Convince yourself that someone else you respect is in the room listening to your angry outburst, and you will feel embarrassed. Embarrassment is a good thing and could stop you. It could be anyone: Your kids, your employer, your friend, a parent, even God, if you are so inclined. So, don’t lash out if provoked and politely excuse yourself. Cool down, go for a nice long walk, play a musical instrument. Go to a place of joy and distract yourself.

• When your partner grabs the remote for the sixth straight time, make a joke of it. Then lie, if necessary. Explain how much you enjoy that Serbian cooking show rather than the reruns of your favourite Raptors games.

• Stop worrying about the little things and soon you will realize that there are no big things.

Legal Information about separation during COVID, up to July 1, 2020:

• If you are determined to separate or your spouse initiates separation, please don’t leave your kids behind with the other parent without a legally binding written parenting agreement. If you do, you’ll likely be spending far less time with your kids than if you’d had an agreement, and you will undoubtedly lose any hope of having a significant parenting role, in most cases.

If negotiations fail, the courts will resolve the issue, but in the absence of violence, don’t leave. You should try and resolve when the home is sold, the split of other property, and the question of spousal and child support are determined. Get help from competent counsel.

• If you’ve separated and you have a parenting dispute, the courts are still open if these disputes are urgent. During COVID, Family Courts in Ontario are using virtual methods to conduct urgent hearings, whether in writing, by telephone, or Zoom video conferencing. Also, your lawyer can now file your court papers online. However, to get quick results, the issue must be pressing, such as in the case of denial of access to your children, the unfair retention of them, child abduction, or the need for money for immediate child and spousal support when warranted.

• If you can’t or won’t be permitted to see your kids because of COVID, insist on other forms of access a few times a week. You can still bless your children on Erev Shabbat by video or phone, according to certain authorities. If your spouse is against exposing your kids to any medical danger, then ask for virtual access such as Skype, WhatsApp or Zoom, and if you fail, the courts will likely order at least such access if you have an existing court order.

• If you fear that your spouse will lie about your interactions with him or her, communicate via Family Wizard Canada by downloading its app (there is a small fee). This communication service for separated parents monitors all emails the parties have sent to each other. They can’t be altered when using the app.


John Syrtash is an associate and family law lawyer with the Toronto firm of Garfin Zeindenberg LLP. He is the author of Religion and Culture in Canadian Family Law (Butterworths).

Neither Garfin Zeidenberg nor John Syrtash are liable for any consequences arising from anyone’s reliance on this material, which is presented as general information and not as a legal opinion.

ROSENSWEIG: On Turning 60

By AVRUM ROSENSWEIG

I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” – Mahatma Gandhi) 

Avrum Rosensweig

My zaidy’s face, with the grandfatherly whiskers, always seemed to reflect a day or two of not shaving. I always felt that he looked like Hemingway’s Santiago from The Old Man and the Sea. My zaidy always struck me as being old even when he was only 60.

Now I am 60 and I swear, I’m old. I can no longer be chayav kares – the heavenly punishment of being “cut off.” That’s good. But did you know that Theodore Roosevelt, Carrie Fisher, Syd Barrett, Leon Trotsky, Benedict Arnold all died at 60? So did Mahalia Jackson. Sixty can be old – and perilous.

My father, Shraga Phyvle, died at 61. Oh, that is a problem. Our teachings tell us that we begin thinking of our own demise five years prior to the age of death of a parent. I certainly am.

I am 60.

I am 60 and the youngest of five siblings. I am three-score and no longer ride a motorcycle, but my hair is long. I have hair, and that is good.

What have I accomplished? I launched and built a non-profit called Ve’ahavta. That is good. I have a 14-year-old son, Noah River. He keeps me young. He always has. Noah is almost my height. He knows hard words and what reverse psychology is. Noah beats me every time at hockey video games (I can never get a goal). But it is fun. A whole lot of fun. He is 14. I am 60.

Today, I’m searching my hands for wrinkles. They still look smooth. My face is somewhat creased though. I saw myself in the elevator mirror the other day. When I moved my head, so did the reflection. So, I knew it was me. I am a salt-and-pepper haired man who looks a tad hunched over. I’m 60.

I have life ahead of me. The world is my oyster. I’ll unearth my skills, talents and gifts, share them. If I live until 120, I am halfway there. If I live to 80, I am three-quarters of the way there. In 20 years, I will be 80!

My Old Age pension is available if I want it, albeit discounted from the rate I would get at 65. Now that I am 60, I have a particular understanding of the complexities of life. My bucket list no longer sits in the mud room. It is quite real, waiting to be unpacked. 

My head is filled with thoughts. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained that the number 60 embodies the rule of transformation. A principle in Torah law is the “nullified by 60” rule. For example, if a drop of milk falls into a vessel of cholent by accident, the unwanted element is “nullified” if the desired component is 60 times greater. Could it be I have a chance? 

