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New film about 94-year old Holocaust survivor Isaac Gotfried premieres at Berney Theatre

Panelists following presentation of the film about Isaac Gotfried (l-r): Kaitlin Medeiros (former student at J.H. Bruns Collegiate; Tim Beyak, teacher at J.H. Bruns; Isaac Gotfried

By BERNIE BELLAN
For 94-year-old Isaac Gotfried. telling the story how he survived three years in various slave labour and concentration camps during World War II has been his mission in life for over 26 years now.
In 2018 I recorded a talk Isaac gave to 32 Muslim students from a school in St. Boniface. A video of that session can be seen on our website at http://jewishpostandnews.ca/ categories-media/78-shoah/227-isaac-gotfried. During that talk Isaac noted that, at that point in his life, he estimated that he had spoken at over 100 schools to over 20,000 students.

 

 

 

This past Wednesday, March 11, an audience in the Berney Theatre had the opportunity to watch a brand new film which also showed Isaac interacting with students from a different school, this time J.H. Bruns Collegiate, which is also in St. Boniface.
The occasion was the world premiere of a new film titled “Tikkun Olam”. The film was produced by Yolanda Papini-Pollock, who is not only the founder of Winnipeg Friends of Israel, she is a documentary film maker of some renown who, four years ago, produced an excellent documentary about four survivors of different genocides titled “Never Again: A Broken Promise”.
This time though, Yolanda took a more sophisticated approach to her film about Isaac Gotfried, inter splicing footage and stills from World War II with scenes of Isaac meeting students from J.H. Bruns last spring and this past fall.
The film is partly narrated by a student by the name of Kaitlin Medeiros, who graduated from J.H. Bruns last year. It also focuses on the efforts of a teacher by the name of Tim Beyak to introduce teaching about the Holocaust to students whose understanding of what went on in World War II was somewhat limited. According to Beyak, after he was introduced to Yolanda Papini-Pollock over two years ago, the idea for making this particular film took root. To give the students in the film quite a bit of credit, however, many of the students whom we see during the course of the film were well aware of what the Holocaust was prior to meeting Isaac. As one might expect though, the details that Isaac Gotfried shared with them about his own personal experiences came as a total shock to the vast majority of them. One scene in particular – when Isaac describes the depravity of Ilsa Koch, who was the commandant of Buchenwald concentration camp, and who was known as the “Bitch of Buchenwald”, the students’ mouths were left agape.
In my 2018 story about Isaac Gotfried, I referred to Isaac’s having seen Koch in person and his description of her own particular brand of sadism: “…Isaac came face to face with the ‘Bitch of Buchenwald’ – Ilse Koch, a woman who was so sadistic that she would choose men to sleep with during the night, then have them shot the next morning.” In the film Koch’s penchant for taking the skins of those men and turning them into lampshades is shown in graphic detail.
Isaac Gotfried has written his autobiography, “Lucky to Survive”, which was published in 2017. In introducing her film to the Berney Theatre audience, filmmaker Yolanda Papini-Pollock told the audience that “Isaac was a young boy (living in Poland) when the Nazis invaded.” (He would have been 13.)
“Despite everything that happened to him though,” Yolanda continued, “Isaac considers himself lucky. He has dedicated his life to sharing his story with students of all ages.”
The film doesn’t recount too much of the detail of what happened to Isaac during the war, although he does tell one harrowing story to the students at J.H. Bruns that he has told to thousands of students before, and about which I wrote in my 2018 article about Isaac:
“Toward the end of his captivity, Isaac said, one night, when he was sleeping in his bunk – and there were eight men assigned to bunks designed to hold only two, he had a pain on his side and he wanted to turn over to the other side. He tried to move the man next to him so that he could turn over, but the man didn’t move. He was dead. So Isaac said he turned back to the man on his other side; he, too, was dead.
“ ‘I was sleeping between two corpses,’ Isaac said to the students.”
Within the documentary, “Tikkun Olam”, we learn that there is a subtext to the story of Isaac meeting with students at J.H. Bruns, and that is the hugely diverse backgrounds of the students themselves. There are students from all over the globe represented in the film – including one transsexual student who relates their own particular experience of having been bullied at school. Later, when asked what their takeaway is after having met Isaac, many of the students say that they have a newfound appreciation of what it means to be discriminated against.
Later, after the movie was shown, Isaac Gotfried sat on the stage with Tim Beyak and Kaitlin Medeiros, and the three of them fielded questions from the audience.
One of the questions related to the point of what was the impression left with the students at J.H. Bruns after having met Isaac: “Did you see a change in attitude toward bullying after Isaac spoke at your school?” the questioner asked
Kaitlin Medeiros responded: “For sure – I think seeing something as traumatic as the Holocaust makes you realize how trivial your own problems seem.”
Following the showing of the film and the question and answer session audience members gathered in the Berney Theatre foyer for refreshments – and a chance to meet Isaac and buy his book. I asked Yolanda Papini-Pollock whether she has plans to show the film at other venues.
Yolanda explained that, due to the COBID-19 virus, 27 residents of the Shaftesbury Retirement Residence who had planned on attending the Berney Theatre for the premiere of the film were unfortunately kept from boarding their bus. As a result plans are being made to show the film at the Shaftesbury itself.
As well, Yolanda said, she will be sending the film to various film festivals around the county and it will be one of the films shown at the upcoming Rady JCC Jewish Film Festival. Yolanda added that she is hoping to find an educational distributor who will show the film at more schools.

