Under community pressure, a Richmond auction house backed down from selling a collection of Nazi memorabilia last weekend. Maynards Fine Art and Antiques was set to auction items including Nazi flags, military items and other war-era artifacts on Saturday. Two days before that, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs was made aware of the items by a member of the community.
“We spoke to the lead appraiser, the person in charge of auctioning this lot,” said Nico Slobinsky, CIJA’s Pacific region director. “We provided context and tried to explain why auctioning these items was morally reprehensible. I would love to be able to tell you that we got positive engagement and understanding at the time when we had those conversations on Thursday. We did not get that positive engagement. It was clear to us from the response from the auction house that they were going to go ahead with the auction as originally planned.”
Community members and elected officials quickly mobilized and media seized the story. Individuals messaged the auction company and politicians lined up in opposition to the sale. Two members of the legislature from Richmond, Jas Johal and John Yap, spoke out, as did Andrew Wilkinson, leader of the B.C. Liberals.
Mike Sachs, past president of the Richmond congregation the Bayit and a Jewish community activist in Richmond, mobilized his contacts – even while vacationing in Mexico. He said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie not only spoke out against this incident but promised to proclaim Holocaust Awareness Day in January 2020.
“People were just disgusted that Maynards would do such a thing,” said Sachs. “As a whole, we all agree enough of profiting off Jewish blood. Enough. We’re not going to accept it anymore.”
Sachs and Slobinsky praised community allies who spoke up. They both believe that historical artifacts like these should be in museums or educational institutions, where they can serve as educational tools in proper context.
CIJA is asking Maynards for an apology and a donation to the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre. The organization extended an offer to the undisclosed owner of the items to assist in placing them in an appropriate venue.
During the Goldene Medina exhibit this past summer, the documentary Leah, Teddy and the Mandolin was screened. It will be shown again on Dec. 8 at Congregation Beth Israel. (photo from Steve Rom)
I have a bad case of South African Jewish envy. This condition developed when I moved to Vancouver from the North End of Winnipeg. I can’t remember meeting even one South African Jew while growing up in the Prairies – the majority of Jews in my hometown were from Eastern Europe. However, I met oodles of South African Jews when I moved here in the early 1990s and I was impressed by their knowledge of Judaism and their commitment to Jewish life. There seemed to be something unique about their community and it seemed exotic compared to Winnipeg’s. Many of them became my good friends, perhaps because, as a Litvak (my last name literally means a Jew from Lithuania), I share a common ancestry with my South African co-religionists, who predominately hail from Lithuania.
When I first moved here, my South African friend Geoff Sachs, z”l, two Montrealers and I organized Tschayniks, an evening of Jewish performing arts at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. It was at the JCC that I met another South African friend, Steve Rom, who was working there at the time, and helped us set up our events. About a month ago, Steve brought a fascinating exhibit to Congregation Beth Israel. Prior to being mounted in Vancouver, the exhibit, Goldene Medina, a celebration of 175 years of Jewish life in South Africa, was displayed in South Africa, Israel and Australia. Thanks to Steve, Jews in Vancouver got a taste of South African Jewish life, as well.
A unique feature of the exhibit was that nobody was named or personally identified on any of the displays. This approach helped tell the story of all South African Jews, and made the exhibit simultaneously particular and universal.
Stories were depicted on a series of panels, and traced the South African Jewish community from its origins in 1841 – when Jews first settled in South Africa – to the present. On one of the panels, I recognized the son and daughter in-law of Cecil Hershler, who has South African roots and is well known in the Vancouver Jewish community as a storyteller. His son married a woman from Zimbabwe and the wedding in Vancouver, which I attended, was a joyous blend of South African and Zimbabwean cultures. Seeing the panel brought back memories of that happy occasion and gave me an unexpected personal connection to the exhibit (other than identifying with my Lithuanian landsmen).
Other panels depicted various aspects of Jewish life in South Africa. While I was fascinated by the differences between the South African Jewish community and my experience growing up in Winnipeg, the exhibit was really a microcosm of Jewish life in the Diaspora. For example, the panel on Muizenberg depicted the resort town located near Cape Town, where throngs of South African Jews flocked to during the summer. The photos of crowded beaches told a thousand stories. However, that panel also reminded me of the stories that my dad, z”l, told me about taking the train to Winnipeg Beach in the summer with other Jews from the city to escape the summer heat. Like at Muizenberg, there was a synagogue at Winnipeg Beach. I am sure that Jews from New York have similar stories of escaping the city heat by going to the Catskills. In addition, the Jews of America, like the Jews of South Africa, referred to their new home as “the Goldene Medina.” Ultimately, all three places – Canada, the United States and South Africa – represented a new start for Jews fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe.
The Goldene Medina exhibit gave me an opportunity to learn about Jews from the land of my ancestors in Lithuania, who were able to reinvent themselves on the African continent and create a thriving Jewish community, which, at one point, reached 120,000. This resiliency is a characteristic of Jews and Jewish communities all over the world. And this resilience was evident in the film Leah, Teddy and the Mandolin: Cape Town Embraces Yiddish Song, which screened at Beth Israel during the exhibit – and will be shown again at the synagogue on Dec. 8.
