Bring fairness to Ontario’s educational funding would be a fitting tribute to Irving Abella

Such was the significance of his life and so entirely embracing were the affections he engendered that the sad news of Irving Abella’s passing on July 3rd appeared on the front page of The Globe and Mail and was among the lead items on a number of news telecasts and broadcasts.

The very long list of Abella’s accomplishments – or excerpts from that list – were published in the obituaries that noted his passing and attempted to pay him tribute. But even as a few bars of powerfully striking and moving notes cannot convey the full emotional impact of an entire symphony, no obituary of Irving Abella, however comprehensive or tenderly composed, can convey adequate tribute to him.

Nor will this one. Nevertheless, GAJE must acknowledge the debt we owe to Irving Abella.

In his professional life, Irving Abella was a teacher, professor, scholar, writer, historian, advocate, administrator, organizer, community activist and much more. Through it all, the iron-clad tie that bound his work to the essential core of his nature was his deep sense of justice. Irving Abella always fought for the oppressed. His conscience bridled at injustice. Whether writing about labour history in Canada, or about the barring of Canada’s borders to the Jews of Europe attempting to save themselves from the Nazis, he saw his task as bringing the heartless and the unkind, the cruel and the unjust, the powerful and the uncaring to account for their inhumane ways.

As we have noted in this space before, in the Afterward to a volume of essays that resulted from a conference titled Creating the Jewish Future which was held at the Centre for Jewish Studies at York University in 1996,  Abella wrote the following: “It seemed self-evident that the major challenge to our Jewish leadership in the next generation should be building a Jewish community that is not simply concerned with survival, but one that is creative and attractive to our children – a community with substance and content, a community that stresses not only memory but other important values of our traditions – primarily social justice, equity, compassion and spirituality. We pride in its activities and achievements. We will have to find ways to convert alienation to action and passivity to pride, the pride of being possessors of a great legacy, a legacy which has meaning for today and beyond.”

We are the next generation to whom Abella addressed those words of challenge. More than a quarter century later, it still rests on our shoulders. Indeed, as he well knew, and which is why he likely cast it the way he did, the “challenge” falls upon every generation with appropriate adjustments according to the circumstances of the times and place.  

Readers of this weekly report know, GAJE has launched an application in court to remedy Ontario’s unfair, unjust educational funding. Queen’s Park justifies its educational funding policy on the basis of the 1996 decision by the Supreme Court in the Adler case in which the Court ruled Ontario could legally fund the educational system of only one religion to the exclusion of all religions practiced in Ontario. The decision did not prevent Ontario from extending funding to other, independent, denominational schools.

To this very day, some 26 years later, Ontario does not suggest that its policy is fair to non-Catholics. Rather, the government maintains it is immune from being legally compelled to change its policy. 

Between 1992 and 1995, Abella served as the president of the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC).

It was under Abella’s presidency that the Adler case was launched. Indeed it was the CJC that shepherded the case through the courts, providing counsel and resources on behalf of the plaintiffs. The Supreme Court decision was handed down in November of 1996 after being argued in January of that year. But it was an appeal  from a judgment of the Ontario Court of Appeal in 1994 dismissing an appeal from a judgment of the Ontario High Court in 1992.

Some years ago, Abella, an alumnus of Associated Hebrew Schools (AHS), lent his name and his photo to a campaign the school had embarked upon to help bust some very harmful myths about graduates of Jewish day schools. We are familiar with these myths: day school graduates tend not to participate in the life of the wider community; they adopt inward-looking ways and look only to a cloistered horizon. But the truth is generally quite the opposite. Abella’s life is the poignant refutation of the lie and/or the ignorance peddled by demagogues that public assistance to independent schools would shred to pieces the fabric of our multicultural society.

As Irving Abella’s life attests, day school graduates – dare we also say – independent school graduates – participate with as much vigour and volunteer energy in the life of the wider community as do public school graduates. They stand for inclusion, tolerance and wide horizons as forcefully as the graduates of public schools, indeed, if not more.

Irving Abella was the perfect representative/embodiment/spokesperson for Canadian Jewry: dignified of bearing; thoughtful, studied, careful, calmly compelling of speech, courageous in action and deeply good of character. Of some it would merely be an eye-rolling cliché to add, but of Abella it was as true as a ray of sharply defined light cutting through the dark, that he walked and talked and comported himself as comfortably and as purposefully with prime ministers and presidents as he did with hourly paid workers, salaried employees, students and editors. He was simply a deeply principled human being. His memory will always be for blessing.

Succeeding in having the courts re-assess the correctness of the Adler decision in the year 2022 and as a resykt, hopefully bring fairness to Ontario’s educational funding would be a fitting tribute to Irving Abella.

