Remember the Canadian Jewish Congress? Enough of its former senior leaders do, and fondly, that they have founded a new organization “in the spirit” of CJC.
It was 10 years ago this summer that Congress, then 92 years old and the self-described “Parliament of Canadian Jewry,” was subsumed into a new superagency, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).
Now, say hello to the Canadian Jewish Community Forum (CJCF).
“It is the prime objective of the CJCF to take lessons from the past and use them to inform communal policy in the present and future, to promote Jewish values of chesed, diversity, anti-racism and embrace harmony within a Canadian context,” says a media release issued May 26.
“In the spirit of the former CJC, it wishes to create a forum for the greater Jewish community to provide input and determine what the current urgent issues are that our own community and society are facing and witnessing here in Canada and globally.”
The group’s origins are somewhat nostalgic: Interest in creating a new Jewish organization, or maybe resurrecting an old one, arose when stalwarts of the old CJC, including several young people, came together in 2019 to mark the 100th anniversary of Congress’s founding, recalled Les Scheininger, spokesperson for CJCF’s steering committee and president of CJC from 1989 to 1992.
The CJCF, Scheininger told The CJN, will address a need for consultation with the grassroots of Canadian Jewry, much like Congress did.
“The original CJC came together as a result of a number of individuals and organizations feeling that there should be a grassroots organization representative of the Jewish community and the sense was there should be consultations with the grassroots and (that) people should have input in discussions,” he said.
Scheininger gently sidestepped a question of whether the new group will challenge CIJA’s turf.
“It’s not a competition,” he said. The CJCF is “a different forum for discussion and debate. There are a variety of opinions and political affiliations in the Jewish community.”
The organization, volunteer-driven for now, is federally incorporated, has a logo, a statement of purpose, and a steering committee comprised of a long list of former CJC officials from across the country.
Indeed, the CJCF says it hopes to engage the former leadership of CJC, as well as new young leaders, “to honour, learn and draw from the legacy of Congress, a body that worked and fought for social justice in Canada. The CJC understood that making Canada a peaceful, inclusive and just society is good for all of its peoples.”
The actual work of the CJCF will be up to those who respond to surveys in the coming weeks and months, Scheininger said.
“The shape and format will be determined as result of consultations and discussions.”
In its words, the organization will “promote participation in, engagement with, and a sense of ownership of the Jewish agenda in Canada by all members of the Canadian Jewish community by the establishment of active, democratic, local grassroots community advocacy groups across the country.”
The CJCF promises that regional representation will be stressed.
Its founding documents recall CJC’s decades of defending civil and human rights, and championing inclusiveness and dialogue among all groups in Canada—perhaps pointing the way toward an agenda that leans to domestic issues of fairness.
But Israel is not ignored. “The safety and welfare of Israel are central and hold a place of supreme importance to us as a Jewish people,” the group says, and it’s also important “that we communicate with the people and government of Israel with respect to our common interests from the Canadian perspective.”
CJC’s legacy of focusing on domestic affairs and its “democratic tradition” will contribute to making CJCF attractive to younger people, believes Henry Paikin, a 27-year-old advisor to Sen. Frances Lankin and a member of the new organization’s steering committee.
“For too long, young Jews in this country have fled community institutions due to their obsession with Israel-Palestine,” Paikin wrote in an email to The CJN. “Bringing democracy back into the mix will correct the out-of-touch narratives perpetuated by existing leadership, and allow us to re-focus our attention on making Canadian society more just.”