On March 30, Minister of Canadian Heritage Pablo Rodriguez and Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti announced a new expert advisory group on online safety as the next step in developing legislation to address harmful online content.
While online platforms play a central role in the lives of Canadians, bringing many benefits to society, they can also be used as tools to cause real and significant harm to individuals, communities and the country. Harmful content, such as hate speech, sexual exploitation of children and incitement to violence, is published online every day. There are no broad regulatory requirements in Canada that apply to platforms regarding their responsibilities in relation to such content.
The expert advisory group will be mandated to provide advice on a legislative and regulatory framework that best addresses harmful content online. The group is composed of diverse experts and specialists from across Canada: Amarnath Amarasingam, Queen’s University; Bernie Farber, Canada Anti-Hate Network; Chanae Parsons, community activist and youth engagement specialist; David Morin, Université de Sherbrooke; Emily Laidlaw, University of Calgary; Ghayda Hassan, Université du Québec à Montréal; Heidi Tworek, University of British Columbia; Lianna McDonald, Canadian Centre for Child Protection; Pierre Trudel, Université de Montréal; Signa A. Daum Shanks, University of Ottawa; Taylor Owen, McGill University; and Vivek Krishnamurthy, University of Ottawa.
The advisory group will hold nine workshops to discuss various components of a legislative and regulatory framework for online safety. They will also take part in additional stakeholder engagement, including with digital platforms. The work of the advisory group will be open and transparent. The group’s mandate, the supporting materials for each session, and non-attributed summaries of all sessions and discussions, will be published.
“We conducted a consultation last year and released the What We Heard Report earlier this year,” said Rodriguez. “It’s clear that harmful online content is a serious problem, but there is no consensus on how to address it. We’re asking the expert advisory group to go back to the drawing board. We need to address this problem openly and transparently as a society.”
Facts and figures on online violence in Canada include that:
62% of Canadians think there should be more regulation of online hate speech;
58% of women in Canada have been victims of abuse online;
80% of Canadians support requirements to remove racist or hateful content within 24 hours;
one in five Canadians have experienced some form of online hate;
racialized Canadians are almost three times more likely to have experienced harmful behaviour online;
there was a 1,106% increase in online child sexual exploitation reports received by the RCMP National Child Exploitation Crime Centre between 2014 to 2019.
“Too many people and communities are victimized by harmful online content that is often amplified and spread through social media platforms and other online services,” said Lametti. “The Government of Canada believes that Canadians should have protection from harmful online content, while respecting freedom of expression.”
– Courtesy Canadian Heritage
Also on March 30, the Canadian Coalition to Combat Online Hate announced the launch of their new website, combatonlinehate.ca, providing youth, parents, educators and policymakers with strategic tools to be effective in their efforts to identify and combat online hate.
“Canadians are exposed daily to a barrage of hateful and divisive online messages that pollute social media forums with content that is antisemitic, anti-Black, anti-Asian, anti-Indigenous, misogynistic, Islamophobic and homophobic, and that promotes conspiracy theories. These posts, videos and memes are easily discoverable and readily shared, often masked by anonymity or given undue credibility,” said Richard Marceau, vice-president, external affairs and general counsel at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). “We know that online hate can become real-life violence. Hate-motivated murders at Christchurch’s Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre and at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue stand as notable examples. It is incumbent on all of us, before it is too late, to combat online hate with the most effective tools available.”
According to a 2021 survey by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, 42% of respondents have seen or experienced hateful comments or content inciting violence online, and younger and racialized Canadians are significantly more likely to be confronted with this hate. The same study indicated that 93% of Canadians believe that online hate speech and racism are problems, of which 49% believe they are “very serious” problems. Findings also showed that at least 60% of Canadians believe that the federal government has an obligation to pass regulations preventing hateful and racist rhetoric and behaviour online. Only 17% prefer no government involvement at all.
“We saw COVID exacerbate online hate exponentially, as stress levels and political division rose amid lockdowns. By working together, we can make the communities we are building online – and, by extension, the communities we inhabit offline – safer places for all Canadians,” said Marceau.
The website combatonlinehate.ca is organized by the Canadian Coalition to Combat Online Hate, funded by Canadian Heritage and powered by CIJA.
Montreal’s Congregation Shaar Hashomayim has been at its Kensington Avenue home for 100 years. (photo by Lainie Berger / unsplash.com)
Montreal’s Congregation Shaar Hashomayim is 176 years old – and it has been in its current building for 100 years now. Among those who have attended the shul over its long history are Rav Abraham Isaac Kook (who was chief rabbi of British Mandate Palestine), former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, legendary musician Leonard Cohen and various members of the Bronfman family. Recently, the historic congregation made history, when it hired Rabba Rachel Kohl Finegold, the first Orthodox woman in Canada to become ordained.
“It remains a traditional synagogue that follows traditional Jewish law,” Finegold told the Independent. “Me being the first female member of the clergy may have been significant, but it only did so in complete consistency with halachah (Jewish law).”
Finegold was among the first group of female students to graduate from Yeshivat Maharat, which is located in the Bronx, N.Y., in 2013. She has chosen as her title the term rabba, although female rabbis exist in other streams of Judaism.
“I walk up to the bimah [pulpit] like my male colleagues, but I go back and sit in the female section, because our building is 100 years old and the bimah resides in the central/men’s part of the sanctuary,” she said. “That is just what the architecture allows.”
Shaar Hashomayim split off from Congregation Shearith Israel (also known as the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of Montreal) in 1846. Ashkenazi members – English, German and Polish Jews – wanted to practise rituals and observances more akin to what they were familiar with, rather than what was traditional for the Sephardim. In September 1922, Congregation Shaar Hashomayim moved to 450 Kensington Ave. in Westmount, where it resides to this day. After the Second World War, a school was added to accommodate the new families who had joined the congregation. Further expansion happened in 1967.
“This is among the most grand of Montreal’s synagogues. Their choir is simply like no other and the sound permeates the walls throughout during services,” said Lucy Verebes Shapiro, who, while not a member of Shaar Hashomayim, has visited the shul many times. “There is a notion of great importance about all that transpires within,” she said.
