AVIV: I’ve Had it With Jewish Ignorance…

By DAN AVIV

…and here’s a recent example. As a Jew, I loved the idea of the “Saturday Night Seder.” Over a million people watched it, and the organizers raised more than $3 million for the CDC Foundation. However, as a Jewish educator, I cringed for much of the hour and 11 minutes. Though Billie Porter’s performance was transcendent, there were so many mundane moments with Jewish stars joking about how little they knew or how much they hated their religious instruction. Non-Jews like Rachel Brosnahan, Darren Criss and Josh Groban seemed to know more about Passover traditions than their Jewish counterparts. (Now that’s a good bit.)

Whatever might explain this shtick, it’s not about a lack of pride. Surveys indicate that Jews are flush with it. The 2013 Pew Research Study reported that 94 per cent of American respondents agreed that they are “proud to be Jewish.” Three-quarters said that they have “a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people.” Eighty-three per cent of “Jews of no religion” reported being proud to be Jewish. The numbers in Canada are as strong, if not more so. The 2018 Survey of Jews in Canada recounted that “[t]wo-thirds of Canadian Jews say that being Jewish is very important in their lives, with most of the rest indicating that it is at least somewhat important.”

Pride isn’t the problem. The “being Jewish” part is. 

Even though it happened what seems like years ago, the Seder still resonates with lessons. The Haggadah presents us with the four children as archetypes, clearly privileging the good child. We all want to be like them, wise and questioning. But even the bad child is included in the conversation, and the latter two children, as feckless as they are, are part of the experience – with concrete tips for how to best address their learning needs. No one is irredeemable. No one is unteachable.

The rabbis in the Mishnah thought similarly about the unlearned, or am-ha’aretz. It’s bad to be an am-ha’aretz, but it’s important to stress that being one is not the person’s fault. Their state of mind could be a result of bad schooling or no schooling at all. And even though Hillel said an am-ha’aretz could not be pious (Avot 2:5), he also taught that only the bold can learn and only the patient can teach.

It takes true courage to admit that you don’t know. Perhaps humour helps to lessen the sting of such an admission. Hopefully, there’s a patient teacher on hand to hear that and acknowledge it.

In other words, it’s on educators and schools to fix ignorance. Toronto’s day school system is extensive but largely focused on educating its students and graduating them. Whether all of these schools survive in a post-COVID world remains to be seen, but we have an opportunity to redefine Jewish learning.

In 2005, Jack Wertheimer argued that “[t]he current challenge in the field of Jewish education is to link the silos, to build cooperation across institutional lines and thereby enable learners to benefit from mutually reinforcing educational experiences.” What we did instead was spend 15 years building more silos.

ADRABA, a program I launched with Sholom Eisenstat and Frank Samuels, seeks to address not only the casual acceptance of ignorance in the Jewish community but also the silo problem.

ADRABA blends traditional teaching with technology to enhance learning. How we design curriculum, use space and construct the learning day reflects this forward-looking pedagogy, one that seeks to take learning outside the immediate bounds of the classroom and the traditional school.

For example, in a unit on Bereisheet (Genesis), we integrate a virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel and invite a comparison/contrast of the frescos with scripture and commentary. In another lesson, we explore the Israel Museum’s Pessah seder plate collection as inspiration for designing and fabricating our own at a “makerspace.”

We also dedicated an entire curriculum to exploring how Jews eat and what this says about our culture, values and traditions. Once the bounds of the traditional classroom are removed, the possibilities are endless – and the learner drives learning.

When it comes to the silo problem, we have worked intensively to establish partnerships with a diverse roster of Jewish institutions downtown. Our shared goal is simple: We want to provide additional options for Jewish learning for Jewish teens who aren’t already part of “the system.” In a reality where resources are limited, we don’t need to duplicate efforts. We need to maximize them.

Being Jewish and proud is wondrous. But it’s not a shtick, and like the opening improv gambit, it’s only the beginning. When someone says they’re proud to be Jewish, I’m quick to reply: “Yes. And?”


Dan Aviv
Dan Aviv

Dr. Dan Aviv is the Lead Educator and Design at ADRABA (adraba.ca), Toronto’s newest and only blended learning Jewish high school.

A Household Name, and Facing Racism in Society

By RABBI MICAH STREIFFER

It’s amazing how quickly the world can change. Nearly two weeks after his death under the knee of a police officer, George Floyd has become a household name and his memory has become the catalyst for a burgeoning anti-racism movement. How are we, as Jews and Canadians, to respond to this moment? What wisdom can our tradition and our history lend us?

We find this in Torah.

