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December 2010

A "small world" story: The Zygielbaum connection from California

Stanley Diamond, the charismatic founder of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Montreal, contacted me with this very interesting story. I will share with you what he wrote.

My daughter Jessika Diamond is moving from Alameda, California to Toronto next week.
 
After 12 years in the Bay Area, Jessika is divesting of anything she does not want to ship, store, mail or bring in her car (she is driving cross-country in January).  Her goal is to throw nothing out – everything is going to charity, recycling, to friends, or out on Freecycle, a mailing list where people post what they are giving away, or what they need.
 
This week, she posted an offer of dozens of file & hanging folders.

A number of people expressed interest, including a young woman at a nearby non-profit.  Since Jessika is partial to non-profit groups (as an event manager, her specialty is large-scale galas & fundraising events for charities), she chose this young lady to receive them.
 
As she was replying, Jessika noticed the young woman's name is Zygielbaum, the same name on the sign in the park across the street from our house on Edgemore (Arthur Zygielbaum)  in Cote Saint-Luc where she grew up.  Her comment to Beth Zygielbaum was “and for a random moment… you have the same last name as the WWII resistance fighter for whom the park across the street from my parents’ place in Montreal is named!”DiamondZygielbaum_IMG_2577 
 
Beth’s reply was “not random at all to me, he was my great grandfather!! His son, my grandpa was also heavily involved in the resistance in Poland as a leader of a militia living in the forest near Warsaw.  I visited the park with my family as a small child but haven’t been back since then.”

When her family – including the next generation, the 15-month-old great, great-grandson - came to pick up the folders, Jessika took a picture with them.

Go figure, Jessika, daughter of a Dutch Holocaust survivor, growing up spitting distance from this park named for Zygielbaum, meeting the great-granddaughter of that man, in a small city in California, where they both reside.

Pictured: Jessika Diamond (left) and Beth Zygielbaum.
 


My CSL Year in Review for 2010

As the year 2010 draws to a close, I would like to take a look back in my capacity as the Côte Saint-Luc city councillor for District 2. 

Second Term In Office

In November 2009 I was acclaimed for my second term in office. The electorate, in fact, returned Mayor Anthony  Housefather and the same eight councillors who were voted in after the demergers with Montreal in 2005. I think we make a good team.  One of Mayor Housefather’s first acts was to assign portfolios to each councillor. This is a system that works well as we are all responsible for different aspects of how the city functions. In my case I handle communications, corporate identity, intercommunity relations, sponsorship and now the Trap, Neuter Release (TNR) program for cats.

Here is my look back at some 2010 highlights.

Rembrandt Park

There was a lot of discussion and activity related to Rembrandt Park. I am very proud of the fact we have made a number of improvements here over the last few years. The former soccer pit was filled, new play equipment added and a water spray area, which the young children enjoy immensely, introduced in 2009.  The park presently has two tennis courts and a lighting system which needs to be updated. Last June I hosted one of my District 2 information meetings, at which time I presented some of the options that were being considered.  This included adding three or four more tennis courts and relocating the basketball court to the side closer to Merrimac. In fact, a half court was being proposed. There was a great deal of feedback after the meeting and I brought that all back to council. Some residents even met with the staff from Parks and Recreation to bring their points home. We went out for tenders at the end of the summer.

Waterplay3

The quotations we received were far above what was budgeted. While we will seek bidders again in 2011, due to the cost of the $18 million Aquatic and Community Centre going up on Parkhaven Avenue, we may have to hold back on this work a bit longer.  Our new city manager, Tanya Abramovitch, has also come forward with a new proposal for Rembrandt Park which I believe merits our attention. Stay tuned on that one.

Snow Dump Parking Lot

Last summer the garage at  6555 Kildare Road was being fixed. The owner approached me to see what could be done for his many residents in terms of parking. Thanks to the assistance of Director of Public Safety Jordy Reichson, arrangements were made to convert the snow dump into a special parking lot. Some residents with specific medical conditions were given permission to park on the street. Fortunately the work was completed just before our first snow fall.

