Hate Incidents Surface in British Columbia

Nov. 25, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

A pair of nasty hate incidents have appeared in British Columbia.

In the first, a convicted hatemonger has been handed a conditional sentence and more probation for breaching an earlier probation order to stop posting antisemitic claims on the Internet.

The sentence came a month after Arthur Topham was found guilty of breach of probation. That restriction was imposed following a 2017 conviction for willfully promoting hatred against Jews.

Under the terms of the first probation order, Topham was banned from posting any online content related to Jews, the Jewish religion, Israel and Israelis, and/or Zionism.

Topham was first charged in 2012 after he had called for Jews to be forcibly sterilized, claimed that Canada is “controlled by the Zionist Jew lobby,” and described Jewish places of worship as “synagogues of Satan.” He was convicted by a jury in November 2015.

He then launched a failed constitutional challenge to Canada’s hate speech laws, which delayed his sentencing until March 2017.

Though facing a maximum penalty of two years in prison, he received a six-month curfew and ban on posting online. At the time, B’nai Brith condemned the sentence as a “mere slap on the wrist,” warning that it failed to establish a deterrent against future offences.

Originally ordered not to post comments about Jews or Judaism for two years, Topham was accused of violating those conditions.

“This decision is a positive development in the fight against antisemitism and hate speech in Canada,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada. “We need accountability for inciting hatred in this country, and Topham can now serve as an example to remind people that there are real consequences for these sorts of actions against your fellow citizens.”

Both Topham’s original conviction and his re-arrest for breach of probation were made possible through the work of Harry Abrams, a long-time B’nai Brith volunteer based in British Columbia.

In a new incident, B’nai Brith announced it is reaching out to police after learning of another act of incitement by a firebrand religious figure.

In a Facebook post flagged on Nov. 23 by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Younus Kathrada calls Jews “brothers of monkeys and khanzeer” (pigs in Arabic), and calls on Allah to “tear them apart.”

Younus Kathrada
Younus Kathrada

The post was made in 2014, but remains online. Kathrada, who preaches for the “Muslim Youth of Victoria,” made the same allegation in 2004, prompting a police complaint by B’nai Brith at that time.

In his 2014 post, Kathrada also prayed for the success of Chechen jihadists. Notably, one of his congregants travelled to Chechnya to fight Russia and was killed there in 2004.

In October 2019, Kathrada advised his followers not to vote in last year’s federal election, arguing that all Jewish and Christian candidates were “filthy” and “evil.” In January of that year, Kathrada suggested that wishing Christians a merry Christmas was a sin worse than murder.

In April, B’nai Brith warned the B.C. Hate Crimes Unit of YouTube sermons by Kathrada calling on Allah to “humiliate the unbelievers and polytheists” and “destroy the enemies of Islam, the heretics and the atheists.”

Kathrada also beseeches divine aid to “grant victory to those waging jihad on your path in every place” and “grant them victory over their enemies and your enemies.” In October, he called French terrorism victim Samuel Paty “a cursed, evil-spirited, filthy excuse for a human being.”

“There must be consequences for years of relentless hate and incitement against Jews and others,” Mostyn said. “The law enforcement and legal system in B.C. showed last week that it can act effectively against hate – but consistency is paramount.”

Breaking News: Irwin Cotler Named Special Holocaust Envoy

Nov. 25, 2020

Canada has named Irwin Cotler, the internationally respected human rights advocate, founder and chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, and former Justice Minister, as this country’s first Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism.

According to a Nov. 25 press release from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office, Cotler will lead the government’s delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), “working with other member countries and both domestic and international partners to strengthen and promote Holocaust education, remembrance, and research in Canada and around the world.”

Irwin Cotler
Irwin Cotler

“The Holocaust was one of the darkest chapters in human history,” Trudeau’s statement said. “Seventy-five years after the liberation of Nazi concentration and extermination camps revealed the full horrors of the Holocaust, Jewish communities in Canada and around the world face rising antisemitism. The Government of Canada will always stand with the Jewish community, and fight the antisemitism, hatred, and racism that incite such despicable acts. We will also continue to preserve the stories of survivors through younger generations, and work to promote and defend pluralism, inclusion, and human rights.

“That is why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named the Honourable Irwin Cotler as Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism,” the statement continued.

“The Government of Canada is committed to reinforcing and strengthening Canada’s efforts to advance Holocaust education, remembrance and research, and to combat antisemitism as key elements of the promotion and protection of human rights at home and abroad.

“With a longstanding record of leadership in the fight against racism, antisemitism, and hate, and extensive experience in human rights and justice including in cases related to mass atrocities, Mr. Cotler will lead the Government of Canada’s delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). He will work with other member countries and both domestic and international partners to strengthen and promote Holocaust education, remembrance, and research in Canada and around the world.”

The statement noted that the federal government adopted the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism in June 2019 as part of its anti-racism strategy.

As special envoy, Cotler will also support advocacy and outreach efforts with Canadians, civil society, and academia to advance the implementation of the definition across the country and its adoption internationally, according to the statement.

“We must never forget the painful lessons of the Holocaust, or the memories of those who lived through it,” Trudeau stated. “As Canada’s first Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism, Irwin Cotler will use his vast knowledge and experience to promote Holocaust education, remembrance, and research as we continue working with partners in Canada and around the world to fight against hate and intolerance. Because antisemitism has no place in Canada – or anywhere else.”

As envoy, Cotler will work with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, and other departments to inform government policy and programming.

The IHRA includes 34 member countries and eight partner organizations with Holocaust-related issues as part of their mandate. Canada joined it in 2009.

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center said it was “thrilled” to learn of Cotler’s appointment.

“This announcement is a major step forward in the fight against antisemitism in Canada and shows a much-needed seriousness in our government’s commitment to this promise,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada. “We very much look forward to working with Mr. Cotler in his new role.”

“Mr. Cotler is a Canadian icon who has been tirelessly advocating for human rights for decades. Canada has demonstrated leadership by creating the position of special envoy, in discussion for months, and we are pleased Mr. Cotler was chosen to fill this important role,” said Joel Reitman, Co-Chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Board of Directors.

Liberals Defend Canada’s UN Vote Against Israel

Nov. 24, 2020

Canada’s recent vote against Israel at the United Nations sparked spirited discussion in the House of Commons.

On Nov. 19 – the same day Canada voted for a resolution affirming Palestinian statehood – Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong demanded an explanation for Canada’s vote.

Michael Chong
Michael Chong

“Today, the Liberal government voted against the state of Israel at the UN General Assembly for a second year in a row, contrary to our long-standing Canadian policy of opposing all resolutions that single out Israel, a policy that former prime minister Paul Martin had put in place,” Chong said.

“Even [Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations Bob] Rae said he disagreed with the preamble of the resolution. Why did the government break with long-standing Canadian policy and vote against the State of Israel at the UN General Assembly today?”

Bob Rae
Bob Rae

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland did not directly address the question in her response.

“Let me just be very clear: Israel is a close and important friend of Canada, and Canada will always stand with Israel,” she said. “Let me also be very clear to Jewish Canadians in my riding and across the country: We stand with them, particularly today when we are seeing an appalling rise in antisemitism here and around the world.”

Chong then asked when the Liberals would “restore Canada’s long-standing opposition to these anti-Israel resolutions, which were upheld by previous Liberal and Conservative governments and put in place by former prime minister Paul Martin?”

Chrystia Freeland
Chrystia Freeland

Freeland replied: “Let me speak to Canada’s place in the world and to our foreign policy. We are living in a world today where there is a worrying rise of authoritarian regimes, a worrying rise of anti-democratic populism – and our country in that world will always stand up for human rights and will always stand up for the rules-based international order,” Freeland said. “That may not always be popular but that is the Canadian way.”

For the second consecutive year, major Jewish organizations denounced Canada’s vote in favour of the resolution as one-sided against Israel.

Entitled the “Right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,” the resolution stresses “the need for respect for and preservation of the territorial unity, contiguity and integrity of all of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.”

The resolution passed 163 to five, with only Israel, the United States, and the Pacific Ocean nations of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Nauru voting against, and 10 other countries abstaining.

In a joint statement the day after Canada cast its ballot, Jewish advocacy groups expressed their “deep disappointment,” saying the resolution fails “to affirm Jewish self-determination in the indigenous and ancestral homeland of the Jewish people” while “intentionally erasing historical Jewish connections to Jerusalem – including the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site.”

Independent Jewish Voice of Canada, which supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, lauded this country’s vote as “commendable.”

Until last year, Canada had voted against the annual resolution, part of a basket of pro-Palestinian measures introduced at the UN this time of year.

A year ago, Ottawa’s abrupt shift on the measure – skipping over abstention to support – shocked many in the Jewish community and led Israel to say it might lodge a complaint.

Canada’s support this year “is a reflection of our longstanding commitment to the right of self-determination for both Palestinians and Israelis,” said Canada’s UN Ambassador Bob Rae in his explanation of the vote (EOV) to the General Assembly.

“From the time of the earliest resolutions of the Security Council on these issues, we have endorsed the principle of ‘two states for two peoples,’” Rae said. “While we do not agree with some elements of the preamble, Canada will support this resolution because of its focus on these important, core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Rae also said that Canada “does not and will not support any resolution that unfairly singles out Israel for criticism.”

