Burquest Jewish Community Centre has invited a series of local Jewish leaders to visit the centre and discuss their approach to Jewish practice. A Coat of Many Colours: Conversations about Jewish Practice takes place every other Sunday, through Dec. 11. It started Oct. 16.
Rabbi Laura Duhan-Kaplan – rabbi emerita of Or Shalom (Renewal), volunteer at Beth Israel (Conservative) and director of inter-religious studies and professor of Jewish studies at Vancouver School of Theology – began the series with a talk called An Integrative Spirituality.
On Oct. 30, 1:30 p.m., Congregation Har El’s Rabbi Philip Gibbs speaks on The Conservative Synagogue and the Modern Jew.
“As a Conservative rabbi, I believe that Jewish law develops over time so that even a deep commitment to live according to Jewish values, traditions and rituals can fit with modern sensibilities,” he said. “At the same time, as a community leader, I also recognize that not every person wants to or is able to follow the discipline of an observant life. The synagogue acts as a spiritual toolbox with the many rituals and values that can add meaning to your life. The tension between an individual’s interest and the communal practice is both a challenge to create a welcoming space and an opportunity to explore the deeper meaning of our tradition. We will look at a few examples of how a synagogue could approach rituals like kashrut, prayer and Shabbat.”
Rabbi Tom Samuels of Okanagan Jewish Community Centre, Beth Shalom Synagogue, will give the Nov. 13, 1 p.m., talk, on the topic From Synagogue to Home.
Samuels, who does not identify with any singular Jewish denomination, institution, theology, pedagogy and the like, said, “My session will explore the idea of relocating the North American model for ‘doing Jewish religion’ from the synagogue building to the home. In response to the destruction of the Second Temple, a new Judaism emerged called Rabbinic Judaism. The ancient rabbis established a new locus of Jewish identity and connection to the home, and specifically, to the shulchan, the Shabbat table. Using the model of the Chassidic tish (or botteh, or what Chabad Lubavitch call the farbrengen), we will experience the seamless tapestry of Torah learning, tefillah (prayer), singing and eating that could be replicated by Jewish communities, with or without a local synagogue, throughout North America.”
On Nov. 27, 1 p.m., Temple Sholom’s Rabbi Dan Moskovitz will speak on These Are The Things – 10 Commandments for Living a Purposeful Life.
“Reform Judaism in general emphasizes the moral ethical commandments as being obligatory while the spiritual ritual commandments are more subjective to the individual worshipper with the autonomy to make meaningful, informed choices in their personal practice,” said Moskovitz. “My current rabbinate as senior rabbi of Temple Sholom is shaped by an emphasis on finding meaning through Jewish custom and practice, social justice work, inclusion, outreach to the unaffiliated and developing a relational community.
“I will present a passage from the Mishnah called Elu Dvarim, which details 10 commandments that, if followed during your life, receive reward now and for eternity…. I will present and we will discuss how the application of these particular commandments to your life, regardless of your faith tradition or whether or not you even have one, is one answer to the eternal question what is the meaning of life.”
Rounding out the presenters will be Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld, Chabad Lubavitch, on Dec. 11, 1 p.m., with a topic to be announced.
Further information on presentations and presenters is available under events at burquest.org.
On the cover of this year’s Jewish Independent Summer issue is a photo by Ingrid Weisenbach, wife of JIpublisher and editor Cynthia Ramsay, whose back is featured in this image. The photo was taken on a northbound kayaking trip out of Deep Cove. Buntzen Powerhouse 2 can be seen on the opposite side of Indian Arm.
According to Simon Fraser University’s Bill Reid Centre, “səl̓ilw̓ət is the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ (Hun’qumyi’num) name for Burrard Inlet and Indian Arm, and is the place from which the səlil̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) people derive their name. The commonly used term Tsleil-Waututh is an anglicized version of səl̓ilw̓ət with a possessive suffix. The literal translation of Tsleil-Waututh is ‘The People of the Inlet.’” June is National Indigenous History Month.
More of Weisenbach’s photos can be found on Instagram, @ijweisenbach.
Editors from three Canadian Jewish publications gathered on May 11 for a wide-ranging and passionate online discussion about the state of Jewish media in the country.
Yoni Goldstein of the Canadian Jewish News, based in the Toronto area, Bernie Bellan of the Jewish Post and News in Winnipeg and Cynthia Ramsay of Greater Vancouver’s Jewish Independent examined such topics as the economic viability of Canadian Jewish media, antisemitism, and the ability to balance an array of differing opinions within the community. All three publications have a long-standing history of Jewish journalism, with the Post and News and the Independent able to trace their beginnings to 1925 and 1930, respectively. (Though the JI started as a mimeo in 1925, the newspaper began five years later.)
Goldstein led off by explaining the recent manifestation of the CJN, which, founded in 1960, is the baby of the group. The paper closed in mid-2013 and again in April 2020, but reopened each time. The current version restarted in January 2021 with a reduced staff and a focus on online media.
