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Friday, May 22, 2015

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So here’s what I really think: parting thoughts

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This is apparently the last column I’ll write for The CJN, after years as a regular columnist. It will also appear in close to the last issue of this august newspaper, the demise of which I deeply regret. There are many things unique to an ethnic journal and many ways in which it serves its readers.

What I will miss personally is that every month I am forced to think out loud about an issue relevant to the Jewish community of Canada and share my thoughts with all of you. I thank readers who gave me feedback, some of it quite gritty.

A recent Globe and Mail obituary for The CJN accused this paper of being “resistant to covering controversial stories.” Maybe so. I have tried to be a contrarian when I think that we as a community are heading down the wrong path, or when I feel the larger community has misread, abandoned or otherwise done us wrong.

Every morning, I read a newspaper, one that’s actually printed on paper and held in my hand. With the demise of newspaper reporting and the reliance on TV, Twitter and other electronic noise, we stand to lose the thoughtful (if sometimes irritating) consideration of real, on-the-ground reporters.

So if this is my swan song as your columnist, I’ll be honest about what I believe.

Our own community has stumbled by destroying the institution of the Canadian Jewish Congress, swallowing its work into a system that maintains the status quo in too many instances. We are not meant to be simply reactive to ethnic slurs and graffiti, however ugly they may be. We’re meant to reach out beyond these incidents to build bridges across the spectrum. Congress did that and more

We love and support the State of Israel, but let’s be honest about its flaws. The messianic settler movement, the inability to create an atmosphere for peace, a government beholden to the ultra-Orthodox in personal matters: these are the issues of the moment and should not be argued away.

While I’ve written often from the perspective of a Conservative, egalitarian Jew, I realize that only an effort by the modern Orthodox will ever change the increasing influence of an “ultra” view that seeks to impose its power on all of Jewish life in Israel. The haredim certainly won’t listen to us.

On the other hand, some time ago I wrote a column regarding the First Nations’ situation and our responsibility in this regard as Jews. I am pleased to report that recently I attended a Reconciliation Canada workshop between Jews and First Nations people, which was an eye-opener for both sides. The conversation will continue later this year, and I’m pleased that our community is in the forefront of this initiative.

Furthermore, as Canadians – and based on Jewish ethics – we need to hold our government accountable. Yes, yes, Prime Minister Stephen Harper loves Israel. Better that he should love Canadians. I see a force at work in which the welfare of Canadians, their access to information about our government, the needs of the vulnerable and environmental issues, to mention a few, are being etched away. It’s easy to destroy, but hard to rebuild on ruins. And I won’t even go into the government’s disregard, if not distain, for science and history.

Why is this a Jewish issue? Because we are Canadians, and the welfare of the nation, for which we pray, should be vital to us. We have thrived as Jews under democracy, but withered and stultified, and so often died en masse, under autocracies. Nothing is so precious or so fragile as democracy, and nothing is as vital to its sustenance as a free and pervasive press. I think we only get that when the Fourth Estate has feet on the ground in nasty places and a cadre of informed and passionate journalists to report to us, whether we agree with them or not.

You won’t find that in 140 characters or from rants on TV.

Finally, I offer praise to all the CJN columnists I have read over the years. They kept us as a community aware of the currents and – most importantly – the undercurrents of Jewish life around the world.

That collage of voices is what Canadian Jews are losing. I want to thank all of you for the wit, insight and passion you brought to your task.

Shalom u’vrachah l’kulam.

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