A Note from the Publisher: The Bridge is Now Completed

Dec. 23, 2020

The Canadian Jewish Record was born at a fraught time in the history of Canadian Jewish journalism. Our lofty goal in April 2020, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, was to be a bridge between the recently shuttered Canadian Jewish News and its hoped-for return.

Despite nay-sayers who predicted that our fledgling news/opinion service would stand little chance of success, we persevered and became exactly what we strived for: An outlet for Canadian Jews to receive information of Jewish interest, news that touched both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities, and opinion from all sides of the Jewish thinking world.

We did all this, as they say, on a hope and a prayer. A few Jewish philanthropists donated some start-up funds. We developed a utilitarian but ultimately well-liked platform, and then began to ask Canadian Jewish journalists, many of whom were out of work because of COVID, if they would write for us…pro bono. And without hesitation, many did.

Some of the top names in Canadian Jewish journalism gave of their time and considerable talent to help create and sustain the CJR. Co-founder Ron Csillag (I was the other) took on the onerous responsibility of editor. He worked tirelessly, up to nine hours a day, to make sure our content read professionally, was properly edited, and error free. He assigned stories, sought out commentators, got pitches almost daily, and dealt with spokespeople, flacks, and the odd irate reader.

Zack Babins was our techie. He ensured that our daily allotment of stories and columns were posted to our website and on social media, and did so with unfailing good cheer. Zack was also among our stable of new young writers who gave the CJR a fresh tone. More on this later.

Barbara Silverstein used her vast knowledge of food and cooking to produce one of the most popular items on our site: a weekly blog that highlighted recipes, often timed to coincide with Jewish holidays, and goings-on in the worlds of local eateries, world-class chefs, and cooking classes.

Michael Marmur of Pinpoint National Photography was our photo editor. He ensured that every picture you saw on our site was fresh, crisp and uniform. Irv Osterer was our talented graphics editor who designed our unique banner and all other sketches and graphic illustrations.

Carol Elman helped balance the books. Her competency with numbers and dollars kept us in the plus column, while lawyer Jordan Cohen took care of legal affairs, ensuring that i’s were dotted and t’s crossed.

Suanne Kelman, retired from 21 years of teaching at Ryerson University’s journalism department, and Josh Tapper, a former reporter for the Toronto Star, currently completing a PhD, rounded out our editorial board with sage advice.

And then there were our columnists. It’s no secret that Jews are rarely speechless, and our opinion writers covered the waterfront – left, right and centre. They included well-known writers and pundits like Dahlia Lithwick of Slate and MSNBC fame; Canadian columnist Andrew Cohen; and McGill University professor and international pundit Gil Troy.

It was unavoidable that some readers would decry the opinions the CJR carried (but did not necessarily endorse). Other praised us for opening the opinion pages to a diverse array of viewpoints – refreshing for a Jewish publication, but frankly easier if there are no donors or advertisers to offend.

That was the other thing: The CJR did not have advertising to clutter the site. We made an early decision not to accept any, despite synagogues, organizations and even governments seeking to advertise. Monetizing the site was not in the cards.

One of the really beautiful aspects of the CJR was the chances it gave to young and aspiring writers. The opportunity to submit one’s own creations to a professional editor and become published for the first time can make young hearts sing. Old ones, too.

Speaking of singing, one of our most popular columns was “On the Record” by David Eisenstadt, who provided deep dives into the worlds of often little-known Canadian Jewish musicians.

“Rabbinic Reflections” from Ilana Krygier Lapides was one of our more popular regular reads. By the time you read this, Ms. Lapides will be days away from being ordained as Rabbi Lapides.

Many of our weekly editorials were reprinted in other Jewish publications, as well as the National Post and the Toronto Star.

Much gratitude to each and everyone who made the CJR their success and gave Canadian Jewry news, opinion and information during a very difficult time. It was a labour of love and a deep chesed, an experiment that could only happen in a Jewish community like Canada’s.

It was a good run and we are all proud of the part we played keeping Jewish news and opinions alive. As we hoped, The CJN has returned. The bridge work is done and we can finally rest. We wish CJN editor Yoni Goldstein and his team hatzlacha, and hope that some of those who found their Jewish writing chops in the CJR will find a new home at the CJN.

