By BERNIE BELLAN The emergence of antisemitism on university campuses on Canada since the Hamas massacre of October 7 has shocked and saddened much of the Jewish community.
Whether it’s ongoing rallies and demonstrations against Israel, Jewish students being bullied and threatened, or – perhaps what has come to be one of the most insidious forms of Jew hatred – the vehement denunciations of Israel by academics who refuse to countenance opposing views, university campuses in both the United States and Canada have become hostile environments for Jews, both students and teachers.
On Thursday, November 30, Professor Bryan Schwartz of the University of Manitoba Law School, engaged in a dialogue with Dr. Ruth Ashrafi, Regional Director Manitoba, B’nai Brith Canada about the subject of campus antisemitism. The setting was the Berney Theatre at an event organized by Winnipeg Friends of Israel and B’nai Brith Canada, which drew a very large crowd, made up of a good mix of younger and older members of the community, along with many individuals from outside the community as well.
Prof. Schwartz is certainly good for some choice quotes, but much of his analysis of what is happening to Jews as a group certainly leaned toward being heavily pessimistic and, when it came to offering advice how to combat campus antisemitism well, frankly, he didn’t have much to suggest in the way of concrete advice beyond extolling the merits of a free exchange of ideas.
In fact, Prof. Schwartz repeated the expression “Jews don’t count” several times during the evening, explaining what he meant by saying that is “there aren’t a lot of Jews to count.” If it’s simply a matter of Jews being outnumbered, however, then there isn’t much that can be said to counter the torrent of antisemitism that’s been unleashed. But, as I note in my Short takes column in this edition, a professor at Columbia University by the name of Shai Davidai has achieved a high degree of recognition as the result of a Youtube video that was posted of him denouncing the administration of Columbia University for enabling antisemitism on that campus.
Frankly, Prof. Haskell Greenfield, who’s head of the Judaic Studies program at the University of Manitoba, has also been urging a much stronger stand be taken against university administrators who wring their hands and resist denouncing antisemitism on their campuses – and that includes the president of the University of Manitoba, even more so the president of the University of Winnipeg – which has a shocking number of so-called “expert” academics for whom an open exchange of ideas is anathema.
With reference to what it’s like being a university professor who is willing to stand up for Israel, Prof. Schwartz admitted,: “It’s pretty lonely where I am.” The much easier route to follow, Prof. Schwartz suggested, is for academics who want to further their career ambitions to join in on the piling on of Israel.
“What’s easy is going along to get along,” he said. “It’s a safe environment to follow the official doctrine.”
In introducing Prof. Schwartz, Dr. Ashrafi noted that he has just authored a recently-published book titled, “Reenlightening Canada” which, although it was written prior to October 7, sheds a great deal of light on the dire situation in which so many Jews, especially students on university campuses, now find themselves.
In his opening remarks, however, Prof. Schwartz set the tone for what proved to be a deeply depressing outlook on what the future holds, not only for Jewish students on campuses, but for Jews everywhere
“The arc of history is not trending toward Jewish survival,” he suggested. Later in the evening he added this: “I can’t think of another civilization that’s facing extinction as we are.”
“A university is supposed to be a place where you excel based on your excellence,” Prof. Schwartz said. “That was the only criterion in which Jews have been able to survive.”
Now, however, the ideology at universities has become dominated by what he described as “DEI”: Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion.
What’s been happening, Prof. Schwartz explained, is that campuses have been applying litmus tests for would-be academics based on how well they score on the criteria of DEI. Later in the evening, he repeated his condemnation of the sweeping trend toward DEI on university campuses, noting that there are entire bureaucracies at universities “largely hostile to Israel,” populated by DEI officers. He opined, “The Woke industrial complex is a big business. DEI is a big business.”
Dr. Ashrafi spoke of a book by someone by the name of David Batthil, who is a British comedian. A couple of years ago Batthil wrote something called “Jews Don’t Count: How Identity Politics Failed One Particular Identity.”
As Batthil points out in his book, and as Dr. Ashrafi explained to the audience, “Jews are white (strike one), privileged (strike two), and part of the structure of white hegemony” (strike”(strike three) – to use the stereotypical description of Jews now so popular with “Woke” academia.
Since October 7 we’ve now seen how it’s become fashionable for so many members of academe to engage in those tropes. It’s as if the events of the past two months have unleashed pent-up feelings of hatred toward Jews that were bubbling under the surface, but which many might have been embarrassed to admit prior.
