A Conversation about Jewish Community Security

Ed Fitch PortraitSunday, January 12, 2020 at 3:00 pm, Jewish Community Centre of Victoria—In view of recent increases of attacks against Jews, the Victoria Society for Humanistic Judaism invites you to A Conversation about Jewish Community Security with Ed Fitch, Security Member, Board of Directors Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) on Sunday, January 12th, 2020 at 3:00 pm at the Jewish Community Centre of Victoria, 3636 Shelbourne Street. Everyone Welcome. Refreshments will be served.
For more information or to RSVP: Sharon Kobrinsky, VSHJ Ceremonial Leader at Telephone: 250-474-7173; email: skobrinsky@shaw.ca

A message from Rabbi Harry

Rabbi HarryDear Ones,
The current wave of violence and hatred towards our people is scary and anxiety producing. From Pittsburgh to Poway, from Jersey City to Monsey, we are witnessing rampant antisemitism with lots of small acts of desecration and hate filled symbolism popping up seemingly everywhere including our beloved Camp Miriam on Gabriola Island. Hatred towards Jews and Judaism transcends politics; it is too easy to fall into an ideological trap and blame one worldview over another for the current abhorrent resurgence of antisemitism. Highly erroneous and sometimes pernicious formulations about us emerge from both ends of the political spectrum. Hatred of Jews does not distinguish between different flavours or expressions of Judaism. Among ourselves, singling out one expression of Judaism over another as a more likely target is an exercise in blaming the victim and is highly counterproductive.

When the Divine Source calls our ancestors, Abraham and Sarah, to “Go forth, Lekh Lekha, to a new land that I will show thee” God gives them an assurance and incredible blessing that is passed down through the generations to us; “I will bless those who bless you and curse the one that curses you, and all the families of earth shall bless themselves by you.” (Genesis 12:3) We are the recipients of a powerful mystery linked intrinsically to our covenant. How are we still here on the planet as a people intact when virtually all other ancient peoples have faded into history? How is it that we have the power to constantly bounce back and to not only survive but to thrive? Nations that hate us and persecute us eventually bring on their own destruction and degradation. It is clear that we are to be a blessing. We are to live our lives infused with the values of Torah, lives infused with goodness, compassion and peace. We are tasked to be a mamlekhet kohanim, a kingdom of priests (read “healers”). We are to be a light unto the nations—an agent that reflects Divine consciousness, enlightenment, Divine Source. When we do this, we are blessed and provide a socket for others to plug into Divine flow and receive abundance through blessing.

When we speak of covenant and chosenness, we must be very careful to not fall into the trap of exceptionalism. Feeling chosen can be understood in a way that is misguided and can lead to ethnocentrism and xenophobia. Believing that we are inherently superior to others is a flagrant and dangerous misreading of Torah which teaches us that all humanity is created in God’s image and likeness. The idea that some of us are more human and more like God than others simply smacks of racism.

I know from Torah that our covenant with Divine Source holds blessings for all humanity. I sense that deep in our Jewish kishkes we know that Jews are the human “canary in a coal mine.” When there is lack of hope, when struggles seem too great to solve collectively, Jew-hatred emerges. When world leaders peddle a steady diet of fear, separation and scarcity, Jew-hatred is reinforced. Antisemitism is an early indicator that something very grave is wrong in our world.

How do we stay sane, safe and generative in spite of this increasingly scary phenomenon? First we call on our courage and faith. We call on our strength as a people to overcome this wave of hatred. We call on our history of surviving and thriving. We call on our sacred and moral tradition to guide us. We keep current events in perspective and do not experience every act or gesture as an actual threat. We ensure that Jewish hatred does not divide us, we work towards achdut, unity. We call on our allies and friends for solidarity and power. We speak truth to power and we remember that we are only as strong as our most vulnerable brothers and sisters. We dedicate ourselves to living meaningful Jewish lives that are infused with pride and joy. We take the well-worn and well-known words of Rabbi Nachman and hold them like a mantra or talisman: the whole world is a very narrow bridge and the essential thing to know deep in the fiber of our being is to not be afraid. In courage, we feel fear but we act with bravery. Ḥazak v’ematz—be strong and courageous and make our lives a blessing. This is a time to show up for one another and to nourish pride and strength.

