As the Holocaust survivor community ages, opportunities are limited for Jewish young adults to interact with survivors in a meaningful way.
On the first night of Chanukah, 30 Holocaust survivors joined over 300 young professionals at Petah Tikva Anshe Castilla Congregation in Toronto for dinner and to light the first candle at the annual Dinner of Miracles.
The Dinner of Miracles provides a special opportunity for both groups to share a meal and celebrate Chanukah together.
Discussion at our table with Holocaust survivor Elly and his wife Esme, ranged from Elly’s life during the Holocaust in Kovno Ghetto and Dachau concentration camp, to his experiences after the war: getting an education; building his businesses; immigrating to Canada; and Elly’s skydiving adventure (at age 89!).
The Dinner of Miracles engages the next generation of our community to ensure that we never forget the horrors of the Holocaust. Hearing from the survivors reinforces our generation’s commitment to “never again.” Yet, today in 2017, there are mass atrocities and genocides taking place in the world around us.
Through our guest speakers, attendees learned about the modern-day genocide faced by the Yazidi people in northern Iraq – people persecuted for their beliefs and culture. This is a story we can understand better than most communities.
The Yazidis are a religious minority that ISIS set out to eliminate in 2014. In a matter of days, some 10,000 Yazidis were tortured, executed, kidnapped or enslaved in what the United Nations called an act of genocide. In October 2016, Canada’s Parliament voted unanimously to recognize that genocide.
Our first speaker, Laila Khoudeida, was born and raised in a refugee camp in Syria and moved to the United States in the 1990s through a refugee settlement program. Laila co-founded Yazda, a global advocacy organization building awareness and support for the Yazidi people. “With this event, she said, we are taking steps toward that goal.”
Our second speaker, Adiba, is a Yazidi woman who survived captivity by ISIS, who spoke through a translator, Reverend Majed El-Shafie, the founder of One Free World International, who has his own traumatic story of surviving religious persecution.
By the time Adiba was 25, she had been bought and sold six times. She was joined on stage by her two sisters, and her nieces and nephews, all of whom had been held in horrendous conditions by ISIS.
The systematic rape and torture of Yazidi girls and women by ISIS was shocking to hear about. To hear Adiba tell her story in front of hundreds of people, not even a year after arriving in Canada, was incredibly moving, and her strength and resilience inspiring.
From Leila and Adiba, we learned that today, there are still more than 3,000 Yazidi women and children being held in slavery in ISIS prisons.
Bill Glied, a Holocaust survivor, who concluded the evening, reminded us of a quote by the late Elie Wiesel: “When you listen to a witness, you become a witness.” Bill added: “Now that you have become witnesses, you have an obligation to try your utmost to make this world a better place to live.”
Through the Dinner of Miracles, hundreds of young adults became not only witnesses to the Holocaust, but to the ongoing genocide against the Yazidi people, and were reminded of our obligation to take action.
During her speech, Adiba told us that her community is grateful for anyone who rescues even one Yazidi girl. This brought to mind the Jewish teaching: “He who saves a single life, saves the entire world.”
As we lit Chanukah candles with Holocaust survivors, we were reminded of the resolute spirit of the Jewish people and that by celebrating together, we were bringing light into the world.
Reverend El-Shafie said: “Both the Yazidis and Jewish community had an enemy who wanted to destroy them completely. But look around you in this room. Our enemy did not succeed, and our enemy will never succeed.”
Rachel Levy Braun was co-chair of the 13th annual Dinner of Miracles, put on by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), UJA Federation Toronto, the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre and the March of the Living Canada.