Returning to Prof. Schwartz’s dire warning that Jews are on the wane, he recited some figures to back up that contention.
“There is a worldwide shortage of Jews,” he observed. “Jews make up 2 percent of the world’s population.’ (I did some fact checking: There are 14 million Jews in the world. There are 2.38 billion Christians and 1.8 billion Muslims.) “The myth is we’re so powerful…What difference does it make to the people in power?… It’s very career enhancing to criticize Israel.”
Dr. Ashrafi asked Prof. Schwartz about Jews finding themselves in quandaries wondering now about the financial support so many have given to universities – and what should they do going forward ?
Prof. Schwartz used an interesting analogy – that seemed to perplex most of the audience, when he responded that many Jews are now having a “Colonel Nicholson moment.”
He explained that Colonel Nicholson was a character in the movie, “Bridge Over the River Kwai” (played by Alec Guinness) who, upon realizing that he had been aiding and abetting the Japanese enemy by helping to construct a bridge that was intended solely to prolong the Japanese war effort, asked himself: “What have I done?”
That is what many Jewish donors to academic institutions must now be asking themselves, Prof. Schwartz observed. (Again, I refer to Prof. Shai Davidai of Columbia University, who offers a clear prescription for how Jewish donors to academic institutions should respond to what is happening on campuses everywhere. He suggests that you not call or write to your alma mater or favoured institution saying you’re not going to be making a donation; rather, he says, “Wait until they call you, then say no.” However, I’m writing this in the same issue where Myron Love profiles the University of Manitoba’s Jewish Vice-President, Donor Relations. There is some irony there.)
Prof. Schwartz offered an imaginary description of a Jewish student applying for advancement at a typical university these days. When asked about their background and the student says, “I went to Jewish school, to Jewish summer camp, and to Israel, and my parents are well-to-do – it’s not going to do a lot for you when it comes to passing the DEI litmus test.”
Instead of donating to universities, Prof. Schwartz suggested, “Jewish donors should expend some of their energy and goodwill making sure the next generation of Jews will survive,” by insuring that anyone who wants to send their kids to a Jewish school will be able to do so regardless of their income.
He also recommended looking to the concept of “free universities,” where no tuition would be charged. Instead, they would be supported by donations, but where a free exchange of ideas would be guaranteed, not hampered by notions of political correctness
Prof. Schwartz turned to the subject of religion, suggesting that “the Jewish religion is a lot more tolerant than the ‘Woke’ religion.”
“There were many flawed characters in the Bible,” he observed, pointing to King David as an example.
“The Talmud is a record of debates,” he added, whereas “Woke religion is a substitute for many forms of religiosity.”
As for the Jews who have been joining the pro-Hamas crowd, Prof. Schwartz offered this pithy comment: “What good is an anti-Israel demonstration without a ‘show Jew’?”
At that point, Dr. Ashrafi said she wanted to entertain questions from the audience. I happened to be sitting right near where Adriana Glickmann of B’nai Brith was holding the mobile mic, so I motioned for Adriana to hand me the mic. (I’m usually too shy to ask questions – well, maybe not.)
I asked Prof. Schwartz about a story that had just appeared in that day’s Free Press – about a University of Manitoba nursing student who had been suspended for one year from the program, allegedly over anti-Semitic posts on her Instagram account.
I said that I was shocked that university administrators actually took steps to sanction a student over anti-Semitic posts and I wondered whether perhaps the U of M Faculty of Nursing administration had shown other administrators at universities here how to respond to anti-Semitic behaviour?
Prof. Schwartz responded that he wasn’t able to comment about that particular case because he didn’t have all the “facts,” saying “I have to learn more…Merely having a non-conforming view is not sufficient” grounds for punishment, he suggested.
He added though, that “if we had an atmosphere of free discussion, then the Jewish cause would do quite well.”
Someone asked Prof. Schwartz if he could distinguish between free speech and hate speech?
He responded: “In practice, free speech means you have the freedom to denounce Israel.”
He did go on to offer a scholarly review of how the Supreme Court has approached the subject of “hate speech,” suggesting that the court takes a very narrow view of what might constitute hate speech, saying that it has to constitute “hate toward an identifiable group.”
Another questioner wondered “why aren’t there reasonable limits being placed on spewing antisemitism?”
Prof. Schwartz suggested that “being a university president doesn’t prevent you from speaking up.” He added though, that “Jewish faculty are afraid to speak up. You want to be an academic and not get pilloried. What’s easy is going along to get along. It’s a safe environment to follow the official doctrine.” (That certainly doesn’t apply to Prof. Haskell Greenfield, who has been actively pressing the administration at the U of M to do much more to protect Jewish students and faculty on campus by, for instance, clamping down on pro-Palestinian demonstrations that have been organized by groups that have no standing at that campus.)
