Canadian Jewish Heritage Month Act

An Act respecting Canadian Jewish Heritage Month


In committee (House), as of Oct. 4, 2017

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill S-232.


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment designates the month of May in each and every year as “Canadian Jewish Heritage Month”.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Canadian Jewish Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

October 4th, 2017 / 5:05 p.m.
See context


Michael Levitt Liberal York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions among all parties, and I think if you seek it, you will unanimous consent for the following. I move:

That the Order made on Tuesday, October 3, 2017, pursuant to Standing Order 93(1), respecting the deferral of the recorded division on the motion for second reading of Bill S-232, an act respecting Canadian Jewish Heritage Month, be discharged and the motion be deemed adopted.

Canadian Jewish Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

October 3rd, 2017 / 6:05 p.m.
See context


Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to rise today to discuss Bill S-232 respecting Jewish heritage month. I want to recognize the work of my friend the member of Parliament for York Centre and Senator Frum for her work with respect to bringing this to Parliament to recognize Jewish heritage month and, more specifically, to recognize the important contributions that Jewish Canadians have made to Canada's social, economic, political, and cultural fabric, and to remember, celebrate, and educate Canadians about that contribution.

One might ask why an Irish Catholic MP from Ontario is rising on this. It is because throughout my own life, and certainly in my passion for political life in really all my adult life, I have seen first-hand the critical contributions of Jewish Canadians to the Canada we all enjoy today. Therefore, I will speak to that, much like my father John O'Toole who, as an MPP in the Ontario legislature, introduced a bill to recognize Irish Heritage Day. I think the fabric, the tapestry, of Canada is made better when we celebrate and acknowledge what produced it, which is a cross-section of people who have come here for the tremendous opportunity that Canada represents: the opportunity for them or their children to form critical parts of our political, cultural, and social history. Therefore, I want to congratulate my friend from across the way and my good friend from the Senate for bringing this today.

I also want to recognize a very important person in my life, my late uncle, Paul Goodman, for educating me on Jewish traditions, for allowing me to join them for Passover and a number of special celebrations in the community, and for being my first relative to really challenge me to think about the world and Canada's place in it. I am thinking of him as I stand here today, and my Aunt Jane, who remains a very important part of my life.

I think all parliamentarians have to have a great respect for Herb Gray, the first Jewish cabinet minister from the Liberal Party, who became a cabinet member in 1969 and by the time he left Parliament was the longest-serving parliamentarian. The “Gray fog”, as someone reminded us, was very effective at dispersing any criticism of the Chrétien government because he would get up and just dispel the Gray fog to much effect. I had the personal privilege of helping organize a dinner in Toronto a decade ago with the Churchill Society for the Advancement of Parliamentary Democracy to celebrate him as our Churchill award winner for his tremendous contributions to our parliamentary democracy. I think his impact is still felt in this place. I am sure I can say that my friend from York Centre probably draws some inspiration from the life of Mr. Gray.

This is how it has impacted the Irish Catholic kid from southern Ontario. At that dinner I got to meet a hero of mine, Mr. Barney Danson, who was the first Jewish defence minister in Canadian history, very appropriately so as he was a veteran of the Normandy landings and fought with the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, our oldest regiment in continuous service. I just happened to be in its armouries last week as part of the Invictus Games. To have storied veterans like Mr. Danson serve with that regiment I think makes it and our country better. Like many veterans from World War II, he returned to Canada injured, with loss of vision in one eye. However, one did not see that impact his business career or certainly his remarkable public service as an MP or as a defence minister who understood the file from having worn the uniform of his country.

As a Conservative MP, it is important for me to say how proud I am that two parliamentarians, Senator Frum and the member of Parliament for York Centre, are bringing this forward, because the history of the Jewish community, like that of all Canadians, is not confined to the Liberal, PC, Conservative, or NDP parties.

I had the honour of meeting Larry Grossman before he died far too young, an MPP in the Ontario legislature and the first Jewish leader of the PC Party of Ontario. He assumed that mantle in 1985.

Of course, our Parliament saw David Lewis, leader of the New Democratic Party in 1971.

Last week, I joined many from the business community at the launch of Nuit Blanche at Toronto City Hall. Where did we see that exhibit? It was in Nathan Phillips Square, the namesake for a very important civic leader from Toronto, Mr. Nathan Phillips, a Jewish mayor of that city.

Also, I am very proud to say in the House that the first leadership vote I cast as a young PC, while still in the military, was for my friend Hugh Segal. He was not successful in his leadership bid, kind of like I was not successful most recently. However, he ran with honour and integrity, and with ideas for the future of the country. I was proud Prime Minister Martin later appointed him as a Conservative senator to our upper house.

We need only look at the wonderful investiture of our new Governor General yesterday to see how the arts community in Canada and around the world reverberate. Perhaps my favourite part was the spectacular rendition of Hallelujah, by Leonard Cohen, someone from the Montreal Jewish community.

My previous experience with that song was hearing it sung at the opening of the Vancouver Olympics. It is now one of the most iconic and covered songs in the world, with its origins in Montreal.

