Speaking in Support of Jewish Heritage Month
March 28th, 2018 - 12:24pm
Ms. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I am proud to have this opportunity to stand in support of Bill S-232 which would establish May as Jewish heritage month. In 2006, a similar bill was passed in the United States to celebrate the contributions of the American Jewish community and Ontario established May as Jewish Heritage Month in 2012.
Bill S-232 is an important statement of recognition for the Jewish community of Canada and its many contributions. In London, Ontario the Jewish Community Centre provides adult Jewish education for those wishing to learn about philosophy, art, culture, and the history of Jewish Londoners.
Charitable giving is sponsored by the London Jewish Community Foundation, a community garden behind the Shalom Synagogue welcomes local gardeners. Coming in out of the Cold hosts lunches and clothing donations for those in need.
Each year there is a Hanukkah party for families to celebrate the Festival of Lights. There is also a seniors complex adjacent to the community centre and a friendship club for seniors to share in a stimulating variety of educational and recreational activities.
As I reflect on the importance of the Jewish community to the fabric of our country, I must also reflect on another reality. It is not so long ago that Canada had an unofficial anti-Jewish immigration policy of none is too many. Anti-Semitism in Canada's immigration policy ultimately led to the refusal to admit Jewish refugees between 1933 and 1948.
While anti-Semitism goes back centuries, it is important to recognize its existence in Canada. Historian David Rome, wrote:
The reluctance of the Canadian government to admit Jewish refugees was a fair reflection of public opinion. The Canadian Jewish Congress was prepared to sponsor the coming and guarantee the financial support of 10,000 Jewish refugees to Canada, yet the Government of Canada rejected this proposal. The reason was simple. Not only was immigration unpopular in the context of the Great Depression, but as well, anti-Semitism was rife in Canada.
The end result was that many who could have been saved, perished in the Holocaust.
In May 1939, the St. Louis , a ship carrying 907 German Jews was refused permission to dock in Halifax because of pressure from high ranking Canadian politicians and 254 of the Jews turned away by the Mackenzie King government did not survive the genocide.
It is the sincere hope of many in the House that passing this declaration and promoting the month of May as Jewish heritage month will allow us to ensure never again. The tragedy of the Holocaust is part of our Canadian heritage.
I do not believe we can have this discussion without understanding the tragedy of the Holocaust, the Shoah, a dark time in our collective history. In remembering those events, we can recognize the strength and resiliency of Holocaust survivors and the need for a Jewish heritage month.
In London, Ontario, the Jewish community commemorates survivors of the Holocaust each spring with its Shoah project, Voices of Survivors. The survivors and their descendants tell the stories of those who somehow miraculously escaped the slaughter.
Nearly 11 million innocent people were murdered during Nazi Germany's reign of terror. Hitler's final solution, a plan to systematically rid the world of Jews, resulted in the deaths of six million Jews.
In the years following World War II, nearly one hundred survivors found their way to London, Ontario, seeking a place to live without fear or discrimination. London was their refuge and provided them with opportunities to contribute to the community. Many of these survivors became active in the life of London as business leaders, doctors, academics, retailers, developers and political activists. They also developed religious organizations, corporations and charities.
The Shoah project launched in 2006, by the Jewish Community Centre at the annual Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust remembrance day commemoration, sought to record and preserve the personal stories of those survivors. The objective is to raise awareness and allow Londoners to hear about the wartime hardships of London's survivors and all those who perished. It encourages understanding and the hope that the Holocaust will not be forgotten. The stories are heartbreaking and they remind us to never forget the reality of Auschwitz, Sobibor, and BabiY ar.
The voices of survivors are heard in London, Ontario, their stories haunting.
Eva Dykstein said:
Today is my worst nightmare. I had already lost friends, my father's entire family, and our life had literally been bombed out of existence. But today is more difficult than anything I have ever had to face. Today, I have to say goodbye to my home, my village, my mother and my father. They are being sent to Uzbekistan while I am being sent to Siberia, deep in the bowels of Russia. ...my mother pulls my precious eight month old daughter...from my arms. Is there anything more cruel than this?
Bill Nightingale said:
My brother David and I were summoned for selection. They had already taken our other brother away and we never saw him again. Now they came for both of us. David told me to go to the end of the line and just “disappear”. I slipped away from the end of the line and ran back to the House to hide in the attic. I saw them take David away with the rest of the group. I'm saved, but for how long?...until they call my name again and I follow, like a sheep, to my slaughter?
Jerry and Fanny Goose survived the ghetto and death camps.
I taught Holocaust literature in my English classes in London for 25 years and I did so because I had discovered that many of my senior students had no idea about the Holocaust. I was very concerned that ignorance of those horrific events could prevent my students from understanding the consequences of prejudice, hatred, and racism. I wanted them to be informed so they could reject and push back against the ugliest of anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia, ageism, misogyny, and homophobia. We must work to end racism and xenophobia because the truth is, we are not always the kind and tolerant nation we believe ourselves to be.
The recent horrific killing of six Muslim men during evening prayers at their Quebec City mosque speaks to the reality of racism in our midst, and while thousands of Canadians attended vigils and sent messages of goodwill, there is still that fear of 'The Other'.
We need to come to terms with that as surely as we have to realize that as long as women are susceptible to violence because they are women, and indigenous peoples are denied the recognition of their contributions and key role in our nation, and the LGBTQ2 community is looked upon with fear and suspicion, we have not created the nation we should aspire to build.
In 2018, one might ask what action can we take today. Well, first and foremost, we must remember the contributions of those who are members of our multi-cultural communities.
I mentioned the civic involvement of the Jewish community in London and wish to also mention the charity of others.
Zakat is a special charitable donation that Muslims give every year before Eid al-Fitr prayers. It is given on behalf of every member of the family to ease the suffering of millions around the world.
Many in our communities contribute to women's shelters and programs to help women fleeing violence.
The LGBTQ2 community holds Pride Festivals across Canada to remind us of our common bond of citizenship and support for each other.
If we truly wish to acknowledge that we will not stand by in the face of another genocide, we need to honour our international obligations and prioritize the resettlement of those who are faced with genocide today. People targeted for their race, religion, culture, and sexual identity continue to be vulnerable. It would be a great mark of respect for the survivors of the Shoah and their families if all violence was removed from our society and that we were to make every effort to combat anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, misogyny, racism, and homophobia in Canada.
We must be aware of the reality of hate crimes and the need for the training of police forces, so that when there is a hate crime it is recognized, reported, and acted upon.
The Jewish community, like so many others, has beautiful customs from which we can learn. In a rich and diverse multicultural society like ours, it is truly our good fortune that we have the opportunity to learn from our communities. As a parliamentarian, I have seen the resiliency and compassion of Canadians.
I, along with my NDP caucus, will vote in favour of recognizing May as Jewish heritage month in Canada. We believe this will give Canadians an opportunity to reflect on the great contributions of Canada's diverse communities.
The passage of Bill S-232 would provide us with the opportunity to reflect on our history and redouble our efforts to ensure “never again”.