As we have reveled in the summer-like weather of this extraordinary spring, we face, on the one hand, a looming overload of our health system as COVID variants lead to an especially worrisome wave, while, on the other hand, we enjoy a sense of huge optimism every time we see another friend’s vaccination selfie. There is a race between the spread of the virus and the distribution of the vaccine.
There will be time to reflect on the responses of governments around the world, but, for now, we thank again the medical professionals and other frontline workers, which in the circumstances includes retail and restaurant workers and anyone whose position puts them in front of the public so that the rest of us can live with comparative ease.
We are now in the second round of annual events held virtually. We have celebrated Passover with online seders two years in a row and likewise have marked simchas and solemn occasions through our devices. This is becoming something close to routine.
The past couple of weeks have been especially packed with virtual community events. It is remarkable how meaningful and moving ceremonies like Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) and Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) can be even when mediated through technology. Joyous occasions like Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day) were different but delightful.
On Sunday, Jewish Family Services held a virtual grand opening and tour of their new food hub, dubbed the Kitchen, a centre for sustainable food, education and community-building around this most central of human necessities. (See story next issue.)
What was inspiring about the JFS event, in addition to the project itself, is the resolve and optimism demonstrated by the very act of launching the facility in the midst of a pandemic. It is a bit of wonderful audacity, or chutzpah, to start a new initiative like the Kitchen and to see it through to a physical opening, despite the challenges thrown at the organization by COVID.
Of course, there are countless similar examples, in our community and others, of people doggedly pursuing great causes in the face of the crisis we are in. There is the small miracle that this pandemic hit us at a time when we have the technology to see and talk to people worldwide in real time. But the technology is only as good as the people operating it. On a dime, schools, synagogues, arts and cultural institutions, education and advocacy agencies, as well as families, adapted as best they could under sometimes nearly impossible circumstances. The quality of so many of these efforts has been remarkable.
What makes things like the Kitchen so significant is that it was not an existing program that went virtual, but a fresh concept in community well-being that was envisioned and created. Sunday’s Chanukat Habayit was the culmination of that foundational work and the beginning of what should be decades of programs and services.
If there were a model of behaviour to inspire clients of Jewish Family Services, and all of us, that demonstration of resilience and determination in times of difficulty is an ideal one.
Pam Wolfman is chair of the Yom Ha’atzmaut committee and Geoffrey Druker leads the Yom Hazikaron committee. (photos from Jewish Federation)
For many years, Vancouver has been home to North America’s largest celebration on erev Yom Ha’atzmaut. While Israel’s Independence Day is marked in many cities around the world, Vancouver is unusual in that it marks the occasion on the day it occurs – many bigger communities celebrate on an adjacent weekend or later in the spring. The event is usually the largest Jewish community gathering of the year in British Columbia, which is a statement about the connection between Vancouver’s Jewish community and the state of Israel, say organizers.
Last year, with the pandemic declared mere weeks before Israel’s anniversary, the tough decision was made to cancel the local event and join an international celebration convened virtually by Jewish Federations of North America.
While Pamela Wolfman, chair of the Yom Ha’atzmaut committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, wishes the community could come together in person, being online does have a silver lining – it allows the program to be more expansive. Every Yom Ha’atzmaut features an Israeli musical performer or group. This year, the committee has arranged for five performers who have joined the Vancouver celebrations in years past to return in a virtual “best of” concert.
“We decided to bring back five of the favourite artists from recent years who performed here already, so they already had a connection with Vancouver, they’d already visited us and gotten to know us and vice versa,” said Wolfman, who has chaired the event since 2014.
She credits Stephen Gaerber, who preceded her as event chair, and his brothers and father, as the impetus for the focus on Israeli talent at the annual get-together.
“Our community really responds to that,” said Wolfman. “A majority of our community really does feel connected to Israel, wants to celebrate all the positive things about Israel. We want to take a break from the news and we want to celebrate Israel, the miracle of Israel – Israeli art, Israeli culture, Israeli music – and to do that together is just really fun for everybody, really positive.”
Wolfman herself became involved via an earlier involvement with Festival Ha’Rikud, the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver’s festival of Israeli dance for young people. Since the festival began 18 years ago, the kids have participated in Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations every year.
“This year, especially, there’s a lot to celebrate, with everything positive that’s going on with Israel … with the Abraham Accords, with the vaccine rollout, it’s a really good year to get together and celebrate – and lots and lots of great music has come out of Israel this year, too.”
In addition to the “five favourites,” Wolfman promises “cute kids and a few surprises.” Lu Winters and Kyle Berger will emcee, and keep an eye out, as well, for many other familiar faces, as scores of community members have come together virtually for a community song – the iconic 1970 Israeli ballad “Bashana Haba’ah” (“Next Year”).
Since the community event always sells out, this year’s virtual version will turn no one away – plus, it’s free. (Donations are welcome during registration at jewishvancouver.com. Food can also be ordered online via links at the same time.)