The synagogue cemetery also gets visitors, Jewish and non-Jewish, who are attracted by its denizens.
“I’m a Leonard Cohen fan and visit the cemetery every year on the anniversary of his death,” said Marta Etynkowski. “I’ve never met him, but his poetry and music have helped me through many deep, private, emotional moments throughout my life and it’s one of my biggest regrets that I never saw him while alive. It has become a bit of an annual tradition for many of his fans to pay their respects – some people leave mementos, some play his music there, others just have a private moment in front of his grave. It’s quite beautiful.”
Shaar Hashomayim has a long and rich music tradition. The services are centred around a cantor, who is accompanied by an all-male choir, the origin of which dates back to 1887.
Its museum – the Edward Bronfman Museum – holds much Judaica, including a shofar from Yemen and a few books that are centuries old. It features rotating exhibits and is open to the public.
“In the wake of the COVID pandemic, people often ask, are synagogues still relevant? I think that is because there is a misconception that synagogues are just a place of prayer alone,” said Finegold. “However, many synagogues, and ours in particular, offer a connection to community – that’s something people want. After being isolated and at home for so long, to know that there is a place that has so many doorways to access, is something that will keep the relevance and people coming in for years to come.”
Avi Kumar is an historian and freelance writer. He has lived in six countries and speaks 10 languages. His work has been published in many countries, from his native Sri Lanka to Israel and Ireland, and he has written on a variety of topics, including history, wildlife and linguistics.
As part of Fashion Blooms on March 31, Canadian journalist, media personality and fashion entrepreneur Jeanne Beker, left, will interview Israel’s Sharon Tal, head designer of Maskit. (photos from CHW)
Canadian Hadassah-WIZO (CHW) presents the second annual Fashion Blooms on March 31. The national virtual fundraising event – highlighting innovation, sustainability and the future of Israeli fashion – will feature Canadian journalist, media personality and fashion entrepreneur Jeanne Beker interviewing Sharon Tal, head designer of Maskit.
Israel fashion house Maskit was conceived in 1954 by then-designer Ruth Dayan, as a contemporary luxury clothing brand. Known for its intricate ethnic embroidery, Maskit was revolutionary in advancing economic opportunities and bridging cultural divides by employing thousands of Jewish, Arab and Bedouin women artisans. Since Tal took over the helm in 2014, she and Maskit have launched collections that are shown internationally and adored by celebrities. One of Tal’s latest designs, a peacock-embroidered caftan, was created in close collaboration with Sarah Jessica Parker and featured in the first episode of And Just Like That, the HBO revival of Sex and the City. Tal continues to honour and innovate, revitalizing a brand while earning plaudits for Maskit’s designs.
“As the former head of embroidery at Alexander McQueen and intern under Alber Elbaz at Lanvin, Sharon’s appreciation for tradition is matched only by her diligence and willingness to reinvent,” said Beker, event emcee. “She has what it takes to build upon the Maskit dynasty while also creating a legacy of her own.”
Fashion Blooms is also the Canadian debut of two trailblazing female fashion designers based out of Tel Aviv: Maya Reik Belfer, founder and designer of Marei1998, a luxury brand focused on sustainability and eco-conscious materials; and Danit Peleg, founder and creative director of Danit Peleg, known for its disruptive and innovative approach that is revolutionizing the fashion industry through open-source designs and 3D printed technologies.
Restrictions permitting, CHW centres across the country will host VIP invitation-only in-person viewing parties for Fashion Blooms. The virtual event will include an exclusive online auction, featuring fashion accessories and luxury brands, and an online vendor marketplace for a virtual shopping experience.
To register, participants can visit chw.ca/fashion-blooms. Tickets start at $40. Fashion Blooms proceeds support the CHW Neri Bloomfield Academy of Design in Haifa, Israel, supporting student scholarships and ultramodern equipment to enhance the future of the Israeli fashion industry.
The CHW Neri Bloomfield Academy of Design awards academic degrees in a wide variety of creative fields, including graphic design, architecture and fashion. This institution is building academic excellence and becoming an influencer and innovator in the world of design. It nurtures individual creativity among its pluralistic student body while instilling a sense of community and coexistence.
For more information, contact Rebecca Bowslaugh, CHW director of marketing and communications, at [email protected] or 416-477-5964, ext. 111.
CHW is a non-political, nonpartisan national network of volunteers and professionals who believe that the advancement of education, healthcare and social services transcends politics, religion and national boundaries. Over the last century, CHW has been involved in all aspects of Israeli life, supporting women, children and families in Israel and here in Canada. Learn more about CHW at chw.ca.
Rivka Campbell, co-founder of Jews of Colour Canada. (PR photo)
On Jan. 9, Rivka Campbell, co-founder of Jews of Colour Canada, spoke on the topic Harmony in a Divided Identity: A Minority Within a Minority, the third Zoom talk in Kolot Mayim Reform Temple’s 2021-22 Building Bridges lecture series.
A Jew of Jamaican descent, Campbell seeks to create a sense of community among Jews of Colour in Canada. At the same time, she works to establish dialogue with mainstream Jewish organizations and to provide a better understanding of Jewish diversity and the experiences of Jews of Colour.
Her opening remarks focused on what she labeled “the question” – that is, the unwelcoming, uninviting and off-putting line of inquiry Jews of Colour often confront when entering Jewish spaces. Though born and raised in Toronto, Campbell, like other Jews of Colour, is often asked, “Where are you from?” – the implication being that she is not Jewish.
This question, she points out, is alienating from the start and is not the kind of introduction that Jews of Ashkenazi backgrounds ordinarily face when, say, entering a synagogue.
A decisive period for Campbell occurred after getting married and starting a family. At the time, she wanted to introduce her children to their Jewish roots so that they could understand and appreciate every aspect of who they are.
“We leaped into the community with the assumption that I am a Jew and that this should be a non-issue. I am going to go to synagogue, put my kids in Hebrew school and just do stuff. I was wrong. What I didn’t reflect on was that I did not meet the stereotype, if you will, of what a Jew looks like, and it never occurred to me because I am Jewish, what’s the big deal? And I realized that for some people it was.”