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Simkin Centre looking for volunteers

A scene from last year's Simkin Stroll

We received the following email from Heather Blackman, Simkin Centre Director of Volunteers & Resident Experience:

Happy Spring Everyone! Hope you all are well. We have a number of upcoming volunteer opportunities that I wanted to share with you. Please take a look at what we have listed here and let me know if you are available for any of the following. I can be reached at heather.blackman@simkincentre.ca or 204-589-9008.
Save the date! The Simkin Stroll is on June 25th this year and we need tons of volunteers to assist. This is our annual fundraiser and there is something for everyone to help with from walking with Residents in the Stroll to manning booths and tables, event set up and take down and much more. Volunteers will be needed from 3 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on this day. Come and help for the full event or for any period within that timeframe that works for you.
Resident Store – This tuck shop style cart will be up for business shortly. Residents will be assisting to stock and run the store for 2 hours 2- 3 times per week in the afternoons. Volunteer support is needed to assist residents with restocking items and monetary transactions.
Passover Volunteers
Volunteers are needed to assist with plating Seder plates for Residents (date to be determined for plating)
Volunteers are needed to assist Residents to and from Passover Services and Come and Go Teas.
Times volunteers are needed for services/teas:
April 22cnd – First Seder 1:30-3:30 p.m.
April 23rd – Passover Service Day 1 – 9:30 – 11:30 a.m.
April 23rd – Second Seder – 1:30-3:30 p.m.
April 24th – Passover Service – Day 2 9:30 – 11:30 a.m.
April 29th – Passover Service – 9:30 – 11:30 a.m.
April 29th- Passover Tea – 1:30-3:30 p.m.
April 30th – Passover Service – 9:30 -11:30 a.m.
April 30th – Passover Tea – 1:30-3:30 p.m.

Admin/Paperwork Volunteers – Volunteers are needed to assist with filing and other administrative duties. A monthly volunteering job is also available to input information on programming into Recreation activity calendars. Support would be provided for this.
Adult Day Program – A volunteer is needed to assist with the Mondays Adult Day Program Group. A regular ongoing weekly commitment on Mondays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Assist with Recreation programming and lunch supervision for our Adult Day Program participants that come in from the community for the day.
Biking Volunteers – Take our residents out for a spin on one of our specialty mobility bicycles. Training is provided and volunteers will be needed throughout the Spring, Summer and early Fall.

With summer coming there is also opportunity to assist with outings and other outdoor programming! Please let me know if you are interested!

