CIJR goes international entering 25th year
In a cluttered, cramped downtown office, Alex Enescu, a Romanian-born, non-Jewish Concordia University student, and 92-year-old Baruch Cohen, a survivor of the Romanian Holocaust, are colleagues.
They work at the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research (CIJR), both, in their own way, disseminating information about Jewish history, Israel and the Middle East. Their seven-decade age difference is forgotten when they share a common passion for the Romanian-Jewish poet Paul Celan.
However, talking about their country of birth is still painful for Cohen, who has devoted his senior years to raising awareness of the murder and persecution of hundreds of thousands of Romanian Jews.
Enescu is editor of the student-run publication Dateline: Middle East, and Cohen does just about everything else – as a volunteer – as he has since the pro-Israel think tank was founded by Concordia history professor Frederick Krantz a quarter-century ago.
Enescu, who said he has always been interested in Judaism, particularly the Kabbalah, found his way to CIJR via its Student Israel Advocacy Program (SIAP), an on-campus seminar series given by Krantz and other academics.
He wanted to deepen his knowledge of Jewish history and religion, and in the process, found himself becoming interested in modern-day Israel as well.
“Historically and politically, Israel is such an important place that, just about in any field of study, you are going to run into it,” he said. “I was surprised by some of the European events we learned about, events that I was not aware of.”
Krantz, impressed with his seriousness, suggested Enescu become a CIJR intern. With federal government funding, CIJR hires a handful of students during the academic year and in the summer.
Another current intern is fellow Concordia student Charles Daoust, also not Jewish, who is editing CIJR’s Israfax periodical, as well as its French-language e-mailed briefings. “I’ve been fascinated by Jewish history, especially in Europe, ever since I visited the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington,” he said.
All contribute to CIJR’s online databank, which contains “tens of thousands” of complete articles from publications around the world over the years, accessible free of charge to anyone (www.isranet.org).
“We are taking young people who are not necessarily pro-Israel when they come in,” Krantz said, “and teaching them something about Israel and the Middle East, something they likely aren’t learning on campus.” He’s satisfied if their perspective has at least been broadened by the time they end their apprenticeship.
Cohen, incidentally, was also a recent Concordia graduate at 68 when he was discovered by Krantz and urged to join the public-spirited think tank he had in mind. Cohen, who still comes into the office every day, will receive CIJR’s highest honour, the Lion of Judah Award, at a gala fundraising dinner June 12 at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim.
Entering its 25th year, CIJR is going international, founding a sister organization in the United States and forming a partnership with an Israeli institute.
The American Institute for Jewish Research (AIJR) has been incorporated, based in Washington, D.C. Chapters are being formed in Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New York, Krantz’s birthplace.
Its Israeli connection is with the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, a public policy think tank established in 1976 whose president is Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and adviser to prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu.
Allan Baker, former Israeli ambassador to Canada, will act as CIJR’s liaison with the centre.
The two institutes are already organizing a joint conference in Montreal on the late Jewish philosopher and Reform rabbi Emil Fackenheim for next year, the 10th anniversary of his death.
CIJR became a national organization this year with the founding of a Toronto chapter and the holding of a conference there this spring. That chapter is co-chaired by David Freeman, while an academic co-chair is sought.
CIJR has a new national chair, Jack Kincler, best known lately for his tireless effort on behalf of St. Denis Street merchants adversely affected by anti-Israel protests that have gone on since October 2010.
The question of how best to respond to the Israel boycott campaign organized by the activist group Palestinians and Jewish Unity (PAJU) has unfortunately divided the Jewish community, Krantz said.
Israeli-born Kincler favours the proactive approach of Les Amis québécois d’Israel, headed by Daniel Laprès, which counters the PAJU picketing almost every Saturday outside the Naot shoe store by holding concurrent demonstrations of support.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the official spokesperson for the community, on the other hand, takes a less confrontational approach, preferring to combat the boycott movement by working through elected officials and opinion-makers in Quebec.
CIJR has a good working relationship with CIJA, with which it has co-sponsored a number of events, Krantz noted.
“We’d like to try to play the role of pulling the community together,” he said. “We believe in klal Yisrael, all those who are pro-Israel should be on board together.”
CIJR remains an independent research and educational institute, raising its modest budget through private donations. The June 12 affair is its major annual fundraiser. The keynote speaker will be Ron Prosor, Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations, and special guest is British journalist Melanie Phillips, best known for her controversial Daily Mail column.
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