He referenced the “destructive” role in the Mideast conflict of such “terrorist organizations as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah.”

– By CJR Staff

Jewish Community Critical of Quebec’s Rejection of Hanukkah Gatherings

Nov. 24, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL – Community leaders say it is unfair that the Quebec government is denying Jews the right to celebrate Hanukkah in the same manner as has been granted to those who observe Christmas under new pandemic rules.

Many in the community find it galling that a government that places such a high value on secularism appears to be privileging Christian tradition in its relaxation of the ban on private gatherings.

When asked by the media about the decision, Premier Francois Legault replied that the lifting of the prohibition on gatherings during four days around Christmas will not be similarly applied to the holidays of other faiths. The eight-day festival of Hankukah begins December 10th.

Rabbi Reuben Poupko, co-chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs-Quebec, said Jews should be allowed to get together for the first four days of Hanukkah, observing the same rules that have been set for Christmas.

Rabbi Poupko montreal
Rabbi Poupko

“It is bewildering that the government would prioritize the holiday of one faith community over the others,” Rabbi Poupko said. “I think equality and common sense would demand that every religious community in Quebec be treated fairly and a similar indulgence be extended to each of them.”

Rabbi Poupko, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel Beth Aaron, noted the government did not show any flexibility during the High Holidays. The Jewish community did not ask for any, and it abided by the rules, he said.

Legault, along with Health Minister Christian Dubé and the province’s public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, announced on Nov. 19 that Quebecers will be allowed to gather at home in groups of up to 10 people from Dec. 24-27.

But the premier asked that they enter a “moral contract” under which they minimize their physical contact with anyone outside their household for one week before and one week after that period. Although 14 days is the standard quarantine length, public health officials said symptoms of COVID typically appear five to seven days after infection.

Schools are to close two days before they were scheduled to do so, and the government is asking employers to allow personnel to work at home where possible to enable them to comply with the two weeklong isolation periods.

Elementary schools will reopen on Jan. 4 as planned, but high school students will not return to class until Jan. 11 because coronavirus transmission in this age group is higher, authorities say.

This suspension of the ban on private gatherings is contingent on no spike in cases occurring beforehand. The province is seeing an average of close to 1,200 new COVID cases daily, higher than in the first wave.

B’nai Brith Canada said the government should have consulted the Jewish community and other minority religious groups when establishing pandemic rules that impact their practices.

“The Quebec government must take the needs of minority communities, including the Jewish community, into consideration and work pro-actively with these communities prior to the lifting or imposition of unilateral COVID restrictions. There must be no favouritism. The premier must be the premier of all Quebecers,” stated Toronto-based B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn.

Since the beginning of October when the Montreal region entered a partial lockdown, later expanded to much of the province, the rule has been that no one can enter a household who does not live there, with a few exceptions like elder care or tradespeople.

Gatherings outside, such as in a backyard, are also prohibited. That ban has been extended to Jan. 11, at least.

Rulebreakers may face a fine of $1,500 per person.

Previously, the limit had been six people after Montreal went orange under the province’s colour-coded alert system on Sept. 20. 

Houses of worship are permitted to have 25 people inside at a time.

Legault said a “concentration” of time was necessary to make an easing feasible, and the days chosen represent what most Quebecers want. Public health officials added that the days from Dec. 24 to 27 also are in the middle of the school break and most workplace shutdowns.

“We are in a critical situation,” Legault said at the Nov. 19 press conference. “We can permit gatherings during four days only and we say that the majority of Quebecers would be happy that those four days be at Christmas.”

‘Mensch’ Father John Walsh Mourned by Jewish Montrealers

Nov. 20, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—To many, “Father John” was the Montreal Jewish community’s priest. Some even respectfully called him “Rabbi Walsh.”

All considered him a mensch – and a beloved one.

That’s been abundantly clear, given the outpouring of sadness, gratitude and, as he would have wished it, humorous reminiscing since Father John Walsh’s death at age 78 on Nov. 9.

Surely this was the first time in its century-long history that Paperman’s funeral home listed a Catholic priest among the funerals, with links to the interreligious memorial planned for him and to his favourite cause, the Nazareth Community, which serves the homeless.

The Paperman family said it “mourns the loss of a compassionate leader, a bridge builder and a dear friend” to the community. The scores of condolences on the website concurred.

“He endeared himself to Jewish Montrealers, who considered him one of their own,” tweeted Eta Yudin, vice-president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs-Quebec.

In a nod to Father Walsh’s Irish heritage, one synagogue’s cantor sang Danny Boy at the Shabbat service after the priest’s death.

His longtime friend and collaborator Rabbi Michael Whitman of Congregation Adath Israel, posted a “secret” on social media: “The rabbis of Montreal knew that Father Walsh was much more popular in the Jewish community than any of us.”

Over the decades, Father Walsh had a bond with the community that went beyond interfaith dialogue, a term he avoided. He was not an emissary of the Catholic Church; he acted on his own volition. This was personal, even visceral.

Everyone has spoken of his genuine love and interest in each person, whoever they were. But Judaism and the Jewish people were the strongest among his ties to other religious and cultural groups.

He joked that with his initials – his full name was John Emmett Walsh – predestined him to a kinship with Jews.

His goodwill was constant in good times and bad, said Rabbi Whitman. Whenever there was an act of antisemitism in the world, he immediately called to express his solidarity.

As Rabbi Lisa Grushcow of Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom put it at an interreligious memorial on Nov. 14, “those in interfaith work build relationships on theology or policy, but Father John built relationships for the relationship; nothing got in the middle.”

The memorial, which was webcast from a funeral home due to pandemic restrictions on gatherings, preceded Father Walsh’s funeral Mass, also invitation-only, on Nov. 16.

After studies in Rome, Father Walsh continued his education in theology and scripture at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He learned Hebrew and his command of the language delighted Jewish audiences.

His ministry in Montreal spanned close to 50 years until his retirement from St. John Brebeuf Parish in LaSalle a decade ago. After that, he devoted even more time to what was dear to his heart.

In 2012, he, Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz of Congregation Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem, and Imam Zijad Delic, created a blog called Faith Blender. Each clergyman offered his perspective on current issues or common human dilemmas. Their goal, as the site points out, was not to convert anyone, but rather to share their respective traditions.

Father Walsh died of a heart attack as he was about to officiate at a funeral. He had been well and active until then. Just a few days before, he was feted by the Nazareth Community, with which he was associated for 40 years, when its newest shelter, a home for young men, was named “John’s House.”

Israeli Consul General David Levy made a donation on behalf of his country, to which Father Walsh remained faithful. Cantor Gideon Zelermyer of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim sang on that occasion, as he did at the interreligious service.

Zelermyer had been friends with Father Walsh since the young American cantor came to Montreal some 20 years ago. This was not a polite acquaintance, but a deep relationship that extended to Zelermyer’s entire family.

He recalled the first time Father Walsh was a guest at his home for a Passover seder. The priest apologized that he had forgotten his kippah. Zelermyer’s young son quickly fetched one. “It was a red velvet one. A big smile came on John’s face and he exclaimed, ‘Hah, a promotion!’” alluding to the headwear of Catholic cardinals.

Zelermyer concluded the memorial with Come Healing and If it Be Your Will, two spiritual songs by Leonard Cohen.

There were official tributes as well. Rabbi Reuben Poupko, co-chair of CIJA-Quebec, stated that his close friend “brought Montreal together. His sincerity and love were powerful forces that helped shape the life of the city.” Federation CJA CEO Yair Szlak commented that Walsh “embodied the spirit of tikun olam. A mensch to the core, he will be deeply missed by Jewish Montrealers…”

When he was honoured with the Sheila and Victor Goldbloom Distinguished Community Service Award in 2012, Father Walsh explained what motivated him. “My work in interfaith [dialogue] is to change humanity. If we can all reclaim that together, then we can make a better world. Yes, there will be differences. We need to say: How can we become better human beings?”

Canada Repeats Last Year’s UN Vote on Palestinian Self-Determination

Nov. 20, 2020

By RON CSILLAG

In a repeat from a year ago, Canada has voted for a United Nations resolution that refers to “occupied Palestinian territory” – including east Jerusalem and its holy Jewish sites.

Canada voted for the annual resolution on Nov. 19. The measure was adopted 163 to five at the UN’s Third Committee and will now go to the General Assembly for a final vote.

Titled “The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,” the resolution was opposed by Israel, the United States and the Pacific island nations of the Marshall Islands, Nauru, and the Federated States of Micronesia.

Since 2006, over Liberal and Conservative governments, Canada had voted against the measure and has generally sided with Israel or abstained in its votes on the basket of about 20 resolutions introduced at the UN annually this time of year on “The Question of Palestine.”

But a year ago, Canada’s abrupt about-face on this one resolution sent shock waves through the Jewish community and strained relations with Israel. Canada’s move was widely denounced in Israel advocacy circles and was seen as all the more dramatic because it skipped over abstention and went to support.

Others questioned whether it meant a shift in Canada’s Middle East policy.

At the time, Israel said it had no advance warning of Canada’s change of vote, adding that it was considering lodging a formal complaint against Canada.

Entitled the “Right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,” the resolution stresses “the need for respect for and preservation of the territorial unity, contiguity and integrity of all of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.”

It further “reaffirms the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, including the right to their independent State of Palestine; [and] urges all States and the specialized agencies and organizations of the United Nations system to continue to support and assist the Palestinian people in the early realization of their right to self-determination.”

