Tim Uppal touched all the bases in his trip to Israel this week, visiting Yad Vashem, praying at the Western Wall, supporting a rally in support of three kidnapped Israeli teens, and making a statement in favour of freedom of religion by visiting the Temple Mount.
Uppal, Canada’s minister of state for multiculturalism, was in Israel as part of Yad Vashem’s 60th anniversary mission. He received an after-hours tour of the Holocaust museum, declaring that, “it was very powerful to be there. Walking out, you just want to give your children a hug.”
Making the experience more memorable was a visit to an Israel Air Force (IAF) base and speaking with a pilot who was part of a 2003 fly-over of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi death camp where one million Jews were murdered. The pilot described to him the emotions he felt as an Israeli on that mission, Uppal said.
In September 2003, three IAF F-15s, piloted by the descendants of Holocaust survivors, flew over the camp during a memorial service. The pilots carried the names of all those who were murdered in Auschwitz on that day 60 years before. The names had been retrieved from the records at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.
Uppal, who first visited Israel in 2009 on a CJPAC (Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee) mission, briefed participants at Yad Vashem on the steps Canada has taken towards Holocaust commemoration as well as towards developing a National Holocaust Memorial Monument in Ottawa, which is scheduled to open next year. He reviewed Canada’s role as chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and he outlined steps taken to comply with the Ottawa Protocol on Combatting Anti-Semitism.
“Canada is deeply engaged in the fight against anti-Semitism and our government remains committed to enhancing Holocaust education, remembrance and research,” he told participants of the anniversary mission.
In a telephone interview from Israel, Uppal said his return to the Western Wall was a spiritual experience, and was of great significance because of the rally that took place there to support the kidnapped teenagers.
Uppal said he took the opportunity to ascend the Temple Mount, which is the site of the Islamic shrine, the Dome of the Rock, and the al-Aqsa Mosque.
“It was something that I really appreciated and it should be something everybody should be able to do,” said Uppal, who is of the Sikh faith.
“For me it was a spiritual experience and I think others should be able to experience it regardless of their religion.”
“We are a government that strongly believes in freedom of religion,” he added.