Holding Life and Death Together

On November 9th, I noticed that it was the anniversary of two dramatically different events.

The first is the feast day of the rededication of the St. John Lateran Basilica in Rome. This is the closest papal basilica to where I now live. The church was established in 324 and the feast is to celebrate its rededication in 1724. The basilica is the seat of the bishop of Rome and is called the “mother of all churches.”

The second event is known as Kristallnacht when, in 1938, Nazis destroyed thousands of Jewish businesses and property and desecrated synagogues throughout Germany and Austria.

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“We Will Outlive Them!”

Three years ago, on October 27, 2018, a white supremacist committed the deadliest attack on Jews in the United States, killing eleven worshippers at a Shabbat morning service in Pittsburgh.

That weekend, I was attending a Shabbaton [program of Jewish learning over the Sabbath] in Thornhill. Since I was staying with an Orthodox family, I did not use my phone during Shabbat. And so, like many in the Jewish community, I found out about the shooting once Shabbat ended.

My heart sank. I read a few articles before heading upstairs and I wasn’t going to mention the news to my hosts until they had seen it for themselves.

That weekend, I had experienced what it is to be guarded by the oasis of time that Shabbat had been for all of us. I recalled Heschel’s words: “The Sabbath is no time for personal anxiety or care, for any activity that might dampen the spirit of joy. The Sabbath is no time to remember sins, to confess, to repent or even to pray for relief or anything we might need. It is a day for praise, not for petitions.” How could we have avoided anxiety and petitions on that day had we not been observing Shabbat?

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What would you die for?

On this anniversary of D-Day, I have become curious about educational materials pertaining to commemorating the Canadian contribution at Juno Beach on June 6th, 1944.

I also think that the fact of having roadtripped throughout Normandy to visit these sites in 2018 contributes to my inclination to pay attention to these anniversaries personally.

The Juno Beach Centre provides various resources to educators to assist in teaching new generations about the Second World War and the cost it took to defeat the evil of Nazism.

I am not sure whether these are the kinds of lesson plans actually being used in schools, but here are a couple of the activities that I consider to be interesting and worthwhile exercises.

Example #1:

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The Night George Orwell Died 71 Years Ago

George Orwell died on January 21, 1950. To commemorate the seventieth anniversary, the Orwell Foundation created a 7-minute short film about the people, events, and items surrounding his final months.

Biographer D.J. Taylor says of Orwell’s death that it is “not wholly a tragic story.” Consider the reasons why it is not only “not wholly tragic” but even, quite simply, a story.

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