Shabbat Shalom | Candle Lighting: 6:44 PM EDT
A Note from Michael Levitt
Standing Tall for the Jewish Community
Over this past week, you may have noticed the prominent role FSWC played in the aftermath of a Nazi war veteran being honoured in the House of Commons last Friday. In our official statements and in numerous interviews with Canadian and foreign media, we voiced outrage that one of our country’s most venerable institutions hosted and hailed a former member of the Nazi Waffen-SS, whose troops were notorious for Holocaust atrocities.
We decried the hurt and pain inflicted on Holocaust survivors, other victims of the Nazis, Canada’s Jewish community and all those who fought for freedom in World War II. We lamented this incident’s profoundly negative impact on Ukraine, its Jewish president and people, especially at such a difficult time for them. We pointed out that what happened last Friday in the House of Commons was but a sad reminder of Canada’s shameful record of first admitting hundreds, if not thousands, of Nazi war criminals onto our shores and then doing pathetically little to bring them to justice in the ensuing decades. All that without forgetting the indelible stain on Canada’s history of its antisemitic immigration policies that barred entry to Jews fleeing Nazi persecution before and during World War II.
Not only was FSWC on the frontlines expressing much-warranted indignation, we also worked with other prominent Jewish organizations, like B’nai Brith and CIJA, to make sure the Jewish community’s voice was heard loud and clear on this matter. We stressed the seriousness of this incident and the related issues that needed to be addressed.
As much as I’m extremely proud of what the FSWC team did this week, and every week for that matter, what I’m writing here today isn’t meant to pat ourselves on the back for our work. Nor is it intended to glorify our efforts on behalf of the community. Rather, it’s to underline that we can’t do the important work we do without your support. With that in mind, I would ask that you kindly consider supporting FSWC’s upcoming 2023 Spirit of Hope benefit in Toronto.
Yesterday, we officially opened up ticket sales for Spirit of Hope. It’s our annual major fundraising event and this year we’re thrilled to be featuring legendary actress, humanitarian and longstanding friend of Israel, Helen Mirren, who will be interviewed by journalist and media personality Jeanne Beker.
In the 24 hours since we opened up ticket sales, far more people purchased tickets than in the same timeframe for Spirit of Hope in the past. This not only bodes well for the success of this year’s gala but is also a strong vote of confidence from the community in FSWC.
If you already purchased tickets, I thank you for your kind support. For everyone else, please see below the announcement for Spirit of Hope tickets. Please help support our work by attending what is sure to be a memorable evening.
Many of you have attended Spirit of Hope in the past. Given our unyielding commitment in fighting rising antisemitism in Canada and in teaching the lessons of the Holocaust, I would urge you to show your support for the work we do by purchasing tickets for this year’s event or by making a donation. It will allow us to continue doing what – due to the sobering reality facing our community – needs to be done.
On behalf of FSWC, I hope – and would greatly appreciate – that you give this your serious consideration.
Shabbat Shalom and warm wishes for a Happy Sukkot.
Community Update. FSWC on the front lines of Nazi war veteran debacle in Canada's Parliament
This past week, FSWC was on the front line responding to the outrageous honour and acclaim given to a former member of a Nazi military unit in the Canadian Parliament and to the updates that followed. Soon after learning of the incident, FSWC issued a statement on Sunday calling for an immediate apology to “every Holocaust survivor and veteran of the Second World War who fought the Nazis” and an explanation “as to how this individual entered the hallowed halls of Canadian Parliament and received recognition from the Speaker of the House and a standing ovation."
Following Yom Kippur, after Speaker of the House of Commons Anthony Rota made an apology on Sunday evening for having invited the Nazi war veteran to Parliament, FSWC issued a statement on Tuesday calling for his resignation. It said that while the organization acknowledged his apology, his “decision to invite a former member of the Waffen-SS, notorious for its involvement in Holocaust atrocities, to Canada's Parliament has left a stain on our country’s venerable legislature with profound implications both in Canada and globally.” Hours later, MP Rota resigned, and the next day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued an official apology on behalf of Parliament, both moves welcomed by FSWC.
FSWC’s statements were published on countless mainstream news sites around the world and picked up by news distributors Canadian Press, Reuters and Associated Press, while FSWC’s Michael Levitt and Dan Panneton appeared in numerous broadcast and radio news segments throughout the week – from Global News Toronto to CTV National News to CP24 to i24News.