Using 10 years of archival footage, Leah, Teddy and the Mandolin showcases the Annual Leah Todres Yiddish Song Festival, which was held in Cape Town. The documentary features stirring renditions of classic Yiddish songs like “Romania Romania” and “Mayn Shtetele Belz,” as well as two original songs written for the festival by Hal Shaper, a renowned songwriter, which are sung with passion by talented South African Jews of all ages. The songs featured in the film evoke a yearning for a Jewish world that no longer exists in Lithuania and Eastern Europe and highlight the power of the Yiddish language and music.
While the South African Jewish community has shrunk since its heyday in the 1970s to approximately 50,000, it is still an important Diaspora community. In addition, South African Jews make important contributions to every Jewish community they move to, and bring their unique culture to their new homes.
Seeing the exhibit and the documentary cemented the kinship I feel with my South African brothers and sisters. A few of my South African friends even dubbed me an honourary South African Jew at the exhibit, an honour I gladly accepted. One day, I hope to make a pilgrimage to the land of the Litvaks to experience South African Jewish life firsthand. Until then, I will have to continue to learn about South Africa vicariously.
The Dec. 8 screening of Leah, Teddy and the Mandolin at Beth Israel takes place at 4 p.m. Admission is a suggested donation of $10. For more information, visit leahteddyandthemandolin.com.
David J. Litvakis a prairie refugee from the North End of Winnipeg who is a freelance writer, former Voice of Peace and Co-op Radio broadcaster and an “accidental publicist.” His articles have been published in the Forward, Globe and Mail and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. His website is cascadiapublicity.com.
Chabad Richmond’s Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman, far left, was the only Canadian spiritual leader to participate in first-ever rabbinic seminar on Holocaust studies at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre, this past July. (photo from Chabad Richmond)
For one week this past July, 15 pulpit rabbis gathered together to take part in the first-ever rabbinic seminar on Holocaust studies at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre, in Jerusalem.
Yad Vashem is the foremost resource for Shoah educators, both Jewish and non-Jewish. Fourteen rabbis and rebbetzins from North America and one rabbi from Israel, all of whom are engaged in adult education, were invited to participate in the week-long pilot immersion program, which was sponsored by David and Ellie Werber and Martin and Bracha Werber. The diverse group of spiritual leaders spanned the religious spectrum.
Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman, director of Chabad Richmond, was the only Canadian rabbi to participate in the seminar, with the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver being a partial sponsor of his travels. He described the week of learning at Yad Vashem as “transformational, uncomfortable, overwhelming, extremely challenging, very enlightening and at times very inspiring. It’s going to take awhile to unpack all this information.”
Entitled Teaching the Shoah and Antisemitism: Opportunities, Challenges and Techniques, the seminar consisted of 65 hours of lectures by scholars and experts, plus testimonials from Holocaust survivors. Covering an array of topics, the point of the program was to help rabbis cultivate the skills necessary to create an educational curriculum and content for Holocaust studies in their schools, adult education classes and congregations at home. Yad Vashem’s challenge was to find unique approaches to teaching people about history, theology, antisemitism and Jewish values relating to the Holocaust, as well as to expand the breadth and scope of emissaries who will ensure the continuity of the stories and pass along the lessons learned from the Shoah.
The Yad Vashem seminar incorporated a multidisciplinary approach to Holocaust education and used various methodologies to help participants comprehend the complexity of the Shoah as a whole, never forgetting the personal stories of individuals. The curriculum included studying prewar Jewish life in Europe; the rise of Nazism; life in the ghettos; concentration camps and the attempted “Final Solution”; liberation from concentration camps; survivors returning to life in the “new world”; the ongoing pursuit of Nazi war criminals; the new antisemitism and anti-Israel rhetoric; physical and spiritual resistance; the role rabbis played during the Shoah; survivor testimony; and theological responses to the Holocaust.
Speakers included international researchers, professors and historians; a world expert on antisemitism; the head of Holocaust studies at Yad Vashem; a Nazi hunter; and several Holocaust survivors, including former chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, and Rabbi Judge David Frenkel.
As the survivor population gets smaller, others need to ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust are never forgotten. Yad Vashem understands that rabbis have a special role to play in teaching about the rabbinic, theological and spiritual meanings and implications of the Holocaust. For his part, Baitelman will be looking for ways to collaborate with the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre to create a curriculum for Jews and non-Jews alike.
“The challenge is how to talk to teens, 20-somethings, 30-somethings and 40-somethings about the Holocaust,” said Baitelman. “What should the message be?… We’re a people who have always told stories. Even though we are so many generations removed, in a sense, it is still my story, our story. The message is not only about where we come from, but also about where we are going.” He stressed that, with growing global antisemitism, we need to strengthen the Jewish people worldwide – Jewish education, Jewish values and Torah observance.
