Purim: Transforming Defeat into Triumph

As we approach the Jewish holiday of Purim this Sunday, it’s an excellent time to delve into its profound significance.

Purim’s Intricate Tale of Survival

Purim commemorates the extraordinary redemption of the Jewish people. At its heart lies the captivating narrative of Esther, chronicled in the eponymous scroll. This scroll weaves a tapestry of intrigue and twists of fate, portraying the Jewish community’s salvation from the perilous decree engineered by the infamous Haman.

For children, Purim is a joyous occasion with the opportunity to don costumes and revel in lively festivities. Even adults partake in the merriment, following the tradition “to drink till one cannot discern the difference between the wicked Haman and the righteous Mordechai.” Dubbed the “holiday of reversals,” Purim invites contemplation on the shifting paradigms of good and evil.

The story of Purim takes place in 369 BCE during the reign of King Ahashverosh over the Persian Empire. The narrative recounts the struggles of the Jewish people under his rule, who were oppressed by Haman, the Chief Courtier. Haman bore a grudge against Mordechai when he refused to bow down to him. Instead of punishing Mordechai alone, Haman planned to exterminate all Jews and seize their property across the 127 provinces. However, Queen Esther, Mordechai, and the Jewish community joined forces and approached the King, leading to Haman’s downfall and Mordechai’s rise to power. The deadly decree was reversed, giving Jews the right to defend themselves on the appointed day.

Each year, women play a central role in commemorating this miraculous tale by reading the Megillah in synagogues.

Esther’s Story in the Modern World

When examining Esther’s story from a contemporary perspective, not many resources provide the same depth and insight as Yoram Hazony’s “God and Politics in Esther.” Hazony’s analysis goes beyond the story’s surface, delving deep into its themes to reveal a powerful narrative of political maneuvering and power dynamics that remains relevant today.

At the heart of Hazony’s analysis lies the complex character of Haman, whose fixation on Mordecai’s perceived defiance sets in motion a chain of events that threaten the very existence of the Jewish people. Hazony meticulously dissects Haman’s psyche, illustrating how his obsession drives him to not only seek vengeance against Mordecai but also to orchestrate a genocidal decree aimed at eradicating an entire community.

While the decree casts a daunting shadow over the Jewish people, the story takes a dramatic turn with Haman’s downfall and Mordecai’s rise to power. Through strategic maneuvers, including issuing counter-decrees granting Jews the right to defend themselves, Esther and Mordecai navigate the treacherous political intrigue to secure their people’s survival.

As the appointed day of reckoning arrives, Jews throughout the empire stand firm in defence of their lives and livelihoods. The Megillah meticulously recounts the ensuing clashes, underscoring the resilience and determination of a people fighting for their existence.

  1. Now in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day of the same, when the king’s command and edict were about to be carried out, on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred: the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them.
  2. The Jews gathered in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus to lay hands on those who sought their harm. And no one could stand against them, for the fear of them had fallen on all peoples…
  3. Now, the rest of the Jews who were in the king’s provinces also gathered to defend their lives and got relief from their enemies and killed seventy-five thousand of those who hated them, but they laid no hands on the plunder. (*1)

Hazony’s analysis also sheds light on the role of divine influence in the unfolding events despite the absence of explicit mention of G-d’s name in the Megillah. Through the deliberate choices of Mordecai and Esther, guided by a sense of duty and moral imperative, the narrative reflects a rabbinic belief in humanity’s role as stewards of creation, entrusted with the responsibility of safeguarding the world.

In Hazony’s interpretation, Esther’s story emerges not merely as a tale of ancient folklore but as a timeless allegory of courage, resilience, and the enduring struggle for justice in the face of tyranny. This narrative continues to resonate and inspire in the modern world.

Echoes of Esther: Unveiling the Distorted Narrative Against Israel

The timeless narrative of Esther serves as a poignant mirror reflecting our current reality. In this tale, Israel confronts existential threats, only to be unfairly maligned when it defends itself against aggressors. This distortion of truth resonates eerily with the pervasive propaganda that has fueled baseless accusations against Israel over time. It’s crucial to recognize that embracing such falsehoods only emboldens those seeking the destruction of Jewish communities, both within Israel and abroad.

