5775: The year in review

The terror attack on the French offices of Charlie Hebdo inspire demonstrations around the world.

It’s been a busy 12 months for the Jewish world, in Canada and beyond. Here are some of the most memorable moments

September 2014

• At the annual UN General Assembly, U.S. President Barack Obama focuses his speech on the Islamic State (ISIS), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likens Iran to ISIS and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blames the West’s blunders for fomenting the terrorists of ISIS. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issues a scathing attack against Israel for its conduct in the summer’s war with Hamas in Gaza.

October 2014

• Several Jewish buildings in Ottawa are under “lockdown” and the entire Canadian Jewish community takes extra security precautions after a shooting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and a hit-and-run in Quebec two days earlier. 

• Rabbi Barry Freundel, the longtime spiritual leader of Kesher Israel synagogue in Washington, D.C., is arrested and charged with voyeurism following the discovery of hidden cameras that recorded women undressing in the Orthodox synagogue’s mikvah. The following February, Freundel pleads guilty to 52 counts of voyeurism. 

• Rabbi Avi Weiss, an ardent political activist who espouses a liberal brand of Orthodoxy, announces his planned retirement from the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in New York. Weiss is the founder of the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah rabbinical school for men and Yeshivat Maharat school for female Orthodox clergy.

• The Jewish Foundation of Manitoba celebrates its 50th anniversary with a gala evening at Winnipeg’s RBC Convention Centre.

• Lou Ronson, an elder statesman in Canada’s Jewish community who spent the better part of his life fighting for human rights and against discrimination, dies on Oct. 5 at 99.  

• The Death of Klinghoffer – an opera based on the true story of an elderly American Jewish man in a wheelchair, who’s  killed by terrorists aboard an Italian cruise ship – opens at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York amid protests that the production is anti-Semitic and sympathetic to terrorists. 

• Relations between the Obama White House and Netanyahu reach a new low after an anonymous American official calls the Israeli leader a “chickenshit” in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic. U.S. officials condemn the remark and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry calls Netanyahu to apologize.

• SodaStream, the Israeli at-home seltzer machine company, announces that it will close its West Bank factory and move the facility’s operations to southern Israel in 2015. The company says the move out of the Jewish settlement of Mishor Adumim is unrelated to boycott threats.

• The core exhibit of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, a more than US $100-million complex first conceived over 20 years ago, is inaugurated, with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on hand.

November 2014

• Howie Rothman, a Canadian-Israeli citizen described as “one of the nicest, kindest people you could ever hope to meet,” sustains major injuries in a terror attack on a Jerusalem shul that leaves five people dead and many more injured. He remains in a coma. The victims include Rabbi Moshe Twersky, the dean of the Torat Moshe Yeshiva and the grandson of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the founder of modern Orthodoxy.

• The mayor of Ashkelon is roundly criticized for laying off city Arab workers in the aftermath of the deadly synagogue attack in Jerusalem.

• The Supreme Court of Canada declines to hear an appeal by alleged terrorist Hassan Diab, opening the door for Canadian and French authorities to extradite him to France. It is his last bid to avoid extradition to face allegations that he bombed a Paris synagogue in 1980, killing four people and wounding 40.

• Israel’s cabinet grants initial passage to a controversial bill that would identify Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish People, prompting concern in Israel and among some American Jews that it will prioritize Israel’s Jewish character over its democracy. Acrimony over the bill sparks a coalition crisis that ends up dissolving the Knesset in early December and sending Israel to early elections scheduled for the following March.

• Canadian-Israeli Gillian Rosenberg, 31, becomes the first foreign woman to join YPG, the Kurds’ dominant fighting force battling ISIS in northern Syria. She returns to Israel in July.

• As the Ebola epidemic spreads in three countries in Africa, IsraAID becomes the sole Israeli or Jewish organization on the ground in the hot zone.

• Jonathan Greenblatt, a former special assistant to Obama, is named the next national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Greenblatt is slated to replace Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s leader since 1987.

• World powers, led by the United States, extend the deadline in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program to June 30, 2015, prompting a call by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) for new sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Ultimately, additional sanctions are not levied during the negotiations, which last until a deal is struck in early July 2015.

December 2014

• Prime Minister Stephen Harper tells Montreal’s Federation CJA that Israel has become “a beacon of light in the Middle East.”

• France’s parliament, the National Assembly, votes 339-151 to urge the French government to recognize the state of Palestine. The vote follows similar motions passed the previous month by parliaments in Britain and Ireland.

