In helfman, Third

By Rabbi Jordan Helfman.

What do ballet dancers, residential schools and the Holy Blossom Temple community have in common?

This past Saturday night, a group of our young professionals watched history and present melded together through clean ballet lines and aboriginal Inuk throat singing as we saw the narrative of Canada’s residential school system brought to terrible life through dance and music.

One of the most jarring elements of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission supported ballet Going Home Star was the blend and clash of two very different traditions on stage – both in dance and music.  The collision of European and Aboriginal themes, music and art was the backdrop of our tragedy – the cultural genocide perpetrated through the perversion of religion and the residential school system.

Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day addressed a group brought together by Ve’ahavta and Facing History and Ourselves with help from Holy Blossom Temple’s Young Professional group’s co-sponsorship.  Chief Day implored us to grapple with the question – “What is Reconciliation to me?”

I bring up this experience for two reasons:

First, because it is one thing to read the words of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.  It is a whole other thing to experience the music, drama and tragedy of this attempt at cultural genocide through the art of dance.  When the work was commissioned by an elder, she asked that it be like Swan Lake.  The artistic crew did one better: this was not Swan Lake – but rather a telling of a narrative that many are hearing for the first time about our collective failure to grapple with how this horror of our recent past influences today’s sad context for Aboriginals – especially Aboriginal women – in Canada.

The second reason is that recently the Central Conference of American Rabbis – Canadian group recently passed a resolution brought to us by the Israeli Reform Rabbis calling for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Israel.  The resolution is available here, and is partly based on the success of other Truth and Reconciliation Commissions around the world, presumably also referring to Canada.

The proposal is limited to a group which is charged with:

a. Listening to each other’s narratives regarding claims to the same land and expressing sympathy for sufferings past and present.

b. Recommending measures to the Government of Israel that would include means to facilitate the public admission of past injustices that both communities have visited upon the other, and designating suggested means through which past injustices can be redressed and future injustices prevented.

c. Recommending a program of sincere, mutual steps toward peace and reconciliation between the Jewish and Arab-Palestinian nations, based on equality, respect and mutual recognition.

I sincerely hope that progress can be made in Israel as well as Canada.

One last note:  Chief Day mentioned that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada was funded by survivors of residential schools, and not by the government.  It is through their call – not for revenge – but for the upholding of treaty obligations originally made out of friendship and respect – which makes the process of reconciliation both so difficult to wrap our heads around, and so urgent in its call.

I hope that you will take time to see this ballet next time it is in Toronto, and to ask yourself the question, for Canada and for Israel: “What does Reconciliation mean to me?”

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