Easing of COVID Restrictions = More Hate Graffiti

Sept. 17, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Hamilton police are reporting a rise in antisemitic hate graffiti as COVID lockdowns ease.

Det. Paul Corrigan, head of the Hamilton Police Service’s hate crimes unit, said reported incidents have risen in the last three weeks after lagging sharply for several months.

Corrigan added that while the year-over-year number is still down sharply from 2019, likely because of COVID-related lockdowns, the recent increase is still of concern.

“The reason we’re seeing an uptick is because it had been reasonably quiet for a while with people locked down because of COVID,” he said. “It’s not an increase over normal times, it’s just an increase over abnormal times.

“I’m no statistical expert, but I’m guessing it’s because of COVID,” he added.

To date, 42 hate crimes have been reported in Hamilton, compared to over 80 for the same period last year. Jews were the targets of 15, or 36 percent, of those incidents. Of that total, 14 were graffiti incidents. Only one, a minor assault in January with antisemitic insults thrown in, involved a serious crime. That case is still before the courts.

The most recent incident occurred over the Labour Day weekend in the Dundas neighbourhood of Greensville, a collection of higher-end homes atop the Niagara escarpment. Three swastikas were drawn on roadways, shocking residents out enjoying the last long weekend of the summer.

Resident Kristin Glasbergen told CBC she saw one of the hate symbols while out for a morning stroll and another two days later.

“I called the city to let them know and I posted on Facebook to let the community there know,” she said. “This doesn’t happen in Greensville.”

David Arbuckle, another area resident, told CBC he was “shocked and disgusted that someone took the opportunity to purposely spread a message of hate in our community.”

Reactions like that are common, Corrigan said, and it’s a chief reason he classifies something a swastika chalked onto a roadway as a hate crime.

“Some police services don’t look at that as a hate crime. They see it as a criminal offense of graffiti, but I look at the swastika as a symbol of hate,” he said. “I know the argument that it’s a peace symbol to a Buddhist, but when I see a swastika, I see it as criminal and there is a hate-bias motivation to it.”

While that approach may give some the impression Hamilton is a hate-filled place, Corrigan said he will continue to rate incidents that way until the federal government comes up with a national definition.

In 2019, Hamilton was dubbed the “Hate Crime Capital” of Canada after Statistics Canada figures showed that hate crimes in the city the year before were up 6.6 per cent against a national decrease of 13 percent.

With reported incidents averaging 17.1 per 100,000 people, the rate in Hamilton was more than three times the national average.

Jews remain near the top of the list as targets of such crimes.

Hate crime in Hamilton and area continued through 2019. In Burlington, for example, two men were charged after six antisemitic incidents were reported in May and June.

In those cases hateful messages were posted on the front door of Burlington City Hall, on streetlamp posts, and private vehicles.

Just as charges were laid in the Burlington incidents, members of Hamilton’s Beth Jacob Congregation arrived for Shabbat morning services last Oct. 5 to find four hate messages crudely scrawled in their parking lot and on the street in front of the synagogue.

The drawings included a swastika, and the word “Jews” crossed-out in a circle.

While local police services grapple with the problem of crudely-drawn hate symbols aimed at Jews, B’nai Brith Canada is urging the federal government to use its upcoming Speech from the Throne to bring in new legislation to deal with antisemitism.

In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn said COVID has “accelerated the bitterness of attacks faced by the Jewish community,” and called for a national action plan to combat antisemitism.

The plan, Mostyn wrote, should include standardized and mandatory school programs on antisemitism and the Holocaust overseen by a new official reporting directly to the prime minister.

Mostyn argued Canada should now take “practical steps” to implement the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which Ottawa adopted last year as part of an anti-racism plan.

“We believe the government should emphasize that addressing racism, antisemitism, hate speech and hate crimes is a public safety issue, not just a multicultural issue and that combating these is one end of the spectrum of countering radicalization to violence,” he wrote.