There can be no Yom Ha’atzmaut without Yom Hazikaron. Israel’s Independence Day is celebrated the day after Israel’s national day of remembrance for those lost defending the country or killed in terror attacks. This year’s commemoration of Yom Hazikaron will also be online, but the committee, led by Geoffrey Druker, has experience at a virtual version of the solemn commemoration – they delivered a virtual commemoration last year.
Like Yom Ha’atzmaut, Yom Hazikaron holds a special place in Vancouver’s Jewish community. Many other cities in North America mark the occasion, but ours is somewhat unusual, said Druker. Gaby Peled, an Israeli-Canadian who passed away in 2019, was pivotal in structuring our commemoration along the lines of the Yom Hazikaron he knew on his kibbutz, Givat Haim.
When Druker, also from Israel, arrived here in 1988, he was surprised to discover how many members of the Vancouver Jewish community had lost loved ones – family and friends – in Israel’s various conflagrations. A slide show every year remembers the individuals who are connected to British Columbians – and, every year, more faces are added. Often, local people have not shared their stories of loss, and so, as they come forward with their experiences with bereavement, their people are added to the ceremony. Druker invites anyone to contact Federation to add a loved one to be acknowledged and mourned communally.
This year’s gathering will share the story of, among others, Shaul Gilboa, a pilot shot down in 1969 and a cousin of Vancouverite Dvori Balshine. Shimi Cohen will remember his brother, Shlomo Cohen, by reciting Yizkor.
“The ceremony itself is for the bereaved families,” Druker said. “That’s how I see it. We want to remember their loved ones and we want to give them a community hug to recognize their loss and their pain. Everything is geared toward that.”
The event has grown significantly over the years, partly because the Israeli population in Metro Vancouver has grown significantly. Many or most of the participants in the annual Yom Hazikaron commemoration have Israeli ties and it is a hugely significant day in Israel.
The virtual format does not allow the person-to-person interaction that a regular gathering does, where people can share condolences and commiserate, said Druker. But virtual is absolutely preferable to no commemoration at all.
“It’s a significant date for many,” he said, “so that’s why we have to keep going.”
Pam Wolfman and Ezra Shanken talk with the JI about how Jewish Federation and our community are facing the challenges of COVID-19. (photos from JFGV)
This year’s Yom Ha’atzmaut community celebration will feature international singers, actors, chefs and politicians. And the audience will also be from around the world.
On April 29, 11 a.m. PST, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) is hosting a one-hour virtual celebration for Israel’s 72nd birthday, which will be followed by other programming. With the theme of “What Israel Means to Me. What Israel Means to Us,” the hour-long event will include Matisyahu singing a medley of “One Day” with representatives from the
Jewish Agency for Israel’s Partnership2Gether communities and other Jewish leaders sharing messages of hope and celebration; actor Joshua Malina talking about Israel’s battle against COVID-19; singing brothers Ben, Henry and Jonah Platt; chefs debating the merits of falafel and cookbook author Adeena Sussman teaching how to make it; Isaac Herzog sharing a story about Israel’s War of Independence and paying tribute to former Israeli president David Ben-Gurion; footage of Israel’s official Independence Day Ceremony on Mt. Herzl and a message from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin; and the singing of Hatikvah.
Normally, of course, our community would be marking the occasion locally, but COVID-19 changed all of that.
“The Yom Ha’atzmaut event is complex to organize, from the standpoint of searching for the artists who will perform, fundraising and marketing, and other logistics. We usually start planning the event almost as soon as the day after the prior year’s celebration, so there was a lot of work to un-do,” Pam Wolfman, chair of the local Yom Ha’atzmaut committee, told the Independent. “Everyone involved in our event planning has been extremely supportive, and we were able to cancel our event without any significant financial penalty.
“If there is a silver lining to be found, it is the opportunity to be able to join together with JFNA and Jewish communities from all over the world to celebrate ‘with’ Israel. It’s definitely something to look forward to!”
Thanking If’at Eilon-Heiber, Jewish Federation’s director of overseas and Israel affairs, and the whole Federation team, Wolfman said, “I also want to express my gratitude to our Yom Ha’atzmaut sponsors, donors, community partners and those who purchased tickets before the event was changed for all their support.”
For Wolfman, the annual event is important for several reasons.
“I’ve always felt so grateful to live in Vancouver, in large part because we have such a vibrant and diverse Jewish community,” she said. “Jewish Federation’s annual Yom Ha’atzmaut event allows everyone in our community to come together to celebrate and unite around Israel – the beautiful country, her people, the wonderful music and culture – and to simply have an evening of fun!
“When it became clear that we would have to cancel our original plans due to COVID-19, it was very disappointing for all of us on the Yom Ha’atzmaut committee and Jewish Federation staff. And we all felt strongly that it was vital to continue this cherished tradition for our community. Joining Jewish Federation of North America’s online event was a great solution.”
“Our community is experiencing tremendous upheaval and, at the same time, we have seen signs that we are more resilient and connected than ever,” Ezra Shanken, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, told the Independent about the current situation.
