There will be no charges arising from allegations that the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) has been recruiting members illegally in Canada.
The case began in 2020, when several progressive groups and individuals laid a complaint with Justice Minister David Lametti calling for an investigation and possible charges against those who recruit or encourage recruiting for the Israel Defence Forces among non-Israeli citizens in Canada.
Lametti referred the matter to the RCMP, which, on June 8, issued the following statement to the CJN: “A review was conducted. [H]owever, a criminal investigation was not initiated. The file is now concluded and the RCMP has no further comment.”
Israel’s consulate in Toronto was unavailable for comment. The country’s embassy in Ottawa did not respond to a request for comment.
The case began when the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute, Palestinian and Jewish Unity, and Just Peace Advocates presented the complaint to Lametti, alleging that recruiting by the IDF in Canada violated the Foreign Enlistment Act. The act states that any person “who, within Canada, recruits or otherwise induces any person or body of persons to enlist or to accept any commission or engagement in the armed forces of any foreign state or other armed forces operating in that state is guilty of an offence.”
The complaint focused on online ads from Israel’s consulate in Toronto, which said an IDF representative was available for personal appointments for those wishing to join the forces, not just those required to do their compulsory military service.
“Young people who wish to enlist in the IDF or anyone who has not fulfilled their obligations according to the Israeli Defence Service Law are invited to meet with him,” the ad stated, according to the complaint.
The complaint also alleged that the consulate had arranged for Israeli soldiers and veterans to appear in Jewish schools, summer camps and other venues in Canada with the goal of inducing young people to enlist.
The allegations were unfounded, said Israel’s consul-general at the time, Galit Baram.
“Israeli law dictates compulsory military service to Israeli citizens over the age of 18, whether male or female. Consequently, Israeli citizens of drafting age living abroad are required to settle their status with the Israeli authorities, through Israeli consulates around the world,” she said.
Baram called the charges an attempt to “smear” Israel.
At the time, Lametti said diplomats representing Israel in Canada “follow Canadian law.”
Included in the complaint was an open letter signed by U.S. academic Noam Chomsky, musician Roger Waters, author Yann Martel and more than 170 prominent Canadians. It was delivered to Lametti, asking him to probe recruitment for the IDF taking place in Canada.
The complaint noted that there were some 230 Canadians serving in the IDF as of 2017, and that it was “unclear” how many were recruited in ways that violated the law.
After the complaint was laid, Winnipeg human rights lawyer David Matas said Israel’s consulates in Toronto and Montreal practised neither recruitment nor inducement, since Canadian citizens wishing to join the IDF had already made up their minds to do so.
In the latest development, Matas said he believes the RCMP dropped the matter because they did not have evidence to reach a conviction, and that there is “no evidence potentially available through investigation that could change that conclusion.”
Matas’s view is that the case “had no merit at all.”
The matter was further pressed in 2021 when NDP MP Matthew Green sponsored a petition calling on Canada to investigate allegedly illegal recruitment by the IDF in Canada.
In its response the following year, the justice ministry said the responsibility for investigating and prosecuting offences under the Foreign Enlistment Act “rests with independent law enforcement and prosecution services.”
The case is another loss for pro-Palestinian activists. Last December, a criminal charge they initiated against Sar-El Canada, the Canadian arm of an Israel-based organization that provides volunteers for the IDF, was withdrawn because there was no reasonable chance for a conviction. That case alleged that Sar-El Canada also violated the Foreign Enlistment Act by recruiting volunteers for the IDF.
The Foreign Enlistment Act was passed in 1937 to prohibit the recruiting of Canadian volunteers to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Roughly 1,700 Canadians signed up anyway to fight for the anti-Franco Loyalists, the vast majority of whom were recruited by the Communist Party of Canada. They formed the storied Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion (the “MacPaps”).
According to historian and legal scholar Tyler Wentzell, no Canadians have been charged or prosecuted under the act.
The rich and rugged history of Jews in the Yukon has found an internet home on the website of the Jewish Cultural Society of Yukon, jcsy.org. The lure of the Klondike Gold Rush and the stories of its enterprising and colourful Jewish personalities, some respectable and others salacious, comprise a large portion of the newly created virtual real estate.
The quest to get to the gold, a journey undertaken by 100,000 prospectors between 1896 to 1899, was treacherous, the site explains. There were several routes, but one of the more popular ones was boarding a ship to Skagway, Alaska, then trekking over the Chilkoot Trail to Yukon. Once there, prospectors and retailers set out along Yukon River for another 550 kilometres to Dawson City – a trip that could take months – traveling during the winter so they would be ready for the summer prospecting season.
Prior to venturing on their northbound journey, however, fortune seekers needed supplies, dubbed a “Yukon Outfit,” the equivalent of one ton of provisions, which were essential to live and work in the north. The website shows photos of people bearing heavy loads headed to Dawson City, climbing ice-carved stairs to get to the Chilkoot Trail.
On the same page, there is a newspaper ad by Cooper & Levy, a Seattle company equipping gold hunters for their excursions. “Are you going to the Alaska gold fields? If so, send for our Supply List for ‘One Man for One Year’…. The list will be sent free of charge to any part of the world,” the ad reads.
“The idea of getting to Dawson City was an unbelievably difficult task. People needed to get there on a raft with all their things. The strength of the people was incredible,” said Rick Karp, president of the Jewish Cultural Society of Yukon (JCSY). “It was not a party. It was unbelievably difficult and many didn’t survive. As well, the First Nations communities suffered life-changing events.”
