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Why a liberal Zionist rabbi isn’t taking to the streets over Israel’s judicial reform plan 

(JTA) — Israel’s 75th anniversary was supposed to be a blowout birthday party for its supporters, but that was before the country was convulsed by street protests over the right-wing government’s proposal to overhaul its judiciary. Critics call it an unprecedented threat to Israel’s democracy, and supporters of Israel found themselves conflicted. In synagogues across North America, rabbis found themselves giving “yes, but” sermons: Yes, Israel’s existence is a miracle, but its democracy is fragile and in danger.

One of those sermons was given a week ago Saturday by Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch of Manhattan’s Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, expressing his “dismay” over the government’s actions. Hirsch is the former head of ARZA, the Reform movement’s Zionist organization, and the founder of a new organization, Amplify Israel, meant to promote Zionism among Reform Jews. He is often quoted as an example of a mainstream non-Orthodox rabbi who not only criticizes anti-Zionism on the far left but who insists that his liberal colleagues are not doing enough to defend the Jewish state from its critics.  

Many on the Jewish left, meanwhile, say Jewish establishment figures, even liberals like Hirsch, have been too reluctant to call out Israel on, for example, its treatment of the Palestinians — thereby enabling the country’s extremists.

In March, however, he warned that the “Israeli government is tearing Israeli society apart and bringing world Jewry along for the dangerous ride.” That is uncharacteristically strong language from a rabbi whose forthcoming book, “The Lilac Tree: A Rabbi’s Reflections on Love, Courage, and History,” includes a number of essays on the limits of criticizing Israel. When does such criticism give “comfort to left-wing hatred of Israel,” as he writes in his book, and when does failure to criticize Israel appear to condone extremism?  

Although the book includes essays on God, Torah, history and antisemitism, in a recent interview we focused on the Israel-Diaspora divide, the role of Israel in the lives of Diaspora Jews and why the synagogue remains the “central Jewish institution.”

The interview was edited for length and clarity.

Jewish Telegraphic Agency: You gave a sermon earlier this month about the 75th anniversary of Israel’s founding, which is usually a time of celebration in American synagogues, but you also said you were “dismayed” by the “political extremism” and “religious fundamentalism” of the current government. Was that difficult as a pulpit rabbi? 

Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch: The approach is more difficult now with the election of the new government than it has been in all the years of the past. Because we can’t sanitize supremacism, elitism, extremism, fundamentalism, and we’re not going to. Israel is in what’s probably the most serious domestic crisis in the 75-year history of the state. And what happens in Israel affects American Jewry directly. It’s Israeli citizens who elect their representatives, but that’s not the end of the discussion neither for Israelis or for American Jews. At the insistence of both parties, both parties say the relationship is fundamental and critical and it not only entitles but requires Israelis and world Jews to be involved in each other’s affairs. 

For American Jewry, in its relationship with Israel, our broadest objective is to sustain that relationship, deepen that relationship, and encourage people to be involved in the affairs in Israel and to go to Israel, spend time in Israel and so forth, and that’s a difficult thing to do and at the same time be critical.

American Jews have been demonstrating here in solidarity with the Israelis who have been protesting the recent judicial overhaul proposals in Israel. Is that a place for liberal American Jews to make their voices heard on what happens in Israel?

I would like to believe that if I were living in Israel, I would be at every single one of those demonstrations on Saturday night, but I don’t participate in demonstrations here because the context of our world and how we operate is different from in Israel when an Israeli citizen goes out and marches on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv. It’s presumed that they’re Zionists and they’re speaking to their own government. I’m not critical of other people who reach a different perspective in the United States, but for me, our context is different. Even if we say the identical words in Tel Aviv or on West 68th Street, they’re perceived in a different way and they operate in a different context. 

What then is the appropriate way for American Jews to express themselves if they are critical of an action by the Israeli government?

My strongest guidance is don’t disengage, don’t turn your back, double down, be more supportive of those who support your worldview and are fighting for it in Israel. Polls seem to suggest that the large majority of Israelis are opposed to these reforms being proposed. Double down on those who are supportive of our worldview.

You lament in your book that the connections to Israel are weakening among world Jewry, especially among Jewish liberals. 

The liberal part of the Jewish world is where I am and where the people I serve are by and large, and where at least 80% of American Jewry resides. It’s a difficult process because we’re operating here in a context of weakening relationship: a rapidly increasing emphasis on universal values, what we sometimes call tikkun olam [social justice], and not as a reflection of Jewish particularism, but often at the expense of Jewish particularism. 

