We Should Denounce Jewish Bigots Too

Aug. 27, 2020 – By JOE SOLWAY

Normally, I’m pleased to see a fellow Jew succeed in the political arena, even if we don’t hold the same views. But not so in a recent primary in Florida.

That’s because the winner, Laura Loomer, is a self-described “proud Islamophobe.” She’s been banned from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Uber, Lyft, PayPal, GoFundMe, and Chase Bank, among others, for her bigoted views.

Laura Loomer
Laura Loomer

The rideshare services dumped her after she tweeted that “someone needs to create a non Islamic form of Uber or Lyft because I never want to support another Islamic immigrant driver.”

There’s “no such thing as a moderate Muslim, Loomer has said. “They’re ALL the same.”

Even so, it seems that Republicans in Florida’s 21st Congressional District love her.

That’s the stretch of Florida coast that includes Palm Beach, Delray Beach and Boynton Beach. On Aug. 11, Loomer defeated five others on the primary ballot to become the Republican nominee for Congress in this November’s election.

Loomer’s win came during the same week that Democrats held their convention, much of which focussed on calls for equality and social justice. In contrast, President Donald Trump praised his candidate’s win, tweeting, “Great going Laura. You have a great chance against a Pelosi puppet!” It’s worth noting that Trump himself is registered to vote in the 21st District.

Loomer has called Islam a “cancer on humanity” and its practitioners “savages,” adding that they should be disqualified from running for office. Where have we heard words like these before?

Dehumanizing a people or a race is something we as Jews know about first-hand. And we know what happens when those words turn to action. People are banned, persecuted and murdered.

When 51 Muslims were killed in attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, by a white supremacist, Loomer said she didn’t care, tweeting that she cared more about her free speech than what happened in that attack.

Yes, there are deep differences between some Jews and Muslims over issues in the Middle East, but when it comes to human rights and respect, Jews should be at the forefront of calling out hate, not fanning its flames.

Loomer has said she rejects being called part of the alt-right because of its links to antisemitism. That’s wonderful. But she’ll spout the same dangerous, hateful garbage they do: Inciting persecution and violence in the name of race.

Bigots like Loomer who sought elected office in Canada have been removed as candidates by their parties. But in the U.S., they’re now being embraced – at least by Republicans. Some of these same Republicans also embrace supporters of the Qanon conspiracy theory who believe that Trump is working to save them from a global conspiracy of Liberal, Satan-worshipping pedophiles who are plotting against him.

Why does all this matter?

First, Canada is not a vacuum and what happens in the U.S. has a profound influence on life here. Thankfully, the anti-immigration People’s Party of Canada received little support in the last federal election. However, hate groups are on the rise here. An estimate by Barbara Perry of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism puts the number of hate groups in Canada at more than 300. Loomer herself has a connection to this country. During the summer of 2017, she was the U.S. correspondent for Rebel Media, the social commentary site headed by Ezra Levant.

Second, a recent survey found that more than 167,000 Jews live in Palm Beach County. There’s no breakdown of how many support Loomer. I hope it’s zero. Furthermore, (as of this writing) the Republican Jewish Coalition had yet to comment on Loomer’s primary win.

Loomer’s Democratic opponent in the district will be incumbent Lois Frankel, also Jewish, and a former mayor of Palm Beach, who garnered more than 62 percent of the vote to win in 2016. So far, I’ve yet to see any statements from Frankel about Loomer’s bigotry. Frankel has spoken out about antisemitism and other forms of hate in the past, including Islamophobia, and I hope it becomes an issue in November. (It’s worth noting that from 2011 to 2013, part of the district had been represented by another notorious Islamophobe, Republican Allen West. The district’s boundaries have since been redrawn.)

I believe as Jews, we have an obligation to speak out against the type of inflammatory rhetoric in which Laura Loomer engages, wherever we find it, and whoever it comes from. Especially when it’s from one of our own.


Joe Solway
Joe Solway

Joe Solway is a retired current affairs producer who worked for various Canadian media, including the CBC. He lives in Bowmanville, Ont., where he’s on the board of the Rotary Club.

Editorial: Let’s Continue to Save Lives

Aug. 27, 2020

In the Jewish tradition, we are taught that“whosoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved the entire world” – surely a beautiful sentiment embraced by other faith traditions.

And yet, we see very much the opposite today, especially in the reaction of a significant minority both here and in the United States to dangerous fiction that “trumps” truth when it comes to Covid-19.

Alarmingly, more than a few people are either ignorant or think they are invincible,or worse, believe religiously-tinged fairy tales from numbskulls in leadership positions.

Take Ohio state representative Nino Vitale, for example. The Republican has urged his fellow Ohioans to refuse to wear face masks. As he rambled to Newsweekrecently, “When we think about the image and likeness of God, that we’re created in the image and likeness of God, when we think of image, do we think of a chest or our legs or our arms? We think of their face. I don’t want to cover people’s faces. That’s the image of God right there. I want to see it in my brothers and sisters.”

Ordinary Americans have also invoked God, claiming masks interfere with His divinely-designed human breathing apparatus. A study released in late June suggested that White American evangelicals’ attitudes toward the coronavirus pandemic are considerably more relaxed than those of other religious groups.

This might go some way to explaining the fact that the United States has the highest number (per 100,000 people) of Covid cases and deaths in the world.

To date, nearly 180,000 Americans have died in the pandemic, a number that scientists and epidemiologists tell us wasavoidable had people followed the simple hygienic rules by now burned into our brains: keep your distance, wash your hands, and wear a mask – simple rules that Donald Trump was reluctant to mandate.

Worse, Trump seems to treat unnecessary deaths with a shrugging normalcy. Asked a couple of weeks ago about the staggering death rate in his country, he responded, “it is what it is.”

One might assume that members of his own party would be horrified at such a reply. Not so much. A recent CBS poll found 57percent of Republicans felt that a death toll of 176,000 Americans (at the time) was “acceptable.” The same survey found that 73 percent of Republicans believe Trump is handling the Coronavirus pandemic well.

Thankfully, saner heads prevail when the same question is asked across the United States, where 62 percent of voters believe the response is “going badly.” Incredibly,however, that means close to 40 percent of Americans (almost 150 million people) are just fine with Trump’s handling of the pandemic.

In Canada, we are faring much better, even though we have our own “Covoidiots.” Take the recent example of 600 patrons packedshoulder-to-shoulder into a downtown Toronto strip club. Naturally, an employee tested positive for the virus. Now all attendees and employees have to isolate and monitor. Consider also pandemic house parties held across the country, just begging for infection?

The good news, however, is that for the most part, our political leaders, no matter where they stand on the spectrum andunlike their American counterparts, have saved lives by listening to science and taking the best possible advice from those in public health charged with looking after our welfare.

This is not to say problems don’t exist. Finding the right balance between opening our schools and preventing huge spikes in the virus remains a real challenge.

So far, with the customary Canadian sense of following established rules (and a little luck), our pandemic numbers have been trending downward. We need to continue down this path with care and thoughtfulness. We need to continue saving entire generations.

Montreal Jewish Schools Say They’re Ready

Aug. 27, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—Jewish day school officials here say they have put in place all of the measures required under Quebec’s COVID back-to-school plan, and even exceeded them – but only within the limits of the law.

In an online discussion Aug. 25 organized by the Communaute Sepharade Unifiee du Quebec as part of the annual Festival Sefarad de Montreal, officials offered assurances that their schools are ready to provide a safe environment for students and staff when they open after being closed since mid-March.

The schools are members of the Association of Jewish Day Schools (AJDS), an independent body funded by member schools.

A key point of divergence between some of the Jewish schools and the government’s plan, unveiled on Aug. 10, was the wearing of masks. The plan stipulates that masks must be worn by students in grade 5 and up at all times in the school’s common areas, such as corridors. Wearing them in the classroom, however, is optional.

Some schools had wanted to make masks obligatory in the classroom or for younger children as well, as a few non-Jewish private schools in Montreal said they would. In reaction, the government was firm: That neither private nor public schools have the legal authority to impose measures beyond the public health directives.

The AJDS-affiliated schools, which open as early as Aug. 27, are now “strongly recommending” that students cover their faces while in class.

The discussion, moderated by journalist Elias Levy and conducted in French, heard that some schools have also implemented such extra precautions as Plexiglas shields between desks and air purifiers in classrooms. At least one school will be doing temperature checks.

The Quebec plan does not require social distancing in the classroom. Students in each class are expected to be a “bubble”’ that stays together, with teachers moving between classrooms.

Connecting to the Zoom conference were: AJDS executive director Sidney Benudiz; Lucienne Azoulay, director of Academie Yechiva Yavne; Laura Segall, Hebrew Academy’s head of school; Jennifer Benoualid, principal of Solomon Schechter Academy; Alexandra Obadia, president of Talmud Torah/Herzliah High School; and Esther Krauze, president of Ecole Maimonide.

Another AJDS affiliate, Jewish People’s and Peretz Schools/Bialik High School, which did not take part in the panel, had to retract a message it sent to parents that all students from kindergarten and up would be required to wear masks in class after the government made clear that no school could make such a decision.

Under the province’s plan, all students must go to school fulltime this fall, at least up to grade 9. For the two senior years, schools may opt for a combination of in-school and distance learning, as long as students are in class at least 50 per cent of the time.

The sole exemption is for medical reasons, either the child’s or a member of their household, and that must be certified by a doctor according to strict criteria the government has defined. A group of Quebec parents who want the choice of online learning extended to all students has launched a legal challenge to the government, led by constitutional lawyer Julius Grey.

About 150 doctors and scientists with school-aged kids have also issued an open letter to Premier Francois Legault criticizing the plan as inadequate to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, and urging masks and social distancing in class.

The government has not yielded to this criticism, insisting its plan meets the current advice of health and educational experts, but is open to modification if the situation changes. On Aug. 25, Health Minister Christian Dube described COVID as under control in the province, which now has an average of 80 new cases confirmed daily.

The panelists acknowledged considerable concern exists among their schools’ parents, but the number that have secured exemptions for their children is relatively small.

Benoualid said Solomon Schechter, which is has elementary grades only, has 10 out of an enrolment of 450, while Obadia said Talmud Torah/Herzliah, which has 650 students, has 20 that are exempted.

All of the officials affirmed that their schools are well prepared to provide a full education online to these students, as well as any others who may have to stay home for an extended period, citing the experience they gained this spring.

Benudiz noted that the member schools, under AJDS’s guidance, rallied when they were ordered to close in March to develop distance learning platforms, and quickly put them in place. This combination of real-time instruction by teachers and online materials available proved to be successful, said Benudiz, who applauded the co-operation that continues among the schools.