“Although we might struggle with faith,” said Baitelman, “we still need to look for G-d amidst the rubble and the hatred. It’s imperative that we find inspiration from those who survived the Holocaust, and find ways to teach tolerance, empathy and understanding.”
Baitelman believes it’s essential to address not only the theological question of “Where was G-d?” during the Holocaust, but also, “Where was man in all of this?”
“If, as a result of the Holocaust, one does not believe in G-d, then we have to believe in humanity,” he said. “The question is: ‘Where was the humanity of the people that perpetrated these crimes?’”
For the rabbi, a meaningful Jewish education involves people living Jewishly. “We need highly educated, well-informed Jewish kids living fully engaged Jewish lives,” he said. “We need children who are living proudly Jewish.”
Baitelman has taught several courses on the Holocaust through the Jewish Learning Institute, and has talked to teachers, school classes and new immigrants about antisemitism and the Holocaust. He said education needs also to address the important question of “Now what? What are we here for?”
Shelley Civkinis a happily retired librarian and communications officer. For 17 years, she wrote a weekly book review column for the Richmond Review, and currently writes a bi-weekly column about retirement for the Richmond News. She is a volunteer with Chabad Richmond.
Child survivors Rabbi Joseph Polak, right, and Robert Krell at the Havdalah service Nov. 2, part of the annual conference of the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Descendants. (photo from Robert Krell)
When Halina Levitt was 2 years old in a part of Poland that is now in Ukraine, her mother left her with a Polish farm family to hide through the Holocaust.
“My mother luckily survived and came back to retrieve me,” Levitt told the Independent. “Of course, at that point, I was 5 years old and she was a total stranger to me. I didn’t want to go with her.”
The family who saved her didn’t want to relinquish her, either, and, as the conflict between the birth mother and the Polish family escalated, neighbours gathered and tried to intervene on behalf of the family as the mother tried to reclaim her child.
“She was quite scared for her life until we boarded the bus and got away from there,” Levitt said.
Rose Raport, a retired doctor from New Jersey, was also left with another family.
“I was given away to a Polish farmer at age 4,” she said. But her parents never returned. “I spent six years and, by the end of my stay with the Polish family, I found out that I’m left alone. There were no parents, there was no sibling, no family and that’s it.” She was turned over to the Jewish community and continued her life in a Jewish orphanage.
Karen Komar, a Massachusetts woman, managed to remain with her family in their home in Hamburg, Germany, until 1941. Then, an intervention by a distant American relative – Arthur Bulova, head of the Bulova watch company – succeeded in getting the family a visa to the United States.
These were just three of the experiences of people who convened in Vancouver Nov. 1-4 for the 31st annual conference of the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Descendants.
About 400 people attended the gathering – about 110 survivors, joined by members of the second, third and fourth generations, as well as spouses. Each has a unique experience, yet all who spoke with the Independent said such meetings are an opportunity to share time with those most likely to comprehend what they have endured and the lives they have led.
The conference was co-chaired by Vancouverites Marie Doduck and Dr. Robert Krell, both child survivors of the Holocaust.
The conferences create a feeling of belonging, said Doduck.
“Our survivors feel safe, they talk about their lives, their grandchildren, their past, their future, their thoughts in a safe place,” she said. “And the children felt a safe place to speak about their feelings, that they may not be able to do with their parents or grandparents.”
Child survivors – almost all of whom were hidden children during the war because almost none of the children who were sent to concentration camps survived – were not recognized, by themselves or others, as Holocaust survivors or as a distinct group until the 1980s. Because they were so young during the war, or because they were not in the camps, their experiences were dismissed by adults. A 1988 book by Helen Epstein, Children of the Holocaust: Conversations with Sons and Daughters of Survivors began a reconsideration of the individual and collective experiences of the second generation, but also of those who survived as hidden children and who were not, until then, considered “survivors.”
“We still are the children inside of us,” said Doduck. “When I speak in schools, I speak of the child inside of me, not this mother, grandmother, now great-grandmother that they’re looking at, this old lady. This old lady is really Mariette the child, who is starting, after 70 years growing up … who had no childhood, who lived with bombs and death and starvation and disease. I knew that, if I was sick, I would die, and most of us have these kinds of stories.”
Categories can be fluid, Krell explained. As a hidden child who survived in Holland thanks to a Christian family, he is a child survivor. But he is also a second generation, because his parents survived the camps and came back to claim him. This was statistically extraordinary, as the Netherlands had one of the highest Jewish death rates by country in the Holocaust.
Krell feels a special kinship with Abe Foxman, longtime head of the Anti-Defamation League, with whom he organized one of the first child survivor conferences, in 1991. Foxman was hidden from ages 2 to 5, just like Krell. His parents also returned to claim him, an even more statistically anomalous outcome, given that he was in Poland, which had the most catastrophic statistics of annihilation. Krell tried to get Foxman to attend this month’s conference, but the distance was too great to travel.
Location is an important part of the conferences, said Krell, and accessibility is one of the reasons they move annually in Europe, all over North America and to Israel, depending on the year. This year, almost half the attendees were British Columbians.
