TORONTO — Two hundred and two Canadian Jewish soldiers who fought valiantly for their country during World War I now have two monuments in honour of their courage at Mount Sinai Memorial Park in Toronto.
In a special remembrance ceremony on Sunday, members of the Royal Canadian Legion General Wingate Branch No. 256 unveiled the two monuments that feature the names of Jewish soldiers who served Canada during that war.
General Wingate Branch No. 256 is the Jewish branch of the Royal Canadian Legion and is located in Toronto.
“It’s a long road that has brought us to this proud moment,” said Murray Jacobs, event chair and past president for General Wingate Branch No. 256.
“These young men put their country before themselves and laid down their lives for Canada and freedom.”
The list of soldiers came from Oscar Adler, a branch board member. Seven years ago, Adler presented the findings of a research project, where he found that the names and statues of 201 Jewish men and one Jewish woman who served in Canada’s armed forces in World War I.
“I looked at some of the research. Some of them were 15 or 16 years of age,” Harold Davis, a branch vice-president, told The CJN.
“They just joined up and they came from right across Canada – little towns in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario.”
The monuments stand next to a cenotaph memorial the branch dedicated to Jewish veterans who fought in the two world wars and Korea and were buried overseas.
Julian Fantino, federal minister of veterans affairs, was present for the unveiling, which drew dozens of veterans and their families, even in rainy weather. Fantino compared the honoured soldiers to heroes in Jewish history, from Judah Maccabee to the fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
“The place of the Jewish community in Canada is immoveable,” Fantino said. “The wisdom, culture and service of the Jewish people have made Canada and indeed the world a far richer and better place.”
Joe Oliver, federal minister of natural resources, and Norm Kelly, deputy mayor of Toronto, were also present at the ceremony. Kelly presented to General Wingate Branch No. 256 a letter from Mayor Rob Ford, who could not attend because he was away on city business.
“They are our heroes,” Ford wrote in the letter. “We thank them and their families for their selfless and unwavering support to defending freedom’s frontier.”
As the war’s 100th anniversary approaches, the two monuments are the only specific memorials that list the names of Canadian Jewish veterans who served during World War I.
Jacobs, a veteran of World War II who landed in Normandy just four days after D-Day, told The CJN that, historically, there has been little recognition for Canadian Jewish veterans.
Thirty-eight per cent of all Jewish males living in Canada during World War I served in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces.