Reverend Majed El Shafie, the Egyptian-born founder and president of One Free World International, an international human rights organization based in Toronto that advocates for religious minorities, was the first recipient of the Raoul Wallenberg Citation for Moral Courage in the Face of Anti-Semitism. He received the award at a Parliament Hill reception on March 21.
“Reverend El Shafie was sentenced to death and was tortured in Egypt, because he changed his religion from Islam to Christianity,” said Holocaust survivor Vera Gara, one of the founders of the Ottawa-based Wallenberg Citation Initiative, which created the award. “He is a fabulous man.
“Reverend Majed El Shafie has courageously opposed both anti-Semitism and the persecution of all other spiritual and cultural minorities,” added former MP David Kilgour, a human rights activist, who gave the keynote address at the presentation.
“It was very humbling to be associated with a great man and the legacy of Raoul Wallenberg,” said El Shafie in accepting the award. “It’s about more than fighting for Jewish people, it’s about fighting for all minorities, respecting the dignity of each human being, and being a voice for the voiceless.”
The Wallenberg Citation Initiative was co-founded by Daniel Stringer and Vera and George Gara working with a committee that includes Rabbi Barry Schlesinger, Anna-Lee Chiprout, Reverend Oscar Boloko, Richard Jackman, and honorary co-chairs David Kilgour and Rabbi Reuven Bulka.
“I’ve been looking for Vera and George for 10 years,” said Stringer, who has long wanted to create a ceremony at the United Nations to honour someone for speaking out against anti-Semitism. He envisaged a nomination process and a medal.
“Daniel is not Jewish, but it was his idea from the start,” said Vera, author of “Least Expected Heroes of the Holocaust – A Personal Memoir.”
Stringer, who has worked in social services, has a doctorate in international relations from the University of Paris.
“I met Mother Theresa,” he said, “and then got involved working with the homeless and then for politicians.”
Three years ago, Stringer organized the International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Ottawa City Hall.
“It went very well,” he said. “From there I identified several individuals in the Jewish community, invited them for a kosher dinner at our place, and pitched the idea of their helping me.”
Rabbi Schlesinger suggested naming the award for Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust. On January 17, 1945 Wallenberg was detained by Soviet authorities and never heard from again.
The Wallenberg Citation Initiative plans to present both national and international awards. Now that the first national award has been presented to El Shafie, nominations are open for the first international award.
The committee plans to present the first international award in December at the United Nations to an individual or organization “who, in the face of anti-Semitism, has stood fast, in words and deeds in support of multi-religious inclusion and appreciation; who, in living for the sake of others, have shared the values of Raoul Wallenberg by protecting the vulnerable from religious persecution and irrational fear mongering such as anti-Semitism, and who have taken personal risks to defend the religious rights of others, even those from a religion not their own.”
The deadline for nominations is July 31 and they may be emailed to Stringer at TheString@rogers.com.