Mr. Siderson, a member of my father’s shul, was 60 when I was little. He was spry, as I remember. But he was elderly. When I was five, I used to look up at the old man duchanning (singing the priestly blessing) in shul during the holidays. I was not supposed to look, but I did. The man was old. He was different. He scared me. Not because he was necessarily scary. Remember how the elderly would do that? His cheek-squeezes hurt. I hid because I was little and young. And that was only yesterday. Now, I am 60.

Surviving COVID – With Real Survivors

By MARY SIKLOS

I am not trivializing the situation. Life during this COVID misery is difficult. Life as we knew it has changed drastically.

People are isolated from friends and relatives. Lots of people can’t work from home. Many have lost their jobs and encountered serious financial difficulties. People have not seen their children or grandchildren for over two months. People fell terribly ill and quite a few have passed away.

Yet, I’d like to bring a different perspective to the forefront. Personally, I happen to be in a situation where I can regularly connect with several elderly Holocaust survivors in Toronto. I talk to them on the phone, I email them, or exchange text messages. Most are at least 90 years old. One recently turned 96.

When I complained to “Claire” about not being able to meet my friends and having to self-isolate, she reminded me that she had to spend several years in hiding during the Nazi occupation in Holland. She pointed out that in her family’s hiding place, they didn’t have TV, internet, food delivery, Zoom or any of today’s conveniences. As a young child, she and her sister could not make loud sounds, which would risk immediate discovery, betrayal and, ultimately, death. So I shut up.

When I recently wished Martin happy birthday, he replied: “I had better birthdays. But I also had worse ones.” Martin was separated from his family at age 16 and shipped to a foreign country. Then, he lied about his age to enlist in the army just to be shipped back to Europe to fight the Nazis. He was wounded and became a prisoner of war as he “celebrated” his birthday. So I shut up.

When I told Eva, that I can’t make any travel plans in the near future, she laughed. She and her mother used to travel a lot before they were forced to move to a Jewish ghetto. She was lucky she didn’t end up “travelling” on one of those trains to Auschwitz. So I shut up.

I was upset that I could not go to grocery store, or any other store, for the past nine weeks. Agnes told me that in 1944, as a 14-year-old blond, blue-eyed girl, she carried fake Christian papers, but when she went to the store to buy some food, the butcher became suspicious and wanted to call the police to report her. So I shut up.

The Holocaust survivors I am friends with and regularly talk to have been my role models. They are my rock during these difficult months. They changed the way I look at my “complaints.” And I know they will survive COVID, just as they survived the Shoah. They showed me a different perspective. They never complain. They just tell me their stories, and I shut up.


Mary Siklos is a descendant of Hungarian Holocaust survivors. She immigrated to Canada in 1986 and has worked in the Toronto Jewish community for 33 years. Over the past 19 years, she served as manager of operations at the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre (UJA Federation), overseeing such events as the annual Holocaust Education Week and the Yom Ha’Shoah community commemoration.

Letters to the Editor – May 25, 2020

Congratulations on the launch of the Canadian Jewish Record. I immediately had the link posted on our society mailing list and I am sure it will be shared countless times.

We have all wondered what the next voice of the Canadian Jewish community might be, who would step up to lead the way, and what form might a publication take. Of course, I am sure I am not the only one wishing you success.

Stanley Diamond
President, Jewish Genealogical Society of Montreal

I’m writing to congratulate you for creating the Canadian Jewish Record. Best wishes for good luck, good journalism and prosperity to maintain reputable standards. 

Toby Saltzman, Toronto

Loved that you are offering a forum for a Jewish voice. What you are doing is so amazing! It will surely gather momentum. Wishing you and your families and this fabulous endeavour all the best.

Gloria Clamen, Toronto

Thank you so much for filling the huge gap left by the CJN. I hope word about this gets around very quickly. I would like to suggest that you perhaps add a classified section for services and merchandise.

Diane Sidenberg, Toronto

The demise of the CJN definitely has left a void in our Jewish community.  It served as a social, political and religious link, and I for one was wondering what would we do now.  How would we be kept informed of social events, organizational happenings, topics that were important to us as Jews? Then, the Canadian Jewish Record popped up on Facebook. Kol Hakavod to all of you for taking this step in creating a liason for Canadian Jewry.

Wishing you much success,

Sue Shillow
Thornhill, Ontario

Cheesecake Sweetens Torah Study on Shavuot

By: BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

Shavuot begins on the evening of May 28. Because Jews abstain from meat on this day, a variety of dairy dishes like blintzes and cheese kugel have become the traditional holiday fare. A healthy serving of cheesecake usually caps off the festive meal.

It is common for people to stay up all night to study Torah on Shavuot. Cheesecake often provides them with sustenance for this endeavour.

With the social distancing necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the configuration of Torah study groups may be different for Shavuot 2020, but the consumption of cheesecake need not change.