When introducing his paper, Bellan noted that the Post and News readership skews to an older demographic yet endeavours to be as inclusive as possible. “With the advent of the internet, there are so many different news sources that it is hard to establish a clear identity for a lot of Jewish media,” he said. “You have to change with the times and know your audience.”
Ramsay, too, addressed the fine line between keeping established readers interested and also bringing in a younger audience. “We celebrate Jews in the community whether or not they are doing something specifically Jewish. We want to look forward and also respect the past. We try to be a window to the world and not be too insular.”
Moderator Bryan Borzykowski, the president of the CJN, next pressed the panelists on staying relevant in an age when connections to Jewish organizations are waning.
“One of the positive sides of the digital age is that you can dive in and see what sorts of stories people are engaged in,” Goldstein responded, highlighting the numerous subjects CJN offers in its podcasts, from politics to arts, sports to humour.
Bellan said he features newcomers to Winnipeg in his paper, whether they are from Russia, Israel or elsewhere in Canada. “We want them to know that the established Jewish community welcomes them and we want them to feel integrated in the community,” he said.
“As long as you are writing a paper that is in this moment and not dwelling on the past, then you are relevant, and your readers will decide that,” said Ramsay.
Borzykowski asked about revenues, particularly during a pandemic, which has challenged further the solvency of media in general.
“Most of our money still comes from advertising. For now, it is great because we are small, lean and we are able to ‘pivot’ quite easily. I don’t have to get OKs to do anything. And our community has been very supportive,” Ramsay said.
For the CJN there are three money planks, according to Goldstein: advertising, subscriptions and donations. The publication hopes to be able to provide tax receipts to donors in the future.
Bellan credited a loyal local subscriber base and an attachment that former residents of Winnipeg have towards the city as reasons that place his paper in an enviable position when it comes to sustainability. “There are probably more Jewish ex-Winnipeggers in the world than there are current Jewish Winnipeggers,” he noted.
Balancing the range of opinions readers have on issues, such as Israel, was the next phase of the discussion. Ramsay welcomes a diverse selection of views on the Jewish state, with the ground rule being the recognition of Israel’s right to exist. “We had to bring the readership along to the concept that you don’t have to be afraid if someone does not agree with you on Israel,” she said.
Goldstein brought attention to the number of reputable publications based in Israel, which, from the CJN’s perspective, would not be worth competing against. Instead, when the publication does run an Israeli story, it will likely have a Canadian connection, he said.
Bellan’s Post and News presents a vast spectrum of views on the Holy Land, from running pieces by a Palestinian scholar to a hawkish opinion writer, and Bellan stated that differing views on topics can contribute to the vibrancy of a publication.
When questioned about reporting on antisemitism, Goldstein said it could be seen as one of the key reasons for the existence of Jewish media in that it will cover the topic in a more sensitive and journalistically appropriate manner than the mainstream press.
Bellan said his paper has taken note of the recent increase in antisemitism, especially in universities, and has published a lot more articles on the subject of late.
Ramsay emphasized that, while acknowledging and dealing with the topic of antisemitism, the Independentdoesn’t write from a position of fear or panic, but rather one of pride in celebrating Jewish identity.
No present-day conversation of modern media would be complete without the mention of “fake news” and what responsible publications can do to prevent it.
“The challenge is to build trust with audiences,” Goldstein said. “You have to build your reputation as being honest and rigorous in your reporting.”
In Winnipeg, the anti-vaccine movement became a problem for Bellan as his main columnist is one of its adherents. Bellan’s response was to counter with facts and chronicle his own battle with COVID-19 without denying anti-vaxxers space in his paper.
Ramsay stressed the importance of fact-checking and sourcing material while, at the same time, providing room for as many views as possible. That said, she said she does censor material, such as that from anti-vaxxers, which could harm public health.
Borzykowski ended the evening by noting that the CJN is a national paper and touching on the possibility of collaboration between the CJN and local Jewish newspapers across the country.
Congregation Etz Chayim in Winnipeg hosted the event, with Monica Neiman supplying the technical support.
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
A gift of Elie Wiesel’s Night was among the forces that influenced Madeleine Schwarz’s career path.
Madeleine Schwarz is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. Not the kind you would expect to build much of her career prosecuting or aiding in the prosecution of war criminals around the world, including the Nazi war criminal known as the “Beast of Bolzano,” who was living on Commercial Drive in Vancouver.
Now based in Toronto, working with the Refugee Board of Canada, Schwarz spoke with the Jewish Independent about a few of her accomplishments.
Raised Catholic, Schwarz was one of seven kids on the block who frequented our house in Vancouver back in the 1960s and early ’70s. Little did we know that she would soon be making history.
She told the Independent that her passion for international criminal law began when she was a teenager and learned about the genocide of the Jewish people.
My parents, Joyce and Bernie Freeman, helped her along her journey by giving her Night by Elie Wiesel, an account of his terrifying time in Auschwitz.
