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Rafi Hoult

 
RAFI HOULT: GRAY ACADEMY’s RAOUL WALLENBERG DAY A SUCCESS.

by Rafi Hoult, March 4, 2014

January 17th was officially allotted as “Raoul Wallenberg Day” by the federal government in 2001, sixteen years after Wallenberg was made an honourary citizen in 1985. A few years ago, Gray Academy decided to honour this day as a tribute to Human Rights, and those who suffer from the abuses therein daily.

 

The theme of the day, which in Hebrew was ?? ??? ??? ??, ?? ???"”, translates roughly to “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” The quotation, originally said by Rabbi Hillel the Elder, is incredibly impactful for human rights – when those who are being oppressed do not stand up for themselves, or cannot stand up for themselves, they are often abandoned by the international community.

 

This year, the keynote speaker, Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger, was struck ill a few days before the event, and so had to be replaced. Judith Weiszman, one of the last people to see Raoul Wallenberg free, took his place instead. Weiszman came into the public eye in 2011 when Canada Post unveiled a new Raoul Wallenberg stamp that featured a Schulz-Pass with a 14-year-old Weiszman on it. Nobody had any idea who she was, much less that she had immigrated to Canada in 1956.

 

The day was a celebration of human rights, and as such had a wide variety of speakers, varying greatly from the titular focus on Raoul Wallenberg and the Holocaust. The speakers included: Mordecai Richie Diggs, a Liberian immigrant who came to Canada by himself when he was 16 years old, and became an actor with the Prairie Theatre Exchange, where he played a lost boy of Sudan in the play Social Studies; Megan Fultz, president of the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association, and has the condition osteogenesis imperfecta - she was the winner of the 2013 Sybil Shack Human Rights Award, along with Gray Academy’s Gay-Straight Alliance; Manfred Jager, who lived in Nazi Germany, had two personal encounters with Adolf Hitler, and discussed current relations between Germany and Israel; Arie Lavy, a former prisoner of war in Egypt during the Yom Kippur war, who spoke of psychological and physical hardship relating to his experience; Adam Schwartz, a stand-up comedian, writer, actor and Gray Academy alumnus, who writes frequently about Asperger syndrome; Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, who spoke about indigenous issues, treaty laws, and fracking on First Nations land; Evan Wiens, a Grade 12 student from Steinbach who made headlines in the wake of Bill 18 by fighting to form a GSA at Steinbach Regional Secondary School, despite enormous pressure from his community not to do so; Mohammad Abas and Josh Morry, the co-chairs of the newly-formed “Arab-Jewish Dialogue on Campus” at the University of Manitoba, spoke about advancing peaceful dialogue on university campuses; and finally, Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger, though he could not be present, made his debute via DVD. Dr. Wollschlaeger is the Jewish son of a highly-decorated WWII German tank commander – the Jewish son of a Nazi.

 

The day was also a fundraiser for Jewish Child and Family Services, with different grades bringing different items to donate, ranging from non-perishables to hand creams. It started with the keynote speech by Weiszman, which dragged a bit primarily due to technical difficulties. However, things picked up when the breakout sessions began. The third and fourth floors of the Gray Academy were cordoned off for the speeches, and the groups were usually small, ranging from ten to fifteen people per session. Lunch was provided free by the school, and dessert was made by the school’s cooking class. Following lunch was an absolutely incredible performance by David Vamos, paying tribute to First Nations who had their land stolen, the Earth, and how it is raped for profit, victims of domestic abuse, and those with the strength to walk away, victims of violence against the LGBT community, and others. The performance also had a brief cameo by a student, Braidin Filbert, after which the third sessions began.

 

The day established in Wallenberg’s name was in the essence of what he strove for. Correcting the injustices brought about by hatred and bigotry was his creed, and his name and his deeds live on through those he saved. To quote Mahatma Gandhi, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”.

 

If Raoul Wallenberg were alive today, I am certain he would be proud.

 
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