“Our community organizations have been hit very hard – the challenges they are experiencing are unprecedented. Nearly all of them were forced to close their physical doors, and they remain closed for the foreseeable future,” he said. “Many of them have lost their sources of revenue, be it rental or programming income, or from having to cancel scheduled fundraising events. And, many of the people they serve have increased needs during this crisis and are turning to the Jewish Family Services Community Care Hotline for assistance.
“It is heartening to see how swiftly and effectively many of our community organizations have pivoted,” he said. “The day schools have transitioned quickly to online learning, while the JCC, synagogues and other organizations have introduced a wide variety of online programs and services. Young adults have stepped up to volunteer to help seniors.
“Our advocacy agent, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, is working with all levels of government to secure support for nonprofit organizations, and has played a major role in achieving success on that front – not just for the nonprofits in our community, but for nonprofits across Canada.”
Jewish Federation is monitoring the community’s health and the impacts of COVID-19, said Shanken. “We are in constant contact with our partner agencies, and responded quickly to address urgent increased community needs by releasing more than $500,000 in targeted emergency funding to see them through the first 30 days of impact. We know that this is but a first step, and that more vital financial, operational and emotional support will be needed. We’ll continue to work closely with our community agencies and organizations to assess their needs, identify opportunities for collaboration, and determine where best to focus our short- and long-term support for the greatest impact.
“I see the strength of our community every day,” he added. “While there are many challenges to overcome, if we continue to stick together and care for each other, I believe we will emerge from this crisis stronger than ever. Ultimately, it’s up to all of us to define where our community will be.”
Shanken has joined various efforts on the ground, helping deliver seder meals with Lubavitch BC, for example.
“Anytime we are able to bring warmth and connection into people’s lives is extremely valuable, especially at times like these,” he said. “Delivering food and medicines, calling people to see how they are holding up – these points of connection can make an incredible difference in someone’s life.
“The COVID crisis, while extremely challenging in so many ways, has prompted many of us to pause to check in with loved ones, friends, colleagues or someone we might know in the community, to get back to basics and remember what is truly important. The tremendous outpouring of support that I have witnessed on so many levels has been inspiring, and a shining example of klal Israel.”
Jewish Federation has a COVID-19 resources page on its website, jewishvancouver.com, which will “help community members easily find information about the many programs and services that are available through community organizations and government agencies,” said Shanken. “We’ll continue to provide the community leadership, planning and crucial planning assistance that our community relies on, as we navigate this pandemic together. It’s what we’re here for.”
He stressed, “Even though we are all physically apart, it is easier and more important than ever to connect.”
As for our local annual Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration, Shanken said it “has always been a special opportunity to bring our community together and show our support for Israel. We are reminded daily that Israel is also in a time of crisis. This year, with our participation in JFNA’s virtual celebration, it will be even easier for people to take part in the event. Every year, we think about other Jewish communities that are also celebrating Israel’s independence. This year, we can literally celebrate with them, in real time. It will be a great show of solidarity at a time when we especially value connection.”
In addition to the Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration, this year’s commemoration of Yom Hazikaron will also take place online. “As bereaved families live with their loss daily, we gather once a year to recognize their grief and pain, and to give them a communal hug,” said Geoffrey Druker, chair of Jewish Federation’s Yom Hazikaron committee, in a release.
From April 26 to 28, community members will be able to light virtual candles for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism, and there will be a remembrance ceremony on Zoom on April 27, 7:30 p.m., which will include poems, readings, songs and a moment of silence. To be a part of the gathering, register at jewishvancouver.com/yhk2020.
The grave of an unknown soldier on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem. (photo by Deborah Rubin Fields)
As of Israel Independence Day last year, 23,741 Israeli soldiers had died during their service. The country has come to memorialize its fallen soldiers in one of three ways: 1) most commonly, it provides a grave and a headstone in a military cemetery, with information provided on the soldier, 2) when there is no official grave (that is, when no one really knows where the body of the deceased is), it inscribes the name either on a memorial wall or marker, and 3) it furnishes a grave and a headstone, but little or no information about the deceased is engraved on the stone.
Today, when a soldier dies, the following identification is to be established: the name of the soldier, their army identification number, national civilian identification number, army rank and army unit, as well as their job in the army. When they are buried, the headstone notes the full name of the deceased, their parents’ first names, country of birth (if outside of Israel), date of birth (according to both the Hebrew and Gregorian calendars), aliyah date, date and place of death and age at the time of death. The stone also contains the emblem of the Israel Defence Forces. In a military cemetery, the tombstone’s content reflects a high degree of uniformity. One monument pretty much contains the same details as the next one.
In pre-state Israel and in the War of Independence in 1948, these practices were not yet in place. Young men and women – many of whom had just survived the Holocaust – fought to establish the state. They (and all other soldiers) had little military training. They might not have known Hebrew very well. Not uncommonly, they were the only survivor of their families.
Times were tense, at times verging on the chaotic. The fighting left limited time for socializing, for establishing relationships. So, if a soldier died, it was not surprising to have known them only by their first name. Under the circumstances, most fellow fighters would not have been acquainted with the soldier’s parents, would not have even known their names.
