COVID Slams Hamilton’s Shalom Village

Dec. 18, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

Hamilton’s Jewish retirement home kept COVID infections at bay for nine months, but now, Shalom Village is being hammered by the deadly infection.

By Wednesday of this week, Shalom Village’s interim CEO, Larry Levin, reported that four people died from the virus and another 81 were infected throughout the campus.

Dr Larry Levin
Dr Larry Levin

“I appreciate that this is a time of tremendous stress, fear and sadness,” Levin said in a note to residents. “Indeed all of us at Shalom Village  (myself included) are devastated to know that so many of the Shalom Village family are impacted by the COVID virus, and saddened to have lost four of our residents to this pervasive, and deadly virus.”

Levin said that as of Dec. 16, 40 staff had tested positive for the virus, and with those people required to stay home, staffing at the facility was maintained with the help of workers hired through a private contractor recommended by St. Joseph’s Healthcare.

“This has had a dramatic effect on our ability to staff the home,” he said. “We are in close contact with public health every day and we are making progress on this.

The staffing problem was so severe that the Hamilton Jewish Federation issued a call for volunteers to help with food delivery to residents confined to their rooms. Levin said on Wednesday, however, that those volunteers will not be used until the outbreak has been defeated. Any shortage of staff will be made up with workers from a private contractor suggested by St. Joseph’s Healthcare.

“This should meet our need until the outbreak has been cleared,” Levin said in an email exchange. “Any community volunteers will not be deployed until the outbreak has been declared over.”

“Right now we are managing with our existing model,” he added.

Levin reported six of the infected residents are in the facility’s apartment complex while 35 are in its long-term care facility.

Shalom Village has been ordered by the public health department to allow St. Joseph’s Healthcare to monitor, investigate and respond to the outbreak.

“St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton will be working in partnership with Shalom Village to monitor, investigate and respond to the infection prevention and control matters needed to prevent further spread of COVID. We welcome this partnership, which will assist us with additional education and training support, and expertise,” Levin said in his letter to the community. “Here in Hamilton, St. Joe’s has been working with a number of long-term care homes, retirement homes and congregate settings to support them through the COVID pandemic .

“The entire team is working together to minimize any additional spread of the virus, as well as its impact on those already infected,” he added. “Please be assured that Shalom Village is working closely with Public Health and with St. Joseph’s Healthcare to ensure that everything that can be done to deal with this outbreak is being done and we pray that the outbreak will be speedily resolved.”

Shalom Village is the sixth long term care home in Hamilton to have infection control orders issued by the health department. Five of those homes were still in outbreak Wednesday, accounting for 444 of the city’s 779 cases.

From March until this week Shalom Village managed to stay COVID-free through a combination of regular testing of staff and residents in its 127-bed long-term care unit with 81 apartments and a ban on visitors.

On Thursday, Hamilton’s congregational rabbis called for a community-wide prayer service for the residents and staff of Shalom Village.

The online event is set for Saturday at 7 pm on Zoom.

“As the rabbis of Hamilton’s Jewish community we watch with sadness and trepidation as the numbers of those infected with COVID-19, as well as the numbers of those dying from it, continue to rise. We fear for all residents of our beloved city, Hamilton. And we are especially distressed by the outbreaks at Shalom Village, which, with constant dedication and tirelessness, cares for the beloved, treasured elderly members of our community. We are concerned for the vulnerable residents, and we are equally concerned for those who care for them” Rabbis Jordan Cohen, Hillel Lavery-Yisraeli, Daniel Green and Aaron Selevan wrote.

The rabbis added: “Our prayers are only as good as the actions which accompany them. We would like to use this opportunity to remind everyone of the religious obligation to meticulously follow all current health regulations and recommendations: Stay home whenever possible, do not gather in groups, stay two metres away from others, wash your hands frequently, and wear masks.”

Seasonal Song Covers Religious, Cultural Bases

Dec. 14, 2020

By RUTH SCHWEITZER

Just in time for the festive season: The Toronto-based comedy duo of Roula Said and Maryem Tollar has released a hilarious new, all-purpose holiday tune, Arab Ladies Sing Christmas Carols Written by Jews.

In part, the song is the ladies’ response to COVID, with its prohibitions against gathering and the lockdowns, Tollar said. “We just wanted to put out something funny and fun to put a smile on people’s faces,” she said.

What they and many others have noticed is that the children of Jewish immigrants on New York’s Lower East Side in the early 20th century wrote many of the Christmas classics.

Jewish songwriters wrote secular holiday songs for Jews and Christians. Johnny Marks’ Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer could be seen an expression of the desire to be accepted by the mainstream.

Famously, Irving Berlin (born Israel Beilin) wrote White Christmas. Recorded by Bing Crosby in 1942, it became, at least according to the Guinness Book of Records, the best-selling single of all time.

Jewish songwriters tended to celebrate the holiday season rather than the birth of Jesus, with subjects like snow (Let It Snow!, written by lyricist Sammy Cahn and composer Jule Styne), or an evening spent in front of the fireplace (The Christmas Song) by Robert Wells and Mel Tormé – both Jewish.

Both Canadians of Arab descent, Said and Tollar said they could relate to the feeling of being an outsider. Said grew up in a predominately white suburb of Toronto in the 1970s and ‘80s during the “Paki bashing” era. When Tollar’s family immigrated to Canada in 1969, they were only the second Egyptian family to settle in Halifax.

Said and Tollar – the duo is known as FAOC, or the Friggin’ Arab Orchestra Company – have added a new dimension to the tradition of the holiday song by being who they are. Said is from a Palestinian Christian family and Tollar has a Muslim background.

Said related that ever since she learned many Christmas songs were written by Jews, she’d wanted to record some of them. Instead of recording Christmas standards for this year’s holiday season, though, the duo decided to write a new tune.

“This year, with COVID, and Maryem and I living in a shared house, we developed this comedy schtick that came out of our friendship,” Said noted. “It seemed like the right time to do this little brainchild of mine, and it occurred to me that it would be fun to actually write our own song.”

The music of Arab Ladies Sing Christmas Carols Written by Jews could have come out of the Great American Songbook. The ladies’ song references past Christmas tunes and they sample riffs from several of them. But their lyrics are contemporary – COVID and cannabis are mentioned – and the song is inclusive, reflecting Toronto’s diversity.

Tollar learned Christmas songs while singing in her school choir. “I totally love them and know them very well,” she said.

People who grew up without Christmas celebrations may relate to Tollar’s account of how, as a child, she felt left out of the seasonal excitement and tried to recreate the holiday for herself.

“One year, my parents had a Christmas tree in their house and the next year they thought it’s not a good idea because that’s not our religion. I was so sad. I remember praying to Santa Claus, telling him I believed in him and I knew he would make Christmas happen for me,” she said.

“And of course that didn’t happen. And my cousin who lived with us, she felt sorry for me. So she bought me a little plastic Christmas tree and I would wrap my own toys and then unwrap them at Christmas.”

The unofficial tradition of Jews eating Chinese food on Christmas merits a mention in the song, as is Honest Ed’s, the now-demolished bargain store at Bathurst and Bloor. The song concludes with Said and Tollar bantering about the store, where Said and her husband, David Buchbinder, purchased their wedding rings.

Recording the effort was a family affair: It was arranged by Buchbinder, who plays trumpet, and Maryem’s husband, Ernie Tollar, plays additional piano. The couples’ children contributed, too, with Joska Tollar on bass and Laila Buchbinder on guitar.

Said, a singer, dancer, actor and poet, co-leads the funked up Arabic-Roma band, Nomadica, whose first recording, Dance of the Infidels, was nominated for a Juno Award. She creates music for dance performances and theatre, and runs the Om Laila Studio, where she teaches Arabic dance.

Tollar is a renowned vocalist whose voice has been heard on the theme of CBC’s television series Little Mosque on the Prairie and A.R. Rahman’s Bollywood hit, Mayya Mayya. She performs with several Toronto musical groups, including Al Qahwa and Turkwaz. Tollar won the inaugural 2019 Johanna Metcalf Prize for Performing Arts.

Arab Ladies Sing Christmas Carols Written by Jews  will premiere on Facebook Dec. 20 at 7 p.m.

https://www.facebook.com/events/2853347698280607?active_tab=about

It is also on YouTube at:

The song may be purchased on Bandcamp at:

https://faoc.bandcamp.com/releases?fbclid=IwAR3scixqK0ukHC7EAjIuv2h_R1zcsJtFaK_XagS2Mr1v-OpnFVkCwWrihBA

Dayeinu: Enough About the UN Vote

December 11, 2020 –

By ZACK BABINS

For most of 2020, same-sex marriage in Israel was effectively illegal. 

Well, that’s not quite true, and I apologize for the sensationalism. The truth is that same-sex marriage has never been legal in Israel. It’s “recognized,” which isn’t quite the same.

LGBTQ+ Israelis, or any Israelis who, for whatever reason, don’t want to submit to the Orthodox rabbinate’s dictums, have long had to travel to other countries to get married and return to the country – which, for obvious reasons has been quite impossible since March.

I didn’t learn this information from this news outlet, or any other outlet or organization that seeks to serve the Canadian Jewish community.

Instead I heard about the United Nations vote.

I also learned that – despite the ink spilled here and elsewhere – not a single Israeli citizen in Israel or in the Diaspora was in any way physically or tangibly harmed by Canada’s single vote at the UN General Assembly last month in favour of Palestinian self-determination (one of about 20 anti-Israel resolutions, all of which Canada voted against).

In fact, to my shock and surprise, the State of Israel was not un-existed overnight as a result of Canada voting for a resolution that did not explicitly include the phrase “Jewish self-determination.” It seems that the State of Israel, the very real embodiment of “Jewish self-determination,” does not require a UN vote to continue existing.

