Even the darkest of dark disappears with a glimmer of light. As we reflect on the year that was, we are reminded of the power of our community. Honouring Chanukah last week, here are eight flickers of light we achieved together during 2020. None of this would have been possible without YOU!
Light Across the Middle East: Celebrating the Abraham Accords
Thanks to the passion of an Ottawa Rabbi, the support of our Federation partners, and the participation of thousands of people just like you, the Canadian Jewish community wrote its way into the history books by hosting the first-ever simultaneous Chanukah candle-lighting across the Middle East. Diplomats and dignitaries in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Israel, and Canada enlightened us with a fascinating discussion about what the Accords mean for the region and Jewish-Arab relations around the world. Must Watch.
Charities and Non-Profits. Desperately Needed to Get us Through. Desperately Needed for the Rebuild.
The moment the pandemic broke, our Federation partners, and the awe-inspiring front-line agencies they support, mobilized quickly to provide emergency relief to the vulnerable, many of whom never imagined they might one day be so described.
Tens of thousands of hot meals. Bags of groceries. Countless wellness calls. Support for Survivors. Relief for parents. In consultation with agencies and Federations, CIJA worked with the federal and provincial governments to maximize COVID-19 emergency funding for Jewish community organizations.
So far, $30M.
Which means community organizations from foodbanks to day schools and many agencies between have accessed more resources to meet increasing demands. The pandemic is not finished, and neither is our work on this issue.
To Address It, You Must Define It
In October, Ontario became the first province to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. 10,000 community members sent a clear message to Queen’s Park: antisemitism is not welcome in Ontario. Queen’s Park agreed. As did the many municipalities across the province who also adopted the definition. This is the statement we issued jointly with B’nai Brith Canada, Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, and JSpace Canada.
There were times when it looked like it was filmed in someone’s basement, other times when the humour fell as flat as the host’s COVID-19 haircut. That is true. (Remember that bit in the canoe? ?)
But equally true is that, by profiling 40 dynamic community members over 18 episodes, we demonstrated that Canada’s Jewish community remains fascinating, diverse, and capable of moving mountains in service of caring for the most vulnerable.
For the latest episode, we found ourselves in Alberta celebrating the beautiful city of Edmonton and one of the Jewish community’s brightest lights, Debby Shoctor, a dedicated, long-time community professional and volunteer.
Securing our Community
Working closely with our Federation partners, CIJA helped improve security for at-risk institutions across Canada by leveraging and advocating for increased investment in the federal Security Infrastructure Program (SIP), which has played a critical role in protecting schools, places of worship, and community centres, not only for the Jewish community, but for at-risk communities across Canada.
This year, in partnership with Jewish Federations in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, CIJA organized community roundtables with federal cabinet ministers during which members of our community were invited to share their concerns about the rise of antisemitism. Lay leaders highlighted the community’s ongoing security requirements. The government responded by pledging $13 million over five years and $2.6 million ongoing for the SIP, an investment that will benefit our community significantly.
Reducing online hate is a priority for our community because we know that it can and does turn into real-world violence. We have been talking to the government about this and they are listening. We expect that, when Parliament returns, legislation will be tabled to address this growing problem.
But governments cannot solve this challenge alone. The social media giants have a role, which is why CIJA is part of a broad coalition of Jewish organizations around the world engaging directly with these massive corporations. With our partners, we have been strongly urging Facebook to ban Holocaust denial on their platform, which they did in October. This is a positive step, but more can be done. More will be done.
Forty community organizations form the Maspik! coalition. Inspired by passionate community members, supported by generosity and vision, and powered by CIJA, the coalition is fostering innovative and action-oriented approaches to address the growing challenge of antisemitism in Canada. Keep an eye on these pages for news about Maspik! in early 2021.
We know that our community truly thrives only when we establish strong political relationships. CIJA has enjoyed close connections to leaders and MPs from across the spectrum, as was demonstrated last week at various virtual Chanukah candle-lightings (including an 8th night candle-lighting event with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau) when political party leaders expressed warm support for the Jewish community.
As Co-Chairs of the CIJA National Board, we speak to countless people about a lot of issues. At least once a day, every day, something happens that reminds us how lucky we are to be part of this community. Though perspectives vary, we are continually reminded that the thread that knits so many together is your passion and deep desire to contribute to your community.
Jews have persisted for a reason. The reason is community, and we are all stronger together.
On behalf of all of us at CIJA, we sincerely hope you and your families remain safe and well,
Joel Reitman Jeffrey Rosenthal
Co-Chair, CIJA Board Co-Chair, CIJA Board