However, over the course of this pandemic, there has been a lot of chatter about people growing wider around the middle and developing what has come to be known as the COVID-19 Bulge. Perhaps for some people a low-calorie cheesecake may be a good option for Shavuot this year.

In her last cookbook, The Brain Boosting Diet: Feed Your Memory, the late Norene Gilletz offered a calorie-reduced cheesecake recipe, “Basic Mini-Cheesecakes,” with variations that could “expand your repertoire,” she wrote, “without expanding your hips!”

Another more calorie-laden option is Anna Olson’s recipe for key lime cheesecake.  Olson is a Canadian celebrity pastry chef, and Food Network personality. This cheesecake recipe is delicious but there are quite a few steps. I used a food processor to make the cheesecake base.

Find the recipe here:

https://www.foodnetwork.ca/recipe/key-lime-cheesecake/12532/

One of my favourite Gilletz desserts is the chocolate cheesecake recipe from her classic cookbook, The Food Processor Bible. The cake looks and tastes great, with or without the whipped cream and chocolate curl garnish.

Basic Mini-Cheesecakes (Norene Gilletz)

1/3 cup (80 ml) finely chopped almonds or pecans

2 cups (500 ml) light cream cheese (1 b/500 g)

Sweetener equivalent to 2/3 cup (160 ml) sugar

2 large eggs

1 tbsp (15 ml) lemon juice (preferably fresh)

12 large whole strawberries, hulled

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line each compartment of a muffin pan with a paper liner and sprinkle some chopped nuts in the bottom of each.

In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, process the cheese with sweetener until blended, about 15 seconds. Add the eggs and lemon juice. Process for 20 to 30 seconds, until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pan compartments.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until set. Once cooled, top each cheesecake with a whole strawberry. Refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours, or overnight. Serve chilled.

Variation 1

Replace half the cream cheese with pressed cottage cheese. Increase the processing time to 1 minute until the mixture is very smooth.

Variation 2: Praline Mini-Cheesecakes:

Replace the sweetener with brown sugar sweetener. Instead of strawberries, top each cheesecake with a pecan half.

KEY LIME CHEESECAKE (Anna Olson)

Coconut Crust

1½ cup (375 ml) sweetened flaked coconut
¼ cup (60 ml) sugar
¼ cup (60 ml) all-purpose flour
1 large egg white, at room temperature

Cheesecake Base

3 250 g packages of cream cheese, at room temperature
1 300 ml tin sweetened condensed milk
1 tbsp (15 ml) freshly grated lime zest
2 tsp (10 ml) vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
** ½ cup (125 ml) fresh lime juice

Lime Curd

2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
½ cup (125 ml) sugar
**1 tbsp (15 ml) finely grated lime zest
**½ cup (125 ml) fresh lime juice
½ cup (125 ml) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
¼ cup (60 ml) sour cream

Topping

1 cup (250 ml) whipping cream
1 tbsp (15 ml) instant skim milk powder
2 tbsp (30 ml) sugar
½ tsp (3 ml) vanilla extract
½ cup (125 ml) fresh blueberries, for garnish

**NB Lemon can be substituted for lime

Preheat the oven to 350° (180°C). Lightly grease a 9-inch (23 cm) springform pan and place it onto a baking tray.

Crust: Stir the coconut, sugar and flour together. Whisk the egg white until frothy and then stir it into the coconut. Press this mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan (if you are finding it sticky, wet your fingers with water before pressing). Bake the crust for about 18 minutes, until lightly browned around the edges and then cool before filling.

Cheesecake: Lower the oven temperature to 300°F (150°C). Beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy. Beat in the condensed milk, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl well. Beat in the zest and vanilla, then on a lower speed; beat in each egg and the yolk one at a time. Still on low speed, beat in the lime juice. Pour this over the cooled crust and bake for about 40 minutes, until the outside of the cheesecake is set, but the centre still has a little jiggle to it. Prepare the lime curd as the cheesecake cools.

Lime Curd: Whisk the whole eggs, egg yolks, sugar, lime zest and juice in a metal bowl. Whisk in the butter and sour cream and place the bowl over a pot of gently simmering water, whisking often, until the lime curd has thickened, about 10 to15 minutes. Strain the curd and spread this gently over the cheesecake. Once fully cooled to room temperature, chill the cheesecake for at least 6 hours (do not cover with plastic wrap).

Topping: Whip the cream and skim milk powder to a soft peak. Stir in the sugar and vanilla and spread this over the cheesecake, leaving two inches of the lime curd visible around the outside. Top the cream with blueberries and chill until ready to serve.

The cheesecake will keep, refrigerated, for up to 3 days. Makes 10 to 12 servings.