More than three dozen workshops, panel discussions and plenaries offered a range of topics for attendees, with some exclusive to survivors or successive generations. An art installation and a musical concluding evening added to the weekend experience.
Guest presenters included Rabbi Joseph Polak, a child survivor of Bergen-Belsen and author of After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring; Dr. Catherine Chatterley, founding director of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism; Prof. Chris Friedrichs, professor emeritus of history at the University of British Columbia; and Vancouverite Robbie Waisman, a survivor of Buchenwald, who spoke together with Éloge Butera, a survivor of the genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda, about human rights activism. Krell’s plenary address opened the conference on the Saturday morning with a keynote titled The Future of Our Past: Informing and Inspiring Next Generations.
Dr. Michael Hayden delivers the keynote address at the annual Kristallnacht commemorative program Nov. 7. (photo by Al Szajman)
In the 1930s, German Jews were required to register all precious metals in their possession, a prelude to having them confiscated. In Hamburg alone, the Nazis collected 20 tons of silver, much of it Judaica. Of this, they melted down 18 tons. Two tons was deemed by the Nazi curator Carl Schellenberg to be of artistic or other value in its existing form.
After the war, Schellenberg was kept on by the British because his scrupulous indexing of artifacts made him valuable. His love of the city of Hamburg meant he ensured that some of the most precious pieces of stolen art and artifacts made their way to that city’s museum.
That is where Dr. Michael Hayden, a Vancouver researcher in molecular medicine and human genetics, and one of the world’s leading researchers in Huntington disease, was able to trace one of the few remaining pieces of his grandparents’ once-extensive collection of Judaica.
A silver Kiddush cup, crafted in 1757 and embossed with a vivid three-dimensional depiction of the story of Jacob’s vision of a ladder to heaven, which belonged to his grandparents, Gertrud and Max Raphael Hahn, has been restituted to the family. It is now on loan, a small artifact in size but one of the most stunning pieces in a just-opened exhibition at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, titled Treasured Belongings: The Hahn Family & the Search for a Stolen Legacy.
Hayden delivered the keynote address at the annual Kristallnacht commemorative program Nov. 7, before the opening of the exhibition to the public. The exhibit runs to Nov. 27, 2020.
“It’s a story that it’s taken me a long time to confront,” Hayden told the Independent.
Hayden’s grandparents were transported to Riga, Latvia, in 1941, where they were murdered by Latvian collaborators of the Nazis. Max Hahn had been arrested for the first time on Kristallnacht, three years earlier, but, with Gertrud, had managed to secure the passage of many possessions to safe locations in the neutral countries of Sweden and Switzerland. More importantly, they had sent their two children, daughter Hanni and son Rudolf – Hayden’s father – to safety in London.
After the war, the orphaned pair retrieved the remnants of their family’s material possessions. Rudolf, who joined the British army in 1943 and adopted the less Germanic-sounding name Roger Hayden, moved to South Africa. There, more than a dozen boxes sat undiscussed in the family home. When Roger passed away, Michael Hayden shipped the boxes to his Vancouver home, where they sat, unopened, for another two decades.
When he finally confronted the parcels from his family’s past, he discovered a stamp collection, maps, artworks – and 9,000 original documents relating to his family’s history from the 1850s until 1941. These included heart-wrenching letters between Rudolf in England and his parents still in Germany.
While Michael Hayden was growing up, there were some items that his father had not kept stored away. One was a Paul Ritter violin that Rudolf had received on his bar mitzvah. Michael’s daughter, Anna, now a Vancouver hematology oncologist, played on it as a young person and Hayden hopes to one day hear grandchildren also play it. It is part of the exhibit. It is also a hint of how the family got its name. It was not a coincidence that, in anglicizing his name, Rudolf/Roger chose a variation on the surname of a legendary classical composer.
“There were piano recitals and all kinds of concerts in the Hahn family every Sunday,” said Hayden. “They used to have a little chamber orchestra, it was a totally different world. So, he chose the name Roger Hayden from Rudolf Hahn and I’m sure Hayden had some comfort for him because Haydn was so important in his life.”
Hayden credits the German government and museums for supporting restitution efforts. His family recently received a grant from the German federal government to hire a researcher to continue the search. Understandably, the challenges are great. The Hahn family’s collection of Judaica was considered one of the finest and most extensive in Germany, rivaling those of the Sassoon and Rothschild families. Because they had lent some objects to museums, and because of Max and Gertrud’s careful recordkeeping, the family has both photographs and detailed inventories of what the collection included before it was looted. Most families do not have such tangible proof.
Hayden emphasizes that any material value of restituted artifacts is irrelevant and the importance is because of personal significance, and that the process represents steps toward reconciliation and restoring dignity of Nazism’s victims.
“For me, personally, it’s been a process of coming to terms with the unimaginable horror and confronting it,” he said.
