Birnbaum announces a new Liberal government will support relocation, expansion of Montreal Holocaust Museum

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D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum speaks to a group of supporters at the Gelber Conference Centre

D’Arcy-McGee Liberal MNA and candidate David Birnbaum confirmed that a re-elected Liberal government will be a financial partner in the planned relocation and expansion of the Montreal Holocaust Museum. The Museum leadership has already secured a major lead donation and completed a feasibility study for the ambitious project, evaluated at about $45 million. The Museum, Canada’s only one uniquely focused on Holocaust remembrance and human rights education, is recognized the world over for the quality of its exhibits and its outreach programs. It has also long been recognized that the museum needs more space than available at its current location in the Jewish Community Campus on Côte Ste-Catherine Rd.

“I am so proud that the Premier has made this commitment, which is profoundly important to our Jewish community but also significant for all Quebecers,” Birnbaum noted. He first briefed the Premier on the project in late Spring. “The Museum, with the help of courageous survivors, reaches out to schools, in French and English, to ensure that the terrible lessons of the Holocaust are neither forgotten nor repeated.’’ Montreal is home to the third-largest population of Holocaust survivors and children of survivors in the world.

Mr. Couillard, whose own family was deeply implicated in the French resistance, had a brief discussion about the project with Museum Director Alice Herscovitch when he accompanied Mr. Birnbaum for the second time during this mandate to the annual commemorative service on Yom Hashoah at Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem Synagogue.

“We are very encouraged by this news,’’ said Alice Herscovitch, Executive Director. “It is deeply important that all Quebecers have access to a modern and accessible museum that embodies messages of courage in the face of inhumanity and helps Quebecers and people the world over understand the importance and responsibility we all have to prevent racism and genocide. Our museum will be so much more able to deliver those messages to schools and adults alike through an expansion.”

Quebec Liberal leader Dr. Philippe Couillard introduces D’Arcy McGee candidate David Birnbaum (2014)

The Museum is seeking a site in downtown Montreal, and the support of all levels of government. Treasury Board President and Mont-Royal-Outremont candidate Pierre Arcand currently serves the territory where the museum is situated. It will find itself in D’Arcy-McGee after the election.

“In my ministerial role, I see and evaluate each day the many difficult and important choices a government must make in allocating public funds. Of course, schools, health care and other services are essential but so are the Quebec institutions that identify and transmit our vision of humanity, of our responsibility to each other and to the wider world. This commitment is a meaningful example of that vision.”

Birnbaum noted that an initial analysis of the Museum project is already underway by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, with the details and modalities of the provincial government partnership still to be determined.

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Shana Tova

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Wishing friends and family, near and far, happiness, peace and prosperity.

Anthony Housefather’s record on Israel

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Anthony is an extraordinary advocate for his constituency and is outspoken in his staunch support for Israel. In this excellent letter he sets the record straight for those who believe that he and the liberal government have wavered in showing Canada’s steadfast support for Israel. Of course, one can easily point to a single incident, event or vote and criticize. But life, and politics, is far from that simple.

I wholeheartedly continue to support Anthony Housefather as an extraordinary, young leader who is sure to rise among the ranks. He is the right man to push our government when necessary, whether on Israel or on a number of other major issues.

His intelligence shines through in his speeches and writings. If you have not met him I strongly encourage you to do so at one of the many events he addresses or in connecting by email or social media.

 

Anthony Housefather, MP, in the Hall of Honour, in the Parliament of Canada

My record on Israel

Anthony Housefather

I need to respond to the letter from Nathan Rosensheim published in the Suburban on July 4th, claiming the Canadian Government did not support Israel and that I was not a forceful advocate for Israel within the Government.

To say these claims are false would be a huge understatement. I have always been and will continue to be a huge supporter of Israel and since I was first elected I have been one of the foremost advocates on behalf of support for Israel and action on causes important to my constituents and Canada’s Jewish community. Let’s look at the overall record since October 2015.

