When I was in my 20s and a graduate student at Carleton University, I vividly recall my roommate – who came from a small town in Alberta – when opening a box of laundry detergent and noting the measuring scoop was missing, casually remarked, “We got Jewed.”
As the words escaped her mouth, she immediately realized that a mistake had been made. Whether her mistake was having assimilated hurtful language that had been widely accepted and part of the local vernacular where she grew up, or her mistake was inadvertently saying what she really believed in front of a proud Jew, I can never be certain. We did however engage in a lengthy discussion about anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, how words matter and the need for vigilance against all forms of hatred.
Organized by the Shoah Committee of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, November is Holocaust Education Month, a fixed and important time on our community calendar to honour the victims, reflect on the horror, and make actionable the words Never Again. At the launch of this year’s Holocaust Education Month, keynote speaker Bernie Farber’s address asked the provocative question “has never again become again and again?”
I would posit that, with the last generation of eyewitnesses to the Holocaust slowly slipping away, we will each play a role in determining the answer to this question. For example, the onus is now on 25-plus years of March of the Living (MOL) alumni educating their peers and speaking about the Holocaust and other genocides.
On the MOL website is a pledge to amongst other things: keep alive and honour the legacy of the multitudes of our people who perished in the Holo-caust; fight anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, Holocaust denial and all other forms of hatred directed towards the Jewish people and Israel; fight every form of discrimination manifested against any religion, nationality or ethnic group; and create a world where Never Again becomes a reality for the Jewish people and, indeed, for all people.
This sacred responsibility is shared by all of us; by the organized Jewish community and through individual efforts. The Jewish Federation of Ottawa embraces our duty to organize Holocaust education initiatives, primarily through the work of the Shoah Committee, by funding and organizing the March of the Living, and to promote the efforts of others who engage in educational pursuits and advocacy initiatives. We are proud to work with and fund our national advocacy partner, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, in educating other communities and elected officials on the horrors of the Holocaust and the necessity of practising tolerance.
As the leadership of the Shoah Committee undergoes change, and dialogue between Federation’s Board and members of the Shoah Committee is ongoing about how Holocaust education can best be accomplished, this is a good opportunity for those with passion and knowledge to bring their skills and join others already engaged in Holocaust education.
If you are interested in exploring this opportunity, please contact Benita Siemiatycki at 613-798-9818, ext. 227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
We all have a responsibility to educate (as I tried to with my university roommate so many years ago), to participate in educational activities so we are in a better position to do so, and to fight discrimination and hatred of any kind.
Recently, the North Delta Minor Hockey Association of British Columbia did not hesitate to fire one of its coaches when it discovered he had posted pro-Nazi, revisionist remarks on Facebook. As a parent remarked to the Surrey Now, “You can’t be a Nazi and coach kids hockey.”
As a proud Canadian, it is heartening that this type of hatred and anti-Semitism is not tolerated in our country. It is up to all of us to ensure that it never will be.