Albert and Marcus Meyer, whose histories are told on the website, were but two of the many industrious Jews to land in Dawson City. They opened a jewelry business in 1897, were buyers of Indigenous gold and produced Indigenous-style gold jewelry. Expert silversmiths, they also crafted silver trade bracelets with carved Tlingit designs.
Other families with connections to the Klondike would rise to prominence elsewhere, such as the Barrons in Calgary and the Oppenheimers in Vancouver. And there is Sid Grauman, whose father wanted to build a theatre in the north, and who would later establish the famed Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles.
Diamond Tooth Lil, on the other hand, was one of the notorious characters to arrive north of the 60th parallel. Born Honora Ornstein, she started out as a star “entertainer,” popular among spendthrift gold seekers and purportedly owned a luxury home in Skagway that “catered” to wealthy clients.
Another page of the website includes photos and video footage of the discovery, restoration and rededication ceremony of the Jewish cemetery in Dawson City in 1998. Herb Gray, deputy prime minister of Canada at the time, made a speech at the ceremony.
The JCSY has plans to expand the website in the coming months. “We will be keeping the site up to date and will be posting more information and photos,” Karp said.
Originally formed as the Jewish Historical Society of Yukon in 1997 after the discovery of the Jewish cemetery in Dawson City – a century after the Gold Rush – its mandate was to clean, restore and rededicate the cemetery, as well as research those buried there. The identification of those interred inevitably led to questions about the others who participated in the Gold Rush, what they did during their stay, and the impact they had when moving on to other communities or returning to the families they’d left behind in search of fortune.
Upon completion of the cemetery project, the historical society believed its work was complete. However, by 2012, with the growth of the Jewish community in Whitehorse, interest in their work flourished and the JCSY was formed. Its mandate expanded to include forming a community to share Jewish culture, celebrate the High Holidays and Passover together and hold social gatherings.
The stories the society uncovered in its goal to learn more about the Jews of the Gold Rush resulted in the creation of a traveling historical display to share them. The display was exhibited both in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island, last making a stop at the Jewish Community Centre of Victoria in 2020. (See jewishindependent.ca/victoria-hosts-klondike.)
One can become a member of the JCSY through the website. The cost is $25 for a single membership and $40 for a family. Should a person make a donation of any size to the JCSY, they will be sent an email with a link to a new booklet (upon its completion), which outlines many of the notable stories of the Jewish presence in Yukon during and after the Gold Rush.
A section of the booklet’s introduction states, “While the north may not seem like an obvious choice for a nice Jewish boy from Milwaukee, Edmonton, Vancouver or Seattle, when you think about it, it is not such a stretch. Harsh times foster resilience and for every dreamer there is also a pragmatist. With a history of harsh times, Jewish people have been nothing if not resilient.”
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
As of last Friday, June 16, the population of Canada surpassed 40 million people. According to data from the 2021 Canadian census released last year, 335,295 Canadians consider themselves to be Jewish by religion, up from 329,500 in 2011.
The 2021 census also asked about ethnic or cultural origin. In this instance, the number of people choosing Jewish as their ethnic or cultural origin (or one of several) decreased from 2011 to 2021, from 309,650 to 282,015, though the number increased in British Columbia, from 31,865 in 2011 to 34,395 a decade later. This article focuses on Jews by religion.
More than half of Canadian Jews live in Ontario, home to 196,100 Jews, while an additional quarter (84,530) live in Quebec. British Columbia’s 26,845 Jews are 8% of the national Jewish population. Other provinces with significant Jewish populations are Alberta, with 11,565 Jews, and Manitoba, with 11,390. Smaller Jewish communities exist in Nova Scotia, with 2,195 Jews, Saskatchewan, with 1,105 Jews, and New Brunswick, where 1,000 people listed their religion as Jewish.
In Canada, approximately 12,000 Jews (3.6%) identify as a visible minority, including 2,615 Black Jews, 1,505 Latin American Jews, 1,270 South Asian Jews and 1,155 Chinese Jews. Those numbers in British Columbia are 1,425 overall, including 235 Latin American Jews, 200 Black Jews, 170 Chinese Jews and 150 South Asian Jews.
British Columbia is home to the fastest-growing Jewish population in Canada, adding 3,715 Jewish residents since 2011, representing 16% growth. By comparison, Canada added 5,795 Jews to the national population, growing 1.8%. Ontario’s Jewish population only grew 0.3%, while Quebec’s Jewish population declined by 0.7%, making it the only province whose Jewish population decreased over the 10-year period. Western provinces recorded more robust growth: 6% in Alberta, 2.5% in Manitoba and 17.5% in Saskatchewan.
Home to a combined three-quarters of Canada’s Jews, the metropolitan areas of Toronto and Montreal both saw a decline in their Jewish population over the past decade. Meanwhile, Metro Vancouver’s Jewish population grew from 18,730 in 2011 to 20,125 in 2021, an additional 1,395 Jews. Elsewhere in Canada, Greater Ottawa’s Jewish community expanded, as did the metropolitan areas of Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton.
