Local Clergy Recall Historic Selma Marches

July 30, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

HAMILTON – In 1965, the world was shocked by television images of American police beating peaceful Black protesters who dared to march in Alabama for the right to be treated as equals.

In far-away Hamilton, Ont., a young rabbi watched those images and, in his heart, heard the voices of ancient sages calling for action.

Rabbi Eugene Weiner (second from right) marching in Selma. (Photo courtesy Wendy Schneider)

Heeding that call, Rabbi Eugene Weiner, then just 32, quickly organized a small group of other Hamilton clergy and flew to Selma, Alabama, where they linked arms with civil rights legends Martin Luther King Jr.; John Lewis; Rabbi Weiner’s former teacher, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel; and thousands of others to march for an end to American racism and bigotry.

The historic mission was recalled Sunday by members of Weiner’s former shul, Beth Jacob Synagogue of Hamilton. The commemoration occurred as another hero of the events, John Lewis, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 33 years, was taken through Selma one last time on his way to be buried.

As well as the ancient teachings of his faith, Rabbi Weiner was responding to a call directly from King for religious leaders of all faiths to come to Selma.

In an interview with the Globe and Mail after his return, Rabbi Weiner said he put himself at risk to advance the cause of social justice.

“I personally feel that the church and the synagogue have been very remiss in their response to deal with the outstanding social issues,” he was quoted as saying. “I agree with Dr. King that (the faith community) tends to be an echo rather than a voice and a taillight rather than a headlight.”

In addition to Rabbi Weiner, the Hamilton delegation included two Anglican priests, and a United Church and a Baptist minister. They were joined in Alabama by two Unitarian ministers and the pastor of a Hamilton church founded in 1835 by escaped slaves and slaves who had been freed.

Costs of the five from Hamilton were covered, quietly, by Jewish businessman Ken Soble, founder of Hamilton’s CHCH-TV.

Baptist minister Alan Matthews was part of the group. On Sunday his daughter-in-law, Ramona, recalled how he joined the trip on a single day’s notice because, like Rabbi Weiner, he thought the cause was right.

Matthews had just returned from a four-day trip visiting convicts at Kingston Penitentiary, but a phone call from the rabbi put him on an airplane the next day.

“They all believed that telegrams and marches in Toronto were no longer enough,” Ramona recalled. “They went to proclaim what they thought was justice.”

The Selma events were actually three marches intended to carry the call for voting rights to the Alabama capital of Montgomery. The first, on March 7, 1965, became known as Bloody Sunday because of the savage response of state police as marchers attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River.

Rabbi Eugene Weiner, left, with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama. (Photo courtesy Wendy Schneider)

It was television images of police brutally attacking peaceful protestors that ignited public indignation and increased support for the marchers.

Matthews wrote of the events years later “I never saw such hatred.”

A second march on March 9 turned back after King saw the array of police waiting for them on the other side of the bridge. The third, on March 21 – after the Hamilton delegation had returned home – got to the state capital after four days, but only with the protection of National Guard troops under federal orders.

In the face of the violence directed at marchers, King’s instructions were, that if attacked, they were fall face down and cover their heads with their hands.

“You are here to witness, not be abusive or to fight. Do not run away from the scene. You will feel and see hate – show love…do not retaliate. Peace, love will win.”

Rabbi Weiner and his fellow Hamilton clergymen arrived in Selma March 14 and on their second day, the rabbi stood in the pulpit of a local church at a memorial service for James Reeb, a Unitarian minister who had been killed after the second march.

As the rabbi intoned the sacred words of the Mourner’s Kaddish, hundreds of congregants hummed We Shall Overcome. One witness to that event recalled how, as Rabbi Weiner finished the prayer, “from nowhere there came two little Negro girls who began to sing a high piercing descant above our singing. The rabbi leaned down, picked up the four-year-old, and held her in his arms. And the tears flowed down my face. And all around him, people were crying.”

Rabbi Weiner left Beth Jacob in 1969, moving with his family to Israel where he enjoyed a distinguished academic career as professor of sociology at Haifa University. He died in 2003 of cancer at age 69.

