B’nai Brith Feeds the Hungry During COVID

By SUSAN MINUK – July 2, 2020

When COVID kicked in, B’nai Brith Canada kicked back.

When the pandemic put Toronto on lockdown, B’nai Brith worked fast to create an emergency food drive to feed the Jewish community’s most vulnerable: Seniors, those in poverty, Holocaust survivors, veterans, shut-ins and those with disabilities.

“When COVID kicked in, we realized that we had to pause our senior program,” said Andrea Adler, manager of digital advocacy at BBC and a volunteer for the organization’s food drive.

Typically, the senior program would provide a daily lunch, along with a recreational program.

“This helped with the mental health component of socializing, and the food and nutritional element as well,” Adler noted. “We realized people are going to go without eating because this was their main meal of the day.”

The meal initiative is now in its 15th week and organizers are committed to helping those at risk until the crisis is over.

Many, if not most of the staff at B’nai Brith, have volunteered personal hours to help with the food drive.

“Everybody pitched in,” said Adler. “Our Chief Technology Officer started driving a truck to pick up food. People stopped and took a pause from what they would do outside of work to get this program up and running.”

Up to 40 volunteers are delivering food. Adler herself donates many hours every week to help.

“It’s just indescribable, providing people in need of food – a basic source of life,” she said.

The drive provides weekly delivery of healthy and kosher meals free of charge. All volunteers observe COVID public health protocols: Wearing masks and gloves to deliver boxes of food straight to the doors of recipients, many of whom have not left their homes since the pandemic hit, leaving them depressed and isolated.

“What makes us different is the personal touch,” said Adler. “These people have no family support. So we check in with them and ask how they are doing and if they need anything. One lady said she needed a mask so we threw a mask in her box. Our social chat makes them feel connected. We want to make sure they are stimulated, that way they feel cared for.”

Since the operation began, 800 boxes of food have been delivered to some 1,500 families.

“One lady I deliver to uses a walker. She can’t get out of her apartment without assistance – she hasn’t [it] for two-and-a-half months. She has one son in his 70s; he is immunocompromised, so they are self isolating. She told me that the food she gets from [our] program was her core meal of the day, and if it wasn’t for [that], she really doesn’t know what she would do,” Adler said.

Boxes contain fresh produce, healthy snacks, grains, canned and dry goods.

“Sometimes we get donations from a bakery, so we’re able to include fresh bread,” Adler pointed out.

She added, with pride: “As soon as my kids found out what was happening, the first thing they said is, ‘we want to help.’ Our teenage kids made a personal donation using their allowance and donated two boxes of food.”The organization relies entirely on donations. To make one, visit: www.bnaibrithcanada.ca

Susan Minuk
Susan Minuk

That’s ‘Dr.’ Goldstein: Survivor Earns PhD at age 87


In 1954, Paul Goldstein, a 22-year old Holocaust survivor from Belgium, immigrated to Canada and settled in Montreal. A year later he applied to a special baccalaureate program with a flexible schedule geared to working people.

The program was offered by Sir George Williams University, later renamed Concordia University.

After taking the admissions test Goldstein was told that his high score indicated that he would be a good candidate for a PhD program. 

 “Well, 65 years later I proved it,” he said in a recent telephone interview from his home in Toronto.

Paul Goldstein
Paul Goldstein. Photo Credit: Doug Curapov

Indeed, at age 87, Goldstein has just completed his doctorate in political science at Ariel University, a regional branch of Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

Ironically, he did not have the opportunity to finish elementary school with the onset of the war. Goldstein had been a hidden child during the Nazi occupation. His parents were deported, but they survived.

In the early, post-war years Goldstein completed high school, but he could not afford to attend university. He said he had few career options in Belgium and decided to immigrate to Canada. He moved to Toronto in 1970 his focus was on his insurance and financial-planning business.

Some 40-plus years passed before Goldstein was able to study political science at the graduate level.

His dissertation examines the complex geopolitical processes that led to the Balfour Declaration of 1917, Britain’s historic pronouncement that it viewed “with favour” the creation of a “national home” for the Jewish people in Palestine.

In his review of Goldstein’s dissertation, Prof. Elad Ben-Dror of Bar-Ilan University wrote: “This is a fascinating work that is well-written and addresses a critical and fundamental issue in the history of Zionism.”

Goldstein said his thesis entailed four-and-a-half years of research, working from original sources, including all the British cabinet meetings held in 1917 and “a lifetime of reading.”

He also examined Theodor Herzl’s diaries from 1896 to 1904, the period when Herzl was laying the political and diplomatic foundation of the Zionist movement.

“There were five volumes – 2,000 pages,” Goldstein said. “I read every single word. It took six months.”

Herzl was deeply moved by the suffering of the 6 million Jews governed by Russia. Goldstein details the brutality of the many pogroms instigated by the Czarist regimes of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

He also shows the intricate negotiations and manoeuvrings that preceded the Balfour Declaration.

On May 27, Ariel University notified Goldstein that his dissertation had been accepted. He said he expects to participate in a virtual graduation, which will lack the pomp and ceremony of his Master’s convocation, held at the University of Toronto in 2015.

His wife, Naomi, who died two years ago, was able to attend that event five years ago. “It was beautiful,” Goldstein recalled. “She was very proud. We had 50 wonderful years.” She supported his return to university.

Today, his three children, 15 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren all live in Israel.

A self-described “health fanatic,” he was a bodybuilder and martial arts expert for many years. In fact, he said he made the 1956 Canadian Olympic weightlifting team, but he could not afford to stay on the team.

He still follows an intense exercise regimen, which includes an hour-and-a-half of daily walking.

Despite his business and fitness accomplishments, Goldstein said his dream was to pursue an academic life.

“Most people go to university to get a higher education, to make a living,” he said. “I had to make a living before I could afford to go university.”

When Goldstein first applied to the University of Toronto in 2012, it rejected his application for an MA because of the 55-year gap in his education and his age. He was 80 at the time.

The university then had him enroll in three courses to see if he could qualify for graduate work. After acing those, he was admitted to the master’s program.

“I was the top student,” he said. “My thesis was the first A-plus given in six years in the master’s program.”

Prof. Eyal Lewin of Ariel University, Goldstein’s thesis advisor, is now trying to get it published. “If that happens this year, I will be an authority and it will enable me to do the sequel.”

Goldstein said he is interested in writing a book about Britain’s broken promise to the Jews because ultimately, the Balfour Declaration was not honoured. He pointed out that The British sabotaged Jewish settlement in Palestine, especially during the Second World War when Jews needed a haven to escape the Nazis.

“As a survivor I have an obligation to make the Jewish people aware of their history,” Goldstein said. “I don’t want the present generation of Jews to have the experience of my generation.”

Carl Reiner, Comedy Legend and Consummate Old Jew Telling Jokes, Dies at 98

(JTA) — Until the last day of his life, Carl Reiner was tweeting about some of his favorite topics: politics, comedy and the twists and turns he experienced over decades as one of the world’s greatest living funnymen.

Carl Reiner at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, Calif., Aug. 3 (John Wolfsohn/Getty Images)

Reiner died Monday (June 29) at 98, hours after reiterating his dismay that Donald Trump had become president, days after posing with his daughter Annie and longtime friend Mel Brooks in Black Lives Matter shirts and 70 years after his first television appearance.

The Bronx native, the son of Jewish immigrant parents, called himself a “Jewish atheist” and said his faith in God had ended with the Holocaust. After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, he began a long and varied show business career. He created “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” formed a comedy duo with Brooks that was highlighted in their album the “2000 Year Old Man,” wrote screenplays for Steve Martin films including “The Jerk” and, in his later years, voiced characters in animated films.