But I didn’t hear about that. I heard about the UN vote.

I didn’t hear about a high-ranking Conservative member of Parliament who fashions himself a friend of Israel, yet only a few months ago, retweeted wild and false antisemitic conspiracy theories about George Soros, raging on about a “Great Reset” by “global financial elites” – two phrases that have meant “Jews” since at least the proliferation of the antisemitic forgery Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the early 20th century. I heard about the UN vote.

In fairness, I heard a little bit about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointing Irwin Cotler as Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism.

This is the first time Canada has had such an office. I applauded that move, as all Canadian Jews should have. I would say dayeinu, it would have been enough. But then, of course, the UN vote. That one UN vote.

The fact is, nobody else cares about the UN vote.

Israelis don’t seem to care about Canada’s vote at the UN. Their life didn’t change from one day to the next. Israelis don’t care that the vote was 163-5 instead of 162-6.

Palestinians certainly don’t care about Canada’s vote at the UN. They’re worrying about the pandemic. They worry about their jobs and their families. They care about creeping annexation, and worse.

Most Canadians, and frankly, a great many Canadian Jews, shouldn’t care about the UN vote either.

There is a global pandemic raging hotter and more destructively every single day, with cases climbing into thousands. Our families and our loved ones are in physical danger every day. Vaccines are coming but it is far from over.

We should be – many of us are – more worried about our employment and our businesses that may not survive the second wave without significant government intervention. We should be – and many of us are – worried about our own mental health – shaky at the best of times thanks to thousands of years of persecution. 

Our concern should lie with the subset of our local communities, the anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers, the rebels without a clue, who refuse to take the most basic of safety measures to protect all of us. And some of us are deeply concerned about the fact that these lunatics are being joined and lauded by white supremacists and neo-Nazis like Paul Fromm, who showed up to defend a Toronto barbecue restaurant operating illegally.

When I think about my political priorities as a Jew living in Canada, I don’t think about the UN. I think about my job and rent I have to pay. I think about being able to afford a Jewish life in an unaffordable Jewish community. I think about being able to return to a physical minyan or the JCC without fearing a security threat like we see all around the world, in Halle, in Pittsburgh, in Poway, and many more places, to say nothing of the fact that our Muslim brothers and sisters have been gunned down in this country while praying.

I think about a country whose most vulnerable citizens don’t have clean drinking water. I think about living in an environment in which I and my future children can breathe. I think about an Israel that is safe, secure, democratic, Jewish and tolerant, and I work and worry to make that Israel more real than it is now.

But I didn’t hear about any of that. Because, of course, I heard about the UN vote.


Zack Babins
Zack Babins

Zack Babins is a professional Jew and Recovering Jewish Professional™, a political communicator and activist, and amateur challah baker. All opinions are his own. You can find him on Twitter @zackbabins.

Jewish Day Schools Call for Distribution of COVID Funds

Dec. 10, 2020

By LILA SARICK

A coalition of independent schools, including Jewish day schools, is calling on the Ontario government to distribute federal funds intended to cover COVID-associated costs to all schools, not just publicly funded ones.

In August, Ottawa announced the Safe Return to Class Fund and committed up to $2 billion to schools for pandemic-related expenses such as improved air ventilation, increased hygiene and purchases of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies.

Funding was allocated “based on the number of children between four and 18,” according to a statement announcing the fund. Ontario was allocated $763 million, to be distributed in fall 2020 and early 2021.

In Ontario, the funds were distributed through public and Catholic school boards, shutting out Jewish day schools, as well as other independent and faith-based schools. The schools have now launched a campaign lobbying the province to change the way it distributes the money.

“What’s disheartening is that the federal government has given money to all the provinces in order to help children go safely back to schools and the money from the federal government’s announcement is for all children from four to 18, and there’s no distinctions,” said Ira Walfish, a founder of TeachON, a grassroots group that advocates for funding for Jewish day schools, and a member of the independent school coalition.

“What’s disheartening is that this is pure pandemic funds, it’s not for education,” Walfish told the CJR.

The independent schools that have formed the Supporting Students Coalition estimate that 125,00 students are enrolled in schools that did not receive federal COVID funding. Parents are encouraged to write their MPPs to express their dissatisfaction, Walfish said.

Grassroots for Affordable Jewish Education, another Ontario advocacy group, has also urged families to join the campaign.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has also argued that private schools should be eligible for the federal COVID funds.

“CIJA continues to advocate for the inclusion of Jewish community institutions – including our Jewish day schools – in a range of government support programs,” Noah Shack, CIJA’s vice president for the Greater Toronto Area, said in a statement to the CJR. “It is crucial that they continue to operate safely and meet the needs of families hit hard by the pandemic.”

CIJA was successful in having the federal government extend the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program to not-for-profit schools.

“This subsidy provides substantial relief, which the government has committed to extend through to June 2021,” Shack said.

Asked about the distribution of federal funds, a spokesperson for the provincial education ministry replied in an email: “In Ontario, private schools operate as businesses or non-profit organizations independently of the Ministry of Education and in accordance with the legal requirements established by the Education Act. They do not receive any funding or other financial support from the government.”

Ontario funds the public and Catholic school systems but not other faith-based or independent schools.

Not all provinces have handled the federal funds the same way as Ontario. In British Columbia, for example, some money has been distributed to private schools, Walfish said.

“It would be better for everybody, not just our children, if they’re all in a safe environment,” Walfish said. “Presumably, there are some children in independent schools who might play with other children in public or Catholic schools and if they’re not protected, we can do the math.”

Ontario parents are eligible for some relief, however. CIJA advocated for the inclusion of all Ontario families in the provincial government’s education grants provided directly to parents, Shack said. The grants, disbursed last spring and this winter, provide families with between $400 and $500 per child for COVID-related costs.

Despite long shutdown, YM-YWHA Looks to Future

Dec. 1, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL — A 110th anniversary should be an occasion for celebration, but the Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA has had to postpone the party until COVID is history.

Since mid-March, the Y has been open just one week and the current red-zone restrictions preventing it from normal operations will remain in place until Jan. 11.

At the Y’s virtual annual general meeting on Nov. 24, the association’s leaders nevertheless struck an optimistic tone, as they looked to the more distant future.

Outgoing president Rick Rubin, who completed a two-year term, reported that pre-pandemic, the Y’s fortunes were looking up. When he took the helm, its facilities were aging and could not compete with other fitness centres in the city. Membership was declining.

The Y Country Camp, opened in 1962, was also becoming outdated and losing its appeal.

A generous donation from businessman Sylvan Adams, formerly of Montreal and now living in Israel, helped reverse the downward trend. Major renovations to the fitness facilities have been completed and a kosher cafeteria been added.

The Y is working with Federation CJA, of which it is an agency, to “get on the path of sustainability…The Y is an undeniable requirement for our community,” said Rubin. “I am confident that when we reopen we will rival and surpass any other facility in Montreal.”

Although the Quebec government permitted gyms to reopen in June, the Y remained shuttered until Sept. 30, the day before Montreal went into a 28-day partial lockdown in response to a surging second wave of the coronavirus. Gyms were added to the list of places to be closed on Oct. 8.

Revenue dropped to almost zero, Rubin said, and senior staff had their salaries reduced.

Treasurer Jeffrey Kadanoff reported that by the fiscal year ending on May 31, the Y had incurred a deficit of just under $673,000.

The Y Country Camp in the Laurentians, like other overnight camps, was not permitted to run a regular program this summer.

The downtime was used to revamp its facilities and programming, Rubin said, and the camp is looking forward to reopening next season and enrolment should be high, judging by the response to early-bird registration.

Incoming president Tina Apfeld said, “My vision is that the Y be the centre of the Jewish community. The Y should be welcoming to all members of the Jewish community, whatever their age or affiliation…The Y will not only survive but flourish; our children and grandchildren will also consider it a second home.”

Besides enhancing its recreational features, Apfeld said the Y, with support from the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal, will be increasing its Jewish programming, including creating an after-school program for children who do not attend a Jewish day school.

She said the Y has consulted with the management firm EY on it financial situation and will soon be making public a sustainability plan. “We are reimagining and repositioning the Y for the future.”

The new Y chief executive officer is Elyse Rosen, replacing Marla Gold who retired in June after seven years.

A longtime Y member, Rosen said she chose to leave her law practice partly because she is the daughter of Holocaust survivors and feels a duty to work toward Jewish continuity.

“The Y must be open and inclusive, where young and old, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, able and disabled, observant or not can come together, a place that builds Jewish identity and inspires engagement in Jewish life…We are going to come out of this crisis stronger than ever.”

Ontario Honours Holocaust Survivors

Nov. 10, 2020 

By LILA SARICK

Ten Holocaust survivors who have made it their mission to educate younger generations about the dangers of antisemitism and racism were honoured by the Ontario government in a virtual ceremony on Nov. 5.

The annual ceremony, usually held at Queen’s Park, was scheduled for last spring but postponed due to COVID. This year’s virtual event was held during Holocaust Education Week, Nov. 2-9.

The theme of this year’s event was “passing the torch” – fitting, given that the honourees were all speakers at the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre and had dedicated hours to talking to students about their experiences, said Fran Sonshine national chair of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, in remarks that were recorded earlier at the Holocaust memorial in Toronto’s Earl Bales Park.

This year’s honorees were Hedy Bohm, Esther Fairbloom, Pola Goldhar, Denise (Fikman) Hans, Mark Lane, Faigie (Schmidt) Libman, Rose Lipszyc (née Handelsman), Captain Martin Maxwell, Andy Réti and Gershon Israel Willinger.

Each honoree had received a certificate, often surrounded by their children and grandchildren, in outdoor ceremonies recorded earlier.