Rabbi Harry

Defying Hatred: Responding to Antisemitism in Victoria

ideafest2019_header_logo 1.2Wednesday, March 6, 2019, 12:30 – 2:30 pm in the Arbutus Room in the UVic Cadboro Commons Building — Hate crimes against Jewish people are raising concern in Canada and around the world. Victoria is not immune, with the local synagogue enduring the 2012 desecration of its cemetery and hate letters stating “Jewry Must Perish.” How can we respond to antisemitism in ways that encourage community resilience in the face of hate? This workshop and small-group discussion with UVic scholars and community members aims to answer this question.
Facilitators: Margaret Cameron, Associate Dean, Humanities, UVic and Richard Kool, School of Environment and Sustainability, Royal Roads University
Presenters: Harry Brechner (Rabbi, Congregation Emanu-El), Matt James (Department of Political Science), Helga Thorson (Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies), Lynne Marks and Jordan Stanger-Ross (Department of History)
Ideafest is the University of Victoria’s week-long festival of research, art and innovation.

UVic Events in March


Friday, March 1, 2019
“Armenian Genocide: Legacies of Denial” lecture by Maral Attallah
1:00 – 2:30 pm in the David Strong Building C122 at UVic
Drawing on the Armenian Genocide, and linking analysis of various genocides of the 20th and 21st centuries, Maral Attallah argues that recognition and reparation (structural recognition) is a necessary aspect of holding active and passive genocide deniers accountable. A call for structural recognition inherently promotes active anti-deniers, those who challenge genocide denial and encourage truth and accountability. This talk discusses the contemporary example of Turkey’s overt denial (active) and the United States’ lack of official recognition (passive denial) as indicative of a larger, more complex, system of genocide denial.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019
“Defying Hatred: Responding to Antisemitism in Victoria”; Ideafest 2019
12:30 – 2:30 pm in the Arbutus Room in the Cadboro Commons at UVic
Hate crimes against Jewish people are raising concern in Canada and around the world. Victoria is not immune, with the local synagogue enduring the 2012 desecration of its cemetery and hate letters stating “Jewry Must Perish.” How can the congregation respond to antisemitism in ways that encourage community resilience in the face of hate? This workshop and small-group discussion with UVic scholars and community members aims to answer this question.

Thursday, March 7, 2019
Book Launch: Out There Learning: Critical Reflections on Off-Campus Study Programs, co-edited by Deborah Curran, Cameron Owens, Helga Thorson, and Elizabeth Vibert
7:00 – 10:00 pm at the Legacy Art Gallery, 630 Yates Street
Educators from around North America came together seeking to better understand the value of off-campus (field school) teaching and learning. Come hear the authors reflect on what they learned and join in interactive fun as we imagine educative pathways to a better world.

Friday, March 8, 2019
Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies Graduate Student Conference: Memory, Identity, Nation
9:30 am – 5:00 pm in the Halpern Graduate Centre at UVic
This graduate conference not only features student presentations from all three streams of the graduate program (Germanic Studies, Slavic Studies, and Holocaust Studies) but also invited graduate student speakers from across Canada. It is free and open to the public.

Memorial for Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting Victims


Dear Ones,

I am sure for all of us this has been an intense and emotionally trying week. The massacre in Pittsburgh touched a deep chord in all of us. I will share with you some of the thoughts and feelings I expressed at the VVI Jewish Community memorial gathering on Tuesday night and at the UVic Hillel vigil on Wednesday morning. I spoke about the outpouring of support our community received from so many diverse faith communities and from individuals, the people who came by with bouquets of flowers and notes of sympathy and care (including a very generous donation in memory of a Jewish friend), and the notes and emails from our local MP and MLAs.

I spoke about how incredibly intense it is right now for Jewish professionals in Pittsburgh asking for intentions of support and care for the members of the burial society, the medical professionals, the first responders, the trauma counselors… and prayers for healing for the wounded including the super brave police officers who put their lives on the line to protect others.

Then I got personal. I spoke about being afraid— that I feel scared; how I had learned this week about a Yitzchak Rabin quote on anti-semitism from Leah Levi in which he said something to the effect that I do not fear for my person but I am afraid of the phenomenon. I sense a whirling climate of anti-semitism that I think we all feel— but the answer to this fear is not to meet violence with violence. Beefing up security will not make us feel safe. A difficult aspect of modern life is that there is no real security and the answer to fear is courage.

Courage transcends fear. We must be courageous and reach out to others. While we are experiencing a kind of collective mourning, remember we live in Victoria, a benign, open community that still holds striving for common good as an integral value; we can experience comfort and empowerment when we come together as a community; this is a time for unity.

I spoke with the students about how we are living through a time when we experience or deeply perceive lack— a lack of environmental quality, a lack of personal security and a lack of economic opportunity. The choices we have are competition or collaboration. I expressed the belief that the only way for us to deal with the problems facing our planet is together. Rav Louis once told me that his teacher Reb Zalman taught, “The only way to get it together is together.” To come together and to resist the divisiveness and fear, we need to turn up our kindness volume. We need to be patient and give others the benefit of the doubt. We need to see other humans as beings created in God’s image.

B’virkat Shalom with blessings and wholeness,
Rabbi Harry