TORONTO — Long before the solemn moment, the tears were evident everywhere.
Emotion is to be expected on Remembrance Day.
But there was a significant event on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month that added to the annual observance for those who died in the line of duty.
It was the official dedication of a monument honouring Canadian Jewish war veterans, some 570 names of those who died in battle during World War I and II, as well as the Korean War.
An overflow crowd, estimated to be in excess of 500 people – from veterans and their families to dignitaries and others who showed up to offer their respect and appreciation – jammed the Lipa Green Centre’s main hall while others listened in another room via an audio feed.
About 12 years in the making, and despite setbacks caused by overly ambitious plans, administrative issues and financial shortfalls, the dream of the Jewish War Veterans of Canada, Toronto Post, finally became a reality.
Situated on the grounds of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s Sherman Campus on Bathurst Street north of Sheppard Avenue, an eight-foot-long black marble structure with large granite rocks on both sides now memorializes those who gave their lives in battle.
Two eternal flames, symbols of the link between the past and the future, flank the list of the deceased – dozens of names inscribed along with the remembrance of 18,000 Jewish men and women who served in the Canadian armed forces during World War II.
The memorial, gifted by the veterans to UJA Federation to administer, also recognizes the 1.5 million Jews who served in all the Allied armed forces.
Donations from more than 500 people, including many veterans, added to corporate contributions toward the cost of the monument.
“Each name has a story we will pass on to generations to never forget,” said Martin Maxwell, a member of the veterans’ board of directors. “We remember them. We thank them all for the tomorrow they gave us.”
But Maxwell said Jews shouldn’t overlook current problems.
“We see… hatred, and there is a rising tide of antisemitism that should worry us,” Maxwell told the crowd. “It’s not hard to avoid [hearing] it. Look at Iran, as an example. [The Jewish People] need friends, and the biggest one we have is the prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper.”
After applause for Harper eventually quieted, speaker after speaker paid tribute to the veterans and the memorial, which is intended to become an outdoor classroom.
The other side of the monument has a partial list of those who fought but also returned home from battle. Some are no longer alive, such as Sam Levinson, who died last December. His brother, Alex, a messenger boy at an army field hospital, made sure his 85-year-old brother was recognized for his duties in Europe.
“Young people, the generations who follow us, need to remember that there were Jewish soldiers who didn’t hide – they fought the Nazis,” said Levin, formerly Levinson, who was born in Poland and lived in the forests of the Ukraine for 18 months.
“I’m free, I’m happy and living in a wonderful country of Canada – but I am also a strong person and need to keep sharing the story of my brother, our family killed by the Germans and what it was like being a Holocaust survivor. One day, my name will be on that monument, too.”
Joseph Warner, chairman of the Toronto Post, said he was overwhelmed by the large turnout to see the project become a reality.
“Whether it was Dieppe, Normandy, across Europe and other places, I was part of the 10 per cent of Canada’s 160,000 Jews who went to war,” said Warner. “The good guys won, the job was accomplished. No memorial can begin to do justice to their sacrifice. What we’re doing is a small tribute to them and a promise that they will not be forgotten.”
Warner had a message for the younger generation.
“Young people talk about wanting to make a difference, fix the world – I hear it all the time,” said Warner. “It was 70 years ago when other young people were called upon to fix a world that went off its rails. The least we can do is remember those people, honour them and treat them with respect.”