The schools have now installed cameras in classrooms that will enable students at home to follow along with their peers and even interact.

The schools have closed their cafeterias, and lunches will be eaten in the classroom. The Orthodox schools are using the cafeterias and other repurposed spaces for socially-distanced prayers.

The panelists were definite that their schools would be able to cope well should they have to shut down again due to a second wave of COVID, saying they could pivot within 24 hours to remote instruction.

The other AJDS members are: Akiva School and Hebrew Foundation School, both elementary; and Beth Jacob School, which has elementary and secondary levels.

* A previous version of this story stated that the Association of Jewish Day Schools (AJDS) is a Federation CJA agency. In fact, it is an independent body funded by member schools. The CJR regrets the error.

Canada and UNRWA: A Return to First Principles?

By DAVID H. GOLDBERG

For decades, Canadian governments – Liberal and Conservative – have routinely approved generous funding for United Nations agencies, with little apparent thought as to whether taxpayers’ dollars were being applied transparently, or that agency staff were adhering to the UN’s commitment to strict impartiality with respect to Israel and Israel-Arab relations.

Case in point is Canada’s relationship with UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Since UNRWA’s founding in 1950, support for the agency has remained a core principle of Canada’s Middle East policy, despite UNRWA’s consistent failure to fulfill its mandate to alleviate human suffering and its status as an impediment to achieving a viable solution to the Arab-Israel conflict.

For UNRWA, the term “refugee” refers solely to Arabs displaced from the former Palestine mandate by the 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars. Moreover, its prescription for resolving the refugees’ status is their return to their former homes in the former Palestine mandate, including all of pre-state Israel – a condition that is rejected by Israel as a recipe for the destruction of the Jewish state.

UNRWA perpetuates the untenable Palestinian dream of “right of return” rather than working to facilitate the refugees’ permanent resettlement in the countries of their current residence – whether Lebanon, Jordan, England or Canada – as is the UN’s preferred resettlement strategy for all international refugees other than the Palestinians. UNRWA also perpetuates the conflict by grossly exaggerating the number of Palestinians requiring agency support, by including among the 5 million “registered refugees” the children, grandchildren (and great-grandchildren) of Arab refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars. From Israel’s perspective, the only legitimate Arab refugees are the 700,000 who departed the former Palestine mandate in the 1948-1949 War of Independence. Israel calculates that only about 20,000 from this original group of Arab refugees remain alive today.

Other allegations include the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish language and images found in textbooks and curricula used in UNRWA-operated schools throughout the Middle East. There are also the documented cases of Hamas “active sympathizers” employed by UNRWA.

The agency’s defense – that while all local employees are vetted for connections with terrorist groups, UNRWA cannot control the hearts and minds of its personnel – strains credulity, as does its denial of awareness that its schools, medical clinics and ambulances have been used to hide, store, and transport Hamas weapons and armed fighters deployed in terrorist attacks against Israel.

In 2010, the Stephen Harper Conservatives suspended funding to UNRWA over the organization’s links to Hamas. The Justin Trudeau Liberals resumed funding in 2016, with a special focus on social media training and review of UNRWA school curricula. Also, Ottawa’s UNRWA funding would henceforth be overseen by “independent” authorities.

In August 2018, the Trump Administration withdrew all United States funding for UNRWA – more than $360 million – citing the agency’s overt anti-Israel bias. Two months later, Canada allocated $50 million over two years to an UNRWA emergency fund-raising campaign (this was in addition to Canada’s $15 million contribution to UNRWA’s 2018 annual budget.)

Global Affairs Canada explained that the emergency funds would help “bring stability to the region by helping Palestinian refugees cope with poverty, unemployment and food insecurity.” It would also “assist UNRWA with its ongoing efforts to improve neutrality within the agency and its operations.” There is, however, no evidence that concern about agency neutrality, presumably relating to the anti-Israel bias that precipitated the U.S. suspension of UNRWA funding, affected Canada’s funding deliberations in 2018.

If Canada was looking to review its relationship with UNRWA, the opportunity arose early in 2019, with release of a special internal agency investigation that revealed allegations of outrageous ethical and managerial misconduct involving UNRWA’s senior staff.

Canada expressed “concern” about such revelations, as well as its expectation that the UN’s full investigation of UNRWA would be rigorous, fair, accountable and transparent.

Vivian Bercovici, Canada’s former ambassador to Israel, claimed the tepid Canadian response was calculated. Writing in the National Post, she argued that Canada wilfully ignored UNRWA’s ethical and institutional failings as one of the sacrifices of principle Ottawa was making to achieve broader geopolitical ambitions.

According to Bercovici, “[t]he current leadership in Ottawa so covets a rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council that it will do anything to secure it, including throwing money at a corrupt organization [UNRWA] that is utterly committed to promoting antisemitism and colludes with Hamas and other unsavoury groups.”

Having recently failed to secure a Security Council seat, will Canada finally challenge the overtly anti-Jewish and anti-Israel programs of UN agencies such as UNRWA? This could be achieved by joining the United States in totally withdrawing funding for UNRWA.

Alternatively, further Canadian funding could be made contingent on fundamental improvements in UNRWA’s ethical and financial accountability, as well as a sincere and transparent commitment to strict impartiality when it comes to Judaism, Israel and Israel-Palestinian relations.

Redefining its relationship with UNRWA is a good, low-cost step for Canada toward resuming its principled policy approach toward UN agencies like UNRWA, whose important human rights work has been hijacked and politicized by the anti-Israel automatic majority of Arab, Muslim and developing world countries that dominate the UN General Assembly.


David Goldberg
David Goldberg

David H. Goldberg, PhD, the author of eight books on Israel, formerly served as director of research and education for the Canada-Israel Committee and for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

Le Chabad et le Centre Hillel à l’Université de Montréal (UdeM) : rivalité ou complémentarité ?

Aug. 26, 2020 – Par ELIAS LEVY, Montréal

Comment le Centre Chabad et le Centre Hillel envisagent-ils la rentrée universitaire 2020-2021 à l’Université de Montréal (UdeM) ? Appréhendent-ils ce retour en classe qui se déroulera cette année sous le sceau de l’exceptionnalité ?

Le Centre Hillel a été pendant trente ans le principal foyer et lieu de rencontre des étudiants juifs francophones de Montréal.

Cette institution s’est notoirement distinguée par son dynamisme, son souci permanent de défendre la cause d’Israël sur les campus universitaires francophones de Montréal et la qualité de ses programmes culturels et sociorécréatifs.

Le Centre Hillel a fermé ses portes en 2014.

La bâtisse qui l’a abrité pendant trois décennies, sise au 5325, rue Gatineau (au coin de la rue Jean-Brillant), était depuis 1984 la propriété de la Fédération CJA.

Le Centre Chabad de l’Université de l’UdeM, fondé en 2014 par le Rabbin Shlomo Banon et son épouse, Matti, a acquis celle-ci en septembre 2019 pour la somme de 605 000$. Un prix bien en dessous de sa valeur monétaire réelle, estimée à environ 900 000$, dans un marché immobilier en pleine effervescence.

À l’instar du Centre Hillel, le Centre Chabad est reconnu aussi comme un groupe affilié à l’UdeM.

Il a entrepris récemment une campagne de financement. Objectif : 400 000$, qui serviront à défrayer les coûts de rénovation d’une bâtisse vétuste dont la structure est en très mauvais état.

Des rénovations majeures sont urgentes: la toiture en déliquescence a été réparée, l’aménagement intérieur requiert d’importants travaux de construction, six dortoirs, qui hébergeront des étudiants, seront aménagés…

« La Fédération CJA de Montréal a été très réceptive à notre ardent souhait d’acquérir l’immeuble qui a abrité jadis le Centre Hillel. Cette institution fédérative a compris l’importance de recréer un foyer pour les étudiants juifs de l’UdeM situé à proximité de cette institution universitaire. Nous considérons notre engagement dans cette noble cause communautaire comme une Mitzvah. Beaucoup d’étudiants juifs de l’UdeM, particulièrement ceux venant de l’étranger, se sentent souvent seuls. Le Centre Chabad est pour eux un foyer et un repère identitaire fort. Notre philosophie est basée sur l’adage « A home away from home » (« Une maison loin de la maison »). Nous voulons que les étudiants de l’étranger que nous accueillons se sentent comme chez eux », explique en entrevue le Rabbin Shlomo Banon, fondateur et directeur du Centre Chabad de l’UdeM.

En pleine pandémie de la COVID-19, le retour en classe pose un sérieux casse-tête aux administrateurs des écoles, des cégeps et des universités. Les différentes facultés de l’UdeM ont prévu un enseignement hybride : quelques cours seulement seront donnés en classe, la majorité seront dispensés en ligne.

Cette réalité incontournable ne risque-t-elle pas d’avoir cet automne une incidence négative sur la fréquentation du Centre Chabad de l’UdeM?

« Au contraire. La pire chose pour la santé mentale d’un étudiant est de passer la journée entière chez lui. Nous l’avons vu récemment. Le confinement a provoqué de grands ravages, particulièrement au niveau émotionnel et psychologique. Le Centre Chabad de l’UdeM sera une vraie bouffée d’oxygène pour des étudiants astreints à suivre leurs cours universitaires depuis leur domicile. Nous allons aménager l’espace de nos lieux en appliquant d’une manière pointilleuse toutes les directives émises par les autorités de santé publique du Québec : mesures d’hygiène, distanciation sociale de deux mètres… Nous serons en mesure d’accueillir quotidiennement 40 à 60 étudiants tout en respectant rigoureusement les mesures sanitaires recommandées. Ces jeunes pourront étudier dans un cadre sécuritaire, chaleureux et convivial tout en bénéficiant de repas savoureux casher proposés par notre cafétéria et d’un réseau Wifi superpuissant », précise le Rabbin Shlomo Banon.

Combien d’étudiants juifs fréquentent l’UdeM?

« D’après les données établies en 2018 par le Centre consultatif des relations juives et israéliennes (CIJA): 850. Un bon nombre d’entre eux sont des étudiants étrangers majoritairement originaires de France. Il y a aussi des Belges, des Suisses et des Marocains. Mais chaque année, il y a de plus en plus d’étudiants ashkénazes anglophones qui poursuivent leurs études dans les facultés de droit et de médecine de l’UdeM. J’estime que cette année environ 1000 étudiants juifs fréquenteront cette université francophone », souligne le Rabbin Shlomo Banon.

Le Centre Hillel est-il toujours actif sur le campus de l’UdeM?