Even though their metropolitan Jewish populations decreased over the last decade, the municipal Jewish populations of Toronto and Montreal both grew slightly, suggesting a Jewish movement away from the suburbs and towards the city. Vancouver’s municipal Jewish population also grew during the same period, from 10,350 to 11,675, allowing it to surpass both Winnipeg and Ottawa to become the third-largest Jewish municipal population in Canada. While the City of Vancouver’s share of the B.C. Jewish population decreased slightly over the past decade, from 44.7% in 2011 to 43.5% in 2021, its percentage of Greater Vancouver’s Jewish population grew from 55% to 58%. Greater Vancouver is home to 75% of British Columbia’s Jews, down from its share of 81% in 2011.
Other B.C. cities with sizable Jewish populations include Richmond, whose 2,515 Jews make it the second-largest Jewish municipality in the province, and Surrey, where 900 people reported their religion as Jewish – although both cities’ Jewish populations declined since 2011. The District of North Vancouver had 845 people reporting Jewish as their religion in 2021 and Burnaby 620, both increases from 2011; and West Vancouver had 555, which was a decrease from 665 in 2011. Beyond the Lower Mainland, Victoria’s Jewish population grew from 550 to 960, Saanich’s Jewish community increased from 555 to 750, and the Jewish population of Kelowna more than doubled, going from 215 in 2011 to 530 in 2021.
In addition to provincial, metropolitan and municipal data, the 2021 census also provided information about electoral ridings. Vancouver Granville was the electoral riding with the largest Jewish population in Vancouver (3,275), while Vancouver Quadra was a close second (3,125), although the Jewish population of both ridings decreased since 2011.
Vancouver Granville remains home to 27.5% of Vancouver’s Jews, while Vancouver Quadra is home to 26% of the city’s Jewish population. The Jewish population of four other electoral ridings – Vancouver Centre, Vancouver East, Vancouver Kingsway and Vancouver South – all increased significantly, suggesting a population shift from Vancouver’s West Side to Downtown and East Vancouver. Using these electoral ridings as an approximate guide, 54% of Vancouver’s Jews live in the West Side, 27% live in East Vancouver and 19% live in Downtown Vancouver. By comparison, 64% of Vancouver’s Jews lived in the West Side in 2011, 20% lived in East Vancouver and 16% lived Downtown.
Along with religion, the Canadian census also gave information about language. Canadians who can speak Hebrew increased from 70,695 in 2011 to 83,205 in 2021, while Canadians who can speak Yiddish decreased from 23,750 to 20,155 over the same period. More than half of Hebrew-speaking Canadians, 47,380, live in Ontario, while more than half of Yiddish-speaking Canadians, 12,825, live in Quebec. Hebrew speakers in British Columbia increased from 4,505 in 2011 to 6,995 in 2021, while Yiddish speakers in the province declined from 540 in 2011 to 480 in 2021.
While the 2011 census only provided information about languages spoken, the 2021 census also gave information about Canadians’ mother tongues. In 2021, 19,595 Canadians spoke Hebrew as their first language. Meanwhile, 12,060 Canadians spoke Yiddish as a first language. In British Columbia, 2,260 people spoke Hebrew as a mother tongue in 2021, while 215 listed Yiddish as their first language.
Michael Rom is Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council postdoctoral research fellow at the University of British Columbia. He received a PhD in history from Yale University, and has also held research fellowships at the Centre for Jewish History in New York City, the University of Cape Town and the University of São Paulo. His research examines Brazilian Jewish politics during the Cold War.
This fall, Susan Inhaber, left, will take over the presidency of Na’amat Canada from Dr. Sandi Seigel. (photos from Na’amat Canada)
Na’amat Canada’s 20th Triennial Convention takes place Oct. 13-15 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Calgary. The event will include a thank you to outgoing president Dr. Sandi Seigel of Hamilton, Ont., and it will welcome new president Susan Inhaber from Calgary, Alta. Inhaber will be the first national president from Western Canada since 1975.
Inhaber became a member of Na’amat Canada Calgary in 2000. “In short order,” she said, “I was president of a new chapter and, a few years later, I became the president of an amalgamated chapter. I served in that role for many years, immersing myself in all of the projects and programs that our group was involved with, including being the bingo chair, casino chair and grocery store gift card chair. My involvement in all activities continues to this day. As city president, I was a member of the national board, later becoming a member at large and, lastly, the vice-president of Na’amat Canada.”
Inhaber has been to Israel several times with Na’amat. “Everyone who goes always comes back with a renewed sense of energy for the organization,” she said. “We can see the impact that we are making in the lives of others and that is what drives my passion for Na’amat. My next trip will be as the leader of our newest leadership cohort.”
Delegates from across Canada and guests from Israel and the United States will attend the fall convention, and special guests will include Hagit Pe’er, president of Na’amat Israel, and Shirli Shavit, director of the overseas division of Na’amat Israel. There will be speakers on the topics of antisemitism, human rights, breaking the glass ceiling, and more.
“It has been a privilege serving as Na’amat Canada national president since 2020,” said Seigel. “I am most proud that we have supported our organization throughout the pandemic and not only have we survived but thrived. We have built on our relationships with our chaverot internationally and in Israel and have had four successful fundraisers with Na’amat USA.”
Contributing to the success has been the quality of programming, both on Zoom and, more recently, back in-person, she said. “Despite many challenges, we have been able to transmit significant funds to support our work in Israel and continued to maintain important local projects such as our school supplies for kids program.”
Stepping down as president doesn’t mean leaving the organization. “I feel that I have lifelong friends at Na’amat, and it is wonderful to be united in the work that we do on behalf of Na’amat,” said Seigel. “As we near our convention in Calgary, I am excited for the future of our organization as we approach our 100th anniversary in 2025.”