“Your house was very much an introduction to Judaism,” she said. “Yours was a very open, friendly Jewish family. I recall coming to your house for Shabbat dinner in my convent school uniform.”
While studying international relations at the University of British Columbia, Schwarz had a number of Chilean friends who had family members in camps under the dictator Augusto Pinochet. That was her “introduction” to contemporary war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In 1994, Schwarz graduated with her bachelor of laws at Dalhousie University. In 2003, she obtained her master of laws at the University of Ottawa, specializing in international criminal law.
Her first job involving war crimes was at the Canadian Department of Justice. From 1999 to 2005, she worked closely with RCMP officers on investigations into crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide in Ukraine, Belarus, Italy and Rwanda.
When Italy found Michael Siefert, a former S.S. guard at a transit camp in Bolzano, guilty in absentia of 11 murders during the Holocaust, Schwarz put together the case to revoke his Canadian citizenship. She interviewed many people in Italy, including former resistance fighters who had witnessed his crimes.
“Seifert was quite a young man during the war. He was an old man during the proceedings. But he had committed horrendous crimes,” she said.
One of the documents Schwarz saw during the investigation made the Holocaust all so terribly real.
“I remember that we had an invoice confirming the transfer of a number of people to Auschwitz. That was one of the most horrific pieces of evidence I’ve ever seen.”
In 2003, as a result of her work and that of the legal teams who came afterwards, the B.C. Supreme Court ordered Siefert’s extradition and, in 2007, the Federal Court upheld a decision to strip him of his Canadian citizenship. In 2008, Siefert, aged 83, was sent back to Italy. His residence in Vancouver as a free man for more than 50 years was over.
During her time with the Department of Justice, Schwarz interviewed many victims and witnesses of war crimes. She said that, even when, after 15 minutes, she knew that she couldn’t use their story, she would sit there and listen for the whole two hours.
“When I’ve asked someone to tell me their story,” she said, “it’s incumbent on me to listen.… I might be the only person they will be able to tell their story to [in their lifetime].”
From 2006 to 2010, Schwarz lived in Tanzania, where she was one of the trial attorneys on the largest multi-accused trial for the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Part of her work there was interviewing perpetrators of the genocide in the Butare prefecture.
She confided that this part of her job was very hard on her. “I remember interviewing three suspects alleged to have committed genocide in a row. I told my colleague – I need a break before I can talk to the fourth man.”
When it came to the trial, Schwarz and her team secured convictions of all six accused, including the first woman charged with ordering rape as a war crime.
“I think, as a lawyer and particularly a prosecutor, you are assessing the evidence and being critical. You have to be pretty surgical about it,” said Schwarz.
A few years later, at a UN conference, a co-presenter from Butare approached her and told her that his entire family had been wiped out by the genocide there. “And he said thank you very much for your work. And I practically burst into tears because I felt humbled that somebody would say that … it was not something I felt I should be thanked for, nor any of us should be thanked for because it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.”
As a commissioner looking into the killings in Les Cayes prison in Haiti during 2010, Schwarz led an international team and supervised the final report with recommendations on future prosecutions, penal reform, justice reform and police training.
Schwarz was in Kenya in 2013, working as the human rights and justice advisor to the UN Special Envoy in the Great Lakes region of Africa, a region encompassing 13 countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. With a team of experts, she collaborated with myriad different organizations to create strong networks of people who would work together to promote better communication, peace and understanding in the region.
“There are so many layers that need to be addressed if you are ever going to deal with root causes of conflict, that range from ensuring people have access to clean water, food, lodging and education, to building trust and confidence among the leaders and civil society, to advocating for accountability for past crimes…. It takes a lot of time,” she said.
From 2016 to 2019, Schwarz worked as a trial lawyer and deputy team leader at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. It was there that she prepared arrest warrants for individuals alleged to have committed crimes in Libya since 2011.
Despite seeing the very worst of humanity, Schwarz still has hope for the human race. “I’ve seen some pretty horrible things,” she acknowledged. “I’ve also seen people who do tremendous things to try and make change or try and help people.”
And she had this to say about the International Criminal Court.
“I think that investigations and prosecutions of individuals for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide are incredibly important,” said Schwarz. “I wouldn’t necessarily say we’re always getting the complete truth and I do not think we always get it right. However, I do think we get some truth and some accountability that is important for victims, as well as for countries moving out of conflict. I think that is important. And it’s a different way of telling the story than a novelist or historian.”
Cassandra Freeman is a freelance writer living in Vancouver. During the early 1980s, she was part of the Jewish student movement that called for the extradition of Nazi war criminals living in Canada.
Left to right: Eve Barlow, Noa Tishby and Bari Weiss participate in a Nov. 3 panel hosted by the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies. (screenshot)
In a time of burgeoning antisemitism and anti-Zionism, Jews need to lean into their identities, says a leading voice in the fight against anti-Jewish racism.
