By Leslie Lapides
“We are remembering those children who did not get to go home…for the very reason of who they were…that someone else could decide to take children from their families,” said Catherine Brooks, the Elder-in-Residence at St. Matthew’s United Church and Indigenous youth counsellor at the Anishnawbe Health Toronto. “And that happened to my mother and all of her brothers and sisters. We are also here to celebrate our healing. That we are continuing and will do so because that is what the Creator has given us.”
This speech was part of a ceremony called Remembering, Honouring, Learning: An Indigenous and Jewish Memorial on September 26, 2021, held in the Atrium of Holy Blossom. The event was created by Holy Blossom’s Interfaith Committee and the Anishnawbe Health Foundation to remember the Indigenous children of the Residential School System.
“I thought it was a really beautiful and meaningful event,” said Julie Cookson, the Foundation’s executive director. “It was a really nice balance between sharing each community’s stories and a learning event.”
Rabbi Yael Splansky began the memorial by providing a traditional native gift of tobacco to Elder Brooks. In her welcoming remarks, Rabbi Splansky reflected on the purpose of ritual as a way of remembering home and homeland. As part of the Land Acknowledgement, she said that in the Atrium “our feet are resting on Jerusalem stone so that we can remember our homeland in the land of Israel. And that under these stones, there is the land on which Indigenous peoples have lived and made their homes for millennia.”
Elder Brooks followed by performing a smudging ceremony with everyone to help purify the soul and release negative thoughts. Fay Greenholtz and Michael Rotsztain, both members of Holy Blossom and children of Holocaust survivors, and Elder Brooks, a child of a Residential School survivor, each told poignant, memorable stories. Cantor David Rosen sang a plaintive song on guitar to honour all those survivors and all those who were lost.
Isaiah Cada sang and played the hoop drum as Nicole Leveck, Nazarene Pope and Indiana Cada performed Indigenous Jingle and Fancy Shawl dances in traditional ceremonial clothing.
“We wanted to bring some parallels around how Jews and the Indigenous communities have some similarities around intergenerational trauma, being discriminated against, being displaced and being marginalized,” said Kalman Green, chair of Holy Blossom’s Interfaith Committee.
The committee formed in late 2020 with a dozen people. Its
Mission Statement reads: “To promote mutual understanding and respect among people of various faiths. By building bridges of cooperation, communication and appreciation, the committee aims to enrich the lives of congregants. The committee is the Temple’s hub for a range of interfaith activities that include offering public programming and educational opportunities, addressing social justice challenges and celebrating the culture and festivals of different faiths.”
While it was difficult to do programming during the pandemic, by spring 2021 the committee held its first event, a virtual Seder with seven Muslim families from Imdadul Islamic Centre and seven committee member families led by Rabbi Jordan Helfman.
Soon after the virtual Seder, the committee had a learning session with the Christian-Jewish Dialogue of Toronto on Catholic-Jewish milestones since the Second World War. The committee is also developing relationships with two Christian congregations in our area — St. Matthew’s United Church, and St. Michael and All Angels Anglican Church, both located on St. Clair Avenue West.
“This memorial is the beginning of a learning process to better understand the history and culture of our Indigenous communities in Canada,” Green said. “To move towards reconciliation, we need to focus first on the truth of what has actually occurred over the last number of centuries. The Interfaith Committee will be creating more events for the congregation that supports this goal as we continue to develop long-lasting relationships with our Indigenous partners.”
“Thank you for being open to having, to creating these relationships,” Cookson added.
Elder Brooks also participated in the Interfaith Gifts of Light holiday concert on November 29. Proceeds from the concert supported the Anishnawbe Health Foundation. To read more about the important work that the Foundation does within the community, please visit supportanishnawbe.ca To donate, click here.
Here is the link to watch September’s Memorial ceremony: https://youtu.be/TyiSLpn4QZI?t=406 Please note that the actual ceremony begins at minute 7:00.
Anyone interested in learning more about the Interfaith Committee can contact Lindsay Mockler at [email protected]
Leslie Lapides is a new member at Holy Blossom and a journalist.