The questions and comments would come even before a hello – Are you Jewish? How are you Jewish? But your last name isn’t Jewish.
“If I am a new face, then fine, we should welcome new faces. But the way to welcome new faces is with ‘Shabbat Shalom. My name is So-and-So, what’s your name? Here’s where we keep our siddurim.’ Welcome me first and the rest will flow naturally,” Campbell said.
She referred to these episodes, when she is singled out and her Jewishness is openly questioned, as “microaggressions.”
“Microaggressions are like mosquito bites at a summer camp. You might spray yourself and take other measures to prevent bites. Nothing works, so you spray yourself more and wear long sleeves and still nothing. After many efforts and layers, you finally say, ‘I can’t do this any longer,’ and you remove yourself from the place where the mosquitoes are,” she said.
For Campbell, there also have been more repugnant full-on aggressions, including having the derogatory term “Schvartze” directed at her.
“Would you continue to want to put yourself in that position? I have met and spoken to quite a few Jews of Colour who have said, ‘I am done. I can’t take it anymore.’ They do not want to subject themselves or their children to that kind of treatment. If we say there is no racism in our community, then we are fooling ourselves. All of us should feel they belong,” she said.
Campbell had a very good experience during an extended stay in Israel, where she met Jews from myriad backgrounds. In Israel, she did not feel she had to explain who she was and did not encounter the same questions she is asked in Jewish spaces in Canada. That trip caused her to realize that the Canadian Jewish community could do better and led her to start Jews of Colour Canada.
Things changed dramatically in May 2020 after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which, to Campbell, symbolized the banality of evil.
“That event made me not give a hoot whether people were comfortable or not with what I say because, until we are all uncomfortable, there won’t be change,” she said. “It really flipped the way I felt about diversity and the work that needs to be done. And that is where we sit today. And I see us as a community doing the work – we are listening and not just hearing what people are saying. You fix your own house first before you fix anyone else’s. And you cannot rest on the laurels of others, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.”
Campbell is the executive director at Beit Rayim Synagogue in Vaughan, Ont., and a board member of ADRABA, Toronto’s first 21st-century Jewish high school. She also hosts the CJN podcast Rivkush, which focuses on diversity, Israel and other Jewish topics. She is the sole Canadian recipient of the inaugural JewV’Nation Fellowship from the Union for Reform Judaism. For more information, visit jewsofcolour.ca.
The next speaker in Kolot Mayim’s Building Bridges series is, on Feb. 6, poet, author, literary scholar and internationally recognized speaker on transgender issues Joy Ladin on the topic of Jonah, God and Other Strangers: Reading the Torah from a Transgender Perspective. On Feb. 13, Reverend Hazan Daniel Benlolo, cantor, rabbi and founder of the Montreal Shira Choir for special needs adults, presents The Power of Music. To register for either or both talks, visit kolotmayimreformtemple.com.
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
Governor General of Canada Mary Simon welcomed Ronen Hoffman as Israel’s new ambassador to Canada during a formal presentation ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Dec. 7, 2021. (photo from Government of Canada)
Israel’s new ambassador to Canada, Ronen Hoffman, is a hockey dad. Plus, he wants to fight terrorism and antisemitism, strengthen research and development projects between the two countries, and forge ties with Canada’s Indigenous peoples. He also needs to remember to wear his winter coat when he leaves for work.
Hoffman, 58, arrived in Ottawa in the week of Hanukkah to take up his new duties. The diplomatic post had been vacant for two years, since Nimrod Barkan stepped down in November 2019. With the instability in Israeli politics – until Naftali Bennett’s government took office in June 2021 – and the COVID pandemic hampering international travel, Hoffman wasn’t able to arrive until just a few weeks ago.
Hoffman was born to a farming family in Afula, in the Jezreel Valley. He hasn’t been to Canada since he was in his 20s, when he did some traveling after the army while working as a shaliach (emissary) to a Jewish summer camp in Atlanta, Ga. Hoffman was an aide to former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, and was on the team negotiating the unsuccessful peace talks with Syria.
After earning his doctorate in 1999, Hoffman was elected to the Knesset in 2013 as a member of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. He did a stint as co-chair of the Israel-Canada Parliamentary Friendship Group. This is his first posting as an ambassador. He is a father of three; his partner is a scientist at the Weizmann Institute.
On Hoffman’s first Christmas in wintry Ottawa, he made a TikTok video showing him walking through Lansdowne Park, trying out his snowball throwing technique and doing some tobogganing. (He didn’t wear winter boots, though.)
CJN: Describe what it was like when you presented your credentials to Canada’s first Indigenous governor general, Mary Simon, on Dec. 7, 2021.
RH: Well, I have to say that it was a very moving and a wonderful ceremony. I went there with my family, which is here with me, my partner and my 4-year-old son, Tomer, and my team from the embassy. There were three other ambassadors that also presented: the ambassadors of the United States, Spain and Sri Lanka. It was an opportunity for us to get a little bond together and speak to each other. And, of course, meeting the governor general and her spouse and the people. I’m very happy that we had an opportunity to really do it, not through Zoom or through the internet, but really do it there, face to face.
CJN: Did you wear or bring or do anything that meant something meaningful to you?
RH: Yes. Can you see the little lapel pin on my jacket? Can you see these Canadian and Israeli flags here? Around it, we have an orange pin, in solidarity with the Indigenous people, also. It was just a little gesture, and I feel that’s part of what I’m going to do here. I would like to educate myself more on the First Nations communities here. I feel that there is a common ground for us to stand on, all of us, as the Jewish people, who for us the state of Israel is, in essence, a return of the Jewish people to our indigenous homeland and traditions and culture. My goal is to build bridges of dialogue, cooperation, collaboration with communities, and we really wanted to show that we care.
CJN: Would you say that you’re planning to reach out to the Assembly of First Nations and all the Indigenous groups … to try to meet them?
RH: Absolutely. I’m the Israeli ambassador to Canada, not only to Ottawa and not only to a specific province. It’s a big and wonderful and beautiful country with lovely people. And so, of course, I intend to travel throughout the country and meet as many people as I can and community members and heads of communities. It would be an important part of what I’m going to do here.
