Rivka Campbell, a co-founder of Jews of Colour Canada, speaks at a school event. (photo from JOCC)
The spirit of openness and inclusion that many Jewish organizations express in their literature and social media posts is frequently not felt by Jews of colour, according to several members of the community.
Jews of colour, who are said to represent about 12% of the overall Jewish community, constitute a broad spectrum of people, including those of African, Middle Eastern, East Indian, Asian, Indigenous and Latin American descent, yet they are vastly underrepresented in congregation attendance, on organizational boards and throughout the community as a whole.
Rivka Campbell, a co-founder of Jews of Colour Canada (JOCC), says the unwelcoming feeling happens immediately upon entering a Jewish institution. She refers to it as the “question or questions” that are asked: Do you know this is a synagogue? What made you decide to visit? When did you convert?
“These are not the sorts of questions that most Jews who attend a synagogue or other places associated with Judaism have to answer, and it is really none of anybody’s business,” Campbell told the Independent.
In a recent Jews of colour webinar run by Moishe House Montreal, participants relayed numerous negative and often disturbing experiences, some of which caused them to distance themselves from Jewish circles.
“I have withdrawn from synagogue life and gone into online mode,” Deryck Glodon, Campbell’s JOCC co-founder, stated. “I don’t want to be in a position where people make you feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. People don’t know that Jewish diversity exists.”
Another participant mentioned a rabbi who once told him to choose between being black and being Jewish. Yet another recalled several untoward remarks made in Jewish settings about Filipino people, which happened to be part of this person’s heritage.
“It’s driving many Jews of colour away from any involvement within the broader community,” noted Campbell, who is executive director for Beit Rayim, a Conservative synagogue and school in Richmond Hill, Ont.
Campbell, the sole Canadian recipient of the Union of Reform Judaism’s JewV’Nation inaugural fellowship – a leadership development program – has had numerous encounters with misconceptions. She is often asked if she is Ethiopian. Once, at a Kiddush, she had to explain to someone that being a person of colour does not correspond to a fondness for fried foods.
A noticeable thread during the Moishe House webinar was the wide disparity between the progressive causes supported by Jewish leaders and the experiences of people of colour within the community.
Many Jews of colour feel that, despite some good intentions by Jewish organizations, there are always those moments when they have to prove who they are, when they just want to be, Campbell explained. The hope, she said, is that, one day, Jews of colour won’t have to spell out what Jewish diversity is.
“Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s solidarity with Dr. Martin Luther King happened 55 years ago – we need to do something now and not rest on our progressive laurels,” she said. “Nor should we forget that Rabbi Heschel was not universally praised from within the Jewish establishment for his civil rights stand.”
As for what clergy and lay leaders can do, Campbell pointed to the resources found on Union of Reform Judaism website regarding diversity, equity and inclusion for all members of the community.
For the broader community, she said, “It is not a big deal to be welcoming. Treat me the same as anyone else. You have to see me as a Jew first. ‘Shabbat Shalom’ should flow off the tongue as easily with me as anyone else.”
She continued, “Our diversity as Jews of colour adds to the diversity of Judaism. This can be turned into a very positive thing.”
On this hopeful note, in 2017, Campbell started work on a documentary that shares several stories of people from various backgrounds within the Jewish community and is designed to show the richness therein. Its objective is “to discuss how we are starting to embrace our differences and how we can do a better job of celebrating our diversity.”
Campbell’s first involvement with Jews of colour groups began at the time social media was gaining momentum. After locating ones on Facebook, she found their focus to be American-centric. In 2012, she started her own Facebook group, A Minority Within a Minority: Jews of Colour, a Canadian-focused group.
The need to move beyond Facebook ensued and, together with Glodon, she started a website and reached out to “people in the real world to have gatherings and lunches.”
“The aim was to have an in-person connection, to do things like teaching, research and advocacy,” said Campbell. The group was incorporated as a nonprofit and, at some point, she would like it to be a charitable organization.
JOCC hopes to expand its presence outside of Ontario and Quebec, and would like to have more exposure in British Columbia. Campbell spoke at Beth Tikvah
For more information about Jews of Colour Canada, visit jewsofcolour.ca or their Facebook page, facebook.com/joc.canada.
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
Akilah Allen-Silverstein, a co-founder, with Sara Yacobi-Harris and Daisy Moriyama, of No Silence on Race. (photo from NSR)
Amid a global reckoning around race, a group of Canadian Jews of colour is calling on the community to advance inclusivity and racial equity in Jewish spaces. And rather than generalized good wishes for more equality, No Silence on Race has created nine pillars to guide community organizations through a comprehensive process.
The group emerged at the end of June, when founder Sara Yacobi-Harris and co-founders Akilah Allen-Silverstein and Daisy Moriyama released a letter to the community introducing their work and their nine pillars.
“We are Black Jews and non-Black Jews of colour,” the letter said. “We are Jewish community board members, educators and leaders. We write from a place of love for our Jewish identities and community, while also grappling with the cultural erasure, exclusion and structural racism that we experience in Jewish spaces. Nevertheless, we are compelled to be in Jewish community because it is who we are.”
They began by sending the letter to agency leaders and posting it on Jewish social media and discussion platforms. Organizations circulated it further and began to request meetings.
“We are working to make a change in the culture, recognizing that the Jewish community is multifaceted in identity and making sure there is an awareness and an education around the diversity of the Jewish community,” Allen-Silverstein told the Independent in a recent interview.
In addition to asking individuals and organizations to sign their open letter, the group is asking community agencies to issue statements of their own and commit to the nine pillars.