When a man or woman commits any wrong toward a fellow person, thus breaking faith with the Eternal, they shall confess the wrong they have done and make restitution (Numbers 5:5-6).

Ostensibly, this passage is about theft, but the Rabbis assert that it is actually about humanity. For one thing, it teaches that a wrong against a fellow human is also a wrong against God – an expression of our value that people are created B’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image.

Further, the Etz Hayim comments that “every breach of faith is a form of theft, stealing another’s trust under false pretenses.” So this text is actually an admonishment of the way that we fail to recognize the image of God in our fellow human beings – how we steal one another’s dignity and treat some people as lesser. This is exactly the discussion that is being called for in our society.

In some ways, the unrest we are watching south of the border is a uniquely American phenomenon, born of slavery and of centuries of discrimination against African-Americans. But let’s not kid ourselves: Racism is not limited to one country.

Canada has a complicated relationship with racial justice issues. On one hand, we live in a society that prides itself on diversity, where you can keep your name and heritage and still be Canadian, and where the streets are filled an incredible rainbow of diversity.

But we also live in a society with a deep history of discrimination. Canada had slavery, both the enslavement of Indigenous people and the importation of African slaves. The numbers were considerably smaller than south of the border, but the practice existed. Canada also has a history of mistreatment of its Indigenous peoples, from forced assimilation, to the restriction of individual liberties, to the tragedy of residential schools.

A history of unaddressed systemic discrimination can only lead to a present that includes systemic discrimination. And that is where we are today. According to recent studies, Black Canadians earn, on average, one-fourth to one-third less than new immigrants who are not a visible minority.

Black Canadians have an unemployment rate five to seven percent higher than other Canadians, and are less likely to be able to obtain a university degree.

Indigenous people experience unspeakable levels of poverty: Four out of every 10 Indigenous children live in poverty. And Indigenous women are far more likely to be victims of violent crime.

Both Black and Indigenous Canadians are overrepresented in Canada’s prison system because of underlying issues like poverty and unequal access to education, and because of their strikingly different treatment in the justice system.

And in just the last few weeks, there have been several notable cases of police violence against Black and Indigenous Canadians, some with tragic results.

In other words, we live in a society that has a racism problem. Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau affirmed that “there is systemic discrimination in Canada, which means our systems treat Canadians of colour, Canadians who are racialized, differently than they do others.”

The fact that we can say this out loud is an important step forward. The fact that our children study the residential schools, that we have a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, that the Ontario government has pledged money to help the Black community recover from COVID – all these represent steps in the right direction. But they are also reminders that there is much work to be done. 


We Jews have our own history of persecution, which makes us sensitive to this issue. Many in our Canadian Jewish community are the descendants of Holocaust survivors. And our tradition speaks to the importance of upholding the dignity of every human being: As it says in Tractate Sanhedrin of the Talmud (37a), “Anyone who destroys a single life is considered to have destroyed an entire world.”

With those as our values and with this as our history, we need to be a voice for the dignity of our neighbours.


In this moment of transformation, it is important to listen. After all, what higher Jewish command is there than shema – listen? Let us listen to the stories being told in the public square – stories of pain, sorrow, and hope. Let us open our eyes to the lived experience of people of colour, and to the realities of institutionalized racism in our society. And let us, as a society, begin to transform that listening into systemic change that can make a difference in people’s lives.


Rabbi Micah Streiffer
Rabbi Micah Streiffer

Rabbi Micah Streiffer is spiritual leader of Kol Ami, a Reform congregation in Thornhill, Ontario

Kvetching and 20/20 Hindsight: Parshat Beha’alotecha

By ILANA KRYGIER LAPIDES

In the opening scene of Annie Hall, Woody Allen’s highly-strung character Alvy Singer jokes about two elderly Jews having dinner at a resort. One turns to the other and says, “Boy, the food here is really terrible.” The other answers, “And the portions are so small!”

We Jews have a reputation for kvetching, and nowhere is that more apparent than in this week’s parsha, Beha’alotecha.

The Israelites have kvetched in the desert before. Following the Exodus, they cried, “You have brought us out here into this desert to make us all die from hunger.” (Exodus 16:3). Moses advocated for his people and G-d sent manna.

This time, the kvetching is different. It happens, not because the people are hungry, but because they are bored. “…the children of Israel once again began to cry, and they said, ‘Who will feed us meat?”’ (11:4)

As the story progresses, G-d is unimpressed. G-d promises to provide meat until it is, literally, coming out of their noses (11:20). With the meat “still between their teeth,” many Israelites are struck by a plague and the most egregious offenders are killed.

