Food Celebrities Showcase Delis, Israeli Fare at Jewish Food Fest

By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

The Great Big Jewish Food Fest, a 10-day virtual lineup of free programming celebrating Jewish cuisine, ran May 19-May 28. Jewish chefs and food personalities led a variety of cooking classes and hosted discussions on Jewish food and culinary traditions.

Two of the events featured Canadian food personalities: Toronto-based writer David Sax, author of Save-the-Deli, and television cooking show host Gail Simmons.

Sax’s event kicked off the festival. He interviewed delicatessen owners from New York City, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco and Portland, Ore. about the impact of COVID on their restaurants.

The owners were all candid. Business is definitely down, but take-out orders and catering, they said, are sustaining them.

Toronto-born Simmons, a trained culinary expert, is best known for her role as a judge on Bravo’s Emmy-winning series, Top Chef. In addition, she was the host of Iron Chef Canada this year. She lives in New York City, where she is also a food columnist and cookbook author.

For the food fest, she hosted a Shabbat dinner event with cookbook author Adeena Sussman, and chefs and restaurateurs Michael Solomonov and Einat Admony. The presenters prepared different courses for a Shabbat dinner.

Within the last year or two, Solomonov, Admony, and Sussman, have all released cookbooks featuring Israeli cuisine.

Simmons introduced Solomonov, a James Beard Award-winning chef, author and restaurateur, as the “Hummus King.” His recipe for 5-Minute Hummus comes from his latest cookbook, Israeli Soul.

The recipe for hummus pitryot, a hummus and mushroom dish, is from his award-winning cookbook Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking.

Admony, the owner of several New York City restaurants, prepared Braised Chicken with Olives and Citrus. This recipe can be found in Shuk: From Market to Table, The Heart of Israeli Home Cooking.

The recipes for Sussman’s side dishes, Jeweled Rice and Tahini-Glazed Carrots, are from Sababa: Fresh Sunny Flavors from My Israeli Kitchen.

The festival uploaded the recipes of many of the presenters on the event page at https://www.jewishfoodfest.org/recipes so that participants could buy the ingredients in advance, and cook along at the various events.

CJR readers can directly download Solomonov’s, Admony’s and Sussman’s recipes at http://canadianjewishrecord.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/90997-friday_1pm_great_shabbat_cook_along.pdf

Copyright restrictions prevent Sussman’s and Admony’s recipes from being reproduced here. However, the publisher of Shuk sent me another one of Admony’s chicken recipes, Dorot Wot: Ethiopian Chicken, which we are authorized to publish.

Shuk Doro Wot
Shuk Doro Wot (Photo: Quentin Bacon)

Solomonov has garnered six James Beard Awards, the most prestigious culinary honour in the United States.

Last year, his Israeli-style restaurant Zahav, in Philadelphia, was named best American restaurant.

Solomonov was in Toronto about a year ago to do a culinary event for the Jerusalem Foundation of Canada. At the time he generously gave me permission to reprint any of his recipes.

With COVID, however, Zahav and the other 15 restaurants he co-owns with Cook have all been operating at a limited capacity.

5-MINUTE HUMMUS WITH QUICK TEHINA SAUCE (Israeli Soul)

Tehina Sauce

1 garlic clove 
1-16-ounce (500 g) jar tahini
Juice of 1 lemon 
1 tsp (5 ml) ground cumin
1 tbsp (15 ml) kosher salt
1–1½ cups (250 – 375 ml) ice water

Hummus 

2 19-ounce (540 ml) cans chickpeas

Basic Tehina Sauce: Nick off a piece of the garlic (about a quarter of the clove) and drop it into the bowl of a food processor. Squeeze the lemon juice into the bowl. Pour the tehina on top, making sure to scrape it all out of the container, and add the cumin and salt.

Process until the mixture looks peanut buttery, about one minute, then stream in the ice water a little at a time with the motor running. Process until the mixture is smooth and creamy and lightens to the colour of dry sand. 

Hummus: Add the chickpeas to the tehina sauce and process for about 3 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as you go, until the chickpeas are completely processed and the hummus is smooth and uniform in colour.

HUMMUS PITRYOT (Zahav) 

1½ cups (375 ml) Hen-of-the-Woods mushrooms
2 slivered garlic cloves
2 tbsp (30 ml) canola oil
1 tbsp (15 ml) fresh dill 
Olive oil for serving
Chopped parsley for garnish

Break up the mushrooms into 1– 2-inch pieces. Place the oil on the bottom of a large skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms along with the garlic. 

Cook, stirring until the mushrooms are brown and crisp, about 8 minutes. Add the dill and toss. 

Serve over Hummus-Tehina and top with chopped fresh parsley, paprika and olive oil.

DOROT WOT: ETHIOPIAN CHICKEN (Shuk)

2 tbsp (30 ml) kosher salt, divided
6 bone-in, skin-on chicken legs, separated into thighs and drumsticks 
1 tbsp (15 ml) lemon juice
¼ cup (60 ml) canola oil 
2 large onions, finely diced or chopped
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 tsp (5ml) ground cumin
1 tsp (5ml) ground ginger
1 tsp (5ml) ground cardamom
1 tsp (5ml) ground turmeric
1 tsp (5ml) paprika
1 tsp (5ml) ground fenugreek seed or leaf
1 tsp (5ml) freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
2¼ cups (560 ml) homemade or low-sodium store-bought chicken stock or water
Additional salt to taste for seasoning
Pepper to taste for seasoning

Rub the chicken with the lemon juice and 1 tbsp salt and let it sit for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium heat in a heavy-based wide skillet or Dutch oven (large enough to hold the chicken in one snug layer). Add the onions and the remaining tbsp of salt, and sauté gently until fragrant, golden brown, and sweet, about 20 minutes. Do not let the onions brown. 

Add the garlic, cumin, ginger, cardamom, turmeric, paprika, fenugreek, and pepper and stir for a minute so the spices bloom in the oil. Nestle the chicken pieces and the eggs into the pan and pour in the broth. 

Cover the pan and adjust the heat to a solid simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes. Then remove the lid so the sauce will reduce and thicken a bit and continue to simmer another 45 – 60 minutes, until the chicken is very tender when poked with a knife and the juices run clear, or until the thickest part of the thigh or drumstick reaches 165°F (74°C) on an instant-read thermometer. 

Taste and adjust with more salt or pepper. Serve with flat bread or rice to mop up the sauce. Makes 6–8 servings.

Ontario Synagogues in No Hurry to Reopen

By STEVE ARNOLD

Synagogues around Ontario are not rushing to reopen their sanctuaries despite a provincial action to loosen COVID restrictions.

On Monday, Queen’s Park announced that effective Friday (June 12), places of worship would be permitted to hold services in their sanctuaries for up to 30 per cent of the hall’s capacity.

In addition, the limit on the number of people at social gatherings has been increased from five to 10.

Illustration by Irv Osterer

In a news release, the multi-denominational Toronto Board of Rabbis said it’s too soon to throw open the doors of temples and synagogues.

“We have seen remarkable innovation, creativity, and loving kindness from the individuals and institutions of the Toronto Jewish community, which have risen to meet this moment,” the TBR said. “The time has not yet arrived when we can welcome each and every person back into our communal spaces.”

The board added “(W)e reaffirm the need for patience and caution as we each consider plans for reopening our in-person synagogue and communal functions. As we begin to reopen and return to our holy spaces, we must be guided by the recommendations of public health officials.

“We do not advocate to expedite the reopening of congregations, religious schools, and other Jewish community gathering places beyond what is recommended,” the group went on. “Our gatherings, once allowed, will continue to be subject to public health restrictions, and we commit to abide by those conditions for as long as they are in force.”

In an email exchange, Rabbi Asher Vale of the Vaad Harabonim, said the group is happy with the provincial decision to ease restrictions. He said individual rabbis and congregations will now decide how best to implement the new rules.

In Hamilton, rabbis of the city’s Reform and Conservative congregations said they have no plans to hold services in their sanctuaries despite the loosened restrictions.

“We have no plans to reopen at the moment,” said Rabbi Hillel Lavery-Yisraeli of the Conservative Beth Jacob congregation. “We were very surprised by Ford’s announcement and worry that it is way too premature. We are not comfortable reopening until we are absolutely convinced that it’s safe to do so.”

Rabbi Jordan Cohen of Temple Anshe Sholom, Canada’s first and oldest Reform congregation, said any reopening there will be based on the Jewish imperative to preserve life and health above all.

