Trouble at the Border
Next time a Detroit-area mohel is called upon by the Jewish community in Windsor, Ontario, to conduct a ritual circumcision, he may want to consider attaining a work permit from the Canadian Department of Immigration. Or, hire a good international labor lawyer.
Without the right credentials, he might get turned around at the border.
That was what Dr. Craig Singer of Bloomfield Hills, a board-certified dermatologist, pediatrician and mohel, encountered at the Windsor Tunnel crossing on Thursday, May 19, as he traveled to perform a circumcision for a family in Windsor.
Unfortunately, once he stated his purpose for visiting Canada, he was further questioned by immigration officials who denied him entry into the country because he did not present any work permit or Canadian credentials to perform a circumcision in Canada.
While there have been the occasional delays, clergy on both sides of the border — and as far away as Vancouver, British Columbia — agree this is the first time they can recall that an American mohel was denied entry into Canada.
Canadian immigration officials told Singer, who received his mohel certification through Hebrew Union College, that the circumcision was medically surgical in nature and if he ever attempted to perform a bris in Canada again, he would be “reprimanded and possibly prosecuted.”
A central rite of identity for Jewish males, the ritual circumcision, barring any serious health concerns, occurs on a baby boy’s eighth day of life and takes precedence over any other holiday or occasion in a Jewish community, including a funeral, Shabbat or Yom Kippur.
“Windsor does not have a mohel and, therefore, we rely on our nearest town over the river — Detroit — to bring in a mohel to conduct a brit milah,” said Rabbi Sholom Galperin, head of Windsor Chabad for seven years. “Having access to a mohel is essential for any Jewish community to be able to bring a baby Jewish boy on the eighth day of his life into the covenant made between Abraham and God.”
Singer says he had talked with the family about plans for the bris several months ago as well as a few days prior to the brit milah.
While detained at the border, poor cellular service prevented him from calling the family. When he asked to make the call or have the officer call the family, the officer refused.
At press time, the JN was unable to make contact with the family to see how the issue was resolved.
In the 15 years Singer has been a mohel, he has made many one-day trips to Windsor to perform circumcisions. Mohalim such as father-and-son rabbis Avraham and Ezra Cohen of Southfield for decades have also crossed the border to perform the ritual for nearly 40 years with little incident.
Border Service Response
A general statement released by the Southern Ontario Region of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) about the incident read:
“Every person seeking entry into Canada must demonstrate that they meet the requirements to enter the country.
“Admissibility of all travelers seeking to enter Canada is considered on a case-by-case basis, and based on the specific facts presented by the applicant in each case at the time of entry.
“The onus is on the traveler to understand and meet the entry requirements.
“A temporary foreign worker seeking entry to Canada may require a work permit.”
The CBSA also pointed to its online guidelines for Refugees and Citizenship/Canada Temporary Foreign Workers. There, in a paragraph especially deemed for temporary clergy (R186), the regulations state that a foreigner is permitted to work in Canada without a work permit as clergy defined as a person who is “responsible for assisting a congregation or group in the achievement of its spiritual goals and whose main duties are to preach doctrine, perform functions related to gatherings of the congregation or group or provide spiritual counseling.”
Still, the CBSA did not offer a clear explanation as to why Singer was turned away, nor did they explain why the immigration officer would threaten to prosecute Singer if he returned to Canada to perform a bris.
“The immigration officer asked me if I knew of any Canadian legislation that would permit me to enter the country to perform this ‘surgery,”” Singer said. “I explained this is not surgery, but rather a religious rite, and I told him there are religious freedom laws protecting and enabling Canadian citizens to fulfill their religious beliefs.”
While still widely practiced in Canada, views on circumcision — ritual or medical — seem to be shifting out of favor.
In 2015, the Canadian Pediatric Society released a statement reaffirming its recommendation against the routine circumcision of newborn males but also maintained that families need to make the best decision for their children based on family, religious and cultural beliefs.
Canadian clergy maintain that Canada holds religious freedom in the highest regard and that this matter, however unfortunate, is more about who is allowed to work in Canada and less about infringement on religious practices. And that all comes down to the whim of the immigration officer on duty.
Rabbi Don Pacht, head of school of the Vancouver Hebrew Academy in Vancouver, B.C., who has practiced as a certified mohel in both countries for 17 years, said there is no official governmental certification in either Canada or the U.S. for mohalim. They train either under doctors or rabbis, and their training is not regulated by any government.
Finding a mohel in the wider Jewish community in North America is a practice based on references and trust. Pacht speculated Singer’s being a medical doctor is what may have been the determining factor for the immigration officer’s denial of entry.
“Canada is very liberal in regard to protecting religious rights, perhaps even more so than the United States,” said Pacht, who holds dual citizenship. “As an American, however, you cannot practice medicine or surgical procedures in Canada without proper documentation; and this immigration official perhaps deemed a circumcision, even though ritual, as surgery.”
Singer said he will be hesitant to return to Canada if asked to perform a bris. And if he does, he said he might have to “hire a good labor lawyer” to work through the wording of Canada’s labor laws for foreign clergy.
He remained remorseful for the family waiting for him to welcome their baby officially into the Jewish community.