Piping on Kildare Road and New Stop Signs

Work was carried out on Kildare Road during the month of July and completed in early August to change the underground pipes in order to avoid the type of water main breaks we experienced in 2009. I gained the city council’s support to have this job moved up in the schedule at a cost of $426,000. Now that the work is completed the pipes shouldn't need to be repaired or replaced for approximately 50 years. There were some bonuses added to this project. An additional $26,000 was secured to finally fix the stretch of pavement from Rembrandt to Cavendish.  And, following a lot of feedback from residents of Rembrandt, Merrimac, Sir Walter Scott and most notably Ilan Ramon  Crescent, new stop signs were installed at the corner of Sir Walter Scott and Kildare Road. I have spoken to Police Commander Sylvain Bissonnette for his patrols to observe the spot closely as many motorists are not abiding by the rules there.

Digital Signage

Kazoo3In 2010 digital signage finally arrived in the city of Côte Saint-Luc.  This was an initiative I had been pushing since first being elected. An attractive four by seven full colour and weatherproof LED display now stands at the corner of Cavendish  Boulevard and Kildare Road. Kazoo Digital, which already provides digital signage solutions for retailers, medical and dental clinics, and corporate offices with the use of in house digital display systems, is our partner in this endeavor. Messages appearing on the sign represent a combination of city announcements and advisories and paid advertisements.  We hope to see a few more surface in 2011.

New Town Houses

A lot of people have asked me what is happening with the 21 unit town house complex on Marc Chagall. Many will recall that the land was originally zoned for a strip mall. Following several consultations with my constituents in that area, it was clear that a strip mall was not desirable. We changed the zoning and allowed a developer to start selling units.  He an option to buy the land. Because such a transaction has not yet occurred, no construction has been allowed to take place.

New Zoning for Highrises


Meanwhile, when the city adopted a new master plan earlier in the year we rezoned the parcel of land that sits between the Le Rothchild I building and the Marquise to accommodate a highrise of a maximum 12 storeys, compared to the original 17. A previous Council had given approval a number of years ago for two twin tower buildings. That never took off. The land is vacant and while we have no indication that someone else might be interested, residents of the condos there now appear very pleased with the turn of events.

Cavendish Mall

District 2 stands to grow as a result of the development of the Cavendish Mall property. After many years of negotiation, council came to an agreement with the owners of the Mall for them to demolish 40 percent of the facility. MallminusEatonThe father and son team of Joe and Jason Levine of Dubelle Investments now plan to construct an attractive housing development. Work should commence in March. Right now the demolition is complete and debris must be carted away.

Kildare Towers

I have heard from many residents of Kildare Towers, located on Honore de Balzac, regarding the construction. Recently we created a small walking path to make their route into the remaining part of the Mall easier. I believe that as a result of this development their building will become more desirable as well.  The owner of the property is Howard Szalavetz, who also has the  Manoir Camelia next to City Hall under his auspices. Howard is a pleasure to deal with.

Aquatic and Community Centre

In the city at large, I was excited to be at both the initial announcement and the groundbreaking for our Aquatic and Community Centre. I hope to be doing laps in the new indoor pool in the fall.

New Public High School

We may also have a new public high school in the city in September.  Our mayor has made it a priority to lobby the English Montreal School Board (where I work by day) to bring back a high school to the old Wagar building. The city hosted a public meeting on the issue with the EMSB in October and it was standing room only. We will watch and see what happens if the EMSB Council approves a new three year plan in February, which would include the Côte Saint-Luc high school option. If that occurs, registration would begin soon after for the launch of a Grade 7 only school with sports concentration and heritage language options.

 Canada Day and Human Rights

During Canada Day festivities I co-chaired with Councillor Glenn J. Nashen the Human Rights Walkway Ceremony. Based on our respective histories with the Canadian Jewish Congress we chose to honour those who spoke out and fought for Jews oppressed in the former Soviet Union, Syria, and Ethiopia. It was an emotional experience, particularly as we saluted Rabbi Martin Penn. He was not able to be there with us due to illness. I am proud to announce that on Friday, July 1, 2011 I will co-chair Canada Day festivities with Councillor Allan J. Levine.