For him, the bigger issue is not when can sanctuaries reopen, but what are services going to look like when that happens.

Most likely, he said, congregants would have to be met at the doors of the temple by attendants dispensing hand sanitizer and face masks, along with instructions to stay six feet apart. There would be no oneg Shabbat social gathering or time to chat after services. The temple’s choir would also remain silenced.

“The entire service would be me talking from behind a mask and everyone else offering their own private prayers from behind their own masks,” Rabbi Cohen said. “For our congregation, that would be a grossly unsatisfying experience.”

Rather than rushing to restart in-person services, Rabbi Cohen said rabbis are grappling with what to do for the High Holidays this autumn.

The working assumption, he said, is that most COVID restrictions will not be lifted by September, so plans are being developed now for online services with, possibly, such in-person elements as tashlich (the prayer ceremony recited during the Days of Awe alongside a body of running water) and “drive-by or drive-up” shofar blowing.

“We are really having to rebuild services from the ground up and think outside the box,” said Rabbi Cohen. “We have to balance the health of the community and the integrity of our traditions. It’s a day-by-day thing right now.”

More enthusiasm for the easing of restrictions was expressed by B’nai Brith Canada, which has argued, along with a group of Orthodox rabbis, that restrictions infringed on religious freedom.

“Full Jewish prayer services require the presence of at least 10 people, and traditional Jews cannot use drive-ins, Zoom or other electronic platforms to facilitate services on the Sabbath or holidays,” B’nai Brith said in a news release.

“We are pleased and relieved that Ontario’s leaders have listened to the reasonable concerns of their constituents, including the requests of the province’s grassroots Jewish community,” B’nai Brith chief executive officer Michael Mostyn stated.

 “While caution is still warranted given the current health threats, there is no reason to prevent small, carefully organized prayer services from taking place — especially when much larger gatherings were already permitted for non-religious purposes.”

Synagogue Vandalism Likely Not Antisemitic, Groups Say

What was first described as a desecration of a Montreal-area synagogue was likely not motivated by anti-Semitism, Jewish groups now say.

Just before the Shavuot holiday, B’nai Brith Canada decried the discovery of prayers shawls and torn Torah scrolls strewn on the floor of Sepharade Kol Yehouda, a small Sephardi synagogue in Cote Saint-Luc,Que., as one of the worst shul desecrations in memory. The vandalism generated headlines worldwide.

B’nai Brith said religious items had been “stuffed into toilets,” and it called the act “one of the worst such incidents to take place in Canada in years.”

Sepharade Kol Yehouda synagogue, Cote Saint-Luc, Quebec. Photo credit: B’nai Brith

David Birnbaum, the Liberal MNA for the D’Arcy-McGee riding that includes CoteSaint-Luc, called the incident “a disgusting, cowardly and hurtful act of vandalism. Iexpect that police will make every effort to catch the hateful jerk who perpetrated this act.”

After consulting with police, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs issued a statement on June 5 saying that “preliminary reports”indicate the synagogue “was not specifically targeted as a Jewish institution.”

CIJA noted that the congregation, located in a private home, is not visibly identified from the exterior as a synagogue and is a few doors away from one of Cote Saint-Luc’s largest synagogues.

“While it is painful and unacceptable to experience any sort of vandalism to a synagogue and to sacred objects, this criminal act appears to be case of breaking and entering. We have every confidence that [police] are doing their utmost to find those behind this incident,” said Federation CJA CEO Yair Szlak.

“To date, there are no indications or telltale signs of a crime motivated by anti-Semitism,” Szlak said.

Damage was reportedly limited to the kitchen, with none in the synagogue’s sanctuary. Initial reports said the synagogue had been ransacked.

Sepharade Kol Yehouda synagogue, Cote Saint-Luc, Quebec. Photo credit: B’nai Brith

Graffiti scrawled on the walls in the congregation were found to be meaningless.

“Damage inside a place of worship and to ritual items always tugs at our heartstrings, but we must be guided by the facts. To date there are no indications or tell-tale signs of a crime or act of vandalism motivated by antisemitism. We will continue to work with [police] and our partners at Federation CJA to ensure that the truth comes to light,” added Eta Yudin, Quebec CIJA vice-president.

“Our little synagogue is very dear to our congregation and we were heartbroken to discover this damage,” said Daniel Amar of the Kol Yehouda synagogue.

“Thanks to the investigation of [police] and the support of Federation CJA, we now understand that the incident was likely a case of opportunistic breaking and entering.”

It is still not known when the break-in occurred since the synagogue has been closed for months due to COVID.

– CJR Staff

BREAKING: Ontario Lifts Restrictions on Houses of Worship

Ontario has announced it is easing restrictions on group prayer.

As of Friday, Ontarians will be allowed to gather in groups of 10 – up from the five – and places of worship will be allowed to reopen. However, with physical distancing measures in place, houses of worship will be limited to no more than 30 per cent capacity.

Other provinces, such as British Columbia and Alberta, have allowed religious gatherings of up to 50 people so long as physical distancing is maintained.

The CJR is following this development in Ontario and will expand its coverage as details and reactions emerge.

Obese Sex Worker Subject of Poetry Collection by Ruth Panofsky

By RUTH SCHWEITZER

Ruth Panofsky’s latest poems revisit the world of Hoda, an obese Jewish sex worker and the protagonist of Canadian author Adele Wiseman’s 1974 novel Crackpot.

Panofsky, a Wiseman scholar, has produced a powerful first-person account of Hoda’s story in Radiant Shards: Hoda’s North End Poems, based on the Wiseman novel set in Winnipeg’s North End from 1910 until after World War II. Panofsky’s book includes historical photographs of the North End.

Radiant Shards panofsky

Hoda is earthy, bawdy, vulnerable and big-hearted, and stands out because of her big, bold personality. “Hoda demands that her voice get heard. That’s why I felt so compelled to write in the voice that I imagined for her,” Panofsky told the CJR.

The language of Radiant Shards (Inanna Publications) is contemporary, bringing Hoda’s story forward into the present. In the novel, Wiseman’s use of English is archaic, influenced by Yiddish, her first language. 

As someone who’s struggled with her own body image, Panofsky said she admired Hoda for the easy way she inhabits her gargantuan body.

“I was heartened by Hoda in that her body was a source of pleasure,” said Panofsky, an English professor at Toronto’s Ryerson University. “She also took pleasure in her work, which is a radical revisioning of how the sex worker usually is presented.”

Hoda’s parents are poor Russian-Jewish immigrants living in a shack in the North End, a haven for Russian Jews who escaped pogroms.

Hoda’s mother, Rokhl, is humpbacked, and her father, Danile, is blind. Rokhl cleans houses to support her family, taking the infant Hoda with her to work. She feeds Hoda to keep her quiet, and Hoda becomes an overweight youngster other children torment.

Along with putting up with the young bullies in her neighbourhood, Hoda is faced with antisemitism at school.

“Wiseman’s story builds on stories I heard from my own parents growing up, about how teachers in the public school system would humiliate their Jewish students,” Panofsky related. “She (Hoda) was bullied by teachers because they were so dismissive of her as the ‘other.’”

When Hoda’s mother dies of cancer, the family’s source of income disappears. Her father’s Uncle Nate wants to leave Hoda at the Jewish orphanage and put Danile into the old folks’ home, but Hoda and Danile refuse to be separated. To support her father, Hoda becomes a sex worker, servicing the boys and men in her community.

Hoda and another sex worker offer their services in downtown Winnipeg, where they think the money will be better, but after being badly beaten, Hoda returns to the safety of the North End, never to leave. 

“Hoda’s community eventually comes to accept her and embrace her. She provides a need for the community, but the community also protects her. They have a complicated relationship with Hoda,” Panofsky said.

Unaware she’s pregnant, Hoda gives birth to a son, David, who’s raised in an orphanage without knowing his mother. The first time David meets his mother is as one of her clients.

Wiseman’s Crackpot was rejected by publishers at least 27 times.

“That’s because of the profoundly difficult subject of incest that is at the core of it,” Panofsky said. “She is protecting him by not revealing herself to be his mother, and then continues having him as a client because she understands if she is to turn him away, she’ll destroy him. So she decides to take that trauma onto herself and protect the boy.”

Panofsky said she finds Hoda’s capacity to remain loving and kind in the face of the most profound traumas uplifting.

