Housefather asks for apology re SS St. Louis’ denial of entry in 1939

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By Isaac Olson

Free Press, Feb. 14, 2017


In a speech delivered during an emergency immigration debate on January 30, MP Anthony Housefather, representing the Mount Royal riding, called on the federal government to issue an apology for refusing the entry of over 900 Jewish refugees on the SS St. Louis in 1939.

Rising to his feet in the house of commons as he has done several times since taking office, Housefather was taking part in a discussion centred around the controversial travel and immigration restrictions in the United States.

During the speech, Housefather reminded Canadians that there have been times in this country’s history where the United States has been more welcoming.

“I’ve heard a lot of congratulatory comments tonight about how in Canada we’re different – how in Canada we have had this incredible tradition of bringing in immigrants and refugees and we’ve always done it,” said Housefather, who acknowledged that this has been true for the last few decades. However, he added, “that has not always been true.”

Housefather said he was inspired to make the leap from municipal to federal politics after Quebec’s “separatist government” proposed its “charter of values,” which would have required him to “fire people because they were going to wear a kippah, or a hijab, or a turban to work.” He cited the religious freedom rally that was held in Côte St. Luc in 2013 when that debate was taking place. As mayor, he led a charge against the charter and now, looking back on that time, he said it shows that Canadian politicians “are no different here than they are elsewhere” because people can always capitalize on xenophobia and spark fear in the population.

Citing President Donald Trump’s executive order as an American issue, he said there is still a lot to learn from this debate such as the importance of not putting forward policies without public consultation or ensuring that an order is legal under a country’s constitution. He encouraged Canada to continue such practices of vetting policies thoroughly before pushing them forward. He said orders should not be made retroactively so as to affect people with valid visas in transit and it is important not to enact laws that discriminate against people of certain countries or religions.

This, he said, is where it is important to remember Canada’s history, citing the many ethnic and religious groups that have been excluded from the country. The SS St. Louis, he said, was among those rejected. The Jewish refugees had Cuban visas but the Caribbean country changed its rules last minute and turned them away. The ship was then denied entry into the United States and Canada.

“I hope one day Canada will apologize for what happened with the St. Louis,” said Housefather. “We should always remember that this could happen here. We have to be vigilant.”

The full video is available on Housefather’s YouTube page.

Wonderful Chanukah Greetings

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As the holiday of lights and freedom approaches I take great pride and satisfaction in hearing encouraging words, during these troubling times, from leaders near and far.

Our illustrious MP, Anthony Housefather, has worked tirelessly to bring an open, pluralistic approach to ‘Hanukkah on the Hill’. In every speech, at every opportunity, the dynamic legislator innately rallies Canadians to think generously of those around them with his ever so optimistic perspective that we are all Canadians no matter how background. I salute him for spreading a message of hope and inclusion in a true Canadian spirit.

I am also grateful that our Prime Minister has shown, within a very short time in office, a genuine interest in forging a close relationship with the Jewish community. To be sure, there are a number of key players in the Canadian Jewish community that within the PM’s sphere of influence, including Housefather. But I do believe that Trudeau has the right convictions within him.


President Barak Obama delivered a meaningful speech at the White House in celebration of Chanukah, invoking the memory of Elie Wiesel by inviting the wife, children and grandchildren of the late beacon of memory of the Six Million. What’s more, the President kindled the handmade menorah of Wiesel’s granddaughter.


What struck me significantly this month was a leading article in the Ste-Agathe newspaper questioning whether a Chanukah Menorah ought to be permitted in a public place. So many responses were negative, seeking to extinguish the lights of the candelabra, all the while approving the public display of the Christmas Tree, the Cross and the Nativity Scene.

I found this to be a sad statement given the overt anti-semitism in this Laurentian paradise just a generation ago. Rather than barking angrily at my fellow Quebecers I decided this should be a moment to teach, to learn and to reach out in the spirit of the holidays in hopes that more people would be influenced and perhaps become more tolerant. You can see my comments and the full discussion here. Maybe you’d also like to reach out as I’ve tried to do.



And so, I hope that we all can learn to become a little more tolerant during these troubling times, a little kinder to one another, a little more respectful. This is the universal message that I draw from the bright light of the Chanukah Menorah. And in this spirit, and in borrowing Anthony’s words, I hope that no matter your background, your language or your religion, that you too draw inspiration from this little light of mine and that it shines bright upon you and those you hold close, and upon all people.

Happy Chanukah.

