Quebec Cuts Synagogue Attendance to 25 Due to COVID Surge

Sept. 24, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL – Attendance at Kol Nidrei and Yom Kippur services will be much smaller than even the reduced level planned by synagogues after the Quebec government raised the COVID alert level for the city.

Hours before Rosh Hashanah ended on Sept. 20, Health Minister Christian Dubé announced that the island of Montreal would be designated “orange,” the second-highest precaution under the province’s colour-coded system.

For houses of worship, that means a maximum of 25 people indoors and outdoors, slashed from the previous socially-distanced 250.

The great majority of Montreal congregations are Orthodox, and do not have the option of using digital technology during the holidays.

Mainstream Orthodox synagogues had already kept the number of worshipers at any one time to below the limit by holding Rosh Hashanah services both indoors and outside, often multiple times and for shorter durations. Children were even barred at some synagogues.

Rabbi Reuben Poupko

Rabbi Reuben Poupko of Beth Israel Beth Aaron Congregation in Cote Saint-Luc told the CJR that Yom Kippur services there will be further dispersed to comply with the new cutoff of 25.

However, he finds it “deeply disturbing” that houses of worship are subject to the same restrictions as any public gathering when movie theatres can still admit up to 250 people and bars remain open with only slightly reduced hours.

“The synagogues have gone above and beyond the regulations to ensure a safe environment, which took many hours of planning. We have doubled and even tripled the prescribed measures, done everything possible, with the advice of medical experts,’’ said Poupko, co-chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs-Quebec.

“I’m not saying this is an infringement on freedom of religion, but its exercise is protected, whereas going to a bar or a movie is not a right.”

At his shul, only 120 people were permitted in the 750-seat sanctuary and 150 in a tent outdoors that has a capacity of 800.

Similarly, at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Westmount, Montreal’s largest synagogue, only a tenth of the nearly 2,000-seat sanctuary was occupied.

And though it is not mandatory once people are seated, the synagogues require masks to be worn at all times – indoors and out.

Stricter measures were not a complete surprise. Since late August, the daily increase in confirmed COVID cases in the province has risen to levels not seen since May.

Houses of worship, which were closed in March, were allowed on June 22 to reopen with a maximum of 50 people, which was increased to 250 on Aug. 3.

Most, however, either held services outdoors or with very limited numbers indoors, up to Rosh Hashanah.

Montreal public health director Dr. Mylène Drouin said last week that she had met with Jewish community leaders to urge adherence to the protocols over the holidays.

On Sept.17, a day before erev Rosh Hashanah, Federation CJA sent out an “Update for the High Holidays” outlining “recommendations’’ to the community from public health authorities. These included limiting indoor events to 50, whether in synagogues or community or rented halls, and requesting that people over 70 not attend.

“Although implementing these recommendations requires an adjustment in our plans, we must acknowledge that the virus is still among us, and that we must do everything we can to protect the health and well-being of our neighbours, family and friends, as well as ourselves,” stated Federation president Gail Adelson-Marcovitz.

One synagogue did cancel its Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services for the first time in its 56-year history. Congregation Beth Tikvah, a large Orthodox synagogue in Dollard-des-Ormeaux on the West Island, had planned to have indoor and outdoor services.

But Rabbi Mark Fishman decided even this was too risky. He posted on Beth Tikvah’s Facebook page: “The upswing is empirically significant and growing in the Jewish community necessitating the closure of a major Jewish school and creating an atmosphere of anxiety and fear amongst parents in all the other schools, including HFS (its affiliated Hebrew Foundation School).

“The upswing in cases in the Jewish community once again has become the focus of the media and is putting the reputation of our community at risk.”

Herzliah High School was closed on Sept. 17 for two weeks at the behest of the public health department. At least 15 students and one staff member tested positive for COVID, an outbreak attributed to community transmission, likely a bar mitzvah.

In making the decision, authorities also noted an uptick of less than five to 11 cases the previous week in Cote Saint-Luc, where many from the school live or have contacts.

The suburb, which is majority Jewish, is making municipal property such as parks and parking lots available to congregations or groups of individuals for outdoor holiday services.

Herzliah was the first school in Quebec to close, but a second in Quebec City has since been shuttered.

Ultra-Orthodox leaders are also imploring members to adhere strictly to government rules. The Jewish Community Council of Montreal (Vaad Ha’ir) has sent out advisories.

Rabbi Yisroel Bernath, director of the NDG Chabad Centre, is pointing to his own example to drive the message home. He contracted COVID and, although relatively young, was “out of commission for six weeks.”

Pandemic Delays Plans for New Montreal Holocaust Museum

Sept. 22, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—The COVID pandemic has forced the Montreal Holocaust Museum (MHM) to abandon plans for a new multimillion-dollar premises, but says the project is still going forward.

In her annual report, outgoing president Dorothy Zalcman Howard said the MHM had found “an ideal location” to build a much larger museum and “achieved unprecedented success in obtaining funding commitments…The dream was about to be transformed into reality when COVID struck, and our board faced the difficult decision of stepping back from the brink and reshaping the vision.”



Holocaust survivor Mila Messner is captured in a photographic triptych for the Montreal Holocaust Museum’s new virtual exhibit, Witnesses to History, Keepers of Memory. (Photo courtesy MHM/Stéphanie Cousineau)

But she stressed that a new museum remains a top priority. “I invite you to stay tuned for good news in the future,” Zalcman Howard stated.

In 2018, the MHM announced plans to relocate and expand, leaving the Federation CJA building that was its home since it was founded in 1979.

The Azrieli Foundation pledged to underwrite a third of the cost, up to $15 million.

Zalcman Howard did not specify where that ideal location was, but the museum had said it wanted to move downtown in order to reach a wider audience.

The only one of its kind in Canada, the museum was receiving an ever-increasing number of visitors and demand for its educational services, necessitating the ambitious expansion.

A study by an independent consulting firm supported the project’s feasibility.

The work of the MHM remains more important than ever, as “Holocaust diminishment has taken root and awareness is declining,” Zalcman Howard told the MHM’s annual general meeting, held virtually Sept. 14.

Completing her two-year term as president, she assured: “Our future is vibrant and secure.”

MHM communications director Sarah Fogg later told CJR, “We are actively looking for a new location and have explored three excellent possibilities since April. We are definitely confident we will find a great site.”

The pandemic forced the MHM to close from mid-March until its reopening, with restrictions, on July 6. Despite this curtailment, Zalcman Howard reported that the facility reached hundreds of thousands of people over the previous 12 months, including 20,000 visitors, 9,750 of those students. More than 8,700 attended some 55 events organized by the MHM and 19 Holocaust survivors told their stories to some 12,500 people before the shutdown.

The MHM now has 13,405 items in its collection, the majority donated by local survivors or their descendants, as well as 858 videotaped survivor testimonies.

Following the shutdown, the museum’s already multi-faceted online and digital presence was further enhanced and attracted even more users, Zalcman Howard related.

Executive director Daniel Amar said the website and virtual exhibits had 116,000 visitors, while videos on YouTube of survivors’ testimonies were viewed 198,000 times, a 25 percent increase over the previous year.

The MHM produces pedagogical materials and runs teacher training programs. Over 35,000 visits to the educational pages on its site were recorded, traffic that did not stop while the schools were closed.

Zalcman Howard hailed the fact that her successor, Richard Schnurbach, is the first grandchild of survivors to serve as president of the MHM.

Three new members named to the board of directors reflect the MHM’s aim of attracting a more diverse public. Yasmine Abdelfadel is a founding member of Mémoires & Dialogue, a group fostering rapprochement among Jews and Arabs of North African origin; Widia Larivière is an Indigenous rights activist; while Denis Marion, a former senior political aide to Bloc Québécois and Parti Québécois members, is mayor of Massueville, a town near Sorel-Tracy. He lived in Israel in the late 1980s, earning a master’s degree in political science at Hebrew University.

Jennifer Carter, chair of the museum committee and University of Quebec at Montreal museology professor, is vice-president.

The latest virtual exhibit produced by the MHM is “Witnesses to History, Keepers of Memory,” portraits by Marie-Blanche Fourcade and Eszter Andor of 30 Montreal survivors who were photographed at home with objects that hold precious memories.

The annual meeting began with a memorial to the 60 survivors who died in the past year, conducted by Cantor Hank Topas and Rabbi Mark Fishman of Congregation Beth Tikvah.