 Anna Olson’s key lime cheesecake (photo: Barbara Silverstein)

CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKE (Norene Gilletz)

Crust

1 3/4 cups (430 ml) chocolate wafer crumbs
½ cup (125 ml) butter or margarine, melted
2 tbsp (30 ml) granulated or brown sugar
½ tsp (3 ml) ground cinnamon

Cheesecake base

2 cups (500 ml) chocolate chips
2 cups (500 ml) or 500 g (1 lb) light or cream cheese cut in chunks
3/4 cup (185 ml) granulated sugar
4 eggs
½ cup (125 ml) sour cream, light or regular

Whipped cream Topping (optional)

½ cup (125 ml) chilled whipping cream
1 tbsp (15 ml) icing sugar
Chocolate curls for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C)

Grease a 9-inch (23-cm) spring-form pan with non-stick spray

Prepare the crust: Break the wafers into chunks. In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, drop the wafers through the feed tube until fine crumbs form. Add the butter, 2 tbsp (30 ml) sugar and cinnamon into the bowl of your food processor. Process a few seconds longer to blend. Press 2/3 of the crumb mixture into the prepared springform pan. Reserve 1/3 of the mixture for the topping.

Clean & dry the processor bowl & blade. You will need it for the filling.

Melt the chocolate chips (2 to 3 minutes on medium (50%) in the microwave, stirring once or twice.

In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, process the cream cheese and 3/4 cup sugar (185 ml) for 30 seconds. Add the eggs and process until well blended. Stop the machine once in awhile and scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Add the melted chocolate and sour cream and process 20 seconds longer.

Pour the chocolate cheese mixture over the crust and sprinkle with the reserved wafer crumbs.

To bake, place a pie plate half filled with water on the bottom rack of the oven. Place the cheesecake on the middle rack. Bake in the preheated oven for 50 to 55 minutes. When done, the edges of the cake will be set, but the centre will be somewhat soft. Turn off the oven, but let the cake cool inside for half an hour with oven door partly open.

When completely cooled, place the cake on a plate and remove the sides of the pan.

Optional: Whip the heavy cream until thick. Add the icing sugar and whip until the cream stiffens.

Pipe rosettes of whipped cream around the edges and garnish with chocolate curls. Refrigerate the cake until serving time. Makes 12 to 16 servings.


COVID Going Forward: Emergency Doctor is Cautious but Optimistic

By DAN HOROWITZ

In early April, Dr. David Carr, an emergency physician in Toronto, joined Jews around the globe who had to settle for a Zoom seder in light of COVID-19.

So what about the High Holidays in September? Will we be praying online again, or is there a chance that we can actually join friends and family in a bricks-and-mortar synagogue?

“I think that the way we congregate in mass gatherings will be much different moving forward than it has been in the past,” said Carr, who’s also an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Toronto.

In an interview with The CJR, Carr said he “certainly can’t imagine packed High Holiday services with people scrambling for seats. I think the way synagogues redesign their congregations will be key.”

Even so, “undoubtedly things will be very different in the fall, whether people are attending synagogues or whether they even feel safe and comfortable in synagogue.”

If they do, they will need to display strict adherence to public health guidelines, Carr said.

“It may be that they will have to stagger services or have people not starting and stopping at the same time,” he offered.

He agrees the High Holiday period will be challenging.

“This virus will continue to be around because of its global presence for years to come until we have a safe and effective vaccine that is widely available and widely adopted.”

That means that by the autumn, there will be no change in available treatments or prevention. “The only thing that will continue to be essential this fall is social distancing, hygiene and wearing a mask,” Carr said.

This may be time, he said, for the community to look at other ways to find meaning in spirituality and prayer.

When it comes to children returning to Jewish day schools in September, Carr believes reintegration will also be completely different.

“Clearly, if there was a time for reduced class sizes, this may be it,” he said. “You certainly don’t want your kids going to a class with 30 other students. I think reduced class sizes with distancing among desks will key.”

He thinks kids will no longer have free recess, and that large cafeteria lunches will end.

“I think that there will have to be a minimization of mingling and even the dropping off and picking up processes will have to be staggered so the whole school doesn’t show up at the same time,” Carr stated. “People will have to wash their hands when they enter, and before and after lunch.”

But Carr remains optimistic on children’s wellbeing.

“For the most part, the majority of the mortality from COVID-19 has affected our seniors, especially those living in long-term care facilities or those with underlying medical issues,” he explained. “This remains a very safe virus for children as far as we know.”

Said Carr: “I don’t fear for my children. My fears and worries surround protecting our parents and grandparents.”

He believes the creation of a vaccine will be a global collaborative process.

“Never in the history of humanity have we seen a more dedicated effort in the scientific world to collaborate. Now, more than ever, collaboration is key. It’s not a competition, and there’s no suggestion that one group is ahead of the other.”

He believes the scientific community will work together “and bring us to a normal life soon.”

Martow Apologizes for ‘Hurt’ to Muslims in Video Flap

By RON CSILLAG

A Jewish MPP and an Islamic centre in her riding have kissed and made up following two days of pointed verbiage.

