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The Jewish year in review, 5777

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October 2016

• Gov. Gen. David Johnston visited Israel and met with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Oct. 2, the fifth day of his visit to Jordan, Israel and the West Bank.

• Faith groups, including representatives from the Jewish community, gathered at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Oct. 6 to pray and press for poverty reduction and fair wages. The annual prayer vigil was organized by the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition, a provincial network of faith groups working together for greater social justice.

• A new initiative to digitize the testimony of Holocaust survivors was launched, to help preserve them for future generations. In Canada, 1,253 survivors’ testimonies were in danger of being lost due to outdated VHS and beta cassettes,which were worsening with age.

• The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and the Atlantic Jewish Council released a joint statement praising Halifax Pride for rejecting a resolution to remove promotional materials associated with the pro-Israel Size Doesn’t Matter campaign. The controversial motion was submitted by Queer Arabs of Halifax on Oct. 5.

• Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended Kol Nidrei services at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal on Oct. 11. Rabbi Adam Scheier, who invited Trudeau to attend the services, said the prime minister’s words were deeply moving.

• On Oct. 20, Canadian Jewish groups praised the government and criticized the United Nations after the Canadian mission to the UN sent a letter on behalf of 70 member states, including Israel, to express concern about the violence in Syria. The letter called on the president of the UN General Assembly to call a meeting to explore what actions could be taken to apply pressure on the parties involved in the civil war. Martin Sampson, a spokesperson for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said his group supports Canada’s initiative, because the UN is failing in its duties.

Donald Trump, left, with Benjamin Netanyahu

• American singer and songwriter Bob Dylan was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature on Oct. 13. Dylan, 75,was recognized for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

• The Green Party of Quebec formally endorsed the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel on Oct. 17. The party said it would lobby the Quebec and Canadian governments to ban the importation of goods produced in Israeli settlements beyond the Green Line and develop a public database of Canadian companies and organizations doing business in the territories.

• Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion denounced UNESCO’s Oct. 18 statement that it approved a resolution submitted by seven Arab countries that Israel says dismisses Jewish ties to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. The resolution also condemns “Israeli aggressions,” blaming Israel for tensions on the Temple Mount. In the House of Commons on Oct. 27, Conservative Foreign Affairs Critic Peter Kent said that UNESCO has embarrassed and disgraced itself yet again, by allowing itself to be used as a tool of hate.

READ: THE KIDDUSH CLUBS ARE ALRIGHT (WAIT, ARE THEY?)

November 2016

Toronto Mayor John Tory and Montreal’s Mayor Denis Coderre took part in a delegation to Israel from Nov. 12-19, their first joint venture abroad. They went to Jerusalem, Be’er Sheva, Tel Aviv and Ramallah, and met with the mayor of each city.

• Leonard Cohen, the iconic singer-songwriter from Montreal, died on Nov. 7, at the age of 82. He was buried, in accordance with his wishes, in the Shaar Hashomayim cemetery on Mount Royal, beside his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.

Though he didn’t live in Montreal at the time of his death, a Jewish group, the Mile End Chavurah, gathered to sit shivah for “the poet, musician, Montrealer, visionary, holy man, saint, sinner, Jew.”

The Canadian government voted against, or abstained from, a series of anti-Israel resolutions brought before the UN General Assembly. However, days later, the government announced it would restore funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which provides services to Palestinian refugees. Former prime minister Stephen Harper’s government had cut all funding to the agency. Critics assailed the move, noting that UNRWA had been linked to Hamas and that teachers and other UNRWA staff had been posting anti-Semitic material online.

• Bert Raphael, a well-known Toronto lawyer and Jewish activist, died on Nov. 15. Among other activities, he was known, along with his wife, Marilyn, for his work with Reena, a non-profit that works with people with disabilities. Their daughter, Sheree, became a Reena client in the mid-1970s. Marilyn served as Reena’s chair and Bert was a board member. In 1992, Reena established the Bert and Marilyn Raphael Advocacy Fund. Raphael also travelled to Moscow in 1972 to meet with Jewish Refuseniks and deliver prayer books and religious items, chaired the Canadian Jewish Congress’ Nazi war crimes committee, founded the Jewish Civil Rights Educational Foundation of Canada and founded Israel Bond’s legal division.

• On Nov. 24, the Parti Québécois caucus released a position paper that set out concrete actions that would settle the question of state religious neutrality. It promised that, if elected in 2018, legislation would be brought in that would ban the wearing of religious symbols by teachers, police officers, judges and prison guards.

