The Seth Rogen Drama: We Need Honest Talk About Israel

Aug. 3, 2020 – By ZACK BABINS

Last week, Canadian Jewish actor and filmmaker Seth Rogen, while promoting his new movie, An American Pickle, the saga of a poor Yiddish immigrant to New York City who is preserved in pickle brine for 100 years (based on a quirky story by Simon Rich, available here), discussed his Jewish identity and feelings about Israel.

You may have read about it: Rogen rejected an inherent link between Jewish identity and Zionism, called the idea of Jewish statehood the product of “an antiquated thought process,” and expressed dissatisfaction with the ways he – the son of two kibbutzniks and Jewish summer camp alumnus– was educated when it came to Israel. 

I may disagree with Seth on a few points – I happen to think that as long as everyone else has a state, we should probably have one too – but this much is true: The way that our community teaches young Jews about Israel, Palestine – and the conflict just doesn’t square with historical records – and there is an instinct to exile and dismiss the Jews who ask frank and difficult questions about Israel.

The realities of the Aliyah movements, the British Mandate, the War of Independence, the wars of 1967 and 1973, intifadas, settlements, and countless failed peace processes, are too messy for one op-ed and one day. But in our day schools and summer camps, and our primary educational programs, they are simplified to create a vision of Israel that is blameless, perfect and miraculous – a vision far more naïve and utopian than even Herzl’s. 

“We took a deserted land and made the desert bloom.” “We (out of the goodness of our own hearts) withdrew from Gaza and just look at what they did there.” “We accepted the Partition plan and they didn’t.”  

It wasn’t until my final year of university, and my decision to write a thesis on the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, that I – who had attended Hebrew school for nine years, was active in the local Jewish fraternity, president of Hillel, and had just participated in a Birthright Israel trip – learned, for instance, that the Israeli acceptance of the 1947 partition plan was far from unanimous, with Menachem Begin and the Revisionist Zionist camp calling it “illegitimate.” 

During that year of research and writing, I encountered many pieces of information that directly and forcefully disproved many of the ideas that I had been raised with. I confronted the reality of a real country making political decisions and strategic military calculations.

I felt lied to. On many occasions, I was mere sentences away from abandoning my emotional stake in Israel altogether. On some days, the only thing stopping me from washing my hands of the whole messy falafel was a mentor who encouraged me to embrace the nuances and test my values against them.

Any conversation about the Jewish future has to include a frank, reasonable discussion about the role of Israel and its ability to represent Jews around the world. It is unsustainable for us, as a people, to continue mythologizing a real, complex place and exiling those of us who express dissatisfaction with realities once we learn them. 

After all of that, after the threat of annexation, the continued attack of the rabbinate on progressive values, and much more, I remain a Zionist for this reason: 

I am a Jew, and a Jew in a world that is dangerous and hostile to Jews: Israel, for all its faults, remains a place where Jews can be safe as Jews, an increasing rarity in 2020. While I am relatively safe as a Canadian Jew, I know far too much Jewish history to think that this safety is forever guaranteed.

But a small part of me, in the back of my head, knows that there is a second reason. I remain a Zionist because anything else risks alienation and condemnation. From my friends, my family, the community I grew up and worked in. From the Jewish Twittersphere. 

I’ve been to Israel three times and I’d like to visit again in the future. In pre-coronavirus times, Israel has barred entry to, among others, Diaspora Jewish BDS activists. I’m not interested in taking a 12-hour flight only to get deported from a country that claims to be my homeland. 

My Zionism is nuanced. It is critical, it is measured, and I do my best to keep it in line with history and the values with which I judge every other political issue in my life. But it is not the only thing that makes me a Jew. Far from it. 

I’ve long been party to conversations – and handwringing – about the Jewish future. For a long time, assimilation and intermarriage were the boogeyman. Now, it’s insufficient (right-wing, reactionary, unquestioning) Zionism that gets one labeled as a traitor to the Jews. 

The truth is, when we lie to our kids, they resent the lie as much as they resent us. The truth is, to ensure a Jewish future, we have to tell the truth about the Jewish past. And that means a conversation about Israel that’s rooted in reality and history, not myths and utopias. These questions are not going away, and will only get louder. The truth is, we ignore them – and dismiss young Jews with serious concerns – at our own risk.


Zack Babins is a Professional Jew and Recovering Jewish Professional™, an occasional political communicator and a constant seeker of attention.

Jewish/Palestinian Equality, Yes! A Joint Jewish/Palestinian state, Impossible!

By BOB KATZ

The writer Peter Beinart, a well-known and influential progressive Zionist, who had long advocated a two-state solution, recently reconsidered his principles. In a controversial and much-discussed essay, published in Jewish Currents in early July, he proposes an altogether different paradigm.

In his carefully written, well-researched essay, Beinart concludes that the traditional view of Zionism was no longer viable, a two-state solution was unachievable, and the only alternative to Israel becoming an apartheid state would be for it to forge an alliance with the Palestinians and create a unified state in which all citizens were equal. Most importantly, he emphasizes that if Israel continued to govern close to three million non-citizen, non-voting Palestinians on a fraction of the West Bank, it would be unable to avoid the “apartheid” label. And once the world came to regard Israel as an apartheid state, its days would be numbered.

Beinart recognizes that a one-state solution would require difficult compromises. At the same time, he points to the existence of two states within Belgium, notes South Africa’s successful transition to democracy, and proposes the example of the peace accord that ended the Troubles in Northern Ireland. 

Far from persuading me to abandon Zionism and accept a one-state solution, Beinart’s essay left me all the more convinced of the importance of Zionism, and the necessity of a two-state solution. At the same time, I am in full agreement with his bleak view that, if annexation continues, whether creeping or formal, Israel will fit the definition of apartheid, in which case it will not be able to survive the type of international condemnation that led to the end of apartheid in South Africa.

Beinart describes the logic and benefits of a unified Jewish-Palestinian state but does not offer a plan to bring about a union. Instead, he points to the largely successful integration of Palestinian Israelis into the pre-1967 borders and observes that, given Israel’s control of the West Bank, “Israel-Palestine is already binational.” He posits that education and income parity would lead to workable compromises for all Palestinians. Over the past 53 years, Israel and the Palestinians have failed to negotiate a two-state solution. There is no reason to assume that the two sides – three if you consider Gaza a separate entity – will do any better negotiating a one-state solution.

Beinart’s assertion that it would be feasible for Jews and all Palestinians to unite within a peaceful state, such as exists in present day Israel, ignores the fact that the Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship have a very different recent history than the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. It would require the integration of dispossessed people who have long seen the PLO and Hamas as their only prospects for freedom from a Zionist tyranny.

Beinart dreams of a unified state with a constitution in which both Jews and Palestinians would have equal rights. Even with constitutional protections, it is not hard to imagine both sides attempting to dominate the other. Whatever constitutional rights Armenians once had in the Ottoman Empire were extinguished by 1923 with virtually no intervention from the outside world. Iran was a multi-cultural state until it felt a need to deal with apostates such as their Baha’i, Zoroastrian and Jewish minorities. In Iraq, Sunnis persecuted Shiites until Saddam Hussein was overthrown, at which time the Shiites persecuted the Sunnis. And everyone persecuted the Kurds.

The author argues that extremists would be mollified in a state in which all peoples were full citizens with equal rights. A quick change of heart would be inconceivable. A unified state would have to persuade crazed Jewish settlers and suicidal Hamas fighters to set aside their murderous practices in the interests of peace with their mortal enemies.

Beinart’s essay does not deal with a division of so-called “holy sites.” The tombs of Hebron are sacred to Jews and to Muslims. A binational state of Israel would have to reconcile the legitimate concerns of Hebron’s Palestinians, whose Jewish extremist persecutors have erected a statue to honour Baruch Goldstein as well as the fears of indigenous Jews who remain haunted by the 1929 Hebron Massacre. Beinart also ignores the interests of fundamentalist Christians, who believe that only if there is a Jewish state in Israel can there be a Second Coming. 

Beinart discusses Gaza, pre-1967 Israel, and the West Bank as if they were in a bubble, free from external forces. Guaranteeing the security of Jews in a binational state would require more than a peace between Palestinians and Jews. Just as many Jews deny the rights of Palestinians in the interests of a truly Jewish state (see: Israel’s Basic Law, enacted in 2018), many Muslims dream of an all-Muslim Middle East. In 1948, five Arab nations attacked Israel with the stated purpose of preventing a Zionist entity from existing in the Middle East. 

The principal reason the Egyptian and Jordanian governments currently recognize Israel is because, at least for now, cooperation is a more viable alternative than war. The principal reason the Sunni states, which are still at war with Israel, no longer emphasize destroying the Zionist entity is because, at least for now, they are more worried about Iran. There is no reason to assume that Iran would be any better disposed to a Jewish power-sharing relationship in a binational Israeli-Palestinian state than they are to sharing power with the indigenous Jews who still live within their borders. 

Beinart’s bubble ignores the fact that members of non-Islamic religions are in decline in most Middle Eastern states. The Christian population in all of the Sunni states has shrunk dramatically in the past century. Lebanon has been shattered by sectarian wars. Christians leave their homelands because they believe that they live in countries that, with the possible exception of Syria, want the Middle East to be entirely Muslim, as the Prophet Muhammad ordained. In Egypt, there have been frequent slaughters of Coptic Christians, whose population has declined by roughly 25 percent in the past 60 years. In a unified state, Jews would be a tiny minority surrounded by a sea of Islamic states that have rarely shown good will to their Jewish populations.

Beinart proposes post-apartheid South Africa as a model of a successful binational state and points out that white Afrikaners’ fear of violence proved unwarranted once the majority Black population gained equal rights. The example of South Africa becomes less compelling when one considers how badly integration fared in Rhodesia, South Sudan, the former Ethiopia, or post-partition Pakistan. Bi-nationalism also failed in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Yemen.

Northern Ireland is for Beinart another example of an apparently intractable conflict resolved once a peace accord was in place. However, the issues that divided Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland were very different than the issues dividing Jews and Palestinians. In Northern Ireland, historical grievances notwithstanding, the two adversaries were English-speaking, white-skinned Christians. Neither party was divided by differing Biblical commandments or shared holy sites.

