House of Commons
Message from the Senate
S-232 – Canadian Jewish Heritage Month
Note: Senator Linda Frum specifically quoted CIJA CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel during debate (see bolded section below).
Hon. Linda Frum moved third reading of Bill S-232, An Act respecting Canadian Jewish Heritage Month.
She said: Honourable senators, it is my pleasure to rise in this chamber and speak at third reading in support of Bill S-232, the “Canadian Jewish Heritage Month Act.” This legislation enjoys support from all parties in both the House of Commons and the Senate. In that spirit, allow me to acknowledge the efforts of Michael Levitt, Member of Parliament for York Centre, who is responsible for initiating this bill. I would also like to thank Senators Wetston, Fraser, Gold and Jaffer for their speeches during second reading.
During the Human Rights Committee hearing, senators posed questions to leaders of the Jewish community about the impact that Jewish heritage month will have on Canada. For the benefit of those who were not able to attend that meeting, I will share some excerpts.
Shimon Fogel, Chief Executive Officer of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, had this to say about a Canadian Jewish heritage month:
The concept of heritage months offer a proactive approach to peeling back the ignorance that really serves as the engine or driver of the kind of intolerance that all of us would wish to see diminish and eradicated. It is in this context that I think they play an important role in helping other Canadians appreciate the shared values of specific communities . . . . They bring down that sense of suspicion and hostility that is born from a sense of ignorance about other faith communities.
In her question to Michael Mostyn, the CEO of B’Nai Brith, Senator Bernard made the observation that, while cultural months, such as Black History Month, which was established in 1995, may seek to reduce prejudice and enhance mutual understanding, it’s not clear that they always succeed in that mission.
Mr. Mostyn agreed that in order for Canadian Jewish heritage month to be successful, it cannot be an insular celebration, a Jewish community celebration only for the Jewish community. He said:
. . . there’s no point in any community holding a celebration for itself.
He went on to say:
We are all part of Canada, and the essence of any heritage day has to be how we communicate the contributions of our particular community to other communities so they can understand that . . . .
. . . if communities . . . start thinking more creatively and outside of the box . . . we will find those . . . ways.
Speaking for myself, it is my hope that with the establishment of Canadian Jewish heritage month, all Canadians will have the opportunity to learn about the culture and history of Jewish Canadians and appreciate the integral role that the Jewish community has played in shaping Canada, while also accepting that the challenge of mutual understanding and compassion is ongoing and everlasting.
The timing of this bill coming to third reading in the Senate during the month of May is apropos. The month of May has been proclaimed by the United States as a time to celebrate the contributions of the American Jewish community, and has been ever since 2006, when President George W. Bush and Congress passed a resolution deeming it such.
In Ontario, Jewish Heritage Month was established in 2012 and is also celebrated in the month of May. May is also the month that Israel celebrates one of its more joyful public holidays, Yom Ha’atzmaut, or Israeli independence day.
With luck, with the passage of Bill S-232, Canada will have a national Jewish heritage month of its own starting in May 2018.
I am proud that Canadian Jewish heritage month has received unanimous support thus far and look forward to your continued support during this final stage of debate in the Senate.
Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): Honourable senators, I am very pleased to rise today and express the government’s support for Bill S-232, “An Act to establish Canadian Jewish Heritage Month.”
I want to thank Senator Frum for introducing this legislation and others for speaking so eloquently in support of it. This will, as Senator Frum has just stated, make May a month of recognition and celebration of Canada’s Jewish heritage.
Support for this bill runs deep and wide as honourable members of both houses have shown a willingness to stand together across political lines and religious lines to celebrate, recognize and respect Canada’s Jewish community.
It is altogether fitting that we mark the contributions of Canada’s Jewish community to our past, present and future because, without those contributions, Canada today would be unrecognizable.
Attempt to take away the contributions of Canada’s Jewish community to the social, cultural and economic fabric of our country and the result would indeed be shabby and threadbare.
As parliamentarians, we are occasionally called upon to recognize a group on a specific day, week or month. In doing so, we ask Canadians to take a step back and acknowledge that the whole we call Canada is made up of many different but essential parts. When it comes to Canada, which has the fourth-largest Jewish population in the world, this part is very much integral to the whole.
From St. John’s to Victoria, from the north to the south of this country, during Canadian Jewish heritage month, people can find events that foster unity, events ranging from art exhibits to music and film festivals, from book fairs to gastronomic events, that unite people everywhere.
Through such celebrations, we will create awareness and erode barriers of ignorance that prevent us from connecting with each other as we should.
Canadian Jewish heritage month will make it clear that to better understand the Jewish culture is to better understand the Canadian culture. By creating Canadian Jewish heritage month we can shine a light on the culture and faith through activities and celebrations as unique as the communities where they will occur. We will celebrate and learn from each other and, in doing so, affirm the pluralist nature of Canadian society.
