Editorial: May the New Year Bring Healing Stateside

Sept. 16, 2020 – As a New Year begins, it is time to take stock of the year we leave behind and determine what each of us can do to help shape a better world to come. Our tradition tells us that while we need not complete our work to effect change, we must not shirk from trying.

The Jewish year of 5780 has been the most challenging time since the end of the Second World War. Increases in world hunger, further climate damage, war, racial divide, hatred and extremism have all increased in numbers hardly imaginable even a year earlier.

And as this year draws to a close, the world is caught in the grip of a pandemic unseen since the Spanish Flu of 1918. All this happens at a time political leadership in many places seems incapable, unsympathetic, and in some cases, incompetent.

Nowhere is this in sharper relief than with our neighbours to the south. It used to be that no matter which of the two political parties held power, the office of president was revered and respected. With the ascension of Donald Trump, the United States has foundered to a knife’s edge of no return.

Never before have the American people elected a president as singularly unqualified for the job. In the last three and-a-half years, Trump has proven to be a racist and misogynist; an Islamophobe who tried to close the borders of his country to Muslims; has flirted with wild, extreme right-wing conspiracies; and divided his country to such an extent that ultra-conservative militias feel comfortable storming state legislatures with automatic weapons cocked and loaded.

During this presidency, we have seen protests in the streets in the wake of the shootings of numerous people of colour by police, while Republican Party apparatchiks seem oblivious to the fatal harm being caused by Trump.

And all this happens when COVID has taken the U.S. hostage, causing, as of this writing, more than 185,000 deaths, many of which were avoidable had the president acted sooner and had a plan. As we know by his own words in Bob Woodward’s latest book on Trump, Rage, the president was well aware of the dangers posed by the coronavirus, and openly lied to the American people in a hapless effort to avoid panic.

No less a light than Abe Foxman, former CEO of the most significant Jewish organization worldwide fighting antisemitism, the Anti-Defamation League, broke his self-imposed decision not to endorse or be publicly partial to any political candidate. Said Foxman in an opinion piece he wrote this week for the Times of Israel, “When our democracy is weakened, and nativism is stoked, the rights of Jews and other minorities will be diminished too.” He continued, ominously: “It may not happen overnight, but it will happen, and Jews know this from bitter experience.”

Foxman was sharp and critical outlining his fear of Trump and his minions adding that the president has “given succor to bigots, supremacists, and those seeking to divide our society…he and his administration dehumanize immigrants, demonize the most vulnerable, and undermine the civility and enlightened political culture that have allowed Jews to achieve what no Diaspora community outside Israel can claim in two millennia.”

Those in our community who support Trump point to his support of Israel, seen in the moving of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and peace deals with Arab nations. But it cannot simply be about Israel all the time. The danger Trump poses to the entire world requires us to look well beyond our personal backyard.

Everyone has a role to play in mitigating an American disaster. It’s in our interest as Canadians, as it’s clear that where America goes, so goes Canada. While it may seem there’s little we as individuals can do, we still have a voice. We have collectively many relatives and friends in the United States, and now is the time to speak out and implore them to fix their country before it is too late.

The coming year – 5781 – can be a harbinger of a new and changed society only if we recognize the work that must be done. We don’t have to finish it this coming year, but we all must engage.

Shana Tovah Umetukah to all.

Website Marks Decade of Publishing Jewish Fiction

Sept. 11, 2020 – By RUTH SCHWEITZER

The online Jewish literary journal Jewish Fiction.net is marking a milestone at an auspicious time: It celebrates its 10th anniversary this Rosh Hashanah.

The website is the only English-language journal in the world, either print or online, devoted exclusively to publishing Jewish fiction.

Founded and edited in Toronto by the award-winning author Nora Gold, the site has published more than 400 works of fiction, both short stories and excerpts from novels, over the past decade.

Nora Gold
Nora Gold

The current issue includes 16 contributions, among them five translations from Hebrew and one from Hungarian. There’s also an excerpt from Nessa Rapopart’s latest novel, Evening, which unfolds while the protagonist, Eve, and her family sit shivah for her sister.

Also in the current issue is “The House of Cards,” a comic story by Leonid Newhouse about a young Jewish couple sharing a room in a former palazzo in Leningrad at the end of 1940s.

A crisis created by the advent of digital publishing a decade ago gave Gold the impetus to launch Jewish Fiction.Net. At the time, she recalled, many writers told her, “look, I have a novel in my drawer and the publishers have been telling me it’s really good, but hold on to it for 10 years, until the digital crisis is over.”

Jewish fiction, Gold noted, is seen as a niche market by publishers, who, when facing difficult times, tend to avoid anything seen as niche.

Gold said she’s been lucky as a writer to find publishers for her three books. Her collection of short stories, Marrow and Other Stories, won a Canadian Jewish Book Award, and one of her two novels, Fields of Exile, won a Canadian Jewish Literary Award.

Concerned that some amazing Jewish-themed fiction would be lost during the digital crisis, Gold got into publishing. Her professional background, in addition to being a writer, is in social work. “What happens for someone like me is, I thought in this case there’s a need, (so) I’ll fill the need,” she said.

With the help of an advisory council, she launched the Toronto-based journal, which publishes Jewish fiction from around the world and has readers in 140 countries.

Contributors have included such eminent authors as Elie Wiesel, Aharon Appelfeld, A.B. Yehoshua, Savyon Liebrecht, and Aharon Megged, and some well-known Canadians, like George Jonas, Morley Torgov, and Chava Rosenfarb.

A rigorous editorial process ensures that the quality of the writing, whether by famous or lesser-known authors, remains high. Submissions are blind-reviewed by an editorial team of three, located in Toronto, Houston and Jerusalem. “I was able to get people with very strong backgrounds in literature, Judaism and/or Jewish literature,” Gold said.

Contributors are unpaid, and fewer than one out of 20 submissions is published, she said.

In the early days of the journal and today, Gold continues to be concerned about the divisiveness, hostility and polarization within the Jewish community. An activist and co-founder of the New Israel Fund of Canada, Canadian Friends of Givat Haviva, and JSpaceCanada, Gold created the journal with the hope that it would build bridges.

“There would be a place where writers and readers of all different perspectives and backgrounds could meet and be exposed to each other, because fiction is very powerful,” she said. “When you read fiction, your defences drop and you enter the inner world of the other person. And it changes you. It broadens the way you think about things.”

She also tries to build a bridge between Israel and the Diaspora by publishing Israeli writers in translation.

“The younger generation in the Diaspora is so estranged from Israel,” she said, adding she hopes exposure to fiction translated from Hebrew might give young people pause or some opening to experience Israel.

Gold decided to forgo a paywall for the site and make the stories accessible. While she was developing the idea for the journal, she remembers passing a group of Jewish kids at a bus stop near Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto.

“I just had this whole fantasy about high school kids being able to read great works of fiction on the bus on the way home instead of playing computer games,” she said.

“I didn’t want even to be charging $5 per issue because there are people for whom that’s a barrier, either economic or psychological. I just wanted anyone to be able to read this journal. And not only Jews, of course. We have lots of non-Jewish readers.”

Editorial: Avera Mengistu is Still a Hamas Prisoner. Why?

Sept. 9, 2020 – There is a common myth in Israel that it will never desert one of its own. Israel has cooperated beyond courage to bring back those killed on the battlefield. IDF officials have negotiated in the past with Egypt, Jordan, the PLO, even terrorist groups, often trading hundreds of captive Palestinian terrorists and enemy combatants for the body of one IDF fighter.

Recall Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier who, in June 2006, was captured by Hamas terrorists entering Israel near the Kerem Shalom crossing through their intricate tunnel system. Shalit was kidnapped and held prisoner for more than five years.

Israel and the Shalit family, which had resources thanks to campaigns in Jewish communities worldwide, kept his name and his plight at the centre of events. In October 2011, following tense and often fractious negotiations through intermediaries, Shalit was finally released in exchange for some 1,000 Arab and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, 280 of whom were serving life terms for carrying out deadly attacks against Israeli targets.

The treasuring of each Israeli citizen was, and continues to be, the truest test of Israel’s character.

Sadly however, in the case of Avera Mengistu, the credo of “no Israeli left behind if captured by enemy combatants” does not seem to hold true. Some feel racism is to blame.

Mengistu and his large family arrived in Israel from Ethiopia in 1991 when he was five years old. Theirs was not an easy life. His father found it difficult to find work and the only income for the clan came from Avera’s mother, who cleaned homes in Ashkelon, near the Gaza border.

Avera’s life went from bad to worse following the death of his beloved eldest brother. He turned to friends for money, and his mental health became fragile to the point where he underwent psychiatric treatment. In March 2013, the IDF determined that Avera was not fit for military service. During this time, his mental health deteriorated even more.

A few months later, in circumstances that remain vague, Avera was seen near the Zikim beach on the Israeli-Gaza border. An IDF unit thought he was one of many Sudanese refugees who were trying to get into Gaza. He was last spotted near the security fence, and by the time Israeli border guards arrived, he had disappeared into Gaza. He has not been seen since.

There were some minor attempts to have him returned to Israel. All failed. In an interview with Al Jazeera, a senior Hamas official acknowledged that Avera was in Gaza. He claimed the Ethiopian was wearing a uniform, was mentally healthy, and was part of ongoing negotiations relating to the 2014 Gaza-Israel truce talks.

And this is where Avera’s fate has largely stood to this day. Unlike the case of Shalit, there has been little mass public outcry from Israeli authorities for his release. His family, who are among the poverty-stricken Ethiopians in Israel, have no resources to fight for his release.

There is an inescapable feeling that the reason Avera’s case is not being handled with the determination and seriousness of other kidnapped Israelis is because he’s Ethiopian – and Black. Indeed, one of Avera’s brothers, Yalo, noted in an interview with Ha’aretz that “it’s more than racism. I call it ‘anti-Blackism.’ I am one million percent certain that if he were white, we would not have come to a situation like this.”

