My name is Berl Nadler and I am the Co-chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) for the GTA. CIJA is the advocacy agency for UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and all other Canadian Jewish Federations.
I would like to thank our hosts this evening, the Liberal Caucus and Premier Wynne, not only for recognizing the celebration of Chanukah but also for their sensitivity to Ontario’s Jewish community and its needs and the excellent relationship we have developed together.
CIJA was honoured to partner with the Premier’s office and to travel with Premier Wynne on an outstanding trade mission that generated more than $180 million in 44 separate bilateral agreements as well as numerous Memoranda of Understanding signed between Canadian and Israeli universities to expand bilateral academic partnerships and exchanges. This commitment to promote bilateral ties is extremely important to Ontario’s Jewish community.
Over and above that, we cannot thank Premier Wynne and the Liberal caucus enough for supporting the historic resolution against the BDS movement passed with the votes of all Liberal MPPs who voted here just two weeks ago. This is a matter of significant importance not only to the Jewish community in Ontario but also to Jewish communities around the world as reflected in the coverage of this initiative both in the Canadian media and in the Jewish media world-wide, particularly in Israel and the United States.
Tonight, we are here to celebrate the Jewish Festival of Chanukah which recalls events that started in the year 175 BCE when King Antiochus IV Epiphanes invaded Judea and culminated 10 years later.
The Jewish historian of antiquity, Flavius Josephus, tells us that:
The king came upon the Jews with a great army, and took their city by force, and slew a great multitude of those and sent out his soldiers to plunder them without mercy and spoiled the temple.
The festival of Chanukah celebrates the ultimate political and religious victory of the revolt led by the family of Matityahu the Priest and his five sons led by Judah the Maccabee meaning Hammer. (could have been a rapper).
As a result of efforts of the Maccabees and their followers in a decade-long struggle, the Jews regained political independence and religious freedom. On the surface, one could characterize Chanukah as a sectarian holiday, of relevance only to Jews. But the Festival of Chanukah is much more than that. Chanukah conveys a distinct and fundamental universal message about the most fundamental human rights: freedom of expression, freedom of religion and the right to self-determination, among others. The fundamental freedoms that we, as Canadians, enjoy, and that we too often take for granted.
Today as we celebrate Chanukah and its message, with your indulgence, I cannot refrain from noting the horrors visited on our cousins in western Aleppo right now, which reminds us of the description of Josephus cited above, and let me read these words again:
The king came upon the Jews with a great army, and took their city by force, and slew a great multitude of those and sent out his soldiers to plunder them without mercy.
Today, the army of another Syrian tyrant violates and massacres his own citizens, innocent men, women and children, as the western world watches in passive horror. I don’t think I have to spell out to this group what more recent atrocities come to mind when we see what’s happening in Aleppo.
As Canadians, we must diminish our celebration of our festivals this year with mourning for this and other tragedies while, at the same time, learning and drawing wisdom from the universal lessons of our holidays: peace on earth, goodwill to all men, and, the from the story of the Maccabees: the moral right and duty to resist and fight against manifest evil.
On behalf of CIJA and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, I thank you again for this Government’s support and let us hope and pray that the universal moral lessons of our traditions inspire us in all our endeavours.