“I was heartened by the fact that she could go through what she went through and still survive,” she added.

Ruth Panofsky
Ruth Panofsky

Panofsky won the Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Award for her 2007 book, Laike and Nahum: A Poem in Two Voices. Radiant Shards won a Hadassah-Brandeis Institute Research Award in 2018 under the working title Flesh and Bones: Hoda’s North End Poems.

To see and hear Ruth Panofsky read from Radiant Shards, visit:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5n9cLs1pig&list=PL6I2JU-W6PEcWN92pTB3NLcP5Kz1YGFlu&index=2&t=0s&fbclid=IwAR1Qn6rTObJdE6BO_l4YjObrW6jmEvi5nwL_IKWPL-9Ad8-R8jT1yiUpbKQ

COVID Silences Jewish Choirs: Reform’s First Female Cantor

STEVE ARNOLD

Jewish choirs have gone silent in the wake of the COVID, and Reform Judaism’s first ordained female cantor warns the music won’t come back soon.

Cantor Barbara Ostfeld told a virtual audience at Hamilton’s Temple Anshe Sholom recently that choirs will have to get past the fact that they are fertile fields for spreading the virus.

“We will have to evolve or we will go the way of the dinosaurs,” Ostfield said in a presentation live-streamed from her home in Buffalo, N.Y. “I wish I knew what was going to happen, but I know it will happen.

“We will figure it out,” she added. “If we can put people on the space station, then we can figure out how we can sing together safely.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States has warned that even social distancing measures may not be enough to outdo the effects of droplets emitted by some singers and inhaled by their choir mates.


Until the COVID puzzle is solved, Ostfeld said the Jewish world has lost a critical part of its humanity.

“This can’t be the end of communal singing, it’s too important a part of the human experience,” she said.

Singing in groups, Ostfeld said in an e-mail exchange after her presentation, brings people together in ways a solo voice, no matter how beautiful, simply can’t.

What we lose when we can’t gather for ritual purposes is the communal bolstering that we haven’t had to think about until this pandemic,” she added.

Finding a way to bring the music back is occupying Jewish leaders worried about how they will celebrate the High Holy Days in September.

“There are all kinds of think tanks grappling with this problem right now. There are large umbrella-group conversations, like the ones being conducted jointly by the Union for Reform Judaism and the United Synagogue,” she said. “There are also many ad hoc conversations between and among cantors and rabbis, and religious educators, communal and congregational leaders.”

Ostfeld has a lifetime of experience studying the impact of music on Jewish life – experience she put in a book last year titled Catbird: The Ballad of Barbi Prim.

It chronicles her experience as an anxious and depressed 10-year-old lone Jew in a YMCA camp; her discovery that singing can make her world a better place; and her decision to train for a male-dominated profession.

In Ostfeld’s description, “readers will be right there in the moment with me, from early childhood to age 65, anxious at school, or feeling like an imposter, or shoe shopping with my inner therapist.”

She hopes to follow that up with a children’s book about “an awkward, overweight little girl who discovers her singing voice and puts it to use in a synagogue setting. It’s a happy, colourful story … about singing as a super-power.”

Cantor Barbara Ostfeld
Cantor Barbara Ostfeld

There was a long history of women singing in Liberal synagogues but in 1975, Ostfeld became Reform Judaism’s first female cantor ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

The Conservative movement ordained its first female cantor in 1987 and the Reconstructionist denomination in 2002. To date, there are no ordained female cantors in the Orthodox movement.

EDITORIAL: Jews Cannot Fail to Protest

By BERNIE FARBER and ZACK BABINS

The death of George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers has become the rallying cry that has once again ignited protest in the United States, across this continent, and in Europe.

We have been down this path before. The United States has a sorry and bloodstained history of race relations, from the Jim Crow laws, which set the tone for racist laws and behaviour in America, to the murder of 14-year-old Emmet Till who was beaten and lynched in 1955 for allegedly flirting with a white woman. America’s violent path continued through the 1960’s, with the murder of four young black girls in a Birmingham, Ala., church bombing and culminated with the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King.

 There have been points of light in the dark journey. There was the example set by Rosa Parks, who initiated the Montgomery bus boycott when she refused to sit at the back of the bus and the courage of the Little Rock Nine, black high school students who faced down violence and protest to desegregate that city’s schools. But these points of light have not been enough to dispel the darkness. 

And where are we today? Nowhere really.  The ongoing targeting of  black men by both racists and police while driving, jogging, birding, and even “existing while black” has become dangerous to a point where black parents fear for their children’s lives when they simply leave the house.

Jews, of all people, have walked in the shoes of victimization. Many have survived the kingdom of death where they were targeted for annihilation simply because they were Jews. We know better and we cannot be silent. 

Those of us who are not people of colour may claim to understand their pain but that is not enough. We must also recognize the unique struggle of Jews of colour, who face oppression and discrimination on multiple fronts, and often from within our own community. 

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched arm-in-arm with Rev. King in Selma, Ala., protesting hatred and racism. Following the march, Rabbi Heschel proclaimed, “When I marched with Martin Luther King in Selma, I felt my legs were praying.” 

It is time that we Jews take to our legs again and pray alongside our racialized brothers and sisters. In the words of Jewish philosopher Elie Wiesel “there may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” 

At The CJR, we are committed to amplifying the voices of black Jews and Jews of colour, and diversifying our editorial board. Please contact us at canadianjewishrecord@gmail.com if you are interested in being a part of this initiative.


Zack Babins, co-author
Bernie Farber, co-author

Education about Judaism Should Include Non-Jews: Panel

By MARA BOSLOY

There are obvious and effective ways to build Jewish pride. Fighting antisemitism and educating people on the Holocaust are two popular ones.

But so is educating non-Jews about Judaism and Jewish culture, a panel discussion heard recently.

The May 26 panel over Zoom included educators focused on teaching youth – both Jewish and not – about Judaism, antisemitism, and the Holocaust.

That was one of the topics raised in the discussion, organized by Andria Spindel, executive director of Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation, for Jewish Heritage Month in May.

Shari Schwartz-Maltz, who works for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and chairs its Jewish Heritage Committee (JHC), runs programs that are almost completely comprised of non-Jewish students.

The committee has previously organized Kensington Market Walking Tours, in which students stroll through one of Toronto’s most famous neighbourhoods while learning its Jewish history.

This school year, the JHC planned a full year of Holocaust education programming, including the distribution of 17,000 copies of Hana’s Suitcase to every grade 6 student at the TDSB, and a virtual reality tour of the Majdanek concentration camp.

Leora Schaefer, executive director of Facing History and Ourselves, an educational organization dedicated to eliminating bigotry and hate by using the lessons of history, said one doesn’t learn about Jews or Judaism by studying the Holocaust.

“We learn about the Holocaust from the perspective of the perpetrators,” said Schaefer. “We have to go back and see the history of antisemitism to truly understand how the events of the Holocaust occurred.”

Teaching about Jews and Judaism also will lead non-Jews to understand that not all Jews are white. Corey Margolese, a teacher with the York Region School Board and Torah High, a private Jewish school, started JTeach.ca to help people form their Jewish identities.

“There are many degrees of Jews, many ethno-racial communities,” Margolese said. “The teaching of Jewish diversity is important.”

So is Jewish identity within Canadian society.

“There are various contributions Jews in Canada make actively to Canada and to the world as a whole. Jews are part of every aspect of society. We still maintain our own sense of culture, we also contribute positively to where we live,” Margolese said.

One way to help combat antisemitism is to help non-Jews come to a more informed look on Diaspora-Israel relations. Often, heard the panel, antisemites conflate Israel with Judaism.

Said Nicole Miller, executive director of Fighting Antisemitism Together: “Canadian Jews chose Canada, not Israel, as home.” She said Diaspora Jews can still love Israel as the Jewish state without agreeing with its politics.


Mara Bosloy
Mara Bosloy

Mara Bosloy is a publishing and editing professional currently working at a leading Canadian educational publisher. She attended Jewish overnight camp for years and has been actively involved in the Jewish community.

Orthodox Rabbis Threaten Legal Action Over Size of Prayer Groups

By STEVE ARNOLD

Some Orthodox rabbis in Toronto are threatening legal action under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms against the provincial government’s restrictions on the size of religious services.