The nine pillars guide agencies through developing allyship and educational approaches around race, as well as relationship-building. They move from more general approaches to applied processes such as hiring an equity consultant and developing inclusive employment and recruitment policies; creating leadership strategies for Jews of colour in the organization and amplifying their voices. The process is anticipated to evolve over three- to five-year periods. The entire text is easily accessible online at nosilenceonrace.ca.
“We are asking every organization to make a public statement, but, within this public statement, it’s not just about solidarity or signaling that you’re with us or you feel the same,” said Allen-Silverstein. “Our pillars are intentional in that the first three are ‘free’ and we’re very cognizant that it’s COVID right now and a lot of these organizations are just working to keep the lights on. But the first three pillars –allyship and education and relationship-building – these are things that will mostly be individual work. The organization can help facilitate by sending out reading lists, book lists, articles to give people the context, because, if you just run ahead and skip to steps four, five, six, you’re trying to create proposals or rules and guidelines without the context of the education to understand where the issues are, what people of colour have faced for years and their experiences within the Jewish community, and we are not going to be putting together any policies that actually make sense or help.”
No Silence on Race is cautious to express that, in employment and recruitment, the group wants to avoid tokenizing. “Tangible efforts could include mentorship programs for Jews of colour to be groomed for leadership positions,” she said. “We realize that takes time but that should just be done intentionally.”
Working to amplify the voices of Jews of colour, Allen-Silverstein added, means not just expecting Jews of colour to come and share what “for some of us can be very painful and exhausting, to do this for free constantly.”
Allen-Silverstein, a financial planner, is the daughter of an Ashkenazi father from London, Ont., and a mother from St. Kitts in the Caribbean. Jews of colour, she said, can come from intermarriage, but the broad category also includes Sephardim, Mizrahim, Ethiopians “and others who have always been Jews of colour,” she said.
Acknowledging and condemning antisemitic remarks and actions that have come from some prominent African-American athletes, artists and religious figures, as well as some incidents within the Black Lives Matter movement, Allen-Silverstein said the incidents speak to a communication problem.
“It just shows the breakdown between both communities,” she said. “I think, if you look historically, the similarities and the oppression that both communities have faced, we should be allies more than any other two groups. It’s sad. All we can do is honestly be that person who tries to explain it to both sides and that generally happens.”
Amid the hundreds of chapters of the Black Lives Matters movement, she acknowledged, there are some who have expressed extreme ideas. Allen-Silverstein sees two approaches in response.
“Sometimes, it’s noise and we really have to ignore that. One person speaking out and saying something stupid doesn’t mean that everybody else feels that way, and I think we need to be careful not to do that,” she said. The other step is to get to the root of the matter – “Let’s figure out where they’re getting this terrible message,” she said.
There has been forward movement in the fight for racial equality, as well as some backsliding, over many decades. Like others working for racial justice, Allen-Silverstein looks at the current moment with cautious optimism.
“It is inspiring that people are really listening and seem really genuinely interested to move forward, to acknowledge past things that have been done, whether it’s unconscious or consciously as well,” she said, adding that there appear to be more people engaging in the issue. “We are seeing, too, many things that make it very obvious that there was an element of people within the community who just considered these issues not theirs and not something they needed to participate in. That, for us, wasn’t acceptable as people who obviously walk both lines, being both members of that community and the Jewish community.”
Mayim Bialik headlines a Sept. 9 event to raise funds for the SOS: Support Our Students Assistance Fund at Ben-Gurion University. (photo from CABGU)
Across five time zones, two scientists and a Canadian senator will virtually get together to talk science, Judaism, veganism, Israel and the empowerment of young women. Join the Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev on Wednesday, Sept. 9, at 4:30 p.m. (Pacific) for their first national virtual event, inspired by the appeal to address the dire needs of BGU’s students as a result of the coronavirus. The event will feature actress, neuroscientist and author Mayim Bialik, PhD, star of the TV series The Big Bang Theory and the sitcom Blossom; BGU president Prof. Danny Chamovitz; and special guest moderator, Senator Linda Frum. They will offer three perspectives on some of the most pressing issues facing the Jewish community, Israel and the world.
The economic crisis caused by the pandemic has forced thousands of BGU students to question their ability to continue their studies this fall. The event will benefit the recently launched SOS: Support Our Students Assistance Fund at Ben-Gurion University – a fund designed to save the class of COVID -19.
“Our event brings together three highly intelligent and socially engaged speakers that will captivate the 500 people we expect from across Canada,” said Mark Mendelson, chief executive officer of CABGU, speaking from Montreal.
“Mayim’s story has relevance and appeal for the next generation, especially during these turbulent times when many are wrestling with how to realize their social responsibility,” said David Berson, CABGU’s executive director for Western Canada. Regional chairperson for the event, Adam Korbin, added: “Equally important is the fact that she knows how to make people laugh, something we all could use right now.”
In addition to the discussion, guests will be treated to a bottle of award-winning red wine from the Yatir Winery in Israel’s Negev region and sweet and savoury kosher treats prepared by Café 41. Tickets are $180 per household, which includes a partial tax receipt; sponsorships are also available.
To purchase tickets or for further information, go to bengurion.ca or contact Berson at [email protected] or 604-266-2680. Tickets are limited and this event will likely sell out.
Calgary resident and philanthropist Lenny Shapiro recently announced that he and his wife Faigel are expanding their scholarship program at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. As part of a new five-year commitment, the couple is increasing the number and value of scholarships they will be awarding to students pursuing their university studies after completing their mandatory service in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).
