Why “Never Again”

A year ago, I was on my first visit to Israel. Frankly, it was exciting to be invited as part of the delegation that accompanied Prime Minister Stephen Harper on what was also his first visit to The Holy Land. The special experience of walking where Jesus walked was made even more unique by the environment of that visit. Conversations with cabinet ministers in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity. A walk-and-talk with Members of Parliament through the streets of Jerusalem to the Garden Tomb. A state dinner at which the Prime Minister of Israel implored the Prime Minister of Canada to perform with a Beatles cover band; and he did!

Don, praying at the Western Wall

Don, praying at the Western Wall

My knowledge of Israel from the Scriptures and studying history could not compare with the actual experience of walking the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem, standing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee or visiting several holy sites. And, meeting the living stones; a reminder that it’s not just about the sites but also the people of The Holy Land – Jews and Arabs.

It’s the people that are the reason for Israel. And, like every other democracy on Earth, the people cause of both political peace and political unrest. Unlike every other democracy on the planet, however, Israel is under a constant and distinct form of threat of violence, from within and outside its borders, for no reason other than its very existence.

If an awareness of the history of the Jews, as it was called in Bible College, wasn’t enough to give a heartfelt understanding of the United Nations’ decision to establish the State of Israel in 1948 then a visit to Yad Vashem was. Yad Vashem is “the Jewish people’s living memorial to the Holocaust.” More than 6 million people – men, women and children – exterminated, gone prematurely from the history of several nations, simply because they were born Jewish.

I have not been to a concentration camp but Yad Vashem carried me to the heart of the hatred and loss suffered by the Jewish people, as well as the hope and victory of the resilient living stones of the Middle East’s only functional democracy.

Sitting at a meal with a survivor of the death camps is heart stirring. Having an extended conversation at the airport in Tel Aviv with the author of an autobiographical survivor memoir I had read was a deeper stirring still. Being on the same flight as we returned home to the relative safety of Canada was pause for quiet, personal reflection.

The events of recent days in France brought to light, again, something that has been bubbling to the surface in many European nations for months, and to which Canada is not immune. Something that is centuries old.

In addition to caricatures of Mohammed, the magazine Charlie Hebdo published grotesque caricatures of Jews over recent months; contributing to a rising tide of anti-semitism in France and throughout Europe. Four French Jews were murdered in a Paris kosher deli by the same radical Islamist cell who killed at Charlie Hebdo. Born and raised in France, French Jews are again feeling unsafe in their own nation, their own neighbourhoods. It’s a feeling that was supposed to be “never again.”

Today, at Ottawa’s City Hall, I attended a commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps where over 1 million were killed. Present were survivors, ambassadors and Members of Parliament, among others. One of the speakers, Floralove Katz, put what happened in Paris in precise perspective, “Cartoonists were murdered for cartooning. Journalists were murdered for journalism. Police were murdered for policing. Jews were murdered for being Jewish.”

Never again is not just about remembering the genocide of the holocaust. Never again is not just about telling the truth about what happened. Never again is not just about providing assistance to aging survivors of the Holocaust or listening to their stories of horrific human behaviour.

Never again is about standing together to prevent what took place from happening again, not just the behaviour but the underlying attitudes that feed the behaviour. Never again is about teaching our children more than tolerance. We need to teach them, by word and deed, to live with acceptance of “other.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu has assured the French Jews that Israel is open to welcome those who wish to move there. Although, for me at least, it’s a concern that Jews from France (and currently also large numbers from Ukraine) would make Aliyah (immigrating from the diaspora to Israel) out of fear rather than desire.

Israel is both the safest and not a safe place.

Israel was born from and bears the heart of never again. But, it’s necessary for the rest of the world – the rest of us – to share that heart or Israel will instead become the centre of again.

A lot can happen in two weeks

I’m just a few days home from a two-week motorcycle tour that touched base in each of the four original provinces of Confederation, the province that hosted the Confederation conference and the last province to join the Dominion of Canada (answers later in the blog). While away, much that is important in my life unfolded in my absence.