• In late November, Parliament announced it would consider a private member’s bill that would broaden the scope of Canada’s anti-hate laws by criminalizing hate-based mischief aimed at schools, daycare centres, seniors residences and cultural facilities that are associated with minority groups.

• McGill student Molly Harris, who lodged a complaint of anti-Jewish bias with her student union against the McGill Daily, was appalled, after the paper’s editorial board stated in response to Harris’ complaint that, “The Daily maintains an editorial line of not publishing pieces which promote a Zionist worldview, or any other ideology which we consider oppressive.”

• The controversial bylaw prohibiting new places of worship on one of the major commercial arteries in Outremont, Que., came into effect following a Nov. 20 referendum. The chassidic community had vowed to come out in full force to defeat the bylaw, saying it felt targeted by the measure and that it is affected more than any other religious group.

READ: WHY DO SO MANY JEWS BECOME BUDDHIST?

December 2016

• On Dec. 1, the Ontario legislature passed Motion 36, making it the first province to reject the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.

• Senator Linda Frum introduced Bill S-232 in early December, which would officially designate the month of May as Canadian Jewish Heritage Month. The designation would recognize the important contributions that Jewish-Canadians have made to Canada’s social, economic, political and cultural fabric.

• Rose Wolfe, a longtime community worker and the first Jewish woman to serve as chancellor of the University of Toronto, died on Dec. 30, almost five months after her 100th birthday. She was the wife of the late Ray D. Wolfe, founding president of The Canadian Jewish News and mother of Elizabeth Wolfe, The CJN’s current president. Among her community work, Wolfe held leadership roles in United Jewish Appeal, the Canadian Jewish Congress, Mount Sinai Hospital and Jewish Family & Child.

• Two Dutch old master paintings that were looted by the Nazis from the late Max Stern, who owned the Dominion Gallery on Sherbrooke Street in Montreal, were restituted to his estate in a Dec. 12 ceremony at the Canadian embassy in Berlin. The Max Stern Art Restitution Project has been administered by Concordia University since 2002. These were the 14th and 15th paintings recovered since the program started.

• The UN  Security Council adopted a resolution condemning Israeli settlements, with the United States abstaining on Dec. 23. The resolution was adopted with 14 votes in favour and only the U.S. abstention. It called Israeli settlements “a flagrant violation of international law” that damages the prospect of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

READ: IS ABORTION KOSHER?

January 2017

• Saul Cherniack, one of the most prominent people in Winnipeg’s Jewish community, turned 100 on Jan. 10. He was a finance minister and deputy premier in Ed Schreyer’s NDP government from 1969 to 1977 and a member of both the Order of Manitoba and the Order of Canada.

• Sol Littman, who tracked Nazi war criminals and once served as a top editor at The CJN, died on Jan. 2, in his home in Tucson, Ariz. He was 96. A former journalist with the Toronto Star and CBC, he was once director of B’nai Brith’s Anti-Defamation League and later served as the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

• For the first time, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg joined communities across Canada in marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27.

• Michael Applebaum, Montreal’s first Jewish mayor, was found guilty of corruption-related charges on Jan. 26, almost four years after his arrest. He was found guilty of eight of 14 counts, including fraud against the government, breach of trust, conspiracy and corruption.

• Air Transat announced it would begin running non-stop, twice-weekly flights from Montreal to Israel for the first time.

February 2017

Hundreds of members of Canada’s Jewish community came out on Feb. 3 to support their Muslim counterparts with displays of solidarity in the wake of the Quebec City mosque attack on Jan. 29. In Toronto, some 300 people held hands and circled the Imdadul Islamic Centre, in a symbolic ring of peace during Friday prayers. In Montreal, rabbis, and about 50 members of the Jewish community,  went to Canadian Islamic Center Al-Jamieh to show their support for Muslim worshippers.

• Israel and Ontario each kicked in $5 million to promote joint ventures between small- and medium-sized enterprises, to create cyber-security solutions for Canadian financial institutions. Ontario Centres for Excellence and the Israel Innovation Authority announced in early February that the program would support innovation and jobs, and have the potential to expand into international markets.

• Air Canada announced an expansion of services between Canada and Israel. The airline said it would offer twice-weekly flights from Montreal to Tel Aviv between June and October, and that flights from Toronto would depart daily, instead of six days a week, year round. Flights from Montreal had ceased in 2000.