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From Argentina to Winnipeg – creating opportunities in the IT sector for marginalized groups

By BERNIE BELLAN The following article about Pablo Listingart borrows heavily from articles written by Rebeca Kuropatwa in 2019 and 2021 for The Jewish Post & News. It is also based on a recent phone interview I conducted with Pablo, as well as material we received from a publicist.
Back in 2012, husband and wife, Pablo Listingart and Solange Flomin began seriously thinking about leaving Argentina.
This, explained Listingart, was “because of the political situation and other aspects [that] were degrading. We also wanted to have the experience of living in another country.”
So, the couple began traveling to explore other countries. They went to the U.S., but did not feel it was a good fit. Then, they went to several countries in Europe, but with a similar result.
Next up was Canada. “My wife had a cousin living in Vancouver and she spoke really highly about Canada,” said Listingart. “We started doing our research and sent emails to several Jewish communities. A couple answered, but communication with Winnipeg was more responsive.”
In October 2013 Listingart visited Winnipeg (while Flomin was pregnant with their first child). “After only two days, I fell in love with the city, the brown of the trees, how quiet it was,” said Listingart. “So, I called Sol and told her that this was the place.”
When Listingart returned to Argentina, he and Flomin started working on their application. The process took 10 months, as their son was born in the middle of the process.
The family made their move to Winnipeg in early March 2015.
Flomin and Listingart feel at home in Winnipeg. “We feel more Canadian than Argentinean, with cultures, values, and everything,” said Listingart. “That is the reason we are here, actually. We did not come for economic reasons. We didn’t feel that comfortable in terms of values and principles back there. Once I came here, I fell in love with the Canadian culture and values.”

Listingart had started up a charity in Argentina in 2011 that taught participants how to do software development. In Winnipeg, Flomin urged him to create the same kind of start up.
Today, Listingart’s charities, called Comunidad IT & ComIT, have operations in Latin America and Canada.
As an immigrant himself, Pablo explains that he started ComIT after immigrating from Argentina to Manitoba and seeing a gap in Canada’s education system. He noticed many individuals working survival jobs to help support their families, unable to get the training they wanted to better their positions.

In response, he developed a market-driven curriculum that he initially delivered to students by covering expenses himself. In 2016, Pablo Listingart became the founder and executive director of ComIT, a Canadian non-profit organization that offers free technology and professional skills training to unemployed and underemployed Canadians, with a focus on Indigenous, immigrants, visible minorities, and underserved communities. The charity aims to develop a community that links people struggling to overcome employment barriers with companies looking for skilled workers.
Women take up the majority of his enrolment. Many of them feel they can’t enter into a traditional program to enhance their educational skills due to barriers like limited access to funding, training locations, professional requirements, also family obligations, and lack of childcare. ComIT’s curriculum is designed to appeal to people who fall into that category by being free of charge, available online, and taught for only parts of the day.

Listingart and Flomin began running the charity together around raising their two kids.
“I had worked for several companies, like Microsoft, IBM, and others,” said Listingart. “Back in 2011, I thought about giving back to the community and society, and so I decided to start this charity. Those years back in Argentina were kind of busy and, with all the political issues over there, we decided to migrate here to Winnipeg.”
With the perpetually expanding operation of their growing charity, Listingart, as the charity’s executive director, was kept busy, and for the first few years of operating ComIT he even found time to build mobile applications and websites, but these days Listingart says that running ComIT takes up his full time.

ComIT in Canada began by running pilot programs in Winnipeg and in Kitchener-Waterloo. In Winnipeg, Listingart ran the classes with the support of ICTAM (now TechMB), and, in Kitchener-Waterloo, two of the main Canadian sponsors were Communitech and Google.
“That went really well, in terms of people getting jobs, so I kept doing it,” said Listingart. ComIT jumped from offering two courses to 22 courses per year – covering all the Canadian territory.
By 2023 Comunidad IT and ComIT had helped 4500 people find jobs (1200 in Canada). “Unfortunately,” Listingart explained, “people drop out for different reasons through the process, so we are not able to help everyone who joins the courses.” During our phone interview Listingart said that his charities have now trained over 6,500 students altogether.
“About 70 percent get jobs within six months of the training,” said Listingart. “We follow up with them, help them with their resumés…We have a free platform companies can access and see the resumés.”
Training is conducted in classrooms and online. “The impact is always bigger in person”, said Listingart. “We started developing content to be delivered online prior to the pandemic, mostly for Latin America, as a way to reach people we couldn’t physically reach, not having the funds to go to 15 countries, and then during the pandemic we developed even more content to continue running our training.”
While Listingart would love to be able to operate everywhere around the world, financially, that is not yet viable, but he was able to expand what he offers to all of Latin America and across Canada.

