Left to right: Amit Shmuel, Eitan Feiger and Matan Roettger. (photo by Bentzi Sasson)
On Nov. 24, Chabad UBC invited two former Israel Defence Forces soldiers to the Nest on the University of British Columbia campus to speak about their personal stories and life lessons from serving in the army.
Amit Shmuel, a former soldier in the elite Palchan unit, and Matan Roettger, a former soldier in the Kfir Brigade, shared some of their experiences in service; stories of their courage and the sacrifice they made protecting and defending the state of Israel, and especially of their perseverance in the face of suffering and adversity. Both suffered career-ending injuries in the line of duty, and their strength and resilience to mentally and physically recover from their trauma were remarkable.
The two soldiers were at UBC as part of a larger tour of college campuses all across North America, along with Belev Echad, an organization dedicated to providing financial and moral support to IDF veterans wounded in action and to easing their transition back into civilian life.
The local event was sponsored by Hasbara Fellowships, which helps train young student leaders to become Israel ambassadors and activists on campus. As a Hasbara Fellow myself and having firsthand experience in Israel, I found the stories of Shmuel and Roettger to accurately represent the victory of hope over despair, the value of the sanctity of life, freedom and dignity that have been deeply encoded in the fabric of Israeli society and the Jewish community worldwide.
Just as the Maccabees 2,000 years ago rededicated the Second Temple from destruction to restoration, so too did these two modern-day Maccabees rededicate their lives from tragedy to triumph. They inspire us to not focus on what we cannot control, but rather on what we can: to elevate our attitude and response toward life’s misfortunes by sharing with others our light of faith and hope for a brighter future.
Eitan Feigeris a student at the University of British Columbia, class of 2024.
At 109, Richmond resident Reuben (Rube) Sinclair might be Canada’s oldest Second World War veteran. (photo from Reuben Sinclair)
A Richmond resident is almost certainly Canada’s oldest Second World War veteran. Reuben (Rube) Sinclair received a special recognition on Remembrance Day, though, because of confidentiality issues, Veterans Affairs Canada can’t confirm he’s the oldest service member. But, at the age of 109, basic statistics suggests that, if Sinclair isn’t the oldest, he’s got to be close.
The centenarian spoke with the Independent virtually via Zoom about his life and what advice he might have for aspiring super-seniors like himself.
Sinclair was born in 1911 on the family farm near Lipton, Sask. Lipton was one of many “colonies” created by Baron Maurice de Hirsch in Canada, Argentina and Palestine to resettle oppressed Jews from Europe. Sinclair’s father, Yitzok Sinclair (born Sandler), traveled from Ukraine, via Liverpool and arrived at Ellis Island Jan. 4, 1905, on the SS Ivernia. He made his way to Saskatchewan, where he was given land by de Hirsch’s Jewish Colonization Association. However, the land was poor and so the newcomer worked for the Canadian National Railway long enough to save up and buy a better plot and build a house. When he was settled, he sent for his wife, Fraida (born Dubrovinsky), and their two young sons.
Reunited in Lipton, the family grew to include not only Samuel and Sol, who were born in the old country, but the only sister, Clara, then Rube and the youngest, Joe.
The last survivor of his birth family, Sinclair has fond memories of the farm life. He and the other two youngest did chores while the older two headed to university. Samuel became a medical doctor and Sol was a professor of agriculture at the University of Manitoba.
“There was a whole colony of Jewish families,” Sinclair said. “My parents had one of the largest farms – 16 quarter-sections [more than 2,500 acres]. I remember we had 42 horses. We had milk cows. I had my jobs. My job was to go collect the eggs from the chicken house and, when I was 12, I was already driving our car.… Always things to do on a farm.”
Yitzok donated a few acres to the community and helped construct a school, which doubled as a synagogue. On Shabbats and Jewish holidays in winter, the boys would sleep in the hayloft so the local men could stay in the house and not walk home in the freezing Saskatchewan weather.
“My father was a leader in the community,” he said.
Sinclair joined the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War and was stationed in North Battleford, Sask. In the days before radar was commonplace, he taught Allied pilots how to take off and land in the dark using a “standard beam approach,” which involved a navigation receiver that allowed the pilot to line the aircraft up with the runway when preparing to land.
“In the air force barracks, I was on the top bunk,” he said. “I always got the top bunk because the younger generation would come home drunk and I wouldn’t sleep in the bottom bunk.”
