Freedom of Speech

I have been hosting radio for approximately 11 years, before that for 7 or 8 years I worked as a print journalist and commentary writer. I’ve worked for commercial stations and am currently at 1650 AM Radio Shalom, the Montreal Jewish community radio station. In my entire career, I have never experienced a phenomenon that seems to permiate the listeners of this radio station. It’s not a bad thing, most radio stations would love to have their listeners infected with this infliction, at least it proves a listenership that listens and cares, for me and my show, I appreciate it, it makes us feel good that people want to be part of the show.

The affliction I’m talking about is very familiar with people who work within the framework of the Jewish community (and dare I say any minority community). Synaogue presidents, rabbis and even cantors are on the receiving end of people who suffer from this and there is no cure.

The affliction I’m referring to is the constant and sometimes annoying habit of some Montreal Jewish Community members who think they know how to do your job better than you. Always critical, never helpful, the people afflicted with this virus feel that they HAVE to call or approach you with severe and heavy criticism over how you do your job.

It never fails. Moments after I turn on the microphone at Radio Shalom and start my three times a week 2 hour news/commentary show, we get a phone call or an email chastizing us for covering a controversial topic. If the topic is very controversial, the phone calls can add up to dozens or multiple dozens, as they did last week when I tackled, what seemed to me to be a no-brainer issue, the Crown Heights Chabad Community standing in solidarity with a thief.

So many calls poured into the station that the executive committee called an emergency meeting to discuss how to handle the situation. What amazes me, however, is that the open line show everyone was complaining about only received three or four calls in the entire 2 hour broadcast. I have to point out that not all the calls came from Chabadniks.

This leads me to believe the following:

1. The Montreal Orthodox Jewish Community does not believe in freedom of speech. Many of the callers to the management of the station demanded that I be censored, removed from the air or forced to apologize to the Chabad community.

2. The Montreal Orthodox Jewish Community is comprised of cowards. How else do you explain that members of said community decided to call everyone and their uncle associated with the radio station, but refrained from calling me, either on the show, or at my private extension at the station.

3. The Montreal Orthodox Jewish Community doesn’t understand the concept of radio. Radio is a NOW media. It’s hard hitting and instant.

Last night I covered the unbelievable and unfortunate story of Shirel Attar, a 14 year old Montreal girl who was brutally murdered. Her 18 year old brother Maor Attar was charged with 1st degree murder in the case. I could have come onto the air and detailed the bloody and horrific events of the murder. I could have gotten friends of both the alleged perpetrator and victim on the air with me to diafy the victim and demonize the alleged perpetrator. I could have made the story into a sensational media event, released information we have that is not publicly known, shamelessly promote the show and experienced a great ratings influx. I chose not to.

I felt that as a Jewish radio station, we had the responsibility to cover the murder, but at the same time dignify the sadness of the event and respect the shock and grief of the family and community. So I approached the show differently, with only mentioning the victims name once in the entire two hours, I posed the following three questions:

1. What lessons can we learn as a community from a horrific act of violence such as this one?

2. As a parent, will this event make you think twice about leaving your young teens at home alone?

3. As a parent, will this event make you take a good long hard look at your kids and perhaps make you recognize a problem that you didn’t see before?

It was inevidable, three calls came in almost instantly berating me for touching the topic. Caller Jacob pointed out that the girl wasn’t even buried yet and here I am talking about the case on air. Another caller chastised me for allowing a listener to express that perhaps the young man who is accused of committing the murder had psychological problems (which by the way is being questioned by police authorities as pointed out by a front page story in today’s Montreal Gazette). The third caller accused me of being insensitive to the family of the victim.

All three callers suggested that perhaps I chose to do the show too soon and I should have waited at least two weeks for the family to get up from shiva before I even looked at the topic.

Two weeks is an eternity when it comes to topical news shows. What these callers failed to understand and what the Montreal Jewish Community continues to fail to understand is that we live in an instant world.

Within minutes of the first reports of the murder, I had the name of the victim, certain personal information about the victim and the alleged perpetrator and speculation from people who knew them that the brother perhaps killed the sister. If I had received the information an hour earlier, I would have reported the event on Monday night’s radio show.