Listingart is no longer teaching in the program, due to a lack of time, though he does visit the classes when he is able. While only two years ago, ComIT was training 300 people a year in its courses in Canada, it has now grown to the point where 600 people a year are taking courses from ComIT.
As Listingart told me, “We actually doubled the number of students we had when I talked to Rebecca (in 2021). What happened, he explained, was “we were in the middle of the pandemic and we moved all the training online due to COVID. We are still running courses online, and that has allowed us to reach out to more people.”
“So nowadays we have students from Prince Edward Island to the Yukon,” Listingart added.
I asked Listingart where the funding for ComIT comes from?
He answered that most of it comes from the private sector, but a portion comes from a federal government agency known as PrairiesCan.
So, how exactly does ComIT conduct classes? I wondered.
Training is conducted by instructors in classrooms or online, where they reach their students via Zoom.
At ComIT, all training is provided free of charge. Trainees can hold a full-time job, while training in the evenings or mornings for only a couple of hours a day for three months.
While right now ComIT is conducting eight different classes, Listingart explained,\ – “with eight different instructors,” because “we run different topics along the year, it’s usually between 12 to 15 people that get involved in teaching courses.”
And what do students learn in those courses?
The program consists of three months of intensive instruction in various fields related to software programming.
“Most of the people that we train go on to be programmers,” Listingart said, adding that the majority of our graduates become software developers or website designers,” adding that “some are working in cybersecurity or other hardware related fields.”
The minimum age to register for a ComIT program is only 18 and there is no prerequisite level of education required.
While a good many of ComIT students are immigrants who may lack the kind of English language skills necessary to be hired by many employers, ComIT also has many Indigenous students as well as non-indigenous Canadians who are struggling.
Still, as Listingart says, students in the program have to be able to communicate. They “don’t need perfect English,” he adds, “they don’t even need a mid-level English,” but they do need “some basic communication skills.”
But it’s not simply a matter of someone applying to take ComIT courses and being automatically accepted, Listingart explained.
“We ask them (prospective students) a lot of questions,” he said. “We ask them what their goals are, like, if they are pursuing a career in IT or if they are interested in that… many things to gauge their interest. Those conversations help us understand whether these people can communicate with others.”
When it comes to finding jobs for graduates of the ComIT program, Listingart says that he and other members of his team meet with local employers who are looking for IT talent and discuss their exact needs within the industry.”
“We train them in what companies need right now,” said Listingart. “So, let’s say I go to Saskatoon and I talk to 10 or 15 companies over there…about 70 percent get jobs within six months of the training,” he noted. “We follow up with them, help them with their resumés…We have a free platform companies can access and see the resumés.”
Skip the Dishes, for instance, was on the fence for a very short time. They hired five out of seven ComIT trainees almost on the spot after they were interviewed – and soon after, the company became one of the charity’s local sponsors. To date, Skip the Dishes has hired 55 ComIT-trained students.
“My goal, so to speak…is to give opportunity to people who can’t afford other types of training and give them a first chance,” said Listingart. “We mention this at the beginning of every course. They only have one chance with us. We don’t give second chances. If they drop out for any reason, regret it, and want to come back, they can’t. I have hundreds of people on the waiting list to take courses. For me, this is a way to teach the value of work and, while doing it, you have the chance to work a job that pays well, that you can grow and learn…And, it’s not just for nerds, it’s creative work.
“My goal also has been to make the biggest impact that I can and …I’m happy with the results.”
If you are an employer interested in finding out more about ComIT or you know someone who might benefit by taking the program, visit

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Honest Reporting Canada’s Mike Fegelman delivers Kanee Lecture

Honest Reporting Canada executive director Mike Fegelman (Keith Levit photo)

By BERNIE BELLAN Mike Fegelman is the executive director and editor-in-chief of Honest Reporting Canada. Honest Reporting was founded in 2000 in the United Kingdom. It describes its mission as “to ensure truth, integrity and fairness, and to combat ideological prejudice in journalism and the media, as it impacts Israel to ensure truth, integrity and fairness, and to combat ideological prejudice in journalism and the media, as it impacts Israel.”
On Sunday, April 7, Fegelman was the keynote speaker at the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada’s annual Sol & Florence Kanee Distinguished Lecture Series.
Fegelman told the audience of about 250 at the Adas Yeshurun-Herzlia Synagogue that, before he was hired as Honest Reporting Canada’s executive director, “I knew nothing about Israel. I was hired because I was objective.”
Honest Reporting Canada “monitors news media 24 hours a day,” Fegelman said. With only a staff of six (including Fegelman), he said that they field on average 600-700 inquiries a day about alleged instances of media bias within Canadian media.
When HRC sees instances of what it perceives to be instances of unfair or biased reporting about Israel, it attempts to contact the journalist responsible for that “misinformation” or, as was the case with a particularly odious cartoon in La Presse of Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu depicted as a vampire, the paper itself was contacted and asked to issue a retraction of that cartoon and apology. (The cartoon has since been removed from La Presse’s website and La Presse did issue an apology.)

