A Note from the Publisher: The Bridge is Now Completed

Dec. 23, 2020

The Canadian Jewish Record was born at a fraught time in the history of Canadian Jewish journalism. Our lofty goal in April 2020, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, was to be a bridge between the recently shuttered Canadian Jewish News and its hoped-for return.

Despite nay-sayers who predicted that our fledgling news/opinion service would stand little chance of success, we persevered and became exactly what we strived for: An outlet for Canadian Jews to receive information of Jewish interest, news that touched both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities, and opinion from all sides of the Jewish thinking world.

We did all this, as they say, on a hope and a prayer. A few Jewish philanthropists donated some start-up funds. We developed a utilitarian but ultimately well-liked platform, and then began to ask Canadian Jewish journalists, many of whom were out of work because of COVID, if they would write for us…pro bono. And without hesitation, many did.

Some of the top names in Canadian Jewish journalism gave of their time and considerable talent to help create and sustain the CJR. Co-founder Ron Csillag (I was the other) took on the onerous responsibility of editor. He worked tirelessly, up to nine hours a day, to make sure our content read professionally, was properly edited, and error free. He assigned stories, sought out commentators, got pitches almost daily, and dealt with spokespeople, flacks, and the odd irate reader.

Zack Babins was our techie. He ensured that our daily allotment of stories and columns were posted to our website and on social media, and did so with unfailing good cheer. Zack was also among our stable of new young writers who gave the CJR a fresh tone. More on this later.

Barbara Silverstein used her vast knowledge of food and cooking to produce one of the most popular items on our site: a weekly blog that highlighted recipes, often timed to coincide with Jewish holidays, and goings-on in the worlds of local eateries, world-class chefs, and cooking classes.

Michael Marmur of Pinpoint National Photography was our photo editor. He ensured that every picture you saw on our site was fresh, crisp and uniform. Irv Osterer was our talented graphics editor who designed our unique banner and all other sketches and graphic illustrations.

Carol Elman helped balance the books. Her competency with numbers and dollars kept us in the plus column, while lawyer Jordan Cohen took care of legal affairs, ensuring that i’s were dotted and t’s crossed.

Suanne Kelman, retired from 21 years of teaching at Ryerson University’s journalism department, and Josh Tapper, a former reporter for the Toronto Star, currently completing a PhD, rounded out our editorial board with sage advice.

And then there were our columnists. It’s no secret that Jews are rarely speechless, and our opinion writers covered the waterfront – left, right and centre. They included well-known writers and pundits like Dahlia Lithwick of Slate and MSNBC fame; Canadian columnist Andrew Cohen; and McGill University professor and international pundit Gil Troy.

It was unavoidable that some readers would decry the opinions the CJR carried (but did not necessarily endorse). Other praised us for opening the opinion pages to a diverse array of viewpoints – refreshing for a Jewish publication, but frankly easier if there are no donors or advertisers to offend.

That was the other thing: The CJR did not have advertising to clutter the site. We made an early decision not to accept any, despite synagogues, organizations and even governments seeking to advertise. Monetizing the site was not in the cards.

One of the really beautiful aspects of the CJR was the chances it gave to young and aspiring writers. The opportunity to submit one’s own creations to a professional editor and become published for the first time can make young hearts sing. Old ones, too.

Speaking of singing, one of our most popular columns was “On the Record” by David Eisenstadt, who provided deep dives into the worlds of often little-known Canadian Jewish musicians.

“Rabbinic Reflections” from Ilana Krygier Lapides was one of our more popular regular reads. By the time you read this, Ms. Lapides will be days away from being ordained as Rabbi Lapides.

Many of our weekly editorials were reprinted in other Jewish publications, as well as the National Post and the Toronto Star.

Much gratitude to each and everyone who made the CJR their success and gave Canadian Jewry news, opinion and information during a very difficult time. It was a labour of love and a deep chesed, an experiment that could only happen in a Jewish community like Canada’s.

It was a good run and we are all proud of the part we played keeping Jewish news and opinions alive. As we hoped, The CJN has returned. The bridge work is done and we can finally rest. We wish CJN editor Yoni Goldstein and his team hatzlacha, and hope that some of those who found their Jewish writing chops in the CJR will find a new home at the CJN.

