A Note from the Publisher: The Bridge is Now Completed

Dec. 23, 2020

The Canadian Jewish Record was born at a fraught time in the history of Canadian Jewish journalism. Our lofty goal in April 2020, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, was to be a bridge between the recently shuttered Canadian Jewish News and its hoped-for return.

Despite nay-sayers who predicted that our fledgling news/opinion service would stand little chance of success, we persevered and became exactly what we strived for: An outlet for Canadian Jews to receive information of Jewish interest, news that touched both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities, and opinion from all sides of the Jewish thinking world.

We did all this, as they say, on a hope and a prayer. A few Jewish philanthropists donated some start-up funds. We developed a utilitarian but ultimately well-liked platform, and then began to ask Canadian Jewish journalists, many of whom were out of work because of COVID, if they would write for us…pro bono. And without hesitation, many did.

Some of the top names in Canadian Jewish journalism gave of their time and considerable talent to help create and sustain the CJR. Co-founder Ron Csillag (I was the other) took on the onerous responsibility of editor. He worked tirelessly, up to nine hours a day, to make sure our content read professionally, was properly edited, and error free. He assigned stories, sought out commentators, got pitches almost daily, and dealt with spokespeople, flacks, and the odd irate reader.

Zack Babins was our techie. He ensured that our daily allotment of stories and columns were posted to our website and on social media, and did so with unfailing good cheer. Zack was also among our stable of new young writers who gave the CJR a fresh tone. More on this later.

Barbara Silverstein used her vast knowledge of food and cooking to produce one of the most popular items on our site: a weekly blog that highlighted recipes, often timed to coincide with Jewish holidays, and goings-on in the worlds of local eateries, world-class chefs, and cooking classes.

Michael Marmur of Pinpoint National Photography was our photo editor. He ensured that every picture you saw on our site was fresh, crisp and uniform. Irv Osterer was our talented graphics editor who designed our unique banner and all other sketches and graphic illustrations.

Carol Elman helped balance the books. Her competency with numbers and dollars kept us in the plus column, while lawyer Jordan Cohen took care of legal affairs, ensuring that i’s were dotted and t’s crossed.

Suanne Kelman, retired from 21 years of teaching at Ryerson University’s journalism department, and Josh Tapper, a former reporter for the Toronto Star, currently completing a PhD, rounded out our editorial board with sage advice.

And then there were our columnists. It’s no secret that Jews are rarely speechless, and our opinion writers covered the waterfront – left, right and centre. They included well-known writers and pundits like Dahlia Lithwick of Slate and MSNBC fame; Canadian columnist Andrew Cohen; and McGill University professor and international pundit Gil Troy.

It was unavoidable that some readers would decry the opinions the CJR carried (but did not necessarily endorse). Other praised us for opening the opinion pages to a diverse array of viewpoints – refreshing for a Jewish publication, but frankly easier if there are no donors or advertisers to offend.

That was the other thing: The CJR did not have advertising to clutter the site. We made an early decision not to accept any, despite synagogues, organizations and even governments seeking to advertise. Monetizing the site was not in the cards.

One of the really beautiful aspects of the CJR was the chances it gave to young and aspiring writers. The opportunity to submit one’s own creations to a professional editor and become published for the first time can make young hearts sing. Old ones, too.

Speaking of singing, one of our most popular columns was “On the Record” by David Eisenstadt, who provided deep dives into the worlds of often little-known Canadian Jewish musicians.

“Rabbinic Reflections” from Ilana Krygier Lapides was one of our more popular regular reads. By the time you read this, Ms. Lapides will be days away from being ordained as Rabbi Lapides.

Many of our weekly editorials were reprinted in other Jewish publications, as well as the National Post and the Toronto Star.

Much gratitude to each and everyone who made the CJR their success and gave Canadian Jewry news, opinion and information during a very difficult time. It was a labour of love and a deep chesed, an experiment that could only happen in a Jewish community like Canada’s.

It was a good run and we are all proud of the part we played keeping Jewish news and opinions alive. As we hoped, The CJN has returned. The bridge work is done and we can finally rest. We wish CJN editor Yoni Goldstein and his team hatzlacha, and hope that some of those who found their Jewish writing chops in the CJR will find a new home at the CJN.

We are indeed all Am Yisroel. We thank you for joining us on this journey and look forward to reading the new CJN with you.

– Bernie Farber

Editorial: Goldie Hershon – and Jewish Leadership

Dec. 8, 2020

The Canadian Jewish community has been blessed with many fine leaders. Leadership itself can be simple in complicated times and complicated in simple times. It takes a wise person to navigate these various roads. Those who successfully complete that journey are the leaders we remember (it’s hoped we forget the bad ones).

Goldie Hershon, who died last week at the age of 79, was a leader who successfully navigated complicated roads in complex times. Her port of service was Canadian Jewish Congress (of which CJR publisher Bernie Farber was CEO, and worked closely with Goldie).

She held many different lay leadership positions within the organization. Whether it was national vice-president of CJC, chair of the CJC National Plenary Assembly, vice-president of the North American section of World Jewish Congress, chair of CJC’s Soviet Jewry committee, or her three years (1995-1998) as national president of Congress, Goldie was unique.

She was no politician. She spoke her mind and heart and demonstrated truth to power. Whether meeting with heads of state, presidents, prime ministers, or premiers, Goldie was simply Goldie. She engaged with Holocaust survivors, Jewish poor, and CJC staff as though they were all part of her family. She took advice but knew her mind. People wanted to be in her company. She had a great laugh and warm smile that grabbed you from the moment you met her.

When Goldie became president of CJC in 1995 she fought for it. Unlike today, Canadian Jews then chose their leaders. Her opponent, Thomas O. Hecht, was a popular Montrealer, and the race was passionate and emotional. Goldie squeaked to a narrow victory and Canadian Jewry was the real winner.

She led us through the fractious Quebec referendum of 1995 and deftly took former Premier Jacques Parizeau to task when in a bitter concession speech, he blamed “money and the ethnic vote” for the loss. Canadian Jewry was staunchly nationalist and was part of a group of ethnic leaders who spoke out against separation. Goldie was very much its leader. She scolded Parizeau’s choice of words as “reprehensible,” and many feel that it was her public pronouncement, among those from other “ethnic” leaders, that hastened Parizeau’s retirement from politics shortly thereafter.

With Goldie’s death, we are able to look both back to the past and ahead to the future. We yearn for the days when leadership percolated up from the grassroots, enabling stalwarts like Goldie.

And yet, as we look to the future, we are concerned that leadership today does not see the worth or feel it necessary to emulate the Goldie Hershons of yesterday.

