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Bill S-232: Canadian Jewish Heritage Month - Senate Human Rights Committee

Thank you Senators for this opportunity to testify in favour of Senate Public Bill S-232: An Act Respecting Canadian Jewish Heritage Month.   This is certainly my first time on this side of the hearing table, and I’m so happy that I’m able to do so in support of a Bill that has already received so much support in our chamber.

This Bill is the result of a bi-partisan, bi-cameral effort to formalize in law a time, each year, to celebrate the contributions of the Jewish community to Canada. 

I would like to acknowledge the efforts of Michael Levitt, Member of Parliament for York Centre who is responsible for initiating this Bill. 

I would also like to recognize and express my appreciation for the support from Members of Parliament Randall Garrison and Peter Kent, along with Senators Wetston, Fraser, Jaffer and Gold.  

Although Senator Jaffer is technically referred to as the critic of this bill, her eloquent words of endorsement during her second reading speech were particularly moving and heartfelt.

It is apropos that this bill is being studied in the Senate during the month of May, a month that is meaningful to the Jewish community around the world.

The month of May has been proclaimed by the United States, as the time to celebrate the contributions of the American Jewish community, and has been ever since 2006, when President George W. Bush and Congress passed a resolution deeming it such.

In his remarks celebrating Jewish Heritage Month in 2010, President Obama had this to say:

"This month is a chance for Americans of every faith to appreciate the contributions of the Jewish people throughout our history –- often in the face of unspeakable discrimination and adversity. For hundreds of years, Jewish Americans have fought heroically in battle and inspired us to pursue peace.

They’ve built our cities, cured our sick. They’ve paved the way in the sciences and the law, in our politics and in the arts. They remain our leaders, our teachers, our neighbors and our friends.”

Across the United States, you will find a wide range of activities during Jewish Heritage Month, from lectures at the Library of Congress and National Archives, to cooking classes and Klezmer music performances in American cities throughout the country.

In Ontario, Jewish Heritage Month was established in 2012, and is also celebrated in the month of May.

Since its adoption in Ontario, Jewish Heritage Month has received widespread support among citizens, community organizations and local governments across the province. 

For example, a photo exhibit showcasing Jewish life in Canada is on display at the Vaughan City Hall for the duration of this month.   In Toronto, the annual Jewish Film Festival is held during Jewish Heritage Month to celebrate and appreciate Jewish filmmaking from around the world. 

May is also the month that Israel celebrate one of its more joyful public holidays, Yom Hatzmaut, or Israeli Independence Day.

And soon, we hope, with the passage of Bill S 232, Canada will also have a national Jewish Heritage Month of its own.

By establishing Jewish Heritage Month in law, Parliament formalizes that this month is to be recognized each and every year.  In light of yesterday’s report by B’nai Brith that anti-Semitic events in Canada last year were the highest on record, this official embrace of the Jewish people and the Jewish culture by Canadians, can only help to promote the values of tolerance, acceptance, and inclusion. 

Another advantage to setting this month formally in law is that it gives community organizations the lead time they need to plan events. 

The European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage hosts Jewish Heritage week each year throughout Europe bringing over 120,000 visitors to the many events across European cities. 

One of the keys to their success is planning and informing stakeholders far in advance of their heritage week.  It is my hope that once Jewish Heritage Month is enacted in law, community organizations here in Canada would be similarly empowered to plan in advance as well.

Having that lead time is especially helpful because there is so much to celebrate and praise when looking at the accomplishments and contributions of the Jewish community to Canada.

The earliest Jewish settlers arrived in Canada in 1768 however it was not until the end of the 19th century that Jews arrived here in any significant numbers. 

Most Jewish refugees came to Canada with nothing other than a sincere desire to build a safer, more prosperous future for their children, and to embrace the country that so openly embraced them.

Fleeing pogroms and Anti-Semitism primarily in Russia and Eastern Europe, Jewish exiles settled across Canada from coast to coast.  In fact, the two oldest synagogues in Canada are in Sydney, Nova Scotia and Victoria, British Columbia.

Another significant wave of Jewish refugees arrived in Canada after WW2, when Montreal became the 3rd largest centre of Holocaust refugees in the world.  In total Canada accepted 40,000 Holocaust survivors.

Today, Canada is home to nearly 400,000 Jewish people, the fourth largest Jewish population in the world, after Israel, the United States and France. 

To properly measure the immense and diverse contributions that have been made by Jewish Canadians to our society, you would have to survey nearly every aspect of human endevour.  Be it in academia, the law, politics, medicine, business, philanthropy, science, art, entertainment, even food.

It is my hope that with the establishment of Canadian Jewish heritage month, all Canadians, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, will have the opportunity to better understand the culture and history of Jewish Canadians, as well as to celebrate the integral role that the Jewish community has played in shaping Canada into one of the very best countries in the world in which to live.

These celebrations will take the form of exhibits, concerts, book fairs, school assemblies, and many other creative initiatives.

As a Conservative Senator, I would be remiss not to mention that there are no costs or funding associated with enacting this legislation. 

The only foreseeable expenses would be any events that the government chooses to participate in; however, it has been our experience in Ontario that Jewish organizations typically host events and invite the community at large to attend.

I am proud that this Bill has received unanimous support thus far, and I look forward to answering any questions you may have.

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