High Holy Days Greetings from the Presidents of GTA Conservative Synagogues

Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, presidents of Greater Toronto Area Conservative synagogues noted below have been meeting by Zoom on a weekly basis to discuss concerns, share ideas and brainstorm solutions. We’ve talked about the challenges of managing our shuls, large and small, through this crisis and the impact on our day-to-day operations. And we’ve discussed how we’ve responded with online services and programs, our respective plans for the High Holy Days, and much more.

Most of us did not know one another before we began our weekly calls, which we all look forward to and which we hope will continue in the future. We have all thoroughly enjoyed the experience and have developed a profound respect for one another and for the outstanding work of our clergy, executive directors and staff, lay leadership and volunteers. Most of all, we have developed, through regular communications, a deeper appreciation of the remarkable power of community.

All synagogues, regardless of denomination, offer a vital service, particularly during a crisis, and we are all here to support our members and communities in times of joy and sorrow. We thank you, our members, for your commitment, support and contributions in helping to sustain a vibrant and relevant Jewish community through your synagogue affiliation.

As we approach a High Holy Day season unlike anything that many of us have ever experienced, we extend our best wishes to you, your families and loved ones for a safe, healthy and happy New Year.

David Urbach – Adath Israel Congregation 
Larry Miller – Beit Rayim Synagogue and School
Andy Pascoe – Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am
Malcolm Weinstein – Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue
Mark Vernon – Beth Radom Congregation
Abe Glowinsky – Beth Sholom Synagogue
Doug Millstone – Beth Tikvah Synagogue
David Lewis – Beth Torah Congregation
Debbie Rothstein – Beth Tzedec Congregation
Jeff Shabes – Lodzer Centre Congregation
Steve Bloom – Pride of Israel Synagogue 

September 14, 2020
Elul 25, 5780

EDITORIAL: Eschewing Hate and Embracing Harmony

It would seem that as we continue to hover in the eye of the pandemic, everything is magnified – from our anxieties, to our learning; from our health, to our diet; and most notably, from our avowed hatreds and dislikes.

All too often, the expressed hatred takes the form of bigotry, racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, and more. Prior to the pandemic, we of course saw signs of hate and extremism around us. Given our new fears and concerns, issues of racism remain no longer well-hidden or even camouflaged. Indeed like a rabid, growling dog, it is biting us square on the tuches.

Two incidents this past week in the GTA give us all reason for worry.

The proprietor of a little-known Toronto eatery called Foodbenders has chosen to express herself quite publicly about how she believes the Israeli government has abused and mistreated Palestinians, specifically in the occupied territories.

To be sure, there is much to be concerned with. Their treatment, especially by Israel’s current government, has prompted global condemnation. Surely the owner of a small restaurant in Toronto has the right to her opinions about Israel and its policies.

But in this case, those criticisms moved well beyond the political into hardcore antisemitism and anti-Zionist sentiment, mirroring those on the extremes of the political spectrum who have used the term “Zionist” to mean “Jew,” and have done so simply as an excuse to foment antisemitism. In years past, and to this very day, we have seen white supremacists and their ilk use terms like “Zio-Nazi” to mean “Jews.”

And while she has insisted that she has nothing against Jews, the owner of Foodbenders chose to post “Zionists are not welcome” at her eatery (leaving it unclear how she would discern a Zionist if one walked in).

In other social posts, she raised old anti-Jewish tropes: That Jewish groups control the media and influence the economy. She claimed that “Zionists are Nazis.”

Naturally, this led to harsh but proper reaction from mainstream Jewish organizations some of which are launching complaints with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. Toronto police hate crimes officers are also investigating.

Sadly, some of the more extreme anti-Muslim elements within and outside the Jewish community have used this hateful incident to engage in some hate of their own, scrawling anti-Muslim graffiti on the sidewalks and walls in front of the offending restaurant. Once again the Toronto police hate crimes unit is kept busy investigating these offences as well.

But it doesn’t end there. Just a few days ago in Mississauga, Ont., what started as a peaceful pro-Palestinian rally quickly degenerated into an anti-Israel harangue replete with ugly antisemitic epithets including “Jews are our dogs.”

All of this occurs while mainstream Jewish and Muslim groups have been trying to find an avenue to dialogue. Indeed, both the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and the National Council of Canadian Muslims have been cooperating of late on anti-racist programs, inter-faith dialogue and more. They join groups like JSpace Canada and Salam/Shalom, which have been engaged for years in dialogue and joint programming.

This is the way towards harmony. Canada provides us with a unique platform steeped in its own attempts at reconciliation and multiculturalism. There is still much work to do on these fronts, but we all have the opportunity. Let us not allow a few with hate in their hearts to spoil our efforts to find a path forward.