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Passover is the most observed Jewish holiday – even those who never step foot in a synagogue pull out all the stops for this one. With our celebratory meal, the seder, we retell the 3,500-year-old story of our ancestors’ flight to freedom from the land of Egypt. The centrepiece is the seder plate, which holds the traditional symbols, but to spark a lively discussion this year, I’m going for the unconventional.
With several vegetarians on my guest list, I’m giving the seder plate a vegan makeover. I’ll substitute an avocado pit for the egg and a roasted beet will replace the customary shank bone.
Instead of my grandmother’s borscht, I’ll be serving quinoa, beet and spinach salad, which I got from Secret Restaurant Recipes by Leah Schapira and Victoria Dwek. The cookbook includes recipes, tips, techniques and cooking secrets from kosher chefs from around the world. This salad was created by chef Elad Asnafi of the Soyo restaurant in Jerusalem and London. Asnafi suggests cooking the quinoa with a touch of cumin and bay leaves, to capture the true Mediterranean flavors. He also recommends giving this recipe a twist by using dried apricots instead of cherry tomatoes.
Beets have had a long association with Passover among Ashkenazim. One of the few vegetables available to eastern European peasants, they could be stored throughout the winter. No wonder borscht became a staple. My mother remembered her mother starting to make russel (fermented beet juice) weeks before Passover. When she was done, she had a clear, bright red liquid that smelled like wine. Then, when she wanted to make borscht, she would go down to the cellar and ladle out some russel to use as a base, adding fresh beets and sugar to the pot.
A welcome source of variety for the holiday, quinoa, a newcomer to the Passover table, is gluten-free, high in protein and a rich source of B vitamins, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc. Although it resembles some grains that are forbidden on Passover, it is considered a pseudocereal. In 2014, it received rabbinic approval for Passover, after the Orthodox Union sent a rabbi to Bolivia and Peru, to observe how it is grown. Since quinoa grows near the top of the mountain and grain grows near the bottom, quinoa processed in approved factories got the coveted “OU” seal of approval.
Each year, I like to surprise my family with something new for dessert. The chocolate angel pie from the cookbook Celebrate by Elizabeth Kurtz looked so tempting that I had to try it. “It’s called an angel pie because the meringue looks simply angelic as a pie shell – white and glorious,” noted Kurtz. “Make sure to start this recipe ahead of time. The layers need to be cooled completely and the meringue takes time to cook. Separate the eggs before you start the recipe, so the egg whites can come to room temperature before whipping, and reserve the yolks until ready to use.”
Quinoa, Beet and Spinach Salad
ο 175 ml (3⁄4 cup) quinoa
ο 1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
ο 1 medium beet, peeled and diced
ο 15 ml (1 tbsp) olive oil
ο 250 g (8 oz) baby spinach, roughly chopped
ο 1⁄2 red onion, finely diced or thinly sliced
ο 100 g (1⁄4 lb) green beans, roughly chopped (for those who eat kitniyot)
ο 125 ml (1⁄2 cup) cherry tomatoes, halved
ο 15 ml (1 tbsp) Passover mustard
ο 5 ml (1 tsp) brown sugar
ο 5 ml (1 tsp) honey
ο 75 ml (1⁄3 cup) olive oil
ο 125 ml (1⁄2 cup) fresh basil, loosely packed
ο 1 clove garlic
ο 5 ml (1 tsp) kosher salt
Preheat oven to 200 C (400 F).
In a medium pot, bring water to a boil. Add quinoa, lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes, or until germ separates from seed. Strain if necessary.
Place sweet potato and beet on baking sheet and toss with olive oil. Bake until soft, about 30 minutes. Let cool.
Quick-steam green beans by placing them in a dish with a couple teaspoons of water. Microwave for 1-2 minutes.
In large bowl, combine quinoa, sweet potato, beets, spinach, red onion, green beans and tomatoes.
To make the dressing, combine mustard, brown sugar, honey, olive oil, basil, garlic and salt in a small bowl. Use an immersion blender to blend until smooth. Toss with salad and serve. Makes 4 servings.
Adapted from Secret Restaurant Recipes by Leah Schapira and Victoria Dwek.
ο 50 g (2 oz) Passover unsweetened chocolate, chopped
ο 4 egg yolks
ο 125 ml (1/2 cup) sugar
ο 30 ml (2 tbsp) water
ο 0.5 ml (1/8 tsp) salt
ο 500 ml (2 cups) pareve whipping cream, whipped until soft peaks form, divided
ο generous amount of Passover chocolate and pareve white chocolate shavings, for garnish
Preheat oven to 230 C (450 F). Grease a 23-cm (9-inch) deep dish pie pan.