While Honest Reporting Canada might make the claim that its mission is to monitor news media in Canada for bias toward Israel and what it would regard as “unfair reporting,” however, after listening to Fegelman’s 45-minute talk – and especially to some of the responses he gave to questions from the audience following his talk, one might question the degree to which he himself is as “objective” as he claimed to be.
One particular subject was mentioned several times: the reporting by the Gaza Health Ministry on how many Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched its retaliatory war following the Hamas-led massacre of 240 Israelis on October 7.
At one point Fegelman said that “we have to point out the fact Hamas provides no evidence to corroborate their claims (as to how many Palestinians have been killed). Media should at least acknowledge Israel’s claim that 15,000 of those killed are terrorists.”
Various reports, however, have cited Israeli intelligence officials as confirming that the Israel Defence Forces actually accept the Gaza Health Ministry’s figures for the number of casualties in the ongoing conflict. For instance, there was this report about what was reported on a Hebrew-language website in Israel: “Two Israeli intelligence officials who spoke to the Hebrew-language Local Call news website said the health ministry is mostly ‘reliable’ and their main source of statistics on civilian deaths in Gaza.”
Fegelman said that when it is reported that “33,000 Palestinians have been killed,” as reported by the “Gaza Health Ministry,” that health ministry “doesn’t distinguish between civilians and combatants.” Further, Fegelman asked: “Are some of the children killed actually child soldiers?” The problem is, absent any verifiable information from the IDF on this point, how do we know?
The problem, moreover, which Fegelman didn’t address, is absent any contradictory information coming from Israeli sources themselves about civilian deaths, what are media supposed to report?
So, when a questioner later said to Fegelman, “All people see on TV is dead babies. Can you give us some language to use in response?” Fegelman admitted “there isn’t an easy answer for the things Israel has had to do.”

My bringing this up is not to begin engaging in a series of “fact checks” on what Fegelman said during his talk. Rather, it is to show that “bias” and “unfair reporting” is something that can be continually argued – and perhaps by entering into a dissection of every instance of what Honest Reporting Canada might regard as anti-Israel bias, Fegelman – and the audience members who so strongly applauded his remarks, are all missing the larger picture, which is that Israel has, and is taking a terrible beating in world public opinion – not because of bias or distorted reporting, but because of the huge losses in both lives and property that Palestinians in Gaza have suffered – and the images that are there for the entire world to see.

One might argue that Israel had no choice: It had to deal such a severe blow to Hamas that the amount of destruction that has occurred in Gaza is justified, but to argue that “the war for public opinion is no less important than the war on the ground,” as Fegelman suggested at one point – well Mike, if that’s the case, then Israel has lost that war. The more honest assessment would be that, in an existential battle for survival, which is what some would argue is a fair description of the war in which Israel is currently engaged, then public opinion matters very little to Israeli decision makers.

Before entering into a more detailed description of what Fegelman had to say, I have to enter a particular objection toward what both he and several audience members had to say about the supposed “anti-Israel bias” exhibited by the Winnipeg Free Press. This subject has become one that has been raised quite a bit over the past few months within certain circles within the local Jewish community – especially after a controversial column by Jen Zoratti.
But, to say, as Fegelman did, that “the Free Press has an anti-Israel narrative on its op ed pages” – without providing any specific examples to warrant that accusation, is nothing more than an instance of Fegelman engaging in the kind of bias that Honest Reporting Canada accuses Canadian media outlets of exhibiting when it comes to reporting on Israel.