On May 19, Gila Martow, Conservative MPP for Thornhill, apologized for “any hurt she caused to the community of the Jaffari Community Centre.”

Thornhill MPP Gila Martow (Photo via Legislative Assembly of Ontario)

In a joint statement, Martow and the Centre, known as the Islamic Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaat (ISIJ) of Toronto, together with the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said they have “engaged in meaningful dialogue and conversation” after a video was recorded outside the Centre three days earlier.

The video, later uploaded to YouTube, contained several anti-Zionist statements.

The Muslim organizations said someone had made an “unauthorized” video in the parking lot of the Jaffari Centre, located at 9000 Bathurst St. in Thornhill Woods. The COVID crisis has closed the Centre since March 3.

The man who made and uploaded the video, Firas Al Najim, is co-manager of Canadian Defenders For Human Rights (CD4HR), a pro-Palestinian group.

In the nine-minute video, made during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Al Najim used a loudspeaker to broadcast the Islamic call to prayer, followed by a speech. According to a transcript of the speech by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Al Najim said a “majority” of the Jaffari Centre’s members support an Islamic prohibition of doing business with Zionists.

According to the transcript, Al Najim referred to Israel as “the illegitimate Zionist regime.”

He also mentioned the “nakbah,” the Arab word for “catastrophe,” referencing the creation of Israel and subsequent displacement of Palestinians.*

In an earlier statement, Martow said the video also contained anti-Semitic “tropes.”

The incident caused social media to light up.

Al Najim “is not affiliated with the ISIJ and the video was not sanctioned by the organization,” said the joint statement. “The ISIJ does not permit trespassing.”

Both Muslim groups said they “wish to reaffirm their commitment to stand against all forms of discrimination, including antisemitism, as they stand with their Jewish brothers and sisters against intolerance.”

The conciliatory tone was in sharp contrast to earlier sentiments. On May 17, Martow issued a statement saying it was “unfortunate” that Al Najim “would use a prayer for victims of COVID-19 to promote intolerance and misinformation about international legal issues.”

Martow said she hopes his message of “intolerance and misinformation is not shared by the membership and families of the Jaffari Centre. I look forward to meaningful dialogue with them in the near future.”

The next day, the Jaffari Centre replied that it had been unaware of Al Najim, and his presence. “We do not know the individual who recorded himself on our premises,” said ISIJ of Toronto vice president Shafiq Ebrahim. “The individual came to our premises without our authorization and we did not request nor allow this recording to occur,” he added.

The statement said the centre was “deeply concerned” with Martow’s press release, which “which cast speculative insinuations about the Jaffari community.” Had Martow “taken the time to contact the [centre], she would have learned that the individual came onto the premises without authorization.”

The day after that, the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) said Martow should have undertaken the “appropriate diligence that a reasonable person would have expected by actually calling the Jaffari Centre.”

The NCCM called on Martow to apologize for her “problematic” press release, and to issue “a clarifying statement.”

In the subsequent joint statement, Martow thanked representatives of the NCCM and ISIJ “for their understanding and willingness to confront intolerance.” She also said she would contact organizations directly “should any further unfortunate incidents occur,” and issued an apology.

All three parties “will continue to engage in productive dialogue and continue to demonstrate to all communities that we are stronger when united,” the joint statement said.

Al Najim is known for making and posting several videos of himself over the years, including one in front of a Toronto synagogue, another on the route of the Walk for Israel, and one at the offices of the Canadian Jewish News.

The plot thickened on May 20, when Al Nasim tweeted that the Jaffari Centre “lied” in claiming not to know him, and “dissociated” itself from him “out of fear of the Zionist politician Gila Martow & the Zionist influential bullying network.”

He said he had permission to come to the Centre and that he is “embedded in the community.” He promised a “detailed release soon.”

Asked to comment on Al Najim’s claims, Ebrahim referred the CJR to the Centre’s May 17 press release.

In online posts, supporters of Martow disputed the Jaffari Centre’s claim that it did not know Al Najim. They said Al Najim was one of 45 individuals who made deputations at the City of Vaughan in a zoning issue involving the Centre in 2018, and that the Centre puts its name to a letter Al Najim wrote last year to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau protesting Canada’s sale of arms to Saudi Arabia.

*The above clarifies the meaning of the term “nakbah.”

The Jewish Summer Camp Season: Mostly Heartbreak

By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

The news that many camp communities in Ontario had been dreading came on May 19, when Premier Doug Ford announced that overnight camps would not be permitted to operate this summer.

The bad news began earlier, when on April 30, an email went out to Camp George campers and their families saying the 2020 summer camp season was cancelled.

By the Victoria Day weekend, the season was over for Camp Kadimah in Nova Scotia. Camp Ramah in Ontario had axed its first session about a week earlier.

These camps are among the more than 20 Jewish overnight camps across Canada that have been grappling with the impact of COVID.