A strong believer in the concept of tzedakah, Lenny Shapiro has donated to many nonprofit organizations in both Canada and Israel. He has long supported students at HU, having provided scholarships to hundreds of students over the years and, in July, he decided to make a substantial donation to be used over the next five years for scholarships for students who have served in the IDF. To add to the impact, Canadian Friends of Hebrew University (CFHU) and Hebrew University will be matching a portion of his contribution.
At the heart of this action is Shapiro’s longstanding respect and appreciation for those who risk their lives in defence of Israel.
“I’m in love with the soldiers,” he said. “They put their lives on the line. Many have lost friends in battle. For those that then go on to study at Hebrew University who I can help, I feel they’re like my family. I see myself as being like a grandfather for them. Their needs are my needs, and I’m so pleased to do what I can to help them get their degree as they make their way through life.”
Shapiro has shared his passion for Hebrew University with the next generation in his family. One of his daughters, Robin Murphy, is a member of CFHU’s national board.
Born in Montreal, Lenny Shapiro grew up in modest conditions. After graduating from Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University) with a bachelor of commerce, he went on to head Allied Resources Management, part of the petroleum industry in Alberta.
Shapiro has always operated according to the principle that there’s no better exercise for your heart than reaching down and helping to lift someone up. His impact is reflected in the many letters he’s received over the years from HU students for whom his scholarships have allowed them to complete their studies.
“With the financial support I received from you, it’s easier for me to concentrate on my studies,” Julia Arziantzev wrote to Shapiro during the second year of her master’s degree in cultural studies at HU. “Without your scholarship, I doubt I would be able to keep up my average or even keep studying. Thank you for your generous assistance. It makes me optimistic to know there are people like you who are willing to help in such a tremendous way.”
Annamie Paul is running to succeed Elizabeth May as leader of the Green Party of Canada. (photo from Annamie Paul)
Annamie Paul wants to be the first woman of colour and the first Jewish woman to lead a political party in Canada. But, in the process, the human rights lawyer and former diplomat who is running to succeed Elizabeth May as leader of the Green Party of Canada has been taken aback by the overt antisemitism thrown at her since it became widely known that she is Jewish.
“You almost can’t believe what you’re seeing,” said the Toronto native, who has worked extensively overseas. “There are very explicit comments questioning my loyalty to Canada because I am Jewish. There are those who have suggested that I am seeking to infiltrate the party on behalf of Zionist elements.”
Paul said what disappoints her most is the almost complete silence from others when antisemitic posts are made on social media, such as the Facebook group for Green party supporters.
“The comments were whispers at first, innuendo, and now they’ve become very explicit,” she said. “If people are allowed to make these comments unchecked, it really emboldens them and that’s definitely what I’ve noticed over the last week or two.”
Amid a litany of such comments – including items not directly targeting her but equating Israelis to Nazis on Green-oriented social media sites – only one single individual not on her campaign team has called out the offensive posts. At the urging of Paul’s campaign, moderators removed some of the most disturbing ones.
“It’s taken me aback,” she said. “It wasn’t something I was fully prepared for, to be honest.”
She differentiates between people who are deliberately provocative and those who are uninformed.
“I accept that there are a certain number of people who still need to be educated … and, while it’s perhaps not my responsibility to do that, I’m willing to do that because I think if I can create a little more understanding, then that’s important,” she said.
Paul spoke at a Zoom event organized by Congregation Beth Israel and moderated by Rabbi Jonathan Infeld on July 8. That conversation was primarily about Paul’s life, Jewish journey and career. In a subsequent interview with the Jewish Independent, she delved more deeply into policy and her experiences with antisemitism and racism.
Born in Toronto to a family from the Caribbean, she was among the first students in Toronto public schools’ French immersion program. Her mother, a teacher, and grandmother, a nurse and midwife, worked as domestics when they arrived in Canada. Her mother went on to get a master’s of education and taught in elementary schools for more than three decades; her grandmother became a nurse’s aide.
Paul credits her mother’s broad-mindedness and spiritual bent for the openness that led her to embrace Judaism in early adulthood. Paul was converted by the Hillel rabbi while completing a master’s of public affairs at Princeton University. She also has a law degree from the University of Ottawa. She chose Ottawa in part because its law faculty emphasizes law through an Indigenous lens. In addition to seeking at an early age to be an ally to Indigenous peoples – she started law school at 19 – she saw parallels between the Canadian situation and her own heritage as a member of the Black diaspora.
“We have been stripped of all of the things that Indigenous peoples are fighting for still in this country,” she said. “Through colonialism, we lost our identity, we lost our culture, our language, our religions. We really can’t tell you anything with any great degree of precision about our ancestors. When I saw other peoples fighting for those things, I understood intuitively how important it was.”
Paul has worked as a director for a conflict prevention nongovernmental organization in Brussels, as an advisor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and as a political officer in Canada’s mission to the European Union. She co-founded and co-directed an innovation hub for international NGOs working on global challenges and has served on the board and advised other international NGOs, including the Climate Infrastructure Partnership and Higher Education Alliance for Refugees. She is married to Mark Freeman, a prominent human rights lawyer and author. They have two sons, one in university in London, U.K., the other in high school in Toronto.
Returning to Canada after spending about 13 years abroad, Paul looked at Canadian politics with fresh eyes. While she had been courted to run provincially by the Ontario Liberal Party in the early 2000s, she opted to run federally for the Green party in 2019. She took about 7% of the vote in Toronto Centre, which was won by Finance Minister Bill Morneau. She is one of nine candidates running for Green leader.
She chose the Green party because, she said, “we don’t have time to fool around with the climate emergency.”