Also out of Montreal, another contributor to the arts community, one of my favourite actors, is William Shatner. We were investing an astronaut as our Governor General. Who was the first space traveller we all looked to but Canada's own William Shatner.

I remembered when preparing this speech, my sendoff to my friend Arnold Chan, who passed and left us, was an exchange between Mr. Nimoy and Mr. Shatner and his famous Star Trek line, “I have been, and always shall be, your friend”. I was glad to see the Prime Minister also used it when he eulogized our friend Arnold.

Certainly, that iconic friendship was from a Canadian Jewish actor and an American Jewish actor. It resonates with me still to this day.

How else has it affected me? The tremendous business success that some members of the Jewish community have enjoyed has often led to outstanding, in fact trail blazing, philanthropy.

I am a graduate of the Schulich School of Law, the Dalhousie University law school. That is just one of five schools Mr. Schulich has endowed to ensure we educate Canadians, be they here for many years or a few weeks, to give them the tremendous opportunities many Jewish immigrants had when they came to Canada, to have success in our country.

Indeed, culturally, politically, from a philanthropic and business standpoint, we cannot look around modern Canada and not see the tremendous impact of Jewish Canadians on our country. That is why I am so happy my friends have brought Bill S-232 to this place to ensure we mark each year with a month for Jewish heritage.

My friends have have said this is a celebration, but it is also important to remember and educate. Those are critical. I applaud, as my colleagues did today, the Minister of Heritage who said in this place that the Liberals would rectify the designation at the Holocaust memorial.

I was proud, alongside my friend from York Centre and others, to condemn the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in the House, in which members of Parliament can try to show the creeping edge of anti-Semitism. If we look at recent statistics, it is still the Jewish community and anti-Semitism that ranks as the highest hate crime in Canada.

Therefore, as we honour, remember, and celebrate, let us also educate. It is important for Canadians to realize that this form of discrimination, anti-Semitism exclusion, can still creep into our society. It must be called out when we see it. Parliamentarians have a special duty in that regard for all types of intolerance.

Reading the newspaper, I learned that the Prime Minister may honour and remember the merchant ship St. Louis. We must remember that terrible episode from our past, from the one is too many era, where we denied 900 Jews fleeing Europe at a time we should have opened up to protect them.

We have much to celebrate. I have tried to touch on this, but as my friends have said, celebrate, remember, and educate. I am very glad we will be able to do that each year as Canadians, whether Jewish or Irish, to celebrate the tremendous contribution of Jewish Canadians.

Canadian Jewish Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

October 3rd, 2017 / 6:15 p.m.
See context


Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased and honoured to rise to support this bill to create a Jewish heritage month.

This bill recognizes that Canada has a large Jewish community and reminds us of the important contribution that Jewish people have made throughout our history. The bill seeks to designate a month, the month of May, to recognize, highlight, and celebrate Jewish heritage. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to talk about how important the Jewish community and its contributions are to Quebec and the rest of Canada.

Quebec has become what it is today because of the strength of presence of each of its citizens, people of all origins, of all faiths, and of all communities. Our society is built on the contributions that each and every man and woman who participated in our country's journey have made throughout history.

The Jewish community is an integral part of Quebec life. Jewish cultural heritage and traditions have over the decades woven into the fabric of Quebec and its culture. Jewish culture has been a part of Quebec for centuries. It all began surprisingly with one Esther Brandeau, a young Jewish woman from the Bayonne region in France, who arrived in New France in 1738 and declared her Jewish origins to the authorities, who were mainly from the Church.

It was not until Aaron Hart settled in Trois-Rivières in 1761 and the first synagogue in Montreal was founded on what is now known as the corner of Boulevard Saint-Laurent and Rue Notre-Dame that Jewish culture truly took root in Quebec.

The Jewish community also faced prejudices during the election of Ezekiel Hart, who was twice elected the member for Trois-Rivières, but barred from taking a seat in the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada because of his Jewish faith. The Jewish community would forever be part of Quebeckers' future when Louis-Joseph Papineau, one of the great figures of our history, had legislation passed at the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada, on April 12, 1832, namely “An Act to declare persons of the Jewish Religion entitled to all of the rights and privileges of the other subjects of His Majesty in this Province”.

Thanks to the struggle waged by the Jewish community and the Hart family and the support of progressives in Louis-Joseph Papineau's party, Quebec became the first colony in the British Empire to emancipate Jewish citizens and grant them full rights. The Jewish community flourished and grew, swelled by waves of immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries. Each year starting in 1904, an average of 10,000 Jews settled in Canada from eastern Europe and other parts of the world. They continued to stream in throughout the 20th century and into the present day. Among them were the ancestors of many illustrious figures who have done much to define Quebec, its culture, and its contribution to the world.

These luminaries include Leonard Cohen, one of Montreal's greatest poets; Moshe Safdie, the architect who built monuments in all of our major cities, including Habitat 67 in Montreal, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, and the Museum of Civilization in Quebec City; Phyllis Lambert, to whom we owe the preservation and restoration of Montreal's architecture; and others, such as Pauline Donalda, David Lewis, Stephen Lewis, Irwin Cotler, and Victor Goldbloom, Quebec's first Jewish cabinet minister.