He has had very positive and some negative experiences during this work. He is impressed with the German government’s efforts to seek forgiveness for their country’s past, including memorializations like the 70,000 Stolpersteine, stumbling stones, that have been installed outside the last homes of victims of the Nazis, and the fact that the vast Holocaust memorial in Berlin is located between the embassies of major countries in the heart of the city.
“When I see Germany and I see what they’re doing, it’s been very instructive for me about confronting your history and confronting it unabashedly,” he said, making parallels with Canada’s reconciliation process with First Nations.
Germany’s response is especially admirable in comparison to other European countries that experienced collaboration and, rather than confronting their past, are actively denying it.
But, Hayden has had negative experiences, including the discovery that the school his father had attended in Hamburg had, as recently as a few years ago, what amounted to a museum to those students who had fought for the Nazis, with not a trace of the fate of the Jewish students who had attended. The Nazi display is now gone and a marker lists the names of Jewish students who were murdered. But he also discovered that the school’s long-held assurance that they had never participated in Nazi activities was fabricated, when photos emerged of the school festooned in Nazi flags and students and faculty making Heil Hitler salutes.
“At a personal level, for me, it’s trying to give up the stowaway of sorrow and pain on my shoulders that I’ve never confronted and to move forward,” Hayden said. “It’s not that I’m at forgiveness, but I recognize that forgiveness is not so much for those you are forgiving, but for the forgiver. You can give up your own toxic anger and move forward. For me, it’s also been a journey to acknowledge my own German ancestry and come to terms with it.”
He hopes that the exhibit, his family’s story and the larger facts of the Holocaust resonate in today’s world.
“We’ve got to be aware of ourselves as Jews of condemning other populations, we have to be aware of stereotyping, we have to be even more acutely aware from our own history about the struggles and making sure that we learn from that in the way that we conduct ourselves, so recognizing, as we look at children on television separated from their parents, that we too can be horrified by that and do whatever we can to make sure that we are not complicit or even silent in the face of all of this,” he said. “In certain circumstances, unless we really hold onto some deep principles of democratic culture and value of life, your neighbours can become your killers.”
As the search for additional family heirlooms continues, Hayden acknowledges the challenges. “I think it is a needle in a haystack to be honest, but it’s worth pursuing.”
Of the entire experience, he said: “It’s been an opportunity to give individuality and identity for two of six million people who were murdered, to rescue them from generalizations and understand who they were and understand their distinctiveness and to bring my grandparents out of obscurity and give them the warmth and respect they deserve.”
The Kristallnacht commemoration where Hayden spoke began with a candlelight procession of survivors. Cantor Yaacov Orzech chanted El Maleh Rachamim. Philip Levinson, president of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC), introduced the event and Nina Krieger, the VHEC’s executive director, introduced the keynote speaker. Rabbi Jonathan Infeld offered reflections after Hayden’s address. Jody Wilson-Raybould, member of Parliament for Vancouver Granville, offered greetings, and Councilor Sarah Kirby-Yung read a proclamation from the City of Vancouver. The event was presented by the VHEC, in partnership with Congregation Beth Israel, the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver and the Robert and Marilyn Krell Endowment Fund of the VHEC.
At the University of British Columbia on Nov. 21, Prof. Robin Judd will speak on What’s Love Got to Do With It? Jewish War Brides and North American Soldier Husbands after the Second World War. (photo from Robin Judd)
Prof. Robin Judd noticed that a significant number of the earliest Holocaust memoirs written by women were penned by “war brides” who had married American, Canadian or British soldiers.
In the course of teaching about the Holocaust at Ohio State University, the coincidence struck her and, as happens in research, led her onto a new topic. She is nearing completion on a book about the experiences of Jewish women – and a few men – in Europe and North Africa who married Allied service personnel and moved to Canada, the United States or Britain. She will give a guest lecture on the subject at the University of British Columbia next week and the public is welcome to attend.
The lecture is titled What’s Love Got to Do With It? Jewish War Brides and North American Soldier Husbands after the Second World War, and Judd told the Independent that love certainly played a key role, but some of the other factors at play also interest her.
“What prompts individuals from radically different cultures, who may not necessarily speak the same language, what prompts them to create relationships with one another and long-lasting relationships, relationships that are going to result in marriage and then bring the civilians to Canada, Britain or the United States?” she asked.
Most of the soldiers that Judd is studying were Jewish themselves, though there are exceptions to the rule.
In some cases, the wives would arrive in the new country before or otherwise apart from their new husbands or fiancés. An entire infrastructure was in place to accommodate and integrate them.
“The war brides, particularly if you come to the United States or to Canada as a war bride, first you live with other war brides at least temporarily in a kind of war bride home or war bride camp and you travel on a war bride ship and there are particular Red Cross workers who teach English and show films and cooking classes,” she said.
If the fiancés or husbands were not yet decommissioned or were traveling with their units, the brides may have found themselves in the position of living with their new in-laws.
“These were not the spouses they were planning for their sons,” Judd comments. “And all of a sudden here you have this woman show up. You are processing stories that you are hearing about the war and all of a sudden here comes this person and you might not be able to communicate, you might not have a shared language, you might not know how to even ask questions about what this person had experienced.”
