In Pirkei Avot – the well-spring of ethical wisdom in the Talmud – we are counselled: “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.” Indeed, one look at the news confirms that the work of a Jewish advocate is never finished. The challenges before us require vigilance and a proactive, strategic approach to advancing the public policy interests of Canada’s organized Jewish community.
In August, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), advocacy agent of the Jewish Federations of Canada, published our current set of priorities, encompassing a wide range of areas including human rights, social justice, community security, and Canada-Israel relations. These priorities will guide our work that will result in new laws and policies to improve the quality of Jewish life in Canada.
While all the issues may be found on our website, here are five highlights to pique your interest and encourage you to learn more and get involved.
First, CIJA will continue supporting Jewish students in the effort to fight anti-Israel boycotts on campus. This includes providing training programs, hard-hitting fact cards, creative pro-Israel events and giveaway products and rapid-response advocacy support – all in partnership with Hillel. It also involves extensive outreach to non-Jewish student leaders, faculty and university administrators, including some 50 individuals from campuses across Canada hosted on fact-finding missions to Israel annually. This year, CIJA launched a new advocacy support resource – email@example.com – to enable students to connect with us if they face a challenge on their campus. More than anything, Jewish students need resources, strategic advice and encouragement as they work to build support for Israel on campus.
Second, CIJA is calling for increased government funding for community security. As recent (and terrible) events in Europe have demonstrated, the Jewish community is an at-risk community. CIJA works closely with Jewish institutions across Canada to obtain funding through the federal Security Infrastructure Program, which helps cover the costs of external security measures – including cameras, lighting, and fencing. However, CIJA is calling for an expansion of the program to include funding for security guards, indoor cameras and other internal security measure, all of which are key to securing Jewish schools, synagogues and JCCs.
Third, along with local partners across the country, CIJA is pushing for federal and provincial laws to protect Canadians from genetic discrimination. While this issue is not well known, it is one that significantly impacts the health of many Ashkenazi Jews (who are disproportionately likely to have genetic markers for major diseases like breast and ovarian cancer). Sadly, fearing discrimination from employers or insurance providers, some patients currently refuse essential genetic testing. Our goal is to ensure that Canada is no longer the only G7 country without laws banning genetic discrimination.
Fourth, we are committed to continue building support for Israel and an understanding of the values shared by Israelis and Canadians. Positive, pro-Israel advocacy is at the core of our mandate. We will remain focused on ensuring that Canadian officials understand the regional challenges facing Israel and the remarkable contributions Israelis continue to offer the world. And, whether through fact-finding missions (CIJA brings hundreds of mostly non-Jewish Canadian influencers to Israel annually), media and social media communications, or in-person briefings, we will use multiple tactics to deliver compelling messages that connect with our target audiences.
Fifth, CIJA is working to improve access to kosher food and make it more affordable for the Canadian Jewish community, a significant quality of life issue for many families. As an example, Ontario’s sole kosher chicken processor closed in 2013. A Montreal supplier has responded to significant demand across Ontario and Manitoba, but, with decreased supply and increased delivery distances, costs have escalated. CIJA is working closely with private sector partners, the Kashruth Council of Ontario (COR) and the Chicken Farmers of Ontario to overcome regulatory challenges and liaise with the federal government so that Ontario will once again be home to a kosher chicken provider.
These are five diverse examples of CIJA’s priorities. I encourage you to learn more online at www.cija.ca/priorities/ and let us know about your priorities at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shana Tova – may this year be one of success for Jewish advocates here in Canada and around the world.
Steve McDonald is associate director, Communications, of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.