Jewish contribution to Ontario lauded
TORONTO — This May marks the first-ever Ontario Jewish Heritage Month, and Torontonians came out to celebrate in style at Beth Torah Congregation on May 7.
About 150 community members attended the inaugural Jewish Heritage Month celebration, which included a musical performance by Cantor Simon Spiro, his wife, Aliza, and the Beth Tzedec Singers, as well as presentations on Ontario’s Jewish history and a reception with refreshments.
The decision to designate May as Jewish Heritage Month in the province was finalized when Bill 17, presented by Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle, and co-sponsored by Thornhill MPP Peter Shurman and Parkdale-High Park MPP Cheri DiNovo, was passed into law in late February of this year. The month of May was chosen because of the frequency of Yom Hashoah and Yom Hazikaron, as well as various Jewish cultural events, occurring during this month.
Colle welcomed the crowd at Beth Torah and explained the importance of honouring Ontario’s Jewish community. “This event is about celebrating, it’s about recognizing, it’s about acknowledging the amazing contributions and achievements that have been made to this province over the past 200 years by the Jewish community,” he said, adding that in addition to contributions to the arts, culture, music and academia, Jews in Ontario have made a significant impact on human rights legislation.
Colle was joined by St. Paul’s MPP Eric Hoskins; Beth Torah’s rabbi, Yossi Sapirman; the director of the Ontario Jewish Archives, Dara Solomon; the executive director of women’s philanthropy at the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, Susan Jackson, and former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Bernie Farber.
Farber elaborated on Colle’s words about Jewish Ontarians who advocated for human rights. He explained that the concepts of justice and compassion, or tzedek, and tikkun olam, or making the world a better place, are part of the foundation of Judaism.
“The pursuit of dignity and righteousness is specified in our Talmud,” said Farber. He added that because of the Jewish People’s “historic understanding and experience with discrimination and hatred,” they are well placed to understand and to fight for the protection and fair treatment of others.
Despite discrimination, Ontario’s Jewish community, now estimated at about 200,000 people, has been thriving for almost 200 years. Jackson’s dynamic presentation included the stories about historic Jewish institutions in the province, among them Mount Sinai Hospital, the Kiever Shul in Kensington Market and United Bakers Dairy Restaurant, which recently celebrated its 100-year anniversary.
“We are about our stories,” said Jackson, explaining the importance of Ontario’s Jewish history. Solomon, in her presentation of materials from the Ontario Jewish Archives, echoed that sentiment.
She showed some of the photographs and postcards that represent only a tiny fraction of the vast collection of letters, videos, films and other historical artifacts held at the archives.
For Solomon, who has only recently begun her work at the archives, it is important that the greater Jewish community be able to easily access the wealth of information about the past. “My plan is to make the archives much more accessible through the various social media tools that are out there,” she said.
Hoskins, in his speech, also stressed the importance of sharing and celebrating the history of the province’s Jewish community, which has “not only overcome tremendous adversity, but has established itself at the heart of Ontario,” he said.
Hoskins added that Jewish contribution has been integral to the province’s development and is indivisible from Ontario’s growth. “Jewish history and Jewish heritage – really that’s Ontario’s history and Ontario’s heritage.”