In my senior year of high school I had a course called Global History. It focused on post-World War II and was meant to guide students in understanding the links between the past and the present. I was lucky to have a teacher that facilitated great class discussions based on this directive; 20 years later, I still recall many of those talks. Lately I find myself recalling the day our German exchange student cried in class, as we talked about the Holocaust.
For her, this history lesson had always been much more of a dry one, sharing facts and dates. It was a shift in politics, a period of war that was past. Her curriculum certainly made reference to the Nazi regime, but in a way that seemed to separate it from the German experience. She didn’t see what had happened as part of her heritage until she was hearing from an international point of view.
I see these same echoes in the way most Canadians have thought of our country’s treatment of First Nations communities.
I also see that separation from the fabric of history playing out in the United States. Deportations, walls, and the empowerment of hate are not building blocks that create a great nation. Last Sunday, my friend Aaron spoke to his congregation at St. John’s United Church here in Moncton, and talked about walls. He said that walls “are metaphors of a broken system in which people are demonized and divided.” He spoke of how divisive systems lift up the powerful and punish the weak. He called on his congregation to roll up their sleeves and work together to build a future based on love. To keep tearing down walls and welcoming everyone who comes in.
It’s a lesson we try to teach at home. We talk of being able to disagree with someone without having to be mean to them. We try to teach that your words and actions have consequences. We talk about the present and the past, in terms appropriate for our kids. Most parents I know are also talking about world events with their kids, and that gives me hope. I want to believe we are raising generations that better understand that we are all in this life together. That creating walls around ourselves, our communities, our countries does not mean we are protecting each other from harm – either real or perceived.
Israeli-American journalist Liel Leibovitz shared an interesting perspective this week. Writing for Tablet Magazine, he reflected on his grandfather’s decision as a Jewish man living in Vienna in the 1930s to leave the country. Although Leibovitz dismisses the idea of drawing comparisons between world leaders then and now, he called on readers to focus on certain elements of his grandfather’s actions. First, to believe what is said. “Take the haters at their word,” he writes, and don’t “explain it away.” There is hate in this world and to address it, we must acknowledge it – and not forget it. “[Y]ou work hard, you stand with those who are most vulnerable, and you don’t give up until it’s morning again.”
You stand with those who are vulnerable. That was the element that brought my high school friend to tears. She was a world away from home, trying to understand how an entire country seemingly stood by while their neighbours and friends were made vulnerable and then punished in the most horrific way for that vulnerability. We know many did stand against hate. We know many, we hope most, still do. We can’t forget that we must continue to stand tall and work hard to keep ourselves from buildings walls.