To make the meringue crust, beat egg whites in a large bowl with an electric mixer, until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar and potato starch, constantly beating. Stir in vinegar and vanilla; beat until stiff peaks form and meringue is thick and glossy. Spoon meringue into prepared pie pan; press against sides to form a crust. Place in oven and turn off heat. Leave meringue in oven for 3 hours; remove pan to cool. Meringue can be stored for up to 2 days, covered, in a dry place.
To make the filling, melt chocolate in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring until smooth. Cool to lukewarm.
Using an electric mixer, beat egg yolks, sugar, water and salt until frothy. Stir into pan of melted chocolate. Cook mixture over low heat, whisking constantly until thick, about 4 minutes. Cool completely. Fold chocolate mixture into half of the prepared whipped cream. Pour into cooled shell and refrigerate until mousse is set. Top with remaining half of whipped cream; garnish with chocolate and white chocolate shavings. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Note: Pie can be prepared up to two days in advance. Store, lightly covered, in refrigerator. Do not freeze. You may whip the cream for topping and prepare the chocolate shavings in advance, storing in refrigerator. Garnish before serving. Makes 10 servings.
The word is out: it is possible to serve an elegant and delicious Passover meal that can also boost brain health and strengthen memory.
That was a key message for the 200 people who attended the Panic Free Passover event, an evening featuring a cooking demo of recipes created by food columnist and cookbook author Norene Gilletz.
The event, which was held on April 9 at Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue in Toronto, featured a cooking demonstration by chef Doug Gilletz, Norene’s son, along with a nutritional commentary provided by Sharona Abramovitch, a registered dietitian.
Dr. Edward Wein – co-author, with Norene Gilletz, of the upcoming book, Brain Boosting Diet: Feed Your Memory – gave a short lecture on brain health.
Wein said that while dementia is most prevalent among people who are 85 years of age and over, research shows that a healthy lifestyle may help prevent the onset of such diseases.
“Food is medicine,” he said. “The diet we consume will determine how healthy we are in the future.”
Doug Gilletz relayed greetings from his mother, who was not able to attend the event. He said she was his inspiration for becoming a chef. “I’ve been cooking with my mother since I was a year old,” he noted.
Abramovitch said she’s learned a lot from Norene Gilletz through their collaboration on Brain Boosting Diet.
People who attended the event had the opportunity peruse booths featuring jewellery, handicrafts, specialty foods and kosher wines, as they noshed on hors d’oeuvres and sipped wine. Later, they were each served a light dinner of salmon Mediterranean, rainbow quinoa, Winnipeg herring salad and smashed potato latkes, all dishes that were demoed by Doug Gilletz.
Throughout the evening, he provided cooking tips, such as how to get the most flavour from fresh herbs and proper knife skills.
ο 1 salmon fillet with skin (1.5 kg or 8 individual salmon fillets)
ο 2 cloves garlic
ο 3 medium Roma tomatoes, quartered
ο 1 yellow or red pepper, cut in chunks
ο 1 medium zucchini, cut in chunks
ο 4 green onions, cut in chunks
ο 30 ml (2 tbsp) extra virgin olive oil
ο 30 ml (2 tbsp) lemon juice
ο 10 ml (2 tsp) honey
ο 60 ml (1/4 cup) fresh basil (or 5 ml dried)
ο 125 ml (1/2 cup) sliced black olives (optional)
ο salt, pepper and dried basil to taste
Preheat an oven to 220 C (425 F). Line a baking sheet with foil and spray it with nonstick spray. Place the salmon on the baking sheet and sprinkle it lightly with salt, pepper and basil.
Drop the garlic through the feed tube of a food processor while the machine is running. Process the garlic until it is minced. Add the tomatoes, pepper, zucchini, onions, oil, lemon juice, honey and basil. Process ingredients with quick on/off pulses, until they are coarsely chopped. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper. Spread the mixture evenly over the salmon and marinate for 30-60 minutes.
Bake the fish uncovered for 12-15 minutes, or until the salmon flakes when gently pressed. If desired, top the fish with the olives before serving. Makes 8-10 servings.
Adapted from The New Food Processor Bible: 30th Anniversary Edition.