Hamas has also not lost sight of the fact that Avera’s case has garnered little attention, though there have been sporadic reports of Hamas demands for a prisoner exchange with Israel for his release. Notably, Hamas has used the racial bias issue as a propaganda chip. On its Twitter platform, a Hamas message claimed “obviously the real Israeli motto is ‘leave no Ashkenazi (white Israeli) man behind.’”

This is a sad story of one man suffering from severe mental health problems. It seems sadly clear that both Israel and Hamas view the situation through the colour of his skin. It’s time that both sides see Avera as a man who must be returned to his family. His life matters and we cannot be silent.

Israeli Experts on Back to School in the COVID Era

Sept. 9, 2020 – By SHARON GELBACH

As schools slowly open on different dates and in different forms, the CJR consulted a panel of experts from the Sheba Medical Center’s Safra Children’s Hospital in Tel HaShomer, near Tel Aviv, on commonly asked questions: Dr. Itai Pessach, director of the Safra Children’s Hospital at Sheba Medical Center; Dr. Galia Barkai, director of the department of Infectious Diseases in Children at Sheba Medical Center; and Prof. Doron Gothelf, director of the Department of Child and Teen Psychiatry.

Now that the children are going back to school, how can we prevent them from bringing home the coronavirus?

Dr. Galia Barkai

Dr. Barkai: The good news is that children, especially those under 10, have a significantly less chance of catching the virus and of becoming ill with it. Overall, the number of cases of children with COVID worldwide has been very low. At Sheba, the majority of the children were hospitalized for a different reason entirely and a routine test showed that they were COVID-positive.

Nevertheless, they certainly can be carriers as we’ve seen numerous times. What we need is collective responsibility, which implies, among other things, following the safety rules: Wearing masks, maintaining distancing (I don’t like to say “social distancing” because school is a social experience; but rather, physical distancing), and hand hygiene, which I think is the most important thing. Habituate children to hand-washing with soap or sanitizing with gel. Once we do this, we greatly reduce the chance of infection.

Dr. Itai Pessach

Dr. Pessach: Another important regulation that applies to older children is keeping them in capsules, and we’ve seen that this can significantly reduce the rate of infection.

In the coming few weeks, as summer turns to fall and we enter the flu and cold season, we have to be much more vigilant. It’s never a good idea to send a child with a runny nose, cough or fever to school. I know of many parents who would give a mildly ill child a Tylenol and send him to school; this is not an option these days. If a child exhibits any symptom that could be COVID, he must be kept at home as long as those symptoms persist.

Prof. Doron Gothelf

Dr. Barkai: The school bus can also be a source of infection. Try to make sure that the bus is not crowded. Children should have their masks on in the bus and sit as far away as possible from one another. If possible, the windows should be kept open.

What do you recommend for a child with asthma or a child with a weakened or suppressed immune system?

Dr. Pessach: Children with chronic illnesses or who have weakened immune systems due to special medications or chemotherapy are at higher risk of developing a severe case of coronavirus, but overall, the chances are still slight. That said, parents must consult with their health provider to receive specific advice and guidelines related to their individual issues.

How do you recommend that teachers keep themselves safe?

Dr. Barkai: First of all, teachers should know that if they wear a mask and the children also wear a mask, they are very well protected. We found that in the hospital, whenever infections did occur, they could be traced not to the clinical areas, but to the common rooms, where the staff took breaks. So, it’s the same thing at school. Teachers should adhere to safety rules in the classroom, but also in the teacher’s room. Teachers of children who are not of the age required to wear a mask can gain additional protection with a plastic shield. Nothing is 100 percent but I really think that is sufficient.

Dr. Pessach: I want to stress that masks do work. In the Safra children’s hospital, the medical staff was extremely strict about wearing masks and not one clinician caught COVID or even had to go into quarantine. If you wear a mask and a plastic shield, know that you are protected. This is how we protect high-risk patients.

How often should we change masks?

Dr. Pessach: The recommendation for disposable surgical masks is to change them twice or three times a day. At the hospital, we are required to switch every shift, which is every eight hours.

How can I keep my child safe while taking part in sports?

Dr. Barkai: It’s impossible to do sports with a mask because of the increased output of carbon dioxide. For this reason, sports are best done outside to reduce the chance of infection. Alternately, they can be done inside a large auditorium, where it is possible to keep a distance between students. If the only place for physical activity is inside the classroom, it’s better to forgo it.

How can I help my child who has to be in quarantine?

Prof. Gothelf: Quarantine is not a normal situation and it is never pleasant. The following are a few important steps to take:

1. First, explain to the child, in an age-appropriate manner, the reason for quarantine and its importance. When we grasp the significance of what we do, it gives us the strength to do it. Lacking a full explanation, the child is liable to imagine all kinds of scenarios. It’s also important to clarify to the child that he did nothing wrong, so that he shouldn’t feel guilty.

2. Try to keep up a regular routine that is as close to the child’s regular routine, including normal sleep/wake times.

3. Limit the child’s exposure to media. Children who read the news may become unduly anxious; it’s better for them to hear the news through the filter of their parents.

4. In the event there the school offers Zoom classes, try to encourage the child to participate so that he will continue to feel involved in the class and won’t fall behind with his schoolwork.

How can I prepare my child for the transition from preschool to first grade?

Prof. Gothelf: Children become anxious mainly when they don’t know what to expect. It’s Important to prepare a child for any transition, especially one in which there are COVID regulations added to the mix. Hang the school schedule on the fridge, tell him about the new rules at school and explain their importance. Personal example here is of utmost importance. You can’t expect your child to adhere to the rules if you don’t. 

Small children often have trouble managing with their masks. Make sure they fit well, that the elastic isn’t too loose or too tight, that the material doesn’t irritate the child’s skin. Allowing the child to choose a fabric mask in the color or design of their choice can help.

Preschoolers should have at least one visit to school before the start of the year to help them make the transition from kindergarten to school — to meet the teacher, learn where the washrooms are, etc. In the COVID era, schools have skipped this stage. Remember that and try to fill in those gaps by taking the child to school in the first days.

How can I help my child get the most out of distance learning?

Prof. Gothelf: Let me begin by saying that distance learning is challenging for both parents and children. Relax. Now is not the time to insist on children getting straight A’s. Let’s lower our expectations; our children will have plenty of time to catch up.

Unlike in a classroom situation, teachers cannot see when the children are experiencing difficulty. You as the parent must try to keep in touch with the teacher to keep her in the loop. Often, children need more help with distance learning, and this can be challenging for working parents. Try to get the help of an older sibling, or a neighbor. And again, keep in touch with the teacher. 


Sharon Gelback
Sharon Gelback

Sharon Gelbach grew up in Toronto, studied journalism at Carleton University, and moved to Israel in 1982. She lives in the Jerusalem area with her family. A writer, editor and translator, among her many projects are writing PR content for the Sheba Medical Center.

More Peace Deals with Arab Nations in Offing, Israel Envoy Says

Sept. 1, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Israel’s United Nations ambassador said last Thursday that more peace deals with the country’s Arab neighbours are coming soon, but the Palestinian Authority isn’t one of them.

Danny Danon told a webinar organized by the Jewish National Fund and others that only a new Palestinian leader is likely to change that situation.

Danny Danon

“We are hoping to be able to announce more relationships in the next few weeks,” Danon said. “I’m not optimistic about relations with the Palestinians. We will have to wait for a new leader to emerge, someone like [former Egyptian president] Anwar Sadat to leader them to a better future.”

Danon said Sadat, who signed a peace deal with Israel in 1977 and was assassinated four years later, found a road to peace by changing his outlook on Israel, something Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is so far refusing to do.

“Today, they choose to deal only with their hatred of Israel rather than to advance the lives of the Palestinians,” he said. “That is the reality for them today and I pray they will find new leaders soon.”

While waiting for that to happen, Danon said a movement for peace has been quietly building behind the scenes at the UN, as Muslim nations gain respect for their old enemy.

“We get respect from the Muslim nations when we speak about our rights,” he said. “When we do that, our rights become reality.”

Behind that gathering force, he said, is the realization of the benefits Israel and peace can bring to the area, along with improved security for all the countries of the region.

“There is an opportunity here for us to do much with the Arab countries,” he said. “We have a common enemy in Iran.”

Israel’s claim to the right to exist, he said, is supported by three pillars – the Bible, history and international law.

“You don’t have to be religious or even Jewish,” Danon said. “If you read the Bible, then you see we have a right to the land. The Bible is our deed to the land and no one can argue with that.”

Israel’s claims are also supported by a history of Jewish residence in the country and by legal documents, such as the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the 1920 San Remo conference that confirmed support for a Jewish homeland, and even the UN’s own charter.

“If you put all of those together you have made the case for Israel,” he said. “The United Nations charter gives us a legal right to the land. If you respect that, then you have also made the case for Israel.”

The Aug. 27 event was sponsored by Canadians for Israel’s Legal Rights, the Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation, and JNF Canada.

Steve Arnold
Steve Arnold

Steve Arnold worked 42 years in Canadian journalism, retiring in 2016 from The Hamilton Spectator. He holds a BA in history and political science, an MA in public policy analysis and has received 25 awards for writing excellence. He now lives in St. Catharines, Ontario.

ChaiFlicks ‘One-Stop’ Shopping for Jewish, Israeli Programming

By SHLOMO SCHWARTZBERG

One of the most notable cultural results of the COVID pandemic has been the increased importance of TV and streaming services, as people adjusted to staying at home.

So it made perfect sense for ChaiFlicks, an exclusively Jewish and Israeli content streaming service, to arrive on the scene. ChaiFlicks, which launched Aug. 20, has a very specific demographic in mind, said its co-founder, veteran film distributor Neil Friedman.