• The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, known more commonly as the Claims Conference, announces it will allocate US $18.6 million to Canadian agencies, up from $6.4 million in 2014. Most of the funds are slated for home care. Agencies in Toronto, Montreal,  Winnipeg, Vancouver and smaller Jewish centres, including Halifax and Windsor, are expected to benefit from the allocations. 

• An oil pipeline ruptures near the southern Israeli resort city of Eilat, causing a spill that is called one of Israel’s worst environmental disasters.

• The United Auto Workers Local 2865, which represents more than 13,000 teaching assistants, tutors and other student workers in the University of California system, approves a resolution to join the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, becoming the first major U.S. labour union to hold a membership vote on Israel and BDS.

• The European Parliament passes a resolution that supports, in principle, recognition of a Palestinian state as part of peace talks with Israel, in a 498-88 vote with 111 abstentions. Meanwhile, the General Court of the European Union annuls Hamas’ inclusion on a blacklist of terrorist groups, saying the 2001 decision was based on press reports and not legal reasoning.

• Alan Gross, a Jewish-American contractor for the U.S. government who spent five years in a Cuban prison for helping connect Cuban Jews to the Internet, is released and returned to the United States as part of a sweeping deal to restore diplomatic ties between Washington and Havana. Gross subsequently thanks the American Jewish community for helping secure his freedom.

• Jewish immigration from France to Israel reaches an all-time record of nearly 7,000 in 2014, more than doubling the French aliyah rate in 2013 and far outstripping immigration to Israel from the United States. Overall, immigration to Israel hits a 10-year high in 2014 with approximately 26,500 new immigrants.

• The Conservative movement youth group USY votes to relax rules barring teenage board members from dating non-Jews. The change, adopted at the group’s annual convention in Atlanta, affects the 100 or so teen officers who serve on USY’s national board.

• Obama signs the 2014 United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act. The law, which unanimously passed the House and the Senate, declares Israel a “major strategic partner,” upgrades the value of American weapons stockpiles in Israel and grants the Jewish state improved trade status.

• Renowned criminal defence lawyer Eddie Greenspan dies in his sleep Dec. 24 while on vacation with his family in Phoenix, Ariz. He was 70.

January 2015

• Pripstein’s Camp Mishmar, the last of the private, co-ed sleepaway camps in the Laurentians that catered to an anglophone, mainly Jewish clientele, announces it is closing after 74 years. 

• Streit’s announces it is closing its historic, six-storey matzah factory on New York’s Lower East Side, where the company produced the Passover staple for 90 years. It will relocate operations to New Jersey.

• Bess Myerson, the only Jewish woman to win the Miss America pageant, dies at 90. Myerson won the competition in 1945.

• Four Jewish men are killed by an Islamic gunman during a hostage siege at a kosher supermarket in Paris two days after a pair of Islamic gunmen storm the Paris offices of a satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, killing 11. The supermarket gunman, Amedy Coulibaly, is killed when police storm the Hyper Cacher market. Almost simultaneously, police kill the perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo attack – brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, who were friends with Coulibaly – at a printing plant just outside Paris. The events, which prompt a massive anti-terrorism demonstration in Paris, stoke fears of French Jews about their future in the country. Canadians also hold rallies across the country.

• Actor Michael Douglas is named the winner of the Genesis Prize. The $1-million award, given by a consortium of philanthropists from the former Soviet Union, is meant to recognize accomplished Jews who demonstrate commitment to Jewish values.

• Alberto Nisman – the indefatigable Argentine prosecutor collecting evidence of culpability in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish centre in Buenos Aires –  is found shot to death in his apartment, just hours before he is to present evidence to Argentina’s congress that he said implicated his country’s president and Jewish foreign minister in a scheme to cover up Iran’s role in the bombing. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner first calls the death a suicide, then a murder, while protesters hold rallies in Buenos Aires demanding justice in the Nisman case. Months on, the mysterious circumstances surrounding Nisman’s death remain unresolved. 

• Israeli Consul General to Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces Ziv Nevo Kulman helps open The Courage To Remember exhibit during his first visit to Halifax.

• Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird visits Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). The two countries sign a series of agreements for enhanced co-operation on a number of fronts.

• U.S. House Speaker John Boehner invites Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on Iran’s nuclear program. The move sparks a showdown with the Obama administration, which says the invitation breaks protocol by circumventing the White House and is inappropriate, given that the Israeli leader is in the midst of an election campaign. American Jews are deeply divided over whether Netanyahu should speak to Congress over Obama’s objections, and a partisan row over the issue ensues.