• Meir Weinstein, founder and leader of the Jewish Defence League of Canada, filed a hate crimes complaint on Feb. 22 against a Toronto mosque whose imam allegedly called for killing Jews. The mosque later issued an apology and removed his sermons from YouTube.

March 2017

• In the wake of a string of violence against Jews in the United States, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs assured Canadians in early March that the situation in Canada had not changed. Spokespeople said that the best response is to be calm, prepared and vigilant.

• The Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre in Toronto and the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver were allowed to reopen after they were both evacuated on March 7, following separate bomb threats. Police sweeps of both facilities turned up nothing.

• UJA Federation announced on March 6 that the northern campus of the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto would close at the end of June and students would be consolidated on the southern campus, which resulted in a large protest and about 30 teachers being laid off. UJA Federation also unveiled a $15-million fund that will be used to slash tuition by one-third for the next five years.

A former mashgiach with the Kashruth Council of Canada (COR) announced he would take his ex-employer before the Ontario Human Rights Commission, on an allegation of age discrimination. The 65-year-old worked at COR for 28 years, before he was let go in May 2016. In a document he filed, he said that COR has been engaged in a practice of trying to replace older employees with younger ones.

• The Quebec riding of D’Arcy-McGee, the only Quebec riding with a plurality of Jews, will be considerably less representative of that demographic in the next provincial election, which is scheduled for 2018. The head of Quebec’s Electoral Representation Commission stunned many with his final decision on the redrawing of the province’s electoral map. MNA David Birnbaum had protested, saying it would “compromise” the rights of the Jewish and English-speaking communities.

• Igor Sadikov, the McGill University student under fire for his “punch a Zionist today” tweet, resigned his last remaining student government post, stepping down from his position as arts representative on the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) legislative council. He had previously resigned from his position on the SSMU’s board of directors.

April 2017

• After a months-long search, Lance Davis was named CEO of the Jewish National Fund of Canada on April 7. He had served as JNF Toronto’s executive director since 2012.

• An Angus Reid poll released on April 4 showed that 53 per cent of Canadians have a positive view of Judaism, up from 47 per cent in September 2013.

• Dr. Joe Greenberg, a longtime Toronto family physician who delivered more than 3,000 babies throughout his career, died on April 13 at the age of 94. In addition to his practice, he worked as a physician for the Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team and for some professional boxers.

• An advertising campaign that shows an elderly woman’s arm tattooed with the date of Holocaust Remembrance Day (April 24), generated unexpected controversy. The ad and a 30-second video directed people to the website, knowmorenow.org. Musician Joshua Dolgin, also known as Socalled, said that he was shocked at the dramatic image, but a senior writer at the ad agency, Anderson DDB, who created the ad said it was designed to get people talking about the Holocaust.

Holocaust survivor Abram (Amek) Adler died on Yom Hashoah (April 24), at the age of 89, after addressing a group of young people in Humboldt, Sask. Born in Poland, he survived ghettos, labour and concentration camps, and forced marches. He was interviewed for Steven Spielberg’s USC Shoah Foundation, took part in March of the Living and spoke frequently to young people across Canada.

• Mark Wainberg, a pioneering AIDS researcher and an outspoken advocate for overcoming the stigma attached to the disease, drowned on April 11, while swimming off the coast of Bal Harbor, Fla. He would have been 72 on April 21. Wainberg was the director of the McGill University AIDS Centre, which has been based at the Jewish General Hospital (JGH) in Montreal since 1990, and headed research into the disease at JGH’s Lady Davis Institute since 1984, when he established the first lab of its kind in Canada.

• The Concordia Student Union (CSU) defended its association with an event called Passover Against Apartheid.

Pro-Israel student organizations and Jewish groups charged that it is offensive to politicize a religious holiday, that it amounts to cultural appropriation and that it’s counter-productive to dialogue.

• Calgary’s first major community-wide interfaith program, held in conjunction with the UN’s World Interfaith Harmony Week, received international recognition when a panel of judges awarded the Calgary Interfaith Council with a first prize win, finishing ahead of 1,054 similar events around the world. Rabbi Shaul Osadchey, Rev. Debra Faulk and Imam Fayaz accepted the HM King Abdullah II of Jordan Prize for World Interfaith Harmony Week 2017 on April 30.

May 2017

• Anti-Semitism reached an unprecedented high in 2016, with significant increases in Holocaust denial and incidents on university campuses and in Arabic-language Canadian media, according to B’nai Brith Canada’s Annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents, which was released on May 9.

