The eclectic collection of friends and people and organizations I associate with has never been made more apparent than sifting through today’s emails. It’s officially Canada Day, of course, and I’m wishing you all a very happy holiday… in whatever way you wish to celebrate and/or recognize it – and of course, for many people, it’s no celebration at all… right up there with Columbus Day and all of its implications, as we all well-know from the emerging dreadful news that’s nowhere near subsiding.
I have emails yelling “Don’t let them take Canada Day away from us!!” and I have emails calmly explaining things, in great detail, from the point of view of many Indigenous Peoples from across the country, eloquently stating why there’s nothing at all to cheer.
The rest are somewhere in between – as am I.
But before I talk about Canada, let’s talk about Chile a bit – a country many of you possibly barely knew even existed nor cared about… but if you’ve been reading these posts for a while, you’ve seen that name pop up several times. And while I still have my little soap-box to stand upon for a few more days, here’s one last crack at it.
Here is a brief summary of Chile, the country where I was born and where I still have plenty of friends, family and business associates… a place that was one of the very few in the world accepting Jewish refugees during and after WWII. The boat that sailed west with the few members of my family who had enough foresight to get the hell out of Czechoslovakia in 1938 (among them my maternal grandparents) crossed the Atlantic Ocean and attempted to dock in numerous places, among them Halifax. This was during the reign of Canada’s 10th PM, William Lyon Mackenzie King… who, when asked how many Jewish refugees he thought Canada should admit, replied “None is too many”. The ship sailed south, but the U.S. wasn’t open to it either. The ship then crossed the Panama Canal and kept sailing south, now on the Pacific side… until finally Ecuador allowed everyone off the boat… provided they didn’t stay.
But Chile said, yeah… come on down… and welcomed numerous Jewish refugees with open arms. And these are not the sort of war-torn starving desert-dwelling-type refugees you imagine from TV and movies… these were well-educated doctors, lawyers, businessmen, accountants, engineers, etc… whose subsequent involvement in the country helped grow it to be the leading economy of Latin America.
But, times change. Politics evolve. Moods swing. Demographics shift. A recent article voted Santiago, Chile as the number-one antisemitic city in the world… a city with close to 500,000 Palestinians… close to 10% of the population… compared with less than 20,000 Jews (0.4%). And… a very leftist antisemitic presidential candidate – who, if polls are correct – could easily win the election later this year.
This candidate has brought out all of the usual antisemitic rhetoric and has promised to rid the country of Jews. Needless to say, the Jews are becoming increasingly worried. Public displays of antisemitism, violence and vandalism are being seen in record numbers. And if he wins – as the old adage goes – when you lose the support of the government… Run.
If the shit really hits the fan, where will they go?
Well, one very logical place is Canada… among one of the very best places in the world to be Jewish these days. In fact, it’s one of the best places in the world to be *anything* these days.
Indeed, especially for those who are young and haven’t experienced the world outside the bubble that is Canada, it’s hard to relate to how it feels and looks when a country completely derails. We almost got a first-hand look at it on January 6th… and from the sounds of it, things might look very different right now down south if those armed protesters had simply zigged instead of zagged… and wound up face to face with Nancy Pelosi or Mike Pence. Fortunately, it didn’t happen. And it hasn’t happened (yet) in Chile. But it could. It could happen anywhere.
But, these days, it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon in Canada. We read with horror at the emerging evidence of our past, but here’s the thing; this is a great country. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any country, great or not, that doesn’t have a significant stain in its history. Chile was good for Jews for a while; that may change. Chile has never been good to its Indigenous population. The Spanish showed up a few hundred years ago, conquered them… and they have remained conquered ever since. Yes, they are screaming for their rights, land, restitution and acknowledgment… but they, like many other Indigenous populations around the world, face a steep uphill. Unlike in Canada, where there are still lots of big problems… in the past and in the future… but they are being acknowledged and they will hopefully be dealt with adequately… sooner than later.
Canada, for the moment, is also a great place for Jews. Antisemitism is on the rise, but still… there is full government support. I don’t judge Canada on the words or actions of William Lyon Mackenzie King. I judge it on what it is today… Canada, which, for the moment, faces a historical trauma that’s been known for decades but rarely spoken about till now… a history that needs to be heard, acknowledged and made right. Great countries deal with it. And that’s what we’re doing.
So yeah, the celebration may be understandably muted this year, but let’s not forget that there’s also a future, not just a past. And if we can learn from the past (and there’s plenty to learn) and use it for a better future for all of us – Indigenous, White, Black, Jewish and whoever else… remember… you’re very fortunate to be Canadian… which in itself is certainly something to celebrate.