At the end of the War of Independence, about 1,000 of the 4,500 fallen were considered missing. It was the chief rabbi of the IDF, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, who initiated an intensive project of identifying the dead. The establishment of military cemeteries helped the identification process move forward, but, even after that, there remained anonymous soldiers, and headstones with missing information.
Recognizing this situation, Dorit Perry and Uri Sagi started Giving a Face to the Fallen. The organization has been in existence fewer than 10 years. Its team of some 52 volunteer investigators and activists comes from a variety of backgrounds. It includes bereaved family members, friends of fallen soldiers, judges, former career army officers and others. As the organization’s website states, all volunteers believe there is “a duty to remember and, in so doing, to … repay the debt we owe to those who gave their lives for the establishment of the state of Israel.”
All of the volunteers are in a race against time, trying to piece together information on 500 soldiers who fell fighting either in pre-state Israel or in the War of Independence. They ask the following questions: Did you (or maybe your grandfather or an older neighbour) know the fighter we are researching? Maybe you fought with such person either before the creation of the state or in the War of Independence? Maybe you still have pictures of your fighting unit?
The volunteers also try to fill in blanks by asking to see old photos of youth movement activities, aliyah preparation groups (aliyah registration cards have provided investigators with correct birth dates and with the names of relatives, see blog.nli.org.il/en/baumgarten) and family albums. Some soldiers do not even have a photo on file.
Besides trying to find people still alive who were acquainted with these fallen soldiers, volunteers search archives. It is real detective work. When successful, there is the rededication of a tombstone with the added information. To date, out of the more than 800 “untraceable” soldiers, they have pieced together the missing information for 120 of them.
The stories of the fallen soldiers of this period are poignant. Take the example of Tobias Marmolstein, who came from Bitshekov, Czechoslovakia. His father had died in Tobias’s arms at Mauthausen concentration camp. Twenty-year-old Tobias was killed as his Haganah unit fought to open the road to Jerusalem. He had been in Israel for just nine days. He is buried on Mt. Herzl.
Each life story has its twists and turns. For instance, over two decades passed before Shaul Yekutiel Urbach came to be buried in Israel. He arrived in Palestine in 1939 to visit Tel Aviv relatives. When the Second World War broke out, he was unable to return to his large family in Kielce, Poland, so he volunteered to fight for the British. The British sent him to fight in Greece. There, the Germans took him prisoner. The Nazis sent him to do hard labour in Schlesien, Germany. In a revolt against a Nazi camp officer, Shaul was wounded, and he died in a German hospital. After the war, his only surviving brother, Raphael Fishel – the rest of the family had been murdered at Treblinka – tried to have Shaul’s remains brought to Israel. For 22 years, the British stalled in releasing his body from their military cemetery. Finally, in 1967, Shaul was reinterred, on Mt. Herzl.
Uri Sagi has maintained that a blank headstone or one that is missing information makes the soldier invisible. A fallen soldier, Sagi said, should not be invisible.
As time passes, it becomes harder and harder to find acquaintances and family who can fill in the blanks with firsthand testimony. For more information on Giving a Face to the Fallen, visit latetpanim.org.il.
Deborah Rubin Fields is an Israel-based features writer. She is also the author of Take a Peek Inside: A Child’s Guide to Radiology Exams, published in English, Hebrew and Arabic.
Elad Pelleg and his grandmother, Dvora. Pelleg shared his family’s story during the community’s Yom Hazikaron ceremony May 7. (photo from Elad Pelleg)
The sacrifices Israeli families have made for 71 years were marked in Vancouver last week during Yom Hazikaron ceremonies. The tragic losses of life in wars, intifadas and terror attacks were memorialized by hundreds of attendees at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver May 7.
The annual ceremony, led by Geoffrey Druker, specifically acknowledges family members and friends of local community members who have died defending Israel. The impacts of the losses were individualized through the stories of particular families, including numerous who lost more than one member, often across generations and in different wars.
Elad Pelleg, the Dror Israel youth movement shaliach (emissary) to Camp Miriam, shared the story of his grandmother, Dvora Pelleg, a narrative of Zionist longing, loss and rededication.
Dvora was born in Hungary, in 1921, the second daughter in an Orthodox family of seven children.
“As a teenager, she joined a Zionist youth movement, where she discovered a new world, and a new yearning was born: to live in the land of Israel,” her grandson told the audience in the Wosk Auditorium.
He recounted the story as his grandmother had told it to him: “One day, we were invited to see a movie about the chalutzim (pioneers) … I asked my mother to join me, to see for herself what Zionism was all about, and understand my dream of moving there. She came from a very Orthodox family. This was not an easy request for her to fulfil. She deliberated and, in order not to disappoint me, decided to come. She did not want to be recognized, so she disguised herself and joined me for the movie. At a time when antisemitism was rampant, seeing a movie that showed the freedom and spirit of living in the land of Israel brought her to tears.”
Dvora went on to become a Zionist youth leader and received additional training, hachshara, in preparation for aliyah to the land of Israel.
