“Your Country failed you, and for that, we are sorry,” were the words that I had the privilege of hearing on Wednesday November 7th in the House of Commons. The MS St. Louis was a German ocean liner harbouring over nine hundred Jews, all in possession of an entrance visa to Cuba, trying to flee Nazi Germany. After being denied entry at Havana, the passengers of the St. Louis sought refuge in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and other Latin American Countries. Each said no. Sailing up North, the passengers tried to seek asylum in the United Sates, whose answer was no different. When it seemed like all hope was lost for the Jews aboard the MS St. Louis, they tried to seek refuge one last time, in Canada. I was so sad and angry to learn that the Country in which I live also turned the boat away and was, therefore, responsible for sending more than 900 Jews back to Nazi controlled Europe where many went on to die in concentration camps. In 1939, fellow brothers and sisters went on a long and tedious voyage aboard the MS St. Louis. The boat took them from Europe, to Cuba, to Latin America, to the United States, to Canada, and then; to Auschwitz. “None is too many,” was the response given by a Canadian immigration officer in 1939 when asked how many Jews would be let into Canada after the war. It was this pervasive attitude that led my country to turn away a boat carrying desperate Jews from Europe. The question as to why this apology is important so many years after the war is one I struggled with immensely. I finally boiled it down to three main reasons.
1. Justin Trudeau’s apology acknowledges challenges that Jewish Canadians face
What stood out to me the most from the Prime Minister’s apology was that he called out the BDS movement for their intimidation, which makes Jewish students feel unwelcome and uncomfortable on their university and college campuses. It is clear that the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement is an anti-semitic campaign which calls for the destruction of Israel, and even though the Prime Minister did not call out the movement for blatant anti-semitism, the fact that he took a side on the war against BDS is a significant step. As a grade 12 student preparing for university, knowing that my Prime Minister is on my side and has my back is reassuring and gives me the confidence that I, and other Jewish students, need in order to successfully fight anti-semitism on campus.
2. Justin Trudeau did not only apologize to the Canadian Jewish community, he celebrated it
These Jewish men and women took part in social struggles for fairness, justice and human rights. At home, they furthered the great Canadian causes that shaped this country – causes that benefited all Canadians. Abroad, they fought for democracy and the rule of law, for equality and liberty. The scope of their impact should not only be recognized, but celebrated. They were scientists and activists, ministers and singers, physicists and philanthropists. They were and continue to be proudly Jewish – and proudly Canadian. They helped open up Canada’s eyes and ears to the plight of the most vulnerable. They taught us tikun olam – our responsibility to heal the world.
The global Jewish community is a community that does not get the credit it deserves. Jews have contributed in many ways, large and small, to every area of society. They have had significant roles in creating what people take for granted; such as jeans, colour television, instant coffee, chemotherapy, drip irrigation, capitalism, cellular technology, and the list goes on and on. In fact, 23% of individuals to ever receive a Nobel prize were Jews even though Jewish people make up less than 0.2% of the words population. Following his apology in the House of Commons, Trudeau spoke at a reception that my school was invited to. In this speech he said some amazing things about the Jewish community like how we are always the first to stand up to any injustices taking place, anti-semitic or not.
3. Justin Trudeau’s apology stresses the importance of standing up to anti semitism
Just two weeks ago, eleven Jews were murdered during Shabbat services at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Trudeau’s apology, therefore, comes at an important time when we all worry about rising anti-semitism. In the house of commons, Trudeau confidently shared the statistic that 17% of all hate crimes in Canada are targeted at Jews, and he acknowledged the fact that Jewish institutions are still being defaced with swastikas. Best of all, the Prime Minister was clear about his support for Israel’s right to exist and that the fact that her existence is questioned around the world is incredibly perverse.
And out of our entire community of nations, it is Israel whose right to exist is most widely – and wrongly – questioned.
On Wednesday November 7th 2018 I, along with classmates and teachers, witnessed the Prime Minister of Canada express his solidarity with the Jewish people. Trudeau apologized to us, sympathized with us, and celebrated us. But most of all, he assured us that the same intolerance, inhumanity, and bigotry that fuelled the minds of Adolf Hitler, Mackenzie King, and the Pittsburgh shooter, have no place in Canada, and through the power of education, those hateful ideas will finally become a thing of the past.