Moreover, the example of Northern Ireland’s generally, successful transition to coexistence becomes less compelling when contrasted with the example of the former Yugoslavia, where a functional, post-war coexistence collapsed into mayhem following the 1980 death of Marshal Tito. 

In Northern Ireland, with Ireland to the south and England to the east, Catholics and Protestants each had neighbors with an interest in “their people” and keeping the peace. Israel does not have any neighbours who see the Jews as “their people.” 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu required three elections before he could form a precarious coalition with “Alternate” Prime Minister Benny Gantz. Although Likud’s and Kahol Lavan’s ideologies are similar, they are just barely cooperating. And neither party was willing to cooperate with HaReshima HaMeshutefet (the Joint List). A country that could not welcome Israeli Arabs from HaReshima HaMeshutefet into a coalition would be even less likely to accept Fatah as a partner—or Hamas as the opposition. 

I am in strong agreement with Beinart’s belief that unless a just and democratic solution is found for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, Israel will become an apartheid state, subject to constant security threats from within and without its borders. I have a keen recollection of how the collective efforts of the Commonwealth turned South Africa into a pariah state, even as Margaret Thatcher, the British prime minister, emphasized that they were “our kith and kin.” There is no prospect of a successful binational Jewish-Palestinian state! The future of Israel and Zionism depends on Jews and Palestinians each being able to live in prosperous democratic states of their own. 


Bob Katz is a member of Canadian Friends of Peace Now’s national board and chairperson of the Toronto chapter.

Prioritize Victims of Hate When Confronting Extremism in the Military

July 29, 2020 – By ELIZABETH MOORE

On July 19, the Canadian Armed Forces announced they are taking an important and, as critics have noted, a long overdue step to more effectively deal with hateful conduct in their ranks. The new orders finally define “hateful conduct,” make reporting incidents mandatory, and will include ongoing training, entrance screenings, and incident tracking.

As Maj.-Gen. Marc Gagne of the Forces’ chief of military personnel’s office put it, “the idea is basically as soon as you join, it’s crystal clear, and we’re going to keep reinforcing through education and training as you move through the ranks and as you assume more responsibility.”

While there is reason to be optimistic about the potential for positive change in the future, the military is clearly still struggling when it comes to handling cases of hate group members in their midst.

The U.S.-based media collective Unicorn Riot reported that Leading Seaman Boris Mihajlovic returned to active duty aboard HMCS Tecumseh on July 15, 2020, following an investigation into his ties to racist extremist groups. Mihajlovic claims he is reformed and has not been involved with hate groups since 2017.

In a video by Mihajlovic’s Commanding Officer, Joseph Banke, sailors were called upon “to find a way ahead together.” Banke emphasized his belief that rehabilitation should be chosen over retribution, concluding that “we need to build forward together, we need to rehabilitate together, we are going to support this member together.”

This approach would perhaps be warranted if the person in question was passively consuming hateful content online but otherwise not deeply entrenched. But that is not the case with Mihajlovic. He was a moderator on the now-defunct racist forum Iron March, claimed to be connected with Blood and Honour, a hate group that was classified as a terrorist organization by the Canadian government last year, and he tried to carry out illegal arms deals.

While it is wholly possible to leave racist extremist groups and change one’s worldview, doing so within the Armed Forces carries additional responsibilities, particularly when internet posts discussing the sale of “handguns, assault rifles, grenades and grenade launchers,” come to the public’s attention. At this time, it appears neither Mihajlovic nor the leadership at HMCS Tecumseh have issued an apology. No explanation of the ways Mihajlovic has grown or changed has been released, despite Banke’s acknowledgment that some sailors have “felt very victimized by this.”

It is unfortunate that at a time the Armed Forces are attempting to address both extremism and systemic racism, Banke seems to be asking those who felt victimized to do the emotional heavy lifting of supporting a former extremist without a proper explanation or support in return.

This is likely not an isolated incident. A 2018 military intelligence report identified 30 service members who belonged to hate groups or otherwise engaged in hateful conduct. In November, it was reported that 16 of those identified were allowed to remain within the Forces after being warned or disciplined.

Gagne noted that part of the problem was that the military took “a reaction kind of approach” instead of being proactive in addressing such matters. However, in order to ensure that sensitive and challenging situations like Mihajlovic’s are dealt with fairly and effectively, the Forces needs to move beyond the reactive/proactive dichotomy to embrace a holistic approach that remains ever mindful of past and current incidents of extremism in their ranks.

To illustrate the range of events affecting the current situation, former Master Corporal Patrik Mathews is facing U.S. charges related to possessing and transporting a firearm and ammunition while plotting to trigger a race war with members of the violent white supremacist group, The Base. Meanwhile, military police are investigating a racist meme targeting Black people that was circulated in Quebec last month.

If a person who engaged in hateful conduct is allowed to stay in uniform after a case has been investigated, the wellbeing of those who felt victimized must be prioritized over that person’s desire to resume their duties. No one should feel that they must literally soldier on without understanding how certain decisions were reached or why, especially since hateful conduct continues to occur.

It is unfortunate that those who need to issue apologies or explanations have more power and latitude about whether to provide them than those who feel such words are necessary. And it is these imbalances that must be addressed for the military to truly be able to “rehabilitate together.”


Elizabeth Moore
Elizabeth Moore

Twenty-five years ago, Elizabeth Moore left The Heritage Front, Canada’s largest hate group. Since then, she has become an anti-hate educator, writer, and social justice advocate. She is currently a member of the Enhancing Social Justice Education Coordinating Committee and Parents for Peace’s Community Network. 

You Can Respond to Hate with Hate or Convert it to a Teaching Moment. We Chose the Latter.

Green Party Leadership Candidate Annamie Paul, and her sons, speak on the racism and antisemitism they face

July 27, 2020 – By ANNAMIE PAUL

One of the most significant moments of my life was the day I converted to Judaism. I spent my childhood growing up with Jewish friends, and my mother had always encouraged her children to find their own spiritual path. When my partner, who is Jewish, and I met in law school and decided to get married, I knew that I wanted to live a Jewish life and to raise a Jewish family. I converted over 20 years ago while studying for my Masters at Princeton University. The late Rabbi Jim Diamond – may his memory be a blessing – director of the campus Hillel and a fellow Canadian, supervised my conversion.

As a Black woman, I realized that converting would expose me to further discrimination. The history of my partner’s family – survivors of the Shoah – is a daily reminder of this fact. Nevertheless, the universal humanistic values of Judaism spoke to me and I was ready to take this step.

It has been a joy raising two Jewish sons and watching them celebrate their bar mitzvahs. My husband and I have told them of the solidarity between Black and Jewish communities during the civil rights movement and the allyship based on a common experience of persecution. It is never easy to sit your children down to explain why they will be targets of hate simply for being who they are. Nevertheless, it was our duty prepare them and to never let it weaken their pride.

Black and Jewish peoples need to decide early: Will racism and antisemitism embitter us, or will we work for positive change? I have encouraged my sons to opt for positive change and to model that to them in daily life. We are willing to educate any person who is open, even slightly, to understanding. However, where the heart and mind are closed, I want my kids to refuse to stay silent and to actively resist.

Last week, these principles were put to the test. As a candidate for the leadership of the Green Party of Canada, I was participating in a virtual regional debate. Not long into introductions, the word “N*IGGER” popped up, as did the phrase “f*cking jew.” I cannot know for certain whether these were intended for me – another candidate was named in the Jewish comment – but as I am the only Jew and the only Black candidate in the race, I naturally felt targeted. In any case, it was an unexpected shock. The perpetrators were removed, a reminder of the Green Party Code of Conduct was given, and the debate proceeded.

While this was the first occurrence in an online event, I have been subjected to months of antisemitic attacks. The moment it became known that I was Jewish, I was bombarded with questions about my positions on Israel, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, and the proposed annexation of West Bank territories. Despite having posted public statements on these matters, questions persist. My loyalty to Canada has also been called into question, and I have been accused of taking bribes from Israel, leading a Zionist take-over of the Green Party of Canada and of spreading hasbarah.

My children were watching the debate when the hate speech happened. You are never fully prepared to receive to see such worry in your sons’ eyes. As a family, we faced a choice: Respond to hate with hate, or convert it to a teaching moment. We chose the latter.

My sons helped me craft a tweet that we hoped would draw attention to the hateful incident and provoke a public discussion about racism and antisemitism. The post has been viewed more than 164,000 times and there has been an outpouring of solidarity.

There are clearly many people unwilling to allow hate to go unchallenged. These voices, when combined, can help to change minds and to drown out racism and antisemitism. The Green Party of Canada (GPC) is working to identify the perpetrators and has made it clear that if members were involved, they will be expelled. There is no place for such people in our party. The GPC will need to go further and actively root out discriminatory views, as well as monitor social media more proactively.

Winning the leadership of the Green Party of Canada would send a powerful message to those seeking to spread hate that their time is up. As the first Jewish woman to lead a national party, I would be a strong voice for education on antisemitism where possible, and resistance when necessary – values that I have passed onto my sons, whose voices follow.

Jonas Daniel, age 16:

Last week was the first time I had seen the words “f*cking jew.” The comment named another candidate, but it hit home. Every day, I see my Mom fight for a better future for me and all people in Canada. Whether or not you agree with her politics, you must respect her passion to fight for what she believes is right.

Were she to win, she would be the first Black person and first Jewish woman to lead a major federal party in Canada. That’s important to note, too, because it seems like the more my mother leads, the more resentful people become of her identities. 


Malachai Daniel, age 20:

I grew up embracing the Jewish values of generosity, kindness, and respect for others. I have always felt grateful to have been born into a community that has done so much for the betterment of our world. Since day one, I was taught to carry my Jewish identity not as a burden but as a gift.

Despite my upbringing, no amount of preparation readies you for the scale of the antisemitism we have experienced since my mother entered politics. Daily dog whistles and claims of dual loyalty are taxing our wellbeing. Somehow, being Jewish trumps all my mother is doing to help others and gives some people free rein to question her loyalties based on her religion.

I do my best to shield her, as she did for me growing up, but keeping the antisemitism at bay has proved impossible. This has been an awakening for me. There is so much work to be done, and it is why I wholeheartedly believe we need to break the silence.


Annamie Paul is a leadership candidate for the Green Party of Canada. 

