At a time when LGBT communities face frightening and growing prejudice from governments overseas, Canada's Bill C-279 serves as a stark moral contrast with the likes of Uganda, Russia, and numerous undemocratic regimes across the Middle East. It is often overlooked that the "T" in LGBT refers to the transgender community, members of which continue to face serious discrimination in some quarters. In supporting C-279 and calling on Parliament to enshrine greater protection for transgender Canadians, I am proud that we continue the legacy today.
The situation Canadian Natives face is not befitting of Canadians' genuine compassion and sense of fairness. But Canadian Jews have, like American Jews during the civil rights struggle, a special duty born of shared experience to actively support First Nations' efforts "to be a free people in their own land" (from the Israeli anthem).
Think of the many cultures throughout history that have disappeared, some for which we've no account, and others now only known by artifacts or bits and pieces of written history. Rather than focus on the cultures that have been lost, First Nations can focus on the one that has survived thousands of years,
To this day, I cannot watch footage of the faces of Jewish mothers, fathers, and children consigned to the gas chambers in German concentration camps without, as a Canadian, feeling a great sense of sorrow, loss, and guilt. The government of Canada ignored not only the plight of the Jews, but also the protests of the Canadian people and the pleading of the press. Why was nothing done? Because of political expediency; because the prime minister had a visceral distrust of Jews, and in government circles an open-door policy was very unpopular. But prime ministers are not chosen to seek popularity. They are elected to provide leadership.
Rock throwing. Beatings. Bullets. Shouts of "F----ing kike." Ambushes. Theft. Threats. Tear gas attacks. This is not history. This is today. The French Jewish community expects and deserves a far greater degree of respect, as well as a strategic response to the blatant anti-Semitism they are experiencing.
When I was a child growing up in Ottawa in the 1950s and 60s, ours was one of only a small number of Jewish families in the city. We inescapably got enveloped by the Christmas spirit. I still recall my parents' sardonic smiles the year I came home to announce that I would be playing Joseph in the school pageant. That same year, I decided I would sit on Santa's lap at Frieman's department store. Turns out Santa was none other than Moishe Gorinsky, a Jewish friend of my father's moonlighting that season as a department store Claus. It was a sobering experience for a 9-year-old, to be sure.
Trudeau's Protection of Privacy Act made it illegal for people to use wiretaps and other forms of electronic devices without a person's consent. The law has since evolved, but its spirit still resonates with Canadians. That explains the widespread wince last winter, following Vic Toews' tabling of an "online snooping bill" that put an electronic prisoner's bracelet on every Canadian. And members of the LGBT community were left disturbed and frightened when a GLBT-themed message from the minister's office landed in their email inbox in September. The Harper government's Orwellian strategies constitute an affront on the Canadian way of life and the freedoms we all cherish.
In 1994, while in the employ of the United Jewish Appeal and Jewish Federation of Greater Toronto, I was given the task of overseeing former Israeli prime minister Yitzchak Shamir's trip to Toronto. But of course, as fate would have it, Saudi Arabian sheiks were staying in the same hotel as he was. What was I to do?
On June 21, a Jewish woman was detained for hours by Israeli police for praying at the Western Wall. Why? Because she was wearing a tallit -- a prayer shawl. Some say that women who are wearing the tallit are flaunting their piety, but is this really the case? Shouldn't we, as a Jewish people, give women the benefit of the doubt when they honour Hashem?
In September 2012, a successor to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the current Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, will be appointed. The new rabbi will begin his tenure in September 2013. If the post will not undergo a major transformation and become purely one of spiritual and educational leadership, then it is far better to leave the post empty than to continue the institution of a chief rabbi.
"Polish death camps," isn't the first embarrassing "misspeak" by President Obama. But for some reason, when Palin makes a gaffe about Russia, it gets parodied by comedians. When Obama makes a gaffe about the Holocaust or concentration camps, all that ensues is an apology. Like warfare, politics isn't fair.
It was difficult for bullies to gain a public pulpit. Letters to newspapers were closely monitored to ensure that slander and intimidation were not published. Magazines and television likewise; the professional mainstream media for the most part undertook the responsibility to self-regulate. Today anyone can publish virtually anything, and personal attacks are de rigueure.
I find myself disheartened by the direction that the conversion debate is unfolding in Israel and the Diaspora. While we cannot hope to be, nor should we strive to be, uniform in our views, we have an obligation to be united as one Jewish people. It makes no sense that Orthodox converts, including those looking to make aliyah (moving to Israel), face the possibility of seeing their fully halachic conversions retroactively annulled.
In cottage country, and even on Toronto's beaches up to the mid 1950s, it was common to see signs that read "No Dogs or Jews Allowed." Though we, as a nation, have made great strides in the name of human rights for all, we cannot be complacent. There cannot be justice for Jews if there is not justice for everyone.
Instead of a person's values coming to carefully inform one's opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, what I'm seeing is the reflexive taking of sides. What could be a very fruitful discussion about values, ethics and policy instead comes to resemble a boxing ring, with everyone in their corners primed to fight.
In my opinion, the Israeli cost-of-living tent protests are not necessarily about the broadest reaches of social justice. They are confined to how Israelis want their own society to be ordered. And whatever the borders of the Jewish state, Israel must not sacrifice democracy on the altar of ethnicity.