In a 2015 documentary about longevity that Reiner hosted, he offered his own secrets for long life.

“The key to longevity,” he said, “is to interact with other people.”

Reiner and Brooks remained close friends into their 90s, often eating dinner together, as an episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” showed.

In the documentary, Reiner also offered insight into what made him funny.

“I think it’s partly your genes,” he said. “Also, it’s your environment. Also, if you have a funny bone; if you grew up in a family with a sense of humor.”

Reiner’s son Rob also would go on to have a distinguished career as an actor, notably in the groundbreaking TV comedy “All in the Family,” and as a director of such films as “When Harry Met Sally” and “A Few Good Men.”

Reiner’s wife of 64 years, Estelle, died in 2008. Along with Rob and Annie, he is survived by a son Lucas, their children and several grandchildren.

Reprinted with permission from JTA

Drills Save Lives in Active Shootings: Security Expert


When the first gunshots shattered the Sabbath peace of Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, many congregants thought it was a coat rack falling over again in the lobby.

Seconds later, the worshippers realized they were under attack by a crazed gunman. That’s when months of drills and exercises paid off as people fled the building.

When the shooting stopped, 11 people had been killed and six wounded. But the death toll would have been higher if not for those drills and exercises, according to security expert Brad Orsini.

Brad Orsini
Brad Orsini

At the time of the October, 2018 attack, Orsini was security director for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. Now, he is senior national security advisor for the Secure Community Network, an initiative of the Jewish Federations of North America.

Orsini told an online seminar sponsored by Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre on June 23 that Jewish institutions have no option today but to tighten security measures.

“We have to prepare for future attacks,” he said. “The only thing we have any control over is how much we prepare.”

He added: “For our community, what is important to understand is not that we lost 11 souls gunned down by a neo-Nazi white supremacist who self-radicalized over the Internet … We’re going to talk about why people lived, why they survived through this horrific attack.”

The preparations that paid such dividends for the Tree of Life congregants included active shooter drills and allowing local police and other first responders to use the Jewish centre for their own training.

“We didn’t want a real emergency to be the first time they were in one of our facilities,” Orsini said. “All of that training we did in advance saved countless lives on that day.”

Other simple steps included ensuring emergency exits weren’t blocked, having all new police recruits spend training time at the city’s Holocaust Centre, and having a clear communication strategy for the horde of media that descended on the city in the wake of the attack.

“The media comes hard and is relentless,” Orsini said. Appointing clearly designated spokespeople for the community helped to handle the deluge of questions.

What happened in the aftermath of the attack, Orsini added, shows the critical need for unending vigilance.

Families trying to sit shiva received threats, and “hate-fueled” people drove by the homes of victims screaming antisemitic slurs.

“Our attitude in the past was yes, there is antisemitism but we learn to live with it. Things have changed dramatically over the last couple of years and we cannot ignore any sign of hate,” Orsini said. “We can’t afford that in our community now.”

Struggling Hamilton Synagogues Look to Share a Building

June 29, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Sagging membership and rising debt are forcing two synagogues in Hamilton into formal talks about moving into a single building.

In letters to members released Wednesday (June 24), leaders of Temple Anshe Sholom, which is Reform, and the Conservative Beth Jacob Synagogue said member dues, cost-cutting and fundraising drives simply aren’t keeping with up the demands of two aging buildings.

Those problems, the leaders add, have been made worse by the COVID pandemic, which has cut deeply into revenues and hobbled fundraising efforts.

“Prior to the pandemic, TAS [Temple Anshe Sholom] was already in a difficult financial situation,” temple co-president Mark Levine wrote in a letter to members. “Contributing factors include a substantial decrease in membership over the past 10 years, and a shift in the demographics of our membership to mostly congregants over 65 years with few young people joining today.”

Beth Jacob’s five-member executive committee echoed those feelings.

Irv Osterer
Illustration by Irv Osterer

“Prior to this pandemic, we were already in a troubling financial situation, but we had hopes that expense reductions, a strong focus on budgeting, and revised energy in fundraising would find a solution,” they wrote. “Unfortunately, COVID-19 has moved all of our efforts to finding creative ways to maintain engagement and provide programming and meaningful services, while fundraising events have been cancelled or postponed …”

Beth Jacob leaders said they face the same demographic problem as the Temple: More than 60 percent of current members are 65 and over, and “many of our new younger family members are unable to contribute at levels like our founding member families have.”

Both institutions said they have struggled to access government programs to help, and all forecasts point to problems getting worse.

In March, those shared problems brought leaders of both congregations together in “high level meetings…to determine whether there was interest in collaborating in some fashion to address the challenges,” said the letter from Temple Anshe Sholom.

What emerged from those talks is a proposal for Beth Jacob to sell its edifice and move into the Temple’s building.

“The idea is to have the two congregations in one building, in order to find efficiencies by sharing some of the common operating and programmatic costs,” said Levine in the Temple’s letter.

The boards of both synagogues have approved the proposal, Beth Jacob on June 10 and the Temple on June 18. Both have said approval by the congregations is required before a final deal is struck.

And both say many questions remain to be ironed out, a process that could take up to 18 months.

Beth Jacob, on Aberdeen Avenue, was built in 1955 and extensively remodeled in 2011 at a cost of more than $1 million. Temple Anshe Sholom’s current home on Cline Avenue North was opened in 1952 and expanded in 1965. Both synagogues have active memberships of about 250 families.

Hamilton has a Jewish population of about 5,000.

Before committing to examine a shared facility, Beth Jacob’s leadership studied a partial sale of its building, but concluded “the net financial gain would not meet our needs or provide for a sustainable future. Beth Jacob is in severe indebtedness beyond our capability of servicing such debt in the future…The math just doesn’t seem to pencil out as a viable solution.”

Anti-Semitism Becomes Political Fodder in Alberta’s Legislature

June 29, 2020 – By JEREMY APPEL
(Courtesy Alberta Jewish News)

The Jewish Federations of Edmonton and Calgary say they expressed concerns privately with the provincial government after an appointee to a judicial vetting committee was revealed to have promoted antisemitic conspiracy theories online.

Cold Lake, Alta., lawyer Leighton Grey abruptly resigned from the Provincial Court Nominating Committee (PCNC) on June 19 after CBC Edmonton uncovered social media and blog posts that compared a future COVID vaccine to Auschwitz tattoos and called Black Lives Matter a “leftist lie” promoted by Jewish billionaire George Soros. Another post accused Soros of financially manipulating the European Court of Human Rights.

Cold Lake, Alberta lawyer, Leighton Grey
Cold Lake, Alberta lawyer, Leighton Grey

The PCNC was established by the previous government with the goal of enhancing diversity in the selection of provincial court judges. Its role is to vet and select judges who have already been screened by the Judicial Committee.

Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer purged the committee of its NDP appointees on April 29, replacing them with more conservative-oriented ones through an informal, closed process.

In response to inquiries from the Alberta Jewish News, the Edmonton Jewish Federation said it sent a letter to the government expressing its concerns, but declined to make its contents public.

“We are dealing with this privately as we do with most advocacy issues where we have a partner who we trust and have a good relationship with,” federation president Steven Shafir said, citing Premier Jason Kenney’s “long-standing friendship with the Jewish community and Israel.”

In a statement announcing Grey’s departure, Schweitzer called Grey a “successful Indigenous lawyer with an exemplary record of service.”

“I also do not make judgments on Mr. Grey’s ability to carry out his professional duties in practising law,” the minister said.

He also clarified that the resignation was Grey’s own decision, made to avoid serving as a distraction from the committee’s work.

“Work on the committee is far from a full-time job, and members are not required to surrender their right to personal views or commentary,” wrote Schweitzer.

