A few weeks ago, a group of people in Toronto tried to rally local Jewish voters to support Joel Etienne, a candidate running to represent the federal Conservative Party in the riding of York Centre.
Etienne, a successful lawyer, is a practising and committed member of the community and has kids in Jewish schools. He would have been a strong advocate for our communal interests. Etienne lost the nomination battle by 45 votes against a well-organized opponent with no track record of supporting our communal interests. Only 245 people out of 450 new members of the Conservative party came out to vote for Etienne on a Sunday afternoon.
What is wrong with this picture?
To be perfectly clear, this isn’t about partisan support for one party or another, nor is it an argument for why Jews should only support Jewish candidates, a proposition that we do not agree with. Rather, we submit that the Jewish community should vote for candidates who support issues important to our community – and that the community should be advocating that all politicians address our communal interests. Regrettably, that is not happening. Not nearly enough.
There is no shortage of important issues that impact the Jewish community in Ontario. From Jewish day school funding and security funding for synagogues and schools to anti-Semitism and BDS, we do not lack issues to care about. There can be no doubt that our communal issues have been addressed when our “friends” have been elected.
For example, the City of Toronto recently allocated over $600,000 for nutritional meals at independent schools. Without the help of city Coun. James Pasternak, Jewish day schools would not have been eligible for this funding. In fact, they were purposely excluded from the program before Pasternak got involved.
Similarly, Toronto school trustee Alexandra Lulka challenged a public school for removing a Jewish Heritage poster because it resembled an Israeli flag, while Thornhill MPP Gila Martow championed a motion in the Ontario Legislative Assembly to stand against the BDS movement.
Yet, mass active involvement on the part of community members is sorely lacking.
We submit that our most important communal issue is the lack of government funding for our schools. As our campuses continue to close and overall enrolment drops, we are in crisis mode. It is unrealistic to believe that this situation will change without communal pressure on politicians.
As Maury Litwack, an advocate for school funding in the United States has noted, “The number one question I would get from politicians is ‘If this issue is so important – where are the people?’ The politicians were of course right – indifference does not lead to results.”
Our institutions and community members must become vocal in promoting our issues. Too many of us are complacent and unwilling to take any concrete action. “Caring” is not enough. It is time for a paradigm shift. If we want our elected politicians to care about our issues, if our schools are to be saved, if we truly care about our kids being blessed with a Jewish education, then the status quo is not an option. We hope you will join us in taking action.