• After years of declining enrolment and operating deficits, Associated Hebrew Schools decided to sell its Atkinson Street building in Thornhill, Ont. No date has been set for the sale, and the school will continue to operate there during the 2017-18 school year, and perhaps in 2018-19, as well.

• Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard led a mission to Israel and the West Bank from May 19 to 24.

• The Bloc Québécois tabled a motion in the House of Commons on May 29, demanding that Canada recognize Palestine as an independent state. The motion, presented on behalf of party leader Martine Ouellet, stated that 136 of 193 United Nations members now recognize Palestinian statehood, and the Palestinians’ lack of political and economic sovereignty is an injustice and “a major obstacle to the peace process.”

READ: JEWISH POVERTY ON THE RISE IN CANADA

June 2017

• A version of Oh Canada written in Yiddish was recorded for Canada’s 150th birthday. It was the brainchild of Hindy Nosek-Abelson, a Toronto writer, blogger and translator.

• The government of Ontario passed Bill 114 on June 1, which calls on the government to maintain an anti-racism strategy that aims to eliminate systemic racism and advance racial equity. It also gives legislative underpinning to the Anti-Racism Directorate, which was created in February 2016 to address and prevent systemic racism in government policy, legislation, programs and services.

• On June 25,  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet froze a government decision to create an official egalitarian section at the Western Wall. The suspension came after the haredi Orthodox United Torah Judaism party and the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party put pressure on Netanyahu to scrap the agreement.

• Online retailers Amazon and eBay came under fire in early June here and in the United States for selling T-shirts and other items that call for a “free Palestine.” Avi Benlolo, president and CEO of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, said that his organization contacted both retailers.

• According to Police Reported Hate Crimes, 2015, which was released by Statistics Canada on June 13, Jews were the single most targeted group in Canada in 2015. The document stated that Jews were the victims of 178 hate crimes, or 13 per cent of all such incidents in Canada.

• David Shentow, one of Canada’s most well-known Holocaust survivors, died on June 12 at age 92. At his funeral, his daughter, Renee, said that when she was growing up, her father didn’t talk a lot about the Holocaust, but was moved to act when people such as Ernst Zundel began denying it. She quoted her father as saying, “I would crawl on my hands and knees all the way to Auschwitz-Birkenau, or anywhere else, to tell my story to anyone who was willing to listen.”

• Canadian Jews across the denominational spectrum reacted with anger to decisions made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government on June 25 to give the ultra-Orthodox more power over the Western Wall and conversions. The cabinet announced it was cancelling an agreement to create a pluralistic prayer space at the Western Wall and was advancing a bill that would remove the authority that local rabbinic courts have over conversions. The decisions were seen by many as proof that Netanyahu caved to the haredi factions within his coalition, in order to maintain his government, despite outrage from Diaspora communities.

• The University of New Brunswick (UNB) entered a formal partnership with CyberSpark, an ambitious project underway at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, which brings together academia, industry (both local and foreign), government and the military, for advanced research and development in technologies used to protect electronic data. UNB is the first Canadian university to sign a memorandum of understanding with CyberSpark.

READ: AMBIVALENCE AND REVERENCE FOR CIRCUMCISION

July 2017

• Jewish groups commended the government for revoking the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s directive to stop labelling wines made in the West Bank as products of Israel. The agency put out a statement on July 13 that it regrets the assessment that led to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario issuing a directive that sacramental wine vendors stop any importation or sale of bottles coming from West Bank wineries that are labelled as products of Israel.

• Creation Foods pleaded guilty to passing off non-kosher cheese as kosher by forging a kashrut certificate and selling the cheese to two summer camps, according to a July 5 statement issued by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The Woodbridge, Ont., company was fined $25,000 for two counts of violating the Food and Drugs Act.

• Monte Kwinter, 86, Ontario’s oldest-serving member of the provincial legislature, announced on July 20 that he would not seek re-election in 2018. He was first elected in 1985.

Helmut Oberlander, 93, who’s accused of being a member of a Nazi mobile death squad, was stripped of his Canadian citizenship in mid-July. He had been stripped of his citizenship in 2001, 2007 and 2012, but it was subsequently reinstated each time. The Nazi unit murdered an estimated 23,000 civilians, most of whom were Jews. Shimon Koffler Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said CIJA applauds the government for this move.

• Montreal hair stylist Richard Zilberg said he felt vindicated by the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal’s decision that ordered his former employer to pay $12,500 in damages for forbidding him to work on the Sabbath and for later dismissing him from his job.

