By Shimon Koffler Fogel, CIJA CEO
“In the Jewish tradition, all human beings – regardless of their faith, traditions, or background – are created equally in the divine image, and dignity is therefore our universal birthright,” said Jonathan Freedman to a crowd at the closing event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), June 2, in Ottawa. “Sadly, in Canada’s own history, our First Nations were denied this dignity for far too long.”
Indeed, Freedman, a member of the community relations committee of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, was reflecting the deep sense of connection Canadian Jewry has with our First Nations. As the advocacy agent of Canada’s Jewish Federations, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has long been involved in supporting our Aboriginal friends and fostering a strong, mutually edifying relationship between our communities.
Working with Federations across Canada, we have facilitated First Nations youth leadership missions to Israel and provided advocacy training to our Aboriginal partners. We have increased mutual understanding, particularly regarding our respective histories of suffering, through impactful Jewish-Aboriginal dialogue groups. We continue to engage on various policy files at the level of activists and community professionals, on organizing councils and on steering committees. Among the grassroots, countless synagogues and Jewish non-profits, such as Ve’ahavta, are actively supporting Aboriginal education and health care.
This month’s conclusion of the TRC’s vital work in acknowledging the impacts and consequences of the residential schools experience has only reaffirmed the importance of this work. In partnership with Ve’ahavta, and with support from the Canadian Council for Reform Judaism, Reform Rabbis of Greater Toronto, the Canadian Rabbinic Caucus and the Toronto Board of Rabbis, CIJA signed a statement of Solidarity and Action in response to the release of the TRC report. We further joined the historic Walk for Reconciliation, mobilizing a contingent of Jewish community members in a visible demonstration of our commitment to the healing and empowerment of Canada’s First Nations.
The statement – which may be viewed online at www.statementofsolidarity.com – is fuelled by a call to action for Jewish community members and organizations to engage in meaningful dialogue and collaborative efforts with Aboriginal communities across Canada. Our hope is that, pursuant to the spirit of the TRC, it will foster a greater understanding of the experiences of Canada’s indigenous peoples among the Jewish community and broader Canadian society.
While we have only begun to process the painful findings of the TRC’s report on Canada’s past treatment of our First Nations, the appropriate response is clear. Just as we must ensure the accuracy of the historic record of Aboriginal suffering, we must do more today to support our Aboriginal neighbours as they work to build a positive future for their children. In so doing, we will ultimately be ensuring that our belief in the universal dignity of every human being – a core tenet of our faith and a quintessential Canadian value – is put into action.
Shimon Koffler Fogel is CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).