My wife Dorothy and I recently enjoyed a wonderful trip with our friends David and Sharon Appotive to France where we toured the Vimy Memorial and the cemeteries of the First World War, followed by a tour of the Second World War D-Day invasion sites, beaches, museums and cemeteries of Normandy. We were all moved by the horrors of both wars, the valour of our soldiers who fought and died for our freedoms, and the respect maintained for them by the Allied countries through the beauty of the memorials, and dignity of the cemeteries. The German cemetery honouring First World War soldiers was particularly interesting because a number of them had a Magen David on the headstone. The irony that families of Jewish soldiers who fought for Germany in the first war were executed during the second was not lost on us.
My father, who is 94, entered the war as a Canadian soldier after D-Day. Although not involved in the invasion, he was involved in the Canadian liberation of the Netherlands. My mother was a Dutch Jew who survived the war in hiding with her five brothers and parents. She met my father after coming out of hiding, married him, and I enjoy a wonderful Jewish Canadian life because of the commitment, strength and expertise of the Canadian military and the courage and tenacity of my mother’s family.
It is in the context of the emotional visit to France that I witnessed the events in Charlottesville, Virginia.
After the U.S. election, the performance – or lack of performance – of the new president of the United States was the butt of many jokes – most exquisitely by Alex Baldwin and Melissa McCarthy on “Saturday Night Live.”
Subsequent to the events in Charlottesville, however, no one is laughing – except, perhaps, some neo-Nazis and other disgusting thugs. There is very little that I can add to the commentary of many journalists and thought leaders who are all revolted by the image of neo-Nazis spewing anti-Semitic and racist bile and invectives at Jews, African Americans and other minorities. Equally, we are appalled at the president’s articulation of his tolerance for this behaviour and moral equivalence with those who resisted the thugs.
As we enter the period of the High Holidays, and all of us begin to reflect on the year passed and the year to come, it is indeed important to remember how truly blessed we are to be Jews living in Canada, enjoying the freedoms we have. It is clearly a time to be reminded of the importance of the vigilance and active work required to sustain these freedoms. I challenge us all, in whatever way works, to do something next year that adds tangibly to our sustainability. There are numerous opportunities in a host of Jewish institutions in Ottawa and in Israel to give of your time and energy to sustain that which we cherish. It is the least we can do for those who fought and died for us, and for those who will come after us.