CANADA: Who today in Canada speaks out for Judaism?


Canadian Jewish Congress is a friend


By Alan Simons

JANUARY 5, 2011- J.J. Rousseau, the 18th century French philosopher said, “The Jews in Dispersion have not the possibility of proclaiming their own truth to humankind; but I believe that when they once have a free Commonwealth, with schools and universities of their own where they can speak out safely, we shall be able to learn what it is that the Jewish people have to say to us.”

To which we might add, that today in the 21st century, we Jews are still trying to communicate, to coexist with each other, let alone trying to figure out what we have to say to both Christian and Muslim communities.

Communication is about giving-taking, asking-answering, sending-receiving. It is not something as individual Jews we are known by others to be good at accepting.

Why do Jews make such lousy communicators?

For as Frank Luntz, the US-based political and business pollster has pointed out, “Why do Jews make such lousy communicators? For hundreds of years, we used the great art of language development to entertain as well as educate. It is no coincidence that so many of the great intellectuals, academics, writers and performers come from our ranks.”

He adds, “The ability of Jews to understand and connect with people transcends international boundaries. It is in our culture and in our blood. But over the past 20 years, we have developed some very destructive communication habits that have seriously undermined our efforts and the causes we believe in. Our words lose their resonance and our style and tone offend. We assert when we should inform. We reject when we should interject. We push people away when we should pull them in. . . . Non-Jews do not want to hear our complaints. They want to know our solutions.”

Let’s face it, in spite of our fighting qualities, most of which are directed against each other, who is there amongst us in Canada that stands up for unity within the ranks of Canada’s Jewish people? It would seem, according to most of the letters that have recently been published in the Canadian media, the resounding answer from Jews and non-Jews alike, without any doubt, is Canadian Jewish Congress.

Canada's Prime Minister Harper attending a CJC Plenary Session

Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) has been in the forefront for countless years of being regarded as the designated Canadian Jewish voice by non-Jews in this country and abroad. Today, it stands far above its rivals in areas of communication, public affairs, advocacy and government relations. Over the years its education, heritage and outreach programmes have received much admiration, especially in the area of fighting antisemitism. CJC was the first Jewish organisation in North America to extend its hand to the continent’s newly arrived genocide survivors from Rwanda. The bond between the two communities continues to remain strong. And last year, a helping hand was extended to the Somali student community. As reported, “The Jewish-Somali Mentorship Project is extraordinary in that it is the first time in Canada or anywhere else in the world that the Jewish and a large Muslim community have come together to work at a national level.”

Change does not come easy for us Jews

But the era we now find ourselves responding to, is an age where we have to face the fact that changes are afoot to restructure Canada’s Jewish communal advocacy. Change does not come easy for us Jews. To quote the American, King Whitney junior: “Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful, it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident, it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better.”

For many Canadians, Jews and non-Jews alike, Canadian Jewish Congress is a friend. And friends are hard to come by. As Jews, we are perhaps so ingrained in believing no one really cares about whom we are, that after so many generations of being hurt, when it comes to change, we continually turn inward to have little trust in our leadership.

Last year, in an article published in jewishinfoNews, Rabbi Chaim Strauchler of Toronto’s Shaarei Shomayim Congregation, wrote about “The New North American Zionism.” He said:

“If I were to describe our age – we live in an Isaac era. There are periods of Jewish history with great innovation and great hope – where basic assumptions about what it means to be Jewish change and anything seems possible – these I call Abraham eras. Then there are times of consolidation – when facts-on-the-ground are consolidated and grand hopes become more modest realities. These I would call Isaac eras – periods requiring a gevurah – a strength and perseverance to make the gains of earlier eras concrete and lasting. It is not for us to value one age over the other – but each era requires a different response from us as members of the Jewish people.”

Nothing should change our opinion of a friend. The name “Canadian Jewish Congress” remains as the bastion of Canada’s Jewry. During 2011 and beyond, let us reflect on CJCs mission: “Canadian Jewish Congress works to foster a Canada where Jews, as part of the multicultural fabric of this country, live in and contribute to an environment of opportunity and mutual respect.”

In times of change, mutual respect between all must prevail.


(Photo credit: CJC)

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