There is a counter-argument, however, which you describe in your book: “some left-wing Jewish activists contend that alienation from Israel, especially among the younger generations, is a result of the failures of the American Jewish establishment” — that is, by not doing more to express their concerns about the dangers of Jewish settlement in the West Bank, for example, the establishment alienated young liberal Jews. You’re skeptical of that argument. Tell me why.

Fundamentally I believe that identification with Israel is a reflection of identity. If you have a strong Jewish identity, the tendency is to have a strong connection with the state of Israel and to believe that the Jewish state is an important component of your Jewish identity. I think that surveys bear that out. No doubt the Palestinian question will have an impact on the relationship between American Jews in Israel as long as it’s not resolved, it will be an outstanding irritant because it raises moral dilemmas that should disturb every thinking and caring Jew. And I’ve been active in trying to oppose ultra-Orthodox coercion in Israel. But fundamentally, while these certainly are components putting pressure on the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, in particular among the elites of the American Jewish leadership, for the majority of American Jews, the relationship with Israel is a reflection of their relationship with Judaism. And if that relationship is weak and weakening, as day follows night, the relationship with Israel will weaken as well.

But what about the criticism that has come from, let’s say, deep within the tent? I am thinking of the American rabbinical students who in 2021 issued a public letter accusing Israel of apartheid and calling on American Jewish communities to hold Israel accountable for the “violent suppression of human rights.” They were certainly engaged Jews, and they might say that they were warning the establishment about the kinds of right-wing tendencies in Israel that you and others in the establishment are criticizing now. 

Almost every time I speak about Israel and those who are critical of Israel, I hold that the concept of criticism is central to Jewish tradition. Judaism unfolds through an ongoing process of disputation, disagreement, argumentation, and debate. I’m a pluralist, both politically as well as intellectually. 

In response to your question, I would say two things. First of all, I distinguish between those who are Zionist, pro-Israel, active Jews with a strong Jewish identity who criticize this or that policy of the Israeli government, and between those who are anti-Zionists, because anti-Zionism asserts that the Jewish people has no right to a Jewish state, at least in that part of the world. And that inevitably leads to anti-Jewish feelings and very often to antisemitism. 

When it came to the students, I didn’t respond at all because I was a student once too, and there are views that I hold today that I didn’t hold when I was a student. Their original article was published in the Forward, if I’m not mistaken, and it generated some debate in all the liberal seminaries. I didn’t respond at all until it became a huge, multi-thousand word piece in The New York Times. Once it left the internal Jewish scene, it seemed to me that I had an obligation to respond. Not that I believe that they’re anti-Zionist — I do not. I didn’t put them in the BDS camp [of those who support the boycott of Israel]. I just simply criticized them.

Hundreds of Jews protest the proposed Israeli court reform outside the Israeli consulate in New York City on Feb. 21, 2023. (Gili Getz)

You signed a letter with other rabbis noting that the students’ petition came during Israel’s war with Hamas that May, writing that “those who aspire to be future leaders of the Jewish people must possess and model empathy for their brothers and sisters in Israel, especially when they are attacked by a terrorist organization whose stated goal is to kill Jews and destroy the Jewish State.”

My main point was that the essence of the Jewish condition is that all Jews feel responsible one for the another — Kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh. And that relationship starts with emotions. It starts with a feeling of belongingness to the Jewish people, and a feeling of concern for our people who are attacked in the Jewish state. My criticism was based, in the middle of a war, on expressing compassion, support for our people who are under indiscriminate and terrorist assault. I uphold that and even especially in retrospect two years later, why anyone would consider that to be offensive in any way is still beyond me. 

You were executive director of ARZA, the Reform Zionist organization, and you write in your book that Israel “is the primary source of our people’s collective energy — the engine for the recreation and restoration of the national home and the national spirit of the Jewish people.” A number of your essays put Israel at the center of the present-day Jewish story. You are a rabbi in New York City. So what’s the role or function of the Diaspora?

Our existence in the Diaspora needs no justification. For practically all of the last 2,000 years, Jewish life has existed in the Diaspora. It’s only for the last 75 years and if you count the beginning of the Zionist movement, the last 125 years or so that Jews have begun en masse to live in the land of Israel. Much of the values of what we call now Judaism was developed in the Diaspora. Moreover, the American Jewish community is the strongest, most influential, most glorious of all the Jewish Diasporas in Jewish history. 

