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'Support for this bill runs deep and wide': Speech on Canadian Jewish Heritage Month Act

Senator Peter Harder's speech to the Senate on Bill S-232, An Act to establish Canadian Jewish Heritage Month.

Honourable Senators, I am very pleased to rise today and express the Government’s support for Bill S-232, An Act to establish Canadian Jewish Heritage Month.

I want to thank Senator Frum for introducing legislation that will make May a month of recognition and celebration of Canada’s Jewish Heritage.

Support for this bill runs deep and wide, as honourable members of both Houses of Parliament show a willingness to stand together, across political and religious lines to celebrate, recognize and respect Canada’s Jewish community.

It is altogether fitting that we mark the contributions of Canada’s Jewish community to our past, present and future, because without these contributions, Canada today would be unrecognizable.

Attempt to take away the contributions of Canada’s Jewish community to the social, cultural and economic fabric of our nation and the result would be indeed shabby and threadbare.

As parliamentarians, we are often called upon to recognize a group on a specific day, week, or month.

In so doing, we ask Canadians to take a step back and acknowledge that the whole we call Canada is made up of many different, but essential, parts.

And when it comes to Canada, which has the fourth largest Jewish population in the world, this part is very much integral to the whole.

From St. John’s to Victoria and all parts in between and north and south, during Canadian Jewish Heritage Month we may find events — from art exhibits, to music and film festivals, to book fairs and gourmet feasts — that connect people with each other.

Through such celebrations we will create awareness and erode barriers of ignorance that prevent us from connecting with each other.

Canadian Jewish Heritage Month will make it clear that to better understand Jewish culture is to better understand Canadian culture.

By creating Canadian Jewish Heritage Month we can shine a light on a culture and faith through activities and celebrations as unique as the communities where they will occur.

We will celebrate and learn from each other and in so doing, affirm the pluralist nature of Canadian society.

When we celebrate Canadian Jewish Heritage Month we will also recognize the bravery of a people who historically has faced hate and persecution, but proudly and strongly prevailed.

As Canadians hear these stories, perhaps they will see parts of themselves reflected.

Through my previous work with Ukrainian Jewish Encounter, I was able to recognize my parents’ story.

Mennonites, they fled their home in the hopes of freedom and opportunity in Canada, just as their Jewish and Ukrainian neighbours did.

Canadian Jewish Heritage Month will also be an opportunity to find inspiration in a faith and culture that is intrinsically expressed through a commitment to social justice and human rights.

Protecting minorities and people facing discrimination — taking responsibility for the “other” — is an essential part of Jewish culture.

We have only to look at how Canada’s Jewish community has mobilized to help and sponsor Syrian refugees coming to Canada, to see a recent example of this ethos of caring and inclusion in action.

Honourable Senators, in Canada, we celebrate the diversity of our faith communities.

With Canadian Jewish Heritage Month, we will chip away at hostility, ignorance and intolerance to the benefit of all faith groups.

We will affirm the strength of pluralism as we showcase all that the Jewish people have given to Canada.

By extension, we will tell all people, from all faith communities — those well- and less-well established, that Canada has a place for all of us — a place where we celebrate, honour and respect diversity.

Thank you.