The propagation of a biased narrative by entities like the UN, UNRWA, and certain media outlets perpetuates a cycle of devastation, shame, and anguish for all parties involved. Regrettably, some Western nations, including the US, Canada, and England, have yet to fully grasp the underlying motives driving this ongoing conflict — namely, the unwavering determination to obliterate Israel and its people.

Brigitte Gabriel, a Lebanese Christian immigrant to the US, has tirelessly raised awareness about the insidious ideology fueling the genocidal aspirations of Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and other Jihadi movements. Through her NGO, Act for America, she underscores the urgent imperative to combat hatred and to steadfastly stand with Israel in the face of adversity. (*2)

Navigating Crisis with Jewish Faith and Courage

Our Jewish faith stands as a pillar of strength during times of crisis. By entrusting ourselves to the wisdom of the Torah, we find comfort and direction amidst uncertainty. The story of Esther emphasizes our unwavering conviction in divine guidance, which remains constant for those who pursue righteousness.

As we joyously celebrate Purim, let us fervently pray for the swift defeat of our adversaries, and may peace gracefully descend upon Israel, the Middle East, and every corner of our world. May the jubilant spirit of this occasion infuse our hearts with unbridled joy and optimism.

For those eager to delve deeper into the profound lessons of Purim, I extend a warm invitation to explore my previous posts: What Can Purim Teach Us Today?, Jerusalem’s Unique Purim Celebration: A Blend of Festivity and Tradition, CIJR Colloquium: The Iranian Question & Purim’s Lessons.

 

Footnotes:

  1. Marcus, Yosef. “The Megillah in English.” Kehot Publication Society. https://www.chabad.org/holidays/purim/article_cdo/aid/109275/jewish/In-English.htm.
  2. “Act for America.” actforamerica.org.

 

Francisco Gil-White: Insights into the Geopolitics of antisemitism

The following interview with Francisco Gil-White provides valuable insights into the historical, political, and social dynamics surrounding Jews and Israel, as well as broader issues of prejudice and propaganda. It underscores the importance of informed discourse and critical engagement with complex topics to foster understanding and promote social inclusivity.

Francisco Gil-White, a Mexican-born and raised scholar, thoroughly analyzes the geopolitics surrounding Jews and Israel over the past century. He examines the historical ties between the Nazis and the Arab world, spotlighting key figures like AlAmin Al Husseini and Western leaders such as Neville Chamberlain. Gil-White also delves into the influence of eugenics, a prominent scientific belief in Western democracies during the nineteenth century, its influence on Nazi racial theories and the subsequent covert support of those Nazi theories provided by the US and England to Hitler’s anti-Semitic agenda both before and during World War II.

Throughout the discussion, Gil-White exposes the deceit of the elite classes and discusses the role of propaganda and media in shaping societal perceptions. He refutes anti-Semitic stereotypes with historical evidence, particularly addressing persistent beliefs such as Jewish control of the media and big business: He points out that the ease with witch Europe was able to round up and murder six million Jews ought to forever banish any idea of secret Jewish powers. He emphasizes the importance of critical thinking in combating false narratives and the resulting societal tragedies.

Furthermore, Gil-White highlights that anti-Semitism is a “tool” of authoritarian regimes which oppose democracy and therefore stresses the urgent imperative to confront antisemitism wherever it arises. He critiques the current trend of support for Hamas and the Palestinian cause, the waving of Palestinian flags and chanting of slogans by a public whose view of reality is shaped not by experience or critical thinking but by the ill-informed media and pro-Palestinian university academics: He attributes this indiscriminate support of the Palestinian cause to the influence of radical Muslim immigration to the West and the promotion of divisive ideologies in universities over the last forty years through courses focused not on free intellectual exploration but on identity politics and minority group grievances. His perspective challenges listeners to reconsider their understanding of these issues and advocates for critical thinking and social cohesion rather than division based on minority identities.

 

Bearing Witness: The Awakening of October 7 and the Emergence of New Realities

Since October 7, Israel has been engaged in a state of war with Hamas, profoundly disrupting the lives of Israelis, numerous Jewish communities, and individuals worldwide who hold a concern for Israel, myself included.

