Shabbat Shalom | Candle Lighting: 5:48 PM EDT
A Note from Michael Levitt
An Inspiring Night of Unity, Allyship and Resolve
Sometimes a simple answer to a short question speaks volumes. Last night, at Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center’s annual Spirit of Hope gala in Toronto, keynote speaker Helen Mirren gave such an answer. When asked what scares her the most today, the legendary actress’s response struck a chord in the audience. "October 7," she said, without pausing. "And whatever it is in humanity that makes people able to do that, whatever it is that pushes them to commit those acts."
Taking place in the shadow of the horrific Hamas massacre of 1,400 people in Israel on October 7 and amid an alarming surge in antisemitism in Canada and around the world, last night’s event highlighted the importance of unity, allyship and resolve in this time of crisis for the Jewish community.
Before Mirren, a long-time friend of Israel and the Jewish people, addressed the crowd of more than 1,250 people, Fred Waks, Board Chair of FSWC, and I were honoured to present her with FSWC’s 2023 Humanitarian Award. In an engaging Q&A with Canadian journalist Jeanne Beker, Mirren shared, in connection with the Holocaust, that she's "always felt so strongly that we must never forget."
Earlier in the evening, in a powerful speech, Michal Cotler-Wunsh, Israel's Special Envoy for Combatting Antisemitism, drove home the urgency to stand up and speak out, declaring that the war against Hamas is everyone's war, and that while Jewish people are the "bloody canary in the mineshaft, the mineshaft risks collapse."
The importance of allyship was a prevailing theme of all speakers and sentiment of attendees - including the Ontario premier, federal and provincial ministers, MPPs, city mayors and councillors, law enforcement officials, educators and representatives of many communities. In addition to hearing incredibly compelling words of solidarity from Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow, we also honoured three police chiefs - Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw, Peel Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah and York Region Police Chief Jim Macsween - for their work in keeping the community safe during this time of rising antisemitism.
I'm so touched by what I saw and felt last night and enormously thankful to everyone who was in the room in such a strong show of solidarity. I’m extremely grateful to all of our allies who recognize the importance of this fight we are in and who remain so steadfast in their support.
We have a lot of work ahead of us.
Am Yisrael Chai.
Community Update. Jewish community and allies gather for Spirit of Hope solidarity event
Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) is thankful to everyone who joined us yesterday evening for Spirit of Hope ’23. With more than 1,250 Jewish community members and non-Jewish allies in attendance, it was a meaningful evening of unity, allyship and hope, featuring legendary actress Dame Helen Mirren as the keynote speaker. We are grateful to everyone who took the stage last night, sharing powerful messages of solidarity and the importance of standing up against antisemitism and terrorism, now more than ever.
Stay tuned for more coverage of last night's Spirit of Hope event over the coming days.
B.C. and Ontario governments applauded for mandating Holocaust education
This week, FSWC issued statements commending both the British Columbia and Ontario governments for their commitment to ensuring students receive mandatory Holocaust education. On Monday, the Government of British Columbia announced its plans to mandate Holocaust education in Grade 10 classrooms, after which the Government of Ontario announced its decision to expand Holocaust education in the Grade 10 History curriculum, which, starting in September 2025, will "explicitly link the Holocaust to extreme political ideologies, including fascism, antisemitism in Canada in the 1930s and 1940s, and the contemporary impacts of rising antisemitism." The Ontario Ministry of Education also announced a $650,000 investment in community partnerships, including FSWC and our Antisemitism Classroom Toolkit.
FSWC calls on Canadian government to convene task force to combat on-campus antisemitism
Earlier this week, FSWC called on the Government of Canada to immediately convene an emergency task force to tackle growing and increasingly toxic antisemitism on university campuses and ensure the safety of Jewish students and staff. In a letter to Minister of Public Safety Dominic LeBlanc and Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities Kamal Khera, FSWC proposed that the federal government convene an Emergency Task Force for On-Campus Antisemitism, composed of relevant provincial ministers, Jewish community leaders, Deborah Lyons, the Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism, and senior officials from Canada's leading universities and colleges.
Education Update. 1,200+ students educated in Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador
This past week, FSWC educators delivered 22 workshops to 1,240 elementary and secondary school students in Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador. This included two virtual workshops, six in-person workshops and 14 workshops presented on the Tour for Humanity mobile education centre.
There were also two professional development programs presented: one to a group of Trent University teacher candidates on the topic of genocide, and a second to Fogler Rubinoff LLP, featuring Guido Smit, a child of a Holocaust survivor mother and a rescuer father, sharing his family story.
CBC Kids News recently spoke with several students who experienced FSWC's Tour for Humanity mobile education centre, discussing the antisemitism and hate they see online and the lessons they gained from learning about the Holocaust.
Simon Wiesenthal Center Around the World
2023 FSWC Sponsors
Fred and Linda Waks and Family