It is no surprise that Yaroslav Hunka, the Nazi war veteran who received a standing ovation last Friday in the Canadian Parliament, "had little fear of the spotlight given Canada’s shameful record of pursuing Nazi war criminals on its soil after accepting them into the country in the first place," writes FSWC President and CEO Michael Levitt in his latest column in the Toronto Star.
Since the disturbing events in Parliament, news outlets have sought FSWC’s position on monuments honouring Ukrainian Nazi collaborators in Oakville and Edmonton. In a statement to CP24, FSWC reaffirmed its "longstanding" opposition to the presence of “monuments and memorials to Nazi collaborators,” saying that "such monuments have no place in our society" and are an “affront to the memory of the Holocaust.”
FSWC’s Dan Panneton also spoke out about the University of Alberta endowment fund provided by Nazi war veteran Yaroslav Hunka, which has since been returned to the Hunka family. "We're glad that they've cancelled the endowment, but unfortunately, this is only one example of endowments at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies named after members of the Waffen-SS," said Panneton, who is reaching out to the university to ensure all funds from former Nazi military members are cancelled.
FSWC participates in York Regional Police annual hate crime awareness conference
Yesterday, FSWC attended the York Regional Police's annual hate crime awareness conference in Aurora. The theme of this year's conference was "Breaking Barriers of Hate," and highlighted the "significance of living in a diverse society and the importance of understanding hate crimes and extremism."
FSWC Director of Antisemitism Programming and Outreach Zach Sadowski presented a brief version of our Antisemitism: Then and Now workshop and provided insight into how FSWC can assist police in building and supporting a case. We were joined by Holocaust survivor Andy Reti, who shared his powerful testimony with the law enforcement officials in attendance.
Education Update. More than 500 Ontario students educated on the Holocaust and human rights
The FSWC education team delivered 18 programs reaching 540 elementary and secondary school students this past week. This included five in-person workshops at schools in the Greater Toronto Area and 13 workshops presented on our Tour for Humanity buses.
Students have been very engaged this week, asking thoughtful questions and offering insightful answers to questions that are posed. In one discussion in the Canadian Experience workshop on the Tour for Humanity this week, there was a conversation about hate crimes and the fact that young people between the ages of 12 and 17 were being charged with such offenses. One student shared: “More hate crimes are being committed by younger people (ages 12-17) because of social media. Young people who are still developing are reading hateful, racist and untrue things online and believe it because they don’t know better yet.” Students were open to sharing their thoughts and reflecting on the topic at hand.
FSWC’s professional development programming for educators has been in high demand so far this school year. There were two sessions delivered to a total of 60 educators in the Upper Canada District School Board and York Catholic District School Board. Most of the training is for Grade 6 teachers seeking support for the new Ontario Ministry of Education mandated Social Studies curriculum that includes Jewish heritage and Holocaust education.
Spotlight on New Books
Highlighting recently published non-fiction and fiction involving subjects related to the work of FSWC
Antisemitism: An ancient hatred in the age of identity politics
By Philip Slayton
In this provocative exploration of what’s often referred to as “the oldest hatred,” Philip Slayton addresses the many complex historical, political, cultural, religious and regional aspects behind antisemitism which continues to bedevil much of the world. He examines the experiences of Jews and the nature of antisemitism in specific countries through both a historical and contemporary lens. In the process, he discusses the role of media and particularly social media in spreading hatred of Jews, and how identity politics have sidelined Jews in favour of other historically oppressed minorities.
A Canadian lawyer, former law dean, past President of PEN, and bestselling author born to a Jewish father, Slayton includes his personal history, along with politics, sociology and his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his contribution to the much analyzed but never eradicated prejudice and hostility against Jews, past and present. He argues that more attention should be paid to antisemitism that is organized, institutionalized and violent than that which is expressed in incivility, conspiracy theories and Holocaust denial. His conclusion: “To give equal weight to all expressions of Jew-hatred is to deny serious weight to any.” Not everyone would agree.
FSWC is looking forward to participating in the upcoming Antisemitism: Face It, Fight It conference in Ottawa next month, hosted by CIJA. FSWC President and CEO Michael Levitt will be moderating the United Against Antisemitism panel featuring international experts and multi-faith allies discussing why they have devoted their careers to ensuring their local Jewish communities are fully respected within society and supported to practice their faith safely and securely in any way they choose.
Simon Wiesenthal Center Around the World
2023 FSWC Sponsors
Fred and Linda Waks and Family