Awareness comes in all forms

Time in shul on the High Holidays provides many things, among them a chance to reflect on the past 12 months and to renew intentions for the next year ahead. This year, I thought a lot about awareness and what I’m paying attention to or ignoring. 

In the realm of awareness in my professional work, I see a division in the work before me. As an educator, I endeavor to help others learn, to support them in increasing their knowledge and awareness. As a lifelong learner, I recognize that I also have a responsibility to strive to expand my understanding and insight. I agree with the sentiment—the more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know! 

Not being aware can have severe consequences, as seen with the applauding of a Nazi veteran in Parliament. Our Federation issued a statement on this issue yesterday and continues to monitor and respond to the developing situation. 

History is complex and messy. It takes work both to understand the facts and how this understanding informs our behaviour and decisions. Clearly, the need for Holocaust education is evidenced yet again on so many levels. If teachers and their students know little about the Holocaust, how can they discuss what happened in Ottawa as a current affairs example in the classroom? We must educate this generation of learners about this critical moment in human history so they can become informed citizens.

We continue to promote Holocaust education in Edmonton and area schools. This teaches not just about this specific tragedy in Jewish history but also how it is an example of antisemitism that continues to persist in society today. We also want to help students gain an understanding of the Jewish people outside of the context of the Holocaust. One way we are doing so is through the Shine a Light on Antisemitism mosaic that will be touring schools this year along with a toolkit to help teachers support engagement with this resource.

Turning back toward increasing my awareness, I am thrilled to share that I am part of a cohort of Jewish communal professionals pursuing a Leadership Certificate in Combating Antisemitism at the Spertus Institute this year. I will be the sole Canadian in this heavily subsidized program and am eager to bring this learning back to practice in our community.

While we yearn for non-Jews to comprehend our experiences and realities, we must also strive to learn about the experiences of other communities. This coming weekend, we have the impetus to do this through the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Although the date coincides with Shabbat this year, there are opportunities to enhance our awareness of this topic. Edmonton Public Library is a great place to start.  

As my rabbi and teacher pointed out on Yom Kippur, we are not yet at the pinnacle of the High Holidays, but on a trajectory toward Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah. As we prepare to begin the annual cycle of reading Torah yet again, I’m reminded that paying close attention and increasing our awareness is built into our tradition.  We read the same words repeatedly, but we learn something new every time, if we’re really paying attention.