Schooled by Isaiah: The Lessons of Tisha B’Av

By ILANA KRYGIER LAPIDES

Tisha b’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish year, begins at sunset July 29. While most Jewish holidays are ultimately celebratory (“They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat…”), Tisha b’Av is a rare exception. The ninth (tisha) day of the month of Av marks the destruction of the First Temple in 587 BCE and the Second Temple in 70 CE, as well as numerous other tragedies including: Bar Kokhba’s fallen rebellion (135 CE); the expulsion of Jews from Spain (1492); the Warsaw Ghetto liquidation (1942); and the bombing of the Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires (1994). We remember and commemorate this solemn day with a 25-hour fast.

On the Shabbat before Tisha b’Av, known as Hazon Yeshayahu, we read from the first chapter of Isaiah. It is a disturbing passage in which the prophet Isaiah, speaking the words of G-d, rebukes the Jews for their failure to act honestly and compassionately.

“Alas, she has become a harlot, the faithful city that was filled with justice, where righteousness dwelt – but now murderers!” (Is. 1:21).

Evidently, the Israelites have been going through the motions of devoutness while acting immorally in their regular lives. This strategy fails miserably; nothing makes G-d angrier than to see people treating other people poorly: “What need have I of all your sacrifices? Says the Lord. “I am sated with burnt offerings. Stop bringing meaningless offerings!” (Is. 1:11-13).

It becomes clear that our role in Judaism is to take care of one another even more than to worship G-d: “Wash yourselves clean; Put your evil doings away from My sight. Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; defend the cause of the widow.” (Is. 1:16-17).

Isaiah’s message is timely in hundreds of ways. A topical example: Wearing masks. Public health experts have been fairly consistent in their messaging that wearing a mask in public, in addition to frequent hand-washing and social distancing, is the primary way to reduce the risk of spreading COVID.

We may feel fine, but there is a chance we are carrying a deadly virus that could destroy the life of someone we encounter: A young mother whose child is immune-compromised, the man at the grocery store going home to his elderly mother, the teenager whose little sister has asthma. The truth is, we just don’t know, and what we don’t know can kill us.

How is this the message of Isaiah? Because wearing a mask doesn’t much safeguard the person who is wearing it. The only reason to wear a mask is to protect those around us. It is a gift we give, from the goodness and wisdom of our hearts, to our neighbors, friends, family, and ultimately, the whole world.

Our community, and Canadians in general, are well-known for compassion and caring. Canadians treasure universal healthcare and prioritize education because, even if we are perfectly healthy and don’t have kids, it is in all of our best interests that our nation be healthy and educated. Our country is made up of a diverse group of people who, in all the ways that matter, are a lot like us; we look out for each other. We are a family and we are our brothers’ keepers.

Whether or not you observe Tisha b’Av, think about all that has befallen our people. Remember the loss and the sadness and how we want better for ourselves and our descendants. And when that day is done, continue to wear your mask in public to protect G-d’s children all around you. We are deserving of this gift, it keeps on giving, and it is the least we can do.


Ilana Krygier Lapides
Ilana Krygier Lapides

Ilana Krygier Lapides is a Jewish educator and storyteller. She is currently attending rabbinic school at the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute and will be ordained in June 2021.

Peter Beinart’s “Yavne” and its Critics

By JOSEPH M. STEINER

On July 7, U.S. journalist and commentator Peter Beinart published an article in Jewish Currents entitled Yavne: A Jewish Case for Equality in Israel-Palestine. A shorter version appeared in The New York Times the next day (“I No Longer Believe in a Jewish State”).

In them, Beinart asserts that the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no longer possible, and he advocates for a single binational state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, with equal rights for all.

In the succeeding days, Beinart’s article garnered much attention in the Jewish world, most of it highly critical, some verging on caustic.

I approach the task of evaluating his thesis and the critiques to which it has been subjected as someone who has long been committed to a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is important to be clear on the elements of Beinart’s argument, which has three components:

• That settlements have so penetrated the West Bank that separation from Palestinians there is impossible. Hence a two-state solution is impossible, and a single state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean is inevitable. Indeed, he says, a single state is already in place as a result of Israeli settlements and the legal and physical infrastructure created to support those settlements.

• A binational state won’t be so bad. In fact, it would be a good outcome.

• A binational state has an intellectual “pedigree” going back to some early Zionist luminaries.

All of the many responses I have read focus only on Beinart’s second and third arguments, but not on his first. Even a response from Dennis Ross and David Makovsky, two of the most astute analysts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, addresses only Beinart’s benign view of a single state, failing entirely to respond to his first argument – that a single state is inevitable. (“Don’t Give Up on the Two-State Solution,” The American Interest, July 14, 2020).

I don’t propose to address Beinart’s second and third arguments for the simple reason that if Beinart is correct about the impossibility of the two-state solution, the issues arising from his other two arguments will not affect the outcome, even if he is dead wrong in both cases.

The only issue is whether the single state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean will be a genuine binational state – one in which all current Israeli citizens and all current Palestinian residents of the West Bank are citizens with equal rights in every dimension – or an apartheid state. In either event, the vision of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state is doomed. 

Some might argue that this situation has been brought about by Palestinian intransigence. I agree that the Palestinians have been intransigent in the face of numerous genuine efforts by Israel to negotiate separation on terms reasonable to both sides. But ascribing fault for the present situation is a useless exercise. The point of Beinart’s first argument is that the situation renders separation impossible.

To liberal, progressive life-long Zionists, this is a depressing outlook and not one to which we will readily acquiesce. But, as one test of Beinart’s first argument, ask yourself the following question: Can you conceive of any Israeli government of any political complexion taking either of the following actions as part of a genuine peace agreement, with the Palestinians meeting all of Israel’s security needs?

• Either requiring the residents of the settlements (or, perhaps, only those settlements which are not adjacent to the Green Line), to evacuate and relocate west of the Green Line (or, perhaps, into the settlements adjacent to the Green Line);

• Or, telling the residents of the settlements (or, perhaps, only of the settlements which are not adjacent to the Green Line) that they are on their own, that they will no longer have Israeli defence or economic assistance. They can maintain their Israeli citizenship, but simply as expatriates, or acquire Palestinian citizenship, or both. Those who maintain their Israeli citizenship will receive the same consular assistance, and in the same circumstances, as Israeli expats in any other foreign country, but nothing more.

If the answer to that question is “no,” then, I would argue there is no conceivable separation agreement that could ever be reached between Israel and the Palestinians of the West Bank. And that takes us right back to the single state, which is either genuinely binational or apartheid.

Beinart’s case for the death of the two-state solution is not premised upon annexation according to the Trump plan or Netanyahu’s campaign pledges. He argues that the settlements have already so penetrated the West Bank that separation is impossible. Indeed, there is a great risk that, if the current threat of formal annexation of whatever magnitude fades away, liberal, progressive, life-long Zionists will breathe a sigh of relief thinking that we have dodged a bullet.

More likely, considering 53 years of history since 1967, “creeping annexation” will continue as settlements in the West Bank expand and new settlements are created. Recent experience has shown that when the Israeli government reluctantly takes any steps against any settlement, even one that is illegal under Israeli law, those steps are accompanied by “compensation” to the settlement movement in the form of expansion of other existing settlements or transfer of the affected residents to another location in the West Bank to create yet another settlement. What “compensation” will Netanyahu feel compelled to provide if he fails to deliver on his annexation promises? 

Israel needs effective security. While a military presence in the West Bank is currently essential to Israeli security, civilian settlements in the West Bank contribute nothing to that security. Indeed, they exacerbate security issues.

I would be overjoyed to be confronted with a convincing rejoinder to Beinart’s first and primary argument. Like most liberal, progressive, life-long Zionists, I have clung to the two-state solution for decades as the basis for resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at some indeterminate time in the future.

Beinart challenges us to ask whether we are clinging to an illusion. If so, whither Israel as a Jewish and democratic state? Whither Zionism?


Joseph M. Steiner
Joseph M. Steiner

Joseph Steiner is a member of the boards of New Israel Fund of Canada, Prizmah: The Center for Jewish Day Schools, Bialik Hebrew Day School (of which he is a past chair), and the Shalom Hartman Institute, and an associate member of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel. He is a past chair of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and of its former Board of Jewish Education. The views expressed in this article are his own.

Small Acts Fill Big Needs

By ELIZABETH KATCHEN

It is difficult to put into words what we are going through right now. The unthinkable, the unbelievable, the heart-wrenching. We are in the middle of a global pandemic, something rarely conceived of in the past 100 years.

This is our reality, and while it is safe to say that everyone is experiencing a new set of challenges, some populations are harder hit than others.

Currently the United States, Brazil and Russia have staggering numbers of COVID patients, so much so that their citizens have been banned from entering the European Union.

The homeless are particularly vulnerable to the pandemic. Many have pre-existing health conditions, and due to physical distancing measures, fewer beds in shelters are available. Further, the usual resources, such as case managers assisting in the relocation of the homeless and following up with regular support, have decreased.

From another perspective, certain ethnic minorities are at higher risk of contracting the virus, of requiring hospitalization, and even of dying from COVID. While information is constantly updated, according to Statistics Canada, those at greater risk include Indigenous populations, among others.

In addition, Public Health Ontario has announced that sociodemographic and race-based data will be collected and used to plan for public health practices.

Like the rest of the world, the Jewish community has been shaken by the pandemic, both physically and economically. Of note is that the proportion of Jews dying in the Diaspora, as opposed to Jews in Israel, is much higher. Israel was able to contain the virus with extremely strict restrictions in place from the outset, despite a recent spike in infections after much of the country re-opened.

The Jewish community has a well-deserved reputation for philanthropy. Tzedakah (charity) in Judaism states that the giver benefits more than the receiver. In fact, it is a mitzvah (a commandment) to give 10 percent of one’s earnings to charity. Children from a young age are taught to give charity – even dropping a few coins in the tzedakah box can be a meaningful gesture. Maimonides, the great Jewish philosopher, identified eight levels of charity, each greater than the last. Now, during these most challenging times, is a perfect time to review these levels. Beginning with the highest, they are as follows:

Level 1 – Enabling another individual to be self-sufficient.
Level 2 – Giving when one does not know the recipient and the recipient does not know the giver: anonymous giving.
Level 3 – Giving when one knows the recipient, but the recipient is unaware of the giver.
Level 4 – The recipient knows the giver, but the giver is unaware of the recipient. This level allows for less shame to the recipient.
Level 5 – The giver gives directly to the recipient but without being asked.
Level 6 – The giver gives to the recipient after being asked.
Level 7 – The giver gives insufficiently, but still gives with a smile.
Level 8 – Giving in a reluctant manner.