Seniors Golf

Councillor Sam Goldbloom and I co-chaired the Seniors Golf Outing Outing at Meadowbrook. I also emceed the awards banquet. MIkeCommander carThis is an event I always enjoy. The same goes for the Senior Men’s Club Gala Dance. District 2 resident Sidney Margles is now the president of the Club and is working with us on the new Aquatic and Community Centre, which will also become the headquarters for our seniors groups.

Trap, Neuter and Release

As a self confessed cat lover, I asked for and received a mandate from the mayor to look into the feasibility of implementing a Trap, Neuter and Release (TNR) program for cats. In August I hosted an unprecedented public information meeting at City Hall about what residents can do to help control our cat population. It exceeded my expectations in terms of interest. A standing room only crowd of more than 100 people stretched into the hallway. Media coverage in advance of the meeting and on this night was exceptional. Alanna Devine, the director of animal welfare at the local Canadian Society for the Prevention for Cruelty to Animals (CSPCA) and Dr. Marlene Kalin, the director of the Côte Saint-Luc   Hospital for animals, were special guest speakers.

Focus was placed on the Trap, Neuter, and Release (TNR) program, cat overpopulation, and responsible pet ownership. The TNR program humanely traps, sterilizes, then releases feral cats back into their original territory. Experts say that removing feral cats doesn't work because new cats simply move into the area. If the cat is adoptable, efforts are made to place it with a family. A cat can reproduce four times a year, beginning from six months old, and can give birth to from one to eight kittens each time.  We now have a committee in place and in the 2011 Côte Saint-Luc budget, a total of $5,000 has been allocated.  Our Director of Legal Services and City Clerk Jonathan Shecter got in touch with the head office of Canadian Pacific Railway, advising him that many of the feral cats are in the local CP Yards. The back and forth correspondence was very fruitful and CP has agreed to contribute $2,000 to the fund. Some committee members will assist me with fundraising and an education component. I am extremely pleased with these turn of events as our city is taking a leadership role which others should follow.

 Intercommunity Relations

When I was first elected and received the Intercommunity Relations portfolio I decided to develop a data base of every community organization operating within the confines of Côte Saint-Luc. Once that was in place I began holding meetings, where representatives from these organizations would come together and report on their activities. This turned out to be an excellent networking opportunity to begin with. In between meetings, we started to email them information about activities we thought they should know about.  Each meeting is, in fact, hosted by a different organization. In the fall we convened at Bialik High School where we were introduced to their new principal Shireen Butman. The dialogue was fruitful and I look forward to future gatherings. I continue to work with the Bialik administration in an effort  to have the parent motorists abide by the rules of the road. During the year I brought some students from Bialik to City Hall where our engineering manager Charles Senekal and Public Safety Director Jordy Reichson  spoke about ways in which they could make the area around the school safer.

New City Management

In 2010 the city council made an important move by promoting Director of Library Services Tanya Abramovitch and Director of Human Resources Nadia DiFurria to the posts of city manager and associate city manager. Tanya had impressed the entire council early on in this mandate when we chose her to head the library. She moved up even further on our list when she took charge of our strategic plan, a very exciting look into the future of our city which citizens will learn a lot more about in 2011.

2011 Budget

Finally, on December 20 council adopted the 2011 budget. We were faced with many challenges, starting with a seven percent increase in agglomeration expenses. Montreal has been taking advantage of the demerged suburbs from day one. Regrettably, the provincial government has not done enough to stop this injustice. I hate to think about what will occur in two years when the Parti Québecois is voted into office. That will happen, unless Premier Jean Charest resigns soon and is succeeded by a charismatic new leader.  We adopted a $59 million budget, with an average tax increase of 2.98 percent.