Neil Friedman ChaiFlicks
Neil Friedman, ChaiFlicks

“Our audience prefers to view Jewish and Israeli programming as a priority over other programming,” Friedman told the CJR. “We have always prided ourselves on our curatorial abilities. We like what we like, and audiences, critics and subscribers have followed.”

He described the service as a “repository for the best of Jewish and Israeli programming, all on one channel. One-stop shopping.”

ChaiFlicks’ co-founders are Heidi Bogin Oshin, also of Menemsha Films, and Bill Weiner, a former executive with New Regency Productions, whose films include The Revenant and 12 Years a Slave.

Friedman has some idea of what audiences want, as he has been offering them premium art house content since 1998 through his company Menemsha Films, distributor of such popular films such as Gloomy Sunday and The Rape of Europa. Since 2012, Menemsha has focused on releasing only Jewish and Israeli films.

The distributor acquires 10-15 films a year. Six to eight of those are released theatrically. In two-and-half years, three films met the $1 million benchmark for a successful foreign movie at the American box office: Dough, a British comedy starring Jonathan Pryce; an Israeli film, The Women’s Balcony; and 1945, a black-and-white Hungarian film.

Netlifix bought the first two, but not the excellent 1945. That galvanized Friedman and his partners to spring into action with a new business plan.

“We knew right then and there that we had to initiate our own SVOD (Streaming Video on Demand) channel to have a platform for our films if the other services were buying less and less art house fair,” he explained.

ChaiFlicks launched with a slate of 150 films, documentaries, shorts and television programs. Its first episodic show is the comedy Soon By You.

It has entered into multi-picture deals with the Israeli world sales company, Go2Films, the Los Angeles based Jewish Women’s Theatre, and the American Sephardi Federation, whose programming, as its name suggests, centres on the Sephardic experience.

The service won’t compete with Netflix or HBO Max, preferring to brand itself as amedium-sized niche channel. Neither will it limit itself to what qualifies as standard programming.

“We already have theatre on the channel and we expect to have comedy shows, cooking shows, and musical and dance performances, both classical and modern,” Friedman said. “There are no boundaries at all in what we could add to the channel from a programming perspective.”

But ChaiFlicks will still have an art house bent, he added.

“Our taste has always been more the intellectual type of programming. The films that excite us are [those] that cover new ground. If it is new and exciting for us, we believe it will be new and exciting for our subscribers.”

Friedman is confident that ChaiFlicks can build an audience quickly.

With cinemas generally closed, audiences are “slowly becoming skilled and comfortable accessing films at home,” he said. “Everybody has a grandchild or two that can teach the older audience this new conception of streaming films.”

And with no limits, Friedman compares ChaiFlicks with “going for a PhD in Jewish Studies, and that is the same path we hope our subscribers are on with the programming we provide. We hope.”

Learn more at https://www.chaiflicks.com/


Shlomo Schwartzberg

Shlomo Schwartzberg is a film critic, teacher and arts journalist based in Toronto. He teaches film at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, the Prosserman Jewish Community Centre Ryerson University’s LIFE Institute, the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies and the London JCC, among other venues. He is also the co-founder of the noted Critics at Large cultural web site. (ww.criticsatlarge.ca)

Beinart: Time to Talk to, not About Palestinians

Aug. 24, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Peter Beinart has a solution for the decades-old crisis in the Middle East: Start seeing Palestinians as human beings.

Once that happens, the controversial journalist told an on-line discussion Aug. 18, the movement to make Israel a fair and just society for all its citizens can start.

Peter Beinart
Peter Beinart

“The Jewish community talks about Palestinians, but does not talk to Palestinians,” he told the session. “That process of talking about people instead of to them is dehumanizing.”

One result of that process, he said, is the “omnipresent” Jewish view of Palestinians as terrorists – an idea that stifles any effort to bring the two communities together.

Beinart, an American journalist and commentator who appears frequently on CNN, has become a controversial figure after publishing a July essay arguing Jews must give up the idea of separate Israeli and Palestinian states in favour of a single nation with equal rights for all its citizens.

“The question isn’t, ‘are Jews willing to live in a country that’s half Palestinian,’ but ‘are they willing to live in a country where half of the population is disenfranchised?’” he asked.

Winning equal rights for Palestinians, he added, will be a result of the same kind of social movements that were led by Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States and Mahatma Gandhi in India.

“One state is more likely to produce that kind of movement than a divided entity,” he said. “One day things are going to shift on the ground because the Palestinians will not accept their denial of rights forever.”

Beinart admitted his argument isn’t likely to change the minds of Israeli leaders; it’s just human nature for those in power to be reluctant to give it up.

“When one group has all the rights and power, they’re very unlikely to want to change that,” he said. “We have to make Israelis understand they can’t continue to control millions of people who lack even basic rights.”

The Zoom event was jointly sponsored by JSpace Canada and Khouri Conversations. JSpace describes itself as a progressive voice for a negotiated Middle Eastern settlement while opposing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

Khouri Conversations is a non-profit agency supporting the Canadian ideals of inclusion and multiculturalism.

Seeing Israel as anything other than a Jewish state is a tough concept for many to absorb, the panel heard.

For example, JSpace moderator Karen Mock, for example, said her organization remains dedicated to the idea of “two states for two people,” while also supporting a settlement based on “mutual recognition, peaceful coexistence and security.”

That position was echoed by Bob Katz, chair of the Toronto chapter of Canadian Friends for Peace Now.

“I am absolutely wedded to the two-state solution and it’s going to be very hard to shake me from that,” he said.

Katz added that an important step forward is to prevent Israel from expansion into the West Bank with more Jewish settlements and new infrastructure, such as a proposed medical school in the region.

“It’s critical for Jews here to convince Jews in Israel not to create new facts on the ground like that every time they turn around,” he said.


Steve Arnold
Steve Arnold

Steve Arnold worked 42 years in Canadian journalism, retiring in 2016 from The Hamilton Spectator. He holds a BA in history and political science, an MA in public policy analysis and has received 25 awards for writing excellence. He now lives in St. Catharines, Ontario.

The Many Facets of the Israel-UAE Deal

Aug. 20, 2020 – By DAVID ROYTENBERG

On Aug. 13, Israel and United Arab Emirates announced the signing of an agreement normalizing relations between the two countries. According to the text of the agreement, “Delegations from Israel and the United Arab Emirates will meet in the coming weeks to sign bilateral agreements regarding investment, tourism, direct flights, security, telecommunications, technology, energy, healthcare, culture, the environment, the establishment of reciprocal embassies, and other areas of mutual benefit.”

In return for the UAE’s pledge to normalize relations, the Israeli government agreed to “suspend” its plan, enshrined in the coalition agreement that established the current government, to proceed with unilateral annexation of territories allocated to Israel in Donald Trump’s Mideast peace plan, unveiled earlier this year.

With annexation already delayed because of opposition by the Americans and the Blue and White faction in the governing coalition, this facet of the deal appeared to turn a political liability into an advantage for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The reaction to the announcement is revealing, as it separates those who would welcome peace in spite of possible compromise, and from those who would rather pursue their maximal aims at the cost of continuing the conflict. The cries of betrayal from expansionists on the Israeli right were loud and indignant.

Samaria Regional Council leader Yossi Dagan accused Netanyahu of stabbing the settler movement in the back and threatened political consequences. He said that they had stood by Netanyahu until now, but that abandoning annexation was “a step too far.”

Spokespeople for the Palestinian Authority unanimously denounced the UAE pact. Although PA leader Mahmoud Abbas said earlier this year that the threat of annexation represented the death of the two-state solution, nobody in Ramallah seemed pleased that Israel had backed away from the annexation plan.

Palestinian politician Saeb Erekat told Agence France-Presse that the UAE deal with Israel represents the death of the two-state solution. In spite of the concession obtained by the UAE on annexation, he claimed that normalization with Israel would encourage Israeli intransigence.

Leadership in Iran and Turkey had no good words to say, with Iran threatening the UAE would “burn in Zionist fire.”

Support for the agreement came from both main factions within the Israeli government, although Blue and White was apparently kept in the dark until just before the deal was announced.

Supporters of Israel in the United States were broadly in support of the agreement. The Canadian Friends of Peace Now praised the move in a statement, emphasizing that stepping back from annexation was welcome.

Support also came from U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who indicated that working for better relations between Israel and the Gulf States had been a goal of the previous American administration in which he served as vice-president. He welcomed Israel’s decision to suspend its plan for annexation.

Commentators from across the Israeli political spectrum hailed the agreement as historic. The UAE is the first Gulf Arab State to officially end its hostility to Israel. While advocates of annexation were disappointed, the vast majority of Israelis appeared to prefer the UAE deal to the prospect of extending Israeli sovereignty over more territory.

Given the broadly welcoming mood in Israel, it is especially disheartening to see the unanimous rejection of the deal among the Palestinian leadership. One would hope that at least some among them would see the suspension of plans for annexation as a new window of opportunity to negotiate a peace agreement that would offer them more territory than that proposed in the Trump plan.

In the face of many potential risks to Israel had annexation proceeded, it may well be that Netanyahu’s enthusiasm for it was never as firm as his rhetoric suggested. With the UAE deal now achieved, it would be beneficial for both parties if it leads to a renewal of efforts to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace.


David Roytenberg
David Roytenberg

David Roytenberg is a computer consultant living in Ottawa. He is Secretary of MERCAZ Canada and chair of adult education at Kehillat Beth Israel congregation.

The UAE-Israel Agreement: Winners and Losers

Aug. 19, 2020 – By Barbara Landau

Progressive Jews applaud the announcement that the United Arab Emirates and Israel have reached an historic agreement. The deal to normalize relations has been waiting since the Arab Initiative was offered in 2002. Steps toward peace with Israel’s Arab neighbours clearly benefit the Jewish state and increase stability and security cooperation amid threats from Iran and other radical states.