Working with the Alberta-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, the rabbis say COVID-inspired limits on the size of gatherings infringe on their rights to gather in groups.

minyan covid jewish
Illustration by Irv Osterer

Orthodox Jews pray daily in minyanim – quorums of at least 10 adult males. Current rules restrict gatherings, including for religious services, to no more than five people. Violations can bring fines of up to $100,000 and a year in jail.

Ontario’s government “has refused to provide any guidelines for the reopening of houses of worship, other than drive-in services which are of no benefit to Orthodox communities,” Justice Centre lawyer Lisa Bildy told the CJR in an e-mail exchange.

“As more businesses, parks and other institutions begin to open up, there is no reason houses of worship should remain under tight lockdown,” she added.

Last month, hundreds of pastors and other religious leaders signed a letter to Premier Doug Ford asking for changes to the rules for religious groups.

On May 22, four Toronto rabbis followed up with their own letter addressing the specific ways in which Orthodox Jews are affected by the rules. The four signatories were Rabbi Shlomo Miller, head of Kollel Toronto; Rabbi Mordechai Ochs, head of Toronto’s beit din; Rabbi Dovid Shochet, chief justice of the Vaad Harabonim of Toronto; and Rabbi Y.Y. Sofer of the “Chassidic Community of Toronto.”

The letter, which is on the letterhead of the Vaad Harobonim, the umbrella for Toronto Orthodox rabbis, called provincial restrictions an “unjustified limitation imposed on our constitutional right to assemble and to practice our faith. Our G-d given rights and traditions of communal prayer spanning thousands of years are guaranteed by our Charter of Rights and Freedoms not to be unjustifiably infringed.

“We have watched as you have unilaterally and arbitrarily declared faith groups to be shuttered as ‘non-essential,’ while liquor stores, grocery stores, and marijuana shops remained open,” the letter goes on. “There is no constitutional right to buy liquor and marijuana, but there is a constitutional right to worship and to assemble to practice one’s faith…People are permitted to gather at golf courses, beaches and stores in numbers greater than five, but not in prayer. This is unacceptable.”

So-called “drive-in” religious services, which the government has permitted, is of “no benefit” to observant Jews, who may not drive on Shabbat and holy days, the letter states.

The Vaad said it has consulted with legal counsel and has been advised that the Charter of Rights “is the supreme law of the land [which] protects the fundamental rights of religion, association and assembly. Those rights have been infringed, and it has become apparent that the infringements are no longer justified.”

Asked about the reasons for the rabbis’ action, Rabbi Shochet told the CJR: “It’s very simple. You cannot be stricter on allowing religious services than a sports event and other things. You cannot have two standards.”

With Ontario’s restrictions being eased in some quarters, the Centre agrees there is no justification for continuing to ban Orthodox gatherings.

“These discriminatory restrictions do not appear to be based on scientific or public health standards, and are continuing now into a third month, with no clear end in sight,” the Centre said.

“For many religious communities, coming together to worship is of fundamental importance to their faith, and is no less essential than any commercial activity,” Bildy said.

“With the province increasingly opening up, it is important that faith groups be a part of that process. If stores can have many dozens of people inside and maintain safety, so too can houses of worship,” she added.

She said other jurisdictions in Canada are permitting indoor services with 50 congregants, “but Ontario won’t even allow people to meet outside in groups larger than five, despite mounting and compelling evidence that there is virtually no risk of disease transmission outdoors.”

Bildy said there is no legal or public health basis for treating religious groups differently, “and indeed it is contrary to the Charter to discriminate in this arbitrary manner.”

Court documents in the case are being prepared.

In an e-mailed statement to the CJR, a spokesperson for Ford said Ontario “has not yet been served with any application on behalf of the Orthodox Jewish community. As the matter may be before the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is a conservative legal advocacy group specializing in Canadian constitutional law, especially the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Based in Calgary, it was founded in 2010 by John Carpay, former Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and a former candidate for the federal Reform Party and provincial Wildrose Party.

B’nai Brith Worried About COVID-Inspired Antisemitism

By ELYSE TYTEL

There has been a significant display of COVID-related antisemitism in the first four months of 2020, according to B’nai Brith Canada.

The organization released a new policy paper calling on Ottawa to address COVID-inspired hate through a set of pro-active and responsive measures.

The paper, titled Covid-19 Disinformation and Antisemitism, released May 26, asks the federal government to “be prepared to publicly debunk falsehoods and antisemitic conspiracy theories and other efforts to stigmatize particular groups and inflame societal tensions.”

Since the pandemic began, B’nai Brith’s Anti-Hate Hotline has received complaints about hateful graffiti, xenophobic media attention, and discrimination in shops against those who are identifiably Jewish.

The organization said it has seen a significant increase in COVID-related antisemitic online posts,  near-daily reports of antisemitic harassment, both online and in person, and a significant uptick in antisemitic conspiracy theories, including that Israel created the virus in order to infect the world and benefit its pharmaceutical industry.

Graffiti Toronto COVID
Graffiti in downtown Toronto during COVID. Photo credit: B’nai Brith Canada

In-person hate-related incidents are also up, primarily in Quebec, where Jews have reportedly been turned away at stores, denied service or threatened, B’nai Brith reported.

The six-page policy paper also recommends developing and implementing a national action plan on antisemitism, and funding to support media and public health information resources to counter COVID disinformation.

The advocacy group noted that during periods of tension, incidents of intolerance and anti-Jewish conspiracies increase. Statistics also show a rise in antisemitic incidents in the United States, Europe and other regions.

“As the coronavirus continues to surge globally, antisemitic, xenophobic and hateful messages and conspiracy theories are proliferating rapidly online,” the BB report stated.

These messages “spread hate and disinformation, make it more difficult to access accurate information about the pandemic, and elevate fear and anxiety.”

According to B’nai Brith, “the harm created by the search for scapegoats, whether by political leaders, groups or individuals; the significant impact of power of technology and social media; and the anger among those who have experienced drastic and negative changes to their lives, is potentially toxic.”

The rise of COVID-inspired hate follows another record year of antisemitic incidents in Canada, according to B’nai Brith’s 2019 annual audit of antisemitic incidents released last month.

EXCLUSIVE: Report on Clash at York U Suggests Clarifying Free Speech, Beefing up Security

EXCLUSIVE to the CJR: Report on Clash at York U Suggests Clarifying Free Speech, Beefing up Security

By LILA SARICK

An independent review by a former Supreme Court of Canada judge on a violent clash at York University last November recommends that the university clarify the limits of free speech and legitimate protest, beef up its security policies, and give campus police expanded powers.

The 81-page report, authored by former high court justice Thomas Cromwell and released June 2, examined the events of Nov. 20, 2019, when Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) confronted pro-Israel supporters at a program sponsored by Herut Canada that brought Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reservists to York.

“Even a casual look at the extensive video of the event shows what a dangerous situation existed in Vari Hall that evening,” Cromwell’s report states. “The video shows verbal and physical altercations. York Federation of Students marshals, York security officers and TPS (Toronto Police Services) officers are shown acting as physical barriers between event supporters and protestors.”

Honourable Thomas A. Cromwell C.C
Honourable Thomas A. Cromwell C.C

Cromwell was asked by York president Rhonda Lenton to examine the university’s policies on freedom of speech, how it provided space for student events, and security arrangements.

Cromwell interviewed 22 groups and individuals and received nine written submissions. The York Federation of Students did not participate in the review, despite being sent emails, voicemails and a hand-delivered letter, he noted.

Lenton said the university is committed to implementing all 41 of Cromwell’s recommendation within 12 months, with many ready to roll out when school starts in September.

“The most important piece of the document is that it helps universities understand the limits to freedom of speech. It was very helpful that Cromwell was trying to understand the unique characteristics of the university,” Lenton said in an exclusive interview with the CJR.

Rhonda Lenton, York University
Rhonda L. Lenton, PhD, President, York University

“You get people referring to (speech) and asking has it broken the law. Inciting hatred is a very high bar, if that’s the only bar, you cannot rely on that legal bar, you must create additional conditions that allow the university to function,” she said.

“Our goal is to allow our community to debate and have vigorous conversation, but in a safe, civil environment,” Lenton continued. “You can vehemently disagree with a position but this name-calling and heckling should not be acceptable because then students don’t feel safe to express their own views.”

Among York’s first tasks will be to clearly define acceptable speech, what constitutes discrimination and harassment, and the consequences for violating the university’s codes, Lenton said.