One day, he encountered a barrack-mate in tears. Sinclair recalls the conversation: “They’re sending me to Vancouver, he said, and my family is all here around Brandon, Manitoba. So I said, that’s no problem. When they want a person to go to Vancouver, they don’t care who the person is. Vancouver wants one person. So, I said, don’t cry. We’ll go see the commanding officer. I told him that my wife has got family in Vancouver and I’d be glad to go instead. He said they don’t care, all they want is one person. So, I was the person who went to Vancouver at that time and I’m still here,” he recalled with a laugh.
Joe, the youngest of the five siblings, had served in the army and after the war joined Rube in British Columbia. They started Sinclair Bros. Garage and Auto Wrecking, in Richmond, just across the two old Fraser Street bridges from Vancouver.
“My job was to go out and find old cars and we had a tow truck,” Sinclair said. “I’d bring them in and my younger brother would wreck them. We opened a wrecking company.” They also bought surplus army vehicles to fix up and sell.
The business soon became a sort of family compound. A small house adjacent went up for sale and the Sinclairs bought it, bringing parents Yitzok and Fraida to the coast. Then sister Clara and her husband Morris Slobasky bought a general store that was next door.
Because of his wartime experience, Sinclair developed migraine headaches and was told to go to a drier climate. He thought Arizona sounded good, but his wife, Ida, had siblings in the Los Angeles area and a brother-in-law offered him a job in a furniture store in Anaheim.
In 1964, Rube and Ida packed up the three kids – Nadine (now Lipetz), Karen and Len – and moved to Southern California.
“He put me in charge of the furniture store,” Sinclair said of his brother-in-law. “I knew nothing about furniture, but I learned pretty quick.”
Soon he was in business for himself again.
“Then my boss that I worked for in Anaheim, his wife wasn’t very well and she spent a lot of time in Palm Springs,” Sinclair recalled. “So, he said, instead of me going back and forth, I’ll move to Palm Springs and you can have the store, just pay me for the inventory.”
In 1994, Ida had a stroke and the couple moved back to British Columbia. She passed in 1996. Rube still lives in their Richmond condo.
Rube and Ida were active in their communities. In Los Angeles, they raised more than a million dollars for City of Hope, a cancer hospital and research facility. Both were active members of Schara Tzedeck Synagogue here, he especially in the Men’s Club, and he is proud of his lifetime honorary membership in the shul. In addition to their three adult children – Nadine is in Vancouver; Karen and Len in California – he has six grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
Asked if he has any advice for others, Sinclair didn’t hesitate.
“That’s easy. I always say, if you have a problem, don’t worry; you’ll lose your hair. Fix it. If you have a problem, fix it. Don’t sit back and worry. Worry is not going to help.”
Any bad habits?
“I don’t think so,” he said after a thought. “I spent most of my life working and, in my spare time, working for people less fortunate. That was my enjoyment in my spare time.”
Two years ago, the City of Richmond named Sinclair an “honoured veteran.”
Recalled daughter Nadine: “He was part of the Remembrance Day service in Richmond and they made a big deal about it. They sent a limo and he sat with the mayor and the Silver Cross Mother. They gave him a wreath and then they walked him around. He was up on the dais with the mayor and the head of the RCMP as the soldiers all walked by. It was a very big deal for him.” Last Remembrance Day, he received a certificate from Veterans Affairs.
If, by some chance, Sinclair is not
Canada’s oldest veteran of the Second World War, he seems determined to attain that title.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “I still have some unfinished business.”
Courage in Motion 2018. (photo from Beit Halochem Canada)
More than 100 Canadian cyclists participated in the recent Courage in Motion (CIM). The fundraising ride, now in its 11th year, has grown steadily in popularity over its first decade and, this year, like many before, was sold out.
The CIM initiative of Beit Halochem Canada, Aid to Disabled Veterans of Israel, welcomed cyclists from across Canada, joined by some Americans and Israelis. From Oct. 22-26, the visiting cyclists rode alongside Israeli veterans with disabilities on four fully supported routes, taking them through southern Israel’s archeological landmarks and its landscapes.
With the fundraising drive open until Dec. 31, it is expected that Courage in Motion 2018 will raise approximately $850,000. Cyclists’ efforts enabled members of Zahal Disabled Veterans Organization/Beit Halochem to participate in the ride and will also fund programming at Beit Halochem Centres in Beer Sheva, Haifa, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which provide individualized therapies, specialized sports rehabilitation training and cultural arts and family-oriented programming.