We are indeed all Am Yisroel. We thank you for joining us on this journey and look forward to reading the new CJN with you.

– Bernie Farber

Dayeinu: Enough About the UN Vote

December 11, 2020 –

By ZACK BABINS

For most of 2020, same-sex marriage in Israel was effectively illegal. 

Well, that’s not quite true, and I apologize for the sensationalism. The truth is that same-sex marriage has never been legal in Israel. It’s “recognized,” which isn’t quite the same.

LGBTQ+ Israelis, or any Israelis who, for whatever reason, don’t want to submit to the Orthodox rabbinate’s dictums, have long had to travel to other countries to get married and return to the country – which, for obvious reasons has been quite impossible since March.

I didn’t learn this information from this news outlet, or any other outlet or organization that seeks to serve the Canadian Jewish community.

Instead I heard about the United Nations vote.

I also learned that – despite the ink spilled here and elsewhere – not a single Israeli citizen in Israel or in the Diaspora was in any way physically or tangibly harmed by Canada’s single vote at the UN General Assembly last month in favour of Palestinian self-determination (one of about 20 anti-Israel resolutions, all of which Canada voted against).

In fact, to my shock and surprise, the State of Israel was not un-existed overnight as a result of Canada voting for a resolution that did not explicitly include the phrase “Jewish self-determination.” It seems that the State of Israel, the very real embodiment of “Jewish self-determination,” does not require a UN vote to continue existing.

But I didn’t hear about that. I heard about the UN vote.

I didn’t hear about a high-ranking Conservative member of Parliament who fashions himself a friend of Israel, yet only a few months ago, retweeted wild and false antisemitic conspiracy theories about George Soros, raging on about a “Great Reset” by “global financial elites” – two phrases that have meant “Jews” since at least the proliferation of the antisemitic forgery Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the early 20th century. I heard about the UN vote.

In fairness, I heard a little bit about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointing Irwin Cotler as Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism.

This is the first time Canada has had such an office. I applauded that move, as all Canadian Jews should have. I would say dayeinu, it would have been enough. But then, of course, the UN vote. That one UN vote.

The fact is, nobody else cares about the UN vote.

Israelis don’t seem to care about Canada’s vote at the UN. Their life didn’t change from one day to the next. Israelis don’t care that the vote was 163-5 instead of 162-6.

Palestinians certainly don’t care about Canada’s vote at the UN. They’re worrying about the pandemic. They worry about their jobs and their families. They care about creeping annexation, and worse.

Most Canadians, and frankly, a great many Canadian Jews, shouldn’t care about the UN vote either.

There is a global pandemic raging hotter and more destructively every single day, with cases climbing into thousands. Our families and our loved ones are in physical danger every day. Vaccines are coming but it is far from over.

We should be – many of us are – more worried about our employment and our businesses that may not survive the second wave without significant government intervention. We should be – and many of us are – worried about our own mental health – shaky at the best of times thanks to thousands of years of persecution. 

Our concern should lie with the subset of our local communities, the anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers, the rebels without a clue, who refuse to take the most basic of safety measures to protect all of us. And some of us are deeply concerned about the fact that these lunatics are being joined and lauded by white supremacists and neo-Nazis like Paul Fromm, who showed up to defend a Toronto barbecue restaurant operating illegally.

When I think about my political priorities as a Jew living in Canada, I don’t think about the UN. I think about my job and rent I have to pay. I think about being able to afford a Jewish life in an unaffordable Jewish community. I think about being able to return to a physical minyan or the JCC without fearing a security threat like we see all around the world, in Halle, in Pittsburgh, in Poway, and many more places, to say nothing of the fact that our Muslim brothers and sisters have been gunned down in this country while praying.

I think about a country whose most vulnerable citizens don’t have clean drinking water. I think about living in an environment in which I and my future children can breathe. I think about an Israel that is safe, secure, democratic, Jewish and tolerant, and I work and worry to make that Israel more real than it is now.

But I didn’t hear about any of that. Because, of course, I heard about the UN vote.


Zack Babins
Zack Babins

Zack Babins is a professional Jew and Recovering Jewish Professional™, a political communicator and activist, and amateur challah baker. All opinions are his own. You can find him on Twitter @zackbabins.

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.