Since the Liberal Government was elected in October 2015, Canada has one of the best voting records at the UN on defending Israel. We have voted no on 54 of the 62 resolutions at the General Assembly which singled out Israel over this time. No country other than the US and some small islands have a record similar to ours. Our record on voting against resolutions on Israel is far better than Australia and the UK and other European countries. It is also better in percentage terms of no votes than any previous Canadian Government, including the ten years of the Harper administration.

Our Government also supported the first anti-BDS motion to be adopted by the House of Commons. We adopted a Bill recognizing May as Jewish Heritage Month. We just signed an enhanced Canada/US free trade agreement at the Gelber Centre in the Mount Royal riding. We doubled security infrastructure funding to help secure Jewish and other institutions that are subject to potential hate crimes. As well, the Prime Minister committed to apologizing in the House of Commons for our record on Jewish refugees prior to and during the Second World War and in particular for Canada’s shameful refusal of the SS St. Louis in 1939. No other Canadian Government has ever done this and it is something I have been calling for since I have been elected.

Finally, in June the Government supported a motion in the House of Commons condemning the current regime in Iran, including for the statements made by its Supreme Leader calling for the eradication of Israel. In case anyone questions my support for Israel and my readiness to speak out in support of Israel in the House of Commons, I suggest you watch my speech on the Iran motion at https://www.facebook.com/anthonyhousefather/videos/1982973521743727/

I spend a significant percentage of my time advocating for issues of interest to the Jewish community. There have been a small number of times I have been disappointed, such as with the recent statement on Gaza and in that case my colleague Michael Levitt and I released our own statement. But I have worked very hard within the Government to ensure our position on Jewish and Israeli issues is as strong as possible and most of the time I have succeeded. I truly believe if you look at the facts above the number of actions we have taken in support of Israel and issues related to Canada’s Jewish community over the last 2.5 years is equal to or better than any other Canadian Government in history and I am happy to defend my actions to my constituents anytime.

Anthony Housefather

MP for Mount Royal

Birnbaum campaign for the new D’Arcy McGee shaping up

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D’Arcy McGee Member of the National Assembly David Birnbaum welcomed a crowd of supporters to the Gelber Conference Centre earlier this week as part of a fundraiser to kick off his re-election campaign. The location of the event east of the Decarie Boulevard signifies the changing electoral boundary in the upcoming provincial elections. The riding of D’Arcy McGee will expand beyond its traditional territory of Cote Saint-Luc, Hampstead and Snowdon West. Newly included in  the riding will be a substantial area stretching to Cote des Neiges Road bordered by Cote Saint-Catherine to the south and the CP Railway to the north of Vezina.

Speaking with his customary eloquence and grace Birnbaum said that, “there is only one party in the National Assembly that truly represents all Quebecers,” giving examples of how the CAQ and PQ have not stood up for minority communities. The CAQ has indicated its position on immigrants which runs contrary to the belief of so many of Birnbaum’s constituents and, “the PQ still has its Article 1 that speaks of Quebec without Canada.”

 

 

D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum speaks to a group of supporters at the Gelber Conference Centre

Mitch Garber was the special guest speaker.  Chairman of the Board of the world-renowned Cirque du Soleil, Mitch was recently named as Chairman of  a new organization, Invest in Canada, which is focused on streamlining and encouraging investment in Canada. Mitch is also the co-founder of Ceasar’s Entertainment,  a world-leading game development company. Closer to home, Mitch is an old school-mate of mine at Bialik High School and McGill University.

Mitch has never forgotten his roots and always speaks proudly of his community and his love of Montreal, Quebec and Canada.

“Mitch and his wife Anne-Marie are doing so much to bridge the gaps between our linguistic communities, between our Jewish community and all over Quebec, with frankness of warmth and compassion,” said Birnbaum.

Speaking about his passion for business and baseball, Garber took care not to make any partisan pronouncements, although it was clear that his support for David Birnbaum was genuine and sincere.

