My Week of Thanks
It was just a few short years ago that I ran my first marathon. Some of you may remember my personal effort to fund-raise about $30,000 in 2010, in hopes of hitting the $2 million mark to support Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center's (FSWC) annual Spirit of Hope fundraiser.
The gala Benefit has come a long way since then. Today, with three full months to go, Spirit of Hope 2017 has already surpassed the $2 million mark; table sponsorships and ticket sales remain robust. I believe it is fair to say Spirit of Hope has become a "must attend" event that is listed on the calendars of Toronto's leading business, media and entertainment moguls, and is eagerly anticipated for the top-notch speakers and exceptional program for which it has earned its iconic reputation.
When I first began running as a fundraising activity, antisemitic movements (remember the now defunct Queers against Israeli Apartheid group?) were just beginning to make inroads beyond the white supremacy crowd; they were easy to ignore if you weren't a human rights activist, or a university student made to feel uneasy and unsafe on campus.
Appallingly, disgracefully, this is no longer the case. Rampant antisemitism is harder to disregard than to find. From scrawled swastikas popping up on everything from bus shelters to synagogues, an ancient hatred has come creeping back.
Nowhere is this more apparent than on university campuses. This week alone two shameful incidents occurred. The first happened at McGill University in Montreal - home to quotas on Jewish students that lasted into the 1960s - when a member of student council advised his Twitter followers to "punch a Zionist." Despite a clear call to violence against Jews, the reaction of the student council board was to side with the student advocating antisemitic violence - while targeting a Jewish student who called the remark hateful. The tepid response from the university administration serves as a slap in the face to students and the wider Jewish community. In response FSWC has launched a petition asking for the university to take charge of this dangerous situation, to dissolve the antisemitic Students' Society, to offer support for Jewish students who are victimized on campus, and to launch an immediate investigation into the culture of ingrained anti-Jewish hatred at McGill. The first batch of 600 petitions should arrive on Principal Suzanne Fortier's desk today. Click Here to read and sign the petition.
The second occurred when a Ryerson University newspaper revealed that a student walkout during a motion to recognize Holocaust education at a November student union meeting was orchestrated by the student union president. The walkout prevented a vote on the Holocaust motion by denying the necessary quorum. At the time the student union president called the incident 'disturbing'. Now that screenshots of text message conversations between student leaders have been shared, the antisemitism at the heart of the walk-out is clear. As one Jewish student noted in the Ryerson newspaper, "in any other minority group, this would be considered a hate crime."
Sadly, these incidents are increasingly the norm, rather than the exception. Their prevalence gives FSWC's educational programs an added urgency; we need to accelerate our efforts at teaching the Holocaust, and must generate even greater support for school boards to adopt FSWC's January 27th Initiative recognizing International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This is an ongoing project, and I am happy to share that the Peterborough, Victoria, Northumberland & Clarington Catholic District School Board became the 23rd Ontario School Board to sign on to the initiative this week.
We also need to ensure our politicians are listening, and are willing to act against hate when university administrations can't, or won't. We need to be clear-eyed and see what we are fighting against: an age-old hatred that was dormant for a while, but is blooming once again.
And so, seven years after I became a marathon-running fundraiser, the stakes have become much higher. I am proud of how the Benefit has grown, and of the growing number of individuals and companies who appreciate and support the values it fosters.
I am grateful for my community which has answered the call to sign the McGill petition, and am so proud of Robert Lantos and Simcha Jacobovici for speaking out about this disgraceful affair. I am proud of FSWC's dedicated education team that is teaching nearly 1000 students in Peterborough this week, and for our Spirit of Hope Campaign Team, donors and corporate partners - they are truly awesome.
I am thrilled to see the strong attendance at our events and lectures, and excited about upcoming receptions and dinners in support of Spirit of Hope. My meetings in the past few weeks with diplomats, consuls-general and social activists have been incredibly rewarding, and I am buoyed by an e-mail from a donor who wrote "As a Jew in Canada, I owe a debt of gratitude to Avi for doing the heavy lifting on behalf of all of us."
I hope you will join me at Spirit of Hope on May 18, 2017. An entire community is counting on us.