This historic and surprising announcement came on the heels of Donald Trump’s “Deal of a Century” and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposal to unilaterally annex parts of the Jordan Valley. While Trump is claiming credit for this new deal, the applause really belongs to a loud chorus of voices, in particular from the UAE, as well as Jordan, the European Union, American political pundits, and the global progressive Jewish community, including a strong cooperative effort across Canadian Jewish organizations and the Reform movement.

There was consensus that both proposals were a major threat to any hope of a two-state solution or peace with the Palestinians. In jeopardy was the very success we are celebrating – warming relations with Arab neighbours. Our achievement is that unilateral annexation is now on hold and the future of Trump’s original deal has been at least temporarily mothballed.

Before we breathe a sigh of relief, we need to look at what was not included in this latest announcement.

First, annexation may not be off the table. Before the ink on the UAE deal was dry, Netanyahu was claiming that he intended to proceed with annexation after a period of “suspension.” This was to reassure his settler base, many of whom decried both Trump’s deal and UAE agreement because both leave open the possibility of a two-state resolution. They want one state incorporating all of “Judea and Samaria” without offering citizenship to Palestinians, a move that would again risk international condemnation. Whether settlers can rely on Netanyahu’s reassurance is thankfully open to question.

An optimistic view is that while applauding the agreement between the UAE and Israel as a significant step to counter the threat of Iran and other potential adversaries, Netanyahu will not jeopardize his return to celebrity status just when he faces corruption charges and widespread protests against his handling of COVID and the Israeli economy. Also, the UAE deal made it clear that “normalization of relations” is the payoff for no annexation.

For Trump, with an election looming, the applause is a welcome change of the channel from citizen unrest and widespread criticism. Even Democratic candidate Joe Biden has offered his blessing, giving Trump an opportunity to claim credit and appeal to his fragmenting American Jewish base. For now, Trump is clear that unilateral annexation is not in the cards, despite the contrary assurance by David Friedman, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, that the delay is “for now.”

The question is, “what does Israel need to ensure its future as a peaceful and a democratic state?” While acceptance in the Arab world is very important, how critical is reaching a viable and just deal with the Palestinians? If it is essential, then the question is, “will this announcement help?”

The answer to that question is likely no. Yet again, the Palestinians played no role in the negotiations. They apparently were not consulted or even informed. Their status is yet again diminished, and they are understandably angry and feel betrayed.

This should be of concern to Israel because the likely result is further instability within the Palestinian Authority and a potential outpouring of frustration and despair directed at Israel. Such violence has largely been avoided because of the security cooperation between Israel and the P.A. that ended when Netanyahu announced his annexation plan.

While normalized relations with the UAE and potentially other Arab countries is news to celebrate, what is missing? As Diaspora Jews who care deeply about Israel’s future as a democratic and Jewish state, the elephant not in the room is the occupation – or ending it.

Where can we look for reassurance that peace will triumph? While the UAE and the U.S. claim that Netanyahu agreed to resume direct two-state negotiations, this was not spelled out in the text of the agreement. Netanyahu’s deafening silence about this in his triumphant announcement to Israelis means caution is warranted.  

What might cause concern? Recent years have seen serious challenges to Israel’s democracy and the prospects for peace: The “Nation State Law,” the continued settlement expansion, the undermining of civil rights of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, and the attacks on judicial independence. The unilateral declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by the U.S. and the unilateral annexation of the Golan Heights are all in contradiction to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative that put reciprocal demands on Israel in exchange for its considerable olive branch:  

The 2002 Arab Peace initiative…

…reaffirms the resolution taken in June 1996 at the Cairo extraordinary Arab summit that a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East is the strategic option of the Arab countries, to be achieved in accordance with international legality, and which would require a comparable commitment on the part of the Israeli government. (Emphasis mine).

Arab Peace Initiative

The current UAE-Israel agreement makes no such explicit demand and leaves the occupation and creeping annexation in place. So while we celebrate today, what does the future hold for peace based on two states for two peoples? If this dream is erased, what is the alternative? My hope is that we will keep a watchful eye and continue our advocacy for a genuine and secure peace.


Barbara Landau
Dr. Barbara Landau

Dr. Barbara Landau is a lawyer, psychologist and mediator. She is a board member and chairs the Shared Society Committee of JSpaceCanada and is the Canadian representative on the J-Link Coordinating Committee. She participated in three Compassionate Listening peace-building missions to Israel and Palestine. She co-chairs the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims (CAJM), is co-founder of “Together in Hope,” a Jewish, Palestinian/Arab women’s dialogue group. Barbara is a partner in Givat Haviva’s “Heart to Heart” Alumni Program, whose goal is building shared society for Jewish and Palestinian Israeli youth and their parents.

From Romanian poverty and the Holocaust: Marcel Adams Rose to Billionaire Real Estate Developer in Century-Long Life

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—Born in a Carpathian mountain village to a peddler of animal hides, Marcel Adams became a billionaire through shrewd investment in the burgeoning postwar real estate boom in Canada and an extraordinary single-minded determination.

That iron will no doubt contributed to his longevity. Adams died on Aug. 11, nine days after his 100th birthday.

Marcel Adams
Marcel Adams

For years, Adams was listed among the richest Canadians by Canadian Business magazine and, in 2017, his wealth was calculated at US $1.5 billion, with assets in mostly commercial properties across the country and in the United States.

Adams immigrated to Canada in 1951 from Israel with virtually nothing and, following in his father’s trade, worked in a tannery in Quebec City. While still an employee, he took the advice of a lawyer he met at his synagogue and invested in the development of a modest residential building. Soon he had several apartments and, fortuitously, switched to commercial real estate, most profitably, shopping centres – a new phenomenon. He completed the first mall in the provincial capital in 1959.

Despite his success, Adams never fit the image of the moneyed class. Physically unprepossessing and a man of few words outside his intimates, Adams preferred to blend into the crowd and avoided honours. His philanthropy grew with the years, but he remained low-key personally, while still seen frequently at Jewish community events well into his 90s.

Writing in the Jerusalem Post, his son-in-law, McGill University history professor Gil Troy, observed: “’With his thick peasant hands…and thicker accent, Marcel loved being underestimated by elegant Canadians.” He remained famously frugal, always pleased at finding a way to save money even on the most mundane of daily expenditures, and planned each day’s agenda with a pencil and paper.

Adams knew the importance of paying attention to details and the small gains that led to broader outcomes.

Born Meir Abramovici in Piatra Neamt, Romania, the young Adams toiled in Nazi slave labour camps between 1941 and 1944, when he escaped and fled to Palestine via Turkey. There, he raised cattle and joined the army, fighting in the 1948 War of Independence.

Thanks to his proficiency in French, Adams was tapped by the Jewish Agency to serve in Algiers and Marseilles, helping to get North African Jewish refugees to Israel.

Adams founded Iberville Developments Ltd. In 1958, moving the business to Montreal in the mid-1960s. The privately-held company became one of the largest commercial real estate enterprises in Canada.

After his father left its day-to-day operations, Sylvan Adams ran Iberville. Since he made aliyah five years ago, Iberville has been headed by Sylvan’s son, Josh.

“He was a great man, a Holocaust survivor, who never complained, never looked back, only forward, as he worked hard to build a better life for himself and his family,” stated Sylvan upon his father’s passing.

Adams and his late wife Annie, also a Romanian immigrant, were particularly supportive of Tel Aviv University. Among the projects they initiated there are the Adams Institute for Business Management Information Systems and the Adams Centre for Brain Research. Annie Adams died in 1997.

In 2005, Adams established, with the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities a fellowship program providing US $1 million annually to promising PhD students. To date, 142 students have benefited, many going on to promising careers in Israel.

Although his formal education was curtailed, Adams had a keen intellect and a lifelong hunger for learning. He had a genius for mathematics and read widely, at least, anything he felt would further his practical knowledge.

“As the historian son-in-law, my ‘job’ was to feed him serious works of history, biography, current events,” Troy related. “Whenever I threw in a novel, he scoffed, meiselach (trivialities).”

Those who knew Adams remember a warm, engaging and eternally optimistic man, a great storyteller who drew on his own incredible life.

In a condolence on the Paperman funeral home website, Rabbi Allan Nadler, formerly of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, said the Adams he knew was “’down to earth, warm and a haymisher Rumaynisher Yid who was often the anonymous donor when an urgent situation arose that required discreet charity.”

Besides Sylvan, who devotes himself to promoting Israel to the world through such spectacular events as bringing the Giro Italia cycling race to Israel for the first time, Adams is survived by his son Julian, a biochemist known for his key role in developing the drug Velcade for the treatment of myeloma; Troy’s wife Linda, a lawyer; Leora, a nurse; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Report anti-Israel Signs, CIJA Urges

Aug. 11, 2020 – The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) says it is “aware” of signs posted in Toronto which falsely alleging Israeli involvement in the recent explosion in Beirut that killed some 150 people and injured many more.

The bizarre signs, which have been seen along the Bathurst Street corridor, especially at Lawrence Ave., Sheppard Ave. and Steeles Ave., refer to the Beirut tragedy was a “nuclear blast,” adding the words “Isreali (sic) missile video,” and a warning that “Damascus is in peril.”

Readers are urged to visit the website “Hearthelordjesus.com,” which offers wild conspiracies about the Christian end times and various apocalyptic scenarios involving COVID.

The signs have been affixed high on utility poles, indicating a ladder was used to put them up.

“These kinds of outrageous conspiracy theories are both absurd and dangerous,” CIJA said in a Facebook post.

