1st Session, 42nd Parliament,
Volume 150, Issue 108
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
The Honourable George J. Furey, Speaker
Canadian Jewish Heritage Month Bill
Second Reading—Debate Continued
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Frum, seconded by the Honourable Senator Pratte, for the second reading of Bill S-232, An Act respecting Canadian Jewish Heritage Month.
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I rise today and give my full support to the creation of a Jewish heritage month in Canada. On a personal note, I want to thank Senator Wetston for giving me this opportunity to be the critic of this bill. I am really proud to be the critic of this bill.
Recognizing a people’s contribution to Canada is important because it highlights a community and the work that the community has done in Canada. The contributions and achievements of that community are highlighted and Canadians learn of the contributions that community has brought to Canada.
We also recognize the history of that community in Canada.
It is so important in a multicultural society to recognize the diverse stories of every community. Right now, we recognize Black History Month and Asian Heritage Month. Only through understanding each other can we build a better Canada. That is why I support this important bill, because it allows us to highlight and understand one another.
I want to thank Senator Frum for presenting this bill in the chamber and for the work she has done to bring this bill to our chamber.
Honourable senators, I arrived in Canada in 1975. I arrived here as a qualified lawyer, but with no job prospects. It was one of my greatest fears that I would arrive in Canada as a refugee and not be able to work in my chosen professional of law.
There was one individual, Jack Kowarsky, who believed in me. He was the one who gave me a real start even though I had no experience in Canada.
He did not look at my background, my faith, the colour of my skin or anything else. Instead, he looked at how he could support someone who was new in our country. It was then that I learned Jack Kowarsky’s values came from his Jewish faith and the community he was raised in. The Jewish faith community taught him that he should always support the people of the community that he lives in, that it is important to contribute to the people in the space you occupy. For that, I am forever grateful to Jack Kowarsky.
Honourable senators, if there is a community whose heritage must be recognized in Canada, it is the Jewish community. The Jewish people’s contributions to Canada cannot be overstated. In fact, their very existence in this country is a major achievement that every other minority community can appreciate.
Jewish heritage begins in this country before Canada even existed as a nation.
After the fall of New France, Jewish people were finally able to openly settle in Canada. They no longer had to pretend to be Catholics to gain entry and acceptance into Canada. The Jewish people were the first people who had to force Canadians to reflect on how to interact with other communities. They boldly forced that reflection upon Canadians by establishing Shearith Israel, North America’s first synagogue, in Montreal in 1768.
Suddenly, Canadians needed to consider if they wanted a pluralistic and inclusive Canada or an exclusive Canada. It is that very reflection set upon by the immigration of Jews to Canada that has set the pathway towards the inclusive country that we live in today. Jewish heritage set the foundation of what Canada’s inclusive ideology is built upon. Without that foundation, other minority communities may have had no place here, and what a tragedy that would have been.
But, honourable senators, as we all know, being a minority in Canada is not always easy. It is a constant uphill fight for recognition and equality. Yet, the Jewish community has never shied away from facing this challenge. They were the first to lead the way for other minority communities immigrating to Canada.
In 1807, Ezekiel Hart, from Trois-Rivières, became the first Jew in the entire British Empire to be elected to office. Unfortunately, he was denied his seat on the basis of his religion. He was told that he could not take office because the oath of office had the words “on the true faith of a Christian” written in it. After countless anti-Semitic letters and presentations, unfortunately, Parliament expelled him.
Ezekiel therefore returned to Trois-Rivières to face his constituents, but the people of Trois-Rivières refused to let this blatant anti-Semitism undermine the trust they had placed in him. He was elected again in 1808. That time, he swore the same oath as all the Christians but, once again, it was not enough, for he was expelled a second time because of his religion.
That, honourable senators, perfectly sums up the history of the Jews in Canada. They showed perseverance in the face of persecution and resilience in the face of anti-Semitism.
It is the same theme when it comes to Jewish immigration. In 1939, during the start of the Holocaust, Frederick Blair, the then-director of the immigration branch was asked how many Jewish people would be allowed into Canada after the war. I’m very embarrassed to tell you that he replied:
None is too many.
“None is too many.” That was the common attitude toward Jewish people during the worst genocide in human history. Yet, despite that attitude, or perhaps in spite of that attitude, in our Parliament today we have a number of parliamentarians of Jewish heritage. We have the fourth largest Jewish population in the world, and we have nearly 6,000 Holocaust survivors in Montreal alone.
Persistence in the face of persecution, resilience in the face of anti-Semitism.
Honourable senators, when a community from any part of the world comes to Canada, we encourage them to hold onto their values. We know that their contribution to Canada comes directly from their values. Those values become Canadian values. It is the greatest strength of our country.
Honourable senators, the persistence and resilience of the Jewish community are built into the values of Canada, the value of never giving up when things get tough, the value of staying strong in one’s conviction in the face of adversity, the values of education, hard work and community. It is those values that have led to so many success stories amongst Jewish Canadians.
I would like to share some of these success stories with you. In 1919, Max and Esther Bergman came to Canada from Erlich, Russia. They arrived with nothing but the will to work and a simple bagel recipe. After 18 years of hard work, Max opened his own business in 1939, a Russian bagel bakery, at a cost of $900 a month with a down payment of $10, a small fortunate at the time. Three families moved into the small apartment above the bakery: the Bergmans, the Newmans and the Rabinoviches. Everyone worked hard to contribute to the bakery’s success.
