Breaking News: Irwin Cotler Named Special Holocaust Envoy

Nov. 25, 2020

Canada has named Irwin Cotler, the internationally respected human rights advocate, founder and chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, and former Justice Minister, as this country’s first Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism.

According to a Nov. 25 press release from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office, Cotler will lead the government’s delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), “working with other member countries and both domestic and international partners to strengthen and promote Holocaust education, remembrance, and research in Canada and around the world.”

Irwin Cotler
Irwin Cotler

“The Holocaust was one of the darkest chapters in human history,” Trudeau’s statement said. “Seventy-five years after the liberation of Nazi concentration and extermination camps revealed the full horrors of the Holocaust, Jewish communities in Canada and around the world face rising antisemitism. The Government of Canada will always stand with the Jewish community, and fight the antisemitism, hatred, and racism that incite such despicable acts. We will also continue to preserve the stories of survivors through younger generations, and work to promote and defend pluralism, inclusion, and human rights.

“That is why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named the Honourable Irwin Cotler as Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism,” the statement continued.

“The Government of Canada is committed to reinforcing and strengthening Canada’s efforts to advance Holocaust education, remembrance and research, and to combat antisemitism as key elements of the promotion and protection of human rights at home and abroad.

“With a longstanding record of leadership in the fight against racism, antisemitism, and hate, and extensive experience in human rights and justice including in cases related to mass atrocities, Mr. Cotler will lead the Government of Canada’s delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). He will work with other member countries and both domestic and international partners to strengthen and promote Holocaust education, remembrance, and research in Canada and around the world.”

The statement noted that the federal government adopted the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism in June 2019 as part of its anti-racism strategy.

As special envoy, Cotler will also support advocacy and outreach efforts with Canadians, civil society, and academia to advance the implementation of the definition across the country and its adoption internationally, according to the statement.

“We must never forget the painful lessons of the Holocaust, or the memories of those who lived through it,” Trudeau stated. “As Canada’s first Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism, Irwin Cotler will use his vast knowledge and experience to promote Holocaust education, remembrance, and research as we continue working with partners in Canada and around the world to fight against hate and intolerance. Because antisemitism has no place in Canada – or anywhere else.”

As envoy, Cotler will work with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, and other departments to inform government policy and programming.

The IHRA includes 34 member countries and eight partner organizations with Holocaust-related issues as part of their mandate. Canada joined it in 2009.

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center said it was “thrilled” to learn of Cotler’s appointment.

“This announcement is a major step forward in the fight against antisemitism in Canada and shows a much-needed seriousness in our government’s commitment to this promise,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada. “We very much look forward to working with Mr. Cotler in his new role.”

“Mr. Cotler is a Canadian icon who has been tirelessly advocating for human rights for decades. Canada has demonstrated leadership by creating the position of special envoy, in discussion for months, and we are pleased Mr. Cotler was chosen to fill this important role,” said Joel Reitman, Co-Chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Board of Directors.

Cattle Car Replica Helps Students Stand Against Hate

Nov. 11, 2020

By SUSAN MINUK

When it comes to hate crimes, no group in Canada is more heavily targeted than Jews. In an innovative and strategic push for change, 25-year old Jordana Lebowitz has founded ShadowLight, a not-for-profit Holocaust education centre set within…a cattle car.

“We want to help people connect to the survivor stories while being immersed in this historical space,” explains Lebowitz of the unique setting for her effort.

“The Cattle Car: Stepping in and Out of Darkness” was launched Oct. 18 at the Toronto Railway Museum. It is an interactive, multimedia installation within an exact replica of a Second World War-era cattle car that was used to transport Jews and other targeted groups to concentration and extermination camps.

At the Oct. 18 launch of the cattle car exhibit: Jordana Lebowitz, founder of ShadowLight, and Michael Levitt president and CEO, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center. (Photo by ShadowLight)

As the installation’s name suggests, the windowless wooden freight cars were originally intended to transport cattle. At least 150 unfortunates were crammed into each car, without food, water, washroom facilities, or the ability to sit down. Many perished en route to death mills. Historians have suggested that without the mass transportation carried out on Europe’s railways in these box cars, the scale of the Final Solution would have been much different.

As Holocaust survivors diminish in number, ShadowLight’s installation inspires future generations to take action against injustices around them, say Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC), which has partnered with ShadowLight to advance Holocaust education in Canada.

“Holocaust education is the key tool in the fight against and prevention of antisemitism and hate that we are sadly seeing rear its ugly head all too often around the world,” said Michael Levitt, FSWC president and CEO. “Our goal is to work together with Jordana and ShadowLight to create course material for students and make this an even fuller experience on campuses.”

The cattle car museum on wheels will visit school campuses throughout Canada.

Lebowitz’s passion project was born when she was a 16-year old CHAT student taking part in the March of the Living.

She was in the one-time Nazi death camp of Majdanek when she saw a megillah scroll in a glass box, “and that made me sad, yet I realized the story doesn’t end here in a massive pile of ashes,” Lebowitz recalled.