Chabad celebrates 30 years in enriching Cote Saint-Luc

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Rabbi Mendel Raskin (3rd from right) and sons welcomes the MP, Mayor and Councillor

Rabbi Mendel Raskin (3rd from right) and sons welcomes the MP, Mayor and Councillor

It hardly took 30 years for Rabbi Mendel and Sarah Raskin to make an indelible mark on the City of Cote Saint-Luc. Since first laying ground in an upper duplex on Earle Road back in 1986 a lot has changed for the Raskins, for Chabad CSL and for the city and its residents.

The Raskins are no ordinary CSL couple, but then again, who is? Having grown up as a Yiddish-speaking Ashkenaz in, of all places, Morocco, Cote Saint-Luc was as good a posting as any for the adventurous young rabbi and his New Yorker bride, Sarah.

Fast forward three decades. Hoo ha, has our city changed. From a few mainstream large synagogues and a single Jewish elementary and high school the city has morphed into a rich and vibrant community housing many centres of religion, culture and education, weaving together Ashkenazis and Sephardim, and recent arrivals from France, Argentina and other communities around the world.

The Raskins can be mighty proud of their contributions in infusing Judaism for the masses by organizing festivals, parades, concerts, holiday and weekly services, summer and winter camps, excursions, festive meals, education seminars, guest speakers and more.

Cllr. Glenn J. Nashen, MP Anthony Housefather and Mayor Mitchell Brownstein all smiles at the Chabad 30th anniversary gala evening

Cllr. Glenn J. Nashen, MP Anthony Housefather and Mayor Mitchell Brownstein all smiles at the Chabad 30th anniversary gala evening

Meanwhile, their wonderful and enthusiastic children have carried on in the “family business” by reaching out not only here at home but elsewhere within the Chabad movement, including Montego Bay, Jamaica!

My wife Judy and I are fortunate to have been invited to many of the Raskins events throughout the years and to have gotten to know them and appreciate their subtle and inspiring ways. We were equally overjoyed to help celebrate the 30th anniversary celebrations last week at the opulent and classy edifice known as the Hechel Menachem CSL Chabad Synagogue on Kildare Road.

L-R: Jacob Kincler, Cllr. Dida Berku, Cllr. Glenn J. Nashen, MP Anthony Housefather, Mayor Mitchell Brownstein, Elaine Yagod. All four elected officials served as mayor of Cote Saint-Luc in the past 12 months.

L-R: Jacob Kincler, Cllr. Dida Berku, Cllr. Glenn J. Nashen, MP Anthony Housefather, Mayor Mitchell Brownstein, Elaine Yagod. All four elected officials served as mayor of Cote Saint-Luc in the past 12 months.

Together with our good friends and colleagues Mayor Mitchell Brownstein and the First Lady of CSL Elaine Yagod, Cllr. Dida Berku and the affable Jacob Kincler, rookie Cllr. (and old workmate) Sidney Benizri and his wife Sandra Papagouras, district Cllr. and lifelong buddy Mike Cohen and omnipresent Member of Parliament Anthony Housefather we all congratulated the Raskin family and their key supporters on a job well done and continued success.

Our city and community and the world are strengthened by the Raskins unending and universal efforts in spreading kindness and good deeds to all. May Rabbi Mendel and Sarah Raskin and their family continue to go from Strength to Strength.

Prime Minister Trudeau delivers Kol Nidrei sermon in Westmount, Housefather meets congregation in Hampstead


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for Kol Nidei 5777, with David Cape, Rabbi Adam Sheier, Michael Stern and Claire Berger. Shaare Hashomayim Congregation, Westmount, Quebec. (Photo JJ Schneiderman).

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.”

Anthony Housefather

Anthony Housefather


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.

Wishing you a Happy New Year – une année de joie, santé

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Although a couple of years old this melodious video is still one of the best to get your foot tapping and to bring out a smile. May your smile last a very long time!

Que ce soit pour vous tous une année de joie, santé et réussite dans tout ce que vous entreprendrez.

Wishing all my constituents, friends and family a year of good health, abundant happiness and great prosperity. And may peace reign across the Mideast and throughout the world.


Thank you to our illustrious and gifted Member of Parliament for Mount Royal, Anthony Housefather,  for these wonderful Rosh Hashanah greetings highlighting the enormous contributions of Canada’s Jewish community to our great country.

Thank you as well to our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, a real class act. Trudeau has maintained the solid bond between the Government of Canada and the Jewish community as well as with the State of Israel. Although many people doubted this would happen he has so far proven them wrong. Thank you Prime Minister.

And Shana Tova to the People of Israel, represented here by the impressive Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In memory of a great statesman, former President Shimon Peres

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I recall the last time Israel’s 9th president, Shimon Peres, visited Montreal four years ago. He was given a hero’s welcome as he entered the Shaare Hashomayim (Gates of Heaven) synagogue in Westmount yesterday to a packed house of 1800 well-wishers.