Spokespersons for camps and letters to families posted on websites shared a common theme: Sadness and regret about the cancellation of the 2020 camp season.

Camp George executive director Jeff Rose called the cancellation “devastating” for his community.

“We all look forward to camp – the campers, the staff, the faculty and the professionals,” Rose told The CJR.

Located about 25 kms east of Parry Sound, Ont., Camp George is run by the U.S.-based Union of Reform Judaism (URJ). None of the URJ’s 15 summer camps will be operating this summer.

Rose said the URJ had planned for all contingencies in response to COVID.

“Every path led us to same outcome,” he said. “We could not open up camp. We could not assure our community that we would be able to keep the campers safe.”

In an announcement on its website, Camp Kadimah, which runs a summer camp in Nova Scotia, said it had made “the very difficult decision” to cancel the 2020 season for the first time in its 77-year history.

“We are truly pained by this decision and share in the disappointment of our entire Kadimah community,” the camp said.

Camp Ramah, located in Ontario’s Muskoka region, initially cancelled its first session. A letter on its website said the decision was made “with heavy hearts, but with clarity of mind that although this is not what we want, it is what we are compelled to do.”

While the letter referred to the first session, the full camp season is now officially cancelled.

For Jewish communal camps outside Ontario, the decision to open this summer is a waiting game predicated on the health and safety of campers and staff, and their respective provincial guidelines.  

Danial Sprintz, executive director of Camp Massad Manitoba, was uncertain about the summer. In an email, Sprintz wrote: “At this time we are not sure about the status of summer camp. We should know more by June 1, but I am currently planning on operating.”

Camp B’nai Brith of Ottawa, located in Quyon, Que., is also in a “holding pattern,” said executive director Cindy Presser Benedek. 

“We’re waiting to hear from the Quebec government before we make our final call…It’s a really stressful time.”

She said she’s grateful that camp families are being patient. “They are respectful that we’re taking our time.” 

Risa Epstein, national executive director of Canadian Young Judaea (CYJ), said three affiliated camps, Kinneret and Biluim in Quebec and Camp Hatikvah in British Columbia, are also waiting to finalize decisions for the 2020 summer season.  

Other CYJ-affiliated camps, Shalom, Solelim and Machane Lev – all in Ontario – will not open this summer.

Epstein pointed out that although Camp Kadimah is in Nova Scotia, 80 percent of its campers come from Ontario.  

While the incidence of COVID is low in Nova Scotia, transporting the Ontario campers there would have presented a major health challenge, she said. “There were concerns around planes and the flights. The camp knew that it wasn’t going to work.”

Epstein said she was hopeful about running CYJ’s teen summer program in Israel. “We cancelled our original dates…it depends on the travel advisories.

“Things are opening up in Israel,” she said. “If there is any way to get the children to travel to Israel, we will, but we’re not going risk the health and safety of our participants.”

The Israel component is important to several other Zionist communal camps, but it is critical for Heart to Heart, a youth leadership program for Palestinian and Jewish youth from Israel. The program is held annually in Ontario.

A group of 20 Israeli teens equally divided between Palestinians and Jews spend three weeks together at Camp Shomria, where they are integrated into the summer camp program.

Through the Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair, Heart to Heart partners with Givat Haviva, an Israeli organization that recruits and prepares the teens for their summer in Canada.

Jenny Isaacs, director of Heart to Heart, lamented that the program would not be running this year. Givat Haviva programming had been suspended due to COVID social distancing requirements, and so preparations for the Canada experience had not been completed.

Rachel Saslove, executive director of Camp Shomria, said the camp will be offering some kind of programming over the summer, but the “magical experience” of being at camp is irreplaceable.

“We will have to move forward to imagine what 2021 will look like. That’s what’s helping me get through what will be a very big loss this summer.” 

Camp Gesher in Ontario and Camp Miriam on Gabriola Island, B.C. in British Colombia are affiliated with Habonim Dror, a Zionist youth movement that also runs four camps in the United States. The U.S. camps and Camp Gesher will be closed, while Camp Miriam continues to wait for provincial directives. 

Camp Gesher, Ontario, Canada
Camp Gesher (Photo Credit: Matthew Winick)

Shoshana Lipschultz, director of Camp Gesher, said the cancellation of camp “is devastating for the campers, the staff and the families. We all live for those 10 weeks of camp. The staff love it as much as the campers. They were all so enthusiastic about this summer.”

Trilby Smith, a board member and a former director at Camp Miriam in Vancouver, summed up the importance of a Jewish summer camp experience: “I think that for many people, camp is their point of connection with the Jewish community. Not having that could be really sad for those families and kids.”

COHEN: Jewish Journalism: Good, Bad or Ugly, We Need it

By ANDREW COHEN

At the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw – perhaps the finest institution of its kind in the world – one of the most striking galleries recreates Jewish urban life in Poland between the wars.