“If you keep it theoretical and argue how to define freedom of speech without specifics, it is very difficult to implement,” she said. “We need clarity on policy and definitions: how does the university define freedom of speech and what will be tolerated.”

The university also needs to establish a transparent response if groups do not adhere to the policies. “These procedures will help us keep the university a safe place,” Lenton said.

The third element of Cromwell’s report refers to education and training for student leaders about the limits of free speech and what constitutes racism and discrimination.

York has “tremendous success” with faculty teaching controversial subjects, and has student groups that encourage building bridges in the diverse university community, Lenton said. “We want to build on those positive measures.”

While the report did not specifically address antisemitism on campus, Lenton, who is Jewish, acknowledged that the Jewish community has specific concerns.

In a two-page letter accompanying the report, she wrote, “We want to speak directly to the Jewish community for a moment. We have heard your serious concerns and know that we have work to do…. We cannot police the beliefs of our community members, but we can strengthen our policies and procedures to protect our community from abhorrent views and actions.”

In the CJR interview, Lenton said: “I want the Jewish community not to feel that antisemitism will get lost in this broader focus on freedom of speech. It will not.”

Late last year, both Herut Canada and SAIA were temporarily suspended from York, but the groups will not face any further discipline, Lenton said, acknowledging that “this will be a challenge for those who feel further actions were warranted.”

Cromwell’s report exposes the frustrations that student groups and the larger community have had with York’s handling of divisive issues.

“My review revealed deep concern about the university’s ability to address conduct that was viewed as constituting racism, discrimination and harassment,” Cromwell wrote.

Cromwell referenced a submission from B’nai Brith Canada, which said SAIA had a “long history of fomenting anti-Israel disruptions on campus.” The Canadian-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee urged Cromwell to “investigate and note the discrimination, or at least inadequate regard for the concern, rights and security of students protesting the event.”

Among Cromwell’s recommendations are for York to develop clear definitions of what constitutes racism, discrimination and harassment, especially in relation to extra-curricular activities and to follow the model of other universities and create a unified complaint process, a “one-stop shop” to adjudicate complaints.

On the topic of free speech, Cromwell wrote that speech cannot be restricted simply because it is offensive. However, the university needs to clarify and provide practical examples, that “expression that takes the form of violence, threats of violence, hate speech and/or discriminatory conduct…is not permissible on campus.”

Similarly, peaceful protest is permitted, but protesters cannot physically block an event and not all university property is available for protests, he wrote.

At the Nov. 20 event, “there were a number of behaviours that impeded the Herut event and therefore exceeded the bounds of free expressions through protest,” Cromwell wrote, citing protesters who banged on the walls of the auditorium where the event was taking place and used loudspeakers near the hall.

The university also needs to establish clear guidelines about when an event should be cancelled or postponed because of concerns the speaker will “exceed the limits of free expression” or the event carries a risk of personal injury.

Among the security measures Cromwell recommends are providing designated protest zones and if necessary, restricting attendance to members of the university or to those who have pre-registered.

“Volunteer security” should be explicitly prohibited, the report said. Herut Canada had said it recruited Jewish motorcycle groups and the Jewish Defence League for security assistance at the November event. In early March, York banned JDL Canada director Meir Weinstein from its campuses “for any reason whatsoever.”

York should also consider training some of its security staff as special constables, which would give them greater authority to remove people from campus, an idea that Lenton said she would endorse.

Cromwell’s report identified numerous loopholes and gaps in the university’s policies, including practical concerns, such as how space was booked by groups, how security risks were analyzed and who should bear the cost of security for controversial speakers.

Cromwell is clear that imposing security costs on the organizers of an event that may attract protesters is “highly problematic from a free expression perspective.”

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

Cromwell recommends that York establish a budget for extra-curricular event security. When the budget is exhausted for the year, the university can refuse to hold additional events.

UPDATE: In a statement, Barbara Bank, Toronto chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, thanked Lenton “for recognizing that York University is not immune from antisemitism, and her commitment to strengthen university policies and procedures to protect the campus community from abhorrent views and actions.”

Museum of Jewish Montreal Must Vacate Space

By TOBY SALTZMAN

If there’s a silver lining in getting short notice to vacate the premises of the Museum of Jewish Montreal, it’s gaining the time to wait out the economic devastation of the COVID pandemic and conserve resources to reopen when the time is right.

That’s according to Zev Moses, the museum’s founder and executive director, who received word last month that he must vacate the premises by June 30 because the unit housing the museum has been sold.

The owner of the museum’s “perfect location” – a storefront at the corner of Saint Laurent Boulevard and Duluth Avenue West, in the heart of Montreal’s historic Jewish neighbourhood – has sold the space to its upstairs tenant, Kanva Architecture Inc., for expansion to street level.

Museum of Jewish Montreal
Museum of Jewish Montreal, 4040 St Laurent Blvd, Montreal, Quebec 

Founded in 2010, as the Interactive Museum of Jewish Montreal, it offered popular walking tours of historic Jewish neighbourhoods, online exhibits, an oral history collection, and public programing and exhibitions.

In 2016, it opened the 1,200 square-foot storefront space that houses a gallery, boutique, office, and a popular café, Fletchers – Espace Culinaire.

When Moses conceptualized the museum a decade ago, the 26-year-old with a master’s degree in city planning felt inspired to map the history of Montreal’s Jewish community with an online, interactive site that would be enriched by locals who would share stories of their immigrant beginnings.

Moses’ passion was to bridge places in the city’s history with their impact on peoples’ identities. Many locals were eager to participate, and added family details and images to the virtual collection.

As the site’s popularity grew, Moses assembled a team to create a brick-and-mortar museum that would expand the focus beyond Montreal’s Jewish past, to its future.

“As a new not-for-profit, it took a lot of work to gain the trust of the community, donors, and the city to say that you are going to represent the Jewish community in this way,” Moses told the CJR.

Over time, the museum evolved to a meaningful space for volunteers and young people, mainly college age to mid-30s.

“Suddenly we found young people who did not attend synagogue or the JCC, who had literally fallen off the Jewish institutional map, who were making this their second home,” Moses said. “The museum touched the lives of hundreds of young people in a deeper way by offering micro-grants and running three fellowships annually dedicated to research.”

Museum of Jewish Montreal
Museum of Jewish Montreal

Uniquely without a permanent collection, the museum hosted events focusing on Jewish culture, including concerts, film screenings, education, and culinary heritage affairs.

With six weeks’ notice to vacate the historic space, the museum will refocus online.

“The truth is, it’s not clear that gathering here was even going to be a possibility over the pandemic months. So, it’s kind of a silver lining that we can wait it out,” Moses offered. “We want to reopen within the year. We’re hoping to build a Jewish arts and culture eco-system for Montreal that inspires young people to create the next generation of Jewish life and culture here.”

As for a new physical location, Moses said the museum will need community support to find a new place suitable for social distancing guidelines.

People In Isolation May Have Trouble Coping, Doctor Says

By DAN HOROWITZ

People who are isolating themselves due to the COVID-19 pandemic risk turning to unhealthy coping strategies such as alcohol and online gambling, says the chief of psychiatry at North York General Hospital.

“When people are forced to spend too much time in a closed setting with family members, it can result in anger and various types of abuse,” Dr. David Koczerginski, the medical director of the mental health program at the hospital says. “I think we need to be careful to avoid those unhealthy coping strategies and becoming too isolative and inward, and blaming others – or ourselves.”

Dr. David Koczerginski

Koczerginski says that many people are also struggling with the way the rules of grieving have changed.

“A lot of people know individuals who are in hospitals who are ill, and many of these people are going through grief because they’ve lost friends or loved ones through the pandemic or for other reasons. Of course, the rules of grieving are now complicated as we can’t visit people in hospitals, we can’t have large gatherings or even normal funerals or a shiva. The whole world is upside down. That’s created a lot of stress, anxiety, worry, fear and just normal sadness,” Koczerginski says. “It needs to be supported and dealt with.

“Then there are those who have a vulnerability towards mental illness, be it depression or anxiety, which may be a tipping point where they may relapse into a state of diminished functioning and personal risk.”

Of all the challenges faced by mental health professionals today, giving patients advice that may be counterintuitive is perhaps most difficult.

“When we see patients in non-pandemic times, we may tell them that they should go outside more; be socially connected and reach out to their communities and social networks,” says Koczerginski. “That is what we tell patients who are feeling anxious, withdrawn and isolated. Today, we have society – for understandable reasons – telling us not to go outside, to stay home and stay isolated.  That is what we are seeing a lot of: people who are struggling with this isolation, spending too much time at home separated from their networks, their activities – things that give them a sense of value and enjoyment.”