• The Jewish Tribune, a weekly newspaper published by B’nai Brith Canada, announces that it will be suspending production of its print edition.

• Notable Jewish businessman and philanthropist Joseph Rotman dies Jan. 27 at age 80.

• Winnipeg opens its first kosher restaurant in decades, the BerMax Caffe.

• Rabbi Adam Scheier, spiritual leader of Montreal’s Congregation Shaar Hashomayim and president of the interdenominational Montreal Board of Rabbis visits Paris and says he is convinced that Canada, and particularly Quebec, must do more to help French Jews immigrate to Canada.

• Portugal’s government adopts legislation that offers citizenship to some descendants of Sephardi Jews, making Portugal the second country in the world after Israel to pass a law of return for Jews.

February 2015

• Comedian Jon Stewart announces he is leaving The Daily Show, the mock news program he anchored for 16 years and built into a political and cultural touchstone. 

• Martin Gilbert, the esteemed Jewish British historian and the biographer of Winston Churchill, dies at 78.

• The court hears that one of the accused in the VIA Rail plot, Raed Jaser, a Palestinian born in Abu Dhabi who has been living in Toronto since 1993, allegedly told an undercover FBI agent in 2012 that his longer-term plans were to assassinate Jews or “Zionists,” as well as Canadian political leaders.

• JDL Canada announces plans to establish a Montreal chapter.

• Toronto Police Service’s annual Hate/Bias Crime Statistical Report finds that hate crimes reported to police went up by 11 per cent over 2013 and that Jews were the single most targeted group in Toronto.

• Europe’s Jewish population is pegged at 1.4 million, down from 2 million in 1991 and 3.2 million in 1960, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Overall, European Jews account for about 10 per cent of the world Jewish population, compared to 57 per cent in 1939, the eve of the Holocaust.

• Hillel Montreal cancels a talk by assertive pro-Israel activist Ryan Bellerose of Calgary, which was scheduled to take place at Concordia University.

• A gunman attacks the main synagogue in Copenhagen, killing a security guard. The attack comes just hours after a gunman kills one person at a cafe in the city, where a caricaturist who had lampooned Islam was speaking. The attacks are seen as a wake-up call for Danish Jews to the threat of Islamist terrorism. As a gesture of solidarity, Muslims in neighbouring Norway form a “peace ring” around an Oslo synagogue.

• Tyler Weir, 13, of Richmond Hill, Ont., is denied entry to Camp Solelim in Sudbury because he isn’t Jewish.

• Leonard Nimoy, the actor who portrayed the iconic character Spock on Star Trek for over four decades on television and in film, dies at 83. Born in Boston to Yiddish-speaking Orthodox parents, Nimoy had said he derived Spock’s trademark split-finger salute from the priestly blessing that involves a physical approximation of the Hebrew letter “shin.”

• In a landmark case, a New York jury orders the PLO and the Palestinian Authority to pay more than $218 million in damages to American victims of six terrorist attacks that took place in Israel between 2002 and 2004 and were attributed to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Hamas. The PA pledges to appeal.

March 2015

• Jewish community groups say federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau went too far in invoking Canada’s Nazi-era exclusionary immigration policies when he criticized the Harper government’s citizenship swearing-in policy.

• Amid lingering controversy, Netanyahu addresses a joint session of Congress to warn of the emerging Iran nuclear deal. Several Jewish lawmakers skip the address. Obama says the speech offers “nothing new,” and Rep. Nancy Pelosi  calls it an “insult to the intelligence of the United States.”

• The Reform movement’s rabbinic group, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, installs Denise Eger as its first openly gay president.

• In Pennsylvania, the Swarthmore Hillel votes to disaffiliate from Hillel International to protest the Jewish campus group’s rules on Israel programming. In 2013, the college’s Hillel ignited a national debate on Hillel International’s Israel policies, which restrict programs with speakers who support boycotting the Jewish state.

Netanyahu wins a fourth term, his third in a row, as Israel’s prime minister, roundly defeating his main challenger, Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union. Netanyahu’s remarks in the days before the election prove highly controversial, as he says a Palestinian state will not be established under his watch and warns, on Election Day, about Arab-Israelis turning out to vote “in droves.” The comments are condemned in the United States by the Reform and Conservative movements and by Obama. Netanyahu later apologizes to Israel’s Arabs and insists he still backs a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

• Seven children, ages five to 16, are killed in a Brooklyn house fire reportedly caused by a malfunctioning Sabbath hot plate. The children’s mother, Gayle Sassoon, and her daughter Tziporah sustain injuries in the blaze but survive; the father is out of town at a religious conference. The children are buried in Israel.

• Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert is found guilty of fraud under aggravating circumstances and breach of trust for accepting cash-filled envelopes from U.S. Jewish businessman Morris Talansky and using it for personal gain. Olmert’s lawyers later appeal the verdict in what is known as the “Talansky Affair.”

April 2015

• Negotiators for the United States, five other world powers and Iran reach a framework accord for a deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program and set June 30 as the deadline for a final, comprehensive deal.

• Robert Libman wins the nomination to be the Conservative candidate in the Montreal riding of Mount Royal for the  Oct. 19 federal election. 

• Women of the Wall, a group that promotes women’s religious rights at the Western Wall, reads for the first time from a full-size Torah scroll during its monthly prayer service at the Kotel, contravening regulations there. The Torah was passed across the barrier between the men’s and women’s sections by male supporters. The following month, police block and arrest a man who attempts to repeat the effort.

• Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, a leader of the national religious movement in Israel, a head of the Har Etzion Yeshiva in the West Bank and a prominent modern Orthodox scholar, dies at 81.

• The American Jewish Reconstructionist movement is roiled by debate about whether to drop its longstanding ban against intermarried rabbinical school students. Some synagogues threaten to quit the movement if the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College becomes the first of America’s four major Jewish religious denominations to ordain intermarried rabbis; the debate continues.

• Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, announces that he intends to run for the U.S. presidency. A self-described “Democratic socialist,” Sanders, who is running as a Democrat, is considered a long shot to defeat the party’s front-runner, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

• Ethiopian-Israeli protesters clash with police during demonstrations throughout Jerusalem over two attacks against Ethiopian Israelis by Israeli law enforcement, one of which is captured on video. The attacks spark a national debate about racism in Israel.

May 2015

• The central Manitoba city of Portage La Prairie and the communities that constitute the Valley of Springs Regional Council, Mo’atza Azorit Bik’at Beit She’an, in northern Israel’s Beit She’an Valley became twinned cities.

• Ed Miliband, the first Jewish leader of Britain’s Labour party, fails to become his country’s first Jewish prime minister, as the incumbent, David Cameron of the Conservative party, handily wins re-election and secures 331 of the 650 seats in the Parliament. Miliband resigns immediately after the defeat.

• Rabbi Barry Freundel is sentenced to nearly 6-1/2 years in prison – 45 days for each of the 52 counts of misdemeanour voyeurism. Additional court documents show Freundel also engaged in extramarital sexual encounters.

• Savours Kosher Market ULC, a U.S.-based corporation that operates kosher supermarkets under a variety of names, acquires the assets of Toronto’s Hartmans Fine Kosher Foods after the longstanding store goes into receivership.

• The U.S. Congress overwhelmingly passes a bill providing for its approval of any Iran nuclear deal.

• The government of Canada calls a CBC report that it is threatening to bring hate crime charges against advocates of a boycott of Israel “inaccurate and ridiculous.”

• Shlomo Riskin, rabbi of the West Bank city of Efrat, is summoned to a hearing by the chief rabbinate’s governing body on the future of his position. An Orthodox progressive on women’s issues and conversion, Rabbi Riskin vows not to go, suspecting the chief rabbinate is looking for a pretext to dismiss him. The rabbinate later backs down and renews Riskin’s position.

• Montreal Alouettes player Khalif Mitchell is fined by both the Canadian Football League and the team for posting material on his Twitter account that denies the Holocaust, as well as other offensive content.

• Alan Borovoy, longtime head of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and one of Canada’s fiercest but most gentlemanly defenders of the principle of free speech, dies on May 11 of heart failure. He was 83.

• The Ontario Labour Relations Board turns down a preliminary application by the Kashruth Council of Canada (COR) that would have ended an inquiry into the kashrut agency’s overtime pay practices for its mashgichim.

 • Esther Ghan Firestone, Canada’s first female cantor, dies May 28 at age 90. 

June 2015

• B’nai Brith Canada announces plans to sell  its signature property on Hove Street in Toronto, which houses its national headquarters. 

• After a lengthy story in the New York Times detailing his habit of inviting young males to join him for naked heart-to-heart talks in the sauna, Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt of the Riverdale Jewish Center in New York asserts he is innocent of any crime but says he regrets if his conduct offended anyone. Congregants at his Orthodox synagogue are divided over whether or not to dismiss him. Rabbi Rosenblatt eventually rebuffs offers to buy out the remainder of his contract, vowing he will stay on as leader of the shul.

