Last month, the Pope visited Canada to express his apology to the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada, victims of the residential schools administered by clergy that were part of the Canadian government’s plan to convert the children of First Nations to Christianity and to assimilate them to western ideas and way of life.
From the 19th century until 1996, when the last one closed, around 150,000 Inuit and Métis children were forced to attend government-funded and church-administered residential schools as part of a colonial policy supported by the Canadian government. The priests and nuns were poorly equipped to educate or nurture children. Even more disheartening, these children were physically and sexually abused, with many perishing and buried in recently discovered unmarked graves. Furthermore, removing children from their biological parents’ homes naturally resulted in intergenerational trauma for everyone affected.
Over the last twenty-five years, the Canadian government has attempted to address and recognize the damage caused by this brutal and devastating history.
As I have listened to First Nation communities share their personal stories on national radio and tv, I have come to appreciate their wisdom and culture.
Indigenous people have many terrific programs illustrating their history, art, music, and active attempts to revive their native languages.
Here are just a few recent radio shows on the CBC program “Unreserved.”
- These writers use poetry to reclaim, repair and reflect their Indigenous selves.
- Indigenous chefs, and activists, are using food to talk about land, history and culture.
- These artists embrace new technology, challenging stereotypes of what counts as Indigenous art.
- Break bread, laugh and learn: How to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day
I have often wished there were similar programs showcasing these issues in the Jewish community on media outlets like the CBC so that more Canadians could familiarize themselves with the Jewish people and their traditions and history.
As a Jew, I fully empathize and identify with the First Nations as they attempt to come to terms with the destruction of their communities.
As a child of parents persecuted in Hungary during WWll for no other fault than for being a Jew, I can recognize the pain of the surviving generations. I, too, have experienced the pain of my parents traumatized by Nazi persecution and the untimely loss of parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. Unfortunately, as we have all learned, trauma is unavoidably passed on to the next generation.
Jews, too, have been direct victims of the colonializing policies of Christian rulers. For instance, the Czarist decree of August 26, 1827, made Jews liable for military service and prescribed conscription to Russian Cantonist schools and subsequent military service for Jews as young as eight years for a period of twenty-five years.
All cantonists were institutionally underfed… The official policy was to encourage Jewish boys to convert to the state religion of Orthodox Christianity.
There has been discussion in the media about the value of the Pope’s apology to the Indigenous community.
Post-Shoah, the role of apologies for unspeakable horror has also been debated in the Jewish community. According to Rabbinic thinking, the injured person is the only one who can respond, i.e. accept or reject an apology for hurt or damage. Nevertheless, leaders’ acknowledgement and regret for bad behaviour and appropriate reparation are essential tools for social healing between warring communities.
Within my lifetime, I have witnessed the Catholic Church taking responsibility to renounce the Church’s demonization of Jews, acknowledging how this has contributed to the destruction of Jews and Jewish communities, not only during WWll but throughout the many centuries when the Christian Churches attempted to dominate the theological world.
On October 28, 1965, Pope Paul VI published his encyclical, Nostra Aetate (Latin: “In our time).” It is the declaration of the Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church addressing relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish People. Passed by a vote of 2,221 to 88 of the assembled bishops, this Declaration includes the following statement:
“… the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shared with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, and displays of antisemitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”
This was an essential beginning for reconciliation between Jews and Catholics.
On May 25-26, 2014, Pope Francis visited Israel, marking another important milestone in the deepening relationship between the Catholic Church, Israel and the Jewish people.
However, collective mutual understanding and destroying stereotypes and prejudice are best achieved through grassroots interaction and dialogue.
One of the best experiences I have had of reconciliation between Christians, Jews and the Aboriginal People of Canada occurred when I participated in a Church service in Winnipeg that brought together Jews, Christians, and Indigenous Chiefs. An event organized by Pastor Rudy Fidel of Faith Church – a long-time Christian supporter of Jews, Israel and First Nations – invited Cantor Moshe Kraus, a Holocaust survivor, two First Nations Chiefs, and a Klezmer band to participate in a Sunday morning service at his Church in Winnipeg. I was privileged to film the event and am delighted to share snippets of the event with you.
Two First Nations Chiefs
1:01-2:11 min: Jim Baird, Chief of Leech lake of the Ojibwe nation, introduces Grand Chief Jerry, recently elected grand Chief of Thirty-two nations.
2:11-7:42 min: Grand Chief Jerry addresses the audience sharing about his community’s current affairs.
Hazzan Moshe Kraus
10:32-20:58 min: Cantor Kraus describes an incident that occurred in Budapest in 1942, when a Hungarian Bishop from Potok enlisted Moshe’s help in freeing the Bishop’s colleague, Moshe’s cousin, a Rabbi in Potok, from jail in Budapest.
May we all pray to share in the salvation of true brotherly love and reconciliation for all peoples everywhere.