In the city itself I would like to salute some businesses:

  • Kosher Self Service and Côte St. Luc Kosher and the Famous Delly Boys, both operating in the same plaza on Westminster Avenue.  Heading home from work, anxious for a good home cooked meal, but hoping someone will do the chore for you? Go see Mrs. Roth, Avi Brook and their team at Kosher Self Service/Cote St. Luc Kosher on Westminster for a ready to eat chicken schnitzel meal with amazing roasted potatoes. The place has great Chinese food and a whole lot more. Avi,  the kosher butcher extraordinaire, has specials on minced meat, flanken steaks, rib roast, short ribs and beef stew to name a few.  In 2010, the Famous Delly Boys got new owners - Tahir and Kharson  Lifanov,  with their mom Fatima. Tahir and Kharson have rejuvenated the place and brought back original owner Sonny Broccoli to lend his steady hand behind the counter. There are new additions to the menu, a website and great customer service.
  • George at Caldwell Provisions has a kitchen of his own on the premises. Here too you can stop by anytime and get good home cooked meals.  On Westminster, Infusion Catering makes some of the best burgers I have tasted. Owner and chef Derek Curzi will cater your meal with Italian dishes, schnitzel and a whole lot more.
  • Hats off to Raffi Abikian, who always stays calm at his Shell Service Station on Westminster despite a very demanding clientele. In addition to his body shop  in N.D.G., he has now opened a second automobile repair  shop in that area and put ace mechanic Zack in charge.
  • At the Côte Saint-Luc Shopping Centre, Constantine the Tailor is probably the most reliable person in the community with needle and thread.
  •  The best bagels in the city? CSL Bagel on Caldwell wins hands down. In 2010 the place went kosher. Next door is the Pharmaprix with the best customer service  thanks to ace technicians Thomas Virta and Sheila Cohen and seasoned pharmacists like Saul Singer.
    There are a lot of good things going on in Côte Saint-Luc. It is why I chose to live here for most of my life!
  •  Please subscribe to my blog at www.mikecohen.ca. Read me in The Suburban Newspaper, The Jewish  Tribune, The Montrealer, The Montreal Jewish Magazine, Sandboxworld.com, The Jewish Standard and others.
     

The old Eaton is finally gone from the Mall

It has been many years of course since the Eaton's store (or Eaton as our friends from the language police called it) closed its doors across Canada and at the Cavendish Mall.    Because it occupied such huge space, the Mall had a devil of a time finding a tenant willing to take the two and a half floors. So, it was divided up piece-meal.  Federation CJA used it for a year while its building on Cote St. Catherine was being renovated. There were a couple of video stores near  the end closest to Kildare Road and the Pneus Expert automobile repair shop developed a loyal clientele.  More recently, it was Beth Chabad which held  court there as their new project at the corner of Kildare and Marc Chagall was under construction (that is a story for another day, but it has been "under construction" for years and the congregants now convene in rented trailers and at Bialik High School.

MallminusEaton

Even though Eaton was gone, everyone I knew still considered that  old spot its home - util last week. For the past two months wrecking ball crews have been smashing down 40 percent of the Mall to make way for a new housing  development. A few days ago the work was complete and  the final piece  of the old Eaton facade was  smashed into pieces. See above. That is where Eaton once stood. 

What you now see at the Mall is a whole lot  of rubble on the ground. Crews will now get cracking at clearing the area.  The developer hopes to break ground by March.


Rosie O'Donnell's Furry Montreal Appearance

It  has been more than 30 years since Dubarry Furs Inc. began operating in Montreal. Owner Ivan Katz manufactures superior quality garments and provides personalized service at his Old Montreal location. 

Dubbarry2

Dubarry offers a wide selection to choose from. This includes fine and sheared furs, reversibles, cashmere and alpaca capes with fur trim, shearlings, soft leather, hats, scarves, purses, headbands and muffs. There are hundreds of accessories in stock.

As Mr. Katz, a  Côte Saint-Luc resident,  points out,  Dubarry strives to provide their customers with the latest styles of the finest quality fur garments. In fact, the extensive inventory available enables Dubarry to cater to a variety of tastes, sizes and styles.  Custom made material is also available.

Shearling coats and jackets are available for both women and men. “They are made from the finest quality skins, are lightweight yet warm and designed for the fashion conscious and discriminating customer,” says Mr. Katz, whose father originally started the business in Europe prior to WWII. “We also have ultra soft leathers which are made in Montreal. They come in various colours and styles.”

