Complacency Leads to Complicity

Dec. 22, 2020

By ELLIE DEEGAN

My Zaida’s best friend Andy was born in Hungary. He grew up very comfortably but his idyllic childhood did not last long. In March 1944, the Nazis occupied Hungary, and he came to know the horrors of the Holocaust firsthand.

Recently, I interviewed Andy. He told me that he, his mom, and his sister survived the Holocaust by chance because an axle on their railcar broke, and they were marched to another camp instead of to Auschwitz. He was quite ill, and his mother carried him on her back for many kilometers. Otherwise, he would have been shot.

For a 15-year-old like me, growing up in multicultural Toronto, something like the Holocaust is very difficult to grasp. The human mind cannot imagine what six million dead looks like. And this was not that long ago. Questions abound: How could Adolf Hitler, whose antisemitism was open, as he wrote about it in Mein Kampf in 1925, and his Nazi Party form a government? How could the Holocaust have been masterminded in one of the most cultured and sophisticated countries in the world?

Propaganda was used to make Jews less than human. As a young child in Germany, if this is what you were taught, not only by your family but by your government, how would you know any better?

However, adults in Germany did know better. One of the important reasons to study history is to ensure that terrible events do not repeat themselves. What I take from this is that we must be careful about how lies and propaganda can influence us. That is why a strong, free and fiercely independent press is so important to our democracy.

Crimes against the Jewish people in Germany started small and gradually but by the late 1930s, escalated dramatically even before the Second World War. Public book burnings began in 1933, and Kristallnacht, the night of widespread pogroms, was in 1938. Nazi mobs burned synagogues and beat Jews publicly. Some Germans were appalled by these events – but not enough were.

One of the most significant issues in Nazi Germany was the compliance of the general population. When Jews were forced into ghettos, their neighbours were not forced to move into their homes. Neither were they forced to steal their possessions. It was their choice. Doing so and knowing that your neighbours might be abused or murdered by gas, gun, or at the hand of another human being is absolutely twisted. There is no question that complacency leads to complicity.

One hundred years before the Holocaust, the German poet Heinrich Heine wrote, “Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.” If complacency and complicity occurred in a high culture like Germany’s, it can happen anywhere. This is why it is important to be true to yourself and true to others.

Even after the horrors of the Holocaust, antisemitism continues to exist, even thrive. Andy told me, “When my mother returned to Hungary after the war ended to retrieve her silver, her neighbours were not excited to see her. They told her they wished she would have disappeared in the Holocaust, so they could keep her things.”

As individuals and as a society, we have a responsibility to think about what is happening around us and to not always go with the mob. Being a bystander and being silent in the face of hate and intolerance is one of the most dangerous things for a free society.

Today, we continue to see terrible acts against Jewish, Black, and Indigenous people and many other victims of hate. I am still too young to vote, but I discovered that voting is key to combating hate, which can rise up during tough economic times, like we are experiencing today. Tapping into fear and scapegoating minorities is wrong and dangerous. We always need to think of our own welfare, but we also have to ensure that we look out for the marginalized in our society and protect the rights of minorities.

Standing up for others is the best way to erase hatred and to build a stronger democracy.


Ellie Deegan
Ellie Deegan

Ellie Deegan is a grade 10 student at Greenwood College School in Toronto

Interview: Rabbi David Hofstedter, Founder of RoadMetric

Dec. 16, 2020

By DAN FLATT

Earlier this month, RoadMetric, an artificial intelligence (AI) powered traffic management solution, was acquired by Australian company Redflex. RoadMetric is headquartered in Jerusalem and founded by Toronto-based Rabbi David Hofstedter (shown above), with clients around the world. Rabbi Hofstedter is also the founder and CEO of the real estate and property management company Davpart Inc and is well known in Israel and beyond as the founder of The Dirshu Organization, providing scholarships to encourage Torah study.

The CJR interviewed Rabbi Hofstedter to learn more about this deal and his own unique path to success as a pioneer in the growing fields of AI and computer vision, and a community leader.

CJR: It’s not every day that we interview a rabbi about the acquisition of his technology company. Can you tell our readers about your career path and how you combined these two very different callings? How have these two aspects of your life complemented each other?