Guest speaker Mitch Garber throws his enthusiastic support to Birnbaum

 

My wife, Dr. Judy Hagshi and I were pleased to show our support for David. I worked closely with him in my capacity as a City Councillor. David’s keen interest in matters affecting municipal life and provincial matters are evident. If he, and his very able staff of Chris and Elizabeth, could do anything to assist his constituents, they would do so with pleasure.

What’s more I was always impressed in his interest in the larger Jewish community and its public establishments, following in the footsteps of Lawrence Bergman, his predecessor. David was front and centre in speaking up in the National Assembly on Yom Hashoah, as was Bergman.

He also went out of his way, literally, in showing great interest in the advancement of the Jewish General Hospital, where I work in public relations on behalf of the West-Central Montreal health authority. The JGH is located in Mount Royal riding, which never stopped David (or Lawrence Bergman before him) from doing whatever he could to help out on any file, along with his neighbouring MNA, Pierre Arcand. As happenstance would have it, with the redrawing of the electoral map, the JGH will in fact be in the new D’Arcy McGee boundaries come October 1.

 

Dr. Judy Hagshi and Glenn J. Nashen supporting David Birnbaum for re-election

We may not agree on every single issue but that doesn’t diminish David’s strong support of his riding and constituents. And we may not agree with all of his party’s platform but that doesn’t take away from their strong handling of the economy and their clear position on Quebec’s place in a united Canada. As David said, that’s much more than we can say about his competitors.

I look forward to challenging David on issues of importance to me such as English-language rights, pre-hospital emergency medical care, public safety and the promotion of electric vehicles and other green initiatives. I know he will always give me an ear and bring my concerns to the seat of power in Quebec City.

Best of luck to my friend, David Birnbaum.

I Want You To Remember… A Childhood Lost

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That was the theme of this year’s Yom Hashoah commemoration held in Cote Saint Luc, organized by the Montreal Holocaust Museum.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard spoke eloquently about his family’s memory of this dark period in the 20th century. His mother came from Grenoble and Couillard recounted how so many stories were told to him as a youngster from his many aunts and uncles in France.
He also recounted with great pride about the first-ever Quebec Economic Mission to Israel last year when he was accompanied by Member of the National Assembly, David Birnbaum. Additionally, Couillard indicated that Quebec was one of the first governments in the world to declare a National Day of Commemoration of the Holocaust, in 1999, when introduced by then MNA Lawrence Bergman.
Newly installed Consul General of Israel, David Levy, spoke about his Parisian mother and their family’s personal experiences of betrayal by the French Nazi sympathizers. He spoke passionately about the large number of family members who never returned home.
Six candles were lit by survivors and their children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren in memory of the Six Million Jews who perished.
Each survivor gave a video testimonial recounting in vivid detail their horrific memories of incarceration, deportation, hiding, hunger and terrible loss. Each one, between the ages of 85 and 90, spoke of the loss of their own childhood.
One such Survivor was Zissel Farkas. The 90 year old woman told her story, through her daughter. This brave, courageous and lucky woman is today the matriarch of three children, 26 grandchildren and an incredible 70 great grand-children.
The JPPS choir sung stirring tunes of remembrance from the 1930s and 40s. The solemn and impassioned song, Ani Ma’amin, I Remember,
was reportedly composed in a cattle car en route to the Treblinka concentration camp. The song was sung by many Jews as they marched to the gas chambers in the Nazi death camps.
With the song being hummed in the background the names of Jews murdered by the Nazis were slowly read aloud, along with their place of birth, where they were murdered and their age. Many childrens’ names were read out. Three years old. Six year’s old. One name was that of a baby just months old. In all, more than 1.5 million children were murdered in the Holocaust.
The ‘Partisan Hymn’ was sang out loud by the hundreds in attendance. It is a song written by poet and partisan Hirsch Glick in the Vilna Ghetto and became the anthem of the resistance movement. Today it is considered to be the main anthem of Holocaust Survivors and is sung at Memorial services around the world.
I have attended this commemoration for longer than I can remember. This year, I was joined by my daughter Nicole, who was on the March of the Living one year ago. She traveled to Poland and marched with thousands of students and adults to the death camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau, waving the Israeli flag, proclaiming Am Yisrael Chai. The People of Israel Live!  In this way, we are all doing our part in passing the responsibility of never forgetting from one generation to the next.