In 1965 Hamilton Rabbi Eugene Weiner organized a small group of local clergy to fly to Selma, Alabama, to join civil rights protests over the denial of voting rights for Black citizens. (Photo courtesy Beth Jacob Synagogue)

Today, 55 years later, the causes for which those tears flowed remain, shown daily in the wave of Black Lives Matter protests across the United States and in the calls for economic justice around the world among others.

That sentiment was captured by one of Sunday’s participants. Michaele-Sue Goldblatt, who grew up at Beth Jacob. She recalled one recent protest she attended in Barrie, where the sign she carried asked plaintively “I did this in the ‘60s. Why am I still doing it?”

Lyla Miklos, a Hamilton-based activist who joined other marchers in 2015 to mark the half-century anniversary of the Selma protests, said every generation seems to have an incident that sparks anger and protests.

For her, it was images of Rodney King being brutally beaten by police officers in Los Angeles in 1991. For many today it is the image of George Floyd dying under the crushing weight of a police officer in Minneapolis earlier this year.

“Today it seems we are being bombarded by images of police brutality,” she said.

For Rabbi Hillel Lavery-Yisraeli, the current occupant of the Beth Jacob pulpit, the demand for spiritual leaders to take action on injustice is also unchanged.

“We have to do what we can” he said. “We cannot remain silent when we can speak up. “We must protest what we can protest. We must use our voices and voting power and our money.”

The Nine Pillars of ‘No Silence on Race’

July 14, 2020 – By ALEX ROSE

When conversations about race, oppression and privilege exploded across the world following the May 25 murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, they made Sara Yacobi-Harris wonder to what extent the broader Canadian Jewish community was concretely addressing its own instances of racial discrimination.

In the midst of this “racial reckoning,” Yacobi-Harris, a Black Jewish woman from Toronto, founded the campaign, ​“No Silence on Race​,” which calls on Canadian Jews to “commit to the creation of a truly anti-racist, inclusive and equitable Jewish community.”

Sara Yacobi-Harris

Yacobi-Harris established the effort with two other activists, Daisy Moriyama and Akilah Allen Silverstein.

On June 30, the campaign published ​an open letter​ “from Black Jews, non-Black Jews of colour and our allies, to Jewish organizations in Canada.”

The letter lays out nine pillars to guide organizations in making structural changes to combat racism and actively make mainstream Jewish spaces truly inclusive and equitable for Jews of colour. It also asks them to publish statements of their own outlining how they plan to meet those goals by July 29.

Yacobi-Harris said the campaign was necessary for “many, many, many reasons,” including the lack of representation for Jews of colour in most Jewish institutions.

“It’s about seeing ourselves represented in Jewish spaces, and seeing ourselves represented in Jewish literature and programming and histories that we celebrate,” she said, before quoting the beginning of the letter: “We are Jewish community board members, educators and leaders. We write from a place of love for our Jewish identities and our community, while also grappling with the cultural erasure, exclusion and structural racism that we experience in Jewish spaces. Nevertheless, we are compelled to be in Jewish community because it is who we are.”

Although the campaign is new and specific to the current collective Jewish experience, Yacobi-Harris says Jews of colour have been dealing with these issues for a very long time.

They often avoid mainstream Jewish spaces because they are not always received equally, sometimes even experiencing overt racism. For that reason, there are a number of Jews of colour who have devoted their entire lives to ensuring that Jewish spaces are inclusive and hospitable for Jews of colour.

As important as their work has been, though, Yacobi-Harris says real, comprehensive change isn’t possible without everyone committed to a unified goal.

That’s why the first pillar of “No Silence on Race” ​is “allyship.”

“Allyship is earned through trust, through action and through impact.” Yacobi-Harris explained. “You can implement as many policies and strategies and initiatives as you want. But if the culture doesn’t shift within our community, the conversation doesn’t shift, we don’t talk about our individual responsibility, then eventually the policies and strategies will hold less weight and be less meaningful. That’s why we need people behind it who truly understand their individual role in creating change in our community.”

After allyship, the next pillar is education, which is about engaging with issues at all levels of an organization and systematically implementing policies, strategies and initiatives based on education and training from consultants who are Jews of colour and other people of colour.

The other seven pillars include investing in a leadership strategy for Jews of colour, working with an equity consultant, and committing to more programming and partnerships with a more diverse range of cultural institutions.

