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Thursday, August 21, 2014

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Dinner of Miracles unites young adults, survivors

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Shawna Samuel, left, a co-founder of the Dinner of Miracles; Rick Carrier, centre, a U.S. soldier who helped liberate prisoners at the Buchenwald concentration camp, and Sherri Ettedgui, a dinner co-founder

TORONTO — The Dinner of Miracles has been bringing Holocaust survivors and young adults from Toronto’s Jewish community together for the past eight years.

The annual event gives guests in their 20s and 30s the opportunity to interact with survivors and hear their stories first-hand.

Each table is assigned a moderator and a Holocaust survivor, who shares his or her story with a group of young adults. Over the course of the meal, attendees get to know the survivors and ask them questions about their experiences during World War II.

Dinner of Miracles is the brainchild of Shawna Samuel and Sherri Ettedgui. Jonathan Samuel, Shawna’s husband, has also been involved with the event from the beginning. He said they realized almost 10 years ago that many Holocaust survivors were passing away, and the trio felt an urgency to create an event that allows younger people to hear first-hand testimonies from survivors.

“It’s not a party,” he told The CJN, adding that it’s inspiring to see so many young people spend money and come out to an event that isn’t a typical night out, but is important nonetheless.

This year’s dinner, held at Petah Tikva Anshe Castilla Congregation in Toronto on Dec. 11, also featured special guest Rick Carrier. His name might not ring a bell to most people, but Carrier is definitely important to many of the survivors who attended the dinner. The 87-year-old war veteran accidentally stumbled on the Buchenwald concentration camp and was one of hundreds of U.S. soldiers who helped liberate thousands of prisoners.

Carrier, who was the keynote speaker at the dinner, told The CJN that he was honoured to attend the Dinner of Miracles.

“I find it very, very rewarding because it puts me in touch with the people who are still thinking about [the Holocaust and World War II] and the people who are still dealing with it,” he said. “Very few people talk about it.”

Shael Rosenbaum, the chair of the Young Adult March of the Living, saw Carrier honoured in Krakow during this year’s march. He told The CJN he felt privileged to introduce the liberator to the crowd of 300 people at the dinner. He said it’s extremely important for teens and young adults to learn about the Holocaust.

“I think for young adults in the Jewish community, both Sephardic and Ashkenazi, I think it is beyond important for many different reasons,” he said. “One is, it’s part of our history. We can identify with each other because of this terrible time in history.

“But something blossomed out of the Holocaust, and that was the State of Israel,” he added.

One of Rosenbaum’s goals is to make sure the dinner keeps growing. “Unfortunately, the event has shrunk a little bit for various reasons,” he said. “But I hope that in years to come we can grow it because there’s only so many years left that we have to speak with these survivors.”

Pinchas Gutter was one of 50 or so survivors who interacted with guests at the dinner. Despite what he went through during the Holocaust, he said he remains optimistic about the world.

“I’m a great believer in diversity and tolerance. This is what I preach.” he told The CJN.

Gutter says that sharing his story is his way of promoting these ideals. He has attended the Dinner of Miracles in other years, and he’s also been on both the March of the Living and the March of Remembrance and Hope, a program geared toward university-aged students of all religions and ethnic backgrounds. “I think it’s very important to tell the stories,” he said. “But more important is to try and propagate the human aspect of life. And also to tell the story in its entirety.”

The Holocaust survivor, like many of the attendees at the event, said it’s very important for children and young adults to learn about what happened because “they’re the future leaders.”

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