Joel Yakov Etienne
Lawyer, Entrepreneur, Film/ TV Producer

How long have you been living in Ontario, and why did you choose to live in York Centre?
I moved here over twenty years ago. The initial focus of my law practice was immigration and York Centre has one of the most diverse populations in the country. I am currently running for Parliament in the same area that my business has been in for over fifteen years, and where I spend the majority of my time.

Where does your family come from?
My mother was born in France after the war. Her father was from Hungary and her mother was from Poland. My grandfather, the late Rabbi David Feuerwerker z”l, was a rabbi in Paris. During the war, he worked against the Nazis and collaborators in the French resistance, and after the war he became the Chief Chaplain of the French Navy. My grandmother, Antoinette Gluck Feuerwerker, was a law graduate who also fought in the French resistance. After the war, my grandparents worked hard to rebuild the downtrodden Jewish community. My grandfather was a pulpit rabbi in Paris (Place des Vosges), and my grandmother raised six children. In the end, my grandfather received great support and help from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, with whom he had a correspondence. They had both studied at Sorbonne University in Paris.
The family lore tells us that the gold bars to buy a ship to transport countless refugees to the Promised Land (the famous ship knows as “The Exodus”) were hidden under my aunt’s baby cradle. My father, Dr. Gerard Étienne, who accepted Judaism, was expelled from his home country of Haiti for fighting against communism and fighting for democracy and human rights.

What do you do in your free time (or study)? Do you have any hobbies?
I don’t have a lot of free time, but when I do, I like to spend it with my two children. I am also the president of my synagogue in Thornhill, the Zichron Yisroel Congregation, and I like to jog and exercise to keep happy. I also like to learn Torah and Jewish History when possible.

If you had the opportunity to make a “lechaim” with: a historical character, a modern politician, a writer and art worker, or just a friend, who would you choose? Why?
In terms of ancient figures, I would like to meet our forefather Jacob. He is my favorite hero. What a hard life he had! He had to flee as a very young man from his brother who wanted him dead. His father-in-law made him work for fourteen years to marry Rachel, the woman he loved. But she, after the birth of her second son, Binyamin, dies during her return journey to the Promised Land. Yaakov loses his beloved son Yosef and for many years believes he is dead. In his declining years, when he is forced to believe that he will also lose his second son from his beloved Rachel, he is forced to leave the country because of famine. Yet his faith was unshakable, and he continued to live a G‑dly life. To me, this is the essence of Jewry!
In terms of more modern figures, I would like to meet Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The ideals that he described at his March on Washington speech in 1963 are still the ideals that North America is striving towards today.

When did you start participating in JRCC programs?
I attend religious services that are run by JRCC rabbis. I find them very spiritual and very uplifting. I have been attending sporadically for decades. I met Rabbi Zaltzman several years ago and have a lot of respect for the work he does for the Jewish-Russian community both personally and through JRCC programs. I consider him and his family to be a Kiddush Hashem [a sanctification of G‑d’s name and source of blessing].

What are your plans for the future?
My immediate plans are to win a seat in Parliament for the beautiful riding of York Centre so that I can help all Canadians recover from this pandemic and improve their post-pandemic security and prosperity. We should never again have to wait for vaccines or PPE, which is why I want to work to ensure that our country is more equipped and prepared to deal with these kinds of challenges in the future.