The survivors spoke briefly, often thanking Canada for taking them in after the Second World War, and giving them a second chance to build a life – and about the importance of teaching young people about the Holocaust.

“I hope in the future to continue Holocaust education,” said Bohm. “My goal has been and always was to make young people feel empowered to stand up and speak against any type of prejudice.”

Debbie Estrin of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem presents a tribute from the government of Ontario to Capt. Martin Maxwell. Looking on is Maxwell’s wife, Eleanor. (Photo courtesy Canadian Society for Yad Vashem)

MPPs Roman Baber, Will Bouma, Rima Berns-McGown, Gila Martow, and Steven Del Duca, leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario, introduced each honoree.

Premier Doug Ford praised the honourees’ “unbelievable bravery,” saying their “resilience and strength continue to inspire me.”

Galit Baram, consul general of Israel in Toronto and Western Canada, and a descendant of Holocaust survivors, spoke about the “alarming rise” of antisemitism, assaults and Holocaust denial, even in democratic, western societies.

“What I have to come to realize is that the Sisyphean task of combating antisemitism necessitates continuous activity on three levels: legislation, prosecution and education,” Baram said in her remarks.

“Every time elected officials speak up against antisemitism and draw the line between what is acceptable and what is not, every time a Holocaust survivor provides testimony, every time a story of the Righteous Among the Nations is told in public, every step brings us closer to developing an antidote to hatred and racism,” Baram said.

To watch the ceremony, visit yadvashem.ca

Hamilton Jewish Book Fair, Holocaust Education Week Combine

Oct. 30, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

Holocaust heroes and survivors. Mossad spies. Infamous Nazis. Wealthy Jews who once controlled Shanghai.

These and other inviting subjects are set to be explored at Hamilton’s Jewish Book Fair and Holocaust Education Week.

Usually separate events, the celebration of Jewish books and Shoah memorial has been combined into a series of online programs this year.

Gustavo Rymberg, CEO of the Hamilton Jewish Federation, said that in the age of COVID, merging the events made sense.

“Instead of asking people to register separately for both events we’d do them together,” he told the CJR. “It’s also a chance for some of our young families to get familiar with Holocaust Education Week.

“We think it’s important for our young people to learn about that now and not wait for a teacher to bring it up in school,” he added.

“Everyone has a responsibility to talk about the Holocaust, not only in educational settings but conversations need to take place at home. It is shocking that a large number of young Canadians are unaware that over six million Jewish men, women and children were killed during the Holocaust.”

The plan for this year is to centre around nine books – five during book festival events Nov. 1-4 and four during Holocaust week, Nov. 8-12.

Leading off the book festival is Jonathan Kaufman presenting on his book The Last King of Shanghai. It chronicles the moral compromises, foresight and generosity of two extraordinary Jewish families – the Sassoons and the Kadoories – who ruled over Chinese business and politics for more than 175 years.

Both originally from Baghdad, they profited from the Opium Wars that tore China apart and then survived the communist takeover of the country.

Now the director of the School of Journalism at Northeastern University in Boston, Kaufman spent 30 years and won a Pulitzer Prize covering China for the Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News.

In an interview, Kaufman said the idea for the book was born in the late 1970s when, newly arrived in China, he began to see traces of a century of Jewish influence on the country.

In addition to being a story of wealth and power, Kaufman said the book adds an important piece to our understanding of Jewish history.

“We tend to think of Jewish history as the stories of poor European immigrants who work hard and rise to great heights,” he said. “This is another part of the history of Jews who also worked hard and climbed to great heights.”

Kaufman is also the author of A Hole in the Heart of the World: Being Jewish in Eastern Europe and Broken Alliance: The Turbulent Times Between Blacks and Jews in America, which won a National Jewish Book Award.

The book festival will also include presentations on Red Sea Spies, the true story of the Mossad operation that used a diving resort on the coast of Somalia as a cover to rescue thousands of Ethiopian Jews and smuggle them to Israel. The book was written by long-time BBC Middle East correspondent Raffi Berg.

On Nov. 2, former New York Times reporter Howard Blum will discuss his book Night of the Assassins: The Untold Story of Hitler’s Plot to Kill FDR, Churchill and Stalin. It’s the true story of a Nazi plot to destroy the leaders of the Allies during their Tehran conference in 1943. With their leaders dead, the German hope was that the stricken Allies would then be willing to make peace with the Third Reich.

Concealed, to be presented Nov. 3 by author Esther Amini, tells the story of her struggles growing up in Queens, N.Y. in the 1960s – the daughter of Jewish-Iranian refugees trying to find a balance between her parents’ traditions and her longing for American freedom.

The final book festival presentation is slated for Nov.4. The title for that night will be Nobody Will Tell You This But Me, Bess Kalb’s recounting of family lore and secrets from her grandmother chronicling the lives of four generations of women and the men who loved them.

Holocaust Education Week events kick off Nov. 8 with a presentation of Toronto author Kathy Kacer’s true story, The Brushmaker’s Daughter.

It tells the tale of a 12-year-old German-Jewish girl and her blind father on the run from the Nazis. They are sheltered by brush factory owner Otto Weidt, who employs blind Jewish workers in his factory, determined to save as many as he can.

Kacer, a former psychologist, has written often about the Holocaust and the people who struggled against it. In an interview, she said “as soon as I heard about this, I knew it would be the next story I would tell. The example of individuals who exhibit that kind of moral strength is a great one, especially today. Capturing stories like this is even more important today. We still have a small window of opportunity today to capture those stories.”

Kacer added that while the central character of the story is fictional, Weidt and his factory are historical. Weidt and all the people he helped are now dead but the factory itself survives and has been turned into a museum.

Capturing Holocaust stories, she added, is important because her parents were both survivors: Her mother hid during the war while her father survived a concentration camp.

On Nov. 9, author A. J. Sidransky will discuss his novel The Interpreter, the story of a 23-year-old American G.I. Kurt Berlin, who returns to Europe to help interrogate captured Nazis as part of a program to recruit them to work against the Soviet Union in the coming Cold War.

Former Nazi hunter David Marwell will discuss his book Mengele: Unmasking the “Angel of Death” on Nov. 10. The book explores how an ambitious researcher could become a faithful servant of the Nazi cause.

Marwell served as chief of investigative research at the U. S. Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations in the 1980s and worked on the hunt for the notorious “Angel of Death” Dr. Josef Mengele.

The final book presentation for the week is slated for Nov. 12, when journalist Peter Ross Range will discuss The Unfathomable Ascent, his detailing of Adolf Hitler’s eight-year march to the pinnacle of German politics.

Holocaust Education Week also incorporates the virtual exhibit Vad Vashem: Shoah: How Was it Humanly Possible, and the Nov. 15 special presentation Voices of our Holocaust Survivors with young Hamiltonians interviewing Holocaust survivors.

Times and details for all events are available at https://jewishhamilton.org/2020jewishbookfestival

Families Protest Possible Admission of COVID Patients to Nursing Homes

Oct. 28, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL— Families of residents of the long-term care institutions Maimonides Geriatric Centre and Jewish Eldercare Centre, which were hard-hit by COVID this spring and summer, are pleading with health officials to halt a plan to admit outside patients with the virus to recuperate in those facilities.

Jewish Edlercare

“My initial reaction was, ‘What are they thinking?’” Helen Adam, president of the users’ committee at Maimonides, told the CJR. At the outbreak’s worst, one-third of Maimonides’s 380 residents were infected and 39 would die, in addition to the staff members who tested positive. It took reinforcement by members of the Canadian Armed Forces and then the Red Cross to get the situation under control.

Eldercare had an even more difficult time from the outset of the pandemic in March, and lost more residents.

On Oct. 19, CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, the government health agency that administers Maimonides and Eldercare, informed families that there were no longer any COVID cases among residents and that the “hot zones” at both sites would, if necessary, accommodate certain people with the virus who live in the geographic territory served by the CIUSSS.

The email, signed by Barbra Gold, director of the CIUSSS’s Support Program for the Autonomy of Seniors, states that these beds would be for “COVID-positive patients who are medically stable (do not require hospitalization) but require a greater level of care than what is being offered at their current locations, such as private seniors’ residences, intermediate resources or those recovered in hospital who are not strong enough to go home.”

To date, no such transfers have been made and Gold noted that “every effort” is being made to keep such patients where they are. She added, “We are confident that this approach will not compromise the health and well-being of our residents and is in the best interest of the community we serve.”

Adam said families are flabbergasted that after waging such a lengthy battle to contain the virus – which included stopping visits for months and moving residents to different rooms and makeshift spaces to separate the infected from those who were not – the two institutions are now being opened to ill people from the community.

At Maimonides, the hot zone is located in part of the uppermost seventh floor. Adam said she is fearful that staff will inevitably move to other areas of the building despite the best intentions.

“I think Quebec has gone out of its mind. They try one thing one week and another the next. Now it looks like they are setting us up as an adjunct to the hospitals. People are so scared and confused,” said Adam.

Asked by the CJR to respond, the CIUSSS emailed a statement that those with COVID will be moved “only as a last resort” and with extra precautions.

“If and when any COVID-positive individuals arrive at the facility, they will not come into contact with uninfected residents. They will be put into designated hot zones that are separated by permanent walls from the other residents and the other units,” it said.

“They and the staff who care for them will also use designated elevators that will be unavailable to other residents and personnel. As well, they will receive care from dedicated members of the staff—in other words, the COVID-positive person or their health care provider should not have any contact with the other residents, caregivers or health care teams at Maimonides or Jewish Eldercare.”

West-Central Montreal adds that, “like every CIUSSS throughout the province, we are required to provide residents in our area with emergency spaces in a non-traditional site, such as a long-term care centre.”