CJN: Let’s move on a little bit towards your agenda. You’re coming to Canada seven months after the war between Hamas and Israel, where Canada’s Jewish community experienced an unprecedented level of antisemitism not seen since the Second World War. First of all, were you surprised when you heard about what the Canadian Jewish community was feeling? And what is your mandate to deal with this here in Canada?
RH: I can’t say that I was surprised because, before I became an ambassador, I’ve been a lecturer. And, as a lecturer, I met with many delegations from the Jewish communities of North America, including Canada, who came to Israel. I heard a lot before the conflict in May about challenges and opportunities of the Jewish communities here, vis-à-vis other communities and vis-à-vis other minorities and governments. I’m aware of the antisemitism and I agree with you that the wave around the conflict in May has been a tremendous one, one that has been very significant when you compare it to previous waves.
I think that, as Israeli diplomats, my role as an Israeli ambassador to Canada is to help and to coordinate, to cooperate and to join forces in the combat of antisemitism and anti-Zionism and anti-Israel [sentiments]. They’re all connected to each other. Sometimes, some of the people would say, ‘Oh, some of these activists just want to show some criticism towards the government of Israel.’ It’s not that. It’s much deeper than that. Maybe now it’s not hidden anymore. They’re actually against the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. This is antisemitism. And I think that the Jewish communities here in Canada are not alone in facing this threat and challenge: the Israelis, your brothers and sisters and families, we all face the same kind of challenge in this respect. So, of course, part of my mandate is to work hand in hand with the leaders of the Jewish communities here, and try to find ways to combat it together.
CJN: It’s a big part of your mandate. But it wasn’t number one on the list. Your number one priority for your mandate is?
RH: It is to strengthen the relationship between Israel and Canada, which have very close relations, a very close friendship, and we have shared and we still share common values and common interests. And, like Canada, Israel is committed to human rights, to justice, to the rule of law. We are liberal democracies. We also have shared interests, for example, to combat terrorism, global terrorism, to help to create more stability in our areas, in our regions and to work together vis-à-vis opportunities and challenges. That is, I would say, my number one goal here: to continue and to strengthen those bilateral relations and the close friendship that Israel has with Canada.
CJN: What concerns does the Israeli government have about Canada’s decision during the May hostilities with Hamas to give money – about $25 million – to agencies such as UNRWA that have had a very problematic history when it comes to anti-Zionist and anti-Israel and Jew-hatred materials? How does Israel feel about that?
RH: We face some organizations, international and Palestinian organizations, that call themselves organizations that care for human rights, and they kind of hide behind that high language and terms that we are all committed to. But, actually, they are terror organizations. Our concern is that our friends around the world, including Canada, would be with us, looking at those organizations, exposing the lies and getting to see exactly what they’re doing. This is a concern in our mission and a real objective as part of our diplomatic work.
CJN: OK, so back to your mandate and what you’re here for. In a news release when you presented your credentials to the governor general, you said that you want to help with start-ups, and harness Israeli know-how to help Canada solve problems. Is there any area in particular that you want to focus on? We just finished re-upping the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, which was re-signed under a previous Trudeau government. What more is there to do?
RH: There’s a lot to do. Look, Israel and Canada are closely working on finalizing a research and development agreement to mutually invest in know-how in joint research projects, and innovation in several fields, such as food tech, health tech, environment, energy and climate security. And then, of course, letting start-ups and the industrial ecosystem get to know each other and to develop ties and relations. We’re working on it. And I’m optimistic here. I think that we could really enlarge our relationship and find and create more joint projects on innovation. This is, again, one of the first high priorities on my agenda.
CJN: Would you say that there’s a date when they are expecting to sign it? In 2022 or 2023?
RH: There is no specific date. But, as an ambassador, I’m going to push and I’m going to try to do it as soon as possible. And it’s just one specific agreement – I have some ideas for other agreements, as well, to start MOUs [memoranda of understanding]. Every agreement or project starts with dialogue, right? So, my idea is to create more dialogue between government to government, meaning some of the ministries in Israel that are relevant to innovation, hopefully, would speak in a structured dialogue process to some of the ministries here in Canada – for example, the ministries of energy and ministries of environment, agriculture and others. And so, we’ll set a set of several bilateral dialogues that eventually, I hope, would produce new agreements.
CJN: A lot of the research work is done at the university level, though, and that brings us to the problem where a lot of Canadian universities have faced the boycott, divestment and sanctions issue, with clubs or groups of academics trying to have the BDS policies adopted. How can the Israeli ambassador and the Israeli embassy negotiate this minefield to bring about your MOUs and this cooperation?
RH: Well, I think that there are at least two ways to go about it. One is to differentiate between the political talks around campuses and the industry of lies, and cooperate in joint research: start new projects with universities, connect universities here to universities in Israel and work together on tikkun olam, of doing something that the world would be able to benefit from. We have so many other scholars and researchers who we should work with. We should fight and combat against this BDS and all these things, but, at the same time, cooperate with our friends.
CJN: I know you were involved with Canadian parliamentarians before. How does that prepare you for this job?
RH: As a member of Knesset (2013-2015), I then chaired – from the Israeli side, of course – the Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Association with Canada, and it enabled me to meet some members of the Canadian Parliament … and host them in Israel. When they came in a delegation, it helped me to understand the political system here, better, I would say. But now, when I’m here, I have to tell you that I have so much more to learn. I knew a little bit, but I have to say I’m fascinated by the political system here and by the structure and by the Constitution and the history of it. It’s different than the political system that we have in Israel. We have a multi-political party system based on coalition. We have small political parties who have been and still are the king-makers. The power of veto in our political system, it’s different. We have a prime minister and a president, but we don’t belong to any other group of countries like the Commonwealth. It’s fascinating.
CJN: Had you ever been to Canada at all before this time?