Among the company’s services are cleaning, repairs, remodelling, trade-ins and storage.  Mr. Katz welcomes customers to come in for a complimentary consultation. Remodelling is a nice option. With their years of experience, Dubarry can work magic on your old, heavy fur garment and turn it into a lightweight, sheared, reversible coat!  A testament to their success is seen in the letters of thanks on display in the store.

Dubarry offers generous trade-in allowances towards the purchase of new items. Meanwhile, a lot of people do take advantage of storing their valuable furs during the off-season in their secure, fully insured climate-controlled vault.

O'Donnell2

At Dubarry, you never know which celebrity will walk through the door.  Such was the case just over a week ago when actress and talk show host Rosie O’Donnell dropped by unannounced to look for a fur coat. She reportedly came to town with her own film crew to do some research on a very recent finding that she may have some French Canadian ancestors. “My husband called and said that she was in the store,” noted Elizabeth Katz. “At that point Rosie took the phone and started to talk to me. She was charming.”

Dubarry Furs is located at 206 St. Paul Street West in Old Montreal at the corner of St. Francois-Xavier and near the Place D’Armes Metro. For more information call 514-844, 7483 or 514-816-7483. You can also email info@dubarryfurs.com or log on to www.dubarryfurs.com.


 


Virgin Radio sweeps radio ratings; bravo to CSL's Mark Bergman

Last week marked the two year anniversary in Montreal of the Portable People Meter (PPM), a pager-sized device that is carried by a representative panel of radio listeners which the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement (BBM) uses to officially determine local radio listenership.

Results unveiled  last week for people surveyed between August 30 and November 28 showed Virgin Radio FM as the top anglo market performer.  In the all important aged 25 to 54 demographic, Cat SpencerCat and Lisa  and Lisa Player (below)  lead the morning show competition followed by CJAD’s Andrew Carter and Aaron Rand of The Q. 

Between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Virgin is also at the top, followed by The Q, CHOM, CJAD and THE TEAM 990. The drive home has newcomer Cousin Vinny keeping Virgin in the lead ahead of CHOM’s Bilal Butt, Ken Connors and Donna Saker from The Q, Ric Peterson of CJAD and Mitch Melnick (below)  of THE TEAM 990, whose ratings have definitely come up since the advent of the PPMs. Melnick

The man behind Virgin Radio's impressive programming controls is Mark Bergman, formerly the drive home show host (The Rush). He has been at the helm for less than a year now and clearly has a steady touch. Mark, a longtime Côte Saint-Luc resident,  is the son of D'Arcy McGee Liberal MNA Lawrence Bergman.


The once proud Canadian Jewish Congress About to Expire

After 91 years of existence, the Canadian Jewish Congress  appears to be on life support and is unlikely to  celebrate anniversary  number 92.  The one-time proud national Jewish advocacy organization lost its mojo a number of years ago. Farber2 And while it still has some stars in its midst, notably CEO Bernie Farber (right)  in Toronto, I believe the time has indeed come to pull the plug. What allows me to present such a strong position? 

Well, I spent 11 years as the organization’s national director of communications at a time when it truly was the democratically elected representative of the Canadian Jewish community. It is no more.

The fact that CJC remains an entity at all is quite a feat to begin with. I was hired in the spring of 1988. At the time the head office was a beautiful building at 1590 Dr. Penfield Avenue called the Samuel Bronfman House Museum and Archives. The CJC was established in 1919 at a convention held here at the Monument National Theatre.  For decades it gained notice for excellent work combatting antisemitism, defending Israel and advocating for oppressed Jews in the former Soviet Union and in Arab lands. There was even as a social advocacy arm and an outreach component for small Jewish communities.

 Doors opened wide whenever the CJC came  calling, be it to politicians from any level of government  or the media.  During the three year term of Professor Irving Abella as president, he himself was treated like a head of state. His predecessor, Les Scheininger, was another outstanding performer while Moshe Ronen, whom as chairman of the executive and later presidentwas equally impressive.

