2023 in Review: Highlights of FSWC in Action Fighting Antisemitism

December 29, 2023


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2021 Year in Review

Dear Friend of FSWC,

With 2023 drawing to a close, we look back at the past 12 months - the ups, downs and, for the Jewish community, the unimaginable tragedies and difficult challenges. This year will forever be remembered for the soul-crushing Oct. 7 Hamas atrocities following their invasion of southern Israel, the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, followed by an unprecedented surge in antisemitism. We also can't forget the day that a Nazi war veteran received a standing ovation in Canada’s Parliament, or, on a positive note, the provincial governments that mandated or promised to mandate Holocaust education in schools.

Through it all, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) has remained on the frontlines in confronting acts of hatred against Jews, educating Canadians of all ages on the Holocaust and antisemitism and preparing young Jewish and non-Jewish Canadians with the necessary tools and knowledge to be the strong advocates the community needs. As you will see in our Year in Review below, and in our special end-of-year highlights video, our efforts made a positive impact across the country. We are forever mindful that none of what we do would be possible without your support, and for that I and our entire team are grateful to you.

As we move on from what has been a difficult year for the Jewish community, let's hope for a better one ahead. Wishing you and yours a happy, peaceful and fulfilling 2024.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year,

Michael Levitt
President and CEO, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center

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At a time of dwindling awareness of the Holocaust and growing denial and distortion online of this dark chapter of history, FSWC increased its educational reach by more than 10,000 students this year. In 2023, FSWC delivered more than 1,400 workshops to more than 48,000 students, both in person and virtually, across the country. We reached 355 schools in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. Workshop topics included the Holocaust and other genocides, antisemitism, human rights issues in Canada, online hate and more.

In addition to our educational workshops, thousands of students also participated in person and virtually in FSWC's annual Freedom Day and Speaker's Idol events, which are dedicated to inspiring young people to stand up and speak out against hate and intolerance and be upstanders in their communities.

Learn more about our student workshops

This year, FSWC's Tour for Humanity mobile human rights education centre - which educates students across Canada on the Holocaust, genocide and human rights - marked several milestones. With two buses now on the road, following the launch of our second bus last fall, we reached more students than ever before. This past spring, Tour for Humanity travelled to Canada's east coast for the first time, bringing Holocaust education to students in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

This year also marked Tour for Humanity's 10th anniversary, celebrated with a special event at Queen's Park hosted by FSWC with Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce and attended by Premier Doug Ford, leaders from other parties and numerous MPPs. Since its launch in 2013, Tour for Humanity has travelled to more than 1,000 schools and educated more than 175,000 students, teachers and community members.

Learn more about the Tour for Humanity

Written and illustrated by FSWC educators, The Long Road to Justice: The Story of Simon Wiesenthal is a picture book and classroom resource spotlighting Holocaust survivor and Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal's biography, offering an age-appropriate introduction to the Holocaust and antisemitism. Made possible, in part, through funding from the Government of Ontario, the book was published earlier this year and more than 8,100 English and 4,200 French copies have been distributed so far to schools across Ontario.

In 2023, FSWC provided more than 1,200 teachers tools to better teach about the Holocaust and its lessons in their schools. Meanwhile, our Antisemitism: Then and Now program reached more than 860 corporate professionals, who learned about the history of antisemitism and modern-day examples and how to be better allies to the Jewish community.

This year, for the first time ever, FSWC hosted two Compassion to Action programs, bringing educators to Poland in March to learn about the Holocaust and how to incorporate the lessons learned into their classrooms, and in July bringing leaders in education, law enforcement, government and the Indigenous community to both Poland and Israel to better understand Jewish history and how to combat hate.

Through FSWC, 240 Toronto Police cadets and many more York Region police learned about the Holocaust by hearing Holocaust survivor Andy Réti's poignant testimony. Our third annual Building a Case Against Hate conference brought together hundreds of law enforcement officials in person in Toronto and virtually. It featured several speakers who focused on important past hate crime cases in North America and provided insight into how to better investigate and successfully build a case against those perpetrating hate crimes and other cases of extremism.

Following the nightmarish events of Oct. 7, which saw Hamas terrorists brutally murder more than 1,200 Israelis and take some 240 hostages at gunpoint, Canadian Jews have experienced an extreme surge in antisemitism. In addition to publicly speaking out against antisemitic incidents - including the firebombings at a synagogue and community organization and bullets that hit Jewish schools in Montreal, graffiti in Toronto and the disturbing vandalism of an Indigo storefront in Toronto - FSWC has been working closely with police to ensure the safety of the community and launched initiatives to confront antisemitism. Following a series of hateful incidents at Canadian universities, FSWC issued a call for the Canadian government to convene an Emergency Task Force for On-Campus Antisemitism, for which talks are currently underway with government officials.

FSWC was on the frontlines when news broke of the disgraceful recognition of Nazi war veteran Yaroslav Hunka in Canada's House of Commons, where members and leaders from all parties gave him a standing ovation after he was called a "hero" by the Speaker of the House. Immediately, FSWC demanded an explanation and public apology, followed by a call for the Speaker to step down over his decision to invite and recognize the former member of a Waffen-SS military unit. FSWC's commentary figured prominently in media coverage by news outlets in Canada and internationally and was the focus of a Michael Levitt column in the Toronto Star.

In 2023, FSWC hosted a series of programs through our generationNOW initiative to help inspire and empower under-40 Jewish professionals. These included a Mentors event that provided insight into how one makes an impact in the community and beyond and an Enlightened Voices panel event featuring social media influencers who shared their experiences speaking out publicly against antisemitism.

If you like what you just read above, please consider making a year-end donation today

Thank you to everyone who supported FSWC's work this year in education and advocacy to combat the scourge of antisemitism in Canada. Amid this unprecedented surge in hate targeting Jews, your support is needed more than ever.

As we prepare to leave 2023 behind, please consider making a year-end donation to help us enter 2024 strong. If you make your donation by December 31, you will receive a 2023 charitable tax receipt.

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