For the first time, students from Jewish high schools participated in the Remembrance Day service held at the Baron de Hirsch Cemetery’s Field of Honour.
Representatives of Herzliah High School, Hebrew Academy, Ecole Maïmonide, and Bialik High School placed wreathes at the monument to Jews who fell while serving in the Canadian armed forces during the two world wars and Korean War.
The annual commemoration is organized by Larry Rosenthal, who was instrumental in having the monument to the community’s war dead, which was erected in 1947, expanded four years ago. The names of all 579 Jews known to have died in service to this country are now inscribed there.
Among them is his older brother, gunner William Guy Rosenthal, who was killed in action in 1943 in Sicily, where he lies today. Just 21 and an aspiring journalist, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Artillery determined to fight fascism.
Robert Presser, an executive member of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, who encouraged the schools to send students, said he hoped that they take away the message that each one of these servicemen had an effect on the course of the war.
In addition to remembering that sacrifice, Presser said the teens should realize that what they do with their lives will also make a difference.
The students were escorted to the monument by Cpl. Brahm Duchoeny, a 26-year veteran of the Canadian army who completed a tour of duty in Bosnia. In addition, they sang songs in Hebrew and Yiddish, and Maïmonide student Yossi Knafo of Maïmonide and Isaac Safran of Hebrew Academy read essays on what the day means to them.
They also met another reserves member, Lt.-Col. Alain Cohen, who attended Maïmonide and Bialik. He joined the Régiment Les Fusiliers Mont Royal in 1999 at 17 and served in Afghanistan in 2007-2008, for which he was decorated.
Cohen spoke of losing a comrade to his wounds a few months ago and the impact that has had on his family, which includes two children about their age.
A son was expelled from school recently because he is not coping with that death, Cohen said.
“The reality is tragic. Don’t think that Canada at war is only a thing of history. Canada is still serving overseas,” he said.
Probably the most poignant moment during the ceremony, held as bitterly cold winds blew, was the reciting of kaddish by 96-year-old Willie Glaser.
Glaser, who insisted on standing for more than an hour, is both a Second World War veteran and a descendant of Holocaust victims.
Born in Germany, he managed to leave for England a week before the outbreak of the war. He joined the Polish army in Scotland and participated in the Normandy landing.
Also taking part in the commemoration were representatives of many Jewish organizations and the rabbinate, as well as of government and Israel.
Consul General Ziv Nevo Kulman wore both a poppy and the red flower known as the “blood of the Maccabees,” which he explained is a symbol worn on Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s memorial day for its fallen and victims of terrorism.
Rabbi Reuben Poupko said democracy is a cause worth fighting, and sometimes dying, for. “This is worthy of the highest praise. The worst crime is to forget that,” he warned.