Prof. Schwartz added: “The President of the U of W can say something about events where there’s no balance,” such as that marathon hatefest toward “genocidal, colonial, imperalist Israel” conducted by seven U of W professors on Friday, November 24.
On the other hand, Prof. Schwartz observed, anyone who dares to take a stand in favour of a balanced presentation has to be thinking: “What’s in it for me?”
Similarly, “if you want to get your grant money” you many come to the realization that “Jews aren’t actually powerful” and viciously attacking Israel isn’t going to hurt you monetarily.
Dr. Ashrafi observed that she’s seen “students kicked off Zoom conferences because they voiced support for Israel.” Nevertheless, she added: “We are resilient. We do not give up. We hold people to account. That’s what we do at B’nai Brith.”
Prof. Schwartz concluded with this assessment: “We’re not going to win the censorship debate where we’re arguing about censoring this, censoring that. The only hope is that in an atmosphere of free discussion the truth will prevail.”
Tom Traves: From the north end to the presidency of several Canadian universities
By GERRY POSNER There haven’t been lot of Jewish presidents of Canadian universities.
To be clear, there have been some, but not as many as one might expect – given how many Jewish academics we’ve had in Canada over the years.
One person who made the short list of Jewish university presidents in this country has been none other than a former Winnipegger – right out of the north end of Winnipeg: Tom Traves. Now retired, Traves had a long and distinguished career in the university setting as President of Dalhousie University in Halifax, serving for 18 years in that position.
Traves’s tenure as Dalhousie president followed a four-year term as Vice- President of the University of New Brunswick. But, if you read the CV of Tom Traves, you can understand how this came to be.
Tom was a graduate of the University of Manitoba with a B.A. ( Hons.) in 1970, followed by an M.A. from York in 1973, and a Ph.D., also from York, in 1976.
Tom began his teaching career at York (where he spent many years) in 1974 as a lecturer, then as an associate professor, from 1976 to 1991. From 1981 to 1983, Tom was the Chairman of the Division of Social Science at York. He was soon appointed, in 1983, as Dean of the Faculty of Arts, where he served until 1991. From York Tom moved to the University of New Brunswick, where he became both Vice President (Academic) and a Professor of History, from 1991 to 1995.
Then, in 1995, Traves was invited to be the President and Vice- Chancellor of Dalhousie University for a six year term. When that term ended, Tom was appointed again for another six year term. And still later, in 2007 – for yet a third term of three years. When that ended, he was renewed for another three year term. Would you not agree that Tom Traves and Dalhousie had a strong connection, to put it mildly? Just to lend credence to this statement, it was during the Tom Traves tenure that enrolment at Dalhousie grew by over forty percent and external research grants and contract income increased by over three hundred percent. Now, those are impressive statistics. Perhaps the most telling assessment of Traves during his time at Dalhousie is a comment made by a former member of the University’s Board of Governors, who noted that Traves had been at the centre of a fund raising campaign which raised over $250 million during his time at Dalhousie, the highest total in the history of the province. When asked about Traves and his successor, Richard Florizone, this board member called them both remarkable individuals: “I would hire them for my company in a minute, and they would make me money.”
To read through the list of books, articles and other credits of Tom Traves is more than the Jewish Post & News could put on its website, as it might overload the system. But for sure some of the highlights of his career (aside from all the boards he has sat on across New Brunswick and Nova Scotia), would be the awards and honours that have come his way. He was the recipient of an award not commonly given to Canadians: the Filosofie Hedersdocktor Honoris Causa, from Umea University in Sweden in 1997, and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Commemorative Medal in 2000. Not to be forgotten was Tom’s inclusion on the list as one of the top 50 CEOs in Atlantic Canada in 2005, 2006 and 2007. There were so many other major awards, culminating in 2014 when he was appointed to the Order of Canada.
With all of that, Traves was still in demand when he retired and moved back to Toronto in 2016. He was asked to be the Interim President of Brock University in 2016 while that university sought out a long term person to fill that position. Once he completed that role, he semi-retired, taking on consulting activities over the last number of years.
