“A hundred children, a hundred individuals who are people – not people to be, not people of tomorrow, but people now, right now — today.” – Janusz Korczak
On Tuesday, July 30th at 5 pm, Irwin Elman and I sat down to have a schmooze on Hatradio! I have always been intrigued by Irwin, the former Provincial (Ontario) Advocate for Children and Youth, because of his self-professed nutty professor character, his passion for Janusz Korczak (director of an orphanage in Warsaw Ghetto, who went to his death with ‘his’ orphans), and his deeply authentic, and unusually passionate commitment to children and youth of Ontario, especially those on Native Reserves, in group homes and foster care.
Throughout out talk, Irwin told stories about his decade as ‘the’ chief advocate of Canada’s most populated province, Ontario. At around the 9:40 minute mark of the show, Irwin, a Jew from Quebec, discussed his visit to Japan to see group-homes which house up to 100 children. A staff member there said to him, “oh, you’re Jewish? You must know Janusz Korczak?“. Irwin had never heard of Korczak despite having been ensconced in the world of teaching, learning and child care. Immediately he set about learning about this man,considered by Europeans as the ‘Father of children’s rights‘.
As his career progressed, Irwin recognized he was doing similar things with the children of Ontario as Korczak had done in Poland with his orphans. As an example Irwin launched a newsletter run by the kids for the kids, just as Korczak had done. He encouraged the children on Reserves and those in group-homes (who saw themselves as being in ‘storage’) to speak loudly, to manage their own voice, to make adults hear them, just as Korczak had done. Eventually, he printed up well over 1000 books written by a ‘Korczak orphan’ and distribute it to all his staff and those affiliated with his work.
At the 16:20 mark of our schmooze, Irwin tells about his upbringing, by parents who believed in the concept of repairing the world. Irwin’s Mom told him, “you are not allowed to hate anyone“. Even when he talks about his the Federal Minister who was responsible for closing the ‘Advocacy office without explanation’, Irwin expressed without hesitancy, “I am angry at her”, but he never hated her (despite the fact he heard about the office closing through his staff who had heard a report on CBC radio). Nor does he hate adults who are responsible for the suffering of children.
At 1:42:50 of the interview, Irwin continued his story-telling answers to my questions. He said, “I’ve struggled to figure out why does it (the situation of the children he deals with) not make me sad.” He answered his own question stating, “I’m an actor in the world so I’m doing my part…….I also believe in them (the children). They’re okay. And if they’re not okay, they can be okay….and I know that all the thousands of children who worked through our office, including children on the Native reserves, had created change to the province of Ontario…they had influenced the way children’s voices are thought about.”
In Episode 30, Irwin Elman repeated over and over, just like Korczak did, that it’s not possible to legislate love however “you can legislate the condition in which love can flourish“. This was told to him by one of his youth. Irwin added, if Korczak could give the children a voice in a ghetto in Poland during the war, why can’t we do the same in an industrialized nation like Canada, in peace time.
This is a dynamic interview with a regular guy, who is challenged by doing laundry at home (he didn’t know there were rules). Irwin would go where the children were if they wanted to meet him. He stayed on the Attawapiskat Reserve for a week, where child/youth suicide had become a crisis. And Irwin knows first hand, better than anyone, the needs of children and youth in our Ontario.
The thimble story at a group-home in Coboconk, Ontario, at 57:30
Mr. Kleky story, and how one person can make a difference in a person’s life, at 1:08:27
Irwin’s reference to himself as ‘a kite’, at 1:48:55
The Korczak story, ‘the cake tasted like love’, at 1:54:00
Once again, I was deeply honored to share this time with Irwin Elman, who has accomplished a lot to date, in his lifetime. He told me he doesn’t experience self-pride when he reviews his career at the provinces number one advocate, but instead looks at the kids and what they have done. That’s impressive. Have a listen to episode 30 and be inspired, deeply. If you’re not, let me know and we’ll return the hour and a fifty minutes to you. Hatradio! The show that schmoozes!
“We Can do this” – Irwin Elman
_________________________________________________________________________________ Credit to Howard Pasternack for his post-producation work as well as to David Nefesh, for the Hatradio! song. Hear David’s musical genius at: https://www.reverbnation.com/davidnefesh
Credit for music in commercial:
Slow Burn Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
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