My personal characteristic is always a tendency to observe first and to dampen my emotional reactions initially. This has served me well over the last five months, enabling me to act and explore all aspects of the current war in Israel, Canada and the US in person and on media channels without being weighed down by emotional reactions. But after five months of continuous observation, learning, and firsthand experiences, I want to share my observations and reflections.

Personal Impact

Since October 7, any projects I had been working on were immediately put on hold due to the ongoing crisis. This pushed me to closely monitor mainstream and social media in both Israel and Canada, as well as to join new WhatsApp groups. After five months, I have become more adept at navigating social media and have developed a critical eye towards the ideologies influencing news channels. While scientists are aware of their personal biases in research, few people are mindful of how news outlets may be influenced by the biases of their reporters or owners. This newfound awareness is a crucial benefit that should be addressed by all of us.

Francisco Gil-White, notes that most people shape their understanding of reality and truth based on the information they receive from the media.*1 During Hitler’s rule in Germany, the German people were constantly exposed to propaganda that demonized Jewish people through stories, films, and cartoons. One of the primary propaganda newspapers was called Der Sturmer. According to Der Sturmer, “Jewish businessmen were often portrayed as doing almost anything to obtain financial wealth, which included, “being a usurer, a traitor, a murderer.” In the summer of 1931, Julius Streicher, the editor of Der Sturmer focused much of the paper’s attention on a Jewish-owned butcher shop. When the philanthropic merchant started operating a soup kitchen, Der Stürmer ran articles accusing him of poisoning the food being served. Der Stürmer criticized and cherrypicked every single price increase and decrease in Jewish shops, as well as their charitable donations, denouncing them as a further form of financial greed.” *(2)

Julius Streicher, was one of those convicted and sentenced to hang for ‘crimes against humanity’ by the Nuremberg court trial of Nazi leaders after the war because “he was found to have continued his vitriolic antisemitic propaganda even while he was well aware that Jews were being murdered.”*3 Those who promote lies are just as guilty as those who commit criminal acts! But most people have no way of judging whether the media they consume presents a truthful or, as journalists call it, a ‘balanced’ picture of reality.

A Call for Nuanced Media Consumption

In conflict situations like the Israel war, it is crucial to approach the news we consume with a critical eye. We should strive to ensure that the perspectives we encounter are balanced and that we are not inadvertently influenced by one-sided propaganda. It is also essential to consider whether our chosen news sources provide a platform for a range of voices, including those of Israeli sources and mainstream leaders of the Jewish community.

I’ve recently compiled a list of media outlets favouring either side of the conflict. One criterion I use is whether they consistently feature pro-Palestinian spokespersons discussing topics like “genocide” in Gaza and “famine” without providing an Israeli perspective. Unfortunately, even usually reputable outlets like CBC News have been flagged for this form of bias, as illustrated by many posts by Honest Reporting, an NGO that monitors media bias against Israel.*4

To hold the media accountable, I’ve started monitoring various platforms, including traditional print and broadcast channels and online and social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and private WhatsApp groups. What’s alarming is the rapid spread of anti-Jewish and antisemitic sentiments globally, particularly on social media. These sentiments range from expressions of joy over the tragic events of October 7, to the denial of atrocities committed by Hamas. There have been videos of defaced posters of hostages held by Hamas since Ocotber 7, disruptions of public spaces, and the perpetuation of victimhood narratives propagated by sources linked to Hamas such as the Hamas Heath Authority and UNRWA, without adequate representation of Israeli sources or mainstream Jewish community leaders, who are readily available for commentary.

Impact of the October 7th attack on Israel and the Diaspora 

Before October 7, many Israelis and Jews around the world had strong faith in the the capacity of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to safeguard Israel. The State of Israel was established by a UN vote as a safe haven for Jews escaping the scourge of antisemitism worldwide.  However, on October 7th, this confidence was rudely challenged when all of Israel’s meticulously developed defence systems were breached and rendered ineffective along the southern Gaza border.