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Traditional Mimouna celebrated in CSL

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Mimouna is a three century old North African Jewish celebration held the day after Passover, marking the return to eating chametz (leavened foods), which are forbidden throughout the week of Passover.

The celebration begins after nightfall on the last day of Passover. In many communities, non-Jewish neighbours sell chametz back to Jewish families as a beginning of the celebration. Moroccan and Algerian Jews throw open their homes to visitors, after setting out a lavish spread of traditional holiday cakes and sweetmeats. One of the holiday favorites is Mofletta. The table is also laid with various symbols of luck and fertility, with an emphasis on the number “5,” such as five pieces of gold jewelry or five beans arranged on a leaf of pastry. The repetition of the number five references the five-fingered hamsa amulet common in both Jewish and Muslim North African and Middle Eastern communities from pre-modern times. Typically all those in attendance at a Mimouna celebration are sprinkled with a mint sprig or other green dipped in milk, symbolizing good fortune and new beginnings.

The tradition continued in homes across Cote Saint-Luc on Saturday night and for the first time at JPPS-Bialik, on Sunday afternoon.

Anat and Michel Toledano welcome the Nashens and Anzaruts for Mimouna

Our night out began after 10:00PM at the home of Anat Marciano and Michel Toledano. They welcomed my family into their home with open arms, along with our friends, Alissa and Phil Anzarut.

It is customary to spend a little time visiting the host family’s home before moving on to other homes. After a beautiful spread at the Toledano’s, including Moroccan pastries, Mofletta, coucous, cheeses, fruit, smoked salmon, wine and Arak derived from figs (oy vey, it was potent) it was time to move on for the next late night visit. Thank you very much Anat and Michel.

Our family traveled down the block to the warm and inviting home of Chantal Bekhor and Emmanuel Castiel. There was an endless stream of well-wishers who kept arriving. Strangers and friends alike mingled, easily offering greetings of ‘Tarbakh’, May you have good luck.

Emmanuel Castiel and Chantal Bekhor

Chantal Bekhor is one famous Cote Saint-Lucer after competing for Top Prize in the cookie category on Food Network Canada‘s Recipe to Riches.

Bekhor, is a food sensation, who first introduced Canada to her family’s traditional recipe for the Mahbooz Date Biscuit, a typical Iraqi Jewish dessert.  She was featured by the Montreal Gazette as well.

Chantal Bekhor, the most famous baker in Cote Saint-Luc

The former JPPS English and math teacher is a dynamic and affable hostess along with her business partner and husband Emanuel Castiel. They opened their home to hundreds of friends during the Mimouna to some incredible pastries, cakes, chocolate bark, truffles, Iraqi delights, and more, all home made of course. While the  judges on Recipe to Riches said they loved the Mahbooz treat, calling it, “Exotic, versatile, ” I can attest to the fact that her baking is even so much more.

A gathering of friends (and politicians) at the Bekhor-Castiel Mimouna

My wife is a big fan of Chantal’s food. Indeed my girls and Judy cheered Chantal on a few years back on her television debut, not just because of my wife’s common Sephardi roots, but because the Mahbooz date-filled cookie looked absolutely delicious and a treat that would be appreciated by a large number of Cote Saint-Lucers to be sure, as well as Canadians in general.

A peak at Chantal’s scrumptious Mimouna table

Thank you Chantal and Emmanuel for such generous hospitality and for an absolutely delicious assortment of treats. My sugar level and calorie intake reached an all time, one night high.

By Sunday afternoon when sugar levels stabilized it was time to continue the celebration over at JPPS-Bialik, the first time this Sephardic celebration took place at the school. The gym was decorated in Moroccan fashion, drummers and musicians greeted the guests as they entered and long tables of sweets, pastries and mofletta lined the room.