We are indeed all Am Yisroel. We thank you for joining us on this journey and look forward to reading the new CJN with you.

– Bernie Farber

Canada Announces More Funding for UNRWA

Dec. 22, 2020

By RON CSILLAG

Canada has announced more funding – up to $90 million over three years – for Palestinian refugees through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

The funds will “help respond to the rising needs of vulnerable Palestinian refugees in UNRWA’s five areas of operation: the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan,” said a Dec. 21 statement from Karina Gould, Minister of International Development.

The previous release of regular funding to UNRWA was in 2018, when Canada announced a contribution of $50 million over two years.

This time, the funds will contribute “to meeting the basic education, health and livelihood needs of Palestinian refugees, especially women and children,” Gould’s office stated. 

It will also provide “emergency life-saving assistance to an estimated 465,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria and Lebanon, through UNRWA’s Emergency Appeal for the Syria regional crisis. In addition, it will complement UNRWA’s response to the new and emerging needs created by the COVID pandemic.”

Canada’s funding of UNRWA continues to be a hot-button issue in Jewish circles. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government eliminated aid to the agency in 2010 over its ties to Hamas. The Liberals restored funding in 2016 with promises of more stringent oversight. The latest tranche puts Canada’s combined commitment at about $200 million.

There have long been allegations that funds and supplies to UNRWA are diverted to terrorist activity, black marketeering, and to bankroll antisemitic and anti-Zionist propaganda, especially in Palestinian schools.

B’nai Brith Canada said it is “extremely disappointed” at Canada’s latest round of aid to the agency.

The move represents “a missed opportunity to leverage our international leadership to foster conditions for a durable Middle East peace during a time of transformative regional change,” B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn told the CJR in an email. The agency’s core objectives “are not conducive to finding equitable solutions for Palestinian ‘refugees,’ and its educational efforts help perpetuate a feeling of hatred towards Israel and the Jewish people. This must end.”

Mostyn called it “intolerable that UNRWA schools continue to indoctrinate Palestinian children toward antisemitism and eternal war, rather than peace and acceptance. Canadians deserve to know that their international aid dollars are not supporting terrorism or incitement in any way, shape or form.”

Shimon Koffler Fogel, president and CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, sounded a more conciliatory tone. He said CIJA supports Canadian humanitarian aid “to those genuinely in need, particularly the victims of the devastating conflict in Syria where the humanitarian situation remains extremely dire.”

Over the years, Fogel said CIJA “has communicated our concerns about UNRWA’s accountability and neutrality to the Government of Canada. We appreciate both the government’s acknowledgement of these concerns and the measures Canada has now put into place to ensure meaningful accountability and oversight.”

Ottawa said it is continuing its support for UNRWA’s “ongoing efforts to promote neutrality in its operations and among its staff.”

On its website, the federal government referenced the “Framework for Cooperation” between Global Affairs and UNRWA, a 3,000-word document that lays out such issues as monitoring, reporting, oversight, policies of neutrality, and compliance with Canadian anti-terrorism requirements. It was signed in April 2017 by Pierre Krähenbühl, Commissioner General of UNRWA and Peter Boehm, Deputy Minister of International Development.

In August 2019, B’nai Brith and CIJA called on Ottawa to suspend funding to UNRWA after a damning report alleged widespread mismanagement, nepotism and wrongdoing at the agency.

Last April, Erin O’Toole, then a candidate for the leadership of the federal Conservatives, told The Canadian Jewish News: “I will end funding for UNRWA unless it is significantly reformed. It cannot under any circumstances provide support to terror organizations or their affiliates. It also cannot create dependencies, which serve as a deterrent to lasting peace and deter resettlement efforts in other parts of the world. Canada will not continue funding if these reforms are not underway by the midway point of our first term.”

Gould’s Dec. 21 statement said the needs of Palestinian refugees “are undeniable, especially during a global pandemic: they face high rates of poverty, food insecurity and unemployment,” continued. Ottawa’s continued support for UNRWA “builds upon Canada’s long-standing commitment to Palestinians while also contributing to stability in the region.”

She said this latest round of aid will help more than half a million Palestinian refugee children receive quality basic education.

