Wednesday, February 15, 2012

25 years ago: A prominent Canadian rabbi teams up with a Ku Klux Klan leader to fight racism

An item I should have posted a few months ago: There have been some unlikely fellowships in recent years, but it's hard to top one between a rabbi and a Ku Klux Klan leader. As reported by Gordon Lee in the Calgary Herald, November 19, 1986:

Leaders of Calgary's Jewish community were stunned Tuesday by Rabbi Lewis Ginsburg's announcement that he is joining hands with the head of Alberta's Ku Klux Klan to form a provincial organization aimed at fighting racism.

"I guess I have mixed views," said Bruce Libin, past-president of the Calgary Jewish Community Council.

"Anything anybody can do to combat racism is a good thing, (but) I guess I'm a little bit skeptical about whether this organization will get off the ground."

Libin said he hopes Ginsburg and Tearlach Dunsford Mac a'Phearsoin, the Klan's "imperial wizard" in Alberta, are sincere about their stated intention of battling racism through a newly-incorporated group called the Alberta Fellowship for World Peace.

Ginsburg, 62, retired last week after two years as rabbi of the Beth Israel Synagogue on Glenmore Trail S.W. Since arriving in Calgary in 1967, he has become the city's best-known and best-loved religious leader, widely sought as an after-dinner speaker for his outspoken and humorous views.

Once dubbed the "Catholic rabbi" for his involvement in inter-faith activities, Ginsburg has been a familiar Christmas sight on downtown street corners for the past 15 years, manning fund-raising kettles as the only Jewish officer of the Salvation Army.

Libin said he finds Mac a'Phearsoin "a bit of a strange one" because "on the one hand he professes not to be anti-Semitic, yet anti-Semitism is a fundamental part of the Klan's regime."

Mac a'Phearsoin has refused to discuss his new organization.

"You don't really know Tearlach," Ginsburg said when questioned Tuesday about his unlikely alliance.

"He is a lot different than what the average member (of the community) would conceive of as a member of the Ku Klux Klan," the rabbi said. "I have found him to be a person of the first order and he is prepared to work toward a common cause."

Morris Dancyger, newly-elected president of the Calgary Jewish Community Council, said he, too, was surprised by Ginsburg's announcement but would not comment until he learned more about the new organization.

Another Jewish leader, who declined to be identified, questioned what any member of his community would "go around with somebody calling himself a Klansman."

According to a Canadian Press report published in the Edmonton Journal the same day:

...The new group, called the Alberta Fellowship for World Peace, was incorporated with the Province Oct. 28...

...Both men said Monday that they share a common goal, although they may seem like strange bedfellows.

"The key word is peace," said Ginsburg. "The whole world could use peace."

Ginsburg said he's not worried about teaming up with a member of the Klan.

"I'm not worried at all," Ginsburg said. "I've known him for a long time and I have not found him to be a typical Klansman. He's really a very nice person."

Mac a'Phearsoin said he hopes to get all racial groups into the organization--including Palestinians in Calgary.

"If Rabbi Ginsburg can sit down with a Palestinian representative, then we can show everyone we're ready to work towards harmony," Mac a'Phearsoin said.

The Alberta Fellowship for World Peace was officially dissolved on the appropriate date of April 1, 1996. I don't know if Rabbi Ginsburg is still alive, but Rev. Tearlach Barra Eoin Ros Dunsford-Mac a’ Phearsoin has compiled--according to his web page--a most interesting resume as a New Age masseuse, herbalist, and elder in Native spirituality (a career which was interrupted in the mid-1990s by a two-year spell in prison resulting from a conviction related to a homosexual relationship).

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