The hostesses, under the direction of Judaic studies coordinator, Anat Toledano (clearly she’s a Mimouna-specialist!) all decked out in bright and shiny traditional kaftans should be very proud of bringing the festive Sephardic tunes and tastes to what has traditionally been a typical Ashkenazi school. With a large number of the families blended in both traditions, and even fully Sephardi, it was time to share this wonderful event all together.

Sephardic community (CSUQ) president Henri Elbaz was invited to participate as well. Thanks to Henri’s support the event exceeded expectations and attendance. Students, parents and grandparents were entertained, fed and danced for two hours. It was an absolutely lovely event that should grow larger next year. Thank you Anat, Joanne, Judy, Carole, Beth and all the moms involved in this event.

I wish you all Tarbakh, success and good luck.  And now, my treadmill awaits!

Nachshen Family descendants celebrate Passover tradition

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Nachshen Family Seder 2018, Markham, Ontario (Rob Currie Photography)

The Nachshen Family recently gathered for the second Seder as they’ve been doing for three decades. The family, all descendants of Rabbi Moishe Nachshen (1872-1968) and Sarah Romanek (1875-1956), who emigrated to Canada from Russia in 1927, had assembled annually in Montreal for the second Passover Seder for the past 33 years until the festive gathering switched to Toronto this year. In the 1960s and 70s, the five branches of the family came together for Chanukah and Purim celebrations at Pomerantz House (then known as the Workmen’s Circle), on Van Horne Avenue near Cote des-Neiges Road, in Montreal.
The elders of the family now include siblings Kate Nachshen (Brecher), 96, George Nashen, 94, both of Cote Saint-Luc, Quebec and Elizabeth (Bess) Nachshen (Goldman), 89. of Boynton Beach, South Florida. The youngest member of the Nachshen Family was born one week prior to the Seder, Ellis Gray Adawalla of Toronto.
The 2018 Seder, held at a banquet hall in north end Toronto, brought together first, second and third cousins.
The event was organized by Mintzi (Clement) and Rafi Skrzydlo of Markham, Ontario and Mandy Senanes (Fitleberg) of Richmond Hill, Ontario. While most of the family is now situated in the greater Toronto area others traveled from Cote Saint-Luc, British Columbia, New York, Maryland, Florida and other points across North America, and as far away as China. With mobile devices in hand other family members from around the world joined in (virtually).
This family’s history reflects that of so many other Jewish Canadians. Having emigrated to Montreal from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s, some of the family began drifting to Israel in the 60s and many to Toronto in the late 70s and 80s. By the 1990s the family had spread across Canada, the United States and Israel.

Cover of the Nachshen Family Seder Haggadah with image of family patriarch, Moishe Nachshen, Matriarch, Sarah Romenek, and their seven children

As the descendants of a rabbi, part of the Chasidic movement in Skvira, Russia, the family modernized and assimilated over the last three generations. So much so, that they created their own customized Passover Haggadah, emphasizing the centrality and equality of women and inclusion of all members of the family specifically citing lesbians, gays or converts to Judaism. An orange had been added as an important symbol on the Nachshen Seder plate to highlight these differences from the olden days.
While this family has grown and evolved quite differently from the strict religious practices of its patriarchs and matriarchs it continues to remain a cohesive and connected entity thanks to the fundamentals instilled by those family elders several generations earlier. The centrality of Judaism, community, cultural traditions, Zionism and family throughout the generations has remained strong and resolute. The Advent of social media has certainly helped to keep distant cousins connected through video, photos and stories on a daily basis.
The Haggadah, emblazoned with the photos of ‘Zaida Moishe an Bubbe Sarah’ was read aloud with all family members taking turns. The tunes sung aloud were those heard around the Nachshen table over a century ago in the shtetles of Skvira and Pogrebische (south of present day Kiev, Ukraine).

Back cover of the Nachshen Family Haggadah, depicting Nachshon, the first to enter the Red Sea as it parted during the exodus from Egypt

Once all the Afikomen had been found by the many young children and mingling had wound down, the many good bye hugs and kisses concluded the evening with wishes for Next Year in Jerusalem. But the Second Seder will be booked for Toronto, just in case.

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