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Farber: Recognizing the trailblazers in our community

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Max Eisen speaks to reporters in Toronto on July 25.

Last month, Jews around the world took time to sit back and think. The Ten Days of Repentance is the time that falls between Rosh Hashanah and concludes with Yom Kippur. It is a time for Jews to engage in honest self-reflection, recall the year that passed and ask forgiveness from those whom we have wronged.

Many Jews, believers and non-believers, use this time to re-engage, to fix broken relationships, to walk back positions they’ve taken that may have caused hurt and, most of all, to better themselves for whatever the future may hold.

In this spirit, I am inaugurating my first “Yasher Koach Awards.” These awards will recognize the people and organizations who deserve praise and recognition helping make this country a better place to live.

Jeffrey Brown, a transplanted Bostonian and a member of the Beth Avraham Yoseph Synagogue of Toronto, not only looks after security matters for his synagogue, but has been a model of diversity and engagement. Brown is one of the few members of our community who regularly meets with Canadian Muslims, assists them with their security needs and engages in meaningful dialogue with them. As he tells me, “We definitely don’t always agree, but unless we talk, nothing will get better.” Brown is also not shy about speaking out against those in our community who engage in Islamophobic and racist behaviour. He has stood tall, while too many have remained silent.

Karen Mock has been advocating for human rights even longer than I have. She’s an Order of Canada recipient, president of JSpaceCanada, former CEO of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and former director of B’nai Brith’s League for Human Rights. Mock, an educational psychologist, has been a strong advocate for cross-cultural dialogue, diversity and common sense.

Holocaust survivors like Max Eisen, Judy Cohen, Gerda Frieberg and the many who we have lost to time understand the dangers of racism and bigotry. They have felt the pain and degradation of life, but have used their experiences to teach a whole new generation of children the meaning of, and need for, loving kindness. They are role models to emulate.

Tova Lynch was the chair and inspiration behind the Canadian Jewish Experience exhibit. Despite facing many obstacles, Lynch helped produce a bilingual exhibit that showcases the incredible impact that Canadian Jews have had on this great nation over its 150 year history. It opened in Ottawa last year and one of its panels, a homage to the first Jewish governor of the Bank of Canada, Louis Rasminsky, is on display at the Bank of Canada’s headquarters in Ottawa.

Len Pearl is producing a two-part documentary film called Search Out the Land: The Story of the Jewish Canadians. This extraordinary film explores 250 years of Jewish Canadian history (full disclosure: I am an advisor on the project). It will be a journey through time, from the first colonies in New France, to the present. Pearl has engaged in his own fundraising (though more is still needed), ensured that every historical detail is accurate and championed Canadian Jewry. This is a story of how Canada welcomed Jews, how we overcame adversity and contributed back to the land that gave us sanctuary. It’s set to be released in September 2019.

READ: FARBER: IN DEFENCE OF HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH

And finally, a robust Yasher Koach to the legacy of the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC). While sadly dissolved a number of years ago, 2019 would have marked its 100th anniversary. It fought racism, discrimination and anti-Semitism, and helped make Canada a better place. I spent my formative years at the CJC, learning at the feet of giants like Ben Kayfetz, Milton Harris, Louis Lenkinski, Rose Wolfe, Mira Koschitzky and Irving Abella. The CJC was a Jewish treasure and a legend. May its strength give us strength for the coming year.