It’s not such a mystery where the chutzpah to complain comes from. Our people have a proud history of creating systems designed to work better than before. The entire Talmud is filled with arguments around how to make Judaism and the world better.

As Rabbi Jonathan Saks says, “Judaism is a faith for those who seek to change the world… (it)is a protest against the world that is in the name of the world that ought to be…to make a difference, to change lives for the better, to heal some of the scars of our fractured world.”

The most baffling part of the parsha is not the complaining, but that, as justification for wanting to have a more diverse diet, the Hebrews hark back to when they were slaves: “We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt free of charge…” (11:5). Are the Israelites really saying that they would trade their freedom for fish?

We have to remember that for centuries, these people were slaves. Being a slave is a little like being a child: You don’t have much power but the basics are provided for you. In contrast, being a free adult is accompanied by great responsibility. It can be scary and exhausting. As adults we often yearn for the simplicity of childhood. We refer to years past as the “good old days.” We forget that childhood is chock full of its own difficulties, anxiety and fears.

All the more so when we speak of society. It may seem that 50 years ago, things were better. We remember a simpler, sweeter, more wholesome time. We forget it was also a time of bitter turmoil: Wars, racism, crime, sexism. For some, just being who they were was a criminal offence. Our memories are precious but sometimes they fool us and paint the past with sentimentality.

In our world today, there are some systems that are still not working and we struggle to come to terms with that. It is tempting to stay in innocence, to live, as they say, with the devil you know. But that is not a full life. A life stuck in nostalgia is stunted, cowardly, and ultimately will rot. The solution is not just to yearn for times past, but to face forward with a brave heart; to strive for justice, have faith, and continue our difficult journey toward the Promised Land.


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.

BABINS: Why I Marched

By ZACK BABINS

On Saturday, May 30, I walked from my apartment in downtown Toronto to Christie Pits Park (it took me over an hour on foot) to join with thousands in protest of the (recent) murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who fell from her 24th floor balcony during an interaction with the Toronto Police, the details of which are still forthcoming, and far too many other Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC). 

As I approached Christie, I saw hundreds of people walking the same way, carrying signs and, yes, wearing masks. 

Before I begin, please do not dismiss this protest as “dangerous in the time of COVID.” The organizers of the demonstration made very clear that they would be making it as safe as possible – masks and hand sanitizer were available – and nearly everyone I saw was wearing a mask. A friend of mine marched with her bicycle basket full of water bottles and hand sanitizer taped to the side. 

Was it as safe as sitting at home, in the dark, covered in hand sanitizer? No, but we’re trying to do something here. 

The significance of starting this protest in Christie Pits was not lost on me, though I’m not sure it was fully clear to many present. 

In 1933, Christie Pits was the site of a long and brutal riot following a baseball game between the predominantly Jewish and Italian Harbord Playground team and the predominantly White St. Peter’s Church team. After the final out, the Toronto Swastika Club, which, I assure you, was a real entity in 1933, unveiled a massive blanket with, you guessed it, a swastika on it. The Jewish and Italian players rushed them in anger, and thus began a six-hour riot. 

Solidarity with the oppressed, and fighting against fascism, racism and hatred are values baked into the history of Christie Pits Park. 

So why did I leave my comfortable apartment, and my comfortable existence, to potentially endanger myself. 

Not only is the Big Rona still a concern, but similar demonstrations all over the United States have become violent, with the police – who are much more heavily armed and armored than the protesters themselves – clashing with protesters and firing at journalists. The Toronto Police officers present, on the other hand, did not come heavily armored, and were stoic and cautious. This could easily have not been the case. 

So why did I march? Why did I risk it for something that doesn’t target me? 

I marched for my friends, and their families: people of colour who have been targeted, stalked, harassed and worse, for no reason but the colour of their skin. I marched to help them carve out another inch of a world where that is not the case.  

I marched because I can risk it, because I have the privilege to not be targeted. I’m a short, white-skinned man, and I will never be at the same risk, for doing the same thing as black and Indigenous peoples in this country. I am not seen as a threat to law enforcement. If I commit a crime, I am much more likely to be arrested and face trial rather than be killed. 

I marched because I am Jewish. “Justice, Justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live in the land that G-d has given you” Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, and I marched because I am commanded to pursue justice. I marched because we are taught that to take a life is to destroy a world, and I’m not interested in world destroying. 

I marched because even though I was scared of being exposed to the coronavirus and because I was terrified of police backlash, we marched for the exact same reason we locked down – to save lives. Pikuach nefesh. We locked down our society to hopefully save lives from a virus. We marched to hopefully save lives from police brutality and racism.  

