2023 Shaar Shalom Lecture participants

Drawing compelling speakers to Dalhousie for more than a decade, the Shaar Shalom Lecture Series promotes tolerance, empathy and diversity.

By Jodi Reid

The Shaar Shalom Lecture Series at Dalhousie University is a significant annual event made possible through the longstanding generosity of the Shaar Shalom Synagogue of Halifax as part of a unique partnership with Dalhousie’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

The series explores the broad themes of tolerance, multiculturalism, diversity and difference in contemporary society, and demonstrates Shaar Shalom’s and Dalhousie’s shared interests in bringing in-depth discussion of these themes to wider society in the long term.

Dr. Seth Bloom (BSc’98, MD’05) has been the Shaar Shalom representative for the project since 2012, when the lecture series was just getting started.

“The lecture series was an effort by the Shaar Shalom to make a statement that we need to focus on building bridges and working together as diverse communities on ways to bring attention to contemporary issues that are not based in conflict and aggression,” says Dr. Bloom.

He adds that in today’s world of social media, it can be very easy for hate and division to gain momentum.

“We are trying to fight divisiveness and hate towards any and all groups of the Dalhousie community,” he says.

Shaar Shalom Lectures past and present

This year’s lecture featured two distinguished Canadian leaders who have spent decades working toward those same goals nationally and globally: The Honourable Bob Rae, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations, and the Honourable Lieutenant-General (ret) Roméo Dallaire (LLD’12), founder of the Dallaire Institute for Children, Peace and Security at Dalhousie.

2023 Shaar Shalom Lecture participants

2023 Shaar Shalom Lecture participants (left to right): Dr. Seth Bloom, Dr. Shelly Whitman, Catherine Martin (Dalhousie’s Director of Indigenous Community Engagement), General Roméo Dallaire; Ambassador Bob Rae, Dr. Jennifer Andrews (Dean, Dalhousie’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences) and Dr. Frank Harvey (Dalhousie’s Acting President and Vice-Chancellor).

Under the general theme of “international human rights and Canada’s role in a polarized world,” Ambassador Rae and General Dallaire covered a broad range of topics — from the United Nations, world conflicts and natural disasters to leadership, gangs and even media advisors for Moses. The lively discussion was moderated by Dr. Shelly Whitman, Executive Director of the Dallaire Institute.

One of the goals of the lecture series is to appeal to the interest of the wider community —students in particular, but also faculty, the broader Halifax community and beyond.

“It’s not intended to be an academic lecture, but rather to be inclusive, bringing awareness to topics that are important to contemporary society and that bring different groups together,” explains Dr. Bloom. “Looking at this year and at past topics and speakers, I think we have been incredibly successful in achieving this goal.”

Previous speakers include Gitxsan child welfare activist Dr. Cindy Blackstock (LLD’18), the BlackNorth Initiative founder Wes Hall and Executive Director Dahabo Ahmed-Omer, former Governor General Michaëlle Jean (LLD’19), former UN Ambassador Stephen Lewis (LLD’06) and author Lawrence Hill (LLD’14).

Gaining momentum

General Dallaire was also the Shaar Shalom guest speaker in 2017 — a turning point in the series as it drew over 500 people for the first time. This year’s lecture saw another significant milestone, with over 1,000 people registered to attend in person or watch live online.

Thrilled with the record participation and the engaging discussion, Dr. Bloom says his key takeaways from this year’s event were understanding the importance of the historical context of Canada’s role as a defender of international human rights and security, as well as a call to service to create opportunities that beget more action.

2023 Shaar Shalom Lecture Series

Dr. Bloom asked General Dallaire to return for the Shaar Shalom lecture in another six years, whereas the series enjoys a new milestone when he is the speaker. (Nick Pearce photo)

Both of this year’s speakers discussed the importance of service, noting that getting involved is not something that only “other people” should do. Dallaire made a poignant plea to young people to volunteer so they gain an appreciation for what other people experience in their daily lives, and then to use that learning to influence the future of fellow humans for the better.

Rae and Dallaire also pointed out that there is no time limit on service. With both men in their mid-70s and still hopeful, enthusiastic and deeply committed to their work and causes, they encouraged Canadians young and old to do their part.

For his part, Dr. Bloom says he looks forward to continuing his own service as the Shaar Shalom Congregation’s representative with the Lecture Series team. The Congregation has generously increased its commitment with an endowment, allowing the lecture series to continue as a signature event at Dalhousie well into the future.

“Having been involved for over 10 years, I’m proud to see the momentum the lecture series continues to build,” says Dr. Bloom. “On behalf of the Shaar Shalom, Dalhousie’s partnership in this project is deeply valued as a strong and valuable voice to supporting diversity on campus. I look forward to our continued relationship with Dalhousie and the long-term success of this lecture series.”

Learn more: read the 2023 Shaar Shalom Lecture feature story in Dal News, or you can watch the entire lecture on YouTube. You can also learn more about previous lectures.