On The Howie Silbiger Show we talk about things going on right now. When the Neturai Karta was protesting in Cote St Luc, we were on the air urging people to go out and counter protest, when anything big happens in the Jewish community we are there.

The community will have to get used to instant inforation, that is the nature of radio, that is the nature of my show and it is not going to change.

The Anatomy of Assimilation – The Montreal Y will open on Shabbat

As appeared in the September 2009 issue of JMAG Magazine:

by Howard Silbiger

In the 1920s German Jews had ascended to the top of society. They were the aristocratic symbol of wealth, culture and physique. These German Jews were loyal to Germany, they identified as German before Jewish. Judaism to them was an inherited bother, they were more concerned with being accepted and part of the mass society, fully assimilated with very little, save some Yiddish theatre, trace of their Jewish heritage.

When Hitler came to power in the early ‘30s, these Jews didn’t worry. In their mind, they were too important to the German people to be persecuted, heck they were Germans who happened to be Jewish. Unfortunately, as assimilated as they were, they were still Jews and they were still shipped off to the various death camps to be slaughtered.

Fast forward nearly 70 years and it is amazing how the world is different but Jewish attitudes are the same.

For over a century, Jewish institutions had a tradition of remaining closed on Shabbat. With a few minor exceptions in the 1950s, the tradition has held steady. In fact in 2004, after a lengthy debate on whether to open on Shabbat or not, the board of directors of the Montreal YMYWHA decided to remain closed, their reason expressed in an official press release that stated that the Board of Directors of the Y “acknowledge the traditions and the norms of the Montreal Jewish community including the strong belief that Jewish institutions such as the Y should remain closed on Shabbat.”

This strong commitment to Judaism acted as a pillar for the Jewish Community. Montreal was one of the only Jewish communities on the continent who were able to point to our strong heritage and protection of the fabric of Jewish values within our society.

The fabric was shredded in early August 2009, when the current Board of Directors of the Jewish Y voted, nearly unanimously, to open their gym on Shabbat. The move didn’t come as a huge surprise; it had been brewing at the Y for years. In fact, in a little under 10 years, the Y had voted on the issue numerous times. What did come as a surprise, however, was the secrecy in which the decision was made and the refusal of Y officials to comment or discuss the issue with the community.

When Avi Kimchi and I broke the story on Avi Kimchi’s afternoon radio program on 1650 AM Radio Shalom, on the day of the meeting, we invited members of the Y’s Board of Directors to join us on air, none with the exception of Board of Director and Hampstead Town Councillor Leon Elfassy even bothered to respond. When we approached the professional staff, we were told that the official comment of the Y is that there is no comment.

Elfassy and Rabbi Reuven Poupko from the Beth Israel Beth Aaron synagogue joined us on air and both expressed their opposition. But the opposition wasn’t enough and that night, the Montreal Jewish Y voted to open their doors on Shabbat.

Kimchi and I went on the air the next day and once again invited the leadership of the Y to join us, but secrecy prevailed. Around half way through the show, the Y finally released a press release. In it, they wrote:

“In taking this decision, the Y leadership recognizes the diversity of opinion in our community on this issue. The Y leadership had several meetings with Montreal’s Jewish community leadership, as well as the community at large to discuss opening on Shabbat…

“…The decision we have taken will contribute to sustaining our central role in providing cultural, recreational and intellectual programming, and contributing to the health and well being of our community.”

One begs to ask how promoting assimilation contributes to the health of the Jewish community. One begs to ask how sending a message, much like those German Jews of the ‘20s, that we have completed our transformation, we have given up our status, our traditions, our culture and now we are exactly like you contributes to the well being of the Jewish community.

The original move to open Jewish Community Centers in North America came from an unlikely source, Rabbi Eliezer Silver, head of the Agudath HaRabbonim, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada. Rabbi Silver served as its head from the onset of World War II until his death in 1968. He is most famous for leading the Rabbis March on Washington, which ultimately led to the US Government’s creation of the Refugee Board and the saving of almost 200,000 Jews from the Nazis.

Rabbi Silver argued that most Jews were not Orthodox, in fact most had no denominational affiliation at all. He noted that even with no affiliation, these Jews belonged to the Jewish Community Centers. It was their little connection to their past. Rabbi Silver noted that if the Jewish Community Centers closed on Shabbat, these unaffiliated Jews would have nowhere else to go. Instead of joining Jews in recreation or sports, they would go to the mall and pursue other forms of entertainment.