Perhaps in Goldie’s passing, we will all have an opportunity to embrace the importance of amcha and the need for us all to play a role in Canadian Jewish life.

May the memory of Goldie Hershon always be for a blessing.

Editorial: The Age of Unreason

Dec. 3, 2020

We get texts, we get emails and we get letters. Very often, the communications take to task a published op-ed or story. However, over the past months, we have also heard from pandemic deniers, conspiracy theorists, and assorted loons, many of whom are hell-bent to convince us that our reality is a lie and theirs is real.

One such writer (unidentified, for obvious reasons) is not a bad sort. He is in his 60s, self-described as having a “worthless degree in music performance” with “30 years of dead end jobs.” He seems, sadly, grist for the growing mill of what Hillary Clinton once called the “basket of deplorables.”

Let’s call him “Reggie.” Here is a small sampling of Reggie’s messages to us:

“I see ‘Covid-19’ for the abominable fraud that it is… Why are you so determined to believe that ‘Covid-19’ – if it exists and that is debatable – is some pestilence on a par with Ebola, Small Pox and The Black Death combined? You’re a leader of the community. You have a duty to provide people with an accurate perception of what’s really going on out there…and sorry…I don’t think you’re doing that.”

And: “Forgive me for this: Are you really this dense? I don’t NEED to visit an emergency ward! WHERE, are the sick? WHERE are the dead? 9 months of this BS story, I’ve yet to see 98 percent of the people I talk to have not seen, first-hand, ONE credible case. ‘Covid-19!!’ Turn off your telescreen, go outside, and LOOK AROUND YOU!”

By now, the reader’s eyeballs must be bouncing off the floor. However, it seems that Reggie is not one of a very tiny community of subterraneans who have burrowed deep into the ground to avoid what is right before their eyes. He is tragically among a growing group in what some are calling a new age of unreason.

How else to explain Toronto restaurateur Adam Skelly defiantly ignoring lockdown rules in order to keep open for indoor dining? (That it took authorities days to act is another story). Skelly, who has become the poster boy of the so-called “hoaxademic” crowd, has less than savoury support from extreme right-wing racists like Kevin Johnston, who’s awaiting trial on hate charges; white nationalist Christopher Vandeweide, convicted of assault in Hamilton and recently arrested for breaching his probation and threatening assault; and the granddaddy of the far right in Canada, Paul Fromm.

This convergence of right-wing extremism and virus denial is not confined to Toronto. Kingston, Ottawa, London, Montreal, Edmonton, and Vancouver have all seen the “hoaxademic” crowd gather, sometimes in large numbers, and, naturally, without masks.

Those who have dared to speak out publicly against these marches have found themselves threatened in online platforms. Just ask Stephen Hargreaves of Windsor Ont., who posted his concerns following a recent anti-mask event to his Instagram account. According to a CBC story, he received threats of violence posted to his account that were so horrific, the CBC refused to publish them because of its “disturbing content.” Windsor police are investigating.

In the end, these pandemic deniers are still a minuscule number. The vast majority of Canadians understand the real danger posed to our health, but we cannot turn a blind eye. It is here where we count on authorities to ensure that health regulations are followed.

We count on police not to dither. Businesses breaking the law need to be held to account. If fines are not severe enough, make them more punitive until people understand that society will simply not put up with endangering our collective health.

This is deadly serious and it’s time we all take responsibility in calling out the deniers. Your life and health may very well depend on it.

Editorial: Effi Eitam Must Not Head Yad Vashem

Nov. 25, 2020

The inestimable Avner Shalev has headed Yad Vashem, the world’s foremost Holocaust museum and memorial, since 1993. Shalev oversaw great changes at the renowned institution in Jerusalem, including growth, strong fundraising, and great advances in digital research. He took an already well-reputed venue and buffed it to an even higher gloss. Now 81, Shalev is retiring.

Nominated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to replace him is a notorious former Israel Defense Forces general, Effi Eitam. Usually, such a high-level appointment is carefully considered. After all, Yad Vashem is the collective memory to the world of the Six Million Jewish victims of the Shoah. It stands as a clarion call against evil and represents the epitome of human rights and dignity. Surely, the chairperson of such a vitally important institution would adhere to and represent the values of Yad Vashem.

But dozens of Holocaust survivors, Jewish ethicists, academics and others have called on Netanyahu to drop Eitam. To date, the prime minister has remained unmoved.

Who is Effi Eitam? Why is he the most unjustifiable person to lead Yad Vashem? You don’t have to look far.

In 1988, then Commander Eitam was in charge of the Givati Brigade, which had captured an alleged Palestinian terrorist. On Eitam’s orders, brigade members murdered the handcuffed, unarmed prisoner, Ayyad Aqel. The soldiers were court martialed and Eitam received a severe reprimand recommending he never be promoted.

But he did move up the ranks and ended his career as a brigadier general.

It was then on to politics. He served in the right-wing National Religious Party, where he held various portfolios. During this time, and even before entering the political arena, he advocated for the ethnic cleansing of the entire Arab population of what he termed Judea and Samaria. In fact, Eitam has called Arab Israelis, who are citizens of Israel, an “elusive threat” that “by their nature resemble cancer,” an illness “in which most of the people…die because they were diagnosed too late.”

Rabbi Michael Melchior, Israel’s former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Minister of Social and Diaspora Affairs, tells this story of Eitam in a Times of Israel piece unsubtly headlined, “Effi Eitam is a deplorable choice to head Yad Vashem”:

“I heard Effi Eitam give a drasha at Fifth Avenue Synagogue in Manhattan shortly after 9/11. He explained to the audience that what happened that day was God’s way to return to the world arena and stir the world to a religious war. I was at that service along with the late Elie Wiesel, who was in utter shock that a Jew was able to utter such assertions.”

Today, we live in a world where Holocaust denial, antisemitism and hate have made giant leaps forward. Appointing Eitam to head the most auspicious example of Jewish dignity, a museum which speaks to the evil of racism, genocide and hate, is reprehensible.

All Jews of good conscience must speak out boldly and clearly in rejecting Eitam, who has blood on his hands and bigotry in his heart, to head Yad Vashem.

Editorial: Time to Act on Online Hate, Radicalization

Nov. 19, 2020

With the defeat of Donald Trump, one hopes that along with him, lies, the incessant daily drama, and most of all, the wild conspiracy theorists, will go with him.

Trump has changed the face of facts, and it could be that there’s no going back. However, this does not mean we are powerless in the face of conspiratorial lies that have led to angry, hostile and racist words, dangerous targeted assaults, and even murder.

