Diabetes Canada named Gerri Klein as Diabetes Nurse Educator of the Year, 2020, citing Klein’s dedication and passion for her work. For three years, rain or shine, she led a noontime Walk the Walk program for patients living with diabetes; she often makes home visits to vulnerable seniors afflicted by the condition and has accompanied patients to smoking cessation clinics, psychologist and psychiatrist visits, as well as support meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon visits.
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The board of directors of the Kehila Society of Richmond has announced the appointment of its new political liaison, Zach Segal, effective this month.
Segal grew up in Richmond, attending Richmond Jewish Day School and Steveston High School. He then studied political science at the University of British Columbia and the University of London.
Following university, Segal worked in Ottawa for four years as a political advisor under the last Conservative government. Today, he can be found working at Vancouver-based Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.
As a strong advocate for community involvement among Jewish youth, Segal has spoken to schools and Jewish youth organizations about political activism and community involvement. He and his family have a long history in the Lower Mainland and within British Columbia’s Jewish community, dating back to his great-grandparents. He is an active member of the Jewish community and a longtime member and volunteer with CIJA, CJPAC and a variety of other outreach Jewish community organizations.
The board looks forward to Segal assisting in the continued growth of Kehila’s Richmond Jewish community and the community at large. He is a passionate and strong advocate who is ready to roll up his sleeves to make a real difference.
For more information, contact the Kehila office at 604-241-9270.
It has been a particularly reflective and momentous week. The U.S. elected Joe Biden as its 46th president and Kamala Harris as vice-president, the first Black woman and first woman of Asian and Indian descent elected to that high office. Around the world, there were nearly audible sighs of relief and cries of jubilation as the count trickled in and it became clear that president-elect Biden had cleared the 270 Electoral College threshold, even as the counting of ballots continues and results are not certified until early in December. More solemnly, this week was the commemoration of the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht and of Remembrance Day. And, right at the dawn of this emotional week, we learned of the passing of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. Britain’s former chief rabbi, Sacks died of cancer on Shabbat at age 72.
Formally called chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, Sacks held the role from 1991 to 2013, during which time his scholarship in philosophy helped him elucidate Jewish theology to general audiences as a regular guest on BBC Radio. He was admired and his death lamented by leading figures in British society, not least the heir apparent to the throne, Prince Charles. He was good friends with now-retired Anglican bishop George Carey, who was the head of the Church of England, strengthening interfaith relations.
Sacks’s time in leadership was not without controversy. He has been viewed by some as too accommodating of orthodoxy and not adequately inclusive of progressive or liberal strains of Judaism. Sacks skipped the 1996 funeral of Rabbi Hugo Gryn, the leading figure in Reform Judaism, drawing rebukes from liberals. In contrast, a book Sacks authored, The Dignity of Difference, implied that all religions and streams therein are equally valid, a thesis that was deemed too ecumenical by some British Orthodox Jews. One rabbi accused him of “heresy.”
In other words, Sacks leaves behind a mixed legacy, though few among us in this generation have left such a lasting mark on contemporary Judaism. The sort of centralized religious leadership that British Jewry and others in Europe have is unfamiliar to North American Jews. But anyone in a position of responsibility in the Jewish community knows the perils of presuming to speak on behalf of all – or most – Jews. Anyone in a job like Sacks’s would draw admirers and detractors. Chief rabbi is, of course, not a political role, but it must be a profoundly political one nonetheless, to elicit an accusation of heresy.
The concept of heresy seems to have seeped from the theological into the political realm in recent years. Fanaticism and extreme loyalty have always played a part in politics. But, in the highly polarized situation we see in the United States and many other places, differences of opinion are magnified into civilizational, even existential, divisions. This certainly seemed to be the case in the U.S. elections. Not everyone likes the incumbent President Donald Trump but, to paraphrase a beer commercial, those who like him like him a lot. While Biden won the support of a vast majority of Jews, surveys suggest that somewhere between 20% and 30% of American Jews voted for Trump’s reelection, a higher vote for a Republican than in many of the last presidential elections. The vehemence of opinion on both sides – some decry Trump as antisemitic while others claim he is the most pro-Israel president ever – would be confusing to the proverbial Martian.
We are assimilating this news in a week where we reflect on the destruction of European Jewry in the Holocaust, the world wars, the bloody history of the 20th century and all the conflict and misery and bloodshed it wrought. The 21st century seems similarly full of divisions and conflicts. Political polarization in democratic countries, as well as growing authoritarian tendencies in several democracies, call for a response.
Biden ran as a unifying figure bent on restoring a sense of moderation and respect to public discourse. Whether one individual can alter the trajectory of a divided society will be seen as the president-elect navigates a narrowly divided House and Senate to shepherd his legislative vision into reality. The unexpected tightness of Republican-Democratic splits in both chambers may exacerbate his challenge. A small tail of far-left Democrats and of far-right Republicans could wag the dog that is their respective party. On the other hand, this challenge could present an opportunity, if there are those willing to fight for what is right and to compromise across the aisle when appropriate and necessary. Such a shift from the failure of bipartisanship in recent years would be monumental indeed. But it could effectively reduce the influence of extremes.