“If you encounter one of these signs, please call 311 to report it as a violation of Chapter 693, Article IV of the Municipal Code. Be sure to note its location and ask by-law officers to remove it. Then send us an e-mail at info@cija.ca that includes a photo of the sign and the location where you saw it so that we can follow up on your report to the city,” the organization added.

In recent days, social media has lit up with news of the signs. Some have proudly indicated they have removed the signs themselves. There have also been photos posted of a white van with an electronic sign at the back that displays similar messages.

MP Levitt Quits Politics to Take Over FSWC

Aug. 5, 2020 –

Toronto-area Liberal Member of Parliament Michael Levitt has announced he is retiring from politics to become president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC).

Levitt has represented the riding of York Centre since 2015, when he defeated Conservative Mark Adler. He was re-elected in last year’s federal vote. His final day as an MP will be Sept. 1.

In a message to his constituents posted on Facebook, Levitt said the job of MP in Ottawa took a toll on his personal life.

“It hasn’t been without consequence to those I love most, and while it is an incredible privilege to serve the people of York Centre, I know deep down that now is the time for me to put family first and come back home, both physically and mentally,” he said.

Despite that, he said he “loved every minute” of political life. “…it has been the adventure of a lifetime.”

Among a handful of Jewish MPs, Levitt chaired the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group; the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development; and the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on International Human Rights.

He will replace Avi Benlolo as head of the FSWC. No reason was given for Benlolo’s departure from the organization earlier this summer.

“FSWC is excited to welcome Michael Levitt as President and CEO,” the group’s chair, Fred Waks, said in a press release. “As the Member of Parliament for York Centre, Michael is deeply rooted in the community and his work in the fields of foreign affairs and human rights has garnered him respect from advocates at home and abroad. His distinguished career advocating for human rights, and his support for Israel and the fight against antisemitism, bring a high level of leadership and profile to our organization. We could not be more excited for the future.”

As an MP, Levitt frequently spoke out on Israel and issues of concern to Canada’s Jews, co-sponsoring a 2018 bill to make May of each year Canadian Jewish Heritage Month.

He was visible when Canada said it would adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, and he often addressed anti-Jewish incidents in the country.

But Levitt found himself on the defensive last autumn when Ottawa abruptly changed its vote on a resolution at the United Nations to oppose Israel, which filed a diplomatic complaint against Canada.

Levitt was also a member of the Raoul Wallenberg Parliamentary Caucus on Human Rights. Before entering politics, he helped found the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee.

In the FSWC statement, Levitt said he plans “to continue the organization’s proud legacy and the work I’ve done over the past five years in fighting antisemitism and promoting human rights, including bringing a renewed focus to the issue of systemic racism in Canada and how we can work together to address it.”

His appointment earned praise from former justice minister and international human rights advocate Irwin Cotler, who said Levitt’s “extensive experience and expertise dovetail perfectly with the mission and purpose of [FSWC], acting on the universal lessons of the Holocaust – combating racism and antisemitism and safeguarding Israel and the Jewish people.”

According to iPolitics, Levitt’s departure will trigger the first byelection of the current Parliament and will be the first during the COVID pandemic.

– CJR Staff

Questioning the Two-State Solution: A Dilemma for Progressive Jews

By JEFFREY WILKINSON

Recently, liberal Jewish thinker, journalist and teacher Peter Beinart wrote a highly provocative article in the journal Jewish Currents, followed by a shorter piece in the New York Times calling the two-state solution “dead” and advocating for a binational state with equal rights for all.

In his longer piece, “Yavne: A Jewish Case for Equality in Israel-Palestine,” Beinart reflects on moments in Jewish history where seismic shifts happened in religious and cultural practices that may have seemed threatening at the time, but were instead movements that propelled us to be better and stronger. So how will we respond to Beinart’s call for another seismic shift in our thinking and practice?

Predictably, there were rebuttals from many sides, including complete rejection from the more rigid advocates of Israel, calling Beinart irrelevant. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) went so far as to call him antisemitic (a rich claim to be aimed at a devout Jew).

The focus here is on the response from the “progressive” Jewish community. While the term “progressive” encapsulates a wide swath of Jewish thought, I refer specifically to the large numbers who refer to themselves as Zionists but also voice concern, to varying degrees, over Israeli government policy, particularly in terms of the occupation, settlements, possible annexation, and Palestinian human rights. Beinart has long been a part of this progressive Zionist movement, though he has been retreating from the two-state camp for some time.

He makes three key points. The first, holding on to the two–state solution, based on today’s political realities, including the lack of viable left-leaning political movement supporting it, is akin to supporting the status quo indefinitely.

Second, a binational state has been successfully achieved in other places in the world, so it is attainable.

Lastly, the focus on Israel as the liberation of the Jewish people and the only “insurance policy” against another Holocaust can no longer be used as the sole justification for defending injustice and inflicting suffering on Palestinians.

The dilemma for progressive Zionists is that if the very idea of “progressiveness” is to be willing to challenge the status quo and resist injustice, how do we respond when we ourselves are being called out for maintaining the status quo? In order to answer this, we need to reflect on why so many are resisting Beinart’s call for a re-examination. Is it not innately “Jewish” to reflect and re-examine?

While there are layers to dealing with this dilemma, we must begin with what I would offer is the root of the challenge: Trauma. Historical trauma, present trauma, and the fear of future trauma.

The challenge that Beinart’s article presents for progressives is really a challenge that is already baked into the idea of progressive Zionism: To be pro-peace, pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel. I would suggest there is an existing irresolvable tension in supporting Palestinians while also supporting the very institution that oppresses them.

In spite of these seemingly incompatible goals, there are many deeply committed to this trilateral cause to support peace, support Palestinians, while remaining steadfastly Zionist. I have struggled with these contradictions for many years. To deal differently with Beinart’s call, and with the two-state dilemma more broadly, we need to deal with the built-in contradictions in our “pro-pro-pro” stance.

The key to this journey, in my own experience, is in recognizing that that this “pro-pro-pro” commitment is viewed through a 1967-forward lens. If we dig more deeply into this, it means viewing Palestinian oppression only in terms of settlements, the occupation, and the daily injustices that the Israeli government and military inflict on Palestinians.

The two-state solution is entirely a ’67–driven solution: Returning to the pre-’67 borders, sharing Jerusalem, ending the occupation, and resolving the settlement issue. This allows us to maintain Israel without acknowledging or addressing the core trauma for Palestinians: 1948.

It is, in many ways, a “have our cake and eat it too” solution. Yes, it does involve compromise from us, but not in terms of trauma. We get to have our liberation from trauma (Israel), without deeply addressing Palestinian trauma.

There have been many responses to Beinart’s article from Jewish progressives. They centre on the idea that abandoning the two-state solution is tantamount to cultural suicide. In a recent webinar, Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of JStreet, a strongly progressive lobby group in the United States, asked Beinart why he would “abandon the Jewish State at a time Jews are under such threat?” That this fear of impending trauma continues to dominate the progressive Jewish narrative means that we have not found a way to deal with the central contradiction of being supporters of both Israel and Palestinians.

To face Beinart’s call head on, we need to be able to see justice for all as a response to the genesis of the trauma for Palestinians. We need to examine whether our call for a two-state solution is in fact “progressive” or is it clinging to the status quo? We need to ask if the binational state is really the existential threat to Jews that we have made it out to be. Granting that this is a genuine fear, does holding on to the status quo create greater safety for Jews in the long-term, and even if it does, is it a just solution for all, including Palestinians?

While I agree with Beinart and have come to similar conclusions myself some time ago, my purpose here is to remind us that re-examination is an essential tenet of our tradition, and that we should never feel that the call to question is inherently dangerous. We are strong enough to have this difficult conversation with ourselves and we must have it if justice for all is indeed our guiding light.


Jeff Wilkinson
Jeffrey Wilkinson, PhD

Jeffrey J. Wilkinson, PhD, is an educator, facilitator and researcher focused on the psycho-social causes of intractable conflicts, researching not only how these conflicts are formed, but also how they may be undone over time. His doctoral dissertation explored the Israel/Palestine conflict through the experiences of Canadian Jews and Palestinians. He is the co-author, with a Palestinian, of an upcoming book addressing the current polarization in Jewish-Palestinian discourse within the two diasporas.

If You Want to Fight Antisemitism, Engage Allies

Aug. 4, 2020 – By REBECCA KATZMAN

Anti-Israel groups have hijacked student governments on many campuses. Their aggressive, often malicious rhetoric and programs are bigoted and hateful, causing Jewish and pro-Israel students to feel marginalized. Although bigotry against Israel is often considered free speech, it is actually hate speech and antisemitic, at least according to the IHRA definition. It should be socially unacceptable on every university campus in Canada. It is not civil discourse, and far too often, it shuts down any kind of dialogue about the complexities of the Middle East conflict.

These groups are loud, angry, and their demonization of all things Israel contributes to making campus a hostile environment for Jewish and pro-Israel students. The relentless propaganda of the global BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement to delegitimize Israel has led to overt acts of antisemitism. Although BDS motions are generally toothless and university administrations may disavow them, the damage to student life is real.

From 2012 to 2014, the BDS movement passed 11 anti-Israel resolutions on campuses across the country. Since then, Jewish campus organizations have worked together to defeat such campaigns at 11 universities. Even as we continue addressing challenges on campus, we must become more proactive. We must empower students to educate new audiences, make friends, and create alliances.

We have to bring student leaders to Israel and Israel to students! Working for StandWithUs Canada, the game-changing Israel education organization, I recognized that our community can do more to overcome antisemitism and ignorance on campus.

That is why earlier this year, I asked students who went through StandWithUs Canada’s Emerson Fellowship, which equips student leaders to proudly bring Israel to their campuses while challenging misinformation about the Jewish state, to reach out to student government presidents, executive members, journalists, and influencers on their campuses across the country to offer them an in-depth tour of Israel and the Palestinian Authority – from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to Ramallah.