So far, Yacobi-Harris says the response has been very positive, with people and organizations reaching out to learn more about continuing the work of anti-racism and equality.

“No Silence on Race” has heard a lot of people thanking them for the work they’re doing, saying the community needs it and people want to do more.

The response to the campaign, combined with the climate of open conversation that precipitated it, has left Yacobi-Harris feeling hopeful about the work Jewish institutions will do to make themselves actively inclusive for Jews of colour. After all, she wouldn’t have put the effort into creating this initiative if she didn’t think it could make a difference.

“People do see this work as extremely important,” she said. “And they do see the gaps that exist in our community and how much work we all have to do. And how beautiful and inspiring and supportive and important this initiative is.

“And so, having received that feedback has made me hopeful that change is coming, that action is coming and that this commitment is important for everyone and for our community,” she said.

Yacobi-Harris also encouraged representatives from Jewish organizations to contact nosilenceonrace@gmail.com to set up a meeting or have a conversation about how to best implement the nine pillars.


As the World Grapples With Racism, Israel Seeks to Empower Ethiopian Youth

By SHARON GELBACH

The growing protests against racism in the United States have aroused strong feelings worldwide, and Israel is no exception. Ethiopian Israelis have long complained of prejudice and being treated as second-class citizens.

Sheba Medical Center, Israel’s national hospital, enjoys a global reputation for medical innovation, but many are unaware that it is also at the forefront of helping to integrate members of various minority groups in Israel.

In the past several years, Sheba has integrated hundreds of new Ethiopian olim (immigrants) into the hospital workforce, going as far to provide them with free classes to help them navigate Israeli bureaucracy and improve their language skills.

Most recently, Prof. Eldad Katorza, senior physician at Sheba, decided to give youth from the Ethiopian community a head start by folding them into a pilot program within “Project Arrow,” which he directs.

“Project Arrow” (chetz in Hebrew, the initials of chokrim tze’irim, meaning “young researchers”) is an apprenticeship program for medical students designed to pave their way into the world of medical research.

Established in 2006, the initiative matches select medical students with experienced researchers to serve as mentors. During once- or twice-weekly meetings, the student-mentor team works through every stage of medical research, from formulating the initial question, to collecting and analyzing data, to presenting the results at medical conferences.

This year, for the first time, each research duo included a third tier: high school students from the Ethiopian community.

Katorza believes in the importance of encouraging students to pursue research, noting that in medical school, they do not receive sufficient exposure to research thinking or methodology.

“I believe that research makes a doctor more knowledgeable, more curious, more creative,” he said. “A doctor who engages in research is a much better doctor.”

Employing this premise, Katorza now plans to open several slots for nursing school students in the coming year’s program.

“Nursing is also a field that stands to benefit greatly from adding researching to its ranks; it will raise the bar of nursing in Israel,” he said.

Even in the early stages of planning the pilot program for the Ethiopian high school students, it quickly became evident to Katorza just how crucial, timely, and challenging his initiative was.

“I asked my son, then in 11th grade, to look around his own school in Givatayim for students from the Ethiopian community who might be suitable for the program,” said Katorza. “As it turned out, there wasn’t a single Ethiopian student in his school, nor in any of the good schools in the area.”

The reason can be traced to the socioeconomic realities in Israel today. By and large, members of the Ethiopian community tend to dwell in poorer neighborhoods where community services and schools are on a lower level.

These conditions put Ethiopian teens at a disadvantage from the outset, and due to economic necessity, youth are pushed to join the workforce at an early age, perpetuating a cycle of poverty.

“Almost four decades have passed since the first wave of Ethiopian aliyah,” observed Katorza, “yet judging from their rate of participation in academia, their level of affluence and other markers of social mobility, it appears that the government has failed to take the necessary steps to help them bridge the gaps and facilitate their successful absorption into mainstream Israeli society.”

Anxious to change that trend, Katorza decided to include outstanding students from the Ethiopian community in “Project Arrow.”

But it wasn’t simple to locate high school students from the Ethiopian sector who met the criteria for participation in the program: High marks in the sciences, high motivation and interest, and living near enough to the Sheba campus to attend weekly meetings.