« Absolument. Bien que la branche du Centre Hillel fasse désormais partie intégrante du Hillel Center localisé au centre-ville de Montréal, nous continuons à être présents dans les principaux campus francophones, et particulièrement à l’UdeM. Force est de reconnaître que le début de cette nouvelle année universitaire s’annonce un peu plus compliquée, la majorité des cours devant être dispensés en ligne. En temps normal, nous tenons des tables d’information et organisons des conférences sur le campus. Cependant, nous n’allons pas chômer pour autant. Nous comptons offrir des activités virtuelles, par exemple une rencontre chaque semaine avec un invité de marque », nous a dit Sol Felsztyna, étudiante en éducation à l’UdeM et coprésidente du Centre Hillel dans cette université.

Y a-t-il une rivalité entre le Chabad et le Centre Hillel à l’UdeM?

« Pas du tout. Il n’y a aucune rivalité mais une complémentarité, répond sur un ton rassurant Jordan Ohana, étudiant en comptabilité à l’École des HEC et coprésident du Centre Hillel de l’UdeM. Le Centre Chabad dessert essentiellement les étudiants juifs francophones de l’étranger poursuivant leurs études à l’UdeM. Il leur offre divers services, notamment religieux et sociaux. Nous souhaitons collaborer étroitement avec le Chabad afin de proposer des activités conjointes aux étudiants juifs de l’UdeM. L’union de nos forces vives sera certainement un grand atout pour nos deux institutions. »

La défense d’Israël sur le campus de l’UdeM est-elle une priorité pour le Chabad et le Centre Hillel?

Alexandre Ohayon, étudiant en économie à l’UdeM et président de la branche du Chabad dans cette université, Sol Felsztyna et Jordan Ohana, coprésidents du Centre Hillel de l’UdeM, sont foncièrement d’accord sur un point : les aspects les plus hideux du conflit israélo-palestinien n’ont pas été importés sur le campus de l’UdeM. Les relations entre étudiants juifs et musulmans dans cette université sont respectueuses et harmonieuses. L’atmosphère est tout autre que celle qui règne dans les campus de l’Université Concordia et de l’Université McGill. Les frictions sont très rares, même pendant la Semaine de l’apartheid israélien organisée annuellement par les étudiants propalestiniens.

« Le Chabad de l’UdeM est très sensible à la question de l’antisémitisme et du BDS, campagne de boycott, de désinvestissements économiques et de sanctions prônés par les détracteurs d’Israël. Nous voulons éviter à tout prix les confrontations. La vocation du Centre Chabad est essentiellement spirituelle. Mais nous sommes pro-Israël et contre le BDS à 1000%. Nous tablons plutôt sur un dialogue constructif. Nous sensibilisons les étudiants juifs à la question de l’antisémitisme et de l’antisionisme. Nous les encourageons à répondre aux critiques d’Israël avec des arguments fondés et sensés rappelant la légitimité de l’État juif et la justesse de sa cause plutôt qu’en brandissant des drapeaux d’Israël. Nous militons en faveur d’Israël d’une manière intelligente et pacifique. »

Sol Felsztyna abonde dans le même sens.

« Il n’a jamais été question de capituler face à la propagande palestinienne. Par contre, nous nous escrimons à rappeler aux étudiants non-juifs, susceptibles d’être séduits par la rhétorique propalestinienne trompeuse, qu’Israël ne se limite pas à une armée et à des soldats combattant des terroristes palestiniens. Israël, c’est aussi une démocratie vibrante, une société très créative, une économie très performante, portée par le high-tech, une littérature et un cinéma qui rayonnent dans le monde entier… Nous voulons promouvoir dans les campus une image positive, et non réactive, d’Israël. Une image autre que politique ou militaire de ce petit pays remarquable: ses réalisations gigantesques dans les domaines des sciences, de la médecine, de l’agriculture, des arts, de la littérature, du cinéma… Les étudiants non-juifs apprécient beaucoup plus ces facettes, malheureusement fort méconnues, d’Israël. »

Elias Levy
Elias Levy

Pulling Up Steaks: Venerable Moishes Leaves The Main After Eight Decades

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—The bold, red sign looming over St. Laurent Boulevard that immortalized a poor Romanian-Jewish immigrant for generations will soon disappear with the closure of the eponymous Moishes restaurant, which has been at the same location since it opened in 1938.

The landmark is one of Montreal’s oldest and most famous dining establishments.

A casualty of the pandemic and possibly the vision of the upscale steakhouse’s new owners, Moishes will rise again someday, somewhere, promises its manager Lenny Lighter, son of Moishe. But if it does, the restaurant’s legion of devotees know it will never be the same.

Lighter and his brother Larry, who took over the eatery from their father, sold Moishes to the Sportscene group, a company that most notably owns the Cage aux Sports chain of resto-bars, in December 2018. Lenny stayed on as manager.

Like all restaurants, Moishes had been closed since March when the province went into lockdown. The Quebec government gave Montreal restaurants the green light to reopen on June 22, and patrons grew nervous as the weeks passed but no word came on when they could sink their teeth again into one of Moishes’ “charbroiled, dry-aged” strip loins, with sides like chopped liver and matzoh ball soup.

On July 8, a website post revealed that the owners were “still evaluating our options,” but the tone was upbeat. Then, this month, Lighter made known that Moishes was “on hiatus” indefinitely. Although it had not been public, Moishes’ lease was expiring at the end of this year and the owners had concrete plans to move the restaurant downtown, to Victoria Square.

Lighter explained the move would breathe new life into the venerable institution; moving it closer to offices and hotels, where it would attract more workers and tourists.

Sportscene was about to make a $5 million investment in the new premises and construction was set to begin Aug. 1, Lighter said, but when COVID hit and the restaurant industry went into a tailspin, it was felt it “would not make sense” to go ahead with the project.

Lighter said the “intent” remains that Moishes returns, but that will depend on the course of the pandemic and the economy.

According to legend, Moishe Lighter, who immigrated to Montreal in the 1920s, was a busboy who won the restaurant in a poker game. It was originally called Romanian Paradise, and was situated in the heart of the immigrant Jewish district, now known as the Plateau Mont-Royal.

The name was changed to Moishe’s around the beginning of the Second World War (the apostrophe was dropped in the 1970s to conform to Bill 101, Quebec’s French language charter.)

In its early decades, the clientele was largely Jewish. Traditional Eastern European fare was kept on the menu right up to the present day, although there was no pretense of being “kosher style,” as shrimp cocktail and lobster rolls were gradually added.

Also preserved over the decades was the ambience. Moishes was upstairs, removed from the bustle of the gritty “Main.” Patrons entered an elegant Old World dining room, with chandeliers and starched white table linen, subdued lighting, and hushed tones. Formally attired waiters were attentive but discreet. Many of the staff worked there for decades; at least one server clocked over 50 years. And Lenny and/or Larry were always on site seeing that diners were happy.

Their father’s black-and-white photo remained the logo, over the cursive Moishes signature.

For certain families, Friday night Shabbat dinner at Moishes was a long-running tradition. Eiran Harris, a volunteer in the Jewish Public Library archives for many years, said he made sure to conserve an old menu someone donated to its holdings because he recognized that the restaurant was a piece of Montreal Jewish history.

Plenty of celebrities ate there over that history: Hollywood actors, sports personalities, politicians. A Polish cardinal named Karol Wojtyla reportedly had a satisfying meal under Lighter’s watch during a Canadian visit in 1969. Wojtyla later became Pope John Paul II.

In 2012, Forbes magazine rated Moishes among the top 10 steakhouses in the world, just one of the numerous accolades the restaurant has received from the media and industry.

Writer Mordecai Richler was a frequent patron, apparently drawn as much to the Scotch as the steak. He made oblique references to a Moishes-like eatery in his novels.

Troubadour Leonard Cohen also came often when he was in town. Cohen, who died in 2016, maintained a home nearby.

Lighter recalled that Cohen, whom he considered a friend, preferred the lamb chops, accompanied by a red Bordeaux.

This was borne out with the posthumous publication in 2018 of The Flame, a collection of Cohen’s previously unpublished poems and lyrics that he had compiled as a final work. One of the pieces, entitled “Lambchops,” dated 2006, opens with the lines: “Thinking of those lambchops of Moishe’s the other night.” Fittingly, his family held a wake for Cohen at Moishes.

Moishes’ heyday was probably in the 1970s when expense accounts received little scrutiny, liquid lunches were de rigueur, and red meat was considered healthy.

Retired accountant turned thriller writer Robert Landori recalled that for several years, he took the manager of his bank to Moishes at least once a week mid-day.

“He was an aficionado of steak and Scotch – always two, and then back to work. What I remember most is our waiter; he knew everybody, he remembered what we ate and drank, how I liked my steak. We won’t see the like of Moishes again.”

Inaugural Hamilton Jewish Film Fest Goes Virtual

Aug. 25, 2020 – By RUTH SCHWEITZER

The inaugural edition of the Hamilton Jewish Film Festival (HJFF), originally scheduled for March, was almost a casualty of the COVID pandemic.

That is until Wendy Schneider, editor of the Hamilton Jewish News, watched movies online during the Toronto Jewish Film Festival in June.

“I found the experience to be very positive,” Schneider said. As a result, she and Gustavo Rymberg, CEO of the Hamilton Jewish Federation, agreed to produce a virtual festival locally.

The HJFF, presented by the Hamilton Jewish Federation and the Westdale Theatre, a Hamilton cultural hub, runs from Aug. 29 to Sept. 3. The fledgling festival will screen three movies: two feature films, The Other Story (2018) and Leona (2018), and a documentary, Picture of His Life (2019).

In The Other Story, directed and co-written by Israeli Avi Nesher, the newly religiously observant Anat (Joy Rieger) wakes up in the women’s dormitory of a yeshiva she attends. She’s about to marry another baal teshuvah (newly observant) Israeli rock star, played by Israeli singer-songwriter Nathan Goshen.

A scene from the film The Other Story

Anat’s secular mother, Tali (Maya Dagan), is furious about her daughter’s decision to choose a religious path. In another storyline, one of several in this complex movie, Sari, a young woman who has rejected her religious upbringing, meets up with Anat.

Nesher won the Israel Film Critics Association’s 2018 Best Director award for the movie.

In her review of The Other Story, Nell Minow wrote at RogerEbert.com that “Nesher skillfully balances a lot of characters and storylines, each illustrating a different kind of Israeli and a different connection to Jewish life, culture and practice, but he never lets any of them become symbolic rather than real.”

Leona, directed and co-written by Mexican director Isaac Cherem, is the story of a young woman, Ariela (Naian Gonzalez Norvind), a member of Mexico’s Syrian Jewish community, who has a love affair with a non-Jew. Once Ariela’s mother finds out about the relationship, she enlists various members of the community who try to persuade Ariela to end the affair. Leonora took the Excellence in Film Award at the Santa Barbara Jewish Film Festival.

