From our Anti-Racism and Equity Working Group

The Congregation Emanu-El Anti-Racism and Equity Working Group held their second meeting on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Considerable time was spent discussing what is happening in Israel and Gaza, and Rabbi Harry’s email on the recent events. The group addressed the importance of having space to unpack in ‘real-time’ what is taking place, and how to support critical learning opportunities. In this connection, the group began refining their scope and mandate, and focused on education.
As a next step, the group plans to participate in the three-part REDI (Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) series, “focused on helping participants to start building stronger communities and transform the ways in which our institutions create meaningful Jewish experiences for people of all backgrounds” offered by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
The first session will occur on Thursday, May 20, 2021 at 5 pm PST with the other sessions on the following two Thursdays—spanning May 23 to 29, 2021, which is “Anti-Racism Awareness Week” in the Province of British Columbia. This training is open to anyone, and free of charge. We encourage everyone to participate! Please click here  to register…
The Anti-Racism and Equity Working Group will next meet on Thursday, June 10, from 6:30 – 8 pm. Everyone is welcome. Please email the office for the Zoom link.
“It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work,  but neither are you at liberty to desist from it.“-Rabbi Tarfon (in Paul Kivel’s Uprooting Racism 1996).

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:

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. Continue reading A message from 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