“On the Jewish Street,” as it is called, presents something staggering: An entire wall groaning with newspapers, magazines and journals in Yiddish, as if it were a gargantuan news kiosk. There were 3.1 million Polish Jews in 1931, the largest community in Europe, and this was their reflection.

Jews sustained daily newspapers in Warsaw, Lodz, Krakow and other cities, as well as specialty publications on art, photography, literature, science, history and politics.

This was the age of newspapers. Canada itself had myriad English-language dailies (four remain in Toronto today) and many that served Jews. One of the early Jewish periodicals was Der Yiddisher Zhurnal (The Hebrew Journal), which appeared in 1913 in Yiddish. It came out every day but Saturday, serving new immigrants.

For years, Montreal had the Keneder Adler (Canadian Eagle), also six days a week. Like publications in Toronto, it competed with Yiddish dailies sent from New York. Over the years, English-language Jewish papers in Canada came and went. Among them were the Jewish Star, Jewish Times, The Canadian Jewish Review (which merged with the Canadian Jewish Chronicle to become the Chronicle Review), and the Western Jewish News.

The best known was The Canadian Jewish News. For 60 years, with a brief hiatus in 2013, it was the record of Canadian Jewry. Under the able Yoni Goldstein, its last editor, it offered a weekly mix of news, commentary, and features.

In April, The CJN closed. Suddenly, sadly, we have no voice. This is something to lament, consider and correct. Which is why a circle of journalists and writers have founded The Canadian Jewish Record.

Why bother? Aren’t newspapers closing everywhere? Are they not obsolete amid Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook? More particularly, why mourn the end of The CJN?

It matters because there are some 390,000 Jews in Canada, the second- or third-largest community in the world outside Israel. Jews are represented everywhere here in national life – business, law, medicine, government, entertainment, sports. We have something to say.

We are a community, and we have a story. We have interests, values and views different from other communities, and a multiplicity – indeed, a cacophony – of voices. Everyone knows Jews rarely agree.

No publication can reflect all that but we owe it ourselves to try. Without a voice, we risk isolating ourselves, losing a part of ourselves and becoming distant from each other in ways far worse than the ravages of COVID-19.

Good journalism does for our community what it does for any community. It challenges our institutions and our leaders, explores our ideas and experiences, conveys our pleasures and pastimes, and captures our way of life, in its diversity, curiosity, whimsy and levity.

Good journalism illuminates how we organize ourselves and holds institutions accountable. One mystery, for example, is the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), which succeeded the venerable Canadian Jewish Congress. How that happened is contentious, and how CIJA operates – particularly its financing from the Jewish Federations of Canada in its role as “advocacy agent” – demands closer scrutiny.

(I have raised this in the past in the mainstream media, as well as in The CJN, proposing a mechanism allowing skeptical donors to bypass CIJA and select individual charities. The Federation was clearly uninterested.)

Exploring these and other issues is why we need a forum of news and ideas. But it is not just for serious matters. We face many existential issues: The properties of the perfect bagel, the way to make better challah, the demise of the delicatessen and the dairy restaurant.

Food, the arts, travel, commerce, science, health. News isn’t just politics. It’s the soul and sinew of our lives as Jews in Canada in the 21st century: the word on our Jewish Street.


(Photo: Pat McGrath/The Ottawa Citizen)

Andrew Cohen is a columnist with Postmedia News, a professor at Carleton University, and the author of Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made History.

Jewish Cemeteries Begin to Re-Open

Jewish cemeteries in and around Toronto are starting to re-open for visitation, after being closed for nearly two months due to COVID.

Visiting hours are limited and vary by cemetery. Monument unveilings are still prohibited, and groups must be limited to five people or fewer, according to provincial regulations.

“Unfortunately, during the latter part of March and through all of April, we were faced with many more burials than usual due to COVID-19’s impact on our community,” stated a press release from Toronto Hebrew Memorial Parks. “We recognize how difficult the cemeteries being closed has been for the families and communities that we serve.”

Beginning May 17, Pardes Shalom and Pardes Chaim opened for limited visiting hours, Sunday to Thursday, 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Visitors must wear face masks and are required to practice physical distancing unless they are in the same household.

The hand washing area and washrooms remain closed, and the cemetery is locked, except during visiting hours and to permit burials.

If the regulations are not observed, the cemeteries will be forced to close again for visitation and will only be open for burials, warned the THMP statement.

Bathurst Lawn Memorial Park and Dawes Road Cemetery have also re-opened with limited visiting hours and similar restrictions.

The rules regarding burials remain unchanged. All funerals are currently graveside, and are limited to 10 people, including clergy. If the deceased died of COVID, only clergy and funeral home staff may be present.

At Toronto’s Bathurst Lawn Memorial Park, the limited re-opening has gone smoothly, said general manager Lisa Benhaim.

“Everyone has been so appreciative that we’re opening,” she said. “It’s been fantastic. Everyone has been unbelievable.”