The motion we are discussing today is about the Jewish contribution to Canada's growth and prosperity. I would also like to emphasize their contribution to solidarity in our country, the labour movement, and the workers' defence movement. One person who comes to mind is Léa Roback, an activist, feminist, and union organizer who led job action such as the Montreal garment factory strike by 5,000 women workers. She also represented the 3,000 RCA Victor workers in Montreal, and she fought for abortion rights and housing and against apartheid and the Vietnam War.

The Jewish community and its culture have left an indelible mark on our city. Every street in Montreal is, in a way, a shared heritage, a place where time stands still. Montreal's Boulevard Saint-Laurent from the St. Lawrence to the CP rail line, past Sainte-Catherine, Fairmount, and Jean-Talon, is itself a living legacy, a true human monument to immigration and the heritage of the communities that built our city.

If there were only one public place in Montreal, just one meeting place for people and communities, it would be Boulevard Saint-Laurent. Like so many neighbourhoods, this boulevard is also un undeniable part of the Jewish community. Dotted with signs and landmarks that Quebeckers have come to know, Boulevard Saint-Laurent is now also home to the Museum of Jewish Montreal.

Montreal and its streets, shops, meeting places, and landmarks are also the stage for the characters and childhoods evoked by Mordecai Richler, who paints a portrait of Boulevard Saint-Laurent and Rue Saint-Urbain, among other things, in a collection of stories simply entitled The Street, and who chronicles, autobiographically, his youth in Montreal, Jewish life in Montreal in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, but also the life of the francophones, anglophones, Greeks, and Portuguese who were his neighbours.

It is impossible to talk about a relationship with people of the Jewish culture and faith in our country without talking about the darker days of humanity, the days between 1933 and 1945 in particular.

I am respectfully aware of the pain and trauma forever etched in the bodies, minds, and souls of the survivors, forming a permanent memory that is passed down from one generation to the next. However, it is important to talk about what happened to make sure that we never forget.

As citizens, we must remember and acknowledge the crimes of the Holocaust. I was able to do so on three occasions in recent years: first at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a reminder of the unthinkable built in the middle of Berlin; then, at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, which is just as heartbreaking and intimate; and then finally here in Ottawa, just steps from Parliament, where we finally inaugurated a monument in memory of the millions of Holocaust victims. We were the only country among the Second World War allies that did not yet have a monument to commemorate the suffering of the Jewish people, even though the Jewish community has deep roots in Canada.

Today, we have a place to remember the genocidal violence of unimaginable proportions that took place during those years. The monument also serves as a reminder of our dark role in those events, since our government, here in Ottawa, chose to admit less than 5,000 Jewish refugees during that time and turned away many others, despite the horrors that were occurring in Europe.

We have a duty to remember. This duty to remember is also expressed by our choices regarding the kind of society we want, our decision to be a country that wholeheartedly welcomes refugees who have been persecuted or are fleeing violence, our decision to form a society that is open to others and that celebrates diversity, because the future of our country lies in its diversity.

It is this blending of cultures that characterizes and brings to life Quebec and its streets, alleyways, public spaces, CLSCs, church basements, community centres, places of worship, newspapers, and radio and television programs everywhere on a daily basis. It is this mosaic, vibrant and pulsating, yet calm and peaceful, that has always been part of Quebec's history and will always be part of our reality, which is a good thing.

We are a diverse nation, or in the words of Boucar Diouf, who, like me, lives in Longueuil, a tightly-knit diverse nation. That is one of the things that makes Quebec so compelling and such a source of inspiration. It is also what has given us our reputation as a nation of peaceful coexistence, which has found expression many times over the years.

We have had many debates over the past few years about what it means to be a Quebecker, about politics and religion, about the place of different cultures, about secularism, about coexistence and the relationships between citizens born here and those born elsewhere. These are important, legitimate debates, and I have always fought tooth and nail to defend the right of Quebeckers and their representatives in the National Assembly to have these debates.

However, we must never forget that we are talking about men and women, about families, about people, about citizens, about our neighbours, and that our primary obligation is to welcome them with our words and with our hearts. All of us, particularly we who have been elected by the citizens to represent them, have a responsibility to express that welcome, a Quebec welcome.

In the face of both differences of opinion and differences in background, no matter what debate is happening in Quebec, we need to remember that we share one land, a land that binds us. We need to remember that every person in Quebec is a Quebecker, and all Quebeckers are at home in Quebec. To paraphrase a former premier of Quebec, no matter what is said or done, Quebec will always be the homeland of 8 million citizens from here and from elsewhere, unconditionally, regardless of their birthplace, beliefs, language, or background. This can never be said often enough, and I am very proud to be here to say it myself this evening.

Canadian Jewish Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

October 3rd, 2017 / 6:25 p.m.
See context


Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking the member for York Centre for sponsoring Bill S-232 to establish Canadian Jewish heritage month.