For her upcoming three-year term, Inhaber said she is looking forward to continuing the relationship building that Seigel and, before her, Doris Wexler-Charow brought to the organization. “My main goal is to further grow our membership and donor base,” said Inhaber. “I hope to increase awareness of what Na’amat Canada does in Israel and Canada, especially among Western Canadians.”
Lance Davis, chief executive officer of JNF Canada (photo from JNF Canada)
Noa Tishby, an Israeli who hit it big in Hollywood as an actor, writer and producer before bursting on the scene as an activist voice for Israel, will be in Vancouver June 29. She is the headliner for the first Negev Dinner in Vancouver since the pandemic.
The Negev Dinner is a tradition of the Jewish National Fund of Canada, with annual dinners taking place for decades in regions across the country.
Michael Sachs, executive director of JNF Pacific region, says that Tishby’s upcoming visit is a response to demand.
“A lot of people in the community really want to hear from her,” said Sachs. “The rising antisemitism, as well as the delegitimization of Israel – these are issues that are forefront in our community.”
Tishby is, he said, “one of the best spokespersons for the state of Israel and for the Jewish community at large.”
With her 2021 book, Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth, the Los Angeles-based Tishby placed herself firmly in the realm of show biz activist, but on a topic that many public figures avoid. (See jewishindependent.ca/tag/noa-tishby.) Her entertainment industry work includes appearances on Nip/Tuck, Big Love and NCIS, and she is the co-executive producer of the HBO series In Treatment, an adaptation of the Israeli series BeTipul.
“To be able to have her in Vancouver, we just couldn’t miss out on it,” said Sachs, adding that this young, dynamic woman has an appeal that can expand the reach of JNF and the Negev event.
“We are also working on student pricing and we want ‘angel’ tickets,” he said. “The idea is to get as many people in our community in front of her so they can hear her message.”
This dinner will not have an honouree like such events have had in the past. Part of that is simply the desire by the organization to try different things but it is also because, with JWest, the redevelopment of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, and other projects, there are “a lot of asks” in the community right now, said Sachs.
While JNF has sent out “save the date” notices for June 29, the location is not yet set. The organizing committee is co-chaired by husband-and-wife team Mike and Lisa Averbach. The project to which proceeds of the event will be allocated is to be announced in the next few weeks.
While the June event will be the first JNF gala in Vancouver since the pandemic, some took place in other regions last year, said Lance Davis, chief executive officer of JNF Canada. He has witnessed some pent-up demand to celebrate with community again.
“When people get together during cocktails and they haven’t seen each other for such a long time, the hugs and the warmth – it’s wonderful,” he said.
During the pandemic, JNF held Negev “campaigns” – fundraising initiatives that did not involve in-person events. Despite the financial and social impacts of the shutdown, Davis said the organization’s revenues have rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.
“It’s a wonderful news story that we are bouncing back and moving in the right direction,” said Davis, who has been CEO of the national organization since 2017, following five years leading the Toronto region.
JNF Canada, like Jewish and pro-Israel individuals and organizations worldwide, is coming to terms with the changed political dynamic in Israel. Binyamin Netanyahu’s new coalition, frequently referred to as “the most right-wing government” in the country’s history, is shaking up the global discourse on the region. The resignation of Israel’s ambassador to Canada, announced last Saturday, is just one reaction in an uncertain new environment. Davis, like leaders of other organizations, is emphasizing neutrality and independence.
“I just want to state unequivocally that JNF Canada is nonpolitical and nonpartisan and, as such, we are going to continue to do our work regardless of who is in government,” he said. “We are mission-driven and that means simply building the foundations for Israel’s future. We will continue to help the land and the people of Israel as we have done for decades with left, right and centrist governments. Nothing has changed. Our resolve to enhance the lives of Israel’s citizens is not impacted by the current regime and this is the time for Diaspora Jewry to communicate with our extended family in Israel that we are indeed a family and as such we will always be there for them.”
For all the ink spilled on the subject, Davis thinks the supporters of JNF Canada are sophisticated enough to understand the dynamics.
“For those people who say, I can’t be a part of this because I don’t support the government of Israel, I just hope that we can have a conversation with them,” he said. “You need not worry that one penny of that money goes to the government…. It’s only for charitable purposes and I think that if we are given the chance to explain this, people will understand we are nonpolitical and nonpartisan.”
The Israeli political climate may be a new variable, but JNF has not been without its critics over the years, some of whom accuse it of promoting Israeli “colonialism.”
“There is no question that there’s a whole host of anti-Israel parties who are taking an adversarial position,” he said. “I just wish that they would actually look at what we’re doing because is building a PTSD and health centre that serves all citizens, Jewish, Arab, Christian, Muslim, everybody – is that colonialism? Building a home for abused women with nowhere to go? It’s literally a lifesaving asset and, rest assured, Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis will be using this facility – how is this colonialism? What exactly is it that they are protesting against?”
At a Negev Dinner in Vancouver a few years ago, which was raising funds to improve a facility for the most vulnerable sick kids in Israel, Davis saw protesters outside.
“I showed up at the dinner and I said, I wish these people understood what they were protesting against,” he recalled. “Because what you guys are doing is building a resource for the sickest kids, Jewish, Arab, Christian, Muslim – they’re all Israelis, they’re all welcome at this facility. Do they even understand what it is they’re upset about? And shame on them for protesting your efforts to build this facility for the most vulnerable children.”
