5776: The year in review

Pictured top to bottom from left: Noa causes a commotion in Vancouver; The late Gene Wilder in The Frisco Kid; Benjamin Netanyahu stares down the world; Mural leads to controversy at York U; Waterloo students reject an anti-Israel proposal.

September 2015

• Michael Nathanson pleads guilty to a charge of forgery and admits to stealing $65,000 from the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre, of which he was artistic director and general manager before being fired.

• The Palestinian flag is raised at UN headquarters in New York for the first time. The move follows a 119-8 vote of the General Assembly on Sept. 10 to allow the flag at the headquarters. Canada, along with Israel and the United States, were among the dissenters.

• Political posters around Montreal depicting a dead child on a beach and accusing Israel of killing Palestinian children, and then-prime minister Stephen Harper of supporting it, cause outrage. The sponsors of the posters are identified as BDS Québec and the Coalition pour la Justice et la Paix en Palestine.

• Two NDP hopefuls find themselves in hot water after old social media comments surface on the True North Times website exposing the candidates’ ignorance of Jewish issues.

October 2015

• Seven Liberal Jewish candidates are elected to the House of Commons. Meanwhile, Canada’s first-ever Jewish finance minister, Joe Oliver, is defeated in his Toronto riding, as is fellow Tory MP Mark Adler. Veteran Liberal MP Irwin Cotler didn’t seek re-election in Mount Royal.

Beating Adler in York Centre is Liberal Michael Levitt, while Cote St. Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather defeats Tory Robert Libman in Mount Royal. Liberal Jim Carr prevails over Conservative MP Joyce Bateman in Winnipeg South Centre, Karina Gould wins in Burlington and Julie Dabrusin takes Toronto-Danforth. In Quebec’s Laurentides–Labelle riding, David Graham takes the seat for the Liberals, and Dan Ruimy becomes the new Liberal MP for the riding of Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge in British Columbia.

• Then-prime minister Stephen Harper says he will step down after the Conservative party loses the election. Several prominent members of Canada’s Jewish community laud Harper’s support of Israel and call him the best friend Israel has ever had.

• For 40 minutes at the United Nations General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu articulates the challenges posed to Israel and the world by Iran and Islamist fanaticism. But it was his 44-second silent rebuke that captured the world’s attention.

• An Israeli couple is killed in the West Bank while driving with four of their six children. Eitam and Naama Henkin, both in their 30s, were killed while returning to their home settlement of Neria. Their children were unharmed. In June, four Palestinians would be sentenced to life in prison for the killings.

• Pope Francis meets Jewish leaders in Rome to mark the 50th anniversary of the Nostra Aetate, the landmark declaration that rejected collective Jewish guilt for the killing of Jesus and paved the way for improved Jewish-Catholic relations.

• Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu draws fire for claiming the mufti of Jerusalem gave Hitler the idea to exterminate the Jews at a 1941 meeting. After an outcry, Netanyahu modifies his statement, emphasizing that Hitler bore responsibility for the Holocaust.

• Palestinian rioters set fire to Joseph’s Tomb, a Jewish holy site in the West Bank, amid continuing Israeli-Palestinian unrest. The violence began in September following an Israeli raid on the Temple Mount that uncovered a cache of weapons, which led to clashes that spread to the West Bank. This is followed by a sudden spate of lone-wolf knife attacks and car rammings against Jewish Israelis, leading to fears of a third intifadah.

• Portuguese officials approve the naturalization of a Panamanian descendant of Sephardi Jews, the first individual to receive Portuguese citizenship under a 2013 law that entitled such individuals to repatriation. Days earlier, Spain approved the granting of citizenship to 4,302 descendants of Spanish Jews exiled during the Spanish Inquisition under a similar law.

Sephardi Jews in Toronto are reportedly less enthusiastic about the Spanish ruling than their Montreal counterparts. According to Simon Keslassy, the president of the Communauté Juive Marocaine de Toronto, there didn’t seem to be many Sephardim who were eager to take advantage of the opportunity because the process of acquiring Spanish citizenship is lengthy, complicated and costly.

 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Paris. FILE PHOTO
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Paris. FILE PHOTO

November 2015

• Following an arson attack on a Peterborough, Ont., mosque, the local Beth Israel Synagogue offers its support and reaches out with a helping hand. In a move that attracts national media attention, the synagogue, which shares its space with the Unitarian Fellowship, offers the Muslim community a place to pray.

• Rabbi Ya’acov Don, a former shaliach who taught at the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, is one of the victims of a terrorist attack in Gush Etzion in the West Bank that leaves three people dead and five more wounded.

• Jonathan Pollard, the former American naval intelligence analyst convicted of spying for Israel, is freed from a U.S. federal prison after 30 years. Under the terms of his parole, Pollard is prohibited from travelling to Israel, though he offers to renounce his American citizenship in order to live there.

• Two Jewish teens are found guilty of the murder of Mohammad Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian teenager who was abducted and burned to death in the Jerusalem Forest in 2014. The teens are not identified, because they were minors at the time of the crime.

• The European Union approves guidelines for the labelling of products from West Bank settlements. Under the guidelines, goods produced in the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem or the Golan Heights must be labelled. Israel’s Foreign Ministry condemns the move.

The Rabbinical Council of America adopts a policy prohibiting the ordination or hiring of women rabbis. The policy, the result of a vote of the main Orthodox rabbinical group’s membership, proscribes the usage of any title implying rabbinic status, specifically “maharat” – an acronym meaning “female spiritual, legal and Torah leader” used by Yeshivat Maharat, a New York school ordaining Orthodox women as clergy.

• Six men are sentenced for their roles in a plot to violently coerce a man to grant his wife a religious divorce. Most are given prison terms. In December, two rabbis involved in the scheme are sentenced to jail time, including 70-year-old Mendel Epstein, who receives a 10-year term. In all, 10 people, three of them rabbis, are convicted for their roles in kidnapping and torturing recalcitrant husbands for a fee.

• Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations climate change conference near Paris.