TORONTO — The current federal government boasts no Jewish members of Parliament. At least that’s what most people think.
But speaking to The CJN last week, Industry Minister Tony Clement revealed that halachically speaking, he is a Jew.
Clement’s Jewishness is matrilineal. His grandmother was born in Aleppo, Syria, to a family of Jewish mercantile traders who spoke Arabic. The family name was Djebbah.
In the early 20th century, Clement’s grandparents settled in Manchester, England – then renowned for its textile industry, he said – and conceived his mother, who eventually married a Greek Cypriot.
Clement was also born in Manchester.
His parents ended up divorced, but Clement said his early years were not informed by any religious upbringing.
“My parents had a truce” on promoting religion in the home, he said.
Informed that in the eyes of Jewish law, he would be considered Jewish, Clement said “I would, yes.”
“But according to Greek Cypriot law, I’m Greek Orthodox, so there you go,” he said, adding that he is a practising Christian, though not in the Greek Orthodox stream.
“But [Judaism] is a part of my heritage, part of my past and one that I’m very proud of.”
He said his November 2009 working visit to Israel – his first – helped him realize that he needed to know more about his Jewish roots.
“It was such a thrill to finally get to Israel in 2009 for [personal] reasons as well as for the official reasons. But that visit helped me face my heritage, certainly,” he said.
Ever since, he said he’s been on more of a personal quest to “reconnect” with the Jewish side of his family.
“My [Jewish heritage] is something I’d like to explore more. I know some of my Jewish relatives, but they’re spread all over the world now. One of these days now, I’d like to have more contact with them.”
In addition to talking about his roots, Clement also said Israel continues to figure prominently on his list of professional objectives.
Over the last two years, under his watch, Clement has helped nurture increasing Canada-Israel business ties. He said it’s something he plans to continue.
“We’re upping our collaboration on the Canada-Israel front. That’s been one of my initiatives as industry minister since my visit to Israel in 2009,” he said.
That visit, he said, culminated in a dialogue, with Israel’s chief scientist, Eli Opper.
“We had an initial Canada-Israel collaboration meeting in Toronto several months ago and intend to have another one in Israel later on this year,” he said, although no date has been set.
Scientists and venture capitalists from both countries attended what was called an “innovation summit” in Toronto last October.
Clement said that so far, Canada and Israel are concentrating on three development fronts: water technology, neuroscience and “clean energy” research and development.
“We’ve started to really put down some roots in the commercialization area of some of these R&D projects, and my philosophy is that right now, we have the best diplomatic relations we’ve ever had with Israel.
“We have very close military and security interests, and yet in commercialization and collaboration on industrial development, we should be a lot closer and get more projects done. That’s what I’ve been working on for the last year or so. We are starting to see these come to fruition, and I am going to keep pushing so that these collaborations continue.”
Clement was in Toronto last week to discuss the government’s Knowledge Infrastructure Program, which has invested billions in an effort to enhance the infrastructure of Canadian post-secondary institutions to create job opportunities for graduates in response to the recession.