Ultimately, Katorza was aided by an organization called Fidel (“alphabet” in Amharic), which promotes the education and social integration of Ethiopian-Israeli youth.

The Fidel staff welcomed the opportunity to incorporate Ethiopian students into the program, and provided 10 candidates, from which the top five were chosen.

Katorza said the pilot was a resounding success and will be repeated in the coming year.

“We found that once they are freed from the limitations of their environment, the students manifested amazing capabilities,” he said. “We endeavored to help build their self-confidence, empower them, and teach them that they can do anything they put their mind to.”

Throughout the year, in addition to their full participation in research, the Ethiopian high-schoolers were also exposed to clinical activity at the hospital.

“At the beginning of the year, the students didn’t have any specific plans for the future,” Katorza said. “Now, they are now seriously considering a medical career.”

One of those is Yair Jalmar, 17, from Beer Yaakov, who participated in a research project with pediatric cardiologist Dr. Shai Tejman.

“This project helped me develop my interest in medicine and learn more about the advanced technologies and devices as well as the various departments in the medical field,” Jalmar said.

Former participants in the Arrow Project have gone on to publish their findings in prestigious medical journals, and several have joined the team at Sheba.


Sharon Gelback
Sharon Gelbach

Sharon Gelbach grew up in Toronto and moved to Israel in 1982. She is a writer, editor and translator and lives with her husband and family in Jerusalem.

KIRMAN: Problematic monuments in Edmonton Force Us to Question Our Community’s Core Values

Educate, don’t celebrate

By PAULA E. KIRMAN

Over the past few weeks, activists around the world have dismembered, smeared, and toppled monuments to figures with morally and ideologically checkered pasts, renewing heated conversations about the historical implications of excising statues and place names honouring people once celebrated, but now viewed as problematic. 

Edmonton is also reckoning with its past. In recent weeks, a neighbourhood association in the city’s west end initiated a campaign calling upon the city to initiate an inclusive community process to rename their district, which is named after Frank Oliver, an early twentieth-century federal cabinet minister known for anti-Indigenous, anti-Black, and anti-immigrant policies. 

But there are other problematic place names and monuments in Edmonton. One of them is a bust of Roman Shukhevych, located at the entrance of the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex in the city’s north end. Shukhevych was supreme commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) during World War II and held leadership positions in the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. While viewed as a hero by Ukrainian nationalists for his anti-Soviet posture, Shukhevych shared the Nazi ideology and was responsible for commanding troops that committed massacres with the goal of creating an ethnically “pure” Ukraine free of Poles, Jews, and many others during the Holocaust.

I first heard of Shukhevych in 2017, when I was approached by Adam Bentley, an Edmonton-based filmmaker, to collaborate on a documentary about yet another monument to Ukrainian nationalists in the city. A major connection to my spiritual heritage as a Jewish person is tikkun olam (healing/repairing the world). I am also a working artist always seeking opportunities to incorporate my activism with my practice – both faith and artistic – so I was intrigued by the opportunity. 

Bentley, a fellow Jewish filmmaker, had discovered a monument in St. Michael’s Cemetery in north Edmonton. The English and Ukrainian plaques on the monument pay tribute to seven battalions who fought in World War II, including the UPA, Ukrainian National Army (UNA), and 14th Waffen SS Galicia Division, which was renamed the 1st Ukrainian Division shortly before the end of WWII. The latter division collaborated with the Nazis in their failed pursuit of Ukrainian independence against the Soviet Union, participating in massacres of Jews, Poles, Russians, and Ukrainians with communist sympathies. Our 2019 short film, A Monumental Secret, delved into the contentious nature of this monument through the narrative of two friends grappling with their knowledge of the monument’s history. During my work on the film, which features interviews with Drs. Per Anders Rudling and John-Paul Himka, two prominent academics who have studied the Ukrainian far right, Shukhevych’s name came up more than a few times. 

The film and my activism around the Shukhevych bust has generated its share of controversy in Edmonton. While the film has been officially selected for three Ukrainian film festivals, in Lviv, Bobritsa, and Kyiv, it has been rejected from a number of local Edmonton film festivals, despite funding from the Edmonton Arts Council. 