On Thursdays, after all the staff members were paid, Esther would host a large feast for everyone and thank them for their hard work. At the end of the feast, Max would ask his staff for a favour. If they wanted to work the next day, he needed some of their wages to buy more flour. Everyone contributed; no questions asked. They all understood that the only way everyone could survive was if everyone helped one another. No one went without.
Today, Max Bergman’s grandson owns Bagel King, Mmmuffins, Michel’s Baguette and, now, Second Cup. It all began with a bagel recipe brought over from Russia and a willingness to help one another in good times and in bad.
Honourable senators, we are going through a difficult period right now. Intolerance towards minority communities is on the rise, and traditionally liberal-minded states are enacting increasingly restrictive immigration policies. In 2013, Statistics Canada reported that 56 per cent of religiously motivated hate crimes targeted Jews, and that hate crimes committed against Muslims and other minority communities had increased considerably.
The Jewish people have gone through tremendous turmoil over the centuries. If there is any silver lining that can be derived from these terrible instances, it is the deep understanding that we rise and fall together.
The Jewish community is very diverse. There are the Sephardic Jews, the Ashkenazi Jews, Moroccan Jews, Ethiopian Jews, Orthodox Jews and Reform Jews. What binds all of them together is not only the name of their faith but an understanding that communities rise and fall together. It is a profound and innate understanding that we can learn from that Canadians rise and fall together.
Only through working together to combat hatred and bigotry with the best interests of our community in mind can we all rise together. Like the Jewish people, despite all of our diversity, Canadians are also bound together.
Honourable senators, I mentioned that the Jewish people have often led the charge for equality on behalf of all minority communities. In the late 1960s, they did exactly that. During that time, anti-Semitism was once again on the rise in this country. For three and a half years, the Jewish community worked diligently to pass anti-hate propaganda legislation. The Jewish community worked first to add religion as a characteristic of an identifiable group and then later passed anti-genocide legislation that included those identifiable groups. There were intense arguments about how adding religion to an identifiable group would pose a threat to freedom of expression, even though it was already determined that it would not.
Yet, despite the unwarranted opposition, the Canadian Jewish communities worked together to lobby the government to pass this incredibly important bill. They forced the government to take the moral stance that hatred would not be tolerated in Canada. It was first introduced on November 11, 1966, as Bill S-49, then as Bill S-5, then as Bill S-21 in 1969. It finally passed in this chamber on June 5, 1970, by a vote of 40 to 22.
Today, because of the efforts of the Jewish community and the efforts of countless others, we have anti-hate propaganda legislation in this country that protects religious minorities.
Honourable senators, I started this speech by talking about the great contributions that the Jewish community have made to Canada. In communities across Canada, there are schools and hospitals that have been made possible because of the contributions of the Jewish community and Jewish families.
I would like to offer one example and talk about one in particular, the Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. The Mount Sinai Hospital has the best maternity ward in Canada. In fact, they are the best in many different areas of medicine in Canada. Millions of dollars have been invested into the Mount Sinai Hospital by many generous Jewish families. I’m very proud to say that amongst us we have Senator Wetston and Senator Frum, who have worked very hard for the people in their area and for Mount Sinai Hospital.
Mount Sinai Hospital is a prime example of the Jewish community’s contribution to Canada. Only 8 per cent of the patients in Mount Sinai Hospital are Jewish, yet the only reason that it stands is because of the contribution of generous Jewish families.
The Jewish community has shown that looking after their own community also means looking after all Canadians. That is the culture of philanthropy that exists in the Jewish community.
I have seen this not only on a large scale, like offering services and infrastructure, but on a very personal level. I have found in my life, whenever I have needed support, when I have had real problems, it has been men like Art Vertlieb and Mark Weintraub who have stood by me. Both men have reminded me repeatedly through their actions that faith is not a sword that should separate us but, rather, a shield that should bring us together.
Honourable senators, recognizing Jewish Heritage Month in Canada is more than just recognizing the achievements and tremendous contributions of the Jewish people here. Senator Fraser has already mentioned the incredible culture of generosity and philanthropy within the Canadian Jewish community, and I echo that. It is also about recognizing the tremendous hardship that the Jewish people have endured both within and outside Canada. It is about recognizing those values taught in the synagogue or passed down through the millennia by family members. It is about understanding that we need to work every day to ensure that those values, and the values of every minority community, remain part of the fabric of our country. It is about not repeating the mistakes of our past. It is about giving every community the opportunity to set down its roots in Canada to contribute and thrive. It is about standing up to hate in all of its forms. That’s the story of Jewish heritage in Canada, and I proudly support it.
Honourable senators, I humbly ask that you also support this bill. When we pass this bill, we will be saying to the Jewish community, “We salute the work you have done in Canada.”
I would like to leave you with a quote from The Holy Quran. It is a quote that sits by my bedside, and to me it describes why we have months that recognize different communities:
O mankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other, not that ye may despise each other. Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is he who is the most righteous of you.
(On motion of Senator Gold, debate adjourned.)