From the Desk of Avi Benlolo: Strength in Chanukah

December 20, 2019


A dark room can be illuminated by a single candle. Now imagine eight. In a nutshell, that’s the story of Chanukah. Darkness can be overcome when we all stand together.

Last week’s editorial was about the terrible mass shooting at a kosher market in Jersey City; our collective sigh of relief that Jeremy Corbyn lost the election; and the rabid antisemitism on university campuses like York University where a brawl comparable to Christie Pits took place.

But as we head toward the holidays of light, Chanukah brightens up the darkness and creates a festive spirit in us all. Humanity this week showed there is hope above despair. Fighting back the divisiveness, antisemitism and intolerance, with the involvement of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, Toronto City Council passed an important motion declaring January 27th as International Holocaust Remembrance Day in the City of Toronto. The motion was introduced by strong Jewish community advocate, Councillor Mike Colle and was seconded by Councillor James Pasternak.

The council voted unanimously and harmoniously, recognizing that "Holocaust denial and other forms of antisemitic hatred have flourished in the digital age. Antisemitism is on the rise and an increasing threat not only in Canada, but all over the world." The proclamation further declared, "It is therefore critical that at this time, through this proclamation, we recognize the universal importance of the lessons learned from the Holocaust and encourage the citizens of Toronto, through their schools, institutions and libraries, to learn about the history of the Holocaust to raise awareness about this horrific genocide and ensure that nothing like it will ever be repeated."

This great week was also illuminated by the incredible leadership of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center Board of Directors as it elected community leader, philanthropist and businessman Fred Waks to serve as its next Chairman. Our leader for nearly two decades, Gerry Schwartz will be staying on our board to continue offering guidance and strength as our Honorary Chairman. In a statement, Mr. Waks said, "I’m very proud to be a part of one of the world’s greatest human rights organizations. To be stepping into Mr. Gerry Schwartz’s shoes is a very lofty endeavour. Along with Mr. Avi Benlolo, they have created a world-class institution, which I’m honoured to be affiliated with. Unfortunately, there is much work to be done; however, with great management and a strong board of directors, we will be at the forefront of fighting antisemitism, intolerance and ignorance in Canada and abroad."

Each day we are lighting more and more candles, illuminating more and more rooms and inspiring more and more students and adults alike. How wonderful it was this week to visit schools with dedicated and compassionate donors and business leaders on our Tour for Humanity. Together we watched how students were transformed as they learned about the Holocaust and human rights and were inspired to give back positively and compassionately in their schools and communities. And how wonderful to catch up with our good friends and allies, US Consul General Greg Stanford and Japanese Consul General Takako Ito as they visited us at our Toronto headquarters.

In the midst of this extraordinary support, in the dead of winter under a blanket of snow, the outgoing Leader of the Official Opposition, Andrew Scheer held a quaint reception at his home in Stornoway to bring in Chanukah and light the menorah. He spoke openly and candidly, denouncing antisemitism and events like the one that took place at York and reflecting about the Holocaust and his own family’s Jewish history. I took him aside, thanked him on behalf of our community for his unwavering leadership and friendship and appealed for him to ensure his party carries forward his policy of advocating for Canada to move its embassy to the capital of Israel, Jerusalem.

As Scheer helped light the Chanukah candles, holding his young daughter in his arms amongst the blessings and singing by the Ottawa community leadership and its rabbis, it was apparent and clear that we are embraced by good people who are standing together with us to bring light into the darkness.

Shabat Shalom,


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