Wiesenthal Education Weekly
For Educators, Parents & Students
June 30 , 2020
Happy Canada Day!
Although this year may look a little different, on July 1, Canada commemorates the signing of the British North America Act (Constitution Act, 1867) that officially created Canada. The legislation which was passed by the British Parliament declared Canada as a self-governing federation. At the time of Confederation, the nation consisted of four provinces, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. In 1879, Dominion Day (now known as Canada Day) became a public holiday and early celebrations included parades, pageants, bonfires, picnics, and sporting events which many across the nation continue to do today. Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, Canada’s adoption of multiculturalism and bilingualism encouraged the diversification of celebrations throughout the country. FSWC wishes those who are celebrating Canada Day a safe and healthy day!
3 Questions With..
Ellis Furman | PhD candidate & Vanier Scholar, Wilfrid Laurier University
I am a PhD candidate and Vanier Scholar in Community Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University, studying how queer and trans communities navigate the complexities and realities of trauma, harm, and healing.
1. How has your Jewish upbringing influenced your research and social action?
Growing up with reform Jewish values, I have always been encouraged to engage in the ongoing work of tikkun olam; a concept defined by acts of kindness performed to repair the world through commitment to social action. I have the immense privilege of promoting tikkun olam through community-engaged research in the gender-based violence sector and academia, and aim to continue this work through accessible knowledge mobilization.
2. Do you have any strategies for educators who want to teach more about queer and trans issues and communities and what methods can educators employ to ensure that the classroom is a safe and open space for all students?
Educators interested in learning more about queer and trans communities and how to better support their students should start by simply looking for what is out there. I think the most difficult part of this learning is for educators to ensure they are gathering their information from reliable resources that centre the experiences of diverse 2SLGBTQ+ communities.
I would begin by thinking about my own relationship to the topic of gender and sexual diversity, how these constructs fit within my worldview, and then try my best to approach learning honestly and without embarrassment or shame. Educators need to hold space for the complexities of gender and sexual identities. The binary gender system does not need to govern our reality just because it is what feels normal right now. In my opinion, the only way we are going to effectively support 2SLGBTQ+ individuals in our lives is to do the personal work to learn about gender and sexual orientation. Prioritize the stories and teachings from the people who built the 2SLGBTQ+ rights movement. Educate yourselves by listening and learning from queer and trans people who are Black, Indigenous, racialized, people with disabilities, people who are young, old, poor, mentally ill, and anyone else who can share a perspective that differs from your own.
3. Has the COVID-19 pandemic changed or shaped the way you think about education?
The COVID-19 pandemic has helped me realize that people can quickly learn, adapt, and change when there is a sense of urgency. COVID-19 presented a sense of global urgency, which led people to act quickly to prevent more death People always tell me that “change is slow”, but the pandemic has provided evidence that rapid shifts are possible when something is perceived as a high enough risk, especially if it risks life. Right now, anti-Black racism has become part of the public lexicon because non-Black people were finally made aware that racism is an issue of life or death. I believe that this momentum needs to be maintained and continued from this point onwards. Educators, students, and families need to be doing the work to understand how racism and white supremacy are destroying our communities. Since homophobia and transphobia stem from binary ideas of sex and gender, we cannot begin to understand sex and gender without examining how colonialism, white supremacy, and patriarchy have constructed a society that frames how we view sex and gender. I believe that we can show up for our queer and trans peers, students, and loved ones once we examine the ways in which we can actively challenge and prevent racism and white supremacy in our own lives.
Growing up Jewish in Small Town Ontario
Community and a sense of belonging is understandably important to Jewish identity, as it is for members of any minority group who experiences exclusion and marginalization. Canada is home to many thriving Jewish communities which have flourished in Canada’s major urban centers over the past 100 years. Indeed, the Canadian Jewish experience has been overwhelmingly urban and as of 2019, 84% of Jewish people in Canada live in four of our largest cities- Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, and Vancouver. But what about the stories of Jewish Canadians outside of these urban centers? What does it mean to “be Jewish” when you grow up without access to a wider Jewish community?