Feeling isolated and foreign, some of these women used the opportunity to express their experiences privately, to themselves, in writing.
“Some of the women that I’ve spoken to have told me that they used that time to write out their story, to put it to paper, because they needed to kind of get it out and there was no one with whom they could talk, literally,” she said. “But then, as they began to create networks, make new connections, maybe by that point their now-husbands have returned to Canada, Britain or the U.S., a number of them tell me that they then destroyed them.”
By an apparent coincidence, though, Judd concluded that it was disproportionately the women who had married soldiers who were among the first to publish English-language Holocaust memoir narratives for general readers in the 1970s and ’80s. She has a theory about this, but admits she could be wrong: these may have been some of the first women who were asked to speak about their early life and Holocaust experiences to Jewish women’s groups, federations and other community audiences, acclimating them to become among the first to put them on paper for general readers.
“But, again, I could be completely wrong,” she said.
Judd’s lecture is supported by a Holocaust education fund in UBC’s department of history to support undergraduate education on the Holocaust. The fund supports a biannual lecture, alternating years with the Rudolf Vrba Memorial Lecture, and is incorporated into an undergraduate course, History of the Holocaust, taught by Prof. Richard Menkis, who is also chair of the committee that manages the fund. The public is welcome to attend on Thursday, Nov. 21, 5-6:15 p.m., at Buchanan D217 at UBC.
A rendering of the development that is planned to replace the current Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. (image from JCCGV)
A recently signed agreement is a significant next step in the largest infrastructure project in the history of British Columbia’s Jewish community. The deal is expected to create a new Jewish community centre, as well as at least 300 rental housing units and larger, renewed facilities for many communal institutions, replacing the existing, almost 60-year-old community centre.
A memorandum of understanding between the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver (JCC) and the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver was signed last month. The agreement will likely see the land owned by the JCC transferred to a new community-wide agency. According to a joint statement by the two organizations, the proposed new 200,000-square-foot “recreational, cultural and community centre [will include] new childcare spaces, more services for seniors, an expanded space for the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, a new theatre and more.” At least 15 not-for-profit community organizations are anticipated to be housed there, as well as updated and enlarged facilities for arts and culture, aquatics, and fitness programs. Mixed-use rental housing units included in the plan are expected to be offered at or below market value and be open to everyone.
The project will advance based on a collaborative fundraising initiative. A campaign goal has not been announced.
“This agreement is an important initial step toward acting upon the community’s vision for a revitalized JCC that would become a legacy for the Jewish community and the city,” Salomon Casseres, president of the JCC board, said in the statement. “Our board is excited to partner with Jewish Federation. We believe that this collaboration puts the project on a strong foundation for success, from a community, financial and governance perspective.”
“An opportunity like this comes along perhaps once in a generation, so we are very proud to be working closely with the JCC on this historic project,” Alex Cristall, Jewish Federation’s board chair, said in the statement. “Jewish Federation takes a broad, long-term view of the sustainability, growth and evolution of the local Jewish community, and we believe that this project will create a strong core that will ultimately allow us to increase our reach and our impact.”
Ezra Shanken, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation, told the Independent that the collaboration is a “big win” for the community.
“Federation has always been a proponent for the concept of working together on projects that have an impact that’s beyond the reach of one agency and we are thrilled that the JCC agrees with us that this is one of those projects,” he said. “It absolutely should be common in all cities.… For me, it’s best practice.”
The new JCC will strengthen the entire community, he said, adding that the impacts will reach far beyond the Oakridge neighbourhood.
“We are not just creating a strong future for that 41st and Oak corridor, the Vancouver Jewish community, but I believe we’re creating a strong future for the community across the Lower Mainland as a whole,” Shanken said, expressing his gratitude to the JCC and its leadership.
“I think the JCC has shown immense foresight and courage in coming together with us, to have the openness to work through the challenges and opportunities that exist in partnership, and I believe that this partnership will glean really great results for the Jewish community as a whole,” he said.
Eldad Goldfarb, executive director of the JCC, said working together hand in hand is the best way forward and the partnership is a natural one. The collaboration between the JCC and Federation is the largest partnership, but is part of a broader engagement process, he added.
“The master planning process of this legacy community project has involved an extensive engagement effort by the JCC, reaching out and having conversations with more than 30 Jewish community organizations, many stakeholders, donors and community members,” said Goldfarb. “The JCC, as we know it today, is home to 15 different Jewish community organizations and the new redevelopment might increase these collaborations opportunities.”
Discussions about the partnership between the two organizations have always been very collaborative, open and in good faith, Goldfarb said.
“This project is about creating a JCC for the future of the community, with more and better childcare, seniors, wellness, arts, culture and education state-of-the-art spaces, but is not limited to only that,” he said. “Our vision is to create an innovative community site which will include a brand new J, as well as a welcoming and collaborative home for many other community organizations and, of course, the much-needed large rental affordable housing towers.”
