Shalom from Quebec, shall we continue to welcome?

On December 10, 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The same date also marks Canada’s ratification of the UN Convention on Discrimination Against Women.

Dignity, equality, freedom and social justice are among the rights protected under these conventions.

But what have these steps meant? Have we progressed?

As we take a look back at the 400-year history of Quebec City, we can recognize that we have come a long way. But we’re not there yet.

Women still don’t always have the same advantages, social or salary-wise, and then there’s the question of violence.

There are First Nations communities without clean drinking water, adequate housing or decent education in Canada.  

We’ve still got work to do.

As we prepare to focus on our collective history, we’ve got plenty to digest — and hopefully it will leave us more knowledgeable about the diversity that surrounds us.   

The 400th anniversary is a time to remember the First Nations, who first welcomed visitors who ventured here centuries ago.

Since then, Quebec City has embraced many people from around the world over its comparatively short history.

But it wasn’t always open to those who arrived with different practices.

Take the first recorded Jew who showed up in New France in 1738. Esther Brandeau disguised herself as a man to avoid persecution, and once caught, decided to head back to Europe rather than convert convert to Christianity. The New World was not ready for someone of such different background and faith.

We have come far since then. At times we are reasonably accommodating. At least we are asking questions and debating openly: is that not part of democracy?

Efforts such as Shalom Québec’s 10-month roster of activities in celebration of the city’s 400th anniversary will no doubt bring us further along as we uncover the rich history and tenacity of Quebec City’s Jewish community.

They are extending a warm welcome, shalom, to one and all to join in the adventure.

We should accept this invitation and extend our own, too; consider other cultures and share ours. After all, knowledge is the best antidote for intolerance.

In its 400-year history, this city has seen its share of both human rights victories and failures; let’s ensure that dignity, equality, freedom and social justice will be integral aspects of this fair ville for the next 400 years and beyond.