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Eli Rubenstein: a warrior of a Jewish leader

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David Spinks FLICKR

One of my dear friends, Eli Rubenstein, is a magnificent man and a warrior of a Jewish leader.

I’m writing about Eli as JCCs around North America are being threatened and swastikas are being scrawled on our religious edifices, tombstones and doorposts of homes of people in our community, because Eli fights anti-Semitism and his battles deserve to be known. He should be emulated by all Jews and all people concerned about the danger of anti-Semitism. By paying homage to our great Jewish leaders – by showing pride, or Jewish naches – in essence we, too, are fighting anti-Semitism. We are recognizing those individuals who ensure Judaism thrives and make sure it stays alive.

About 30 years ago, Eli began his Jewish community work with March of the Living (MOL). Most participants on MOL over the years, be they a 16-year-old or a Holocaust survivor, know Eli, and most can relate a story about his charm, warm character, storytelling and overwhelming love of the Jewish People, and indeed all of humanity.

But the Jewish community is not the only benefactor of Eli’s commitment to educating people about the Holocaust. Over the years, many non-Jews, including native Canadians and survivors of the Rwandan genocide, have travelled to Poland with Eli on the March of Remembrance and Hope to be witnesses to our worst times. This, in and of itself, is fighting anti-Semitism. By creating friendships with others and raising their consciousness about the Jewish People, Eli has played a significant role in fighting anti-Semitism.

Eli began his work in the Jewish community as a bar and bat mitzvah teacher at Temple Sinai in Toronto. He has taught hundreds of boys and girls their parshahs and the prayers for their special day. Fun and poignant stories are told about Eli by former students – about his passion for the task, as well as about his late beloved Lab dog, Mickey, joining the classes, “giving kisses” to those who loved dogs, and even to those who didn’t.

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Somehow over the years, Eli developed a tremendous love of animals. It’s difficult to say where this came from, as he is a former yeshiva bocher, an environment devoid of pets. Yet along the road, Eli became chair of the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind in Canada. Through this organization, he has taken a delegation of visually impaired Israelis on MOL with their guide dogs, and he’s currently fundraising to do so again. To boot, Eli directed a very touching film about this trip, called Blind Love, which will be shown on Israeli television on Yom Hashoah. This year, Eli will host a fundraiser with the band Lighthouse for the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind. He’s also working on a project to determine what happened to people’s pets during the Holocaust.

Eli is also writing the second edition of his book Witness, about the Holocaust, and he’s working on a film about the late icon, Elie Wiesel. In addition, he’s assisting Germany’s Judge Thomas Walther on the prosecution of remaining Nazi war criminals, he’s helping Kurdish refugees, and he’s working on various native issues.

On top of all this, Eli is spiritual leader of Toronto’s Congregation Habonim, a post he’s held for close to three decades. Currently, he’s spearheading a fundraiser to rebuild this magnificent shul, the first in Canada founded by survivors. So far, the effort has raised $8 million and is 85 per cent complete.

The Jewish People benefit greatly from Eli’s leadership. His work on behalf of all Jews and all humanity is to be honoured and recognized. It is through the efforts of people like Eli that we weaken the anti-Semite and strengthen our own people, and the goodness on our planet.

I am honoured to be Eli Rubenstein’s friend and brother.

Avrum.rosensweig@veahavta.org