Here in Canada, online conspiracy theories, white supremacist-led hate and groups advocating violence have been identified by national security services in this country and the United States as the single most dangerous domestic threat in North America.

Here at home, since 2018, 18 Canadians have been murdered as a result of individuals radicalized online to far-right philosophies.

The extremists include Alek Minassian, currently on trial for the murder of 10 people in a van ramming rampage in 2018. Minassian identifies as an “Incel,” or an “involuntary celibate.”

“Incels” are boys and young men who blame their barren sex lives on women. Their rage has been institutionalized online, mostly on far-right extremist websites. When they find each other in the dark recesses of social media, murder of women is the topic of choice.

Minassian is not the only “incel” in Canada to have been charged with murder. In May 2020, a 17-year-old Toronto juvenile was charged in the machete murder of a young woman. It is believed that he was radicalized online to incel philosophy.

In February 2019, Alexandre Bissonnette was found guilty of the murder of six Canadian Muslims at prayer in a mosque near Quebec City two years earlier. During sentencing, the judge ruled the murders were motivated by “visceral hatred toward Muslims.”

According to evidence at his trial, just prior to the mosque attack, Bissonnette was online 819 times, clicking on posts related to Trump’s travel ban against Muslim-majority countries, and white nationalists sites with similar themes.

Only a few months ago Guilherme (William) Von Neutegem was charged in the murder of Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, a Canadian Muslim outside his mosque in Toronto. Research has revealed that Von Neutegem may have been involved with the “Order of the 9 Angels,” which has been described as a neo-Nazi death cult whose mission is to “cull humans.”

It’s well past time for action on the use of social media as a tool for racists to plan murder, mayhem and insurrection. In a welcome development, the Inter-Parliamentary Task Force to Combat Online Antisemitism hosted its first meeting this month, with leading Jewish organizations from Canada, Australia, and the United States providing recommendations for what actions legislators should take to address the issue.

While they do that, our fear is that more young people looking for answers will find them, as have others who have been manipulated into murderous racist rages that go beyond anti-Semitism to Islamophobia and misogyny.

We have much work to do, not the least of which is to begin recognizing the problem and developing strategies to halt the spread of online radicalization before more carnage occurs. Governments tell us that help and change is on the way. It cannot happen soon enough.

Editorial: The Smiling Dead

Nov. 11, 2020

Some good news according to recent reports: We are inching closer to a COVID vaccine. Even so, we must remain cognizant of the need for proper masking, handwashing, and social distancing. Places like Singapore, South Korea, New Zealand and others, where citizens followed these simple rules and locked down as necessary, have managed to control this beast.

Future generations will study some responses to the virus and scratch their heads in amazement at humans’ stubborn refusal to follow simple rules. They will wonder whether we had a death wish. They will ask how Americans – to pick on citizens of one country – didn’t immediately shame leaders who publicly suggested witchcraft-type cures, from ingesting bleach to shining sunlight down throats.

Academics will study this time in sheer amazement. Research papers will be written on the phenomenon of humans defying common sense because one man convinced them to follow him over a cliff.

Here in Canada, more sense has prevailed but frighteningly, there are eerie signs that the bullheadedness from our southern neighbours is creeping across the border.

This past weekend in Aylmer, Ont. more than 2,000 people demanded an end to public health regulations. No more social distancing, no more masks. “Freedom!” they cried, while others, like protest conspiracy leader Pastor Henry Hildebrant from the controversial Church of God, wondered, “how many people died? Where? Where is the emergency? There is nothing to back it up. We want our freedom back. We want to live.” Others demanded the right to smile in public.

It will be these people who, when the numbers are counted, will be known as the “smiling dead.”

Welcome Back to Sanity

The elections in the United States have come to a shaky end. Most people felt as though a huge weight was lifted from their shoulders when Joseph R. Biden was proclaimed the 46th president of the United States.

However, along with elation came the sobering reality that more than 70 million people cast a vote for the other ticket, perhaps out of an ongoing sense of disenfranchisement, frustration with an establishment they see as rigged, or just to keep a thumb in the eye of the so-called elites who look down on them.

Many of them may have legitimate grievances but many others voted to give voice to the darker angels of their nature. These millions turned a blind eye to the callousness of an American leader who chose to lie and spread conspiracy theories instead of listening to science. As a result, over 200,000 of Donald Trump’s fellow citizens succumbed to the coronavirus. He could have saved tens of thousands with faster, smarter action. His legacy on this and many other files will stain America for generations.

We welcome back sanity and normalcy (even though Trump, it’s fair to say, will not go away quietly.) Mazal tov to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the first bi-racial woman to hold the second highest office in the land. And let us not forget the Second Gentleman, Doug Emhoff, the first Jew and the first man to be so named. From strength to strength.

Editorial: Kosher or Treif? Help Us Decide

Nov. 4, 2020

We had in mind to call this new addition to the CJR “Bouquets and Brickbats,” but somehow, “Kosher or Treif?” seemed more appropriate.

From time to time, the editors here would like to recognize individuals and groups for their work, whether it’s advancing Jewish ideals, pushing forward a positive agenda, or simply getting at the truth in an era in which objective truth is proving elusive.

On the other hand, we also need to know about those who, to put it politely, do not have our best interests in mind.

Recognition will be complimentary (K= Kosher) or critical (T=Treif). Please feel free to let us know if you agree by sending us your thoughts at canadianjewishrecord@gmail.ca

KOSHER: Andy Lulka is a Montessori advocate and educator. Her quiet but vital work on Holocaust education and confronting antisemitism from a point of intersectionality and anti-oppression is well known in the field. Despite health challenges, Andy has demonstrated that positivity and wisdom leads to strength of purpose.

KOSHER: York Regional Police, which has charged a white nationalist for “uttering threats” against two anti-racist activists in an online chat room. All to prove that hateful actions online can lead to serious consequences.

TREIF: Bobby Orr. The Canadian hockey legend’s fawning statement of support for Donald Trump only tells us that while he played stellar defence for the Boston Bruins, it turns out his embrace of a racist, sexist, misogynist candidate for president was nothing but offensive.

KOSHER: Mustafa Farook is the Executive Director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM). His outreach to other faith communities has helped build many bridges. Most recently, following a swastika defacement of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa, Mustafa publicly tweeted, “…To the lowlife that did this, if you want to intimidate the Jewish community, or dishonour the fallen you have to come through us.”

TREIF: Maxime Bernier, leader of the so called People’s Party of Canada, tried to run for a seat in Toronto’s York Centre riding in the recent by-election. His anti-immigrant, climate change skeptic, anti-transgender policies were eagerly echoed by white supremacists and others of the same ilk. York Centre voters, speaking for most Canadians, soundly sent him packing with just 642 votes. But, alarmingly, at 3.6 percent of the total vote, Bernier did better than the Greens in York Centre.