Perhaps what these disparate events illustrate is that conflict – from the cataclysmic to the mild awkwardness of politics at the Shabbat table – is innate to humans. But so is confronting conflict and difference intellectually and with open hearts. Seeking moderation and compromise has lost currency in the age of social media and 24/7 cable news. Nuance is blurred and enlightenment darkened by ideological certainty.
We should seek understanding wherever we might find it and avoid elevating mere mortals to unattainable standards or demonizing them beyond all reasonable recognition. In our spiritual and political realms, in our daily work and home life, we can all commit to some additional humility, to deeper listening and to finding wisdom wherever it might be, even in unexpected places.
It will take about two weeks to verify and count the mail-in ballots from Saturday’s B.C. provincial election. The province saw a 7,200% increase in voting by mail this year, a result of the pandemic and educational efforts to make people aware of what was perhaps the safest option for casting a ballot.
There is no doubt about the overall outcome. The New Democratic Party, under returning Premier John Horgan, won a majority government handily. The NDP increased its vote share in every part of the province and the opposition Liberals, under Andrew Wilkinson, who resigned in the aftermath, had its worst showing in almost three decades. The mail-in ballots will determine the outcome in a small number of close races, but it will not alter the big picture.
Some are complaining that two weeks is a long time for the elections branch to complete the process. However, we do not know the level of complexity involved in validating and counting the vast number of mailed votes. But it seems reasonable to take time to ensure such important work is done properly, rather than quickly.
What we should not lose sight of, regardless of what party we supported, is the small miracle of the election itself. Many or most of our ancestors came from places where free and fair elections followed by a peaceful and orderly transition of power were unfulfilled dreams. Startlingly, in what had been viewed globally as the bedrock model of democracy itself – the United States – we are bracing for one of the most uncertain moments in political history next Tuesday. Polls show that the incumbent president is headed for defeat. But polls were deeply wrong about this candidate four years ago. More importantly, there are concerns about his willingness to leave office if defeated – and even about potential intimidation of voters at the polls and violence in the aftermath of the election.
As Canadians, we should feel fortunate and grateful. As earthlings, we should wish and work for a world where all people are as free as we are to choose those who govern us and to do so with confidence, knowing that we will be physically safe and our elected officials will respect our choices.
The latest Arab country to normalize relations with Israel is Sudan. It is the third Arab country in recent months to initiate bilateral relations with the Jewish state – and only the fifth in history.
In addition to the practical realities of the new relationship, there is also something symbolic about the announcement of mutual relations. It was in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, that the Arab League met after the 1967 war and issued the “three nos” – no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.
After trouncing its invading neighbours in six days of war, Israel extended an olive branch, offering land for peace. In exchange for the Arab world’s recognition of Israel and its right to exist, Israel would return the land it obtained in the war to Egypt and Jordan. The response was the triple negative. The occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip began that year and could have ended that year, but Arab states were more opposed to any recognition of a Jewish state than they were concerned with the fate of the land Israel occupied or the people who lived there.
The seemingly sudden about-face by, first, the United Arab Emirates, then Bahrain and now Sudan has as much to do with regional geopolitics as it does with any Arab admiration for Israel. There is also the fact of the U.S. election in the timing of these announcements, and other international financial and defence features of these deals that are less clear in intent. In history, all things happen for a range of reasons – the end of apartheid, the collapse of the Soviet bloc, for example – but these various inputs do not distract from or diminish the larger outcome.
More than a half-century after the Arab world said no, no, no, so far in this year we have heard yes, yes, yes. And the rumours now are that Saudi Arabia will follow soon. This would be the most potentially significant development yet in this regard, even as there should be major questions about allying with another despotic regime.
What’s true is that the opening of relations with Israel represents an end to the effective Palestinian veto over Arab relations with Israel. And the radical departure of Arab states from the diplomatic status quo will likely alter the position of Palestinian leaders, as they realize their diminished standing in the Arab world’s regional calculation. That could result in the most substantial change of all.
Rachael Segal is media spokesperson for the BC Liberals. (photo from BC Liberals)
Facing a campaign unlike any other, with shaking hands and kissing babies prohibited by social distancing protocols, all parties needed to reimagine how they would reach voters. Rachael Segal, media spokesperson for the BC Liberals, had to figure out how to get her party’s message to British Columbians.
“We can’t have a media bus, so, as the person responsible for media relations, how I connect with media now is very different than how I would do it in a normal campaign,” she said. “I’d be on the bus, I’d be with the leader.”
Instead, the leader is often driving himself to the modest-sized events that typify the 2020 campaign. Instead of facing a phalanx of TV cameras and radio mics, party leader
Andrew Wilkinson speaks to a pooled camera, with his message then shared among the media consortium. It’s an experience all parties are dealing with. But the leaders, as well as candidates in 87 ridings across the province, still have to communicate their positions.