“In other instances in Jewish history, we believed, wrongly, that the way to get acceptance, the way to get along, was to self-abnegate and erase who we are,” said Bari Weiss. “If there has been one lesson in thousands of years of Jewish history, it’s that that is a terrible strategy.”
Weiss is a former writer at the New York Times. She resigned her position there, citing a hostile work environment, and is the author of the book How to Fight Antisemitism. She was speaking as part of a panel convened Nov. 3 by the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies (FSWC). She was joined by Eve Barlow, a pop-culture writer who grew up in the United Kingdom and has worked in music journalism as deputy editor for NME New Musical Express but who, most recently, is using her voice to stand up against antisemitism. Also on the panel was Noa Tishby, an Israeli-American actor, producer and author of the book Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth.
The three women have become prominent voices, online and off, in the fight against the latest upsurge of antisemitism and anti-Zionism. The Nov. 3 discussion took place in Los Angeles, where all three women are now based. They were joined by Michael Levitt, president and chief executive officer of FCSW, and the panel was moderated by journalist Jamie Gutfreund, both of whom traveled from Toronto for the event, titled State of the Union: Fighting Back Against Hate.
Weiss said the first step in confronting the problem must be vocal and unequivocal pride in Judaism and Zionism.
“The mere act of doing that is radical and contagious and changes the whole conversation,” she said. Doing grassroots work building alliances is another overlooked key to confronting the issue, she added.
“Let’s take a page from the book of our political opponents,” she said. “How have they done what they have done? Deep work inside communities on a grassroots level.”
The Black Lives Matter organization – not the wider movement, Weiss stressed, but the leadership of the organization – has exhibited problematic approaches to Jews and Israel. But no one should concede that there are not plenty of African-Americans (and Canadians) who are allies, she said.
“There are huge parts of the Black community that the Jewish community in America can still be allied with; there are other parts of it that we would be extremely foolish to try and ally ourselves with,” Weiss said. “There are other communities though. I’m thinking about Hispanics, I’m thinking about Hindus, I’m thinking about all kinds of other groups that I don’t see our community actively and affirmatively reaching out to and trying to build relationships with based on our mutual interests.”
Weiss warned that the polarization of politics in the United States and across the West does not bode well for Jews.
“That puts Jews in a deeply uncomfortable position because, I believe, where the political centre thrives, Jews thrive because, if the political centre is thriving, it means that there is room for nuance, that there is room for disagreement, that it’s not a kind of Manichaean, black-and-white, pure-impure, red-blue thinking. Right now, that is the world we are living in and – guess what? – we Jews don’t easily slot into either of those categories. We are both hyper-successful and also we are the victims of more hate crimes than any other group in this country. We are white-passing and yet white supremacists hate us because we are the greatest trick the devil has ever played. We predate the newfangled notions of ethnicity, of race, of religion. We are before all of that. I think that there is a dovetailing between fighting antisemitism and fighting Jew-hate, and standing up for liberalism, broadly defined, because, where liberalism thrives … Jews thrive too.”
Much of the panel’s discussion was about flourishing anti-Jewish hatred online, but Barlow warned that no one should assume there is a substantive difference between what happens online and what happens offline.
“We have seen how [online hatred] has contributed vastly to the amount of physical violence that happens offline and you would have to be extremely ignorant to … say right now that what happens online does not have offline ramifications,” said Barlow.
Tishby agreed, but suggested that offline violence may not be inspired by online hate but rather is part of a broader battle.
“Social media is just the tip of the iceberg of a well-funded political campaign that has been waged against Israel in the past 20 years,” Tishby said. “This is not by accident. This happened by design. The language, everything that we are seeing right now, originated in the Durban conference against racism in Durban in 2001 that was so antisemitic that the U.S. and Israel pulled out of it…. They have been putting a lot of money, a lot of effort and a lot of groundwork in going into these social justice causes, going to Black Lives Matter, going to the Women’s March, going to gay and lesbian marches in San Francisco, going to unions and actually slowly changing their minds and poisoning them basically with lies to make them shift against Israel. These are nefarious powers and nefarious countries that want to dismantle the Jewish state, period, end of story.”
Acknowledging that some of the most prominent anti-Zionists are themselves Jews, Barlow called the phenomenon “koshering antisemitism.” However, she advocates a compassionate response.
“I believe that how we deal with them has to be different than how we deal with non-Jewish antisemites because they are part of our people, we love them regardless and they are part of our tribe and I think we have to really understand the nuances of why people become anti-Zionist,” Barlow said. “I think a lot of what I see is trauma from the Jewish community and a rejection of the Jewish community that presents itself in this anti-Israel fashion.”
She offered up what she acknowledged as a controversial joke: “Don’t blame Israel for your daddy issues.”
Tishby laid much of the blame for anti-Zionist Jews on the Jewish education system.