“In the hachshara, she met my grandfather, Yosef,” Pelleg said. “In 1939, the war broke out and their lives changed completely. My grandparents, Dvora and Yosef, decided to move to the capital, Budapest, in an attempt to migrate to Israel illegally. They failed to make this journey, stayed in Budapest and got married in 1942. On the 22nd of August, 1943, their son Michael was born.”
When the Nazis invaded Hungary, Yosef was sent to a labour camp, while Dvora fought to survive with baby Michael.
“She had to keep moving between cellars and attics; she suffered from hunger, and ended up surviving only due to her tremendous effort,” said Pelleg. “My grandfather survived a number of labour camps and a death march. After the war, he returned to Budapest to reunite with my grandmother and Michael.”
Dvora lost her parents, Hanna and Yitzchak, as well as three siblings, all murdered in Auschwitz.
“The only thing left from her mother is a single photo she carried on her throughout the war,” Pelleg said. “Being refugees in their own country, they sought a way to Eretz Israel. In 1947, they boarded an unauthorized ship, Geula, with many other Holocaust survivors. The British, who at that time governed the land of Israel, stopped the ship and sent them to an internment camp in Cyprus, where they were held for almost a year.
“It was there, behind barbed wire, that they heard [about] the establishment of the state of Israel, on May 15, 1948,” Pelleg said. “Later that year, they finally made it to Israel, where two sons were born: Shimon and my father, Eli.” The couple Hebraized their named to Pelleg from Pollock when they began working for the Israeli government.
Michael grew up in Israel, graduated high school with honours and served in the army as a combat medic. Following his army service, he enrolled in university and studied accounting. In 1966, he married the love of his life, Ester.
“In 1967, the Six Day War broke out,” Pelleg recounted. “Michael did not receive an army call-up, but his heart commanded him to pack a bag and join his unit. Before leaving the house for the last time in his life, he said to his mother, ‘I can’t stay in the classroom while the army is fighting to defend our country.’
“When he reached his unit, he found that they already had a medic in place, yet he insisted on joining them anyway. On the first day of the war, June 5, 1967, in a fierce battle on the outskirts of Rafiah, his armoured vehicle was hit. Michael Pollock, the uncle I never met, was killed.
“My grandmother had to bear the heavy burden on her shoulders and in her soul, of not only being a Holocaust survivor, but also a bereaved mother. Her family was murdered on European soil and her son died in battle in Israel and, this time, she could not save him.
“When I was born, my parents gave me the middle name Michael, in his memory,” said Pelleg. “Being my grandmother’s first grandson, we have a very special connection and she is a very significant figure in my life. As a child, visiting her in her house, I would ask her many questions: about her family, about the events of the Holocaust, about Michael and why he died in the war. Slowly and with great difficulty, she opened up and shared with me her story, the story of our family.”
When Pelleg was 13, the year of his bar mitzvah, he started participating in Yom Hazikaron memorial ceremonies with his family, and described a typical commemoration.
“We start in the evening with a ceremony at Beit Yad L’Banim, the memorial home for fallen soldiers, in the city of Ramat Gan,” he said. “In the ceremony, they read the names of all the fallen soldiers of the city, sing a few songs and read passages about mourning, bereavement and love that will never be fulfilled. When Michael’s name is called, we light a candle in his memory and listen quietly to Savta crying softly at the end of the row.
“On Yom Hazikaron, the following morning, we meet at the military cemetery at Kiriyat shul. There are thousands of graves there and, around each one of them, a family like mine gathers. We all stand together and listen to the chazzan recite El Maleh Rachamim.”
Despite all this, Pelleg said his grandmother’s story is not only a story of mourning and bereavement but also of strength and resilience.
“In memory of their son, my grandparents decided to dedicate the rest of their lives in service of the state of Israel,” he said. “My grandfather worked first as a civilian in the army, and then in the Ministry of Defence. My grandmother worked in the Mossad, the national intelligence agency, until she retired. After my grandfather passed away, she chose to volunteer at a nonprofit called Yad Sarah, which provides medical equipment for those in need.”
Now 98 years old, Dvora is no longer able to attend the memorial ceremonies. On her 90th birthday, Pelleg told her: “Your life shapes my identity, my choices in life, and is expressed through my middle name, Michael, which I carry proudly.”
The JCC Choir, led by Noa Cohen, as well as Ellen Silverman on piano and Kinneret Sieradzky on violin, provided musical tributes. Rabbi Shlomo Gabay chanted El Maleh Rachamim. Rabbi Philip Gibbs said Kaddish. If’at Eilon-Heiber lit a yahrzeit candle for her friend Yaacov Koma and Samuel Heller lit a candle for his friend Adero Ahonim. Yoni Rechter, who was the featured performer at the next night’s celebration of Israel’s independence day, sang his hit song “Tears of Angels.” The event was co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver and the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver.
