From the Desk of Avi Benlolo: The Power of One

January 31, 2020


A note received this week from a Compassion to Action alumna: “I thought it appropriate to communicate with you on this day as I continue to reflect upon the journey you took us on and the profound impact it had on me. What has haunted me from that day forward are your words to us entrusting us with a historical record of hatred perhaps unprecedented in the history of mankind.”

Impact works in mysterious ways. Often, we sow the seeds, till the soil, water it from time to time and hope a sunflower blooms. We were exponentially touched this week by a number of people who implemented the fundamentals of our teachings. At our encouragement, no less than five Canadian cities issued official proclamations for International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Of those, three mayors had participated in our annual Holocaust mission to Poland and Israel.

Dramatic changes are taking place all around us. For years we have been inspiring, motivating and encouraging people to take action. Every act of kindness or compassion and opposition to indifference can dramatically make the world a better place. It's not good enough to pay it forward – we must ‘forward pay.’ In other words, make a deposit to get the ball rolling within our sphere of influence.

Last week, I wrote about the extraordinary gathering of some fifty world leaders in Jerusalem to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It was an unprecedented show of power against the force of antisemitism, hate and intolerance.

But social justice cannot be left to nations. Each one of us, no matter who, has the power to rise from the ordinary to the extraordinary. At Toronto City Hall, I was honoured and privileged to chair the Holocaust remembrance proceedings in honour of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and to witness the coming together of many leaders of different faiths and organizational representation come together. Political leaders, including Mayor John Tory, Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell and former Premier Kathleen Wynne, participated in full force – and what made the tribute extraordinary was the evident respect, affection and compassion toward Vera Shiff, the Holocaust survivor who spoke.

This gathering among gatherings, proclamation among world proclamations were a show of defiance against the banality of evil we are witnessing. Even as we gathered in memory of the Holocaust, incidents of antisemitism continued to spiral. Our Holocaust memorial in Ottawa was egged, schools in York Region were graffitied with swastikas and students at York University once again turned against the Jewish community.  

Still, the tide has turned. Those who seek hate and intolerance will be marginalized as Israel and the Jewish world continue to be strengthened by a show of solidarity from world leaders and friends alike.

Shabbat Shalom,

- Avi

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