Mostyn also urged Ottawa to pour resources into digital literacy programs; to refuse diplomatic engagement with Iran unless it accepts Israel’s right to exist; declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization; denying funding to UNRWA, the UN agency overseeing Palestinian refugees; deporting Nazi war criminals like Helmut Oberlander; and ratifying the 2002 Convention on Cybercrime that criminalizes online racism.

Gala to Honour Hamilton Temple Presidents

Sept. 15, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Synagogue president is one of the toughest jobs in the Jewish world, usually coming with little praise and a double dose of criticism.

Temple Anshe Sholom, Hamilton’s first synagogue and the oldest Reform congregation in Canada, will try to balance that old formula on Oct. 4 in a gala event dubbed “Past. Presidents. Future.”

Rabbi Bernard Baskin
Rabbi Bernard Baskin

The fundraiser will also mark the 100th birthday of Rabbi Bernard Baskin, who held the Anshe Sholom pulpit for a record 40 years, the longest tenure in the synagogue’s history.

Originally designed as a gala dinner at Hamilton’s largest banquet hall, the COVID pandemic forced the entire affair online.

Over the Temple’s 170-year history 44 men and four women have taken on the job of steering the institution through periods of growth, decline, building and reshaping.

The post can be so demanding that neither of the two men who currently share it would agree to do it on his own. Acknowledging the people who have provided such leadership, they say, is long overdue.

“Volunteers are a unique group of people, but our presidents take on an entirely different kind of responsibility and we have never celebrated that,” said Yves Apel, co-president with Mark Levine.

“Being president is like a third level Jewish ninja,” Apel confided. “It needs stamina, intensity and tact. There is no textbook, so you have to learn on the job. It takes a really special person to step up for that and that’s who we are celebrating.”

Added Levine: “Until I assumed this mantle, I didn’t really understand how much work this is. It’s almost a full-time job because we have to be hands-on managers as well as strategy people.”

Anshe Sholom’s roster of presidents has included doctors, several lawyers, business owners, real estate brokers, academics and accountants. For 22 of those, leading the congregation has been a family affair, including two father-son tenures, one father-daughter presidency, and several who followed in the footsteps of uncles or brothers-in-law.

Louise Sole

There’s brothers Carl and Dave Loewith, who operate a dairy farm on the outskirts of Hamilton; brothers Louis and Harold Minden; father-son Albert and Jay State; and Dr. Nicholas Sole and daughter Louise Sole Rotman. She was also the first woman to head the congregation.

Anshe Sholom’s roots go back to 1850, almost two decades before Canada was even a country. That’s when Hamilton’s 13 Jewish families started gathering in each other’s homes to lay the groundwork for a communal life.

They were all German; in fact, they kept their early records in that language. Most were merchants who had arrived in Canada looking for a life free from prejudice.

The group eventually named itself the Hebrew Benevolent Society Anshe Sholom of Hamilton. In 1863, the Jewish Congregation Anshe Sholom was incorporated. The first synagogue was over a downtown store, but in 1882, committees were formed and money was raised for the first Temple on Hughson Street South. That building served until 1952 when it was replaced by the present structure on Cline Avenue North.

Edmund Scheur
Edmund Scheuer

Edmund Scheuer, often called the father of Reform Judaism in Canada, was one of the first presidents. He came to Hamilton in 1871 to join his brother-in-law Herman Levy’s jewelry business. In 1873, at age 26, he was elected president of the Temple and held the position for the rest of his 15 years in Hamilton.

Among the Temple’s 14 religious leaders, names such as Emil Fackenheim, who went on to a distinguished career as a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, and Arthur Feldman, a scholar and great personal friend of Sigmund Freud, stand out.

But the name towering above all others is Bernard Baskin.

During his 40 years in the pulpit it fell to him to lead the congregation through two building campaigns, periods of growth and decline and struggles to redefine the nature of Reform Judaism for a world unimagined by his predecessors.

Those struggles included wrestling with questions such as what degree of kashrut would be observed, would men cover their heads during worship, what roles would the non-Jewish spouses of members be permitted to play in the life of the Temple, would gambling be an acceptable way to raise money and how could a younger generation be kept interested in the faith of their parents.

