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Canadian Jews on the campaign trail

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Campaign signs at Sherbourne Street and Gerrard Street in Toronto (Alex Rose photo)

The Canadian Jewish community has a long history of political action and organization. During the current federal election campaign, many Jewish people have been volunteering their time to help campaigns across the country, and across the political spectrum.

Ben Fleischman is volunteering for Chris Rodgers, the Liberal candidate in Ottawa’s Carleton riding. Rodgers also ran in 2015, losing out to Conservative incumbent Pierre Poilievre. Fleischman said he’s volunteering out of a sense of “moral obligation to be involved.”

Once Fleischman decided to participate in the democratic process, he determined that the Liberal party was most aligned with his values on the issues that are important to him: the environment, affordable housing and BDS. He also believes he can have some influence on the party by pitching in.

“Part of volunteering is pre-existing alignment; part of volunteering is adding your own flavour to the mix. Which is to say that if an overwhelming number of volunteers with a certain stance join a cause, the cause as a collective begins to shift,” he said.

“So what does that mean for my role as a volunteer? I would say that it helped me to become a bridge between the democratic institution of Canada and Canada’s Jewish community.… I’ve also done that in a non-partisan capacity. But would I say that I’ve influenced the Liberal party in a way that I think is more agreeable or more connected with the Jewish community? I would say yes.”

READ: INSIDE THE JEWISH-CANADIAN ELECTION BATTLEGROUND

Eleanor Miller, the campaign manager for Peter Kent, the incumbent Conservative in the Toronto-area riding of Thornhill, has been volunteering for around 20 years. She started in Grade 10, when she had to volunteer for class.

“I got hooked. I loved it, everything about it,” she said. “Eventually, my views evolved to be conservative and I’ve helped out on Conservative campaigns wherever I’ve been living.”

Miller has been volunteering for Kent since 2008, when he was first elected. In her capacity as campaign manager, Miller said that she does a little bit of everything: keeping the team motivated and organized, pounding signs, knocking on doors, canvassing, phoning people, keeping the lights on and contributing to the campaign’s strategic direction.

Miller believes it’s important for her to volunteer as a citizen, but also as a Jewish-Canadian.

“From the Jewish community perspective, we’re such a small community in Canada. And I think we really need to punch above our weight. We’ve got issues that are incredibly important to us and if you show up and you’re involved and you have the opportunity to build relationships with people who are potentially going to be elected, it makes a huge difference,” she said.

Miller said the issues that are most important to her this election are security for the Jewish community, including the freedom to practice religion without fear, along with prudent fiscal management, helping small business owners and keeping the cost of living down.

For Jonas Goldman, a volunteer for NDP candidate Emma Norton in Nova Scotia’s Dartmouth-Cole Harbour riding, Norton’s focus on the climate crisis and adequate health care for the East Coast’s aging population really resonated with him. He is also impressed by the NDP’s industrial investment strategy for the region, with its emphasis on clean jobs and economic independence.

Jonas Goldman conversing at a Hillel event in Ottawa

Goldman believes that everyone has an obligation to maximize his or her impact on society and the benefit he or she can provide. But Goldman said that he can trace his personal sense of obligation back to the Jewish values he was raised with.

“What always sort of stuck true with me was at the Passover Seder, saying each generation must live as if they too personally were taken out of Egypt by Adonai,” he said. “I think that equates with feeling empathy and solidarity with those who are currently still in chains or dispossessed, or just in lesser straits than you.”

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