Barrie Endorses Antisemitism Definition

Sept. 22, 2020 – As expected, the City of Barrie has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, after withdrawing the motion a month earlier for further consideration.

City council on Sept. 21 unanimously adopted a resolution that Barrie endorse the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, as codified at the IHRA plenary in May 2016.

Jeff Lehman, Barrie Mayor
Jeff Lehman, Barrie Mayor

It was the same resolution Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman withdrew at the 11th hour last month just before it was to go before the city’s General Council.

Lehman and members of council had received some 200 letters and emails, the vast majority from outside Barrie, opposing adoption of the IHRA definition, alleging its acceptance would stifle criticism of Israel and silence pro-Palestinian activism.

In a recent CJR interview, Lehman said he withdrew the measure party because he didn’t want council making a decision based solely on opposition to it.

The full council “needed to hear why this was important and to hear from our local community, which really hadn’t mobilized that way,” he said. “To be frank, I don’t think anybody really expected that degree of opposition.”

In the interim, Lehman said he received support for the definition’s passage from “well beyond the [local] Jewish community. We had a number of community leaders speak to city council, and send in letters and emails of support.”

Councillors heard from both sides Monday night.

Rabbi Audrey Kaufman of Barrie’s Am Shalom Congregation told council the definition is not an attempt to silence criticism of Israel, reported Barrie 360.

“The IHRA definition has nothing to do with Israeli politics,” Rabbi Kaufman said in her deputation. “It’s not pro-Zionist, pro-Israel or anti-Palestinian. It does not prevent anyone from criticizing Israeli policies.”

She said accepting the IHRA definition “creates a sense of protection for the Barrie Jewish community. It is proof to us that expressions of hatred toward Jews will not be tolerated in this city and we have our municipal government’s full support,” Barrie 360 reported.

Critics of the IHRA definition called it counter-productive and said it has already been used to stifle Palestinian causes, including in this country.

The definition “has been used time and time again by its pro-Israel backers to silence voices for Palestinian human rights,” said Independent Jewish Voices of Canada, which led the charge against the measure.

In a statement, Noah Shack of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said that by adopting the resolution, the city “has sent a clear message: There is no place for antisemitism and hate in Barrie.”

Statistics Canada data confirm an “alarming trend of Jews being the country’s most frequent target of hate crime,” Shack continued. “This is not just a problem for Jewish communities – it harms society at large. The adoption of the IHRA definition is an important step in addressing this scourge. After all, you can’t effectively solve a problem if you can’t properly identify it.”

The definition has been endorsed by 35 countries, including Canada, and, according to CIJA, by the European Parliament and the United Nations. A bill incorporating the IHRA wording is before Ontario’s legislature.

Last week, the City of Brampton endorsed the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

– By CJR Staff

Black, Jewish Communities Join Forces to Combat Racism

Sept. 22, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Two communities with long histories of persecution are linking arms to push for a better future.

B’nai Brith Canada and the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce have signed an agreement to collaborate on efforts to end antisemitism and racism in the country.

The deal, signed in a special ceremony Sept. 16 in Toronto, commits both groups to share their knowledge and strategies for attacking their common problem.

“It is easy to get swept up in the divisiveness rhetoric that that often accompanies political discussions,” said B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn. “We are coming together today to reject divisiveness and together forge an uplifting, positive and concrete path for the future of our communities.”

Andria Barrett, president of the two-year-old Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce (CBCC), said B’nai Brith’s long history of advocating for the Jewish community will help her organization in its struggle.

“We see B’nai Brith as an ally in our quest for equality, equity and opportunity,” she said. “This is an important partnership that will amplify the efforts of both organizations.”

B’nai Brith, Barrett said, “has demonstrated time and again that [it is] skilled at advocacy.”

Canada’s Black and Jewish communities have a long history of working together. When the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was formed in 1909 in Niagara Falls, Ont., and in the infancy of the 1960s civil rights movement of Martin Luther King Jr., Jewish groups marched with their Black neighbours.

“For generations Jewish Canadians and Black Canadians have stood side-by-side in our efforts to oppose discrimination and build a brighter future,” Mostyn said.

That support famously included Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching arm-in-arm with King. Another involved Hamilton Rabbi Eugene Weiner, who organized a group of local clergy to fly to Selma, Alabama, where images of white police attacking peaceful protesters ignited a wave of protest.

Despite sharing goals and methods, the relationship between the communities has always been informal. Now, the leaders said, swelling anti-Black racism in the United States and antisemitism growing around the world made a formal alliance important.

“After the horrific killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, we realized we were at a turning point in our history,” said Aubrey Zidenberg, chair of the Special Advisory Committee to the League for Human Rights.

“Both the Jewish and Black communities have suffered through years of racism, injury and exclusionary policies,” he said. “Together we can collectively achieve great things in this magnificent country of ours.”

Beyond protest marches and briefs to government, both groups hope to use their shared skills to foster positive growth in the country. A special focus will be on efforts to improve the economic situation of marginalized communities.

“It is far too easy, especially in these troubling times, to complain and yell and scream and sometimes to bring things down without having answers for some very serious societal problems,” Mostyn said. “We are both looking to make a real difference across this country.”

Cookies for Mental Health: Toronto Tween Delivers

Sept. 21, 2020 – By SUSAN MINUK

Mia Adler has reason to smile. This summer, the 11-year-old delivered cookies to raise awareness for mental health.

Mimi (her nickname) created “Mimi For Mental Health” in preparation for her bat mitzvah on Nov. 7 this year. Her business motto: Be kind. Be empathetic. Be brave.

Mia Adler, Mimi For Mental Health

Mia’s cookie venture has raised $4,226 in support of Mental Health Empowerment Day (MHED), a venture that promotes mental health education, de-stigmatization and builds community.

“Mia’s passion for helping others proves that young people can drive change,” lauded Leanne Matlow, founder of MHED.

The cookie project launched on July 30. And with Mia’s final delivery on Erev Rosh Hashanah, her “Rosh rush” drove record-breaking sales: More than 78 dozen cookie orders.

Mimi For Mental Health cookie delivery

As the Grade 7 student at Humewood Community School explained, “I want people to be happy, especially during times like this [pandemic]. I’ve had mental health issues and I know how important it is to let someone know you care. Receiving a box of cookies can change a person’s perspective on everything. It can put a smile on someone’s face and can make them feel loved.”

To make that happen, she participated in Project Give Back, which started in 2007 to inspire young students to develop meaningful relationships with their community and become global-minded, compassionate citizens. Mia’s cookie project was a special Project Give Back initiative geared to her bat mitzvah.

Mia partnered with Sam Ginsberg, a 15-year old CHAT student who runs Sam’s Sweet Creations. Sam developed the mouthwatering cookie recipes.

“I love baking,” Sam enthused. “I love Mia’s cause and I thought it was really cool to partner with another youth.”

From the start of the pandemic, Sam has been delivering baked goods to front-line workers and shelters, donating 20 percent of his profits to charities.

“So being involved in Project Give Back was a good fit for me.”

After rigorous taste-testing, it was decided that Chocolate Chunk, Reverse Double White Chocolate Chunk, and S’Mores would be available for $36 a dozen.

Mia created a social media presence, providing an online form for people to order the treats, with 100 percent of sales supporting MHED, less costs for the cookies.

“Once we knew the numbers of the orders for the week, we would pay Sam so he can purchase his ingredients and for his labour and time,” explained Mia’s mother, Marnie Adler.

“The rest of the money was put aside into a big pot that eventually would go to MHED. Several people who received the cookie boxes reached out to let Mia know how special it was and then they paid it forward the next week, [by ordering more],” her mother said.

For the first week, Sam baked at home in a small kitchen with a single oven. “That order was 27 dozen,” he recalled. “It took about 12 hours. As the orders grew, my aunt let me use her house with double ovens.”

For the final bake, Sam found a commercial kitchen that donated space. He can now bake 34 dozen at a time.

With cookies typically in hand by midweek, Mia’s work began.

“On Thursday mornings, I would wake up and organize the cookies and put them in boxes,” she said. “I had to write names on sticky notes so I wouldn’t lose track of all the boxes and their addresses. I also wrote handwritten cards included with each box.”

Fridays were cookie delivery day. Father and daughter would leave their Toronto home at 10 a.m. for the four-hour journey that included Etobicoke, the Beaches, Richmond Hill, and Maple.