RH: When I was a student, I was sent by the Jewish Agency to be shaliach to a JCC summer camp here in North America, in Atlanta, Ga. And, every summer after the camp, we still had the visa, that would enable us to travel for a few more weeks. So, for a few summers, I remember that, after finishing the camp, I came here to Canada and I traveled, mainly in the west, I have to say, in the Rockies and in Vancouver and British Columbia, but I remember being in Toronto and Niagara Falls.
When I was a kid, I grew up in kind of an outdoor atmosphere. My father was a farmer and I was educated with a love and appreciation for the environment and for the outdoors. I remember when I first came to Canada as a traveler, the nature, the environment, the outdoors impressed me so much. And now, as an ambassador, again, this is another thing I would like to do, to learn from you in Canada – how to appreciate the environment and the outdoors. I think that Israel can contribute, but also can learn from Canada at many levels and many aspects.
Son plays hockey
CJN: So, let’s pivot to some more fun things. I was told to ask you about your son in hockey. That is a door opener to anybody in Canada – just mention that and they’ll greet you with open arms! Are you allowed to tell me? Will your son kill you? (He now plays on the Columbia University men’s hockey team in New York.)
RH: Well, he will kill me anyway, but I’m going to tell you! I have three children. Eitan is my oldest: he’s 26 now, he’s a student at Columbia University in New York. My daughter, Tamara, is 24, and she’s also a student at Columbia University in New York. And my little son, Tomer, is 4 years old and he is here in Ottawa with me.
When Eitan, my oldest, was in elementary school in Israel, hockey just started to be introduced to Israel by friends who immigrated from Russia. But since, in Israel … there was only one [ice arena at the time,] in Metula, in the north [founded with the financial help of Canadians] … they started with roller hockey. My son started when he was in the first grade, or second, and, at some point, they started to build ice arenas for ice hockey. So, he moved from roller hockey to ice hockey.
By the time when he was 16 or 17, he was the captain of the youth national team and they were part of hockey in the Europe leagues and they competed there. And, at some point, they became number two in Europe – the Israelis who had no hockey in our tradition. I was very proud then.
And now, of course, he’s in New York … and, hopefully, he could come here. We will go together to hockey games, and he will explain to me what it’s all about, because that’s another thing I need to learn, right?
CJN: But if you are a hockey dad, you would know all this stuff, like going to the arenas with your thermos of coffee and being cold. Right? You never did that?
RH: Of course I did it. I went with him to Europe. I accompanied him and, yeah, well, I know how it feels, but I still need some explanation. The teams and who’s against who. I still need to learn.
CJN: And the European rinks are different. But what number did he wear in Israel?
CJN: Any particular reason?
RH: I don’t know how it started, but it was 88 and his last name, because I’m proud of him saying our last name. Under the number 88, Hoffman.
CJN: OK. So, unfortunately, Israel is not going to be in the hockey part of the Beijing Winter Olympics. They didn’t make it, but they’re number 34 overall in the IIHF [International Ice Hockey Federation] rankings. Are you a hockey fan at all?
RH: Not a hockey fan, for sure. But now is my opportunity; now it is my opportunity to become a real hockey fan.
CJN: All right. What is the funniest thing that’s happened to you since you came to Canada as an ambassador?
RH: OK, look, it’s not that funny, but whenever I leave home and get into the car to go somewhere, I’m still forgetting to take my coat…. I’m still used to going out with almost just a T-shirt, but it’s taking me longer than I expected to get used to winter.
There’s a single destination that gets kids outside having fun, experts say, while teaching them lifelong skills. It’s called camp.
The benefits of camp are plenty, from life lessons beyond the classroom and the value of playtime to appreciating nature and building confidence and leadership skills.
“The major changes in [campers’] growth speaks tremendously of the summer camp experience,” said Troy Glover, the director of the University of Waterloo’s Healthy Communities Research Network.
Glover spearheaded the Canadian Summer Camp Research Project, a nationwide study on the effects of camp on kids. The results demonstrated that for “bubble-wrapped” youth who have been over-programmed and overprotected, camp provides a safe environment to freely learn, grow and develop their capabilities. Summer camp, according to the study, fosters emotional intelligence (or EQ), self-confidence, independence, healthy living, environmental awareness, learning, leadership and other skills that prove beneficial long into adulthood.
The core benefits of camp include building friendships and social skills; developing resiliency and confidence; becoming and staying physical; overcoming nature deficit disorder; learning the values of leadership; continuing education in the summer; and carving time for “active play.”
Friendships & social skills
It may seem scary at first to enter a whole new social world at camp. However, camp offers a crash course on meeting new people – helping children build social skills, explore their independence and improve their self-esteem, said Stephen Fine, research chair for the Ontario Camps Association. “Teamwork, cooperation and negotiation are inherent to the camp experience,” Fine explained. “Kids’ confidence levels and their ability to be in social situations increase.”
At camp, children boost their self-esteem and develop risk-taking and conflict-resolution skills as they learn to make their own decisions without their parents’ help.
Camp provides children with a “blank slate,” allowing them to try on different behaviours and identities. And the relatively short duration of a camp session decreases the cost of making mistakes.
One of the Canadian Summer Camp Research Project’s most significant findings was in the area of emotional intelligence, often referred to as EQ (emotional quotient). With EQ, which involves recognizing, understanding and managing emotions, children learn how to work, play, relate, get along, empathize and connect with others.
“It’s not just about IQ in children,” Glover said. “Research supports how EQ is more important in terms of future success…. This is an essential component of the maturation process and a skill that camp is successfully developing.”
Resiliency & confidence
Saturated with 24-hour news highlighting crimes in their communities, many parents today are overprotective of their children, “bubble-wrapping” them in order to keep them safe and sheltered. While Glover said it’s safer now, statistically, than it was when he was a child, parents are not as willing to let their kids out of their sight.
At camp, children are encouraged to go outside their comfort zone through activities such as high ropes courses, dramatic and musical performances, or wilderness camping. By allowing children to take risks and face challenges, camp helps children build their independence, resiliency, and self-esteem in a safe, supervised and supportive environment, the study found.
These invaluable life skills often translate into improvements at home and at school, said Mike Pearse, director of Camp Tawingo, a traditional overnight camp in Muskoka, Ont.
