Conscientious Objectors

They came up to the Hill, clearly eager to tell their story and to get a first-hand view of the workings of Parliament.  They left somewhat wiser.

In a previous post – – we learned of a keen group of University of Western Ontario students called Tzedaka-Sadaqah – Muslim and Jewish young minds who have united to overcome their differences and to find ways to better their community in the process.  In a word, they are remarkable.  As opposed to just talking about their faiths and diverse outlooks on life, they opted to use humanitarian actions as a larger context for building bridges between their communities.

My staff gave them a tour of the Parliament buildings and discussed the workings of government with them.  They met with Irwin Cotler in my office – a Jewish champion of human rights, former justice minister, and someone who has worked extensively with Jewish and Muslim communities to work on peaceful initiatives in the Middle East.  They also met with John McKay, an MP who delights in working with various faith groups in hopes of bettering society.

When I learned they were coming to Question Period on Wednesday, I grew apprehensive.  Anyone reading this post will know why.  The idea of a keen group of students who have overcome obvious differences attending a political theatre where peace is never an option was troubling.  And, sure enough, it was a particularly embattled session.  I looked for the Tzedaka-Sadaqah students in the observation gallery but couldn’t spot them, worried how they were handling the theatre of the absurd.

Directly following QP, we all met in one of the Senate committee rooms to discuss their feelings of the day.  Clearly delighted with what they had experienced and discovered, they nevertheless were saddened by what they had just witnessed.  Their questions were typical.  “Why do people in such a high public office yell at one another?”  “They don’t even answer questions.”  “Don’t they know people are watching?”

Of course we know people are watching!  In some ways that’s the point: our rather extreme verbosity is designed to catch media attention and to probe areas of weakness.  It’s never about a sincere query and a thoughtful response.  It’s like goons on the ice and our desire to cover our kids’ eyes so they don’t see.

These students were ambassadors for peace who just happened upon that noble calling as a result of dedicated actions of compassion for their fellow human beings.  The odds against what they have accomplished are massive.  And yet they’ve done it, triumphantly.  They had hoped to come to Ottawa to see how the “grown ups” handle the complexities of policy and debate, and what they discovered is that, on the surface at least, there is no desire for peace in Parliament, merely primacy.  They were disappointed and I was embarrassed.

As I said final farewells to them, I realized they had brought some sensible and practical light to a Parliament as dark as many of the veterans can recall.  They ennobled its hallways and the chamber.  But they also realized that if Parliament itself is so rigorously divided, the work ahead of them is truly difficult.

They departed out the doors and for some reason Centre Block seemed diminished in light.

– Glen Pearson


From Plowshares to Music – A Sunday Read (From the Blog of Glen Pearson, MP)

An amazing post from the blog of Glen Pearson, MP for London North Centre.

From Plowshares to Music – A Sunday Read

March 7, 2010 by glenpearson

Israel Apartheid Week, as predicted, stirred up a dust storm in various regions of the world, including Ottawa. The government’s penchant for permitting its support for Israel to push this country off the cliff of its historical balancing act between Israel and Palestine has resulted in Middle East skirmishes all over the capital and in its policies.

And then along comes Tzedaka/Sadaqah Project. Difficult to pronounce, its actions are nevertheless clear and unassailable. It’s actually a group of Jewish and Muslim students from the University of Western Ontario who have decided that history moves on, even when the prejudices of others remain stilted. Their practical mandate states: “The Jewish and Muslim communities share many important values that originate from common religious teachings. As students, we want to illustrate the importance of working together through shared values to make a difference in our local community, despite our religious and political differences.” Not very complicated, nor hopelessly political either.

This week, some 75 Muslim and Jewish students did what they’ve been undertaking all year: providing and preparing food for those who can’t provide for themselves by assisting local churches with their “Out of the Cold” program. Muslim and Jewish young people helped Christian institutions, there’s a concept. And it continues to work because these students have the sheer ability to blow past all the rhetoric that swirls around their respective faiths these days and actually put their beliefs into action.