Financial giving is certainly a timely gesture right now, but it is important to address other forms of charity that can also have a huge impact. Volunteering can reduce feelings of loneliness and provide a sense of optimism. Donations of non-perishable items are needed for food banks that are currently under greater demand. Checking on elderly neighbors (at a safe distance or by phone) is surely appreciated at this time. Fostering a pet is another special opportunity if you can safely care for an animal. If you have a special skill, such as website development, writing or marketing, do a web search for volunteer opportunities. The list goes on.

Tzedakah is supposed to be done with a full heart. Performed in a less willing manner, the effect is not quite the same. It is said that even presenting someone with a smile, and nothing else, is a form of tzedakah. Please help if you can. Consider what way would be meaningful to you, and do so with a smile. 


Elizabeth Katchen
Elizabeth Katchen

Elizabeth Katchen was born and raised in Victoria, B.C. and cares deeply about animals, the environment and the Jewish community. She is the former editor of FutureTense magazine, a national Jewish student publication, and a past freelance contributor to the Canadian Jewish News. Elizabeth is executive assistant to the programs department at Toronto’s Schwartz/Reisman Centre and Prosserman JCC.

Antisemitic Content on TikTok: The Clock is Ticking

By MARA BOSLOY

As a card-carrying millennial, I joined TikTok at the beginning of quarantine in March only to alleviate boredom (the social media app was used mainly by Gen Zs before quarantine). Once there, the algorithm eventually led me to Jewish TikTok. This means that a lot of the content that comes up on my feed is Jewish, which I enjoy.

Jewish content on TikTok could be anything from someone posting about their love of bagels and lox, to Jewish celebrities, to old bar/bat-mitzvah photos, to posting a funny story that happened at shul, and so forth.

I was initially shocked, although I shouldn’t have been, to find so many antisemitic comments and so much antisemitic content under various Jewish hashtags. A recurring theme that seems to exist on TikTok is that Jews will post Jewish content (not related to Israel) and immediately, antisemites will step in with comments like “Free Palestine,” “Israel doesn’t exist,” or, most simply, the Palestine flag emoji by itself.

This is where the problem begins. This is why Jews constantly point out that anti-Zionism doesn’t always equal antisemitism, but a lot of the time, it does. Antisemites constantly conflate anti-Zionism and antisemitism. It doesn’t matter to them that Diaspora Jews have nothing to do with the politics of Israel (or even necessarily agree with Israel). What matters to them is that they virtually weaponize themselves against any proud Jew posting on TikTok because, like a red cloth to a bull, they charge at sometimes even the hypothetical sight of Israel’s flag.

A Diaspora Jew who has never been to Israel and posts about the brisket their Bubbie made for Shabbat will get “Free Palestine” comments on their posts.

This is not even to mention all the solely antisemitic comments and posts, without reference to Palestine or Israel to be found on the app. This includes Shylockian stereotypes, and Holocaust denial/”humour.” This is also deeply troubling to young Jews wishing to scroll through wholesome Jewish content and instead finding a gas chamber “joke” because the user has used #Jewish, or related hashtags.

Because this app is dominated by people in their early 20s and below, they are largely influenced by their peers on how to think and what to think. It has gotten to the point where young people (including millennials)  wake up, check their phone for notifications on social media, and read up on the news that has been posted on social media, instead of checking a legitimate news source. This means that the clutter of short videos posted on TikTok provide instant information (whether the information is factual or not) for young people, without them needing to check references.

Non-Jewish teenagers will see a popular account posting antisemitic content, such as @the.juc, who has spoken about how all Jews are “white nationalists” and “colonizers.” Viral TikToks cause a mob mentality to form; if so many people engage in and enjoy the content, why shouldn’t one more person do the same?

Big account followings (or at the very least, an account with a lot of “likes”) tend to make young people feel that since those people have the platform, they must have the intellect to follow (which is damaging and untrue, as accounts can buy “likes”). These kinds of posts further promote antisemitism among young people. It is scary to think about how young people will grow up with easy access to antisemitism on a mindless app, absorbing the information and potentially digesting it as legitimate/news/facts.

Young Jews should not be made to feel uncomfortable on an app that is simply meant for passing the time. 

I am scared that we are going backwards with antisemitism and young people, and that the lack of education and surplus of quick views and likes will be ultimately quite damaging.


Mara Bosloy

Mara Bosloy is a publishing and editing professional currently working at a leading Canadian educational publisher.

Parshat Pinchas: History Has its Eyes on You

July 10, 2020 – By ILANA KRYGIER LAPIDES

In Parshat Pinchas, toward the end of the Book of Numbers, a census has taken place, presumably to assign land rights for when the Hebrews enter the Holy Land. The logistics unfold predictably until the five daughters of Zelofechad arrive at the Tent of Meeting requesting an audience to express their feelings of injustice regarding the culture of inheritance.

“Our father died in the desert…and has left no sons. Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no son – Give us a holding among the brothers of our father” (Num 27:3-4).

This is an extraordinary event in the Torah: Not only do these five women summon the courage to come forward; not only do they make a dignified case to inherit in this very male-centric society; not only are their names listed (Mahla, Noa, Chaglah, Milcah, and Tirtzah); and not only is the matter worthy of consideration, it is taken directly to G-d. At this stage, this would have been enough.

Then, without equivocation, Hashem tells Moses, “The plea of Zelofechad’s daughters is a just one… transfer their father’s share to them. Further, speak to the Israelite people as follows: ‘If a man dies without leaving a son, you shall transfer his property to his daughter’” (Num 27:7-8).

To say this passage is unusual is an understatement. Women are mentioned in our Holy Books, but rarely are their names listed, and even more rarely are they seen outside their roles as mothers or wives. More often than not, women in the Torah are noteworthy for the manner in which they assist or challenge men who make up the main narrative than for their own agency.

The women are treated in a respectful manner and the matter progresses seamlessly – no drama, no controversy – just a comforting message: Sometimes, when conditions are right, an injustice can be brought to those in power, considered, and corrected and not just for those in the immediate situation but as a legacy for those who come after. How wonderful!

Another thing that makes this instance remarkable is what doesn’t happen: In order for Zelofechad’s daughters to get their birthright, the men, who would have inherited, don’t dispute the women’s appeal. They just let it happen. Whether gracefully or ungraciously is unknown; there is no mention of anyone challenging the fairness of the request or complaining about G-d’s ultimate ruling.

An occurrence like this gives us faith in right-mindedness. There are times when the right thing to do is so obvious that anyone with a little seykhl (common sense) can see it: Wearing masks in large crowds, helping to change a culture in which Black people are in danger, petitioning for better health conditions in seniors’ residences, speaking out against antisemitism when the tinfoil-hat crowd creates outrageous conspiracy theories, and so on…

As one of our more well-known quotes urges: Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof – Justice, Justice, Shalt thou pursue (Deut. 16:20).

I had the pleasure of streaming the Broadway show Hamilton last weekend. Although my knowledge of U.S. history is limited, the George Washington character chants a song that feels very relevant:

“I know that we can win
I know that greatness lies in you
But remember from here on in
History has its eyes on you.”

Chaverim, history has its eyes on us. What will we tell our great-grandchildren about how we conducted ourselves during this complicated time? Will we be gracious and brave even if it means sacrifice? Are we on the right side of history?

At this time of upheaval and adversity, let us have the strength to tap into the greatness that lies in us and may we conduct ourselves with the integrity and dignity that defines the best of our tradition.


Ilana Krygier Lapides
Ilana Krygier Lapides

Ilana Krygier Lapides is a Jewish educator and storyteller. She is currently studying online with the Jewish Studies Learning Institute as a rabbinic student and will be ordained in June 2021.

‘Zionists not Welcome’ and the Responding Deafness

By JEFFREY WILKINSON

The phrase “Zionists not welcome” appeared as a hashtag in an Instagram post on or around July 1, 2020 from the owner of Foodbenders in Toronto. Soon after, an avalanche of criticism was directed at the restaurant’s owner, Kimberly Hawkins, led by pro-Israel advocacy groups which saw the post as blatantly racist and called for a boycott of the establishment.

In the past couple of days, Facebook and Instagram have been filled with responses (and responses to the responses) producing little, if any meaningful discourse, but instead, resorting to the usual tribal screaming and insults directed at those with opposing views, on both sides of the argument.

There is no simple right or wrong, as much as we would like to feel that we are completely on the right side, whatever that side is. There was, however, a great deal of propaganda peddled in the responses to the post.

If we take Hawkins literally – that she is banning Zionists from her store, and, by affiliation, banning most Jews – of course, this is highly offensive and totally inappropriate in a civil society. In a response in blogTO, Hawkins said that she, of course, welcomes Zionists and Jews; that she was making a political statement about Palestinian rights and would gladly have a conversation about this with anyone who is interested.

Many who were convinced that the post was, plain and simple, a clear example of antisemitism, immediately dismissed her claim.

There are some common ideas which inflame more than help, pushed by many in the outcry over the owner’s post. First, Zionists and Jews are synonymous, so banning Zionists is equivalent to the days of “No Dogs or Jews.”

Second, as one post stated, “Zionism is the Jewish national movement of rebirth and renewal in the land of Israel – the historical birthplace of the Jewish people. That’s it. It’s not support for a specific Israeli government or any actions of that government.”

Third, as the vast majority of Canadian Jews support Israel, the term “Zionist” equals “Jews.” In other words, if you are anti-Zionist, you are anti the vast majority of Canadian Jews and therefore antisemitic. This conflation has been a focal point of pro-Israel advocacy groups, particularly in light of the general acceptance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s definition of antisemitism by many Canadian governmental and non-governmental organizations, which connects certain types of criticism of Israel with antisemitism.

Each of these points is meant to reduce or silence criticism of Israel, and devalue the concerns of Palestinians and their supporters. A measure of how effective this has been is seen in how assuredly many people responding to Hawkins’ post took “Zionists are not welcome” to mean barring Jews, rather than seeing it as a political statement resisting the consequences of Zionism to Palestinians. In fact, she has an embossed decal on her store window stating “I Love Gaza,” not “I Hate Jews.”