“I celebrate the compromise that is the spirit of Canadian politics,” Paul said. “This is the Canadian way. But there are some things that you simply have to do all the way or it really doesn’t work. One of those things is the climate emergency. If we don’t hit our targets, then we are setting ourselves up for disaster. The Liberals, the NDP, the Conservatives, they’re just not committed to that goal and so I wanted to make it clear that I was aligning myself with the party that was very, very committed to reaching those targets.”
COVID-19, for all the health and economic devastation it has wrought, also presents opportunities, said Paul. In Canada, federal and provincial governments came together and political parties set aside partisanship to an extent. Canadians who may have been skeptical that a massive challenge like climate change could be ameliorated see what concerted governmental action – and massive investments – can look like. “[Canadians] know that money can be found if it’s needed and they know that we can mobilize very quickly,” she said.
The billions of dollars being invested into the economic recovery should be directed toward projects that explicitly advance a green economy, she said, such as a cross-Canada energy grid that produces electricity from renewable sources to be shared throughout the country. This is just one of a range of opportunities that Paul sees emerging from this extraordinary economic challenge.
“For a country as wealthy and well-educated as Canada, if we want to be, we can really be first in line for all of this,” she said. “It’s exciting.”
The Green leader has limited constitutional authority in a party dedicated to grassroots policymaking, Paul said. If party members adopt a policy that challenges the leader’s core values, the leader may be required to walk away. Such a scenario emerged in 2016 after the party adopted a resolution to boycott Israel. Following a showdown, the resolution was rescinded and May carried the party into the subsequent election. As a result, Paul said, the party is on record supporting Israel’s right to exist and opposing the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
Paul opposes the Netanyahu government’s Jordan Valley annexation plan because she believes it contravenes international law. But she also urged vigilance against those who might mask their antisemitism in anti-Zionism. And she stressed the unlikelihood of pleasing everyone on either side of the Israel and Palestine divide.
“I don’t feel that there’s anything these days that you can say in terms of that conflict where you’re not going to attract criticism that you were too soft or you were too hard,” she said. “It’s very difficult.”
But, while she doesn’t have the magic answer to resolve the longstanding conflict, her background in diplomacy and international law makes her confident in asserting that negotiated settlement is the route to any eventual solution.
“Dialogue always has to be the preferred option,” she said, adding that international law must be applied to all sides. “State actors, non-state actors, they are all subject to international law. Their obligation is to respect international law and to protect fundamental human rights. There are no exceptions to that.”
At a time when North Americans and others are facing our histories of racism and injustice, Paul finds herself at an opportune intersection.
“I’m very aware of what I represent as a candidate,” she said. “I’m a Black woman, I’m a Jewish woman.… I know people are very interested in my identities and I embrace that…. I would say, though, that [I hope] people will take the time to get to know me and not to create a one-dimensional image of me simply focused around those identities. I feel that I’m very prepared because of the work I’ve done, my academic studies, etc. I’m very well prepared to take on this role and all of the elements of this role.
“You’re not just an environmental advocate as the leader of the Green party, for instance, you also need to be able to talk about foreign policy, you need to be able to talk about economic theory, you need to be able to talk about rural revitalization and what are we going to do about long-term care and should we decriminalize illicit drugs. You need someone who is three-dimensional and I know that I’m three-dimensional and I hope people remember that.”
As a Jew of colour, Paul also has insights on antisemitism in the Black Lives Matters movements and racism in the Jewish community.
“The Black diaspora is not a monolith,” she said. “The Jewish community is not a monolith, either. Don’t ever take the actions of some members of the community as an indication of how the entire community feels.… I would just say don’t let that push you out of wanting to support the community in the way that you should. In terms of Black and Indigenous lives in this country, the statistics just take your breath away. Not just the criminal justice statistics but also health, education, life expectancy, they are really very troubling and those communities need as much help as they can get from people who really understand, who have suffered a great deal of persecution historically, as well, and have had to create opportunities and overcome barriers and still do.”
The leadership vote takes place Sept. 26 to Oct. 3. The deadline to join the Green party to vote in the election is Sept. 3.
Matt Zerker, the founder and chief executive officer of tethr, spoke at a July 8 webinar organized by JNF Future. (screenshot)
Matt Zerker, the founder and chief executive officer of tethr, an online community for men aimed at promoting honest and open conversations about mental health issues, spoke at a July 8 webinar organized by JNF Future, a branch of the Jewish National Fund aimed at adults aged 25-45.
Called The (Not So) Hidden Men’s Mental Health Crisis, Zerker’s talk touched upon some troubling numbers and outdated beliefs still too prevalent within the male population. Citing a study, he said 40% of men feel they have nobody to turn to when they have a problem associated with mental health. He added that the vast majority of suicides are committed by men, and many men continue to believe it is not masculine to discuss personal problems with others or to go to therapy.
To illustrate his point, Zerker relayed an anecdote related to men who do seek help: “When a man goes to therapy, he tells the therapist, ‘Doc, I am not like other guys.’ ‘Why?’ asks the doctor. ‘Because I’m here,’ answers the man.”
A chartered financial analyst, Zerker worked for seven years as a portfolio manager at a hedge fund in Toronto. Despite his outward success, he felt unfulfilled in his life, with little motivation to work, and he struggled for years with his personal and professional relationships. He resorted to substance use and found himself deeply depressed.
In late 2018, a friend told him of a men’s group. “It was amazing because it did not deal with solving problems but with finding space for one another and listening to what I was going through,” he recounted.
In April 2019, he went on a men’s retreat. “The morning after the first night of the retreat, I woke up to a feeling of peace. The panic attacks and the tightness in my head and body I had experienced for months prior were gone,” he recalled.