“We need to take a good look at ourselves and what we did in order to allow for this,” she said. “We took our kids, put them through … this beautiful Jewish education, we give them all the values and we tell them Israel is the most amazing people and place in the world and we send them off to college without ever acknowledging the concepts of ‘ethnic cleansing,’ ‘apartheid.’ We let college talk to them about this for the first time.… Nobody ever [said], let’s talk about why people call Israel an apartheid state. Let’s have a conversation about this, not when they get to college, [but] when the kid is 12, 13, 14, bring it up. Say, here’s the argument, here is where it’s completely false, here are the facts. Let’s talk about what’s happening in the West Bank.”
Weiss, who has spent her career in mainstream media, said those media outlets are “the most intellectually homogenous environment I’ve ever been in in my entire life.” But she warned against swallowing conspiracy theories.
“I think sometimes people in the Jewish community who are frustrated by this bias imagine some kind of secret conspiratorial meetings where they’re cooking up how to screw the Jews and the Jewish state,” Weiss said. “It’s just a reflection of the consistent bias among all the people that work there.”
The power of social media giants like Facebook and their haphazard responses to hate speech are a problem, Weiss said, but Jews and Zionists may be hastening their own defeat by pressuring them to censor certain messages.
“I think it is a genuinely knotty and complicated question whether or not the Jewish community should be going to these big tech companies and saying, in the same way that you’re censoring x, y and z, also censor the people who hate us,” she said. “My fear is that, in asking these companies [to] do more censorship on our behalf, then, in a way, we are actually feeding the fuel that will come to burn all of us. The ideology that is currently dictating the choices at many of these companies is an ideology that says Zionism is racism. That is part of that broader worldview.… What happens six months from now when … they want to go and censor Zionists because now they have decided that Zionism, to follow the Soviet lie, is a form of racism? Would we be happy with that? I don’t think so.”
With gratitude to HaShem, mazel tov to Shmuel Hart (King David High School Class of 2016) and Reut Rappoport on their joyous and spirited wedding at Sakoya Gardens (just outside Jerusalem) on June 15, 2021. Elated parents – Alexander Hart and Kathryn Selby of Vancouver, and Rabbi Jason and Meira Rappoport of Alon Shvut, Gush Etzion, Israel – are so very proud of the newlyweds. The couple resides in Jerusalem, Israel, and both are currently studying at Hebrew University.
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Now in its seventh year, the Canadian Jewish Literary Awards recognizes and rewards the finest Canadian writing on Jewish themes and subjects. This year, the awards ceremony, which took place on Oct. 17, was presented on Zoom and is available for viewing on the Canadian Jewish Literary Awards YouTube channel.
The winner in the fiction category was Nothing the Same, Everything Haunted: The Ballad of Motl the Cowboy by Gary Barwin (Random House Canada). It follows a wannabe cowboy, Motl, as he and his mother flee Vilna and the Nazis’ massacre of the Jews. The ensuing events, characters and horror are met by Motl with humorous absurdity in the face of tragedy.
Plunder: A Memoir of Family Property and Nazi Treasure (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Menachem Kaiser, which tells the story of the author’s quest to reclaim a residential building his family owned in Poland before the Shoah, won for best biography.
Lisa Richter won the poetry prize for Nautilus and Bone (Frontenac House). A reimagining of the unconventional life of Yiddish poet Anna Margolin, this collection also won the 2020 National Jewish Book Award for Poetry, the first time a Canadian poet has ever received the American honour.
For children and youth literature, the winner was Osnat and Her Dove (Levine Querido) by Sigal Samuel, with illustrations by Vali Mintzi. It is based on a true story. Although girls in 15th-century Mosul were told, “Reading is for boys,” Osnat convinces her rabbi father to teach her to read. As she grows older, she asks her father to seek a groom who will allow her to study Torah, and she helps run her father’s religious school while raising her own children. After her father’s death and, later, her husband’s, Osnat becomes the school’s leader, making her the world’s first female rabbi.
For scholarship, the awardee was Survivors: Children’s Lives After the Holocaust by Rebecca Clifford (Yale University Press), which is an exploration of the life trajectories of 100 children who were 10 years old or younger at the time of their liberation in 1945. Through archives found in 12 countries, including Canada, and through personal interviews, the author follows the impact the events of the Holocaust had on their lives, and on those who educated them.
In the category of writing about the Holocaust, the winner was In the Lights of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos (William Morrow) by Judy Batalion. The book points out the lack of recognition and the misrepresentation of women’s roles during the war, the actions they took to fight, as well as their crucial importance.
The Canadian Jewish Literary Awards jury for 2021 was Edward Trapunski, Pierre Anctil, Rona Arato, Miriam Borden, Rita Davies, Alain Goldschläger and Adam Sol.
Fourteen new buildings have been added to the student village at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Israel. It will allow more than 1,000 students options from studio apartments to married student housing.