Druker marked the end of Yom Hazikaron at the Chan Centre just prior to the beginning of the community’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration. The festivities opened with the singing of O Canada and Hatikvah by the King David High School Choir, directed by Johnny Seguin, and included remarks by Karen James, Candace Kwinter and this year’s shinshinim (volunteer emissaries) from Israel, Or Aharoni and Ofir Gady, as well as a video of greetings from previous shinshinim and a call for hosts for next year’s volunteers. The JCC’s Orr Chadash and Orr Atid dancers, under the leadership of Noga Vieman, performed, as did the Juice Band, before Rechter and his fellow musicians took to the stage. The annual Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration is presented by Jewish Federation, with hotel sponsor Georgian Court, media sponsor Jewish Independent and 45 other community partners. For an interview with Rechter, see jewishindependent.ca/israeli-music-icon-sings-here.
טקס יום הזיכרון ואירוע יום העצמאות המרכזי בוונקובר יערכו בג’ואיש קומיונטי סנטר ובמרכז צ’אן סנטר
טקס יום הזיכרון לחללי מערכות ישראל ולנפגעי פעולות האיבה 2018 יערך כרגיל מדי שנה בג’ואיש קומיונטי סנטר של אזור מטרו ונקובר, בשיתוף פעולה עם הג’ואיש פדרשיין של מטרו ונקובר. האירוע יתקיים ביום שלישי ה-17 באפריל החל מ-7.30 בערב והכניסה חופשית. בכך יפתח יום הזכרון בוונקובר ולמחרת יחול יום העצמאות השבעים להולדתה של ישראל. הג’ואיש פדריישן תקיים את האירוע המרכזי ליום העצמאות של ונקובר, במרכז צ’אן לאומניות הבמה בקמפוס של אוניברסיטה של בריטיש קולומביה. זאת, למחרת יום רביעי ה-18 באפריל, גם כן בשעה 7.30 בערב. באירוע החגיגי לאחר הנאומים, יתקיימו הופעות של האמנים הזמרת נינט טייב והזמר שלומי שבן.
טייב (בת ה-34) היא זוכת העונה הראשונה של תוכנית הטלוויזיה ‘כוכב נולד’. מלבד שירה היא גם משחקת ואף שימשה שדרנית ברדיו. ביולי 2016 טיבי ובעלה (יוסי מזרחי) ובתם עזבו את ישראל ועברו לגור בלוס אנג’לס.
שבן (בן ה-41) הוא זמר יוצר וגם פסנתרן ואף זכה ברפס אקו”ם. הוא נשוי לשחקנית יובל שרף ולזוג שני ילדים.
עלות מחירי הכרטיסים (רבים מהם כבר נמכרו): 18 דולר, 36 דולר או 70 דולר.
פשע בקנדה: תמונת הסלפי הסגירה את הרוצחת שחגרה חגורה בה רצחה את חברתה הטובה
מי היה מאמין שתמונת סלפי תמימה של שתי חברות טובות שהועלתה בפייסבוק, תביא להרשעתה בדין של אחת החברות שרצחה שעה קלה לאחר מכן את חברתה. סיפור הרצח המזעזע כאילו לקוח מאחד הפרקים של הבלש המיתולוגי הבריטי שרלוק הולמס.
לפנכי כשבועיים בית המשפט המחוזי בסיסקצ’ואן גזר על שיין אנטואן (בת ה-21), מהעיר ססקטון, שבע שנות מאסר על רצח חברתה הטובה בריטני גרגול (שהייתה בת 18 במותה), בחודש מרץ לפני כשלוש שנים. לפי חקירת המשטרה מתברר כי שתי הצעירות יצאו לבילוי משותף וביקרו במספר פבים ושתו הרבה וכנראה גם עישנו סמים. לאחר מכן התגלע וויכוח מר ביניהן, ובמהלכו אנטואן חנקה את גרגול והשליכה את גופתה בסמוך לאחד הכבישים בססקטון. ליד הגופה החוקרים מצאו חגורה שחורה גדולה.
במסגרת חקירה מאומצת חוקרי המשטרה בדקו את דף הפייסבוק של אנטואן ומצאו תמונה משותפת שלה עם גרגור, שצולמה זמן קצר לפני הרצח. אנטואן כדי להסתיר את העובדה כי היא הרוצחת הוסיפה לתמונה את הכיתוב: “לאן נעלמת חברתי הטובה?” החוקרים בדקו שוב ושוב את התמונה מקרוב, ולבסוף הבחינו גם בכלי הרצח: אנטואן חגרה את אותה חגורה שחורה גדולה שנמצאה ליד גופת חברתה שרצחה.
גזר הדין “הקל” באופן יחסי נקבע לאחר שאנטואן הודתה באחריות לרצח, אם כי היא ציינה שהיא אינה זוכרת שחנקה למוות את גרגול. היא אף לא יכלה להסביר לבית המשפט את המניעים שלה להרוג את חברתה הטובה, שכאמור שעה קודם השתיים בילו ונהנו ביחד. התביעה וההגנה הגיעו להסכם (עיסקת טיעון) על תקופת מאסר בת שבע השנים שהשופט כאמור אישר אותה. ההגנה ציינה כי אנטואן גדלה בבית הורים מאמצים וסבלה מהתעללויות במשך שנים רבות, דבר שהביא אותה לצרוך סמים ולשתות אלכוהול בדחיפות רבה. עורך דינה של אנטואן קרא בבית המשפט את הצהרתה בה נאמר בין היתר: “אני לעולם לא אסלח לעצמי על מה שעשיתי ושום דבר לא יחזיר לחיים את חברתי הטובה. אני מאוד מאוד מצטערת ודבר כזה בשום פנים ואופן לא היה צריך לקרות”. חרטה מאוחרת.