During the nearly two months the cemetery was closed for visitation, Benhaim said she received 25 to 30 calls a day about the situation.

“People were asking, ‘can I come in by myself?’ ” Benhaim said.

The cemetery currently opens at 4:30 p.m. after staff have gone for the day. Security guards record visitors’ names, phone numbers and licence plates in case there is an outbreak and visitors need to be contacted.

“People are coming in two by two, doing what they need to do, and leaving,” Benhaim said.

SUCHAROV: Fauda is Binge-Worthy but Can be Painful

By MIRA SUCHAROV

With news that another IDF soldier has been killed in a Palestinian village in the West Bank, attention on the occupation is as necessary as ever. At what cost is this half century of brutality – to everyone – and to what end? Through the Israeli hit show Fauda, Netflix viewers have a binge-worthy way to think more fully about the occupation. But is it doing the trick?

When it comes to reactions, the divide between mainstream Jewish audiences and Palestinian ones is stark. For the most part, Jewish audiences have been eager and appreciative viewers of the series.

“The Israeli characters are flawed and damaged by the relentless stress of trying to contain and confront terrorism,” said one Facebook friend, making clear the causal arrows in his mind – between Palestinian violence and Israeli containment. “I heart Doron,” wrote another, in reference to the tough-but-tender-hearted protagonist, played by Lior Raz. Before the pandemic shuttered the buildings, Raz, also the show’s co-creator, filled Jewish community centres on cross-continent speaking tours.

But Palestinians, and those who are active in the Palestine solidarity movement, are just as likely to be put off by the show. “Shooting and crying,” another Facebook friend wrote, referring to the oft-heard leftwing criticism that Israeli liberals and centrists clutch their pearls over ongoing military violence against Palestinians but do nothing to actually stop it. “I hope there isn’t a fourth season,” another chagrined-but-clearly addicted friend told me, tongue in cheek. “It’s total Israeli propaganda. And I’ll simply have to watch it.”

In terms of overall production values, there’s a lot to like about Fauda. With the exception of the first three or four episodes of Season 3, where the writing turned wooden and some details were lacking, and in which Bashar took off his boxing gloves, revealing bare hands – something especially irksome to me, a weekend sparrer – the show has been excellent television.

So, what about the politics of it all? First, let’s consider the goals. The creators have emphasized that they have indeed tried to make a balanced product. It’s not only “the number of dead you can count on both sides. It’s the scars that are left on the heart of the people that are part of this war,” co-creator Avi Issacharoff told me when I interviewed him upon the show’s release in 2015.

But when it comes to live issues of justice and human rights, we need to consider the new-old chestnut impact versus intent, a phrase that’s become popular in critical race and social justice circles. Whatever even-handed hope the creators may have harboured, whatever goals they may have held about advancing the stories of both sides, we need to consider how the series is experienced by those whose lives are most affected by Israel’s policies toward Palestinians.

Palestinians are less than lukewarm about it.

In 2018, Palestinian-Israeli literary sensation Sayed Kashua bemoaned the fact that “there is nothing in Fauda that addresses the reality in the territories. In Fauda, there are no rulers or ruled, no occupation, no historical background, no checkpoints, poverty, home demolitions, expulsions, settlers or violent soldiers.”

More recently, George Zeidan, co-founder of Right to Movement Palestine, called the show “barely subliminal anti-Arab incitement.” And in an ironic twist, Palestinian educator Kefah Abukhdeir pointed to the importance of showing the degree of surveillance to which everyday Palestinians are subjected. “In a small way,” she writes, “I guess it’s good that now you know. But the truth is, it’s almost unbearable to see this show get plaudits when we were not believed, when we were silenced, when we were called racist for pointing this out for decades.”

It’s true that I once believed that a show like this, with more Arabic than Hebrew, with generally fully drawn characters of all stripes, with the showcasing of Palestinian actors who might not otherwise have many outlets, may very well help pry open the gates of mutual understanding, as good television and cinema can. And while, in a cinematic sense, I also heart Doron, I, too, can’t deny that when it comes to Israeli archetypes (I was also raised on the ideal of Sabra-style masculinity) I simply can no longer promote the show as one that helps the cause of peace and justice.

When I really try to listen to the effect this show is having on the viewers who are the most vulnerable to Israeli violence, those who suffer the indignities of occupation surveillance and the injustice of collective punishment and the mass casualties of asymmetric war, when I really pause to look away from the screen and be open to their voices, I hear the message that Fauda hurts.


Mira Sucharov

Mira Sucharov is professor of political science and University Chair of Teaching Innovation at Carleton University in Ottawa. She is the author, most recently, of Public Influence: Op-Ed Writing and Social Media Engagement. Her latest book, Borders and Belonging: A Memoir, is forthcoming.

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

By FRANCES KRAFT

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

By ALAN L. SIMONS

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.