No community can thrive unless its members have physical security and a secure place in society. For our Toronto Jewish community, this truth has never been clearer—at least in my lifetime—than it was this past May.
Today, I am writing to update you on an important decision UJA has taken to vastly strengthen our investment in the fight against hate—and how this will shape our work to combat antisemitism moving forward.
During the latest wave of Hamas terrorism targeting Israel, our community witnessed a surge of antisemitism unlike any we had ever seen. This included physical violence, verbal assaults, hatred on social media, boycotts of Jewish organizations, and the expression of toxic views toward Israel among mainstream voices in politics and society, to name just a few alarming developments.
Antisemitism in Toronto isn’t new, and our city remains home to one of the safest communities in the Diaspora. But what happened in May revealed just how much the landscape has changed. This wasn’t a one-time phenomenon, but an alarming glimpse of our future if we fail to take meaningful action.
While the actions we must take together are beyond the scope of a single email, the common thread is leadership. With this focus in mind, I am pleased to share that Steven Farber has joined UJA’s team as Senior Vice-President, Countering Antisemitism and Hate—a new position we have created to lead UJA’s efforts to empower our community to rise to this challenge.
Steven is exceptionally qualified for this important work, bringing a unique combination of many years of experience in Canadian Jewish community leadership, business, government, and international relations. Having begun his career in investment banking, Steven has comfortably moved between the corporate and not-for-profit worlds throughout his career. This includes serving in a senior political role here in Canada, working in Israel for several years in diplomacy and commerce, and serving in Israel as a key advisor to Tony Blair in the Office of the Quartet Representative.
Steven will work closely with our key partners in this area, including UJA’s advocacy agent the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), Hillel Ontario, UJA Community Security, and UJA’s Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre (soon to become Toronto’s Holocaust Museum). Building on this foundation, Steven will lead our efforts to expand and enhance UJA’s work in this field—with a focus on advancing three key elements that are crucial to the plan.
1. We are unifying our community in common cause.
This is a complex, multi-faceted challenge. No one agency or initiative can address it alone. This is a moment to bring together all who seek to play a meaningful role—organizations and grassroots groups alike—for a coordinated approach to this shared threat, with each contributing their unique strengths.
As a foremost priority, Steven will build and coordinate a coalition of organizations, activists, and allies working together to combat antisemitism. I am also pleased to share that UJA’s Board Chair, Linda Frum, will be playing a central role in this effort, having recently departed from the Senate to volunteer her time to combating antisemitism. With her tremendous leadership experience, Linda will work closely with Steven to advance this cause.
2. We are adapting our community’s strategy and tactics for the changed landscape.
The digital space is a prime example of how rapidly things have evolved. During the last Israel-Hamas conflict in 2014, there were 200 million people on Instagram around the world. There are now more than one billion. TikTok—a leading social media platform among teens—didn’t exist a few years ago, but now has 700 million users. Virtually every member of our community is now navigating a social media world easily exploited by antisemites to spread lies and target Jews. We need a strong and sophisticated social media campaign to empower our community to counter this shifting threat.
But digital advocacy is just one area in which we need to adapt. Those who seek to marginalize Jews and brand Israel as a pariah are gaining momentum in parts of mainstream Canadian society. Increasingly, they are doing so by cynically hitching their bigoted agenda to the worthy causes of anti-racism and human rights. There is a growing danger that Jews will be excluded and vilified simply for who we are and what we believe.
We need new tools to empower Jews and allies of all backgrounds to combat antisemitism in key sectors—such as on campus, in the halls of academia, in the arts, in social movements, in corporate offices, and many others. We need new research into perceptions of Jews in Canadian society, as well as the messages that will dismantle antisemitic myths and create new allies. And we need to do more to prepare the next generation by strengthening their Jewish pride and equipping them to recognize and counter antisemitism.
These are just a few of the areas that reveal not only challenges, but opportunities to make real progress in combating hate. Under Steven’s leadership, UJA will be working to bring to life these and other strategic initiatives in the coming months. And while there is much work to be done, underpinning it all is a third—and essential—element.
3. We are inviting you to join the cause.
When I think about this challenge, I am reminded of the extraordinary way our Toronto Jewish community came together to care for one another from the very first days of the pandemic. The essential ingredient was the fact that thousands of community members played a role. Volunteers and community professionals, shuls and day schools, Jewish human service agencies and front-line workers—and so many others.
We saw firsthand the limitless potential of our community to meet any challenge when we are united in purpose and action. That’s exactly what we need to bring to the fight against antisemitism.
With an all-in community effort, I am confident we will together achieve a similarly powerful response to rising antisemitism. This is just the beginning. We need your ideas, your time, and your partnership with us. If you would like to get involved, I encourage you to connect with our team at UJA Genesis, our community mobilization arm, here.
President & CEO,
UJA Federation of Greater Toronto