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This son of a concentration camp worker shares lessons of tolerance in a Vancouver soup kitchen

Joseph was an extremely kind, gentle man. People coming into the soup kitchen seemed to gravitate towards him. He had that jolly, happy charisma to him that would remind most of their grandfather.

The Vancouver Care Project is the work of 17-year-old Rachel Way, who engages with some of Vancouver’s most vulnerable residents facing poverty and homelessness. Each week she shares the story of one person she has met.

The purpose of this project is to share the stories of the lives of those living and working in and around Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, as well as the homeless and marginalized population of Metro Vancouver. By creating a virtual story book, the goal is to end the stigma that surrounds the area and raise awareness to the struggles the people of the area face.

Joseph: "If we don't help each other then what's the point in living."

 Joseph (Photo by Rachel Way)Joseph (Photo by Rachel Way)

Meeting Joseph was much different than meeting most of the other people I have had the pleasure to meet throughout this journey. Don't get me wrong, each and every person I have met has shared with me unique experiences, an openness and courage to share with a big, beautiful heart, but some people kind of catch your eye and they stand out to you a bit and that was exactly what happened with my new friend Joseph.

Joseph was an extremely kind, gentle man. People coming into the soup kitchen seemed to gravitate towards him. He had that jolly, happy charisma to him that would remind most of their grandfather.

I soon learned from speaking to Joseph that his appearance did not deceive; he was caring, open, and wise. Through talking with Joseph not only did I learn a lot about him, but also about myself. He was very interesting to talk to because not only was he so open about his life, but he also taught me a lot about myself and many important lessons I will carry with me throughout my life.

I also learned just how fascinating his life was and how much wisdom, strength and insight he had to offer. Joseph explained to me that he was born in communist Poland. As a child, life had a tendency to be a bit difficult. Joseph's father worked in a concentration camp during World War II. His work not only took a toll on his father, but Joseph as well.

As a child with a large heart, the work his dad did hurt Joseph. The thought his father had the ability to do that to people broke his heart.

"My father would return home from work broken," he explained, showing the extreme hurt, despair and trauma the Holocaust caused on so many levels to so many different people.

Listening to Joseph's experiences really brought to light how the Holocaust had such a terrible effect on everyone involved. As a young person who was not around during those days and my only understanding of the war is what I have read from a text book or heard from teachers, it is hard to understand just how bad of a time it was. Learning about what he went through really opened my eyes to the hardship and struggle people faced then and to get to where the world is now. It was such an important reminder to never forget, and to respect everyone, no matter their race, gender, religion, or ethnicity.

When Joseph turned 33, he moved here to Canada. When I asked him why he decided to make the move half way across the world to Canada, away from everything he had ever known, he explained to me that he wanted to meet new people, go to a more diverse place than where he was living, and learn English so he could communicate with even more people.

It was so beautiful to me that Joseph had the courage to leave everything he ever knew so he could see the world around him and meet more people to see what they both had to offer. Seeing the world and learning as much as you can is so important and is such a big dream for many, but not all of us have the courage to make the sacrifices to be able to do that. Listening to Joseph, I was constantly inspired by his strength and courage all throughout his life.

Not only was Joseph so experienced but he was also such a joy to talk with; he was so wise yet he was still so excited to learn new things.

Joseph brought up with me the topic of racism and how he could simply not understand it. In Joseph's earlier life he was a music teacher, and he shared his passion for music and how it connects us all together. His views on how things like art can bring the world together was beautiful, showing how, despite our visual differences, we share so many things in common, and not only that but that sharing our unique cultures and gifts should not tear us apart but rather bring more beauty into our lives.

"I don't understand how others can judge or even kill based on the colour of someone's skin or their beliefs," observed Joseph.

"Have you ever listened to Chinese music?" he asked me. When I told him I had not he told me how beautiful it was, how they all sang in tune as if it was almost perfect. Joseph shared passionately that there was beauty in every race, ethnicity, and person. Joseph expressed how when you do not look at the colour of one's skin and look at what they have to offer to the world you begin to see how there is beauty in every race and once we see that, we can all live together in harmony.

Joseph was an inspiration: a wise, caring, compassionate man with a beautiful smile. He believes that he has lived a long, happy, enriched life- which I can't help but to agree.

He shared with me that one thing he hopes the next generation will do, is to do good for others: "If we don't help each other then what's the point in living."

I hope that we can all learn from Joseph and to live with love, compassion and kindness in our hearts. To give, to accept and to respect everyone around us based on their character rather than the colour of their skin, the accent of their voice or what they believe in. Never stop learning and meeting new people, there are almost 8 billion people on this planet, each with a story and something to offer.

Remember to do the right thing, to live in a way that we support one another and to try and do one good thing a day, because as Joseph said himself: "If I did something good today, it was worth it."

This post originally appeared on The Vancouver Care Project and is edited and republished here with permission from the author.