This is not reassuring to Maimonides resident Beverly Spanier. The retired high school teacher is afraid of another COVID outbreak and has little confidence in the institution’s ability to deal with it.

“This is supposed to be our home, not a hospital,” she said, still traumatized by the upheaval that took place earlier this year. “We’ve already been through hell. I don’t want to live in a war zone again.”

In a letter to Premier Francois Legault, the users’ committee says a “highly vulnerable population” is being put at risk and suggests an alternative. “There are many virtually empty hotels, who would probably welcome the work. Why not use them?

“We appeal to you M. Legault to rethink this directive.”

The committee has also reached out to the Conseil pour la protection des malades, a group defending the rights of users of the health care system.

Adam’s mother, who lived for six years at Maimonides, died in May, but not of COVID. Adam thinks many residents’ passing, including her mother’s, was due to the loneliness and stress caused by the pandemic restrictions. She did not see her mother in person from mid-March until just before her death when she was allowed to visit on compassionate grounds.

She does not want that to happen again to any other residents or their relatives.

By the official count, more than 6,100 people in Quebec have died of COVID, the great majority of them residents of nursing homes or seniors’ facilities.

Holocaust Education Week 2020: Hindsight 2020

Oct. 27, 2020

By CARSON PHILLIPS

In a year characterized by increased antisemitism frequently linked to COVID conspiracy theories and social unrest caused by the lingering effects of systemic racism, it seemed only natural that Holocaust Education Week 2020 would tackle some of the the underlying conditions that contribute to such activities. In a quickly changing world, it is more relevant than ever that we understand the role Holocaust education can and does play in fostering an inclusive society that respects all Canadians.

Holocaust Education Week (HEW) runs Nov. 2-9 with programs continuing throughout the month. This year’s theme, Hindsight 2020, developed by UJA’s Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre, the organizer of the event, aims to do just that. By reflecting on the role that Holocaust education has played in our community, and promoting best practices in education that encourages deep learning, a solid foundation is laid for dealing present day challenges.

Now more than ever, nurturing Canadian civil society through the lessons of the Holocaust is a vital goal of HEW.

In response to the pandemic, the Neuberger has transformed Holocaust Education Week into a digital experience continuing throughout the year. By partnering with the Virtual J, programs will be presented live, free of charge and available for viewing on-demand long after the conclusion of each presentation.

Dara Solomon, the Neuberger’s executive director, commented on the new format: “Partnering with the Virtual J extends the reach of our programming to diverse audiences everywhere. Now, anyone with internet access can learn about the Holocaust wherever they live, at any time of day assured that the programming is built on the best and highest pedagogical standards,” she said.

HEW’s opening night unpacks the theme with American journalist Yair Rosenberg addressing the role Holocaust education and memory play in combatting the threats of contemporary antisemitism, prejudice, and fascism. He and Canadian journalist Sarah Fulford, editor-in-chief of Toronto Life magazine, will respond to some of today’s most pressing questions, including how and where does Holocaust education fit in to our current situation, and what have we learned from the Holocaust as a society that can better inform our future and point us towards a more just, equitable, and peaceful world?

A carefully curated film series that delves deeply into this year’s theme runs from November until next April. Each screening features special guest speakers, such as actor George Takei of Star Trek fame. As a child, Takei, along with other North Americans of Japanese heritage, was subject to forced relocation to internment camps during the Second World War. He has written a graphic memoir about his childhood experiences, titled They Called Us Enemy, which is an important entry point into learning about how our countries responded domestically while fighting fascism in Europe.

Takei’s personal insights provide yet another aspect of how the Second World War affected Canadians and Americans.

“For Canadians grappling with what our nation’s wartime conduct means, it helps provide a more complete picture and encourages dialogue on the significance of human rights in today’s civil society,” said Solomon.

Another not-to-be-missed program features philosopher and cultural commentator Susan Neiman, who will share her insights into grappling with the past and its significance with respect to contemporary memorial culture. A three-part Neuberger book talk series is devoted to her recent publication Learning from the Germans. Guest presenters are featured weekly and the series culminates with a discussion with Neiman.

HEW’s closing program will feature Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter’s personal reflections on the impact of Holocaust education and remembrance. Gutter, has spoken internationally about his Holocaust experiences, published his memoirs Memories in Focus with the Azrieli Foundation, and was one of the first to be interviewed for the USC Shoah Foundation’s Dimensions in Testimony program.

In conversation with the Neuberger’s Education Coordinator, Michelle Fishman, herself the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Gutter will expand on the role and power of education in combatting inequality, racism, fascism, and antisemitism.

A special tribute marking the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht, when a wave of violent anti-Jewish pogroms rampaged across Nazi Germany on Nov. 9 and 10, 1938, is also part of this program.

Visit the Neuberger’s website www.holocausteducationweek.com for a complete listing of all programs. 


Carson Phillips, PhD, is Managing Director of the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto

Increased Payments to Holocaust Survivors Announced

Oct. 26, 2020

Faced with continuing COVID hardships, Holocaust survivors, including those in Canada, will see a rise in their benefits from Germany.

The increases were announced this month by the New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, or the Claims Conference.

They result from the organization’s most recent negotiations with the German government on behalf of Holocaust survivors.

A statement from the Claims Conference to the CJR notes that there are currently 1,600 survivors in Canada who receive pensions from Germany that are administered by the Claims Conference. The current benefit of €513 (CAD $800) per month will increase to €580 (CAD $900) a month as of Jan. 1, 2021.

The most recent negotiations also resulted in two supplemental payments, each of €1,200 (about CAD $1,860), for survivors eligible under the conference’s Hardship Fund. The payments will be made in each of the next two years, for a total of €2,400 (CAD $3,725).

The Claims Conference estimates that approximately 5,000 Holocaust survivors in Canada will be eligible for supplemental payments under the Hardship Fund.

Additionally, the German government will directly provide to spouses of so-called BEG payment recipients who died after Jan. 1, 2020, and do not get a BEG spouse pension, a “transitional payment” of up to nine months. Some residents of Canada qualify for this program.

As for funds the Conference allocates to Jewish social service agencies in Canada for the welfare of Holocaust survivors, “we are assessing needs now and will have a final result by year’s end,” said a spokesperson.

For 2020, the Conference allocated over CAD $37 million for homecare, food, medicine, transportation, programs to alleviate social isolation, and other services. The recent negotiations resulted in a €30.5 million increase (approximately CDN $47 million) over last year in funding for social welfare services for Holocaust survivors.

“These increased benefits achieved by the hard work of our negotiation’s delegation during these unprecedented times will help our efforts to ensure dignity and stability in survivors’ final years,” said Gideon Taylor, President of the Claims Conference.

The COVID pandemic “has adversely affected the elderly, and survivors have faced an onslaught of health, emotional, and financial hurdles,” the Conference stated in a recent news release.

The Conference estimates that approximately 240,000 survivors will be eligible for these additional payments. The largest populations reside in Israel, North America, the former Soviet Union, and Western Europe.

In the negotiations with the Claims Conference, the German government agreed to expand the categories of survivors receiving direct compensation. Specifically, Germany accepted the results of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum regarding “open ghettos” in Bulgaria and the report from Yad Vashem on “open ghettos” in Romania, which together recognized 27 specific places as ghettos, thus enabling survivors of those places to receive compensation payments.

Loss of American Dream Bodes Ill for Jews: Atlantic Editor

Oct. 19, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL – The weakening of American democracy and status of the United States globally is “bad for the Jews,” whose flourishing has been tied to the country’s founding ideals, says Jeffrey Goldberg, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic magazine.

Jeffrey Goldberg
Jeffrey Goldberg

The influential journalist offered a bleak assessment of the state of America in a virtual lecture hosted by Congregation Shaar Hashomayim on Oct. 13, and he placed the blame squarely on President Donald Trump.

Trump’s mishandling of the COVID crisis has not only been disastrous for Americans, but accelerated the United States’ waning prestige in the eyes of its allies and those who hold it as a model, Goldberg said.

“The last four years have been a slow-rolling catastrophe that has profound consequences for the world…I think it is too early to say that America is in a kind of decline, but it is on a downward slope and headed to a bad place if we are not careful,” he said.

Undemocratic China, Russia and Iran are moving in to fill the vacuum left by the U.S.’s retreat from dominance, he said, and these countries are not “models of good behaviour.”

The trend is “not irreversible,” though Goldberg stopped short of predicting the outcome of the Nov. 3 election.

If Democratic candidate Joe Biden wins, Goldberg’s advice to him is to first get control of the coronavirus. “We will have no respect in the world unless we do that.”

Then, Biden should set about repairing the country’s reputation by going to its friends and essentially apologizing for what had been a “weird” episode in American history, he thinks.

The U.S. can and should resume its “exceptional role” in the world, Goldberg believes.

“Trump could have coasted to re-election if he had taken the virus seriously and gotten it under control,” he said. Instead, Goldberg regrets that his country has been “a sad joke over the past four years.”

The U.S. is accustomed to sometimes being hated or feared, but not to being “pitied” as it is today, especially in Europe, said Goldberg, who finds it shocking that a country so advanced could account for one-fifth of the world’s COVID deaths but only 4.25 percent of the population.

The situation is particularly worrisome for Goldberg because the “American dream is very much intertwined with the Jewish dream,” and the loss of the former puts the future of the latter in doubt.

“Historically, extremism and polarization have been bad for the Jews,’’ he said. The bitter fracturing between the political right and left, and the pitting of racial groups against each other do not bode well for the community, Goldberg said.

Trump, whom he called a racist and xenophobe, became president because he appealed to white reactionaries frightened by the change in the country’s racial makeup.

American Jewry represents almost half of the world’s Jewish population, he pointed out. A diminished U.S. is also not good for Israel, for which the United States has been a “blessing,’’ he added.

