Lisa Raber is working with Fighting Against Anti-Semitism (FAST) to fight discrimination and bullying in high schools across the province
Raber remembers attending a Jewish school across the street from a public school. The children from the public school would yell derogatory names across the fence such as “dirty Jew” and “kike” during recess. “It was very scary and it was irritating because there was nothing we could do about it,” said Raber.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only time Raber faced discrimination. In 1984, when she was 13, she attended an overnight B’nai Brith Jewish summer camp in Pine Lake, Alta. Before that summer, Jim Keegstra, was stripped of his role as a public school teacher in Eckville, Alta., for telling students that the Holocaust was a fraud and that Jewish people were evil.
Following that controversy, the camp invited Keegstra’s former students to join them. Raber said the children were polite, but she felt the sting of discrimination one day at the camp.
“I was walking with two of my friends and there were three of (Keegstra’s) students in front of me,” said Raber. “One of them turns to the other and says, ‘They don’t really have horns.’”
Fighting all kinds of discrimination
Twenty-two years later, Raber is working with Fighting Antisemitism Together (FAST) to prevent new generations from experiencing the same sort of discrimination. She connects with school boards across Alberta to introduce FAST’s programs in their classrooms – which are free and available online.
Their newest program, Voices into Action, contains 28 videos of real people talking about their experiences. One example includes the story of an aboriginal man who survived going through residential school. In another, a Nazi concentration camp survivor shares how he was saved by Raoul Wallenberg.
The videos help students learn better. “It is no longer an event in history that has taken place because they are actually interacting with somebody who went through that actual experience,” says Raber. Also as part of the program, students have group discussions about different types of discrimination.
Voices into Action – which has sections on transgendered kids, homophobia, Islamophobia and immigration issues – is aimed towards high school students. The resources are curriculum based which makes it easier for teachers to use in class. The programs help educate students about discrimination and provide information on all forms of racism.
Raber says she knows she is making a difference in the world if even one person stops to think before inciting bullying, hatred or racism.
“I am always appalled by discrimination … Islamophobia, homophobia, you name it. That is why I do what I do,” says Raber. “Discrimination is everywhere, and needs to be stopped. That’s why programs like Voices Into Action are so important to be taught in schools and in homes.”
Raber’s path into advocacy
Eleven years ago, Raber moved to Calgary after she got married. She left her career as a mortgage broker to spend time with her children.
Raber found at the Calgary Jewish Community Centre (JCC) a sense of community. She used to go to exercise at the centre’s gym, and bring her youngest child to activities every day. Spending time at the centre allowed her to meet and connect with people from Calgary’s Jewish community. Raber became involved at the JCC, and eventually joined its board of directors. She helped the directors with activities including research and fundraising initiatives.
“I felt that I wanted to work on things to make it a great place,” said Raber. She liked the open spirit of the centre. “They are not just open to Jewish people, it’s open to everybody and anybody, you can come and learn about Judaism.”
The B’nai B’rith youth organization invited her to apply as regional director. She says she felt the job was not suitable for her as it would require her to work a lot of evenings and weekends. However, the opportunity sparked an interest in the idea of getting a job that helped to create tolerance.
Later that day, Raber also learned about a job opening with Fighting Anti-semitism Together (FAST) as its Alberta regional director, marketing educational resources to fight discrimination and prejudices surrounded the Jewish community. She accepted the job knowing that it was what she wanted.
FAST was founded in 2005 by Tony Comper, the CEO of the Bank of Montreal, and his wife Elizabeth Comper, a school teacher, in response to a wave of anti-Jewish incidents such as the firebombing of a Jewish school in Montreal, intolerant graffiti on schools in Toronto, and the profanation of historical Jewish gravestones in Quebec City.
“You would think that it doesn’t still take place in the world but it does,” says Raber about those incidents.
Despite the Compers not being Jewish, they decided to help fight discrimination. They brought together a group of 20 non-Jewish business and community leaders in Ontario. Initially, they came together to fund educational programs that fight anti-Semitism. However, today they are preventing all forms of racism.
FAST’s first program “Choose your Voice” received an award of excellence in 2010 from the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.
Thumbnail courtesy of FAST.
The editor responsible for this article is Daniel Rodriguez firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Lisa Raber was the coordinator of the Calgary Jewish Community Centre, which she was not. The story also stated Raber was offered a job as director of the B’nai B’rith youth organization when in fact she was invited to apply for the position. The story has been updated. The Calgary Journal regrets the errors.