CJC played a crucial role in enticing the federal government to adopt legislation to prosecute and deport Nazi war criminals. I remember when I was hired. My new boss Jack Silverstone welcomed me a board and asked  that I organize a press conference on Parliament Hill in a few days time so that CJC could report on a meeting it had scheduled  with the Justice Minister regarding Nazi war criminals. I turned  out to be the driver to Ottawa. My passengers were Silverstone and Professor Irwin Cotler, then a CJC past president and now of course the Liberal MP for Mount  Royal. I personally called most of the media in Ottawa and was I surprised with the respect the CJC name attracted. The turnout was strong. People really wanted to hear what we had to say.

And so it went. CJC was truly an independent organization. Yes, we were funded by the Jewish federations of Canada, but we had our own board of officers and a National Executive. There was true representation from coast to coast. Every three years we had a National Plenary Assembly and attracted more than 1,000 delegates from across the country who debated and voted on policy resolutions and elected a new corps of officers.  On several occasions there were heated elections, most notably in 1995 when Goldie Hershon narrowly defeated Thomas Hecht in a fierce battle.

In 1998 word came down that the CJC head office was to move to Ottawa. This was being touted a progressive development. I felt otherwise and began looking elsewhere, landing at the English Montreal School  Board as head of communications and marketing.  CJC did maintain a presence here. Thanks  to the hard work of Abe Smajovits, the head of finance, a deal was struck with Concordia University to take over the management and cost associated with the building on Dr. Penfield. In return, Smajovits’ accounting department, a graphic artist and the National Archives would remain in place at no cost to the community.

The decision to give up this valuable real estate just made CJC more dependent upon the federations. Initially, the Ottawa office seemed like a good fit. But when executive vice-president Jack Silverstone stepped down to become the chief of staff for a federal minister, he was replaced  by Farber and Toronto became the new de facto head office.

Oh yes  and how was Smajovits rewarded for his clever move to save the community money? His position and that of his two assistants  were abolished.  He took them to court and won a significant judgment for unlawful dismissal. It was appealed  by CJC and went to the Court of Appeal, where a ruling is expected  in the spring.

For CJC, the writing was on the wall when the  Canadian Council for Jewish and Israel Advocacy  (CCJIA)  was established a few years ago.  Gone was the CJC’s autonomy. All of sudden this new entity provided the marching orders. National Plenary Assemblies went from exciting three day affairs to a one day gathering in a synagogue. When Montrealer Sylvain Abitbol and Rabbi Reuven Bulka of Ottawa both declared  their candidacy for president a few years back, the “democratically elected” representative of the Canadian Jewish community bartered a partnership. A potential exciting election race was halted and the two became co-presidents. The  National Executive  also ceased to exist, the latter not such a bad thing given the fact meetings occurred at  great cost only about twice a year and not a lot could be accomplished.

There are people like Bernie Farber and head of government relations Eric Vernon whom are real gems. I hope that the new entity being created to replace CJC, the Canada-Israel Committee and the university advocacy group finds prominent places for them.

What will become of the CJC regional structure? Only Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia had true regional bodies. The others were all  clones of their local Jewish federations.. Here in Montreal, CJC lost a lot of credibility when it was rechristened the Quebec Jewish Congress (QJC).  Despite many protests from the community, the name change went ahead. The QJC is not very effective or visible. Its time has come  to be cast adrift.

The Jewish community is well served by B’nai Brith Canada, which does not rely on federation dollars  to exist. Ditto for the Canadian Jewish Public Affairs Committee and organizations like the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research.
My sources tell me that takeover of CJC is a done deal and will be ratified this month at a board meeting of the United Israel Appeal of Canada.  They even have a code name for the entity set to take over from CJC, CIC and university advocacy:  Newco. Shimon Fogel, for many years the head of CIC, will be the big boss.

For those of us in the Jewish community, this will not mean a thing.  The CJC that gained respect across the globe (and I know because I represented the organization in places such as Israel, Poland, Switzerland and in every province in Canada) has been gone for years. It was a shadow of its former self.

 

The federations wanted it this way. They had a plan which took a number of years to execute, taking an organization which was most effective and ultimately making it irrelevant. I feel badly for someone like Farber, probably the brightest Jewish advocacy expert in this country. He has stood up to hatemongers and delivered countless lectures and presentations to spellbound audiences. His talent has been underutilized. It is time for Bernie to become a politician.  For Stephen Harper’s Tories, I could not think of a better star Jewish candidate in the Toronto area than him. Add B’nai Brith Canada executive vice-president Frank  Dimant into the mix as a potential Tory Senator and our community  will really be well served.