In a joint statement the day after Canada cast its ballot, Jewish advocacy groups expressed their “deep disappointment,” saying the resolution fails “to affirm Jewish self-determination in the indigenous and ancestral homeland of the Jewish people” while “intentionally erasing historical Jewish connections to Jerusalem – including the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site.”

In its explanation of its vote, Canada said it is a “strong ally and close friend of Israel” and is “committed to the goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, including the creation of a Palestinian State, living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel.”

This country’s support for the resolution “is a reflection of our longstanding commitment to the right of self-determination for both Palestinians and Israelis,” said the explanation, known as an EOV.

The resolution focuses on two issues, the EOV stated: “The right of self-determination of the Palestinian people, and the need for all countries to do what they can to support the successful creation of a Palestinian state, living in peace and security with its neighbour Israel.

“From the time of the earliest resolutions of the Security Council on these issues, we have endorsed the principle of ‘two states for two peoples.’ While we do not agree with some elements of the preamble, Canada will support this resolution because of its focus on these important, core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The EOV said Canada “does not and will not support any resolution that unfairly singles out Israel for criticism. Our votes on these resolutions across the UN system reflect this principle. We will continue to oppose these resolutions and initiatives which do not speak to the complexities of the issues or seek to address the actions and responsibilities of all parties, including the destructive role in the conflict of such terrorist organizations as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah, that have refused to accept the legitimacy of the State of Israel and routinely use violence targeting civilians.

Canada said it welcomes the recent announcement by the Palestinian Authority to resume coordination with Israel. “We continue to insist that real progress will depend on mutual recognition and trust, and a firm rejection of extremism and terrorism. We know that lasting peace and security starts with direct talks, and the concessions and compromise that always accompany successful negotiations. Canada urges both sides to return to negotiations.”

In a statement, newly-elected Liberal MP Ya’ara Saks (York Centre) defended the government’s voting record on Israel at the UN: “The systematic singling out of Israel at the UN is unfair and unjust, which is why we have the strongest record of any Canadian government in opposing the annual UN resolutions that single out Israel, having voted against almost 90 percent of them since 2015. We are the only Western country alongside the U.S. that systematically votes against these resolutions.

“Israelis and Palestinians want and need a resolution to the conflict firmly rooted in the principle of ‘two states for two peoples.’ Their future depends on it and the new developments of the recent accords show us what can be achieved when states work together.

“The Canada-Israel relationship is stronger and deeper than can be defined by one vote. It is an unbreakable bond that makes both countries better, safer, and more prosperous,” said Saks. “That’s why the government is right now engaged in Canada-Israel collaboration and innovation, and increasing our efforts internationally to promote Holocaust remembrance and combat the global rise of antisemitism.

“I’ve made our community’s position clear to the government, and will always work to further strengthen the Canada-Israel relationship,” Saks stated.

Three days before the vote, Canada’s major Jewish advocacy groups, B’nai Brith, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC), and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, urging Ottawa to return to its “principled and unequivocal opposition” to this year’s batch of resolutions.

The day after Canada cast its ballot this year, Michael Levitt, president and CEO of FSWC, stated, “We are dismayed by Canada’s decision to undermine its longstanding policy of rejecting one-sided and prejudicial anti-Israel resolutions at the UN. By supporting this resolution, Canada is providing ammunition to those who seek to delegitimize and demonize the State of Israel, which ultimately sets back the prospects for peace in the region.”

Shimon Koffler Fogel, CIJA President and CEO commented: “The government of Canada has now doubled down on its incomprehensible support for a resolution that simply expands the anti-Israel narrative within the United Nations system – an aberration in the voting pattern established and re-affirmed by successive Canadian governments for almost two decades until the Liberal government changed its vote last year.”

Notwithstanding other “praiseworthy” initiatives by the Liberals, this vote “will undermine the Jewish community’s confidence in this government – its willingness to stand by its principles as they relate to Israel, as well as its relationship with the Jewish community here in Canada.”

Wondered B’nai Brith Canada’s CEO Michael Mostyn, “Does support for this resolution bring us any closer to a durable and sustaining peace?”

In its own statement, the progressive group JSpaceCanada, sounded a different tone, saying Canada “has once again demonstrated that supporting Israel and recognizing the rights of Palestinians are not mutually exclusive. This year, Canada reiterated its opposition to the annual slate of anti-Israel resolutions, while also re-affirming its support for Palestinian self-determination. While imperfect, the resolution Canada voted for signals that the two-state solution remains a key priority for Canadian foreign policy. With the looming threat of annexation and continued impasse on peace negotiations, it is critical that the international community advance the need for a just peace based on mutual recognition.”

Montreal-born Hillel Neuer, head of UN Watch in Geneva, employed stronger language, saying the Liberal government “has joined the jackals at the UN” by voting for the resolution.

Israel’s embassy in Ottawa had no comment when asked for its position on the Nov. 19 resolution.

The day before that vote, Canada sided with Israel on a UN resolution that recognizes Palestinians’ sovereign rights to natural resources on the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The measure calls on Israel, “the occupying Power,” to “cease the exploitation, damage, cause of loss or depletion and endangerment of natural resources in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including east Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan.”

The resolution was approved by a vote of 156 to six. Opposing it were Canada, Israel, the United States, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Nauru.

Earlier this month, Canada voted with Israel on five Palestinian-related resolutions and abstained on two others.

Ajax Councillor Apologizes for Linking Israel with Nazi Street Name

Nov. 19, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

An Ajax councillor has apologized for citing Israeli “oppression” of Palestinians as justification for naming a local street after a Nazi warship commander.

“I would like to apologize for any comments I made that were hurtful to yourself and the Jewish Community,” Coun. Ashmeed Khan (Ward 2) said in an email exchange with Ajax resident Adam Wiseman. “That was not my intention.”

Ashmeed Khan

Khan made the controversial statement Monday in a lengthy debate over a motion to change the name Langsdorff Drive to that of an Allied veteran of the Second World War. The motion to change the name passed four to three.

During that discussion, Khan declared: “One word I have heard repeated consistently today is reconciliation, reconciliation, reconciliation. I’ve been having calls from people in [his ward] who are Palestinian and have no hope of reconciliation, as they are currently being oppressed by the Jewish State of Israel and they are concerned about how we will address this today.”

The next day, Wiseman, who started a petition calling for the street’s name change, asked that Khan apologize.

“I understood your comment about the ‘Jewish state of Israel currently oppressing Palestinians’ as justification for not changing the street name as though you are implying that yourself and the Palestinian community believe Jews deserve this sort of affront,” Wiseman wrote. “(I)f that was your intention then I am requesting an on the record apology to the Jewish community in Ajax.”

At the heart of the debate is a residential street named in 2004, and dedicated in 2007, for Captain Hans Langsdorff, a career officer of Nazi Germany’s navy and commander of the warship Admiral Graf Spee.

An attempt to name one street in Ajax for Langsdorff’s ship was reversed earlier this year.

In addition to challenging Khan’s statement, Wiseman also had a testy email exchange with Ajax Mayor Shaun Collier, who opposed the renaming motion.

Shaun Collier

Wiseman wanted the mayor to condemn antisemitism but Collier replied that Langsdorff was an honourable man who deserved to be remembered.

Collier noted a passage from a book titled Command Decisions: Langsdorff and the Battle of the River Plate: “All Langsdorff’s actions as captain of the Graf Spee show that he was a decent, honourable and compassionate man.”

Wiseman responded that in his message to Collier, he had used Langsdorff’s own words from his suicide note, in which he praised Adolf Hitler as a “prophet,” not the “conjecture” of an author writing decades after the events.

Holding Langsdorff up as anything other than a loyal officer of the German navy cheapened the memory of Germans who actively opposed the Nazi regime, Wiseman added.

Wiseman said he was “absolutely disappointed about this email both in tone and content.”

In a later email to the CJR, he added the mayor should have called out an antisemitic statement the moment it happened.

“I am definitely not pleased with the mayor,” he wrote. “It is after all his council and I feel the comment should have been addressed in the moment. The best way to fight antisemitism is to call it out immediately and without apology.”

JFK’s Assassination – and a Montreal Jewish Lawyer’s Good Name

Nov. 19, 2020

By FRED LITWIN

This Sunday marks the 57th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Hopefully, most people will commemorate his life and the hope his administration brought to the United States and much of the world. But I fear most tweets and articles will be about conspiracy, coverup, and wondering when more related assassination documents will be released.

I’ve been researching the JFK assassination since I was 18, in 1975. Back then, Geraldo Rivera showed the famous Zapruder film of the president’s shooting on television for the first time, and I became convinced there was a conspiracy. Over the years, my opinion has changed to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole gunman, and that was the basis for my 2018 memoir, I Was a Teenage JFK Conspiracy Freak.

The fact of the matter is that JFK conspiracy theories have ruined people’s lives and damaged reputations. And one person who was affected was a Jewish lawyer from Montreal: Louis Bloomfield.

The story begins on March 1, 1967 when a man in New Orleans, Clay Shaw, was charged with conspiracy to assassinate JFK. At the time, the only evidence against Shaw was a recovered memory from a witness who had been given sodium pentothal (so-called truth serum, and had been hypnotized three times). He remembered Shaw being at a party where the assassination was being discussed.