Following an episode about the monument on a local progressive politics podcast in October 2019, then a subsequent article in the Alberta Jewish News, a local Ukrainian journalist lashed out with angry emails and phone calls. More recent media responses from representatives of the Youth Unity Complex emphasize that Shukhevych represents freedom to the Ukrainian community, and anything else is just Russian propaganda intended to divide ethnic communities. Indeed, in 2017 Russia’s embassy to Canada had been tweeting about the Shukhevych monument, as well as the one in St. Michael’s Cemetery.

But attacking the source does not make the message untrue. 

There seems to be an ever-growing crescendo of awareness about controversial Edmonton monuments that have sat hidden in plain sight for decades. However, no one in Edmonton should feel comfortable with a monument to a Nazi collaborator in their city. Surprisingly, the Jewish Federation of Edmonton did not issue a statement on the status when I contacted the organization for comment in late 2019. 

shukhevych bust edmonton

The statue may be on private property, giving the impression it is for private recognition, but that argument is not valid for two reasons. One, we all live on stolen Indigenous land. Moreover, the bust (along with the St. Michael’s Cemetery monument) was erected with the help of public funds in the mid-1970s, from programs designed to promote multiculturalism in Canada. Second, a statue of a Nazi collaborator responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths to achieve “ethnic purity” is not appropriate anywhere. I am a Jewish person with ancestors from Ukraine; a statue to someone involved in the genocide of my people is deeply hurtful and unacceptable.

It is difficult when someone viewed by a community as a hero turns out to be flawed. The truth can hurt, but it should not be ignored. Denying the truth in this instance is a form of Holocaust denial. A statue is an image that may be silent, but the message that it—and the views of the people who blindly support it—can communicate, speaks volumes about the values that the community espouses. 

At the same time, removing a statue does not erase a person from history. Not telling the whole truth about a historical figure is what erases history—and what dooms us to risk repeating its mistakes. The accomplishments and achievements of someone can still be taught without putting someone up on a pedestal. The future of these problematic monuments is up to the communities in which they sit. These communities must search their souls to realize what these statues, having sat untouched for so long, say about their core values, and on what side of history they want to sit.


Paula E. Kirman lives in Edmonton, Alberta. She is a writer, editor, filmmaker, photographer, musician, and community organizer. Her website is WordsPicturesMusic.com. You can also follow her on social media: @apaulagetics. 

My Jewish Experience: Creating Allies in the Fight Against Anti-Black Racism

By AKILAH ALLEN-SILVERSTEIN

When people see my last name, “Silverstein,” there is no mistaking it: My Jewishness is obvious. But the question is, more often than not, “So, I guess you’re married to a Jew?” I am light-skinned and wear a Star of David, so the assumption that I could not be mixed race is odd. My favorite is when I’m asked, “How did that happen?” While I generally hold my tongue, I often want to respond, “how did your parents conceive you?” to point out how ridiculous that question is.

My parents with me and my sister, Kitchener, 1992; Sybil, Akilah, Barry, Asha

While I realize there isn’t an overwhelming number of people who look like me within the tight-knit Jewish community, we exist and we’re not going away.

The questions started even before I was born. “I don’t know if we can be seen in a restaurant together, and what would you do with the children?” My grandfather had – let’s call them “questions and concerns” – when my father, an Ashkenazi Jew, introduced my Black mother, who had emigrated from the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, to his family.

My parent’s wedding, Guildwood, 1987, Sybil Allen & Barry Silverstein

I can comprehend his disappointment at her not being Jewish, but I can’t help but wonder that if she were white, would the concern of being “seen” have come up?

I was raised in the Caribbean in a predominantly Black society, and the only remnants of a Jewish community are a synagogue and cemetery from the 1700s on the sister island of Nevis. I visited Canada at least once a year and would spend lots of time with my father’s extended family. I have many wonderful memories of Passover seders, Chanukah celebrations and trips out to London, Ont. to visit with aunts, uncles and cousins.

Me, my sister and my cousins, Kitchener, 1995; Asha Allen-Silverstein, Drew Silverstein, Kate Silverstein, Akilah Allen-Silverstein

I have a wonderful relationship with my father and his family. Even my grandfather came around. After he passed away, I was overwhelmed helping to clean up his apartment, decorated with numerous photos of me, my sister, and her son, his first great-grandson, his absolute favourite.

