The incredible true story of Steve Acre's escape from Iraq

Steve Acre is a distinguished constituent of mine in District 2.  The Rembrandt Avenue resident is a successful insurance executive. I must say that one of the best things about being a city councillor is having the opportunity to meet and interact with people like Steve. We have been in frequent touch during this my second mandate on a wide variety of issues.
I am attaching a fascinating article which just appeared  in AMI Magazine about Steve and his memories of hardship growing up as a Jew in Iraq. He was just nine years old when he witnessed the horrible massacre of Jews, known as the Farhud.
There are photos of Steve in different attire. The one in Arab clothing was taken just before he escaped in 1949.
This is an important story to tell about how minorities were treated in Arab lands.


Beth Zion looking for a new rabbi again

When Rabbi Sidney Shoham retired  in 2006 from  Beth Zion Congregation in Côte Saint-Luc, after more than 50 years at the pulpit, the very difficult search began for his successor. A year later Rabbi Ira Ebbin was hired. Young, charismatic and full of energy, he made a very favourable impression.

I am saddened to learn that less than three years after his arrival, Rabbi Ebbin (seen below with me soon after his arrival)  is about to leave his post for what must have been an offer he just could not refuse in Long Island, New York (Ohav Shalom in Merrick, NY).  Beth Zion, under the stewardship of executive director Sheldon Weinstein, was just getting back its footing. Despite a large drop in membership, the combination of   Rabbi Ebbin and Weinstein was paying off. New  members were coming aboard. The facility itself underwent somewhat of a facelift, with the main auditorium and the entranceway spruced up very nicely. Blossom  By The Plaza became the official in-house caterer.

Ebbin Prior to  arriving here, Rabbi Ebbin   served as the  spiritual leader of the Young Israel of Stamford, in Connecticut. Previously, he had served as the Assistant Rabbi of Congregation Anshe Sholom in New Rochelle, NY. He was the Immediate Past President of the Board of Rabbis for the UJF of Stamford, New Canaan, and Darien.   He and  his wife Chevi (Shurin) grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and they are blessed with three daughters, Shlomit, Shira Nacha, and Anat Shoshana.  It is understandable that this new offers allows them to return home.

So Beth Zion once again begins the difficult search for a rabbi. Will Rabbi Shoham, still the rabbi emeritus, return on an interim basis? Stay tuned.

Our provincial government wants religion gone from the daycares

When the province of Quebec introduced a daycare system  offering subsidized spaces at  only $5 a day, spots filled and families  celebrated.  Even though the price rose to $7 a few years, there were no complaints.JPPSCPE1

Many Montreal Jewish day schools, such as the Jewish People’s and Peretz Schools (JPPS) and Beth Rivkah Academy, introduced these daycares and made no secret of the fact that pre-kindergarten students would be getting an early start on their parochial education. That really was never an issue until last week when the Quebec government announced it is banning religious instruction in provincially funded daycare centres.

The opposition Parti Quebecois reasoned that  while Quebec has made its public- school system non-denominational, religion appeared to be slipping back through the public daycare system.  Quebec Family Minister Tony Tomassi was under fire from the PQ last week. He said that his department has launched an investigation and found that there might be problems in about 20 daycare centres.  Ultra-orthodox Jewish and  Islamic operators of subsidized daycares have been offering instruction in their respective religions for years.

"From now on, religious instruction will no longer be accepted in the daycare network subsidized by the Family Department,"  Tomassi said in Quebec City.

Last Thursday the PQ forced a vote on the issue in the National Assembly and the ban on religion passed unanimously, which meant that the Jewish MNA for D’Arcy McGee, Lawrence Bergman,  voted along party lines for a motion which is not popular among his constituents.

B’nai Brith Canada-Quebec Region  expressed concern with the  government’s decision and has been consulting with other faith groups and daycare centres to ascertain what the next step should be following this announcement. 

Allan Adel, national chair of the League for Human Rights, says that cutting funding to religious daycares would discriminate against people who practice a faith, violating the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees freedom of religion.

Adel said that banning religion in daycares would create significant confusion between religion and cultural traditions. An example being used is the lighting of the Chanukah menorah and whether that would be allowed.  Similarly, for a Christian daycare, the singing of Christmas carols.

Rabbi Reuben J. Poupko of Congregation Beth Israel Beth Aaron in Côte Saint-Luc  was not holding back his comments. “There remains a bizarre obsession on the part of the Quebec media with Jewish schools,” he remarked. “That being said, when we accept government financial support for institutions which we perceive as being clearly religious in nature then we are treading on dangerous ground. However, for anyone to think that little children in daycare are involved in deep and profound theological discussions in class makes no sense.”

On the JPPS website, a section devoted to their $7 a day daycare, called   the Children’s Centre of JPPS (pictured above), states that the school is committed to the highest standard of education, training students to be leaders in embracing the world and its opportunities from the distinctive perspective of informed and inspired Jewish identity.

“Two of my children went there and it provided them with a solid basis of a Jewish education prior to them entering the mainstream JPPS system,” one parent told the Jewish Tribune. “That is why we chose it.”

The Beth Rivkah website stated that all the "daily activities are driven by the spirit of Torah and the Jewish tradition." That message was no longer visible hours after the Tomassi announcement, replaced by a note that said under construction.

Annie Turcot, a spokesperson  for a coalition of publicly funded daycares on the island of Montreal actually welcomed the decision. "The mission of  (early-childhood education centres) is really to help families integrate into Quebec culture," she said.

As Adel notes, if the government needs to define exactly what the banning of religion in daycares means. “They’ll have to prescribe some regulations,” he said. “It should not be up to a clerk to decide that on a whim.”

Added Rabbi Poupko: “If the government thinks it can draw a clear line between culture and religion, I believe they are mistaken.”

Father John Walsh of St.  John Brébeuf Parish in Montreal feels the time has come for the Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Catholic communities to get together. “The topic would be religion in the public domain,” said Father Walsh.

According to Father Walsh, “there is no such thing as a subsidized Christian daycare centre in Montreal.”  There are some private daycares operated by the  Catholic community, he says, but even they do not teach religion.