The trip was funded by two wonderful community philanthropists, Tammy Brown and Tamara Fine, their friends, and other members of the community who shared our vision.

StandWithUs Canada led its first campus mission to Israel, called InSight, this past February. I felt so privileged to lead the delegation of 14 prominent student leaders from Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, St. John’s, and Winnipeg on a life-changing and educational 10-day adventure.

We started in Jerusalem, where we arrived in time to see the beautiful celebrations at the Western Wall on Shabbat. We toured Yad Vashem, where we learned about the atrocities of the Holocaust. Student leaders mentioned that they had never learned anything about the Holocaust during any of their school years. I watched the students learn, become emotional, and even shed tears. 

We went to Ramallah and Ariel to hear from Israelis and Palestinians, the people on both sides of the conflict. Participants met with students from Ariel University in the West Bank, and asked them what life is like in their community. Later in the day, the students went on a tour at the Achva factory, where they sampled warm halva straight from the mixer.

The group visited Save a Child’s Heart to learn about the humanitarian organization that offers life-saving heart surgeries for babies from the Middle East and North Africa. One day ended with dinner in Usafiya, a Druze village in the north of Israel, at the family home of a student ambassador for peace.

We visited the SodaStream factory in the Negev, where participants saw Palestinians and Israelis working side by side in peaceful coexistence. SodaStream’s facility in the West Bank had been a major target of BDS, and we heard from Palestinian workers about how this anti-Israel campaign endangers their livelihoods.

We visited the Gaza “envelope” – communities and towns that border or are very close to the Gaza Strip, including Sderot so the students could understand the real threat of Hamas terror, with missiles often raining on these places and families driven to bomb shelters with just 15 seconds to find safety.

We heard from Danny Tirza, the architect of the security barrier that was built to stop terrorism from the Palestinian territories during the second intifada. We learned about other security threats Israel faces as well, along with the difficult choices the Israel Defense Forces must often make during emergencies. Participants gained a deeper understanding of how complicated the situation is, and our conversations became more nuanced.

A highlight of the trip was the Ethiopian cultural centre, Beteh, in Tel Aviv. Bettae was created by former StandWithUs employee Ashager Araro.  It showcases Ethiopian food and culture. The students learned the story of Ethiopian Jewry and gained a deeper understanding of Israeli society.

Towards the end, we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, considered by Christians to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection. To cap off this amazing trip, we toured Jaffa and the Peres Centre for Peace, went to the beach, and enjoyed the vibrant nightlife of Tel Aviv. The students got to see Israel as a complex and vibrant country, a place with a rich and diverse culture, and a home to people who found countless unique ways to make the world a better place.

In the end, this trip resulted in a whirlwind of emotions for everyone. On departing Israel, hearts and minds were more open, more reflective, and more connected. “Though each participant was different, as a group we shared one important trait: Curiosity,” one student wrote. “I was absolutely inspired by the open-mindedness of my peers, their desire to learn, and ask uncomfortable questions.”

I’m very excited about the relationships and partnerships we are building with many diverse campus groups and student leaders from many backgrounds. The more we can build understanding about Jews and Israel, the more allies we will have in the fight against hatred and antisemitism. 


Rebecca Katzman
Rebecca Katzman

Rebecca Katzman is the Campus Director for StandWithUs Canada. She is also an alumna of the 2015-2016 StandWithUs Canada Emerson Fellowship. For more about the fellowships and help fighting antisemitism on campus, contact Rebecca at: rebeccak@standwithus.com 

The Seth Rogen Drama: We Need Honest Talk About Israel

Aug. 3, 2020 – By ZACK BABINS

Last week, Canadian Jewish actor and filmmaker Seth Rogen, while promoting his new movie, An American Pickle, the saga of a poor Yiddish immigrant to New York City who is preserved in pickle brine for 100 years (based on a quirky story by Simon Rich, available here), discussed his Jewish identity and feelings about Israel.

You may have read about it: Rogen rejected an inherent link between Jewish identity and Zionism, called the idea of Jewish statehood the product of “an antiquated thought process,” and expressed dissatisfaction with the ways he – the son of two kibbutzniks and Jewish summer camp alumnus– was educated when it came to Israel. 

I may disagree with Seth on a few points – I happen to think that as long as everyone else has a state, we should probably have one too – but this much is true: The way that our community teaches young Jews about Israel, Palestine – and the conflict just doesn’t square with historical records – and there is an instinct to exile and dismiss the Jews who ask frank and difficult questions about Israel.

The realities of the Aliyah movements, the British Mandate, the War of Independence, the wars of 1967 and 1973, intifadas, settlements, and countless failed peace processes, are too messy for one op-ed and one day. But in our day schools and summer camps, and our primary educational programs, they are simplified to create a vision of Israel that is blameless, perfect and miraculous – a vision far more naïve and utopian than even Herzl’s. 

“We took a deserted land and made the desert bloom.” “We (out of the goodness of our own hearts) withdrew from Gaza and just look at what they did there.” “We accepted the Partition plan and they didn’t.”  

It wasn’t until my final year of university, and my decision to write a thesis on the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, that I – who had attended Hebrew school for nine years, was active in the local Jewish fraternity, president of Hillel, and had just participated in a Birthright Israel trip – learned, for instance, that the Israeli acceptance of the 1947 partition plan was far from unanimous, with Menachem Begin and the Revisionist Zionist camp calling it “illegitimate.” 

During that year of research and writing, I encountered many pieces of information that directly and forcefully disproved many of the ideas that I had been raised with. I confronted the reality of a real country making political decisions and strategic military calculations.

I felt lied to. On many occasions, I was mere sentences away from abandoning my emotional stake in Israel altogether. On some days, the only thing stopping me from washing my hands of the whole messy falafel was a mentor who encouraged me to embrace the nuances and test my values against them.

Any conversation about the Jewish future has to include a frank, reasonable discussion about the role of Israel and its ability to represent Jews around the world. It is unsustainable for us, as a people, to continue mythologizing a real, complex place and exiling those of us who express dissatisfaction with realities once we learn them. 

After all of that, after the threat of annexation, the continued attack of the rabbinate on progressive values, and much more, I remain a Zionist for this reason: 

I am a Jew, and a Jew in a world that is dangerous and hostile to Jews: Israel, for all its faults, remains a place where Jews can be safe as Jews, an increasing rarity in 2020. While I am relatively safe as a Canadian Jew, I know far too much Jewish history to think that this safety is forever guaranteed.

But a small part of me, in the back of my head, knows that there is a second reason. I remain a Zionist because anything else risks alienation and condemnation. From my friends, my family, the community I grew up and worked in. From the Jewish Twittersphere. 

I’ve been to Israel three times and I’d like to visit again in the future. In pre-coronavirus times, Israel has barred entry to, among others, Diaspora Jewish BDS activists. I’m not interested in taking a 12-hour flight only to get deported from a country that claims to be my homeland. 

My Zionism is nuanced. It is critical, it is measured, and I do my best to keep it in line with history and the values with which I judge every other political issue in my life. But it is not the only thing that makes me a Jew. Far from it. 

I’ve long been party to conversations – and handwringing – about the Jewish future. For a long time, assimilation and intermarriage were the boogeyman. Now, it’s insufficient (right-wing, reactionary, unquestioning) Zionism that gets one labeled as a traitor to the Jews. 

The truth is, when we lie to our kids, they resent the lie as much as they resent us. The truth is, to ensure a Jewish future, we have to tell the truth about the Jewish past. And that means a conversation about Israel that’s rooted in reality and history, not myths and utopias. These questions are not going away, and will only get louder. The truth is, we ignore them – and dismiss young Jews with serious concerns – at our own risk.


Zack Babins is a Professional Jew and Recovering Jewish Professional™, an occasional political communicator and a constant seeker of attention.

Jewish/Palestinian Equality, Yes! A Joint Jewish/Palestinian state, Impossible!

By BOB KATZ

The writer Peter Beinart, a well-known and influential progressive Zionist, who had long advocated a two-state solution, recently reconsidered his principles. In a controversial and much-discussed essay, published in Jewish Currents in early July, he proposes an altogether different paradigm.

In his carefully written, well-researched essay, Beinart concludes that the traditional view of Zionism was no longer viable, a two-state solution was unachievable, and the only alternative to Israel becoming an apartheid state would be for it to forge an alliance with the Palestinians and create a unified state in which all citizens were equal. Most importantly, he emphasizes that if Israel continued to govern close to three million non-citizen, non-voting Palestinians on a fraction of the West Bank, it would be unable to avoid the “apartheid” label. And once the world came to regard Israel as an apartheid state, its days would be numbered.

Beinart recognizes that a one-state solution would require difficult compromises. At the same time, he points to the existence of two states within Belgium, notes South Africa’s successful transition to democracy, and proposes the example of the peace accord that ended the Troubles in Northern Ireland. 

Far from persuading me to abandon Zionism and accept a one-state solution, Beinart’s essay left me all the more convinced of the importance of Zionism, and the necessity of a two-state solution. At the same time, I am in full agreement with his bleak view that, if annexation continues, whether creeping or formal, Israel will fit the definition of apartheid, in which case it will not be able to survive the type of international condemnation that led to the end of apartheid in South Africa.

Beinart describes the logic and benefits of a unified Jewish-Palestinian state but does not offer a plan to bring about a union. Instead, he points to the largely successful integration of Palestinian Israelis into the pre-1967 borders and observes that, given Israel’s control of the West Bank, “Israel-Palestine is already binational.” He posits that education and income parity would lead to workable compromises for all Palestinians. Over the past 53 years, Israel and the Palestinians have failed to negotiate a two-state solution. There is no reason to assume that the two sides – three if you consider Gaza a separate entity – will do any better negotiating a one-state solution.

