Why we remember by Len Rudner

Two events in this past week – one personal and one professional – came together and reinforced for me the importance of memory.

On the weekend, my brother and I commemorated the yahrzeit of our father, who passed away on 7 Adar 5752. The yahrzeit, along with the yizkor prayers said throughout the year act as emotional punctuation marks to a story that continues to be written so long as we continue to remember him

On Monday, I attended an event sponsored by Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, where the successes of the Community Historical Recognition Program (CHRP) were celebrated.

Since 2008, more that $13 million dollars has been made available to “educate all Canadians about how certain ethnocultural communities were affected by wartime discriminatory measures and immigration restrictions applied in Canada.” Sadly the list is long. More than 68 community projects were funded by the CHRP, including a number that were based on experiences of the Jewish community.

But why bother? Isn’t it over with? Isn’t it time to move on?

No. It is always time to move forward but that doesn’t mean forgetting. Indeed, I’d suggest that moving forward is almost impossible if the cost of that is forgetting. Those who experienced – and overcame – discrimination have the responsibility to share that story with their children and with the wider community. This must be done not to preserve guilt or shame but to deliver the message of our common humanity, our all too-human capacity to make grievous errors, and our equally human – and precious! – capacity to learn from our mistakes and not repeat them. The Passover haggadah urges us to read the story of the exodus from Egypt actively: it did not happen to others; it happened to us. But explicitly, we recite “This year we are slaves; next year we will be free.” Though free, we utter the word of slaves. In such a way we see that the past and present are not so easily untangled. The words that John Steinbeck puts in the mouths of the women, forced to leave their possessions behind as they flee the dustbowl should be meaningful to us all: “without our things, how will we know who we are?”

Our history, as Jews and as Canadians is written on a scroll that stretches out far beyond the span of our individual lives, but is connected to us notwithstanding. It is our responsibility to remember that past, contribute to this present, and leave space for the future yet to be recorded.

Len Rudner is Director, Community Relations and Outreach for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.