Pearse said the camp experience can be divided into the hard skills – for example, learning how to paddle a canoe, tie a knot, identify an edible plant and play a team sport – and accompanying soft skills, such as perseverance, creativity, responsibility and courage.
“At camp, every child has an opportunity to succeed,” he said.
This translates into increased self-confidence and, in many cases, an improved school experience. “I’ve had parents come to me and say, ‘My child is doing so much better in math class this year because of the confidence boost he got from camp,’” Pearse said.
Becoming & staying physical
With video games, Facebook and smartphones all vying for a young person’s attention, the national epidemic of obesity and inactivity won’t be easy to overcome. One Statistics Canada study found that only seven percent of youth aged 6 to 19 got the recommended hour a day of exercise they need.
Enter summer camp, where physical activity is well disguised in the form of fun and games, allowing youth to adopt a healthy lifestyle, often without even realizing it.
“Our study found that campers’ attitudes toward physical activity really improved toward the end of the camping session,” Glover said. “When given a choice, these campers will now choose physical activity because they realize it makes them feel good and contributes to their well-being.”
Along with banning the use of electronics, many camps provide a daily routine that involves waking up early, getting lots of physical activity, eating regular meals and spending extended periods of time outdoors.
“At camp, you’re always on your feet, always on the move, even if you’re just walking to a meal,” Glover said. “So, it’s not about forcing kids to spend 20 minutes on a treadmill, but rather easing them into an active lifestyle that includes lots of walking, engaging in team sports and playing outside with other kids.”
Nature deficit disorder
A bond with nature is sorely missing in the lives of many children today unlike a generation ago, Richard Louv writes in his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. It’s a world where kids may be all too aware of environmental problems, yet rarely venture out to experience the natural world, he writes.
“Camps have their own pressures, but the healing quality of nature is always there, just beyond the screen door,” Louv said.
At camp, kids are given the opportunity to see what they’re missing, and form lifelong bonds and connections with the natural world they may have never experienced before. “Even camps in the city usually have an outdoor dimension to them,” said Glover.
“Children need nature for the healthy development of their senses and, therefore, for learning and creativity,” Louv added.
Values of leadership
A leader isn’t always the loudest person in a group, or the most active. Many leaders share a range of skills and qualities that help him or her take charge: confidence, creativity in their decision-making and an understanding of teamwork, to name a few. It takes practise to become a good leader, too.
That’s where camp comes in, said Moira MacDougall, who heads teen and young adult strategies for the YMCA of Greater Toronto, a charity providing community support programs. Camp helps gradually build leadership skills, MacDougall said.
“You’re often having to rely on your teammates or cabinmates to complete an activity,” said MacDougall. “That builds in-group bonding and, in that process, what you hope the young person’s learning is either to have some voice within that group … or how to be persuasive.”
According to the Canadian Summer Camp Research Project, most campers demonstrated an increase in emotional intelligence and self-confidence, both characteristics attributed to good leaders.
As campers enter their teenage years, there are more opportunities to obtain explicit leadership skills. Most camps offer an LIT (leader-in-training) or CIT (counselor-in-training) program that walks young people through the skills they need to plan activities and programs, care for younger campers and communicate effectively.
Whether it’s by cleaning their cabins without being asked, helping younger campers find their way to the dining hall, or contributing their talents to a play or talent show, youth of all ages learn to take initiative at camp.
Learning how to take the lead essentially teaches youth how to be good citizens. “They learn that we all have a role to play to contribute to a better society, and nothing happens if you sit back and wait for someone else to act,” said Glover.
“It’s not only cognitive learning, it’s emotional learning,” said Tom Potter, associate professor at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont. Potter has been involved in outdoor adventure education for more than 30 years.
Camp is the kind of place where children can learn canoeing, archery, life skills such as teamwork, and apply the lessons they learned during the school year in many enjoyable activities. Geocaching lessons offered at some camps, for example, teach kids scientific and math skills.
“They’re getting instant and immediate feedback, so if they do something well, they’ll get feedback; if they’re sailing a sailboat and it’s going in the right direction, they’ll get feedback on that,” Potter said. “But if the boat turns upside down, that’s OK … it’s all part of it.”
Time for “active play”
Many children today simply don’t get enough of unstructured playtime. “If you look at time in school, time at home, time watching TV, those things have either stayed consistent or gone up,” said Michelle Brownrigg, chief executive of Active Healthy Kids Canada. “But active playtime has decreased.”
Canadian children are reportedly spending an average of four to six hours a day with TVs, computers and cellphones.
Camp gives children the playtime they need while encouraging creativity and social engagement. Play not only offers children the tools to entertain themselves, it also builds their imagination.
“Kids learn to set their own boundaries, to develop in an environment that’s not necessarily focused on a competitive end, to interact with one another, to determine how to win and lose, and to trade roles and be involved in an active way with their peers,” she said.
Irwin Cotler spoke Sunday at a virtual event convened by National Council of Jewish Women of Canada. (photo from raoulwallenbergcentre.org)
Canada is set to make a number of significant commitments to combat antisemitism, as are other countries that participated in a summit on the issue last week in the Swedish city of Malmö.
Irwin Cotler, Canada’s special envoy on preserving Holocaust remembrance and fighting antisemitism, spoke Oct. 17 at a virtual event convened by National Council of Jewish Women of Canada. The human rights lawyer and former federal justice minister, who is also international chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, said that, in the aftermath of the conference, the Canadian government would announce a number of pledges.
These will include enhanced teaching and learning about the Holocaust across generational lines, combating the increasing Holocaust denial and distortion, and battling hatred on social media. Reducing an alarming rise in hate crimes will also be among the pledges Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to make, according to Cotler.
“Twenty-twenty was the year for the highest rise in hate crimes targeting Jews ever,” he said. “But, by May 2021, we had reached the level then of all the hate crimes in all of 2020.”
The government will recommit itself to protecting the security of Jewish institutions, he said.
“Here, the government recently made commitments in financial terms for this purpose,” said Cotler.
Zero tolerance for antisemitism in the political discourse is also an objective, he added.