Marnie gushed with pride about her daughter’s entrepreneurial spirit.

“Mia knows how good it feels to give back and how important it is – and that’s what this was all about.”

Concurred Matlow: “Together, Mia and Sam have demonstrated that anything is possible and the future is in good hands.”

Visit www.mhed.ca to learn more about mental health resources.

Brampton Adopts IHRA Definition

Sept. 17, 2020 – The City of Brampton has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown announced on Sept. 17 the city had decided to adopt the IHRA definition in response to a motion brought forward by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and Rabbi Michal Shekel of Congregation Har Tikvah of Brampton.

Brampton became the 10th city in Ontario to formally adopt the IHRA definition, “demonstrating strong support in the fight against antisemitism across the province,” stated Barbara Bank, chair of CIJA GTA.

In August, CIJA met with Brown to discuss the importance of the definition as a tool to identify antisemitism. “We appreciate the swift action taken by Mayor Brown and Brampton councillors, with the support of the local Jewish community,” said Bank.

By adopting the IHRA definition, Brampton “is sending a clear message to its residents that it is taking real action in the fight against antisemitism and hate,” said Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre President and CEO Michael Levitt. “As the Jewish community remains the most targeted group when it comes to hate crimes across the country, it’s imperative for all levels of government to take steps to address and combat antisemitism, including adopting the IHRA definition.”

Brown tweeted that his city endorsed the definition “as part of pledge to combat bigotry and hatred.”

The City of Barrie is one step closer to adopting the definition, after being urged to abandon the idea by its foes, who feel it would stifle criticism of Israel. Click here for more information.

Trudeau visits Ottawa Kosher Food Bank in advance of High Holidays

Sept. 17, 2020 – By SHAKED KARABELNICOFF

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commended the Jewish community for its strength and unity as he joined volunteers in preparing Rosh Hashanah bundles at the Ottawa Kosher Food Bank on Thursday morning (Sept. 17).

Prime Minister Trudeau, Minister McKenna and MP Anita Vandenbeld package honey and apples ahead of Rosh Hashanah at the Ottawa Kosher Food Bank. September 17, 2020.

“There is nothing if not adaptability and resilience from the Jewish community over the centuries and millennia,” Trudeau said to the mask-wearing group of community members who gathered at Ottawa’s Kehillat Beit Israel Congregation before heading to the food bank in the same building.

“As we approach Rosh Hashanah, the spirit of helping each other out and being there for one another is more important than ever before,” added Trudeau. “In the midst of a global pandemic, I can’t think of a better moment to talk about tikkun olam and the need to really reflect on what each of us can do to contribute to a better tomorrow.”

Trudeau was joined by Ottawa-area Liberal MPs including Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Catherine McKenna (Ottawa Centre) and Anita Vandenbeld (Ottawa West-Nepean) as they packaged apples and honey with a group of six volunteers.

The food bank, which serves around 100 families each month, has seen increased demand due to the impact of COVID, explained manager Dahlia Milech. That’s why volunteers are more important now than ever, she said.

(L-R) Prime Minister Trudeau, Rabbi Eytan Kenter, president Judah Silverman, KBI Executive Director Rena Garshowitz at the Kehillat Beit Israel. September 17, 2020.

The increased need matched with the new reality of COVID has meant the food bank had to provide an array of new services, such as home-delivery to those without a vehicle.

“We have about 30 to 40 deliveries every month and it’s all volunteers doing that,” Milech told Trudeau, Vandenbeld, and McKenna as they toured the facility.

It’s the people who were suffering before the pandemic who are hurting even more now, explained Vandenbeld.

“The way the community is coming together to meet the needs [of the food bank] and help those that are suffering more is incredibly important,” said Vandenbeld. “The Jewish community has always had a strong tradition of giving and charity… It’s an example to the rest of the community.”

As synagogues across the province await Premier Doug Ford’s announcement about the potential rollback of social gathering limits, which will affect High Holiday services, Trudeau had an uplifting message for the Jewish community.

“How things are going to happen this weekend is still up in the air,” he said. “But we will adapt and be together. What I see here, and what you have demonstrated throughout these past months, is extraordinarily important to Ottawa and to the rest of the country and the world.”

The underlying slogan of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s Emergency Campaign, Michael Polowin, Chair of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, told Trudeau, was that “the choices we make individually in our community today, will define the community that we will have tomorrow.”

In response, Trudeau light-heartedly referred to next week’s much anticipated Speech from the Throne.

“Well it sounds like you guys have seen a draft of the Throne Speech!” Trudeau exclaimed. “We’ll be talking about a lot of those messages.”


Shaked Karabelnicoff reports on a range of subjects including religious affairs, politics, diaspora Jewry, and Israeli life and culture. Born in Jerusalem, and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, she studied Journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Easing of COVID Restrictions = More Hate Graffiti

Sept. 17, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Hamilton police are reporting a rise in antisemitic hate graffiti as COVID lockdowns ease.

Det. Paul Corrigan, head of the Hamilton Police Service’s hate crimes unit, said reported incidents have risen in the last three weeks after lagging sharply for several months.

Corrigan added that while the year-over-year number is still down sharply from 2019, likely because of COVID-related lockdowns, the recent increase is still of concern.

“The reason we’re seeing an uptick is because it had been reasonably quiet for a while with people locked down because of COVID,” he said. “It’s not an increase over normal times, it’s just an increase over abnormal times.

“I’m no statistical expert, but I’m guessing it’s because of COVID,” he added.

To date, 42 hate crimes have been reported in Hamilton, compared to over 80 for the same period last year. Jews were the targets of 15, or 36 percent, of those incidents. Of that total, 14 were graffiti incidents. Only one, a minor assault in January with antisemitic insults thrown in, involved a serious crime. That case is still before the courts.

The most recent incident occurred over the Labour Day weekend in the Dundas neighbourhood of Greensville, a collection of higher-end homes atop the Niagara escarpment. Three swastikas were drawn on roadways, shocking residents out enjoying the last long weekend of the summer.

Resident Kristin Glasbergen told CBC she saw one of the hate symbols while out for a morning stroll and another two days later.

“I called the city to let them know and I posted on Facebook to let the community there know,” she said. “This doesn’t happen in Greensville.”

David Arbuckle, another area resident, told CBC he was “shocked and disgusted that someone took the opportunity to purposely spread a message of hate in our community.”

Reactions like that are common, Corrigan said, and it’s a chief reason he classifies something a swastika chalked onto a roadway as a hate crime.

“Some police services don’t look at that as a hate crime. They see it as a criminal offense of graffiti, but I look at the swastika as a symbol of hate,” he said. “I know the argument that it’s a peace symbol to a Buddhist, but when I see a swastika, I see it as criminal and there is a hate-bias motivation to it.”

While that approach may give some the impression Hamilton is a hate-filled place, Corrigan said he will continue to rate incidents that way until the federal government comes up with a national definition.

In 2019, Hamilton was dubbed the “Hate Crime Capital” of Canada after Statistics Canada figures showed that hate crimes in the city the year before were up 6.6 per cent against a national decrease of 13 percent.

With reported incidents averaging 17.1 per 100,000 people, the rate in Hamilton was more than three times the national average.

Jews remain near the top of the list as targets of such crimes.

Hate crime in Hamilton and area continued through 2019. In Burlington, for example, two men were charged after six antisemitic incidents were reported in May and June.

In those cases hateful messages were posted on the front door of Burlington City Hall, on streetlamp posts, and private vehicles.

Just as charges were laid in the Burlington incidents, members of Hamilton’s Beth Jacob Congregation arrived for Shabbat morning services last Oct. 5 to find four hate messages crudely scrawled in their parking lot and on the street in front of the synagogue.

The drawings included a swastika, and the word “Jews” crossed-out in a circle.

While local police services grapple with the problem of crudely-drawn hate symbols aimed at Jews, B’nai Brith Canada is urging the federal government to use its upcoming Speech from the Throne to bring in new legislation to deal with antisemitism.

In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn said COVID has “accelerated the bitterness of attacks faced by the Jewish community,” and called for a national action plan to combat antisemitism.

The plan, Mostyn wrote, should include standardized and mandatory school programs on antisemitism and the Holocaust overseen by a new official reporting directly to the prime minister.

Mostyn argued Canada should now take “practical steps” to implement the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which Ottawa adopted last year as part of an anti-racism plan.