ο 60 ml (1/4 cup) fresh basil or dill (or 10 ml dried)
ο 4 green onions, cut in thirds
ο 1 red and 1 orange bell pepper, cut in chunks
ο 250 ml (1 cup) canned mandarin oranges
ο 125 ml (1/2 cup) dried cranberries
ο 60 ml (1/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil
ο 60 ml (1/4 cup) orange juice (preferably fresh)
ο salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
To make the quinoa, place the broth in a medium saucepan and bring it to a boil over high heat. Place the quinoa in a fine-meshed strainer and rinse it under cold running water for 1-2 minutes and then drain well. (Rinsing removes the bitter coating.) Add the quinoa to the boiling liquid. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let it stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Fluff the quinoa with a fork. Transfer it to a large bowl and let it cool.
In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, process the garlic, parsley and basil until the herbs are minced, about 10 seconds. Combine them with the cooled quinoa in a large bowl.
Process the green onions and bell peppers with several quick on/off pulses, until they are coarsely chopped. Add the vegetables to the quinoa, along with the mandarins and dried cranberries. Add the oil, orange juice, salt and pepper. Mix all the ingredients gently to combine. Cover and refrigerate the dish up to a day in advance. Adjust seasonings to taste before serving. Can be served cold as a colourful salad, or hot as a pilaf. Makes 8 servings.
Adapted from Brain Boosting Diet: Feed Your Memory.
Winnipeg Herring Salad
ο 1 jar (600 g) herring fillets in wine marinade
ο 3 stalks celery, diced
ο 1 yellow or orange bell pepper, diced
ο 3 or 4 firm, ripe tomatoes, diced
ο 6 green onions, thinly sliced
ο 30 ml (2 tbsp) minced fresh dill
ο 60 ml (1/4 cup) vegetable oil
ο 60 ml (1/4 cup) brown sugar (or equivalent of other type of sweetener)
Drain the herring and rinse well. Discard the onions. Dice the herring and place it in a large bowl.
Add the celery, peppers, tomatoes, green onions, oil and sweetener. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Serve chilled.
Adapted from Brain Boosting Diet: Feed Your Memory.
Smashed Potato Latkes
ο 12 baby red-skinned potatoes (5 cm in diameter)
ο lightly salted water
ο 15-30 ml (1-2 tbsp) olive oil
ο salt and freshly ground pepper
ο additional seasonings to taste: basil, rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika
Place the potatoes in enough lightly salted water to cover them. Boil for 15-20 minutes, until they are fork-tender. Drain the potatoes well. (The potatoes can be prepared in advance up to this point and refrigerated for a day or two.)
Preheat oven to 200 C (400 F). Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or sprayed foil. Place the potatoes in a single layer, about 8 cm (3 inches) apart, on the prepared baking sheet. Cover them with a piece of parchment paper. Smash each potato once or twice with the flat part of your palm, making a flat disc. Round off any ragged edges by pushing them together with your fingers.
Brush the potato tops lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with seasonings. Bake the potatoes, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes, until golden and crispy. If desired, turn the potatoes over halfway through the baking and brush the tops with oil. Makes 4-5 servings.
Adapted from Brain Boosting Diet: Feed Your Memory.
Quebec’s recently passed Bill 21, a so-called secularism or laicity bill, prevents public officials in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols. Though people of all religions are affected, the province’s governing party, the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), likely designed the bill to target Muslims, especially Muslim women wearing the hijab or niqab. But in also condemning kippot, the bill inadvertently calls attention to the profound affinity between Islam and Judaism. Publicly celebrating this religious connection can help build understanding between two peoples divided over Middle East politics.
For most of their history, Jews have been a diasporic people, living under Muslim or Christian rule. In terms of anti-Jewish violence, legal discrimination, forced conversion and expulsion, Christians treated Jews far worse than Muslims did. Vicious anti-Judaism is rooted in the New Testament, inspiring nearly two millenniums of persecution.
Life for Jews in the Muslim world, by contrast, was relatively safe and stable. It wasn’t perfect: anti-Jewish violence was rare but not unknown, and Jews (along with Christians) were relegated to dhimmi status, protected minorities who suffered from social, political and economic restrictions. But Jews were less isolated from their Muslim neighbours, which often led to cultural development and exchange, as in medieval Muslim Spain.
The Muslim-Jewish affinity is not simply a product of this relative stability. It is a product of the similarity between the two religions. Both Judaism and Islam embrace a radical unitarian monotheism, not only believing in one God, but that – as is written in the Shema – God is one. Though Muslims accept Jesus as a prophet, they reject his divinity. Their chief prophet, Muhammad, is a man, like Moses and the other Hebrew prophets.