This has been especially hard for the pandemic’s most vulnerable demographic – seniors.

“They are now cut off from their regular visits from their children and grandchildren, so the isolation is even more profound,” says Koczerginski. “Their comfort level with technology and video makes it more challenging for them to connect to their friends and loved ones virtually.”

Fortunately, there are other ways that we can connect with our elderly loved ones without them mastering Zoom.

“There’s always the good old telephone,’ says Koczerginski. “Letting them know that we are there for them and that we care about them can work wonders and make an enormous difference.”

Koczerginski says it’s important that we implement lessons today that we learned through other difficult times, most notably during the AIDS epidemic and SARS.

“Hopefully those of us who were around during those times have learned that we are all together in this as a community and that what we are experiencing today is a shared experience that will help us cope without placing blame, or stigmatizing anyone, regardless of what cultural group they may be from,” says Koczerginski.

He thinks that something good can come out of the pandemic if we just recalibrate our priorities.

“I believe that during this unusual time in our history, there’s an opportunity to reflect on what is truly important, and that maybe the things we thought really mattered the most, don’t,” he says. “What matters is the connection we have with the people who are important in our lives. This is an opportunity for a lot of personal reflection and growth no matter our age. We all have that capacity for personal growth during this unusual time.”

This link to the mental health/COVID web site developed by a psychiatrist at North York General Hospital contains many useful resources and links. https://mentalhealthcovid19.ca

Hamilton’s Jewish Long-Term Care Facility Remains COVID-Free

By STEVE ARNOLD

HAMILTON – This city’s Jewish seniors’ facility remains COVID-free, but the cost of that victory is weighing heavily on the non-profit institution.

Larry Levin, acting CEO of Shalom Village, said in an interview that 10 weeks of twice daily symptom checks of staff and residents, a complete ban on visitors, and more than a little luck have kept the home’s doors closed to an infection sweeping Ontario’s other long-term care facilities.

Dr. Larry Levin

“If anyone shows a symptom that staff feel is on the spectrum for this virus, then we pretty quickly call public health to come in and swab them,” he said. “We’ve taken this threat seriously from the very beginning so we have always been a little bit ahead of the curve in terms of locking down the facility.”

Anyone seeking to enter the facility “is being asked a long list of questions to investigate any possibility of exposure to the virus.”

That precaution extends to delivery drivers with packages to the home.

“We just won’t accept anything unless they pass through the same screening as everyone else, and even if they do we’ll still disinfect the exterior of the package and let it sit for some suitable time before it goes to a resident,” said Levin.

Those rigid policies, he told a recent town hall meeting for residents and supporters, aren’t going to end any time soon.

“We are going to continue to hold the line on our no-visitors policy and the reasons for that are obvious,” he said. “We just won’t take the chance that anyone could possibly bring COVID into Shalom Village.”

Levin said in an interview that keeping such a tight lid on the home, which combines a 127-bed long-term care unit with 81 apartments, means expensive demands for staff time, personal protective equipment, and rigid monitoring.

“Our budget is struggling, as is the budget of any other long-term care facility,” he said. “This makes our financial picture a very difficult one on a number of different levels.”

Under the current model, homes such as Shalom Village are funded through rents charged for the apartment units, provincial per diem amounts for nursing home care and food, and fundraising.

COVID, however, has both raised costs and sliced into revenue because, while long-term care beds are full, some apartments are going vacant.

“The long-term care units are always pretty full, but some of the apartments are vacant because we can’t show them to potential residents,” Levin explained. “That loss of rental income is just another factor we have to face in dealing with COVID.”

Levin said Shalom Village is relying more than usual on its fundraising while hoping the Ontario government comes through with increased grants.

“Government does provide some funding, but even during normal times it is not sufficient,” he said. “Government support is minimal from the staffing point of view and just as minimal from the stand point of food.”

Levin said a provincial inquiry into the long-term care home system would involve Shalom Village and its leadership.

“We will contribute to that because we want to make sure that the government understands how years of underfunding have helped to create problems that are apparent during this crisis,” he said.

“Not everything is the fault of government, but a good part of it is,” he told the town hall meeting. “We want to make sure government understands this and makes the necessary changes so we have a higher level of care in our system.”

The COVID pandemic hit just as the Shalom Village board was gearing up to search for a new CEO.

Levin, a Hamilton dentist with a long history of community service (his wife Jacki is current president of the Hamilton Jewish Federation), took over as acting CEO of the home in March.

Economy Should Rebound Rapidly From Corona Effect, Prof Predicts

By DAN HOROWITZ

A former professor of economics at the University of Toronto believes the economy will bounce back quickly after the shock of the coronavirus is over.

“The good news is that once the shock is over, and once this virus is permanently under control, the economy as a whole should come back quite rapidly,” Jack L. Carr, professor emeritus at the university, said. 

Professor Jack Carr

The problem, he said, is no one knows how long until the effects of the virus will be over. “This uncertainty adds a great deal of risk to our economy.”

Carr spoke to The CJR on a wide variety of economic issues, including how the Canadian government has performed and why Israel doesn’t appear to be suffering as badly as Canada.

Carr said we are not in a recession yet and it’s unlikely we’ll have another Great Depression.

“The general term for a recession is two quarters of negative growth. We aren’t there yet,” Carr said. 

 “And, really, a depression is just a very bad recession. When people think of a depression they think of the Great Depression which lasted for four years from 1929 to 1933. Back then unemployment was between 25 and 30 per cent. Although we may experience that same level of unemployment sometime in the future, this is not a depression, and it certainly won’t last for four years,” he said.

Carr said the Canadian government has taken proper measures to ensure the health of financial institutions. “Unlike the Great Depression where there was a major financial collapse and there were runs on banks, and people lining up outside their financial institutions in a frenzy to get their money out, this is not the case today,” says Carr. 

“Our government did everything it could to prevent a major financial collapse. They helped individuals financially whose lives were affected by COVID-19, they created business bailout programs and gave out small business loans – some of which were forgivable. They’ve done what they could do. Of course, these programs and payments will create more debt, debt that we will all ultimately pay for through our taxes.”

He believes we could get the economy back on track faster if we only put restrictions on the most vulnerable in our community. He said young people, teens and those in their 20s and 30s, should be allowed back to stores, restaurants and have social gatherings. “Meanwhile, I would keep older people, and others who are compromised, at home.”

He does predict, however, financial problems for certain Jewish institutions such as summer camps and day schools.

“There’s no doubt that the Jewish summer camps which have been cancelled this year, as well as employees of those camps, have suffered,” he said. “They haven’t earned any revenue, they’re not getting a return on their camp land. Jewish kids who might have had a job as a counsellor will not earn that income.”

He also hinted that some parents might be reluctant to pay the “big bucks” if day schools don’t open up and their children have to continue with distance learning. 

“My guess is that Jewish day schools are going to have more financial problems as a result of this. In addition, if Jewish day schools are not open it will make it much more difficult for Jewish mothers and fathers to engage in gainful employment.”

Touching on Israel, Carr said the Jewish state’s economy wasn’t as badly affected.

 “Maybe it’s due to good policy, but they are certainly doing better (than Canada and the United States). Their schools have reopened, as have their beaches and their restaurants – with some restrictions, of course. Israelis have always been resilient, and I’d say they have shown us that they are more resilient again. Fortunately the Israeli economy looks like it’s going to recover from COVID fairly rapidly.” 

Canada Shows No Enthusiasm for Israel’s Annexation Plans

By RON CSILLAG

No major political party in Canada is supporting Israel’s pledge to unilaterally annex territories in the West Bank.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin 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 controversial policy has provoked an outburst of condemnation, including from several of Israel’s allies.

Israel’s proposed annexation plans (via Ha’Aretz)

While Canada’s lack of enthusiasm for such a move spans the political spectrum, some Jewish organizations in the country are taking opposing views. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau telephoned both Netanyahu and  “alternate” Prime Minister Benny Gantz on May 18 in a call described as customary following the creation of a new government. Trudeau may have used forceful language in those calls but nowhere in his subsequent statement is the word “annexation” mentioned or unilateralism questioned.

Trudeau congratulated Netanyahu and Gantz on the formation of Israel’s new government.