“We believe the government should emphasize that addressing racism, antisemitism, hate speech and hate crimes is a public safety issue, not just a multicultural issue and that combating these is one end of the spectrum of countering radicalization to violence,” he wrote.

Mostyn also urged Ottawa to pour resources into digital literacy programs; to refuse diplomatic engagement with Iran unless it accepts Israel’s right to exist; declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization; denying funding to UNRWA, the UN agency overseeing Palestinian refugees; deporting Nazi war criminals like Helmut Oberlander; and ratifying the 2002 Convention on Cybercrime that criminalizes online racism.

99-Year-Old Will Walk One Million Steps for Senior Care

September 16, 2020 – By SUSAN MINUK

Marvin Gord will not only celebrate his 100th birthday on Dec. 31, but plans to gift $1 million to Baycrest Health Sciences Centre – one step at a time.

“Marvin’s Million” was born on July 1, and Gord is determined to walk one million steps by his milestone birthday, raising a dollar for each stride.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford have all joined in cheering Gord on.

With his trusted walker, Gord has, to date, walked nearly 600,000 steps, raising $67,000. He estimates he will complete between 500 and 750 kilometers by his birthday.

Marvin Gord

He was inspired by English war veteran Tom Moore, who raised money this summer by walking around his garden with the aid of a walker for his 100th birthday.

“If he could do that,” said Gord, “I could raise $1 million for Baycrest.”

Gord has a long history with the health care facility. His grandmother, Yenta Maldover, sat on the Ezras Noshem Society committee that founded Baycrest’s predecessor, the Toronto Jewish Old Folks Home on Cecil Street in downtown Toronto.

His mother, Eva Brownstone, volunteered for many years and was later a resident in Baycrest’s Apotex Centre. His wife, Nancy Gord, entered Baycrest’s palliative care and died in 2015. Gord himself volunteered for Baycrest’s Brain Project memory clinic research.

He’s walked for years, averaging 3.5 miles a day since surviving a heart attack in 1980.

“No matter what, I walk 20 miles a week,” he said. “If it’s not a nice day, I’ll go to one of the malls. It doesn’t matter whether I want to or not, I do it.”

It wasn’t until age 97 that he started to use a walker. Gord challenges the community to walk with him. “But you have to keep up,” he said with a laugh.

Many young people have answered the call.

This summer, counselors-in-training at Camp Manitou in Parry Sound, Ont. became “Marvin buddies,” walking virtually with Gord, said Rafi Yablonsky, manager of major gifts and donor development at the Baycrest Foundation.

Students at Upper Canada College have also created a “Marvin page” to help raise awareness and money, Yablonsky noted.

Gord’s life is rich. He has three daughters, nine grandchildren and seven-great-grandchildren, with an eighth on the way in Israel. He’s an avid reader who combs newspapers’ financial pages, and instructed the CJR to “sign me up” if the website ever goes to print.

Marvin Gord
Marvin Gord

Born in Toronto, Gord was a radar specialist during the Second World War, serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Air Force in England, Africa, and Italy.

After the war, he studied at the University of Toronto and became a pharmacist. A dozen or so years later, he returned to U of T for a psychology degree, and then, at age 60, earned a law degree.

On top of that, he became a finance and human resource professor, and at 83, completed the Canadian Securities Course.

Asked the secret to his longevity Gord said, with a straight face, “one shot of Johnnie Walker Black once a day.” He added: “I have no sugar and no salt in my diet and lots of fiber. It’s the way I live.”

About turning 100, Gord asked, “What’s the big deal? When I turn 110, that will be a big deal.”

“Marvin is an incredible man,” said Josh Cooper, president and CEO of the Baycrest Foundation “At 99, he is what we call at Baycrest a super senior.”

Gord’s donation will benefit Baycrest’s Safeguarding Our Seniors campaign, designed to fund protective measures and medical equipment needed for residents, patients and staff, as well as older adults visiting the facility’s doctors.

Donations can be made at marvinsmillion.com.

COVID Outbreak at Montreal Jewish High School Worsens

Sept. 16, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL – All students in five classes at Herzliah High School were sent home to quarantine for 14 days after 11 of them and one staff member tested positive for COVID, the Montreal Gazette reported on Sept. 16.

This is the largest outbreak to date at any of the more than 3,000 schools in Quebec so far.

It is traced to a bar mitzvah held Sept. 6, according to the Gazette’s information. The first student with the virus was identified two days later, shortly followed by a second, following a public health department inquiry.

The public health department held a screening clinic at the school on Sept. 11.

As with the CJR, school officials did not respond to the Gazette’s request for an interview, releasing instead the same general statement previously given to the CJR.

The Gazette did obtain a copy of a letter sent to parents by Herzliah head of school Michelle Toledano, which is quoted: “We are understandably concerned and are conducting our own investigation to determine common factors among the children in this group. We know that some of the students are friends and have contacts outside the school, but we are still investigating whether transmission may have occurred in school.”

Eight of the 11 infected students are in grade 7, two are in two separate grade 8 classes, and one in a grade 10 class. It has not been made public whether the staff member is a teacher.

The quarantined students are learning at home online, a contingency for which Herzliah was prepared.

One student at its elementary Talmud Torah has also been confirmed to have the virus, and is reportedly a sibling of one of the infected Herzliah students.

Under Quebec guidelines, students stay in one class through the day forming their own “bubble.” Face masks and physical distancing are not obligatory in the classroom, only in common areas of the building.

The three initial cases at Talmud Torah and Herzliah were made publicly known on the privately managed website Covid Écoles Québec, which compiles verifiable reports from school parents or staff. As of Sept. 16, 329 schools in the province are listed as having at least one confirmed case.

After the first two Herzliah cases were confirmed by public health, Toledano appeared confident an outbreak could be avoided. In a letter to the school community obtained and posted by covidecolesquebec.org, she wrote that public health officials “informed us that for one of the cases the risk of transmission is weak. For the other, the students of this class must be put in quarantine for 14 days and learn online…”

Barrie a Step From to Adopting IHRA Definition

Sept. 16, 2020 – By RON CSILLAG

The City of Barrie, Ont. is one step closer to adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, a month after it unexpectedly withdrew the motion.

Meeting virtually on Sept. 15, the city’s General Committee quietly passed a resolution to adopt the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. The measure now heads for ratification by city council, which meets Monday, Sept. 21, when members of the public can have their say.

The motion was identical to one that its sponsor, Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman, withdrew at the 11th hour last month after he and council members received a slew of letters and emails opposing its adoption.

Independent Jewish Voices of Canada (IJV), which supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel and vehemently opposes the IHRA definition, boasted in August that “well over 100” of its members and supporters sent letters and messages to Barrie city councillors urging them to vote against the resolution.

Jeff Lehman, Barrie Mayor
Jeff Lehman, Barrie Mayor

In a CJR interview, Lehman conceded he put the item on the agenda last month “without a lot of broader discussion in the community, in part because it was the middle of the summer.”

Concern about the motion was raised after he and council members received about 200 messages opposing its adoption – “obviously a coordinated campaign by certain groups.”

Lehman said he didn’t want council making a decision based only on that.

“They needed to hear why this was important and to hear from our local community, which really hadn’t mobilized that way,” he said. “To be frank, I don’t think anybody really expected that degree of opposition.”

After the resolution was withdrawn, Lehman’s office told the CJR the motion was shelved “following a large number of requests from the Jewish community in Barrie for further consultation.”

Lehman confessed to being “a little confused by that language. I wanted to provide the time for that consultation, and I was concerned we hadn’t heard it.”

However, over the past month, he received “extensive correspondence” from the local Jewish community supporting the IHRA resolution.

In fact, that support “went well beyond the Jewish community,” Lehman added. “We had a number of community leaders speak to city council, and send in letters and emails of support.”

He said almost none of the letters and emails urging Barrie to defeat the IHRA resolution were from residents. “Of the nearly 200 emails, I believe only three that I received were from local residents.”

Should Barrie’s council pass the measure, it would join the Quebec cities of Westmount, Cote St.-Luc and Hampstead, and Vaughan, Ont., all of which have endorsed it.

As of this summer, the definition has been adopted or recognized by 18 countries. Last year, the federal government endorsed the definition as part of its anti-racism plan.