In the many responses back and forth, blanket statements about Zionism are hurled at the other. While one post states; “Zionism is a colonial enterprise” and another fires back; “Zionism is an anti-colonial enterprise, resisting the Arab colonialists, creating freedom for an oppressed people.”

My concern here is to highlight the deafness that is rampant in the Israel-Palestine discourse these responses epitomize. Is there an irrefutable truth in the statements being tossed back and forth? Is anyone interested if there was?

Imagine a response from a Jew that went something like this:

Dear Ms Hawkins:

I am a Jew and I felt quite hurt by your Instagram post, particularly the hashtag “Zionists not welcome.” What do you mean by Zionists? Do you mean all people who have an affinity for Israel? Do you distinguish people who have no interest in what is happening to Palestinians from those, like me, who value Israel but have deep concerns over what Israel has become, particularly its harmful effects on Palestinians? Would you please clarify what you meant and be clearer in the future so that we can all learn and listen to each other with an ear towards healing rather than further division?

Sincerely, a concerned fellow Canadian.

If one were to respond in this manner, it might be possible to learn rather than demonize. We need to be more wary of those who are deepening the divide in the discourse about Israel-Palestine, and the conflict by stoking past traumas and forwarding only a zero-sum, us vs. them paradigm. By responding to a hurtful post with such force, the hurt is only magnified. We can be hurt and still listen. Another can offend us without us dismissing them. We can and must do better.


Jeff Wilkinson
Jeffrey J. Wilkinson, PhD

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

KIRMAN: Problematic monuments in Edmonton Force Us to Question Our Community’s Core Values

Educate, don’t celebrate

By PAULA E. KIRMAN

Over the past few weeks, activists around the world have dismembered, smeared, and toppled monuments to figures with morally and ideologically checkered pasts, renewing heated conversations about the historical implications of excising statues and place names honouring people once celebrated, but now viewed as problematic. 

Edmonton is also reckoning with its past. In recent weeks, a neighbourhood association in the city’s west end initiated a campaign calling upon the city to initiate an inclusive community process to rename their district, which is named after Frank Oliver, an early twentieth-century federal cabinet minister known for anti-Indigenous, anti-Black, and anti-immigrant policies. 

But there are other problematic place names and monuments in Edmonton. One of them is a bust of Roman Shukhevych, located at the entrance of the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex in the city’s north end. Shukhevych was supreme commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) during World War II and held leadership positions in the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. While viewed as a hero by Ukrainian nationalists for his anti-Soviet posture, Shukhevych shared the Nazi ideology and was responsible for commanding troops that committed massacres with the goal of creating an ethnically “pure” Ukraine free of Poles, Jews, and many others during the Holocaust.

I first heard of Shukhevych in 2017, when I was approached by Adam Bentley, an Edmonton-based filmmaker, to collaborate on a documentary about yet another monument to Ukrainian nationalists in the city. A major connection to my spiritual heritage as a Jewish person is tikkun olam (healing/repairing the world). I am also a working artist always seeking opportunities to incorporate my activism with my practice – both faith and artistic – so I was intrigued by the opportunity. 

Bentley, a fellow Jewish filmmaker, had discovered a monument in St. Michael’s Cemetery in north Edmonton. The English and Ukrainian plaques on the monument pay tribute to seven battalions who fought in World War II, including the UPA, Ukrainian National Army (UNA), and 14th Waffen SS Galicia Division, which was renamed the 1st Ukrainian Division shortly before the end of WWII. The latter division collaborated with the Nazis in their failed pursuit of Ukrainian independence against the Soviet Union, participating in massacres of Jews, Poles, Russians, and Ukrainians with communist sympathies. Our 2019 short film, A Monumental Secret, delved into the contentious nature of this monument through the narrative of two friends grappling with their knowledge of the monument’s history. During my work on the film, which features interviews with Drs. Per Anders Rudling and John-Paul Himka, two prominent academics who have studied the Ukrainian far right, Shukhevych’s name came up more than a few times. 

The film and my activism around the Shukhevych bust has generated its share of controversy in Edmonton. While the film has been officially selected for three Ukrainian film festivals, in Lviv, Bobritsa, and Kyiv, it has been rejected from a number of local Edmonton film festivals, despite funding from the Edmonton Arts Council. 

Following an episode about the monument on a local progressive politics podcast in October 2019, then a subsequent article in the Alberta Jewish News, a local Ukrainian journalist lashed out with angry emails and phone calls. More recent media responses from representatives of the Youth Unity Complex emphasize that Shukhevych represents freedom to the Ukrainian community, and anything else is just Russian propaganda intended to divide ethnic communities. Indeed, in 2017 Russia’s embassy to Canada had been tweeting about the Shukhevych monument, as well as the one in St. Michael’s Cemetery.

But attacking the source does not make the message untrue. 

There seems to be an ever-growing crescendo of awareness about controversial Edmonton monuments that have sat hidden in plain sight for decades. However, no one in Edmonton should feel comfortable with a monument to a Nazi collaborator in their city. Surprisingly, the Jewish Federation of Edmonton did not issue a statement on the status when I contacted the organization for comment in late 2019. 

shukhevych bust edmonton

The statue may be on private property, giving the impression it is for private recognition, but that argument is not valid for two reasons. One, we all live on stolen Indigenous land. Moreover, the bust (along with the St. Michael’s Cemetery monument) was erected with the help of public funds in the mid-1970s, from programs designed to promote multiculturalism in Canada. Second, a statue of a Nazi collaborator responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths to achieve “ethnic purity” is not appropriate anywhere. I am a Jewish person with ancestors from Ukraine; a statue to someone involved in the genocide of my people is deeply hurtful and unacceptable.

It is difficult when someone viewed by a community as a hero turns out to be flawed. The truth can hurt, but it should not be ignored. Denying the truth in this instance is a form of Holocaust denial. A statue is an image that may be silent, but the message that it—and the views of the people who blindly support it—can communicate, speaks volumes about the values that the community espouses. 

At the same time, removing a statue does not erase a person from history. Not telling the whole truth about a historical figure is what erases history—and what dooms us to risk repeating its mistakes. The accomplishments and achievements of someone can still be taught without putting someone up on a pedestal. The future of these problematic monuments is up to the communities in which they sit. These communities must search their souls to realize what these statues, having sat untouched for so long, say about their core values, and on what side of history they want to sit.


Paula E. Kirman lives in Edmonton, Alberta. She is a writer, editor, filmmaker, photographer, musician, and community organizer. Her website is WordsPicturesMusic.com. You can also follow her on social media: @apaulagetics. 

KATCHEN: The Pandemic, the Environment and Judaism

By ELIZABETH KATCHEN

There is no doubt that the COVID pandemic has been devastating in terms of health, social isolation, and the economy the world over. Despite this incredibly challenging time, some people have been given reason to smile. This bright outlook can perhaps be credited to taking a step back, taking stock of what’s really important, and taking some deep breaths – in many cases of cleaner air.

A decline in air travel has resulted in a decrease of 17 percent in daily global emissions, according to Nature Climate Change, and the waters are running clear in Venice’s canals due to the lockdown in Italy. However, the question is, will these benefits to the environment prevail or will the world fall back into old patterns and wipe out any gains?

Judaism played a pioneering role in protecting the environment. There are many sources dating to biblical times in which Judaism prioritizes land, animals, nature and sustainability. In one example, the concept of Tza’ar Ba’alei Chaim conveys the value of kindness to animals through preventing or relieving an animal’s pain. While this value is expressed in many different sources in the Torah, some of particular note can be found in Shemot and Devarim. In Shemot, the Torah tells us that if one sees an enemy’s donkey struggling under a load that is too heavy, one is obligated to help the animal.

In Devarim, the Torah instructs that if a person sees a friend’s donkey or ox fallen on the road, one is not allowed to ignore the animal, but rather should help it. The point in both situations is to teach us that regardless to whom the animal belongs – whether your best friend or worst enemy – the key is to help the animal.

Another poignant example of Judaism’s regard for the Earth is shmita, or the Sabbatical Year. This is a year of rest for the land which takes place every seven years in Israel. In the seventh year, the fields are not harvested. There are many benefits to this break in working the land, including an opportunity to spiritually reconnect with it and to give thought to our actions affecting the environment. Perhaps it may make sense to buy locally, to cut back on meat consumption, and to add more organic items to our groceries. By giving the land a rest, we too can pause and reflect on our relationship with the Earth.

Among the myriad of other sources highlighting Judaism’s prioritization of the environment is the law forbidding the cutting down of fruit bearing trees, or Bal Taschit (thou shall not destroy). In this case, the Talmud explains that one may not chop down a fruit-bearing tree except in particular circumstances, such as when the tree damages other plants. This law emphasizes preventing waste and preserving that which is valuable.

In the Jewish world, there are some wonderful organizations prioritizing the environment including the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and Shoresh. These institutions are leading the way with eco-friendly innovations. During the hectic rat race of life, it is easy to grab what is quick, convenient, and disposable. It is my hope that humanity’s pause gives rise to more mindful choices as we gradually reset to a new normal. 


Elizabeth Katchen
Elizabeth Katchen

Elizabeth Katchen was born and raised in Victoria, B.C. and cares deeply about animals, the environment and the Jewish community. She is the former editor of FutureTense magazine, a national Jewish student publication, and a past freelance contributor to the Canadian Jewish News. Elizabeth is executive assistant to the programs department at Toronto’s Schwartz/Reisman Centre and Prosserman JCC.

LAZAR: I Hope my Son Meets a Nice Jewish Boy

By MARILYN LAZAR

He had just turned three the first time he placed his feet on Israeli soil. That summer of 1991, those little feet waded into the waters of the Mediterranean, walked the sands of Gordon Beach, and stood in lineups at hotel breakfast buffets. Let’s face it, at that young age, my son might as well have been in Miami or Muskoka. Except for one pivotal moment, forever memorialized in a snapshot.

In the photograph, he’s sitting on a boulder, wearing colourful cotton shorts, squinting into the sun, sandaled feet dangling. Not monumental, except that the stone is on the grounds of Yad Vashem, and my late parents, Holocaust survivors, had taken us on this trip. His toddler smile beams, oblivious to the heaviness of where we are. “Is it disrespectful?” I asked my father before capturing the image. “Bringing him to this museum in this country is my victory over the Nazis,” he answered.

