A midrash about trees


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A midrash about trees

Rachel Turkienicz’s column “Not a Jewish Arbor Day at all” (Jan. 14) completely overlooks and somewhat disparages what Zionists, from atheist secular to modern Orthodox, have made of Tu b’Shvat. It is a holiday not about “orlah,” “counting” or the haredi cutting of a young boy’s hair to give him that Ashkenazi minhag called “payes” (which these days is celebrated on Lag b’Omer), but rather it has become a midrash about trees, fruit, reforestation and the redemption of the Land of Israel and concern for its future through a concern for its ecology. It has been a Zionist holiday for more than 100 years, and the omission of that insight is a serious oversight.
Eric Mendelsohn

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Tzedakah is an obligation

Daniel Held’s column “Can we match the Mormons?” (Jan. 7) raises a poignant concern for our community – one that is all too often swept under the rug because, paradoxically, Toronto is so generous here and in Israel.
I ask how many of us appreciate that tzedakah is not a choice, but an obligation – a responsibility! It may contribute to Jewish ethical living, but it is not why one ought to be giving. And it has little to do with our level of maturity or sophistication.
But how do we get the almost 80 per cent who don’t give at all to “get” what the other 20 get at some level? And how do we get people to appreciate what, in fact, is an appropriate gift at all? I open up these questions, to add to those raised by Held in his column, and would love to see some thoughts published in future CJNs.
Susan Steinberg

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Holocaust commemoration

On this International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust (Jan. 27), I want to join in today’s remembrance of the countless victims who lost their lives and those who have forever lived with the scars of this human tragedy.
In paying my respects at Yad Vashem in Israel, I learned the stories of countless victims. Today, 65 years after the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, we remember the inherent evil that is possible when civil liberties are suspended, freedom is denied, and the barbarity of hate emerges in their place.
On behalf of the Ontario Progressive Conservative caucus, I want to restate our condemnation of all attempts to deny and minimize the Holocaust and all crimes against humanity. Together, we join with the Jewish community and bear witness to the Shoah and the determination to live up to the survivors’ creed: “Never again.”
Tim Hudak, Leader
Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario

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Machal Archives

Thank you for publishing Ralph Lowenstein’s article on North American Machal, “North American volunteers for Israel: ‘no one knows about us’” (Chanukah supplement, Dec. 10). For 30 years, Lowenstein, a University of Florida professor, has been gathering information for the Machal Archives that he established there.
Upon Lowenstein’s retirement, and with the co-operation of the board of the American and Canadian Veterans of Israel, we have formed a relationship with the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS). The AJHS will move the archives from Florida to their New York City museum and make them available to researchers, at the society and on the Internet, by the fall of 2010.
Joseph Warner, President
American and Canadian Veterans of Israel


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 JGH’s Jewish character

Howard Gontovnick wrote that the Jewish General Hospital’s historic Jewishness is absent from a video on its website (“Hospital’s Jewish heritage,” letters, Jan. 14). He appears to have gotten the wrong impression. The eight-minute video’s objective is to inform viewers that the hospital serves (and has always served) all Montrealers and Quebecers, regardless of their religious, ethnic or cultural background.
The video touches on subjects including medical care, nursing, research, education, philanthropy and volunteers. By no means is Jewish content ignored. Included are a scene of the original lobby with a Star of David in its floor tiles; 1934 headlines from a French-language newspaper, in which the premier of Quebec wishes the JGH “Shalom” and “Mazel tov” on its grand opening; and a doctor’s remark about the hospital’s Jewish character.
Mr. Gontovnick need not fear that the hospital’s Jewishness is being overlooked. The JGH has mezuzot on its doorposts – in fact, several hundred; a rabbi who serves as director of pastoral services; an in-house synagogue, complete with Ark and Torah scroll; and daily prayer services, as well as High Holiday services and a Pesach seder. It is one of the few North American acute-care hospitals with a fully kosher cafeteria (in fact, two of them) staffed with a mashgiach, plus kosher sandwich shops and two kosher Second Cup franchises.
Even the hospital’s new branding, a Tree of Life, is based on a prominent biblical object. This icon was designed in such a way as to resemble a menorah, further heightening the Jewish symbolism. As for the suggestion of a small museum dedicated to the hospital’s history, while this is a fine suggestion, every bit of available space is urgently needed for patient services or administrative functions. However, many JGH artifacts – related both to Jewish/historical subjects and health-care matters – have been on display in the hospital since mid-2009 in museum-style showcases.
The JGH continues to celebrate its distinctly Jewish heritage and values, while reassuring all members of the public that this institution is at their service.
Glenn J. Nashen, Director
Public Affairs and Communications
Jewish General Hospital