Rabbi Hofstedter: As a child of Holocaust survivors, the notion of not only living one’s life but also fulfilling one’s obligation in life was instilled in me at a very early age. This belief was reinforced during my teenage years and as a young adult studying in yeshivos. My marriage to a woman who is also a child of Holocaust survivors reaffirms our life’s mission, and that is to utilize all that has been bestowed upon us, whether financial, intellectual or any other benefits which shines G-d’s light upon the world.

I wouldn’t classify myself as a technology founder. My business involvement is primarily in real estate, as CEO of Davpart Inc. The establishment and my involvement in RoadMetric relates fundamentally to its enormous capability in protecting and saving lives.

Can you explain what RoadMetric’s technology does and how its primary customers use it?

Roadmetric is a leader in advanced vision analytics and leading-edge artificial intelligence tools which law enforcement agencies around the world use to run the full gamut of enforcement from traffic violations to security threats. Our advanced technology is a powerful tool maintaining road safety and the prevention of loss of life. Law enforcement agencies equipped with our cameras and video surveillance systems are able to track reckless driving, infractions such as speeding, running red lights and stop signs.

Municipalities can equip their buses and track any vehicles driving into bus lanes. Security forces of all kinds can track suspicious drivers and vehicles. Our cameras record the infractions, have advanced license plate reading capabilities, can upload the information and alert officers, and issue tickets immediately and seamlessly

RoadMetric has operations in both Toronto and in Israel. What have been the challenges and opportunities of building a company in these two countries?

RoadMetric’s headquarters is in Jerusalem, Israel. We do business around the world. I am located in Toronto. Certainly, the logistics challenges of maintaining quality control and our corporate culture have been enormous.

What can you tell us about RoadMetric’s acquisition by Australia’s Redflex? How did this deal come together? Will members of the RoadMetric team continue to build the product at Redflex?

The Redflex acquisition was a natural fit. We had been working with them for some time as we were integrating our systems to serve customers across North America. It became apparent that joining together would provide the best platform for RoadMetric to grow and expand to the next level.

Tell us more about your work with the Dirshu Organization.

It has been my life’s mission and passion. But if I begin to describe it, it would fill volumes. 2019-2020 was a particularly significant year for Dirshu. During the period between December and February, we celebrated the Dirshu World Siyum highlighting the enormous accomplishments of our participants. Events reaching massive crowds around the globe, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Paris, London, Manchester, Johannesburg, Newark, and many more were hosted.

The Dirshu World Siyum, in addition to providing a rallying point for our dedicated scholars, particularly those who struggle financially in spite of the generous scholarships that we provide, served as a phenomenal unifier for the Jewish people.

What advice would you give to young tech entrepreneurs building solutions with AI, Computer Vision and related technologies?

This is a new, fascinating and exciting area of business but nevertheless it is a business just the same. It is governed by the same business principles and regimen that govern all businesses.

 • To learn more about RoadMetric and its recent acquisition, you can read the official press release here.


Dan Flatt
Dan Flatt

Dan Flatt is a Toronto-based entrepreneur, business consultant and recovering lawyer writing about technology and business topics for the CJR. He is the founder and “chief neighbour” of Naborino, a platform (launching soon in Toronto) that will help neighbours in residential buildings to build community with each other and access unique group buying opportunities.

Toy Designer is Changing the World Through Empathy

Nov. 5, 2020

By SUSAN MINUK

Ilana Ben-Ari, inventor of the Empathy Toy, has been making waves near and far by bringing the transformative power of child’s play to thousands of schools and offices in some 50 countries.

Ilana-Ben-Ari

Ben-Ari’s expanding collection of toys, workshops, and training programs places crucial emphasis on toys teaching what textbooks cannot, with the accent on empathy.

“Empathy is the number one job skill,” Ben-Ari told the CJR in an interview. “Empathy, resilience and creative-concept problem solving have never been more relevant. These are skills that we are taught in kindergarten but then we stop.”

Ben-Ari is a multiple-award winning design entrepreneur, Ariane de Rothchild Fellow and TEDx Speaker. Her company, Twenty One Toys, has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, and Bloomberg.

The Empathy Toy has been praised by Time magazine as a technology that is “reshaping the future.” The Empathy Toy is the first in a series of toys Ben-Ari has designed to tackle and challenge what and how people of all ages are learning. The toys invite kids to be creative and to explore curiosity.

