Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper joined members of the House of Commons in saluting the Canadian Federation of Chabad-Lubavitch as 100 emissaries gathered for a national conference on Parliament Hill.

Following official business in Canada’s lower house – during which five legislators from across the political aisle and in two languages invoked the memory of slain Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg in noting Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries’ dedication to Jewish education and providing social services across the globe – Harper joined a reception for the rabbinical delegation in the Railway Committee Room. He was accompanied by Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, who earlier this year, visited the Chabad House in Mumbai, India, where the Holtzbergs and four of their guests lost their lives.

“Canadian alumni of Chabad-Lubavitch institutions play a vital role among the more than 5,500 Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries across the globe,” noted MP Scott Reid, a Conservative who represents Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington, Ontario. “With its educational, humanitarian and youth centers, our country boasts centers for those less fortunate, including children with special needs, and drug and alcohol addicts. These are programs that have been emulated throughout North America and indeed, the entire world.”

“The Chabad-Lubavitch movement provides the largest network of Jewish education and social services [through its] institutions across the globe,” echoed MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis, a New Democrat from Winnipeg North, Manitoba. Under the direction of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, the movement “has been a catalyst for Jewish revival around the world. Today it is synonymous with wisdom and kindness, offering nourishment for the body, food for the mind and soul, and non-judgmental advisors always willing to listen.”

At the afternoon reception, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, delivered the opening remarks, pointing out that it was the country of Canada that opened doors of opportunity and refuge to his late father, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kotlarsky, who fled war-torn Europe 68 years ago.

After a journey from Poland to Montreal by way of Vilnius, Japan and later Shanghai, the rabbi opened a school and educating Jewish children at the behest of the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory. By the end of the first year, more than 1,500 students were being educated in Lubavitch institutions in Montreal.

Thanking Canada for allowing his father to provide a Jewish education for thousands of children and to sow the seeds of Chabad-Lubavitch in the country, Kotlarsky noted that “there are over 100 emissaries convening here today from across Canada.”

A visibly moved Harper responded: “I hope that you will understand, the Jewish people will always understand, that Canada will always be their home.”

“Chabad-Lubavitch’s education and outreach programs,” he said, “have strengthened the bonds of the faith and its good works have produced miracles for many, many families and people in Canada and around the world.”

The reception was held in the ornate Railway Committee Room off of the House of Commons. Harper and Kotlarsky stand at right. (Photo: Peter Waiser)
The reception was held in the ornate Railway Committee Room off of the House of Commons. Harper and Kotlarsky stand at right. (Photo: Peter Waiser)

Powerful Message

Turning to the November attacks in Mumbai and its Chabad House, the prime minister lauded the self-sacrifice of the Holtzbergs.

“By performing mitzvahs and bringing more light into this world,” said Harper, “the Holtzbergs were fulfilling the late Rabbi Schneerson’s vision for strengthening Judaism.”

He saw in the arrival in Mumbai of two Canadian rabbinical students soon after the attacks – an event referred to earlier in the House of Commons chamber by Reid – harbingers of hope.

“The immediate arrival of a new rabbi to Mumbai to carry on the work of the Holtzbergs sends a powerful message,” stated Harper. “The Jewish community will never bow to hate and violence.”

According to Rabbi Sholom Lezell, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Danforth Beaches in Toronto, Harper later told the rabbinical delegation how proud he was “that the student rabbis that traveled to Mumbai were from Canada.”

Also in his remarks, the prime minister reiterated Canada’s commitment to fighting anti-Semitism and expressed his support for Israel.

Staying an extra 20 minutes beyond the time allocated for the event, Harper posed for group pictures with the emissaries.

“Thank you for your contribution to this country and to the world,” he told them. “Thank you for having me here today.”