July 13, 2021
Ronald E. Ignace, Commissioner
Robert Watt, Director
Georgina Liberty, Director
Joan Greyeyes, Director
Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages
Dear Commissioner and Directors,
Congratulations on your recent appointments. I am confident that you will succeed in addressing the consequential challenges you face, and make a lasting impact revitalizing, maintaining, and nurturing Indigenous languages.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) is the advocacy agent of Jewish Federations across Canada. We are a national, non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting Jewish life in Canada through advocacy.
My team has been actively engaged in the effort to revitalize indigenous languages. We had the privilege of working in close partnership with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) on this important issue and were part of Canada’s delegation to the United Nations in New York for the launch of the International Year of Indigenous Languages. We also testified at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage in favour of Bill C-91 (An Act respecting Indigenous languages).
The Jewish community knows the important role language plays in the continuity of culture, tradition, and peoplehood.
A language is not only a means of communication. It carries with it history, culture and identity: past, present and future.
Dr. Pamela Serota Cote, whose doctoral research at the University of San Francisco focused on Breton language and identity, once noted:
Because language discloses cultural and historical meaning, the loss of language is a loss of that link to the past. Without a link to the past, people in a culture lose a sense of place, purpose and path; one must know where one came from to know where one is going.
Like indigenous peoples, the Jewish people know first-hand the truth of that statement.
A little over a century ago, Hebrew, the indigenous language of the Jewish people, was considered by the world to be dormant, if not dead, confined to the religious texts and spoken prayers of the synagogue.
In 1890, the Jewish community, living in what is now Israel, took the bold step of establishing a Hebrew language committee whose mandate was to prepare the Hebrew language for use as a spoken language in all facets of life — in the home, school, public life, business, industry, fine arts, and in the sciences.
The committee launched an intensive program to transform Hebrew from a language of religious text and ritual into one of daily life. By the time Israel was established in 1948, the broad renaissance the committee envisioned had come to fruition.
As Hebrew writer Yehuda Burla observed: “the very foundation of each and every nation is its national tongue.” For Israelis, the revitalization of Hebrew was pivotal to the rebirth of the Jewish nation. For the diaspora — including the Canadian Jewish community — the restoration of Hebrew to the centre of the Jewish experience has dramatically enriched Jewish identity worldwide. Today, Hebrew is not only heard in our religious services. Jews around the world are connecting to their roots by studying Hebrew as a path to accessing the vibrant world of modern Jewish culture.
We would like to extend our hand in friendship and partnership.
If you believe it could be useful, we would be happy to connect you with experts on the revitalization of the Hebrew language – an effort that continues to this day – to learn from their experience, their successes, and their failures.
As well, I am convinced that your experience and knowledge on language issues would be beneficial to the Hebrew experts you would engage.
There is much we can undertake together and learn from one another. I would welcome an opportunity to discuss this further.
Shimon Koffler Fogel