The Empathy Toy is a blindfolded collaborative puzzle game that can be solved only when players understand each other. In less than 15 minutes, players must recreate each other’s puzzle patterns without sight. Players can be as young as six or as old as 99, and a group can be two or 200.

As Ben-Ari explained, “Each toy piece has a different shape and texture. One player starts with a pattern of assembled puzzle pieces, and everyone works together to recreate the same shape with the matching pieces.”

The Israeli-born designer and social entrepreneur credits her early years living on a moshav near Carmel as the catalyst for her success.

“Growing up on a moshav left a huge imprint on me,” said Ben-Ari. “The importance of community is a different way of existing in society that has influenced both the products that I design, as well the reason I went into social entrepreneurship.”

Ben-Ari’s parents met while students in Israel. Her father was from Winnipeg and the couple moved back to Canada when Ben-Ari was six. She graduated in industrial design at Carleton University in 2006, and founded Twenty One Toys in 2012. Now in her 30s, she lives in Toronto.

Her goal is simple: “To positively impact the world.”

Ben-Ari originally designed the Empathy Toy in university as a navigational aid for the blind. “It took a number of years before I had the chutzpah to decide I was going to start a business,” she said.

Last year, she launched the Failure Toy – a game of balance and experimentation that helps players build healthier relationships with failure.

“It teaches how you manage risk and how competition and expectations play into your behaviour,” Ben-Ari explained. “You have these abstract pieces and you have a limited amount of time to make a shape that is as ambitious or safe as you or your team wants it to be.”

The game, she said, makes players just uncomfortable enough to gain insights into how to better handle patience and frustration.

Ben-Ari draws inspiration from the inventor of kindergarten, Friedrich Froebel, who also came up with a series of abstract educational tools he called gifts.

“Twenty One Toys stands for 21st century skills,” said Ben-Ari. “Froebel designed twenty toys… we like to say we are picking up where he left off.”

The next plaything will be dubbed the Improv Toy, which builds on her earlier work. The idea is that empathy, failure, and improvisation are foundational to human development. While empathy “is key to understanding a child’s inspiration and research phase, and failure is all about prototyping and innovation, improve ties into brainstorming and collaborative ideation,” says Twenty One Toys’ website.

You (and/or your children) will have to wait a while to try it out.

Israeli NGO Collaborates with Toronto Hospital to Provide Care Through ‘Multisensory Therapeutic Environments’

Nov. 5, 2020

Beit Issie Shapiro in Israel and Toronto’s Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital have embarked on a collaborative project to provide tailored multisensory training to the hospital’s inpatient Brain Injury Rehabilitation Team (BIRT).

The virtual training by Beit Issie Shapiro will run from November 2020 to January. Between 20 and 25 BIRT clinicians are expected to take part.

Based in Ra’anana, Beit Issie Shapiro is known internationally for its expertise in multisensory training, research and development, and has developed a unique methodology, “Issie Senses,” which transforms the multisensory environment into a therapeutic tool to enhance the wellbeing of children and adults with disabilities.

With over 25 years of experience in multisensory environments, Beit Issie Shapiro is a pioneering leader in the field internationally, guiding the establishment of over 500 multisensory rooms around the world and training over 3,000 professionals.

The BIRT team at Holland Bloorview includes specialists in occupational therapy, physiotherapy, therapeutic recreation, psychology, respirology, child life specialist, social work and nursing.

“We are excited to partner with Holland Bloorview,” said Beit Issie Shapiro’s Director of Global Professional Development, Sharon Yeheskel-Oron. “It is wonderful to join together with a like-minded organization committed to excellence in order to benefit its clients through innovative, impactful solutions.”

Lorraine Thomas, Holland Bloorview’s multisensory coordinator, and Janet Bernstein, occupational therapist on the BIRT unit, anticipate that the tailored training will help clinicians become more knowledgeable about the potential and appropriateness of using the multisensory environment as a therapeutic intervention within the professional disciplines.

Hamilton’s Sandi Seigel is New President of Na’amat Canada

Oct. 26, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

When Sandi Seigel walked into her first Na’amat meeting 20 years ago, she was looking for a way to make friends in a new city.

