The seventh annual Limmud Ottawa festival of Jewish learning and culture was a day-long event, Sunday, November 20, at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre.
Richard Marceau summed up his session on Jewish advocacy in two sentences: “If you aren’t like them, they won’t like you. If you don’t care about ending the conflict, they won’t listen to you.”
Marceau, a former member of Parliament who is now general counsel and senior government adviser at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, was one of dozens of wide-ranging presenters at the seventh annual Limmud Ottawa festival of Jewish learning, arts and culture, November 20.
Marceau was sharing polling results on what Canadians think about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and about the Jewish community.
“Canadians think that Israelis live on another planet … If Canadians think Israelis aren’t like us, they won’t support us,” he said.
Marceau told a full social hall that, if people want to make a difference, they should become politically active, highlight Israeli contributions and compassion, speak out to the media, leverage existing connections, focus on opinion leaders, highlight Israeli diversity and culture, and “tell your Israeli story.
“But start by building a relationship.”
The daylong festival, which included lunch prepared by Babi’s Restaurant and an exhibition of original works by local Jewish artists, started and ended with Israeli dancing led by Hannah Bernstein.
“She taught two dances that people did not know, and, six minutes later, we were dancing together,” said participant Cathy Sigler.
Also in a musical vein, Roslyn Schwartz performed original songs on Jewish themes while the Musica Ebraica choir presented a lively program showing the influence of Jews in musical theatre, complete with a rousing solo from “Fiddler on the Roof” by Joel Yan as Tevye.
Eli Ovits, the London-based executive director of Limmud International, was in attendance at Limmud Ottawa enjoying many of the sessions. There are now Limmud festivals taking place in 43 countries around the world.
Among the presentations were several popular panel discussions. Stephen Bindman moderated a session on Jewish journalism that included Ottawa Jewish Bulletin editor Michael Regenstreif, columnist Barbara Crook, and CBC radio news anchor Laurence Wall.
Many of the topics addressed were spurred by audience questions.
“In general we strive to be balanced and fair. We get criticism from both sides,” said Wall in response to a question about CBC news coverage of Israel.
Asked to explain the Bulletin’s policy on publishing dissenting opinions about Israel, Regenstreif said the Bulletin welcomes a diversity of opinion on Israel and Israeli issues in its columns and in guest columns and letters submitted by community members, but stops short of publishing opinion pieces submitted by organizations and individuals supporting efforts to delegitimize the state. As an example, he pointed out that columns by both Crook and himself took Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to task for what they regarded as racist “dog whistle” comments during the last election campaign.
Another panel discussion addressed “how millennials are defining the future of the Jewish community.”
Panelist Stacy Goldstein called attention to the Glebe Shul, a JET group for young professionals she co-founded with her husband, Rabbi Michael Goldstein. The group found success, she said, by offering “authentic Jewish experiences” for young Jewish adults.
Other presentations included a discussion on criminal responsibility and mental disorders in Canadian and Jewish law with forensic psychiatrist Jonathan Gray; a tour and explanation of the mikvah with Rivka Finkelstein; and a lecture about how a number of Canadian Jews influenced the creation of the Canadian Charter of Rights by law professor Adam Dodek.
A number of sessions in the afternoon were specifically geared to young people. Rabbi Deborah Zuker led a discussion on “the Jewish values that guide the choices we make in a digital world,” while Israeli Shinshinim Noga Weiss and Canaf Achituv described their year-long work in Ottawa as a “living bridge” between Israel and young people in our community.
“I think it’s wonderful to see everyone in the Ottawa Jewish community, and to know Limmud is also happening around the world,” said attendee Linda Slotin as she moved from one hour-long session to the next.
Perhaps the hardest thing about attending Limmud was deciding which session to attend at any given moment.
“With up to seven sessions running at the same time, it’s hard to choose from among all the presentations,” said attendee Sheila Baslaw.