“Obviously, Andrew still needs to get out there and get his message out there,” said Segal. “We’re making announcements daily, just like we would on a campaign normally, they’re just different.”
Wilkinson, a medical doctor as well as a lawyer, is particularly sensitive to the health risks and safety of his team, Segal said.
Segal, who grew up in Kerrisdale, is the official campaign spokesperson for the party during the election and is second-in-command at party headquarters when in non-campaign mode. As senior director of the party, her role is a loosely defined collection of responsibilities that she describes as “basically whatever hole is there, I try and fix it.”
One of her primary responsibilities is stakeholder relations, which means meeting with particular community groups and connecting them with the leader and other members of the legislature.
“Andrew and I have done Shabbat dinners, we’ve done Rosh Hashanah meals, we’ve done tons of Jewish community events,” Segal said by way of example. She also hosts the party’s podcast and started a young professional women’s group “to try to engage the 30-to-50-year-old women demographic, which is the largest swing demographic in British Columbia.”
Segal came to the role in April 2019. She already had a long resumé in education, politics and media.
She attended Vancouver Talmud Torah elementary and Magee high school and received her undergraduate degree at the University of Victoria, where she was the first president of the Jewish student organization when Hillel House opened there. She served as national president of the Canadian Federation of Jewish Students before graduating from UVic in 2005. She then went to the University of Leicester, in the United Kingdom, for a law degree, followed by a master of laws from Osgoode Hall, in Toronto.
She worked on Parliament Hill for Conservative MPs David Sweet and Scott Reid, as well as Senator Linda Frum, and was a senior policy advisor overseeing corrections and the parole board for then-minister of public safety Steven Blaney.
While studying in Toronto, Segal worked full time as an on-air legal and policy correspondent for Sun News, until that network shut down. She worked in criminal law and then civil litigation for a time but found it not her speed and returned to media, joining Toronto’s Bell Media radio station News Talk 1010. She returned to Vancouver in 2018 and covered as maternity leave replacement for the B.C. regional director of the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee. She joined the BC Liberal party staff three days after that position ended.
“This election is really about who British Columbians can trust to lead them through economic recovery,” said Segal. “When we think about the ballot question, that’s really what British Columbians are voting on. Who do they trust to lead them through the next stage of this pandemic from an economic perspective? We have an incredible team who are all very experienced. We have former ministers, we have doctors, we have lawyers, we have just a really diverse and interesting team of very smart people.”
Given significant turnover – seven cabinet ministers have opted not to seek reelection – Segal questioned who would be on the frontbenches of a reelected NDP government.
“The question is, what does an NDP cabinet look like in the next government and do they have the bench strength to be the best party to lead this province economically?” she said.
Segal takes seriously her position as one of the few Jewish individuals on the campaign team.
“It’s a real privilege to be able to represent the community within this political sphere and it’s something I take very not lightly,” she said.
Of her job on the campaign and her slightly less hectic role the rest of the time, she added: “My job is pretty different, wild, fun. Every day is a new adventure. It’s pretty great. And we have such an incredible team, so they make it all even better.”
Maayan Kreitzman said the Green party knew it was getting the “full package” when they tapped her as their candidate in the provincial election for the riding of Vancouver-False Creek. There are schisms in the environmental movement between those who see value in direct action protests and those who endorse electoral politics. Kreitzman backs both.
Kreitzman is a leading member of the Vancouver chapter of Extinction Rebellion, a global movement that practises civil disobedience to draw attention to the climate and ecological crisis, she said, based on “a theory of change that learns from many movements in the past that have basically put their bodies in the way of injustice.” She cited as models the U.S. civil rights movement, the Indian independence movement and the suffragists.
The group shut down the Burrard Street Bridge last year and is currently involved, with other groups, in a camp in Burnaby that is physically blocking the construction of the TMX pipeline.
But Kreitzman has harsh words for the environmental movement and its limited impacts.
“The environmental movement over the last 30 years has won some battles but we’re obviously losing the war because the climate and ecological catastrophe continues unabated essentially,” she said.
While she believes in blockades, she also believes in ballots.
“I definitely believe in both,” she said. “I think when the Green party chose me as a candidate they knew that they were getting the full package. They were getting somebody who believes in direct action, who believes in doing things that are illegal when they are ethical and the right thing to do. There are other people in the Green party that believe that, too. [Former federal Green leader] Elizabeth May got arrested on Burnaby Mountain in 2018. I’m certainly not alone in that.”
Beyond the shortcomings of the environmental movement, she excoriated the political system’s status quo.
“It’s utterly failing. It’s not fit for purpose. It has not delivered the systemic changes to our economy that we need to see in order to actually have a sustainable life and future on this planet,” she said.