Even Jews in Canada are affected, he suggested.

“The Canadian Jewish community is unusually unified and organized, but it is still small. It benefits from having happy, secure brethren to the south.”

Goldberg was praised for being “fiercely courageous” by Lewis Dobrin, co-chair of the Shaar’s Tuesday Night Learning series, of which this talk was a part. He referred to Goldberg’s “bombshell” article in The Atlantic in September reporting that Trump had called American war dead “losers” and “suckers” during a 2018 visit to a French military cemetery – a report the president vehemently denied.

Colder Weather Calls for Warming Soups

Oct. 17, 2020 

By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

Shabbat Shalom and welcome to “Kitchen Talk,” the weekly food blog of the CJR. The High Holidays are over, the weather is changing, and COVID case numbers in Toronto are on the rise, so I’m bracing for a long and not very social winter.

We had what was probably our last family dinner for a while on Thanksgiving. We ate lunch in the backyard, wearing our jackets to stay warm.

With the colder weather starting, I’ve also been in the mood for warming foods like hardy soups and starchy side-dishes. Comfort food may be good for the soul, but maybe not so good for the hips.

The recipes I’ve chosen this week are hardy and healthy. The three soup recipes can be easily paired with salad or some fresh bread for a complete meal.

Cookbook author and national food columnist Bonnie Stern shared some lovely fall recipes in her latest newsletter at: http://foodnews.bonniestern.com.

I tried the Lentil Squash Soup, which was delicious. As a garnish, I used parsley from my garden instead of cilantro.

The Thai Coconut Soup comes from The Living Kitchen: Healing Recipes to Support Your Body During Cancer Treatments and Recovery by Tamara Green and Sarah Grossman.

I found the Mushroom Cauliflower Soup recipe in The Silver Platter Simple Elegance: Effortless Recipes with Sophisticated Results. This cookbook was written by Daniella Silver, with tips and techniques by the late food maven Norene Gilletz.

LENTIL SQUASH SOUP Bonnie Stern

2 tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 onion or leek (trimmed and well-cleaned), chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 inch (3 cm) piece fresh ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
1 tsp (5 ml) curry paste
1½ lbs (650 g) winter squash (e.g. butternut, buttercup, acorn, kabocha), peeled and cut into about 1-inch (2½ cm) chunks, approximately 4–5 cups (1¼ L)
¼ cup (60 ml) red lentils
4 cups (1 L) water (or vegetable broth) + more if necessary
1 tsp (5 ml) kosher salt plus more to taste
1 tbsp (15 ml) lime or lemon juice
½ cup (125 ml) coconut milk or whipping cream, divided (optional)

Gently cook the onions or leeks and garlic in olive oil until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger and curry paste and cook for 1–2 minutes.

Add the squash and lentils and combine well. Add the water or broth and bring to a boil. Add salt. Cook 25–30 minutes until the squash is very tender and the soup has thickened.

Puree the soup with an immersion blender or food processor or blender. Return the soup to the heat and stir in the lime juice and half the coconut milk or cream. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

To serve, top the soup with pumpkin seeds, cilantro and a drizzle of the remaining coconut milk or cream. Makes 6 servings.

THAI COCONUT SOUP Tamara Green and Sarah Grossman

1 tbsp (15 ml) virgin coconut oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1½ inches (4 cm) ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1½ cups (375 ml) de-stemmed, cleaned and chopped brown cremini mushrooms
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
14 oz (398 ml) can full-fat coconut milk
3 cups (750 ml) chicken, bone or vegetable broth
1 cup (250 ml) snow peas, sliced in half lengthwise
¼ cup (60 ml) fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1 lime, juiced
2 tsp (10 ml) tamari

Optional proteins: 2 small chicken breasts, or 1 cup (250 ml) cubed organic tofu, or 2 5-oz (140 g) portions of cod.

Place a large pot over medium heat and add the coconut oil and the onions. Sauté the onions for 5 minutes, or until translucent and soft. Add the ginger, garlic, mushrooms, carrots and red peppers and sauté for 3 minutes.

Pour in the coconut milk and broth. Add the optional proteins. Cover the pot, bring to a boil and simmer for 25 minutes, or until the vegetables and protein are cooked. Add the snow peas and simmer for 2 more minutes.

If chicken or cod is included, remove from the broth, shred or flake into small pieces and put back into the soup. Garnish with fresh cilantro, lime juice and tamari. Serve hot. Makes 4–5 servings.

MUSHROOM CAULIFLOWER SOUP Daniella Silver

1–2 tbsp (15–30) oil
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced, about 2 tsp (10 ml)
6 cups (1½ L) button mushrooms, sliced
1 large head cauliflower, cored, cut into small florets
6 cups (1½ L) water or vegetable broth
2 tsp (10 ml) kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp (5 ml) minced fresh thyme leaves, plus additional whole thyme leaves, for garnish.

Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic; sauté for 6–8 minutes, or until softened. Add the mushrooms; sauté for 5 minutes longer, until softened. Stir in the cauliflower, water, salt, pepper, and thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, stirring occasionally and simmer partially covered for 30–40 minutes, or until the cauliflower has softened.

Cool slightly. Using an immersion blender, process the soup until smooth. If the soup is too thick, add a little water or broth.

Adjust the seasonings to taste. Garnish with additional thyme leaves. Makes 8 servings.

Second COVID Wave Hits Montreal Jewish Community

Oct. 15, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—The surge in COVID in Quebec is affecting the Montreal Jewish community no less seriously than the rest of the population.

The impact of a record number of new cases in the province is clearly seen in Jewish schools. Hebrew Academy is the second day school that has had to close temporarily because of an outbreak of the coronavirus, and Akiva School was added to the rapidly growing list of schools in Quebec that have cases.

Hebrew Academy switched both its elementary and high school to online learning at home until Oct. 19 after “a number” of people at the school tested positive, the administration informed parents.

Hebrew Academy, located in Cote St. Luc, said it took the decision “preventatively” in collaboration with the Montreal public health department, and will reassess the situation after the 14-day shutdown.

After three infected students were found at Akiva, an elementary school in Westmount next door to Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, two classes were sent home to learn remotely for the quarantine period. Head of School Rabbi Eric Grossman told the school community that the source of the outbreak is “directly linked to community spread (not school spread).”

Herzliah High School was the first Jewish school to record positive cases, and had to close on Sept. 17 for two weeks when the number grew to at least 15 students and one teacher. It was the first school in Quebec to have to take that measure.

Other schools that have had confirmed cases are Talmud Torah, Beth Rivkah Academy, Solomon Schechter Academy, and Yechiva Yavné, as well as the Yaldei School for children with special needs.

As of Oct. 10, the independent website covidecolesquebec.org listed 941 schools in the province that had at least one confirmed COVID case since the start of the school year.

There are other indications that the incidence of COVID is rising in Montreal’s Jewish community, which remains under the province’s highest alert until at least Oct. 28. This trend is despite strenuous efforts to adhere to COVID containment regulations, which was especially challenging over the three-week High Holiday period.

A six-storey mural paying tribute to health-care workers during the COVID crisis was inaugurated at the Jewish General Hospital in September, with support from the consular corps in Montreal, including Israel. (CIUSSS West-Central Montreal photo)

Cote St. Luc, a city of 34,000, the majority Jewish, is being red-flagged by the Montreal public health department after new cases went from 45 between Sept. 22-28, to 63 from Sept. 29-Oct. 5, even though it has been probably the most pro-active municipality since the outset of the pandemic.

Citing the many older residents, numerous religious and long-term care institutions, and residential density, Cote St. Luc’s city council declared a state of emergency in March and, in June, was the first jurisdiction in the province to require face coverings in indoor public spaces and to reduce gatherings to 10.

Mayor Mitchell Brownstein is now asking Quebec to permit the city to extend the mask regulation to common areas of apartments and condominiums.

The borough of Outremont currently has the highest per capita number of COVID cases on the island of Montreal, and public health officials say they are working closely with the Hasidic community that lives there to ensure adherence to the rules.

However, the Council of Hasidic Jews of Quebec, which stresses compliance with government guidelines, thinks the uptick in the last few weeks only parallels what is happening in Montreal as a whole and can’t be termed an outbreak.

COVID has been brought under control in the two major Jewish nursing homes. Jewish Eldercare Centre had an outbreak in March and April of over 50 cases.

Maimonides Geriatric Centre, starting in April, would see a third of its 380 residents contract the virus and 39 die from it. It was one of the facilities that the Canadian Armed Forces was sent to this summer to ease the staff shortage.

The personal devastation of COVID is recounted by acclaimed cellist Denis Brott, who continues to recover from a near-fatal bout. His first public performance after 3-1/2 months of rehabilitation was at Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom, where he played the Max Bruch melody on Kol Nidre.

He spoke then for the first time about his ordeal. After returning to Montreal in mid-March from concerts in Europe, Brott, 69, became extremely ill. He spent 45 days in hospital – 32 of them on a ventilator in an induced coma.

He suffered complications involving the kidneys and liver. 

By his release on May 4, he had lost 25 kilos, and could barely stand, let alone walk. He had nightmares and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Perhaps worst of all, severe neuropathy in his hands prevented him from playing his instrument.

To get to where he could again perform the beloved Yom Kippur prayer “took resolve I did not know I had,” said the founder and artistic director of the annual Montreal Chamber Music Festival. “…Losing what I love and finding it again has been somewhat miraculous.”

Police Break Up Hasidic Gathering in Quebec

Oct. 14, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—Police broke up a large gathering prohibited under COVID public health rules in the Hasidic Tosh community north of Montreal during a Simchat Torah celebration the evening of Oct. 10.