Before Grey’s resignation, NDP MLA Irfan Sabir brought the House’s attention to another of his posts that suggested too many female judges were being appointed.

“Eight of the past 10 superior court justices appointed in Alberta were women. Today it was announced that five of seven judges appointed to our Provincial Court are women. If Lady Justice is truly blind, then why does she see gender?” wrote Grey.

Schweitzer responded by calling Sabir’s line of questioning “absolutely disgusting,” before listing off previous PCNC appointees who were NDP donors.

After Grey’s resignation, NDP justice critic Kathleen Ganley asked the premier to explicitly condemn Grey’s remarks in the legislature.

Schweitzer responded by saying that Grey’s resignation was sufficient.

“Mr. Speaker, this individual resigned over a post that they made online. I’ve accepted that person’s resignation. I think that speaks for itself,” the minister said.

Opposition leader Rachel Notley issued a news release to highlight Kenney and Schweitzer’s refusal to outright condemn Grey’s remarks.

“It sends a dangerous signal to hateful extremists when the Premier of Alberta is silent when these opinions are being promoted by his own appointees,” said Notley.

“It should be extremely concerning to any supporter of human rights in Alberta that neither the Premier nor the Justice Minister would apologize for this appointment, or commit to ensuring that this will not happen again,” Notley said. “Jason Kenney must publicly condemn Leighton Grey’s comments, and apologize for his Justice Minister’s statement that prejudice has a place within a ‘diversity of views.’”

The next day in the legislature, Kenney said the Opposition “attacked an indigenous lawyer for his appointment.”

“That person made offensive comments. He’s no longer on the board.”

Jeremy Appel is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with Alberta Jewish News.

Canadians Opposed to Annexation, Poll Suggests


A new survey suggests that three out of four Canadians want their government to oppose Israel’s proposed annexation of large parts of the West Bank.

Apart from suggesting that 74 percent of Canadians want Ottawa to express opposition to Israel’s annexation proposal “in some form,” the survey also found that 42 percent want Canada to impose economic and/or diplomatic sanctions against Israel should the annexation plan proceed.

“There is very little support for Israeli annexation among the Canadian public,” the survey noted, adding that the poll “confirms” that Canada’s foreign policy “is out of touch with the preferences of Canadians.”

EKOS Research Associates conducted the national online survey of 1,009 Canadians from June 5 to 10 on behalf of three groups that oppose the annexation and support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel: Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, Independent Jewish Voices Canada, and the United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine-Israel.

The poll found that only 11 percent of respondents said Canada should support Israel’s annexation plans, and 15 percent said Canada should do nothing.

Among Liberal Party supporters, 42 percent favour sanctions, while 45 percent thought Canada should express opposition but take no further action. Only five percent of Liberals want Canada to support Israel’s plan, and eight percent would prefer Canada do nothing.

Conservatives were found to be most supportive of Israel’s annexation plan. Half of Conservative supporters think that Canada should either support the plan (27 percent) or do nothing (25 percent). Another 32 percent of Conservatives said Canada should express opposition, and 16 percent said Canada should impose sanctions.

Among Canadians aged 18 to 35, an “overwhelming majority” want Canada to oppose Israel’s plans, the poll suggested: 59 percent of respondents in that age group said Canada should impose sanctions on Israel, and 24 percent said Canada should express opposition but take no other action.

Imposing sanctions on Israel was the “clear preference” for a majority of those who support the NDP (68 percent); Green Party (59 percent), and Bloc Quebecois (54 percent).

Supporting sanctions on Israel was most popular with Canadians who have higher levels of education, but Canadians of all education levels favoured sanctions over the other options, the survey found.

The poll results “demonstrate that the Trudeau government would have strong majority support if it opposed the annexations, and considerable public support to go further and impose sanctions on Israel. In fact, from a political standpoint, it would be risky for the Trudeau government to stay quiet in the face of this violation of international law planned by Israel.”

Listed as investigators and authors of the survey are Michael Bueckert, Thomas Woodley, and Grafton Ross of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East; Sheryl Nestel and Stanislav Birko of Independent Jewish Voices Canada; and Ken McEvoy of United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine-Israel.

As with at least one other past survey conducted by pro-BDS groups, this latest one was dismissed by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs as weighted to arrive at certain conclusions.

“Predictably,” questions were “intentionally biased to skew the answer,” Shimon Koffler Fogel, president and CEO of CIJA, told the CJR.

By “prejudicially” characterizing the lands in question as “Palestinian,” and stating that Israel plans to “formally incorporate” them, the poll’s questions “telegraph to the respondent that the territory is incontrovertibly Palestinian [and is] being stolen by Israel, and [is] not disputed.”

In doing so, “the poll seeks to exploit a generic tendency on the part of Canadians to express support for the perceived underdog,” Fogel noted.

Notwithstanding the “serious deficiencies” in the survey questions and the “dubious” motivations of the report’s sponsors, “a majority” of Canadians have indicated their opposition to any changes to Canada-Israel relations, Fogel said.

An extensive Environics survey conducted last year found a plurality of respondents endorsed Canada’s level of support for Israel, but a “significant” minority said it was not supportive enough.

However, that was before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to unilaterally annex about 30 percent of the West Bank by July 1.

The latest poll comes as more than 100 prominent Canadians – former diplomats and cabinet ministers, as well as rabbis, academics, authors, and human rights advocates – signed letters asking the government to forcefully oppose Israel’s proposed annexation.

Ron Csillag
Ron Csillag

Ron Csillag is editor of the Canadian Jewish Record

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Goldberg
David Goldberg

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

Germany Honours Justice Rosalie Abella


Germany has awarded Canadian Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, a national decoration.

Germany’s embassy in Ottawa announced that on June 19, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier would award Abella the Knight Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit (with badge and star) of the Federal Republic of Germany.

It’s the second-highest federal German decoration; the first is for heads of state.

The award recognizes Abella’s achievements in the protection and promotion of the rule of law, human and minority rights, and the development of close relations between Germany’s Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Canada.

It also pays tribute to the engagement of Abella and her husband, historian Prof. Irving Abella, in Holocaust remembrance and reconciliation between Jews and Germans.

Due to COVID, the award was presented in a virtual ceremony by Germany’s ambassador to Canada, Sabine Sparwasser.

Sabine Sparwasser, Germany’s Ambassador to Canada places the Knight Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit (with badge and star) on Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella in a virtual award ceremony. Note the photograph on the wall is of German Federal President Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier Photo Credit: Lennart Eisentrïnger, German Embassy Ottawa.

“We were at home in the garden of the German residence [in Ottawa] and Rosalie and her husband Irving were at their home in Toronto,” Sparwasser told the CJR. “We toasted Rosalie over Zoom.”

“Decorations are a nation’s way of saying thank you,” said Sparwasser. “It is an honour to say thank you to Rosie but also to bow to Rosie – a person who has drawn the lessons out of her family’s history, the country that has caused so much pain and suffering to her family. We are bowing to her to her wisdom and to the values she stands for, and for what she and her husband have done to keep the remembrance [of the Holocaust] alive.”

Abella was “very moved” by the award, “and so was I,” the ambassador noted.

“Through her influence in many legal battles over the decades, women’s and minority rights in Canada have been granted better protection,” stated a press release from the German embassy. “Her definition of equality and discrimination formed the basis of Canadian law under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and became a model many other countries adopted.”

Abella was born July 1, 1946 in a displaced persons camp in Stuttgart. Both her parents had survived the Holocaust. Her father, Jacob Silberman, was liberated in 1945 from Theresienstadt; her mother Fanny (Krongold) Silberman from Buchenwald.