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), which supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel, expressed concern that Canada “still refuses to support UNRWA politically or diplomatically.”

Earlier this month, Canada abstained on a UN resolution to renew UNRWA’s mandate, and voted “no” on another motion supporting the activities of UNRWA, the group noted in a statement following the announcement of Canada’s latest round of funding.

“It is hypocritical when Canada funds UNRWA to the tune of $90 million, but then refuses to stick up for the agency politically on the international stage,” said Michael Bueckert, vice president of CJPME.

JSpaceCanada welcomes the government’s announcement.

“This funding will provide Palestinians with crucial education, health, and livelihood supports – making important contributions to regional stability and peace,” the progressive group said in a statement. It also applauded Canada’s “continued work to ensure meaningful oversight and accountability of UNWRA and of all foreign aid commitments.”

Canadian Jewish News Returns Next Month

Dec. 14, 2020

The Canadian Jewish News is returning, again, starting in January.

The CJN plans a comeback beginning next month, but with no weekly print edition in the works. A new direction is planned.

“It’s going to be a lot more multifaceted,” promised Bryan Borzykowski, the new president of the board of directors.

Bryan Borzykowski
Bryan Borzykowski

The flagship weekly newspaper and its website folded in April amid declining advertising revenues, with the COVID pandemic’s economic fallout providing the final nail in the coffin.

The CJN’s demise left Canada’s estimated 390,000 Jews – the fourth, possibly third largest Jewish community in the world – without a national voice.

The Canadian Jewish Record went online in May to serve as a national outlet for Jewish news and commentary during The CJN’s absence.

It was the second time The CJN went under. The paper folded in 2013 but revived after a groundswell of community support. Yoni Goldstein became editor in early 2014. He will continue in that role.

Yoni Goldstein
Yoni Goldstein

“Before the closure, we had been talking about revamping the website and e-newsletter, and Yoni was already doing some interesting things with podcasts,” said Borzykowski, a Winnipeg-based business journalist and consultant who wrote a campus column for The CJN when he was 19.

“But the fact that it went on hiatus allows us to speed a lot of the previous plans up. Now we can start with a clean slate.”

With the traditional media model increasingly a relic, content these days “is wide-ranging and you have to meet people where they are,” Borzykowski said.

That will translate into podcasts, electronic newsletters, a website, video, events, and even print – not a newspaper, but more in-depth, twice annual magazines at Passover and Rosh Hashanah.

There may even be forays into books. The CJN, working with the Lola Stein Institute, put out a coffee table book, Northern Lights, around the time the paper shut down.

Plans call for a new website in the next few months, though the old one may be used for content in the meantime, Borzykowski said.

It will be a slower, careful re-launch.

“While we have big plans, we’re also not busting out of the gate in the first week of January,” Borzykowski said. “We’re thinking of ourselves as a startup in a way, with a more nimble and entrepreneurial staff.”

There is a fresh board of directors and new donors; Borzykowski won’t say how much money is on the table. The publication is speaking to foundations for support, and a major breakthrough came when The CJN was granted charitable status, meaning donations will be tax-deductible.

Fundraising will be a bigger part of The CJN’s culture, Borzykowski said.

Another revenue generator will be advertising.

“We are looking forward to developing relationships with advertisers that grow as we do,” Goldstein told the CJR, “and to making the case for why advertising in The CJN is a sound business and community investment.”

The CJN will also explore creating sponsored content for various parts of the network, such as branded podcasts, video, and articles.

Apart from surviving financially, a vexing issue for any Jewish publication has been finding the balance between catering to loyal, often older readers, and appealing to younger ones and to those outside major urban centres.

The re-launched CJN will “definitely” want to reach a younger as well as more national audience, said Borzykowski, with focus beyond the Toronto-Montreal corridor.

“We want to talk to people in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg and smaller towns where Jews may not have an opportunity to be as connected to Jewish culture as they would like to be, and may not even know they want to be,” he said. “We will reach younger readers through the content we create. This iteration will still report on serious issues, but we’ll be more fun, too.”

The founders of the CJR, publisher Bernie Farber and editor Ron Csillag, a former CJN reporter, never intended it to become permanent. The website was meant as a bridge to The CJN’s eventual return, and the two publications will likely work together in the future.