Lisa Levy, an avid cyclist and national executive director of Beit Halochem Canada, is the founder of Courage in Motion. “I’m pleased that the ride was, once again, sold out,” she said. “It’s evident that our cyclists embrace the aspect of riding alongside those who are directly helped by their efforts. This year, we’re incredibly proud that more than 120 wounded Israeli veterans participated due to the fundraising by our 110 Canadian riders. We are also gratified that many of our Canadian participants feel that they get more out of the experience than the disabled veterans.”
While many cyclists return year after year, several others were new to Courage in Motion 2018. Two of these first-time participants are internationally renowned sports figures.
Toronto-born Keith Primeau was a National Hockey League centre, playing 15 seasons (1990–2005) with various teams. He co-wrote Concussed! Sports-Related Head Injuries: Prevention, Coping and Real Stories (2012) and is now based in New Jersey.
CIM also welcomed cycling champion Eon D’Ornellas. Born in Guyana and having immigrated to Canada, D’Ornellas represented both countries during his career, winning numerous medals. He has owned D’Ornellas Bike Shop in Scarborough, Ont., for 30 years and, in 2011, he suffered a stroke during a club training ride. Like Beit Halochem members, he knows the challenges in reclaiming his life after serious medical trauma.
All Courage in Motion participants enjoyed group activities following each day’s ride, including a night walking tour of Jerusalem and an evening with members of Beit Halochem, who shared their personal stories of tragedy and triumph. Next year’s CIM takes place in Israel Oct. 27–31. Registration is expected to open in March.
Danny Redden places a poppy at a family grave. (photo by Shula Klinger)
With Remembrance Day falling on a Saturday this year, members of Royal Canadian Legion Shalom Branch #178 paid their respects on Monday, Nov. 13. They met at Schara Tzedeck Cemetery in New Westminster. Legion president Ralph Jackson was in attendance with vice-presidents Alan Tapper and Mark Perl, along with legion members.
The group sang O Canada and Hatikvah, and the Last Post was sounded, before poppies were placed at veterans’ graves. Danny Redden laid a poppy at the grave of a former neighbour. He later emailed the man’s son and daughter, who do not live locally. “I told them, we remembered him and laid a poppy at his grave. They were so appreciative. When you hear that, you need to continue doing it. It’s the honourable thing to do.”
After the service, attendees went on to lunch at Louis Brier Home and Hospital. Redden described it as “a lovely lunch, followed by live piano music and songs from the war years. They did a wonderful job.” Redden credited Rachel Worth at Louis Brier for coordinating the afternoon’s entertainment.
White Rock/South Surrey Jewish Community Centre Religious School kindergarten student Navi lays the WRSS JCC wreath at the cenotaph on Remembrance Day. (photo from WRSS JCC)
The Royal Canadian Legion Branch #008 hosts the annual Remembrance Day Parade and Wreath Laying Ceremony in White Rock on Nov. 11. White Rock/South Surrey Jewish Community Centre Religious School has been participating in the ceremony for more than 10 years.
The parade began at the corner of Roper Avenue and Johnston Road at 9:30 a.m., and concluded at First United Church on Fir Street. The wreath and memorial ceremony took place at the cenotaph beside White Rock City Hall.
Among the many community organizations laying a wreath was the White Rock/South Surrey Jewish Community Centre. As is the WRSS JCC tradition, the wreath was placed by a student from the centre’s religious school. This year, it was kindergarten student Navi and his father who placed the wreath.
Beit Halochem Canada, Aid to Disabled Veterans of Israel, held its 10th annual Courage in Motion Oct. 22-26. (photo from Beit Halochem Canada)
In this year’s Courage in Motion, 75 Canadians, including nine from Western Canada, cycled alongside 85 Beit Halochem members with disabilities on a five-day ride through northern Israel, concluding in Tel Aviv. Group activities followed each day’s ride, including a visit to an army base, a night walking tour of Tiberias, wine-tasting and an evening with Israeli veterans, who shared their personal stories.
This year, more than $500,000 was raised to purchase much-needed equipment for Israel’s five Beit Halochem centres, and support their ongoing cycling programs. For more information and photos, visit courageinmotion.ca.