How did a quiet unassuming boy, son of Sam and Marjorie Traves (Kay), brother to the late Nancy Traves, a product of West Kildonan, advance so far and so fast? Did he show signs of this kind of superior level of scholarship and leadership in his early days? Some might answer that it was his time spent at West Kildonan Collegiate that spurred him on to greater heights. Was it perhaps his days as an undergraduate at the University of Manitoba (from 1966-1970?) No one can say for sure, but the truth is that Traves had a speedy trajectory upward and even in retirement he has moved along at a decent clip. He is quite active these days, playing Bridge, golf, and now Pickleball. In large part, he and his wife Karen (Posner), my first cousin, (and that connection to the Posner family might be the real reason for his great success) have focused time and attention on their grandson Ben, son of his daughter Julie. There are also trips to the Washington D. C area, where his son Will and his wife live, along with his oldest grandson, Daniel.
In short, the Tom Traves story is just another Winnipeg success story – if the city wishes to lay claim to it: North End Jewish boy makes good in the east. The best part of the whole story is that, if you know Tom, or just met him, you would never have an inkling of his accomplishments, so unassuming is he. That is Tom Traves.
Newly-arrived Health Sciences Centre surgeon Dr. Lev Bubis has deep roots in Winnipeg Jewish community
By MYRON LOVE Dr. Lev Bubis, the Health Sciences Centre’s new hepato-pancreato-biliary (HPB) surgeon, says that he and his family –wife, Amy, and four-year-old daughter, Ada, – are settling in quite nicely in their new home.
“We are really enjoying being here,” notes Bubis who arrived here in early October. “We have a house in south River Heights and we enjoyed being with the family for the High Holidays and Chanukah.”
Bubis is the grandson of the late Morris and Mae Bubis. And, although the young Bubis grew up in Ottawa – family members here include his aunts, Carol Arenson, Adrienne Katz and Harriet Rodin, and their families.
Bubis’s father, Mordy Bubis, left Winnipeg for Ottawa after university and the nation’s capital is where the young Bubis grew up.
He notes that he was interested in pursuing a career in medicine from an early age – although he first earned a B.A. in Philosophy at Kings College in Halifax. He did his medical training at Columbia University.
“I decided to specialize in liver and pancreatic medicine in third year when I got the opportunity to work with Dr. John Chabot, one of America’s leading pancreatic cancer specialist,” Bubis says.
After Columbia, Bubis relocated (in 2014) to Toronto, where he honed his surgical skills in liver and pancreatic surgery at the University of Toronto and St. Joseph’s Hospital. He did a six-year residency at the university, followed by two years of research and two more years training in surgical oncology.
Bubis (and family) arrived in our community in early October to begin his position at HSC. In an interview on the Health Sciences Centre Foundation website “Tell Your Story” section, which was published on December 21, Bubis noted that there were several factors that led him to come to HSC – in particular, the hospital’s commitment to minimally invasive surgery.
“I was attracted by the exceptional team that’s in place at HSC and by the fact that the hospital is really pushing things forward with minimally invasive surgery,” said Bubis in the HSCF interview. “This is where the HPB field is going and it is a real interest of mine. It’s exciting to me that the HSC Foundation is supporting this direction in surgery with capital investments.”
He explained that minimally invasive surgery is “an approach to surgery that typically relies on smaller incisions and instruments. Very small cameras allow surgeons to see their work on video monitors in high definition. Minimally invasive surgery means less pain for a patient, a quicker recovery, and a shorter hospital stay. Among other benefits, shorter hospital stays free up beds more quickly, which reduces the amount of time patients need to wait in the Emergency Department.”
Bubis has also had extensive training in treating neuroendocrine tumors, which can occur throughout the gastrointestinal tract, as well as elsewhere in the body. One of his specialties is the Whipple procedure, an operation to remove tumors and treat other conditions in the pancreas, small intestine and bile ducts. The complex procedure involves removing the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine, the gall bladder and bile duct.
Bubis points out that, at HSC, he is a member of a team that treats patients from throughout Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. He reports that he sees patients at the clinic two days a week, does surgeries one or two days a week and does some endoscopes and teaching.
He is looking forward to a lengthy stay here.
‘Put a Yid on It!’ Festival of New Yiddish Culture!
By SHIRA NEWMAN – Festival Director I am thrilled to announce the inaugural year of ‘Put a Yid on It’ Festival of New Yiddish Culture, running from February 7 to 11th. I have had the great good fortune of being the producer of this event with the guidance and support of the committee which previously brought us the wonderful festival Mamaloshen.
Like a lot of Gen X-ers, I grew up hearing a smattering of Yiddish as a child, mostly in the words of my Baba. I could not speak a word of it, but when I made my first film 10 years ago, I was for some reason drawn to include Yiddish in it and I started to dive into the history of Yiddish Cinema.