Vancouver City Council unanimously approved the JCC site redevelopment plan in September 2018. Several major steps remain in the design and planning process, as well as the raising of the millions of dollars required to complete it.
Justice Richard H. Bernstein, of the Michigan Supreme Court, speaks in Richmond on Nov. 17. (photo from Chabad Richmond)
Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard H. Bernstein will speak at the Hilton Vancouver Airport Hotel in Richmond on Nov. 17. The event, co-hosted by Chabad Richmond and the Jewish Learning Institute, is called Blind Justice.
“It will feature the inspiring life story and remarkable achievements of this brilliant, blind justice who has overcome countless challenges,” said Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman, director of Chabad Richmond. “Aside from his many legal accomplishments, Justice Bernstein has run 23 marathons and completed an Ironman triathlon, the Israman triathlon’s half Ironman in Eilat.”
Blind since birth, Bernstein became the first blind justice elected to the Michigan Supreme Court in 2014. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Michigan, he earned his juris doctorate from Northwestern University School of Law. Even prior to becoming a justice, while working as an attorney for the Sam Bernstein Law Firm, he was known for being an advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.
Bernstein’s cases often set national standards protecting people’s rights and safety. He successfully partnered with the United States Department of Justice to force the City of Detroit to instal wheelchair lifts in city buses, establishing a precedent for accessibility in public transportation. In a landmark settlement against Delta Airlines and Detroit Metro Airport, Bernstein gained accessibility for travelers with disabilities, helping set the standard by which airlines and airports are to be covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Bernstein also challenged the City of New York to make Central Park and all parks safer for visitors and accessible for individuals with disabilities, including those with visual impairments. This came after he sustained a serious injury in 2012, when he was struck by a speeding cyclist while walking in Central Park.
The justice’s honours include Michiganian of the Year from the Detroit News; one of Crain’s Detroit Business 40 Under 40; and recognition by CNN as a leader in keeping government honest. He was selected by the Young Lawyers Section of the State Bar of Michigan as the 2003-2004 Regeana Myrick Outstanding Young Lawyer Award recipient for exceptional commitment to public service, and is the recipient of the 2008 John W. Cummiskey Pro Bono Award from the State Bar of Michigan, in recognition of his leadership as an advocate and activist.
Michigan Lawyers Weekly named Bernstein a 2009 Leader in the Law and the University of Michigan presented him with the James T. Neubacher Award in 2011, for his commitment to equal rights and opportunities for people with disabilities. Also in 2011, L. Brooks Patterson, Michigan’s Oakland county executive, selected Bernstein as one of the region’s Elite 40 Under 40. In 2013, Bernstein was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
On Nov. 17, Blind Justice starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance, $35 at the door, and $15 for students; the cost for preferred seating is $40 and the VIP meet-and-greet is $180 per couple. To register or for information, call 604-277-6427 or email [email protected].
Starting Nov. 20, Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman of Chabad Richmond will be leading Worrier to Warrior, a new six-session course offered by the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute (JLI), to help people deal with life’s challenges by accepting themselves and finding meaning in adversity.
Participants will examine factors that prevent us from achieving a more positive outlook – guilt, shame and fear of inauthenticity – in light of the notion that a purposeful life provides the key to well-being. Like all JLI programs, this course is designed for people at all levels of knowledge, including those without any prior experience or background in Jewish learning. All JLI courses are open to the public.
“Everyone faces personal challenges in life, whether physical, emotional, professional, familial, social or otherwise,” said Baitelman. “How we deal with these issues is crucial for our ability to achieve lasting satisfaction in life. By finding meaning in personal challenges – that is, seeing them as opportunities – we come to accept ourselves and are emboldened to move forward.”
Worrier to Warrior combines positive psychology with Jewish wisdom to explore questions such as, Is there a meaning to life that makes even our difficulties purposeful? Am I just what happens to me or do I have a deeper core? How can I get off the “hedonism treadmill” and the sense that even life’s successes ring hollow?
“All too often people are thrown off their path in life by hardships that sink them into negative emotions or anxiety,” explained Rabbi Naftali Silberberg of JLI’s Brooklyn headquarters. “In this course, we learn to face our challenges by understanding our lives in a deeper context.”
Prof. Steven M. Southwick, MD, of the department of psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine has endorsed this course, saying, “It is well known that positive emotions rest at the heart of overall well-being and happiness, but how to effectively enhance positive emotion remains challenging. Worrier to Warrior approaches this challenge from an insightful perspective grounded in contemporary psychology and Jewish literature.” Worrier to Warrior is accredited in British Columbia for mental health professionals seeking to fulfil their continuing education requirements.
The course starts Wednesday, Nov. 20, 7:30 p.m., at Chabad Richmond. To register and for more information, call 604-277-6427. The cost is $95/person or $160/couple and includes textbook. Classes are 1.5 hours long.
Worrier to Warrior course is also being offered at the Lubavitch Centre (604-266-1313) in Vancouver, beginning Nov. 13, 7:30 p.m., and at Chabad of Nanaimo (250-797-7877), starting Nov. 12, 7 p.m.