“Canada and Israel share a long history as close friends, as well as partners in international organizations,”  statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said. “As the decades have passed, we have remained united by our shared democratic values and close people-to-people ties. Both of our countries are also benefitting from the modernized Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, which is creating even more connections between people and businesses in Canada and Israel.”

Trudeau said he looks forward to both countries working together to combat COVID, but added, perhaps vaguely hinting at the coming annexation: “In these times of uncertainty, our commitment to international law and the rules-based international order is more important than ever.”

The annexation plan has no traction among Conservatives.

Tory foreign affairs critic Leona Alleslev told CBC News that “Conservatives continue to believe in the two-state solution, as part of a negotiated settlement to this conflict, as well as the right of Israel to defend itself and secure its borders.”

The CJR reached out to Conservative leadership frontrunners Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole. Only O’Toole replied, saying, “we don’t support any unilateral action whether it involves the Palestinians using the [International Criminal Court] against Israel, or the Israelis annexing disputed territory. Canada supports and remains committed to a negotiated two-state solution to the conflict.”

Canada must assert “strong opposition to any plan to annex lands occupied by Israel since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War,” New Democrat foreign affairs critic Jack Harris said in a statement.

Despite Canada’s official position on a two-state solution, the Liberal government “has done little to advance the cause,” Harris said. “Now that the incoming government of Israel has committed to a plan to annex lands in the occupied territories, Canada must speak out and condemn such action. It would be a clear violation of international law and the Geneva Convention to which Canada is Party. It would also go contrary to numerous United Nations Resolutions passed by an overwhelming number of countries.”

Harris noted that other nations, including the U.K., Norway, Ireland and France, have said that such annexation would be a clear violation of international law.

Canada “must be on the side of right in this issue,” he added. “If we hope to play a meaningful leadership role in the modern world, we must stand with the nations of the world to uphold international law.”

If annexation proceeds according to Israel’s plan, it will represent “one of the single most extreme unilateral moves made by Israel in recent decades in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Paul Manly, the Green Party critic on foreign affairs.

Manley said the annexation of West Bank lands in the midst of the global COVID crisis would not only violate United Nations resolutions, but “end all hopes for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Former Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who serves on the executive of the Canada-Palestinian Parliamentary Friendship Group, said she finds it “unacceptable that Israel would attempt to use COVID-19 as cover for further compromising the long-term security of the region.”

In a letter to Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, JSpace Canada, the progressive Jewish group, urged Ottawa to reject Israel’s annexation plans.

Canada should express to Israel that unilateral annexation “will damage its relationship with allies and the security of the region,” said JSpace Canada president Karen Mock.

Unilateral annexation “of occupied territory appears to be in direct contradiction to the principles and values clearly articulated in Israel’s own Proclamation of Independence, and would be an affront to international efforts to encourage the two sides to negotiate,” JSpace wrote in the letter. 

About the only support for annexation came from Herut Canada, a robustly pro-Israel group resurrected last year. It “unequivocally supports exercising the Jewish people’s ancient, historical, and legal sovereign rights in the Judean and Samarian territory,” Lauren Isaacs, the group’s director, told the CJR.

The area in question “has always been Jewish land, both biblically and legally, and we see the annexation as the ultimate expression of liberation. This is about the right to Jewish sovereignty in Jewish land and we support it,” Isaacs said.

Officially, Canada considers the West Bank to be occupied territories, a position consistent with the international community.

“As such, unilateral annexation is deemed a violation of international law,” according to Oded Haklai, a political scientist at Queen’s University.
More significantly, Haklai told the CJR, unilateral annexation of disputed territory “reduces the prospects of an agreed-upon two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which the Canadian government, along with most of the world, view as the most appropriate solution.”

As well, annexation “could undermine the long and hard fought-for peace already achieved with Jordan. Canada has always insisted that the status of the territories has to be determined through diplomacy rather than unilateral action.”

Toronto Jewish Film Festival Goes Virtual

By RUTH SCHWEITZER

Adapting to restrictions imposed by the spread of COVID-19, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival is going virtual.

The festival’s program director, Stuart Hands, said that instead of postponing the event when the virus hit the city in March, festival organizers decided to try to create the festival experience online.

Half of the festival’s 2020 offerings will be shown this spring and the remainder will be presented in the fall.  

From May 30 to June 7, the TJFF will show 39 films reflecting the international Jewish Diaspora. Each of the films can be viewed on television or on a digital device for 24 hours. Zoom Q & As with directors, producers and actors are scheduled daily from May 31 to June 8. 

The mini-festival opens with The End of Love, by Israeli filmmaker Keren Ben Rafael. Unfolding through Skype conversations, the film follows Julie and Yuval, a married couple with a new baby, as they try to maintain a long-distance relationship between Paris and Tel Aviv while Yuval waits for a visa renewal. 

An archival series honours three Canadian Jewish artists who died recently: mystery writer Howard Engel, documentary filmmaker and actor John Kastner and writer and producer Earl Pomerantz. 

Capturing Cooperman: A Not So Private Investigation of Howard Engel, directed by Scot Morison, celebrates the life and career of Engel, a mystery writer who was known for his Benny Cooperman private-eye series.

The film Dawn stars Kastner in Elie Wiesel’s story of members of the Jewish underground in the British Mandate of Palestine waiting to assassinate a British officer in retaliation for the hanging of a Jew.  Adapted and directed by Jack Kuper, this production of Wiesel’s novel was made by the CBC but never aired.

Pomerantz was a television writer who churned out scripts for award-winning series like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, The Cosby Show and Cheers. TJFF presents a rarely screened pilot of Pomerantz’s western spoof, Best of the West.

The TJFF is honouring Israeli filmmaker Ram Loevy, whose films over the past 50 years demonstrate his keen eye for the divisions within Israeli society. The festival presents the Canadian premiere of Loevy’s 2019 film, Dead of Jaffa, about three children from the West Bank who are smuggled into Israel to stay with distant relatives who live in Jaffa. Childless Rita embraces the children as her own, while George is wary of the potential ramifications if they are caught hiding illegal aliens. Dead of Jaffa plays alongside Loevy’s 1966 short film, My Name Is Achmad, the first Israeli film that focused on the struggles of an Arab-Israeli. 

The festival closes with Israel, Land of the Series, a documentary about the Israeli TV industry. One out of four Israeli TV shows are either adapted or sold overseas. Series like Fauda, Shtisel and Euphoria are international favourites. The doc’s Zoom Q&A session, June 8 at 1 p.m., includes director, Olivier Joyard; producer, Joachim Landau; the co-creator of Shtisel, Ori Elon; and the head of yes Studios, which produced Fauda, Danna Stern. 

Israel, Land of the Series, is a documentary about the Israeli TV industry
Israel, Land of the Series, is a documentary about the Israeli TV industry.

Highlights of TJFF’s Virtual Festival

When The Apricots Bloom

This is a documentary about children of Russian Jews, the Frenkel brothers, who lived in Egypt after the First World War and became famous as the first Egyptian animators. They created Mish-Mish Efendi, the “Mickey Mouse” of the Arab world. Forced to leave Egypt in 1948, the brothers migrated to France, where success eluded them. After their deaths, their nephew, Didier Frenkel, discovered their films in the basement of the family house. He began restoring them and, in the process, uncovered the story behind their rise and fall, as well as the reasons his uncles kept this surprising chapter of their lives under cover.

When The Apricots Bloom is about the creators of the “Mickey Mouse” of the Arab world
When The Apricots Bloom is about the creators of the “Mickey Mouse” of the Arab world.

Before Tomorrow

A 1969 release, this is the first Israeli feature film that was directed by a woman. Ellida Geyra’s Before Tomorrow is made up of two short love stories centred on unlikely companions. The first segment, “Spring,” is an experimental drama about a young couple’s brief love affair. The second part, “Fall,” co-written by celebrated writer Yoram Kaniuk, is a comic love story between an elderly German-Jewish woman and an old Iraqi falafel seller.

Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn 

Roy Cohn established his career prosecuting Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and advocating for their execution. The wide-sweeping effect he had on the conservative American political landscape is examined in this comprehensive documentary, directed by Ivy Meeropol, the Rosenbergs’ granddaughter. Covering his life and career, from counsel to Joseph McCarthy through to his years as a New York “fixer” and personal lawyer and mentor to Donald Trump, this portrait unveils a complex figure whose closeted homosexuality was masked by his outspoken conservatism. Recently unearthed archival material is combined with interviews with figures such as lawyer Alan Dershowitz, playwright Tony Kushner and filmmaker John Waters. The doc’s Zoom Q and A, June 1 at 3 p.m., includes director Ivy Meeropol and Michael Meeropol, the Rosenbergs’ son.