Unlike Christianity, Judaism and Islam are both legalistic faiths. Jewish law, halakhah, and Muslim law, Shariah, are kindred spirits. Both are founded ona central sacred text – the Torah for Jews, the Qur’an for Muslims. Even the words are similar in meaning: halakhah comes from the Hebrew root “to walk,” while Shariah refers to a “path to water.”
This legalism is rooted in sacred scholarship. For Jews, the Talmud, the principal commentary of the Bible, forms the foundation of halakhah. For Muslims, the Hadith and Sunna, the sayings of Muhammad and his companions, expand on the law found in the Qur’an. Both religions have intricate traditions of jurisprudence and interpretation, involving respect for tradition and accommodation with modernity.
Both Judaism and Islam are religions of devotional obligation. Jews have to pray three times a day, while Muslims hear the call to prayer five times daily. Both faiths have strict dietary laws and ritualistic fasting. Both see the giving of charity as a commandment. Both enshrine singular holy sites above all others: the Western Wall in Jerusalem for Jews and the Kaabain Mecca for Muslims. Both also prize female modesty in ways that upset the ultra-secularists of the CAQ.
The struggle against Bill 21 represents an opportunity to improve Muslim-Jewish relations in Quebec and perhaps worldwide. These relations are most contentious whenever Israel is discussed. It’s a problem that can be difficult to ignore, but it can be compartmentalized. Jews and Muslims in Quebec have already pledged to unite in civil disobedience, but that is not enough. They should also connect over their commonalities.
Canadian synagogues and mosques should make an effort to teach their congregants about the powerful, historical connection between Islam and Judaism. So should teachers in Jewish and Muslim schools, and in universities. In 2019, there is no greater task for our educators.
This is not to leave Christians or Hindus or anyone else out in the cold. But given the bitterness of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a religiously oriented Muslim-Jewish alliance in Quebec would honour an ancient affinity that began in the Middle East, and maybe help bring that affinity home.
Merle Levine is not only the president of the Toronto Workmen’s Circle (TWC), a humanistic Jewish fraternal order, she has been a member of the organization for almost 80 years. In fact, it’s a bit of a family business.
Her grandparents, Morris and Beckie Langbord, were founding members and her father, Karl Langbord, managed the organization for decades.
“I became a member on June 28, 1939 – the day I was born,” Levine said, laughing.
Levine has wonderful memories of growing up in the TWC, or Der Arbeiter Ring, as it is called in Yiddish. Promoting Jewish culture and the Yiddish language has been an important mandate of the organization, which is rooted in secularism and social justice.
Levine and Mel Cederbaum, the director of the TWC, met on March 27, to discuss the organization’s upcoming centenary celebration. A brunch will be held at 11 a.m. on May 5 at the TWC’s headquarters at 471 Lawrence Ave. W. in Toronto. The festivities will include archival exhibits and presentations, along with a song and dance program.
The TWC will be marking the 100th anniversary of its incorporation and the 60th jubilee of its Lawrence Avenue centre.
Its incorporation actually took place in 1917, while the TWC’s headquarters opened in 1957.
Cederbaum acknowledged the two-year gap in celebrating these milestones. “We do everything slowly,” he joked.
The Workmen’s Circle started in New York City in 1892 as a fraternal order to support immigrants. A Toronto branch was established in 1908.
The TWC incorporated in 1917, after the American branch was able to extend fraternal benefits like health insurance to its Canadian members, Cederbaum explained.
However, he stressed that the primary connection between the two groups was their shared political ideology and social justice ideals.
Within the TWC, there were several branches. Levine’s grandparents belonged to the anarchist group.
In 1925, the TWC established a Jewish communal camp at Lake Wilcox in Richmond Hill, Ont.
The following year, the organization purchased a tract of 50 acres along Duffin Creek, near Pickering. Half the acreage was set up as a summer cottage colony for TWC members and the remaining land was allocated to Camp Yungvelt, a children’s summer camp.
Members owned their cottages, but the land was communal property, Levine said. “It was a phenomenal environment. It was very creative, with plays and lectures for children and adults. The goal was to promote Yiddishkeit to well-rounded kids.”
During the school year, the children attended TWC-run nursery schools and the I.L. Peretz Schule, a supplementary Jewish school.
Before Toronto’s Jewish community moved north along Bathurst Street in the mid-1950s, the TWC’s activities took place in the downtown core.
Levine recalled attending Passover concerts at the Victory Theatre on Spadina Avenue. I.L. Peretz Schule classes were held in converted houses, until the present building on Lawrence Avenue opened.
It was built as a school, but the classrooms are now rented out to a daycare.