A scene from the movie Leona

Cherem is part of Mexico’s Syrian-Jewish community. His great-grandparents were immigrants from the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Damascus.

“I think the Mexican culture is particularly strong, the same way as the Syrian-Jewish culture,” Cherem told the Jerusalem Post. “And that might be one of the reasons why it’s been so difficult for both to coexist and integrate with one another.”

Picture of His Life, co-directed by Jonatan Nir and Dani Menkin, is about the world-renowned underwater wildlife photographer Amos Nachoum. For his photo shoots, Nachoum has swam with crocodiles, killer whales, anacondas and great white sharks, but the polar bear always eluded him. This award-winning film follows Nachoum in the Canadian Arctic as he prepares for his ultimate challenge: to photograph a polar bear underwater while he’s swimming alongside it.

A poster from the documentary Picture of His Life

One-hour Zoom Q&As with filmmakers, moderated by Fred Fuchs, follow the screenings. Fuchs is the former president of American Zoetrope, Francis Ford Coppola’s film production company. After moving to Canada in 2001, Fuchs worked at CBC, where he was involved with the production of the TV shows The Tudors, Little Mosque on the Prairie and Heartland.

Fuchs said Q&As add a lot of extra value when, after the film, the audience can speak to the filmmaker.

Now retired and living in Hamilton, he’s chair of a charitable organization that purchased and restored the city’s 1935 heritage Westdale Theatre.

While Fuchs wishes the HJFF could be held at the Westdale, he realizes a virtual festival has some advantages.

“I look at it positively because maybe we could have had 200-250 people at the theatre,” he said. “Here there’s an opportunity for many more people to participate and people who don’t live in Hamilton.” 

For more information about the festival, visit hamiltonjewishfederation.ticketspice.com/film-festival

Physical Museum of Jewish Montreal Will Return, Director Assures

Aug. 25, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL – The Museum of Jewish Montreal (MJM), evicted from its premises in June, has resumed some of its popular walking tours through historic Jewish neighbourhoods, keeping alive its real-life presence while it assesses its future.

Led by trained guides, the family-friendly tours focus on little-known stories about Jewish life and intriguing personalities in the Plateau Mont-Royal and Mile End districts of yesteryear. COVID precautions are observed: Everyone must wear a mask and keep a safe distance.

Founder and executive director Zev Moses says MJM is using the “shocking” loss of its physical location as a time to review its mission, and he is “cautiously optimistic” MJM will have a new home by next year.

Since 2016, MJM had occupied a street-level storefront at the corner of St. Laurent Boulevard and Duluth Street, in the heart of what had been the Jewish immigrant district, and today’s trendy Plateau. The former industrial building was originally the Vineberg garment factory, dating to 1912.

MJM was preparing to reopen after being locked down since mid-March, when it received notice in May from a new landlord that the space was going to be leased to another tenant and that the museum would have to vacate by June 30, Moses said.

The timing was especially painful because MJM, which began as a virtual conception, was looking forward to its 10th anniversary celebration this year.

“We hope to have (a new place) by next spring, there’s a good possibility, but it will depend on where the pandemic and economy goes,” he said.

Moses, a rabbi’s son who holds a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Pennsylvania, started MJM as an online portal where users could connect to Montreal Jewish history and culture interactively. Its signature feature was “mapping” key Jewish sites and linking them to people and events. The site also archives personal stories of the Montreal Jewish past.

In a reversal of the societal direction, Moses expanded into bricks and mortar, a gamble he said paid off and allowed MJM to reach a far broader audience, both in the Jewish community and general population.

Despite the name, MJM was never strictly a “museum,” and only in the past few years has been holding exhibitions by independent Canadian Jewish artists and rescuing artifacts of disappearing Jewish landmarks, like shop signs.

Rather, Moses conceived of MJM as a hub where Jews of all ages and identities could gather, and non-Jews would feel comfortable dropping in and learning a little about what Jews are all about.

Moses was particularly keen to showcase the diversity of the Montreal Jewish community and how it is an integral part of the city’s history and character.

A big draw was Fletcher’s, the food counter where modern twists on various ethnic Jewish cuisines could be sampled, as well as musical programs – typically informal klezmer performances by young artists. MJM strived to be a good neighbour, taking part in the Plateau’s festivals and forming ties with area community groups.

Moses said MJM was especially successful in attracting Jews under age 35 who might otherwise not be involved with community life, and in changing ill-informed images about Jews among Quebecers.

“It really had become a second home for many,” he said. So much so, that at about 1,200 square feet, including office space, MJM’s location was getting too small anyway, said Moses.

Those are his prime selling points as he seeks support for MJM’s continuation. 

“If there is a silver lining, this has given us time to re-conceive what we will look like post-pandemic,” he said.

The walking tours, now in their ninth season, have been a major source of income, but with tourism down drastically, it would not have made sense to run the usual schedule this season, Moses noted, even if MJM was still open. Nevertheless, he felt it worthwhile to offer a limited number and is pleased to see Montrealers joining them.

“Why not take a walk with an expert and learn something you didn’t know about your city?” he asked. “These neighbourhoods today are very popular with students and families, but most don’t know the stories that are hidden in their own backyards.”

Three different tours are available, scheduled Tuesdays through Sundays. Bookings may be made at tours@imjm.ca.

“’Bubble tours” are also offered for private groups of up to eight family members or friends. In the coming months, MJM plans to launch virtual tours as well. Meanwhile, a variety of online programming is set to resume, after a summer break, at the end of August.

Between 55-60 percent of MJM’s revenue has come from private donors, perhaps six to seven percent of that from Federation CJA or the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal, Moses said.

About 30 per cent was self-generating through rentals of the space, ticket sales, and the food counter’s receipts. The rest was government funding.

Moses said all nine permanent staff members have been retained, but in the summer, the number employed normally swells to about 30.

On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Zara Nelsova – (Dec. 24, 1917 – Oct. 10, 2002): Cellist, Teacher

Aug. 24, 2020 – By DAVID EISENSTADT

World-renowned cellist Zara Nelsova was born Sara Katznelson. Her Jewish parents and two older sisters emigrated from Russia to Winnipeg, lured by the offer of free land in Canada. Classified as a farmer, her professionally-trained flautist father, Gregor Katznelson, (later changed to Nelsov) recognized Sara’s potential at age four, converted a viola into a miniature cello, and as her teacher, helped Sara become an accomplished soloist.

Her father also arranged for young Sara to take lessons from Hungarian-born cellist (also a child prodigy) Dezso Mahalek, who played with a Winnipeg theatre orchestra.

The three Nelsova sisters (Sara was 10 at the time) founded the Canadian Trio in 1927, as The Telegraph reported, “touring the Dominion” and winning first prize at a Manitoba music competition.

One of the judges, Sir Hugh Robertson, conductor of the Glasgow Orpheus Choir, urged the family to move to London with the help of a grant from the province’s Ministry of Education. The clan was poor and needed subsidies.

Sara ultimately enrolled at the London Violoncello School, directed by Herbert Walenn. One of his previous students was John Barbirolli, from whom she claimed to learn her sound and who arranged for her to perform for renowned cellist Pablo Casals.

Wrote Sara Margolis in Strings Magazine, “At 12, she was already a great cellist. But seeking improvement long past the beginning of her professional career, she went on to study with the three great cellists of the day: Gregor Piatigorsky, Emmanuel Feuermann, and Pablo Casals. Nelsova’s humility in seeking out further guidance was coupled with confidence and assertiveness, qualities that stood her in good stead both musically and professionally.

“She gained the opportunity to study with Piatigorsky by showing up unannounced to play prior to an early morning departure at his hotel. She caught conductor William Steinberg’s attention by planting her cello directly in front of him after a rehearsal and just started playing. All that plus a name change, and before long, Zara Nelsova had been crowned cello royalty.” 

At 13, she was a guest soloist with the London Symphony Orchestra, appearing with Sir Malcolm Sargent.

Over the next 10 years, Zara Nelsova played as a soloist and with her sisters Ida, a violinist and Anna on piano, travelling throughout Australia, North Africa and South Africa.

Returning to Canada in 1939, Nelsova became principal cellist of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from 1940-43. She also formed a new Canadian trio with Ernest MacMillan and Kathleen Parlow.

After the Second World War, The Guardian reported, “Zara was left the use of a Stradivarius cello that belonged to [Portuguese cellist Guilhermina] Suggia. Though perhaps a little small for her very swollen fingers later on, it was a lovely instrument, and the sound she drew from it was exceedingly special.” Her 1726 Stradivarius cello was known as the Marquis de Corberon.

“Further studies with Emanuel Feuermann and Gregor Piatigorsky, and after 1946, with Pablo Casals, opened up solo and concerto engagements for Nelsova,” noted The Canadian Encyclopedia. “She made recordings with Samuel Barber and the cello music of Ernest Bloch, who said ‘Zara Nelsova is my music.’”

She became an American citizen in 1955, performing with many global orchestras as a soloist, including the New York Philharmonic and orchestras in Montreal, Winnipeg and Boston and overseas in Berlin, Amsterdam and Warsaw. She married American pianist Grant Johnannsen with whom she often performed and recorded.

As a soloist, she performed with conductors who became household names: Leonard Bernstein, Daniel Barenboim, and Zubin Mehta. She was the first American cellist to tour the Soviet Union in 1966, and taught at New York’s famed Juilliard School of Music from 1962 through 2002.

“For me, playing music is about sharing, sharing my love for music and sharing my love for what we are as human beings,” she told cello.org in 2000. “The minute I start to play, I’m in a different world, and I’m so caught up in the music and in my desire to share it with the audience that all else fades away. The overwhelming feeling I get is a sense of connection with each person in the audience; I want the audience members to know how much I love what I am doing and how much I love them. And how do I do it? I do it by trying to communicate my love through beautiful music.”


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner of tcgpr and a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.

E-Petition Call for Expanded Holocaust Education, Awareness in Fight Against Antisemitism

Aug. 24, 2020 – By SHEILA HURTIG ROBERTSON

Dr. Art Leader, the son of Holocaust survivors and a long-time member of the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship (CHES) in Ottawa, was alarmed. In 2019, statistics reported by B’nai Brith Canada revealed that for the fourth year in a row, antisemitic incidents in Canada rose to more than 2,000 annually. And in 2020, the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa was vandalized only two days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Also of concern to him was that because of the COVID pandemic, many Holocaust remembrance events were virtual and, with schools closed across the country, Holocaust educational activities were halted. He further noted that for working youth, Holocaust education is non-existent.

And with the passing of time, ever fewer eyewitnesses to the Holocaust are able to share their knowledge and relate their experiences, resulting in minimal awareness of the atrocities they witnessed and endured.

