This week ushered in a new year fraught with a good deal of apprehension and, for many people around the world, outright fear. The challenges facing humanity are tremendous and often appear overwhelming.
2016 was by too many counts a difficult and dangerous year. Increasing acts of global terrorism, the ongoing tragedy in Syria and the continued growth in antisemitism around the world, capped off by a vicious UN campaign designed to sever the Jewish people from their history and culture, make hope and optimism seem difficult, if not outright foolish.
But 2017 is a year of celebration in Canada. This magnificent country is 150 years old, and Canadians are justifiably proud of our efforts to overcome a history of antisemitism and discrimination; today our diverse country is recognized as one of the best in the world, and those of us who are fortunate enough to hold Canadian citizenship are indeed among the luckiest people anywhere.
Although swastikas and other signs of growing racist and antisemitic tensions continue to appear in public spaces across the country, they are in every instance condemned by authorities and the general public. The growing demand for Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center's (FSWC) human rights-based education workshops by school boards and communities across the province is a clear indicator that racism and discrimination are not tolerated by our civic leaders. The flames of antisemitism and prejudice are not being fanned by Canadian politicians; despite the efforts of racists and antisemites, their hatred is countered by words of support for Jews and other minorities from our elected leaders, educators, police and the wider public.
There are always bright spots: In December the Lambton-Kent District School Board became the 21st board to join FSWC's initiative to recognize International Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27) in schools throughout the province. This means more than 1.2 million Ontario students will learn about and commemorate the Holocaust every January, with many boards implementing classroom activities recommended by FSWC's education department to assist in teaching about this vital initiative.
Today Canada is a model of inclusivity and diversity for the rest of the world to emulate. We have overcome fear and accepted refugees in communities large and small from sea to sea. We have condemned the antisemitic BDS movement designed to destroy Israel, and are poised to proclaim the month of May as Jewish Heritage month across the country. We continue to address the mistakes of the past, and are trying to do better for future generations.
During Rosh Hashanah I had the opportunity to meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and present him with a copy of "The Sunflower' - Simon Wiesenthal's meditation on the Holocaust and forgiveness. In this brief book the noted Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter reminds us "freedom is not a gift from heaven. One must fight for it every day."
And so we begin the New Year with a dual mission: to embrace our country and celebrate its myriad achievements in this 150th year of our shared history, while being ever mindful of the dangers to our freedoms, and working constantly to ensure they are cherished and preserved.
Never before has this task been so important; I look forward to your continued support.
Happy New Year, and Shabbat Shalom,