Reform Jews Begin High Holiday Period Online

Sept. 11, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Canada’s Reform congregations are going online tomorrow (Saturday) night to mark the start of the High Holidays.

Sponsored by the Canadian Council for Reform Judaism, the event follows the Reform movement’s successful online “Tikkun Leil” late-night study session at Shavuot.

It will be the movement’s fourth effort at staging important events online. Previous efforts included the “Rise Up for Israel” fundraiser that collected $100,000, and a nationwide Tikkun Olam town hall.

Saturday’s event, however, will be the first involving an actual service. Twenty congregations across the country are expected to take part.

“Selichot is the official kick-off to the High Holy Days season,” said Rabbi Jordan Cohen of Temple Anshe Sholom in Hamilton. “It has always been a uniquely different service that I find very moving.

“We knew we had to do something to get the most out of this season,” he added. “We got together on this rather than having everyone reinvent their own wheel. With this, we are all working from the same siddur and everyone is literally on the same page.”

Cohen and his wife, Cantor Paula Baruch, took the lead in organizing the event. His team put together study sessions and a keynote presentation by Rabbi Larry Hoffman of Hebrew Union College. Baruch led a group that arranged the pre-recorded service.

Anshe Sholom’s traditional Selichot service includes a period of text study, changing the dressings on the Torah scrolls to their High Holy Days white, and a period of prayers where the sanctuary lights are dimmed and congregants are encouraged to spread out and search their souls.

That’s a spirit Baruch said they want to preserve in an online service where participants will have a chance to see their own sanctuary.

“We want to give people an inclusive, intimate moment, even though it’s all on a screen,” she said.

“Every congregation will be able to see inside their own sanctuary and their own rabbi and cantor. That will make the experience very special.”

Headlining the service will be a new version of Avinu Malkeinu performed by a virtual choir of cantors.

Dr. Pekka Sinervo, president of the Canadian Council for Reform Judaism, said the council is providing advertising and technical support for the event.

“We see it as doing the things we are supposed to do, supporting the community,” he said.

Reform congregations, he said, have been leaders in responding to the COVID pandemic by using technology to continue offering services and programs to members, something he thinks will continue, especially for marginalized communities such as the elderly and handicapped.

“With this, we are taking advantage of technology to rethink how we reach out to our community,” he said. “With the pandemic, it became very clear that this was the right thing to do. This opens up a new dimension to what out congregations can be,” he added.

Saturday’s program on Zoom begins at 9 pm with a keynote presentation by Hoffman, followed by discussion groups at 9:30; Havdalah at 10 p.m.; and the Selichot service at 10:15.

Among those helping to organize the event were Rabbi Stephen Wise of Oakville’s Share-Beth El congregation; Rabbi Elyse Goldstein of Toronto’s City Shul, Rabbi Debbie Dressler of Temple Israel in London, and Cantor David Rosen of Holy Blossom Temple.

Register at https://urj.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJAqdeqvpjgpE91beim3eE_6amUJqlmlQpdy


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.

Editorial: Jewish Leaders Must Act Now

As reported in the Canadian Jewish Record this week, Halton Regional Police released a report this month of a vandalized monument in the St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Cemetery in Oakville. According to the CJR:

“Someone had painted ‘Nazi war monument’ on a stone cenotaph commemorating those who served with the 14th SS Division in the Second World War.

“Formed in 1943, it was part of the Waffen SS, the military branch of the SS. Members of the unit have been accused of killing Polish civilians and Jews during the war.”

The debate surrounding this unit continued long after the end of the war. Apologists have claimed that the unit was formed to fight against the Soviets, and that its being under Nazi command was a historical anomaly.

But beyond doubt is that the 14th Waffen SS Division was under Nazi charge. Indeed, it was considered such a gem within SS paramilitary squads that SS leader Heinrich Himmler personally visited the division in 1944 to laud members’ willingness to rid Galicia of a “dirty blemish…namely the Jews.”

Despite the damage to it, the cenotaph is exactly what the graffiti described: A “Nazi war monument.” Unfortunately, when news of the vandalism was released, Halton police mistakenly claimed that the crime was being investigated under Canada’s anti-hate laws.

Social media erupted, and Halton Police Chief Steven Tanner wisely clarified: “The Nazi Party/SS are by no means a protected group under any hate crime related legislation,” he stated. “The most unfortunate part of all of this is that any such monument would exist in the first place.”

Also unfortunate was the stances of mainstream Jewish advocacy groups. The CJR has been unable to find a single mention of this incident in the news section of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ website.

Meantime, it seemed to take prodding from no less an august publication as The Nation for B’nai Brith Canada to issue a statement.

“There is no place for monuments in our society that glorify military units, political organizations or individuals who collaborated with the Nazis in World War II,” the organization told The Nation on July 21. “B’nai Brith Canada calls for such monuments to be removed and for comprehensive education efforts to accurately portray the historical record of those individuals and organizations involved.”

Asked the next day whether B’nai Brith would issue a statement to the CJR, the group sent the following from CEO Michael Mostyn:

“B’nai Brith Canada calls for the removal of any monuments glorifying military units, political organizations or individuals that collaborated with the Nazis in World War II. There is no place for such monuments in Canada.