A linguist I know, hearing me wondering where this desire came from, explained to me that an ancestral language will remain ‘written in our bones’ (or unconscious memory, or genes, however we may wish to see it). This resonated with me and started me down a voyage of discovery of this 1000-year-old language and culture.
It is hard to imagine that only 80 years ago eleven million people spoke, wrote, sang, and dreamt in Yiddish. It spanned throughout all of Eastern Europe and spread wherever our people travelled. Never the majority language of a nation state but the language of a pan national community of Ashkenazi Jews ‘scattered among the nations’ enriched by and enriching so many other languages and cultures while still carrying its uniqueness with it.
Since the Second World War, Yiddish has become less common but as any Yiddishist will tell you, the idea that it is dying is wrong (if not complete heresy!). And they are very right. It is spoken by many (largely in the Hassidic community) and is continually being reclaimed by more – as can be seen by talented artists of every generation who make beautiful work inspired by the Yiddish language.
Today there is a lively re-emergence of the warm, funny, poetic language – some call it a new Yiddish Renaissance in the arts, cinema, and music. There are popular films, TV shows, successful web-series, and festivals springing up everywhere. In the world of music, you can find an amazing array of bands putting their own modern spin on classical Klezmer, and others using Yiddish in everything from Punk to Metal, to Psychedelic Rock, to Hip-Hop! Put a Yid on It! Is a celebration of this trend!
On February 7th, at 7:30 pm we will be opening with a free book launch, talk, and reception at The Handsome Daughter (61 Sherbrook Street) for a brand-new book called “Yiddish Cinema: The Drama of Troubled Communication,” featuring authors Jonah Corne and Monika Vrečar. This book offers a bold new reading of Yiddish cinema by exploring the early diasporic cinema’s fascination with media and communication. Jonah and Monika will discuss their book and the history of Yiddish cinema. (Snacks and drinks will be provided).
We have some amazing bands coming! On February 8th, Canadian Folk Music Award Winners, Beyond the Pale will be here from Toronto and will be playing at the Berney Theatre. They are a tremendous fun and lively Klezmer and Balkan Band who are known for their genius musicianship, experimentation, and playfulness. This is not your traditional Klezmer Band – they bring in a world of musical styles including reggae, jazz, bluegrass. Watching them play is truly a tour of world music. They will be bringing Yiddish classics and so much more!
On February 10th, we are partnering with the West End Cultural Centre to bring the brilliant and one-of-a-kind Yiddish (and English), Montreal Hip-Hop artist Josh ‘Socalled’ Dolgin. He will be performing with his band, which includes the mesmerizing vocalist Katie Moore, Balkan trumpet ‘God’ Nizo Alimov, and Michale Felber on bass. This is going to be an incredibly special show. His music is as evocative and moving as it is fun (and danceable).
Socalled is the star of an award-winning feature length documentary (NFB) called ‘The Socalled Movie.’ The video for his song ‘You Are Never Alone’ has been viewed more than three million times. He is truly a cultural phenomenon (and his parents are from Winnipeg!).
From February 7th to 11th, we will be presenting a series of some of the greatest Yiddish films of all time – all restored to beautiful quality. I am extremely excited to see these on a big screen for the first time! This series includes films from the 1930s, which is considered The Golden Age of Yiddish Cinema such as “Yiddle with His Fiddle” (a joyful romp of a musical comedy) on February 7th, “The Light Ahead” (a poignant social commentary) on February 8th, and “The Dybbuk” (a gorgeous Yiddish ghost story) on February 10th. It will also include “Hester Street,” from 1974, (with a Yiddish speaking Carol Kane) on February 11th. All these screenings take place at 2:00 p.m. in the Berney Theatre.
On Sunday, February 11th, we will have some fun closing events! At 10 am come and join us at the Rady JCC for a bagel breakfast and a ‘Bisl’ Yiddish with Professor Itay Zutra. We will be learning some of the MOST expressive Yiddish sayings. At 3:30 pm there will be a reunion for I.L. Peretz Folk School alumni. There will be snacks and time to reminisce!
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.radyjcc.com or feel free to give me a call at 204.477.7534.
There is a quiet humor in Yiddish and a gratitude for every day of life, every crumb of success, each encounter of love… In a figurative way, Yiddish is the wise and humble language of us all, the idiom of a frightened and hopeful humanity.
- Issac Bashevis Singer