The event will be hosted by veteran broadcaster Ralph Benmergui.

Tickets for exclusive access to the streaming event, and for sponsorship and donation opportunities, are available at: www.pastpresidentsfuture.ca or by calling 905-528-0121. Ticketholders will receive an email with access information prior to the event.

* The above corrects the phone number to call for tickets to this event.

Inaugural Hamilton Jewish Film Fest Goes Virtual

Aug. 25, 2020 – By RUTH SCHWEITZER

The inaugural edition of the Hamilton Jewish Film Festival (HJFF), originally scheduled for March, was almost a casualty of the COVID pandemic.

That is until Wendy Schneider, editor of the Hamilton Jewish News, watched movies online during the Toronto Jewish Film Festival in June.

“I found the experience to be very positive,” Schneider said. As a result, she and Gustavo Rymberg, CEO of the Hamilton Jewish Federation, agreed to produce a virtual festival locally.

The HJFF, presented by the Hamilton Jewish Federation and the Westdale Theatre, a Hamilton cultural hub, runs from Aug. 29 to Sept. 3. The fledgling festival will screen three movies: two feature films, The Other Story (2018) and Leona (2018), and a documentary, Picture of His Life (2019).

In The Other Story, directed and co-written by Israeli Avi Nesher, the newly religiously observant Anat (Joy Rieger) wakes up in the women’s dormitory of a yeshiva she attends. She’s about to marry another baal teshuvah (newly observant) Israeli rock star, played by Israeli singer-songwriter Nathan Goshen.

A scene from the film The Other Story

Anat’s secular mother, Tali (Maya Dagan), is furious about her daughter’s decision to choose a religious path. In another storyline, one of several in this complex movie, Sari, a young woman who has rejected her religious upbringing, meets up with Anat.

Nesher won the Israel Film Critics Association’s 2018 Best Director award for the movie.

In her review of The Other Story, Nell Minow wrote at RogerEbert.com that “Nesher skillfully balances a lot of characters and storylines, each illustrating a different kind of Israeli and a different connection to Jewish life, culture and practice, but he never lets any of them become symbolic rather than real.”

Leona, directed and co-written by Mexican director Isaac Cherem, is the story of a young woman, Ariela (Naian Gonzalez Norvind), a member of Mexico’s Syrian Jewish community, who has a love affair with a non-Jew. Once Ariela’s mother finds out about the relationship, she enlists various members of the community who try to persuade Ariela to end the affair. Leonora took the Excellence in Film Award at the Santa Barbara Jewish Film Festival.

A scene from the movie Leona

Cherem is part of Mexico’s Syrian-Jewish community. His great-grandparents were immigrants from the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Damascus.

“I think the Mexican culture is particularly strong, the same way as the Syrian-Jewish culture,” Cherem told the Jerusalem Post. “And that might be one of the reasons why it’s been so difficult for both to coexist and integrate with one another.”

Picture of His Life, co-directed by Jonatan Nir and Dani Menkin, is about the world-renowned underwater wildlife photographer Amos Nachoum. For his photo shoots, Nachoum has swam with crocodiles, killer whales, anacondas and great white sharks, but the polar bear always eluded him. This award-winning film follows Nachoum in the Canadian Arctic as he prepares for his ultimate challenge: to photograph a polar bear underwater while he’s swimming alongside it.

A poster from the documentary Picture of His Life

One-hour Zoom Q&As with filmmakers, moderated by Fred Fuchs, follow the screenings. Fuchs is the former president of American Zoetrope, Francis Ford Coppola’s film production company. After moving to Canada in 2001, Fuchs worked at CBC, where he was involved with the production of the TV shows The Tudors, Little Mosque on the Prairie and Heartland.

Fuchs said Q&As add a lot of extra value when, after the film, the audience can speak to the filmmaker.