Don - Headshot "Love, Hope, Believe"

Don – Headshot “Love, Hope, Believe”

Gloria, my wife, took the initiative to enlist some helpers and undertake several projects that were on the summer to-do list. The bench swing is stained and back up and swinging. The deck and front porch bench are stained. The windows are washed and bathrooms painted. The garage has been cleaned. And, there’s a small garden in the back yard. I don’t do gardening so this one is extra special for Gloria.

A little farther from home, there were developments in significant situations that lie close to my heart.

Hamas attacked Israel. This time it was more than the five rockets fired on the first day of Prime Minister Harper’s official visit in January. I was there that day. Apart from the local media reports – with confirmation from some of the IDF members who accompanied the delegation – there wasn’t much of anything said in January because the Iron Dome missile defence system did its job. Last week, however, Hamas launched a barrage that has seen more than 1,000 rockets (and climbing) fired into Israel from Gaza; some going deeper into Israel than ever before. Iron Dome has taken out more than 90% of them and the extensive network of bomb shelters throughout Israel has handled safety for all but a handful of Israeli citizens.

Sadly, hundreds of Gaza residents have died or been injured in the launch sites targeted defence initiatives of the Israeli Defense Force (which is potentially the only standing military force in the world that is named for and has the primary objective of defense). The IDF operates in a protective manner, engaging only when Israel is first attacked. As recently as this morning, Israel agreed to the Egypt brokered ceasefire, waiting 6 hours before conceding that the 47 rockets fired by Hamas during that timeframe meant that the political authority in Gaza – which said it was considering the ceasefire proposal – and the terrorist Hamas – which said it was not consulted – were not in step with pursuing peace, temporary or long term.

Please pray for the peace of Jerusalem and the State of Israel.

Back in Ottawa, there was a special sitting of the Justice Committee to hear testimony on Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, the proposal to replace Canada’s prostitution laws; for the first time criminalizing the purchase of sexual services and related conscription and marketing activities. It was a pleasure to pray that the voices of survivors and those they have trusted to advocate alongside them be heard. In this mix of witnesses, much like the motorcycle community, I have been privileged to meet and become friends with people I might otherwise never have come in contact with based on my own background and education.

Please pray for wisdom and compassion as the committee meets this week to consider amendments to the proposed legislation.

On the road, my friend Barry and I moved through original Canadian provinces Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick to enjoy a few days on Prince Edward Island. On PEI we attended the Atlanticade motorcycle gathering and visited Province House where the Confederation conference was held in September 1864. PEI didn’t join the new nation until 1873.

We hit original province number four, Nova Scotia, after leaving PEI. Riding round the spectacular Cabot Trail we arrived precisely on time in North Sydney to load the bikes on the ferry to Argentia, Newfoundland. Newfoundland and Labrador was the last province to join the Dominion, doing so in 1949.

On day one in NL we trekked to the easternmost point in North America and visited the famous spot on which Marconi received the first trans-Atlantic wireless signal – seeing icebergs just outside the St. John’s harbour. The next day we toured some of the most scenic highway I’ve ever encountered. A quick jaunt into Gros Morne National Park was to follow but will have to wait as plans were interrupted by post-hurricane Arthur wind and rain. Instead, we raced to Port-aux-Basques to beat the 110km/h plus winds forecast (and fulfilled) at Wreckhouse (still we encountered gusts between 80 and 100 km/h), arriving just before noon to weather the storm from inside our hotel. The next morning we caught the ferry (well it didn’t leave until mid-afternoon, waiting for the swells to drop below 4 metres) to North Sydney.

Waiting to get on the ferry, we met with two motorcyclists from Baton Rouge, LA, who had started the journey in a group of three. One rider went off the road near Wreckhouse and died a few hours later in Corner Brook. Please pray for Andy’s family and friends. His memorial service was today.

On the final part of our journey home, we rode through some neighbourhoods in Fredericton where trees were down and power was still out from their experience with Arthur. Please pray for folks there, some of whom have lost much and others who are still waiting for electricity to be restored.

A lot can happen in two weeks. And it did. Life is fragile. Handle with prayer.