Preparing for this debate has made me think about what we would be celebrating, how we would be doing that, and that it would mean different things for different people, which is what I find so exciting about having Canadian Jewish heritage month. It would give us an opportunity to explore and learn more about our rich Jewish heritage here in Canada. When I think about Canadian Jewish heritage, I think about our history, food, and some strong Jewish women who have paved the way for us.

On the history, I recently discovered that only a few blocks away from my home are two of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in Toronto. These are two small, fairly nondescript cemeteries we might not normally notice, but I am hoping that having a month like Canadian Jewish heritage month will give us an opportunity to learn more about these hidden spaces. One of the cemeteries is located on Pape Avenue, just south of Gerrard, behind the Matty Eckler Recreation Centre. This was the first Jewish cemetery in all of Toronto. It was established in 1849, before we even had the first synagogue in the city of Toronto. Its administration was taken over by the Holy Blossom Temple, and it has been closed since 1930. However, if members are walking along Pape Avenue behind the Matty Eckler Recreation Centre, they should take a peek, because it a little piece of our history.

The other historical cemetery is on Jones Avenue just south of Strathcona Avenue. As we walk along Jones Avenue, we can see some Hebrew writing on a wall, but otherwise we might not notice it is there. This is the second oldest Jewish cemetery in the city of Toronto. It was bought as farmland in 1883, and it was consecrated in 1896. It is where the city's first Orthodox Jewish rabbi, Joseph Weinrib, is buried. This cemetery is still in operation but on a very limited basis. In fact, the last burial was in 2008.

There are parts of our history that are also going to take us a moment to challenge the way we see our Canadian history and our path forward. When I say this, I think about the St. Louis, on which more than 900 Jewish refugees fleeing the Second World War were seeking refuge in Canada in 1939. This story is fairly well known. We have talked about it here. The boat was turned away, because the feeling at the time in Canada was that none was too many. This is a dark moment for Canadian history, but I would like to bring us back to my community. There is a beautiful narrative arc to this story.

I recently learned that one of the survivors of the St. Louis made it to Canada and had a family, and members of her family are part of the Danforth Jewish Circle in my community. I see beautiful light in this story, and where we can learn lessons from our history is that the Danforth Jewish Circle has been active in sponsoring a Syrian refugee family. Therefore, we see this wonderful story of our own history of many Jewish people coming here as refugees and now returning that circle in sponsoring people and welcoming them to our country. I had the opportunity to meet the family that was sponsored, and they are flourishing due to their own hard work but also because of the support they are receiving from the community. Therefore, in retelling our history as part of Canadian Jewish heritage month, we also have an opportunity to learn from our lessons from the past and see how we can pave a better future going forward.

As a Canadian Jewish woman, I am proud of some of the strong Jewish women who have come before me and formed part of our heritage. The heritage committee, on which I sit, recently did a study on women and girls in sports, and that was tabled in the House quite recently.

When we look at women and girls in sports, we owe a lot to the leadership of female Jewish athletes. I recently got the updatedBook of Lists,, and in it I was happy to see that Abby Hoffman was included in Lanni Marchant's seven gritty and groundbreaking athletic performances by women. She says that when Abby was nine, she wanted to play in a boys' hockey league, so she cut her hair short and registered as Ab Hoffman. She was known for her speed, skills, and determination that matched her better than those of the boys with whom she played. She went on to compete in four Olympic Games between 1964 and 1976, and medaled at the Pan Am Games.

Abby's efforts helped to open the University of Toronto's Hart House to women after initially being an all-male facility, and that was a big change. She is part of the reason women can now be at Hart House. At the 1976 summer Olympics in Montreal, she was also the first woman to carry the Canadian flag in the Olympic opening ceremonies.

I would like to do a shout-out to take a moment to recognize some strong Canadian Jewish women who have contributed. I would like to talk about another strong Jewish woman, Justice Rosalie Abella of our Supreme Court of Canada. She was born as a refugee in Germany, coming to Canada following the Second World War, and now she serves on our highest court. Her story is inspirational. This year, she was named the Global Jurist of the Year for her defence of human rights. We need to recognize some of the strong Jewish women whom we have in our community, and that will be at the centre of so many of our stories when we are looking at Canadian Jewish heritage month.

It might be because of the hour of this debate and feeling a bit peckish at the moment, but I cannot talk about Jewish heritage without talking about food. Food is at the heart of any culture. One of my favourite Jewish foods, one that has an important part in Canadian Jewish heritage, is bagels. All through university when I studied at McGill, my late-night snack was at St-Viateur Bagel down the street. It was right around the corner from me. To this day, I love Montreal bagels.

Bagels are a Canadian Jewish treat. I tried to track down the history of the Montreal bagel, only to discover that it is shrouded in mystery and controversy. Who knew? The Canadian Encyclopedia says:

The Montréal bagel is one of Canada's most iconic and coveted snacks. Its origins are contested and murky.

Food and controversy: that piques my interest. I am not going to be able to resolve that controversy tonight, but I can let members know a bit about the history.

