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Listen without judgment, author urges Halifax audience

Author Ellen Korman Mains discusses Holocaust education week in context of Israeli-Palestinian conflict

3 min read
Two women are sitting down on armchairs in front of an audience
caption Author Ellen Korman Mains and former broadcaster Olga Milosevich chat during an event at Halifax Central Library.
Jacqueline Newsome

It’s important to listen across religious divides in times of conflict, an audience of fifty was told on Tuesday at Halifax Central Library. 

In honour of Holocaust education week, author Ellen Korman Mains – daughter of Holocaust survivors – sat down with retired CBC broadcaster Olga Milosevich to discuss her book Buried Rivers: A Spiritual Journey into the Holocaust. 

For many in the audience, the purpose of the event was to seek direction in a time of confusion and heartache for the Jewish community amid the Israel-Palestine conflict. 

“During this time of conflict when Jews are being challenged in a variety of ways, it’s important that we actually show up and we’re in the same place together, ” said Dan MacKay in an interview prior to the event. He attended to connect with his own Jewish heritage. 

Deborah Lyons, who less than a month ago was appointed by the federal government as a special envoy to combat antisemitism, asked Mains the only question from the audience at the event’s end: “Given what we have been through in the last month, how do we try to dissolve these barriers? How would you guide us? ”

Mains said it’s important to look for openings to gather people together and listen without judgment.

“There is something very powerful when two people look at each other in the eye, and can hear each other,” said Mains. 

“Sharing how painful it is, how frustrated we are, in a safe space where there is nothing happening but listening.”

Mains spoke about the journey chronicled in her book. At 19, she converted to Buddhism. Her family’s pained reaction led her to make many visits to Poland, where she walked through the camp where her parents and grandparents were imprisoned. 

On one visit, an archivist showed her a thick book where Nazis had inscribed the names of their victims. There she found the names of her mother, her mother’s siblings who had been killed, and her grandparents. 

“They become a myth, and then you see a written name and it’s such a strong link with the past. They really existed,” she said.

In an interview after the event, Lyons said that her mission as special envoy is to follow Mains’ message and listen to people. She spends her time traveling to hear from communities across Canada, among them members of the Palestinian community, university students, mayors, MLAs, and chiefs of police. 

“Get our MLAs and MPs to get the communities together, to understand how difficult a time it is for our Jewish communities. We have to find more time to listen and talk to one another, and maybe less time protesting and being afraid.”

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About the author

Jacqueline Newsome

Jacqueline is a proud King's Master's student from Toronto who loves to write about matters of public safety.

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