Sandi Seigel

The Toronto native had just moved to Hamilton with her new husband and she was looking for a Jewish women’s organization in which to get involved. Now, the Hamilton pediatrician and McMaster University medical school professor has been elected National President of the organization.

Na’amat – the name is an acronym of the Hebrew words meaning Movement of Working Women and Volunteers – is one of the largest agencies providing social services in Israel.

Like many service groups, Seigel said, Na’amat is facing a tough challenge in convincing women to spend some of their scarce free time on its projects. But the need is so great, she’s determined to see the group survive and thrive.

“It has been challenging for a long time to get people involved,” Seigel said in an interview with the CJR. “That has been a challenge for all of us, and even more so during the COVID crisis. The needs we’re trying to meet, from a social standpoint, are just huge.”

Na'amat Canada

Founded almost 100 years ago, according to the history recorded on the group’s national website, Na’amat was known as Pioneer Women in its early days and was dedicated to the idea that women could work with men in equality and help other women improve their families and society.

In the early years, Na’amat women – including a young, idealistic American who took the name Golda Meir – worked in the fields, factories and communal kitchens of Israel, even before it was a state. Today it is the largest women’s movement in Israel, filling a gaping social need government simply can’t meet.

It is the largest provider of daycare centres in the country, with over 200 facilities; operates women’s shelters; provides scholarships for women in gender studies and the sciences; and campaigns against domestic violence.

“We’re filling a gap with services that just wouldn’t exist if Na’amat wasn’t there,” Seigel said. “The scholarships we provide go to women who otherwise wouldn’t be able to continue their education.”

In addition to its work in Israel Na’amat chapters across Canada are active in such efforts as providing school supplies for the children of women in shelters.

Na’amat is also active in the field of domestic violence – a problem Seigel said has become especially troubling during COVID-related lockdowns.

Before moving onto Na’amat’s national stage, Seigel was co-president of the Hamilton chapter. Nationally she served two terms as chair of the National Education Committee, and has been national vice-president and chair of the Na’amat Canada National Development Committee.

She has also participated in a solidarity mission to Israel, has headed the Israel leadership seminar, and has represented Na’amat Canada in Israel at the Na’amat International and World Zionist Organization meetings.

Professionally, Seigel is a general pediatrician practicing at St. Joseph’s Healthcare and McMaster Children’s Hospital.  She has cared for HIV-positive patients and children and infants of HIV-positive mothers.

She has also been involved in assessing children for possible abuse and caring for premature infants.

She served as deputy chief of pediatrics at St. Joseph’s Healthcare for 13 years and was the 2020 recipient of the Sister Joan O’Sullivan award.

Her husband, Joel Yellin, is a Hamilton native. They have three sons, Samuel, Jonathan and Robert.

Honest: There’s No Films Like These Anyplace

Aug. 31, 2020 – By RUTH SCHWEITZER

UPDATE: There’s No Place Like This Place, Anyplace sold out!

The Ontario Jewish Archives and the Toronto Jewish Film Festival are presenting a virtual film series celebrating the life of theatre impresario Ed Mirvish and his beloved discount department store, Honest Ed’s, which closed in 2017.

The series, The Honest Ed’s Experience, which runs until Sept. 2, opened on Aug. 25 with the 75-minute documentary There’s No Place Like This Place, Anyplace, named for one of the bombastic signs on the store’s exterior.

Directed by Lulu Wei, the 2020 film profiles gentrification in Toronto through the history, demolition in 2018, and redevelopment of the Honest Ed block, which encompassed the 68-year-old store and the adjacent Mirvish Village on Markham Street, a row of houses where Mirvish rented inexpensive space to artists and art galleries.

For the documentary, Wei interviewed residents of the area, Bloor and Bathurst, who were affected by the loss of the block.

“Laments for these lost places and their dislocated inhabitants are captured by Wei,” wrote Peter Howell in the Toronto Star. “It’s not a feel-good memory piece about Ed Mirvish, who is seen only briefly in archival footage.” Mirvish died in 2007 at age 92.

Two of the films in the series focus on Mirvish: A Day in the Life of Honest Ed’s and Honest Ed Mirvish: The World’s Most Unusual Shopkeeper. A third film, Honest Frank, is the story of an immigrant who worked in the department store.