As socialists, many TWC members were politically active and “pushed for government-funded health care,” in Canada, but once universal health coverage was available, there was less incentive for people to belong to TWC, Levine noted.
The last summer at Camp Yungvelt was in 1971. It closed because of declining enrolment. A lot of them no longer wanted to go there, Levine lamented. “The kids didn’t want to learn Yiddish. They wanted to learn water skiing.”
To register for the centenary brunch, call 416-787-2081, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Registration closes on April 26.
Their logo is an arrow, pointing west over an aerial photo of Montreal, indicating the heart of anglophone territory.
Théâtre Ouest End is the newest company in what founders Ann Lambert and Laura Mitchell deem to be an under served area, though the presence of both the Segal Centre and Infinitheatre have paved the way.
What will make them different is that Théâtre Ouest End aims to distinguish itself as a community mouthpiece, giving a voice to those who have long gone without one, starting with seniors.
Dawson College English teachers and playwrights Lambert and Mitchell launched the theatre in March on International Women’s Day, in its rented quarters, housed in Westmount Park United Church, 4695 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.
They added to their team the talents of the next generation, Lambert’s playwright daughter Alice Abracen as associate artistic director, and her fellow National Theatre School alumna Danielle Szydlowski in the post of technical director.
The four women plan to be hands-on with the aspiring writers they hope to mentor.
“We are inviting people into our space who have stories to tell because everybody needs to be heard,” says Lambert.
Weekly workshops for seniors begin this May. Théâtre Ouest End will help participants write their stories into monologues or dialogues for stage presentation in June or in the fall, with the seniors personally performing the pieces or relegating them to the talents of actors.
“People will be encouraged to look within their own memories but everything will be treated as fiction. It gives them a lot more freedom to express themselves and connect to the artist within,” says Abracen.
Organizers will use the Amherst Writers & Artists method that had its roots in Massachusetts. The idea is that anyone is capable of writing, regardless of education, income or previous theatrical exposure.
Abracen has been exposed all her life to the creativity of her mother and is following in her footsteps. Lambert takes pride in noting that her daughter’s play One Rough Beast will be given three staged readings at Centaur Theatre May 10-12, 20 years exactly since the production there of her own play Very Heaven, that also happened to be the professional directorial debut of the now Centaur artistic director, Eda Holmes.
Beast, directed by Jessica Abdallah, is Centaur’s choice of a work by an emerging Montreal playwright for its Legacy Series.
“It’s about a controversial speaker who gets invited to a college campus and the divisions and violence that ensue, exploring the peril of dialogue across political chasms,” says Abracen.
Théâtre Ouest End will follow suit this autumn with Abracen’s The Guest, a political thriller about a woman who travels to the Middle East to visit ruins. It will be their first production showcasing up-and-coming and established playwrights.
“We’re starting with one of Alice’s plays because right now she’s a pretty hot commodity,” says Lambert, referring to her daughter’s win of the 2018 Canadian Jewish Playwriting Competition with The Covenant, set in the concentration camp Theresienstadt.
Their synagogue, Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom, recently staged a reading of that play in the sanctuary that Abracen describes as “an extraordinary experience that was really meaningful for me.”
In the same spirit of provoking discussion, the theatre company plans to schedule a series of monthly political improvisational sketches. Mitchell’s pet project will be Murder Mondays when short murder mysteries will spice up the week. Lambert and Abracen foresee a curated open mike night as well as cold readings for works in progress, corralling professional local actors.
Meanwhile, a gala fundraiser is planned for June. “We have big plans but how much of this can actually reach fruition is contingent on securing the funding,” says Lambert. “We want to make it live and thrive.”
For information on the workshops for seniors, contact the company at
A Conservative senator has raised an old but ongoing concern: that Canadian tax dollars are being used to hurt Israel.
In Senate proceedings on April 11, Sen. Linda Frum noted that Global Affairs Canada is providing $4.8 million for a project called Women of Courage: Women, Peace and Security. The project is run by Kairos: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, which promotes human rights around the world. A collection of 10 Christian denominations and religious groups, Kairos is administered by the United Church of Canada.
The announcement of the funding was made in May 2018.
Frum alleged that “close to $1 million” of the $4.8 million will fund a grant to the Palestinian organization Wi’am, which, she charged, “actively promotes” the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) campaign, in contradiction of long-standing Canadian policy.
She asked Sen. Peter Harder, the government representative in the Senate, why his government is “supporting an organization that promotes BDS and attacks our ally, Israel?”