He concluded that if unaffiliated Jews did pursue other forms of entertainment, they would do so in mixed company, this, he argued, would increase intermarriage. To stop this, he ruled that the JCCs should open on Shabbat with some restrictions.

Even after his ruling, most North American JCCs remained closed on Shabbat and holidays and most Jews were happy with the arrangement. It showed society that Hitler didn’t kill Judaism, that even if most Jews were not religious, they still identified with their traditional heritage and they proudly stood as different amongst a society that meshed into a melting pot.

As the old saying goes, when you get farther from a tragedy, the impact of it diminishes. Unfortunately, the survivors of the Holocaust are slowly fading away and the next generation did not experience the searing of their Jewish identity in the form of a prisoner tattoo on their arm. Tradition is lost on them, so opening the Y on Shabbat means nothing.

For those in the community that care, all is not lost. Protest the Y’s decision by not renewing your membership. It is not enough to just not renew, you must send the administration of the Y a message telling them that you are not renewing based on this decision and if it is reversed, you will gladly rejoin.

The Y has stated that they feel that opening on Shabbat is in the best interest of the community, show them they are wrong.

Howie Silbiger is the host of The Howie Silbiger Show which airs Sunday-Tuesday at 6pm on 1650 Am Radio Shalom Montreal

The Anatomy of Hating Israel

Former US President Jimmy Carter, a noted anti-Israel advocate has called on the Obama Administration to take Hamas off the terror watch list. He made this call on the heels of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s peace appeal to the Palestinians.

Let’s take a minute to examine the two distinct, yet connected events.

On Sunday, June 14th, 2009, newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu conducted a foreign policy speech which called for the creation of an independent Palestinian state with certain conditions. It has to be demilitarized, it has to recognize Israel as the Jewish State. Two conditions, which in effect, will ensure Israel has a secured and safe border with an enemy that has consistantly tried to destroy her for the last 60 years.

The Palestinian leadership quickly dismissed the proposal:

“Netanyahu’s speech closed the door to permanent status negotiations,” senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said. “We ask the world not to be fooled by his use of the term Palestinian state because he qualified it. He declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel, said refugees would not be negotiated and that settlements would remain.”

This, of course, is not the first time the Palestinian leadership has refused an offer by Israel for a Palestinian State. Back in 2000 at Camp David, then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Yassir Arafat 98% of the “west bank” and half of Jerusalem for a Palestinian State. The only hold up was the condition that the newly formed Palestinian State would have to recognize Israel as a Jewish State. Arafat refused the entire deal based on that one condition.

It seems in the nine years since Camp David, many things have changed, including the death of Arafat, but the sticking issue is the Palestinian recognition of Israel as a legitimate Jewish State.

So the next time you see pro-Palestinian activists screaming about Israeli aparthaid or how Israel has stolen land from the Palestinians, keep in mind that now, twice, Israel has offered to recognize an independant Palestinian State, and twice it’s the Palestinians that have refused.

Mr. Obama goes to Ottawa

Ah, how I long for the days of objectivity. How I crave for the days where I could turn on the television and see normal news, objective, non-racist, perhaps even informative. But those days are gone in Canada, they fully evaporated with the touchdown of Airforce 1 in Ottawa yesterday.

I had the misfortune of turning on my television and catching the all day Obama marathon that both Canadian national networks were running. I had the misfortune of witnessing seasoned journalists, both on the CBC and CTV transformed into giddy school children while trying to create a historic moment that nobody was feeling. I had the misfortune of seeing and hearing the following exchange:

CBC Journalist (To white woman with 1 year old child in stroller and Black woman with 1 year old child in stroller): Why are you here?

White Woman: I want my son to be able to tell his grandkids that he was here. Imagine, he was witness to the first black president.

Black Woman: Excuse me, but that’s African American…

CBC Journalist: In the spirit of Obama being in Canada, can’t we just agree…

Black Woman: Yes! I’m here because I want my child to witness the visit of the first black President.

White Woman: (Looking confused) I thought you said…

CBC Journalist: Back to you Peter.