Their two-year-old son, as well as Jacob Silberman’s parents and three younger brothers, were murdered in the Treblinka death camp.

The family arrived in Canada in 1950. Rosalie graduated from the Royal Conservatory of Music in classical piano in 1964, becoming one of the institution’s youngest alumni. She subsequently attended the University of Toronto, where she earned a BA in 1967 and a law degree in 1970.

Motivated by her father, who was unable to practice his profession as a lawyer when he came to Canada because he was not a citizen, Abella, at age 29, became the youngest judge in Canada when she was appointed to the Ontario Family Court.

Abella was the first Jewish woman appointed to the Supreme Court, and is the longest-serving current justice, having been named in 2004.

Abella “has been very instrumental in creating close links between our two courts,” said Sparwasser. “The fact that she was born in Germany meant a lot to her, and that Germany awarded her is a rare honour. It’s not something given out very often to foreigners.”

More Canadians Oppose Israel’s Annexation Plans


The voices of Canadians opposing Israel’s plan to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank continue to get louder.

Earlier this month, hundreds of professors of Jewish Studies in North and South America, Europe, and Israel, including about a dozen in Canada, signed a letter opposing the Likud government’s plan.

On June 19, three Jewish organizations released a letter, sign by 58 prominent Canadian Jews, urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “to speak out strongly” against Israel’s annexation plans.

Illustration by Irv Osterer

The letter was sponsored by three Canadian progressive Zionist organizations: The New Israel Fund of Canada, JSpaceCanada, and Canadian Friends of Peace Now. The organizations say they “share a commitment to seeking peace for Israelis and Palestinians via a negotiated two-state solution.”

The Likud government’s stated intention to annex swaths of the West Bank “assails not only Palestinian rights and national aspirations but also Israel’s founding values as outlined in its Declaration of Independence, the letter stated.

It added that the unilateral annexation is “illegal under international law” and “could provoke a new cycle of violence, lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, jeopardize peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt, undermine Israel’s security, and further destabilize the region.”

The signers said they support Canada’s long-standing policy of support for a negotiated two-state solution “that upholds the right of both peoples – Jews and Palestinians – to self determination and to live in peace and security.”

Those who signed the letter comprise prominent rabbis, former diplomats, academics, authors, and human rights advocates. They included Jon Allen, a former Canadian ambassador to Israel; Prof. Robert Brym of the University of Toronto; Rabbi Baruch Friedman-Kohl, Rabbi Emeritus of Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto; Julius Grey, a human rights lawyer in Montreal; Stephen Lewis, former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations; and Bernie Farber, former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress and now co-founder and publisher of the CJR.

The letter from the professors, which was posted online in English, Hebrew and Arabic, warned that the “most likely outcomes of annexation will be further unequal distribution of land and water resources on behalf of illegal Israeli settlements, more state violence, and fragmented Palestinian enclaves under complete Israeli control.

“Under these conditions, annexation of Palestinian territories will cement into place an anti-democratic system of separate and unequal law and systemic discrimination against the Palestinian population,” the letter went on.

Among the Canadian signers were: Naomi Seidman, Rebecca Comay, Rachel Seelig and Willi Goetschel of the University of Toronto; Carol Zemel, Stuart Schoenfeld and Ian Balfour of York University; Roy Shukrun of McGill University; Mira Sucharov of Carleton University (and a CJR contributor); and Meir Amor of Concordia University.

Also this month, four former cabinet ministers from the Jean Chretien era were among 58 one-time Canadian diplomats and politicians who added their names to a letter calling on Trudeau and his government to show stronger resistance to Israel’s annexation plans.

Among the signatories are former ambassadors to Israel who served under both Liberal and Conservative governments, as well as many other diplomats who represented Canada in the Middle East.

“Territorial conquest and annexation are notorious for contributing to fateful results: War, political instability, economic ruin, systematic discrimination and human suffering,” the letter warned.

It was signed by former Liberal cabinet ministers Lloyd Axworthy, André Ouellet, Alan Rock, and Sergio Marchi. It was also endorsed by former Canadian ambassador to Israel James Bartleman, and more than two dozen former ambassadors.

As previously report by the CJR, no major political party in Canada supports Israel’s pledge to unilaterally annex West Bank territories.

“Canada remains firmly committed to the goal of achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. We have long maintained that peace can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties,” a Global Affairs Canada spokesperson told CBC News.

He added: “Canada is very concerned that Israel moving forward with unilateral annexation would be damaging to peace negotiations and contrary to international law. This could lead to further insecurity for Israelis and Palestinians at a critical time for peace and stability in the region.”

Trudeau telephoned both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and “Alternate Prime Minister” Benny Gantz on May 18 in a call described as customary following the creation of Israel’s new government.

It was not known whether Trudeau addressed annexation in the call. But in a later statement interpreted by some as a soft rebuke to annexation, the prime minister’s office said: “In these times of uncertainty, our commitment to international law and the rules-based international order is more important than ever.”

Netanyahu told a Likud Party meeting on May 25 that his July 1 deadline for starting the process of absorbing some West Bank lands into Israel proper will not change.

The area in question is about 30 per cent of the land between Israel’s internationally-recognized border and the Jordan River, including the Jordan Valley.

Ron Csillag
Ron Csillag is editor of the CJR

Despite Some Resistance, Blacks and Jews Should Cooperate, Panel Hears


Canada’s Jews are committed to working with the country’s Black community even though there are people in both groups who oppose co-operation, a senior member of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) said in a webinar with board members of the Federation of Black Canadians (FBC).

“There are people who do not want this partnership between the Black community and the organized Jewish community to work. I’ve heard from them and I’m pretty sure the Federation of Black Canadians has heard from them as well,” said Richard Marceau, vice-president of external affairs for CIJA.

“We have to stand firm against those marginal and fringe voices that have no interest in building up all of us,” he said.

The two organizations have recently been working together on confronting online hate, he said. Leaders of the FBC attended the World Jewish Congress’ international meeting in Ottawa in 2019, Marceau pointed out.

About 400 people participated in the June 17 webinar, organized by CIJA “to provide our community with this opportunity to listen directly to the experience of Black Canadians,” Marceau said in an email to The CJR after the event.

“Though we can sometimes disagree on some issues with the numerous partners we work with, we are united in our desire to make Canadian society free of bigotry and hate,” Marceau said in the email.

“Supporting the Black community does not come at the expense of the ongoing fight against antisemitism,” Marceau said on the webinar, as he introduced the four board members of the FBC. “We’re all part of the same struggle to overcome hate and push back against racism and discrimination.”

The hour-long call gave the FBC, a national advocacy group formed in 2017, a chance to outline the challenges its community faces and to present its three-point platform.

Black Canadians were already struggling with higher than national rates of poverty, unemployment and incarceration before COVID struck, board members said. Since then, the virus has had a disproportionate impact on the community.

“The challenges that we are facing are life and death,” said FBC chair Dahabo Ahmed Omer.

“During COVID, we have seen the impact of this pandemic on top of anti-Black racism, which is another form of pandemic,” Omer said. “What we are asking for is dedicated funding for Black communities to be supported in different gaps: housing, healthcare, business, the justice system and education.”

Although the federal government has launched several income-supplement programs, the Black community is still falling through holes in the safety net, she said.

For instance, Black businesses which rely on seasonal and temporary help have had trouble qualifying and accessing programs because they don’t meet government thresholds for payroll, as have grassroots organizations which rely largely on volunteers, said Chris Thompson, vice-chair of the FBC.

The FBC is also asking for all levels of government to collect race-based data to measure, among other things, the impact of racism and COVID on the Black community, Omer said.