Harder said he will “seek a more detailed response from the department.” He said Canada “has viewed its support for Israel as very key in its foreign policy.”
Frum replied that Global Affairs will say it has instructed Kairos not to use Canadian funds for the purposes of BDS. She said she hoped Harder will ask the department “how it is that they think they can track money, and when they give a grant, know which dollars are being used to support BDS and which dollars aren’t.”
Frum told The CJN that she was “very disturbed to discover that our government is making a grant of $1 million to an organization that is steeped in the BDS movement. It is completely inconsistent with the stated policy of Global Affairs and with the pledges of the prime minister.”
In 2016, Canada rejected BDS in a parliamentary motion and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeated his personal opposition to it numerous times, including just last month.
Siobhan Rowan, Kairos’ organizational development manager, told The CJN that the Women of Courage project will actually receive just over $4.4 million over five years, to support women-centred programs in Colombia, the Philippines, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and the West Bank.
The idea is to help heal female victims of war, “while empowering them to be peace builders,” noted a Kairos press release last May.
Of the $4.4 million, approximately $540,000 will go to Wi’am, $405,000 of which would be from Global Affairs, Rowan pointed out. Kairos is required to provide 25 per cent in matching funds, she explained.
Kairos denied that any of the funds directed to Wi’am will subsidize BDS-related activities.
Wi’am “is a long standing, respected global partner of Kairos, with a partnership that predates the Global Affairs contribution,” said Rowan. “None of the Women of Courage project grant, whether (from) Kairos or Global Affairs funds, is used to promote or engage in BDS.”
Asked how that is ensured, Rowan said the contribution agreement between Kairos and Wi’am “restricts use of the funds to the specific project activities agreed therein.” She said there is a monitoring and evaluation mechanism based on a performance measurement framework (PMF) that was developed with Global Affairs Canada, “in which all partners are required to make detailed reports on each activity and beneficiaries.”
In addition, there are specific financial reporting requirements where partners report on every expense, with receipts, on a quarterly basis, “to ensure all expenses are eligible according to the PMF.” Rowan said the project is subject to several levels of audit “that again ensure expenses are eligible, based on the contribution agreement and PMF.”
The discrepancy in the amount of funding to Wi’am cited by Frum and Kairos – nearly $500,000 – “is missing the point,” Frum said.
“I’m not sure what point they’re trying to make by saying ‘(it’s) only half-a-million dollars, versus $1 million.’ What difference does it make? Even if there’s some error in the calculation, saying, ‘there’s only half-a-million for BDS’ doesn’t satisfy me.”
Frum also wasn’t impressed with the safeguards Kairos cited.
“When you contribute money to the overall budget of a BDS organization and then claim that the money Canada gave is not being used for those purposes – we’re using other money for those purposes – I find that a nonsensical answer,” she said.
Frum said she had not contacted Kairos. Instead, she relied on research by the watchdog NGO Monitor, which in February issued a 14-page report titled, Canadian Funding to BDS-Promoting Organizations.
It cited numerous examples of Wi’am’s support for BDS, including signing the “Call for Worldwide Women’s Endorsement of BDS” in 2016 and posting a letter in “solidarity with the Palestinians on Nakba Day” that called for joining the BDS movement in 2018.
Founded in 1994, Bethlehem-based Wi’am: The Palestinian Conflict Resolution and Transformation Center, is a grassroots organization that helps resolve disputes within the Palestinian community. It runs programs designed to address “the psychological and physiological consequences of long-term conflict.”
Frum said she believes it’s important “that the government align its actions with its words. Words are very cheap when you discover that there are actions taking place that are contradictory to the promises that have been made to the Jewish community.”
In 2009, the then-Conservative federal government cut $7 million in funding to Kairos, accusing the organization of “taking a leadership role” in the boycott of Israel.
The CJN’s messages to Global Affairs were not returned by deadline.
The rituals of the Passover seder hold within them a vital insight. The story of our journey from slavery in Egypt toward freedom in Israel is told in the past tense but recreated in the present. Through re-enactment, we learn that history must be experienced as though it is unfolding before our eyes. Similarly, if our conversation with our children at the seder is solely about the Jewish past and ignores what Jewish freedom means for the present, we will have missed the mark.
The freedom of the Jewish people is as relevant as ever. Our very right to national liberation and renaissance, as embodied in the Jewish state, is directly challenged on so many levels today – including from fringe voices within our people.