Above a range of policy topics she champions, Kreitzman wants to create a citizens’ assembly on climate and ecological justice – this parliament of ordinary people selected to reflect demography “would devolve power from elected government to a more representative and radically democratic form of government.”
“Citizens’ assemblies go through a very rigorous and well-facilitated deliberative process where they have access to experts and all the best information and then they are empowered to make either decisions or recommendations, depending how their terms of reference are set up,” she explained. “The citizens’ assemblies are able to make way better, faster and more radical decisions on issues that are totally intractable for elected politicians because elected politicians operate on such short cycles and they have such perverse incentives. It’s very hard and we’ve seen how totally incapable elected politicians around the world are of making the kinds of decisions that we need in order to survive on this planet.”
Kreitzman has been thrown into politics mere days after completion of her PhD in resources, environment and sustainability at the University of British Columbia. Her research specialized in sustainable agricultural systems and, more specifically, perennial agriculture.
She was born in Vancouver to a Canadian father and an Israeli-Canadian mother, attended Vancouver Talmud Torah and Eric Hamber high school and was active in Hillel at UBC, as well as in the Graduate Students Society.
She wants to win the election – but winning isn’t everything.
“This race is not just about that,” she said. “It’s also about telling the truth and just giving a platform to a sustainability scientist, a youngish person and somebody who is willing to talk very openly about the failures of our current government systems. Not just our current government and the NDP, but our current government system and their lack of democracy, and the failures of the environmental movement itself, because neither have been effective and so far nothing has really been effective.”
While she is critical of government generally, she has harsh words for the NDP government particularly.
“This government’s record on the environment has been a total loss, it’s a complete failure,” Kreitzman said. “They’ve embraced the oil and gas industry even more than the BC Liberals have and I never thought I would say those words, that the NDP government has actually been worse for climate change and the environment than the BC Liberals have been. It’s shocking, but it’s true.”
She referenced a report from Stand.Earth, which outlines subsidies to fracking and indicates that the oil and gas industry receives four times as much in provincial government subsidies than it produces in royalties to the province.
As the candidate in Vancouver-False Creek, she is sounding the alarm that sea-level rise will make parts of the most densely populated neighbourhoods of Vancouver uninhabitable.
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Kreitzman’s colleague Scott Bernstein is running for the Greens in Vancouver-Kingsway. He sees it as an ideal opportunity to contrast NDP policy with his ideas because he is facing off against Adrian Dix, the minister of health.
Bernstein is director of policy at the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, which is based in the faculty of health sciences at Simon Fraser University. While he has a graduate degree in environmental studies, his career has shifted to drug policy. He was a junior co-counsel on the landmark 2011 Insite case at the Supreme Court of Canada, which found that the federal government’s failure to grant an exemption allowing users to consume illicit drugs at the Vancouver safe consumption site breached the Charter of Rights because it undermined the “maintenance and promotion of public health and safety.”
He also worked at Pivot Legal Society in the Downtown Eastside and operated a private practice for a time as well, before coming to the drug coalition about three-and-a-half years ago. He has worked for George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, in New York, focusing on drug policy at the UN level and in Africa, and he spent two years with the U.S. Peace Corps in Uzbekistan.
The record-breaking recent months of opioid deaths contrasts, Bernstein said, with the response to COVID.
“There are a lot of structural problems with how the government is dealing with the overdose crisis and it really was highlighted when we had another public health crisis and, all of a sudden, we saw how the government could sort of snap to attention, dedicate funding, have information flow, have protocols and guidelines and resources available to address COVID where, in reality, the overdose crisis is now in the fifth year since it was declared a public health emergency in B.C. and we’ve never seen the response that we saw with COVID, that materialized in a few weeks,” he said. He credited retiring Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy as “a wonderful and caring person,” but added: “they also didn’t give her sufficient resources to deal with the problem and she doesn’t have a lot of power in the cabinet.”
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Ian Goldman, the Green candidate in Vancouver-Fairview, grew up in Toronto and moved west in 1988 to attend law school at UBC. He later did a master’s in international relations, also at UBC, and has practised immigration law in private practice since 1998.
The first-time candidate is up against George Heyman, the NDP minister of environment and climate change strategy.
“It’s unfortunate that, in my area, the NDP have really strong support in the sense that he’s not really feeling pressure, I don’t think,” Goldman said. “Hopefully, I can make him feel some pressure. That’s the most important thing for me.”
The New Democrats have taken climate change more seriously than previous Liberal governments, he said, “But I think they’re more of a status quo party. They say they’re taking it seriously but then their actions show them out to be more status quo, no serious climate action, really.”
COVID is a serious issue, he said, but it has allowed governments at all levels to push environmental issues and climate change to the back burner, he argued.
“As soon as the pandemic’s over, people will wake up and say, oh my God, we’ve got a really serious issue here again,” said Goldman. “That’s why I joined the Green party. I’ve always been interested in environmental issues. My kids and I and my wife go for a lot of outdoor trips, we go hiking, a lot of outdoor activities we do together. That’s where my interest in the environment comes from.”