August 2017

The controversial newsletter, Your Ward News, was still being delivered to suburban Toronto homes in August, The CJN reported, despite an order by the federal government last year that Canada Post stop delivering it. The newsletter frequently contains racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, Holocaust-denying and Nazi-glorifying content in its pages. The paper’s editor-in-chief said it was being delivered by volunteers and private companies.

• Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale ended his week-long trip to Israel with an agreement made on Aug. 4 that will facilitate trade between the two countries. Along with his Israeli counterpart, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, he signed a Mutual Recognition Arrangement between the Canada Border Services Agency and the Israel Tax Authority.

• Jack Rabinovitch, the Montreal-born businessman who founded the prestigious Giller Prize to support Canadian authors, died on Aug. 6, at age 87. He was one of the most well-regarded champions of the Canadian literary community.

• Ernst Zundel, who has been described as the world’s foremost purveyor of Holocaust-denial literature, died in Germany on Aug. 5, at age 78. He lived in Canada for four decades, before being deported in 2005.

• Herbert Paperman, the patriarch of the funeral home that has served the Jewish community of Montreal for close to a century, died on Aug. 6, at the age of 92. He was the third generation to head the family business and remained active in its direction until the end of his life.

Police in York Region, north of Toronto, began investigating anti-Semitic and racist graffiti found on the playgrounds at three schools around Markham, Ont., on Aug. 20. They believe the three incidents are connected.

• Thomas Schwartz, a Canadian real estate giant and philanthropist, died on Aug. 15 at age 68. He had roles with a number of Jewish community organizations, including the Mount Sinai Hospital Foundation and the Kehilla Residential Programme. He donated funds to the preschool centre at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre in Toronto, which is named after Thomas and Marjorie Schwartz.

• A candidate for the leadership of the federal NDP rejected the endorsement of a newspaper publisher who has denied the Holocaust and praised terrorist attacks against Israel. B’nai Brith Canada praised Niki Ashton for refusing the backing of Nazih Khatatba and his Arab-language newspaper, al-Meshwar.

Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union with more than 310,000 members, adopted a motion in support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement at its Aug. 18-20 convention in Winnipeg. The resolution stated that it does not condone violence against innocent civilians, or other human rights violations by either side in the conflict.

• A village west of Montreal says it will provide fuller, more accurate information next to an anchor that bears an embossed swastika and is on display in a public park in Pointe-des-Cascades, Que. Controversy was sparked on Aug. 19, when Corey Fleischer, who owns a power-washing company and recently founded a movement called Erasing Hate, began obliterating the black-and-white paint surrounding the swastika that was embossed into the metal of the First World War anchor.

• Many participants turned up to Christie Pits park in Toronto for a rally and a community barbecue to mark the 84th anniversary of the historic riot that took place at the site, and to stand against fascism, on Aug. 20.

• An Ottawa teen who vandalized several Jewish buildings last autumn, and who professed pro-Nazi sympathies, was sentenced to a year in custody, including time served, on Aug. 31.

• Concerned over the hate rally that took place in Charlottesville, Va., the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, along with more than 50 community groups, issued a declaration calling on all levels of government to boost measures to address hate crimes.

September 2017

York Regional Police investigated two separate incidents of anti-Semitism on Sept. 1 and 7. In both cases, a sign saying “Hitler was right” was spray-painted on a freeway north of Toronto.

•The Ontario Labour Relations Board rejected the Kashruth Council of Canada’s (COR) contention that its mashgichim (kashrut supervisors) are managerial personnel who are exempt from the provision of the province’s Employment Standards Act that mandates overtime pay. The case arose out of a March 5, 2014, compliance order issued by a Ministry of Labour employment standards officer, who found that COR failed to conform with the overtime, vacation pay and record-keeping provisions required by the ESA.

Montreal city council adopted a resolution to rename Alexis Carrel Avenue and Alexis Carrel Park in the Rivière-des-Prairies-Pointe-aux-Trembles borough. Carrel (1873-1944) was a French physician who won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1912. He was accused of collaborating with the pro-Nazi Vichy regime in France. The street will be named in honour of Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909-2012), an Italian-Jewish physician who was awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1986, while the park will commemorate Don Bosco, a 19th-century Italian priest who devoted his life to underprivileged youth and was canonized by the Catholic Church in 1934.

With files from  JTA and Ari Blaff. Photos from Jinipix.