One new initiative that Davis is particularly excited about is JNF Canada’s Climate Solutions Prize, a competition among Israeli researchers to fund breakthrough research focused on combating climate change.
“We’ve made an effort to raise $1 million a year over the next number of years,” he said. “We have a blue ribbon panel of scientists and engineers and businesspeople who review these researchers’ proposals.”
Last October, they presented the first awards, totaling $1 million US to the leaders of three research teams. Ben-Gurion University’s Prof. Itzhak Mizrahi and his team are working to ameliorate the methane emissions caused by cows. Dr. Malachi Noked of Bar-Ilan University seeks to reduce global emissions by improving ways to store renewable energy safely, efficiently, economically and in quickly accessible forms. Prof. Avner Rothschild of the Technion is working to produce green hydrogen through electrolysis of water.
Recipients are scientists who are well advanced in their work but need a boost in funding to achieve a breakthrough.
“This is the largest climate solutions prize that’s offered in Israel, by a long shot,” said Davis. “There are prizes to encourage green technologies, but in terms of the size and the scope, we are by far and away the largest prize.”
And, at this point, it’s an exclusively Canadian project. He hopes that other JNF organizations – there are about 40 countries with similar national bodies – will jump on board and make the prize a bigger success.
Israelis are renowned for successes in financial technology, cyber- and agri-tech, said Davis. “But, in terms of climate solutions, they really haven’t had a home run yet,” he said. “We felt that we need to give people a little push to get them over the top.”
Jewish National Fund of Canada was formally established in the late 1960s, but the iconic symbol of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, Jewish National Fund, the pushke, or blue box, has been in Jewish households in Canada and around the world for a century. The tin has been used for collecting coins that were forwarded to local offices around the world and combined to help build the nascent yishuv and then the state of Israel, beginning by planting trees and then expanding into all range of development projects.
Davis explained that JNF Canada is fully independent and not structurally connected with the Israeli organization.
“We are not a subsidiary,” he said. “We are not answerable to any other charity.… We get to decide what projects we take on. Canadians give money to things that they want to support and we bundle all that money from coast to coast and we take on projects.”
JNF Canada works with Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael on some initiatives but works with other charities on a range of undertakings.
“We, the Canadians, decide what we want to do and the Israeli entities are our agents,” he said. “They do the work for us. People often … have it reversed [thinking that] Israelis tell us what we need to do and we just do it. No, it’s the opposite. They work for us and that’s the way it should happen.”
Started in 1948, Negev dinners have taken place, usually annually, in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Windsor, London, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Atlantic Canada. The name comes from the fact that the earliest dinners benefited projects in the Negev Desert. JNF Canada now funds projects throughout Israel, but the name has stuck.
“I think that when Canadians think about JNF a few things come to mind: trees, blue boxes and the Negev Dinner,” said Davis.
On Dec. 14, JWest announced a $5 million gift from the Dayhu Group of Companies in association with the Ben and Esther Dayson Charitable Foundation. The visionary gift is part of a match that was initiated by the Diamond Foundation’s historic $25 million gift to support the development of the new Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver site.
The Daysons have a long and significant history within Vancouver’s Jewish community. Ben and Esther Dayson both immigrated to Canada from Russia in the 1920s. In 1936, the couple was married in the original Jewish Community Centre in Vancouver, located on Oak and 11th. First settling in Saskatchewan, they moved with two small children to Vancouver in 1949. After a short time running a “15 cent store” in Marpole, Ben Dayson founded Dayhu Investments, which later became a leading real estate investment, development and property management company. The generations that followed Ben and Esther (née Nemetz) have carried on their parents’ and grandparents’ legacies, becoming successful in their own rights and continuing to give back to the community.
Shirley Barnett (née Dayson) and her brother, Philip Dayson, have fond memories of attending the JCC. As teenagers, they attended high school dances, went to youth group meetings, and learned the importance of volunteerism and giving back, all through spending time at the JCC.
“Fundamentally, we believe that the Jewish Community Centre plays an integral role in an inclusive and healthy Jewish community, and it will provide a welcoming social, cultural, recreational and educational asset for all to enjoy,” said Barnett. “Our family has long appreciated the celebratory and community aspects of the Jewish Community Centre. The JWest project is the most important undertaking in the history of this region, and we hope that our gift inspires others to contribute to this space that will be a critical resource for thousands of people of all ages and from all walks of life.”
JWest is a partnership between Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver and King David High School. The project will deliver a community centre with expanded space for the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, a new theatre and, in the second construction phase, a relocated high school and two residential towers that will provide mixed-use rental housing.
“It was the desire of our parents to support those both within the Jewish community and those in the wider community,” said Philip Dayson. “The Jewish Community Centre is not only the heartbeat of Jewish life in Vancouver, but it also continues to have an inclusive atmosphere that welcomes all. We are particularly thrilled that this project will bring much-needed social housing along with vital programs and services. We’re privileged to be able to support this community and this transformative project.”
“The Dayson family have been pillars in Vancouver’s Jewish community for more than three generations and, through this generous gift, they have demonstrated their continued commitment to Jewish life in Vancouver,” said Alex Cristall, JWest capital campaign chair. “We gratefully acknowledge the support this project has received from the Government of British Columbia, the Government of Canada and community members for this once-in-a-lifetime project.”
Gordon and Leslie Diamond will receive the 2023 Yakir Keren Hayesod Award in recognition of their committed leadership and unwavering devotion to Israel and to Keren Hayesod through their generosity and leadership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver.