At this point I decided to flip over to CTV and see what’s going on there… It wasn’t much better. ‘Journalist’ Rosemary Thompson was standing on the side of a highway waiting for the motorcade to pass. She waves over a man for an interview and just as he steps up to her camera, the motorcade starts passing. The cameras scroll over and follow the motorcade as it passes. When the motorcade is gone, Rosemary, who in good times is an excellent journalist, looks absolutely giddy. She turns to the man standing next to her and the following exchange is broadcast:

Rosemary: (giggling) President Obama has just passed in the motorcade and it was interesting, there were two limos, one a decoy the other with the President (giggle), did you see the decoy vehicle?

Man: Yes.

Rosemary: (giggling even more) In the decoy it looked like the guy inside was sleeping, he was leaned all the way back (she leans her body back) and it was obvious it was a dummy in there.

Man: Ya, it was a dummy, leaning back like that, it was amazing to see that.

Lloyd Robertson (The in studio anchor): Did you manage to see Obama?

Rosemary: (giggly and bubbly) Yes and he waved at us! HE WAVED AT US!

I was half expecting her to grab the guy next to her and start singing Kumbaya..It was a pathetic display, but not as pathetic as what happened next.

I flipped back to the CBC and Peter Mansbridge, normally a respectable man, now reduced to sitting in studio in front of a blue screen (probably in Toronto) which was displaying a loop of a video image of the Parlimant buildings, (notice the man in the red coat who keeps chasing his kid, over and over and over again). He throws to his bumbling reporter standing in the mob of Obama watching Canadians at Parliament Hill.

The reporter naturally pulls over the first black guy she could find wearing an Obama t-shirt.

Reporter: Why are you here?

Man: Well me an my wife we decided to come here to witness the first black president visiting Canada.

Reporter: Nice shirt.

Man: Thanks we sell these shirts at my store (shameful store plug).

Reporter: Really, so you closed your store to be here?

Man: No we have staff at (Shameful store plug).

Reporter: Oh that’s good, but don’t you think your staff should have been here to witness this too?

Man: Well at (shameful store plug) we have a television, they are watching it on television at (shameful store plug).

Reporter: Well this is turning into a shameful store plug segment and so I’m going to have to end it here.

Man: Ya don’t forget you could buy your Obama shirts at (shameful store plug).

Peter: Thank you.

Flip back to CTV.

Obama is now getting out of his limo in front the Parliament building. He walks inside and is greeted by Prime Minister Harper. They shake hands, exchange a few words and then duck outside to wave at the crowd assembled. The crowd goes nuts.

Lloyd: Well look at that they bypassed security to wave at the crowd. Even those who didn’t see him, even those in the back of the crowd can now tell their grandchildren that they were there!

The Prime Minister and President proceed to the rotanda where Obama signs the welcome book.

Back to the CBC.

The CBC, a few seconds behind CTV show Obama signing the welcome book and then cut to a 10 minute segment on left handed people and how they sign their names.

Back to CTV.

CTV’s stellar coverage continues with a hand held camera following the President and Prime Minister up the stairs towards the Prime Minister’s office. We watch as the two men walk down the hall and head towards the office. Suddenly we hear:


Lloyd: (chuckling) Well that’s the voice of former CTV Ottawa Chief Craig Oliver welcoming Obama to Canada. He did the same thing on the last Bush visit to Canada.

Click, I turned the television off.

I’ve lost faith in Canadian television news..It was extremely pathetic to see journalists gushing like rock fans over Obama. I have a feeling that whatever news we do get from these people will be tainted to make Obama look good. The fifth estate has fallen.

By the way, the US news networks gave the Obama visit 5 minutes.

Why The Shul Doors Were Locked on Shabbos..

Today, on Shabbos, the front door to the shul was locked. It was an unusual occurrence at this particular shul (another shul for some mysterious reason, never unlocks the front door) and I was bewildered by it. After much investigation, I found that the doors were locked in precaution for reprisals from the incursion of Israel into Gaza, it was done, I was told, for my own protection.

For my protection? Do I live in Gaza? Am I in middle of a war zone? Can there be any less Jewish message than a shul locking their doors on a Shabbos?