“Canada has demonstrated a commitment to remembrance and Holocaust education and to fighting the antisemitism and racism that threaten and erode the multicultural and pluralistic nature of our society,” Leader says. “Holocaust education sensitizes Canadians to the role racist ideology and government propaganda played in the systematic murder of millions of Jews and other persecuted groups and helps youth to understand the dangers of indifference to the oppression of others.”

Convinced that the time was right to develop a comprehensive inventory of best practices in Holocaust education and teachings and relevant resources offered in Canadian schools and communities, Leader, working with CHES and author and lawyer Maureen McTeer, created a House of Commons petition (e-2740) urging Parliament to address the pressing challenges presented by growing antisemitism, Holocaust deniers, and those who distort the true nature of the Holocaust.

Anita Vandenbeld, Liberal MP for Ottawa West-Nepean, enthusiastically supported the petition and is its sponsor in Parliament.

The petition urges the government to build upon its previous investments in Holocaust education, research, and remembrance initiatives; determine the current availability of Holocaust education across Canada; identify new strategies to reach those who are targeted by racist and hate propaganda online; and urgently fund community organizations to preserve the testimonies of Holocaust survivors, thereby educating Canadians about the destructive impact of hate and intolerance on our Charter freedoms, to the detriment of current and future generations.

Signatories include former Prime Ministers Paul Martin and Joe Clark; members of the Carleton University community, including President Benoit-Antoine Bacon; Rabbi Reuven Bulka and Rabbi Idan Scher of Ottawa; Holocaust survivors; prominent Ottawa lawyer Lawrence Greenspan; and local members of Parliament,

CHES, which is affiliated with Carleton University in Ottawa, and the Zelikovitz Centre for Jewish Studies at Carleton, support this initiative and urge readers to read the petition (see below), sign it, and share the link with family and friends. The petition is open for signatures until Nov. 19, 2020. Supporters’ identities are protected by Canada’s privacy laws.

To sign House of Commons Petition e-2740, click here:

House of Commons Petition e-2740

The number of anti-Semitic incidents in Canada rose in 2019 to more than six incidents each day.

Canada has demonstrated a commitment to remembrance and Holocaust education through bilateral relationships and engagement in international organizations.

Holocaust education sensitizes Canadians to the role racist ideology and government propaganda played in the systematic murder of millions of Jews, and other persecuted groups.

Holocaust education will help young Canadians to understand the dangers of indifference to the oppression of others and to those sowing destructive messages of hate and racism.

Holocaust deniers and those who distort the true nature of the Holocaust use the Internet and online forums to spread hate and to dishonour those who were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis.

Fewer Holocaust survivors are able to share their knowledge and individual experience, while fewer youth are aware of the atrocities survivors witnessed and endured;

We, the undersigned citizens of Canada, call upon the Parliament of Canada to address this national challenge that threatens and erodes the multicultural and pluralistic nature of Canadian society, and to:

  1. Build upon its previous investments in Holocaust education, research, and remembrance initiatives;
  2. Determine the current availability of Holocaust education, including content and best pedagogical practices as identified by Holocaust educators across Canada.
  3. Identify strategies to reach youth, especially those not in the education system, who are targeted by racist and hate propaganda online.
  4. Urgently provide funds to Canadian community organizations to preserve the testimonies of Holocaust survivors thereby educating Canadians about the destructive impact of hate and intolerance on the Charter freedoms to the detriment of current and future generations.

Sheila Hurtig Robertson is a committee member of the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship and the founding editor of several sport-related magazines, including the Canadian Journal for Women in Coaching. She is the author of Shattered Hopes: Canada’s Boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games. Sheila worked in communications for Team Canada at three Olympic Games. Her grandfather, who left Romania in 1903 to escape the military draft, brought survivors to Canada after 1945, which kindled her lifelong interest in the Holocaust.

Beinart: Time to Talk to, not About Palestinians

Aug. 24, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Peter Beinart has a solution for the decades-old crisis in the Middle East: Start seeing Palestinians as human beings.

Once that happens, the controversial journalist told an on-line discussion Aug. 18, the movement to make Israel a fair and just society for all its citizens can start.

Peter Beinart
Peter Beinart

“The Jewish community talks about Palestinians, but does not talk to Palestinians,” he told the session. “That process of talking about people instead of to them is dehumanizing.”

One result of that process, he said, is the “omnipresent” Jewish view of Palestinians as terrorists – an idea that stifles any effort to bring the two communities together.

Beinart, an American journalist and commentator who appears frequently on CNN, has become a controversial figure after publishing a July essay arguing Jews must give up the idea of separate Israeli and Palestinian states in favour of a single nation with equal rights for all its citizens.

“The question isn’t, ‘are Jews willing to live in a country that’s half Palestinian,’ but ‘are they willing to live in a country where half of the population is disenfranchised?’” he asked.

Winning equal rights for Palestinians, he added, will be a result of the same kind of social movements that were led by Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States and Mahatma Gandhi in India.

“One state is more likely to produce that kind of movement than a divided entity,” he said. “One day things are going to shift on the ground because the Palestinians will not accept their denial of rights forever.”

Beinart admitted his argument isn’t likely to change the minds of Israeli leaders; it’s just human nature for those in power to be reluctant to give it up.

“When one group has all the rights and power, they’re very unlikely to want to change that,” he said. “We have to make Israelis understand they can’t continue to control millions of people who lack even basic rights.”

The Zoom event was jointly sponsored by JSpace Canada and Khouri Conversations. JSpace describes itself as a progressive voice for a negotiated Middle Eastern settlement while opposing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

Khouri Conversations is a non-profit agency supporting the Canadian ideals of inclusion and multiculturalism.

Seeing Israel as anything other than a Jewish state is a tough concept for many to absorb, the panel heard.

For example, JSpace moderator Karen Mock, for example, said her organization remains dedicated to the idea of “two states for two people,” while also supporting a settlement based on “mutual recognition, peaceful coexistence and security.”

That position was echoed by Bob Katz, chair of the Toronto chapter of Canadian Friends for Peace Now.

“I am absolutely wedded to the two-state solution and it’s going to be very hard to shake me from that,” he said.

Katz added that an important step forward is to prevent Israel from expansion into the West Bank with more Jewish settlements and new infrastructure, such as a proposed medical school in the region.

“It’s critical for Jews here to convince Jews in Israel not to create new facts on the ground like that every time they turn around,” he said.


Steve Arnold
Steve Arnold

Steve Arnold worked 42 years in Canadian journalism, retiring in 2016 from The Hamilton Spectator. He holds a BA in history and political science, an MA in public policy analysis and has received 25 awards for writing excellence. He now lives in St. Catharines, Ontario.

Erin O’Toole On Record as Pledging Embassy Move

Aug. 24, 2020 – New Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has in the past indicated he is a strong supporter of Israel and would move Canada’s embassy there to Jerusalem.

Following a six-hour delay to fix glitches with the ballots, O’Toole handily won the Conservative Party leadership early Monday, taking 57 percent of the votes on the third and final ballot, compared to 43 percent for second-place contender Peter MacKay.

In a video posted to Facebook last month, O’Toole repeated his pledge to move Canada’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people, and the modern presence there just cements this. The Knesset, the Supreme Court and Foreign Ministry are all in west Jerusalem,” O’Toole said.

Canada-Israel relations have “weakened and wavered” under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he added.

“I stand with Israel,” he said. “Yesterday, today and always.”

This past February, MacKay backtracked on his position on moving Canada’s embassy in Israel. On day after he was quoting as saying he would not commit to such a move as leader, MacKay said it had “always been my personal view that Jerusalem is the undisputed capital of the State of Israel and that is where Canada’s embassy should be and under my leadership, will be located.”

O’Toole, a former party foreign affairs critic, wasted little time in staking out his position.

“Under Stephen Harper, Canada stood out as a resolute friend of Israel. Sadly, under Justin Trudeau, this strong support has weakened. We need a principled Conservative leader who will make Canada a true friend of Israel once again,” O’Toole said at the time.

“I have been absolutely clear about this and my views have not changed. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The strong presence of the Jewish people there is thousands of years old.

“I believe that we need more of a presence in the ground in Jerusalem. It’s crazy that our ambassador has to drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to meet with government officials just to preserve a diplomatic fiction. It’s time to recognize reality and move our embassy,” O’Toole said.

Earlier this year, all Canadian political parties came out in opposition to Israel’s contentious plan to annex parts of the West Bank, particularly the Jordan Valley. Israel has since postponed those plans.

The CJR reached out to Conservative leadership frontrunners MacKay and O’Toole. Only O’Toole replied, saying, “We don’t support any unilateral action whether it involves the Palestinians using the [International Criminal Court] against Israel, or the Israelis annexing disputed territory. Canada supports and remains committed to a negotiated two-state solution to the conflict.”

When he ran for the leadership in early 2017, a contest won by Andrew Scheer, O’Toole was an unstinting supporter of Israel, even in a field of 14 strongly pro-Israel candidates.

At the time, O’Toole said he supports “Israel as a democratic, Jewish state with secure borders… Israel has been ready to sign a final peace deal several times. Each time, the Palestinian leadership has walked away from the table. Palestinian leaders still refuse to accept the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. It is this, and not the settlements, that is the obstacle to peace.”

O’Toole said he’d advance peace by establishing an exchange program between the Canadian Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces, “and vocally opposing efforts to isolate Israel, such as the recent United Nations resolution that the Trudeau government remained silent on.”

Mediating the Situation at York University

Aug. 21, 2020 – By STEPHEN BLOCK

The situation at York University continues to evolve. A brief refresher: In November 2019, a violent confrontation broke out between supporters of Herut Canada, a campus group that had invited active reservists of the Israel Defense Forces to speak against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, and protestors affiliated with another campus organization, Students Against Israeli Apartheid, whose members – as the name suggests – are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and BDS, and oppose the occupation.

In light of the melee that autumn night, York president Rhonda Lenton appointed former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Thomas Cromwell to undertake an independent review. Among Cromwell’s many suggestions was that York consider the definition of antisemitism as formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in developing its policies.

This suggestion itself became a subject of controversy. First, York’s faculty union, YUFA, expressed concern and opposed endorsing the IHRA definition. In its statement, YUFA said:

“While the YUFA Executive opposes antisemitism and all forms of racism and hatred, we see the adoption of the IHRA definition as a potential threat to academic freedom at our university as it can be used to restrict the academic freedom of teachers and scholars who have developed critical perspectives on the policies and practices of the state of Israel.”

Next, while the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism does not clearly state that supporting BDS is antisemitic, a group of York professors who support Israel offered the interpretation that “(t)he IHRA definition …does… associate movements such as the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, whose expressed purpose is the destruction of the world’s lone Jewish state) with antisemitism.”