The CJR did not accept advertising, was free, and completely volunteer-driven.

“The CJR was a Canadian Jewish communal tzedakah experiment that demonstrated the love and longing that Jews have one another,” stated Farber. “All of us worked on behalf of community to keep us together during a very difficult time, and it was done from the heart and soul. We welcome back The CJN and look forward to a cooperation that will be a credit to the entire Jewish community.”

The eight months since The CJN’s shuttering “have shown just how much Canadian Jews miss The CJN,” Goldstein said. “I’m looking forward to reviving that connection, and building lots of new ones. And I’m determined to do so in a way that will be sustainable for the long run.”

The CJN “will once again be the go-to source for Canadian Jews when it comes to community news, diverse, insightful commentary from across the Jewish spectrum, arts, religion, food and culture. I expect there will be plenty of surprises along the way, too. That’s the fun part.”

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

Nov. 19, 2020

By FRED LITWIN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Louis Bloomfield
Louis Bloomfield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The reality was that Bloomfield was quite the mensch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Fred Litwin
Fred Litwin

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

Posthumous Honour for Cooking Maven Norene Gilletz

By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

Last weekend, friends and admirers of the late food maven Norene Gilletz received very exciting news on Facebook: Canada’s “Queen of Kosher Cuisine,” was posthumously inducted into the Taste Canada Hall Of Fame.

Norene Gilletz
Norene Gilletz

Taste Canada is an umbrella organization that connects food and beverage writers, publishers, chefs, restaurateurs, farmers, industry, culinary colleges, media and cookbook fans.

Gilletz’s induction was part of Taste Canada’s virtual awards ceremony that was live-streamed on Facebook the evening of Oct. 25.

She was honoured for lifetime achievement in culinary writing.

Indeed, she authored 12 books, articles for a host of kosher publications, and was a long-time columnist and food blogger for The Canadian Jewish News.

Gilletz died last February. She was 79.

Taste Canada also announced awards in a number of categories for the country’s best cookbooks of 2019. Gilletz’s last book, The Brain Boosting Diet: Feed Your Memory – co-written with the late Edward Wein – was on the long list of nominations for a Taste-Canada Award in the category of Health and Special Diet Cookbooks.

Gilletz’s induction into the Taste Canada’s Hall of Fame was serendipitous, related Carol Press, the administrator of Norene’s Kitchen, an 11,000-member Facebook group founded by Gilletz in 2011.

Press said she came across a Facebook page for the Culinary Historians of Canada (CHC), where she discovered the Taste Canada Hall of Fame.

“I had contacted Taste Canada about this time last year about considering Norene for the award…I wrote them a letter. I told them who I was and I gave a brief introduction to Norene.”

Press wrote about Gilletz’s culinary accomplishments including her role as editor of Second Helpings, Please!, the iconic kosher cookbook that launched Gilletz’s culinary career.

“I told them that she had a new book coming out and that she was in her late 70s…They said they would take this into consideration for 2020.”

Just two days before Gilletz’s death, Press said she contacted Taste Canada again. “I don’t know what possessed me… I wish I had known about the award earlier.”

She said Gilletz was very tech savvy, having embraced new culinary technology like the microwave and food processor ahead of others.

Press pointed out that Gilletz also understood the role of social media and was connecting to her followers on Facebook, years ahead of people her age.

Gilletz’s son, Doug Gilletz, a culinary instructor and trained chef, also got involved with the CHC. “I decided to join the Culinary Historians as a way of promoting Mom,” he said from his home in Montreal. “Carol nominated her last year.

“In June we were told that she would be an inductee into the Hall of Fame, but we couldn’t tell anybody…I thought it was a great honour.”

He said he and his two siblings were hoping to attend the ceremony in person, but with the persistence of COVID, the awards evening became a virtual event,” Doug recalled.

“They gave us approval two days before the Taste Canada Awards [ceremony] to announce the event on Facebook.”

Gilletz said his mother was hard-working throughout her career. “She never took a vacation. She’d always be on her iPad. She never stopped.

“Even when she was in the hospital, she never took a break. She would tell me who to call and who to contact. She got a lot of satisfaction from her work.”