Registration for all of these courses is possible at myjli.com.
Marsha Lederman (photo by John Lehmann/Globe and Mail)
A few years ago, Marsha Lederman went with her mother, two sisters and a cousin on the adult portion of the March of the Living, which included a walk between the two main camps of the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex.
“The march from Auschwitz to Birkenau was somber and sorrowful, but it was also so empowering,” she recalled at the annual High Holidays Cemetery Service at Schara Tzedeck Cemetery in New Westminster Oct. 6. “We were marching with a statement to the world and a comforting message to the souls whose lives had ended so brutally on those grounds: ‘We are here, we are still living, we are multiplying, we remember you.’”
The family group proceeded to Radom, the town outside Warsaw where Lederman’s mother had grown up. The man who lived in the apartment where she had lived allowed them in and Lederman’s mother recounted her family’s years there.
“It was joyous,” Lederman said. “We were still on a high when we visited the memorial for the Radom Jews killed in the Holocaust. As I recall, it was in a fairly large square and seemed a little neglected. We were looking at this lonely memorial, the five of us women, when a group of, I would say, teenage boys began chanting something nearby. I don’t speak Polish, so I couldn’t understand what they were saying. But I did understand one thing: ‘Auschwitz-Birkenau.’ I don’t think they were offering their condolences.”
She reflected on the way she responded in that moment.
“We hurried away and said nothing. It was a safe thing to do, for sure. But, if that happened to me today, I would not walk away. I am done with walking away. Would I have put us in danger if I had turned around and confronted those boys? Maybe. But I know now that the real danger is in remaining silent.”
Lederman is the Vancouver-based Western arts correspondent for the Globe and Mail. Her father was born in Lodz, Poland, on erev Yom Kippur 1919. Her mother was born in Radom, Poland, in 1925. All four of their parents were killed in gas chambers at Auschwitz and Treblinka, as was Lederman’s father’s sister and little brother, and her mother’s little brother.
Lederman’s parents met in Germany after liberation and had one daughter there before moving to Canada, where they had two more daughters.
Lederman reflected on recent antisemitic incidents in North America and Europe, as well as her own encounters with antisemitism and racism, including a harrowing verbal attack on an Asian woman on the Skytrain at rush-hour, an incident in which Lederman was the only person to intervene.
“We have a duty to speak up,” she said. “We have a responsibility. This is our inheritance. I never had a bubbe or zadie to hug me or spoil me on my birthday or cook chicken soup for me. There’s nothing in my home that was theirs. I did not receive a single heirloom. But I did receive an inheritance – a duty to protect others from hate…. That is my inheritance and that is their legacy. Enough. Never again.”
She recalled being stunned during an interview with famed Vancouver photographer Fred Herzog, who died last month. Chatting after the main interview, Lederman asked the German-Canadian if he had experienced anti-German sentiment when he arrived here after the war. He launched into a discourse on the “so-called Holocaust” and said Jews died in the camps mostly because of lice and because Allied bombings prevented food from getting to them. Lederman agonized over whether to expose the admired photographer, eventually writing the story, for which she has been subjected to a range of criticism.
“Well, I have had enough,” she said. “And I’m going to fight to tell those stories and expose antisemitism and Holocaust denial and racism. I am not going to be quiet anymore. I think of all that was lost in the gas chambers; all the lives, of course, but also all the potential. With those millions of lives extinguished, what was lost with them? Poems were never written, beautiful artworks that were never painted, the cure for cancer, for Parkinson’s, the answer to the climate crisis?
“It was not just the people who were murdered that the world lost. It was all of their descendants and all of their descendants and all of that potential.… I talk about this because of what this leaves on our shoulders. I interviewed a Nisga’a poet, Jordan Abel, and he used a term to describe himself that I have adopted. He calls himself an intergenerational survivor of residential schools, which makes me an intergenerational survivor of Auschwitz. I do not take this lightly. With my parents’ survival came a hefty responsibility on me and on all of us who are descendants.”
At the service, Jack Micner, who led the ceremony and is also a member of the second generation, outlined a litany of antisemitic incidents and comments in Europe and North America in recent weeks.
“I suspect that those of our parents resting here in this cemetery would be furious to see what’s going on across the world,” he said. “We have to continue doing the type of work that VHEC [Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre] is doing in as many ways as we can think … it falls on us, because nobody’s going to do it for us.”
Rabbi Shlomo Estrin reflected on the loss of Chassidic communities during the Holocaust. Cantor Yaacov Orzech chanted El Maleh Rachamim.
Names were read of community members who have passed since the last High Holidays and a moment of silence was observed for the six million.
The Mourner’s Kaddish was recited by Jeremy Berger, a grandson of a Holocaust survivor. After the service ended, the Mourner’s Kaddish was also recited at the Holocaust Memorial in the cemetery.
The annual event is presented by the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre with Congregation Schara Tzedeck and the Jewish War Veterans, and with support from the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Vancouver.