Ed Mirvish

A Day in the Life of Honest Ed’s is an eight-minute film made by a group of York University students in 1978. One of the young filmmakers was Larry Weinstein, who went on to make Inside Hana’s Suitcase and Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas.

Honest Ed Mirvish: The World’s Most Unusual Shopkeeper (1998) is John Martin’s 54-minute in-depth portrait of Mirvish, from his beginnings as the child of Jewish immigrants from Austria and Lithuania who ran a small grocery store on Dundas Street, to his being made a Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. The film travels with Mirvish to his birthplace of Colonial Beach, Va. He shares stories about the opening of the store in staid postwar Toronto, his 35 years in show business – Mirvish purchased the Royal Alexandra Theatre in 1963 and refurbished it, revitalizing the Toronto theatre scene – and his creation of Mirvish Village as an artists’ colony.

Honest Frank is a six-minute documentary about filmmaker Danielle Heifa’s uncle, Frank Salerno, who started working at Honest Ed’s department store as a new immigrant in 1959 and retired when the store closed in 2017.

For information, visit ontariojewisharchives.org

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.

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

EDITORIAL: Eschewing Hate and Embracing Harmony

It would seem that as we continue to hover in the eye of the pandemic, everything is magnified – from our anxieties, to our learning; from our health, to our diet; and most notably, from our avowed hatreds and dislikes.

All too often, the expressed hatred takes the form of bigotry, racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, and more. Prior to the pandemic, we of course saw signs of hate and extremism around us. Given our new fears and concerns, issues of racism remain no longer well-hidden or even camouflaged. Indeed like a rabid, growling dog, it is biting us square on the tuches.

Two incidents this past week in the GTA give us all reason for worry.

The proprietor of a little-known Toronto eatery called Foodbenders has chosen to express herself quite publicly about how she believes the Israeli government has abused and mistreated Palestinians, specifically in the occupied territories.

To be sure, there is much to be concerned with. Their treatment, especially by Israel’s current government, has prompted global condemnation. Surely the owner of a small restaurant in Toronto has the right to her opinions about Israel and its policies.

But in this case, those criticisms moved well beyond the political into hardcore antisemitism and anti-Zionist sentiment, mirroring those on the extremes of the political spectrum who have used the term “Zionist” to mean “Jew,” and have done so simply as an excuse to foment antisemitism. In years past, and to this very day, we have seen white supremacists and their ilk use terms like “Zio-Nazi” to mean “Jews.”

And while she has insisted that she has nothing against Jews, the owner of Foodbenders chose to post “Zionists are not welcome” at her eatery (leaving it unclear how she would discern a Zionist if one walked in).

In other social posts, she raised old anti-Jewish tropes: That Jewish groups control the media and influence the economy. She claimed that “Zionists are Nazis.”

Naturally, this led to harsh but proper reaction from mainstream Jewish organizations some of which are launching complaints with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. Toronto police hate crimes officers are also investigating.

Sadly, some of the more extreme anti-Muslim elements within and outside the Jewish community have used this hateful incident to engage in some hate of their own, scrawling anti-Muslim graffiti on the sidewalks and walls in front of the offending restaurant. Once again the Toronto police hate crimes unit is kept busy investigating these offences as well.

But it doesn’t end there. Just a few days ago in Mississauga, Ont., what started as a peaceful pro-Palestinian rally quickly degenerated into an anti-Israel harangue replete with ugly antisemitic epithets including “Jews are our dogs.”

All of this occurs while mainstream Jewish and Muslim groups have been trying to find an avenue to dialogue. Indeed, both the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and the National Council of Canadian Muslims have been cooperating of late on anti-racist programs, inter-faith dialogue and more. They join groups like JSpace Canada and Salam/Shalom, which have been engaged for years in dialogue and joint programming.

This is the way towards harmony. Canada provides us with a unique platform steeped in its own attempts at reconciliation and multiculturalism. There is still much work to do on these fronts, but we all have the opportunity. Let us not allow a few with hate in their hearts to spoil our efforts to find a path forward.