KOSHER: Annamie Paul has become the first Jewish female person of colour to head a federal party, the Greens, in Canada. She faced down sexism, racism and antisemitism to do so. Mazal tov Annamie. A welcome addition to the political scene.

KOSHER: General John Vance and the Canadian Armed Forces. Despite a slow start, the military has taken decisive action to root out neo-Nazis and white supremacists from their ranks. Gen. Vance, the Canadian Chief of the Defence Staff, has issued new standing orders that will assist others in command to take decisive action against racists and haters in the military.

TREIF: Kimberly Hawkins, owner of the Toronto-based restaurant/caterer Foodbenders. Following a flurry of online rants last summer equating Zionists with Nazis, glorifying terrorism, and saying Jews control the media, Hawkins was hit with a lawsuit, two human rights complaints and now, a possible review of her business license by the City of Toronto. Even after she issued a wan apology, Hawkins kept posting her bilge. Her food is treif and she gives us heartburn.

KOSHER: The Hon. Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, has initiated a bold new plan that would see thousands more immigrants and refugees welcomed to Canada as part of our pandemic economic recovery.

KOSHER: The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), B’nai Brith Canada, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, and JSpace Canada for the unprecedented move of coming together without rancour to support the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism that was approved last week by the Ontario government. This marks the first time in their collective histories that these Canadian Jewish groups from the left to the right of the Jewish political spectrum have issued a joint statement in support of an advocacy issue.

Editorial: Oberlander Must Go

Oct. 28, 2020

On Feb. 28, 2000, Federal Court judge Andrew Mackay delivered his decision in the matter of Helmut Oberlander, and many of us felt that the case was now settled, that justice would finally be served, even if delayed, and in miserly portion. After all, the decision made it clear that on a balance of probabilities, Oberlander had lied about or misrepresented his wartime activities in order to fraudulently gain entry to Canada and then citizenship. Last week, he lost his bid to convince the Immigration and Refugee Board that it lacked jurisdiction to hear his case. The next step is a deportation hearing.

To recap, Oberlander served as a young translator in Einsatzgruppe D, a subunit Ek 10a, a mobile Nazi death squad. Einsatzgruppe D was responsible for the killing of more than 90,000 innocent civilians – part of the Holocaust by bullets that murdered more than one million Jewish men, women and children throughout the bloodlands of Eastern Europe and Ukraine.

Oberlander denied his membership in the unit and certainly denied any knowledge of the activities of the Einsatzgruppen, but Justice Mackay did not find his denials to be credible.

And 20 years later, Oberlander remains.

In the months that followed the initial decision, Oberlander’s lawyer claimed that the process was unfair, that his client had no means of appeal.

And 20 years later, Oberlander remains.

Oberlander’s cause was picked up by those who claimed that the process was a sham, and that he had been found guilty because of lobbying by Jewish advocacy groups 

And 20 years later, Oberlander remains.

His presence in Canada is an affront to the Holocaust survivors who are still with us. But more, it is an affront to all Canadians whose family trees have been brutally trimmed by genocide: the First Nations of Canada, Armenians, Ukrainians, Rwandans, Bosnians, Cambodians, Guatemalans, Sudanese, Darfurians.

But more it is – or should be – an affront to Canadians who believe that this country should be a sanctuary to the oppressed and not a haven for the oppressor.

In the two decades that have passed since that February 2000 decision, Oberlander’s defenders have pointed to his sterling behaviour in Canada, his contributions as a businessman; his deep roots in the Kitchener community.

It’s irrelevant – all of it. Not because we think so, but because, in successive judicial decisions, the courts have said so. Oberlander’s lawyers said that we should consider his spotless Canadian reputation? We have. And he lied to enter Canada.

His lawyers said that we should consider his family situation? Now we have. And he lied to enter Canada.

We should consider that his participation in Ek10a should be seen as the result of coercion? We did that as well. And he lied to enter Canada.

In each case, Oberlander has been afforded the full scope of all that Canadian law permits. Appeals were filed, heard, and rejected – on the facts – one after another.

What remains? Oberlander’s current legal representation (he outlived his initial lawyer) may simply be attempting to run out the clock. Their client is 96 years old. Perhaps they can keep the legal merry-go-round turning until their client shuffles off his mortal coil and faces a judge who is more certain and less tractable?

Perhaps. But it didn’t have to be this way. Like Edmund in King Lear, Oberlander could have said, “I pant for life. Some good I mean to do, despite of mine own nature.” He could have confessed. He could have said, “I was young and frightened and I gave in. Forgive me.” He could have offered a model of repentance and provided lessons – so incredibly important – for a generation in which history is optional both as an academic subject and as an intellectual compass. Instead, he remains obdurate.

Oberlander may still ask the courts to review his loss at the IRB. But Canada should not await his next legal somersault. Let him go now. Let him appeal his case from Germany. His continued presence in our country defiles all we should be as a nation.

He must go. 

Editorial: Leadership and Service: There is no Higher Honour

Oct. 22, 2020

Erik Larson is a New York Times bestselling author known for his splendid narrative non-fiction books. He writes about historical events from a human point of view, often referencing “mass population diaries” to get a sense of what the common person was feeling and thinking at the time.

It’s not surprising that vox populi often supply the most accurate and colourful telling of history.

One of Larson’s better-known books, In the Garden of Beasts, is a bone-chilling account of the United States’ first ambassador to Nazi Germany and how he and his family endured the brutal rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazism.

Of particular interest now is Larson’s latest epic, The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz. It vividly describes, through the diaries regular Britons were urged to keep, combined with the papers of Winston Churchill and his family and other historical documents, the daily experiences of Londoners during the Blitz and how Churchill, in full pugnacity, led his people during the most dangerous and horrific times they had ever experienced.

As Larson himself noted, the book takes readers “out of today’s political dysfunction and back to a time of true leadership, when in the face of unrelenting horror, Churchill’s eloquence, strategic brilliance, and perseverance bound a country and a family together.”

Larson’s book is worth reading for other reasons, both for its parallels to today and most specifically, for the manner in which it speaks to the vital urgency of true political leadership in a time of deep crisis.

We need not go over the insanity south of the border. We do, however, need to take stock of the lessons of leadership and its importance in these dangerous times.

In past generations leaders have risen to take on the monstrous responsibilities of war, fear, insurrection, poverty and need. Whether it was John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile crisis, David Ben-Gurion fighting to lead his tiny population of Jews towards a resurrected state, Franklin Roosevelt’s bold New Deal to lead the way out of the Great Depression, or General Charles de Gaulle inspiring the people of France during the Nazi occupation, it was leadership that made it all happen.