Twenty-eight summers later, my son made aliyah. He’d made multiple trips to Israel since that first one, including Birthright and March of the Living. More recently, several visits had spanned Pride in Tel Aviv, which last year attracted over 250,000 participants.

On Sunday June 21, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai made an announcement to coincide with Pride: The city would recognize same-sex unions and non-traditional partnerships. This will grant them the same benefits that matrimonial couples enjoy, such as daycare and reductions in housing taxes.

When one of my other kids posted the news on our family Whatsapp chat, my son quipped: “Long live the State of Israel!” But actually, this initiative is not state-wide. On the contrary. While gay marriage isn’t illegal in the country, the Chief Rabbinate, which has national jurisdiction over marriage, still refuses to perform or even recognize these unions.

Huldai declared: “We hope the government will also enter the 21st century and uphold the rights of the LGBT community in law… the right to marry, have equal parental responsibilities, be protected from hate crimes along with workplace bullying, and more.”

The Chief Rabbinate’s position affects not only same-sex unions but also interfaith couples and those seeking civil rather than a religious ceremonies. These couples are forced to travel abroad to marry (commonly to Cyprus). The state recognizes the marriage after it’s registered with the Ministry of Interior.

Yet my son’s celebratory comment, “long live the State of Israel” is so fitting. “Am Yisrael chai.” Chai. Life. To be alive is to grow and change, and so must the state of Israel in order to reflect and accommodate the values of the majority of its citizens.

Tel Aviv is an extremely liberal, gay-friendly city with a young population that embraces the pulsing vibrancy. But it’s not just about Tel Aviv. Opinion polls show that the majority of Israelis support the legalization of same-sex marriage as well as related issues such as adoption and surrogacy rights for same-sex couples.

Recognizing same-sex unions isn’t just for the young and hip, today and tomorrow. It’s also to honour yesterday. I refer back to that day at Yad Vashem my parents had viewed as a victory over the depths of discrimination and loss which they had endured. Jews were not alone in the concentration camps. Between 1933 and 1945, gay men and women were persecuted under Nazi rule in Germany. Thousands of gay men were imprisoned in concentration camps. A monument dedicated to the gay victims of the Holocaust was erected in Tel Aviv in 2014 (and in Berlin in 2008).

As a biblically “chosen people” with the Holocaust in our recent history, tolerance and equality should not just be a goal or a mitzvah, but a moral imperative.

A familiar Bible passage reads, “Don’t oppress a foreigner, for you well know how it feels to be a foreigner, since you were foreigners yourselves in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9) Do we want fellow Jews to feel like foreigners in their own land? The Talmud says: “One who acts from love is greater than one who acts from fear.” (Sotah 31a) Can we choose love over fear?

I hope my son meets a nice Jewish boy in Israel. Love is love.


Marilyn Lazar
Marilyn Lazar

Marilyn Lazar is a freelance writer with a background in culture, event and travel writing. Her personal essays focus on family, relationships, people and places.

ROYTENBERG: ‘Annexation’ Could Bring Palestinians to the Table

By DAVID ROYTENBERG

For a policy that has not yet been announced and whose details are unknown, the prospect of Israel formally extending its laws to cover additional territory in Judea and Samaria has provoked a great deal of reaction. It is reminiscent of the Palestinian Authority’s out-of-hand rejection of the proposed Trump peace initiative, long before its details were revealed.

In my inaugural article in the CJR, I outlined the sort of arguments we would be hearing from different sides on this issue. In this article, I will examine some of this pre-emptive reaction to the deadline of July 1, when Israel’s government has promised to start doing something about it.

Most of the world is opposed to unilateral action by Israel for various reasons, legal, moral or pragmatic. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which works to maintain the bipartisan support for America’s alliance with Israel, is not taking a position publicly, but is said to have acknowledged in private discussions with members of Congress that criticizing Israel over the issue is appropriate and won’t earn its disapproval.

On June 1, a group of retired Canadian diplomats called on the Trudeau government, in an open letter, to reaffirm its opposition to the acquisition of territory by force and its support of United Nations Resolution 2334, among others. The focus of this letter was the argument that any annexation by Israel would be illegal under international law. This letter was sponsored and sent to the government by the Ottawa Forum on Israel Palestine (OFIP), a group that regularly publishes commentary and sponsors speakers critical of Zionism.

Another notable response was a letter signed by more than 400 Jewish studies scholars, including CJR contributor Mira Sucharov. Notably, the language in this letter called the prospective annexation a “crime against humanity” and said it would “thereby create (de jure) conditions of Apartheid in Israel and Palestine.” This letter was co-authored by Syracuse Jewish Studies Prof. Zachary Braiterman, who wrote, “For me, it came down to an Israeli geographical envelope splitting Pal. territories into Bantustan-like enclaves with no right to vote or legal rights.”

These terms – “crime against humanity” and “apartheid” – draw on rhetoric favoured by left-wing critics of Israel, and the fact that moderate scholars like Braiterman signed on shows how alarmed many North American Jews are at the prospect of unilateral action by Israel to try to break the long stalemate in the conflict.

Use of the term apartheid evokes an extreme left-wing narrative, which identifies Zionism with European colonialism. For Zionists, this characterization is profoundly misleading and misguided, as it equates the Jewish movement to rebuild their homeland with conquests by European powers of far-flung lands to which they had no historical connection.

The letter is also written “in opposition to the continuation of the occupation.” This language treats the occupation as something that is Israel’s responsibility to end, in spite of the fact that no peace agreement has been signed with the Palestinians who claim the territory. In fact, although the occupation has indeed continued for many decades, it is also true that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has gone on for decades longer.

As long as the conflict is not resolved, the occupation is legal. Rhetoric that calls for its end, outside the context of a peace agreement agreed between the parties, is slanted against Israel, which has a right to have its security concerns addressed before ending the occupation.

Those of us who are concerned about the possible ramifications of annexation should also consider the possibility that the threat of annexation may, in part, be a strategy meant to bring the Palestinians to the table. As I completed this article, news emerged that the PA is proposing a resumption of direct talks with Israel.

At the same time, however, annexation plans as of late June appeared in disarray as Israel’s alternate prime minister, Benny Gantz, suggested it would have to wait while the country deals with its COVID crisis.


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.

GOLDBERG: Unraveling Jewish Conversions in Israel: Not an Easy Task

By DAVID GOLDBERG

Rabbi Andrew Sacks is a “glass half-full” kind of person. As the Conservative movement’s point man in Israel on conversions, Rabbi Sacks is confident that the day when recognition of all conversions to Judaism in Israel, whether conducted by Conservative, Reform or Orthodox rabbis, is within reach. This, despite the discriminatory treatment of those who seek recognition as Jews in Israel, but were converted by non-Orthodox rabbis in the Diaspora.

More specifically, there is the ongoing crisis affecting at least 350,000-400,000 members of the Russian immigrant community in Israel – or their Israeli-born children and (now) grandchildren – who are being denied recognition as halachically Jewish (born to a Jewish mother or to a mother who has undergone an authorized Orthodox conversion) by Israel’s Orthodox Chief Rabbinate.

Without such recognition, “non-Jewish” Israelis are denied access to Jewish lifecycle event services (marriage, divorce, burial) which fall under the purview of the Chief Rabbinate.

Contributing further to this crisis is the fact that every year, some 4,500 children are born in Israel to parents who are classifiedunder “no religion,” while about 5,000 new immigrants each year from Russia or former Soviet republics are not recognizedas Jews because they do not meet the Chief Rabbinate’s standards of Jewishness.

A December 2019 study issued by Hiddush, a non-profit organization founded in 2009 to promote religious freedom and equality in Israel, indicated that of the 180,000 who arrived in Israel between (roughly) 2000 and 2018, only 25,375 were halachically Jewish. The overwhelming majority – 154,474 – immigrated as family members of Jews (partners, children, grandchildren) though they themselves were not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate as Jewish.

A 2018 Israel Democracy Institute report warned that if the status quo on conversions, which favours the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate, is not reformed, the hundreds of thousands of “non-Jews” or those of “no religion” among Russian immigrants in Israel who already face problems in registering for marriage and in receiving equal rights because of their status, will continue to multiply. This, the report concluded, will soon mutate into a demographic crisis for the Jewish state.

Rabbi Sacks hastens to emphasize that the goal is not to deny the Chief Rabbinate its rightful role in the recognition of Jewish converts, but rather to encourage it to agree to a broadened process for recognizing prospective converts, one that formally accepts a fair and equitable role for the Reform and Conservative movements and their respective rabbinic authorities.

Rabbi Sacks’ optimism about the ultimate conclusion of this struggle is based mainly on the success of a series of petitions toIsrael’s Supreme Court since the groundbreaking Shoshana Miller case in 1986 that have supported the right of those converted by non-Orthodox rabbis to be formally recognized as ‘Jewish’ in Israel.

(Miller had converted to Judaism in a Reform ceremony in the United States. Immigrating to Israel in 1985, she challenged the Interior Ministry’s labeling her a “convert” in her identity documents because the Reform movement is not authorized to conduct conversions in Israel. In December 1986, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in Miller’s favour, acknowledging that labeling her a “convert” in her documents would be discriminatory, and that Miller’s identity would henceforth be officially recognized as “Jewish”).

Rabbi Sacks believes that the coordinated strategy of the Conservative and Reform movements in Israel of petitioning the Supreme Court with cases supporting the rights of non-Orthodox converts has the effect of chipping away at the Chief Rabbinate’s self-defined monopoly over recognizing conversions and of narrowing its legal options.

“The legal efforts are painfully slow but they are successful… Every court case we have pursued, we have won,” Rabbi Sacks told me by telephone on June 8.

In the beginning, the non-Orthodox advocacy groups were only able to get four or five cases before the Supreme Court each year. Today, the number is up to 500 cases annually.

Their efforts also are evidenced in the fact the Jewish-Israeli public is beginning to internalize non-Jewish conversions in Israel. A January 2020 survey by Hiddush found that 62 percent of Jewish Israelis “do not consider religious conversion through the Chief Rabbinate as a necessary condition for recognizing the Jewishness of immigrants who are the family members of Jews whose mothers are not Jewish.”

