For the first time, Canada’s prime minister and opposition leader made time for conference calls with members of the Canadian Rabbinic Caucus to send High Holiday greetings and reaffirm Canada’s commitment to the Jewish community and Israel.
On Sept. 27, soon after the inauguration of the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with the Canadian Rabbinic Caucus (CRC), an organization of Canadian rabbis representing all denominations, which is affiliated with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
“Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a time when there is intense Jewish engagement and many Jews find themselves in synagogue. The prime minister wanted to reach out to express his wishes for a happy new year to the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Reuben Poupko, spiritual leader of Beth Israel Beth Aaron Congregation in Montreal, and a CRC co-chair.
Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, spiritual leader of Toronto’s Beth Tzedec Congregation and CRC vice-chair, said this is the first time such a call has taken place between the CRC and government leadership.
“The idea was generated a few years ago when I and some others said, ‘Look, the president of the United States has a call with American rabbis, and we’re an active part of Canadian society. Maybe it would be appropriate here,’” Rabbi Frydman-Kohl said.
“I’m really pleased that Prime Minister Trudeau initiated this. I’m glad his office, working with CIJA, initiated this and my rabbinic colleagues were really responsive to this, and I know that a number of them made reference to it during their High Holy Day Yom Kippur remarks.”
Rabbi Poupko said Trudeau spoke to the rabbis, who represented all denominations from coast to coast, about the rising tide of intolerance and anti-Semitism, and “eloquently and forcefully committed himself and his government to combating anti-Semitism and providing what we need as a community to secure ourselves and to continue to advocate for a more tolerant Canada.”
Rabbi Frydman-Kohl said Trudeau “alluded to the idea of being aware of the MS St. Louis and what it meant to be turned away, and his awareness, or concern in general, about refugees finding a place in Canadian society.” Rabbi Frydman-Kohl added that he’s looking forward to seeing the apology the Liberal government promised regarding the decision in 1939 to turn Jewish refugees away.
“When he talked about Israel, he talked about being there for the funeral of (former Israeli president) Shimon Peres. He talked about when he met with Peres when he was living, how Peres had remembered his father, and there was a kind of personal connection and we encouraged him to deepen that personal connection.”
A similar call was made Sept. 28 between the CRC and Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer, during which Scheer said that “under his leadership, the Conservative party will be a strong supporter of Israel and he expressed his deep concern of Iran as an originator and supporter of terror.”
Rabbi Poupko said Scheer “spoke very forcefully about anti-Semitism and the Conservative party support for the State of Israel,” as well as his commitment to being more supportive of private education in Canada.
As part of his platform, Scheer is advocating for a tax deduction of $4,000 per child to cover tuition fees for children enrolled in independent schools.
“I think both conversations are predicated on the assumption that rabbis play a significant role in the country and play a significant role in influencing the Jewish community and they wanted to reach out to us,” Rabbi Poupko said, adding that he hopes the calls will become an annual occurrence.