A bill before Ontario’s legislature on combating antisemitism, which contains the IHRA definition, passed second reading earlier this year and is headed to committee for public input.

IJV of Canada and other groups have called the IHRA definition “dangerous,” claiming its acceptance would stifle criticism of Israel and silence pro-Palestinian activism.

That concern is “certainly not supported by the language I see,” Lehman said, pointing out that the definition states that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

On Monday, members of the public will be given five minutes each to make their views known.

David Shron, president of Barrie’s 63-family member Am Shalom Congregation, said someone representing the synagogue will address council in support of the IHRA motion.

He told the CJR that many of the messages sent to the mayor and council members opposing the measure came from outside Ontario.

In the past month, city officials were “inundated with information from people who actually know what’s going on in our local community.”

Shron said he was “very happy” the resolution was approved by the General Council, adding, “I don’t expect it having a major problem” before council.

The 2011 National Household Survey showed there were 660 Jews in Barrie.

Another Racist in the Ranks; Forces Promise to Act

Sept. 16, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Another racist has been unmasked in the Canadian military, this time in the army.

Lieutenant General Wayne Eyre

Army commander Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre has promised that Canadian Ranger Erik Myggland will be out of the armed forces “within weeks.”

According to a recent CBC report, Myggland has a history of involvement with the white supremacist group Soldiers of Odin.

The army’s commitment to rid itself of another racist in uniform was welcomed by Canadian Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

“We support and appreciate this decision by the Canadian Army to finally remove an individual involved in far-right activity and hateful conduct from its ranks, a decision that sends a message that those who are involved in hate groups and activity are not welcome in the military,” FSWC president and CEO Michael Levitt said in a news release.

Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan

“We commend leaders in the Canadian Armed Forces, including Army and Navy commanders, as well as [Minister of National Defence Harjit] Sajjan for speaking out against extremism in the military and taking steps that show it will not be tolerated.”

The action against Myggland follows the revelation last year that a navy reservist in Calgary was a long-time supporter of the racist website Iron March, and once offered to arrange the sale of military grade weapons to another group.

Leading Seaman Boris Mihajlovic was suspended after that revelation but was reinstated in July after saying he had been rehabilitated and no longer held racist views.

That decision to reinstate him is being subjected to a “command level review” by navy commander Vice-Admiral Art McDonald.

The Myggland decision comes two weeks after FSWC leaders met with Sajjan, who promised to drive racists and white supremacists out of the Canadian Forces.

In a statement following that meeting Sajjan said there is “no place for hate in Canada, and membership in organizations that promote hate goes against everything that Canadians value, and what the Canadian Armed Forces stand for.”

Several courses of action have been suggested to military leaders. FSWC recommends a zero-tolerance policy and quick dismissal of any members found to be involved in extremist activity.

The Canadian Anti-Hate Network (of which CJR publisher Bernie Farber is chair) has urged restoring Section 13 of the federal Human Rights Code, which allowed individuals to pursue groups espousing hate speech.

The section was removed by the previous Conservative government, which said it restricted free expression.

Anti-hate activists have also urged Canadian law enforcement to make better use of Criminal Code provisions against hate speech.

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

Activists have also claimed the military has a habit of side-stepping such issues by slapping the wrists of members caught making racist statements or being involved in demonstrations.

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

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

Montréal Sait Faire: Cool Ways to Mark High Holidays

Sept. 15, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL — Six months into the COVID pandemic, Montreal Jewish organizations have come up with creative ways to observe the High Holidays outside the synagogue, while adhering to health regulations and making the best use of technology.

Chabad of Westmount got an early start with “To Life! An Epic Celebration of 5781” at a drive-in theatre held Sept. 14.

The sprawling Royalmount Drive-In Event Theatre opened this summer at the heavily-trafficked intersection of Décarie Boulevard and Highway 40, providing a venue for socially-distanced, open-air live entertainment.

The aim was “to life our spirits and celebrate the coming new year and the new hope it brings,” said Chabad director Rabbi Yossi Shanowitz.

Participants could stay in their car or sit beside it in chairs they brought, maintaining two-metre distancing for movements beyond that.

“To Life!” featured the eight-piece band Shtreiml and a performance by acrobats from Cirque du Soleil, which has been grounded since the start of the pandemic, and a pre-packaged dinner. There was also blowing of the shofar and song.

Jewish National Fund Montreal is also encouraging its supporters to prepare for the new year in a freilich way. It’s presenting a virtual wine tasting and live tour of the Golan Heights Winery in Israel on Sept. 16.

Participants can purchase packages of three, four or seven bottles of its Mount Hermon label vintages in advance to enjoy the tasting for real, and get a partial tax receipt.

Zoomed yoga and mindfulness are part of observance for Montreal Open Shul, a “post-denominational” pop-up project started by Rabbis Sherril Gilbert and Schachar Orenstein and Cantor Heather Batchelor that has been bringing inclusive, participatory Judaism to “unexpected places” like cafés, community centres and yoga studios since 2018.

Its High Holiday services and programs, all online, promise “more joy, less oy.”

The first-day Rosh Hashanah service is accompanied by live music with Fran Avni. On the second day, Orenstein, a certified instructor, leads a hatha yoga practice “through the lens of teshuvah” and a chanting service. Gilbert continues the theme of deep repentence during the Days of Awe through “centring practice.”

The sole in-person component is tashlich and shofar blowing at Beaver Lake on Mount Royal.

Following a Yom Kippur service, American musician, actor and Jewish studies instructor Anita Silvert present a “Bibliodrama” based on the Book of Jonah.

Two American rabbis, Jan Salzman and Mark Novak of the Jewish Renewal movement, join Gilbert and Orenstein for the concluding Yizkor and Neilah observances.

The Mile End Chavurah is also going almost entirely virtual. Founded 11 years ago, the grassroots, multi-generational community describes itself as “irreverently pious,” while seeking to re-imagine religious practice.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services are conducted by ritual leaders, singers and musicians, and aim to be as participatory as is possible with everyone at home.

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, four options are offered: a one-day out-of-town retreat for contemplation and study that may involve yoga and nature walks; an apple-picking outing; an outdoor gathering in the city; or the online “Songs of Social Action,” when participants can sing songs on themes ranging from anti-racism to LGBTQ issues to Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The Museum of Jewish Montreal reports that the virtual cooking workshop on Moroccan Rosh Hashanah cuisine held on Sept. 13, hosted by its partner Wandering Chew, went well.

Ron Arazi of New York Shuk, an artisanal food purveyor specializing in Sephardic and Middle Eastern Jewish cuisine, showed viewers how to make such traditional holiday dishes as tanzeya, a stew of dried fruits, nuts and carmelized onions, and pain petri, an anise-flavoured challah.

Even the annual POP Montreal International Music Festival, which opens Sept. 23 in a hybrid in-person and virtual edition showcasing indie and alternative acts, is getting into the spirit of the season.

It closes Sept. 27 with “Alphabet of Wrongdoing: A Jewish Liturgical Redux,” a live-streamed performance by Daniela Gesundheit from Los Angeles. She sings her composition inspired by the High Holidays liturgy, adapted “for secular audiences and secular spaces.”

Gesundheit, who divides her time between Los Angeles and Toronto, is a cantor and serves Toronto’s LGBTQ-inclusive Congregation Shir Libeynu as musical director. She is also founder and lead vocalist of the indie-pop band Snowblink. 

“Alphabet of Wrongdoing,” which she created a few years ago, is derived from the Yom Kippur prayer Ashamnu during which one confesses sins of the past year – alphabetically.

Her composition draws on its “themes of reckoning, forgiveness, mortality, striving and atonement,” she says, which should resonate with everyone.

Gala to Honour Hamilton Temple Presidents

Sept. 15, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Synagogue president is one of the toughest jobs in the Jewish world, usually coming with little praise and a double dose of criticism.

Temple Anshe Sholom, Hamilton’s first synagogue and the oldest Reform congregation in Canada, will try to balance that old formula on Oct. 4 in a gala event dubbed “Past. Presidents. Future.”

Rabbi Bernard Baskin
Rabbi Bernard Baskin

The fundraiser will also mark the 100th birthday of Rabbi Bernard Baskin, who held the Anshe Sholom pulpit for a record 40 years, the longest tenure in the synagogue’s history.

Originally designed as a gala dinner at Hamilton’s largest banquet hall, the COVID pandemic forced the entire affair online.