Now retired and living in Hamilton, he’s chair of a charitable organization that purchased and restored the city’s 1935 heritage Westdale Theatre.

While Fuchs wishes the HJFF could be held at the Westdale, he realizes a virtual festival has some advantages.

“I look at it positively because maybe we could have had 200-250 people at the theatre,” he said. “Here there’s an opportunity for many more people to participate and people who don’t live in Hamilton.” 

For more information about the festival, visit hamiltonjewishfederation.ticketspice.com/film-festival

MP Deletes Tweet That Falsely Accused Israel

Aug. 10, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

A Hamilton, Ont., Member of Parliament has quietly deleted a tweet that accused Israel of demolishing a COVID testing centre in the Palestinian city of Hebron.

The controversial June 19 tweet drew angry responses from the Israeli Embassy in Ottawa and Jewish advocacy agencies, including B’nai Brith and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).

“Pleased to see MP Matthew Green belatedly delete his false anti-Israel tweet, but an MP should be transparent enough to admit such a mistake, so that his followers aren’t misled,” B’nai Brith Canada tweeted after discovering that Green’s posting was no longer available.

In June, Green, the NDP member for Hamilton Centre, said “hundreds” had contacted him with “serious concerns” over allegations that Israeli forces had demolished a badly-needed COVID testing centre in Hebron.

Matthew Green
Matthew Green

“I condemn this blatant disregard for human life during this pandemic,” Green stated.

His tweet missed its mark on several fronts. Just before it appeared, the Jerusalem Post reported that the civil authority in Hebron tore down a building there in July, but it was a car dealership being constructed without approval.

Only after the building was demolished did the owner post a notice claiming it was to have been a COVID test centre.

In April, Israel did demolish a planned but unapproved COVID clinic in the predominantly Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan, just outside Jerusalem’s Old City.

The Israeli Embassy said the structure was operating without required municipal permits, and pointed out that there are several health centers close to Silwan that provide free COVID services to anyone.

“There are dozens of health facilities within a 5km radius of Silwan (excluding 7!! major hospitals) legally administering #COVID19tests and treatment to ALL, regardless of religion/cultural background,” the Embassy tweeted.

“Like Canada and its municipalities, lawful permits are required to build new structures, especially ones that administer health care.

“Just as it would not be acceptable for an unauthorized makeshift ‘testing’ facility to be constructed in someone’s front yard in Hamilton, it is also the case in Israel,” the Embassy’s statement added.

An unnamed Civil Administration spokesman told the Post that “contrary to the false claims, this was not a center for coronavirus testing,” and not a health clinic. “That’s a total lie. We condemn the cynical use of a global crisis at the expense of the Palestinians in Hebron,” he added.

Green did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment.


Steve Arnold
Steve Arnold

Parshat Pinchas: History Has its Eyes on You

July 10, 2020 – By ILANA KRYGIER LAPIDES

In Parshat Pinchas, toward the end of the Book of Numbers, a census has taken place, presumably to assign land rights for when the Hebrews enter the Holy Land. The logistics unfold predictably until the five daughters of Zelofechad arrive at the Tent of Meeting requesting an audience to express their feelings of injustice regarding the culture of inheritance.

“Our father died in the desert…and has left no sons. Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no son – Give us a holding among the brothers of our father” (Num 27:3-4).

This is an extraordinary event in the Torah: Not only do these five women summon the courage to come forward; not only do they make a dignified case to inherit in this very male-centric society; not only are their names listed (Mahla, Noa, Chaglah, Milcah, and Tirtzah); and not only is the matter worthy of consideration, it is taken directly to G-d. At this stage, this would have been enough.

Then, without equivocation, Hashem tells Moses, “The plea of Zelofechad’s daughters is a just one… transfer their father’s share to them. Further, speak to the Israelite people as follows: ‘If a man dies without leaving a son, you shall transfer his property to his daughter’” (Num 27:7-8).

To say this passage is unusual is an understatement. Women are mentioned in our Holy Books, but rarely are their names listed, and even more rarely are they seen outside their roles as mothers or wives. More often than not, women in the Torah are noteworthy for the manner in which they assist or challenge men who make up the main narrative than for their own agency.