Some say that bagels were brought to Montreal by Chaim Seligman, who helped to set up St-Viateur Bagel bakery. That was where I bought my bagels during my university years. Others say it was Isadore Shlafman, who was the person who started the Fairmount Bagel bakery, another popular bagel shop, which continues to be managed by the same family. For the record, I also enjoy Fairmount bagels. It is just that they were a little farther from my apartment.

When we look at the history, we see the story of the establishment of the St-Viateur Bagel bakery is not at all murky, and it tells a touching story. The history draws a story of moving from a place of adversity to building a better future in Canada. The shop founder, Myer Lewkowicz, grew up in a shtetl near Krakow, Poland. He was sent to Buchenwald concentration camp in 1942. Heartbreakingly, he apparently told a high school class about his experience at the concentration camp by saying, “At Buchenwald, all I dreamt of was a piece of bread.” After the war, he remained in Germany until 1952, when he was discovered by Jewish Immigrant Aid Services of Canada and moved to Montreal. In Montreal, he got a job at a bagel bakery on Saint-Laurent, and in 1957 he set up the St-Viateur Bagel shop with Mr. Seligman. That is how we have the shop today.

When we celebrate, we celebrate people, we celebrate food, we celebrate moments in our history, and we take our lessons forward. There are so many aspects of Canadian Jewish heritage that we could focus upon once this bill passes to recognize Canadian Jewish heritage month. I touched on a few parts, but the magic to me is that the establishment of this month would allow us to learn so much more. I would like to take a moment to thank the member for York Centre once again for bringing us this opportunity. I look forward to it.

Canadian Jewish Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

October 3rd, 2017 / 6:35 p.m.
See context


Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of Bill S-232, a bill that proposes to establish the month of May as Jewish heritage month.

I want to discuss the Jewish history in Edmonton and particularly in my riding of Edmonton West.

I want to thank Debbie Shoctor and the Jewish Archives and Historical Society of Edmonton for their work in gathering together the history of Jewish Edmontonians. It is from this work that much of my speech is drawn or plagiarized.

This legislation is important to me as the member of Parliament representing Edmonton West, because two of the Jewish congregations in Edmonton, Beth Israel Synagogue and the Chabad Lubavitch, are in my riding. The two rabbis, Rabbi Friedman at Beth Israel and Rabbi Ari Drelich at Chabad, I count as two of my closest friends.

It is important to recognize as well the work of Rabbi Friedman as the council chair of the National Holocaust Memorial that just opened. Rabbi Friedman, who is the grandson of Holocaust survivors, chaired the National Holocaust Monument Development Council, which raised $4.5 million for the design and construction of the monument.

Of the museum, Rabbi Friedman said, “It has been a very long work in progress, but we have reached the goal: It’s something I’m very proud of. It really symbolizes who we are as Canadians.” I thank Rabbi Freidman for his work.

Given the history of the Jewish people in Edmonton and the prominent role that Beth Israel and the Chabaud play in the community, I am pleased that this legislation passed the Senate unanimously, and I hope that my colleagues will do the same here.

Now, on to the history.

Abraham and Rebecca Cristall, Edmonton's first Jews, arrived in 1893, just a year after Edmonton was incorporated as a town. Their children, George and Rose, were the very first Jewish children born in Edmonton. Abe became a successful businessman and helped to bring more Jews over from his native Bessarabia.

Right from the beginning, the Jewish people played an integral part in the growth of Edmonton, dating back almost to the city's founding over a century ago.

In 1905, William "Boss" Diamond came to Edmonton after coming to join his brother Jacob, Alberta's first Jewish citizen, in Calgary. Even back then we had a rivalry with Calgary, and I will grant Calgary that point.

Together with eight other men, Boss Diamond and Abe CristaIl formed the Edmonton Hebrew Association in 1906. They hired Rabbi Hyman Goldstick of Pilton, Latvia to be rabbi for both the Edmonton and Calgary Jewish communities.

In 1907, Abe Cristall purchased land on the south side for a Jewish cemetery and the Chevra Kadisha was formed.

In 1912, the foundations were laid for the Beth Israel Synagogue on the corner of 95th Street and Rowland Road. Abe CristaII served as the first president, and William “Boss” Diamond served as the second, a position he held for 31 years.

In 1912, the Edmonton Talmud Torah Society was founded, with classes being held in the basement of the synagogue.

In 1925, the society erected its own building on Jasper Avenue, and it was incorporated as the very first Hebrew day school in all of Canada.

Note that it was not in Calgary.

One of my good friends Jamie and her husband Jonah have a young son named Benjamin. Jamie and Jonah plan on sending Ben to Talmud Torah for his education at this century-old institution, an example of the continuation of the work begun by Abe CristalI so long ago.

In 1928, a second congregation was started in the basement of the Talmud Torah building, which later became the Beth Shalom congregation.

A few years later, it was formally organized and they engaged Rabbi Jacob Eisen, who became the first English-speaking rabbi west of Winnipeg.

Also at that time, the new Yiddish school was opened in downtown Edmonton, enjoying a brief heyday before it had to close just before the war.