He added: “If people are really serious about tackling this issue, they should at least consider the Green party.”
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Michael Barkusky, an economist and certified public accountant, is in a rematch with Andrew Wilkinson, now the leader of the Liberal party, in the riding of Vancouver-Quilchena. He acknowledged it’s an uphill battle in the Liberal stronghold.
“What I’m trying to do is strengthen the Green party in general,” he said. But it is also an opportunity to press the party leader on environmental issues.
“I think the BC Liberals need to improve their green credentials substantially to be relevant in the long term,” said Barkusky, who came to Canada from South Africa in 1980. (More about his background and career is in our story from the last election, at jewishindependent.ca/apartheid-impacted-views.) He said former premier Gordon Campbell was innovative on a range of policies, including the carbon tax. He said Campbell’s successor, Christy Clark, backtracked on Campbell’s environmental policies.
The Liberal party is, Barkusky said, a “broad church with some very conservative elements and [Wilkinson] probably can’t do a lot of things that he would do if he had a completely free hand. I think the pressure needs to be kept up on them as much as it has to be kept up on the NDP.”
As he campaigns, Barkusky said, voters tell him they think the NDP ran a good government in part because of the Green party’s influence.
“And now they [the NDP] are trying to say they’ll do a better job without us,” he said. “I can’t buy that.… Quite a lot of voters in the riding agree with me. They feel that we had good government in the last three years and they credit the Green party with being an element of it being good.”
While he disagrees with the Liberals’ promise to eliminate the provincial sales tax for a year, he said changing it could be justifiable. Reducing it from seven percent on most items, or changing the number of items it covers, is a discussion worth considering, he said. But he sees the promise as akin to the NDP’s promise in the last election to eliminate tolls on bridges.
“It’s just kind of instant popularity,” he said. “A relatively bad policy that will resonate well with a certain constituency.”
Barkusky finds it interesting that there are four Green candidates in Vancouver who are Jewish, and noted that the federal Green party just elected a Jewish woman to lead it.
“That’s a lot of tikkun olam consciousness,” he said.
Note: This article has been amended to reflect that Maayan Kreitzman is a leading member of the Vancouver chapter of Extinction Rebellion, not of the British Columbia chapter, as originally stated.
The theme for this year’s Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival is “This Gives Us Strength.” One of the more than 50 events that will take place over the festival’s 12 days is Spotlight on the East End on Oct. 30, 8:30 p.m. Curated by artist-in-residence Khari Wendell McClelland, the online presentation will feature “the compelling creativity and strength of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside-involved artists and residents who illuminate the vitality, relevance and resilience of our neighbourhood and its rich traditions, cultural roots and music.” Among those artists is klezmer-punk accordionist Geoff Berner, with whom JI readers will be familiar.
JI: You released Welcome to the Grand Hotel Cosmopolis late last year (jewishindependent.ca/honestly-jewish-and-radical) and you also had a new musical, then COVID hit. What have you been doing creatively over this time?
GB: I just finished working on a lovely project for KlezKanada with the great theatre artist Jenny Romaine and a lot of other talented folks. It’s called Vu Bistu Geven? (Where Have You Been?) and it’s about figuring out the history of the land that KlezKanada takes place on. It was commissioned for their 25th anniversary. It felt particularly right to work with Trina Stacey, a Kanien’kéha singer, researcher and teacher. We talked a lot during the making of the piece about the value of recovering our ancestors’ languages, in order to find a way to think outside of capitalism and colonialism.
JI: You were scheduled to perform an outdoors concert in Roberts Creek Sept. 11. Did that happen? In what ways does an in-person audience affect your performance?
GB: Yep, that concert went off nicely. Everyone was outdoors and properly distanced. The folks in Roberts Creek are lovely. I’ve played only two other shows like that since the pandemic, one at a park in Vancouver, for Alan Zisman, and another in Chilliwack at the Tractor Grease. It sure was nice to play live again. It’s been a bit of a strain these past months, not being able to do the thing I’ve devoted my life to doing. I miss that magic human connection that only live music can do.
JI: What inspires you to participate in events like the DTES Heart of the City Festival?
GB: What inspires me is the honour to be invited. I’ve tried to be a friend to folks in the DTES, opposing displacement by City Hall-backed developers, fighting to stop the war on drugs, fighting against legislated poverty, and other stuff. It means a lot that I’m allowed to be part of things.
JI: Chelm is a recurring theme/subject in your work. If you had to offer “advice from Chelm” for people coping right now, what might that be?
GB: Advice from Chelm? Well, Chelm was the “Village of Fools” of Jewish legend, but in fact it was a real place, where the people had to struggle to survive. They weren’t fools at all, just ordinary people trying to live. Several fine Yiddish poets came from Chelm. So the advice from Chelm is, the real fools are people who look down on communities of other human beings.