That wisdom planted the seed. She searched for months for a cattle car. Finally, in 2015 as a second-year student at University of Guelph, and with help from Hillel, she brought the cattle car to campus. It has since been displayed every year at the University of Guelph for Holocaust Education Week.

“Jordana drove the whole concept with her student leaders. It was the first incarnation of her program ShadowLight,” said Marc Newburgh, CEO of Hillel Ontario. “FSWC has the ability to take this out in the community and amplify it.”

As a co-op student, Lebowitz worked at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, the Jewish Holocaust Center in Melbourne, Australia, and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.

Lebowitz revisited the cattle car initiative with a renewed determination to bring the powerful educational tool to other school campuses. ShadowLight was incorporated in 2018, with a team of 20 young volunteers and 20 advisors.

“We brought Holocaust survivors Hedy Bohm and Nate Leipciger into a green screen studio and filmed their stories,” said Lebowitz.

Actors then brought their stories to life. “The walls fill up with people to visualize how many would have been squished in this space,” Leibowitz explained. “There are 100 hand-painted footprints on the ground to show how closely family groupings were.”

Lebowitz, who’s pursuing her masters in education remotely from the University of Southern California, marvels about her creation. “I never thought that ShadowLight would come to life,” she said.

The cattle car exhibit runs about 30 minutes and is recommended for students Grade 8 and above. The second public showing will take place on Nov. 15 and 16 at Wychwood Barns Park in Toronto’s St. Clair Ave. W. and Christie Street area. Strict COVID safety measures are in effect.

To book tickets, click here.

Editorial: Kosher or Treif? Help Us Decide

Nov. 4, 2020

We had in mind to call this new addition to the CJR “Bouquets and Brickbats,” but somehow, “Kosher or Treif?” seemed more appropriate.

From time to time, the editors here would like to recognize individuals and groups for their work, whether it’s advancing Jewish ideals, pushing forward a positive agenda, or simply getting at the truth in an era in which objective truth is proving elusive.

On the other hand, we also need to know about those who, to put it politely, do not have our best interests in mind.

Recognition will be complimentary (K= Kosher) or critical (T=Treif). Please feel free to let us know if you agree by sending us your thoughts at canadianjewishrecord@gmail.ca

KOSHER: Andy Lulka is a Montessori advocate and educator. Her quiet but vital work on Holocaust education and confronting antisemitism from a point of intersectionality and anti-oppression is well known in the field. Despite health challenges, Andy has demonstrated that positivity and wisdom leads to strength of purpose.

KOSHER: York Regional Police, which has charged a white nationalist for “uttering threats” against two anti-racist activists in an online chat room. All to prove that hateful actions online can lead to serious consequences.

TREIF: Bobby Orr. The Canadian hockey legend’s fawning statement of support for Donald Trump only tells us that while he played stellar defence for the Boston Bruins, it turns out his embrace of a racist, sexist, misogynist candidate for president was nothing but offensive.

KOSHER: Mustafa Farook is the Executive Director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM). His outreach to other faith communities has helped build many bridges. Most recently, following a swastika defacement of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa, Mustafa publicly tweeted, “…To the lowlife that did this, if you want to intimidate the Jewish community, or dishonour the fallen you have to come through us.”

TREIF: Maxime Bernier, leader of the so called People’s Party of Canada, tried to run for a seat in Toronto’s York Centre riding in the recent by-election. His anti-immigrant, climate change skeptic, anti-transgender policies were eagerly echoed by white supremacists and others of the same ilk. York Centre voters, speaking for most Canadians, soundly sent him packing with just 642 votes. But, alarmingly, at 3.6 percent of the total vote, Bernier did better than the Greens in York Centre.

KOSHER: Annamie Paul has become the first Jewish female person of colour to head a federal party, the Greens, in Canada. She faced down sexism, racism and antisemitism to do so. Mazal tov Annamie. A welcome addition to the political scene.

KOSHER: General John Vance and the Canadian Armed Forces. Despite a slow start, the military has taken decisive action to root out neo-Nazis and white supremacists from their ranks. Gen. Vance, the Canadian Chief of the Defence Staff, has issued new standing orders that will assist others in command to take decisive action against racists and haters in the military.

TREIF: Kimberly Hawkins, owner of the Toronto-based restaurant/caterer Foodbenders. Following a flurry of online rants last summer equating Zionists with Nazis, glorifying terrorism, and saying Jews control the media, Hawkins was hit with a lawsuit, two human rights complaints and now, a possible review of her business license by the City of Toronto. Even after she issued a wan apology, Hawkins kept posting her bilge. Her food is treif and she gives us heartburn.

KOSHER: The Hon. Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, has initiated a bold new plan that would see thousands more immigrants and refugees welcomed to Canada as part of our pandemic economic recovery.

