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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

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Rabbinic caucus holds two-day ‘fly-in’ in Ottawa

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A group of 28 rabbis from across the country gathered in Ottawa last week to meet lawmakers, diplomats and representatives of other faith groups to discuss public policy issues of concern to their congregations.

Meeting under the auspices of the Canadian Rabbinic Caucus (CRC), the religious leaders discussed the rise of anti-Semitism with the French ambassador; they met representatives of the three main national parties in Ottawa to exchange views on the Middle East peace process and the danger posed by Iran; and they convened for a lecture by Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner on the Jewish view of assisted suicide.

The CRC operates as a branch of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). It was formerly part of the Canada-Israel Committee, but was dormant for several years after that organization was dissolved, said Howard English, CIJA’s senior vice -president for the Greater Toronto Area.

The CRC includes rabbis from across the country and from all strands of Judaism – Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist.

The group is chaired by Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl of the Conservative Beth Tzedec Congregation in Toronto, Rabbi Reuben Poupko of the Orthodox Beth Israel Beth Aaron Congregation in Montreal, and Rabbi Jonathan Infeld of the Conservative Congregation Beth Israel in Vancouver. The CRC’s vice-chair is Reform Rabbi Debra Landsberg of Toronto.

CIJA revived the caucus to benefit from its guidance and input, to establish another influential Jewish voice on the Canadian scene and as a line of communications to the participating congregations.

“The rabbis represent a very large constituency within the Jewish community,” English said. “Synagogues are the most popular institutions to which Jews belong, so they are influential and [the rabbis] can transmit the nuances of issues to a lot of people.

“The rabbis offer a point of view to which people of influence will listen,” he added.

During their two-day “fly-in,” the rabbis met with Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau, the foreign affairs critics of the Liberal and New Democratic parties, French Ambassador Philippe Zeller, officials in the offices of Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and the Prime Minister’s Office, as well as with senior representatives of the Anglican Church and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

They also met with Israel’s ambassador to Ottawa, Rafael Barak.

Rabbi Infeld said the fly-in afforded “an opportunity for rabbis to learn from these people and express our concerns.”

As to whether the rabbis were of one mind when it came to their views on the issues, Rabbi Infeld said, “We’re Jewish, so I don’t think there’s a fully unified opinion on anything. But we have things in common.

“For all of us… I think the importance of Israel was clear.”

Rabbi Infeld was gushing in praising Rabbi Torczyner’s presentation on assisted suicide. And he said the meeting with Ambassador Barak presented the opportunity to discuss ways Israel, as the cultural and religious capital of the Jewish People, could assist in strengthening Jewish education in Canada.

English said the caucus “strengthens congregations to know rabbis are participating on issues of national scope that are important for the Jewish people in Canada, if not worldwide.”

In addition to its three national co-chairs, the CRC features an 18-person executive committee consisting of six rabbis from each of the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform streams.

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