One of the miracles of October 7th is that the forces unleashed against Israel got no further than they did. They were stopped by ordinary citizens responding to the call to help and save fellow brethren wherever they were to be found.

During my visit to Israel on October 7th, I witnessed the remarkable assistance provided by Israeli citizens to over 200,000 Israeli familes displaced that had to be evacuated due to threats from Hamas in Gaza in the south and Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria in the north. For more details onwhat happened on October 7, I refer you to my blog post, “My Journey in Israel from October 7-12: A Chronicle of the Jewish Community’s Resilience.”

Subsequently, from October 12th to January 4th, while in Montreal, I observed the mobilization of Israel supporters within the international Jewish community. This collective effort manifested in a powerful display of solidarity with Israel. at the Washington, D.C. Mall, on November 14, 2023. 200,000 individuals from diverse backgrounds congregated to denounce Hamas violence and antisemitism to stand in unwavering support of Israel. You can participate in this amazing rally here: Americans March for Israel, the Rally at the Washington Mall, November 14, 2023.

A Witness Mission to Israel’s Communities

On January 4th, 2024, I returned to Israel. I had the privilege of being a part of the Montreal Federation Mission of Witness to Israel, Januay 14 -19. Visiting the devastation that had struck the beautiful kibbutz of Nir Oz was one of the most heart-wrenching experiences I’ve ever had. Despite the pain of the experience, it was an honour to be guided by a kibbutz member who knew every family and their stories. The trip also included visiting Sderot City Hall, where we were shown the brutal events of October 7th on their TV screens which had captured the first moments of the invasion on on their Main Street, on Saturday morning at 6:30 am on October 7 and the attack on the sole car carrying a family with children. We saw the courage and resilience of the people of Sderot, who have faced constant attacks over the years. Despite all the challenges, we also witnessed the beauty of human kindness as ordinary citizens risked their lives to rescue those in danger during the Nova Festival and in every location.

“We visited the Beer Sheva City Hall and met with their charismatic Mayor who continues to follow up on the welfare of his citizens evacuated all over Israel to hotels housing displaced families. We were taken to see new housing developments in Beer Sheva, which are being offered to families currently housed in hotels around Israel to provide them with a semblance of normalcy for the daily lives of their children, via schools and daycares while the war is going on.

We were taken to Siroka Hospital that has a helipad to receive the wounded and to Ben Gurion University where we visited with two amazing research units: one that researches 3-D printing for bones required for reconstructive surgery of all kinds at Siroka Hospital across the street. This is already happening with custom-fitted bones being 3-D printed for specific needs. And we visited with the Director of the Social Work Department, Dr. Talia Meital Schwartz Tayri who has developed an app that can keep a record of all displaced families in Israel, keeping track of their welfare by noting who is addressing their needs, whether they be physical, i.e., housing, food, schooling, or mental, addressing trauma, etc. This app can keep track of the welfare of all of the families all over israel and how they are being addressed! Something that could be very useful in Canada as well where services are rarely digitized as yet, even in hospitals.

We also learned that financial support and volunteer services began flowing from the worldwide diaspora from day-1: money to provide army supplies, ammunition, and equipment of all kinds, and volunteer services to replace the labor of reservists called up to serve. We were taken to Centers for nourishment, pop-up cafes, feeding stations, and warehouses for supplies that were instantly created by volunteers on the ground in Israel to supply the needs of the soldiers and the displaced families; These continue to be supplied and staffed by volunteer labor and we could see how the soldiers of the IDF are supplied daily on a wing and a prayer.

Many of the visiting foreign missions like ours also provide volunteer labor; One day we participated in bagging hamburger lunches provided by a reataurant in Jerusalem, beutifully bagged with notes of encouragement; another day we assisted with a barbecue with all the trimmings for a platoon of soldiers set up in a large field; We also went to an orchard to supplant workers to pick bushels of oranges along with other volunteers who had shown up.”

Through this mission, we gained a deeper understanding of the plight of these communities and the power of human empathy and compassion.