Three days after his arrest, a Communist Party-controlled newspaper in Rome, Paese Sera, ran a series of articles claiming that Shaw had been involved in unsavory activities while serving on the board of Centro Mondiale Commerciale (CMC) – a world trade centre that tried to make Rome an important trading hub.

Paese Sera alleged that the CMC was a “creature of the CIA … set up as a cover or transfer to Italy of CIA-FBI funds for illegal political-espionage activities.” Pravda, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, then published an article on March 7 with the headline “Clay Shaw of the CIA.” It alleged that Shaw “was given the task of establishing contacts with extreme rightist groups in Rome, including the representatives of the neofascist organizations.”

The story then appeared in other European communist newspapers, and then jumped into the legitimate press with two articles in Montreal’s venerable Le Devoir on March 8 and 16. The second article emphasized a possible Montreal link to the assassination. It was alleged that a retired American major, L. M. Bloomfield, held half the shares of CMC and that “he had participated in the espionage activities of the OSS (now the CIA) during the way.” They also claimed that Bloomfield was now a Montreal banker.

Louis Bloomfield
Louis Bloomfield

It is quite possible that these articles were planted by the KGB to convince Americans that the CIA was behind the assassination. But none of the allegations were true.

Clay Shaw never attended a board meeting, and there is no evidence that the CMC was engaged in anything untoward. But now, the papers of Louis Bloomfield, housed at the Library and Archives Canada, confirm that CMC was exactly what it claimed to be – a world trade centre.

Bloomfield’s law firm was extremely busy – in 1960 alone, it sent out over 2,000 letters. He wrote the managers of CMC many times but never mentioned the name Clay Shaw once, and there was nothing political in those letters. He was concerned that the CMC was not finding enough tenants, and was interested in the running of the firm – so much so, that he sent an associate to help manage the office.

Bloomfield was deeply troubled by the Le Devoir articles. He wrote then Editor Claude Ryan demanding a retraction. I searched through several months of Le Devoir, and I could not find any correction or retraction.

Bloomfield’s letter referenced Il Messaggero, another Italian newspaper, which presented the facts. There were “stormy financial events,” it said, and in 1962, the CMC was evicted from its building. Shortly after that, the company was dissolved, and the members of the board “gave rise to other initiatives.”

The articles confirmed that Shaw had never been to Italy and further noted that “there is no trace of his name in the foreigner’s office.” Also, “the name of Clay Shaw has conjured an image of mysterious activity which appears to be involved with the CIA, that is to say, the headquarters of counterintelligence in America, but nothing in the current situation seems to infer such risky speculation.”

After the Le Devoir articles, the whole affair became more sinister. The organization around Lyndon LaRouche, an American activist who trafficked in conspiracy, published an article claiming that Bloomfield ran an assassination bureau that oversaw JFK’s murder. Bloomfield worried about his physical safety and wrote the Commissioner of the RCMP, saying that “editors obtained certain bits and pieces of my biography, which have been mixed, garbled, and woven into a fabric of lies, hallucinatory accusations and statements that have no connection with me in any shape or form whatsoever.”

The reality was that Bloomfield was quite the mensch.

During the Second World War, he was a lieutenant in the infantry but was moved because of a heart murmur. He was profiled in the Canadian Jewish News in 1978, telling the paper that he was moved into “hush-hush, secret service jobs in a less hectic activity. I realize that this line will make conspiracy theorists go crazy, but so be it.”

His activities included locating German submarines in Mexico, and he said “his biggest coup came when he was able, because of past dealings with the Polish line, to prevent the Nazis from seizing a number of Polish ships in New York harbour, preventing them from sailing into the waiting hands of the German navy.”

After the way, Bloomfield became a lawyer specializing in corporate and international law and he authored many books and articles. He was on the drafting committee for the Helsinki Rules on the uses of international rivers.

He was on the board of governors of several hospitals and raised a lot of money for the Reddy Memorial Hospital in Montreal. He cofounded the World Wildlife Fund of Canada, and was active in many charities in Israel.

He served on the boards of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Weizmann Institute of Science, and the Technion in Haifa. He worked hard for a wide variety of Jewish causes, including as honorary counsel for the World Zionist Congress (and as a judge for its tribunal), and he was the national treasurer of the Canadian Histadrut Campaign, raising money for Israel’s main labour union. He had his brother Bernard built a 2,400-seat stadium in Tel Aviv and 17 trade and vocational schools in Israel.

In 1965, Bloomfield was named the first Jewish Knight of Grace of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, an organization dedicated to teaching first aid.

Shaw was acquitted of conspiracy, but District Attorney Jim Garrison then charged him with perjury, and it took another two years for that charge to be quashed. Shortly afterward, Shaw died of cancer, ruthlessly deprived of not only the best years of retirement, but most of his savings too.

I don’t think any of this held Bloomfield back professionally. But his online biographies are littered with accusations of involvement in the JFK assassination. Many conspiracy books mention his name. For instance, Michael Benson’s Who’s Who in the JFK Assassination has a two-page entry on Bloomfield.

His ties to JFK’s killing were also raised in 1967 in Canadian Dimension magazine. Bloomfield demanded a retraction of that article, and got one.

Conspiracy theories can be fun, but they can ruin lives – like Clay Shaw’s – and they can sully reputations, like Louis Bloomfield’s. So, let’s toast the memory of JFK this week, but please, don’t pick up that conspiracy book.


Fred Litwin
Fred Litwin

Fred Litwin is the author of On The Trail of Delusion, Jim Garrison: The Great Accuser. He has written for the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, the Toronto Sun, C2C Journal, iPolitics and The Dorchester Review. 

Letter to the Editor: Internet Enables Hate

I am not just outraged but disgusted to hear from Rafi Yablonsky about his experience of being harassed and bullied online by other Jews for posting a about the U.S. election (“Wishing Biden and Harris Well Online? Buckle Up…CJR, Nov. 17).

It is the tragedy of our day that the internet has enabled people to put their worst feelings and thoughts out there and to make it so easy for people to not only disrespect but hate each other. 

Furthermore, as a rabbi in the community I think I need to say that this kind of political bullying; the reflexive hatred of those who do not share your own opinion, and the blind faith in any political figure that leads people to that hatred is not Judaism. It goes beyond sectarianism. It is Avodah Zarah – the worship of idols. Nothing could be less in line with our Torah and tradition. 

Rabbi Jordan Shaner
Toronto

Montreal Geriatric Centres Battling COVID Outbreak

Nov. 18, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—Less than a month after declaring it was COVID-free, Maimonides Geriatric Centre is trying to contain a serious outbreak among residents, as well as staff and outside caregivers.

On Nov. 17, the long-term care institution reported that 26 residents have tested positive for the coronavirus, and that three have died since the start of the second wave.

In addition, 16 staff have been infected, as well as six registered caregivers. The latter are either family members or private personal support workers permitted to regularly visit a resident, under strict conditions. Maimonides says five other caregivers earlier tested positive, but have recovered.

All infected staff remain at home.

Maimonides, a 380-bed facility in Cote Saint-Luc, was hard hit by COVID in the spring and summer. According to government statistics, a third of the residents contracted the illness and 39 died during that period.

The virus appears to be spreading rapidly. On Nov. 13, Maimonides reported that 16 residents and 11 staff had tested positive, and no deaths were announced.

The positive residents, all from the second and third floors, have been moved to a sealed-off ward occupying half of the uppermost seventh floor.

All residents who were cared for by the 16 infected staff members, who worked on the second, third, fourth and sixth floors, have been placed in isolation elsewhere while they await their test results. Also isolated are those residents who were tended by the 11 infected caregivers, who were present in various units.

Five wings on the second to sixth floors are now designated “warm zones” for precautionary isolation where only essential medical appointments are permitted and all other services and activities considered non-essential are on hold.

“We are currently looking at different strategies for minimizing the introduction by caregivers of the virus into our facility,” states the public message, signed by Maimonides co-chiefs Dr. Jack Gaiptman and Dr. Kris MacMahon, and site coordinator Jennifer Clarke. On-site testing for caregivers is now available three days a week.

The first case of a resident contracting COVID in the second wave was reported on Nov. 4, and was traced to a staff member who had tested positive. On Oct. 31, Maimonides reported that three staff members had been found positive, and other staff with whom they had been in contact were being tested.

That was just 12 days after the CIUSSS West-Central Montreal informed families that there were no longer any COVID cases among residents at Maimonides and the Jewish Eldercare Centre.

This regional health authority, which administers the institutions, said that the “hot zones” at both facilities would therefore be made available for outside COVID-positive patients who are medically stable but require more care than is available where they live, such as seniors’ residences, or who are not strong enough to go home after hospitalization.

These patients would be from the geographical territory this CIUSSS oversees.

To date, no such patients have been admitted.

Eldercare, a 380-bed institution in the Cote-des-Neiges district, is also dealing with a new COVID outbreak. It was hit even harder in the first wave than Maimonides, suffering a rash of cases and deaths from the beginning of the pandemic in March.

On Oct. 31, families of Eldercare residents were advised that one resident and two employees on the fourth floor of its Hope pavilion had tested positive by attending physician Dr. Mark Karanofsky.

Days later, that had grown to four residents and seven staff on the same floor.