How proud I was to deliver a token gift on behalf of Dr. Hartley Stern, Executive Director of the Jewish General Hospital at that time.

I was privileged to have met and spoken with Shimon Peres in the mid 90s in Jerusalem.

I was privileged to have met and spoken with Shimon Peres in the mid 90s in Jerusalem.

President Peres humorously indicated how pleased he was to be at the Gates of Heaven.  He added that his official visit to Canada was a “Voyage of profound and sincere friendship”.  In unfailing French he thanked Canada for a warm welcome.  He added that Montreal was the most dedicated and active community in the founding and development of the State of Israel.  “Jerusalem salutes you.”

“Our land is so small, it is just a statistical error by comparison to Canada.  I see your lakes and rivers and I’m jealous.  We have only one river.  It is richer in history than water.  We have two lakes.  One is dead.”

“We were outnumbered, outgunned, not supported, not accepted,” Peres said.  “The greatness of Israel is that we started with nothing.  When you have nothing, you may discover the greatest thing in life:  The human being.”

” We were always numerically inferior. Always being challenged.  There isn’t another country in the world that has faced such challenges.”

Of Jews and Israel, Peres said, “We were born to seek peace. The Ten Commandments  remain our guide after 3500 years.  We don’t exist to threaten or to rule other people.  We are here for Tikkun Olamto create a better world for all.”

“The DNA of our nation became invention and technology.  25% of Nobel laureates are Jewish. This is a gift to the world.”

“Another gift of the Jewish People is dissatisfaction.  We’re never satisfied,” the President proclaimed to great laughter. “So we strive for more.  To do better. To aim higher.”

Huge crowd greets President Shimon Peres in Montreal

Huge crowd greets President Shimon Peres in Montreal

In 2012, at 88 years of age Shimon Peres remained unrelenting in the pursuit of peace. His speech was historic and illuminating. (Watch the entire speech on Federation CJA’s website).

And now, regretfully, he has indeed entered the Gates of Heaven. May the name of President Shimon Peres forever be a blessing.



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Sidney Shoham Place inaugurated at Beth Zion

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Sidney Shoham Place street sign CSL


It was a sunny and warm Sunday morning yesterday in Cote Saint-Luc when a large crowd assembled nearly a year from the day that Rabbi Sidney Shoham passed away. The assembly, in front of the Beth Zion Congregation on Hudson Avenue came together for the official inauguration of Sidney Shoham Place, renaming the section of Hudson in front of the synagogue.

It was a somber yet inspiring occasion to honour the life of the Rabbi and to forever commemorate his great contribution to life in Cote Saint-Luc and indeed across Montreal. Several dignitaries were on hand including Mayor Mitchell Brownstein and the City Council, MNA David Birnbaum, MP Anthony Housefather as well as former MNA Lawrence Bergman. Members of the Shoham family were in attendance including the late Rabbi’s wife, Jewel, and his three daughters. Additionally, congregation president Earl Rosen and Rabbi Boruch Perton were on hand to address those in attendance.



Councilor Sidney Benizri, Executive Director of Canadian Magen David Adom for Israel delivered a brand new ambulance to the ceremony. Thanks to the generosity of the Rossdeutscher family the ambulance was dedicated in Rabbi Shoham’s memory and will soon be on its way to Israel.



Rabbi Sidney Shoham presided at the Beth Zion Congregation for more than half a century since the late 1950s. My own connections ran deep. Rabbi Shoham signed my birth certificate, Bar Mitzvah certificate and Marriage certificate. He officiated at many more of my family’s key events over the last half century. Whenever I would see him, in shul, around the city or at the JGH, the Rabbi would quip, “How’s Georgie’s Boys,” his affectionate salutation for my father’s (George) four boys, or how’s the “doc,” as he referred to my wife.

Rabbi Sidney Shoham

Rabbi Sidney Shoham

My dad and Rabbi Shoham go back to 1958, when my folks moved into Cote Saint-Luc. This was three years after the founding of the shul, on Hudson Ave. My father became involved and eventually served on its Board of Directors.

My father and the rabbi also became “buddies” and they played badminton and their main sport, tennis, for several decades together.

Beth Zion "Old-Timers" George Nashen and Rabbi Sydney Shoham

Beth Zion “Old-Timers” George Nashen and Rabbi Sydney Shoham

Rabbi Shoham touched the lives of thousands upon thousands of local residents and congregants throughout the years. How fitting that the new civic address of Beth Zion is now 1 Sidney Shoham Place.




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