The Hostages

The plight of the hostages remains firmly etched in the consciousness of Jews worldwide and Israelis alike. Over 200 individuals were taken captive by Hamas, with more than 100 still enduring the ordeal. In Tel Aviv, adjacent to Hostage Square, a huge plaza in front of the Tel Aviv Art Museum, a prominent digital clock serves as a relentless reminder, marking the days, minutes and second that the Hostages are still in captivity – now exceeding 150 days – since their captivity began.

Close by, a dedicated office building stands equipped with the necessary resources, including computers and communication facilities, generously provided support for the familie of the hostages. Here, they find refuge, sustenance, and solace free of charge, fostering a community where mutual support and solidarity thrive. These families have embarked on journeys far and wide, amplifying their voices on behalf of their loved ones. I have witnessed their presence and impassioned pleas during intimate gatherings at privte homes and in public places in Montreal and elsewher: This has been a sobering experience.

In Montreal, demonstrations advocating for the release of the hostages have unfolded in various locations, from the offices of the Red Cross to the steps of City Hall and Place des Arts. Through these collective efforts, a sense of unity prevails, underlining the importance of standing together, particularly in times of adversity.

Honoring Fallen Soldiers

It’s with heavy hearts that we confront the frequent announcements of young soldiers fallen in battle. Each day, the nation collectively mourns the profound loss of these brave souls who willingly make the ultimate sacrifice. Our commitment to supporting their grieving families remains unwavering. Recognizing this solemn reality, the IDF has established a website to honour and memorialize those who laid down their lives in this conflict and the website also has statistics collected daily by Israeli authorities.

I am grateful for my deep-rooted Jewish identity, ingrained through heritage and upbringing that has enabled me to navigate this crisis without being overwhelmed, When adversity strikes, our rabbis counsel us to bolster our spiritual practices—embracing acts of kindness, prayer, reciting psalms, and active participation in communal gatherings. And all of thse things are powerful supports.

Lessons of Resilience

Last summer I undertook a journey with my congregation from Montreal and our revered Rabbi Poupko. Visiting key Jewish sites in Poland with our guide, Tzvi Sperber, including the haunting remnants of concentration camps, illuminated the enduring legacy of Jewish existence in the region, spanning centuries. Witnessing the resilience of our ancestors in the face of unimaginable horror, as well as their subsequent contributions to the founding and prosperity of Israel, instilled in me a profound sense of pride in how are peoplle addressed the impossible hurricane of the Nazi assault and recovered afterwards. It reaffirmed my belief that we will emerge from this crisis more vital than ever.

Summary

While personal pursuits were temporarily set aside due to the events of October 7, this pales in comparison to the sacrifices made by countless others. The veneer of invincibility was shattered and exposed the pervasive threat of anti-Semitism. Yet, amidst the chaos, ordinary individuals displayed extraordinary courage, fostering global solidarity as a formidable defence against ongoing hostility. Our struggle for the return of our  hostages, alongside our greif for the loss of so many young and promisig lives and ongoing support for our bereaved famiies, serves as a poignant reminder of our interconnectedness as a worldwide Jewish community.

My Jewish heritage is a guiding light in these turbulent times, imparting resilience and fortitude. It fuels my unwavering belief that, as we have throughout history, we will overcome all adversity with our steadfast unity and determination to overcome all challenges.

 

Footnote:

*1 Francisco Gil-White, The paradox of antisemitic thinking and how it is influenced by the media

*2 Der Sturmer, Nazi antisemitic weekly newspaper, editor Julius Streicher

*3 Julius streicher, editor of Der Sturmer

*4 Honest Reporting, an NGO that monitors media bias.

 

Honest Reporting

Mobilizing Communities to Stand Up for Israel

The Israel-Hamas conflict, rooted in historical animosities, has sparked a global surge in antisemitism. Following the breach of the Israeli border and the unprovoked attack by Hamas on October 7, the international Jewish community has rallied together, mobilizing various communities to express solidarity with Israel. This unity was notably evident at the Washington, D.C. Mall, where 200,000 individuals from diverse backgrounds convened to condemn Hamas violence and stand in support of those affected.

The Washington, D.C. event attracted people from various communities, including Jewish and non-Jewish politicians, representatives from Black, Christian, and Iranian communities, and families directly impacted by the crisis. The atmosphere at the gathering was intense yet joyous, with a collective determination to denounce Hamas violence and provide support to those affected. A 2.5-hour transcript of the rally is available for reference.