The women are treated in a respectful manner and the matter progresses seamlessly – no drama, no controversy – just a comforting message: Sometimes, when conditions are right, an injustice can be brought to those in power, considered, and corrected and not just for those in the immediate situation but as a legacy for those who come after. How wonderful!

Another thing that makes this instance remarkable is what doesn’t happen: In order for Zelofechad’s daughters to get their birthright, the men, who would have inherited, don’t dispute the women’s appeal. They just let it happen. Whether gracefully or ungraciously is unknown; there is no mention of anyone challenging the fairness of the request or complaining about G-d’s ultimate ruling.

An occurrence like this gives us faith in right-mindedness. There are times when the right thing to do is so obvious that anyone with a little seykhl (common sense) can see it: Wearing masks in large crowds, helping to change a culture in which Black people are in danger, petitioning for better health conditions in seniors’ residences, speaking out against antisemitism when the tinfoil-hat crowd creates outrageous conspiracy theories, and so on…

As one of our more well-known quotes urges: Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof – Justice, Justice, Shalt thou pursue (Deut. 16:20).

I had the pleasure of streaming the Broadway show Hamilton last weekend. Although my knowledge of U.S. history is limited, the George Washington character chants a song that feels very relevant:

“I know that we can win
I know that greatness lies in you
But remember from here on in
History has its eyes on you.”

Chaverim, history has its eyes on us. What will we tell our great-grandchildren about how we conducted ourselves during this complicated time? Will we be gracious and brave even if it means sacrifice? Are we on the right side of history?

At this time of upheaval and adversity, let us have the strength to tap into the greatness that lies in us and may we conduct ourselves with the integrity and dignity that defines the best of our tradition.


Ilana Krygier Lapides
Ilana Krygier Lapides

Ilana Krygier Lapides is a Jewish educator and storyteller. She is currently studying online with the Jewish Studies Learning Institute as a rabbinic student and will be ordained in June 2021.

Agencies Unite to Provide ‘Kosher on Wheels’

By STEVE ARNOLD

Getting kosher food in Hamilton has always been a challenge for some people, but now, three local agencies are hoping to ease that problem.

With a $60,000 federal grant funneled through the local United Way, Hamilton Jewish Family Services (HJFS), the Hamilton Jewish Federation, and Adas Israel Synagogue have launched Kosher on Wheels to deliver up to 30 free meals a week to needy residents.

The project was conceived by local chef Max Bida as a way of returning some of the kindness shown to him when he arrived in Canada from Israel in 2015.

“When I came here, people helped me, so now I help others,” Bida told the CJR. “It’s not about money, it’s not about making a name for myself but to give back,” he said.

Bida said he brings “whatever tools I’ve got to the table. I have a lot of experience in the kitchen and in managing projects like this. I volunteered in Israel…so I figured I could do the same here.”

With his culinary consulting business sidelined by the COVID crisis, Bida took his idea of kosher food on wheels to the Hamilton Jewish Federation and Adas Israel Rabbi Daniel Green.

The Federation provided money and Adas Israel provided the kosher kitchen. Hamilton Jewish Family Services also provided money, as well as the link to clients, arranged the distribution system and was the lead agency on the United Way grant application.

Menu options include soups, chicken, a side of root vegetables, Italian meatballs and rice or pasta, whole fish, with salad, a pickle or coleslaw, among others.

Bida prepares all the food himself in the Adas Israel kitchen and packages it for delivery. As much as 70 per cent of the food has been donated.

Rabbi Green said Bida has been a volunteer on several Adas Israel projects. Based on that experience, the rabbi said he was happy to support the meals-on-wheels idea.

“There is a real spirit of giving and volunteering with Max,” Rabbi Green said. “He runs the whole food side of the operation.

“I think we’re just scratching the tip of the iceberg in terms of the need,” he added. “The more outreach we can do, the more need we are going to see.”

