Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Kol Nidei services 5777, with David Cape, Rabbi Adam Sheier, Michael Stern and Claire Berger. Shaare Hashomayim Congregation, Westmount, Quebec. (Photo JJ Schneiderman).
Never before in Canadian history has a Prime Minister attended Yom Kippur services and delivered the Kol Nidrei sermon. Until now. Kol Hakavod to Canada’s highest elected official for doing exactly this past Tuesday evening at Westmount’s venerable Shaare Hashomayim congregation.
“On this occasion, families and loved ones gather to fast and pray, reflect on the past year, and seek peace and reconciliation for the year to come,” the Prime Minister said in a statement. “Yom Kippur is an opportunity for us all to reflect on the tremendous contributions that the Jewish Canadian community has made – and continues to make – to the shaping and building of our great country. We know that Canada is a stronger and more resilient country because of its diversity.
“On behalf of our entire family, Sophie and I wish an easy fast to all those observing Yom Kippur. G’mar Chatimah Tova.”
The Prime Minster was accompanied by Mount Royal MP Anthony Housefather, NDG-Westmount MP Marc Garneau and Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Sœurs MP Marc Miller.
Housefather spoke on Yom Kippur to Congregation Dorshei Emet in Hampstead and recounted how the Prime Minister spoke passionately and emotionally about his recent visit to Aushwitz accompanied by survivors and Canadian Jewish leaders. This was a very moving experience for Justin Trudeau, Housefather said, and he was particularly gratified to bear witness in the company and through the eyes of one of the remaining survivors.
What’s more, Justin Trudeau lead a Canadian delegation to last week’s state funeral for former Israeli President Shimon Peres. Trudeau recounted his personal experiences with the Israeli leader. Trudeau also met with his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu during the rapid visit to the Jewish State.
Housefather’s address seamlessly drifted between the spiritual principles of Yom Kippur, the lofty expectations of Canada’s Jewish community and his responsibilities and accomplishments as one of Canada’s seven Jewish MPs. “I represent the second largest federal constituency in Canada (after Thornhill) and the largest non-French-speaking constituency in Quebec,” Housefather said, indicating this places him in a unique position to speak out in support of minority rights, language rights, tolerance and inclusion.
High among Housefather’s achievements since his election last November is his appointment as chair of the committee overseeing the Justice department and human rights issues, especially their legislative work dealing with Doctor Assisted Dying as well as his forceful stance against the anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, Boycott Divestment Sanction (BDS) movement.
In an all-encompassing, hour long speech and Q&A without as much as a cue card to guide his eloquent and erudite remarks, the affable and witty Housefather covered all the bases in reassuring the audience of his government’s deep commitment to Canada’s Jewish community.
“A year ago many in the community were preaching that only one candidate, one party, could continue to represent the interests of our community,” Housefather said. “With Justin Trudeau’s undeniable commitment to the State of Israel, with our government voting almost unanimously in a free vote denouncing BDS, in our efforts to organize a Jewish contingent representative of our entire community during Chanukah on the Hill and so much more, I think we have proven to those that doubted our intentions and abilities that the Canadian Jewish community is very, very well represented on Parliament Hill and across our country,” the MP said to applause.
Housefather indicated that his committee has recommended reinstatement of the Court Challenges Program previously scrapped by the Harper government. That program allowed for funding of challenges from the English-speaking community in Quebec and from French-speaking communities outside of Quebec in support of minority language communities. With Housefather as a former president of Alliance Quebec, and my having served as his Executive Director at AQ, I can attest to the critical importance of this program to linguistic minorities through our country and I look forward to the reinstatement of this program.
I personally thanked Housefather on behalf of the residents of Cote Saint-Luc and indicated how proud I was of his many achievements in such a short period of time. Congregation President Jodi Lackman wrapped up the event by stating how upset she was when she learned that Housefather would be running for Parliament as she would be losing her “amazing mayor.”
“But now that you’re our MP and I’ve seen what great work you’re doing on our behalf, I’m even happier,” the president said.