In light of Hamas’ declared intention to repeat the October 7 attacks and their desire to annihilate Israel while holding over 240 hostages, our collective stance is centred on supporting Israeli efforts to recover all hostages. Simultaneously, we are committed to working towards the permanent elimination of Hamas’ power in Gaza, aiming to prevent them from orchestrating any future attacks.

Our resolve remains unwavering as we pursue these goals, united and firm. We sincerely hope that diplomatic and peaceful avenues can be explored to address the root causes of the conflict and pave the way for a lasting resolution that ensures peace for all in the region.

Pro-Israel students at Concordia recently organized a gathering to voice their opposition against violent Palestinian activities on campus. Julia Langleben, a McGill student, passionately addressed the rally, sharing her experiences and detailing the intimidation faced by pro-Israel students since October 7. A detailed account of her speech is available, and the Montreal Gazette has also covered the event.

Additionally, a peaceful protest took place on the steps of Place Des Arts in Montreal, aiming to demand the release of hostages held by Hamas.

Amid a snowstorm on December 4, I joined thousands of people in Ottawa to express our support for Israel and demand the release of hostages held by Hamas. The diverse gathering comprised individuals from various backgrounds, including politicians, community leaders, representatives from the Ukrainian, Persian, Black, and Christian communities, religious leaders from different faiths, and worried family members of the hostages. You can find the coverage here.

Voices of Support: Diverse Perspectives on Israel in the Current Conflict

In the ongoing Israel/Hamas conflict, various notable voices provide unique perspectives:

  1. Mosab Hassan Yousef: The eldest son of Hamas co-founder Sheikh Hassan Yousef, Mosab defected from the terrorist organization in 2005. His 2010 book, “Son of Hamas,” offers a firsthand account of his experiences, revealing atrocities committed by Hamas against prisoners in Israeli jails. He shared his insights with the University of Michigan students on November 29, 2023. Watch the discussion here. In the book, he reports that he “first saw the light” after a stint in an Israeli jail during the mid-1990s. At Megiddo Prison, he witnessed Hamas inmates leading a brutal year-long campaign to weed out supposed Israeli collaborators. During that time, he said, “Hamas tortured and killed hundreds of prisoners.” He recalled vivid memories of needles being inserted under fingernails and bodies charred with burning plastics. Many, if not all, had nothing to do with Israeli intelligence. “I will never forget their screams,” he continued. “I started asking myself a question: What if Hamas succeeded in destroying Israel and building a state? Will they destroy our people in this way?”
  2. Douglas Murray: An esteemed academic and scholar, Murray contributes a well-researched perspective on the geopolitical dynamics of the Israel/Hamas conflict. He founded the Centre for Social Cohesion in 2007 and discussed current deaths in Gaza during an interview with Piers Morgan on Sky News. Watch the interview here.
  3. Niall Ferguson, John Cochrane, and Stephen Kotkin: Esteemed scholars in their respective fields, they shared valuable insights on the geopolitics of the Middle East in a discussion at Stanford’s Hoover Institute. Their conversation reviewed the challenges posed by the war and discussed possible outcomes. Watch the entire debate here.
  4. Brigitte Gabriel: An American citizen of Lebanese Christian origin, Gabriel founded the NGO Act for America after seeking refuge in the U.S. following the Islamic takeover of Lebanon. Her mission is to raise awareness about Islamism’s challenge in America. Watch her perspective here.

The Price of Peace

Amidst the ongoing conflict in Gaza, the toll on human lives and the impact on all communities are stark. However, the Israeli cost of war is rarely mentioned in the mainstream media.

Today, on December 22, the IDF announced the deaths of two more soldiers killed during the fighting in the Gaza Strip, bringing the toll of slain troops in the ground offensive against Hamas to 139.

Lt. Shai Ayeli and Sgt. First Class Tal Shua

1- Lt. Shai Ayeli, 21:

  • Cadet in the Bahad 1 officers’ school’s Gefen Battalion.
  • He previously served in the Air Force’s Unit 669 and is from Ashkelon.