Over the Temple’s 170-year history 44 men and four women have taken on the job of steering the institution through periods of growth, decline, building and reshaping.

The post can be so demanding that neither of the two men who currently share it would agree to do it on his own. Acknowledging the people who have provided such leadership, they say, is long overdue.

“Volunteers are a unique group of people, but our presidents take on an entirely different kind of responsibility and we have never celebrated that,” said Yves Apel, co-president with Mark Levine.

“Being president is like a third level Jewish ninja,” Apel confided. “It needs stamina, intensity and tact. There is no textbook, so you have to learn on the job. It takes a really special person to step up for that and that’s who we are celebrating.”

Added Levine: “Until I assumed this mantle, I didn’t really understand how much work this is. It’s almost a full-time job because we have to be hands-on managers as well as strategy people.”

Anshe Sholom’s roster of presidents has included doctors, several lawyers, business owners, real estate brokers, academics and accountants. For 22 of those, leading the congregation has been a family affair, including two father-son tenures, one father-daughter presidency, and several who followed in the footsteps of uncles or brothers-in-law.

Louise Sole

There’s brothers Carl and Dave Loewith, who operate a dairy farm on the outskirts of Hamilton; brothers Louis and Harold Minden; father-son Albert and Jay State; and Dr. Nicholas Sole and daughter Louise Sole Rotman. She was also the first woman to head the congregation.

Anshe Sholom’s roots go back to 1850, almost two decades before Canada was even a country. That’s when Hamilton’s 13 Jewish families started gathering in each other’s homes to lay the groundwork for a communal life.

They were all German; in fact, they kept their early records in that language. Most were merchants who had arrived in Canada looking for a life free from prejudice.

The group eventually named itself the Hebrew Benevolent Society Anshe Sholom of Hamilton. In 1863, the Jewish Congregation Anshe Sholom was incorporated. The first synagogue was over a downtown store, but in 1882, committees were formed and money was raised for the first Temple on Hughson Street South. That building served until 1952 when it was replaced by the present structure on Cline Avenue North.

Edmund Scheur
Edmund Scheuer

Edmund Scheuer, often called the father of Reform Judaism in Canada, was one of the first presidents. He came to Hamilton in 1871 to join his brother-in-law Herman Levy’s jewelry business. In 1873, at age 26, he was elected president of the Temple and held the position for the rest of his 15 years in Hamilton.

Among the Temple’s 14 religious leaders, names such as Emil Fackenheim, who went on to a distinguished career as a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, and Arthur Feldman, a scholar and great personal friend of Sigmund Freud, stand out.

But the name towering above all others is Bernard Baskin.

During his 40 years in the pulpit it fell to him to lead the congregation through two building campaigns, periods of growth and decline and struggles to redefine the nature of Reform Judaism for a world unimagined by his predecessors.

Those struggles included wrestling with questions such as what degree of kashrut would be observed, would men cover their heads during worship, what roles would the non-Jewish spouses of members be permitted to play in the life of the Temple, would gambling be an acceptable way to raise money and how could a younger generation be kept interested in the faith of their parents.

The event will be hosted by veteran broadcaster Ralph Benmergui.

Tickets for exclusive access to the streaming event, and for sponsorship and donation opportunities, are available at: www.pastpresidentsfuture.ca or by calling 905-528-0121. Ticketholders will receive an email with access information prior to the event.

* The above corrects the phone number to call for tickets to this event.

High Holy Days Greetings from the Presidents of GTA Conservative Synagogues

Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, presidents of Greater Toronto Area Conservative synagogues noted below have been meeting by Zoom on a weekly basis to discuss concerns, share ideas and brainstorm solutions. We’ve talked about the challenges of managing our shuls, large and small, through this crisis and the impact on our day-to-day operations. And we’ve discussed how we’ve responded with online services and programs, our respective plans for the High Holy Days, and much more.

Most of us did not know one another before we began our weekly calls, which we all look forward to and which we hope will continue in the future. We have all thoroughly enjoyed the experience and have developed a profound respect for one another and for the outstanding work of our clergy, executive directors and staff, lay leadership and volunteers. Most of all, we have developed, through regular communications, a deeper appreciation of the remarkable power of community.

All synagogues, regardless of denomination, offer a vital service, particularly during a crisis, and we are all here to support our members and communities in times of joy and sorrow. We thank you, our members, for your commitment, support and contributions in helping to sustain a vibrant and relevant Jewish community through your synagogue affiliation.

As we approach a High Holy Day season unlike anything that many of us have ever experienced, we extend our best wishes to you, your families and loved ones for a safe, healthy and happy New Year.

David Urbach – Adath Israel Congregation 
Larry Miller – Beit Rayim Synagogue and School
Andy Pascoe – Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am
Malcolm Weinstein – Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue
Mark Vernon – Beth Radom Congregation
Abe Glowinsky – Beth Sholom Synagogue
Doug Millstone – Beth Tikvah Synagogue
David Lewis – Beth Torah Congregation
Debbie Rothstein – Beth Tzedec Congregation
Jeff Shabes – Lodzer Centre Congregation
Steve Bloom – Pride of Israel Synagogue 

September 14, 2020
Elul 25, 5780

COVID Cases Confirmed at Montreal Jewish School

Sept. 14, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL – Less than two weeks after opening, Talmud Torah and Herzliah High School are contending with three confirmed cases of COVID, the first Montreal Jewish day schools known to be affected by the virus.

Two positive cases at Herzliah were listed on the privately run website covidecolesquebec.com on Sept. 7, and one case at its elementary Talmud Torah on Sept. 10.

The school issued the following statement to CJR: “As one of the many schools in Quebec with COVID-19 cases, Azrieli Schools Talmud Torah/Herzliah is working in close collaboration with Quebec Public Health and following their directives to manage the situation.

“We are in constant communication with all our stakeholders and continue to stress the critical importance of appropriate health and safety measures to contain the spread of the virus, including hand hygiene, physical distancing and mask wearing,” the statement continued.

“We remain committed to delivering high quality education while ensuring the health and safety of our students, teachers, staff and families.”

Brigitte Fortin, the school’s director of strategic marketing and communication, did not respond to further questions from CJR.

It is not known whether the three cases are students or staff, or whether anyone other than those who have tested positive has had to go into isolation.

Talmud Torah has about 200 students and Herzliah 450. Both began the school year on Aug. 27.

Herzliah, which is located in a new building opened two years ago, is on the Jewish Community Campus, the seat of Federation CJA and its affiliates. The high school is the campus’s southern anchor and is physically connected to the Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA by an enclosed passageway.

The Y has been closed since March and its projected reopening is Sept. 30.

Talmud Torah remains in the building vacated by Herzliah, a block away.

The Quebec government plan requires all students in grades 5 and up to wear face coverings while in common areas of the school, but masks in the classroom or for younger children is optional.

Schools can recommend mask wearing beyond the government requirements, as  Jewish schools are doing, but they do not have the legal authority to impose it, Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge has said.

According to information on the Santé Québec website, when a case is confirmed at a school, all staff, students and parents are to be notified. Public health authorities will determine, with the administration, what “close contacts” the affected person has had at the school. If the risk to others is deemed to be high enough, those contacts will have to go into isolation for 14 days as well.

Covid Écoles Québec was created by Montreal IT specialist and parent Olivier Drouin after the government initially refused to make publicly available data on COVID cases in schools.

The government subsequently did make such information available on the Santé Québec site, but its running tally of affected schools lagged well behind Drouin’s and, on Sept. 10, the government  took down the web page – temporarily, it’s been stated – to make adjustments to the data collection system.

(Talmud Torah and Herzliah never appeared on the official list, which was far shorter than the unofficial one and, for reasons unexplained, from which English schools were mostly missing.)

As of Sept. 11, covidecolesquebec.com had compiled 226 schools with at least one confirmed case of COVID since Sept. 1 based on verified reports from parents or staff. There are approximately 3,100 schools in the province from pre-schools to adult training centres that qualify for the count.

$100 Million Campaign Aims to Soften Blow from COVID

Sept. 14, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL – The co-chairs of the extraordinary $100-million campaign underway to save the Montreal Jewish community from the ravages of COVID are vested in industries among the hardest hit: Commercial real estate and live entertainment.

But Jonathan Wener, chairman of the Canderel Group, and Mitch Garber, chairman of Cirque du Soleil, consider themselves very fortunate to have the financial resources that will allow them to weather the crisis.