Left to right: Ilan Pilo, Jewish National Fund, Pacific Region; Col. Adam Susman, Israel Defence Forces defence attaché to Canada; and Rabbi Shmulik Yeshayahu of the Ohel Yaakov Community Kollel. (photo from Community Kollel)
While acknowledging that the situation in the Middle East is constantly changing, Col. Adam Susman told those gathered at the Ohel Yaakov Community Kollel on July 18 that the biggest threat to Israel is Iran, “as it has been for years.”
Susman, who is the Ottawa-based Israel Defence Forces (IDF) defence attaché to Canada, was in Vancouver at the invitation of the Jewish National Fund of Canada, Pacific Region.
Born in the United Kingdom, Susman moved to Moshav Sde Nitzan in southern Israel at the age of 3, according to JNF’s website. He joined the IDF’s Givati Brigade in 1987 and became a battalion commander after serving as head of the anti-ballistic and training branches. In 2005, he was appointed commander of Hanegev infantry brigade and chief of staff of the Sinai division, protecting Israel’s southern border. In 2009, he became commander of the Dan district in Home Front Command, working to ensure the safety of civilians in the metro Tel Aviv area. Prior to his appointment as the defence attaché to Canada in 2014, Susman was head of the International Military Cooperation Department of the IDF General Staff.
Rabbi Shmulik Yeshayahu of the Community Kollel was the emcee of the Vancouver event. “It is fitting to have this meeting during the weekly Torah portion of Matot-Masei,” he said in his opening comments. “In this parashah, a portion of the Jewish people stays behind on the way to the Holy Land, preferring to farm on the other side of the Jordan River rather than go in and fight for the land. They stayed there while the rest of the tribes fought and, later, they joined them. In Judaism, we have great respect for those who risk their lives to protect other people, and especially our homeland.”
Before introducing Susman to those gathered, Ilan Pilo, executive director and Jerusalem emissary of JNF Canada, Pacific Region, presented a brief video about JNF’s activities throughout Israeli history. He then invited the president of Royal Canadian Legion’s Shalom Branch, Ralph Jackson, to speak. Jackson, who introduced himself as “the only Jew in the Scots Guards during World War Two,” presented a donation of $5,000 to Susman for Beit Halochem, a nonprofit that cares for disabled Israeli veterans.
Leonard Shapiro, Shalom Branch vice-president, noted how the branch was formed during a time of great prejudice, when Jews needed their own veterans organization. “It has been a long time now since we’ve gone to war, however, thank God. We don’t get many new members. If anyone here would like to join and support our organization and activities, you don’t have to have been in the army, you just need to be over 18 and not have committed any horrible crimes. Little ones, OK,” he joked.
Susman shared a bit about himself and his experience in the Givati Brigade, which was the most highly decorated brigade in the 2014 conflict, a fact no doubt known to the many IDF veterans in the audience.
Susman is one of 16 Israeli attachés around the world – a small number that, he said, was due to Israel never having been part of a military coalition with another country. He outlined the ties between the Israeli and Canadian militaries, the chief threats to Israel today and the IDF’s response.
“There is cooperation between the IDF and the Canadian military strategically and practically,” he said. “The relations between the IDF and the Canadian military are good.”
Asked if the change of Canada’s federal government to the Liberals from the Conservatives had had any effect on that relationship, Susman said it had not.
Turning to the situation in Israel’s own region, he emphasized the lack of stability.
“The Middle East is an interesting neighbourhood, always changing – what I tell you today may not be true tomorrow,” he said.
“The biggest threat is Iran, as it has been for years,” he continued. “[Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad took every opportunity to say that Israel should disappear from the map of the world. The main threat they’ve posed has been building Hezbollah – without Iran, it would be a small organization. In recent years, Hezbollah has been fighting in Syria and they’ve lost a lot of people, but they’ve also gained a lot of operational experience. They have also steadily increased in rocket capabilities and can now reach Eilat.”
Susman said that Syria had previously been a big threat to Israel, but that’s no longer the case, due to its civil war and ISIS, as well as the reduction of the country’s chemical weapons by Western countries.
Hamas in Gaza is the next biggest threat, he said, noting that it is also supported by Iran. “They only exist to fight,” he said. “They are not building up Gazans as they claim. A good example is the tunnel found during 2014 Protective Edge, kilometres of resources that could [have been used] for clinics and schools. Gaza is a piece of cheese, there is 80 metres between the top and the water table, dotted with tunnels. That’s a major challenge.