This pandemic is a moment for our society to examine itself and ask not “when can we get back to normal” but instead, ask the question “how can we come out of this better than we went into it?” We need to make sure that the society we locked down to save is better for all of us, and that nobody, nobody gets left behind. 

I marched so that hopefully, one inch at a time, we stop leaving people behind.


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

BLOCK: Questioning Our Own Attitudes, Whether at York or Concordia

By STEPHEN BLOCK

An independent report by Justice Thomas Cromwell on a violent confrontation that took place at York University on Nov. 20, 2019 was well described in the CJR edition of June 2. On that date last autumn, Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) disrupted an event organized by Herut Canada in which Herut had invited Israel Defense Forces reservists to speak. Both clubs were sanctioned by York. The altercation was indeed very violent, with both sides expressing concern for physical safety.

Cromwell noted that “especially in the United States, universities have been exploited by controversial speakers who see the schools as prestigious and inexpensive venues.”

This is not a new phenomenon. Concordia University faced a seemingly similar situation when Benjamin Netanyahu was to deliver a speech sponsored by Hillel Concordia on Sept. 9, 2002. I was present at that event and can offer some context.

I was also in Israel in March 1996, a few months after Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. It was common knowledge then that Netanyahu had done what he could to incite people to oppose the accord that Rabin was to sign with Yasser Arafat. Netanyahu and right-wing conservatives saw the Oslo Accords as a giveaway to Israel’s enemies. Netanyahu himself said that Rabin’s government was “removed from Jewish tradition…and values.”

In plain language, they were not real Jews.

The anti-Rabin, anti-peace rallies were ubiquitous throughout Israel. Labour was compared to Nazis; Rabin portrayed in the crosshairs of a gun, in a coffin, or a hangman’s noose, was compared to Hitler.

If we are to openly discuss hate speech directed at Jews, can we put such events on the table as well?

Hillel’s invitation to Netanyahu seemed like tacit support – a political statement. Clearly, it was seen as – let’s say – provocative. To be fair to Hillel, the group subsequently seemed to have changed its views and adopted a more inclusive approach.

The situation at York was quite different. Held some 17 years after the Concordia incident, there isn’t much question about Herut’s position here. Herut, or the “freedom” party, is not devoid of controversy. Founded in 1948 as a right-wing nationalist political party, it was denounced at the time by prominent Jews, mainly on the left, as “fascist,” even “terrorist.” Herut was mainstreamed when it merged with the Likud party in 1988.

And what of the Jewish Defence League, which was asked by Herut to provide “security” at the York event? The JDL has been characterized as a violent, anti-Arab Jewish nationalist organization. Following an internal review, York banned the Canadian director of the JDL from its campuses.

Defending Herut’s right to hold such an event should pose a special problem for Jews, not just for York. The question of religious-based campus organizations itself requires some focus. We are living in a world where we see the rise of religious nationalism, be it Muslim, Christian or Jewish, and now Hindu. Encouraging students to congregate among their own exclusively may be at the heart of the question, the result of which we only see when it breaks out into open conflict.

Where I work, we have an annual Trip for Tolerance, where students of any persuasion or background make a trip to a Holocaust memorial museum. But it is never meant to be “weaponized,” as Americans would say, merely to call out antisemitism. 

On the matter of the IDF, I found my own family in Israel divided, post-1967. One cousin spoke only of the need for security, and of anti-war proponents as “naive.” On the other side, my kibbutznik relatives decried the militarization of Israel, and that they were told to spy on their Arab neighbours with whom they used to share the tilling of the soil.

We are not in Israel. We can afford a broader perspective, one that examines our own attitudes and questions the behaviour of those who claim to represent us, or speak on our behalf.

We as Jews know all too well that right-wing extremist organizations invoke “freedom” as their primary interest and decry the limiting of their speech or behavior, or both. As Jews, we need to apply that same test to our own.


Stephen Block
Stephen Block

Stephen Block teaches political philosophy and Propaganda Studies at Vanier College in Montreal. Brought up in a Zionist tradition, he has turned his attention to Middle East peace advocacy.

MENDELSOHN: Indigenous Land Acknowledgments – A Jewish Version

By AURORA MENDELSOHN

For the past several years, Canadians have begun events with an acknowledgment that the land upon which the occasion is taking place was once the “traditional territory” of an Indigenous nation. This is done as part of an effort to raise awareness of our county’s past – of how it harmed Indigenous people and how, as a country, we must create reconciliation – an attempt to name and repair the harm.