Me and my grandfather, Toronto, 2014; William Silverstein, Akilah Allen-Silverstein
Me, my baby sister and my grandmother, Kitchener, 1992; Roma Zwickle, Asha, Akilah

When I returned to Canada and completed my undergraduate degree, I wanted to learn more and become more involved in the Jewish community. A Jewish coworker told me about Birthright Israel, and I was accepted on a trip in the spring of 2017.

I was nervous at first, assuming I would be the only Black participant. The voice in my head kept telling me I wasn’t Jewish enough. I had never gone to Hebrew school or had a bat mitzvah.

These fears were mostly unfounded. I wound up having a wonderful experience, and even celebrated my bat mitzvah on Masada. Meeting an Ethiopian Jewish woman and seeing many other ethnicities represented in Israel opened my eyes to the diversity of the Jewish people. And while I was the only Black participant on my bus, at least 15 others were from mixed marriages. I subsequently led a Birthright trip two years later.

Almog Tamim, Barak Berkowitz, Akilah Allen-Silverstein, Max Marmer (BirthRight, Israel, 2018)

My decision to lead a trip stemmed from my gratitude at being given such a wonderful gift, one that allowed me to develop a Jewish identity and be proud of my heritage in a way I did not understand before. I wanted to ensure no one feels like an outsider, and to remind them that being Jewish does not mean the same thing for everyone. I recently joined the Birthright Israel Foundation of Canada’s youth leadership counsel.

This is my story, but I’ve haven’t always felt as accepted as I let on. Many people in the community still don’t see me as Jewish, and when they do, it’s only because I’ve had to explain my existence.

Instances of blatant racism towards Black people are still far too prevalent. I was recently getting to know a new friend. She’s Jewish and has lived in Thornhill for 15 years after emigrating from Israel with her husband and son. She adapted quickly to the community and had many friends and relationships. But when she and her husband divorced, and a few years after she began dating a Black man, she was shocked by the hurtful and racist comments and responses she received from many Jewish friends who she had previously thought were open-minded, kind and accepting.

Late last year, I attended a diversity and inclusion workshop where a Jewish lawyer spent considerable time venting her frustration and shock towards the openly and unapologetic vocal racism her parents frequently expressed towards BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour).

Why is this behaviour so troubling? As a community, we have suffered immense trauma, oppression, and discrimination in the form of antisemitism. What group understands better how propaganda, harmful stereotypes, and systematic forms of discrimination and dehumanization can lead to unimaginable horrors?

We have, in many ways, become an insular society that prides itself on protecting and preserving our cultural heritage and religious traditions. This is beautiful, and many aspects of such a tight-knit community fill the stories my father tells me of his upbringing in London’s Jewish community.

However, Ashkenazi Jews in North America have benefitted immensely from their “white-passing” privilege, ensuring that they have been able to bypass certain systemic forms of racism which have disenfranchised BIPOC. As a Black Jewish woman, I cannot help but feel hurt and frustrated at the overwhelming silence from the Jewish community on most issues of race and the overt perpetuation and participation of racist behaviours towards Black people in particular.

Our Jewish teaching of tikkun olam is a concept defined by acts of kindness to repair the world. It’s a fantastic calling and crucial responsibility to which I want my Jewish community to take the lead, and to call out and be true allies against any form of racism against BIPOC. 

While I have, for the most part, been made to feel welcome in many Jewish spaces, I often wonder if I were single and happened to be dating an Ashkenazi Jewish man, would his family accept me in time, as my grandfather had? Would my Blackness be an issue? Would someone in the family still be concerned about being seen with me in public?

I would be remiss not to mention that over the last few weeks, I have been inspired by the numerous posts, personal notes and a true commitment to listening, understanding and being part of the proactive change that I have seen from some of my Jewish peers.

I’m hopeful that meaningful change may come about as true allies are developed with friends who can support, fight for, and work to undo the systemic racism and oppression still facing BIPOC. As someone who proudly identifies as a Black Jewish woman, I am asking you to take a hard look in the mirror and decide which side of history you want to be on moving forward.