The Yakir Award – Keren Hayesod’s highest honour – is bestowed upon individuals whose sense of mission, dedication and perseverance on behalf of their homeland and their nation have made an outstanding, long-term contribution to the state of Israel, the Jewish people and Keren Hayesod. The Hebrew word yakir means beloved, notable, worthy and, accordingly, the Yakir Award reflects the ultimate devotion and clarity of vision that a community leader can show.
Jewish Federation nominated the Diamonds for the honour and this is the first time in two decades that a Western Canadian leader has been selected for it. The official ceremony will take place in Israel on the country’s 75th anniversary of independence.
Shay Keil and his daughter Tali Keil presented a $106,649 cheque to B.C. Children’s Hospital Foundation chief executive officer Malcolm Berry in late October. It was Keil’s second annual 30/30/30 campaign, marking his 30-plus years with Scotiabank and the goal of raising more than $30,000 by Sept. 30. He thanked other donors and the Keil Investment Group team: Angela Wadsworth, Vilma Castellani, Claire Brinkworth and Lydia Leung. In November, Keil was chosen by the Globe and Mail Report on Business as one of the 2022 Canada’s Top Wealth Advisors: Best in Province.
The national board of directors for Ben-Gurion University Canada (BGU Canada) has announced that
is the new national president. He brings a wealth of volunteer leadership experience to his new role, plus a deep passion for philanthropy in the Canadian Jewish community.
Altman is the immediate past president of the Montreal chapter of BGU Canada, where he served for four years. He currently sits on the board of governors of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and is the vice-president of La Société pour les Artistes en Milieux de Santé. He has been involved with many other organizations over the years.
Altman practised as a CPA for 50 years. He retired from his role as partner at Crowe BGK, where he remains as a consultant, and is the president of J. Altman Investments Inc.
BGU Canada thanks Mitchell Oelbaum, immediate past president, for his passionate service and unwavering commitment to the university.
A criminal charge against the Canadian arm of an Israel-based organization that provides volunteers for the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) has been withdrawn because there was no reasonable chance for a conviction.
On Dec. 12, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC), which assumed carriage of the case, withdrew a charge that Sar-El Canada violated the Foreign Enlistment Act, which prohibits Canadians from enlisting in or accepting any “commission or engagement” in the armed forces of a foreign country. The charge was withdrawn because there was “no reasonable prospect of conviction,” Sar-El Canada’s lawyer, John Rosen, told the CJN. “The case is now completed.”
The charge was approved in September by a justice of the peace in a private prosecution initiated by David Mivasair, a Hamilton, Ont.-based rabbi with a long history of activism targeting Israel, and Rehab Nazzal, a Palestinian-born, Toronto-based artist who was shot in the leg in Bethlehem in 2015 while photographing an IDF crowd control weapon. They alleged that Toronto-based Sar-El Canada broke the law because it recruited or induced individuals to volunteer for Israel’s armed forces. They further alleged that, once in Israel, volunteers reside on military bases, wear military uniforms and complete tasks that would otherwise be assigned to soldiers; those allegedly included packing food rations and medical kits, cleaning tanks, painting helmets, radio repairs and gas mask refurbishment.
In a statement, they said the “recruitment” in Canada of volunteers “to assist the Israeli military ought to be a concern of all Canadians.” They began a private prosecution after they said police and the federal government failed to act on a complaint.
Sar-El Canada sends 100 to150 volunteers a year from this country to Israel, the group’s national president, Jeff Sarfin, told the CJN when the matter began.
In a statement to the CJN, Sarfin said Sar-El Canada is “very pleased” that the charge was withdrawn. He said the “attempt by anti-Israel activists to intimidate us and the Jewish community has failed. We are also grateful to the support we have received from the Jewish community as we deepen and strengthen the connection between our community and Israel.”
Rosen echoed the sentiment. The complaint “was merely another failed attack on Israel and those who support it, this time by attempting to hijack Canada’s legal system,” he said. He said the charge should never have been authorized and agreed with the prosecution that there was never a reasonable prospect of conviction.
“More importantly,” Rosen added, “the prosecution of this baseless complaint would also have been against the public interest, given Canada’s implicit approval of similar activities that directly support Ukraine’s defence against Russia.”
Ukraine has openly called for soldiers from around the world to join the fight against Russia. Ukraine’s consul general in Toronto was recently quoted as saying that “hundreds” of Canadians got in touch to offer assistance.
Sar-El Canada’s parent organization in Israel was established 40 years ago. It operates in more than 30 countries and has to date sent some 160,000 volunteers to Israel to provide “broad logistical support to the IDF,” its website says. Volunteering takes place on IDF bases throughout the country.
Programs offer volunteers “an opportunity to live and work beside Israeli soldiers and gain an insider view of Israel.” Working alongside soldiers and base employees, the “non-combat civilian support duties” encompass packing medical supplies, repairing machinery and equipment, and cleaning, painting and maintaining the base. The Sar-El program “is a morale booster and motivator for the soldiers,” the group’s website states.
In a hearing in September before the justice of the peace who approved the charge against Sar-El Canada, Mivasair testified that, to the best of his understanding, the Foreign Enlistment Act prohibits recruiting people for “non-combatant engagements” with foreign armies.
Asked for a comment and whether an appeal is being considered, Shane Martinez, a lawyer for Mivasair and Nazzal, told the CJN: “We disagree with the decision of the Federal Crown and are exploring all available options.”