“The Sinai is also a security problem,” he added. “Nobody controls it, and so everybody is in there. There was no Egyptian military following the peace agreement, so that’s the result. The MFO (Multinational Force and Observers) was created to survey the Sinai and, by the way, there are many Canadians in it.
“Some people say the IDF is a military that has a country,” quipped Susman. “We are strong, and we are good at finding solutions.”
Susman cited Iron Dome as an example. The IDF initially divided Israel into 157 zones with two missile interceptors for each missile. That was successful, he said, but each missile cost $70,000 so that intercepting one fired missile cost $140,000. Therefore, the IDF sought improvements. Israel was divided into 254 zones, he said, and each one had only one missile interceptor per fired missile. This system has a 90% success rate stopping missiles, which is still not good enough in Susman’s view. “We will improve yet further,” he said.
During the question-and-answer period, an audience member commented, “You said Iran is the biggest threat against Israel but you didn’t say what Israel is doing against Iran.”
“That’s right,” replied Susman without further explanation, eliciting laughter from the crowd.
The evening ended with the singing of “Am Yisrael Chai,” led by Yeshayahu.
Matthew Gindin is a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He writes regularly for the Forward and All That Is Interesting, and has been published in Religion Dispatches, Situate Magazine, Tikkun and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.
Shalom Branch 178 began as Fairview Branch 178 in 1945. (photo by Shula Klinger)
As the Second World War was drawing to a close, servicemen and -women began returning to Vancouver. Among them were Jewish veterans. As they looked for ways to reintegrate with civilian life, they found many clubs and associations closed to them on religious grounds. So, a group of them founded the B.C. Jewish Veterans’ Association. The association applied to the Canadian Legion and, on June 20, 1945, Fairview Branch 178 came into being. In 1972, thanks to the efforts of Charles Eppel, it became Shalom Branch 178. It has been a social hub for the veteran community now for more than 70 years.
At the time of the legion’s original charter, membership stood at 81. By 1950, this had risen to 219 and, in 1960, a ladies’ auxiliary was founded. These days, the legion’s membership stands at 75, but it’s falling, with the passing of many veterans.
Bernard Jackson has been the president of Shalom Branch 178 since 2002. Last year, the French government awarded him the Légion d’Honneur (France’s greatest honor for military and civil merits) for his service in Normandy in 1944.
Jackson speaks proudly of the original group of veterans. “They sold lottery tickets to raise money, with the object of building homes and a legion branch,” he said. “They bought land and built a property with assistance from BC Housing. The building of 102 apartments [Maple Crest] is in full use – it’s a mix of one- and two-bedroom suites.”
Every member of the legion takes part in the annual Poppy Campaign, which raises funds for veterans and needy families. Maple Crest residents are also supported by the Jewish Family Service Agency.
In the past, the legion has given bursaries to students at the University of British Columbia, the B.C. Institute of Technology and Vancouver Talmud Torah, as well as provided grants for medical equipment to local hospitals. Shalom Branch supports the Navy League of Canada and Brock Fahrni Pavilion, which is home to many veterans of the armed forces. The legion has installed a memorial to the fallen at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, and Schara Tzedeck Cemetery’s war memorial was dedicated in 1990. Other achievements include the purchase of a bus for Magen David Adom in 1982.
Jackson is extremely concerned about the falling membership, and is disappointed at the lack of support. “Jewish support has disappeared but the need is still there,” he said. “It’s sad to see that we have such a crisis in the provision of low-cost apartments at a time when antisemitism is on the rise.”
Mark Perl is a more recent member of the legion. Born in Cluj, Romania, he moved to Israel in 1959 and fought in the Six Day War of 1967. “We need community support for our legion – not just funding,” he said. “This is our tradition, our unique history. Who’s going to carry this on?”
Jackson is determined to see a growth in education programs for today’s youngsters. “My generation made a big mistake,” he said. “We didn’t want to talk about the war. Now, young people watch all that shooting for fun. My generation knew what it was really about, and we thought this would be the last war.”
Jackson has spoken about this issue at Jewish Seniors Alliance, of which he also a member.
Shalom Branch 178 is entirely staffed by volunteers. Located at 2020 West 6th Ave., in Vancouver, new members are welcome and the hall is also available for rentals (604-737-1033).
Shula Klinger is an author, illustrator and journalist living in North Vancouver. Find out more at niftyscissors.com.