Soviet music played in the background as several dozen people piled into a banquet hall in the Bnei Torah Congregation synagogue in Toronto on May 30. Among the mostly elderly guests were Second World War veterans, who came dressed in their uniforms, which were decorated with military awards.
Hosted by Rabbi David Davidov, the event commemorated the German army’s surrender to the Soviets on May 9, 1945, which fell on the Hebrew date of 26 Iyar that year.
This event is part of a movement to make the 26th of Iyar an official Jewish holiday, known as the day of celebration for the liberation and salvation of European Jews from the hands of the Nazis.
The initiative was spearheaded by German Zacharyev, the vice-president of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, and is supported by a number of senior rabbis throughout Israel and Europe.
“I think it’s very important to remember the previous generation, our heroes, and it’s important for us to show them respect and honour,” said Eliya Mann, the Israeli house director that country’s consulate in Toronto.
Though he is a third-generation Israeli and has no family connection to the Holocaust, he said it is important for all Jews to commemorate this holiday. “As part of the Jewish world, we all have a connection. Some of us were lucky enough to be out of it, but the plan was to kill Jews all over,” said Mann.
Though May 8 is when many of the Second World War Allies celebrate Victory Day as a national holiday, Israel and most of the former Soviet Union celebrate it on May 9.
According to Rabbi Davidov, this was the first time V-Day has been celebrated as a Jewish holiday according to the Hebrew calendar in Canada, and he hopes it will only continue to grow in the years to come. He said this is one of the most important moments in Jewish history, as it saved the Jewish people from complete annihilation.
“Every day, there are less and less Holocaust survivors and veterans, and soon a day will come when there will be none left,” said Rabbi Davidov, during his speech at the event. “It will depend on us, the children and grandchildren of these people, to carry on their memories.”
His speech was followed by prayers for those who perished in the Holocaust and who lost their lives fighting against the Nazis. There was also a letter-writing ceremony in the sefer Torah, in honour of the veterans and Holocaust victims, and many of those present tearfully recounted the names of their long-lost loved ones.
Rabbi Davidov hails from the city of Nalchik, which is the capital of the Kabardino-Balkar Republic in Russia, near the Caucasus Mountains. He identifies as a Gorsky Jew, otherwise known as Mountain or Caucasus Jews. This group descends from Iran’s Persian Jews and come from the eastern and north Caucasus, which includes countries like Azerbaijan, Dagestan and Chechnya.
During his speech, Rabbi Davidov personally thanked the veterans for their service and for stopping Nazi forces from reaching further into that region of Russia. His own hometown, however, was not immune to the Holocaust – according to the Yad Vashem archives, the Nazis established a ghetto in Nalchik, where several hundred Jews were killed.
He also said that the veterans present at the event showed a lot of gratitude to him and all those who came to commemorate the holiday, as many of them feel they are slowly being forgotten.
Much like the holidays of Hanukkah and Purim, Rabbi Davidov said the defeat of the Nazis on 26 Iyar also demonstrates Divine intervention and should therefore be seen as a Jewish holiday.
“It’s something that is very close to us, even though Gorsky Jews didn’t suffer what European Jews did, we are still all Jews and it’s important that this monstrous regime was stopped, because otherwise there would have been more victims,” said Rabbi Davidov. “It’s important for us to remember this disaster and pass it on to future generations, because today, there are people who say that the Holocaust didn’t happen.”