And yet, the only place in the Jewish world where the Jewish community is growing is in Israel. More Jewish children now live in Israel than all the other places in the world combined. The central value that powers the sustainability, viability and continuity of the Jewish people is peoplehood. It’s not the values that have sustained the Jewish people in the Diaspora and over the last 2,000 years, which was Torah or God, what we would call religion. I’m a rabbi. I believe in the centrality of God, Torah and religion to sustain Jewish identity. But in the 21st century, Israel is the most eloquent concept of the value of Jewish peoplehood. And therefore, I do not believe that there is enough energy, enough power, enough sustainability in the classical concept of Judaism to sustain continuity in the Diaspora. The concept of Jewish peoplehood is the most powerful way that we can sustain Jewish continuity in the 21st century.

But doesn’t that negate the importance of American Jewry?

In my view, it augments the sustainability of American Jewry. If American Jews disengage from Israel, and from the concept of Jewish peoplehood, and also don’t consider religion to be at the center of their existence, then what’s left? Now there’s a lot of activity, for example, on tikkun olam, which is a part of Jewish tradition. But tikkun olam in Judaism always was a blend between Jewish particularism and universalism — concern for humanity at large but rooted in the concept of Jewish peoplehood. But very often now, tikkun olam in the Diaspora is practiced not as a part of the concept of Jewish particularism but, as I said before, at the expense of Jewish particularism. That will not be enough to sustain Jewish communities going into the 21st century.

I want to ask about the health of the American synagogue as an institution. Considering your concern about the waning centrality of Torah and God in people’s lives — especially among the non-Orthodox — do you feel optimistic about it as an institution? Does it have to change?

I’ve believed since the beginning of my career that there’s no substitute in the Diaspora for the synagogue as the central Jewish institution. We harm ourselves when we underemphasize the central role of the synagogue. Any issue that is being done by one of the hundreds of Jewish agencies that we’ve created rests on our ability as a community to produce Jews into the next generation. And what are those institutions that produce that are most responsible for the production of Jewish continuity? Synagogues, day schools and summer camps, and of the three synagogues are by far the most important for the following reasons: First, we’re the only institution that defines ourselves as and whose purpose is what we call cradle to grave. Second, for most American Jews, if they end up in any institution at all it will be a synagogue. Far fewer American Jews will receive a day school education and or go to Jewish summer camps. That should have ramifications across the board for American Jewish policy, including how we budget Jewish institutions. We should be focusing many, many more resources on these three institutions, and at the core of that is the institution of the synagogue.


The post Why a liberal Zionist rabbi isn’t taking to the streets over Israel’s judicial reform plan  appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Canada’s economic growth projected to be about 1% in the first half of 2024

Canada is a country with a thriving Jewish community and has traditionally offered the security of a strong economy for residents. The national economic outlook is naturally something that everyone in Canada’s Jewish community keeps track of – especially those involved in business in the various provinces.

With this in mind, the July 2023 Monetary Policy Report from the Bank of Canada made for interesting reading, projecting a moderate economic growth figure of around 1% for the first half of 2024. This is in line with growth figures that had been forecast for the second half of 2023, and sees the country’s economy remain on a stable footing.

Steady projected growth for first half of 2024

Although projected economic growth of around 1% in early 2024 is not as impressive as figures of around 3.4% in 2022 and 1.8% in 2023, it is certainly no cause for alarm. But what might be behind it?

Higher interest rates are one major factor to consider and have had a negative impact on household spending nationally. This has effectively seen people with less spending power and businesses in Canada generating less revenue as a result.

Interest rate rises have also hit business investments nationally, and less money is being channelled into this area to fuel Canada’s economic growth. When you also factor in how the weak foreign demand for Canadian goods and services has hit export growth lately, the projected GDP growth figure for early 2024 is understandable.

Growth in second half of 2024 expected

Although the above may make for interesting reading for early 2024, the Bank of Canada’s report does show that economic growth is expected to pick up in the second half of the year. This is projected to be due to the decreasing effect of high interest rates on the Canadian economy and a stronger foreign demand for the country’s exports.

Moving forward from this period, it is predicted that inflation will remain at around 3% as we head into 2025, and hit the Bank of Canada’s inflation target of 2% come the middle of 2025. All of this should help the country’s financial status remain stable and prove encouraging for business leaders in the Jewish community.

Canada’s economic growth mirrors iGaming’s rise

When you take a look at the previous growth figures Canada has seen and also consider the growth predicted for 2024 (especially in the second half of the year), it is clear that the country has a vibrant, thriving economy.

This economic growth is something that can be compared with iGaming’s recent rise as an industry around the country. In the same way as Canada has steadily built a strong economy over time, iGaming has transformed itself into a powerful, flourishing sector.