•••

Shabbat shalom Grassroots for Affordable Jewish Education (GAJE

Bring fairness to Ontario’s educational funding would be a fitting tribute to Irving Abella

Such was the significance of his life and so entirely embracing were the affections he engendered that the sad news of Irving Abella’s passing on July 3rd appeared on the front page of The Globe and Mail and was among the lead items on a number of news telecasts and broadcasts.

The very long list of Abella’s accomplishments – or excerpts from that list – were published in the obituaries that noted his passing and attempted to pay him tribute. But even as a few bars of powerfully striking and moving notes cannot convey the full emotional impact of an entire symphony, no obituary of Irving Abella, however comprehensive or tenderly composed, can convey adequate tribute to him.

Nor will this one. Nevertheless, GAJE must acknowledge the debt we owe to Irving Abella.

In his professional life, Irving Abella was a teacher, professor, scholar, writer, historian, advocate, administrator, organizer, community activist and much more. Through it all, the iron-clad tie that bound his work to the essential core of his nature was his deep sense of justice. Irving Abella always fought for the oppressed. His conscience bridled at injustice. Whether writing about labour history in Canada, or about the barring of Canada’s borders to the Jews of Europe attempting to save themselves from the Nazis, he saw his task as bringing the heartless and the unkind, the cruel and the unjust, the powerful and the uncaring to account for their inhumane ways.

As we have noted in this space before, in the Afterward to a volume of essays that resulted from a conference titled Creating the Jewish Future which was held at the Centre for Jewish Studies at York University in 1996,  Abella wrote the following: “It seemed self-evident that the major challenge to our Jewish leadership in the next generation should be building a Jewish community that is not simply concerned with survival, but one that is creative and attractive to our children – a community with substance and content, a community that stresses not only memory but other important values of our traditions – primarily social justice, equity, compassion and spirituality. We pride in its activities and achievements. We will have to find ways to convert alienation to action and passivity to pride, the pride of being possessors of a great legacy, a legacy which has meaning for today and beyond.”

We are the next generation to whom Abella addressed those words of challenge. More than a quarter century later, it still rests on our shoulders. Indeed, as he well knew, and which is why he likely cast it the way he did, the “challenge” falls upon every generation with appropriate adjustments according to the circumstances of the times and place.  

Readers of this weekly report know, GAJE has launched an application in court to remedy Ontario’s unfair, unjust educational funding. Queen’s Park justifies its educational funding policy on the basis of the 1996 decision by the Supreme Court in the Adler case in which the Court ruled Ontario could legally fund the educational system of only one religion to the exclusion of all religions practiced in Ontario. The decision did not prevent Ontario from extending funding to other, independent, denominational schools.

To this very day, some 26 years later, Ontario does not suggest that its policy is fair to non-Catholics. Rather, the government maintains it is immune from being legally compelled to change its policy. 

Between 1992 and 1995, Abella served as the president of the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC).

It was under Abella’s presidency that the Adler case was launched. Indeed it was the CJC that shepherded the case through the courts, providing counsel and resources on behalf of the plaintiffs. The Supreme Court decision was handed down in November of 1996 after being argued in January of that year. But it was an appeal  from a judgment of the Ontario Court of Appeal in 1994 dismissing an appeal from a judgment of the Ontario High Court in 1992.

Some years ago, Abella, an alumnus of Associated Hebrew Schools (AHS), lent his name and his photo to a campaign the school had embarked upon to help bust some very harmful myths about graduates of Jewish day schools. We are familiar with these myths: day school graduates tend not to participate in the life of the wider community; they adopt inward-looking ways and look only to a cloistered horizon. But the truth is generally quite the opposite. Abella’s life is the poignant refutation of the lie and/or the ignorance peddled by demagogues that public assistance to independent schools would shred to pieces the fabric of our multicultural society.

As Irving Abella’s life attests, day school graduates – dare we also say – independent school graduates – participate with as much vigour and volunteer energy in the life of the wider community as do public school graduates. They stand for inclusion, tolerance and wide horizons as forcefully as the graduates of public schools, indeed, if not more.

Irving Abella was the perfect representative/embodiment/spokesperson for Canadian Jewry: dignified of bearing; thoughtful, studied, careful, calmly compelling of speech, courageous in action and deeply good of character. Of some it would merely be an eye-rolling cliché to add, but of Abella it was as true as a ray of sharply defined light cutting through the dark, that he walked and talked and comported himself as comfortably and as purposefully with prime ministers and presidents as he did with hourly paid workers, salaried employees, students and editors. He was simply a deeply principled human being. His memory will always be for blessing.

Succeeding in having the courts re-assess the correctness of the Adler decision in the year 2022 and as a resykt, hopefully bring fairness to Ontario’s educational funding would be a fitting tribute to Irving Abella.

•••

Shabbat shalom Grassroots for Affordable Jewish Education (GAJE)

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