From the category archives:

Jewish life

Four thoughts about this New York Times piece on Bernie Sanders being the first viable Jewish candidate for President:

  1. He’s usually highly accessible to the media. But he declined to be interviewed for this article. Which is both admirable and highly telling: Admirable because the religious views of American politicians are usually front and centre in campaigns (unlike here in Canada, where we mostly consider it to be their personal business). But also telling, for the same reason, because any experienced US politician knows that NOT talking about religion is just as conscious a choice as talking about it.
  2. 92% of Americans said they would have no problem voting for a Jewish President. That’s refreshing. (Though I doubt the numbers would be nearly as high for a Muslim President.)
  3. The idea that many American Jews don’t feel the need to support Sanders out of a sense of loyalty. That’s nice, too, considering voting based on tribalism rather than ideology is far too common. It also speaks to a sense of security that the Jewish community has achieved in the US.
  4. But it also speaks to many Jewish Americans’ discomfort with Sanders, which is probably a result of the US Christian Evangelical right wing having politicized support of Israel as a right-wing issue — and, consequently, relegated the left wing to have to prove itself as NOT anti-Israel. Sanders may be Jewish, but he represents a socialist wing of the Democratic party that has ties to a lot of Israel’s enemies. Even those among the US Jewish Community who believe in Sanders’ domestic policies are somewhat wary of his foreign policy credentials when it comes to the middle east.

How any of this will play out in the Democratic primaries, or, indeed, in a general election, is anyone’s guess. I want to believe that even the most right wing Jewish Americans would stop short of casting a vote for the likes of Trump. But there isn’t much to suggest how votes would split in the primary in states with large Jewish populations like New York. An AJC poll puts support for Clinton at 40% versus only 18% for Sanders, but it dates from last September — long enough ago to be irrelevant.

Very likely Sanders will pick up support from younger, more left wing Jewish Americans, while older ones will continue to support Clinton. But I don’t think there will be a Lieberman-like surge among American Jews to throw their support behind Sanders as “one of our own”. Nor do I think Sanders will make an effort to campaign on that basis.

All that to say: It’s complicated.


Don’t Stand By


Today is the UN’s internationally designated Holocaust Memorial Day. (Not to be confused with Yom HaShoah, which falls in early May this year.)

This year, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust is urging us to not only remember the victims of the Holocaust, but to turn our focus towards fighting persecution that is taking place in today’s world, right here in 2016:

Don’t stand by is the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2016.

The Holocaust and subsequent genocides took place because the local populations allowed insidious persecution to take root. Whilst some actively supported or facilitated state policies of persecution, the vast majority stood by silently – at best, afraid to speak out; at worst, indifferent. Bystanders enabled the Holocaust, Nazi Persecution and subsequent genocides.

We said “Never Again” but that did nothing to stop genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia or Darfur.

We said “Never Forget” but we can’t apply that only to antisemitism when there’s so much discrimination even in our supposedly democratic, free home countries, against people with different skin colours, gender identities, sexual orientations, religions or traditions.

We tore down the concentration camps in Europe and made them into museums. But prisoners are still being sent to death camps in places like North Korea.

Adolf Hitler has been dead for 70 years, but politicians are still running for office and using minority-baiting and drumming up hate, fear and prejudice in order to gain power.

We’ve acknowledged the tragic outcome of saying “none is too many” and yet we still react in fear when desperate refugees from civil wars in places like Syria want to come to our shores.

Competing about tragedies (“ours was worse than yours”) only serves to divide us, to pit us against each other and to further build walls between humans. Instead, let’s focus on calling out injustice and persecution wherever we see it. Not just today, but every day.

It’s not just about being Jewish. It’s about being human.


Tories, Israel, and Chutzpah


Two weeks ago, like Jewish people around the world, I went to my local synagogue on Yom Kippur for Kol Nidre prayers. I saw a giant “Shana Tova” campaign poster just outside my shul in Westmount proclaiming the Conservatives as the only party that will stand by Israel “through fire and water”. It wasn’t just [...]

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Antisemitism is now a side-effect of drunkedness?


Warning to those of you who like a few glasses of wine with your meal: Apparently, virulent antisemitic ranting is now a side-effect of alcohol consumption. First, Mel Gibson. Now John Galliano: The French fashion house Christian Dior said Tuesday that it had started procedures to dismiss its chief designer, John Galliano, following accusations that [...]

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Chanukah’s difficult questions


Interesting op-ed by David Brooks in the New York Times about the real story of Chanukah and the difficult questions that it raises: Generations of Sunday school teachers have turned Hanukkah into the story of unified Jewish bravery against an anti-Semitic Hellenic empire. Settlers in the West Bank tell it as a story of how [...]

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Holocaust-denying bishop issues non-apology apology


Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson, recently reinstated by the Pope, much to the anger of Jewish groups worldwide, has issued the classic non-apology apology: “Amidst this tremendous media storm stirred up by imprudent remarks of mine on Swedish television, I beg of you to accept, only as is properly respectful, my sincere regrets for having caused [...]

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Save the Saidye


Okay, so it’s not closing. But it is scaling way back. One of the Montreal Jewish Community’s most beloved institutions, the Saidye Bronfman Centre, is cutting its fine arts classes to focus exclusively on theatre and performance: The school employed 85 artists and had 1,800 students learning painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, calligraphy, printmaking, design, jewellery, [...]

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Aseret yemei teshuvah


These ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are traditionally the days when Jews ask forgiveness from people and from G-d for any wrongs we might have done throughout the year. I’m not religious by most definitions, but I’ve always liked the concept, and particularly the notion that we need to be forgiven by [...]

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This can’t be good


Guess whose latest project is a movie about the Holocaust? None other than Mel Gibson, the guy whose megahit movie “The Passion of the Christ” was widely seen as antisemitic: Gibson’s Con Artist Productions is developing “Flory” for ABC, based on the true story of a Dutch Jew named Flory Van Beek and her non-Jewish [...]

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The best part of Rosh Hashanah


Here in Montreal, anyway… when Rosh Hashanah is “late”, like this year, it coincides with the peak of apple season. Fresh-picked apples and honey… mmmmm….

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