One person was arrested obstructing a police officer and 16 citations of more than $1,500 each for public health violations were issued as a result of the intervention at a synagogue in Kiryas Tosh, an enclave of over 3,000 in the municipality of Boisbriand, in Quebec’s lower Laurentians.

The area is in the “red zone,” the province’s highest alert level, and houses of worship are limited to 25 socially-distanced people at a time.

In response to notification from neighbours, and at the request of the Laurentian public health department, the regional police force of Thérèse-de Blainville, reinforced by the provincial Sureté du Québec, went to the synagogue. They found about 400 people for a festive conclusion of the High Holidays.

According to news reports, the police asked the organizers to have the building vacated. The departures attracted hundreds more community members to the scene on the street, possibly up to 1,000. Many wore masks, but physical distancing was not strictly observed.

The man arrested was later released.

The incident was denounced by the umbrella Council of Hasidic Jews of Quebec. In a statement, the Montreal-based body said it “greatly regrets what happened in Boisbriand. It should not have taken place. These were not the instructions given to the leadership of the community. We ask that the protocols be respected.”

The council had attempted to head off such a gathering earlier in the day, without success, for reasons unclear.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs-Quebec also deplored the event on Twitter.

“The Jewish community appeals once again to the Boisbriand community to fully conform to the health directives…Numerous Jewish institutions in Montreal have done everything possible to conform and, in numerous cases, surpassed the directives and recommendations in the fight against COVID. We ask the leaders of the Tosh community to follow our example and see that their members conform to all directives…for the well-being of their community and the greater public.”

At an Oct. 13 press conference, Health Minister Christian Dubé commended the police for how they handled a “delicate” situation.

“I believe that our police did an incredible work” in dispersing people, Dubé said. “It was done correctly and succeeded in avoiding the worst because there may be infections there but it could have been still worse.”

He said it appeared that people from outside Quebec were among those at the gathering.

Premier Francois Legault also lauded the police for how they acted and the citizens who brought the situation to the authorities’ attention.

The entire Tosh community was placed under a month-long quarantine at the beginning of the pandemic in March. The measure was requested by its leaders after an outbreak, which was attributed to members returning from New York, where they had participated in Purim celebrations.

Eventually, 70 community members tested positive, but none required hospitalization.

Meanwhile, users of Facebook in Outremont, home of the majority of Quebec’s Hasidim, are receiving ads sponsored by a group called Démocratie Outremont that “wrongly target, blame and shame” Hasidim for an increase in COVID cases, tweeted Sarah Dorner, who is active in promoting intercultural harmony in the area.

Why My Uncle Died

Oct. 9, 2020

The riots and violence in Brooklyn ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhoods over pandemic regulations have been watched closely around the world. The CJR has received the following submission from the heart of Brooklyn.

By DOVID TEITELBAUM

My uncle, Moshe Teitelbaum, Z”L, just passed away after suffering from COVID.

Teitelbaum’s Family History

My uncle was the most decent, caring person you have ever met. He was my father’s older brother, but unlike my father, he kept more of a private life. He excelled at every subject. He loved all the sciences. He was a computer programmer by profession. He was a brilliant writer, and it’s because of him that we have the stories of my family history, in a three-volume book that he left for us.

Yet despite his academic genius, he was the most humble person you ever met. He was a talmid chacham, never missing a day learning with his chavrusa, and spent his vacation time learning in Lakewood’s Yarchei Kalla. He was a partner with my father in creating Torah Communication Network, but his name is nowhere to be found. He was more honest than honesty itself. He was a walking kiddush Hashem, and like a true Teitelbaum, he did what he thought was right no matter what anybody said. The last time I met him in person was on Purim as we delivered Mishloach Manos to his house in Boro Park. Feels like an eternity.

But let’s get something clear…

He didn’t die because of antisemitism. Or because New York Governor Andrew Coumo is inept or because New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is a hypocrite.

He didn’t die in an unfortunate accident.

He didn’t die because we were left in the dark. We were informed, we were warned, multiple times.

He didn’t die because of other complications – he was a healthy old man.

He died because many of our rabonim, leaders and askonim are too afraid or lazy to do their damn jobs.

He died because Boro Park, N.Y., where I grew up, is now run by the mob and not by rabbis.

He died because he had so much respect for daas torah that he believed them while they downplayed the seriousness of the virus.

He died because we were completely negligent.

He died because it was more important to say tehilim for Donald Trump than it was to care for the health of our elders.

He died because “the virus doesn’t kill 99 percent” and he was part of the one percent.

He died because “everyone already had it” when he clearly didn’t have it.

He died because “everyone has antibodies” and “it’s fake news” and “nobody can take our freedoms away.”

He died because our shuls and simcha halls were acting irresponsibly.

He died because we were just too lazy to put on a simple mask to protect one another.

He died because we are a stubborn people, but sometimes we are stubborn for the wrong reasons.

He died because G-d decided it was his time. Baruch Dayan HaEmes

Feel free to share if it helps spread awareness. May this suffering come to an end quickly.


Dovid Teitelbaum of Brooklyn, N.Y. is the son of Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum, Z”L, founder of Camp Sdei Chemed International and Torah Communications, among many other accomplishments; and grandson of Harav Avraham Yaakov Teitelbaum, ZT”L, Rav in Kew Gardens, Queens, and manhig ruchani of Camp Agudah for many years.

Editorial: Joining Together to Battle Hate

Oct. 6, 2020

Mainstream Jewish and Muslim organizations join human rights groups, anti-hate communities, and peace and labour organizations, all working toward one goal. Impossible?

The joining of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) with the National Council of Canadian Muslims and two dozen other faith-based and ethno-cultural groups might have once seemed a lofty goal, perhaps even unattainable.

And then came a maelstrom: Nazis and white supremacists openly rallying in the United States; murders at mosques and synagogues; right-wing extremist attacks in Canadian cities; reports by experts of hundreds of new hate groups in Canada; and, of course, COVID.

The world changed in the blink of an eye. It became a much more dangerous place, especially if you are Muslim, Jewish, Asian, LGBTQ+, or a person of colour.

Police, of course, investigate crime, but still seem to find it difficult to wrap their heads around hate crime. While anti-hate laws exist, they are rarely invoked, and when they are, investigations can take an incredibly long time. For example, the conviction of those behind Your Ward News, a hateful, antisemitic, misogynistic publication, took five years from the date of the first complaint against it. This was unacceptable for targeted groups.

No amount of group advocacy moved the needle. Indeed, things got worse. Reports began to circulate that the Canadian military harboured numerous recruits who were members of well-known hate groups or had been recently radicalized online. A new political party, the Canadian National Party – racist, deeply antisemitic, and parroting Nazi rhetoric of emptying Canada of Jews – was accorded official party status, allowing it to issue tax receipts for charitable deductions.

Then, just a few weeks ago, Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, a caretaker at a downtown Toronto mosque, was brutally murdered while monitoring those entering the building. The Canadian Anti-Hate Network (chaired by CJR publisher Bernie Farber) revealed that the alleged killer has ties to a satanic neo-Nazi organization.

And still no action from any level of government.

Mustafa Farooq, the newly minted executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), decided to do something. Farooq called upon civil society players, through their organizations, to come together and demand better, demand protection, demand change.

As a result, a “Call to Action” was organized by Mustafa through the offices of NCCM. A myriad of human rights groups and faith communities have now signed on to a public letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (found here).

The World Sikh Organization, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Amnesty International, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Federation of Students, the Baha’i community of Canada, and the African Canadian National Council, are just some of the 26 signatories. Individually, some of these groups don’t play well together in the sandbox, but here, all have recognized the danger by speaking in one loud voice.

These Canadians are demanding from their government that the hundreds of white supremacist, alt right, and neo-Nazi groups be disbanded; for better legal tools, including improved use of anti-terrorism laws for domestic hate groups; better enforcement of laws for social media sites to ensure heavy fines against platforms like Facebook, Twitter, TikTok for disseminating hate, and much more. Civil society, now joined in all its facets, has had enough.

Sukkot Will be Very Different With Montreal on High COVID Alert

Police Visits of Synagogues Were ‘Respectful’, Jewish Schools Report More COVID Cases

Oct. 2, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL— There will be no sukkah-hopping in Montreal this year as the city and surrounding region began a 28-day partial lockdown on Oct. 1 in an attempt to stem a rapid increase in new COVID cases.

Having visitors at one’s home, whether indoors or out, is prohibited during this period of the province’s highest alert, colour-coded red, in force until Oct. 28.

This means participation in any Sukkot celebrations is limited to those residing at that address. No guests allowed.

Police have been granted extra powers to enforce the law. While they are not permitted to make random checks, they can call at homes where they have reason to believe a violation is taking place, Premier François Legault said.

If the occupant does not provide access, police can obtain a “remote warrant” quickly to enter the premises.

Simchat Torah festivities will also be curtailed, as synagogues – as with all houses of worship – continuing with permission to admit a maximum of 25 people at a time.

Celebrations cannot be held in outdoor public spaces, like parks, either, as social gatherings there are banned as well. Those residing in the red zone are also dissuaded from moving activities to an “orange” zone, the alert level just below red – the Laurentians, for example.

Montreal was designated “orange” on Sept. 20, just as Rosh Hashanah was concluding, meaning synagogues were suddenly subject to the 25-person limit, slashed from the socially-distanced 250 that had been in place since Aug. 3 for all houses of worship.

Some synagogues cancelled in-person Yom Kippur services entirely, including Montreal’s largest, Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, which provided members with a guide to observance at home, a variety of pre-recorded online offerings, and a livestreamed Neilah ceremony. Most Montreal synagogues are Orthodox and could not use technology during the holy days.