“The third ask and recommendation that we are making is around this massive conversation around defunding police,” Omer said.

“We believe it is critical that we look at the resources that police institutions are getting today and what they are doing with those resources. We do not want our police institution to be about law enforcement, because hopefully our police institutions are about safety, they’re about wellbeing, and about caring for the needs of people.”

Citing recent instances in which police involvement with people who are mentally ill escalated into lethal confrontations, Omer said the FBC is calling for more investment into community social services to address issues such as homelessness and substance abuse, rather than having police handle those concerns.

In response to a question, Omer acknowledged that there were some antisemitic sentiments in the Black Lives Matter movement.

“But I also know that Black Lives Matter should not be painted in one brush because there are so many types of organizations that fight for Black lives,” she said.

Referring to Marceau’s comment about opposition to the communities working together, Omer agreed that it was important for Jewish and Black organizations to be allies.

“We have to combat the narratives that our communities can’t work together, because the narratives are there, and I think we have to do a lot of work to fight that.”

TDSB to Province: Make Genocide Education ‘Compulsory Learning’

Trustees of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) have approved a motion calling on the Ministry of Education to make genocide education “compulsory learning.”

The June 17 announcement said board chair Robin Pilkey will make the following requests to the ministry:

• That the current grade 11 course “Genocide: Historical and Contemporary Implications” be accredited as part of the Ontario curriculum as a “university” or “mixed” course.

• That examples of genocide form “a comprehensive study” as part of the mandatory “Canadian History Since World War I” Grade 10 course;

• That the province convene a working group of experts to look critically at the Ontario curriculum to ensure that students graduate with a better understanding of human rights, and how to protect those rights and take effective action if they or others experience hate, racism or others forms of discrimination and violence.

The motion, which passed unanimously, is also supported by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Project Abraham, National Holodomor Education Committee, Liberation75 and the Armenian National Committee.

“Now more than ever, we, as part of the public education system,  have the responsibility to educate against hate,” said Pilkey in a statement. “Our calls to action to the Ministry of Education will help ensure that students have the necessary knowledge of past atrocities so that they can actively fight against hatred of all forms, now and into the future.”

Genocide education is critical in fighting against intolerance, said TDSB director John Malloy. The board looks forward to working with the Ministry of Education “to ensure that genocide education is compulsory learning for students across the province.”

The motion was lauded by Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, which said genocide education is “critical for students to help them appreciate and advocate for human rights.”

Toronto Police: Jews Most Targeted Group for Hate in 2019


Jews were once again the most targeted group for hate crimes in Toronto in 2019, according to the latest annual Toronto Police Service report on hate activity.

The report for 2019 reveals that 32 percent of the 139 hate crimes in Toronto last year targeted the Jewish community, even though Jews account for four percent of the city’s population.

In 2019, Jews, followed by the LGBTQ community, the Black community, and Muslims were the most frequently victimized groups, stated the report, released today (June 19).

In 2018, Jews were victimized in about 36 percent of total hate crimes, remaining the single most targeted group.

In addition to the 44 hate incidences directed at Jews last year in Toronto, the report also notes another five hate crimes targeting Israelis specifically, as well as eight “multi-bias” hate crimes that included anti-Jewish sentiment, the report stated.

The three most frequently reported criminal offences motivated by hate in 2019 were mischief to property, assault, and uttering threats, the report went on. The Jewish community was the most frequently victimized group for mischief to property and uttering threat occurrences, the study noted.

In York Region, Jews were targeted in 40 out of 133 total recorded incidents, amounting to 30 percent of all incidents, a 2.7 percent increase from the year before, an earlier report showed.

Other highlights of the Toronto report include:

• There were seven acts of mischief motivated by hate to religious property and educational institutions in 2019, compared to 10 in 2018. Once again, the Jewish community, followed by the Muslim and Catholic communities, was the predominant victim groups for mischief to religious and educational property last year in Toronto.

• Vandalism and graffiti were the two primary forms of mischief reported, and the most common offence locations were schools/universities, dwellings, parks and streets/laneways. Jews and the LGBTQ community were the predominant victim groups for mischief occurrences in 2019.

• There were 25 incidents of uttering threats motivated by hate in 2019, compared to 15 in 2018. Jews were again the predominant victim group for uttering threat occurrences in 2019.

• Of the 15 hate occurrences that were categorized as multi-bias (cutting across more than one religious or ethnic category) in 2019, the Black community was targeted in 11 and Jews in eight.

The latest numbers “are no surprise to members of the Jewish community in Toronto,” said Barbara Bank, chair of the Centre for Jewish and Israel Affairs, Toronto in a statement.

“Year after year, Jewish Torontonians are the most frequently targeted group when it comes to hate crime. Whether the immediate targets of hate are individuals or community institutions, these crimes leave a lasting, harmful impact on victims and the broader community,” Bank said.

She noted that Ontario lawmakers are currently considering Bill 168: An Act to Combat Antisemitism, which, if passed, would empower Queen’s Park to address contemporary forms of antisemitism.

“We urge every [MPP] to support their bill and affirm their commitment to combating antisemitism,” Bank said.

In a statement, B’nai Brith Canada said the police numbers for last year are “consistent” with the organization’s 2019 Annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents, which found a 62.8 per cent increase in the number of incidents in Ontario compared to the previous year.

CEO Michael Mostyn called on all levels of government to adopt B’nai Brith’s “Eight-Point Plan to Tackle Antisemitism.”

Every year, the Jewish community remains the most targeted group when it comes to hate crimes, pointed out Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, director of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Campaign Against Antisemitism.

Kirzner-Roberts called on city leaders “to recognize the urgent need to fight antisemitism and hate in our city and take strong, decisive action to help ensure the safety and security of our community.”

The police report also noted that in February 2019, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto held a one-day conference, “Combating Hate Speech and Antisemitism” in Toronto. The conference was attended by community leaders, legal professionals, and police officers.

B’nai Brith also pointed out that nationally, Jews have been the country’s most targeted minority for the past three consecutive years, according to data from Statistics Canada.

To the Manor Born? Ontario Jewish Archives Wants Your Story


For Faye Blum, lead archivist on the Ontario Jewish Archives’ (OJA) recently-launched Bathurst Manor project, a possible silver lining to the current pandemic is that people who have lived, worked, or attended school in “the Manor” might have more time to look for memorabilia.

Although the project wasn’t promoted more “officially” until April, Blum – who grew up in the north Toronto suburb herself – ran an initial focus group in February. Early outreach efforts on social media, as well as through UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and word of mouth, have yielded “a terrific response” and more than 40 conversations that have revealed “powerful narratives.”

Common themes and memories of life in the Manor include houses bought on a handshake deal, the childhood freedom of running in and out of people’s houses, and the importance of transit for early residents in the 1950s, Blum told the CJR.

As well, Jewish organizations, synagogues and local shops “figure prominently. It was virtually part of everybody’s experience to go to the cigar store [at Wilmington Plaza].”

Grocery shopping Steinberg’s Bathurst Manor
Grocery shopping at Steinberg’s in Bathurst Manor, 1968. (Courtesy of OJA)

The neighbourhood, home to Canadian-born and Holocaust survivor families, was “such a big part of their life,” she said, adding that it’s not uncommon to hear that people who grew up in Bathurst Manor thought the whole world was Jewish.

Some demographic records from 1961 put the Jewish population at 75 percent, Blum said, but anecdotal evidence would suggest a much higher proportion.

Oral histories, an integral part of the project, have been put on hold until the fall, with the hope that they can be conducted in person. The OJA has received funding for a City of Toronto Spark grant to train students to conduct such interviews.