JI: You helped start the BC Ecosocialist Party. Any opinions on the election you’d like to share?
GB: I have real hopes for the BC Ecosocialists. B.C. voters need to at least have the choice to be able to vote for people who will actually stand up against LNG, Site C, legislated poverty, colonialism and the war on drugs.
In an historic victory, Annamie Paul was elected leader of the Green party of Canada Saturday, becoming the first Black person and the first Jewish woman to lead a federal political party. How historic this news is will depend on her impact on Canadian politics, beginning with her showing in a by-election in the riding of Toronto Centre at the end of this month.
Paul will also be challenged by some in her party who have taken exception not only to her moderate, conciliatory positions toward the Israeli-Palestinian issue but to her Jewishness itself. During the campaign, she was bombarded with antisemitic trolling, some from within her party, some from outside agitators. She overcame her nearest opponent, Dimitri Lascaris, on the eighth round of voting. Lascaris, one of Canada’s most vocal anti-Israel activists, was endorsed by a range of anti-Zionist figures, including Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters.
Lascaris has been a lightning rod in the party and the country for anti-Israel activists. When confronted during the campaign about the overt presence of antisemitic comments, ideas and harassment directed at Paul, Lascaris redirected, saying that antisemitism exists mostly on the right of the political spectrum.
Bigotry of every form must be acknowledged and condemned regardless of where it emerges. Pretending it does not exist and accusing one’s opponents of it while ignoring its presence in one’s own movement is a deeply unprogressive approach. Paul – as well as the Jewish community and all Canadians who seek justice and equality – must be vigilant and vocal as bigots react to the increased visibility of a Black Jewish woman leader.
The Green party has a history of problematic approaches to the Middle East, including a 2016 vote to endorse the BDS movement, later rescinded after then-leader Elizabeth May threatened to quit. That incident underscored the limited power of the leader’s role in the Green party. As Paul told the Independent in a recent interview (jewishindependent.ca/paul-hopes-to-make-history), she will not have the power, as leader, to make or alter party policy. May’s gambit – threatening to quit unless a position was reversed – is a rare tool in the kit.
Paul’s varied career has included roles as a director for a conflict prevention nongovernmental organization in Brussels, as an advisor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague and as a political officer in Canada’s mission to the European Union. She was co-founder and co-director of an innovation hub for international NGOs addressing global challenges and has worked with other NGOs, such as the Climate Infrastructure Partnership and Higher Education Alliance for Refugees. She was born in Toronto to a family that immigrated from the Caribbean and she converted to Judaism under a Hillel rabbi while studying at Princeton University.
In her interview with the Independent, Paul said she admires Canada’s politics of compromise, but that the climate crisis is an exceptional event that requires single-minded determination to address.
In her victory address Saturday, to a small group observing social distancing, she suggested the voting public is ready for politicians who look and think differently.
While British Columbians are focused on provincial politics with the Oct. 24 election – and the world awaits the outcome of perhaps the most consequential U.S. election in our lifetimes on Nov. 3 – we will keep an eye on the Oct. 26 Toronto Centre by-election to see the next step in the trajectory of this new leader on the federal scene.
The separation wall, Bayt Mirsim. (photo by Kevin Keystone)
In this three-part series, the author recounts some of his experiences on Masar Ibrahim Al-Khalil, the Path of Abraham the Friend, in the West Bank, which he visited in 2019. The articles have been adapted from a few of the letters he wrote home to family. The events and people described are real but, for reasons of privacy, the names are fictitious. To read Part 1, click here; for Part 2, click here.
Today was our last day on the trail. After many late nights of parlour games, beers and anticipation, we were tired. One of our fellow hikers, Felix, had to stop periodically: the soles of his shoes had worn through, he could feel the tiny stones biting underneath. Uncharacteristically, he was in pain, but he muscled through.
We descended into a valley, dotted with pale green brush, reminiscent of our first days on the trail. The valley opened into expansive views of olive groves, steppes cut into the hills, tidy rows of trees buttressed by stone walls. It could have been Tuscany but was the Middle East, with a warm breeze and soft, popcorn-shaped clouds overhead.
Admiring the scenery, I thought of what lay ahead. I would be spending tonight in Jerusalem. It was a place I hadn’t been since my Birthright trip eight years ago. My rabbi had once invited me on a congregational tour of Israel, in recognition of my service to the synagogue, but I turned it down. A friend rightly pointed out that, as an Arab Muslim, he couldn’t visit the Holy Land as readily as I could. In solidarity, he suggested I shouldn’t go. That seemed fair, so I didn’t. But here I was, so close to Jerusalem and the Wailing Wall. How could I not go?
* * *
It was a hot day on my Birthright tour. We weaved our way through the Old City, through its various souks and alleyways, to arrive at a platform high above the Wailing Wall plaza. Our guides wanted us to see it there first for a clear, unobstructed view. It wasn’t busy, just another day in Jerusalem at the Wall and the holiest site in Judaism. The wide-open plaza was sleek and clean, the great stone wall standing pink and golden.