UPDATED: Mayor Joins Chorus against Foodbenders; Others Cut Ties

Toronto Mayor John Tory has denounced antisemitic and anti-Zionist statements emanating from the Toronto restaurant Foodbenders.

“There is no place for this type of hate or discrimination in our city or anywhere else in Canada,” Tory stated in a tweet on July 8. “I stand with Toronto’s Jewish community in condemning this type of hate and intolerance and commit to continue to build up our city as a place that is inclusive of everyone.”

The day before, Ontario Premier Doug Ford condemned Foodbenders statements. “Language and actions like this are disgusting and will not be tolerated here in Ontario,” Ford stated. “Our government stands with the Jewish community in condemning this kind of behaviour here at home, and across the globe.”

Meantime, another food delivery service has cut ties to Foodbenders. On July 7, DoorDash announced that it severed relations with the business.

In a letter to Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, director of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre’s Campaign Against Antisemitism, David London, who’s listed at LinkedIn as head of U.S. East, U.S. Federal and Canada Government Relations at DoorDash, wrote to say his company investigates reports of “inappropriate behavior as soon as they are brought to our attention and have decided to remove the merchant [Foodbenders] from our platform for failure to follow the community guidelines and our partner code of conduct. This took effect immediately.”

London said DoorDash was founded “to connect people and we strive to make sure everyone in our community feels safe when using the platform. We do not tolerate any form of malicious, discriminatory or hateful behavior, and any violation of this policy is grounds for deactivation.”

Only the day before, Uber curtly informed Foodbenders that its agreement with the eatery “is terminated effective immediately.” On the same day, the food delivery service Ritual also cut ties to Foodbenders.

As well, Ambrosia, a natural foods store with three locations in Toronto and Vaughan, will no longer carry products from Foodbenders.

In an online reply to Daniel Koren, director of Hasbara Fellowships Canada, Ambrosia said it will no longer sell Foodbenders’ products at its three locations. “We believe in love, community, and togetherness,” the business added.

Two Toronto coffee shops, Blue Heaven Café and Café Con Leche, have also cuts ties to Foodbenders.

Located in Toronto’s Bloordale neighbourhood, Foodbenders has come under intense scrutiny for its antisemitic and anti-Zionist pronouncements on social media and on signs outside the store.

It first drew attention for proclaiming “F@ck the Police” on a sandwich board outside the business. But in recent weeks, it turned its ire toward the Jewish community.

One sign said “defund Israel,” while another stated, “F@ck Mossad, IDF, Bibi.

On Instagram, the eatery announced: “#zionistsnotwelcome,” and “Zionists are Nazis.”

On Canada Day, the restaurant put out a sign saying, “Happy KKKanada Day.”

The business also praised Leila Khaled, who hijacked two planes 50 years ago as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a group designated a terrorist entity in Canada. Alongside a photo of Khaled clutching a rifle, the business proclaimed: “There is only solution: Intifada. Revolution.”

Of Canadian Jewish groups, it said, “These people control your media and elected officials.” On her personal Facebook page, Foodbenders owner Kimberly Hawkins described Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a “Zionist puppet.”

The statements prompted days of fervid activity on social media and denunciations from Jewish advocacy groups. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said it would refer the matter to its Legal Task Force.

“Simply put, the overwhelming majority of Jewish Canadians are Zionists,” CIJA noted.

B’nai Brith suggested contacting 311@toronto.ca to request an investigation of that Foodbenders’ business license.

In a later post on social media, Foodbenders said “criticizing the Israeli zionist state occupation or the police isn’t a hate crime. Nor is it anti-Semitic to say that zionist journalists in Toronto and now Israel have written slander [sic] fake news pieces about me to present me as racist for the sole reason of silencing me on Palestine. They are controlling the narrative of my story and they are lying.

“Jews are very welcome to shop with us, zionists may also shop if they can do so without insisting they’re [sic] right to a homeland justifies killing other people,” the post went on “When a Zionist tells us Palestinians should be murdered, something that happens all day long, we ask them to leave because THAT is hate speech.”

– CJR Staff

‘Zionists not Welcome’ and the Responding Deafness

By JEFFREY WILKINSON

The phrase “Zionists not welcome” appeared as a hashtag in an Instagram post on or around July 1, 2020 from the owner of Foodbenders in Toronto. Soon after, an avalanche of criticism was directed at the restaurant’s owner, Kimberly Hawkins, led by pro-Israel advocacy groups which saw the post as blatantly racist and called for a boycott of the establishment.