All infected residents are confined to the hot zone and attended by staff working only with them, said Karanofsky. The presence of “COVID agents” was increased to ensure sanitary practices were being followed by staff and registered caregivers.

On Nov. 2, Karanofsky reported that he had tested positive after showing symptoms of a cough and headache. 

He said the last time he was in the Eldercare building was Oct. 27 and that he had always worn a mask and face shield when he was with a resident.

In his latest communication on Nov. 17, Karanofsky said there were eight active cases among residents and two among staff, all from the Hope pavilion’s fourth floor. Having isolated for two weeks, he said he had been cleared to return to work.

Over the past few weeks throughout Quebec, there has been a spike in COVID cases in long-term care centres. Maimonides and Eldercare are now on the government’s watch list, ranked in the yellow zone below the more serious orange and red zones.

Among private seniors’ residences which provide intermediate care, the government has placed the kosher Le Waldorf in Cote Saint-Luc in the yellow category after nine residents, or five per cent of the total, came down with the illness. Two deaths are recorded.

‘Nazi’ Street Name to Change; Debate Spills Over to Israel

Nov. 18, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

A Toronto suburb will strip the name of a Second World War Nazi from one of its streets.

Ajax town council voted narrowly Monday night to remove the name Langsdorff Drive from a residential street and, instead, honour an Allied serviceman.

It took a petition campaign by a local resident, the intervention of B’nai Brith Canada, and an emotional appeal from a Holocaust survivor, among others, to convince four of the seven council members that honouring a Nazi in Canada was wrong.

But the lengthy debate was marred by comments from one councillor who opposed the name change because Palestinians are “currently being oppressed by the Jewish State of Israel.”

From the start, the debate was sharply divided. Supporters of German navy Captain Hans Langsdorff claimed he was an honourable man who was respected by his enemies. Those demanding the name change, however, argued Langsdorff’s personal qualities didn’t outweigh the fact he fought for the regime responsible for one of history’s greatest crimes against humanity. 

Max Eisen, one of only three from an extended family of 70 to survive the Holocaust, told the councillors that experience leaves “no room for our enemies to be honoured in Canada. For me, it would represent a terrible thing if this motion fails.”

Rabbi Tzali Borenstein of the Chabad Centre of Durham Region argued the Holocaust is a wound that has never healed for the Jewish community and is torn open repeatedly in an age of growing antisemitism. That, he said, makes it wrong to honour anyone who played even a small role in the Nazi regime.

“Being a Nazi is never right,” he said. “To honour someone with a street name is to be on the wrong side of history.”

Coun. Ashmeed Khan (Ward 2) noted repeated references to the need for reconciliation between former enemies and said the lack of reconciliation for “oppressed” Palestinians is why he supports keeping the Nazi street name.

“One word I have heard repeated consistently today is reconciliation, reconciliation, reconciliation,” he said. “I’ve been having calls from people in (his ward) who are Palestinian and have no hope of reconciliation as they are currently being oppressed by the Jewish State of Israel and they are concerned about how we will address this today.

“I cannot support changing this street name and changing history,” he added. “I say the same thing I said about [the street] Graf Spee Lane: Mr. Mayor, when does this stop? When do we stop pandering to a handful of people?”

On Tuesday, Adam Wiseman, the Jewish Ajax resident whose petition campaign started the renaming effort, bristled at Khan’s remarks and fired off an email inviting the councilor to clarify his comments or apologize to Durham’s Jews.

“I understood your comment about the ‘Jewish state of Israel currently oppressing Palestinians’ as justification for not changing the street name as though you are implying that you and the Palestinian community believe Jews deserve this sort of affront,” Wiseman wrote. “(I)f that was your intention, then I am requesting an on-the-record apology to the Jewish community in Ajax.

“You also mentioned that the city should not ‘pander’ to a small number of people,” Wiseman wrote. “Do I really need to point out why there are so few Jews in Canada?  Are you familiar with the quote ‘None is too many’ in reference to Canada sending ships full of Jewish refugees back to Nazi Germany to be slaughtered?” 

At the heart of the debate is a residential street named in 2004, and dedicated in 2007, for Langsdorff, a career officer of the German navy. In 1939, in command of the warship Admiral Graf Spee, he was ordered into the South Atlantic Ocean where he sank nine Allied merchant ships carrying desperately needed supplies to Britain.

In December, however, he was trapped off South America by three British ships, including HMS Ajax, for which the town is named. In a brawl known as the Battle of the River Plate, the Graf Spee was damaged and limped into Uruguay’s Montevideo harbour for repairs.

Ordered out of the neutral country after three days, and knowing that a superior British force was waiting for him, Langsdorff ordered his 1,000-member crew off the vessel and blew it up. Three days later, in a Buenos Aires hotel, he wrapped himself in the ship’s battle flag and shot himself in the head.

The Town of Ajax, in Durham Region, east of Toronto, was founded in 1941 and has a policy of naming its streets after the ships and sailors of the River Plate battle. An attempt to name one street for Langsdorff’s ship was reversed earlier this year. It currently has a list of 160 names that could be used. The decision to name a street for Langsdorff required making a specific exception to that rule.

Langsdorff’s supporters have noted that he saved the lives of his crew, of hundreds of Allied sailors, and the crews of merchant vessels he allowed to escape before sinking their ships. Those actions, say his supporters, show Langsdorff was never an ardent Nazi and, in a spirit of reconciliation, should be honoured by his former enemies.

Jim Devlin, a member of the Ajax branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, argued that point, saying Langsdorff’s membership in the Nazi Party shouldn’t be held against him.

“I am in no way standing up for Nazis,” said Devlin, a Canadian army veteran. “I believe Hans Langsdorff was a navy man first and foremost and if he was a Nazi, it was just a formality. His treatment of prisoners was that of an officer with honour.”

Supporters also argued that since Langsdorff died in 1939, he could not have known about Nazi plans to exterminate Jews.

Local amateur historian Kevin Nesbitt argued, for example, that since the real atrocities of the Holocaust didn’t start until 1941 or 1942, “it’s highly unlikely Langsdorff knew or ought to have known about them.”

Wiseman, the Ajax resident whose petition campaign started the renaming effort, rejected those arguments.

“I understand the desire to find something good here, but it isn’t there in Hans Langsdorff,” he said. “Right up to the end he fought for the Nazis and their cause.”

Where others point to Langsdorff’s personal conduct, Wiseman points to the sailor’s suicide note, in which he remarked: “I shall face my fate with firm faith in the cause and the future of the nation and of my Fuehrer.” Langsdorff also lauded Adolf Hitler as “a prophet, not a politician.”

B’nai Brith, which supported the renaming motion, praised the town’s decision.

“Today is a proud day for Ajax, for Ontario’s Jewish community, and for Canada as a whole,” CEO Michael Mostyn said in a news release. “Taking action against the glorification of Canada’s enemies and a man who fought for the most evil regime in history sends the right signal to those concerned about the rise of hate in our time.”

Monday’s motion by councillors Lisa Bowers and Sterling Lee directs town staff to hold an open house for residents of Langsdorff Drive and to report back to council with a recommended course of action to rename the street.

The Ajax controversy is the latest development in a series of debates over Nazi symbols in Canada. B’nai Brith has been working with the town of Lachute, Que. to prevent a local ceremony honouring a Nazi pilot; has been helping residents in Puslinch, Ont. opposed to a roadway named Swastika Trail; and is partnering with the Canadian Polish Congress to remove monuments honouring Nazi collaborators in Edmonton and Oakville, Ont.

Get Tough With Social Media, Say Global Lawmakers

Nov. 18, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

Jewish advocacy agencies are calling for stiff fines, cuts in government spending for online advertising, and new regulations to force social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to get tough with online hatemongers.

B’nai Brith Canada, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre (FSWC) and other organizations told a panel of international lawmakers recently that getting tough is the only way to get the tech giants to help drain the cesspool of online antisemitism polluting their platforms.

The groups made their points during the first public hearing of the Inter-Parliamentary Task Force to Combat Online Antisemitism. That body, comprised of lawmakers from Canada, the United States, Israel, Great Britain and Australia, launched in September to deal with the growing problem of online hate.

“In the crisis we are facing now this issue has become all the more pervasive,” said Michael Levitt, CEO of FSWC. “We are seeing antisemitism being weaponized now under the thinly-veiled guise of anti-Zionism.”

One suggested tactic is to form an agency like the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, a voluntary, self-regulatory body created by the country’s private broadcasters to deal with viewer complaints about news and entertainment programs.

Another is to make directors and officers of social media companies personally responsible for allowing their platforms to be used for hate speech.

“The platforms offer an unprecedented opportunity to spread antisemitism,” said Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, director of FSWC Canada’s campaign against antisemitism. “They have to be held responsible for the material they publish.”

In a news release following its presentation, Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, said after years of pressure, “there have been some clear signs that social media platforms are gradually coming around,” but the problem is far from solved.

What’s needed, said Mostyn, is greater transparency and a chance to provide input to their policies.

“If necessary, governments and civil society must exert a leadership role. The Jewish community is absolutely ready to contribute to these efforts,” he said.

In its testimony, B’nai Brith argued a key to combating online hate and antisemitism is to define the problem for a global audience. One such tool is the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA)’s definition of antisemitism. That definition has been adopted by several Canadian municipalities, the federal government, and recently in Ontario.