Beinart’s assertion that it would be feasible for Jews and all Palestinians to unite within a peaceful state, such as exists in present day Israel, ignores the fact that the Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship have a very different recent history than the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. It would require the integration of dispossessed people who have long seen the PLO and Hamas as their only prospects for freedom from a Zionist tyranny.

Beinart dreams of a unified state with a constitution in which both Jews and Palestinians would have equal rights. Even with constitutional protections, it is not hard to imagine both sides attempting to dominate the other. Whatever constitutional rights Armenians once had in the Ottoman Empire were extinguished by 1923 with virtually no intervention from the outside world. Iran was a multi-cultural state until it felt a need to deal with apostates such as their Baha’i, Zoroastrian and Jewish minorities. In Iraq, Sunnis persecuted Shiites until Saddam Hussein was overthrown, at which time the Shiites persecuted the Sunnis. And everyone persecuted the Kurds.

The author argues that extremists would be mollified in a state in which all peoples were full citizens with equal rights. A quick change of heart would be inconceivable. A unified state would have to persuade crazed Jewish settlers and suicidal Hamas fighters to set aside their murderous practices in the interests of peace with their mortal enemies.

Beinart’s essay does not deal with a division of so-called “holy sites.” The tombs of Hebron are sacred to Jews and to Muslims. A binational state of Israel would have to reconcile the legitimate concerns of Hebron’s Palestinians, whose Jewish extremist persecutors have erected a statue to honour Baruch Goldstein as well as the fears of indigenous Jews who remain haunted by the 1929 Hebron Massacre. Beinart also ignores the interests of fundamentalist Christians, who believe that only if there is a Jewish state in Israel can there be a Second Coming. 

Beinart discusses Gaza, pre-1967 Israel, and the West Bank as if they were in a bubble, free from external forces. Guaranteeing the security of Jews in a binational state would require more than a peace between Palestinians and Jews. Just as many Jews deny the rights of Palestinians in the interests of a truly Jewish state (see: Israel’s Basic Law, enacted in 2018), many Muslims dream of an all-Muslim Middle East. In 1948, five Arab nations attacked Israel with the stated purpose of preventing a Zionist entity from existing in the Middle East. 

The principal reason the Egyptian and Jordanian governments currently recognize Israel is because, at least for now, cooperation is a more viable alternative than war. The principal reason the Sunni states, which are still at war with Israel, no longer emphasize destroying the Zionist entity is because, at least for now, they are more worried about Iran. There is no reason to assume that Iran would be any better disposed to a Jewish power-sharing relationship in a binational Israeli-Palestinian state than they are to sharing power with the indigenous Jews who still live within their borders. 

Beinart’s bubble ignores the fact that members of non-Islamic religions are in decline in most Middle Eastern states. The Christian population in all of the Sunni states has shrunk dramatically in the past century. Lebanon has been shattered by sectarian wars. Christians leave their homelands because they believe that they live in countries that, with the possible exception of Syria, want the Middle East to be entirely Muslim, as the Prophet Muhammad ordained. In Egypt, there have been frequent slaughters of Coptic Christians, whose population has declined by roughly 25 percent in the past 60 years. In a unified state, Jews would be a tiny minority surrounded by a sea of Islamic states that have rarely shown good will to their Jewish populations.

Beinart proposes post-apartheid South Africa as a model of a successful binational state and points out that white Afrikaners’ fear of violence proved unwarranted once the majority Black population gained equal rights. The example of South Africa becomes less compelling when one considers how badly integration fared in Rhodesia, South Sudan, the former Ethiopia, or post-partition Pakistan. Bi-nationalism also failed in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Yemen.

Northern Ireland is for Beinart another example of an apparently intractable conflict resolved once a peace accord was in place. However, the issues that divided Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland were very different than the issues dividing Jews and Palestinians. In Northern Ireland, historical grievances notwithstanding, the two adversaries were English-speaking, white-skinned Christians. Neither party was divided by differing Biblical commandments or shared holy sites.

Moreover, the example of Northern Ireland’s generally, successful transition to coexistence becomes less compelling when contrasted with the example of the former Yugoslavia, where a functional, post-war coexistence collapsed into mayhem following the 1980 death of Marshal Tito. 

In Northern Ireland, with Ireland to the south and England to the east, Catholics and Protestants each had neighbors with an interest in “their people” and keeping the peace. Israel does not have any neighbours who see the Jews as “their people.” 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu required three elections before he could form a precarious coalition with “Alternate” Prime Minister Benny Gantz. Although Likud’s and Kahol Lavan’s ideologies are similar, they are just barely cooperating. And neither party was willing to cooperate with HaReshima HaMeshutefet (the Joint List). A country that could not welcome Israeli Arabs from HaReshima HaMeshutefet into a coalition would be even less likely to accept Fatah as a partner—or Hamas as the opposition. 

I am in strong agreement with Beinart’s belief that unless a just and democratic solution is found for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, Israel will become an apartheid state, subject to constant security threats from within and without its borders. I have a keen recollection of how the collective efforts of the Commonwealth turned South Africa into a pariah state, even as Margaret Thatcher, the British prime minister, emphasized that they were “our kith and kin.” There is no prospect of a successful binational Jewish-Palestinian state! The future of Israel and Zionism depends on Jews and Palestinians each being able to live in prosperous democratic states of their own. 


Bob Katz is a member of Canadian Friends of Peace Now’s national board and chairperson of the Toronto chapter.

UPDATED: MP Under Fire for Saying Israel Demolished COVID Centre

July 24, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

A Hamilton, Ont. member of Parliament is under Twitter fire by Israel’s Embassy and Jewish groups for claiming that Israeli forces demolished a badly-needed COVID testing facility in the Palestinian city of Hebron.

Matthew Green, the NDP MP for Hamilton Centre, tweeted on July 19 that “hundreds” have contacted him with “serious concernsover the Israeli gov’s military stoppage of a #COVID testing centre in #Hebron #Palestine.”

He added: “I condemn this blatant disregard for human life during this pandemic.”

B’nai Brith Canada, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and the Israeli Embassy in Ottawa were quick to respond, accusing the rookie MP of spreading “a lie” about the incident.

“Matthew Green perpetuated a falsehood about #Israel demolishing a #Palestinian #COVID19 testing centre,” CIJA said in its response. “That is a lie. Mr. Green should delete his tweet and apologize.

“MPs have a responsibility to deal in facts and verify that what they are spreading on social media is true,” the organization added.

B’nai Brith Canada took to the social media platform to accuse Green of “amplifying lies about Israel.

“A Palestinian #COVID19 testing centre was not demolished,” B’nai Brith stated. “Do your homework before sharing conspiracy theories with your base. While you are at it, kindly delete this tweet & apologize for spreading false claims.”

B’nai Brith also challenged Green to defend his claim in the media.

“If he stands behind this awful and inaccurate tweet, why won’t he defend it in the media? Time to take it down and admit you were wrong,” B’nai Brith said.

As of July 24, the tweet was still up.

The former city councillor did not respond to calls about his statement, including an e-mailed request from the CJR.

Israel’s Embassy in Canada on July 23 tweeted that the facility in question was not in Hebron but in Silwan, a predominantly Palestinian neighborhood on the outskirts ofJerusalem’s Old City, and that it was “illegally operating.”

The Embassy said it 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. “Israel and its municipalities will continue to make all possible efforts to fight this virus, regardless of religious and cultural differences in its legally functioning clinics and hospitals.”

One source told the CJR that Israel shut down an unapproved COVID testing centre operating in Silwan on April 14.

On July 23, the Jerusalem Post reported a building was torn down in Hebron, but it was a prospective private car dealership.

Civil Administration bulldozers arrived at the site “and demolished the illegally built structure” on July 21, the Post reported.

“When the civil administration told the Palestinian businessman who built the structure that they intended to tear it down, he informed the Hebron municipality that he was donating the illegally built structure for ‘public services,’” the Post reported.

A source told the CJR that after a stop work order was issued by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories(COGAT), the owner put up a sign advertising the planned construction of acoronavirus testing site in an effort to slowor halt the demolition.

“Contrary to the false claims, this was not a center for coronavirus testing,” an unnamed Civil Administration spokesman told the newspaper. “Also, it was 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.

In a tweet on July 22, COGAT stated: “False claims have been made recently that the Civil Administration & the Hebron District Coordination and Liaison Office have demolished or intend to demolish a building site in Hebron designated for COVID-19 testing. Any such reports are unequivocally false & without basis.”

Israel’s Embassy also noted that “clinics/hospitals in Israel, including in Jerusalem, have administered over 166,000 tests per million people to date. These facilities are staffed by Muslims, Jews, and Christians without discrimination.”

The above expands and clarifies a previous version of this story.

On the Record – Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

SAMY ELMAGHRIBI/SALOMON AMZALLAG (April 19, 1922 – March 9, 2008) Singer-Songwriter, Cantor, Poet, Oud Player

July 22, 2020 – By DAVID EISENSTADT

By night, Samy Elmaghribi was dubbed the Moroccan Charles Aznavour – with a pop singer’s global reputation.

By day, he was Salomon Amzallag, the first Moroccan cantor at Montreal’s famed Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue. Known as Shearith Israel, on St. Kevin Street in Montreal since 1960, it’s Canada’s oldest Jewish congregation, established in 1768. Cantor Amzallag served there from 1967 to 1984.

Cantor Salomon Amzallag

Two cantors have since sung from the Spanish & Portuguese bimah, including Yehuda Abittan and present-day chazzan Daniel Benlolo, who was one of Amzallag’s students.

Amzallag was Benlolo’s mother’s cousin, and so the Montreal synagogue became their family’s new home.