KOSHER: The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), B’nai Brith Canada, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, and JSpace Canada for the unprecedented move of coming together without rancour to support the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism that was approved last week by the Ontario government. This marks the first time in their collective histories that these Canadian Jewish groups from the left to the right of the Jewish political spectrum have issued a joint statement in support of an advocacy issue.

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

E-Petition Call for Expanded Holocaust Education, Awareness in Fight Against Antisemitism

Aug. 24, 2020 – By SHEILA HURTIG ROBERTSON

Dr. Art Leader, the son of Holocaust survivors and a long-time member of the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship (CHES) in Ottawa, was alarmed. In 2019, statistics reported by B’nai Brith Canada revealed that for the fourth year in a row, antisemitic incidents in Canada rose to more than 2,000 annually. And in 2020, the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa was vandalized only two days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Also of concern to him was that because of the COVID pandemic, many Holocaust remembrance events were virtual and, with schools closed across the country, Holocaust educational activities were halted. He further noted that for working youth, Holocaust education is non-existent.

And with the passing of time, ever fewer eyewitnesses to the Holocaust are able to share their knowledge and relate their experiences, resulting in minimal awareness of the atrocities they witnessed and endured.

“Canada has demonstrated a commitment to remembrance and Holocaust education and to fighting the antisemitism and racism that threaten and erode the multicultural and pluralistic nature of our society,” Leader says. “Holocaust education sensitizes Canadians to the role racist ideology and government propaganda played in the systematic murder of millions of Jews and other persecuted groups and helps youth to understand the dangers of indifference to the oppression of others.”

Convinced that the time was right to develop a comprehensive inventory of best practices in Holocaust education and teachings and relevant resources offered in Canadian schools and communities, Leader, working with CHES and author and lawyer Maureen McTeer, created a House of Commons petition (e-2740) urging Parliament to address the pressing challenges presented by growing antisemitism, Holocaust deniers, and those who distort the true nature of the Holocaust.

Anita Vandenbeld, Liberal MP for Ottawa West-Nepean, enthusiastically supported the petition and is its sponsor in Parliament.

The petition urges the government to build upon its previous investments in Holocaust education, research, and remembrance initiatives; determine the current availability of Holocaust education across Canada; identify new strategies to reach those who are targeted by racist and hate propaganda online; and urgently fund community organizations to preserve the testimonies of Holocaust survivors, thereby educating Canadians about the destructive impact of hate and intolerance on our Charter freedoms, to the detriment of current and future generations.

Signatories include former Prime Ministers Paul Martin and Joe Clark; members of the Carleton University community, including President Benoit-Antoine Bacon; Rabbi Reuven Bulka and Rabbi Idan Scher of Ottawa; Holocaust survivors; prominent Ottawa lawyer Lawrence Greenspan; and local members of Parliament,

CHES, which is affiliated with Carleton University in Ottawa, and the Zelikovitz Centre for Jewish Studies at Carleton, support this initiative and urge readers to read the petition (see below), sign it, and share the link with family and friends. The petition is open for signatures until Nov. 19, 2020. Supporters’ identities are protected by Canada’s privacy laws.

To sign House of Commons Petition e-2740, click here:

House of Commons Petition e-2740

The number of anti-Semitic incidents in Canada rose in 2019 to more than six incidents each day.

Canada has demonstrated a commitment to remembrance and Holocaust education through bilateral relationships and engagement in international organizations.

Holocaust education sensitizes Canadians to the role racist ideology and government propaganda played in the systematic murder of millions of Jews, and other persecuted groups.

Holocaust education will help young Canadians to understand the dangers of indifference to the oppression of others and to those sowing destructive messages of hate and racism.

Holocaust deniers and those who distort the true nature of the Holocaust use the Internet and online forums to spread hate and to dishonour those who were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis.

Fewer Holocaust survivors are able to share their knowledge and individual experience, while fewer youth are aware of the atrocities survivors witnessed and endured;

We, the undersigned citizens of Canada, call upon the Parliament of Canada to address this national challenge that threatens and erodes the multicultural and pluralistic nature of Canadian society, and to:

  1. Build upon its previous investments in Holocaust education, research, and remembrance initiatives;
  2. Determine the current availability of Holocaust education, including content and best pedagogical practices as identified by Holocaust educators across Canada.
  3. Identify strategies to reach youth, especially those not in the education system, who are targeted by racist and hate propaganda online.
  4. Urgently provide funds to Canadian community organizations to preserve the testimonies of Holocaust survivors thereby educating Canadians about the destructive impact of hate and intolerance on the Charter freedoms to the detriment of current and future generations.

Sheila Hurtig Robertson is a committee member of the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship and the founding editor of several sport-related magazines, including the Canadian Journal for Women in Coaching. She is the author of Shattered Hopes: Canada’s Boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games. Sheila worked in communications for Team Canada at three Olympic Games. Her grandfather, who left Romania in 1903 to escape the military draft, brought survivors to Canada after 1945, which kindled her lifelong interest in the Holocaust.