From the Desk of Avi Benlolo: This Week’s Community Contributions to Canada

March 29, 2019


I am proud of the great contribution the Jewish community is making to Canada – especially this week. Even while the community is harassed by a shrewd cloud of antisemitism, if not indifference, it continues to share its values of making a difference for the betterment of all Canadians. While most communities might retreat at the contempt shown against them sometimes on university campuses, in the media, by some unions and church groups and even while shopping at a local grocery store (BDS post-its were found this week at No Frills), the Jewish community continues to extend its warm embrace.

This week we salute our organization’s Chairman Mr. Gerald W. Schwartz and Ms. Heather Reisman for their historic $100 million gift to the University of Toronto – the largest gift received by the university. The gift will fund the Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre and will support the launch of the Institute for Technology and society which will explore ethical and societal implications of emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence. Mr. Schwartz and Ms. Reisman are spectacular community leaders, with whom we have had the pleasure to work with, and we applaud their philanthropy and commitment to Canada.

Also this week, on the heels of celebrating Max Eisen’s 90th birthday, he went on to win the top spot on CBC’s Canada Reads for his best-selling life story, By Chance Alone. I could not be prouder of Max and the incredible and inspiring work he has done over more than three decades to educate about the Holocaust.  For the last decade, I have had the unique opportunity of retracing with Max his footsteps through Auschwitz – as he retells his family’s story to group after group of police chiefs, educators and politicians.

Max told me today that he feels “elated…that I reached a pinnacle, that this book has been given a permanent place in this country to teach students and educators about the Holocaust.” Sure enough, this book is not only a contribution to Canadian literacy, it’s a contribution to Canadian history. After all, Canada sacrificed over 45,000 soldiers to liberate Europe from the Nazis and the echoes of the greatest genocide in humanity are still reverberating today – and every day.

And indeed, while we confront evil daily, we aspire to inspire and motivate good. We engage with faith and community leaders as we did last week at a local mosque. And we continue to be amazed by the expressive voices of students who compete in our annual Speakers Idol competition about making the world a better place.  The students, who came from all walks of life and represented every faith group, culture and religion, reflected upon Simon Wiesenthal’s belief that people can be inherently good. We don’t lose hope in humanity because each year students show us that the future is bright.

And so, every week is one small step forward. We must never disregard those who wish to bring us harm. But more importantly, we must never allow negativity to take away our humanity.  Simon Wiesenthal taught us that.  After all, as one student said at Speakers Idol last night, if Simon Wiesenthal (and I would add Max Eisen) could rise above the hatred they endured and the horrendous murder of their families – to inspire thousands of others to live a worthy life – we too can embark on this journey every single day.

Shabbat Shalom,


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