In the coming days, a handful of anti-Zionist Jews will be holding “liberation seders” in a few Canadian cities, as advertised by the so-called Jewish Liberation Theology Institute. Pro-BDS groups like Independent Jewish Voices and a local chapter of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East are listed among the endorsers, sponsors and partners. The organizers have declared: “This year’s seders honour and pay tribute to the Great March of Return.” This apparently refers to the weekly march organized by Hamas over the past year, in which it has mobilized tens of thousands of Gazans to protest (often violently) at Israel’s border fence.
Hamas routinely uses these protests as cover for attempts to infiltrate Israel and attack Israeli troops at the fence. Tens of thousands of Israelis living in the south have been terrorized by Palestinian arson attacks. Throughout the past year, Israeli soldiers have been wounded and at least one (21-year-old Aviv Levi) was murdered by a Palestinian sniper at the border.
And readers are well familiar with the painful results inside Gaza, including the tragic deaths of Palestinians who were sent by Hamas to the fence in a contrived attempt to distract attention from its own misrule. Israelis and Jewish Canadians alike are saddened by the ongoing misery experienced by Gazans, the author of which is Hamas.
That Jews would honour such a “march” begs a bigger question: when does Jewish anti-Zionism become Jewish anti-Semitism? We would not hesitate to call out those beyond our community who lend credibility to Hamas. So too must we condemn the behaviour of Jews who lead BDS campaigns against Israelis, target respected Jewish organizations like the Jewish National Fund, and falsely claim that Zionism can be erased from the core identity of the Jewish people. Such activities are clearly aimed at offering a hechsher – a “kosher seal of approval” – for non-Jewish, anti-Zionist activists to falsely claim immunity from legitimate charges of anti-Semitism.
Unsurprisingly, their message has been resoundingly dismissed by our community. Consider the results of a recent public opinion study of the Canadian Jewish community by Environics, with the support of York University and University of Toronto – as well as sponsorship from several federations. Nearly nine in ten respondents said “caring about Israel” is either “essential” or “important” to their identity. Significantly fewer respondents said the same about attending synagogue, observing Jewish law, and participating in Jewish cultural activities. More than eight in ten see the Government of Canada’s current support for Israel as either “about right” or “not supportive enough”. The same poll showed healthy differences of opinion on particular Israeli policies, such as settlements.
In other words, Zionism remains one of the strongest pillars of Canadian Jewish identity. Canadian Jewry believes that Canada’s support for Israel should continue and grow. And within this Zionist consensus, there is a broad spectrum of opinion toward Israeli policy issues.
In contrast, and returning to the theme of Passover, those Jews who dedicate themselves to anti-Zionist stunts may be likened not to the wicked child who attends – but challenges – the seder. Rather, perhaps they are more akin to the unnamed fifth child, who has made a conscious decision to cut him- or herself off from the entire liberation experience.
How else can we describe a Jew who uses our history of liberation as a cynical prop to delegitimize our national freedom today? How else can we interpret a seder conducted to “honour” a march orchestrated by terrorists who seek Israel’s destruction?
Passover is probably the most widely embraced Jewish holiday. Many Jews who are not particularly engaged in Jewish ritual plan their seder with meticulous enthusiasm. Many others who rarely enter a synagogue cherish their family’s annual seders. These are the two days in which many Jews feel most connected to their roots and their people.
This is why it is so important to keep Israel on the table throughout our seder. We must do so in a way that embraces and encourages different opinions within the Zionist tent. We must welcome questions and concerns. But we must not hesitate to celebrate Israel as the centrepiece of Jewish freedom, both past and present. Especially when some would use our seder traditions as a shameful excuse to deny that truth.
Despite calls from members of the community for the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg to publicly take a stand against Linda Sarsour’s upcoming appearance in the city, the Federation has chosen to try quiet diplomacy instead.
It hopes to persuade the organizers of the upcoming Sorry Not Sorry: Unapologetically Working for Social Justice panel to disinvite Sarsour, who co-founded the Women’s March and is a prominent critic of Israel.
In a statement, Federation CEO Elaine Goldstine said, “Regarding Linda Sarsour’s upcoming appearance, we met with representatives of Social Planning Council of Winnipeg (SPCW) and the Canadian Muslim Women’s Institute (CMWI). We brought forth the concerns of the Jewish community, detailed the many reasons why Linda Sarsour should not be allowed to be given a platform in our community and emphasized her unrepentant anti-Semitism.”
Sarsour is a Palestinian-American who was born and raised in New York and has garnered an international profile in the last few years with her anti-Israel and anti-Semitic broadsides. She has publicly defended such noted anti-Semites as Rev. Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam movement, and newly elected Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who has a noteworthy record of making anti-Semitic remarks.