Among this 62 percent of respondents, 34 percent felt such immigrants should be unconditionally recognized as Jewish, while 27 percent felt recognition should be contingent on the completion of a religious conversion, whether Orthodox, Conservative or Reform [emphasis added].

Importantly, issues of conversion and civil marriage have now become electoral platform planks of mainstream political parties in Israel, including Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid.

Today, more and more conversions are occurring in Israel under the guidance of Conservative, Reform and other non-Orthodox rabbis. Having experienced a conversion that is more warm and welcoming, and less judgmental and demeaning than the Orthodox state process can be, thousands of Israelis are, said Rabbi Sacks, living a “proud Jewish life” in the way they choose to define it. The problem only arises when those converts wish to have a religious marriage in Israel. At that point, as things currently stand, they crash against an unyielding Chief Rabbinate.

The solution to this human tragedy, claimed Rabbi Sacks, is contingent on the recognition of Reform and Conservative rabbis’ authority in Israel to conduct both conversions and marriages.

Rabbi Sacks remains confident in the incremental process toward full recognition in Israel of those who elect to convert to Judaism through Reform or Conservative rabbis. There will be pushback from the Chief Rabbinate and the powerful Haredi-Orthodox establishment in Israel that supports it. But, positive change in the conversion process in Israel is within reach.


David Goldberg
David Goldberg

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

What’s My Motivation? Parshat Korach

By ILANA KRYGIER LAPIDES

A friend posted that her adorable toddler has discovered the magic and wonder of the word, “no.” Apparently, regardless of the question, the answer is always, “no,” spoken loudly, with hands on hips and a defiant twinkle in the eyes. Such is the power of finally having language with which to dissent.

We all go through this stage as we grow. For some of us, it lasts longer than for most, and for others, it never really passes. We all know contrarians who will insist that the sky is not blue because they enjoy the act of arguing too much to acquiesce, even when common sense says otherwise.

As Jews, we understand this compulsion to disagree and to question as a way to advocate for change. As I wrote in my previous Parsha, much of our motivation is for betterment, and that is apparent in our Holy Books.

When we read Parshat Korach in the book of Numbers, we learn that Moses’ first cousin, Korach, is leading a rebellion. He petitions to remove the seemingly arbitrary hierarchy of Moses as leader and Aaron as High Priest, and he gives a superficially reasonable argument: “You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” (16:3).

Moses does not question Korach’s right to argue about this. In fact, Moses begins making arrangements to come to a reasonable resolution. Then comes the kicker: Two of Korach’s followers, Dathan and Abiram, spit in the face of Moses’ efforts at diplomacy and say, “Is it not enough that you have brought us out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the desert, that you should also exercise authority over us?” (16:13).

Moses is stunned that, yet again, a false memory emerges, this fake news, of how wonderful life was in Egypt. He is so distressed by this bald-faced lie that his diplomacy departs and he ends up, with G-d’s help, dispatching the rebels to an abrupt and sandy death.

The Sages make clear that arguing was not the crime here. For them, it is the motivation behind the argument that determines its righteousness, or lack thereof. “Any dispute for the sake of Heaven will have enduring value, but every dispute not for the sake of Heaven will not have enduring value. What is an example of a dispute for the sake of heaven? The dispute between Hillel and Shammai. What is an example of one not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and all his company” (Mishnah Avot 5: 21).

In our daily interactions via email, social media, and family conversations, Korach can be a good “check engine” light. What’s going on under the hood? Are we gossiping? Are we tired, sad, lonely, hungry? It’s ok to disagree, as long as our motivations are for good. As the poet Rumi wrote, “Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates: Is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?”

It’s tiring to always have to be the grownup; sometimes our inner toddler comes out. Our culture today is full of off-the-cuff remarks, comments that sting, and trolls who want a laugh. But our problems are not going to be solved by juvenile responses. It will be kindness combined with understanding, and a heart full of well-meaning, that will bring us peace in the tumultuous days to come.


Ilana Krygier Lapides
Ilana Krygier Lapides

Ilana Krygier Lapides is a Jewish educator and storyteller. She is currently attending rabbinic school at the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute and will be ordained in June 2021.

My Jewish Experience: Creating Allies in the Fight Against Anti-Black Racism

By AKILAH ALLEN-SILVERSTEIN

When people see my last name, “Silverstein,” there is no mistaking it: My Jewishness is obvious. But the question is, more often than not, “So, I guess you’re married to a Jew?” I am light-skinned and wear a Star of David, so the assumption that I could not be mixed race is odd. My favorite is when I’m asked, “How did that happen?” While I generally hold my tongue, I often want to respond, “how did your parents conceive you?” to point out how ridiculous that question is.

My parents with me and my sister, Kitchener, 1992; Sybil, Akilah, Barry, Asha

While I realize there isn’t an overwhelming number of people who look like me within the tight-knit Jewish community, we exist and we’re not going away.

The questions started even before I was born. “I don’t know if we can be seen in a restaurant together, and what would you do with the children?” My grandfather had – let’s call them “questions and concerns” – when my father, an Ashkenazi Jew, introduced my Black mother, who had emigrated from the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, to his family.

My parent’s wedding, Guildwood, 1987, Sybil Allen & Barry Silverstein

I can comprehend his disappointment at her not being Jewish, but I can’t help but wonder that if she were white, would the concern of being “seen” have come up?

I was raised in the Caribbean in a predominantly Black society, and the only remnants of a Jewish community are a synagogue and cemetery from the 1700s on the sister island of Nevis. I visited Canada at least once a year and would spend lots of time with my father’s extended family. I have many wonderful memories of Passover seders, Chanukah celebrations and trips out to London, Ont. to visit with aunts, uncles and cousins.

Me, my sister and my cousins, Kitchener, 1995; Asha Allen-Silverstein, Drew Silverstein, Kate Silverstein, Akilah Allen-Silverstein

I have a wonderful relationship with my father and his family. Even my grandfather came around. After he passed away, I was overwhelmed helping to clean up his apartment, decorated with numerous photos of me, my sister, and her son, his first great-grandson, his absolute favourite.

Me and my grandfather, Toronto, 2014; William Silverstein, Akilah Allen-Silverstein
Me, my baby sister and my grandmother, Kitchener, 1992; Roma Zwickle, Asha, Akilah

When I returned to Canada and completed my undergraduate degree, I wanted to learn more and become more involved in the Jewish community. A Jewish coworker told me about Birthright Israel, and I was accepted on a trip in the spring of 2017.

I was nervous at first, assuming I would be the only Black participant. The voice in my head kept telling me I wasn’t Jewish enough. I had never gone to Hebrew school or had a bat mitzvah.

These fears were mostly unfounded. I wound up having a wonderful experience, and even celebrated my bat mitzvah on Masada. Meeting an Ethiopian Jewish woman and seeing many other ethnicities represented in Israel opened my eyes to the diversity of the Jewish people. And while I was the only Black participant on my bus, at least 15 others were from mixed marriages. I subsequently led a Birthright trip two years later.

Almog Tamim, Barak Berkowitz, Akilah Allen-Silverstein, Max Marmer (BirthRight, Israel, 2018)

My decision to lead a trip stemmed from my gratitude at being given such a wonderful gift, one that allowed me to develop a Jewish identity and be proud of my heritage in a way I did not understand before. I wanted to ensure no one feels like an outsider, and to remind them that being Jewish does not mean the same thing for everyone. I recently joined the Birthright Israel Foundation of Canada’s youth leadership counsel.

This is my story, but I’ve haven’t always felt as accepted as I let on. Many people in the community still don’t see me as Jewish, and when they do, it’s only because I’ve had to explain my existence.

Instances of blatant racism towards Black people are still far too prevalent. I was recently getting to know a new friend. She’s Jewish and has lived in Thornhill for 15 years after emigrating from Israel with her husband and son. She adapted quickly to the community and had many friends and relationships. But when she and her husband divorced, and a few years after she began dating a Black man, she was shocked by the hurtful and racist comments and responses she received from many Jewish friends who she had previously thought were open-minded, kind and accepting.

Late last year, I attended a diversity and inclusion workshop where a Jewish lawyer spent considerable time venting her frustration and shock towards the openly and unapologetic vocal racism her parents frequently expressed towards BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour).

Why is this behaviour so troubling? As a community, we have suffered immense trauma, oppression, and discrimination in the form of antisemitism. What group understands better how propaganda, harmful stereotypes, and systematic forms of discrimination and dehumanization can lead to unimaginable horrors?

We have, in many ways, become an insular society that prides itself on protecting and preserving our cultural heritage and religious traditions. This is beautiful, and many aspects of such a tight-knit community fill the stories my father tells me of his upbringing in London’s Jewish community.

However, Ashkenazi Jews in North America have benefitted immensely from their “white-passing” privilege, ensuring that they have been able to bypass certain systemic forms of racism which have disenfranchised BIPOC. As a Black Jewish woman, I cannot help but feel hurt and frustrated at the overwhelming silence from the Jewish community on most issues of race and the overt perpetuation and participation of racist behaviours towards Black people in particular.

Our Jewish teaching of tikkun olam is a concept defined by acts of kindness to repair the world. It’s a fantastic calling and crucial responsibility to which I want my Jewish community to take the lead, and to call out and be true allies against any form of racism against BIPOC. 

While I have, for the most part, been made to feel welcome in many Jewish spaces, I often wonder if I were single and happened to be dating an Ashkenazi Jewish man, would his family accept me in time, as my grandfather had? Would my Blackness be an issue? Would someone in the family still be concerned about being seen with me in public?

I would be remiss not to mention that over the last few weeks, I have been inspired by the numerous posts, personal notes and a true commitment to listening, understanding and being part of the proactive change that I have seen from some of my Jewish peers.

I’m hopeful that meaningful change may come about as true allies are developed with friends who can support, fight for, and work to undo the systemic racism and oppression still facing BIPOC. As someone who proudly identifies as a Black Jewish woman, I am asking you to take a hard look in the mirror and decide which side of history you want to be on moving forward.

My dream is to see both of my communities united in the fight for equality, liberation and the right of self-determination for all.


Akilah Allen-Silverstein

Akilah Allen-Silverstein lives in Toronto. She is a Certified Financial Planner, passionate about community engagement, gardening, cooking, exploring the outdoors, and travelling.