• The Jewish National Fund of Canada cancels former Arkansas governor and Republican U.S. presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee’s keynote address for its Oct. 15 Ottawa’s annual Negev Dinner following objections from people in the Canadian Jewish and LGBTQ communities.

• B’nai Brith reports 1,627 anti-Semitic incidents in 2014, a 28 per cent increase over 2013.

• Adam Bronstone, the new CEO of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, resigns suddenly and without explanation after less than 10 months on the job, with some local observers suggesting his failure to cultivate influential community leaders may have led to his abrupt departure.

• Albert Latner, a man who made his fortune as a real estate developer and left his mark on the Jewish community in both Canada and Israel, dies June 11 at the age of 88, after battling Parkinson’s disease.

• Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announces at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s annual Words & Deeds Leadership Award Dinner that she’ll be leading a trade mission to Israel next spring.

• The U.S. Supreme Court strikes down a 2002 law allowing U.S. citizens to list Jerusalem as their place of birth. The case was brought by the parents of 12-year-old Menachem Zivotofsky, whose parents sought the passport listing not long after his birth.

• Spain’s lower house of Parliament passes a law offering citizenship to descendants of Sephardi Jews, the result of a 2012 government decision that describes the law as compensation for the expulsion of Jews during the Spanish Inquisition.

• David Blatt, the first Israeli to serve as head coach of an NBA team, guides the Cleveland Cavaliers to the league finals. Blatt’s club loses to the Golden State Warriors in six games after taking a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

• The U.N. Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict finds that Israel’s military and Palestinian armed groups committed “serious violations” of international human rights law during their 2014 summer war. While the report accuses both sides of possible war crimes, its findings focus more on what it considers Israeli wrongdoing. Israel, which refused to co-operate with the investigation, slams the outcome.

• Days before the U.S. Supreme Court endorses the right to same-sex marriage, the Public Religion Research Institute finds that American Jews are among the country’s most supportive religious groups of same-sex marriage.

July 2015

• Iran and six world powers led by the United States reach a historic agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the easing of sanctions. Obama says the deal cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear bomb. Netanyahu calls the deal a “stunning historic mistake.” AIPAC quickly launches an all-out effort to have Congress scuttle the deal.

• Canadian Finance Minister Joe Oliver announces updates to the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, which, among other things, cut tariffs on a number of Canadian goods.

• The Department of National Defence announces that it has agreed to acquire 10 Israeli missile radars, which will be used to locate enemy weapons and provide advance aerial surveillance capability.

• Julia Koschitzky who has been involved in community work for decades, is appointed to the Order of Canada.

• A Brandeis University report on anti-Semitism at North American universities shows there are particularly high levels of hostility toward Jews or Israel on Canadian campuses.

• A 94-year-old former Auschwitz guard, Oskar Groening, is sentenced by a German court to four years in prison for his role in the murder of 300,000 Hungarian Jews in the concentration camp.

• Over 2,000 Jewish athletes, coaches and officials, including 20 Canadians, marched into Waldbuhne Stadium in Berlin, for the opening of the Maccabi Games in Germany.

• One person was killed after a haredi Jew who had just been released from prison went on a stabbing rampage at Jerusalem’s Pride Parade wounding five others.

• Theodore Bikel, the actor and folk singer who won fame playing Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, dies at 91. 

August 2015

• Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz, spiritual leader of Congregation Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem  since 1996, announces he is leaving Montreal to assume the pulpit of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York.

• Nine alleged Jewish extremists are arrested following a firebombing incident in the West Bank in which a Palestinian man and his 18-month-old son were killed.

• The United Church of Canada’s general council votes to strengthen its opposition to what it calls Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land. It also votes down a proposal to end its support of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

• Jack Yazer, a 102-year-old Sydney, N.S. businessman and philanthropist,  dies.

• Construction begins on the long-awaited Tel Aviv light rail system. City officials warn that the project will cause major traffic headaches for years to come.

• Toronto Conservative MP Mark Adler removes a reference in his online biography in which he describes himself as the first child of a Holocaust survivor to be elected to Parliament after The CJN reveals that this is not true.

• JDL stages a protest outside a private fundraising event in Toronto featuring Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau.

• A series of recordings broadcast on Israel television indicate that Israel planned on bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities in 2010, 2011 and 2012.