In the past couple of days, Facebook and Instagram have been filled with responses (and responses to the responses) producing little, if any meaningful discourse, but instead, resorting to the usual tribal screaming and insults directed at those with opposing views, on both sides of the argument.

There is no simple right or wrong, as much as we would like to feel that we are completely on the right side, whatever that side is. There was, however, a great deal of propaganda peddled in the responses to the post.

If we take Hawkins literally – that she is banning Zionists from her store, and, by affiliation, banning most Jews – of course, this is highly offensive and totally inappropriate in a civil society. In a response in blogTO, Hawkins said that she, of course, welcomes Zionists and Jews; that she was making a political statement about Palestinian rights and would gladly have a conversation about this with anyone who is interested.

Many who were convinced that the post was, plain and simple, a clear example of antisemitism, immediately dismissed her claim.

There are some common ideas which inflame more than help, pushed by many in the outcry over the owner’s post. First, Zionists and Jews are synonymous, so banning Zionists is equivalent to the days of “No Dogs or Jews.”

Second, as one post stated, “Zionism is the Jewish national movement of rebirth and renewal in the land of Israel – the historical birthplace of the Jewish people. That’s it. It’s not support for a specific Israeli government or any actions of that government.”

Third, as the vast majority of Canadian Jews support Israel, the term “Zionist” equals “Jews.” In other words, if you are anti-Zionist, you are anti the vast majority of Canadian Jews and therefore antisemitic. This conflation has been a focal point of pro-Israel advocacy groups, particularly in light of the general acceptance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s definition of antisemitism by many Canadian governmental and non-governmental organizations, which connects certain types of criticism of Israel with antisemitism.

Each of these points is meant to reduce or silence criticism of Israel, and devalue the concerns of Palestinians and their supporters. A measure of how effective this has been is seen in how assuredly many people responding to Hawkins’ post took “Zionists are not welcome” to mean barring Jews, rather than seeing it as a political statement resisting the consequences of Zionism to Palestinians. In fact, she has an embossed decal on her store window stating “I Love Gaza,” not “I Hate Jews.”

In the many responses back and forth, blanket statements about Zionism are hurled at the other. While one post states; “Zionism is a colonial enterprise” and another fires back; “Zionism is an anti-colonial enterprise, resisting the Arab colonialists, creating freedom for an oppressed people.”

My concern here is to highlight the deafness that is rampant in the Israel-Palestine discourse these responses epitomize. Is there an irrefutable truth in the statements being tossed back and forth? Is anyone interested if there was?

Imagine a response from a Jew that went something like this:

Dear Ms Hawkins:

I am a Jew and I felt quite hurt by your Instagram post, particularly the hashtag “Zionists not welcome.” What do you mean by Zionists? Do you mean all people who have an affinity for Israel? Do you distinguish people who have no interest in what is happening to Palestinians from those, like me, who value Israel but have deep concerns over what Israel has become, particularly its harmful effects on Palestinians? Would you please clarify what you meant and be clearer in the future so that we can all learn and listen to each other with an ear towards healing rather than further division?

Sincerely, a concerned fellow Canadian.

If one were to respond in this manner, it might be possible to learn rather than demonize. We need to be more wary of those who are deepening the divide in the discourse about Israel-Palestine, and the conflict by stoking past traumas and forwarding only a zero-sum, us vs. them paradigm. By responding to a hurtful post with such force, the hurt is only magnified. We can be hurt and still listen. Another can offend us without us dismissing them. We can and must do better.


Jeff Wilkinson
Jeffrey J. 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.

UPDATED: Anti-Israel Protests in Toronto, Mississauga

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) has denounced a series of “hate-filled” anti-Israel protests that took place across Canada over the past week, including one in Mississauga where protesters were filmed chanting “Jews are our dogs.”

UPDATE: Mississauga’s mayor has denounced a rally in her city at which Jews were called “dogs.”

In a tweet on July 7, Mayor Crombie said: “I stand with our city’s Jewish community in strongly condemning these hateful and disturbing anti-Semitic comments. Hate has no place in Mississauga. We’re a welcoming city that promotes unity, understanding and acceptance. Those who seek to divide us are not welcome here.”