 

Yes, it is sad in a way to bid adieu to CJC.  Had they stayed put on Dr. Penfield Avenue, they would have survived to celebrate a 100th anniversary. Below is a story which appeared in the  National Post:
Sarah Boesveld, National Post • Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2010
The legacy of Canada’s oldest Jewish organization may soon be at risk if its umbrella group pursues plans to form a central advocacy group for Jewish Canadians, observers say.
The 91-year-old Canadian Jewish Congress, founded by Montreal Jews who left Europe after the First World War, could be amalgamated into a larger unified Jewish public affairs organization if members at two board meetings in early December vote in favour of it. The Canadian Council for Jewish and Israel Advocacy, which oversees the CJC and four other Jewish groups, has been drafting the restructuring plans for months and says the community would be stronger and more efficient if there’s a consolidation of decision-making and and public affairs.
But though the CJC board says it’s all in favour of a more streamlined approach to advocacy, they worry the name and identity of their time-honoured institution will get lost in the shuffle, said vice-president Barbara Bank.
“We hope that it will not do anything to in any way undermine or destroy that very valuable brand and that it won’t relegate the Canadian Jewish Congress to the garbage bin of history,” she said. “We believe [that would be] a monumental error in judgment.”
Ms. Bank, who gets a vote at the December meetings, fears the group will be “dissolved” should it fold into whatever the new group -- which would include the Congress, the Canada-Israel Committee, the University Outreach Committee, the Quebec-Israel Committee and UIA Federations Canada – becomes.
“It’s important that people feel empowered, it’s important that people feel included -- that [the group] is truly the voice of the Canadian Jewish people,” said Ms. Bank. “That’s why we feel our legacy is historic – it’s synonymous with Canadian Jewry.”
Earlier this year, the CJC struck a sub-committee and crafted its own recommendations for the new group, which included keeping the Canadian Jewish Congress name and playing up the group’s heritage in the new mandate. The sub-committee sent unsolicited recommendations to the The Canadian Council for Jewish and Israel Advocacy committee in the summer, but have yet to receive a response.
Reached Tuesday, CIJA’s acting CEO Susan Davis would not comment on the restructuring except to say the process has been an ongoing one that is “not a public issue.”
“It’s a community issue and we’re growing it organically within the community,” she said, adding that hundreds of people have seen the plans, which remain confidential to the public in a brief called the “Newco Document.”
In a recent interview with the Canadian Jewish News, chair Steven Cummings said it’s important for Canadian Jews to speak with one voice, and a consolidated group would allow for that.
“We feel that the issues that are of most importance to the Jewish community really leach into each other,” he said. “Whether they’re issues around anti-Semitism, around anti-Israelism, difficulties on campuses...all of them are informed by the core values we have in the Jewish community around human rights and the dignity of all people.”
He was not available for comment on Tuesday and Ms. Davis would not speak to the timeline and specifics of the plan or respond to the CJC’s concerns about its identity.
Still, there are frustrations over the plan, which seem to stretch beyond the CJC itself, with emotional stakeholders entering the fray. Andrew Cohen, whose great-uncle Lazarus founded the CJC, is angered by the proposed re-organization. He compared the plans to the amalgamation of small towns or villages into a larger city – those areas can lose control and services, he said, all without the benefit of a tighter bottom line.
“This is a dangerous, ill-considered decision,” he said. “You don’t just throw [an historical organization] away like a piece of tissue, in the same way you don’t raze a heritage building.”
He argues that the organization is working well and meeting the needs of Canadian Jews.
“This is not an argument for perpetuating waste or inefficiencies or something that has long passed its purpose,” said Mr. Cohen, who is president of The Historica-Dominion Institute, Canada’s largest independent history, heritage and culture organization.
In the week or so before the plan goes to vote, community members are just waiting to see what happens. Though the CJC has come forward with its concerns, Ms. Bank said they hope their wishes are considered if the plan is accepted by CIJA and UIAFC, which is a fundraising body for Jewish organizations