Part of the impetus for the project was the redevelopment of UJA Federation’s Sherman Campus, which houses the Prosserman Jewish Community Centre and community offices, including the OJA. The campus, on Bathurst Street north of Sheppard Avenue West, is at the eastern boundary of the Manor. The neighbourhood extends from Sheppard to Finch Avenue West, and from Bathurst to Dufferin Street.

As well, the OJA has a relatively small number of holdings for Bathurst Manor, compared to other historic Toronto Jewish neighbourhoods.

Blum is interested in learning what drew residents to Bathurst Manor, and what life was like there. Part of her work involves finding evidence to corroborate residents’ stories – items like photographs, home movies, correspondence, floor plans, and documents like brochures, house deeds, and agreements of purchase and sale.

One such document, a new home brochure, is featured in an OJA podcast (https://soundcloud.com/user-498734461-627117523/in-the-manor-a-community-designed-for-tomorrow?fbclid=IwAR3-7ozE9IS68yfqWP4CSwa_BSWEYfotVzWaRpJaFwOPssPbXSpQ_dKlwSQ).

“The fact that that brochure exists is something we were really excited by,” Blum said.

Bathurst Manor real estate brochure
Bathurst Manor real estate brochure

A home movie of Blum’s brother’s 1965 birthday party in the basement of her parents’ home is also the type of thing she is looking for.

As well, “we’d love to collect business records, which could be anything from storefront photos, stationery, business cards, some kind of signage, recipes if it’s a bakery.”

Another item showing life in the Manor that stands out for her is a photograph of two little girls all dressed up in new clothes for the High Holidays.

Vanessa Herman, right, and her cousin, dressed in new High Holiday clothing, on Acton Avenue, 1958. (Courtesy of Vanessa Herman Landau)

“Learning where people come from is super-interesting,” Blum said. “I am excited for the opportunity to share back some of what we’ve collected to date.”

For further information or to donate Bathurst Manor memorabilia, go to http://ontariojewisharchives.org/Programs/the-MANOR, call  
 416-635-5391, or email ojainquiries@ujafed.org

Frances Kraft
Frances Kraft

Frances Kraft is a former reporter for The Canadian Jewish News. She spent two years blogging about food and writing, and has a weakness for chocolate.

Book Examines ‘The Soul of an Entrepreneur’


The COVID pandemic has taken a toll on businesses across the world. With so many stores shuttered and restaurants relying on take-out orders, the recent release of David Sax’s book, The Soul of an Entrepreneur: Work and Life Beyond the Startup Myth (Public Affairs), seems well timed. 

In a telephone interview, Sax, a Toronto-based writer, acknowledged the book’s relevance in this era of COVID. However, he said, the pandemic has not been conducive to book sales, given the economic climate. Sax, like the people he profiles in his book, is an entrepreneur himself and relies on book sales and speaking engagements to cover his mortgage and childcare bills. 

Soul of an Entrepreneur

He defines entrepreneur as a self-employed individual operating as an independent purveyor of goods and services. Varying degrees of financial uncertainty generally underlie the entrepreneurial experience. For some of the book’s subjects this unpredictability is an acceptable trade-off for the independence, freedom and pride that self-employment affords them.

Such financial risk-taking does not necessarily apply to the enterprises emerging out of Silicon Valley, the California-based Mecca of high-tech innovation. Sax views the tech startup as a “standardized, prescriptive model of entrepreneurship” mainly funded by venture capital. He describes the people pitching their ideas as “mostly wealthy young white men from Ivy League schools” who are coached to raise capital, and if their companies fail they are losing investors’ money rather than their own. 

Given the media focus on celebrity tech magnates like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and PayPal founder Elon Musk, one would naturally think that the Silicon Valley model typifies U.S. entrepreneurship. But Sax points out that these ventures make up less than one per cent of American companies. He says the attention on startups minimizes the efforts of the majority of business owners.

He profiles a range of people who are more representative of North American entrepreneurs. The book begins with two Silicon Valley types in Palo Alto attempting to launch a startup. From there, Sax takes the reader to a cafe run by a surf-loving pastry chef in the New York City borough of Queens. He features a range of other businesses including a Syrian food shop in Toronto, a Californian dairy farm and an African American hairdresser in New Orleans. 

While The Soul of an Entrepreneur is well researched, it’s not a dry account of business ownership. Sax intertwines the personal stories of the owners of the businesses he spotlights.

Their aspirations and struggles are compelling: whether it’s the dairy farmer trying to keep the family farm or the African-American hairdresser attaining social media stardom.

David Sax
David Sax, author – Photo credit: Christopher Farber

The focus on these entrepreneurs is the strength of this book. “I can’t imagine doing it any other way,” Sax said, pointing out that all his earlier books – Save the Deli, The Tastemakers and The Revenge of Analog – have revolved around personal histories.

Sax weaves his own story throughout the book. He is the third generation of an entrepreneurial family. Both his maternal and paternal grandfathers owned businesses. His father (Michael) is an independent lawyer and investor and his mother (Julia) ran a shmatta business. 

He said his family typifies the Jewish experience.

“Our people relied on entrepreneurship for survival. We identify Jews with the shmatta business and diamonds and food. In the old countries where Jews were prohibited from so many professions, they had no choice but to create businesses,” he said. “It’s allowed us to thrive and re-establish our communities.”

There’s a parallel, he said, between the Jewish narrative and that of the Syrian refugees portrayed in his book. “Their story is not that dissimilar to the Jewish immigrants. If you were denied access to money and power you have no choice. They built it (their business) on their own like Jews.

 “[The thinking is], ‘If no one is going to give me a job then what can I do within my community?’ That’s the bigger picture that we have lost sight of.”

He lamented that like so many businesses, these small ethnic establishments are vulnerable to the ravages of COVID. 

Asked what kind of business he thought could survive the pandemic, Sax deadpanned: “Scuttling cruise ships.”

Hundreds of Canadian Masks Gifted to Social Service Agency


Canadians are cautiously emerging from the strict restrictions of the global pandemic as Ottawa implements the next stage of the COVID- recovery plan.

Wearing a face mask is critical to its success.

In response to the global mask shortage, TakeCare Supply was created in April by a team of Canadian entrepreneurs. In that short time, TakeCare has sold more than 250,000 evidence-based, reusable face masks across North America.

Working out of a re-purposed clothing factory in west-end Toronto, the team employs some 150 people. The masks are intended for non-health workers with essential jobs.

“All of the factory employees are either first or second generation Canadians,” said Ilan Orzy, TakeCare’s public affairs manager.

On June 10, five community leaders gathered at the Lipa Green Centre, the hub of Jewish communal organizations, for TakeCare’s donation of masks to nonprofits and social service organizations in the city. The inaugural gift of six hundred masks went to Jewish Family and Child Service (JF&CS).

“The important part about our masks is not just that we make them and they are Canadian but we are serving the Canadian public with them,” said Orzy. “Our founders decided they were going to take the extra step and donate masks to agencies in need, especially front-facing agencies that give social services or other services to constituents in Toronto and in the GTA.”

Brian Prousky, executive director of JF&CS, expressed his gratitude. 

“I’m grateful for the generosity of TakeCare Supply – they clearly have a social conscience,” said Prousky.

He said the masks are going to all staff and to volunteers, foster parents, and caregivers who work with youth and children.

York Centre Liberal MP Michael Levitt told the CJR:  “We are getting to the very front line needs of our community.” He said he toured the factory last week.

“It’s a wonderful venture, really proof positive that when good people get together with good intentions, even in the face of a crisis, positive things can happen at a business, commercial and a philanthropic level.”

TakeCare was founded by Anna-Maria Mountfort, a Canadian accessories fashion designer; Kevin Vuong, a social entrepreneur and public affairs leader; and Larry Lau, a social entrepreneur and startup investor.