As we consider today’s leadership, it would be wise to recall the words of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth:

“Leaders lead because there is work to do, there are people in need, there is injustice to be fought, there is wrong to be righted, there are problems to be solved and challenges ahead. Leaders hear this as a call to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness. They lead because they know that to stand idly by and expect others to do the work is the too-easy option. The responsible life is the best life there is, and is worth all the pain and frustration. To lead is to serve; The highest accolade Moses ever received was to be called ‘eved Hashem’ – ‘God’s servant’ – and there is no higher honour.”

Editorial: A Nobler Use for Social Media

Oct. 19, 2020

The following is an editorial that ran in the National Post on Oct. 17, reprinted here with permission:

Properly used, social media can be a powerful educational tool

We live in an era of fake news and forgotten history. Social media is a breeding ground, or at least an amplifier, of the former. Tackling that challenge will be the work of years. But, properly used, social media can also be a powerful educational tool. And the first step in making it so will be at least adopting a do-no-harm policy. There was an overdue but welcome step in that direction this week.

Twitter and Facebook, the social media giants, both said that they will ban Holocaust denial on their platforms. This is long overdue. (Some important background on this can be found elsewhere in these pages, reprinted with permission from the Canadian Jewish Record.) Holocaust denial is not a matter of opinion or free speech, it is an overt form of anti-semitism, and it is right to treat it as such. It is perplexing, and alarming, to be blunt, that the social media giants needed this long to take action to deny the organized Nazi slaughter of six million Jews and millions of other “untermenschen” — racial and social undesirables. But having finally done the right thing, albeit belatedly, the companies deserve at least muted credit. They dawdled, but they did the right thing in the end.

The challenge, and opportunity, is now to find a way to leverage the power of these sites to teach the history, warts and all, that is the birthright of mankind. Historical illiteracy is a real and growing problem. It is not limited to the Holocaust, of course, but the problem there is particularly acute, and illustrative: a recent survey found astonishing levels of ignorance regarding the basic historical truth of the Holocaust among young American adults; comparable Canadian surveys reveal numbers that aren’t quite so appalling, but are certainly nothing to be proud of, either.

Education, of course, is essential, and the history education that Canadian students receive has long been known to be woefully inadequate. That can and must be fixed. But that shouldn’t just mean textbooks in classrooms (physical or virtual). The social media tools of today could do tremendous good if properly harnessed by institutions, scholars and living witnesses. Now that the giants have agreed to stop harming the cause, perhaps now they can be put to a nobler use.

Editorial: Facebook, Holocaust Denial and a School Principal

Oct. 15, 2020

Well, Facebook has finally done the right thing.

According to a notice published over Simchat Torah, the social media behemoth is “updating our hate speech policy to prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust.”

For an entity that prides itself on speed and freshness, this took a depressingly long time.

Jewish organizations from the Anti-Defamation League to the American Jewish Committee, and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs to Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre have been imploring Facebook for years to take action against Holocaust denial and distortion. It took an immense push from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (the Claims Conference), which produced dramatic daily videos of Holocaust survivors, including from Canada, imploring Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to rid his platform of this toxic content for him to finally take action.

And for those who still believe that Holocaust deniers are simply ignorant white supremacists, consider the story of William Latson, the principal of Spanish River High School in Boca Raton, Fla.

During an email exchange in April 2018 with a parent, Latson insisted that Spanish River students could choose not to take Holocaust studies because “not everyone believed the Holocaust happened.”

He insisted that as an educator, he had to be “politically neutral.”

The parent was naturally astounded, maintaining that everyone knows the Holocaust is a historical fact. Apparently, not Latson, who responded in another email: “I can’t say that the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee.”

The drama continued for months, with Latson finally being fired for continuing to make these claims. Just last week, he was reinstated with back pay, but will no longer serve in a teaching capacity (the school board voted to reinstate Latson 4-3, with the board’s only Jewish member strongly urging against it. Another member blamed the media.)

Holocaust denial has clearly not abated. Indeed, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the world-renowned anti-hate institution, has described it quite properly as “an essential manifestation of antisemitism.”

That educated men like William Latson can take such public positions tells us that it’s not necessarily confined to the racist margins.

So there is no doubt that Facebook did the right thing. And perhaps by doing so, fewer more vulnerable minds than Latson’s will go unpolluted by hatred.

We’ll see. It’s still one thing for Facebook to enact the policy, but quite another to enforce it. If it does, Latson’s young charges will benefit, even if he doesn’t.

Editorial: Joining Together to Battle Hate

Oct. 6, 2020

Mainstream Jewish and Muslim organizations join human rights groups, anti-hate communities, and peace and labour organizations, all working toward one goal. Impossible?

The joining of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) with the National Council of Canadian Muslims and two dozen other faith-based and ethno-cultural groups might have once seemed a lofty goal, perhaps even unattainable.

And then came a maelstrom: Nazis and white supremacists openly rallying in the United States; murders at mosques and synagogues; right-wing extremist attacks in Canadian cities; reports by experts of hundreds of new hate groups in Canada; and, of course, COVID.

The world changed in the blink of an eye. It became a much more dangerous place, especially if you are Muslim, Jewish, Asian, LGBTQ+, or a person of colour.

Police, of course, investigate crime, but still seem to find it difficult to wrap their heads around hate crime. While anti-hate laws exist, they are rarely invoked, and when they are, investigations can take an incredibly long time. For example, the conviction of those behind Your Ward News, a hateful, antisemitic, misogynistic publication, took five years from the date of the first complaint against it. This was unacceptable for targeted groups.

No amount of group advocacy moved the needle. Indeed, things got worse. Reports began to circulate that the Canadian military harboured numerous recruits who were members of well-known hate groups or had been recently radicalized online. A new political party, the Canadian National Party – racist, deeply antisemitic, and parroting Nazi rhetoric of emptying Canada of Jews – was accorded official party status, allowing it to issue tax receipts for charitable deductions.

Then, just a few weeks ago, Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, a caretaker at a downtown Toronto mosque, was brutally murdered while monitoring those entering the building. The Canadian Anti-Hate Network (chaired by CJR publisher Bernie Farber) revealed that the alleged killer has ties to a satanic neo-Nazi organization.

And still no action from any level of government.

Mustafa Farooq, the newly minted executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), decided to do something. Farooq called upon civil society players, through their organizations, to come together and demand better, demand protection, demand change.

As a result, a “Call to Action” was organized by Mustafa through the offices of NCCM. A myriad of human rights groups and faith communities have now signed on to a public letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (found here).

