Interview with Bernie Farber
Congregation Shir Libeynu is pleased to welcome Bernie Farber as our next adult-education speaker on May 5. Mr. Farber will illuminate how and why Indigenous people rightly believe that their historic treatment by the Canadian government constituted a genocide as defined by the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This is a topic that has concerned Mr. Farber, the son of a Holocaust survivor, since his time as chairman of the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), and subsequently in his role as leader of the Mosaic Institute, from which he recently retired. After he wrote (in 2012) that Canada had committed this genocide, he was threatened and harassed publically. I spoke with Bernie Farber recently about his advocacy for and dialogue with Indigenous communities.
Q: Your description says this is “a story that is difficult to bear but must be heard.” Why is it important for Jewish people to hear this story?
A We as Jews, especially baby boomers, know what genocide has done generationally and to a people. The Holocaust has had an impact, and so we get it. It is incumbent upon us who have experienced it to help those outside the community to recognize that in the long run, the pain of genocide remains the same. We must walk together (with Indigenous peoples).
Q: Why is this cause, of all the many social-action ones you have tackled in your career, of such special importance and urgency to you?
A: I was involved when I worked with Congress (the CJC), but there were two key moments later: one was when I got to know and become friends with Phil Fontaine (the Aboriginal Canadian leader who was National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.). I travelled to Israel with him and other Indigenous and Jewish community leaders, where they taught us about the tragedy of the residential schools. The other was a subsequent visit to the Wabaseemoong Independent Nations (reserve) in Northern Ontario, after which I started to ask: Why have we ignored them? Cultural genocide may not be as in the Shoah with the use of death camps and gas chambers, or killing by the millions, as in Rwanda, but in the case of Canada, we perpetrated a cultural genocide in which we tried to destroy Indigenous culture. And in carrying out that insidious government plan, we also killed thousands of First Nations children by wilful neglect.
Q: What can we at Shir Libeynu expect to hear and experience from your presentation on May 5?
A: I intend to amplify on work and writings (particularly that of Fontaine, and Michael Dan, a medical doctor and philanthropist, and Farber*). And I will share some resources and practical advice on how individuals and your congregation can participate in making a better world for present-day Indigenous peoples and communities.
-Taken from an interview of Bernie Farber by Harriet Eisenkraft in April, 2018. The interview has been condensed for editorial purposes