“That means not just calling out antisemitism in the other’s political party but calling out antisemitism in our own,” Cotler said. “In other words, not weaponizing antisemitism or politicizing it, but holding each of us, respectively, our own political parties, accountable.”
In addition to Trudeau, Israeli President Isaac Herzog, French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken were among the leaders who addressed the conference. The Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism was hosted by Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. Trudeau announced at the conference that Cotler’s role of special envoy would be made permanent.
Cotler contextualized the Malmö forum in a two-decade era of what he calls “demonological antisemitism,” which began at the 2001 Durban conference against racism that devolved into an antisemitic carnival.
“What happened at Durban was truly Orwellian,” said Cotler. “A world conference against racism and hate turned into a conference of racism and hate against Israel and the Jewish people. A conference that was to commemorate the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa turned into a conference calling for the dismantling of the ‘apartheid state’ Israel.
“Those of us who personally witnessed this Durban festival of hate have been forever transformed by the pamphlets and posters of hatred and antisemitism, by the cartoons and the leaflets portraying not only the Jews as Nazis, but the classical antisemitic tropes of Jews with hooked noses, with fangs, with fingers dipped in blood from the killing of children. Where we were accosted with pamphlets of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Where we witnessed demonstrators with signs – incredibly for a human rights conference or for any conference – signs which said, ‘Too bad Hitler didn’t finish the job.’ Where we witnessed Jewish students – and I witnessed this personally – being physically assaulted and being told, ‘You don’t belong to the human race,’” said Cotler.
Durban was the first tipping point and the global surge of antisemitism during last spring’s conflict between Hamas and Israel was a second, he said.
“Jews were targeted and threatened in their own neighbourhoods and on their own streets,” said Cotler. During and after that conflict, Cotler said, Jewish memorials were defaced, synagogues were torched, cemeteries were vandalized, Jewish institutions found themselves under assault and incendiary hate speech – such as 17,000 tweets that “Hitler was right” – exploded.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated antisemitism, or at least has been exploited by antisemites, who have “instrumentalized one of the more ancient tropes of the Jews as the poisoners of wells,” said Cotler. The health crisis has also seen conspiracies of Jews profiting from vaccines and anti-vaxxers posing “as if they were victims of Nazi persecution,” he added.
Cotler lamented what he calls “the mainstreaming, the normalization – in effect, the legitimization of antisemitism in the political culture.” During the conflict last spring, convoys of vehicles in London, U.K., drove through Jewish neighbourhoods screaming, “F–k the Jews, rape their daughters!” This was a convoy and a message that was replicated in Toronto days later and which resulted in, Cotler said, an “utter absence of outrage.”
The legalist also spoke of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism.
“If you can’t define it, you can’t combat it,” he said. The IHRA definition was adopted after 15 years of discussion and debate by intergovernmental bodies, governments, parliaments, scholars and civil society leaders, he said.
The task of fighting antisemitism must not fall only to Jews, Cotler stressed.
“As we’ve learned only too painfully, and have repeated too often, that, while it begins with Jews, it doesn’t end with Jews,” he said. “Therefore, we need this collective global constituency of conscience to combat it.”
Green party leader Annamie Paul lost her bid for a seat in Toronto Centre. (photo from annamiepaul.ca)
Annamie Paul, the first female Jewish leader of a Canadian federal party, saw her hopes crushed Monday night as the Green vote plummeted across the country and she badly lost her bid for a seat in Toronto Centre. Paul came fourth in the riding, taking less than 9% of the vote. Her party lost one of its two British Columbia seats but, in their only bright spot, picked up a new riding in Ontario.
Having been kneecapped by internal party clashes in the lead-up to the election call, Paul was in an unenviable position, leading a party that had tried to oust her in a battle sparked by, or at least nominally blamed on, Paul’s moderate call for restraint during the Israel-Hamas conflict last spring.
Paul was not the only leader disappointed on election night. While politicians painted the outcomes in sunny terms, no one got much of what they wanted. After a $600 million election in the midst of a pandemic, the big picture in Canada’s political landscape is almost unchanged. With minor adjustments expected as mail-in ballots are counted, the Liberals and Conservatives are almost exactly where they were when the election was called.
Most prominently, reelected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau failed in his gambit to turn his minority into a majority government. The expense, resources and dangers of a pandemic election were rewarded with a nearly identical outcome as the last election.
Likewise, Erin O’Toole, who led his Conservatives to an almost identical result, will face discontent over his attempts to pull the party to the centre. Had the strategy worked, he would have been dubbed a genius, but failure will almost certainly unleash the wrath of his party’s right flank, which was largely thrown under the bus after O’Toole won the leadership on a slogan that depicted him as the “true blue” candidate, the more right-leaning of the two front-running options.
Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democrats, and Yves-François Blanchet, leader of the Bloc Quebecois, both appeared to resonate with their target constituencies, but, when the votes were counted, their electoral fortunes were only mildly improved. Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party, lost his bid for a seat in Quebec and, while his party’s surprisingly strong showing in parts of the country, particularly on the Prairies, may have hurt the Conservatives, it left his own candidates empty-handed.
Several B.C. ridings remained too close to call at press time, including Vancouver Granville. Liberal Taleeb Noormohamad was about 200 votes ahead of New Democrat Anjali Appadurai as mail-in ballots were being counted. Despite polls showing Liberals falling behind in the province, the party appears to have held all its seats and even picked up both Richmond ridings. Steveston-Richmond East is a swing riding that has returned to the Liberal fold after a two-year interregnum. But, while few observers thought Richmond Centre was in play, Conservative incumbent Alice Wong is marginally behind Liberal Wilson Miao.
There were only two known Jewish candidates in British Columbia. In Nanaimo-Ladysmith, Conservative Tamara Kronis remains about 1,000 votes behind New Democrat Lisa Marie Barron at press time, a margin that will be a steep climb to overcome with just mail-in ballots remaining. The riding was watched nationally, as it was one of just two Green seats in Parliament. Paul Manly, who has a history of anti-Israel activism, fell to third place in a tight race. In West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, New Democrat Avi Lewis placed a respectable third, with about 26% of the vote in one of Canada’s wealthiest ridings, while Liberal incumbent Patrick Weiler held on against a comeback effort by former Conservative MP John Weston.