We descended towards it, and I could feel the heat. I was dehydrated and a bit dizzy. Our guides released us and we ambled forward, dazed, in the wall’s general direction. A man stopped me and asked if I wanted to put on a prayer shawl. I did. He asked me if I wanted to lay tefillin. I had never done it before. He helped me. “Repeat after me,” he said. “Baruch atah Adonai …” as he wrapped the leather band around my forearm.
Prepared, I approached, pulled in by the wall’s gravity. I slipped off my sandals to stand on the ground with my bare feet. I pressed my hand to the mottled stone and closed my eyes. “Baruch atah Adonai,” I began. Strangely, I felt both heavy and light, a yearning and also a surrender. I said the Avot v’Imahot, the prayer that recognizes our descent from Abraham and Sarah, tracing us back through the generations. I didn’t know, then, how important that moment and that prayer would be.
When I was finished, I slipped on my sandals and stepped away.
* * *
“This might be the most beautiful day on the trail,” said Jane, a soft-spoken homeopath, a Mancunian and longtime friend of fellow hikers Eve and Oliver. Her husband George was in business software. He regularly meditated.
She was right. I was worn out but had to agree. It was beautiful. Picturesque, even. Idyllic. We pulled over, as we had during our first week, to have coffee with olive harvesters and help them rake the trees. A young mother with her toddler, husband and parents: harvesting is so often a family affair. Hospitable as ever, much coffee and tea was poured and drank, olives collected, tobacco rolled, puffed and exchanged. We waved our goodbyes – shukran, aleykum salaam – and continued on.
A stretch of valley gave off onto a final stretch of orchards and, as I clambered over the low stones, I looked up and saw the separation wall. From a distance, the 25-foot concrete wall, scrawled with barbed wire, rose through the canopy of the trees. Hesitatingly, I walked towards it, tracing its contour in my mind. In some parts of the West Bank, the barrier is composed of giant slabs of concrete dotted with military towers; in others, it is coiling pyramids of barbed wire or electrified fence bordered by wide swaths of sand to detect trespassers. Here, it is rebar and cement, two-and-a-half storeys high, and cuts through olive groves and the hills around it. I pressed my hand to it; it was cold and abraiding. I closed my eyes and said a prayer for a future without it.
* * *
Compared to the West Bank, downtown Jerusalem feels like another planet. I spent that night in a small apartment hotel off Jaffa Street, a few blocks from the Old City. It was a one-bedroom suite with a fully equipped kitchen and three-piece bathroom. The water was hot, the shower had walls and a showerhead, and I could drink the water. It was unlike many nights on the Masar.
Jaffa Street reminded me of places like Vienna or Vancouver: the pavement was so clean you could eat off of it. The pedestrian walkways alongside were spacious and wide, paved with smooth and even slate-gray tiles. The streetcars were sleek and punctual. Art galleries and museums, ornamental lights and public transportation, urban and urbane. First world versus developing; moneyed versus struggling. The contrast was deeply uncomfortable.
My friend Marta and I wound our way through the narrow, dreamlike alleyways of Nakhalat Tziyon, the walls lined with thick slabs of golden Jerusalem stone. A playful breeze danced through the trees. We stopped for lunch at a picturesque café, complete with colourful outdoor seating and painfully handsome servers. The food was delicious and expensive; we ordered hummus that came with falafel and sweet lemonade.
“How is this real?” I asked her.
“I know,” she said. “It’s shocking.”
After lunch, I returned to the place I had been many years before. I followed the signs in the Old City, the pull magnetic, feeling a mix of dread and anticipation. I saw it first as before, from above, the top of the staircase leading down to the Kotel.
Few tourists were out today, just the heat and people praying. Orthodox tradition dictates separating the genders; indeed, on the women’s side, a fraction the size of the men’s, Torah scrolls are still officially prohibited. Today, the women’s side was packed, the men’s side dotted with the odd worshipper. At the tefillin tent, an old man shawled me in his tallit. A red-headed, black-hat wearing Charedi named Isaac helped me with the tefillin. He looked about my age, or a few years younger. In another life, I wondered, would I have been him?
“Did you do this yourself?” he asked, pointing to the forearm I had already bound.
“I did,” I said. For a month, in the intervening years, I had done it every morning. “I just can’t remember how to do the hand part.”
“I can help,” he said. Isaac said many things: about God, what God wanted, the prayers I could say at the Wall. “Sometimes, you might feel like the worst Jew ever,” he said. I didn’t. I never felt that way. I wasn’t a “good Jew” or a “bad Jew,” I was just Jewish.
“Say a prayer for all your loved ones, then say a prayer for yourself,” he said. “Then maybe you’ll say a prayer for me, too.”
Blocks of stone peppered with bits of paper: the wall hadn’t changed, but I had. I pressed my hand to it, feeling its soft, pockmarked face, and closed my eyes.