Two years ago, a campaign launched by progressive groups and 170 prominent Canadians alleged that illegal recruiting for the IDF of non-Israeli citizens was taking place in this country. Justice Minister David Lametti was asked to investigate. He referred the matter to the RCMP.
Independent Jewish Voices Canada recently released the report Unveiling the Chilly Climate: The Suppression of Speech on Palestine. It was compiled by Dr. Sheryl Nestel and Rowan Gaudet for IJV Canada.
Nestel is a retired sociology professor from OISE (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education),University of Toronto, and Gaudet is a master’s student at the University of Bologna in the global cultures program; he has done research for IJV in the past. The text below is from their report’s executive summary.
Focused on the Canadian context, the report seeks to shed light on the wave of suppression of speech regarding Palestine that is sweeping North America and parts of Europe. It documents the impact of reprisals, harassment and intimidation faced by Canadian activists, faculty, students and organizations in relation to scholarship and activism in solidarity with the struggle for Palestinian human rights. There is a connection to be made here between these attacks and efforts by pro-Israel advocacy groups to market the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism (IHRA), a document that has come under vigorous attack by defenders of academic freedom and Palestinian human rights. While its proponents argue that this definition will not threaten freedom of expression or inhibit criticism ofIsraeli policies, the findings of this report demonstrate that these basic rights are already under threat and could be further imperiled if the IHRA were to be widely adopted.
The contribution of this report is two-fold: 1) the amount and quality of information gathered here is unprecedented and speaks to the worrisome prevalence of harassment and suppression of speech on Palestine on campuses and in Canadian civil society and 2) it surpasses a simple documentation of instances of repression by employing an ethnographic methodology to analyze the so-called “chilling effect” and its impact on governmental, institutional and individual decision-making. This research project situates itself firmly within the realm of critical qualitative inquiry, which seeks to employ qualitative research for social justice purposes, including making such research available for public education, social policy formulation and the transformation of public discourse. The inquiry is also shaped by decolonizing methodologies of social science research, which seek to challenge institutions, academic and otherwise, which prioritize colonial forms of knowledge production and maintain institutional commitments that impede indigenous self-determination. Finally, Nestel and Gaudet follow the directives proposed by queer, feminist and antiracist research methodologies, which entreat people to consider how their positions in social hierarchies of race, class, sexuality and citizenship mediate their experiences.
In all, the researchers collected 77 testimonies from 40 faculty members, 23 students, seven activists and seven representatives of organizations. Testimonies were collected from participants in Ontario, Manitoba, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Alberta. Among the academics responding were representatives of 11 disciplines from 21 Canadian universities.
Interviewees recounted that their experiences included political intervention into hiring; attempts to prevent access to event venues; and the attempted cancellation of public events on Palestine, as well as targeting and doxing, including the inclusion of 128 Canadian academics and activists on the website of Canary Mission, an organization that purports to document “individuals and organizations that promote hatred of the U.S., Israel and Jews on North American college campuses.” Threats of violence and genuine acts of violence were experienced by student activists and these often contained racial and sexual slurs including threats of sexual violence. Students were subject to warnings and disciplinary measures by university administrators whom respondents often described as being hostile to Palestine solidarity activism on campus. Faculty respondents reported restrictions on academic freedom, self-censoring of expression on Palestinian human rights, discriminatory treatment by academic publishing platforms, harassment by pro-Israel advocacy groups and media outlets, attacks from colleagues, political interference by university administration, classroom surveillance by pro-Israel student groups, and anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab racism. Indeed, the suppression of speech on Palestine has significant consequences in academia, where it threatens principles of academic freedom and encourages surveillance of critical intellectuals and activists and of the oppositional knowledge that they produce.
As the research by Nestel and Gaudet reveals, the precarious employment conditions of more than half of Canada’s university teachers mean that, because of the “chilly climate” around speech on Palestine, untenured or pre-tenure faculty are reluctant to pursue academic or activist work in this area for fear of endangering contract renewals or future career prospects including access to publishing platforms so central to the academic tenure and promotion process.
Unsubstantiated allegations of antisemitic intent and support for terrorism are commonly leveled against pro-Palestine academics and activists. Significantly, Palestinians, Muslims and non-Arab racialized participants appear to have borne the brunt of direct attacks on their scholarship and activism. The emotional impact of harassment and suppression was felt most acutely by Palestinian students and faculty interviewed. Jewish activists were not immune to attack and were often characterized by opponents as “kapos” or “self-hating Jews.”
The report also documents how both on- and off-campus Israel-advocacy organizations have been at the forefront of efforts to suppress speech and activism on Palestine. As University of Pennsylvania political scientist Ian Lustick has argued, the pro-Israel organizations have constituted a “vigilante” force, which has made it “increasingly difficult to criticize Israel without fear of lawsuits, accusations of antisemitism, demands for political balance in staging of events, blacklisting of participants, or other forms of personal or institutional harassment.”
This report signals that an atmosphere of repression and recrimination related to discourse and activism around Israel/Palestine is ubiquitous and insidious and should be unacceptable in a democratic society.
Ben-Gurion University Canada chief executive officer Mark Mendelson passed away in Montreal without warning on Nov. 14 at the age of 73.