“The idea was to have a Canadian shop make these masks with Canadian materials from Canadian vendors, and produce as many as possible to better serve the community here in Toronto and across the country,” said Orzy. “We have even shipped to Australia.” 

The masks have a filter pouch into which the wearer can substitute common household items, like coffee filters, dryer sheets, or dried baby wipes, for added protection.

“It’s an intimidating thing to wear a mask,” Orzy explained. “You don’t get to see people’s face or smile, so when people see the mask and it says ‘TakeCare,’ we hope that leaves them with a better image than what they might otherwise walk away with.”

Susan Minuk
Susan Minuk

BREAKING NEWS: Benlolo ‘No Longer’ at Wiesenthal Centre

Avi Benlolo is “no longer employed” by Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies (FSWC).

In response to queries from the CJR on Benlolo’s rumoured departure from his long-held post, Avital Borisovsky, associate director of communications for FSWC, on June 8 said that Benlolo was President and CEO of FSWC.

On June 16, Borisovsky sent the CJR another email stating, “Avi Benlolo is no longer employed by FSWC.”

“We are not able to provide any other information at this time,” Borisovsky said on June 17.

UPDATE: A statement from FSWC on June 17 said Benlolo “will be moving on from Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center following 20 years with the organization. The Board of Directors and the Board of Governors of FSWC thank Avi for his longstanding service and commitment and for his meaningful contribution in helping position the organization as one of Canada’s foremost voices in the fight against anti-Semitism. As a next step, the FSWC board has activated a search for a CEO whose responsibilities will include leading the day-to-day operations of the organization and the management of its staff, donors and associates. In the interim the center is being managed by FSWC Chairman Fred Waks and Rabbi Meyer H. May, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s long-serving executive director based at the Center’s international headquarters in Los Angeles.”

The CJR is watching this story and will report details as they arise.

BDS Activist Fears Return to Israel


For Gilad Paz, the COVID pandemic hasn’t all been bad: It has stalled his legal case and possible deportation to Israel.

Paz, an Israeli supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, has claimed that he faces persecution for his political views if returned to the Jewish state. 

His refugee claims have been rejected since he first sought asylum in Canada in 2016, and earlier this year, he exhausted his remaining legal avenues to stay in Canada. 

An immigration lawyer consulted by the CJR said anyone applying for refugee status in Canada must sign a conditional deportation order. When all avenues of appeal fail, the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) could implement the order.

But the COVID crisis has intervened. 

“Because of COVID, there are no deportations of anybody,” Paz, who lives in Montreal and works in customer service, told the CJR.

Paz, who was a lawyer in Israel, became active in the BDS campaign in 2014 following Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” in Gaza. He also became involved in Israel’s left-wing Meretz political party and with Amnesty International.

According to the pro-BDS Independent Jewish Voices Canada, which Paz has joined, he began using social media to criticize Israeli operations in the Gaza Strip, alleging that Israel had committed war crimes against Palestinians.

Paz, 38, fled to Canada shortly after a 2016 announcement by Israel’s interior minister, Aryeh Deri, and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, that the government would form a task force to identify and deport or deny entry to those who support BDS.

Gadi Paz
Gadi Paz

But Paz said his chief reason for claiming asylum are threats he received from two Israeli officials, including one from an aide to an Israeli cabinet minister.

In Montreal, Paz filed a claim for refugee status, alleging that his support for BDS put him at risk of persecution from Israeli officials and fellow citizens.

The Immigration and Refugee Board denied his claim. An appeal, at which translations from Hebrew of the threats were submitted, was also unsuccessful. Paz then sought a judicial review at the Federal Court, which ruled against him earlier this year.

The court took note of Israel’s crackdown on BDS supporters, saying that Israeli government ministers had warned that Israeli activists involved in the movement “would pay the price” by being barred from Israel, and those already in the country would be deported.

Still, the court found Israel offers protections to dissidents, even if they receive death threats.

“Israeli civilians who receive threats to their life or safety have access to legal and administrative remedies from independent judges and government organizations, and NGOs are available to help people whose rights have been violated,” the ruling stated.

Israel’s actions towards dissidents “does not mean that it is a non-democratic country…”

Paz took issue with the decision, saying the court “narrowed everything down to state protection,” an irony, he said, given that the threats came from within Israel’s political establishment.

“The main threat was from somebody who is an organ of Israel. Once an agent of persecution is an organ of the state, it’s unreasonable to look to the state for protection. It just doesn’t make sense,” he said.

The Federal Court allowed that while Paz “may possibly encounter difficulties in his home country, there is no evidence on the record to show that he has attempted to seek protection and was denied such protection.”

The efficacy of Israeli state protection “has been assessed several times by our Court,” the decision added.

Paz said journalists and political figures in Israel who have received death threats are given protection. If he’s deported to Israel, “I’m not entitled to any protection.”

According to consular guidelines, Israeli citizens who seek refugee status in Canada may not receive a new passport or extend their current one. They may only receive a one-way travel document to Israel, where they must sort out their status at the Ministry of Interior.

The Israeli passport Paz used to enter Canada expired in March 2018.

Paz said he has two options remaining, and both are available in February 2021, one year after the Federal Court ruling. One is to apply to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. The other is a pre-removal risk assessment, which weighs whether the applicant would face danger or risk of persecution in the country receiving him.

He said he is applying under both programs. Paz has done some legal homework and found that the CBSA tends not to deport prior to those procedures, though it legally could.

In an email to the CJR, a CBSA spokesperson said the agency is bound by the Privacy Act and is “not able to release case-specific information.”

In a 2016 interview with Haaretz, Erdan, the Israeli public security minister, claimed Paz “is apparently using the excuse of the boycott only to try to receive a permanent residence permit in Canada.”

Ron Csillag
Ron Csillag is editor of the CJR

At 100, Rabbi Erwin Schild Looks Back – and Forward


One of Toronto’s most iconic religious leaders celebrated his 100th birthday recently and, despite COVID restrictions, hundreds of community members marked the milestone in a creative, albeit belated manner.

On Sunday, June 7, more than 100 cars adorned with balloons and signs drove by the home of Rabbi Erwin Schild, a name synonymous with Adath Israel Congregation since 1947. Well-wishers honked and shouted greetings from their passing cars.

The rabbi’s actual birthday was March 9.

In 1989, Rabbi Schild retired and was named Adath Israel’s Rabbi Emeritus after serving for 42 years.

Rabbi Erwin Schild
Rabbi Erwin Schild

The significance of living to be 100 is not lost on him

“If there is one terminal that is beyond normal, it would be living to 100,” said Rabbi Schildi, who is passing the time during COVID by reading, studying and responding to countless emails.

“You wouldn’t say 95 or 96, but 100,” he mused in an interview with the CJR. “Also, in one of the rabbinic writings, there are the ages of man mentioned and it goes up to 100. Beyond that, the person is really not considered part of the world.”

Clearly, that’s not the case with Rabbi Schild who, even today, continues to play an important role for synagogue members,many of whom visit him at his home.

“Rabbi Schild has been and continues to be the spirit of Adath Israel,” said Rabbi David Seed, spiritual leader of Adath Israel for the past 17 years. “He was the visionary who helped build the synagogue in its current North York location as a Conservative congregation.”

Rabbi Schild’s impact has been felt by the entire community, Rabbi Seed said, “helping to create the foundation upon which so much of our Jewish community rests, especially regarding interfaith engagement and dialogue. Personally, it is a privilege to interact with Rabbi Schild in so many ways and I look forward to doing so for years to come.”

