MONTREAL — Certain territorial concessions by Israel could lead to another Holocaust, an Orthodox rabbi warned at a commemoration of Raoul Wallenberg last week.
“The world must never forget that a single Israeli strategic error may mean not only a military defeat, but annihilation that the world would not be able, even if willing, to stop. Every Israeli decision must be judged against this horrific reality,” said Rabbi Avrohom Jacks of Congregation Zichron Kedoshim.
In particular, he said Israel “must refuse to give away parts of our beloved and holy Jerusalem to our sworn enemies,” or show any other “signs of weakness.”
Conceding any “militarily advantageous territory” would be “reckless, dangerous and irresponsible,” according to the Torah and the Code of Jewish Law, he maintained.
“Too many nations seem willing to have Israel take potentially fatal risks for an uncertain regional peace that they themselves would never be willing to take.” He said the security of Israel and the Jewish people cannot be entrusted to others who “are full of compromise and concession.”
Rabbi Jacks said Jews have “every moral, legal and spiritual right to live on God’s promised land” and that Israel needs a powerful military to defend itself.
“When Jews had no military of their own, they were killed with impunity. That is why we must always stand strong. And today’s definition of standing strong is a powerful Israeli military, along with the ability to control our own land and our own destiny… Too few of Israel’s critics seem to understand the Jewish determination to avoid another Holocaust, this time in their own homeland.”
He described Jewish survival as still fragile so many years after the Holocaust.
“The tiny Jewish state is the only country in the world whose very existence is threatened by enemies supported by a majority of the United Nations. It is the only nation in the world that faces both constant threats to its existence and constant criticism for acting against those threats.”
Zichron Kedoshim, a synagogue in Snowdon, was founded in memory of the martyrs of the Holocaust.
The Jan. 16 tribute to Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who is credited with rescuing up to 100,000 Hungarian Jews from deportation to the death camps, was sponsored by the Raoul Wallenberg International Movement for Humanity (RWIMH), with Federation CJA.
It was held the day before the 63rd anniversary of Wallenberg’s being taken into custody at the Red Army headquarters in Budapest. He was not heard from again.
The reasons for his arrest and his fate have never been determined satisfactorily. The Soviets maintained that he died in 1947 of a heart attack in Lubyanka prison in Moscow, although the Swedish government and many others in the West did not believe that.
Sweden’s ambassador to Canada, Ingrid Iremark, a former journalist, said her government has not closed the file on Wallenberg. “Too many questions are still unanswered. I can assure you that we continue our efforts to bring clarity to this mystery.”
She acknowledged criticism that Sweden missed a chance to negotiate Wallenberg’s release after World War II and that its political and diplomatic efforts have been a failure, even since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
But the international community has not been much more successful, she indicated, noting that Wallenberg’s niece is married to former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.
Israeli Consul General Yoram Elron called Wallenberg “one of the 20th century’s greatest humanitarians,” adding that had there been more righteous people like him, millions of Jews might not have died.
Paul Mayer, the United States consular section chief, said Wallenberg’s example has made him acutely aware that when considering visa applications he should not think of them as solely cases or numbers, but consider the individual’s whose lives he is affecting.
“Wallenberg was the epitome of the humanitarian spirit,” he said.
The more than 100 people attending the commemoration, held at the Gelber Conference Centre, also heard a written message from retired senator Sheila Finestone.
As the then-Liberal MP for Mount Royal, she was among those spearheading legislation in 1985 to have Wallenberg declared Canada’s first honorary citizen (he is still one of only three today). In 2001, Canada proclaimed Jan. 17 Raoul Wallenberg Commemorative Day.
Finestone also acknowledged the work of fellow Liberals Sheila Copps, Clifford Lincoln and Irwin Cotler in obtaining official recognition of Wallenberg.
But the greatest credit, Finestone wrote, must go to Vera Parnes, the Russian émigrée and accomplished medical researcher in her native country, who founded and is still president of the RWIMH, for her tenacity in keeping Wallenberg’s legacy alive. Parnes was not able to attend the commemoration because she had been called out of town, said master of ceremonies Peter Rona, whose parents were saved by Wallenberg.
In his welcoming remarks, Federation CJA president Marc Gold said the lesson of Wallenberg’s life is that “we should never rest indifferent to the persecution of others… whether it be in Darfur or here in Canada. We must speak out for the helpless. It is now our duty to follow the example of this righteous man.”
The photographic exhibition “The Life and Times of Raoul Wallenberg” continues in the lobby of Cummings House until Feb. 9.
In a statement, Canadian Jewish Congress welcomed the annual commemoration of Raoul Wallenberg Day, noting that Jan. 17 was the 63rd anniversary of his capture by the Soviet Red Army in Budapest, Hungary.
“Raoul Wallenberg was a beacon of light in the darkness of the Holocaust,” CJC co-president Sylvain Abitbol said. “All citizens of the world must never forget the shining example of his selfless efforts to save thousands of Jews while at the Swedish legation in Budapest during the Second World War.”
In addition to the Montreal event, commemorations were held in several cities across the country, including Winnipeg and Toronto.