These acknowledgments have been made by Canadian Jews as well, at shul during services and other occcasions. During Shabbat services a few months ago, I was struck by how we, as Jews, have a unique perspective on this issue. As Jews, we know what it means to lose one’s land, to be persecuted, and to be a minority religion and culture. We also understand that the wounds of oppression and displacement do not end with the person who suffered the initial trauma. We know the damage of the Holocaust didn’t end with liberation, or with the State of Israel. There are second and third generation reverberations and trauma on individual and collective levels.

Similarly, the pain of Indigenous people didn’t end with an apology from the prime minister or the closing of residential schools. It lasted for many generations and continues. While most of our ancestors were nowhere near North America at the time of the initial attacks on Indigenous people, we are still obligated to work for justice as Canadians who benefit from the land and its resources.

The combination of my Jewish obligation to work for justice and hearing land acknowledgements week after week in shul made me feel a need for a ritualized, Jewish version of the land acknowledgment, which I wrote and I am sharing here. 

Illustration by Irv Osterer

Like traditional Jewish declarations, this Jewish version of an Indigenous land acknowledgment begins with a kavanah – an intention, and includes Torah study. The traditional formulation, “here, I am ready and prepared,” is used for intentions that precede action, and so is appropriate here, since a land acknowledgment is intended to spur us to concrete action.

The phrase “for the sake of unification” comes from Kabbalistic formulation of intention originated by Rabbi Isaac Luria in the 16th century and reminds us to hope for a country where we are unified and free of divisions and discrimination:

הִנְנִי מוּכָן וּמְזוּמָּן \ מוּכָנָה ומְזַמֶּנֶת לְקַיֵּם מִצְוַת הַכָּרָת רִבּוֹנוּת הָאָרֶץ לֶשֶׁם יִחוּד.
כָּכַּתוּב:
וּנְטַעְתִּים, עַל-אַדְמָתָם; וְלֹא יִנָּתְשׁוּ עוֹד, מֵעַל אַדְמָתָם אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לָהֶם אָמַר, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיך
(עָמוֹס ט:טו).
וְהָאָרֶץ, לֹא תִמָּכֵר לִצְמִתֻת כִּי-לִי, הָאָרֶץ: כִּי-גֵרִים וְתוֹשָׁבִים אַתֶּם, עִמָּדִ (וַיִּקְרָא כה:כג).

Here we are, ready and prepared to acknowledge the sovereignty of the land as we are commanded for the sake of unification.

As it is written: God said I will plant them on their land and they will no longer be removed from their land which I gave them. (Amos 9:15).

The land shall not be sold permanently because the land is Mine, since you are all immigrants and resident-settlers according to Me (Leviticus 25:23).

The phrasing that recognizes the Jewish perspective was first used by educator Sarah Shamirah Chandler at the Parliament of World Religions in Toronto in 2018. The text includes wording, since updated, from the City of Toronto’s Land Acknowledgment and the nations mentioned are specific to Toronto.

Land Acknowledgment – הַכָּרָת רִבּוֹנוּת הָאָרֶץ

This land is the traditional territory and sacred land of many nations including: the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples. It is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. We acknowledge that Toronto is covered by Treaty 13 with the Mississaugas of the Credit and the Williams Treaties signed with multiple Mississaugas and Chippewa bands. This territory was the subject of the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement between the Anishinaabe, Mississaugas and Haudenosaunee to peaceably share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes.

Though we as Jews have also suffered from land and cultural displacement, we acknowledge the ways in which we, as non-indigenous people in this land, have benefited from colonialism, former and ongoing, which has hurt and oppressed First Nations peoples. We ask for their forgiveness. We are ready and prepared to take action to promote a just reconciliation.

Placing this acknowledgment in the context of Jewish ritual and tradition makes explicit the connection between our obligations for justice as Canadians and our particular worldview and experiences as Jews.


Aurora Mendelsohn

Aurora Mendelsohn is a university administrator. She blogs about Judaism, feminism and parenting at Rainbow Tallit Baby.

CHERVINSKY: They came to erase us, we lived, let’s party — A Jewish Lens on Pride

As Jews, we understand the role of celebrations as moments of remembrance and learning. Our holidays commemorate the struggles and the victories. We memorialize the valiant victims and the fighters. We do this because we understand that collective memory is our best unifier and our key to survival.

As Pride season begins during this time of pandemic, our Queer Jewish communities are working hard to preserve the memory and celebrate the hard-fought freedoms we have achieved. Unlike other minority groups, most LGBTQ+ people aren’t born into a family that teaches and celebrates the important milestones of their queer identities. 

Larry Kramer z”l  – a prominent gay, Jewish activist who recently passed away after decades of leadership on AIDS and other LGBTQ+ struggles – once said: “I don’t think you can be a people until you have a history. I know our history, and maybe because other people don’t they feel not a part of anything.”

