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Event Recap - Our Home, Our Stories: Indigenous, Muslim and Jewish Communities in Dialogue

19/03/2018 01:18:50 PM


An uplifting and heartwarming experiential program filled with stories, music, dance, special foods and wisdom took place at Darchei Noam on February 7, 2018.


For the 3rd year in a row the Interfaith Committee of Darchei Noam and the Intercultural Dialogue Institute worked together to produce an outstanding program as part of World Interfaith Harmony Week (WIHW). This year’s partnership also included the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto (NCCT).  


The event was generously sponsored by Ve’ahavta, The Islamic Institute of Toronto, and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, whom we thank for their support.


The committee members thank all who attended and participated in this year’s program.  We enjoyed our meetings and planning this for the community.  Working together was a great experience of sharing, learning, laughing and harmony – an essence of WIHW. 


Our exceptional presenters shared their experiences and feelings of home in heartwarming, insightful and thought-provoking ways. Through stories, poetry, music and dance we learned how home has shaped who they are, and learned about the communities from which they come.


Presenters: Elder Whabagoon, Rabbi Tina Grimberg, Aaron Lightstone, Wali Shah, Michael Etherington, and members of the Indigenize Our Minds Education Outreach Program –  Akeesha Footman, Tasunke Pejuta Sugar and Memengwaanh Bell-Trudeau.


Organizing Committee: from Darchei Noam - Anne Irwin, Chair; Bonnie Bereskin, Assistant-Chair; Danny Schild, Tyna Silver, Debra Eklove, Susanne Klein, Carla Roter; from the NCCT – Maggie Campaigne; from the IDI - Azim Shamshiev. 


In addition to the 200 people who braved the cold weather to attend, we were honoured to welcome several special guests: John Voorpostel, WIHC Co-Chair; Bishop Priscylla Shaw; Muneeb Nasir, President of the Olive Tree Foundation; Jim Kay, Deputy Fire Chief, Toronto; Sergeant Jon Collin of the Community Response Unit, 32 Division; and City Councilor James Pasternak.


“Congratulations to the team who put together this outstanding event!” said Debbie Michnick and David Tomczak. “It was a thoughtful, imaginative and inspiring evening. Every performance was incredibly well done, thought provoking and moving. The refreshments were delicious and plentiful. Congratulations also on an event with such a lovely and diverse audience.”


Recap of the evening:

As is Darchei Noam tradition, food was provided. Members of the organizing committee made bannock and Three Sisters soup, traditional Indigenous foods. Members of the IDI provided bourekas and Noah’s pudding, a traditional Middle Eastern sweet with great historical significance.  Darchei Noam provided samosas and hummus.


Cards with a description of the different foods was provided, as well as the  recipe for Noah’s puddingrecipe for Noah’s pudding. A special Hebrew banner adorned the wall and set the tone: ואהבת את ריעך כמוך. Ve'Ahavta Et Reyecha Kamocha. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Anne Irwin, Chair of the organizing committee, began the evening with welcoming words. A warm and thoughtful greeting from City Councilor James Pasternak followed.

Elder Whabagoon then opened the space with a traditional smudging ceremony, using prayers and burning sacred sage elements to purify the environment. Facing east, south, west and north, we all turned in the directions to become present and prepared for our time together. As this smudging and the closing ceremony are sacred events, no photos or recordings were permitted. 



We were then honoured to hear Elder Whabagoon’s personal story of experiences that shape who she is today.  From a very young age, she and her sister endured many trials, having been taken from their biological Indigenous family during the “60’s Scoop,” and place in a foster home. Her story included the challenges, as an adult, of meeting her birth family and integrating her Indigenous heritage with her upbringing after having been adopted by a loving English couple.


To begin her portion of the evening, Rabbi Grimberg welcomed our special guests, pointing out that it is the second-year representatives of the police and fire departments have joined us. She poignantly noted how they usually see us at our most vulnerable, in bathrobes, afraid and needing help. At this event we invited them to see us at our best.


Rabbi Tina Grimberg told a story demonstrating the importance of the Jewish Home interspersed with music performed by Aaron Lightstone. Rabbi Grimberg told of how Abraham welcomed three strangers into his tent. When he saw them from a distance he ran to greet them, urging them to rest with him a while on their journey in the dusty desert.  He implored Sarah to quickly make a special meal to refresh the men.  And, after resting, he walked them out to continue their journey.  He did not know who they were or what they would do for him and his family.  It did not matter, for home is where hospitality and welcoming everyone is important.



Aaron sang 3 beautiful songs:

Ya Ribon Alam - Text by the 16th Century Rabbi Yisrael Najara of Sefad. The melody was a traditional melody from Iraq, learned from Israeli musician Yair Dalal.

Shalom Aleichem - Traditional Text with melody from the Israeli band SHEVA.

Brothers in Arms - Mark Knopfler / Dire Straights.


Wali Shah, in a dynamic, moving, and at times humourous way, told of growing up Muslim in Toronto, having immigrated from South Asia as a child. The challenges of immigration, and of overcoming both racism and Islamophobia, are two of the themes he addresses in his stories and powerful spoken word poetry, including his poem HOME.


Michael Etherington passionately implored us to be aware of how we view the Indigenous community at this sensitive time of Truth, Justice and Reconciliation.  Do we greet each other looking eye to eye and shaking hands, or do we have a feeling of looking down from a superior position?  




The evening ended with the young members of the Indigenize Our Minds Education Outreach Program. They began by telling their stories. The pride in their heritage and their pleasure in sharing it was palpable and enjoyed by all. Tasunke made us laugh when he told of his encounter in the school yard, where in a first meeting with a youth from India they had a disagreement since each said they were the Indian.


Akeesha Footman, the Coordinator of the Indigenize Our Minds Education Outreach Program, spoke of the impact of the residential school system on her mother and of how family healing is ongoing.


Then, while Tasunke sang and drummed, Memengwaanh, which means Monarch Butterfly, danced her fancy dance for us wearing her butterfly regalia that is donned at Pow Wows.



Elder Whabagoon closed the space with a traditional water ceremony. She and Rabbi Grimberg bid us all a safe journey home. As a thank you to all the participants, they were each presented with sweet grass, a traditional Indigenous offering symbolizing Mother Earth. The three braided strands symbolize her hair, and Maggie Campaigne, from the NCCT, added that for tonight it was also appropriate as our three partner organizations and communities had come together to share and learn from one another.


“I loved [the event] for the stories of courage and resilience, the music and dance and the food”, said organizing committee member Bonnie Bereskin. “I enjoyed our meetings even more for the opportunities to be open about our beliefs and practices and to work together with affection, fun and knowledge.”

Thu, 23 May 2024 15 Iyar 5784