“Regarding the specific cenotaph in Oakville, Ont., we are in the process of reaching out to other groups affected by this monument in the hopes of achieving real progress on this issue.

“At a bare minimum, comprehensive education efforts are needed to shine the light of historical accuracy on Nazi collaborators and their crimes.”

As of July 22, however, this statement was not on B’nai Brith’s website.

And Friends of Simon Wiesenthal would only go as far as to say the monument was a “blight” and “insults” the memory of Canadian soldiers who fought the Nazis. But FSWC was strangely quiet on removing the monument.

We expect more from our Jewish leadership. Jewish advocacy groups quite rightly spoke out strongly and took decisive legal and human rights actions against the owner of Toronto’s Foodbenders eatery, who recently engaged in ugly antisemitic tropes.

But the glorification of actual Nazis, all of whom, no matter where in Europe they fought, aided in the murder of six million Jews, seems to be a bit of an afterthought.

Complacency (or reluctance to raise voices) in the face of Nazi glorification is not an option, especially for Jews. It’s time for everyone to speak out and demand this and other monuments paying tribute to Nazi collaborators be removed once and for all.

Police Backtrack on ‘Hate Crime’ Against Ukrainian Monument

Halton Regional Police, west of Toronto, no longer consider the defacing of a memorial dubbed a “Nazi monument” to be a hate crime and regret any “hurt” arising from the incident.

The event provoked a firestorm on social media, with many questioning why a monument to a World War II-era pro-Nazi unit exists in Canada at all.

The episode began on June 22 when Halton police were called to St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Cemetery in Oakville to examine graffiti on a monument in the graveyard.

Someone had painted “Nazi war monument” on a stone cenotaph commemorating those who served with the 14th SS Division in the Second World War.

Also known as the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, the paramilitary unit was comprised predominantly of Ukrainians and ethnic Ukrainians from the region of Galicia, according to historian Gordon Williamson.

Formed in 1943, it was part of the Waffen SS, the military branch of the SS. Members of the unit have been accused of killing Polish civilians and Jews during the war.

According to a Halton Regional Police statement, the initial information collected by investigators indicated that the graffiti “may have been hate-motivated, targeting the identifiable group of Ukrainians in general, or Ukrainian members of this cultural centre.”

After reporting and social media posts revealed that the monument pays tribute to a pro-Nazi unit, police changed course.

“At no time did the Halton Regional Police Service consider that the identifiable group targeted by the graffiti was Nazis,” said a July 17 statement from police.

“We regret any hurt caused by misinformation that suggests that the [police] service in any way supports Nazism,” it added.

Police are now treating the incident as a case of vandalism, said Det. Sgt. Barrett Gabriel. The investigation continues, police said.

Halton Regional Police Chief Stephen Tanner went further on Twitter, questioning the reason for the monument.

“The most unfortunate part of all this is that any such monument would exist in the first place,” he tweeted, as reported by the Ottawa Citizen.

“To those who died for the freedom of Ukraine,” states the cenotaph’s inscription. But it also displays the crest of the 14th Waffen SS division, whose members are alleged to have taken part in killing hundreds of Polish civilians in 1944 in the village of Huta Pieniacka, the Citizen added.

The memorial has been in the privately-owned cemetery for years.

Oakville Mayor Rob Burton issued a statement saying the city has little influence in this matter.

“Unfortunately, municipalities have no role in regulating the contents of private cemeteries. [The memorial is] personally repugnant to me. I have family who died fighting Nazis.

“If Ontario laws permitted me to have it removed, it would have been gone 14 years ago,” Burton said, according to insidehalton.com.

On July 18, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress sent a letter to the Ottawa Citizen about the paper’s coverage of the incident.

The Citizen article “propagates the narrative originating from the Russian Embassy in Canada that Ukrainians in general, and particularly all Ukrainians who took up arms against the Soviet Union during the Second World War, are ‘fascists’ and ‘Nazis,’” the letter stated.

Labeling Ukrainians as Nazis is “part of Russia’s ongoing effort to sow division in Canada and other Western democracies,” said the letter. The Russian campaign is “disinformation.”

The letter said veterans of the Galicia Division “never fought against Allied forces,” and were screened by the Allies before being allowed to immigrate to Canada.

The 1986 Deschenes Inquiry into Nazi-era war criminals in Canada “cleared these veterans of any involvement in war crimes…” said the letter, signed by Ihor Michalchyshyn, CEO of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

The memorial in question is not the only problematic one in Canada.

As the CJR reported recently, another is a bust of Roman Shukhevych, located at the entrance of the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex in Edmonton’s north end.

Shukhevych was supreme commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) during World War II and held leadership positions in the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, correspondent Paula Kirman wrote.

“While viewed as a hero by Ukrainian nationalists for his anti-Soviet posture, Shukhevych shared the Nazi ideology and was responsible for commanding troops that committed massacres with the goal of creating an ethnically ‘pure’ Ukraine free of Poles, Jews, and many others during the Holocaust,” Kirman wrote.

CJR Staff