As Jews we understand this implicitly. Now, as the LGBTQ+ community re-envisions Pride, it is important that we reflect on our history, our victories, and the substantial work left to achieve.

Just 20 years ago, LGBTQ+ issues were almost taboo within Jewish institutions. At CHAT, Canada’s largest Jewish high school, the only sign of support for queer youth came from a single teacher who conspicuously wore a rainbow kippa and who suffered derision and backlash from Religious Studies teachers. Today, the world has changed and the Jewish community has changed with it.

Flagship Jewish institutions like JF&CS and major congregations are now a regular part of Pride celebrations across Canada. JCCs and Federations organize activities for LGBTQ+ community members. In 2017, CIJA, the advocacy arm of the Jewish Federations, founded its LGBTQ+ Advisory committee to build bridges between the Jewish and LGBTQ+ communities. The committee has put its weight and expertise behind supporting security protection of LGBTQ community institutions, enshrining hate-crime protection for trans* people in law, and reforming Canada’s discriminatory gay blood ban. 

Israel, too, has become a leader in LGBTQ+ rights by embracing trans* Israelis in the IDF and becoming a hub of tolerance in the Middle East. A cursory trip to Tel Aviv shows that, in at least some parts of Israel, LGBTQ+ life is thriving.

With all this progress it has become easy—too easy—for our community to become complacent. The reality is that while our community is a relatively friendly place for LGBTQ+ people, there is still a lot of work to do. From a leader’s continued advocacy for “conversion therapy”, to explicitly homophobic election ads in Israel, to the continued murder of trans* people and the rise of homophobic governments in Eastern Europe, Asia and across North and South America—we have a lot of work left ahead of us.

As a Jewish community, we rightly hold up Israel’s relative embrace of LGBTQ+ rights as a point of pride but, if we are to do so, we must also hold Israel accountable for its failures. Israel continues to lack civil marriage, continues to face battles with surrogacy rights, continues to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people in smaller communities, and continues to allow Ultra-Orthodox parties to use every mechanism to block progress on gay rights. 

As we celebrate Pride month, we would do well to remember that this celebration is like many Jewish holidays; Indeed it certainly embraces the philosophy of “they tried to erase us, we survived, let’s party”, but these occasions also must serve as a reminder of history and strengthen our resolve to build a better world. 

As we turn the calendar page from Jewish Heritage Month (May) to Pride Month (June), let us take the opportunity to celebrate, but also rededicate ourselves to the work ahead. 

Tom Chervinsky

Tom Chervinsky is an advocacy and communications professional in Toronto where he is an active volunteer with Ve’ahavta and CIJA. In 2017 he helped found CIJA’s LGBTQ+ advisory committee.


If you are looking for support or ways to become more involved in the LGBTQ+ Jewish community, check out the following resources as a starting point:

CIJA’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee – CIJA works to support and build bridges with the LGBTQ2+ community, whether on Parliament Hill, at Pride festivals, or in communities across Canada. – https://cija.ca/lgbtq/

Eshel Toronto – A community organization for Orthodox and formerly Orthodox LGBTQIA+ people and their families. – https://www.facebook.com/JewishLGBTQToronto/

Miles Nadal JCC in Toronto – LGBTQ at the J strives to be the heart of Toronto’s LGBTQ+ Jewish community, providing queer Jews opportunities to gather, celebrate and thrive. (Other JCC’s have occasional programming as well). –  https://mnjcc.org/browse-by-interest/jewish-life/426-mnjcc/browse-by-interest/jewish-life/lgbtq-committee/1181-lgbtq-at-the-j.html

Jewish Family & Child Service (Toronto) – JF&CS offers counselling, groups and workshops to individuals and families. – https://www.jfandcs.com/lgbtq

JQT Vancouver – JQT Vancouver is a Jewish Queer and Trans* group dedicated to creating connections and seeking space to celebrate our intersectional identities by queering Jewish space and Jewifying queer space in Vancouver, BC. – https://signup.jqtvancouver.ca/signupA Wider Bridge – North American organization working to create equality in Israel by expanding LGBTQ inclusion in Israel, and equality for Israel by cultivating constructive engagement with Israel. – https://awiderbridge.org/

RUDNER: Train Schedulers, Accountants, and Ordinary Men

By LEN RUDNER

A few minutes past midnight on June 1, 1962 – 58 years ago today – Adolf Eichmann, among the chief architects of the Holocaust, was hanged at a prison in Ramla, Israel. The execution, in accordance with the decision of the Jerusalem District Court and upheld by the Supreme Court, was the only time capital punishment was imposed by Israel. 