They are pleading with those in a similar position to think of the many in the community who are experiencing real economic hardship.

Wener and Garber head up Federation CJA’s two-year “Community Recovery and Resilience Campaign,” launched in July to replace the usual annual Combined Jewish Appeal held in the fall.

In a Sept. 8 videoconference, the co-chairs described the “suffering” in the community, particularly among small business owners, such as those in the retail, manufacturing, import/export and restaurant sectors.

Companies, sometimes built up over decades, are closing or on the verge of doing so, they said. Montreal Jews are also not being spared from the widespread job losses.

If the $100-million goal is reached, $40 million will go directly to seeing those worst hit through the next 12 to 18 months, enough time, it is hoped, for them to get back on their feet.

The virtual event was organized by The Network, the CJA division for business and professional people over age 40.

“The reality is 99.9 per cent of people are gravely affected,” said Garber. “It’s very sad. It causes me great pain.”

He is witnessing devastation in his own world. In March, Cirque du Soleil suspended all shows, putting all but a couple of hundred of its 6,000 employees out of work and reducing annual revenue, which had been between $1 and $2 billion, to zero.

Mitch Garber
Mitch Garber

Garber is also chairman of Invest in Canada, a federal agency trying to attract foreign investment.

“This is a most difficult year to ask for money,” he said. “We are asking those who can to make up for those can’t give this year. We are asking you to hurt a little bit,” he said.

Wener, who is chancellor of Concordia University, was blunt.

“Many people have lost businesses and life savings, businesses they created themselves from nothing. It’s truly sad.”

Jonathan Wener
Jonathan Wener

He knows of families in the community who have “zero income” because both partners have lost their jobs.

“This is probably the worst year since the Depression. People are suddenly below the poverty line. They are bleeding to death,” he said.

“If you lost cash flow this year, think of those who are in a much worse situation. Take a little piece of your wealth (and give to the campaign).”

Wener said he believes businesses will gradually bring employees now working at home back to the office, at least for part of the week.

“Socially, people need to congregate. You can operate a company on Zoom, but you can’t build a company on it…People need to be able to walk down a hall and ask (a colleague), ‘What do you think of this?’ That’s how you build a community.”

He’s less optimistic about in-store shopping. The growth of e-commerce, he said, has only accelerated. Across Canada, “we are over-stored.”

Wener foresees underperforming shopping centres, with their large lots, being transformed into residential units or medical offices, which would bring traffic to the remaining retail tenants.

As for the future of live entertainment, Garber believes pent-up demand will fuel an eventual return to pre-pandemic times, when the crisis eases.

“People are hungry to get back out to live events, but it will take a long time.”

Reform Jews Begin High Holiday Period Online

Sept. 11, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Canada’s Reform congregations are going online tomorrow (Saturday) night to mark the start of the High Holidays.

Sponsored by the Canadian Council for Reform Judaism, the event follows the Reform movement’s successful online “Tikkun Leil” late-night study session at Shavuot.

It will be the movement’s fourth effort at staging important events online. Previous efforts included the “Rise Up for Israel” fundraiser that collected $100,000, and a nationwide Tikkun Olam town hall.

Saturday’s event, however, will be the first involving an actual service. Twenty congregations across the country are expected to take part.

“Selichot is the official kick-off to the High Holy Days season,” said Rabbi Jordan Cohen of Temple Anshe Sholom in Hamilton. “It has always been a uniquely different service that I find very moving.

“We knew we had to do something to get the most out of this season,” he added. “We got together on this rather than having everyone reinvent their own wheel. With this, we are all working from the same siddur and everyone is literally on the same page.”

Cohen and his wife, Cantor Paula Baruch, took the lead in organizing the event. His team put together study sessions and a keynote presentation by Rabbi Larry Hoffman of Hebrew Union College. Baruch led a group that arranged the pre-recorded service.

Anshe Sholom’s traditional Selichot service includes a period of text study, changing the dressings on the Torah scrolls to their High Holy Days white, and a period of prayers where the sanctuary lights are dimmed and congregants are encouraged to spread out and search their souls.

That’s a spirit Baruch said they want to preserve in an online service where participants will have a chance to see their own sanctuary.

“We want to give people an inclusive, intimate moment, even though it’s all on a screen,” she said.

“Every congregation will be able to see inside their own sanctuary and their own rabbi and cantor. That will make the experience very special.”

Headlining the service will be a new version of Avinu Malkeinu performed by a virtual choir of cantors.

Dr. Pekka Sinervo, president of the Canadian Council for Reform Judaism, said the council is providing advertising and technical support for the event.

“We see it as doing the things we are supposed to do, supporting the community,” he said.

Reform congregations, he said, have been leaders in responding to the COVID pandemic by using technology to continue offering services and programs to members, something he thinks will continue, especially for marginalized communities such as the elderly and handicapped.

“With this, we are taking advantage of technology to rethink how we reach out to our community,” he said. “With the pandemic, it became very clear that this was the right thing to do. This opens up a new dimension to what out congregations can be,” he added.

Saturday’s program on Zoom begins at 9 pm with a keynote presentation by Hoffman, followed by discussion groups at 9:30; Havdalah at 10 p.m.; and the Selichot service at 10:15.

Among those helping to organize the event were Rabbi Stephen Wise of Oakville’s Share-Beth El congregation; Rabbi Elyse Goldstein of Toronto’s City Shul, Rabbi Debbie Dressler of Temple Israel in London, and Cantor David Rosen of Holy Blossom Temple.

Register at https://urj.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJAqdeqvpjgpE91beim3eE_6amUJqlmlQpdy


Steve Arnold
Steve Arnold

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

Mayim Bialik: Saving the Class of Covid-19

Sept. 9, 2020 – By SUSAN MINUK

Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, believed that individual initiative and original ideas could make the desert bloom. That dream has been realized: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) is now the fastest growing research university in Israel.

“(BGU) is now the engine that drives the entire Negev region of Israel,” said Mark Mendelson, CEO of the Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

From its humble start in Bedouin tents and ramshackle buildings in 1969, the university now boasts over 20,000 students on three campuses in Beersheva, Sde Boker and Eilat. The university is internationally renowned for its cutting-edge research and development.

Most recently, BGU scientists have pioneered a coronavirus testing procedure that is faster and more efficient than any in the world, able to test up to 48 people at once.

In early August, BGU launched “Save the Class of Covid-19,” a global campaign to raise $5.25 million for student financial aid during the coronavirus pandemic.

The COVID pandemic has resulted in a drastic decrease in people coming to study at BGU, Mendelson told The CJR. An estimated one in five BGU students is at risk of delaying their studies due to financial stress, and some are now unable to pay for basic needs.

Mayim Bialik

To help alleviate those hardships, the Canadian Associates of BGU are holding a national and virtual “Big Bang” event on Wednesday, Sept. 9 featuring award-winning actress, neuroscientist and author Mayim Bialik, star of the hit TV show The Big Bang Theory. Sen. Linda Frum will moderate the event, which benefits BGU’s “Class of Covid-19” effort.

Special guest will be Prof. Danny Chamovitz, President of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. A presenting sponsor is the Azrieli Foundation.

The event is sold out and registration is closed.

Bialik earned a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience, and in Hebrew and Jewish studies in 2000, and went on to complete a Ph.D. in neuroscience in 2007. She is a board member of a variety of Jewish philanthropic organizations. She also writes weekly for the Jewish parenting site Kveller.com.

The CJR recently caught up with Bialik, who is busy raising her family and celebrating Jewish life.

As a science academic, what are some key messages you will convey at the BGU event?

I love to talk to Jewish communities all over the world and I especially appreciate North American support of universities in Israel right now. I don’t tend to talk about what I think other people should do with their lives or their observance. I like to share my story, with all of its imperfections and all of the doubts and questions I have, and I especially like to talk about (how) being a scientist and being a person of faith do not produce conflict for me. 

How are you and your family doing during the pandemic?

We are, thank God, doing OK. We have essentially remained home. Our kids definitely are used to schooling at home, since they have never been in school and have been homeschooled their whole life. We see my mother at a safe distance and that’s been really hard to not be able to spend more time with her in general. My kids are definitely playing more video games than I would like them to, but I’m basically trying not to nag them, which seems to be something that I find easy to do during the pandemic. Our anxiety is definitely elevated, as it is for a lot of people. 