This latter interpretation, in turn, has potential implications for the career of tenured professor Faisal Bhabha at Osgoode Hall Law School. Bhabha, In the course of a panel discussion on June 10, sponsored by Ryerson University’s Centre for Free Expression (CFE) on the subject of “Fighting Anti-Semitism or Silencing Critics of Israel…?” made the following statement, for which he has received considerable flak:

“I am describing what I understand Zionism to be as an idea and as a practice, which is the suppression of Palestinian human rights for the purpose of ensuring Jewish supremacy, and it is exactly what is being protested against today in the United States against white supremacy…I am equating white supremacy with Jewish supremacy. I think both are equally morally repugnant and deserve to be called out and spoken against.”

It should also be noted that B’nai Brith Canada and Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre have weighed in on this, B’nai Brith going so far as to begin a petition to have Bhabha removed as a teacher of human rights, appealing directly to Lenton.

The central question is: Does the York situation potentially afford us a way out of the seemingly interminable arguments about “cancel culture” and threats to academic freedom, or could it make things worse?

Championing a definition of antisemitism that would seem to suit one side raises the question of whether it would be more appropriate to deal with this matter through a more formal process of dispute resolution.

Conventional dispute resolution mechanisms involve a neutral or disinterested third party, one often agreed upon by the disputing parties. The parties are then brought to the table, separately or simultaneously, and a mediator is asked to attempt to find a solution satisfactory to both parties. The primary strength of this method is a greater potential for a fair and stable outcome.

In some forms of mediation, an assumption is made that two disputing parties, acting in good faith, have overlapping goals, even if that is not evident to either party. The job of a skilled mediator is to convince the parties that in some respects, they care about the same things. No doubt that in this instance, there are gaps that are currently unbridgeable.

So how about underscoring the idea of making those points of contention the subject of discussion and debate? In that case, it would appear to change the consideration of what is and what is not within the bounds of reasonable discussion. Therefore, the Ryerson panel seemed an appropriate place for such a discussion.

Absent such discussions, the only alternative would seem to be stricter and more restrictive measures, as a dispute is assumed to be irresolvable and thereby dangerous to campus life. It also promotes a de facto policy that disputing parties must be kept separate. A mediated approach would suggest the opposite – that the parties must be brought together, in one way or another, if a workable solution is to be found. Compelling or encouraging them to openly confront the issues under discussion affords the prospect of a display of mutual respect otherwise made impossible in an environment of choose-up-sides tribalism.

In industrial relations, a mediator acceding to demands from one party in a dispute would not be seen as neutral. This is the challenge that Lenton faces in preparing her formal reply.


Stephen Block
Stephen Block

Stephen Block has a PhD in Industrial Relations and Public Affairs from the University of Montreal and Concordia University, and a graduate diploma in Conflict Resolution from Carleton University.

Jewish Day Schools Face Array of Issues as They Re-open

Aug. 21, 2020 – By LILA SARICK

Jewish day schools are reopening across the country next month after having been closed since March due to the coronavirus. But it is clear the schools will look very different, as they prepare for higher enrolments, more requests for financial assistance, and higher expenses to ready classrooms for new health regulations.

In Toronto, day school enrolment is up slightly for the first time since 2003, said Daniel Held, executive director of the Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Education.

For 2020, 7,198 students are enrolled, an increase from last year’s enrolment of 7,007.

Held said the increased enrolment can be attributed to the day schools’ efficient rollout of online learning last spring, when they were forced to close with little notice, and that day schools are able to offer smaller class sizes than their public counterparts this fall.

“Because schools were able to perform so well, not only can they retain students, but they’re growing,” he said.

But while increasing enrolment is a positive sign for day schools, more students than ever need financial assistance to pay tuition.

This year, 300 students who had paid in full in previous years required financial assistance, while those who were already receiving aid required 15 percent more money, Held said. UJA Federation of Greater Toronto intends to allocate $19 million for subsidies, up from $10 million last year, he noted.

Changes driven by COVID are evident at TanenbaumCHAT, Toronto’s largest Jewish high school. Students will attend school in person on alternate days to allow for physical distancing, and participate the rest of the time online, said head of school Jonathan Levy.

Reopening has come with increased costs. The school has already spent more than $10,000 on Plexiglas dividers, sanitizer and cleaning supplies, and PPE (personal protection equipment), and that’s before the school year has even started, Levy said.

Enrolment is up at TanenbaumCHAT, with 1,100 students committed, an increase from 1,014 last year.

A poll of parents earlier this summer showed 80 percent would send their children to school in person and not study solely online.

“Overwhelmingly, families would like their children to be in school,” Levy said. “We’re confident we can provide our CHAT experience, but in a different way this year. I think kids will be thrilled to see their friends again, just from six feet apart.”

While many parents are concerned about their children returning to school, they are committed to the reopening.

“I’m not going to say it doesn’t make me nervous,” said one parent who has three children returning to Associated Hebrew Schools in Toronto. “We feel the school is being careful and trying to do their best and making decisions in a thoughtful way.”

But Rachel Marmer’s children won’t be joining their classmates this fall. “We love our day school and want to go back so badly, it was a heart-wrenching decision” not to enroll in school, Marmer said.

Marmer, who has four children, is setting up a small group – a learning pod – for her two school-aged children. She figures they’ll be less exposed to the virus than in a larger school setting.

Supervising her children’s remote learning earlier this year was a full-time job and did not work well for her family, she said.

“With two babies at home and having a job, I’m spread too thin. They (schools) could close again at a moment’s notice and I would be stuck with distance learning again.”

Instead, she found a retired principal to design a curriculum and post it on Facebook for a few families to join her. The response was overwhelming, and she is now overseeing a rapidly growing movement of parents looking to set up their own learning pods.

At Winnipeg’s Gray Academy of Jewish Education, head of school Lori Binder acknowledged that plans can change quickly. In the spring, the school quickly rolled out a full remote learning program, called Gray Away.

Winnipeg Gray Academy
Winnipeg Gray Academy

“We are open and prepared for all scenarios,” Binder said. “The province at any time can change the protocols so it’s just developing a very, very flexible mindset.”

She expected that enrolment would remain the same, with 490 students, or grow slightly. With school set to reopen in a few weeks, she is getting numerous inquiries, especially since Manitoba public schools will have larger classes and high school students will not spend every day in class.

Gray Academy, meanwhile will offer instruction five days a week, but with some modifications, said Binder. The school’s size and layout will allow groups of students to be cohorts, as the province requires. Still, Gray has incurred expenses getting ready to open. It ordered 1,000 decals to go under desks to mark the spots for distancing.

At Vancouver’s King David High School, Russ Klein is also keeping an open mind, aware that the school’s plans could change quickly again. Enrolment is steady, with 230 students expected to arrive on the first day of class.

“Everything feels different,” Klein said, starting with signs on the school’s front door reminding people to wear masks and wash their hands regularly. Students will be grouped in cohorts depending on their grade, and will do most activities, from academics to sports, together.

Operating costs will increase by $50,000-$100,000, Klein estimates, with a large chunk of that for extra custodial services. The province has contributed a portion of those costs, he said.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the school reached out to families to see who might need financial assistance.

“We saw an immediate uptick,” he said. “About 30 families reached out immediately.” Requests for tuition assistance have also increased, although he hasn’t tallied it yet. “We are giving much more aid than normal,” he said.

For now though, the school is in stable financial situation, having received extra funding from the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and its own donors.

While some families are nervous about school reopening, especially if they have an immuno-compromised family member, Klein says he hopes they will be reassured by the precautions the school is taking.

“The vast majority will come because they want to come. We’re really lucky, we’re in a warm, caring community.”

The Many Facets of the Israel-UAE Deal

Aug. 20, 2020 – By DAVID ROYTENBERG

On Aug. 13, Israel and United Arab Emirates announced the signing of an agreement normalizing relations between the two countries. According to the text of the agreement, “Delegations from Israel and the United Arab Emirates will meet in the coming weeks to sign bilateral agreements regarding investment, tourism, direct flights, security, telecommunications, technology, energy, healthcare, culture, the environment, the establishment of reciprocal embassies, and other areas of mutual benefit.”

In return for the UAE’s pledge to normalize relations, the Israeli government agreed to “suspend” its plan, enshrined in the coalition agreement that established the current government, to proceed with unilateral annexation of territories allocated to Israel in Donald Trump’s Mideast peace plan, unveiled earlier this year.

With annexation already delayed because of opposition by the Americans and the Blue and White faction in the governing coalition, this facet of the deal appeared to turn a political liability into an advantage for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The reaction to the announcement is revealing, as it separates those who would welcome peace in spite of possible compromise, and from those who would rather pursue their maximal aims at the cost of continuing the conflict. The cries of betrayal from expansionists on the Israeli right were loud and indignant.

Samaria Regional Council leader Yossi Dagan accused Netanyahu of stabbing the settler movement in the back and threatened political consequences. He said that they had stood by Netanyahu until now, but that abandoning annexation was “a step too far.”

Spokespeople for the Palestinian Authority unanimously denounced the UAE pact. Although PA leader Mahmoud Abbas said earlier this year that the threat of annexation represented the death of the two-state solution, nobody in Ramallah seemed pleased that Israel had backed away from the annexation plan.

Palestinian politician Saeb Erekat told Agence France-Presse that the UAE deal with Israel represents the death of the two-state solution. In spite of the concession obtained by the UAE on annexation, he claimed that normalization with Israel would encourage Israeli intransigence.

Leadership in Iran and Turkey had no good words to say, with Iran threatening the UAE would “burn in Zionist fire.”

Support for the agreement came from both main factions within the Israeli government, although Blue and White was apparently kept in the dark until just before the deal was announced.

Supporters of Israel in the United States were broadly in support of the agreement. The Canadian Friends of Peace Now praised the move in a statement, emphasizing that stepping back from annexation was welcome.

Support also came from U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who indicated that working for better relations between Israel and the Gulf States had been a goal of the previous American administration in which he served as vice-president. He welcomed Israel’s decision to suspend its plan for annexation.

Commentators from across the Israeli political spectrum hailed the agreement as historic. The UAE is the first Gulf Arab State to officially end its hostility to Israel. While advocates of annexation were disappointed, the vast majority of Israelis appeared to prefer the UAE deal to the prospect of extending Israeli sovereignty over more territory.

Given the broadly welcoming mood in Israel, it is especially disheartening to see the unanimous rejection of the deal among the Palestinian leadership. One would hope that at least some among them would see the suspension of plans for annexation as a new window of opportunity to negotiate a peace agreement that would offer them more territory than that proposed in the Trump plan.