In the decades that have past, it’s become difficult to speak of Eichmann without immediately thinking of the phrase that was popularized by the most famous of the reporters who covered his trial. Hannah Arendt expected a monster. Instead, what she saw was the Banality of Evil.

But what was on display in that courtroom was not banality but rather the all-too-human capacity for evil. 

Eichmann knew he was facing the noose and so performed for his life, attempting to transform his role as one of the architects of Jewish annihilation to that of a simple bureaucrat; from enthusiastic participant to mere functionary. He portrayed himself as the man who simply followed orders. Yes, the Holocaust happened. True, he did not like Jews. But no, he didn’t think their annihilation was a good idea.

Adolf Eichmann -1942

But he understood the nature of those orders all too well. He was not only the man who arranged the transportation of Jews to the death camps, but also the cold-blooded functionary who felt no guilt at facilitating the fate that he knew awaited them.

Indeed, in 1957, in an interview with Willem Sassen, Eichmann offered this revealing self-portrait: “The cautious bureaucrat, that was me, yes indeed. But … this cautious bureaucrat was attended by a … a fanatical [Nazi] warrior, fighting for the freedom of my blood, which is my birthright…”

So, there was nothing banal about Eichmann. On the contrary, he received his orders and executed them with creativity and zeal. He ultimately admitted that his phrase, “I will leap into my grave laughing because the feeling that I have five million human beings on my conscience is for me a source of extraordinary satisfaction” was not a bland assertion about the enemies of the Reich, but rather a specific reference to Jews.

The similarity between Eichmann and Oskar Gröning, the so-called accountant of Auschwitz, is that both were parts of an elaborate mechanism of murder. But Eichmann was a piston in the engine while Gröning was a cog in the odometer.

To Eichmann and Gröning, we can also add the names of men like Franz Stangl, the commandant of Treblinka, a former policeman who presided over the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents. Or the “ordinary men” of historian Christopher Browning’s book on Police Battalion 101, who, when given the choice of whether to participate in the murder of Jewish civilians, chose unanimously to do so because murdering defenseless men, women and children was “the new normal.”

None of these men were born evil, yet they came to be evil – and to perform evil deeds – because it was advantageous, or at least unremarkable, to do so. Contrary to the proverb, it is not good intentions that pave the road to hell, but bad decisions.

Arendt concluded that it was possible for evil to be done by people who were themselves not evil, but such a conclusion lets Eichmann – and humanity – off the hook.

Perhaps it was necessary for Arendt to see things as she did in order to portray totalitarian systems as murderous frameworks that require nothing more from its workers that blind (or bland) obedience. But such a conceit deprives perpetrators of their agency and ignores the evidence of individuals who have risen above the prejudices of their time to do better things, if not always the right thing. Indeed, a 1988 study by David Kitterman found multiple examples of German soldiers who refused orders to murder civilians or prisoners of war. None of these men were punished for their refusal.

So, the lesson of Eichmann and his fellow perpetrators is not that evil represents a barely reachable nadir of human values, or that it is a slippery slope that delivers us quickly from the heights to the very depths. Rather, it is a destination that can be reached along a wide and gently descending staircase, with each step more easily taken than the one before, and with a sturdy handrail in place to give us confidence in our descent.

As Jews, we honour the Righteous Among the Nations who risked their lives to oppose Nazism and refused to be parts of the machinery of genocide. We may argue that their number was too few, but each chose to stand against evil rather than be co-opted by it. And if one person can choose to stand against evil then the choice, no matter how perilous, exists for all of us.


Len Rudner

Len Rudner is a human rights consultant and educator. He is a former director of the Canadian Jewish Congress and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

D’var Shavuot 2020, ‘Wither Thou Goest’

by ILANA KRYGIER LAPIDES

Wither Thou goest – I will go.
Wither Thou lodgest – I will lodge.
Thy people shall be my people.
Wither Thou goest – I will go.

The pilgrimage festival of Shavuot is upon us. Shavuot commemorates the anniversary of our receiving the Torah. We celebrate by listening to the liturgical poem, the Akdamut, eating dairy products (reminding us that studying Torah is as sweet on our tongue as milk and honey), and engaging in all-night Bible study. We also read the Book of Ruth.

My first exposure to the above passage was via Leonard Cohen’s beautiful rendition. At that time, I thought it was a romantic love song. I’ve quoted it to my husband and, if it registered at all that the words were from our tradition, I assumed they were from the Song of Songs. 