B’nai Brith also argued antisemitism should be seen as an issue of human rights, not simply one of religious freedom. Many of its current forms must be understood as “hatred and demonization of the State of Israel that exceeds the boundaries of legitimate policy criticism.”

“A clear legal and policy framework – domestically and internationally – is required to bring coherence to efforts to take down hate.”

Agencies around the world have noted shocking rises in antisemitism, often driven by driven by conspiracy theories about Jews being responsible for the COVID pandemic. In Canada B’nai Brith has noted an 11 per cent rise in online antisemitism and harassment that often advocates genocide.

Social media companies haven’t been ignoring the problem. Earlier this year, for example, Twitter began flagging some tweets from U.S. President Donald Trump for violating policies that ban threats of harm against an identifiable group.

And last month, Facebook announced a new policy banning Holocaust denial.

In an email exchange, a Facebook spokesperson said the platform found and removed nearly 90 percent of hate speech content before being reported, and in the first quarter of 2020, took action against 9.6 million postings.

Over the last year, “we’ve conducted 14 strategic network disruptions to remove 23 different banned organizations, over half of which supported white supremacy,” the spokesperson said.

In Canada, the company’s work has included a $500,000 program announced earlier this year for the Global Network Against Hate, in partnership with Ontario Tech University’s Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism.

Other Canadian participants in the task force include Members of Parliament Anthony Housefather (Liberal), Marty Morantz (Conservative) and Randall Garrison (NDP). Israel is represented by MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh (Blue and White).

Limmud Toronto 2020: Virtual, But No Shortage of Choices

Nov. 17, 2020

By DAN BROTMAN

One of the greatest Jewish innovations I came across during the decade I lived in South Africa is Limmud, which means “learning” in Hebrew. Limmud is an international Jewish educational festival, established in the UK in 1980. The Limmud concept is unique in that it brings together Jewish thought leaders and community members across social, denominational and political lines to learn from each other in a safe space on a wide range of topics. Since its inception, Limmud festivals have spread to 42 countries on six continents, with Toronto being home to the first-ever Limmud in North America.

Limmud Toronto is taking place this Sunday, Nov. 22, and for the first time, will be hosted virtually, enabling access to an even wider range of community members from Canada and beyond.

Some 60 presentations will explore topics ranging from opera in Israel, campus antisemitism, an introduction to “post-pandemic theology,” the Nuremberg trials, and Jewish roller derby.

Peter Sevitt
Peter Sevitt

The CJR spoke to Peter Sevitt, who brought the Limmud UK concept to Toronto 16 years ago, and this year’s chairperson, and to Mira Kates Rose, about how Limmud came to Canada, and what to expect from this year’s festival.

What motivated you to bring the Limmud UK concept to Canada back in 2004?

Peter: When I attended Limmud UK, it was incredible to see people of all ages and backgrounds come together to learn and discuss topics that are meaningful to them. The spirit and energy at Limmud UK were unforgettable, and I wanted to recreate that in Toronto. Limmud Canada’s inaugural day-long festival took place in November 2004 at York University’s Founder’s College in Toronto. It was the first Limmud in North America, and was promoted as a festival of Jewish learning, without a denominational or political agenda, that believes in the inherent value of Jewish education. 

That first festival attracted close to 400 participants and over 60 presenters, including some of Canada’s top Jewish educators, community organizers, writers and rabbis. They spoke on topics including Jewish text, Israel, history, cooking, philosophy, contemporary issues, and the arts. Presentations included spiritual music, an improv workshop, Rambam, Kabbalah, healthy Jewish cooking, spiritual parenting, sexuality in biblical narrative, Trudeau and Canadian Jews, identifying media bias against Israel, and the history of Yiddish. The keynote speaker, Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler, spoke on Jewish values and public policy. A Young Limmud offered programming to children ages five to 12. 

Limmud Canada is a registered Canadian charity, and Limmud International requests that each organization in the global Limmud family be represented by individual cities. There had previously been a Limmud in Montreal, and in addition to Toronto, there are currently annual Limmud festivals in Winnipeg, Vancouver, Ottawa and Kingston.”

Mira Kates Rose

What are some common misconceptions about Limmud?

Mira: Some people assume that Limmud is for those who have enormous background knowledge on Jewish history or law or culture, but in fact the very point of Limmud is to learn something new. Limmud is, at its heart, a celebration of the Jewish idea that everyone has something to teach, and everyone has something to learn. Regardless of your background education or Jewish affiliation, political leanings, religious or cultural practices, and regardless of whether or not you are presenting, you should feel that Limmud’s discussions are for you, and that they reflect you, and that you are part of the conversation. At Limmud, we don’t refer to “lectures” or “teachers,” and participants who happen to be Jewish professionals are asked to leave their titles at the door. Limmud’s success is the diversity of voices that take part.

For the first time, this year’s Limmud Toronto is going to be held virtually. What is this going to look like?

Mira: Every year, we try to increase the breadth, diversity and representativeness of Limmud. This year, we are setting a record for presenters making their first Limmud Toronto festival, and we are lucky to include some experienced presenters from other Limmuds from four different continents. We have a selection of speakers talking about Sephardi histories, identities, and perspectives; different types of responses to the COVID pandemic, including communal, social, psychological, and halachic; and our program will include a lot of multimedia tours of culturally fascinating places, such as the National Library of Israel and the history of Jewish Shanghai. We are honoured to be bringing together a really vibrant and unique roster of teachers, politicians, advocates, and artists. Our popular Marketplace is going virtual too: You will be able to visit presenters’ “booths” through the Sched platform. One important difference is that guests attending Limmud will need to choose sessions from the program and sign up for them in advance.

What excites you the most about Limmud Toronto 2020?

Mira: There is an instant spark of excitement and community amongst people who show up, and especially on a Sunday in November. They come to learn from each other, engage in conversation, wrestle with big ideas and seek inspiration. We have a stellar and far-reaching roster of program presenters, and I am already torn with indecision about having to choose sessions. But the full picture of Limmud only comes to light once all the presenters and all the participants are together. This year I will really miss the buzz of participants excitedly trading “who did you learn from?” recommendations in the hallways between sessions, but I hope that in our virtual format we can deliver some of that energy and inspiration to everyone at home.

To learn more, view the schedule and register, visit www.limmud.ca


Dan Brotman is the Executive Director of the Windsor Jewish Federation & Community Centre. He will be co-presenting at this year’s Limmud Toronto on the future of smaller Jewish communities in Ontario.

JNF Montreal Launches $1M Prize to Make Israel a Climate Change Leader

Nov. 16, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—Jewish National Fund (JNF) of Montreal is aiming high in its Negev campaign this year. The goal is nothing less than to solve the global climate crisis.

A planned $1 million (U.S.) prize to encourage Israel to take the lead in combating climate change was announced at JNF Montreal’s virtual Negev gala on Nov. 11.

The campaign, chaired by Jonathan Goodman, founder and CEO of Knight Therapeutics Inc., aims to enable the prize to be awarded annually.

The Climate Solutions Prize will go to the Israeli researcher or not-for-profit organization which proposes an innovation that promises to have the greatest impact in the world, as judged by an expert panel.

Israel, it is believed, is well placed to make such a breakthrough given its strength in technological development and entrepreneurial spirit. However, most investment has been going into the information, medical and financial fields, Goodman points out, and less into green technology.

“Climate change was not a primary concern for me until my (teenaged) son Noah told me it is his priority,” Goodman said. A JNF youth group is playing a strong role in this project.

JNF Montreal Negev 2020-2021 honoree Jeff Hart, president of Victoria Park Medispa, said the prize “will leverage Israel’s special ability to solve seemingly impossible challenges in order to bring literal tikun olam – healing of the world.”

Given its 119-year history of making the desert bloom and more recent environmental leadership, JNF is considered to be in a position to oversee this initiative. Israel is experiencing the harmful effects of climate change, evidenced by record-breaking temperatures and, in Tel Aviv, unprecedented flooding, for example, Hart said.

The campaign will continue through to late spring, and it is hoped the first prize can be awarded next fall, in a live ceremony to be broadcast worldwide, said Hart.

A related $100,000 prize to recognize a Quebec organization making an outstanding contribution to mitigate climate change, which might lead to a partnership with Israel, is also planned.

Despite the gravity of the subject, the Zoom gala was filled with humour. The emcee was Andy Nulman, co-founder of the Just for Laughs festival, who alternately could be seen in a parka and tuque against a frozen background and in a tank top in a room on fire.

Hart got into the lightheartedness by wearing a T-shirt with the logo, “There is No Planet B.”

The biggest laughs were generated by the guest speaker Yossi Abramowitz, aka “Captain Sunshine,” who was live from Israel even though it was the wee hours of the morning there.

That didn’t dampen his exuberance for his mission to power Israel – and the rest of the world – by renewable energy, in particular the power coming from the sun.

A Boston native, the activist and entrepreneur made aliyah in 2006 with his wife, Rabbi Susan Silverman (sister of comedian Sarah Silverman), and immediately co-founded the Arava Power Company in the Negev Desert, which set up Israel’s first grid-connected solar field, proving many doubters wrong.

His aim is 100 percent daytime reliance on solar energy from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea.

Since 2013, Abramowitz has been president and CEO of Energiya Global Capital, which supports affordable solar power projects outside Israel, especially in developing countries, including Rwanda and Burundi.