Coming together as Food4U, the organizations have already been able to provide 210 free kosher meals to families in need and more than 210 meals at-cost to others by delivery or curbside pick-up.

HJFS executive director Alexis Wenzowski said getting kosher food to local residents in need “has been on our radar for a while.”

COVID, however, brought a new urgency by making it unsafe for the elderly and vulnerable people to leave their homes.

“We are targeting a population that is marginalized in the community or feeling hidden in this community,” she said. “Now they are feeling supported and that means a lot.”

The United Way grant, she said, will give the program financial stability until March, allowing Bida to be paid a small wage and help with the cost of kosher products, which can be up to 50 per cent higher than non-kosher items.

Federation executive director Gustavo Rymberg said the program will get support from the Jewish appeal next year because it fills a real need in the community.

“We have always seen a need in the community for more kosher options for those who need it. With this program, we are not only responding to a crisis, we are transforming a crisis into an opportunity,” he said.

Federal support for the project was provided through the Emergency Community Relief Fund, a $350 million initiative to help charities and non-profit organizations serving vulnerable populations affected by COVID.

Struggling Hamilton Synagogues Look to Share a Building

June 29, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Sagging membership and rising debt are forcing two synagogues in Hamilton into formal talks about moving into a single building.

In letters to members released Wednesday (June 24), leaders of Temple Anshe Sholom, which is Reform, and the Conservative Beth Jacob Synagogue said member dues, cost-cutting and fundraising drives simply aren’t keeping with up the demands of two aging buildings.

Those problems, the leaders add, have been made worse by the COVID pandemic, which has cut deeply into revenues and hobbled fundraising efforts.

“Prior to the pandemic, TAS [Temple Anshe Sholom] was already in a difficult financial situation,” temple co-president Mark Levine wrote in a letter to members. “Contributing factors include a substantial decrease in membership over the past 10 years, and a shift in the demographics of our membership to mostly congregants over 65 years with few young people joining today.”

Beth Jacob’s five-member executive committee echoed those feelings.

Irv Osterer
Illustration by Irv Osterer

“Prior to this pandemic, we were already in a troubling financial situation, but we had hopes that expense reductions, a strong focus on budgeting, and revised energy in fundraising would find a solution,” they wrote. “Unfortunately, COVID-19 has moved all of our efforts to finding creative ways to maintain engagement and provide programming and meaningful services, while fundraising events have been cancelled or postponed …”

Beth Jacob leaders said they face the same demographic problem as the Temple: More than 60 percent of current members are 65 and over, and “many of our new younger family members are unable to contribute at levels like our founding member families have.”

Both institutions said they have struggled to access government programs to help, and all forecasts point to problems getting worse.

In March, those shared problems brought leaders of both congregations together in “high level meetings…to determine whether there was interest in collaborating in some fashion to address the challenges,” said the letter from Temple Anshe Sholom.


What emerged from those talks is a proposal for Beth Jacob to sell its edifice and move into the Temple’s building.

“The idea is to have the two congregations in one building, in order to find efficiencies by sharing some of the common operating and programmatic costs,” said Levine in the Temple’s letter.

The boards of both synagogues have approved the proposal, Beth Jacob on June 10 and the Temple on June 18. Both have said approval by the congregations is required before a final deal is struck.

And both say many questions remain to be ironed out, a process that could take up to 18 months.

Beth Jacob, on Aberdeen Avenue, was built in 1955 and extensively remodeled in 2011 at a cost of more than $1 million. Temple Anshe Sholom’s current home on Cline Avenue North was opened in 1952 and expanded in 1965. Both synagogues have active memberships of about 250 families.

Hamilton has a Jewish population of about 5,000.

Before committing to examine a shared facility, Beth Jacob’s leadership studied a partial sale of its building, but concluded “the net financial gain would not meet our needs or provide for a sustainable future. Beth Jacob is in severe indebtedness beyond our capability of servicing such debt in the future…The math just doesn’t seem to pencil out as a viable solution.”