Not surprisingly, 2015 was an eventful year in the Jewish world, one marked by violence, anti-Semitism, political rancour, and debates about Jewish identity.
As it began, Canadians and Canadian Jews rallied in solidarity with France after two Islamic gunmen stormed the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, killing 11, including a Jewish cartoonist and a Jewish columnist, and two days later, four Jewish men were killed by an Islamic gunman in a siege at a kosher supermarket in Paris.
Rabbi Adam Scheier, spiritual leader of Montreal’s Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, visited Paris and said Canada must do more to help French Jews immigrate here.
An Islamic threat of a different sort hung over Jewish politics as U.S.-led talks to limit Iran’s nuclear program – a deal was reached in July – became one of the issues dividing Jews in the recent Canadian election campaign.
The deal loomed large when, in an unprecedented move, the Jewish Defence League picketed the home of Toronto Jewish businessman Barry Sherman who hosted a fundraiser for Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. The JDL claimed key Trudeau advisers were critical of Israel, backed the Iran deal, and favoured engagement with the Islamic Republic. (One adviser, new Mississauga Centre MP Omar Alghabra, recently was named parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, responsible for consular affairs, causing his statements on the Middle East and his past as head of the Canadian Arab Federation to come under greater scrutiny.)
The campaign also marked the retirement of MP Irwin Cotler in Mount Royal, which saw a hard-fought race to replace him. Anthony Housefather ultimately retained the riding for the Liberals, joining six other new Jewish Liberal MPs.
In Toronto, Canada’s first Jewish finance minister, Tory Joe Oliver, was defeated in the Liberal sweep, as was York Centre MP Mark Adler, but not before Adler faced controversy for erroneously claiming to be the first child of a Holocaust survivor ever elected to Parliament and mentioning it in campaign materials.
Jews also weighed in on both sides of controversial election issues, such as wearing niqabs at citizenship ceremonies and how many and which Syrian refugees Canada should allow into the country.
Near the end of the year, as Trudeau renewed his pledge to resettle 25,000 refugees, Jewish groups and shuls across Canada stepped forward to help, even as some Jewish voices urged caution in vetting the newcomers to weed out Islamist elements.
In November, in the first test of Trudeau’s election pledge to be as strong a friend of Israel as former prime minister Stephen Harper had been, Canada voted against an annual raft of Arab-sponsored UN resolutions targeting the Jewish state.
Other international stories that hit home this year included news last month that a former Bnei Akiva shaliach and teacher at the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, Rabbi Ya’acov Don, 51, was killed in a West Bank terror attack, part of ongoing violence in Israel marked by shootings, stabbings and car-rammings.
In June, Auschwitz-born Montrealer Angela Orosz-Richt told former SS guard Oskar Groening at his trial in Germany that she can never forgive him. Groening was sentenced to four years in prison for his role in murdering 300,000 Hungarian Jews in the camp.
On issues of identity and education, The CJN took a deeper look at camps’ role in fostering Jewish affiliation and day schools’ struggles to attract students as tuition fees rise inexorably.
In the most interesting of these stories, Tyler Weir, 13, of Richmond Hill, Ont., was barred from Camp Solelim, a Young Judaea camp in Sudbury, because he’s not Jewish. He’d attended Camp Shalom, a Solelim feeder camp, in 2014. The story touched off a debate in the Jewish community and beyond. Some argued the camp made a PR blunder in rejecting Tyler, while others defended the camp’s faith-based mission to inculcate Jewish values among teens at a key age.
Other notable stories from 2015:
• In March, The CJN uncovered online real estate ads for houses in Brampton, Ont., with the tagline, “You don’t have to be Jewish to buy this house.” The agent named in the ads said a third party posted them and he didn’t know the slogan had been used. When contacted, the Philippines-based firm that wrote the ads said it wasn’t anti-Jewish and blamed the error on a new hire who innocently thought “Jewish” means “rich.”
• In June, B’nai Brith Canada said it plans to sell its Toronto headquarters. A short time later, it began seeking a buyer for its dementia residence in the city. The home opened in 2013, but has never been more than half full. B’nai Brith’s financial situation is a story we’ll be watching in 2016.
• Also in June, the Jewish National Fund of Canada cancelled former Arkansas governor and U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee’s keynote address at JNF Ottawa’s Oct. 15 Negev Diner after objections about his comments on gays and lesbians.
• In late spring, we reported on a scaled-down plan to rebuild Toronto’s Bathurst Jewish Community Centre. In 2007, before the recession, the new facility was forecast to cost $100 million. The revised smaller project will cost $65 million and construction won’t start for two more years, community officials said.
• In August, Steve Maman, the Montreal businessman who gained global attention for claims he was rescuing Christian and Yazidi women and girls from ISIS, said he was suing Yazidi leaders and others who demanded he prove his claims. He said he’d crowd-funded more than $387,000 and negotiated to free more than 120 captives.
• After a long-simmering debate, the 16-member choir at Beth Tzedec Congregation, North America’s largest Conservative shul, resigned en masse this month when the synagogue demanded that every member of the group, comprising Jews and non-Jews, affirm their Jewish identities. Spiritual leader Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl said the change to the membership requirements is in line with Conservative practice.
Stay tuned for The CJN‘s ten best culture stories of 2015, and our ten most-read online stories.