In seen and unseen ways they have followed in the footsteps of their elders, who broke some historic ground by creating Salam/Shalom – a joint effort by both communities to raise funds for the Children’s Hospital of Western Ontario. This effort was so innovative that it caught the attention of CNN. But times are moving on and the older leadership is giving way to a newer generation of pathfinders. These remarkable people, young and old, represent some of the finest hope for our city. They are neither ashamed of their faith or their willingness to use it to heal the wounds (and prejudices) of others.

The vision statement ofTzedaka/Sadaqah is remarkably simple:

1. Give back to the community
2. Focus on mutual values within our faiths
3. Gain an understanding of one another’s faith
4. Build bridges between our communities
5. Encourage an inclusive and respectful atmosphere on campus
6. Acknowledge that differences exist in political views
7. Have fun!

Does this sound like language from the Torah and the Koran to you? But in every way it represents the absolute essence of both faiths and the ability to see past differences to build and protect life. Imagine concluding a modern religious plan of action by concluding with “have fun.” Remarkable.

A while back, I penned a blog post on the recent passing of Rabbi Joel Wittstein. A remarkable man in so many dimensions, he moved the Jewish community to a place of peace the same way Faisal Joseph, Mohammad Yassein, and others, led by example for their Muslim friends. At Rabbi Wittstein’s deeply moving service, the leader said that we must go beyond beating our weapons into plowshares. We must then form those plowshares into musical instruments, so that when moments of tension and struggle emerge between peoples and anger results, they would be forced to beat their instruments into plowshares instead of weapons. I was so moved by that insight that I was breathless.

Well, these young people are singing and have moved beyond the plowshares. Their music moves us and their actions point the way, not only for their future, but for Canada’s return to peace and an honest broker for it in the Middle East.

Neve Shalom/Wahat Al Salam

Banding together to help others

Banding together to help others

By NICOLE VEERMAN, Special to QMI Agency

INTER-FAITH RELATIONS: Western’s Jewish and Muslim students strive for positive change

Smack dab in the middle of Israeli Apartheid Week at the University of Western Ontario, a group of Jewish and Muslim students have joined together for positive change.

“It’s a very politically charged week,” said Ben Rosen, a student organizer for the Tzedaka/Sadaquah Project — an initiative that began a year ago to unite Muslim and Jewish students through charity.

This is Western’s first year participating in Israeli Apartheid Week, an event organizers say is devoted to the respect and protection of the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.

The use of the term apartheid has been criticized by Jewish communities and condemned by MPPs in Ontario.

“Those kinds of events are the ones that get all the exposure. We think it’s very important to have some positive exposure . . . about Jewish and Muslim students building a relationship,” Rosen said.

As part of their effort to create a positive bond, more than 75 Jewish and Muslim students joined together Wednesday at the University Community Centre in the spirit of charity — a value important to both cultures — to make more than 250 sandwiches for the Out of the Cold program at the Dundas Street Centre United Church.

The group has been volunteering with the program that provides hot meals to the needy for more than a year, but Wednesday was the first time both making and serving the meals, said Aisha Birani, a Muslim student organizer for the project.

“This is our first annual sandwich-making day,” she said. “Students came to the event and made a sandwich and literally helped an underprivileged person in London.”

The students also baked cookies and provided fresh fruit, while the church was responsible for a light soup, said Fred Faas, Out of the Cold co-ordinator.

Faas has happily accepted the group as regular volunteers and has even had to limit how many come each week to six, so his other volunteers can still participate.

“They’re really great people to work with,” he said. “They asked if they could come and volunteer, and in that way the group can overcome their differences.

“There’s always a bit of tension between the Jewish and Muslim communities, so to share in this way, the differences don’t seem that great.”

The group doesn’t overlook their differences though; they recognize them and even discuss them, said Rosen, who’s working to start a group at McMaster University in Hamilton.

“We recognize the uniqueness in the relationship between the Jewish and Muslim faiths . . . because of the history and distrust that exists, students are prevented from working together,” Rosen said.

“We wanted to find some shared values between the communities.”