Prominent criminal lawyer Brian Greenspan was featured speaker at Navy Hall gathering
Tension between supporters of Israel and Palestine has prompted an increase in antisemitic incidents but in turn has united Niagara’s Jewish community, a local rabbi says.
“We’ve experienced widespread antisemitism and undermining tactics. Our shared Jewish spirit has been assaulted, tested and wounded,” Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Niagara Falls told a Hanukkah celebration in NOTL on Thursday night.
“We have united stronger than ever to champion the cause of Jewish perseverance, presence and thriving, not just in Israel and globally, but right here in Niagara,” he said.
Zalman was on hand at Navy Hall to welcome guests along with Rabbi Moshe Meirovich before calling up community members for the lighting of a menorah.
The keynote speaker for the evening was Niagara-born Brian Greenspan, one of country’s most high-profile criminal defence lawyers, who stressed the need to band together against anti-Jewish rhetoric.
For instance, in response to antisemitism at Toronto Metropolitan University’s law school, he said his firm stopped donating to the school.
“There were protests against the so-called retaliations to the hostilities that were precipitated by Hamas on October 7th,” said Greenspan, who grew up in Niagara Falls.
He explained that after Oct. 7, a petition was signed by students at the Lincoln Alexander School of Law. His firm had previously made financial contributions to the school.
Signed by 74 per cent of the school’s students, it declared that any response by Hamas was justified.
Greenspan wrote to the dean of the law school and to TMU’s president, but was met with relative silence, he said. His firm subsequently suspended financial support of the law school.
His decision to stop supporting the school was applauded by those in the room.
Zalman said despite growing antisemitism and the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, “there has been a positive side to these historic times as well.”
“Our Jewish spirit has never been more vibrant. It has stood up to these challenges,” he said.
The celebration was organized by NOTL resident Alana Hurov, after she created the Facebook group Jewish in Niagara a few months ago.
“We made it an invite-only event because we wanted to ensure everyone felt comfortable and safe,” Hurov told The Lake Report.
Niagara Regional Police were notified it was happening “but there were no issues, thankfully,” she said.
The need for those precautions “just shows that these are not normal times and that now more than ever the Jewish community needs everyone’s support.”
“Never again is now and if we stand by the sidelines, more bad things will happen,” Hurov added.
Hurov noted that MPP Wayne Gates, former MP Rob Nicholson representing current MP Tony Baldinelli, Coun. Wendy Cheropita and Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati were among the crowd in attendance.
Once Greenspan agreed to speak, along with Zalman from Niagara Falls and Rabbi Meirovich from St. Catharines, all that had to be done was pick a date and a venue.
The night featured a lighting of the eight candles of Hanukkah on a giant menorah, latkes and doughnuts for everyone, along with kosher wine.
Following the menorah lighting, Greenspan shared stories about how being a young man in Niagara Falls equipped him with a Jewish support system.
Besides his immediate family, Greenspan said the city and the community were great influences “on the way I practise law and the way in which I’ve carried out – hopefully – my obligations to my community.”
He added that he has many reminders of Niagara in his law office, passing around various photos of office trinkets.
Greenspan, 76, shared success stories of those who emerged from the Jewish neighbourhood in Niagara Falls, along with anecdotes of Jewish life that some in the crowd could well relate to.
“In the ’50s, getting kosher meat to Niagara was a bit of a strange process,” one of Greenspan’s stories began.
Once a week, 15 to 20 families would order from the same kosher butcher in Toronto, he explained.
“There was no refrigeration, so there were only blocks of ice on the truck,” he said.
Greenspan remembers the driver piling soaked-through boxes of meat into the homes and the meat being transferred to salt water to keep even more kosher.
The Jewish community in Niagara was always supportive, Greenspan said, adding that after the death of his father, his home was full of guests every night for more than a year.
“Forget shiva, forget the mourning period. A year and a half, every night,” he said.
In 2013, Greenspan and his brother Eddie – who died in 2014 but was considered by many to have been Canada’s pre-eminent defence lawyer – received the key to the city of Niagara Falls.
Brian Greenspan said it was the most meaningful award he has received throughout his career.
He ended his presentation with a message of community and standing together, along with hopes of emulating all of the greatness portrayed by the Jewish people he grew up with.
“That was the heart of the Jewish community in Niagara Falls where about 25 to 50 families lived. They were always a very tightly knit group,” he said.
“It is a message to other communities to emulate that kind of brotherhood, that sense of support and community.”