In the face of many potential risks to Israel had annexation proceeded, it may well be that Netanyahu’s enthusiasm for it was never as firm as his rhetoric suggested. With the UAE deal now achieved, it would be beneficial for both parties if it leads to a renewal of efforts to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace.


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.

Toronto Teen Wins Diana Award for Holocaust Education

Aug. 20, 2020 – By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

When Erin Sade was in Grade 6 she was given the opportunity to learn about any charitable organization that interested her. She chose the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem (CSYV) and in subsequent years she dedicated much of her spare time to helping other young people learn about the Holocaust.

Fast forward seven years and Sade, now 18, was one of seven Canadian recipients of the 2020 Diana Award. Named for the late Princess of Wales, the accolade honours young people for their humanitarian efforts and social action. Sade was nominated for her commitment to Holocaust education.

The virtual 2020 ceremony held last month was hosted by the Vamps’ James McVey and included celebrities like the Duke of Sussex (Prince Harry) and actor, Dame Emma Thompson. About 180 people worldwide received the award this year.

Sade, a recent graduate of Havergal College – she will be on her way to medical school in England later this month – said she was thrilled to win the Diana Award.

Sade Friedman
Erin Sade

She was nominated by Ellen Schwartz, creator and executive director of Project Give Back (PGB), the organization that ran the education program that spurred Sade’s involvement with CSYV, when she was in Grade 6.

“I owe her [Schwartz] so much,” Sade said in a telephone interview from her home in Toronto. “She did everything to nominate me…She has so much kindness. She is so dedicated to the [PGB] program and the students she brings it to.”

Through her connection with CSYV Sade participated in the Twinning Program, which encourages youngsters to dedicate their bar or bat mitzvahs to a specific young Holocaust victim. Sade’s “twin” was Lily Friedman, who died in Auschwitz just shy of her 12th birthday.

“Yad Vashem pairs you with a child who died before their bar or bat mitzvah,” Sade explained, noting that she was able to discover information on Friedman because her sister had survived the war.

The twinning was “a beautiful experience,” Sade said, noting that her own middle name is Lilly. “Having that little connection made it feel more real. That was an empowering experience.”

She said after her bat mitzvah, she was motivated to learn more about the Holocaust and to increase awareness of Nazi atrocities by helping to educate other students, particularly non-Jews.

She encouraged students to participate in the Ambassadors of Change Program, also run by the CSYV, in which high schoolers get the opportunity to connect with Holocaust survivors in small groups.

She would also represent the CSYV through class presentations at various schools in the GTA. She would create and distribute booklets with the personal histories of individual Jewish youngsters from the Holocaust era. 

The students would each receive a booklet and then they would find out about the fate of the individual child they had learned about. Each booklet had a QR code that the students could scan with their phones to see if the child had survived or perished during the Second World War.

“That part of the presentation always got through [to the students] the most,” Sade said, pointing out that most of the children they learned about did not survive.

She said she also arranged for Holocaust survivors to speak at Havergale, something that had never been done before.

For Sade, the Diana Award brought to mind another prize she received from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau four years ago.

In 2016, the Yad Vashem society created the Cantor Kraus Catalyst for Change Award in honour of Cantor Moshe Kraus, a Holocaust survivor. The award was to recognize individuals showing dedication to Holocaust education. Sade was one of three recipients.

“It was insane,” she recounted. “They didn’t tell me that Prime Minister Trudeau was going to present the award. I was starstruck the entire time. “You realized that the work that you’re doing actually matters. It was an amazing feeling.”

Editorial: Justice for Racialized Communities: We All Have Skin in this Game

Aug. 20, 2020 – For a time, we really did feel that things were changing. With the tragic murder of George Floyd, many rose from their complacency to demand change. Indeed, these times have been reminiscent of the heady civil rights era in which Martin Luther King, Rabbi Abraham Heschel and other faith leaders, Black and white, Jews and Christians (other faiths weren’t comfortable with the high visibility at the time) who peacefully but passionately spoke out against racism and discrimination. Reminiscent, but not quite the same.

The civil rights era of the 1960s led at first to a momentous change in the body politic of the United States: The Civil Rights Act signed into law by then President Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

A crowning achievement, it was intended to outlaw discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex, or national origin. It did not, of course. Words on paper are just words if they are not followed by concrete and meaningful action. Words blur, hate is muscular. Words are simply not enough without boldness of action.

Here in Canada, we like to believe we are better. We told ourselves we didn’t require a Civil Rights Act to understand the evil of bigotry. We fooled ourselves into believing that we held the moral high ground.

Among the evidence to the contrary were Ontario’s so-called restrictive covenants, which prohibited the sale of land to Jews and Blacks.

In one of the better-known examples in the post-war era, a labour organization, the Workers’ Educational Association of Canada (WEA), purchased property on O’Connor Drive to build “ideal” homes for working families and soldiers returning home. The WEA soon discovered the deed prevented the land from being sold to Jews “or persons of objectionable nationality.”

That led, in 1945, to an arrangement between the WEA and the Canadian Jewish Congress. Then WEA director Drummond Wren teamed with CJC’s legal committee chair, Bora Laskin, (later to become the first Jewish Chief Justice of Canada) and other lawyers representing the complainants. Together, their argument succeeded. Justice J. Keiller MacKay of the Supreme Court of Ontario, later an Ontario Lieutenant Governor, struck the offensive legislation from provincial law, declaring it “injurious to the public good.” Stated MacKay in his impassioned ruling:

“Canada is pledged to promote universal respect for and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without discrimination as to race, sex, language or religion…”

Justice J. Keiller MacKay

But that didn’t spell the end of bigotry. Appeals and counter-appeals wound up before the Ontario Court of Appeal, which, in a contemptible decision in 1949, sidestepped MacKay’s ruling and claimed that barring those of Jewish, “Negro or coloured race or blood” was only to make sure those owning land were of “a class who will get along together.” There was nothing “criminal or unusual” about any of this, the court assured.

It wasn’t until 1950 that Ontario banned the covenants in a bill that saw unanimous support. “There is no place in Ontario’s way of life for restrictive covenants,” pronounced then Ontario Premier Leslie Frost. Later that year, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down all forms of racial and faith-based restrictive land covenants as invalid.

Flash forward to today. While no barriers by race appear in law, bigotry and systemic racism still exist. This week, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (which arose from the battles undertaken by the WEA and CJC) identified, through its Human Rights Tribunals, that systemic racism continues unchecked, causing much harm.

As noted by Ena Chadha, the new Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission: This past March, a six-year-old Black girl was racially discriminated against when police restrained and handcuffed her at school.

And: In 2018, Black youths had to prepay their meals at a Toronto restaurant.

These are but two examples of systemic racism which were thankfully dealt with under human rights law. But racism continues unabated. This is not a time to take our eyes off the ball. Much work remains to be done. Justice for racialized communities does matter. We all have skin in this game.

Genealogy Buff Cited for Indexing Montreal Jewish Graves

Aug 20, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—Those given to black humour may joke that Gary Perlman has spent more time in cemeteries than some of their denizens.

But the retired software developer is deadly serious in his quest to photograph as many gravestones in Montreal-area Jewish burial grounds as he possibly can, and to research each person who lies beneath.

Over the past five years, Perlman has photographed more than 40,000 stones, some dating back to the early 19th century, finding ingenious ways to make legible often worn or damaged inscriptions, or to illuminate those in obscurity.

Gary Perlman
Gary Perlman

He has submitted these high-quality images, along with records about the deceased he has organized, had translated from Hebrew, and frequently added to or corrected – a total of over 100,000 items – to JOWBR, the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry.

JOWBR catalogues data on Jewish cemeteries around the world and makes it available in searchable format to genealogists and other researchers everywhere, free of charge.

Perlman, who has done all this without remuneration, was already a hero to his fellow members of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Montreal (JGS-M). Now, he’s being recognized around the globe. This month, the modest Perlman received the 2020 Volunteer of the Year award from the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS), an umbrella organization of over 50 groups. Due to the pandemic, its 40th annual conference was held virtually.

“It’s meaningful that people appreciate what I am doing,” said Perlman, who carries on his sleuthing and hopes the honour will convince reluctant Montreal Jewish cemeteries to give him permission to shoot there as well and add to JOWBR’s Montreal holdings.

A glaring omission is two of the city’s oldest and largest synagogues: Congregation Shaar Hashomayim and Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom. Perlman has worked in Canada’s oldest Jewish congregation’s cemetery, the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, founded more than 250 years ago.

He has completed documentation of two other historic sites: the Baron de Hirsch Cemetery, Montreal’s largest Jewish cemetery, opened in 1905, and its affiliated Back River Memorial Gardens, dating to the late 1800s. The latter, located in the Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough far from today’s Jewish population, was especially challenging due to its having been left to deteriorate for a long time before a restoration.

Many of its nearly 7,000 stones were crumbling but Perlman managed to capture high-resolution pictures of all of them. Through countless hours of trial and error, he has discovered just the right angle or time of day to coax out eroded epitaphs that were thought to have been lost forever.

He has done all the city’s Holocaust memorials (1,900-plus names) and war casualty monuments (some 600 names), including from the Jewish section of the National Field of Honour in Pointe-Claire, which are posted on JewishGen’s memorial plaque page.

Balancing respect for privacy with the imperative to preserve and share the unique and rich source of Jewish history the burial data represent is a guiding principle for Perlman.

JOWBR, which logs 3.7 million photos and records from 8,666 cemeteries in 130 countries, considers the work Perlman does a mitzvah.

This treasure trove, however, is of little use and can be downright misleading when there are errors, and Perlman found an astonishing number of those even in such basic information as names and dates on both the stones and in the cemeteries’ archives.

A 63-year-old Montreal native, Perlman spent his 30-year career in the United States after receiving a PhD at the University of California at San Diego. He is a late-blooming amateur genealogist, not having done much snooping into his own ancestors until he attended one of the JGS-M’s free workshops for beginners.

He found in its enthusiastic president, Stanley Diamond – also co-founder and executive director of Jewish Records Indexing-Poland, a pioneering digitizer and democratizer of genealogical data – a kindred spirit who recognized modern technology’s power to unlock the past.

Perlman became JGS-M’s webmaster and set about to update the society’s existing cemetery indexing project, which since 2007, had collected a few thousand photos, many of which weren’t good enough for optimal reproduction online.

Perlman does not find spending so much time among the dead morbid. “Not at all!” he replied when asked if it has made him reflect on his own mortality. But on his early expeditions, he did find heartbreaking the tragic tales some stones told, such as the mother and her two children killed in a plane crash who rest together, or the mass unmarked grave of children who died in epidemics.