Still, in the interest of attempting to give readers the flavour of Fegelman’s talk, I will offer some of the remarks he made without entering into any further discussion whether what he had to say had merit.
Fegelman began by claiming that “media commentators are often parroting Hamas and are, in effect, becoming stenographers for this group.” He suggested we “need to challenge misinformation and disinformation.”
While Honest Reporting may have originated in the United Kingdom in 2000, “its genesis (in Canada) was just a few blocks away,” Fegelman explained. “We were founded (in Canada) by the late Izzy Asper,” he noted.
With specific reference to the Toronto Star, Fegelman suggested we have seen instances “of Canada’s largest paper calling for Israel’s annihilation” on its editorial pages by advocating for a one-state solution.

In reporting on the current Gaza war, Fegelman argued, “it’s increasingly difficult to tell who is the arsonist and who is the fire fighter?”
‘The media want to run with the most sensational story,” he said, “but part of our mandate is to educate journalists.”
“The sympathy for Israel following the October 7 massacre lasted all but a few minutes,” he suggested.
“This is a war between barbarism and civilization,” Fegelman said.
He referred to a famous remark made by Golda Meir with reference to the Yom Kippur War in 1973: “The world hates us when a Jew lashes out. The world loves us only when we are to be pitied.”
“The world is horribly indifferent to Jewish blood being spilled,” Fegelman observed.

We are making sure that when there are those who seek to libel the Jewish people, we have to fight back,” Fegelman said, “but knowing how to challenge disinformation is enormously difficult.”
Still, he argued, “We cannot let our opposition have a monopoly on discourse.”
“The war for public opinion is no less important than the war on the ground. If we lose, Israel will go down as the perceived villain.”
When it comes to civilian casualties, however, Fegelman claimed that “Israel deplores each and every innocent life that is taken.”
Saying that, in some ways, “Hamas is worse than ISIS,” Fegelman argued that “when hate becomes normalized, it becomes weaponized….We are in a genocidal propaganda war the likes of which we have never seen….Too many media outlets, whether it’s out of malice or of ignorance, have been spreading misinformation.”
When it comes to fighting back though, Fegelman argued, “We are not just passive victims – but like a muscle, if you do not use it, it becomes atrophied.”

Turning to the subject of social media, Fegelman observed that “Yesterday’s bigots used to be on the margins of mainstream social media; now they’re in the mainstream.”
“We cannot be afraid to tell the world what Hamas’s raison d’etre is – which is to seek an Islamic caliphate.”
But, what then “is the answer to media bias?” Fegelman asked. “We cannot rely on the old playbook,” he said.
Instead, he proposed five pillars of action:

  1. “We cannot project fear. We have to project resilience and instil Jewish pride.”
  2. “We must demand that we procure consistency” (from our elected representatives). Fegelman referred specifically to the recent resolution passed in the House of Commons when, among other things, Members of Parliament voted to restore funding to UNWRA.
  3. “We must demand that people speak up and speak out” against media when the media demonstrate indefensible behaviour. As an example, Fegelman pointed to the photograph of Hamas victim Shani Louk’s badly mutilated body in the back of a Hamas truck, which won a prestigious photography award. (It should be pointed out that Shani’s own father defended the photo as a “symbol” of an era.)
  4. “We have to make an alternative view impossible to ignore.”
  5. “We must avoid self-imposed limitations on our advocacy. We must not only project strength, we must possess it, too.”

As a result of “the obsessive magnifying glass being put on Israel,” Fegelman suggested, “terrorism is being accepted as a legitimate means of statecraft.”

Although many Jews may be in a state of despair these days, Fegelman told this story to illustrate how Israel has endured bleak situations before: When President Biden was a senator, he had occasion to visit Israel shortly before the Yom Kippur War, when he met with then-Prime Minister Golda Meir. After being shown maps which showed how precarious Israel’s security situation was, apparently Biden’s face showed how worried he was.
“Don’t look so worried,” Golda told Biden. “We have a secret weapon: We have no place else to go.”

In describing what Honest Reporting Canada has been able to accomplish, Fegelman said, “We have 60,000 subscribers.” (To subscribe to HRC’s reports, simply go to its website at https://honestreporting.ca and click on the “subscribe” button.) “We all have the power of agency,” he added.
“We may not see the elimination of antisemitism in our lifetimes,” he said, “but we have to push it to the margins.”
“If not now, when? The answer is now.”

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