National Ceremony in Ottawa
The National Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa
The National Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony, which took place on May 15, 2014, in Ottawa’s Canadian War Museum, featured politicians across the political spectrum, most notably the Hon. Jason Kenney representing the government of Canada; Thomas Mulcair, Leader of the Opposition; Justin Trudeau, Leader of the Liberal Party; and Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party, as well as the involvement of students from four schools. The Canadian Society for Yad Vashem gratefully acknowledges the Multiculturalism Program of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, which provided a grant toward this event through its Inter-Action Events stream.
Below are the highlights:
English-speaking MC Fran Sonshine, National Chair of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, and French-speaking MC Barry Pascal spoke with great eloquence, capturing the attention of the more than 500 guests.
Minister Jason Kenney, representing the Government of Canada, compellingly about the repeating imperative of Zachor in the Bible, comparing it to a steady drumbeat from which we cannot escape, and invoking with passion the crucial need for Holocaust remembrance in a world where there are still many with anti-Semitic sentiments.
Following his address, Minister Kenney lit the first candle together with Dr. Max Glassman and Mrs. Gianna Glassman, Pillars of Yad Vashem; Lou Greenbaum, supporter and vice-chair of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem; Mrs. Lori Gottdenker and Mr. Joe Gottdenker, Pillars of Yad Vashem; Mr. Wolf Lebovic, a Holocaust Survivor and pillar of the Canadian community; and Yaron Ashkenazi, Executive Director of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem.
Rabbi Bulka of Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa reminded us of the abundant blessings of peace that we, as Canadians, enjoy, calling upon those in the audience to look beyond the borders of our precious country to help those who are not similarly blessed.
Ambassador of Israel in Canada H.E. Rafael Barak recalled Prime Minister Harper’s visit to Yad Vashem, invoking the special relationship between Israel and Canada. Then, the Ambassador lit the second candle in honour of the 1½ million Jewish children whose lives were cut short in the Holocaust, together with Holocaust Survivors Dana Bell and her husband, Bill Bell, and Cabinet Ministers Julian Fantino, Joe Oliver, and Tim Uppal.
Dr. Thomas Hecht spoke passionately about how he and his family: his mother, father, and sister, lived “on the edge,” as they were transported from Czechoslovakia, which Dr. Hecht described as being the most democratic country in Europe before the war, to Vichy France. There, with the help of Righteous Among the Nations Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Consul General from Portugal, he and his family obtained visas to Portugal where they stayed for 10 months before being allowed entry into Canada along with 26 other refugees.
The Hon. Thomas Mulcair, Leader of the NDP, eloquently spoke to the resilience of Survivors with his words "It is in the face of our greatest suffering that we find our greatest courage." Following the address, Mr. Mulcair lit the third candle in honour of Righteous Among the Nations, non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust, together with keynote speaker Dr. Thomas Hecht and his wife, Mrs. Riva Hecht, both pillars of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem.
Students from the Ottawa Jewish Community School sang Eli, Eli, a beautiful song written by Chana Sanesh, the famed Jewish paratrooper from Hungary, who parachuted into Yuglasovia as part of a rescue commando unit during WWII and later executed.
Leader of the Liberal Party Justin Trudeau called to action the attendees with his words "We must vow to never again ignore the plight of the vulnerable, to be silent in the face of hate or anti-Semitism." Then, together with Professor Irving Abella, Mayor of Ottawa Jim Watson, and sponsor of Bill-C459 Richard Marceau, lit the fourth candle in honour of Holocaust Survivors, who, with remarkable courage, tenacity, and integrity, have rebuilt their lives.
Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party, pointed out that the importance of Holocaust remembrance is one of the few issues upon which all political parties agree, highlighting how much stronger voices are when they are in unison. Then, together with 13 representatives of the Zachor Coalition, a group of organizations committed to Holocaust commemoration and education, Ms. May lit the fifth candle in tribute to the partisans, ghetto fighters, members of the resistance, and Allied forces who fought valiantly against the Nazis and their collaborators in the Holocaust.
One hundred students from Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto came up to the stage to read their Declaration to the Future, a moving pronouncement of the students’ commitment to carry forth the torch of Holocaust remembrance, to the Holocaust Survivors in the audience who stood up.
The Declaration to the Future:
We are the citizens of the future.
We represent children of all ethnic groups and nationalities.
We represent children of all belief systems and religions.
With the shadows of the Holocaust receding over time, we commit ourselves to making sure that the Holocaust and the 6 million precious souls that were murdered during that period of utter moral decay are not forgotten.
We dedicate ourselves to learning about the Holocaust so that we can create a future free of hate and bigotry, free of violence and oppression, free of discrimination and persecution.
We are dedicated to protecting, promoting, and advancing the human rights and dignity of all people—of all races, religions, creeds, gender, sexual orientations, and levels of ability.
We commit ourselves to learning about those who perished in the Holocaust whose lives were cut short with callous disregard by a systematic process of genocide conceived by those occupying the highest positions of power.
We are committed to forging a future that is fair and just, one that allows all people to live out their lives in peace, security, and joy.
We are the citizens of the future.
And, with the memories of those who were murdered in the Holocaust in our hearts and mind, we say in a loud, clear, and strong voice: "Never Again."
Following the reading of the Declaration, Holocaust Survivors joined the students on the stage to light the sixth candle in honour of future generations who will assume the responsibility of keeping the memory of the Shoah alive. With the looming reality of Holocaust Survivors rapidly dwindling, the joining of Holocaust Survivors and students in lighting a candle was a particularly moving symbol of the need to transfer the imperative of Holocaust remembrance to future generations.
Cantor Kraus, a Holocaust Survivor of Bergen Belsen, sang the Kel Malei Rachamim and the Kaddish with intense emotion, poignancy, and vigour, paying the ultimate tribute to the memory of the 6 million souls who perished in the Holocaust. His commanding voice evoked the pain of his own experiences, its haunting power rippling throughout the audience.
The ceremony closed with the ancient, stirring sound of the shofar sounded by Rabbi Bulka, Steven Kimmel, and Evan Moore, a student from Bialik Hebrew Day School, followed by the “Hatikvah” and the March Off the Colours.