This becomes even clearer when you consider that Canadian iGaming has been a major contributor to the sustained growth seen in the country’s arts, entertainment and recreation industry, which rose by around 1.9% in Q2 of 2023. The healthy state of online casino play in Canada is also evidenced by how many customers the most popular casino platforms attract and how the user experience these operators offer has enabled iGaming in the country to take off.

This, of course, is also something that translates to the world stage, where global iGaming revenues in 2023 hit an estimated $95 billion. iGaming’s global market volume is also pegged to rise to around $130 billion by 2027. These kinds of figures represent a sharp jump for iGaming worldwide and show how the sector is on the ascent.

Future economic outlook for Canada in line with global expectations

When considering the Canadian economic outlook for 2024, it is often useful to look at how this compares with global financial predictions. In addition to the rude health of iGaming in Canada being reflected in global online casino gaming, the positive economic outlook for the country is also broadly in line with expectations for many global economies.

Global growth is also predicted to rise steadily in the second half of 2024 before becoming stronger in 2025. This should be driven by the weakening effects of high interest rates on worldwide economic prosperity. With rate cuts in Canada already expected after Feb 2024’s inflation report, this could happen in the near future.

The performance of the US economy is always of interest in Canada, as this is the country’s biggest trading partner. Positive US Q2 performances in 2023, powered by a strong labor market, good consumer spending levels and robust business investments, were therefore a cause for optimism. As a US economy that continues to grow is something that Canadian businesses welcome, this can only be a healthy sign.

Canada set for further growth in 2024

Local news around Canada can cover many topics but the economy is arguably one of the most popular. A projected GDP growth figure of around 1% for Canada’s economy shows that the financial state of the country is heading in the right direction. An improved financial outlook heading into the latter half of 2024/2025 would make for even better reading, and the national economy should become even stronger.

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The Legal Landscape of Online Gambling in Canada

Online gambling has grown in popularity around the globe in recent years. While many jurisdictions have legalized land-based gambling, it hasn’t applied to online platforms. Nonetheless, Canada is one nation that has legalized online gambling with their provinces’ licensing and regulating sites.

Nonetheless, Canadians of legal age can enjoy playing their favourite online games where available. So many games like slots, blackjack, and roulette still maintain their popularity even in the digital sense.  Want to learn about what’s legal in Canada for online gambling? Let’s take a look.

What is legal for online gambling in Canada?

What is the best online casino in Canada? The list we provide you here should be a good start. It’s also important to note that most Canadian provinces do not have laws that prohibit offshore online casinos.

Many provinces provide licensing to online casinos. They even regulate them as well. For example, Alberta and British Columbia have sites regulated by their respective governing bodies. The Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) allows legal online gambling and oversees the services it offers to Maritime provinces such as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

However, there are some caveats to address. In Newfoundland and Labrador, online gambling that is not offered by the ALC is considered illegal. Therefore, it is the only Canadian province as of 2024 that prohibits offshore options.

In terms of the legal age, there are three provinces where the legal age is 18: Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec. The remaining provinces establish 19 as the legal age for gambling including online.

Who are the regulatory bodies for gambling in Canada?

At the Federal level, the Canadian Gaming Association is the regulatory body for gambling in Canada. Thus, they cover both land-based and online gambling in the country. There are also provincial and regional regulatory bodies such as the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) – which covers the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador.  

The Western Canada Lottery Corporation covers Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon Territory. A handful of provinces also have their regulatory bodies covering lottery and gaming.

Canada requires online casinos that wish to accept players from the country to adhere to regulations and licensing. These licenses are provided by provincial regulatory bodies. When licensed, online casinos must follow the regulations and security standards.

However, there is the belief that many of the laws about gambling in Canada may be outdated. This could be because these laws were created long before the advent of the Internet. Therefore, such laws may need to be modernized. Nonetheless, online gambling for the most part is legal, just dependent on the province.

Are there any legal grey areas to discuss?

The grey area that is considered a concern pertains to the use of offshore sites. As mentioned earlier, Newfoundland and Labrador is believed to be the only province that prohibits it. Even online casinos with no licensing by Canadian or provincial authorities accept residents of the country.

On the players’ end, many Canadians are allowed to play at online casinos. However, they may be restricted from certain platforms. This is to ensure that the players themselves are protected from unknowingly playing on platforms that may be illegal. 

What are the other laws and regulations about online gambling in Canada?