What can you share with our readers about your Jewish background?

My parents are first generation Americans who were born during World War II in the Bronx. My mom’s parents only spoke Yiddish in the home and she was raised Orthodox. My father had [an] assimilated experience and moved from the Bronx to Long Island in the 1950s, where he was raised in a Reform congregation. My grandparents are from Poland, Hungary and Ukraine. I was raised in Los Angeles in a Reform synagogue, but there were a lot of remnants of my mother’s orthodoxy in my childhood.

I became more observant in college at UCLA and I have always been a very strong Zionist. A lot of my family lives in Israel, throughout the country, from the West Bank to Tel Aviv. I have a minor in Hebrew and Jewish studies from UCLA and have been a devoted student of Talmud for about 15 years. I learn two or three times a week. While I don’t wave the flag of modern orthodoxy, I tend to align with most of the leanings of liberal modern orthodoxy.

Can you explain your career trajectory from actress to scientist?

I was on a television series [NBC’s Blossom] from the time I was 14 to 19 and I had a biology tutor when I was 15 who opened my mind and heart to the possibility of being a scientist. I fell in love with genetics and after Blossom ended, I went to college to study science.

You focused on Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder in people with a genetic condition called Prader-Willi syndrome, or PWS. Can you explain why you choose this path?

As a vegan in the field of neuroscience, there are not many lines of research available if you don’t want to work with animals. One of the populations studied in the neuroscience department at UCLA is individuals with PWS. I had always wanted to work with a population of individuals with special needs and I also have a strong interest in mental health, so it was a really perfect thesis topic for me.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of being a mother to a 12- and almost 15-year-old son. I definitely don’t do it perfectly but I’m the best mom they’ve got.

What new projects are in development?

I am starting a new series for Fox called Call Me Kat, which I am executive producing with Jim Parsons, who played Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory. I will also be starring in it and it is based on the BBC series Miranda. We should be starting production next month and it is very exciting because we have 13 episodes already ordered. We focus on a very unusual woman who, at 39, does not have it all but still has an amazing life running a cat café. It is a really funny show and I’m so excited to get back to work.

Israeli Experts on Back to School in the COVID Era

Sept. 9, 2020 – By SHARON GELBACH

As schools slowly open on different dates and in different forms, the CJR consulted a panel of experts from the Sheba Medical Center’s Safra Children’s Hospital in Tel HaShomer, near Tel Aviv, on commonly asked questions: Dr. Itai Pessach, director of the Safra Children’s Hospital at Sheba Medical Center; Dr. Galia Barkai, director of the department of Infectious Diseases in Children at Sheba Medical Center; and Prof. Doron Gothelf, director of the Department of Child and Teen Psychiatry.

Now that the children are going back to school, how can we prevent them from bringing home the coronavirus?

Dr. Galia Barkai

Dr. Barkai: The good news is that children, especially those under 10, have a significantly less chance of catching the virus and of becoming ill with it. Overall, the number of cases of children with COVID worldwide has been very low. At Sheba, the majority of the children were hospitalized for a different reason entirely and a routine test showed that they were COVID-positive.

Nevertheless, they certainly can be carriers as we’ve seen numerous times. What we need is collective responsibility, which implies, among other things, following the safety rules: Wearing masks, maintaining distancing (I don’t like to say “social distancing” because school is a social experience; but rather, physical distancing), and hand hygiene, which I think is the most important thing. Habituate children to hand-washing with soap or sanitizing with gel. Once we do this, we greatly reduce the chance of infection.

Dr. Itai Pessach

Dr. Pessach: Another important regulation that applies to older children is keeping them in capsules, and we’ve seen that this can significantly reduce the rate of infection.

In the coming few weeks, as summer turns to fall and we enter the flu and cold season, we have to be much more vigilant. It’s never a good idea to send a child with a runny nose, cough or fever to school. I know of many parents who would give a mildly ill child a Tylenol and send him to school; this is not an option these days. If a child exhibits any symptom that could be COVID, he must be kept at home as long as those symptoms persist.

Prof. Doron Gothelf

Dr. Barkai: The school bus can also be a source of infection. Try to make sure that the bus is not crowded. Children should have their masks on in the bus and sit as far away as possible from one another. If possible, the windows should be kept open.

What do you recommend for a child with asthma or a child with a weakened or suppressed immune system?

Dr. Pessach: Children with chronic illnesses or who have weakened immune systems due to special medications or chemotherapy are at higher risk of developing a severe case of coronavirus, but overall, the chances are still slight. That said, parents must consult with their health provider to receive specific advice and guidelines related to their individual issues.

How do you recommend that teachers keep themselves safe?

Dr. Barkai: First of all, teachers should know that if they wear a mask and the children also wear a mask, they are very well protected. We found that in the hospital, whenever infections did occur, they could be traced not to the clinical areas, but to the common rooms, where the staff took breaks. So, it’s the same thing at school. Teachers should adhere to safety rules in the classroom, but also in the teacher’s room. Teachers of children who are not of the age required to wear a mask can gain additional protection with a plastic shield. Nothing is 100 percent but I really think that is sufficient.

Dr. Pessach: I want to stress that masks do work. In the Safra children’s hospital, the medical staff was extremely strict about wearing masks and not one clinician caught COVID or even had to go into quarantine. If you wear a mask and a plastic shield, know that you are protected. This is how we protect high-risk patients.

How often should we change masks?

Dr. Pessach: The recommendation for disposable surgical masks is to change them twice or three times a day. At the hospital, we are required to switch every shift, which is every eight hours.

How can I keep my child safe while taking part in sports?

Dr. Barkai: It’s impossible to do sports with a mask because of the increased output of carbon dioxide. For this reason, sports are best done outside to reduce the chance of infection. Alternately, they can be done inside a large auditorium, where it is possible to keep a distance between students. If the only place for physical activity is inside the classroom, it’s better to forgo it.

How can I help my child who has to be in quarantine?

Prof. Gothelf: Quarantine is not a normal situation and it is never pleasant. The following are a few important steps to take:

1. First, explain to the child, in an age-appropriate manner, the reason for quarantine and its importance. When we grasp the significance of what we do, it gives us the strength to do it. Lacking a full explanation, the child is liable to imagine all kinds of scenarios. It’s also important to clarify to the child that he did nothing wrong, so that he shouldn’t feel guilty.

2. Try to keep up a regular routine that is as close to the child’s regular routine, including normal sleep/wake times.

3. Limit the child’s exposure to media. Children who read the news may become unduly anxious; it’s better for them to hear the news through the filter of their parents.

4. In the event there the school offers Zoom classes, try to encourage the child to participate so that he will continue to feel involved in the class and won’t fall behind with his schoolwork.

How can I prepare my child for the transition from preschool to first grade?

Prof. Gothelf: Children become anxious mainly when they don’t know what to expect. It’s Important to prepare a child for any transition, especially one in which there are COVID regulations added to the mix. Hang the school schedule on the fridge, tell him about the new rules at school and explain their importance. Personal example here is of utmost importance. You can’t expect your child to adhere to the rules if you don’t. 

Small children often have trouble managing with their masks. Make sure they fit well, that the elastic isn’t too loose or too tight, that the material doesn’t irritate the child’s skin. Allowing the child to choose a fabric mask in the color or design of their choice can help.

Preschoolers should have at least one visit to school before the start of the year to help them make the transition from kindergarten to school — to meet the teacher, learn where the washrooms are, etc. In the COVID era, schools have skipped this stage. Remember that and try to fill in those gaps by taking the child to school in the first days.

How can I help my child get the most out of distance learning?

Prof. Gothelf: Let me begin by saying that distance learning is challenging for both parents and children. Relax. Now is not the time to insist on children getting straight A’s. Let’s lower our expectations; our children will have plenty of time to catch up.

Unlike in a classroom situation, teachers cannot see when the children are experiencing difficulty. You as the parent must try to keep in touch with the teacher to keep her in the loop. Often, children need more help with distance learning, and this can be challenging for working parents. Try to get the help of an older sibling, or a neighbor. And again, keep in touch with the teacher. 


Sharon Gelback
Sharon Gelback

Sharon Gelbach grew up in Toronto, studied journalism at Carleton University, and moved to Israel in 1982. She lives in the Jerusalem area with her family. A writer, editor and translator, among her many projects are writing PR content for the Sheba Medical Center.