“The student village lets them choose their living quarters in accordance with their personal preference,” said BGU president Prof. Daniel Chamovitz, “while everything they could need is nearby: the north campus and the conference centre, which are in development, a hotel for visiting students and faculty, stores and coffee shops … and the high-tech park, the train station and the university’s country club are just a short walk away.”
The student village offers apartments suitable for religious students and those with disabilities. Any registered student is eligible to apply for a room. The rooms come fully furnished with a smart TV, beds, closets, desks, a full kitchen, a sitting area and a solar water heater. Full maintenance service is offered, as is 24/7 security, a 24-hour service hotline, bicycle rooms, laundry rooms, and more.
“Situated in the country’s southern region, the university is known to be a destination institution,” said Mark Mendelson, chief executive officer of Canadian Associates of BGU. “This means that students who attend the university also live either on campus or in the communities in and around the university, including the city of Be’er Sheva. In addition, almost 60% of the undergraduate student body volunteers in their respective neighbourhoods, which is really something very unique to BGU and has brought outstanding community involvement to the citizens of Be’er Sheva.”
Bret Stephens (photo from harrywalker.com/speakers/bret-stephens)
Western media have got the narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict wrong, says Bret Stephens, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, editor and columnist who is an opinion writer for the New York Times. But, for a journalist to diverge from that entrenched storyline is almost impossible.
Stephens, a former editorial page editor at the Wall Street Journal and managing editor of the Jerusalem Post, recalled when he first started covering the region, in 2000.
“I went out there purely wearing my journalist’s hat and saw a story that was very different from the story that was being reported by many of my colleagues in the mainstream press,” said Stephens in a Sept. 23 webinar hosted by Honest Reporting Canada.
“I think lots of the Western press have continued to get much of the story dead wrong, most of all on that fundamental question: who is the aggressor?”
An example of media’s inability to diverge from a predetermined storyline came in 2019, he said, when residents of Gaza were protesting against the oppression and economic deprivation brought on by the Hamas regime that governs the seaside enclave. The global media, which tends to focus disproportionately on Palestinian concerns, almost entirely ignored the anti-Hamas activism, Stephens said.
“They wanted the world to believe that Palestinians in Gaza had one problem,” Stephens said, “and the name of that problem was Israel.”
Accurate reporting from Palestine is also a challenge because Western media hire freelancers, or “stringers,” in Gaza and the West Bank who do not operate with the same freedoms that reporters in Israel enjoy.
“They have colleagues in Gaza, where the pressure is not-so-subtle for those stringers to toe a particular ideological line, to not report stories that would be inconvenient for the Hamas narrative,” he said.
Winning the battle of ideas, Stephens said, is a priority for Hamas.
“The field of combat is not the battle they know they’re ultimately going to lose against Israel, but the one they think they’re going to win in the realm of public opinion,” he said.
Stephens clarified that he is a columnist, paid to have opinions. But too many journalists today, he said, either view themselves as activists or cannot differentiate their own opinions from straightforward reporting.
The broader context of societal understanding of what were once considered verifiable truths does not bode well for Jews, he added.
“Race is replacing ethnicity as the defining marker of group and personal identification,” he said. “Now we have this new kind of racialism that is dividing people into people of colour and white people. So Jews find themselves, or the majority who are not Jews of colour find themselves, shunted into a racial classification that they don’t recognize as their own.
“I don’t think of myself as a white guy,” he said. “I don’t feel like I have participated in any system of white supremacy. I am the son of a woman who was a hidden child in the Holocaust. She was hunted down for not being white. A Jew. To somehow pair me in this new scheme with the white mask is an injustice to millions of Jews who feel deeply discomfited by this new racialism.”
He added: “Jews have never, never done well when racialist dogma becomes a defining feature of society.”
Other social trends should alarm Jewish people, said Stephens, a conservative writer who calls himself a “never-Trump Republican.”
“The concept of personal success is now being called privilege,” he said. “There are all kinds of Jews who came to these shores in North America with nothing, or next to nothing, and who achieved, by virtue of hard work, effort, ingenuity, good luck, whatever. But now success is being called privilege and privilege is being seen as a product not of individual merit, but as a system of oppression.”
Further, he said, independent thinkers are now being treated as heretics, “and Jews have a long tradition of independent thinking.”
The widespread acceptance of outlandish lies, exemplified by the so-called “Pizzagate” theory, the group QAnon and the idea that the 2020 U.S. presidential election was unjustly stolen from Donald Trump, are an indication of fringe ideas seeping into the body politic, he said.
“We now have come to a place where, increasingly, we are a nation that can bring ourselves to believe anything and a nation that can bring itself to believe anything … sooner or later, is going to have no problem believing the worst about Jews. This is the moment that we’re in.
“Conspiracy thinking has gone mainstream and there is no bigger conspiracy theory in the world than antisemitism,” he said.
Stephens challenged the rote assertion that “anti-Zionism is not antisemitism” by making a stark comparison.