* * *
I’m home now, in Canada, and wonder about my travels. I came back “with eyes wide open,” as my rabbi had prayed: to the painful, joy-filled and resilient lives of the Palestinians I met. I think about the separation wall and the Kotel, how they’re connected and what it meant to pray at them, different but related prayers. If the Wailing Wall is part of us as Jews, then perhaps its future and our spiritual liberation is bound together with the separation wall. Perhaps the Kotel will never truly be honoured until we bring down the separation wall. As I contemplate the stories of our freedom from bondage, I’m reminded of the idea that our liberation, spiritual and otherwise, is bound up with the liberation of others.
Kevin Keystoneis a Toronto-based freelance writer, editor and researcher. When not hiking long-distance trails, he can be found reading, spending time with friends and family, or with his beloved partner, Aaron. His writing has been published in the Literary Review of Canada, the Jewish Independent and Good Old Boat. For this series, he thanks the guides and staff of Siraj (the Masar Ibrahim Thru-Hike tour operator), the host families and locals he met along the way and his fellow hikers, as well as friend and editor Matt O’Grady.
Left to right: Bahrain Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, United States President Donald Trump and United Arab Emirates Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed sign the Abraham Accords on Sept. 15 at the White House in Washington, D.C. (photo by Avi Ohayon/IGPO via Ashernet)
The news on erev Rosh Hashanah that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away at age 87 cast a pall over many celebrations. Some in our community shared a teaching that says that a person who dies on Rosh Hashanah is a tzaddik, a righteous person. As tributes poured in for the late jurist, it was clear that many viewed Ginsburg as a tzaddeket, irrespective of the timing of her passing. Grief over her death was joined by the inevitable political implications of a Supreme Court vacancy mere weeks before U.S. general elections.
While Ginsburg’s death, at an advanced age and after years battling successive experiences with cancer, may not have been a complete shock, it was, for many, a tragic conclusion to the Jewish year 5780. The pandemic will be the imprinted memory of this time, but a succession of other events – uncontained climate change-driven wildfires and other natural disasters, political unrest, racial violence and police brutality, plus a litany of other crises and inconveniences – will be included when the history of this year is written.
Bad times can also bring out the best in people, though, and there is an uplifting inventory of good deeds. Locally, the way the Jewish community has rallied around those in need of food, social services and support has been heartening. This local unity and kindness have been mirrored in communities worldwide.
Among the few brighter spots on the international scene has been an opening of relations between Israel and parts of the Arab world. Suddenly, or so it appeared to most casual observers, the United Arab Emirates announced it would initiate diplomatic relations with Israel. The Kingdom of Bahrain followed suit. Other countries are alleged to be considering similar paths. When the Arab League was called upon to condemn this historic shift in relations, the body opted against. With the exception of Palestinians, the commentary from most Arab countries has been positive.
This has perhaps less to do with any newfound admiration for Israel than it does self-interest in the form of economic potential in bilateral relations with the region’s economic superpower. Geopolitical self-interest is also a factor. Nothing makes friends like shared enemies and Iran, with its nuclear initiative and ambitions for regional hegemony, makes whatever complaints the Arab world had against Israel pale in comparison. To say nothing of what’s in it for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s political ambitions or the electioneering of the U.S. president just prior to elections in that country.
Self-interest is most likely at play in another sudden development. If there wasn’t enough happening in the world, on Monday, B.C. Premier John Horgan called a snap election, a year ahead of schedule. The wisdom of holding an election during a state of emergency has been challenged by opposition leaders and others, but the governing party did significant polling on the subject and must have concluded that whatever reticence there may be on that front was canceled out by the New Democrats’ strong position in opinion polls. By the time voting ends, on Oct. 24, most British Columbians will hopefully be more focused on the issues than on the timing.
The timing, though, is another wrinkle. The law that set fixed election dates – and which Horgan, therefore, flouted by calling the vote early – also fixes the date for the third Saturday in October. While British Columbians vote in municipal elections on Saturdays, provincial (as well as federal) elections have always been on weekdays. Observant Jews will have to make accommodations and vote early. Autumn being what it is, it is theoretically possible to race to the polls after sundown and before the 8 p.m. cutoff. Less frantically, there are seven days of advance voting, an increase from six days in the 2017 election. All voters can request mail-in ballots – early reports from avid voters suggest the process is simple and takes only a couple of minutes. It is possible to pick up (call first!) and return your vote-by-mail package at an electoral district office. For people with disabilities, there is an opportunity for voting by phone.
The pandemic has created all range of challenges in our lives. Voting in the midst of it comes with its own difficulties, but, however one feels about the decision to call an early vote, the wheels are in motion. Turnout was up in 2017 to 61.2%, an improvement from the mid-50% turnout in the previous two elections. We face important decisions about the path to an economic recovery and the management of the ongoing pandemic. We must each of us make a plan to vote, and encourage friends and family to do the same. Find out more at elections.bc.ca.