He couldn’t fail to notice the increased number of burials since the COVID pandemic, which has touched him personally. Another of his volunteer endeavours has been helping elderly residents of the Maimonides Geriatric Centre put together their family trees. He lost three of his “clients” to COVID.

Intriguing and sometimes humorous epitaphs have lightened his days in the field. He has numerous examples, such as the double monument of a couple. On her side it reads: “Saul would rather be golfing.”

Then there was “Don’t forget the Bubba” or “Resting in peace, no conversation please” that made him chuckle.

The IAJGS also cited Perlman for directly linking JOWBR search results to the JGS-M website (jgs-montreal.org) where supplemental information, like parents’ names (including the Hebrew ones) can be found, as well as the location and condition of the grave. He is lauded for creating the JewishGen Dashboard, where users can search some 50 databases from a single web page on the JGS-M site.

Perlman was nominated for Volunteer of the Year by Diamond, and “strongly endorsed” by JOWBR coordinator Nolan Altman who praised Perlman’s “unending attention to detail. His submissions to JOWBR are always clear, complete and precise…When Gary submits data/photos I know it will be correct.”

Wrote Diamond to the IAJGS, “I treasure volunteers who, not only step forward when asked, but who carry out their task with passion and devotion…Gary is most certainly one of the best in this regard.”

The UAE-Israel Agreement: Winners and Losers

Aug. 19, 2020 – By Barbara Landau

Progressive Jews applaud the announcement that the United Arab Emirates and Israel have reached an historic agreement. The deal to normalize relations has been waiting since the Arab Initiative was offered in 2002. Steps toward peace with Israel’s Arab neighbours clearly benefit the Jewish state and increase stability and security cooperation amid threats from Iran and other radical states.

This historic and surprising announcement came on the heels of Donald Trump’s “Deal of a Century” and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposal to unilaterally annex parts of the Jordan Valley. While Trump is claiming credit for this new deal, the applause really belongs to a loud chorus of voices, in particular from the UAE, as well as Jordan, the European Union, American political pundits, and the global progressive Jewish community, including a strong cooperative effort across Canadian Jewish organizations and the Reform movement.

There was consensus that both proposals were a major threat to any hope of a two-state solution or peace with the Palestinians. In jeopardy was the very success we are celebrating – warming relations with Arab neighbours. Our achievement is that unilateral annexation is now on hold and the future of Trump’s original deal has been at least temporarily mothballed.

Before we breathe a sigh of relief, we need to look at what was not included in this latest announcement.

First, annexation may not be off the table. Before the ink on the UAE deal was dry, Netanyahu was claiming that he intended to proceed with annexation after a period of “suspension.” This was to reassure his settler base, many of whom decried both Trump’s deal and UAE agreement because both leave open the possibility of a two-state resolution. They want one state incorporating all of “Judea and Samaria” without offering citizenship to Palestinians, a move that would again risk international condemnation. Whether settlers can rely on Netanyahu’s reassurance is thankfully open to question.

An optimistic view is that while applauding the agreement between the UAE and Israel as a significant step to counter the threat of Iran and other potential adversaries, Netanyahu will not jeopardize his return to celebrity status just when he faces corruption charges and widespread protests against his handling of COVID and the Israeli economy. Also, the UAE deal made it clear that “normalization of relations” is the payoff for no annexation.

For Trump, with an election looming, the applause is a welcome change of the channel from citizen unrest and widespread criticism. Even Democratic candidate Joe Biden has offered his blessing, giving Trump an opportunity to claim credit and appeal to his fragmenting American Jewish base. For now, Trump is clear that unilateral annexation is not in the cards, despite the contrary assurance by David Friedman, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, that the delay is “for now.”

The question is, “what does Israel need to ensure its future as a peaceful and a democratic state?” While acceptance in the Arab world is very important, how critical is reaching a viable and just deal with the Palestinians? If it is essential, then the question is, “will this announcement help?”

The answer to that question is likely no. Yet again, the Palestinians played no role in the negotiations. They apparently were not consulted or even informed. Their status is yet again diminished, and they are understandably angry and feel betrayed.

This should be of concern to Israel because the likely result is further instability within the Palestinian Authority and a potential outpouring of frustration and despair directed at Israel. Such violence has largely been avoided because of the security cooperation between Israel and the P.A. that ended when Netanyahu announced his annexation plan.

While normalized relations with the UAE and potentially other Arab countries is news to celebrate, what is missing? As Diaspora Jews who care deeply about Israel’s future as a democratic and Jewish state, the elephant not in the room is the occupation – or ending it.

Where can we look for reassurance that peace will triumph? While the UAE and the U.S. claim that Netanyahu agreed to resume direct two-state negotiations, this was not spelled out in the text of the agreement. Netanyahu’s deafening silence about this in his triumphant announcement to Israelis means caution is warranted.  

What might cause concern? Recent years have seen serious challenges to Israel’s democracy and the prospects for peace: The “Nation State Law,” the continued settlement expansion, the undermining of civil rights of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, and the attacks on judicial independence. The unilateral declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by the U.S. and the unilateral annexation of the Golan Heights are all in contradiction to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative that put reciprocal demands on Israel in exchange for its considerable olive branch:  

The 2002 Arab Peace initiative…

…reaffirms the resolution taken in June 1996 at the Cairo extraordinary Arab summit that a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East is the strategic option of the Arab countries, to be achieved in accordance with international legality, and which would require a comparable commitment on the part of the Israeli government. (Emphasis mine).

Arab Peace Initiative

The current UAE-Israel agreement makes no such explicit demand and leaves the occupation and creeping annexation in place. So while we celebrate today, what does the future hold for peace based on two states for two peoples? If this dream is erased, what is the alternative? My hope is that we will keep a watchful eye and continue our advocacy for a genuine and secure peace.


Barbara Landau
Dr. Barbara Landau

Dr. Barbara Landau is a lawyer, psychologist and mediator. She is a board member and chairs the Shared Society Committee of JSpaceCanada and is the Canadian representative on the J-Link Coordinating Committee. She participated in three Compassionate Listening peace-building missions to Israel and Palestine. She co-chairs the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims (CAJM), is co-founder of “Together in Hope,” a Jewish, Palestinian/Arab women’s dialogue group. Barbara is a partner in Givat Haviva’s “Heart to Heart” Alumni Program, whose goal is building shared society for Jewish and Palestinian Israeli youth and their parents.

Racist Sailor Prompts Calls for Reform in Forces

Aug. 19, 2020 – By Steve Arnold

A racist has been unmasked in Canada’s military, prompting new calls for the Armed Forces to get tough with members who don’t represent the country’s values.

The Canadian Anti-Hate Network (whose Chair is CJR publisher Bernie Farber) and the Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center want action after a Royal Canadian Navy reservist in Calgary was revealed to be a member of an online neo-Nazi hate group.

Boris Mihajlovic
Boris Mihajlovic

Initial anger grew even hotter after Leading Seaman Boris Mihajlovic was accused of trying to sell military-grade weapons to another hate group. There is no evidence a deal was ever completed and Mihajlovic was later reinstated to the navy after claiming he has been rehabilitated and no longer holds racist views.

In 2019 Kurt Phillips, now a director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, was among the first to raise an alarm about the alleged arms deal. Mihajlovic was later identified by alternative media site Unicorn Riot.

“(Mihajlovic) is a person who kind of stood out for me,” Phillips said in an interview. “The big concern here is the Forces and their reaction to this. Our concern now is, what is the Canadian military doing about this?”

Phillips said the Canadian Armed Forces have a long-established pattern of side-stepping such issues by slapping the wrists of members caught making racist statements or being involved in demonstrations.

“It’s in the nature of institutions like this to just want controversy to go away,” he said. “They will circle their wagons and say what they need to.”

That’s what he said happened in 2017 when five Canadian sailors were identified as part of a crowd that disrupted a Native protest in a park named for Lord Edward Cornwallis. A founder of Halifax, the British officer is also the author of a policy of genocide against the area’s Indigenous population.

Four of the sailors faced a period of probation but were returned to active duty. The fifth left the military.

“The military seems to treat these incidents as an exercise in public relations,” he said. “It’s a case of saying the right things but not taking the extra step.”

In the most recent case, leaders of FSWC met recently with Vice-Admiral Art McDonald, commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, who promised a “command-level review” of the investigation into the allegations and the decision to keep Mihajlovic in the Forces.

In its new release following that meeting, FSWC said it asked the admiral to “ensure that (Mihajlovic) faces justice for his participation in neo-Nazi terrorist organization Blood & Honour; for his efforts to foment a ‘race war’ against Jews and others, and for his attempts to offer for sale military-grade weaponry to other white supremacists.”

FSWC said McDonald also told the group that the Navy is committed to combating discrimination, racism and antisemitism within its ranks and to reflecting the values of Canadians by promoting diversity and tolerance.

Mihajlovic’s racist activities were revealed by Unicorn Riot and CBC in December. CBC reported his hate group activities include serving as an administrator of the now-defunct Iron March forum, a neo-Nazi website. He was also involved with Blood & Honour for at least four years and its armed branch, Combat 18, a group the Canadian government identified last summer as a terrorist organization.

Mihajlovic told the public broadcaster he hasn’t been involved with such groups since Iron March shut down in 2017 and now he realizes he was wrong and rejects racist views.

“I want people to know that I’m a very different person than I was,” he said. “I just want people to know that the people in these groups really need mental help and therapy.”

He said his military experience, as well as a course he took at the University of Calgary in 2017, made him question his radical beliefs.

“During my time in the military, I met people from different races and cultures and realized I was wrong,” he said. “I realized I was hating people without any reason. I believed in a really elitist world view.”

For Phillips, words like that are a good start, but more is needed to show Mihajlovic has truly recanted his former views – actions like a sincere apology to the communities he offended and helping law enforcement identify and deal with other groups and extremists.

The military itself has work to work, including reforming a culture that attracts people with right-wing views. A frequent theme for such people, Phillips added, is to use the military to gain training in weapons and tactics for what they believe is a coming race war.

Mihajlovic mouthed those very words in some of the hate group postings identified as his by CBC.

“They pay you to teach you the methods you need to destroy them,” he once wrote, saying his rationale for serving in the military was to gain combat experience for an eventual “race war.”

Phillips added an important step for Canada would be to restore Section 13 of the federal Human Rights Code. That’s the section that allowed individuals to pursue groups espousing hate speech.

The section was repealed by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government on the grounds it restricted free expression.

Canadian law enforcement also needs to make better use of Criminal Code provisions against hate speech, Phillips said.

Under the current system, provincial attorneys general must sign off on turning an allegation into a hate crime – something too many have been reluctant to do for fear of being accused of constraining free speech.

“We really have to press our elected leaders to make better use of the laws we already have,” Phillips said.