B’nai Brith Canada has filed a hate-crimes complaint with Peel Regional Police after protesters chanted “hateful” antisemitic slogans at the anti-Israel protest in Mississauga on July 4.

The protests, which took place in Toronto and Mississauga over last weekend, followed similar demonstrations in other cities and made false claims about Israel and Zionism, promoted the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, and called for “intifada,” or a violent uprising against Israel, the FSWC said in a statement.

In response to the event in Mississauga, where protesters chanted “Palestine is our country and the Jews are our dogs,” FSWC called on Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie to speak out publicly against the hate, and send a clear message that the city will not permit such antisemitism and other forms of hatred.

“It is unbelievable that to this day, in diverse cities like Toronto and Mississauga, we are repeatedly witnessing blatant antisemitism rear its ugly head, even in public places,” said Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, director of FSWC’s Campaign Against Antisemitism.

StandWithUs Canada used truck ads to counter the protesters’ message in Toronto, said Randi Skurka, a founding board member of the organization.

She said the trucks drove around the vicinity of the Toronto event on July 4 with messages including “Israelis Want Peace,” “Palestinian Leaders: Stop the Hate, Negotiate Peace,” and “Israel Needs a Partner for Peace.”

“Importantly, the ads don’t signal a position on Israel potentially applying sovereignty to or annexing parts of the West Bank,” Skurka said.

The Toronto rally, dubbed “Day of Rage,” was attended by about 200 people and took place at the intersection at Yonge and Bloor streets, with speakers shouting “Viva Intifada” and “From the River to the Sea,” Skurka said.

“StandWithUs Canada is sending a message that we will not be silent or tolerate hate speech that incites violence against Israel and the Jewish people,” Skurka said.

Jewish pre-schoolers stage The Wizard of Oz via Zoom

By SUSAN MINUK

Hillcrest Progressive School senior kindergarten students weren’t going to let a quarantine prevent them from going ahead with their production of The Wizard of Oz. These talented kids got creative.

Staff at the Jewish pre-school, located on two acres of wooded land in Toronto’s Hogg’s Hollow neighbourhood since 1955, were determined to help the graduating students perform their year-end school play. Parents fully backed the effort.

“Because of COVID, we didn’t want them to miss out on this amazing experience that every SK class has at Hillcrest,” said Melanie Fux, school board member and mother of two Hillcrest students.

Hillcrest Progressive School
Hillcrest Progressive School senior kindergarten students

Founded in 1929, Hillcrest is Ontario’s oldest Jewish pre-school. Its slogan: “Every day is a special day,” is meant to encourage children to investigate the world and find their place in it. 

“One of the things this play did was to turn the pandemic into a challenge, and see it from the positive side, with good energy,” said Fux. “Taking what life gives you and making the most of it – that is something these kids will take with them to the future.”

How did Hillcrest execute a virtual theatre production?

“It was a family effort,” explained Fux. “We had to rehearse, prepare the scenery, perform and film from home. This gave each kid the opportunity to be creative with their family.”

Hillcrest’s principal, Queenie Spindel, brainstormed with several teachers.

Families were sent a weekly task. Kids received the songs, both just lyrics and just music, and then record their voices over the musical track, Fux explained.

“They missed being together but being able to see such an amazing result of all their hard work was sort of a surprise to them,” said Fux.

The Zoom production required time-crunched editing and was filled with special effects that brought genuine smiles to students.

“I listened to the songs over and over and I practiced with my Mom, explained five-year-old student Alec Fux, who played the Cowardly Lion.

“I loved dancing and being a lion. It was amazing to see the final video I loved the special effects,” Alec told the CJR.

How is he handling leaving the school now that he’s graduated? The Cowardly Lion is anything but in real life.

 “I don’t want to leave,” he admitted. “I am a teensy bit scared [for Grade 1] but I will be fine later.”

The production was presented privately last week and published on YouTube June 19. To date, there have been a little over 300 views between the mini-clip and full play, a number the school says is growing.


Susan Minuk
Susan Minuk

Susan Minuk is both humbled and heartened by everyday stories with the power to touch or inspire her readers’ lives.