2- Sgt. First Class (res.) Tal Shua, 31:

  • Combat Engineering Corps’ 7071st Battalion, from Beersheba.
  • Israeli hospitals are currently treating over 10,000 seriously injured individuals.

In response to the events of October 8, Israel faced a challenging situation that required swift mobilization of resources to address the aftermath of the unfortunate incident. Immediate priorities included providing comfort to survivors, laying the deceased to rest, and relocating evacuees from the southern border to central Israel and Eilat. At the same time, due to the looming threat posed by Hezbollah from Lebanon and Syria, communities near the northern border were also evacuated.

The situation’s urgency prompted the mobilization of 300,000 reserve soldiers, presenting a formidable logistical challenge in equipping, housing, and feeding such a large force. The commendable sight of local and international volunteers supporting these efforts was noteworthy. An additional 300,000 Israelis willingly returned to military service, and global volunteers offered hands-on assistance throughout the country, including the essential task of harvesting crops left unattended during the crisis.

Beyond the workforce, the response extended to the financial realm, with millions of dollars swiftly collected from the general public, exceeding $60 million within the first month and eventually surpassing a billion. The war’s guiding motto, “Byahad Nenatzayach” – “United, we will be victorious,” underscores the imperative of overcoming a ruthless adversary that, for ideological reasons, refuses to acknowledge Israel as a cooperative neighbour.

While acknowledging constant appeals for humanitarian aid for Gaza, it is crucial to keep in mind that Hamas initiated this conflict, and the situation has been complicated by their lack of concern for their civilian population. Resources provided in the past have been diverted to constructing extensive and costly attack tunnels and training children in activities that run counter to fostering peaceful coexistence. It is essential to understand these factors to comprehend the dynamics fueling the current conflict.

During a recent press conference, Secretary of State Tony Blinken emphasized the need to address the underlying causes of the conflict and hold Hamas accountable for its actions. He stressed the urgency of disarming Hamas, stopping the use of civilians as shields, and surrendering to achieve a faster resolution to the conflict.

“One of the things that’s striking to me is that, understandably, everyone would like to see this conflict end as quickly as possible, but if it ends with Hamas remaining in place and having the capacity and the stated intent to repeat October 7 again and again and again, that’s not in the interests of Israel, it’s not in the interests of the region, it’s not in the interests of the world. What is striking to me is that even as we hear many countries urging an end to this conflict… I hear virtually no one demanding of Hamas that it stop hiding behind civilians, that it lay down its arms, that it surrender. This would be over tomorrow if Hamas were to do that.”

A Call for Peace

As we embark on the joyous holiday season, let us reflect on Chanukah’s timeless message, which transcends all faiths. It highlights the idea of breaking free from oppression, representing the victory of freedom over physical slavery and harmful ideologies.

Judaism and Israel have consistently aspired to preserve our way of life and actively collaborate to foster global harmony. Israel, demonstrating its commitment to humanitarian values, has consistently been at the forefront, extending aid to any nation grappling with natural or artificial disasters.

Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Ramadan, and whichever religion you practice. May we all contribute to increasing peace and harmony in our shared world. May we all witness the freeing of our hostages and the achievement of everlasting peace in Israel and worldwide. Hashta b’agala oo’bzman kariv – Speedily and soon in our present time!

Confronting Antisemitism: Mobilizing Jewish Communities in Canada and Beyond

I recently visited Israel and witnessed the events that unfolded on October 7. The conflict began when Hamas, the ruling power in Gaza, breached Israel’s border defences on October 7, deploying three thousand fighters for acts of violence. It’s worth noting that regular citizens played a vital role in swiftly stopping the attackers on the first day, even before the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) arrived. The rapid response and intervention by the local people can be considered a remarkable and fortunate occurrence, given the seriousness of the situation.

Upon my return to Canada, I attended a conference in Ottawa on October 16 and 17, focused on addressing the issue of antisemitism in present-day Canada. The event, organized by CIJA (Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs), had been planned before the outbreak of the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict. The conference brought together a diverse group of 1,500 individuals, including 250 students from high school and college, as well as professionals from different fields, such as educators, law enforcement, NGO leaders, and scholars. They all came together to address the problem of hatred, particularly the insidious strain from social media platforms.