Rabbi Poupko

Rabbi Reuben Poupko, co-chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs-Quebec and spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel Beth Aaron, said the community worked with the police before the holidays to ensure they would comply with the rules.

The 25-person limit, of which he had been critical, is more flexible than initially understood, Rabbi Poupko said. More than one group of up to 25 at one time is possible if synagogues have rooms with a separate and exclusive access to the street, he explained. Curtains, he added, cannot be barriers.

Large tents have also extended capacity. Weddings and funerals, wherever they take place, must also keep to the 25 threshold. (Reception halls are closed during these 28 days.)

This co-operation worked well, Rabbi Poupko told the CJR, and several synagogues in Cote St. Luc, Hampstead and Outremont were visited by police on Yom Kippur, but in a “respectful and dignified” manner.

“From everyone I’ve spoken to, the experience was very positive,” he said.

Rabbi Poupko rejected a claim by Berel Solomon, in a video posted online, that Solomon’s shul, the Beth Chabad Cote St. Luc, was “raided” by police near the end of services, and worshippers were “forced to disband” and chased on the street by police cruisers.

Solomon said all the guidelines were followed, and “no explanation” was given by police for the intervention. He claims at least seven other synagogues were “raided,” and deplored that, since the start of the pandemic, the Jewish community has been subject to “unprecedented harassment by the media and police.”

Rabbi Poupko would not comment publicly on the specifics of this incident, but said Solomon’s characterizations do not align with other evidence.

Meanwhile, four more Jewish day schools have reported at least one case of COVID among students or staff, although none have closed. The latest is Beth Rivkah Academy for girls, which informed parents that two students who are sisters tested positive and, as a result, all students in a grade 3 and a grade 5 class were sent home.

Earlier, Solomon Schechter Academy, an elementary school, reported a case among an unidentified staff member, but judged the risk of transmission “very low” as that person always wore a mask.

Yechiva Yavné told parents a janitor’s positive test also posed little risk to students because he did not have contact with them.

Similarly, Hebrew Academy informed its community that an infected “individual” in its high school “poses a minimal risk to students and faculty.” Parents were asked to monitor any symptoms exhibited by their children.

Additionally, the Yaldei School for children with special needs identified one case.

All schools are acting in co-operation with the Montreal public health department.

Herzliah High School, the first Jewish school affected by the virus, along with its elementary Talmud Torah, is scheduled to reopen Oct. 5 after a two-week closure necessitated by a significant outbreak among students.

As of Oct. 1, covidecolesquebec.org, which crowdsources and verifies information from parents, schools and others, listed 642 schools in the province that have had at least one confirmed case since the start of the academic year.

The Fall Harvest Offers Plenty of Delicious Options For Sukkot

Oct. 2, 2020 – By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

Shabbat Shalom and chag samayach. Welcome to “Kitchen Talk,” the weekly food blog of the CJR. Tonight is Erev Sukkot; the week-long holiday, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, commemorates the years the Jewish people spent in the desert after the exodus from Egypt and celebrates God’s protection during that time.

Usually, eating outdoors is a novelty, but Sukkot this year will be a continuation of what many of us have been doing for most of the summer due to the pandemic. Dining al fresco with family and friends has been a safe way to observe the holidays and special occasions during COVID.

Amy Stopnicki, the award winning cookbook author and food blogger (@amyskoshertaste; she has 17,000 followers) said that many of the dishes she serves on Sukkot utilize seasonal produce.

“Sukkot is the beginning of the fall harvest and ‘thanks giving,’” she said. “Traditionally I serve a ‘thanks giving’ dinner. I’m very much into the seasonal foods.”

While her sukkah can accommodate 15-20 people, she’ll be hosting fewer people this year. “The guests will be limited, but I’ll be maintaining the tradition.”

With COVID, Stopnicki, said she does not serve food on big platters, family style, when she invites people outside her immediate family.

“I’m plating the food and bringing it out on individual plates. I want everyone to be comfortable. I also think individually plated meals are more festive.”

She said she usually includes a side of green vegetables, like green beans or Brussels sprouts, to balance the fall colours on the plate (green, she pointed out, is a complementary colour.) Stopnicki created a calendar with 13 recipes and 14 photographs for Savours Fresh Market.

She is generously sharing three of her favourite Sukkot recipes here: Maple Glazed Turkey Breast and Pumpkin Loaf can be found in her award-winning cookbook Kosher Taste: Plan Prepare Plate. The Pomegranate Salad recipe is on her Web site, amystopnicki.com.

MAPLE GLAZED TURKEY BREAST Amy Stopnicki

Maple glazed Turkey Breast
Photo Michelle Manzoni

½ cup (125 ml) maple syrup
½ cup (125 ml) plum sauce
¼ cup (60 ml) canola oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 lbs (500–1000 g) turkey breast, bone-in, skin-on

Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C).

In a mixing bowl, combine the maple syrup, plum sauce, oil, onion, salt and pepper. Pour the mixture over the turkey breast and let it marinate at room temperature for 30–40 minutes.

Transfer the turkey to a baking pan and cover. Bake in the preheated oven for 2½ hours. Remove the cover and continue cooking for another 30–40 minutes, basting every 10 minutes or until the top of the turkey is golden brown. Let cool before slicing. Makes 6 servings. 

MULTIGRAIN POMEGRANATE SALAD Amy Stopnicki

2/3 cup (200 ml) cooked quinoa
2/3 cup (200 ml) cooked brown rice
2/3 cup (200 ml) cooked lentils
1/3 cup (100 ml) pomegranate seeds
1 cup (250 ml) roasted sweet potatoes, cut into ½ inch (1½ cm) cubes
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp (30 ml) olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl combine the quinoa, brown rice, lentils, pomegranate seeds and garlic. Add the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Makes 4–6 servings.

PUMPKIN LOAF Amy Stopnicki

1½ cups (325 ml) flour
2/3 cup (200 ml) sugar
1 tsp (5 ml) baking powder
1 tsp (5 ml) baking soda
1 tsp (5 ml) cinnamon
½ tsp (2½ ml) ground ginger
1/3 cup (100 ml) canola oil
2 eggs
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract
1 cup (250 ml) pumpkin purée
1/3 cup (100 ml) water
2 tbsp (30 ml) roasted sunflower seeds 
2 tbsp (30 ml)roasted pumpkin seeds

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and ground ginger in a medium-sized mixing bowl.

Add the oil, eggs, vanilla, pumpkin purée, and water and mix until combined.

Pour the mixture into a greased loaf pan and top with the sunflower and pumpkin seeds.

Bake for 40–50 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Makes 8–10 servings.

Dr. Rachel Pearl: Keeping Kids Safe at School

Sept. 29, 2020 – By SUSAN MINUK

It has been just a few weeks since most students have returned to the classroom under the looming threat of COVID. Teachers and kids alike are navigating new rules, from cohort education, social distancing, hand sanitizing, and the use of masks.

Dr. Rachel Pearl
Dr. Rachel Pearl

Dr. Rachel Pearl works as a pediatric nephrologist at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, and as a general pediatrician and nephrologist in the William Osler Health System at Brampton Civic Hospital. Dr. Pearl spoke with the CJR about kids physically attending school and how best to keep them safe.

Is it safe for a child to be in school?

It’s perfectly safe. A lot of kids during the last six months in quarantine have become very depressed, anxious and restless. There are also some kids who are not going to learn well online because they’re not motivated, or they have a learning disability or an attention problem. 

Yet, for some families, learning online is a really good option. But if I had to choose, I would send my child to school.

The burden of disease in children from COVID has been extremely low in terms of what we see at SickKids.

Should kids get a flu vaccine?

I strongly recommend it. Even though we know that it might be safe and effective [only] for 60 or 70 percent of children, we still recommend it.

Are children less likely to be sick with COVID?

So far, since school has started, I have not seen one admitted school age patient with COVID. 

How do we minimize or prevent its transmission in schools?

Students need to wash their hands before they eat and after, and periodically throughout the day. We have to teach this to them and I think that is something the school can make part of its day. 

Anyone who can wear a mask should be asked to wear one, whether the school is mandating it or not. For the younger children, if they can tolerate a mask, let them wear a mask. 

We should be limiting our bubble when the kids are outside of school to protect elderly parents and grandparents. Those are the ones who need to be protected.

Is there a way to ensure children wear their mask properly?

If the mask looks like it’s comfortable for the child and it seems to cover their mouth and nose, then it’s being worn properly. We have to teach them that when they take the mask off, to touch it by the loops as opposed to in the middle.

How do we encourage smart behaviour?

We recommend layers of protection: hand washing, mask wearing, flu vaccination, and common sense. I think Canadians in general are very compliant and are appropriately concerned, far more than our neighbours to the south. And that’s why we have done a better job at containing this.

Are classrooms of more than 20 students too large to protect children?

Not if they have the space to spread the kids out. We are always looking at the risks of kids not being in school versus the kids being in school. If we had an ideal world, we would have smaller class sizes, bigger schools and better ventilation. If I were the parent of a kid in a class of 25, I would send them to school. I think the risk to them is extremely low.

How can parents protect children if they must take a school bus?

The children are hopefully staying seated and belted and spread out as much as possible. And they should be sitting with kids in their cohort. Students should wear a mask and open their window. 

This is a confusing time for many students. How do we validate kids’ feelings?

They need to know that there is a bad virus out there right now. Kids understand about people getting sick. What they should know is that this is only temporary, and we have to manage this now. But it’s not forever.

Students should be encouraged to express their feelings. If they are anxious or worried, that should be acknowledged, not dismissed. Some kids have become overly worried, especially kids who have the tendency to be anxious or have anxious thoughts. It’s really hard for those kids to switch their thinking, and they have to find ways of distracting their thinking when they feel overwhelmed and sad. I recommend parents make a playlist of songs on their iPad or a watch a video that makes them laugh or smile.

