“Nothing is the same anymore.”
By Alan Simons
August 25, 2009 – For many Jews, the thought of why a group of non-Jewish students would want to spend nine days visiting sites such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka and Majdanek must raise a lot of suspicious eyebrows. After all, the Holocaust still belongs to “us” right? After all, aren’t “we” supposed to have first-rights in deciding who should be allowed into what we believe as our exclusive domain of being the scapegoat of hate and intolerance?
Yet, the exclusivity of being the scapegoat has no borders. Genocide upon genocide has followed the Holocaust with a degree of ferocity that seems unwilling to abate itself. But, perhaps now, more than ever before, today’s Chalutzim are taking strides, an obligation, to combat the madness that we see taking place in many countries of the world.
For today, there’s a new breed of Chalutzim, of “Pioneers.” No, not in the same sense as the few pioneers of the 1920s, who engaged in the task of developing Israel. The pioneers I’m referring to are of those organisations whose mission it is to educate the youth about the consequences of hatred and racism.
One such organisation that has been particularly successful in teaching the youth to see beyond stereotypes of prejudice and bigotry is based in Canada. The Canadian Centre for Diversity was launched in 2006 under the stewardship of Amanda Sherrington of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews.
Every year the Centre’s programming serves more than 15,000 students from the earliest grades through to college and university. Along the way, youth from many cultures discover that it is possible to build bridges of understanding and trust, and to stand in one another’s shoes.
March of Remembrance and Hope (MRH) is just one of seven programs established by the Centre. And in a few short years, it has already established itself as a powerful tool in the fight against antisemitism.
I recently met with Carla Wittes, the Centre’s Vice President, Programs. She explained to me that the March of Remembrance and Hope is an annual leadership program primarily for non-Jewish university and college students. “Its goal is to sensitize students from all backgrounds to the horrors of antisemitism, discrimination and to the plight of the victims of the Holocaust and other genocides.”
This past May, 60 students, who had been accepted into the program, explored first-hand, over the course of nine days, including two days in Berlin and five days in Poland, one of the most tragic and important events in history. The students, who came from diverse religions and denominations, were accompanied by ten staff and faculty members, three Holocaust survivors, two Polish guides and a travel coordinator.
Here’s what one student, Dalal Saikali said a year earlier, after she returned to Canada:
“Nothing is the same anymore. This sense of responsibility that I now carry will serve me to make me an ambassador of justice. I can no longer turn away from my duty to act, whether in commemoration, intervention or prevention. I can no longer afford the cowardice that used to make me choose to look away… For my part and my future, I vow to dedicate whatever I can, just like our generous donors did, to prevent the suffering of people and guide them to healing when they have been abused.”
Wittes told me that MRH’s leadership program receives many more applicants than it can possibly accept. Each student goes through an evaluation that includes writing an essay and being interviewed. On their acceptance, the student has to pay a fee of CAD$1,000 to participate in the program. But, as Wittes put it, “no students are turned away.”
This year, the student’s itinerary in Germany and Poland was, to say the least, impressive! Their two days in Germany included visiting Wannsee; Bebelplatz, known as the site of the book burning ceremony held on May 10, 1933; the Otto Weidt factory, where Weidt fought to protect his Jewish workers against deportation, (he has been recognised in Israel as a Righteous Gentile); Hitler’s Bunker; the Holocaust Museum and Memorial; Checkpoint Charlie and the German Historical Museum.
Their itinerary in Poland included travelling to Plaszow; Krakow; Auschwitz-Birkenau; Lublin; Majdanek; Warsaw; Treblinka and Tykocin, where an estimated 3,400 Jewish residents were marched by the Nazis into a nearby forest and executed by firing squad into pits.
During the nine days, the group was accompanied by Fern Levitt, the Canadian filmmaker, who has produced a documentary about the student’s experiences. It will be shown in Canada on CBC next Spring. Here’s the link to Levitt’s trailer. <<<Click here>>>
Jean Jacques Rousseau, the 18th century Swiss-born philosopher and writer wrote: “The Jews in Dispersion have not the possibility of proclaiming their own truth to humankind; but I believe that when they once have a free Commonwealth, with schools and universities of their own where they can speak out safely, we shall be able to learn what it is that the Jewish people have to say to us.”
The March of Remembrance and Hope program is perhaps a prime example of how people of different religions and cultures can bridge their differences to create a better world. As Jews, we also have a say in sharing that message, and what better way than through the Canadian Centre for Diversity.
For information about the Canadian Centre for Diversity programs, visit their web site at: http://www.centrefordiversity.ca or call 1-800-663-1848. Their email address is at: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Photo credit: Safiyyah Ally)
We at the Canadian Centre for Diversity appreciate this coverage of the March of Remembrance and Hope program. However, it is important to note that the context established in the first paragraph (“After all, the Holocaust still belongs to “us” right? After all, aren’t “we” supposed to have first-rights in deciding who should be allowed into what we believe as our exclusive domain of being the scapegoat of hate and intolerance?…) does not in any way reflect the belief or experience of CCD or MRH staff. We have received tremendous support – financial, moral and emotional – from very generous individuals in the Jewish community who understand the need to educate people from all backgrounds about the Holocaust. The Jewish community’s demonstrated commitment to this program has enabled its growth and sustainability.
Carla Wittes, VP, Programs, Canadian Centre for Diversity
For a selection of abridged topics originally published in jewishinfoNews, click here