He would like to see Israel become “the energy superpower of goodness in the world…the renewable light unto the nations.”

Abramowitz thinks the JNF prize will leverage more investment from the government and private sector in sustainability, as was the case in Arava.

Abramowitz recalled how the then California Senator Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff privately visited Arava in 2017 and were highly impressed with the development of solar energy.

He likes to think the “seeds were planted” for the Joe Biden-Harris platform, which emphasizes renewable energy, “or at least was nurtured around our Shabbat table.”

“It’s time the Jewish people steps up, not just for ourselves, but everyone,” Abramowitz said. “We’re a global people that has always strived to be ethical. And this [the climate crisis] is the big one.”

More information is available at climatesolutionsprize.com.

ICRF Toronto Receives Record-Breaking Gift

Nov. 16, 2020

By SUSAN MINUK

With the goal of keeping cancer research top of mind during the coronavirus pandemic, an anonymous donor has bestowed a record gift of U.S. $1 million to Israel Cancer Research Fund Toronto (ICRF) to create the Beverley Librach Abshez Fund for Ovarian and Female Reproductive Cancer Research.

“With the promise of a vaccine, COVID will eventually be gone from our lives, yet, cancer will still remain with us for some time to come,” said Bonnie Fish, president of ICRF Toronto’s board.

The donation is the largest single gift ICRF Toronto has ever received at one time.

A mother of three daughters, grandmother and great-grandmother, Beverley Librach Abshez died of ovarian cancer this past June, and the extraordinary donation was made in her name.

The benefactor believes Israeli cancer researchers will take the world closer to a cure for female reproductive cancers.

“This donor really wanted to make sure that their gift was not going to bricks and mortar, rather, directly to scientists,” said Fish.

ICRF is the largest charitable organization outside Israel solely devoted to supporting cancer research in the Jewish state. Since 1975, ICRF has funded more than U.S. $77.5 million to support over 2,500 grants responsible for major cancer research breakthroughs.

Grants issued by ICRF have been awarded to hundreds of researchers at leading universities and hospitals in Israel. Past recipients include the first two Israelis to win the Nobel Prize in chemistry, as well as multiple winners of the coveted Israel Prize, together with other accolades. 

Following a rigorous peer-review process, ICRF will support 69 cancer research projects in 2020-2021. Among the areas of cancer research being funded are studies in blood, brain, breast, colorectal, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, and skin cancer, as well as genetics and genomics, molecular biology, immunology and immunotherapy, and the tumor microenvironment.

ICRF-funded scientists have been instrumental in the development of breakthrough life-saving cancer drugs, including Doxil, Gleevec and Velcade.

Sweet Deal: Canadian Sugar Producer Partners With Israeli Food Tech Startup

Nov. 13, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—Montreal-based sugar manufacturer Lantic Inc. has formed an exclusive partnership with an Israeli company to commercialize its technology that promises to substantially reduce sugar content in foods without sacrificing flavour.

Under the strategic collaboration with DouxMatok, Lantic will begin producing this modified cane sugar for the food industry in the United States in 2021.

According to an announcement, this all-natural product will have 30 to 50 percent less sugar content than regular cane sugar “without compromising taste, mouth feel or texture.” It can be used just like regular sugar, including in baking and making chocolate and other confectionery, the companies say.

“The patented technology works by maximizing the efficiency of sugar delivery to the sweet taste receptors, enhancing consumers’ perception of sweetness. This allows for considerable reduction in sugar content, while retaining the same taste consumers know and love,” stated a press release.

DouxMatok, based in Petach Tikvah, developed the technology over six years and holds 24 granted patents. It says its claims have been validated by numerous taste tests conducted among professionals and members of the public.

Lantic and DouxMatok have been working together for two years, piloting the product and scaling up Lantic’s capacity to manufacture it on an industrial scale at its refineries in Montreal and Vancouver. They have been consulting with selected food companies on developing new products using the sugar in, as well as reformulating existing goods.

Lantic’s parent is Rogers Sugar Inc., a publicly traded company and one of the largest sugar manufacturers in North America.

“We are extremely pleased to have secured an exclusive agreement with DouxMatok for this innovative technology that adds an important and much desired customer solution to our natural sweetener portfolio,” stated Lantic president and CEO John Holliday.

“In working with Lantic and its passionate entrepreneurial team, we are confident we have the right partner to take on the largest sugar market in the world,” stated DouxMatok CEO Eran Baniel.

“We are particularly excited about our part in helping make the food we love healthier, especially amid growing concerns around rising obesity.”

Baniel, an experienced entrepreneur, founded DouxMatok in 2014 with his father, Avraham Baniel, a legendary Israeli industrial chemist then well into his 90s, who is credited with inventing a process of stretching the sweetness of sugar back in the 1940s.

During the Second World War, sugar was rationed in British Mandate Palestine. A teacher asked Baniel, then a recent university graduate, if he could find a way to make a little of the stuff go further to satisfy her restless students’ cravings. He did so, experimenting in his kitchen.

Baniel would go on to become managing director of Israel’s national chemistry research and development centre for 30 years.

Trump’s Muddled Foreign Policy Examined at FSWC Event

Nov. 13, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

Donald Trump did not make the world safer for Jews, or anyone else, say two prominent officials who worked directly with the soon-to-be former American president.

John Bolton
John Bolton

John Bolton, former national security advisor to the president, and David Petraeus, former director of the CIA and retired four-star general, told a Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre event on Nov. 9 that Trump’s often incoherent foreign policy did nothing to counter the threats of terrorism, a nuclear Iran, or Chinese aggression.

The speakers were the feature attractions at FSWC’s State of the Union fundraiser. They told their virtual audience that while the Trump era did produce some promising results, such as the Abraham Accords peace agreements between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, the safety of the world remains threatened.

David Petraeus
David Petraeus

The Middle East agreements, they said, were more driven by domestic politics in the Arab world than by American leadership.

“Both of these agreements reflect changes that are tectonic in their effect in this region,” said Bolton, adding that the move to peace could be attributed to a decreased concern over Palestinian issues, rising concern about a nuclear Iran, and concerns about American staying power as an influence in the region.

Those forces will result in more peace agreements “sooner rather than later.”

Petraeus, who commanded American military efforts in both Afghanistan and Iraq, said that another major piece that brought the deals together was Israel’s agreement to halt settler incursions into disputed land, at least temporarily.

“There are lots of pluses here, it is clearly a positive step forward,” he said. “The question is, can it stick? There’s not much else here for the Palestinians.”

Petraeus added those small gains are the best that can be hoped for now. Anything more will have to wait for new leadership in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“Now isn’t the time to be swinging for the fences,” he said. “This is the time to hit singles and doubles, no home runs.”

There are also potential benefits to the region from some parts of the so-called Deal of the Century, Petraeus noted. Among those are the creation of a 25-mile long tunnel between the West Bank and Gaza Strip; allowing travel between the regions without having to pass through Israeli checkpoints; ideas about developing the Red Sea-area Egyptian Riviera that could bring economic benefit to Palestinians; and Israel’s prospects of becoming an energy superpower through the development of natural gas.

That’s all in addition to potential benefits from Israel’s already strong, and growing economy.

“The start-up nation is becoming the scale-up nation,” Petraeus said.

Bolton added a political restructuring in the region is needed.

Rather than the one or two-state solutions that have been so bitterly debated for years, he suggested a three-state deal that would see the Gaza Strip become part of Egypt while Israel and Jordan jointly rule over the West Bank.

Hovering over those potential promises, however, is the continued threat of Islamic terrorism.

Bolton said the radicalization driving some young Muslims to strap bombs to their bodies in the hope of killing Israelis is continuing to spread through both the Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam.

“The West seems to forget how deeply religious feeling can go toward motivating political action,” Bolton said.

That concern is heightened, he added, as American and allied troops are pulled out of Afghanistan, leaving room of Taliban terrorists from Pakistan to return to the region.

The soldier and the security advisor both said China remains a particular concern to world peace, one Trump failed to handle.

“There was simply no coherent Trump Administration policy on China,” Bolton said. “China is a huge question we have to face and we are not ready for it.”

Beyond seeking trade deals to sell American grain to China, Bolton said the Trump Administration ignored China’s growing economic strength – a strength he said is based on stolen intellectual property and is used to build a military machine.

How the situation changes once President-Elect Joe Biden takes office in January is an open question, they said.

“Right now there’s just no clear indication of where Biden wants to go,” Bolton said.

Despite Trump’s current allegations of voter fraud, both agreed the transfer of power will take place.

“It will happen, but there may be some wild rhetoric first,” Bolton said. “A president has to operate on the basis of facts, but this president does not.”

The State of the Union event raised $3.3 million.

BGU Palliative Care Centre Memorializes Kappy Flanders

Nov. 13, 2020 

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—“I don’t beat around the bush. I can’t use all these euphemisms. In my book, people don’t pass away, they die.”

That memorable quote from Kappy Flanders summed up her unflinching attitude toward death. People retreat into vague terms because of fear, she believed, and avoidance of reality has meant that too many endure their final days without proper care.

Kappy Flanders
Kappy Flanders

Flanders, who died in June at age 81, devoted her last three decades as a volunteer to the improvement of palliative care, urging greater access and quality and, equally, dispelling misconceptions about what it is.