JUBAS-MALZ: ‘Never Again’: Jews for Black Lives

By DANIEL JUBAS-MALZ

As a teenager, my Zaide, Don Jubas, made headlines when he refused to enter a skating rink after his Black friend, Harry Gairey Jr., was denied entry. While a seemingly small act, his story influenced my perspective as a Jew and emphasized the necessity to combat racism in all forms. Today, I see this anti-racism work as core to my own Jewish identity. 

When I was younger, I learned about the Holocaust and white supremacy while in elementary school, and was unnerved to think someone would want to hurt me because of my Jewish heritage. We were partly exposed to these ideas through books like The Diary of Anne Frank or Hana’s Suitcase. Sometimes it was through guest lecturers at school assemblies. I cannot recall specifics beyond the sentiment, but I do remember each speaker reliably using the phrase, “Never again.”

“Never again” is a vow – made among Jewish and non-Jewish communities – to prevent another Holocaust. 

The discrimination afflicting the Black community now is reminiscent of events from our own history. Recently, protests have erupted across continents following the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man choked and killed by a police officer in Minneapolis. This is unfortunately one instance in a pattern of police brutality toward Black Americans, and against the backdrop of Black oppression faced over the last several centuries. The global response has brought together people from the United States, Canada, Japan, and several European countries to demand police reform and broad institutional changes to end anti-Black racism. 

As Canadians, we sometimes compare ourselves favourably to the United States, believing that we are not as afflicted by racism as our southern neighbours. Not only is that wrong, but it diminishes the urgency needed to tackle white supremacy in our own communities. A report from the Ontario Human Rights Commission found that Black people were over-represented in police statistics, making up 28.8 percent of use of force cases, 36 percent of police shootings, 61.5 percent of deadly use of force encounters, and 70 percent of fatal police shootings. Yet, Black Torontonians comprise only 8.8 percent of the city’s total population. A deep-seated, or systemic, racism reaches far beyond police encounters, and affects Black Canadians’ income and employment status. Through the Indian Act, the starlight tours, and ongoing governmental policy, we also see systemic racism towards Indigenous communities in Canada.

What is happening to members of the Black community looks different than what we white Jews have experienced. But the foundation – the seed beneath the soil – is the same. White supremacy is white supremacy is white supremacy. And we should be infuriated by all of it.

But change is possible, and we can play a crucial role in it. 

My Zaide’s story always ended when he and Harry left the rink. It was not until he passed that I learned what had happened, in a memoir by Harry’s father, Harry Gairey Sr., a civil rights activist at the time. Motivated by his son’s experience, Gairey Sr. approached his alderman and requested a meeting with Toronto’s city council. Gairey Sr. presented his case for racial justice, arguing that Black Canadians must receive the same rights as other citizens if they are also to be subject to conscription. Soon after, the City of Toronto passed a landmark ordinance that prohibited discrimination based on race, creed, colour, and religion. Gairey Sr. acknowledges the role of non-Black community members in his victory, remarking that, “I was the man that caused that ordinance to be passed, with the help of the good White people of Toronto.” 

Our efforts are essential. As non-Black folks, we must listen when Black Canadians tell us about their encounters with racism, amplify their voices, and provide them opportunities to speak about their experiences. 

“Never again” means that these tragedies should not ever happen – in any form – to anyone. There is no asterisk. Harry Gairey Sr.’s experience shows us that we can make the progress we need and ensure discrimination does not define the generations that come after us. And right now, our Black neighbours need our help responding to police brutality and other manifestations of systemic racism. Their battle is ours and no fight is too small.

Here is a short list of educational resources and actionable items we can use to get started: 


Daniel Jubas-Malz

Daniel Jubas-Malz is a graduate of the Master of Public Health program at the University of Toronto. Through his writing, he hopes to encourage thoughtful dialogue and the development of open spaces where challenges can be identified and solutions co-created among communities.

BABINS: Judaism will survive social media

By ZACK BABINS

Let’s reframe the question. 

You hear it, always a problem, all the time. The 2013 Pew study (titled “A Portrait of American Jews” – though it’s become so widely cited in this discussion that I could just call it “the Pew study” and would be generally understood) confirmed what some have suspected for a long time – young Jews, to the naked eye, just aren’t interested in Judaism anymore. 

We’ve survived pogroms and persecution, oppression and genocide, discrimination and terror. We’ve survived the Romans and the Babylonians, the Nazis and the Soviets, and everyone else who tried to wipe us out. But Facebook and smartphones are going to destroy Judaism.

Shul attendance among Gen Y and Z is in decline. Day school enrollment is declining. Intermarriage – the boogeyman of Jewish assimilation – is up. 

Put simply, we’re losing what being Jewish is all about. So they tell us. 

A few quick points about those issues, before we reframe. 

I think if we wish to keep these institutions alive – as the handwringing seems to indicate – we need to examine why they are in decline. 

The Jewish middle class, along with the rest of the middle class, is being financially squeezed like never before. Wages are stagnating while the cost of living rises. Synagogue membership is expensive, and Jewish day school tuition is, generally speaking, costlier than a university degree. If we want these institutions to stay alive, we need to make them affordable to the people who are increasingly unable to afford it. 

Another quick point: we need to address how we discuss Judaism in our own homes. You cannot lament the collapse of synagogues then attend 3 days a year, for less than 2 hours. If you, in front of your children, justify your Judaism with the language of obligation, don’t act surprised when your children don’t feel joyful about Judaism. 

But, like I said, I wanted to reframe the question. 

Because Judaism, and the Jewish people, are not going away. What we are seeing is a slow and gradual redefining of what Jewishness is and means. 

It’s happened before. The definition of Jewishness has been in a state of near-constant evolution throughout our history.   

Until the Temple was destroyed, Judaism took the form of (largely) animal sacrifices and burnt offerings. Rabbinic Judaism, the kind we practice in the West, developed as a panicked, last ditch effort to save Judaism altogether.

The Hasidic movement only arose around 300 years ago. The nationalistic Zionism that led to the creation of the physical state of Israel only began in earnest in the late 19th Century. 

These massive synagogues with thousands of members, and these days schools, would be virtually unrecognizable to the majority of our ancestors. They are a product of 20th century Judaism and if they fade and fall, they will be replaced by something else. 

The question of what being a Jew means is in flux, and it always has been. 

Today, Jewish identity among young people takes many forms. Some of us “find religion” and join a Hasidic movement and some of us resentfully accompany their parents to shul, participating as minimally as possible “until we’ve been here long enough to go home.” 

Some young Jews take up a community spirit and join Jewish fraternities or sororities, leadership in a campus Hillel, or any of the other alphabet soup of Jewish organizations. Some avoid organizations entirely. 

Some young Jews take the values inherent in Judaism and turn it into activism. Some of us fight against anti-Semitism, some of us fight against racism, some of us fight for economic equality. Some of us fight for Israel, some of us try and hold Israel accountable, and yes, some of us fight against Israel. All rooted in a deep Jewish identity. 

And yes, some of us just like bagels and smoked meat, Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, Spaceballs and summer camp. Some of us are culturally Jewish. 

The question, in truth, is one for you, dear reader. The question is not “will Judaism survive the millennials?” and it never has been. The question for you is “what do I want Judaism look like in 500 years, and how will I do my part to make that happen?”

We will survive, we always do. It’s up to us to decide how.


Zack Babins

Zack Babins is a Professional Jew and Recovering Jewish Professional™, an occasional political communicator and a constant seeker of attention.

STARKMAN: Where is the Outrage to ‘Simply Following Orders?’

By STACEY STARKMAN

Of all the disturbing images and incidents we have witnessed since the brutal murder of George Floyd was broadcast to the world, of all the unbearable acts of cruelty caught on camera and the revolting and racist statements made in the days following, there is one official comment that seems to have gone undetected and unremarked by the global Jewish community.

It is one that we should have noticed, and responded to with profound outrage.

The comment was made in the aftermath of the incident in which an elderly Black Lives Matter protester in Buffalo, N.Y. was shoved to the ground by two police officers and left by the offenders and their colleagues, prone and bleeding on the ground.

It was an appalling act which led to the suspension of the two police officers involved. Upset by this suspension, 57 members of the city’s Emergency Response Team resigned in protest.

As explanation for their violent response to a peaceful protester, a police representative, quoted in USA Today, clarified, “Our position is these officers were simply following orders…they were simply doing their job.”

This is the comment that should raise a shiver of alarm throughout the collective Jewish consciousness. This is the phrase that all Jews understand in our blood and bones to be the epitome of horror: “They were simply following orders.” It is a phrase which, more than any other, so infamously encapsulates the absolute evil of the Holocaust.

And now, as the world remains on a COVID-induced pause and people have the time to really see and understand the too-often fatal injustices endured by Black communities in the U.S. and around the world, this phrase is being used to defend an indefensible act of cold-hearted violence by police.

Perhaps it was due to the offhand nature of this comment – included in a broader statement on an act of shameless abuse – that this particular remark was overlooked. I feel certain, however, that if the context were different, these words would have been treated as blasphemy, and set the Jewish world on fire.

I understand our community’s reluctance to criticize the police. After all, our good relationship with law enforcement is a relatively recent achievement. We know, or at least our forebears knew, what is felt like to be hunted.

But the world has changed. Today, we count on the police to keep our community safe. They guard our schools, community centres and synagogues. In a world where armed gunmen have not hesitated to kill Jews in our communal spaces, our ties to the police are precious, and we want to cultivate and safeguard them.

At the same time, we must recognize that the very same people who make us feel safe and protected instill growing fear in Black communities. Their experiences with the police too often lead to violence and, as in the case of George Floyd, death. Black children are schooled in how to respond to police by parents anxious to keep them safe from the deadly weapons of law enforcement.

It’s a difficult circle to square. But we cannot as a community feel truly safe until every community is truly safe. And when a phrase used to excuse the most horrifying mass genocide in human history is employed in the service of police brutality, it’s time we take notice. We know where this line of thinking leads.

It is not too late to cry out against this atrocity. It is never too late to rage against injustice. And, in this difficult time, at this critical moment, we know in our hearts where our community must stand.

And it must never be with those who justify violence because they were “simply following orders.”


Stacey Starkman
Stacey Starkman

Stacey Starkman is a communications professional in the Jewish community. A Tim Horton’s steeped tea enthusiast, she writes about tikkun olam in between sips.