He returned to work after the retreat and felt he did not belong in the office any longer, so he quit his job, with no fallback plan. Soon thereafter, the idea to build a platform where men could connect with one another and speak openly about the issues they were facing as men hit him “like a tidal wave.” Thus, tethr came into being.
“I felt there was a need to build a space where men feel comfortable talking about these issues,” he explained.
Since its inception, tethr has established partnerships with Men’s Health Research at the University of British Columbia; HeadsUpGuys, a resource for men battling depression; and Movember, a charity devoted to men’s health.
Quoting a study by Dr. Michael Kimmel, which stated that 93% of men do not identify with the way masculinity is portrayed in the media, Zerker contended that men are holding themselves to an impossible standard.
“The normative framework for masculinity in our culture is self-reliance, stoicism and the idea of being the unwavering provider. It is an outdated, heavily indoctrinated belief in us as to how we should act as men and is reinforced in movies and commercials,” he said. “As men, we are trained to out-alpha, out-male each other. There is the fear that, if we say something to another male, we will be seen as a ‘lesser man.’ Everything becomes about how we look as opposed to how we feel. We externalize things.”
This can lead, Zerker maintained, to a lack of connection with friends, family and, mostly, with oneself. Men become unable to be truly authentic, he said. For a lot of men, he argued, this can come out in anger and frustration. “You show me an angry man and I’ll show you a sad, wounded boy inside,” he said.
Zerker urged men to be softer, more caring and more reasonable with themselves, and to not set impossible standards. He also encouraged men to reach out to other men and find out how they are doing during the pandemic, i.e., making a plan with another man whom one can trust to have a conversation that is more personal than talk of politics or sports.
“Most men feel like they cannot be the ones who make the first step, but they are thankful when someone does,” Zerker asserted.
For more information, visit tethr.men or download the tethr app on an iPhone or Android device.
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
Drs. David Fisman, left, and Jacob Moran-Gilad discuss climate change and future pandemics. (screenshots)
The Jewish National Fund of Canada recently brought together Toronto-based epidemiologist Dr. David Fisman and Israeli clinical microbiologist Dr. Jacob Moran-Gilad to discuss the relationship between climate change and potential future pandemics.
“It is important to remember that there are a lot of linkages,” said Fisman, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health and a physician at Michael Garron Hospital. Both climate change and viruses like COVID-19 share similar drivers, such as human population growth, environmental degradation and the need for expanded food production, he explained.
Rising temperatures around the globe create a more fertile breeding ground for infectious diseases and accelerate their evolution, he said. Furthermore, climate change is exacerbated by the tearing down of natural environments, which then brings humans in closer proximity to animal habitats – increasing the chances of diseases being passed on to humans from other species.
“We do have a lot of mouths to feed on the planet. Intensive factory farming has been a driver of some really important challenges in infectious diseases,” said Fisman.
It is crucial to act early, Fisman argued. “With climate change, there are different time scales than with the pandemic. You want to shut down the carbon increase way early. If we wait until we are in the soup, it comes with great cost,” he cautioned.
Trade and travel have been around throughout history, he acknowledged. The difference now, he said, is “turning the dial up on temperature, which makes everything worse.”
Moran-Gilad, chair of Israel’s national advisory committee for microbiology and member of the country’s epidemic management team, went through some of the possible ways to prevent the next pandemic.
“We are now all experts in flattening curves – as compared to four months ago – which shows how effectively we can disseminate information,” Moran-Gilad observed.
While not discounting the severity of COVID-19, he said it has not been the pandemic that people who study infectious diseases have been preparing for, one known in the scientific community as Disease X, which would cause a mortality rate of 10 to 30%.
“COVID-19, in this sense, can be viewed cautiously as a drill to the real thing,” Moran-Gilad said, adding that a pandemic of much greater magnitude “could occur in one year, 10 years or 100 years from now.”
About COVID-19, he admitted, “The dynamics of the disease are still not clear. Without a vaccine, we are going to see coronavirus with us for a couple of years.”
Moran-Gilad advocated for investments in scientific research in the area of pathogen discovery, to understand the viruses in animal hosts better, which, he said, could help prevent the global economy from experiencing the losses encountered this year. He recommended, as well, that further studies could examine whether human exposure had taken place before the outbreak emerged.
He warned, though, of the propensity of academic research in high-quality journals to stop printing papers on diseases once they recede from public consciousness. He said this happened with SARS and Ebola, and expressed hope that the legacy of COVID-19 would be a continuation of studies on the virus “or we will find ourselves unprepared for the next pandemic.”
Returning to the proverbial pachyderm in the room – climate change – the doctors did offer a glimmer of hope: action on the environment would bring with it a health dividend. Riding a bike instead of driving a car, for example, has health benefits and reduces emissions.
Extreme weather events also have a deleterious impact on health, and thus we would be acting in our own self-interest to address climate change, the scientists said. They noted that, in the Canadian response to COVID-19, all governments had to do was ask people to maintain a two-metre distance from one another and wear a mask in public, and people mostly did as instructed. The desire, then, would be that similar policy guidelines could be used to ward off environmental disasters.
In his closing remarks, Fisman praised the Japanese approach to fighting the pandemic by avoiding closed and crowded spaces. He also called into question the opening of bars in certain regions of Canada before opening schools. And he stood for an aggressive testing approach.
“There are vaccine candidates that look amazingly promising,” said Fisman. “It’s very hard to fly and land an airplane while we are building it. A positive outcome of the current pandemic would be if vaccine development could be done proactively.
“Our ultimate challenge as scientists,” he concluded, “is to show people what an alternative universe looks like and why it is important to take early and immediate action.”