In 1938, just before the start of World War II, a 13-year old boy named Peter Owen became the only Jewish child let into Canada alone during the war years by a special order in council. He was sponsored by Edmonton lawyer H.A. Friedman, and was adopted by the family, eventually becoming a prominent lawyer himself and a permanent resident of the city.

By 1941, Edmonton's population had increased to 94,000, and the Jewish population stood at just below 1,500.

During World War II, 120 men and women from Edmonton's Jewish community served, with 11 of them giving their lives for our country.

The post-war years saw rapid growth in both the Jewish and general population of Edmonton. As a result, a new Beth Shalom Synagogue was built on Jasper Avenue. A new Beth Israel Synagogue building was constructed in 1953, as well as a new Talmud Torah building that same year, reflecting the population shift of the Jewish community from downtown to the west end.

In 1954, the Edmonton Jewish Community Council was formed as an umbrella organization for the community and served as such for the next 28 years. Later it merged with the Edmonton United Jewish Appeal and became the Jewish Federation of Edmonton, which still serves today.

Edmonton's booming oil-based economy brought increased Jewish immigration over the next two decades, with major influxes from other provinces in Canada as well as from places such as Hungary, Russia, and South Africa. The Jewish population tripled in size from 1951 to 1991 and now stands at about 6,000 people, many of whom reside in my constituency of Edmonton West.

All these new immigrants brought with them the organizations that contribute to Edmonton's vibrant Jewish community. The community's third congregation, Temple Beth Ora Reform congregation, was founded in 1979 and is housed in the Jewish Community Centre. Beth Tzedek, a new conservative congregation and offshoot of Beth Shalom, was started in 1989 and holds services at the Talmud Torah. In 1999, a new building for the Edmonton Talmud Torah was built in west Edmonton, and the very next year, a new Beth Israel Synagogue was built nearby, reflecting a further shift in the population of the Jewish community from downtown to west Edmonton.

In the fall of 2004, Edmonton elected its first Jewish mayor, Stephen Mandel. Mr. Mandel had previously served as a city councillor, continuing a long tradition of Jewish city councillors, including Dr. Morris Weinlos, Helen Paull, Mel Binder, Karen Leibovici, Tooker Gomberg, and Michael Oshry.

There has always been a strong tradition of civic involvement in the Edmonton Jewish community, with members serving on the boards and executives of many local arts, cultural, educational, and fundraising organizations as well as in the judiciary. Notable community leaders over the years include Tiger Goldstick; Joe Schoctor; the Ghermizian family, of course, of the West Edmonton Mall; and Darryl Katz, owner of our beloved Edmonton Oilers.

The Jewish Archives and Historical Society of Edmonton and Northern Alberta was founded in 1996 to preserve and promote the history of the vibrant Jewish community. I must thank it again for supplying much of the history I have just walked the House through.

I would also like to address the specific importance of a Jewish heritage month to acknowledge not only the contributions of Jewish Canadians to Canadian society but also the importance of teaching Jewish history to our younger generations, who will now be at least two generations removed from the horrors of the Holocaust and the Second World War. I make these comments in light of the recent anti-Semitic rallies in Charlottesville, which my Jewish friends described as sad but not surprising, as well as the growing strength of the BDS movement on our university campuses.

Hate crimes against those of the Jewish faith are still the highest per capita in Canada. A hate crime is a hate crime is a hate crime, and any number of hate crimes greater than zero is too many. We must not ignore crimes committed against one group. Otherwise, we normalize the hatred.

We see evidence of this attitude in the treatment of the BDS movement in this place. When a motion was brought forward to condemn the BDS movement in Canada, I was shocked that many in the House refused to vote for the motion to condemn BDS. The boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement makes little effort to separate the Israeli government from those of the Jewish faith, and consequently, treats them as one and the same. It is fair to criticize the policy decisions of the government of the day, which we do in this place all the time. It is unacceptable to treat those of a certain faith as the same as a certain government. BDS fails to make this distinction and encourages unchecked hatred across Canada.

This summer I travelled to Auschwitz and saw first-hand this monument to human tragedy. I want to share with the House the overwhelming emotion I felt when I visited the death camp. I was struck by the simple mechanics of the Holocaust, the cold and mechanical efficiency of the Nazi genocide machine.

My son and I travelled to Warsaw as well, and we visited the site of the old ghetto. The destruction was so thorough that no buildings remain, just a small portion of the wall the Nazis built around the ghetto. My son has just entered university to study poli-sci, and I am glad he will be able to gain a necessary perspective about world history and the capability of humankind to commit truly unspeakable atrocities.

The BDS movement is particularly active in Canadian universities, and I am glad there will be one more educated voice on campus fighting this insidious form of anti-Semitism.

We cannot allow the atrocities of the past to be repeated. Remembering the contributions of the Jewish people to our country is a good step toward combatting anti-Semitism today. I am thankful for the contributions to Edmonton and to Canada by those of the Jewish faith. I am proud to stand today to support this motion to establish the month of May as Jewish heritage month.

Canadian Jewish Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

October 3rd, 2017 / 6:45 p.m.
See context


Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Mr. Speaker, I, too, want to start by thanking the member for York Centre for sponsoring this bill to recognize May as Canadian Jewish heritage month.