Over the years, Mendelson’s imprint has been felt throughout BGU Canada. Helping create new purpose and hard results, connecting communities with Ben-Gurion University and Israel, his life, experience and leadership were transformative: the organizations he touched, the chapters he helped grow and the voices he helped raise, were the product of a life dedicated to the singular purpose of protecting and nurturing, manifested in boundless energy and enormous reach, helping BGU Canada grow.
“He took what was a small but respected organization to a national powerhouse,” said Montreal and Ottawa executive director Simon Bensimon.
A leader who gave people around him the space to excel while daring them to wow him, Mendelson’s energy, enthusiasm and resilience were infectious, and served his gift for reaching out and making valuable connections between donors, volunteers and stakeholders. “A character who had character,” said B.C. and Alberta Region president Adam Korbin. “He was a blessing in my life, a mentor, confidant and friend.”
As much of Canada’s nonprofit sector slowed and then scrambled for relevance and community engagement during the pandemic, Mendelson helped steward BGU Canada through and maintain the interest, enthusiasm and commitment towards the cause.
His legacy for BGU is omnipresent in the organization and on the ground in Israel. For the national organization, this is embodied in the new archives building in Sde Boker, for which Mendelson marshaled his best efforts and drive to realize and, ultimately, stood before as great affirmation of one of the crowning achievements of his BGU Canada career.
Mendelson understood the importance of each national chapter. “From the outset, he was committed to putting Vancouver on the map and was determined that we should hold a gala,” recalled David Berson, executive director, B.C. and Alberta region. “His love for BGU and Israel were first and foremost – alongside fishing and food!”
The Montreal-born-and-raised son of Dr. Hyman and Audrey Lynne Mendelson, Mark spent a lifetime dedicated to Israel and Jewry – as a kibbutznik, as an IDF paratrooper, as a social worker, an entrepreneur and then as a leading advocate. He held fast in his belief in Israel, securing her future through grit, diplomacy, and the Jewish people’s greatest currency: knowledge.
“Much of my success as president, and much of what BGU is today, is because of Mark’s complete dedication to the task of building Ben-Gurion University,” said BGU president Prof. Daniel Chamovitz.
At Mendelson’s funeral in Montreal, Chamovitz recalled this “large man wearing a loud plaid sport jacket, bearing a gift of fresh salmon whose smell permeated the air, and having one of the most endearing smiles anywhere.” It was their first meeting. “I had been president for only three weeks and, somehow or another, no one had prepared me for Mark Mendelson.”
Mendelson had a keen understanding of the ongoing relationship between the Diaspora and Israel, and he followed through on his promise to Chamovitz that, despite Canada’s modest Jewish population, BGU Canada was poised to make a major jump in its philanthropy: “We punch way over our weight.”
“The university, the Negev, Israel and dare I say the world,” said Chamovitz, “is a better place because of him.”
Foundation for Jewish Camp has been awarded a grant to explore how Jewish overnight camp nurtures and promotes character development. (photo from jewishcamp.org)
Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) has been awarded a three-year expansive research grant from the John Templeton Foundation to explore how the activities and rituals at Jewish overnight camp nurture and promote character development in adolescent campers and camp staff.
Findings of an earlier landscape survey of current virtue development practices at Jewish camps and a series of interviews with camp professionals identified kindness as the most common virtue camps desire to nurture in their communities. This next phase of in-depth research will focus on understanding how kindness is embedded into the structure of Jewish camp, how character virtues are taught, practised and modeled by camp leadership and staff, and how staff and campers are impacted.
The initial one-year planning grant, awarded in 2021, was used to develop conceptual frameworks and research design and instrumentation. This work included convening thought partners and learning circles to guide the project; conducting a landscape survey of current virtue development practices at Jewish camps; interviewing a select group of 10 camps to learn more about their current practices; and developing the proposal for the three-year study to evaluate the impact of character development practices on the minds, hearts and behaviours of adolescents and young adults who participate in Jewish camp.
According to Rabbi Avi Katz Orlow, FJC’s vice-president for education and innovation and the co-leader for this project, “Jewish camp in North America has a great history of making mensches – a Yiddish term for a person of great character and integrity – but that is not enough. We need to look critically and explore the metrics of character development. With the support of the John Templeton Foundation, we will define where we are headed in this work for the next decade. Surfacing and sharing best practices in character development will ensure we are making our best effort to raise new generations of thoughtful, resilient, caring, community-minded individuals. The world needs mensches now, more than ever before.”
“We want to surface exemplary practices that support young adult camp staff to model and nurture kindness in themselves and others,” said Nila Rosen, FJC’s director of learning and research. “Our research will allow us to learn with the camps and develop additional resources and practices to elevate emerging and promising character development at camps across North America.”
These resources will expand on FJC’s Making Mensches Periodic Table – the resource bank for camp staff and educators to engage in the work of character development, whose popularity served as the basis for this inquiry.
FJC has selected five camps that are intentional in their construction and cultivation of a culture of kindness in their community. These camps will conduct a thorough exploration of how that shows up in their staff selection and training, relationship building, camp rituals, peer-to-peer support, professional development, branding materials, camp artifacts, signage, or explicit language used by leadership teams.
Dr. Richard Bollinger, senior program officer of character virtue development at the John Templeton Foundation, said, “We are excited about the potential impact of this project because spreading kindness within a community can create ripples of a ‘pay-it-forward’ nature that extend far beyond the initial kind actions. Along with the hundreds of thousands of campers, families and staff who participate in 300+ Jewish camps across North America each year, we are eager to share and learn with FJC and the field.”