Jewish Day Schools Call for Distribution of COVID Funds

Dec. 10, 2020

By LILA SARICK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barrie Withdraws IHRA Definition, Cites Need for ‘Consultation’

By RON CSILLAG

The City of Barrie, Ont., has become the latest municipality to withdraw adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.

A motion to adopt the IHRA’s widely-accepted definition of antisemitism was to be considered by Barrie’s General Committee on Aug. 10.

According to the city’s website, the General Committee is comprised of all members of council, and the mayor presides. The committee’s duties include studying and reporting to council on matters brought to it by smaller “reference” committees.

The IHRA motion was sponsored by Mayor Jeff Lehman. But Lehman withdrew it hours before it was to be debated.

Jeff Lehman, Barrie Mayor
Jeff Lehman, Barrie Mayor

In a statement emailed to the CJR, Lehman explained his change of heart: “Following a large number of requests from the Jewish community in Barrie for further consultation, the motion was withdrawn in order to allow for this discussion.”

Independent Jewish Voices of Canada (IJV), which supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel, boasted in a statement that “well over 100” of its members and supporters sent letters to Barrie city councillors urging them to vote against the IHRA motion.

In a letter Aug. 12 to Lehman and Ward 2 councillor Keenan Aylwin, Rabbi Audrey Kaufman, spiritual leader of Barrie’s Am Shalom Congregation, said she hopes that withdrawing the resolution “does not mean that this motion is being laid to rest. I hope that you will quickly move forward with making the right decision of passing this motion.”

The motion to adopt the IHRA definition was endorsed by local rabbis in Barrie “and represents a crucial educational tool for local authorities to address anti-Semitism,” according to Noah Shack of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).

“We are confident that the mayor and the council will do the right thing,” Shack told the CJR.

Shack said CIJA has been “engaging” with Lehman “for an extended period” about the need to combat antisemitism, particularly following an incident in June at Berczy Park, in which playground equipment was daubed with swastikas and other Nazi symbols. Barrie police arrested and charged a 50-year-old man with nine counts of mischief under $5,000.

The 2011 National Household Survey showed there were 660 Jews in Barrie. There an active branch of Chabad.

Barrie now joins Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary, where measures to endorse the IHRA definition were withdrawn or postponed following protests that its adoption would stifle criticism of Israel and squelch support for Palestinian rights.

The Quebec towns of Westmount, Cote St.-Luc and Hampstead have adopted the definition, as has Vaughan, Ont. Last year, the federal government endorsed the definition as part of its anti-racism plan.

A bill before Ontario’s legislature supporting the IHRA definition passed second reading earlier this year and is headed to committee for public input.

According to Barrie’s website, the city has included as part of its 2018-2022 Strategic Priorities “fostering a safe and healthy community and building strong neighbourhoods…we have a shared responsibility to stop antisemitism in all its forms through education and public consciousness as antisemitic demonstrations continue to threaten communities and undermine democracy.”

The resolution before the General Committee pointed out that the IHRA is an intergovernmental organization founded in 1998 that consists of 34 countries, including Canada, “each of [which] recognizes that international coordination is needed to combat antisemitism.”

It referenced Ontario’s Bill 168, the Combating Antisemitism Act, “which directly mentions IHRA” and passed second reading “with all-party support.”

Barrie “is enriched by its thriving, active and engaged Jewish and Israeli communities,” the resolution’s preamble stated.

The resolution resolved that Barrie adopt the IHRA working definition of antisemitism as endorsed at the IHRA plenary on May 26, 2016, as follows:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Details are contained in the many examples of antisemitism listed by the IHRA. One of them “might include the targeting of the State of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity,” the alliance explained. “However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

IJV of Canada called the withdrawal of the “problematic” resolution in Barrie “another major victory for all who oppose antisemitism and support Palestinian human rights.”

While supporters of the IHRA definition have tried to present it as innocuous and legally non-binding, “they have also attempted to weaponize the definition in order to shut down freedom of expression in relation to Israel-Palestine,” IJV said in a statement to the CJR.

CIJA called the IHRA definition “the world’s most widely accepted definition of antisemitism.”