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
Launching within hours of each other in May, the Canadian Jewish Record and TheJ.ca come at journalism from different perspectives.
Like print media as a whole, Jewish newspapers worldwide have been struggling in recent years. The coronavirus, with its economic impacts, was the last straw for Canadian Jewish News, which announced its closure in a message to readers April 13, with the words: “Everything has its season. It is time.”
From the ashes of that flagship media outlet, though, has emerged not one but two new ventures – and rumours of a possible revival of CJN itself.
Launching within hours of each other in May, the Canadian Jewish Record and TheJ.ca come at journalism from different perspectives and the people behind them think there’s room for a range of online voices, even if a national hard-copy print media option isn’t in the picture.
The Record is the brainchild of Bernie Farber, former chief executive officer of the now-defunct Canadian Jewish Congress, and Ron Csillag, a longtime reporter and editor with CJN, whose writing has appeared in the Jewish Independent. TheJ.ca, which has been in the planning stages longer, was started by Winnipeggers Marty Gold and Ron East. The editor is Dave Gordon, a Torontonian whose writing has appeared frequently in the Independent, as well as scores of other Jewish and non-Jewish publications.
Farber and Csillag admit they don’t have a business plan beyond getting writers and editors to work for free – and they see their online venture as a stopgap that would probably cease or merge were CJN to return. The individual rumoured to be considering a rebirth of the paper opted to not comment for this story.
Farber, who was with CJC from 1984 until it was subsumed by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in 2011 and served as its head from 2006, said they launched CJR on the fly, trying to fill a need in the immediate aftermath of CJN’s demise.
“Our goal is not to become a new Canadian Jewish News,” he said. “When and if they were able to come back up … we would find some way to amalgamate. Nothing is written in stone…. We expect to continue into the fall at this point, hopefully.”
The online news and commentary site operates under the auspices of a nonprofit organization and has no money to speak of, other than enough to cover registration fees and miscellaneous costs, said Farber.
“Everybody who wrote and who is continuing to this day to write for the newspaper is doing it pro bono,” he said. “These are skilled, professional journalists who are, for the most part, people who are used to being paid for their work and have chosen to do this as a donation at this time to the community. It really is a grand mitzvah, Canadian Jewish-style, and it’s working.”
The platform got 22,000 hits in the first week, said Farber, who serves as publisher. “It’s going up from there almost exponentially.”
The model upon which their editorial approach is based is akin to CJN, he said, with a range of opinions represented.
“We’re trying to have a big tent,” he said. “We already got into some hot water because we published a piece by Dr. Mira Sucharov. She’s a wonderful writer, she’s on the edge, people don’t like what she writes, but tough shit. People are allowed to have their opinions.”
JI readers will be familiar with Sucharov’s writing. As for coverage of Israel-related topics, Farber said they will follow a similar open approach.
“It’s not that we don’t support Israel,” he said. “We’re a news source, we’re an information source. We run opinion. We’re not going to [say] you can only write good things about Israel or good things about the Jewish community. We want there to be some spark to it where people can say, no, I disagree with that. We do have an option for feedback and we do get letters to the editor. That’s the Jewish community, right? They are vibrant, they come from all over the place and we want to be able to reflect that.”
Farber and Csillag are well-known figures in the Jewish and larger Canadian scene, which is one of the reasons, they say, that the president of York University reached out to them before releasing a much-awaited report of an investigation around a violent confrontation on campus last November between pro- and anti-Israel groups. The Record got embargoed exclusive access to the report before other media. “It demonstrates how, in a short period of time, we have become a reasonable voice in the community,” Farber said.
Csillag, the editor, said they chose, at the launch on May 21, to “flood” the site with stories to keep readers engaged and coming back. Now, the aim is to post two stories a day plus any breaking news.
“People are talking about it, people are complaining about it,” he said. “I got my first bit of hate mail, which is good. That’s when you know you’re making a difference.”
Finding writers to work for free has not been a challenge. “People have been coming out of the woodwork. I never knew that pretty much everyone on the planet was a writer,” Csillag said, laughing.
Challenges they have not ironed out, they admit, include finding reliable reporters outside Ontario and a steady source of news from Israel, since they don’t have the resources to pay for a news service.
If CJN is not revived, Farber said, “I think we have to get together with serious-minded people within the community and say the CJN is gone and we are here. We don’t have a real business model to be honest. What you see is what you get…. We would have to ramp up to a real business model.”
Farber added that Canada, with the world’s fourth-largest Jewish population at 400,000, should be able to sustain at least two national Jewish media platforms.
That confidence is shared by Gordon, who equates the situation to the old joke about the Jew who, when rescued from a deserted island, was asked why he built two synagogues on the island. One, he told rescuers, was his shul; the other was the one he would never set foot in.
TheJ.ca has been in the planning stages for more than a year. Gordon came on a few weeks before launch. Like the Record, TheJ.ca has little overhead, since everyone associated with it works remotely. They have a few investors and some steady advertising agreements. The online nature of the platform also means no printing or distribution expenses.
Gordon touts the diversity of the large stable of writers.
“One of the things that I think is our proudest asset are individuals from the widest array possible, individuals who are liberal to conservative, Jew and Arab, religious to secular,” he said. “We have four gay columnists, we have Jews of colour who are contributing, we have coast-to-coast contributors and, in that respect, I want to say that, not only do we deliver the unexpected, but we represent the previously unrepresented.”
On Israel coverage, though, they aim to determine suitability of opinions based on the “three Ds” formulated by Natan Sharansky to determine if criticism of Israel is antisemitic: delegitimization of Israel, demonization of Israel, and subjecting Israel to double standards.