Online casinos have implemented measures for responsible gambling. This includes providing support and resources to problem gamblers on their site. They are also restricted regarding the marketing and advertising aspects of promoting their platform. 

One restriction of note is that marketing that is targeted at minors is prohibited. Another prohibits professional athletes from appearing in online casino ads in Ontario.

Even offshore casinos must adhere to these laws and regulations. Especially if they have obtained a license from the provincial bodies that allow them to operate.

Canada’s online gambling is legal – but will things change

As it stands right now, the legality of online gambling in Canada seems to fall under the purview of provincial laws and regulations. Canadian citizens must perform their due diligence further to see which online casinos are allowed by their respective provinces. Just because it may be legal in one province, it may not be the same in others.

Nonetheless, the question is: will any laws relax certain restrictions? Will Newfoundland and Labrador change their tune regarding offshore casinos? It’s unclear what the future holds – but watch this space for any changes about online gambling in Canada.  

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Wiseman, Nathan Elliot
1944 – 2023
Nathan, our beloved husband, Dad, and Zaida, died unexpectedly on December 13, 2023. Nathan was born on December 16, 1944, in Winnipeg, MB, the eldest of Sam and Cissie Wiseman’s three children.
He is survived by his loving wife Eva; children Sam (Natalie) and Marni (Shane); grandchildren Jacob, Jonah, Molly, Isabel, Nicole, and Poppy; brother David (Sherrill); sister Barbara (Ron); sister-in-law Agi (Sam) and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Nathan grew up in the north end of Winnipeg surrounded by his loving family. He received his MD from the University of Manitoba in 1968, subsequently completed his General Surgery residency at the University of Manitoba and went on to complete a fellowship in Paediatric Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard University. His surgeon teachers and mentors were world renowned experts in the specialty, and even included a Nobel prize winner.
His practice of Paediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg spanned almost half a century. He loved his profession and helping patients, even decades later often recounting details about the many kiddies on whom he had operated. Patients and their family members would commonly approach him on the street and say, “Remember me Dr. Wiseman?”. And he did! His true joy was caring for his patients with compassion, patience, unwavering commitment, and excellence. He was a gifted surgeon and leaves a profound legacy. He had no intention of ever fully retiring and operated until his very last day. He felt privileged to have the opportunity to mentor, support and work with colleagues, trainees, nurses, and others health care workers that enriched his day-to-day life and brought him much happiness and fulfillment. He was recognized with many awards and honors throughout his career including serving as Chief of Surgery of Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, President of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, and as a Governor of the American College of Surgeons. Most importantly of all he helped and saved the lives of thousands and thousands of Manitoba children. His impact on the generations of children he cared for, and their families, is truly immeasurable.
Nathan’s passion for golf was ignited during his childhood summers spent at the Winnipeg Beach Golf Course. Southwood Golf and Country Club has been his second home since 1980. His game was excellent and even in his last year he shot under his age twice! He played an honest “play as it lies” game. His golf buddies were true friends and provided him much happiness both on and off the course for over forty years. However, his passion for golf extended well beyond the eighteenth hole. He immersed himself in all aspects of the golf including collecting golf books, antiques, and memorabilia. He was a true scholar of the game, reading golf literature, writing golf poetry, and even rebuilding and repairing antique golf clubs. Unquestionably, his knowledge and passion for the game was limitless.
Nathan approached his many woodworking and workshop projects with zeal and creativity, and he always had many on the go. During the winter he was an avid curler, and in recent years he also enjoyed the study of Yiddish. Nathan never wasted any time and lived his life to the fullest.
Above all, Nathan was a loving husband, father, grandfather, son, father-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, and granduncle. He loved his family and lived for them, and this love was reciprocated. He met his wife Eva when he was a 20-year-old medical student, and she was 18 years old. They were happily married for 56 years. They loved each other deeply and limitlessly and were proud of each other’s accomplishments. He loved the life and the family they created together. Nathan was truly the family patriarch, an inspiration and a mentor to his children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and many others. He shared his passion for surgery and collecting with his son and was very proud to join his daughter’s medical practice (he loved Thursdays). His six grandchildren were his pride and joy and the centre of his world.
Throughout his life Nathan lived up to the credo “May his memory be a blessing.” His life was a blessing for the countless newborns, infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers who he cared for, for his colleagues, for his friends and especially for his family. We love him so much and there are no words to describe how much he will be missed.
A graveside funeral was held at the Shaarey Zedek cemetery on December 15, 2023. Pallbearers were his loving grandchildren. The family would like to extend their gratitude to Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, in the name of Dr. Nathan Wiseman.

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