Some children have underlying health problems. Should they stay home?

SickKids has really good guidelines online about going back to school. It is pretty rare there is a kid who really should not go to school. It’s usually someone who is very immune- suppressed or has had a recent transplant or is undergoing therapy for cancer. 

Children with asthma should be going to school. We haven’t seen evidence that children with asthma are worse off if they get COVID. We didn’t see it with the first wave and we still haven’t seen it. There is usually an asthma surge in the middle of September because kids go back to school and share viruses. We haven’t seen the surge yet, maybe because everyone is wearing a mask or maybe because half the people are not back. I don’t know what this winter will bring.

What should a parent do if their child becomes ill at school?

A lot of schools will have public health nurses assigned to them and they will be able to provide advice. No parent will be forced to get their kid tested for COVID, but if your child is sick and you don’t test them, you will be required to stay home for two weeks and self-quarantine.

Has the impact of COVID damaged kids’ mental health?

Families have struggled. People have lost their jobs or the way they work has changed. Some parents’ field of work has become obsolete. There is a big trickle-down effect to the kids who are dealing with parents who are very stressed out and not always in a good place. 

I think it does affect the children. I don’t think there is any way to protect them from that. I am seeing more anxiety and more psychosomatic symptoms, like kids with headaches and abdominal pain that come out when people are not feeling good in their mental health. It overflows into their body, for sure.

The lack of physical activity has also contributed to their mental wellbeing. Some kids have been inside because parents are scared, and they haven’t been allowed to do sports or play outside or even ride a bike. Exercise is so vital for kids’ mental health.

By being back at school, we are giving kids structure and hope that things will go back to normal. This is the way forward. 

Break Fast Will Be A Tasty But Small Gathering This Year

Sept. 25, 2020 – By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

Shabbat Shalom and welcome to “Kitchen Talk,” the weekly food blog of the CJR. The pandemic has certainly changed the way we observe the High Holy Days. While many synagogues were nearly empty, several congregations attempted to bring the service to the people by blowing shofars in parks and parking lots across the GTA.

I ended up hosting an impromptu Rosh Hashanah dinner, al fresco, because at the last minute, my sister and I decided our numbers were too high for the whole family to celebrate safely together.

She gave me her extra brisket and I brought her challahs from the iconic Harbord Bakery, which has been supplying challahs, rye bread and other traditional fare since 1928.

Harbord Bakery is the focus of this week’s Community Spotlight, an occasional “Kitchen Talk” feature on how Canadian Jewish food entrepreneurs and chefs are faring during COVID.

My sister will not be hosting her annual big, break fast gathering this year, so I’ll be preparing a dairy meal for my immediate family. I’m planning to make Stuck-Pot Rice with Lentils and Yogurt, a delicious vegan recipe from Smitten Kitchen: https://smittenkitchen.com/2014/02/stuck-pot-rice-with-lentils-and-yogurt/

I’ll also serve my sister’s signature break-fast dish – blintz soufflé. The recipe I use is from the 1993 edition of Kinnereth Cookbook published by Toronto Hadassah-WIZO. 

I found a recipe for Apple Charlotte, in Second Helpings, Please!, the storied community cookbook edited by the late Norene Gilletz and published by B’nai Brith Canada.

Apple Charlotte is comprised of a buttered baked bread shell filled with spiced sautéed apples. The recipe was probably devised in an era when every scrap of food, including stale bread, was utilized. The Second Helpings recipe calls for sliced white bread, but I made mine with leftover challah. I also increased the amount of sugar and added cinnamon and lemon juice.

Yom Kippur observance may be different from years past, but adaptability has always been the strength of the Jewish people. G’mar Tov and may you have an easy fast.

STUCK-POT RICE WITH LENTILS AND YOGURT

Stuck-Pot Rice with Lentils. Photo Barbara Silverstein

Salt
1 cup (250 ml) lentils washed and picked over
1½ cups (375 ml) basmati rice, rinsed well
¼ cup (60 ml) olive oil, divided
1 large onion, thinly sliced
¼ cup (60 ml) yogurt or kefir
2 tbsp (30 ml) lemon juice, plus additional wedges for serving
1/3 (90 ml) cup water
2 tsp (10 ml) cumin
1 bay leaf
Freshly ground black pepper or pepper flakes
Chopped flat leaf parsley, cilantro or mint for garnish

Using one pot for the full process, boil the lentils in salted water for five minutes. Then add the rice and boil the mixture for another five minutes without stirring. Drain the mixture and place it in a large bowl.

Reheat the same pot with 2 tbsp (30 ml) oil. Once it is hot, add the onions and salt, stirring until they are caramelized, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Add the onions to the bowl with rice and lentils. Stir in the kefir or yogurt, lemon juice, water, cumin, pepper, bay leaf, plus additional salt to taste.

Heat the pot over medium heat. Once fully hot, add the remaining 2 tbsp (30 ml) oil and pour in the rice-lentil mixture. Wrap a clean kitchen towel over the inside of the pot lid, so it is closed firmly. (Gather the corners of the cloth, so it doesn’t reach the fire!) Place the lid on the pot, sealing it tightly.

Reduce the heat to very low. Cook the rice mixture undisturbed for 30 minutes. Check it maybe once, to ensure the rice is not burning. 

Remove the pot from the heat, and let it rest for 5 minutes, before eating. Makes 4 – 6 servings

BLINTZ SOUFFLE

18 assorted frozen blintzes – cherry, blueberry, cheese
5 tbsp (75 ml) butter
6 eggs
2¼ cups (550 ml) sour cream
1½ tsp (7 ml) vanilla
1½ tbsp (25 ml) orange juice
1/3 cup (90 ml) granulated sugar
½ tsp (2 ml) salt
½ tsp (2 ml) cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180 °C)

Melt the butter in a 9 x 13-inch ( 3.5 L) baking dish. Lay the frozen blintzes in the pan.

In a large bowl combine the eggs, sour cream, vanilla, juice, sugar, and salt using a stand mixer, hand beater or immersion blender. Pour the egg and cream mixture over the blintzes. Sprinkle with cinnamon. 

Bake 1 hour in the preheated oven. Serve hot. Makes 9 – 10 servings

APPLE CHARLOTTE

6 slices of white bread or challah
½ lb (225 g) butter, divided
6 tart apples, peeled, pared & quartered
1 tbsp (15 ml) vanilla
½ cup (125 ml) sugar
½ tsp (3 ml) cinnamon
1 tbsp (15 ml) lemon

Whipped Cream Garnish (Optional) 

1 cups (250 ml) heavy cream
1 tbsp (15 ml) sugar 
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla
Fry the bread in ¼ lb (110 g) butter until it becomes toasted. Set aside

In a large saucepan on medium heat cook the apples in the remaining butter until tender. Add the vanilla, sugar, cinnamon and lemon. Cover the pot,

Line a 1½ quart (1½ litre) casserole dish with the toast on the bottom and sides. Fill the casserole with the apples and cover the apples with the remaining toast. Bake at 325°F (165°C) for ½ an hour.

Whipped Cream: In a large bowl, whip the cream until stiff peaks are just about to form. Beat in the vanilla and sugar until peaks form. Make sure not to over-beat, otherwise cream may become lumpy and butter-like.

To serve: Place a large serving plate on top of the baking dish and invert the charlotte onto the plate so that the bottom of the charlotte is now the top. Cut into slices and serve warm or at room temperature. Optional: add a generous dollop of whipped cream. Makes 8 –12 servings.

COMMUNITY SPOTLIGHT

An occasional “Kitchen Talk” series on how Jewish-owned restaurants and food operations in Canada are faring during the pandemic

The Kosower family has run Harbord Bakery (115 Harbord St.) for 75 years. On the morning of Erev Rosh Hashanah I was in line for the yearly ritual of buying crown challahs. The line stretched around the corner as it does on every new year, when people, mainly in and around the downtown core, wait patiently to purchase the bakery’s famed crown or round sweet holiday challahs.

I have often run into people I know, but with everyone in line wearing masks this year, I didn’t recognize anybody. I did, however, schmooze with some people in line with me. I met Karen Goos, a transplanted New Yorker, and Mel Korn, a landsman from Montreal. Of course, we played Jewish geography.

It took about 45 minutes before I left the bakery with nine very heavy sweet challahs – six plain and three raisin – in tow.

Susan Wisniewski, co-owner of the bakery, invited me for tour of the place on a quiet midday afternoon following Rosh Hashanah. For the holidays, the bakery produces more than 2,000 crown challahs.

Albert Kosower, her father, had apprenticed at a bakery in Poland before immigrating to Canada around 1915, Wisniewski recounted. He worked for several Toronto bakeries before landing a job at Harbord.

Kosower purchased the bakery from his boss in 1945 and in the mid ‘50s, expanded and renovated the premises. He and his wife, Goldie, ran the business and lived upstairs with their three children.

Wisniewski said her father always hired unionized bakers. “He wanted his workers to have rights. He had also been a member of a union.” Today all 10 Harbord bakers are unionized, she added.

Wisniewski and her siblings, Roz Katz and the late Rafi Kosower, joined the family business, and now her son, Ben, is the third generation to run the bakery.

In addition to a wide selection breads and buns, the bakery produces gourmet cakes, pies, pastries and cookies, and it offers quiches, salads, soups and other savoury options.

Traditional Jewish dishes like gefilte fish, kugel and tzimmes are prepared every Friday. This kosher-style fare usually very much in demand at holiday time.

However, with the persistence of COVID, there were fewer orders this year, Wisniewski said. People had smaller gatherings.

“I have a big staff to support,” she noted, “but when I look at the restaurants and how they’re suffering [due to COVID], I can’t complain.”