Perhaps it is a surprise to some listeners that one of the three Victoria MPs is speaking to the bill. When it comes to thinking about Judaism in Canada, Greater Victoria is not often the first place Canadians think of, given the very large Jewish communities in both Toronto and Montreal. It may surprise listeners to learn that Victoria has both the oldest and the newest synagogues in Canada.

Congregation Emanu-El Jewish synagogue located in downtown Victoria, while not technically the first synagogue in Canada, is certainly the oldest in western Canada. Having been founded in 1863, it is the oldest synagogue in continuous operation in Canada, now more than 154 years.

Congregation Emanu-El marked its 150th anniversary in 2013, with the return of its Torah scrolls which had been sent to London for restoration. These two scrolls, which contain the five books of Moses written on calf skin in Hebrew, are known to have originally arrived in Victoria via San Francisco more than 150 years ago, but their origin has remained a mystery.

When they were sent out for restoration, analysis of the scrolls, especially features such as the stitching and the thread work, as well as the calligraphy, helped scholars determine they were more than 300 years old, and the style of calligraphy meant they were likely produced in Germany.

An interesting side note on the restoration of the Victoria Torah was the key role of Avielah Barclay, who grew up in Victoria, and was inspired by the age of the Torah in her local synagogue. As a result, she went to Israel to find a Hebrew ritual scribe, known as a sofer, who would mentor her as a woman.

In doing so, she thus became, not the first woman sofer, but perhaps the first in 250 years. I understand there are now 10 women studying to become a sofer, accepting the challenge not only to learn the more than 4,000 rules for writing a Torah, but also to understand the import of those rules and annotations, and the background that accompanies each of the handwritten Torah.

The first Jews came to Victoria with the gold rush in the 1850s, and by the end of that decade, there were more than 200 Jews living in Victoria. Their first community project, as in many communities, was the establishment of a Jewish cemetery in 1860, a cemetery which still serves the community to this day.

The Congregation Emanu-El came together in 1862, and shortly thereafter, in 1863, purchased the site for the synagogue and began construction. Congregation Emanu-El has been on the same site since 1863. The building was restored in a five-year project from 1978 to 1983, and then expanded with a new addition in 2004, all the while keeping its very prominent place in downtown Victoria and its status as the oldest house of worship of any kind in British Columbia.

Rabbi Harry Brechner has been the rabbi at Congregation Emanu-el since 2001. It has been a great pleasure and privilege for me to get to know him and his congregation better over my time as an MP, although the synagogue is located in the adjoining riding.

Today, perhaps, I am going to focus a bit too much on bricks and books history, but having returned just recently from Eastern Europe, where so many million Jews died in the Holocaust, I cannot help thinking how all the great post-war accomplishments of Jewish society and culture have come in the face of the enormous challenges of ongoing anti-Semitism and in the shadow of the Holocaust.

As I mentioned, as well as having the oldest synagogue in Canada, Greater Victoria is home to Canada's newest synagogue, located just on the boundary of my riding. I was pleased to attend the cornerstone laying for the Chabad Centre for Jewish Life and Learning. on August 24, 2016. I was awed to see the $3 million project completed just one year later, with the opening of the centre which contains a synagogue, Hebrew school, library, kosher kitchen, and much-needed day care.

As Rabbi Meir Kaplan came to Victoria to establish the Chabad congregation, based on Hasidic traditions and an outreach model, only 16 years ago, the accomplishment is truly amazing. As well as being the newest synagogue in Canada, the Chabad Centre will soon have the newest Torah in Canada.

In June of this year the community held a ceremony to celebrate the beginning of the writing of a new Victoria Torah, a very special ceremony which I was privileged to attend. The process will continue in Jerusalem and is expected to be completed sometime in 2018, as a result of generous financial support from the community, and in particular, generous support from Dr. Stan Shortt and Mrs. Lindy Shortt, who have dedicated this Torah in memory of their grand grandparents, Herschel and Sarah Gassner, and Moshe and Rushka Kleinwachs.

As their member of Parliament, I was very honoured to be asked to contribute to the project by writing one letter in this new Torah, though this took place under the firm guidance of a sofer who allowed me to place my hand on his as we wrote the letter together, because if I made a mistake, I would have to start over.

It may seem strange that I am saying so few words today about the contributions of the Jewish community of greater Victoria when there have been so many. Every place I go in the community, where there is a need, the Jewish community is present, whether in the charitable or volunteer sector, or public life where Jews serve as elected representatives, or work as teachers, professors, scholars, artists, or business people.

I know that one of my colleagues pointed out that Victoria MP Henry Nathan, elected in 1872, was the first Jewish MP to take a seat in the House. Not only does Victoria have the oldest synagogue, but also had the first Jewish MP.

Let me take a moment to draw attention to three contemporary members of the Jewish community in Victoria. First, I want to acknowledge former B.C. Premier Dave Barrett, the first Jewish premier in Canada and first MP to hold the federal seat I was first elected to, Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.

