Edmonton Journal – September 1, 2016
This week I will compete in the triathlon taking place in our City of Champions. “So what?” you say. “A lot of people are competing.”
Yes, but how many people are doing it in a shvimkleid – the modest swimsuit worn by religious Jewish women?
I almost didn’t have the guts to submit my application. What if they wouldn’t accept me? It’s going to be my first triathlon, I didn’t know the rules and regulations. Maybe everyone has to wear the standard wetsuit, bike pants and jogging shorts?
While a shvimkleid is actually made of Lycra, nobody would ever confuse it for any of those “normal” sports outfits – it’s pretty obviously a skirt made from stretchy fabric.
So I summoned up the courage and picked up the phone and called the ITU World Triathlon Edmonton’s office. To my great relief, they said yes. Five minutes later, I was registered.
The fact that they said “yes” is probably a no-brainer to most Canadians. Living here we take multiculturalism and our faith mosaic for granted. That’s Canadian values 101.
But we must never take it for granted. We are very blessed to live in our great country. While we might like to believe that any 21-century Western liberal democracy would be no different, sadly that’s not the case.
In August, France, the home of “liberty, equality, fraternity,” decreed that religious Muslim women may not wear the burkini – their modest swimsuit – at public beaches. France’s highest court has since suspended the ban in one coastal town and other bans are being challenged too.
But instead of embracing and respecting the culture and beliefs of fellow Frenchmen, those imposing burkini bans once again alienated them and made them feel like strangers in their own countries. If they would only open their hearts and minds, they would find – as we have here in Canada – that the mosaic of cultures is what makes society and, ultimately the nation, great.
Thank goodness here in Edmonton our government leaders not only tolerate and respect every creed, but they have found ways to capitalize on the strengths of our communities.
We have a number of interfaith groups, including the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education and Action and the Phoenix Multi-Faith Society for Harmony that fulfil various roles from interreligious to law enforcement relations. These groups are endorsed by our municipal government and city hall regularly hosts their celebrations of faith.
Another important Edmonton interfaith coalition is the Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative (CRIHI). Supported by the City of Edmonton along with the Edmonton Community Foundation, the Catholic Archdiocese and other churches, CRIHI is made up of dozens of Edmonton faith groups.
The city has a goal to end homelessness by 2018. To that end, a number of affordable housing programs are underway across the city. But transformation never comes without its challenges and this project is no different.
Unfortunately in some parts of the city there has been some pushback to the introduction of affordable housing. The goal of CRIHI is to involve faith groups in the conversation about homelessness and hopefully to motivate religious Edmontonians of all stripes to get involved in making our city livable for everyone.
The response to date has been heartwarming; churches, temples, synagogues and mosques are engaging in important discussions and we are working together for the betterment of our society.
We are incredibly blessed to live in Edmonton, to be citizens of Canada. Here, we respect our differences and work together to make this world a better place for everyone. Our city and country are shining examples of successful integration.
Let us unite with one voice and condemn any intolerance and disrespect, whether at home or abroad. Together, we can achieve amazing things.
Rabbanit Batya Friedman is the director of the Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative and the co-pastor of Beth Israel Synagogue.