Notable figures, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and opposition leader Pierre Polievre, gave keynote addresses, emphasizing the gravity of the cause and reinforcing the collective resolve against bigotry. One of the most impactful accounts came from a teacher at Ottawa Public Schools, who courageously highlighted the persistent bullying faced by Jewish students. This revelation galvanized attendees, igniting discussions beyond the conference halls.

The gathering was an excellent opportunity for intimate dialogues with Members of Parliament like Sherry Romanado and Brad Redekopp. Their openness highlighted the potential for collaborative action. These interactions paved the way for sustained advocacy, a commitment shared by all participants determined to confront antisemitism head-on.

The conference taught us an important lesson: speaking out against hatred rather than being silent. Being silent only enables it to continue. The conference also highlighted the power of collective efforts and how they can bring about significant change. However, even as the conference ended, it was evident that we must remain vigilant, as demonstrated by the increased security measures and the presence of Palestinian protesters. It served as a stark reminder of the obstacles that we must overcome. Given these realities, we must reaffirm our unwavering commitment to fight against all forms of bigotry, utilizing the lessons of the past to guide us toward a more inclusive and just future.

Resilience and Unity: How the Jewish Community Responds

The Jewish people have a long and proud history of solidarity with their brethren, exhibiting remarkable resilience in adversity. For centuries, Jewish communities have consistently demonstrated their commitment to caring for orphans, widows, and strangers. In Montreal, this noble endeavour is entrusted to the Federation-CJA, which tirelessly works to provide for those in need. Every year, the community comes together for a fundraising campaign, gathering funds for these essential services. This year’s mission includes raising urgent funds for the war effort initiated on the first day of the conflict.

Our enduring traditions, commitment to Torah study, and alignment with Torah principles have provided sustenance for the Jewish people throughout millennia in both prosperous and challenging times. This emphasis on regular Jewish practice is pivotal in our collective efforts to support Israel’s existential war of survival, including the eradication of the threat to our people from Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran. Whether inside or outside Israel, we are all dedicated to the common good, working towards the recovery of our captives and the elimination of threats like Hamas, ensuring the safety of our people.

The issue of antisemitism, which is the ongoing hatred and discrimination towards Jews, has been a long-standing problem. The Jewish community acknowledges this issue, as stated in the following passage from our Passover seder:

Through the ages, many groups have risen to destroy us. But the Holy One, Blessed Be, always saves us from their hand!

She’ lo echad bilvad amad aleinu l’chaloteinuV’ha Kadosh, Baruch Hu, matzileynu mi’yadam. (Hebrew)

On April 7, 2020, the talented Ishai Ribo enchanted the audience with his rendering of this Passover classic, ‘Vehi She’amda.’ With his mesmerizing vocals, he breathed life into the timeless lyrics, reminding us that throughout history, many have tried to bring harm to our people.

 

In today’s world, where we’re bombarded with news of conflict and suffering, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless. But in the midst of this, we can find hope and purpose in the belief that each of us has a role to play in bringing about positive change. Whether through acts of kindness, standing up against injustice, or simply being present for those in need, we can all be agents of goodness.

Think about when you’ve seen kindness or compassion make a difference, whether in your life or the world around you. Those moments are like glimpses of the divine, reminding us of our power to create miracles through our actions.

And it’s not just about individual efforts. When we come together as a community, our impact multiplies. Regardless of our backgrounds or beliefs, we share a common humanity and a responsibility to make the world a better place for everyone.

These are the times when ‘the lion shall lie down with the lamb’ – times of peace in which the solid and weak coexist peacefully for the greater good. Chazan Mutlu from Central Synagogue in NYC recorded a prayer that we can all recite on behalf of those facing adversity, wherever they may be, on land or sea. The prayer seeks the boundless mercy of God to release them from distress, provide comfort, bring them out of darkness into light, and free them from slavery. We pray that this will happen soon and swiftly in our time. The Hebrew phrase at the end is ‘Hashta ba’agala uvizman kariv.