“What is antisemitism?” he asked. “It is a belief, born in the 19th century, that Jews were imposters and swindlers. They were imposters because they were pretending to be Europeans, whether German or French or Italians or whatever, but they were really Semites; that they are not from Europe, they are from the Middle East. And, it said further, these imposters are swindlers because they are trying to swindle real Europeans out of their financial wealth and culture and heritage or whatever. Now, think of what anti-Zionism has shown us. Anti-Zionism is the view that Jews are imposters and swindlers, that they claim to have a Middle Eastern descent but there is no Jewish connection to the land of Israel – that’s the line. And they’re swindlers – they’re swindling Palestinians out of their land.”
Stephens said he supports a two-state solution, “just not now.”
“In theory, a two-state solution is the ideal outcome,” he said. “We should labour towards that, while knowing that it could take 10 or 50 years.
“The prospect of a Palestinian state today isn’t about where you draw the borders. It’s about whether a self-governing Palestinian state can have enough pluralism, liberalism, democracy, tolerance and, above all, a willingness to live in an enduring peace with its neighbours … because the last thing Israel needs is re-creating what the Gaza Strip has become in the West Bank.”
Demanding Palestinian self-determination now, he said, is like inducing a baby in the 20th week of pregnancy.
“It’s going to result in tragedy. Let’s be mindful of what the long-term goal is, but let’s be practical and thoughtful and sensible about how we get to it.”
Honest Reporting Canada describes itself as an independent grassroots organization promoting fairness and accuracy in Canadian media coverage of Israel and the Middle East. The webinar is available for viewing at honestreporting.ca.
The ongoing squabbles in the Green Party of Canada stopped short of a bloodbath Monday, after opponents of leader Annamie Paul abruptly holstered their figurative weapons.
A litany of threats against the leader was dropped that day. These included a non-confidence vote by the party’s national governing body, which was to take place Tuesday. But the vendetta against Paul went further, with one faction on the national board taking steps to strip Paul of her membership in the party. Also, a $250,000 fund that had been allocated for Paul’s campaign in the Toronto Centre riding, where she hopes to gain a seat in the House of Commons, was apparently withheld.
Ostensibly, the turmoil was a result of Paul’s reaction to the conflict between Israel and Hamas last spring. At the time, the leader posted an innocuous message on Twitter calling for de-escalation and a return to dialogue. This was met with an outraged retort from Jenica Atwin who was, at the time, one of the Green party’s three MPs. Apparently not a big fan of de-escalation and dialogue, Atwin called Paul’s statement “totally inadequate.”
Matters escalated after Paul’s senior advisor responded with an impolitic rant of his own, accusing MPs of antisemitism and threatening to eject sitting Green MPs and replace them with Zionists.
At this, Atwin crossed the floor, joining the Liberal party. Within days, her new political masters had apparently read her the riot act and she recanted her words. The principles that led her to cross the floor could not, evidently, withstand the pressure from the prime minister’s office.
There is a great deal that this quick synopsis overlooks. Paul has been accused of being uncommunicative with Green MPs and other officials. In response, she has said that she is a victim of racism and sexism.
None of this should be a surprise, perhaps. Paul was always going to have an uphill battle. During the leadership contest when she was elected, less than a year ago, Paul was the subject of horrific racist online attacks based on her identity as a Jewish Black woman. During that campaign and since, she has walked a moderate line on foreign policy and her statement during the Gaza conflict was in keeping with a reasonable, balanced approach to the issue.
But there are people in the Green party for whom reason and balance on this issue are unwelcome. The candidate who Paul defeated narrowly on the final ballot is one of Canada’s most vocal anti-Israel campaigners. One almost suspects some members were merely waiting for an opportunity to pounce.
While the members of the party’s national council did not explain their actions in apparently backing down from the fight, it is likely that at least a modicum of common sense prevailed, with activists realizing that they were preparing to defenestrate their leader weeks, or even days, before a possible federal election call.
The whole fiasco has been disturbing. A leader with superb credentials in international affairs is thrown into turmoil because she refused to take a one-sided approach to a significant issue. To suggest Paul has been anything like a Zionist firebrand is nonsense. Her “crime” was not jumping on a bandwagon on to which too many of her grassroots members (and perhaps a couple of her MPs) have jumped.
She got a reprieve this week. Depending on how she does in the expected federal election, she may face the same opponents again afterward. On the other hand, could this represent a turning point?
Whatever your politics, Paul is an impressive individual. Her voice – especially on the never-more-relevant issues of environment and climate change – is needed in our politics. Whatever her gut views about Israel and Palestine, Paul is smart enough to know that a party that subscribes to an anti-Israel line is going nowhere fast.
Arguably the most successful Green party in the world is that in Germany. Annalena Baerbock, its candidate for chancellor in September’s election, is aiming to replace Angela Merkel and some opinion polls say she will win. Put mildly, Germany and its politicians have a unique appreciation of issues involving Jews and the Jewish state. But it is likely significant that, of all the world’s Green parties, Germany’s is perhaps the most open to Israel, in all its complexities. Thoughtful voters recognize that a reasoned approach to the Israel-Palestine issue is a sign of a party that is ready for prime time.