“A beautiful lifecycle event was completely soured for this family,” Singer said. “I was wearing a kippah as I went through customs. I could have just said I was visiting a friend in Canada, but with a carrying case containing circumcision surgical equipment in my trunk, I wanted to be completely honest.”
By Stacy Gittleman | Contributing Writer
That Moment when I became a Hasbara Troll: A phone conversation with Jewish Voice for Peace
If you are like me and you comment a lot – I mean a lot – to refute false claims and narratives that are piled upon Israel – you may have felt the virtual masking tape gag your mouth as I did by Jewish Voice for Peace.
In an effort to increase its membership and its own voice, #JewishVoiceforPeace recently cleansed its Facebook page of any facts that counter their lies.
It wasn’t enough to be called a Hasabra troll, with people spewing lies that I get paid to Stand Up for Israel online.
It wasn’t enough to be called stupid, racist, ignorant, bigotted and a hateful Zionist pig by the self-righteous over at Jewish Voice for Peace
But about a month ago, JVP completely shut down my account. They blocked me from commenting. From “liking” their page. From sending private messages to their admins. And from what it appears, all the others who tried to refute the lies and anyone else who tried to address false claims of JVP’s posts, their tireless garbage of calling Zionists oppressors and occupiers anyone whose comments did not fall in line with their twisted way of seeing Israel, was also blocked from commenting.
The last post I was ever able to make on JVP’s Facebook page was a post on May 11 where, in a sympathetic nod to the fate of teen terrorist Ahmed Manasra as he faces 20 years in prison. They showed the video of Mansra, 13 at the time, lying bleeding in the street of the Pisgat Zeev neighborhood while people cursed at him. Jewish Voice for Peace in the post called for the release of the poor Palestinian
What the post failed to do – as do many who tell only half-truths about the Arab/Israeli conflict – was to pull back the lens.
JVP failed to mention that back in October, this kid, along with his big cousin, went on a Jew hunt, taking knives from their mom’s kitchen to go stab some Jews to bring some dignity to their people.
What the post failed to do was to show the security video of Manasra and his cousin, who was shot dead, running through the streets stabbing Jews, including a 12-year-old boy on his bicycle who lost so much blood he had to be put into a medically induced coma to survive.
So, I posted the video.
Shortly afterward, I was blocked from commenting anywhere ever again on JVP’s Facebook page.
But that’s okay.
I am old. Old enough to remember a time of activism long before the invention of social media.
It’s called phone calls.
I remember as a kid making phone calls to “Let my People Go” to the Soviet Consulate. I remember marching in Soviet Jewry rallies.
Look what we accomplished.
I told you, I’m old.
This week, after watching their Facebook page put up post after post of lies and distortions, I called up their office in Oakland, Calif. at (510) 465–1777
I expressed my dismay and disappointment that JVP has decided to censor all dissenting viewpoints that counter theirs on their Facebook page. I asked the woman why that was and she said they take off comments that are hateful, violent and abusive.
I guess being hateful and violent and abusive against Zionists is perfectly fine.
All I did was post facts.
Facts that do not mesh with the Palestinian narrative. Because a narrative is not history.
Unsafe space facts.
And as I talked, I realized what I wanted to say, and it was not as much as what I wanted to say was what I wanted to ask.
What was the thing that JVP hates most of all?
So I asked: Do you know what the Hebrew word Tziyon means?
She replied: No, I don’t.
It means Zionism. Do you know what Zionism translates into, I am talking about the meaning of the word?
No I really don’t.
And I explained. It means excellence. It means treating others with excellence and living up to standards of excellence. It means that Jewish people have the right to live independently in their ancient homeland.
She then said: We have different interpretations of what it means to live in a homeland.
I then questioned her about JVP’s stance on a two-state solution. She said that JVP does not believe in a two-state solution, that all people should share the land with freedom and dignity and that the apartheid occupation had to end.
I said there is already a two state solution. It is called Jordan.
She said she found that remark very insulting.
I said, you may be insulted but it is a fact.
I questioned her more.
She did not know anything about the Balfour Declaration of 1917.
Or the San Remo Conference of 1920.
She did not know that half of the land of the British Mandate of Palestine that was meant to be set aside for the Jewish state was used to create the country of Jordan the same year that the State of Israel was created.
She told me that she and I held different interpretations of history.
I’m thinking, this is not an interpretation. These are historical dates. Facts.
It was when I corrected her claims that Israel is an apartheid state and I mentioned that 1.5 Million Muslim Arabs live in Israel with full rights, she said she and I had a different interpretation of rights, and she would need to end this conversation.
And there you have it.
Because JVP does not want to bother with history.
Or the truth.
But that is where we come in and that is where we, Jews, have gone oh so wrong. If the folks at JVP truly are Jewish, they are the Jews are are the product of a weak Jewish education that dismisses learning history at the price of convenience and reduced hours of instruction.
So, call JVP. If you’ve been blocked. Find a post you strongly disagree with them. And now that they’ve blocked you, just call and tell them what you were going to write.
Just do it with civility. And you had better come knowing your stuff.
Because they certainly don’t.