“He’s the inspirational reason I became a chazzan and his shul was where I received my training,” Cantor Benlolo said. “He was a wonderful mentor. Over the years, I have been privileged to serve Sephardic and Ashkenazi congregations in Ottawa, New York, Atlanta and Caracas, to name a few. Two and-a-half years ago, I was pleased to return home to Shearith Israel to work and live in Montréal.”

Amzallag was born in Safi, a city in western Morocco. His family moved to Rabat in 1926. Growing up, he taught himself to play the oud, a short-neck, lute-type pear-shaped string instrument that dates to Assyria.

Early on, young Samy familiarized himself with Arab-Andalusian music, attending the Conservatoire de Music de Casablanca. Starting at age 20, he studied with many of the great Andalusian masters of his time.

Christopher Silver, an assistant professor of Jewish History and Culture at McGill University, has called him “a mid-twentieth century Moroccan superstar.”

“From his debut in 1948 through his professional zenith in 1956, he was a ubiquitous presence on radio and in concert,” Silver wrote in a recent issue of the International Journal of Middle East Studies.

Samy El Maghribi - Cantor Salomon Amzallag

As radio spread across Morocco, Elmaghribi’s live performances on radio and constant playing of his records on air “helped cement his status as the nation’s voice during a formative political moment.”

His popularity spilled over to commercial advertising: Elmaghribi  became an official spokesperson for Coca-Cola in Morocco. “His spoken dialogues and musical hooks for the soft drink company were played in heavy rotation on Radio Tangier International over the next several years,” wrote Silver. During this period, he became the sound of brands like Gillette, Palmolive, Canada Dry and Shell Oil.

A popular entertainer, Elmaghribi built a world-wide fan base and reinforced his Arab-Andalusian musical heritage with performances in Caracas, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, Montreal and New York, as well as playing for Moroccan fans in Oujda and Rabat. Listen to his music here.

Yet, he was committed to his cultural roots and to the sacred liturgical genre, said his daughter, Yolande Amzallag, who helped create Fondation Samy Elmaghribi.

Samy Elmaghribi and Cantor Salomon Amzallag “were one and the same person,” Yolande Amzallag told the Morocco World News at the foundation’s 2015 launch, “despite the fact they performed in different settings whose integrity was never challenged by the apparent dichotomy between the sacred and the secular.”

Her father’s allegiance to God was matched by his allegiance to art, she went on, “and he aspired to spiritual elevation both as an artist and as a practicing Jew.”

After he retired, Amzallag moved to Israel and founded Merkaz Piyyut Veshira, a centre for Sephardic music from where, from 1988 to 1994, he was pedagogical director, according to his biography.

He also co-founded and performed with the Israeli Andalusian Orchestra. In 2006, the orchestra won the country’s highest honour, the Israel Prize.

In November 2008, a few months after his death, Elmaghribi was posthumously recognized by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, who awarded him the Commander of the Order of Ouissam Alaouite medal for Meritorious Service to Morocco.

His wife, Messody Cohen-Amzallag, died in Ashdod on April 5, 2015. The couple’s children created the foundation “to perpetuate their teachings of respect for tradition, openness to others and generosity through the love of music.”


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is founding partner of tcgpr and is a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.

Want to Maximize your Israel Experience? Join ESRA!

July 17, 2020 – By JACK COPELOVICI

The last few months have witnessed a remarkable increase in interest from Jews in English-speaking countries in making aliyah. The reasons for doing so include Israel’s relative success in dealing with the COVID crisis, the rise in antisemitism around the world, and the desire to live a more meaningful life in Israel as a Jew.

However, some of the big questions holding back potential olim (new immigrants), especially those who are 50-plus and are already settled, may be the following:

“My Hebrew is almost non-existent. What am I going to do with myself when I get to Israel? Will I be able to find an English-speaking community in which I can feel comfortable or that has the same values as I do?”

One of the best ways to help solve these dilemmas is by joining ESRA (English Speakers Residents Association). My wife, Ida, and I are good examples. We made aliyah in June 2016 from Toronto when we were in our early 60s. We had two immediate priorities: To find an English-speaking community in which to live and to get involved in Israel by finding meaningful volunteer opportunities.

Fortunately, we found ESRA. 

ESRA was established some 40 years ago. It has roughly 2,700 members in about 21 chapters in north, south and central Israel, stretching from Eilat to Nahariya and beyond. Members originate from North America, the UK, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere. Programming, all of which is in English, encompasses social activities, outings (when conditions permit), educational mentoring and tutoring programs, charitable and welfare activities and volunteering. In addition, and because of COVID, a majority of our social activities – talks, visual tours and cooking classes – have been and may continue on Zoom.

Through ESRA, Ida and I are involved in tutoring Israeli students in English in schools in Ra’anana, raising funds for charitable causes, and organizing Zoom lectures on various topics. Prior to the COVID outbreak, there were numerous tours to such places as the Blaustein Institute; Zichron Yaakov, among Israel’s first Jewish settlements; world-famous wineries; Jerusalem antiquities and museums; the Agam Museum; the Weizmann Institute, Abraham’s Well in Beersheba; and a Bauhaus walking tour of Tel Aviv, to mention a few. We have also done cutting-edge environmental research in the Negev.

However, ESRA is not just for those planning aliyah.

Many people living abroad want to be able to see and hear about Israel generally and/or participate in English language programs, which address various aspects of life in Israel. ESRA is the perfect vehicle for that.

A look at the upcoming ESRA calendar will show a number of topics, ranging from finance, current events, Jewish historical topics, the environment and pure entertainment, like our National Trivia Quiz, as well as an assortment of other topics available for viewing.

In short, you do not have to be here to feel like you are enjoying what Israel has to offer. ESRA can help you do this wherever you are in the world. You can join an ESRA program even when visiting Israel.

When you look at the ESRA website, you can see many types of clubs, including bridge, photography and knitting. For the hardier types, there are monthly hikes, which have recently restarted.

Bottom line: When considering whether to make aliyah, remember that ESRA is one way you can make your experience of Israel immensely more meaningful and enjoyable, both from afar and when you arrive.

Simply go to the ESRA website and follow the prompts to join. We look forward to meeting you.


Jack Copelovici
Jack Copelovici

Jack Copelovici was born and raised in Toronto. He was a lawyer for 34 years before retiring and making aliyah in 2016 with his wife Ida. He lives in Ra’anana. Ida and Jack volunteer in a number of areas, including mentoring Lone Soldiers, assisting in English classes in area schools, and in ESRA, which Jack chairs in Ra’anana.

Bombing Changed Argentine Jewish Life ‘Forever,’ Rymberg Recalls

July 15, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Even 26 years later, Gustavo Rymberg can’t forget the shock of the morning in 1994 when Jewish life in Argentina changed forever.

It was July 18, winter in the southern hemisphere, and Rymberg was working in his Buenos Aires office, meeting with a colleague on a graphic design project.

The telephone rang. It was a friend with the devastating news that a terrorist had just driven a truck full of explosives into the Jewish community headquarters three blocks away.

Gustavo Rymberg
Gustavo Rymberg

“That was something that changed Jewish life in Argentina forever,” Rymberg recalled in an interview with the CJR ahead of a B’nai Brith commemoration of the attack set for tomorrow evening (July 16).

“It was one of the worst chapters in Argentine history,” he said. “It’s something for which the country has never given us answers or justice.

“For some reason, the government will not make an explanation for this or tell us the truth,” he said.

The attack on the seven-storey headquarters of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (Argentina-Israel Mutual Association, or AMIA) killed 85 people and injured as many as 300 more.

No one was ever arrested in what remains the deadliest antisemitic attack in Argentina’s modern history. It is widely believed to have been carried out by terrorists linked to Iran and Argentina’s then president, Carlos Menem, who is of Syrian descent. One prosecutor who tried to investigate the incident was murdered during his probe.

Beyond the carnage, however, Rymberg and many of the country’s Jews saw it as an attack on the heart of their community.

The AMIA building, he said, housed all of Jewish Argentina’s major organizations, as well as a theatre, library, and job bank. It was where Jews went to arrange a funeral, and it housed the precious records of 100 years of Jewish life in the country.

“Every Jewish person in Argentina had to go to AMIA for something,” Rymberg said. “Suddenly, you started to be very careful about everything. Children going to school now had to go through security like at an airport.”

While Argentine antisemitism had never been openly acknowledged – until the AMIA attack, the worst event was a 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, which killed 29 civilians – the aftermath of the attack brought fundamental changes to Jewish life, starting with a communal obsession with security.

“Suddenly you felt like you were living behind walls,” Rymberg recalled. “For a lot of young families that was the point where they started to think there was nothing for them in Argentina.”

Even a quickly-organized show of solidarity with the Jewish community, dubbed the March of the Umbrellas because it was carried out in the rain, failed to ease that new feeling of fear and uncertainty.

“Hundreds of thousands of people were marching in the rain to remember the victims,” Rymberg recalled. “It was something we never expected to experience.”

The Rymberg family’s own decision to leave the country of its birth, something members had been considering in the face of a poor economy and rampant corruption, was cemented by the event.

One of the final nails was news media coverage of the attack, especially one television story that reported 85 Jews, and many “innocent people,” had died.

“To hear someone saying Jews and ‘innocent people’ is something I will never forget,” he said. “All of those things came together to push us out.”

In 1997 Rymberg, his wife Marisa, and their two young daughters, became one of the first families brought to Canada by the Jewish community of Winnipeg through its Grow Winnipeg initiative.

In a new country, he embarked on a new career as a Jewish community leader, serving in Winnipeg, Ottawa, Toronto, and finally taking over as CEO of the Hamilton Jewish Federation in 2017.

B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights’ commemoration will be held online Thursday at 7 p.m. To join, go to: https://www.bnaibrith.ca/amia.


Steve Arnold
Steve Arnold