Report on First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa Study Sessions

By: Anita McLean

There were eight sessions on Israel/Palestine from October 2014 to February 2015. Due to very positive feedback, Ria Heynen and I decided to offer one more event on April 28, 2015. This was a film night to view the newly produced movie “Enduring Roots” which presents a very critical view of the National Jewish Fund (NJF). We asked Tyler Levitan, Campaign Director of Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) to present the movie and to also lead the Q/A period afterwards. We also invited the Executive Director of NJF Ottawa and Atlantic Canada to come and present her side. Unfortunately she declined saying that NJF would never be involved in a session with an IJV member. She claimed that IJV is a non-Jewish organization that is funded by anti-semitic groups, which is of course incorrect. I answered back saying that we were disappointed and that our congregation is standing up for justice and human rights and would never knowingly invite an anti-Jewish speaker and that criticising Israel or any of its policies is not anti-semitic.

We started out the evening with an interview of Tyler Levitan. This was very interesting as he was born into a Zionist family here in Ottawa. His upbringing included studying The Torah, learning Hebrew and being very much involved with the synagogue that his family belonged to. His grand- parents donated money to the NJF and this organization produced a book of the family including many pictures in gratitude for these donations. This was also signed by the local Ottawa Major and the Prime Minister of that time. He had brought the book to share it with us. After Tyler had finished high school he was offered a free trip to Israel, something that Israel finances for most of young Jews. He described the trip as a brain washing experience. He had never been told by his family that Palestinians lived in Israel so he was very surprised when he found out that Israel was founded in a land where other people already lived. After studying the situation in more detail on his own he became a strong voice in the IJV family. He managed to convince his family to dis-own their Zionist ties.

The movie is very revealing of the NJF history starting out by interviewing some surviving refugees from the Nakba in 1948 when 531 Palestinian villages were destroyed. Israel started building parks upon these villages by planting pine trees to cover these areas. Many of these parks were given names of the countries financing this. Thus there are US Park, Germany Park, Canada Park, etc. For example Canada Park was built on three destroyed Palestinian villages in 1973. It is most probable that many donors were unaware of what was going on. For example The City of Ottawa was a donator. NJF is now busy trying to take over the lands of the Bedouins in southern Israel and many of the scenes of this movie are from there. These Bedouin villages have been destroyed close to fifty times. Also other individual Palestinian homes are being destroyed and then these families are being charged for the cost of the destruction of their own homes!
This movie is only 40 minutes long and therefor it is easy to have a fairly long Q/A period afterwards. Many questions were asked and then the participants were given IJV postcards to be sent to CRA asking them to remove the charitable organization status of NJF. The feedback was terrific and we were asked to continue more sessions in the fall.


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