She endowed an academic chair in palliative medicine at McGill University in 1994, the first of its kind in North America, and was instrumental in the creation of the grassroots Council on Palliative Care in Montreal, a public education and advocacy group. She went on national initiatives.

Flanders cringed at “medical aid in dying,” insisting on calling it euthanasia. If there was adequate end-of-life care, relieving physical and psychic pain, doctors would not have to be put in the position of terminating lives, she contended.

The motivation for her activism was watching her husband Eric suffer for 18 months with the lung cancer that would kill him in 1991 in his 50s. Medical treatment was intense, but no professional support to ease the course of his illness was known to her in Montreal.

When her mother, who lived in Israel, died of cancer a couple of years later there, Flanders was impressed by the hospice approach that allowed her to die comfortably and peacefully.

In 2000, Flanders established the Eric M. Flanders Endowment Fund in Palliative Medicine at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) to strengthen its nascent training in palliative care.

Flanders, who grew up in a Zionist family in London, England, remembered meeting David Ben-Gurion as a child. Her husband was a founder of the Canadian Associates of BGU in 1973 and its first president.

Two decades on, BGU has fulfilled Flanders’s vision. In October, it inaugurated the Kappy and Eric Flanders National Palliative Care Resource Centre, described as the first of its kind in Israel. It brings under one roof multidisciplinary academic education, practical training and research, as well as play an advocacy role.

Dr. Pesach Shvartzman, director of the palliative unit at Soroka Medical Centre and chair of the health ministry’s committee to establish national standards in palliative care, is the centre’s director.

“We believe this centre will help make palliative care much more accessible throughout Israel, just as Kappy would have wanted,” he said.

The centre, in whose development Flanders took a keen interest up to her death, was made possible with a significant donation from the Prosserman family of Toronto. Ron Prosserman said at the virtual dedication, that it was his longtime friend, Dr. Vivian Rakoff, former head of psychiatry at the University of Toronto, who died earlier in the month, who suggested the gift.

Flanders’s three daughters, Susan, Judith and Elle, said the centre is a fitting tribute to their mother’s work from which she never flagged. 

“When she believed something should happen, she made it happen,” said Susan of her mother, who inducted into the Order of Canada in 2015.

In addition to Shvartzman, the centre’s founding members are Drs. Yoram Singer and Mark Clarfield, both originally from Canada, and Tali Samson. The centre also has an international advisory board that includes Dr. Bernard Lapointe, chief of palliative care at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital and until recently, holder of the Flanders chair in palliative medicine at McGill.

“Kappy was a connector, bringing together volunteers, professionals, intellectuals, artists and leaders, all around the cause of quality end-of-life care,” said Lapointe, who called her a mentor.

Flanders died – not passed away – the way she wanted for herself, and everyone: at home, surrounded by her family.

Liberal MP Affirms Friendship with Jewish Community

Nov. 12, 2020 

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—One year after he was elected, Montreal-area Liberal MP Sameer Zuberi welcomed the opportunity to finally put to rest Conservative allegations that he is antisemitic and a proponent of 9/11 conspiracy theories.

Sameer Zuberi
Photo credit: Bernard Thibodeau

“That’s completely false and wrong; it’s inconsistent with who I am and my record,” Zuberi told a videoconference hosted by Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom on Nov. 3. “…The Conservative attack is a red herring. If it were actually true, I would not be doing what I am doing now.”

On the eve of the contested Liberal nomination meeting in the Pierrefonds-Dollard riding in September 2019, the Conservative Party issued a press release describing Zuberi as having an “antisemitic past” and “promoted conspiracy theories” about 9/11.

The release also denounced Zuberi, who is Muslim, as a “radical activist” when he was a student leader at Concordia University in the early 2000s.

Zuberi, 41, who won the nomination over five other contenders, denied the allegations at the time, but went further in explaining why they were inaccurate and hurtful in response to a question during the virtual Temple event.

First, he emphasized that he comes from a mixed background. His father emigrated from Pakistan in the 1970s and his mother is a third-generation Canadian from Brockville, Ont.

An aunt converted to Judaism, and she, his uncle and their children – Zuberi’s cousins – observe kashruth and Shabbat. “I participated in that from a young age. My parents always reminded me that we have Christians and Jews in our family. Since the cradle, that has always been my world view and why I have worked so hard to create understanding among communities,” he said.

Zuberi, who was active in the Canadian Muslim Forum and worked as the diversity and engagement officer in McGill University’s faculty of medicine before running in the October 2019 federal election, said he has been devoted to bridge-building throughout his life.

Well before he considered entering politics, Zuberi said he attended a Shalom Hartman Institute program in Jerusalem to gain a deeper understanding of the Jewish experience. There, he “learned from rabbis, thought leaders and civil society in an unvarnished way.”

He said he “cares deeply for the Jewish community and respects the Jews of Canada and the world.”

Addressing the specific Conservative charges, which were never retracted, Zuberi said to characterize him as a “9/11 truther could not be further from the truth. I have constantly denounced terrorism and Osama bin Laden…I am on the record dozens of times.”

The Conservatives reproduced an exchange on Zuberi’s Facebook page from May 3, 2011, just after bin Laden was assassinated, to back up their allegation. Zuberi responded to a comment posted that whether bin Laden was the mastermind of 9/11 was still “a matter of public debate,” but cautioned the commenter against subscribing to theories that confirmed their views.

Zuberi points out that on that day, he had a letter published in the Globe and Mail and Montreal Gazette in which he wrote that “the death of Osama bin Laden is a welcome event.” The thrust of the letter was that, 10 years after 9/11, “it was time to turn a new page and move on to something else,” he explained.

As for the accusation that as a Concordia Student Union vice-president, he supported the suspension of the Jewish student club Hillel in late 2002 because it was accused of disseminating Israel Defense Forces recruitment materials, Zuberi said that, “at that time, I am on the record that Hillel should not be suspended. I dug up that statement and shared it publicly.”

The Temple’s Rabbi Lisa Grushcow’s association with Zuberi goes back to before he entered federal politics. She said they worked together on interfaith and intercultural projects, and collaborated during the fight against Bill 21, Quebec’s secularism law. He has taken part in the Temple’s Muslim Awareness Week and other programming, she said.

“Sameer has consistently been a friend of our community,” she said.

COVID Rips Through Jewish Retirement Home

Nov. 12, 2020

By LILA SARICK

Coronavirus has ripped through a Toronto Jewish retirement home, infecting all but one of the residents and leading to the deaths of several elderly patients.

147 Elder Street, a retirement home that cares for seniors with dementia, has seen 45 of its 46 residents test positive for the virus, with one test still pending.

147 Elder Street, North York, Ontario (source: 147elder.com)

Seven residents have died, since the outbreak started in mid-October and six residents are currently in hospital, Krista Samborsky, director of resident and family relations, wrote in an email sent to family members on Nov. 11.

According to a report posted Nov. 9 by Toronto Public Health, 25 staff at the retirement home have also tested positive for the virus.

“This is a devastating virus that is severely impacting us right now,” Samborsky wrote to families. “While loss of life is a natural part of 147 Elder Street, our team is impacted particularly deeply by these events.”

The home, located in a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood in North York, advertises that it serves “the Jewish and general community.”

The source of the virus’s spread has not been pinpointed, but “in all likelihood it is a combination of factors, combined with the high transmission rate of the virus in the community, the prevalence of dementia in our home and our high staffing ratios,” the email to families stated.

The home did not have any COVID cases during the first wave of the pandemic. Since this outbreak started, staff from Humber River Hospital’s Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) Team have been at the home daily to review operations and make recommendations. The hospital has also sent doctors and nurses to the home to treat residents, Samborsky said in an email to the CJR.

The home has increased staffing and has added more personal support workers than usual. Staff compensation has been increased to retain staff, and accommodation has been offered to employees who are not comfortable going home due to the health status of their families, Samborsky said.

Sue-Ann Levy, whose 91-year-old father lives at 147 Elder and has been diagnosed with COVID, said the home had taken every precaution to keep residents safe since the beginning of the pandemic.

“I think they did everything they possibly could to keep it (COVID) out and in my view, unfortunately it was just dumb luck,” Levy told the CJR.

In the early days of the pandemic in the spring, the home required caregivers to work at only one facility, before the province mandated it. Visitors were carefully screened and had to have a negative COVID test and wear full protective gear before entering the facility, Levy said.

Since the outbreak, the home has conducted testing regularly and involved Humber River Hospital early on.

Levy, a columnist with the Toronto Sun, said she has written stories about families with loved ones in long-term care where they hear nothing from the home for four or five days, a situation she calls “unacceptable.”

In her case, she and her brother have received two emails and two phone calls a day about their father.

The home operates on a model that encourages residents not to isolate in their rooms, which has been “wonderful” for her outgoing father, Levy said.

“But that kind of formula leads to a very quick spread and unfortunately, that’s probably what has happened,” she said.

Residents are now isolated in private rooms. While family visits have been suspended, the home was working with authorities to allow one designated caregiver per resident to enter, Samborsky said, 

Levy said she plans on visiting her father this Friday, with a negative COVID test in hand. “My dad has dementia, as does everyone else, and they feel it would be good emotionally for him,” she said.

The toll at the home has been sobering, but not unexpected, Levy added.

“I said this all along throughout the summer, having covered all this, that if it got into a dementia facility, it would be a nightmare and now, we’re living it.”