For more information about the festival, visit https://tjff.com

Creating a Global Jewish Communications Network

By JON ALLEN, ALON LIEL, and BARBARA LANDAU

For those of us who are life-long supporters of Israel, who share the ongoing concern for her security and well-being, and who long for a two-state resolution achieved through peaceful negotiations, this has been a frustrating time. We are relieved that there is finally a coalition government that can respond to the global pandemic. However, the terms of the coalition agreement raise concerns about whether Israel is slipping further from its inspiring fundamental democratic values, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence.  

Many have raised concerns about the consequences of the commitment to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, by a simple vote in the Knesset, as early as July 1. The implications for Israel’s democracy and its security, the possible disruption to significant peace treaties and gas deals with Jordan and Egypt, as well as its standing internationally, create anxiety in the hearts of those who love Israel.

Out of the shared concerns for Israel’s future, a group of committed community leaders in Israel and around the world, decided that an international communication network was needed to speak out in support of Israel’s key values. Over the past several months, J-Link was born with the support of more than 40 progressive organizations around the world. J-Link works closely with JStreet, NIF, Yahad, Peace Now, Ameinu, J-Call in Europe and many others. Our starting point is Israel’s right to exist safely and our commitment to Israel retaining both a Jewish and democratic identity.  

The J-Link Mission Statement was written by an impressive group of former ambassadors, political science professors and community leaders, among them Jon Allen, Canada’s former ambassador to Israel; Alon Liel, a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa and one-time Director General of Israel’s foreign ministry, and representatives from Canada, the U.S., Europe, South Africa, Latin America, and Australia.

J-Link is intended to be a communication network that improves understanding among groups with shared values worldwide and motivates them for action. Our goal is to support and enhance democratic voices, not to compete with the wonderful work already being done. Through our global connections, we learn new perspectives and share creative approaches.

To date, our focus has been on the critical issue of the proposed unilateral annexation and its consequences for Israel’s future. What if the unintended consequences of Israel’s proposal are a choice between remaining a democratic or a Jewish state? This is a dilemma we want to avoid.   

Said Allen, who served as Canada’s ambassador to Israel from 2006 to 2010: “I’m hopeful that coalition partners Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi, both former Chiefs of Defence Staff, and other IDF generals and senior officials currently serving in the Shin Bet and Mossad, will make their voices known and signal their opposition to an annexation plan that could put Israel’s security in jeopardy and seriously threaten the country’s democratic character.” 

Liel shared the hope that concerns being jointly raised are in Israel’s interest:

“I have been fighting against the West Bank occupation almost from the day I ended my government service. It was a frustrating uphill battle,” Liel said. “The contemporary battle against the planned unilateral annexation is a different matter. We are not alone anymore. I feel that the majority of Jews living outside Israel are extremely worried about this mistaken idea.”

In a statement to the CJR, J-Link said it “share(s) a love of Israel and a commitment to democracy, human rights, religious pluralism, and a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. We believe in the values enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, according to which the State of Israel, as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people, ensures ‘complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.’

“We are greatly concerned by initiatives such as the Nation-State Law and policies of unilateral annexation that will defeat the prospect of a two-state solution. J-Link aspires to work with our respective local Jewish communities, our national governments, and international organizations to advocate for our values and vision for Israel.”


Jon Allen is a Senior Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and former Canadian Ambassador to Israel. He participated in writing the J-Link Mission Statement.

Alon Liel is the former Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Economy and Planning, and former ambassador of Israel to South Africa. He is the founding coordinator of J-Link.

Dr. Barbara Landau is a board member and chair of the Shared Society Committee of JSpaceCanada and the Canadian representative on the J-Link Coordinating Committee.

BGU Scientist Invents One-Minute COVID Test

An Israeli scientist has invented a one-minute Coronavirus breath test which could be on the market within months.

Prof. Gabby Sarusi of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba has invented the almost instantaneous, affordable breath test based on spectroscopy, which outputs the positive or negative result in less than one minute – and possibly in as little as 20 seconds.

Prof. Gabby Sarusi is develpoing a One-minute Coronavirus Breath Test

The device, which can test one’s breath – another breakthrough – or use nasal or throat swabs to test for the coronavirus, is still undergoing validation. Mass production may start as early as September.

It’s believed that the device, based on 20 seconds per test, will be able to perform as many as 4,500 tests a day, Sarusi says.

Early clinical trials completed with the Israel Defense Ministry on 150 Israelis had a success rate of more than 90 percent.

When on the market, the test kits will cost around $50, lower than prices for the customary laboratory-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

These new tests will not require a laboratory setting, allowing them to be used at critical locations such as airports, stadiums, and more.

“Right from the beginning of the trials, we received statistically significant results in line with our simulations and actual PCR tests that were conducted in parallel,” says Sarusi, who is deputy head of research at the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and a faculty member of the Electro-Optical Engineering Unit at BGU.

“We are now validating the robustness of the test and preparing to submit for FDA accelerated approval.”

In a statement, Mark Mendelson, CEO of the Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University, said he “cannot express how proud I am of the efforts made by the scientists at BGU.”

Mendelson called Sarusi’s invention “a game-changer.”

CHAT Student Wins National Bible Competition

By SUSAN MINUK

Yemina Goldberg’s approach to life and to Bible study, marked by determination and resolve – paid off when the TanenbaumCHAT student won the Chidon HaTanach Bible contest earlier this month.

Goldberg will represent Canada next year at the international competition in Israel, which is broadcast on Yom Ha’atzmaut.

“It is unusual for someone in Grade 9 to win the high school division, it’s really quite a distinction,” said Laura Wiseman, chief judge of the Bible competition, held May 3-5 in Toronto.

Born with cerebral palsy, the 14-year-old has needed every ounce of that determination.

“Yemina’s physical disability affects her speech, the use of her hands and she needs help to walk,” said Shoshana Hahn Goldberg, her mother.

Goldberg wrote the test separately from the other students in her own Zoom room, with a proctor.

Yemina Goldberg studying Tanach on her computer using Sefaria (A Living Library of Jewish Texts) (Photo by Moe Goldberg)

“Yemina needs help to turn the pages of the Tanach, and because she has to say the answers out loud, someone else writes them down for her,” said her mother.

In preparation for the contest, Goldberg attended Chidon Club meetings at school and met with her coach weekly. With the onset of the COVID pandemic, she transitioned to virtual coaching.

Students study chapters from Torah – Nevi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings) – depending on grade level.

“The most challenging part was to remember everyone’s names…you really have to know each person and which book and story they are in,” said Goldberg. “There are so many people to remember.”

Goldberg has been competing in the Bible contest since Grade 5. In Grade 6, she won her first competition.

“I’ve been at a Jewish school for a long time. I read the Tanach over and over. I wanted to win,” she said.

Chidon Canada is presented by the Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Education in Toronto and the Bronfman Jewish Education Centre in Montreal.

The contest is open to students in grades 5-11 from Jewish day schools, part-time Jewish education programs, and independent schools, and draws hundreds of contestants.

“The participants were from all backgrounds of Jewish life,” said Wiseman. “It’s a real connector. I think the students who participate really appreciate one another because they know how much work, time and effort goes into the preparation.”

Chidon HaTanach has two parts, a regional test and the national competition. The regional rounds were held in March, testing students’ knowledge on details of biblical stories with difficulty based on grade level. The top scoring students continued on to the national competition, held on alternating years in Toronto and Montreal.

The Bible contest questions were constructed by local educators.

“They really crafted the questions well for breadth,” explained Wiseman. “The term we use for familiarity is called bekiut – an abiding familiarity with content and details, and it’s a base for Bible knowledge for life.”

The panel of nine judges included students who were previous winners.

“The vibrancy in the judges’ room comes from the energy from previous contestants,” said Wiseman. “There is a concept called Torah lishmah, Torah for its own sake.

“These are students who just love learning and find a connection to their yiddishkeit, their Jewish education to their people and to their community through learning Torah.”

Goldberg has been celebrating her victory with friends and family, who have showered her with treats and congratulatory messages.

“The best part has been learning it,” she said.

Her message to other students is simple: “Always try your best and do things that are fun.”