“In terms of Israel, we’re not going to make it a secret: we’re very pro-Israel, very Zionistic,” said Gordon. “It’s a good read to say that we are centre-right. We will still strive to maintain a kind of balance in terms of Israel reporting … we will tilt from time to time liberal but not left.”
Their aim is to post a batch of new content twice a week.
While Gordon is based in Toronto, TheJ.ca was born in Winnipeg. Marty Gold, a longtime broadcast journalist and publisher, and Ron East, a former pro wrestler and physical education teacher who has also been involved in publishing, are longtime friends who were critical of existing Jewish media.
East is son of the late Israeli military commander, author and counterterrorism expert Yoram Hamizrachi East. When Winnipeg saw an influx of Israeli immigrants a few years ago, the father and son launched a Hebrew-language publication to help the newcomers navigate their city. The 500 copies were routinely snapped up, he said.
The idea for the new media platform came after Gold and East felt that the established Jewish media and communal organizations in the city were not adequately confronting anti-Israel activity.
“There wasn’t really a pro-Israel, Zionistic platform out there,” said East. “We found that our local media here in Winnipeg, as well as when we started looking at Canadian Jewish News and others, were giving more and more room … and more and more credibility to what we would describe as anti-Israel, anti-Zionistic and, in some cases, pro-BDS Jewish movements. Those voices became louder and louder and the Zionistic pro-Israel voices seemed to be drowned out. We felt that it was important to provide a platform that would allow for those voices.”
While TheJ.ca is an online media platform, they are mooting a print digest that might be issued a couple of times a year. They are also working on a way to format content so that it can be easily downloaded and printed for people who prefer to hold their newspaper in their hands. Also in the hopper are plans for region-specific landing pages, so readers in Vancouver or Halifax, say, could access both items of national and international interest, as well as local news relevant to them.
The design of their site, said East, is particularly aimed at reaching younger readers. They credit Gordon’s experience in the field for bringing together a diverse group of writers from across the country.
The Jewish media scene has faced unprecedented challenges in recent years. The emergence of the internet more than two decades ago has undermined print media of all types, with publications for small or niche demographics experiencing particular challenges as well as advantages. The pandemic, which led to an unprecedented global economic shutdown in March, had immediate repercussions. Much of the advertising in the Independent, for example, is for upcoming community events, all of which were summarily canceled. Non-essential retailers closed, making advertising extraneous.
The Independent has continued publishing on a reduced schedule.
Winnipeg’s Jewish Post & News announced in April that it was ceasing printing, but started publishing a print edition again at the end of May.
The difficulties nearly led to the dissolution of the world’s oldest English-language Jewish newspaper, Britain’s Jewish Chronicle, which was saved by a conglomerate of philanthropists. The rival Jewish News, which had also announced its liquidation and was set to merge with the Chronicle before the surprise bailout, will, for now, continue publishing independently.
In an article recently about the state of Jewish journalism, the Times of Israel reported that New York’s Jewish Week made a dire plea for support and a leader in the American Jewish Press Association – of which the Independent is a member – acknowledged that COVID has presented a serious challenge to an already struggling sector.
The world’s third-largest Jewish community, in France, is in a different boat. In the 1980s, the French government opened radio airwaves to private groups and Jewish radio stations play a role in that country similar to the role newspapers play in most other Jewish communities.
Left to right: MP Joyce Murray, MLA Selina Robinson and Vancouver Councilor Sarah Kirby-Yung spoke at a June 3 webinar hosted by the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee. (photos from the internet)
“Intense” was the word used by speakers from all levels of government to describe their experiences during the pandemic emergency.
In a June 3 webinar on Zoom, federal and provincial cabinet ministers and a Vancouver city councilor addressed COVID-19: What’s the New Normal? The event was hosted by the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee.
Joyce Murray, member of Parliament for Vancouver-Quadra, is Canada’s minister of digital government, a role that took on sudden significance when even Parliament began operating virtually and almost all federal civil servants are being asked to work from home.
“It’s been an incredibly intense time,” she said. “I never thought I would work harder than I do as a minister in Ottawa, but I would say these last few months have been much more intense than I expected.”
A million Canadians were able to apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) on the first day, which Murray said illustrates the scope and speed of the government’s electronic mobilization.
Responding to a question from an audience member, she acknowledged that there may be some inequities in the program – some people are earning more not working than a neighbour might earn on the job – but the decision was made to ramp up immediately, knowing that anomalies were likely.
The federal government has not decided when to reopen the U.S. border, Murray said. The current, extended closure ends June 21.
“Our primary focus is the safety of Canadians,” she said. “We’ll be taking the advice of public health officials and thinking about all of the different ramifications and make a decision when the time comes.”
The discussion was moderated by James Moore, a former Conservative MP, who pressed Murray on the unanticipated federal expenditures resulting from the pandemic.
“Fortunately, Canada entered this in a very strong fiscal position compared with most of its G-20 partners,” she responded. “So we were ready and able to respond and there is now approximately $150 billion in direct support to Canadians that has been put on the table. That makes it one of the most ambitious response plans in the world. But our view is that we had fiscal firepower, it was right to use it and it will help our economy emerge more quickly and more strongly when the pandemic allows us to do that safely. Our focus right now is on helping Canadians and getting that right.… We will return to a strong fiscal position when it’s time.”
Selina Robinson, British Columbia’s minister of municipal affairs and housing, noted that the provincial government stepped up with $5 billion in emergency funding.
“It would be very, very hard coming out of this if we had people who were evicted from their homes and couldn’t put food on the table,” said Robinson, who is MLA for Coquitlam-Maillardville. “I think everybody agrees that we needed to invest in people, so that they can continue to feed their families.”