My dream is to see both of my communities united in the fight for equality, liberation and the right of self-determination for all.


Akilah Allen-Silverstein

Akilah Allen-Silverstein lives in Toronto. She is a Certified Financial Planner, passionate about community engagement, gardening, cooking, exploring the outdoors, and travelling.

JUBAS-MALZ: ‘Never Again’: Jews for Black Lives

By DANIEL JUBAS-MALZ

As a teenager, my Zaide, Don Jubas, made headlines when he refused to enter a skating rink after his Black friend, Harry Gairey Jr., was denied entry. While a seemingly small act, his story influenced my perspective as a Jew and emphasized the necessity to combat racism in all forms. Today, I see this anti-racism work as core to my own Jewish identity. 

When I was younger, I learned about the Holocaust and white supremacy while in elementary school, and was unnerved to think someone would want to hurt me because of my Jewish heritage. We were partly exposed to these ideas through books like The Diary of Anne Frank or Hana’s Suitcase. Sometimes it was through guest lecturers at school assemblies. I cannot recall specifics beyond the sentiment, but I do remember each speaker reliably using the phrase, “Never again.”

“Never again” is a vow – made among Jewish and non-Jewish communities – to prevent another Holocaust. 

The discrimination afflicting the Black community now is reminiscent of events from our own history. Recently, protests have erupted across continents following the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man choked and killed by a police officer in Minneapolis. This is unfortunately one instance in a pattern of police brutality toward Black Americans, and against the backdrop of Black oppression faced over the last several centuries. The global response has brought together people from the United States, Canada, Japan, and several European countries to demand police reform and broad institutional changes to end anti-Black racism. 

As Canadians, we sometimes compare ourselves favourably to the United States, believing that we are not as afflicted by racism as our southern neighbours. Not only is that wrong, but it diminishes the urgency needed to tackle white supremacy in our own communities. A report from the Ontario Human Rights Commission found that Black people were over-represented in police statistics, making up 28.8 percent of use of force cases, 36 percent of police shootings, 61.5 percent of deadly use of force encounters, and 70 percent of fatal police shootings. Yet, Black Torontonians comprise only 8.8 percent of the city’s total population. A deep-seated, or systemic, racism reaches far beyond police encounters, and affects Black Canadians’ income and employment status. Through the Indian Act, the starlight tours, and ongoing governmental policy, we also see systemic racism towards Indigenous communities in Canada.

What is happening to members of the Black community looks different than what we white Jews have experienced. But the foundation – the seed beneath the soil – is the same. White supremacy is white supremacy is white supremacy. And we should be infuriated by all of it.

But change is possible, and we can play a crucial role in it. 

My Zaide’s story always ended when he and Harry left the rink. It was not until he passed that I learned what had happened, in a memoir by Harry’s father, Harry Gairey Sr., a civil rights activist at the time. Motivated by his son’s experience, Gairey Sr. approached his alderman and requested a meeting with Toronto’s city council. Gairey Sr. presented his case for racial justice, arguing that Black Canadians must receive the same rights as other citizens if they are also to be subject to conscription. Soon after, the City of Toronto passed a landmark ordinance that prohibited discrimination based on race, creed, colour, and religion. Gairey Sr. acknowledges the role of non-Black community members in his victory, remarking that, “I was the man that caused that ordinance to be passed, with the help of the good White people of Toronto.” 

Our efforts are essential. As non-Black folks, we must listen when Black Canadians tell us about their encounters with racism, amplify their voices, and provide them opportunities to speak about their experiences. 

“Never again” means that these tragedies should not ever happen – in any form – to anyone. There is no asterisk. Harry Gairey Sr.’s experience shows us that we can make the progress we need and ensure discrimination does not define the generations that come after us. And right now, our Black neighbours need our help responding to police brutality and other manifestations of systemic racism. Their battle is ours and no fight is too small.

Here is a short list of educational resources and actionable items we can use to get started: 


Daniel Jubas-Malz

Daniel Jubas-Malz is a graduate of the Master of Public Health program at the University of Toronto. Through his writing, he hopes to encourage thoughtful dialogue and the development of open spaces where challenges can be identified and solutions co-created among communities.

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

By LILA SARICK

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.”