July 2017 marks 150 years of freedom, prosperity, and equality in Canada which reinstated a fierce sense of pride throughout the amiable Canadian population. We celebrated together as we watched fireworks light up the sky, gorged on maple syrup, and savored the few rays of sun we would soak up for the summer.
Across the Ocean, a group of ambitious North American teenagers prepared to be hurtled heart first into the emotional roller coaster which awaited them in Poland. While Canadians relished their North American lifestyles, these students found themselves rediscovering the horrors their ancestors endured in Warsaw, Sokolow, and Lodz.
I walked through the fog of Auschwitz, Chelmno, and Majdanek completely numb. I was unable to understand how one could hate an entire race, to the extent of partaking in and allowing the attempt to annihilate a people. I would often sit with my American friends on the bus, bragging about Canadian society as being one of tolerance and cultural integration.
TJJ ambassadors Poland changed my outlook on life forever and uncovered the ugly truth which often lies just beneath the surface. A mantra I often repeated to myself in Poland was “I am here, I am safe.” I comforted myself in knowing I would return to a home, in a country which offered peace and rejected discrimination. A Nation which refuses to tolerate racism and supremacy.
I needed this safety net to cope with the reality of the week I spent in Poland. I saw mass graves every day, the remaining evidence of the ghettos and camps was uncomfortably visceral. The harshest part was going to sites like Treblinka, everything had been decimated. All traces of the hundreds of thousands of souls, who vanished in the smoke had been obliterated. As a visual person, I could not connect or shed a tear as the lack of physical evidence made it entirely conceptual, not palpable.
Leaning against the unchanged rocks and trees of the camp, I vowed to educate others about the vitality of acceptance and love to ensure history did will not repeat itself. I needed to assure myself, the legacy of the people who were cremated there lived on, despite the lack of physical evidence.
Less than two months after I set foot on to Canadian soil, enveloped by comfort and security, I came to realize the veracity of what truly happens behind the scenes in Toronto. Miles from my home, red graffiti had been splashed on the 400 highway; a route I take every day to school, in the words: “Hitler was right”.
I was appalled at the irony, I had just come back from Poland; where Hitler exacted his death wish on my ancestors. The place where I vowed to continue my peoples legacy. Yet, 75 years later, across the globe, his followers still lurk in the shadows.
Whose Legacy still remains? Hitler’s? This vandalism is not simply expressing an opinion, these are words of hate. Yet they were written in a city which is home to the largest number of Holocaust survivors in a caring institution, at Baycrest Hospital. Furthermore, this is not an isolated incident. I have experienced first hand, anti-semitic posters, and graffiti on public and Municipal buildings in Toronto. Displaying words of hate and intolerance.
Provincial highways are a main method of transportation which I possess the right to use. In doing so, must I set aside this injustice? Whoever has spray painted these words, wishes to inflict harm upon those who stand for inclusion and equality. Having seen the evidence of Hitler’s persecution, I know this is more than just a joke, and whoever wrote this understands the magnitude of their words.
As a Jew, I have been taught from birth, revenge is never the answer, nor does it redeem a situation. My Nation is one which draws pride from strength and chooses to thrive, overcoming years of oppression. We have created a blossoming State we proudly call, Israel. Yet despite pressures of a war fought against a hateful enemy, we unite to combat hate, work tirelessly to build a haven of tolerance which showcases our strength and resilience. I applaud organizations such as StandWithUs Canada whom I am fortunate enough to work with. They inspire, educate, and empower the community to elevate their voice for peace.
I will not stand back, and I refuse to submit to hate speech. I see this as an opportunity for Jews to unite, and together with our booming state fight against our greatest enemy; indifference.