How the National Holocaust Monument unites us
Rabbi Daniel Friedman apologizes for omission of Jews on main plaque.
Last month, Canada unveiled our incredible Holocaust Monument. Let me tell you about my proudest moment that day. It wasn’t when, for the very first time, I walked into the awe-inspiring monument. It wasn’t when, alongside our prime minister, I addressed the nation. And, despite my great reverence for them, it wasn’t when I met the hundreds of inspiring survivors and generous donors.
My proudest moment was watching Justin Trudeau step offstage after his speech. Just then, he noticed a familiar face towards the back of the room, that of Tim Uppal. Uppal is the former MP who introduced the Holocaust Monument bill in Parliament. When Trudeau spotted him, he strode up to the back of the room, grabbed Tim by the hand, and escorted him to the front. At the end of the ceremony, the prime minister turned and gave him a big hug.
That’s the epitome of Canadianism. You see, Tim Uppal was a Conservative MP. Trudeau could have snubbed his former rival and basked all alone in the glory of his government’s day in the sun. But he chose to include him, making sure that he was very much a part of this historic hour.
That’s why Canadians deserve the monument we’ve built together. Many in the world today pay lip service to eradicating hatred and promoting love, respect and tolerance for all humankind. But they never miss an opportunity to attack those who don’t agree with their views, attacks often having little to do with any real matter of substance.
The monument is the product of a partnership between many organizations. Designed by the Lord Cultural Group and Daniel Libeskind, built by the National Capital Commission, facilitated by Canadian Heritage, and overseen by the Monument Development Council, a lot of people have co-ordinated their efforts to build this piece of our nation.
Along the way we had disagreements. Some bigger, some smaller. Along the way, we made mistakes. Some bigger, some smaller. Along the way we switched governments, which meant a whole host of new players and opinions entering the fray. But we’re Canadians. And we figured it out. We didn’t point fingers. We didn’t politicize things. We were proud of the fact that the Monument bill passed unanimously.
On the big day, we suddenly realized that an egregious error had been made. In amongst the debates over wording and plaque positioning, somehow the one plaque that introduced the others — and made no sense outside the context of the plaques detailing the Nazi genocide of six million Jews along with homosexuals, the disabled and others — ended up mounted all on its own on a separate wall. Visitors to the site were rightly disturbed to encounter this major injustice to the memory of the six million Jews for whom the monument was built. All of the parties involved are deeply remorseful and we apologize unconditionally for the pain we have caused by this oversight.
I want to thank the Trudeau government for acting expeditiously to amend the plaque as soon as the error was brought to its attention. Mistakes happen; most can be fixed quickly and decorously. Without questioning, the government did the right thing, which has been our experience with Trudeau’s government throughout. And that’s why when I saw his interaction with Tim Uppal at the unveiling, my respect for our leader grew ever stronger. The man is a true Canadian. The man is a mensch.
Canadians don’t look for fights. We seek opportunities to embrace and boost other people who are different from us, whether those differences involve political views, religion or skin colour. The last thing we would want to politicize is the Holocaust.
The National Holocaust Monument was initiated by the Stephen Harper government. It was brought to fruition under the Trudeau government. We live in the most tolerant country in the world, and probably, of all time. Let us never take that blessing for granted. Let us be a little more forgiving of one another. And let us continue to work together, across party lines, ethnic lines and religious lines, to lead the international community, and make this world a better, safer place for all peoples.