Second, I want to mention the woman who I think is the greatest painter Victoria has ever produced, Phyllis Serota, and no, I have not forgotten Emily Carr.

Last and less likely to be famous, as he is a teacher, is my friend and former colleague at Camosun College, Peter Maidstone, who mentored and inspired hundreds of students in sociology and Pacific Rim studies in a teaching career spanning three decades at Camosun.

I will stop with these three examples of contributions to our community both because my time in the House is, as always, limited and because this to me is the purpose of Jewish heritage month as we go forward, to celebrate the many contributions of Jews to our communities and Canada as a whole.

Again today I have emphasized the long presence of the Jewish community in Victoria. Just as mainstream Eurocentric views of the building of Canada almost always leave out first nations, they also cause us to think of all ethnic groups as somehow newcomers and as other than Canadian and, therefore, as somehow less important or less legitimate. Whether we are talking about the Victoria synagogue that predates Confederation or the more than century old Victoria Sikh temple, greater Victoria has always been a multi-ethnic, multicultural community, even if we have not always succeeded in being a fully inclusive society.

It is my hope and belief that the creation of Jewish heritage month will help contribute to better understanding of just how diverse we Canadians are, and in doing so contribute to building a Canada free from hatred and division.

Canadian Jewish Heritage Month ActPrivate Members' Business

October 3rd, 2017 / 6:55 p.m.
See context


Michael Levitt Liberal York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to reflect on the importance of the Canadian Jewish heritage month act in the closing minutes of this debate. I would like to thank colleagues from all sides of the House, particularly the members for Thornhill and Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, for their strong support of this bill. I also want to thank members of the Jewish community across Canada who have approached me and expressed their gratitude for presenting this bill in the House. Lastly, I want to thank my co-sponsor, Senator Frum, who did the invaluable legislative legwork shepherding this bill through the other place so it could be before us tonight. None of this would be possible, though, without the groundwork laid by the former member for Mount Royal, the Hon. Irwin Cotler, who originally introduced the substance of this bill in 2015. I dedicate my efforts on this bill in his honour.

This is the time of year that is very special for Jewish Canadians. Last Saturday was Yom Kippur. Two weeks ago was Rosh Hashanah, and this week will mark the festival of Sukkot. I cannot think of a better time for us to be debating this bill, as Jewish Canadians in communities across Canada come together to celebrate with friends and family.

Last week we saw the Prime Minister inaugurate the national Holocaust monument here in Ottawa. The monument serves to honour the victims of the Holocaust and to remind us of the important lessons it so painfully taught us all. As the Prime Minister noted in his remarks, the history of the Jewish community in Canada has not always been bright. In 1939, under Canada's infamous “none is too many policy”, the Government of Canada turned away the MS St. Louis. There were more than 900 Jewish refugees on board seeking sanctuary here in Canada. Government sanctioned anti-Semitism forced them to return to Europe, where 254 of them were murdered in the Holocaust, many at the infamous Auschwitz death camp. This uncomfortable truth is part of our history, and one we cannot turn away from.

However, the Holocaust monument stands for so much more. It also stands as a testament to the resilience and courage of Holocaust survivors. Many found a home in a more tolerant Canada and profoundly shaped our country and society. It is a source of pride that my riding of York Centre became home to so many Holocaust survivors who built new lives there.

By enacting a Jewish heritage month, we can preserve their legacies as a lesson to all Canadians, from all faiths and backgrounds, of the consequences of hate and intolerance. Canada and the Canadian Jewish community serve as a testament to the values of tolerance and pluralism. These lessons were not learned the easy way, but tragedies like the MS St. Louis demonstrate to us the need for compassion and understanding.

Even today our society faces the challenges brought by bigotry and xenophobia. Canada is not immune to anti-Semitism, the oldest hate of them all. Anti-Semitism does not affect just the Jewish community. It affects all communities and all Canadians. When it comes to hate crime, Jews are the most targeted religious minority in Canada, but Canadians of all backgrounds suffer when their fellow Canadians are targeted for no reason other than their faith.

Our great country, from coast to coast to coast, is an example of how we can build a successful society through inclusion and diversity. Canada itself is a rebuttal to those who would spread hate and intolerance. This year, the 150th anniversary of Confederation, gives Canadians an opportunity to reflect on the society we have built together and to honour the many cultures, traditions, and beliefs that underpin the very foundation of our country.

Jewish Canadians from across Canada have greatly contributed to our nation's successes over the last 150 years, and they will continue to play an important role as our country continues to grow. Their stories are many. As a Scottish Jew who arrived here in 1983, I have met Jewish Canadians from all corners of the world: South Africa, Russia, Israel, Morocco, India, Iran, Argentina, and many other countries. Their histories and experiences shape the Canadian Jewish identity and add to the very fabric of our nation, which is why a bill like this is so important.

The enactment of Canadian Jewish heritage month would ensure that these stories and contributions of Jewish Canadians are recognized, shared, and celebrated across this great country, inspiring all Canadians to build a better, more tolerant Canada for generations to come. This bill demonstrates the principles for which all of us in the House stand, and that is why I ask for all hon. colleagues to stand and support this bill.