The World Sikh Organization, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Amnesty International, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Federation of Students, the Baha’i community of Canada, and the African Canadian National Council, are just some of the 26 signatories. Individually, some of these groups don’t play well together in the sandbox, but here, all have recognized the danger by speaking in one loud voice.

These Canadians are demanding from their government that the hundreds of white supremacist, alt right, and neo-Nazi groups be disbanded; for better legal tools, including improved use of anti-terrorism laws for domestic hate groups; better enforcement of laws for social media sites to ensure heavy fines against platforms like Facebook, Twitter, TikTok for disseminating hate, and much more. Civil society, now joined in all its facets, has had enough.

Editorial: Hate Must Not Take Hold

Oct. 1, 2020 – This past week, we were treated to the sight of a petulant and bullying president of the United States who threatened his fellow citizens. He refused to disavow neo-Nazism and even asked his white supremacist minions to “stand back and stand by.”

It was a call that was heeded immediately by the preening white nationalist Proud Boys, who, within 40 seconds of Donald Trump’s shout-out, posted with glee on “Telegram,” a social media website frequented by racists, bigots, white supremacists, and violent extremists.

Canadians should resist feeling too smug: A co-founder of the Proud Boys is Canadian Gavin McInnes, who helped found Vice Media and later discovered an outlet at the right-wing Rebel Media.

The Proud Boys, like many other violent white nationalists and white supremacists, have grown significantly in number over the past decade. In 2015, Barbara Perry and Ryan Scrivens, top researchers in the study of hate groups in Canada, estimated there were at least 100 neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups active in Canada.

They also suggested that there were 30,000 Canadians practicing what they termed “sovereign citizen” philosophies which have no regard for Canadian law.

Recently they have updated their research. According to Perry and Scrivens we may now be seeing an increase of over 25 percent in hate group activity and recruitment. In an interview last year with the Toronto Star, Perry noted, “Now that we’ve started to sort of list the groups and name them…we’re getting close to 300 groups.”

In decades past, racists held rallies and meetings that were easily infiltrated by police and security officials. Today, radicalization, recruiting and ideas are most often conducted via social media and dark corners of the internet, to where visitors to more accessible sites are directed.

In late September, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh was accosted by a man threatening to make a citizen’s arrest. It turned out that the man, Brian Kidder, is part of an encampment of tents in Ottawa that has attracted a variety of fringe figures from Canada’s far-right.

It gets worse. Toronto police have laid charges in the murder of a Muslim Canadian who was supervising entry to his mosque for daily services. According to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network (chaired by CJR publisher Bernie Farber), it’s possible the alleged murderer may be aligned with a satanic Nazi cult known as 09A. Police have been urged to get outside expert assistance. To date, we have heard nothing from police.

Hate, violence and murder have now visited us, and police seem unable to take necessary action. Therefore, it’s up to government to hold the keepers of our laws accountable. Police must police. And politicians must ensure that if stronger laws are needed to corral this threat, they must be passed.

Proud Boys, Soldiers of Odin, Northern Guard, 3%ers…whatever they call themselves, they need to be put on notice. Canadians will not stand for their bullying and racism. We must all speak in one voice, loudly and clearly.

Editorial: Jewish Jurists Serve to Remind Us of Justice

Sept. 23, 2020 – As Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement approaches, we turn our minds to justice – appropriate, given the recent death of the legendary Jewish American Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Justice Ginsburg was a wisp of a woman but whose heart was Olympian and whose soul burned fiercely on behalf of those less fortunate, especially women who have, for much of the past century, been treated like second class citizens in the United States. Her decisions were wise, pointed, and filled with the juice of needed change and progress.

Justice has always played a central role in Judaism. Great Jewish biblical heroes, prophets, and philosophers have pointed to the key Jewish precept, “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof” (“Justice, justice shall you pursue.” It appears initially in the Book of Deuteronomy and is part of a set of regulations that bestow on the Jewish people a code of moral behaviour.

Why is the word “justice” repeated twice? The Torah is a very precise book. Each word has been measured for meaning and argued over by great rabbis over many centuries. Perhaps the most widely accepted explanation comes from the most broadly respected rabbi of the 11th century, Rashi, who explains that not only must judges make wise decisions, which accounts for the first “tzedek,” but, as importantly, those in a position of choosing judges must also choose wisely, referring to the second “tzedek.” This gives the people comfort knowing that the courts of justice are populated by good and decent people making judicious decisions.

There is another, more modern interpretation. Some believe the second cry of “justice-tzedek” emphasizes the Jewish values of treating the stranger fairly, feeding the poor, and extending love to our neighbours despite our differences.

In North America, Jewish men and women have figured prominently in the choice of judges. To our great fortune and that of society in general, these Jews have embraced their Jewish values of pursuing justice.

Undoubtedly, “Notorious RBG,” as Ginsburg came to be known, was one of many such Jewish jurists who graced courtrooms in the United States and Canada and did so with a Jewish heart. They were perhaps not as well-known, but certainly as deserving.

From Tillie Taylor, Saskatchewan’s first female Jewish magistrate; to Nathaniel Nemetz, former Chief Justice of British Columbia; to Samuel Freedman, Chief Justice of Manitoba. All three played a key role in the jurisprudence of western Canada.

On the east coast, Constance Glube was the first Jewish woman appointed Chief Justice of Nova Scotia.

In Quebec, where antisemitism was more prevalent than elsewhere in Canada, Jews nonetheless held senior judicial positions: Alan Gold was Chief Justice of Quebec’s Superior Court, and Harry Batshaw and Herbert Marx held sway as a Quebec Superior Court justices (Marx had also been Quebec’s justice minister.)

Ontario also saw the appointment of many Jews to the bench, including Charles Dubin as Chief Justice of Ontario; John I. Laskin, a justice of the Court of Appeal for Ontario and a former legal counsel to Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC); and Sydney Harris, a judge of the Ontario Provincial Court and former national president of CJC.

Today’s Ontario bench features another past president and legal counsel of CJC, Edward Morgan; Justice Katherine Feldman; Justice Paul Perell; and recently appointed Justice Edward Prutschi.

And of course, Canada’s Supreme Court has been positively influenced by some of Canada’s most eminent jurists. Bora Laskin also a former chair of CJC’s legal committee was, famously, the first Jewish Canadian to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. Others on the land’s highest court were Rosalie Abella, the first Jewish woman to reach Canada’s high court, as well as Morris Fish, Michael Moldaver, and Marshall Rothstein.

Each of these jurists not only upheld the highest legal ethics, but did so as proud Jews who were raised with the understanding that in the Jewish tradition, justice and atonement are the highest ideals.