But, no. These are the words that Ruth speaks to her mother-in-law, Naomi, in the Book of Ruth. The story begins in the land of Moab, a notorious enemy of Israel, where Naomi’s family has settled due to famine.  Naomi’s husband passes away, as do her two sons, and they leave behind two Moabite daughters-in-law. Despite Naomi’s insistence that the girls return to their families, one of them, Ruth, insists on staying with Naomi and follows her back to Israel. (Ruth 1:16-17)

It is surprising that Ruth is so attached to her mother-in-law. In traditional Jewish humour, mothers-in-law don’t always fare well – we all know the jokes. But Ruth remains loyal to her mother-in-law and refuses to leave her.

Earlier in the Book of Ruth, we come across the term chesed. This word does not have a direct translation into English. It is sometimes spoken of as mercy or pity, but what it really means is loving kindness. 

The loving kindness between Ruth and Naomi is worth mentioning here because, in these times, it is hard to imagine two people from such different backgrounds intersecting this affectionately. 

For most of us, our internal radar is so perfectly tuned to the way we see the world that other perspectives barely register. Technology allows us to limit our intellectual and emotional intake to sources that align with our point of view.  We express ourselves into echo chambers disguised as social media and hear only what we already suspect is true.

A dissenting perspective is not only unwelcome but we worry it’s wrong and stupid, even hateful or dangerous. It sometimes feels like our very survival depends on holding tight to our world view. This does us a disservice – seeing the world through a lens of fear limits our knowledge and, by extension, our opportunities for growth.

By all evidence, Ruth and Naomi should have been enemies. Instead, these two women banded together, created a family, and loved and learned from one another. Ruth, with Naomi’s support, became the great-grandmother of King David, who ushered in one of the greatest periods of peace and prosperity in biblical history.

Maybe we have something to learn from these two women who rose out of tragic circumstances, made a choice to trust one another, and left a legacy of kindness. On this strange and difficult Shavuot, when Yizkor is online and we eat our cheesecake in isolation, perhaps we can open our minds and souls to a new way of being and allow thoughts of chesed not just into our hearts but into our deeds.


Ilana Krygier Lapides is a rabbinical student at Jewish Studies Learning Institute.

LITHWICK: We Chronicle in Times of Mayhem

By DAHLIA LITHWICK

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

By ANDREW COHEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


(Photo: Pat McGrath/The Ottawa Citizen)

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

SUCHAROV: Fauda is Binge-Worthy but Can be Painful

By MIRA SUCHAROV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palestinians are less than lukewarm about it.

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

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

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

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


Mira Sucharov

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

BULKA: Rabbinic Reflections for the Record

By RABBI REUVEN P. BULKA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

ROYTENBERG: Thinking About Annexation

By DAVID ROYTENBERG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


David Roytenberg
David Roytenberg

David Roytenberg is a computer consultant living in Ottawa.  He is Secretary of MERCAZ Canada and chair of adult education at Kehillat Beth Israel congregation.

OPINION: Why Canadian Jews Need JSpace

By SOPHIE HERSHFIELD, DANIEL MINDEN, AND MICHAEL MORGENTHAU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Editorial: Hatred is Also a Virus

By BERNIE FARBER

COVID-19 has transported us to a different world. Social niceties, from handshakes to hugs, are now things of the past. New words and concepts like “physical distancing” are fast becoming learned behaviours. Days spent at home can sandpaper your nerves raw and lead to moments, minutes and hours of anxiety and depression.

Yet, we are all going through this strange new world together. We can take strength in numbers. We know that if we follow the rules, we can be safe and keep our family from harm. Nothing is certain but we understand enough that staying home, avoiding crowds, and washing your hands can help not only flatten the curve (another new phrase of the virus language) but keep you away from the virus itself.

It is during crises that we see the best and worst of humanity. Individuals and groups have sprung out of nowhere to shop for their elderly neighbours. Others have started online funding to help secure personal protective equipment. Some have simply made it a point to be in touch with those who are isolated, lonely and afraid. These are our “upstanders.”

On the dark side, we can always count on the ignorant and stupid, including conspiracy theorists who believe that COVID has been drummed up to deprive the U.S. president of another term.

Racists have also sadly emerged. Some have physically attacked neighbours of South Asian descent, as though they were to blame for this crisis.

And of course, let’s not forget the antisemites who very early on postulated the nonsense, according to Alex Friedfeld of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism that Jews created the virus to trigger the collapse of the stock markets and then take advantage by lining their own pockets.

For Jews, any change in world dynamics produces Jew-hatred. It comes with the territory. And throughout history, antisemitism always found a way to endure. While we battle this pandemic, let’s not lose sight of the haters out there. For them, little has changed, other than they can carry out their evil in the shadow of COVID.