Reflecting on Canada 150, Shimon Koffler Fogel, chief executive officer of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), recently wrote in the Globe and Mail, “Surely marking 150 years as a united confederation means more than just an extravagant party and a day off work?… Canada 150 is an opportunity to appreciate the privileges and benefits we enjoy in our great country. But these reflections risk becoming mere platitudes if they are not animated with positive action. With privilege comes responsibility. Canada 150 is a moment for each of us to consider how we can pay the great gift of being Canadian forward through tangible contributions that enhance the experience for all who call Canada home.”
As someone whose family has been in Canada since the late 1700s, these words resonated with me. Indeed, my own ancestors were among Canada’s first refugees: Loyalists who had supported and fought for the British in the American Revolution.
In my case, the Lyon family (my father’s mother’s family) were Connecticut Loyalists who lost everything because of their active service to the Crown. Passionate supporters of the British way of life and system of government, they fled to New Brunswick bereft of their possessions. In their new home, unfamiliar but welcoming, they turned their efforts to building the extraordinary country that would become Canada.
The legacy the Loyalists left – combined with the work of generations of Canadians from innumerable backgrounds – was poignantly felt on the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Today, Canada is the envy of much of the world. While Canada is not perfect (what nation is?), we enjoy greater freedom, security, social harmony and prosperity than perhaps any other country on the planet.
More than anything, our forebears taught us that, as with most good things in life, a remarkable country doesn’t just happen; it is the product of vision, values and hard work. This no less true today than it was in 1867. The country my children inherit will be made better or worse by the actions (or inaction) of my own generation.
It was in that vein that Shimon continued, in his Globe and Mail column, to present a Pledge 150 challenge to all faith communities:
“The challenge is straightforward. We ask every church, temple, mosque and synagogue to commit to undertaking 150 positive deeds that make Canada better tomorrow than it is today: 150 volunteer hours visiting the elderly, 150 new donations to community food banks, 150 new Canadian Blood Services donations, 150 hands extended to indigenous communities. The list of concrete opportunities is as limitless as the need for them.”
What better way to teach our children what it means to be Canadian than to do something tangible to make our country a better place?
At the same time, the Pledge 150 approach requires us to be thoughtful, organized and sustained in our contribution. Based on the premise that we are changed through repetition, the great Jewish philosopher-rabbi Maimonides noted that it is better to undertake many individual acts than one large act of giving. The process of giving not only benefits the recipient but, when adopted as a conscious habit, it also creates a mindset of generosity in the donor.
If you, your family or your synagogue are interested in taking part, I invite you to visit pledge150.ca for more details – and to connect with us to share your pledge ideas with others. As for me and my family, we have pledged to collect 150 items of clothing over the year to donate to those in need. By encouraging our young children to be part of the effort, we share with them the importance of helping those less fortunate – a value at the heart of Jewish tradition and Canadian civic values.
Steve McDonald is deputy director, communications and public affairs, at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the advocacy agent of Canada’s Jewish federations.