We at the Canadian Jewish Record are proud of those in our community who are lights unto the nation. As we encounter a very special, socially-distant Yom Kippur, may we all be judged for our good deeds. And may those we hurt either by deed or word forgive us.

Editorial: May the New Year Bring Healing Stateside

Sept. 16, 2020 – As a New Year begins, it is time to take stock of the year we leave behind and determine what each of us can do to help shape a better world to come. Our tradition tells us that while we need not complete our work to effect change, we must not shirk from trying.

The Jewish year of 5780 has been the most challenging time since the end of the Second World War. Increases in world hunger, further climate damage, war, racial divide, hatred and extremism have all increased in numbers hardly imaginable even a year earlier.

And as this year draws to a close, the world is caught in the grip of a pandemic unseen since the Spanish Flu of 1918. All this happens at a time political leadership in many places seems incapable, unsympathetic, and in some cases, incompetent.

Nowhere is this in sharper relief than with our neighbours to the south. It used to be that no matter which of the two political parties held power, the office of president was revered and respected. With the ascension of Donald Trump, the United States has foundered to a knife’s edge of no return.

Never before have the American people elected a president as singularly unqualified for the job. In the last three and-a-half years, Trump has proven to be a racist and misogynist; an Islamophobe who tried to close the borders of his country to Muslims; has flirted with wild, extreme right-wing conspiracies; and divided his country to such an extent that ultra-conservative militias feel comfortable storming state legislatures with automatic weapons cocked and loaded.

During this presidency, we have seen protests in the streets in the wake of the shootings of numerous people of colour by police, while Republican Party apparatchiks seem oblivious to the fatal harm being caused by Trump.

And all this happens when COVID has taken the U.S. hostage, causing, as of this writing, more than 185,000 deaths, many of which were avoidable had the president acted sooner and had a plan. As we know by his own words in Bob Woodward’s latest book on Trump, Rage, the president was well aware of the dangers posed by the coronavirus, and openly lied to the American people in a hapless effort to avoid panic.

No less a light than Abe Foxman, former CEO of the most significant Jewish organization worldwide fighting antisemitism, the Anti-Defamation League, broke his self-imposed decision not to endorse or be publicly partial to any political candidate. Said Foxman in an opinion piece he wrote this week for the Times of Israel, “When our democracy is weakened, and nativism is stoked, the rights of Jews and other minorities will be diminished too.” He continued, ominously: “It may not happen overnight, but it will happen, and Jews know this from bitter experience.”

Foxman was sharp and critical outlining his fear of Trump and his minions adding that the president has “given succor to bigots, supremacists, and those seeking to divide our society…he and his administration dehumanize immigrants, demonize the most vulnerable, and undermine the civility and enlightened political culture that have allowed Jews to achieve what no Diaspora community outside Israel can claim in two millennia.”

Those in our community who support Trump point to his support of Israel, seen in the moving of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and peace deals with Arab nations. But it cannot simply be about Israel all the time. The danger Trump poses to the entire world requires us to look well beyond our personal backyard.

Everyone has a role to play in mitigating an American disaster. It’s in our interest as Canadians, as it’s clear that where America goes, so goes Canada. While it may seem there’s little we as individuals can do, we still have a voice. We have collectively many relatives and friends in the United States, and now is the time to speak out and implore them to fix their country before it is too late.

The coming year – 5781 – can be a harbinger of a new and changed society only if we recognize the work that must be done. We don’t have to finish it this coming year, but we all must engage.

Shana Tovah Umetukah to all.

Editorial: Avera Mengistu is Still a Hamas Prisoner. Why?

Sept. 9, 2020 – There is a common myth in Israel that it will never desert one of its own. Israel has cooperated beyond courage to bring back those killed on the battlefield. IDF officials have negotiated in the past with Egypt, Jordan, the PLO, even terrorist groups, often trading hundreds of captive Palestinian terrorists and enemy combatants for the body of one IDF fighter.

Recall Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier who, in June 2006, was captured by Hamas terrorists entering Israel near the Kerem Shalom crossing through their intricate tunnel system. Shalit was kidnapped and held prisoner for more than five years.

Israel and the Shalit family, which had resources thanks to campaigns in Jewish communities worldwide, kept his name and his plight at the centre of events. In October 2011, following tense and often fractious negotiations through intermediaries, Shalit was finally released in exchange for some 1,000 Arab and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, 280 of whom were serving life terms for carrying out deadly attacks against Israeli targets.

The treasuring of each Israeli citizen was, and continues to be, the truest test of Israel’s character.

Sadly however, in the case of Avera Mengistu, the credo of “no Israeli left behind if captured by enemy combatants” does not seem to hold true. Some feel racism is to blame.

Mengistu and his large family arrived in Israel from Ethiopia in 1991 when he was five years old. Theirs was not an easy life. His father found it difficult to find work and the only income for the clan came from Avera’s mother, who cleaned homes in Ashkelon, near the Gaza border.

Avera’s life went from bad to worse following the death of his beloved eldest brother. He turned to friends for money, and his mental health became fragile to the point where he underwent psychiatric treatment. In March 2013, the IDF determined that Avera was not fit for military service. During this time, his mental health deteriorated even more.

A few months later, in circumstances that remain vague, Avera was seen near the Zikim beach on the Israeli-Gaza border. An IDF unit thought he was one of many Sudanese refugees who were trying to get into Gaza. He was last spotted near the security fence, and by the time Israeli border guards arrived, he had disappeared into Gaza. He has not been seen since.

There were some minor attempts to have him returned to Israel. All failed. In an interview with Al Jazeera, a senior Hamas official acknowledged that Avera was in Gaza. He claimed the Ethiopian was wearing a uniform, was mentally healthy, and was part of ongoing negotiations relating to the 2014 Gaza-Israel truce talks.

And this is where Avera’s fate has largely stood to this day. Unlike the case of Shalit, there has been little mass public outcry from Israeli authorities for his release. His family, who are among the poverty-stricken Ethiopians in Israel, have no resources to fight for his release.

There is an inescapable feeling that the reason Avera’s case is not being handled with the determination and seriousness of other kidnapped Israelis is because he’s Ethiopian – and Black. Indeed, one of Avera’s brothers, Yalo, noted in an interview with Ha’aretz that “it’s more than racism. I call it ‘anti-Blackism.’ I am one million percent certain that if he were white, we would not have come to a situation like this.”

Hamas has also not lost sight of the fact that Avera’s case has garnered little attention, though there have been sporadic reports of Hamas demands for a prisoner exchange with Israel for his release. Notably, Hamas has used the racial bias issue as a propaganda chip. On its Twitter platform, a Hamas message claimed “obviously the real Israeli motto is ‘leave no Ashkenazi (white Israeli) man behind.’”