A different approach to Yom Hazikaron took place Sunday in Tel Aviv. An alternative form of marking Israel’s remembrance day for fallen soldiers – bringing together Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family members to decades of conflict – was the 12th annual such gathering.
About 4,000 participants crowded into an arena for the ceremony convened by Combatants for Peace and Parents Circle-Families Forum, a grassroots organization of bereaved Palestinians and Israelis with the slogan, “It won’t stop until we talk.” Regardless of one’s politics, their website – theparentscircle.com – is a testament to the ability of families who have suffered the worst imaginable tragedy to get beyond anger and try to find or create something constructive in the aftermath.
On the other hand, whatever one’s politics, one should condemn the behaviour of a few dozen apparently far-right thugs who protested outside and disrupted the proceedings. Screaming “traitor,” “enemies” and “Nazis,” the protesters threw sand and spat at attendees, including a member of the Knesset. According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, one individual shouted at those entering the arena: “I hate Hitler – not for what he did but for not finishing the job and killing you.”
Across whatever divides exist among Jews, there should be a clear consensus that language and behaviour like this has no justification.
Yet, while 50 or so individuals with no sense of decency made the experience shockingly unpleasant, remember that 4,000 people came together across lines of race, religion and experience based on two things they share in common: grief and the certainty that something has to change if our respective peoples are to ever know lasting peace.
We can argue whether what the participants did helps advance that ideal future, but we can’t argue that everything done before has achieved it, because it has not.
After hundreds of community members filed out of the Chan Centre at the University of British Columbia Monday night following an uplifting and uncontroversial celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut, anyone tuned to CBC Radio One heard an interview with David Grossman, re-broadcast from 2010. Grossman, considered one of Israel’s preeminent authors as well as a leading voice for peace, spoke about losing his son Uri, in the 2006 war in Lebanon against Hezbollah, about the necessity of Israeli military strength and about the efforts by then-U.S. president Barack Obama to broker some sort of peace in the region.
The interview was, sadly, timeless. There has not been a U.S. president who has not tried and failed to find peace between Israelis and Palestinians. There is not an Israeli parent who has not feared for their child in the Israel Defence Forces or when a terror attack strikes. One does not need to be a victim who has lost a family member, Grossman said, to be victimized by the circumstance where that kind of anxiety hovers over every day.
There is no doubt it is controversial for the parents, children or other loved ones of dead Israeli soldiers and the parents, children and other loved ones of Palestinians who have died in the conflict to come together. There is a whole range of reasons why many people would find this idea threatening, profane or wrong. But those who came together for the event should be granted by everyone the most minimal acknowledgement: it’s worth a try.
It might not work. But everything else has failed.
It is arrogant in the extreme to assume that we have the only answer. It is equally arrogant to assume there is no solution just because we ourselves can’t conceive of one.
If the current generation – of Israeli leaders, of U.S. presidents, of Diaspora leaders, commentators, activists, diplomats and anyone else – does not have solutions to this conflict, there is one encouraging light. There are young Israelis, Palestinians, Canadians and others who are trying new things. These ideas, too, might not work. But we have to keep trying.
At the local Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration Monday, children – some even toddlers – participated in songs of peace. Children of all ages danced and, even when they weren’t on stage as part of the performance, they filled the aisles with exuberant moves. The main musical attraction, the young Israelis who form the uplifting musical group Jane Bordeaux, chose to spend Yom Ha’atzmaut in Vancouver – their first concert outside Israel.
Will these young people hasten the future we seek?
Sara Omer and her kids lost their husband/father Reuven in 2008. (photo from IMP Group)
May 1 was Yom Hazikaron (Israel Memorial Day), May 2 celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) and this month marks the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem. For the widows of Israel’s fallen soldiers, who paid the ultimate price so that Jews all over the world could revel in the modern-day rebirth of the Jewish state, these anniversaries stir varying emotions.
At 94 years old, Devorah Arkin Roth is one of the country’s oldest war widows. Her husband, Mordechai Arkin, was killed while defending Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem just weeks before the official outbreak of the War of Independence in May 1948. She shares fond memories of her husband, as she stares at the photo album of their wedding and the newborn pictures of their first child.
“He was a very talented man who wanted to go to Columbia University in New York to study physics,” she recalled. “But the deteriorating security situation in the country wouldn’t permit him to leave. He worked at Hadassah Hospital and doubled as a guard when he was killed. At the time of his death, I was already pregnant with our second child.”