In my experience, you get creative. There are no all-encompassing answers to these questions but I can share my own perspective as a young Jewish person who grew up in the rural community of Maitland, Ontario on the St. Lawrence River. This region of Ontario, about 45 minutes east of Kingston in the Thousand Islands, has experienced declining population for the past 50 years and by the time of my birth in 1989, there were just a handful of Jewish people living in the area, including my grandparents who immigrated to Canada in the early 1950s following the Holocaust. To the best of my knowledge, the only other Jewish person in the area was my grandmother’s best friend and fellow Holocaust survivor, Anita Meyer. And yet, in spite of our isolation, we were a part of a vibrant but little-known international Jewish community that spanned both American and Canadian sides of the St. Lawrence River.
In the town of Ogdensburg, New York, where the river narrows, there is bridge between Canada and the US. Ogdensburg was also home to the synagogue our family belonged to, congregation Anshe Zophen, which means People of the North in Hebrew. This synagogue was originally founded in 1875 and was in continuous use until the early 2000s when it sadly closed forever. The existence of the synagogue speaks to a bygone era when the St. Lawrence Valley was booming and small towns across Canada and the USA were swelling with immigrants. Anshe Zophen served dozens of families on both sides of the river and although I was born long after the “hey-day” of the community, I remember large crowds for evening services on Fridays.
Truly “North American”, our congregation would be best described as a motley crew: our leader was an Orthodox rabbi from Montreal, but the synagogue itself was Conservative. To complicate matters further, some congregants actually identified as Reform. Holocaust survivors and their families were heavily represented in the congregation but many non-Jews, including my father (who played an active role but never converted), were regular attendees. We even sang our songs in slightly different tunes from one another.
I had my Bat Mitzvah at Anshe Zophen in the summer of 2000. Although the synagogue survived the millennium, attendance had been on the decline for years as more families moved away from the small towns of eastern Ontario and upstate New York. The terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 were another serious blow to the existence of an international community like ours. Prior to 9/11, border crossing between Canada and the USA was much more relaxed and people freely traveled by car or boat between the two shores. Following the attacks, border crossing became a more uncertain and drawn-out process, sometimes taking several hours. The difficulty of travel, in combination with the deaths of key members of the congregation, tragically sealed the fate of the synagogue which is abandoned today.
I look back on the Jewish community of my childhood, I cherish these memories and realize that although atypical, my experiences have allowed me from a very early age to understand that “being Jewish” transcends nationality and that the Jewish experience in Canada cannot be easily defined.
What it means to be Canadian: A Jewish Refugee Perspective
We all know the now-familiar headline of “none is too many” and the sobering statistic that Canada allowed in less than 5,000 Jewish refugees during the Second World War. My family were some of the lucky ones. The following was published in the Bulletin of the Canadian National Committee on Refugees in December 1945.
“Many refugees joined the Canadian army and some had gone overseas by V.E. Day. Probably one who spent the shortest time between arrival in Canada and admission to the army was Emil Lurion. Born in Austria, brought up in France, Lurion was too young for military service when he escaped Spain with his mother in late 1944. He was in the army by the end of the year.”
Emil Lurion was my grandfather. After a harrowing journey across the Atlantic, finally setting foot on Canadian soil meant the world to him. He always said how grateful he was to Canada and how proud he felt. That same patriotism is what drove him to enlist in the Canadian military less than 4 months after his arrival. After completing basic training in Petawawa, Emil was given a 14-day embarkation leave before being shipped out. This happened to be May of 1945 and while on leave V.E Day (Victory in Europe) occurred. In his own words “this meant there was no going overseas and no more fighting the Germans, but the war with Japan was still not over. I felt patriotic towards Canada and volunteered for active service in the war in the Pacific. In June 1945 I was sent for jungle training.”
After being eventually discharged from the military, my grandfather married my grandmother and settled in Montreal, where they would remain for the next 40 years. His working career would later take him across the world, often spending months at a time abroad, but Canada always remained close to his heart.