Advocating for Palestinian human rights is important and admirable – assuming it is genuine and not merely an excuse to excoriate Israel with no constructive impact on actual Palestinians. But spouting hateful slogans and libels about Israel does not instil confidence in ordinary voters. Annamie Paul knows this. It could save her party – if they let her.
Left to right, Senator Linda Frum, actor Mayim Bialik and BGU president Danny Chamovitz participated in the virtual Big Bang event, hosted by Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev on Sept. 9. (photo by David Berson)
On Sept. 9, the Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev hosted its first national virtual gathering. The Big Bang Event to “save the class of COVID-19” was an urgent move to support the university’s 20,000 students.
With many students having lost their jobs in the sudden economic slowdown, they are unable to fund their tuition or even their basic needs. Rather than forfeiting a generation of leaders to financial hardship, BGU launched a student assistance program in July, with the goal of raising $6 million for 6,000 individuals.
While it is Israel’s newest university, BGU is a leader in academic research and technological development. With three campuses, it is credited as a trailblazer in both the humanities and the sciences – nanotechnology, robotics, cybersecurity, Israel studies, Jewish thought, neuroscience, medicine, business and management – addressing some of the world’s biggest problems, such as drought and hunger. The university’s reach is local as well as international, serving the immediate community in the Negev, including both the immigrant and indigenous Bedouin populations.
BGU was founded in 1969, following the vision of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister. Ben-Gurion sought to establish a university which would act as a “source of moral inspiration and courage, rousing people to a sense of mission: noble, creative and fruitful.” He believed that the Negev Desert would be critical to the future of the new country – the desert covers 60% of the country, and Ben-Gurion saw it becoming an economic, academic, scientific and cultural hub.
The Big Bang Event featured guest speaker Mayim Bialik, well-known for her roles in the 1990s show Blossom and, more recently, in her award-winning role as Amy Farrah Fowler in Big Bang Theory. In addition to acting, Bialik earned a doctorate in neuroscience from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2007; her dissertation examined the role of oxytocin and vasopressin in obsessive-compulsive disorder in adolescents with Prader-Willi syndrome. A mother of two, Bialik is also an accomplished writer and musician.
Quirky, vivacious and searingly intelligent in her remarks, watching her speak at the Big Bang Event brought to mind the Yiddish proverb, “The heart is small and it embraces the whole wide world.” Bialik spoke from the heart, telling the audience about her own family story and the genesis of her Jewish identity. She spoke about her heritage, how she raised her children and how she carries her Jewish identity into her professional life in a fireside chat-style with Canadian Senator Linda Frum.
Also speaking at the event was BGU president Danny Chamovitz, who addressed the audience from his home in Israel at what would have been 2:30 a.m. his time. Chamovitz was in isolation, having recently returned from Europe, and, following the event, he did indeed test positive for coronavirus, but has since made a full recovery.
Chamovitz described his office’s emergency response to the pandemic. Members of the university community were invited to submit proposals and, as a result, more than 70 initiatives are in progress, including the development of tests for COVID-19 that drastically reduce turnaround times.
“Across the country, more than 380 households purchased tickets and more than 800 people watched the program,” said David Berson, CABGU regional executive director, in a recent email interview. “We have raised over $1.3 million with 50% of that being raised locally. In our region, 83 households purchased tickets and more than 200 people watched the program.”
In addition to raising money, he said, “The event was a great success motivating many new people to support CABGU. It has set the bar, the gold standard, for how to properly execute a national virtual event. Regarding the campaign itself, the rate of unemployment in Israel is 50% for the under-34 age bracket. By the opening of the academic year on Oct. 18, more than 5,000 students had applied for support from this student assistance fund. Where we had been fearful that enrolment would drop because of the financial impact of the pandemic, it turns out that enrolment for undergrad studies increased by 32%. The funds raised have been vital in creating accessibility for so many students hit hard by this unprecedented situation.”
While the Big Bang audience was scattered from coast to coast, a warm ambience was created locally, with hand-delivered baskets of sweet and savoury delicacies: quiches and bourekas, as well as exquisitely decorated handmade chocolates, from Café FortyOne; and BGU wine tumblers and a bottle of red wine.
The local business sponsor was Instafund and Instafund’s Adam Korbin, who was the Metro Vancouver chair of the event, thanked Bialik at the end of the program.
“We were very fortunate to have dozens of local sponsors for the event,” said Berson. “Details of the sponsors can be found on our website, bengurion.ca.”
Regional board chair Si Brown “was thrilled with the generous response from and participation of our local community,” Berson added. “Since reestablishing CABGU in Metro Vancouver seven years ago, it has been gratifying for me to watch how our community has slowly and surely begun to embrace this young and dynamic Israeli university in the Negev.”