The Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver received bomb threats on March 8 and March 12. These threats coincide with other anti-Semitic behaviour and similarly racist acts across Canada, the United States and around the world.
What’s bitterly ironic about the Vancouver incidents is that centre also houses the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC). No other institution in British Columbia has done more to promote awareness of crimes against humanity and advance cultural understanding than the VHEC. When I began developing curriculum for a course in genocide studies, they were my greatest resource. They not only shared materials, they helped me to network with other teachers doing similar work and with other communities that had experienced similar atrocities.
In 2013, VHEC gave me the greatest honour of my teaching career, the Kron Sigal Award for Excellence in Holocaust Education. It didn’t matter to them that my paternal grandparents were immigrants from Syria, or that my maternal grandfather was in the German army in the Second World War. They recognized my work in educating young people and trying to build a better world. When they met me, I was welcomed as one of their own. It was just like being with family and the beginning of many great friendships.
What is true of VHEC is true of Jewish individuals, institutions and communities all over the world. Although horrendous and unimaginable crimes were committed against them during the Nazi era, they have done more than any other group to raise global awareness about genocide and raise hope that a world free of such hateful acts is possible. From Polish-Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin coining the term and lobbying the United Nations to define the crime of genocide in 1948, to Jewish groups advocating that genocide education be mandated in public school systems, their efforts have been tireless.
We’re not just discussing education regarding the Shoah, or Holocaust. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, for example, has one of the most accessible online collections of resources about every genocide from Armenia to the Congo.
Critics often point at the state of Israel and its conflict with Palestine. It’s important to note, however, that some of the loudest and most persistent voices for Palestinian rights have been Jewish. People like Noam Chomsky and Gideon Levy, and groups like the Jewish Voice for Peace continue to extend their reach within Israel and around the world. And innumerable acts of kindness take place between Israelis and Palestinians every day that are never reported.
Threats like those made against the Vancouver centre are made out of ignorance and with malicious intent by people who appear to know nothing of human rights or the people who act tirelessly for the sake of others.
The way to combat these abominations is to speak truth, and to speak it persistently in a loud and unified voice.
As Holocaust survivor Lillian Boraks-Nemetz recently shared with me, “In this hour of our damaged world, we sorely need people to help us heal.”
Let us stand in solidarity with our Jewish sisters and brothers in their time of need, as we join in their fight to not only end genocide but to make all forms of racism a thing of the past.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.