When we celebrate Canadian Jewish heritage month, we will also recognize the bravery of a people who historically have faced hate and persecution but proudly and strongly prevailed.
As Canadians hear these stories, perhaps they will see parts of themselves reflected. Through my previous work with Ukrainian Jewish Encounter, I was able to recognize my parents’ story, though they were neither Ukrainian nor Jewish. As Mennonites, they fled their home in southern Ukraine in the hopes of freedom and opportunity in Canada, just as their Jewish and Ukrainian neighbours did.
Canadian Jewish heritage month will also be an opportunity to find inspiration in a faith and culture that is intrinsically expressed through a commitment to social justice and human rights. Protecting minorities and people facing discrimination, taking responsibility for the “other,” is an essential part of Jewish culture and faith.
We have only to look at how Canada’s Jewish community has mobilized to help and sponsor Syrian refugees coming to Canada to see a recent example of this ethos of caring and inclusion in action.
Honourable senators, in Canada, we celebrate the diversity of our faith communities. With Canadian Jewish heritage month, we will chip away at the hostility, ignorance and intolerance to the benefit of all faith groups and those without practising faith. We will affirm the strength of pluralism as we showcase all that the Jewish people have given to Canada. By extension, we will tell all people, from all faith communities, those well- and less-well established, that Canada has a place for all of us, a place where we can celebrate, honour and respect diversity. I encourage us all to vote for this bill.
(On motion of Senator Hubley, for Senator Jaffer, debate adjourned.)
Leave having been given to revert to Other Business, Senate Public Bills, Third Reading, Order No. 3:
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Frum, seconded by the Honourable Senator Seidman, for the third reading of Bill S-232, An Act respecting Canadian Jewish Heritage Month.
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I rise to speak on the Jewish heritage bill. I want to first thank Senator Frum for bringing this bill to the chamber and also Senator Wetston for giving me the opportunity to be the critic.
As I said in second reading, when we celebrated the Asian Heritage Month, we highlighted the different aspects of the various Asian countries that are represented in our country. The same kind of thing needs to happen with other communities. I believe that when we come to know each other and when we come to know each other’s values and cultures, it only makes our country stronger. That’s why I’m in favour of this bill.
Honourable senators, I just came back from the opening of the Global Centre for Pluralism. It really excited me. It was an amazing vision of His Highness the Aga Khan, where he talks about difference being our strength.
I will quote what he said today:
Diversity is not a reason to put up walls but, rather, to open windows. It is not a burden; it is a blessing.
That is how I feel about this Jewish heritage bill. I believe that if we come to know each other, we will become stronger.
Honourable senators, one of the nicest things about the bringing of Syrian refugees to our country is how various groups have come together and supported Syrian refugees. In my city of Vancouver, the Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities have come together with sponsored families. I want to specifically recognize Rabbi Dan Moskovitz of Temple Shalom who has led the way in bringing many Syrian families to our city. The work that they have done in bringing these Syrian families truly makes me believe that there is a lot of work that we can do as politicians, and as Canadians, to bring our communities together.
Honourable senators, I believe that this bill will empower and create further respect for the Jewish community, and I believe that this is a very important bill.
When I was a young child, my father often spoke nostalgically about how Jewish and Muslim communities used to get together and he would say to me: “We used to be brothers and sisters, and now look what’s happening.”
In 2002, Mr. Chrétien appointed me the Envoy for Women, Peace and Security. As Canada’s Envoy for Women, Peace and Security, I had the opportunity to go many times to Palestine and to Israel. The Canadian government held round tables with Palestinian and Israeli women, bringing women together to create a dialogue. Mr. Chrétien often used to tell me that he truly believes it will be the Jewish and Muslim women in this country that will help to bring peace with Jewish and Muslim and Israeli women in the Middle East. I believe that too.
After the Liberal Party lost power, I was often invited as a guest of the Israeli and Palestinian governments to go back. We held many round tables in Haifa at the Golda Meir Center, and what I learned from that experience is that it doesn’t matter what our differences are, but how we respect each other and how we work with each other. The first thing we have to do is start the dialogue. I spoke last time about the great cultural history of Jewish people in the past. Now I am speaking about how Senator Frum and myself will work together as Canadians to improve the lives of people around the world, and that’s why I believe in this bill.
Senators, I ask you to support this bill. I ask you to support this bill because I believe the time has come when all Canadians should understand the rich culture of the Jewish community in Canada.
The Hon. the Speaker: Are honourable senators ready for the question?
Hon. Senators: Question.
The Hon. the Speaker: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
(Motion agreed to and bill read third time and passed.)
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