This is a sad story of one man suffering from severe mental health problems. It seems sadly clear that both Israel and Hamas view the situation through the colour of his skin. It’s time that both sides see Avera as a man who must be returned to his family. His life matters and we cannot be silent.

Editorial: Findlay Apology Not Good Enough

Sept. 2, 2020 – Who is Kerry Lynne Findlay and what did she do to anger so many Canadian Jews (and others)?

Findlay is the Conservative member of Parliament representing South Surrey—White Rock in the Greater Vancouver area. She’s a one-time parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Justice and served for two years in the Stephen Harper government as Minister of National Revenue.

Today, she is the Conservative environment critic who should have known better.

Last week, Findlay re-tweeted a short video of a 2009 interview then journalist Chrystia Freeland, now the finance minister, conducted with philanthropist and investor George Soros for the Financial Times. That in itself would not have raised many eyebrows, except that Findlay did a deep dive into the wild world of antisemitic conspiracy theories that place Soros at their centre.

About Freedland and Soros, Findlay had this warning: “The closeness of these two should alarm every Canadian.” Fellow Conservative MP and finance critic Pierre Poilievre duly re-tweeted Findlay’s post.

Soros is seen by the underbelly of conspiracists – QAnon currently leading that pack – as nothing short of attempting to control the world, and as the embodiment of evil for donating to progressive causes.

According to the largest organization focused on fighting antisemitism, the Anti-Defamation League, Soros “has become a lightning rod for conservative and right-wing groups who object to his funding of liberal causes.” In far right circles worldwide, the ADL continues, Soros’ philanthropy is “often recast as fodder for outsized conspiracy theories, including claims that he masterminds specific global plots or manipulates particular events to further his goals.”

Many of those conspiracy theories employ longstanding antisemitic tropes, particularly that rich and powerful Jews lurk behind the scenes, plotting to control countries and manipulate global events, the ADL explains.

Soros is Jewish and a child survivor of the Holocaust. It was his survival that drove him to succeed, and he has become one of the wealthiest people in the world. He has also devoted his life and, it’s been estimated, more than $30 billion to following the Jewish dictum to make the world a better place.

Today, at age 90, Soros has become a hero to racial and ethnic minorities and those demanding necessary changes to the human condition.

The good news is that there was strong pushback from all sectors of Canadian society against Findlay’s tweet. Jewish organizations, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, and many on Twitter criticized Findlay loudly and passionately. To her credit, she did offer an apology – of sorts.

Again using Twitter, Findlay wrote:

“Earlier today, I thoughtlessly shared content from what I am now learning is a source that promotes hateful conspiracy theories. I have removed the tweets and apologize to anyone who thinks I would want to endorse hateful rhetoric.”

Kerry-Anne Findlay

This is a good start, but not nearly enough. Anytime Jews are connected to mindless conspiracy theories emanating from the far right, they are placed at risk. Findlay needs to go further and explain the context, reference the Jewish community, and let Canadians know the danger faced by Jews daily. A good word about the work of Soros helping countless individuals and causes would go a long way.

We must also add that Poilievre, as of this writing, has remained silent, as has newly-minted Conservative leader Erin O’Toole. Both could use this opportunity to speak out forcefully against Jew-hatred, but to date, have not.

Hate crime statistics consistently show that Canadian Jews remain the number one victim of haters and bigots. Surely Findlay’s response should reflect this reality, and both Poilievre and O’Toole would be wise to join the chorus against hate.

There’s always the tired old charge that Jews over-react to every little thing, and maybe this is one of them. Trust us: It’s better than the opposite.

Addendum:

According to a report in the Globe and Mail on Sept. 3, O’Toole said he learned of the issue after Findlay’s tweet had been deleted, adding that he spoke with some Jewish leaders to say that the Conservatives are a strong voice against antisemitism.

Editorial: Let’s Continue to Save Lives

Aug. 27, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justice J. Keiller MacKay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editorial: Looking Outside Ourselves

Aug. 13, 2020 – For far too long, those outside the Jewish community looking in see a group that, for the most part, seems self-interested. Yes, from time to time, we break out of our bubble, understanding that we live in a society that needs all its parts to work in unison in order to maintain balance. But we all need to shove back the curtain even more these days.

And it’s not only Jewish organizations we speak of. Indeed, the CJR must also lift its own eyes and acknowledge that we are part of a world outside our Jewish experience.

It’s easy for us as Jews to condemn anti-Semitism; to speak out against Nazi enablers like Helmut Oberlander, who is still in Canada despite being stripped of his Canadian citizenship several times; to bemoan swastikas scrawled on synagogue walls; to speak out against neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

However, it’s far more difficult to reach into the souls of other troubled communities and walk in their shoes. For example, what do Jewish organizations have to say about Ontario’s plan to send Jewish children back to school amidst this terrible pandemic?

With the exception of philanthropist Henry Wolfond, who personally undertook to fund a program distributing Visa cash cards, in conjunction with Jewish humanitarian organization Ve’ahavta, have we reached out enough to the homeless, the working poor, and the destitute outside our own sphere?

And what of injustices? Yes, we are taking baby steps in trying to better understand communities of colour and the pain that has accompanied their lives for generations. But have we stood our ground with them?

Take the tragic story of Soleiman (Soli) Faqiri. Soleiman was a young engineering student at the University of Waterloo. He was by all accounts a good man and a good student who cared for his family and community. Following an automobile accident, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and his world came spiralling down.

Police were often called under the Mental Health Act to intervene. His behaviour became more erratic, leading to assault charges. However, instead of being hospitalized as he should have been, he was sent to solitary confinement for 11 days.

And that was where Soleiman died – or was killed. We simply don’t know the full truth.

There have been two criminal investigations, a probe by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, a coroner’s report, and the media have looked into it. Even an eyewitness appears to have claimed fairly conclusively that no authorities protected Soleiman.

We do know that in prison, a fight broke out between Soli and some guards. Soli was beaten, pepper-sprayed, forced into a “spit-hood,” and thrown into an isolation cell, where he died. To date, no one has been held responsible.

In fact, only recently, the Ontario Provincial Police refused to lay charges, claiming they cannot decide which prison guard or guards delivered the fatal blow. If these guards participated in a group beating, they all should be liable for the acts of their accomplices.

Had Soli been a young white Jew in prison who came to this tragic end, would our community remain silent?

We must see people like Soleiman Faqiri as our brother, our friend as part of a community of communities. We must speak up so that next time, it won’t be our brother, our friend, our neighbour.