Lieutenant-General The Honourable Romeo Dallaire
In our Tour for Humanity programming, one of the activities we will do with students is to ask them what words they think the world outside Canada associates with our country. While of course we get answers like Tim Horton’s, igloos, and hockey, the most common answer we will hear from students of all ages is “peaceful” or “peacekeepers.” This aspect of Canadian identity is so ingrained into our sense of self that students who were born more than a decade after the Rwandan Civil War and genocide still feel a connection to this shared past. In the 25 years since this crisis, Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire has remained an enduring symbol of the essential nature of peacekeeping, as well as the devastating cost incurred when this duty is not effectively shared and upheld by all.
Romeo Dallaire was born June 25, 1946 in the Netherlands to a Canadian military officer and a Dutch nurse. The young family returned to Canada the following year, ultimately settling down in Montreal. From a young age, Dallaire remembers his fascination with the military—whether it was planning defensive strategies for his childhood sandcastles or reading biographies of the great commanders of the past, his life’s passion was solidified in his heart very early on. His father, who had fought in the Second World War, was often unwilling to share much of his experiences, but Dallaire admired the close-knit circle of veteran friends that his father had held on to even decades after the end of the conflict.
His mother’s past also had an effect on his life as well: growing up in the Netherlands, her childhood best friend had been Jewish. One night, he and his entire family were taken from their homes and never seen or heard from again. As the years progressed and the horrors of the Holocaust were known, his mother realized that they had been victims of the genocide. It was from stories such as this one that Dallaire became aware at a young age of the devastating impact war has on the innocent.
In the end, it was of no surprise to anyone that young Romeo Dallaire would follow, and eventually surpass, the footsteps of his father in the Canadian military. He enrolled in the military in 1963 and worked with the Canadian Armed Forces until his medical release in 2000.
Three decades after his enrollment in the Canadian Armed Forces, after years of building his extensive and impressive resume, Dallaire was given command of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR). The mission was one of peacekeeping; the 2,500 troops under Dallaire’s commander were responsible for overseeing the end of the Rwandan Civil War. The peace agreement had been signed in 1993; Dallaire and his troops were stationed in Rwanda to ensure the success of a new transitional government represented by members of both the insurgent RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) and the government RGF (Rwandese Government Forces). Despite severe underfunding and international apathy, Dallaire and his teams had high hopes for the success of their mission for Rwanda.
Unfortunately, on June 6, 1994, these peace agreements came to an abrupt end when the plane of the Rwandan president was shot down. For the next 100 days, violence, displacement, and senseless slaughter engulfed the central African nation. Despite direct orders for Dallaire and the other UN peacekeepers to stand down and return home, the Canadian commander and 256 UN peacekeepers remained in Rwanda. They knew they could not end the conflict and restore peace, but Dallaire was adamant that they remained in the war-torn country in order to bear witness to the genocide and be able to tell the world what they saw. Dallaire and his team of remaining soldiers were responsible for saving the lives of 32,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus who had sought refuge in UN-controlled shelters.
Upon his return to Canada, Dallaire was overcome by the sense of guilt and remorse for the inability of his troops to prevent the genocide that ultimately resulted in the murder of the over 800,000 Rwandans. He suffered from extreme PTSD and depression. However, after an unsuccessful suicide attempt, Dallaire decided that his past trauma could be used productively in the future to help others who may be suffering. He has become an outspoken advocate for improving mental health initiatives in the military, as well as creating a non-profit dedicated to saving and rehabilitating child soldiers. Today, he continues to speak in Canada and around the world about his experiences, and to amplify the enduring message of “never again.”
Human Rights @ Home
FSWC educators will facilitate one-hour programs via Zoom. Public workshops take place from 3:00pm - 4:00pm EST Monday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to register today. Zoom invitations will be sent out prior to each workshop.
What Our Education Team is Reading & Watching
This week FSWC's Education Team is proud to bring you some of their favourite Canadian books and movies!
Stay in Touch
Although FSWC's Education Team is practicing social distancing for the health and safety of themselves and those around them, you can reach us remotely at any time at email@example.com