Last week, on this blog, I asked the question as to why pro-Israel Montreal Jews don’t demonstrate on the street. I went into a huge diatribe as to the message Montreal Jews are sending to Israel and the world by huddling in their ghetto and meeting in their synagogue to support Israel. This week I will not do that.

Jew hating, pro-Palestinian thugs took to the streets a week ago calling for Jihad, Murder and the elimination of Jews ( why did they feel they could march through the streets of peaceful Montreal and scream these hateful, inciteful and offensive slogans, because they knew that the Jews in great numbers would shy away from counter-protest, would shy away from criticizing them and would basically stay away.

This was proven over and over again by the Jewish community. When Hillel brought in Bibi Netanyahu, former Prime Minister of the State of Israel to speak at Concordia, a small riot by the same Arab protesters seen in that youtube video stopped the speech. Even though hundreds of Israel supporters were sitting in the hall waiting for Netanyahu to start speaking, even though Netanyahu himself was ready to show up and deliver his message, the organized Jewish community (who later blamed Concordia) decided it was a security risk. So the peaceful participants at a university were deprived of their program by a few hundred thugs.

Jews are scared. They are scared because the community preaches fear. Jews are scared because in the last decade, the community has invested millions of dollars to build forts and fortresses around our schools, our synagogues and our community centers. The community is scared because the organized Jewish community has consistently refused to speak tough when it comes to Jew hatred. The community is scared because our leadership is scared.

The definition of a leader is one who stand in the forefront and leads. Not one who cowers in their highly protected ghetto and squeaks from behind a podium.

Yassir Arafat, although I hate everything the man stood for, was a leader. He didn’t shy away from the Israelis, he didn’t shy away from his message that the Palestinians must be a free people living in their own state. As terroristic and repulsive the mass murdering man was, he exemplified everything a leader should be and his people are stronger for it.

In all evil there is a lesson. Yassir Arafat taught us that if you believe you are fighting for is right, then put your body and soul in front of it and fight til the death.

Too many times in Jewish history, Jews hid away in their ghettos. Too many times in Jewish history did Jews cower and hide. Today, we have a strong homeland. Today we are a proud people who should be holding our heads up high and declaring our Jewishness, declaring very publicly our support of Israel, but most importantly declaring that we are not afraid.

I find myself quoting Rabbi Meir Kahane a lot these days. Although some consider him a radical, he did have quite a few things to say about Jewish activism that applies greatly today. At a speech at Brandeis University shortly before his assassination in 1990, Kahane was accosted by Jewish protests calling him a racist and Israel a genocidal state. His response could teach us all a lesson:

“…If G-d forbid we listened to these crazy Jews here, there would be no Jewish state. They suffer from an advanced specific form of Jewish ail, it’s called guilt. There are certain kind of Jews who hone guilt to a fine art. They feel guilty about everything, whether we did it, we didn’t do it, we are guilty. Remember in Lebanon, in Beirut, Christian Arabs massacred Muslim Arabs, who was guilty? The Jews. Don’t feel guilty, they had their opportunities over and over and over again for a state called Palestine and they refused because they believe they could have everything.

So they speak today of moderate Arabs, a more sophisticated version of moderate terrorists, who presumably murder Jews moderately…There is not one Arab speaker who if he came to Brandeis would ever be picketed by an Arab. And know that. They are not riddled with guilt as these people are…”(

19 years later Jews are still racked with this guilt. This is why Federation did not hold their solidarity rally on the streets of Montreal. This is why a small rag-tag group of people who have been standing in solidarity with Israel on a weekly basis for years have beeh marginalized and ignored. This is why Jew haters feel free to march in downtown Montreal unabatted and unapposed screaming Itbach al Yehud (slaughter the Jew). They all know what the Jewish community has yet to figure out..When the rhetoric gets tough, the Jews hide in their synagogues and lock the doors.

When asked on Radio Shalom Montreal why the solidarity rally was being held indoors, deep in the Jewish ghetto, Federation CJA President Marc Gold replied “..It’s easier to control the message.” Unfortunately, the message that was sent by that rally and the inaction of the Jewish community, is that the Jewish community is weak, scared and in hiding. We are once again lambs waiting for slaughter.

‘Itbach al Yehud’ (slaughter the Jews) yelled the protesters last Sunday. The Jewish community’s collective response…a loud click as they locked their synagogue doors on Shabbos.