There's a new side of the story that you haven't heard.

Mob in Pakistani city torches Christian homes

March 10th, 2013

Hundreds of people in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore ransacked a Christian neighborhood Saturday and torched dozens of homes after hearing reports that a Christian man had committed blasphemy against Islam’s prophet, said a police officer.

Blasphemy is a serious crime in Pakistan that can carry the death penalty but sometimes outraged residents exact their own retribution for perceived insults of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. Pakistan is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim and people of other faiths, including the nation’s small Christian community, are often viewed with suspicion.


Iraq-Kurd deal offers hope, but challenges remain

December 15th, 2012

BAGHDAD – A deal brokered by Iraq’s president this week gives the central government and the Kurdish minority an opportunity to step back from a military standoff that has threatened to tip the country back into armed conflict just a year after the last American troops left.

The Kurds, a different ethnic group from Iraq’s majority Arabs, have their own armed fighters and enjoy considerable control over an increasingly prosperous enclave in Iraq’s mountainous north. Thursday’s accord calls for the eventual withdrawal of Iraqi military and Kurdish fighters who in recent weeks moved into disputed areas where both seek to extend their influence.


The day I skipped Shabbat to hang out with a Nazi

September 3rd, 2012

My experience began on a cold, wet, snowy Friday afternoon. Fridays are always a relief for me. Not merely because they mark the end of a long week filled with stress and often extra work hours, but because it marks the Sabbath. The Jewish Sabbath begins Friday night at sunset, where I typically kick off the way by attending my Synagogue’s Shabbat service. Not this week, however.

On this particular day, a little over one year ago, I headed to the nearby Tim Horton’s Coffee Shop to kill some time before the service began. I sat in my usual spot with a coffee reading Conrad Black’s biography of Richard Nixon, The Invincible Conquest. I couldn’t have imagined what was about to unfold.

As I was reading intently, in near isolation from my environment, a German accent made my ears perk up, for some reason. Having taken German classes at McMaster University, the dialect and accent is rather easy for me to pick up on. I’m always looking to try out the little German I know on native speaking Germans to hone my grasp on the language and build my confidence. I decided this was as good a time as any to flex the language skills I had.

The voice belonged to an old man, slender in body type with an all beige tunic buttoned up to his chin. He was walking hunched over with a walker, wearing a blue ball cap that could have been a few sizes smaller. He was wearing large eye glasses with easily visible finger prints on the lenses. As he pushed his walker around to find a seat, he looked lost and lonely.

My intentions shifted from wanting to practice my German to wanting to provide company for an old man. As he was about to park his walker, I greeted him in his native tongue.

“Gross Gott,” I said, a German greeting meaning, literally, ‘Greetings to G-d.’ “Wie Gehts?”, I followed up with. How are you?

He looked at me and smiled. He asked, in English, if I was from Germany.

I told him that I was simply studying German at University and also shared a snippet of my great grandparents’ story, who immigrated to Canada from the Black Forest region of Germany.

He sat down at my table and shared that he had just returned to Canada from Berlin the day prior and was staying at a hotel. After his wife died of a stroke, he sold his home in Burlington, Ontario and moved back to Berlin to spend his remaining years.

His name was Fred. At 90 years old (he even showed me his German driver’s license to prove it), he seemed extremely sharp. When he moved back to Berlin, he noticed how much he missed Canada.

“Things have changed there,” he said. “It’s not home anymore.”

Fred revealed that as a young man he was forced to join the German Navy where he served on a ship for a year. When the Russians started getting closer to Berlin, he was literally taken off his ship and told he was being reassigned to the German Army, known in Germany as the Wehrmacht. He was given no training, just a new uniform. His uniform colour went from the blue of the German Navy to the grey of the German Army.

In World War II, Fred was sent to the Eastern Front to fight the Russians, which he later admitted was a fight that he felt lucky to survive. Anyone who has read about the battles on the Eastern Front knows how brutal it was. As Fred recounted these stories from his life, it felt as though he was looking straight through me. I could sense an emotional undercurrent biting at his tear ducts.

He later surrendered to American soldiers and became an American prisoner of war.

“Those Americans are great guys,” he told me. “Every day they fed me and gave me coffee as good as this Tim Hortons,” he said, pointing to his Tim Hortons coffee, “I love the Americans.”

Fred didn’t yet know that I was Jewish. I wanted to tell him, but didn’t my doing so to bring about a sense of guilt for what the Germans had done to the Jewish people during World War II and the Holocaust. I knew that men of the Wehrmacht were regular German citizens fighting for their country much like how my grandfather fought for Canada.

When I finally mustered the courage to tell him about my faith, he was very much fighting tears.

“Regular Germans didn’t hate the Jews,” he said, very emotionally. “It was all Adolf’s doing.”

In fact, he and his father used to buy their clothes in Berlin from a Jewish-owned store.

Mid-sentence, Fred stopped talking stared intently towards the parking lot.

“You know, I have no right to feel bad for myself when I think about how those Jews were treated,” he lamented.

As I reflected on his status as a twice-widowed, 90-year old man living in a hotel, whose only son had died years ago, my heart wept.

Upon seeing the time on his wristwatch, Fred confessed that it was approaching his bed time. It was 7:30pm. I offered him a ride home, but he declined. I could tell he was leery of strangers. We shook hands and parted. By now, my Shabbat service had ended, but I didn’t regret missing it. As I sat in my car and watched Fred push his walker down the sidewalk I couldn’t help but feel closer to G-d. This chance encounter that cold night between a 90-year old former soldier of Hitler’s army and a 27-year old Jew from Canada was my Sermon.

As Holocaust Survivor Elie Wiesel once said, “Hope is like peace. It is not a gift from G-d. It is a gift only we can give one another”. Fred gave me hope for all that troubles peace in this world. I realized once again that peace is always possible.


There's a new side of the story that you haven't heard.