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has warned that no pandemic in history has not had a second wave. Robinson said British Columbia and other jurisdictions are ready for that potential.
“I think we’re far better prepared for any future waves, given the experience we’ve had over the last few months,” she said.
Murray lamented the sharp rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, while Moore warned that U.S. President Donald Trump “is going to run for reelection against China, and not against Joe Biden” – he fears the repercussions for Asian communities in North America as a result.
Robinson said the Jewish community is uniquely placed to be allies to those affected by this phenomenon, as well as to racialized individuals during the parallel upheavals around race, police violence and Black Lives Matter.
“I’m really proud to be part of the Jewish community and knowing that our history as a Jewish community has historically stood up for these values, to make sure that there is space for everyone and for standing up when we see injustice,” she said. “We will continue to do that and I urge everybody who is participating to make sure that you use your voice however and wherever you can.”
Sarah Kirby-Yung, a Vancouver city councilor, also spoke from a personal perspective, noting that her immediate family is of Asian descent.
“I’m incredibly distressed when I hear from members of the Asian community, seniors and vulnerable people particularly, who are afraid to leave their home or go for groceries or are changing their pattern because of who they are,” she said.
Vancouver’s budget has taken a swift kick during the pandemic, but Kirby-Yung rejected the rumour that the city is approaching bankruptcy.
“We are looking at about a $150 to $200 million projected revenue gap for Vancouver through the end of 2020,” she said. “Vancouver is not going bankrupt. We are in reasonable shape, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t have to be very thoughtful about our spending in our decisions.”
Clockwise from the top left are Amanda Blitz, Kathleen Monk, Amanda Alvaro and Chad Rogers.
Political pundits Amanda Alvaro, Chad Rogers and Kathleen Monk recently participated in an hour-long panel discussion on politics during COVID-19, examining how Canada’s leaders have fared since the start of the pandemic, what still needs to happen and how the coronavirus will shape the nation’s politics in the future. Hosted by the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC), the May 14 webinar was emceed by its general counsel and director of communications, former news anchor Amanda Blitz.
The CBC Power & Politics regulars began, not with partisan jabs, but with kind words for the other sides of the political aisle. Alvaro, who frequently champions Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals, paid a compliment to Premier Doug Ford of Ontario. “He’s really been able to connect well with Canadians. He’s delivered the news in a way people want to hear,” she acknowledged.
Rogers, a Conservative stalwart, praised Minister of Small Business Mary Ng as a person “who has done the hard work with a tremendous amount of humility and ability.”
And NDP proponent Monk lauded the work of the nation’s public servants, whose “yeoman’s efforts” have brought Canadians home from abroad and supplied them with stimulus cheques in a timely fashion.
Nonetheless, it took only a few seconds for Andrew Scheer’s name to appear on Alvaro’s list of those who have not performed well during the crisis. Rogers sprang to the Conservative leader’s defence, countering that it is exceedingly difficult for anyone on the right to watch a government spend as much as the Liberals currently are. “We’ve already allocated more money than we did in World War Two. For a Conservative, this is the worst horror movie ever written,” he asserted. “We are going to have things in this crisis that are going to be horrible missteps.”
Monk, meanwhile, criticized Quebec’s response to the pandemic but commended British Columbia’s. “It is amazing how good public policy can save lives. Never has it been more evident that we are a country of different governments, different territories,” she said.
Nobody on the panel could dispute the economic toll of the pandemic, including double-digit unemployment. Monk shone light on how women have been disproportionately affected, dubbing it a “she-cession,” as a higher ratio of women work in sectors brought down by COVID-19.
Both Alvaro and Rogers gave kudos to the federal government for providing emergency assistance to individuals quickly. However, Rogers claimed the Liberals were using “COVID-19 as a cover to put their boot heel to the throat of the oil and gas industry in Alberta. There is an extreme environmental agenda trying to pivot the Canadian economy into something it isn’t,” he said.
Of course, China was discussed.
“Despite the erosion of China’s image recently, we can’t avoid China,” Alvaro said. “There are many reasons why China can’t be written off, but many reasons why China is making it very difficult for countries to have a positive relationship with them.”
“The Chinese government is a totalitarian cult of death,” Rogers declared. “They could have aided the world by getting a week or a month ahead of the [COVID-19] curve. We should be very mindful every time we speak with them.”
“China has not done itself any favours with their management of the post-crisis phase,” Monk added.
In the midst of the pandemic, the Conservative party leadership race is taking place. All of the panelists steered clear of the Derek Sloan method of populism – which questioned the patriotism of Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer – and saw it more as a contest between Erin O’Toole and Peter MacKay.
All also agreed that it is remarkably challenging to campaign without being able to press the flesh and make stump speeches. However, Alvaro said, while people are at home, politicians do have a captive audience if they “can tap into the digital space that is less time-consuming than going door to door.”
On the topic of leadership, Rogers predicted that Trudeau will, as the crisis subsides, give consideration to his future as leader and ultimately decide it will be time to step down before the next federal election.
“It will give him an honourable exit, after establishing himself as essentially a wartime leader and not having to face a caucus that has lost faith in him,” Rogers said.
As the discussion wrapped up, Monk postulated that a potentially positive outcome from the crisis would be an increase in trade closer to home, i.e., within North America.
Alvaro said there will be many questions to follow: “Much of this will obviously be judged on how the recovery comes about, and how we fix the things we have fundamentally ignored, like long-term-care facilities.”
Rogers appealed to all in attendance to make a charitable donation, as nonprofits have been struggling for funds during the pandemic; a request that was backed by all the panelists.