Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended Kol Nidre services at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal.
“The prime minister’s presence and words were deeply moving for our community,” said Rabbi Adam Scheier, who extended the invitation to Trudeau.
The rabbi said some congregants recalled Trudeau’s late father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, speaking from the same pulpit when he was prime minister during the 1976 Montreal Olympics, when a memorial was held for the Israeli athletes slain at the Munich games four years earlier.
In his speech, Trudeau spoke about attending the funeral of former Israeli president Shimon Peres and his admiration for him as “a man of peace” and “exemplary statesmanship.”
“Israel has long been a great friend and ally of Canada, and Shimon Peres exemplified this reality in his efforts to build and maintain relations between our two countries,” Trudeau said.
“When I visited the president on my first visit to Israel, he spoke about his longstanding friendship with my father. He told me about the first time they met. They ate lunch together on the lawn of my father’s house, sitting on a blanket and enjoying a beautiful Ottawa day.
“Later, Mr. Peres talked about that moment, saying, ‘We sat like two young children and had our lunch. And then we developed a really good friendship.’”
Trudeau also spoke of his recent trip to Warsaw for the NATO summit, when he took his eight-year-old son, Xavier, to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
When the boy asked, “Did everyone die?” in the Holocaust, Trudeau said, “As a dad, how could I even begin to explain this to him? It’s a dilemma I’m sure many of you have faced with your own kids.”
He decided not to bring Xavier to Auschwitz, where he was accompanied by Rabbi Scheier, along with Holocaust survivor Nate Leipciger of Toronto.
“I knew in my gut that I had to experience that solemn site for the first time as an individual and as a leader, but not as a father mindful of shaping my son’s experience. I will absolutely take my children back there when they’re a little older, and look forward to accompanying and guiding them properly as a dad.”
For himself, Trudeau said seeing the death camp will stay with him for the rest of his life. Nothing prepared him for his “visceral and raw” reaction, which he said he has difficulty putting into words.
“It was overwhelming and so utterly heartbreaking,” he said.
“One small moment – one specific site – stands out in my memory of the visit: the railcar…
“You see, I’m a pretty tactile person…[and] being able to place my hands on this railcar that brought people to this evil place, that grounded it for me. Being able to touch this vessel that so many passengers thought would bring them to freedom, but instead delivered them to their deaths, that grounded it for me.”
The railcar and Leipciger’s personal story, he said, “brought this tragedy to life for someone like me, someone who can never truly know the devastation.”
Trudeau said he feels “a sense of helplessness” in knowing that hatred still exists in the world today.
He believes that fear must be fought with love.
“It starts with loving our differences, not simply tolerating them, and demanding better, both of ourselves and of others. And it remains our collective responsibility, as leaders, as Jews, and as friends of the Jewish community, to ensure that, through education and awareness, ‘never again’ is never forgotten.”
Rabbi Scheier noted that the RCMP and the Prime Minister’s Office were “extraordinarily sensitive and respectful when it came to our sacred space and the restrictions associated with Yom Kippur. I was deeply impressed by their appreciation for what both the holiday and a prime minister’s visit meant to our congregation.”
Also present were Liberal MPs Marc Garneau, Anthony Housefather and Marc Miller, as well as Westmount Mayor Peter Trent and Israeli Consul General Ziv Nevo Kulman.