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The Jewish Heritage Month Act

 On Tuesday May 31, I spoke to Bill 240, The Jewish Heritage Month Act. My comments are below. 

Bill 240 – The Jewish Heritage Month Act

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Madam Speaker, I speak to this bill, which is an im­por­tant and sig­ni­fi­cant one. I want to recog­nize the members of the Jewish com­mu­nity in Manitoba who are here. Thank you for coming and thank you for your con­tri­bu­tions to Manitoba and to Canada.

      When I grew up in Saskatoon, my best friend in high school was a member of the Jewish com­mu­nity in Saskatoon. And I learned much from him, just as I have learned a great deal from many others who I have met along my life's journey. In Montreal, when I was at medical school, there were many of my fellow students and members of the local McGill campus Liberal club who were Jewish, so we had many good times together.

* (10:40)

      Here, in Winnipeg, I have been fortunate to represent River Heights, and many people in the Jewish com­mu­nity. I think there are some wonderful traditions from the Jewish heritage, one of which we celebrate–or recog­nize, I should say, not necessarily celebrate, but recog­nize–every year, and that is that every person has a name. And that I think is fun­da­mentally im­por­tant in terms of human rights and in terms of recog­nizing people.

And, of course, the story of the Holocaust is some­thing that is a tre­men­dous dark period in global history as well as in Jewish history. The Jewish com­mu­nity, in making a major effort to address anti-Semitism, has really led the way in looking at how we can address movements against various religious, ethnic and other groups. And I think it's tre­men­dously im­por­tant to see that leadership, not just as a move to decrease the amount of anti-Semitism, but as a part of a larger effort that we need to make globally to address, you know, efforts to dismiss or denigrate people of other groups.

      One of the things that happens every year in May is the Winnipeg Inter­national Jewish Film Festival, which was May 14th to June 1st. And I happened to be at a docu­men­tary on Sunday, titled, Unusual in Every Way. And it was produced and directed by Don Barnard and Yolanda Papina-Pollock. And, really, is a story about a unique friendship between an Indigenous man with autism and PTSD and a renowned professor from Israel, Solly Dreman, and his wife Orly. And as they–this friendship developed, the Dremans invited Don Barnard, who is an Indigenous man with autism and PTSD, to come and visit in Israel.

And so this is a docu­men­tary of Don Barnard's life, his ex­per­ience of how he developed the PTSD and his visit to Israel–which really was a turning point in his life, he was struggling a great deal up to that point–and the friendship that he developed with Solly and Orly Dreman, and helped by others in the Jewish com­mu­nity, including Larry Vickar, made a great difference in his life.

But it also, in this docu­men­tary, talked about some­thing that I had never really thought about or appre­ciated before. And the question was asked, you know, after this in­cred­ibly dreadful, traumatic Holocaust, how is it that Israel can be doing so well, currently? It can be an example in terms of tech­no­lo­gy, in terms of demo­cracy for the world?

And the answer came from a psychologist who talked about the fact that not only after trauma can there be post-traumatic stress disorder, but there can also be post-traumatic growth. And to a large extent, that was what happened in Israel, that the com­mu­nity came together, united in resiliency and has shown tre­men­dous strength, and I think that it is not only a strength of people in Israel but a strength of Jewish people around the world.

      I had the chance a number of years ago to visit Israel, and one of the extra­ordin­ary people that I met was a man by the name of Yossi Leshem. Now, he had studied bird migration extensively, and I happen to have an interest in birds and bird migration. And he had started out using radar to follow and track birds. And the work that he did has actually turned out to be extra­ordin­ary in that, by tracking when the birds are migrating, he can–he's actually been able to help the Israeli Air Force in decreasing a number of collisions between planes and birds and, in fact, to save many lives.

      But one of the things which I felt was really extra­ordin­ary was that these birds migrate along a corridor from southern Africa into northern Europe and northern Asia, and they migrate through Israel in very large numbers because there is a tendency for birds to migrate, not over large bodies of water like the Mediterranean, but around those bodies of water, and so there's a huge, huge migration of birds through Israel.

      And Yossi Leshem was using his work, and is using it today on a continuing basis, to build bridges between countries along the migration corridor of the birds as a way of building bridges between people in Israel and people in many other countries. I think it's a remark­able story that is not adequately known and needs to be known much more in terms of how the Jewish people in Israel are not just helping people in Israel, they're actually working and building bridges actively with people around the world.

      So it is with, you know, great feeling and passion that I support this reso­lu­tion, and I support the fact that we will now recog­nize May as the Jewish heritage month and be able to celebrate annually, to recog­nize the extra­ordin­ary con­tri­bu­tions of people in the Jewish com­mu­nity to Manitoba, to Canada and to the world.

      Thank you for coming today. It's wonderful to see you all here, and my remarks and well wishes go out to all those who are not able to come here today but are part of the Jewish com­mu­nity in our province of Manitoba.

      Thank you, Madam Speaker.


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