Every Child Matters – A Canadian Jewish Perspective
On September 30, Bialik students and staff commemorated Canada’s first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation or Orange Shirt Day, as it is known. This was a day to celebrate and honour Canada’s Indigenous peoples and develop a greater appreciation for Indigenous culture, customs, beliefs and traditions.
One might think that in sending our children to a Jewish day school, learning would be limited to Jewish holidays, Jewish rituals and Jewish history. While these are obviously very important aspects of learning and life at Bialik, attending a Jewish day school highlights the importance of culture and tradition in the broadest sense. Rooting our children’s education in a belief system that promotes respect, inclusion and moral action only strengthens our commitments to each other and our communities at large. Based on this premise, it was important for our Bialik students to participate in Orange Shirt Day this year.
“Reconciliation” literally means repairing broken relationships. Similarly, Tikkun Olam means repairing our world. We are all very familiar with the obligation, as Jewish people, to perform acts of love and kindness and social action. This obligation extends beyond our own welfare to society at large. It is clear that as Canadians and as Jews, we have an obligation to listen, to learn and to act in pursuit of justice.
As Jewish people, we have experienced discrimination, assimilation and hardship. This is not to say that our struggles as Jews should or could be compared to the atrocities faced by Indigenous people and residential school survivors. Rather, throughout history, our neighbours have stood up for us and have spoken out when we had no voice or power. Now, we have an obligation to stand up for others in the same way. We have an obligation to examine our role in reconciliation and what comes next in history. We need to ask ourselves: “What is my perspective? What are my biases? What can I do to make a positive change?”
This is the first time that we have observed Orange Shirt Day at Bialik, and our students and teachers spent a day gaining a better understanding of our Canadian history and our hopes for the future.We examined picture books and artwork to gain an appreciation of Indigenous culture and customs. We also began unpacking important topics such as the dangers of assimilation and discrimination.
Our senior students from both branches led a moving assembly to highlight the story of Phyllis Webstad, whose bright orange shirt, a gift from her grandmother, was taken away from her when she arrived at residential school. This orange shirt came to symbolize the Indigenous identity that has been unjustly stripped away from so many children. The students also participated in a collaborative art project to express their thoughts, fears and hopes. The symbol they chose to highlight in their project was a butterfly, as it represents change and growth.
Truth and Reconciliation, and the 94 Calls to Action put forward by Truth and Reconciliation Commission, are in no way limited to September 30. This day was just the beginning of working towards gaining a better understanding of our history, the courage and strength of residential school survivors, and the steps that need to be taken towards healing.
To mark this important day of remembrance, every Bialik student from JK to Grade 8 contributed to a mural, proudly stating, “Every Child Matters.” Each student added their own handprint with words, messages and images to share their personal commitments to Truth and Reconciliation.
“Love people the way they are.” – JK Student
“Treat people the way you want to be treated.” – SK Student
“ I am committed to learning about how this all began and how we can end it.” – Grade 4 Student
“I will continue to read books, articles and learn everything I can about Truth and Reconciliation. I will share what I learn with others so that important conversations can continue.” – Grade 6 Student
This mural acted as a unified statement about our childrens’ beliefs and commitments as Canadians and as Jews. We have a lot to learn and to own about our Canadian history and the lived experience of Indigenous peoples. For Bialik, this is the beginning of a journey of listening — as mentioned by our Head of School, Benjy Cohen in his assembly message — that will not be restricted to one day of the year.
It is clear that our children have a deeper understanding of acceptance and inclusion than many adults I know. It is our children who are ready to take on the difficult work of reparation and reconciliation because they want to live in a world where Every Child Matters.