Though Roth remarried and feels privileged to be a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, she still gets the jitters each time one of her grandchildren goes into the army. “It’s difficult to see your grandchildren being drafted into the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] after what I had to endure, and even more so because one of my grandchildren was injured as well in battle,” she said.
The Six Dar War was an astounding military accomplishment, as the IDF beat back the armed forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan – but 776 IDF soldiers lost their lives.
Pte. Yossi Mori was killed on the first day of the Six Day War (June 5, 1967) after his unit was shelled in a minefield. His widow, Dania, recalled, “We had a great group of friends and, to this day, we meet every Memorial Day at his grave. During these years, you keep going, building your home, raising children and grandchildren. You don’t just sit all day thinking about your loss, because then your life would stop.”
First Lieut. Yehuda Ram died while liberating the Golan Heights on the last day of the war (June 10). “Yehuda died when he was 23 years old and we had only been married for a year. It was young love, an innocent one,” Shoshana, his widow, remembered. “I actually came back from the war filled with guilt. Why did I survive and he didn’t? Those feelings disappeared with the years because you can’t keep living like that.”
Even in between wars, when IDF soldiers constantly train in order to be ready for the next conflagration, there are inherent dangers, which can exact a toll.
For example, Sara Omer’s world was nearly destroyed in 2008, when her husband Reuven was killed in the midst of a training exercise as part of his IDF reserve duty. She had to face life alone with her three young boys, twins Nadav and Yotam, who were 6 years old, and Guy, then 2 years old.
“The unexpected loss of my husband was indeed shocking and, when Yom Hazikaron comes around every year,” she said, “it is a difficult day for all of the widows, but my children, who are now teenagers, attend a special ceremony at the Knesset, which is both uplifting and inspiring.”
Run by widows and orphans, the IDF Widows and Orphans organization (IDFWO) creates a support network to help them through difficult times. The organization provides services that touch every aspect of their lives, from a communal bar/bat mitzvah service at the Kotel, to professional training courses.
One of the most important activities of the IDFWO is to bring together people with common experiences for mutual support. Regular retreats give widows a break and a chance to benefit from mutual understanding. The IDFWO Otzma Camps give orphans the same opportunity.
“Once a war widow, always a war widow, even if you remarry and love your second husband. The IDFWO gatherings and activities are very important for a very specific reason,” one of the widows explained. “We might not always agree with each other’s opinions about different things, but we all speak the same language and understand each other, as widows. Since we have all experienced the same loss and trauma, we can speak to each other in our language and help each other when we need to, especially on Yom Hazikaron, when we all could use a hug and a smile.”
In the past several weeks, we have celebrated liberation and redemption on Passover. On Yom Hashoah, we mourned the victims of Nazism and the generations that never were. On Yom Hazikaron, we honored the brave defenders of Israel who gave everything for the dream of the Jewish people’s right to live as a free people in our own land. Then we joyously celebrated the realization of that dream on Yom Ha’atzmaut.
These four commemorations are drawn together in many ways by rabbis and thinkers. We are mere journalists, but if you give us a moment, we, too, have some thoughts that may be worthy.
There is a troubled narrative connecting the Holocaust and the creation of the state of Israel, a connection that is sometimes misunderstood and often deliberately misrepresented.
Critics have called Israel a “reparations payment” given to the Jews as recompense for the Holocaust. This formulation is a desecration, because there could be no recompense for the Holocaust. More to the point, it is false history. Israel was not given to the Jewish people. The Partition Resolution, significant as it was as a fulcrum for historical events, turned out to be another hollow United Nations vote. Israel came into being only because the Jews of Palestine, some from the Diaspora and a small group of idealistic non-Jews from abroad fought – some to the death – for the dream of a Jewish homeland.
The connection between the Holocaust and the creation of the state of Israel is not, as the popular narrative has it, because the world felt sympathy. If anything, the world wanted to create a place for the surviving remnant so that they wouldn’t have to take responsibility for them.
Where the genuine connection lies between the tragedy of the Holocaust and the joy of independence is in the realization that the Holocaust was a direct result of Jewish statelessness. Had Israel come into being a decade earlier, there may have been no Holocaust, or its magnitude would have been much diminished. That is one connection.
Another is the psychological effect the creation of the state had on Jewish people individually and collectively, in Israel and in the Diaspora.
After the Holocaust, the Jewish people worldwide could have been expected to plummet into individual and collective despair. Instead, Israel gave hope – and a future to imagine and to build after the collective future was almost destroyed. Whether Jews made aliya – or even visited – or not, Jewish Canadians helped build the state of Israel through a million acts of philanthropy and volunteerism.
Israel is many things to many different Jews. It is a resolution to 2,000 years of statelessness, the fundamental fact that was at the root of our tragedies. It is the culmination of the quest for sovereignty and freedom and, while Israel is not perfect by any stretch, we endeavor to work toward that ideal. Israel is the dream for which so many have given so much, as well as a complex, thrilling, sometimes infuriating, always cherished reality.
In the context of millennia of Jewish civilization, the comparatively new state of Israel is a part of all of us and we are all, in some way, a part of it.