Sarsour continues to play a role in the Women’s March movement, which, according to an article in Tablet magazine last fall, is riddled with anti-Semitism, a tone set by Sarsour and other leaders.
Marty York, B’nai Brith’s chief media relations and communications officer, further points out that Sarsour rejects the legitimacy of Zionism and has stated that Zionist women should be excluded from feminist movements. She has also promoted age-old anti-Semitic tropes, such as accusing American Jews of dual loyalties and U.S. politicians of being more loyal to Israel than to their own country.
She has also been quoted as saying that “Jews condone violence against Arabs and are cool with mosques being attacked,” and “That nothing is creepier than Zionism.”
The panel discussion, which is scheduled for April 26, also includes educator and poet Tasha Spillet and Nora Loreto, a left-wing writer, activist and organizer. It was originally scheduled to be held at the new Seven Oaks Performing Arts Centre at Garden City Collegiate in northwest Winnipeg. However, the Seven Oaks School Division pulled the plug on the venue after school trustees and the division’s superintendent, Brian O’Leary, were made aware of Sarsour’s history by concerned community members.
“When we booked the panel discussion, we only knew that the Social Planning Council is funded by the United Way,” said O’Leary. “This panel discussion was neither sponsored nor embraced by the Seven Oaks School Division.”
In a press release, the SPCW describes Sarsour as “an award-winning racial justice and civil rights activist, community organizer and every Islamophobe’s worst nightmare.”
“We think Ms. Sarsour will contribute to the conversation, which is about how to make the necessary societal and systemic changes needed to create a truly just society,” noted Kate Kehler, the SPCW’s executive director, in a press release. “She has been involved and led organizing efforts on a multitude of issues and has been recognized by the Obama White House as a ‘champion of change.’ ”
York responded by saying that, “It is incumbent upon the SPCW and CMWI to follow their own values of creating communities that are just and equitable and swiftly rescind their invitation to Sarsour. Equity means that members of all identity groups could attend without being harassed or targeted. That includes Jews.”
The Peel District School Board has responded to the controversy swirling around an anti-Semitic sign at one of its schools, following a meeting with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).
As reported in The CJN last week, a banner hung at Stephen Lewis Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont., suggested that Israel is conducting human testing on Palestinian prisoners. It was taken down on April 12. Officials at the board said it was part of a Grade 12 class project.
Noah Shack, CIJA’s vice-president for the Greater Toronto Area, said he was “outraged and disturbed” that students at the school promoted “anti-Semitic blood libels against Israelis.”
Following a meeting on April 16 with “senior leaders” from the school and the board, CIJA said the board confirmed that it had cancelled the project and that all materials and social media posts associated with it had been removed.
As well, CIJA wrote in a press release that the board “has explained to students and staff involved that this project was rooted in falsehoods and constitutes a modern-day anti-Semitic blood libel; has committed to take measures to ensure an incident like this never occurs again within its schools; committed to take appropriate disciplinary action as necessary to address this incident; (and) to use this incident as an educational opportunity to teach students about the nature and dangers of anti-Semitism.
“The board will work with CIJA and the Jewish community to conduct staff training on anti-Semitism, recognizing the need to address systemic challenges and a problematic climate in the school.”
The incident “struck a deep nerve within our community. Rightly so,” Shack noted. “Together, we demonstrated that we will never be silent when – just days before Passover – ancient blood libels are revived.”
In its own statement, the board said it reaffirmed its “unequivocal condemnation of anti-Semitism in all of its forms. We acknowledge and take full responsibility for the profound, negative impact these materials have caused to many members of the community, including our students, their families, staff and the broader Jewish community.”
Peter Joshua, the board’s director of education, said, “I would like to offer a formal apology to all of those exposed to these hurtful materials. There is no place in our schools for hatred of any kind and we are committed to doing better.”
The poster, which was made in the Grade 12 equity and social justice: from theory to practice course, “contained links to misinformation and constitutes a disturbing, modern-day anti-Semitic blood libel trope,” Joshua said.
“We have determined that it was not the teacher or the students’ intention to promote what they now understand to be false allegations. Their project was unintentionally rooted in falsehoods, is anti-Semitic and has been stopped.”
He said that while the project’s intent was to advocate for the protection of human rights, it “discriminated against members of the Jewish community by perpetuating anti-Semitism. This has no place in our schools or anywhere in Peel Region and beyond.”
The board is conducting an investigation.
CIJA called the board’s statement “a welcome commitment to address this serious incident in a meaningful way.”