Born in1920 in Cologne, Germany, Rabbi Schild completed high school and continued his Jewish studies at the Jewish seminary in Wuerzburg. It was a brief respite before Kristallnacht, the pogroms across Germany in November, 1938 that marked the beginning of the end of Jewish life in the country. Like many young men, he was imprisoned in Dachau at the age of 18.

After his release, desperate to leave Germany, he found refuge in Britain as a student at a London yeshiva. But with Britain and Germany at war, thousands of Jewish German refugees, including a young Erwin Schild, were considered security risks and interned as enemy aliens.

He was among those internees – mostly male, young and single – who were shipped to Canada to be interned once again as enemy aliens in prison camps for the duration of the war.

In February 1942, with the help of Rabbi Abraham Price, a prominent local Orthodox rabbi, and the Canadian Jewish Congress, Rabbi Schild and other Jewish students were liberated so they could continue studies in Toronto at the University of Toronto and Yeshiva Torath Chaim.

Rabbi Erwin Schild - University of Toronto graduation
Graduating from the University of Toronto, 1947

In September 1947, the freshly-ordained Rabbi Schild was named the new rabbi of Adath Israel.

The author of four books, Rabbi Schild was awarded the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of Germany in 2000. A year later, he was inducted into the Order of Canada for “improving dialogue between the Christian and Jewish faiths, promoting harmony at home and abroad.”

“When I think about me receiving the Order of Canada – especially as someone who arrived in Canada as a prisoner, on a prison ship, it’s like it was a miracle,’ he said. “For me, in due course, to be recognized as an outstanding Canadian, well, I could never have imagined this is my wildest dreams. It was truly miraculous. I am proud to be a good and patriotic Canadian.”

His proudest achievement, among many, was growing the synagogue, the only one he served during a remarkable career.

“I took a small congregation of about 150 families and I forged it into a major congregation of almost 1,800 families,” he noted with a proud smile. “Of course, I had many wonderful and dedicated contributors and lay people who helped with that growth. I am very proud that my name is on the outside of the synagogue.”

Schild Adath Dedication

That growth made physical expansion necessary. In 1965, an addition created more lobby space, school rooms and the western portion of the building, which was dedicated as the “Rabbi Erwin Schild Wing”in 1971.

When discussing recent news and world events, Rabbi Schild expressed his concern over the recent closing of the Canadian Jewish News.

“I’m very disappointed that the CJN is no more,” lamented the rabbi. “I think it’s a dangerous situation that there is no means for our Jewish community to follow what is going on and a place where we can publicize our views and opinions. There needs to be democracy in the Jewish community, and this democracy is endangered when we don’t have the press.”

As for his legacy, Rabbi Schild is adamant.

“I want to leave behind a strong Jewish community as well as a strong, democratic, modern and impartial Canadian society; a society that reaches out to our fellow human beings.”

Stuart Smith: The Jewish Premier Who Never Was


Stuart Smith never got the chance to be premier of Ontario, but that’s one of the few things at which he didn’t succeed during a long and accomplished life.

Smith, the first Jewish leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, died June 10 at age 82 after a lengthy struggle with a form of dementia.

Tributes that began flowing as soon as news of Smith’s death became public recalled him as a mentor, a kind and calm employer, a brilliant psychiatrist, teacher and business leader.

One of the first statements came from Steven Del Duca, interim leader of the Ontario Liberals. He memorialized Smith as a kind and generous man who mentored countless others.

“He was our first Jewish leader and a man of great intellect,” Del Duca said. “Stuart leaves a lasting legacy for our party. He carried us through tough times.

“It was under his leadership that the Ontario Liberal Party laid down roots in urban Ontario – work that has resonated for decades afterwards.”

Others sending memories across Twitter included former Ontario cabinet minister Ted McMeekin, who recalled Smith’s first provincial campaign in 1975 against then-city councillor Bob Morrow, who ran for the Conservatives.

“Dr. Smith was brilliant. The 1975 campaign pitting a beloved Councillor Morrow vs. well-liked Dr. Smith was a classic. Smith’s camp urged voters to ‘Keep Bob working for you – in Hamilton.’ Smith became MPP and Bob became Hamilton’s longest-serving mayor. RIP Dr. Smith.”

Former NDP Premier Bob Rae remembered Smith as “a very engaging and bright soul. He confessed to me once that he found the pressures of politics debilitating, but loved public service. He contributed much to our province.”

One of those Smith mentored to a stellar political career was former Deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps. After failing in her first bid for office in the Ontario election of 1977, Copps went to work for Smith.

“He was a great boss who never blew his top,” she said in an interview. “He was always very generous and open.”

Copps won her next bid for a provincial seat and worked under Smith on a variety of issues that helped move the Ontario Liberals from a largely rural party to one that also appealed to city dwellers.

One of those issues was an early resolution to advance LGBTQ rights. Although it only gained only three votes in the Liberal caucus, Copps remembers how Smith urged her to move on something they both believed was right.

“He gave me the courage to go ahead and move that motion,” she said. “He was always there to push the envelope in a positive way.”

Stuart Lyon Smith was born May 7, 1938 to a family that ran a grocery store in east-end Montreal. His grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Russia, Poland and Austria. Smith attended McGill University, earning a medical degree and a specialization in psychiatry. While there, he also became president of the McGill Student Society, was a champion debater, and active in the McGill Liberal Club.

In 1965, he sought the Liberal nomination in the heavily-Jewish Montreal-area riding of Mount Royal, but dropped out of the race at the urging of party leaders anxious to nominate another up-and-coming star – Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Putting political ambitions aside, Smith moved to Hamilton, Ont. in 1967 to become professor of psychiatry at the new McMaster University medical school.

Those early political aspirations bubbled up again in 1975, when Smith won a seat at Queen’s Park. The next year he won a close contest to become leader of the Ontario Liberals, becoming only the second Jew to lead a provincial party; Stephen Lewis was the first when he took over the NDP in 1970. Larry Grossman would later leader the Progressive Conservatives from 1985 to 1987.

Smith led the Liberals through two general elections but was unable to defeat the Tories under Bill Davis.

Stuart Smith with Pierre Elliott Trudeau
Stuart Smith (right) with Pierre Elliott Trudeau

Copps remembered her mentor as someone who loved the business of creating public policy, but not the cut-and-thrust of politics.

“I think the best thing he ever did was leave politics because it gave him a lot of grief and terrible migraines,” she said. “They were so bad that sometimes he would escape from Queen’s Park and go sit in a dark room in one of the area hotels.”

After his political career, Smith served as chairman of the Science Council of Canada, led a commission examining the state of post-secondary education across the country, and chaired the National Roundtable of the Environment and Economy.

He also tried his hand at business, forming RockCliffe Research and Technology Inc., a firm which introduced public-private partnerships into government laboratories.

In 1994, he was named founding president of Philip Utilities Management Corporation, a company created to manage Hamilton’s water and sewer systems. PUMC was a division of Philip Services Corp., but the parent company collapsed in 1997 when it was forced to acknowledge it had significantly overstated earnings from its copper-trading business.

Terry Cooke, a former chair of Hamilton-Wentworth Region, remembered Smith as “brilliant and multi-dimensional.”

“He used to make fun of the fact he was probably too intellectual for politics and business,” Cooke added. “He had many dimensions to his life and was successful in all of them.”

Smith served as a director of Esna Tech in Richmond Hill and as director and long-time chairman of the board of Ensyn Technologies Inc.

He is survived by his wife Paddy (Patricia, née Springate) and children Tanya (Betsy) and Craig (Sandra), along with five grandchildren.

A celebration of Smith’s life will be held when conditions permit. Memorial donations can be made to any charity, or by planting a tree in his memory.