Much has been made of the challenges facing Canadians as the country engages in its 44th federal general election while still in the grips of a pandemic. For Jewish voters, the succession of holidays in the weeks leading up to the Sept. 20 election makes scheduling events like community forums with candidates extra confounding.
Nevertheless, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), along with partner agencies, will present a number of events across the country. Here in Metro Vancouver, there will be a virtual town hall on Sept. 14, 4 p.m., co-presented, as is tradition, with SUCCESS, the United Chinese Community Enrichment Services Society. Topics addressed will include racism and hate crimes; seniors’ care; post-pandemic economic recovery; immigrants and refugees; safe and healthy communities; and the sustainability of charitable and nonprofit organizations.
Two days earlier, on Sept. 12, a Richmond-focused virtual town hall will take place at 5 p.m., co-presented by CIJA and the Kehila Society of Richmond.
Tucked in between, on Sept. 13, is a national town hall, presented virtually from Toronto, again hosted by CIJA, this time in partnership with The CJN. All events are accessible from the website cija.ca/election.
Locally on Sept. 13, there is an all-candidates meeting on seniors issues for the ridings of Vancouver Granville and Vancouver South, co-hosted by Jewish Seniors Alliance. To register for it, visit jsalliance.org.
CIJA also has released a federal issues guide, outlining what it considers to be priorities on matters of domestic and foreign policy.
Among the recommendations is a request to supplement the Security Infrastructure Program, which provides funds to enhance security at institutions such as synagogues and community centres, with a program modeled after the Community Security Trust in the United Kingdom, which trains volunteers to provide patrols, situational awareness and threat prevention.
The guide urges amending the criminal code to make Holocaust denial an indictable offence and developing a standardized national social studies curriculum on antisemitism and the Holocaust.
The document, which is downloadable from the CIJA website, calls on the next government to address online hate through education and enforcement, including a social literacy campaign to “sensitize Canadians to the potent role social media plays in bullying, harassment, intimidation, dissemination of hate, and threats.” It calls for reestablishing provisions in the Canadian Human Rights Act to combat hate speech and strengthening Canadian tax laws to prohibit charities from promoting or inciting antisemitism or violent extremism.
The foreign affairs section calls on the government to ensure that Canadian humanitarian aid to Palestinians “goes where it is intended” and to oppose one-sided United Nations resolutions singling out Israel. It also calls on the government to demand that the Palestinian Authority stop the “paid to slay” program that rewards terrorism. It also calls for putting pressure on Iran until it “demonstrates meaningful improvements in comes into full compliance with its international obligations.”
Other CIJA recommendations include:
Implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples “as an important step toward truth and reconciliation.”
Putting pressure on Eastern European countries “that have evaded their responsibility to pass meaningful restitution laws” for Holocaust survivors and their descendants.
Strengthening immigration and refugee policies particularly to support those targeted for their identity, such as Christians and Yazidis in Iraq, LGBTQ2+ people in Chechnya and Iran, and Rohingyas in Myanmar.
Reintroducing the question about religion in the census “to prevent continued underreporting of Jewish Canadians.”
Ending the three-month celibacy requirement for LGBTQ2+ blood donors.
The Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC) is also busy during the campaign.
CJPAC engages “Jewish and pro-Israel Canadians in the democratic process” and helps community members build relationships within the Canadian political arena. Their website, cjpac.ca, has links to all major political parties, as well as links to volunteering and getting involved in campaigns. There is a final volunteer training webinar available at noon Pacific time on Sept. 13.
For information on your riding, where to vote and a list of candidates, go to the Elections Canada website at elections.ca.
Jewish community members Tamara Kronis (Conservative party) and Avi Lewis (NDP) are running in the upcoming federal election. (photos from candidates)
British Columbia’s comparatively small Jewish community has produced a number of senior political figures, including the province’s first Jewish premier, Dave Barrett, and the current minister of finance, Selina Robinson, and minister of environment and climate change strategy, George Heyman. In this federal election, there appear to be just two candidates in British Columbia who are Jewish.
Tamara Kronis is the Conservative Party of Canada candidate for Nanaimo-Ladysmith. The riding is being closely watched by national observers as it is home to one of only two Green party MPs. Paul Manly, the incumbent, once sought an NDP nomination but was rejected by the party, apparently due to controversy over his positions on Israel and Palestine. While the other Green MP, former leader Elizabeth May, is seen as safe in her riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands, Manly appears to be in (at least) a three-way race with Kronis and New Democrat Lisa Marie Barron. Michelle Corfield is the Liberal candidate.
Kronis is a lawyer and heads a jewelry manufacturing and retail business. Until last month, she was associate chair of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal and an independent director of Toronto Hydro. Earlier in her career, she served as director of advocacy for EGALE Canada, the national LGBTQ+ organization. She was a trial assistant at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Across the water and across the spectrum, Avi Lewis is the New Democratic Party candidate in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea-to-Sky Country. A scion of Canada’s left-wing dynasty, Lewis is the son of journalist Michele Landsberg and Stephen Lewis, a former Ontario NDP leader and Canadian ambassador to the United Nations. His grandfather, David Lewis, was the leader of Canada’s NDP, from 1971 to 1975.
Avi Lewis is a journalist and activist who recently produced and co-wrote the Emmy-nominated animated short film about the Green New Deal, Message from the Future, with U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Lewis co-authored “The Leap Manifesto,” which was “a call to action on climate and inequality that was launched by an historic coalition of Indigenous leaders, unions and environmentalists, and signed by more than 50,000 Canadians,” according to Lewis’s website.
Lewis has an uphill climb. The riding, which straddles some of Canada’s wealthiest voters and the disparate communities along Howe Sound, has back-and-forthed between the Liberals and Conservatives in recent years. It is held by two-term Liberal MP Patrick Weiler, who is beating back a challenge from former Conservative MP John Weston. In 2019, the NDP candidate came fourth, well behind the Green party.