Sunday, April 23,
overcast skies nor a cool wind deterred the more than 100 people from the
diverse Victoria community from attending this year’s Yom HaShoah commemoration
last Sunday. The event was organized by the Victoria Shoah Project, a volunteer
group sponsored by Congregation Emanu-El dedicated to finding innovative ways
of respectfully remembering the Shoah and educating about it.
played by Emanu-El members opened the ceremony, followed by welcome remarks
from Isa Milman, who reminded us of the importance of remembrance and the deep
Jewish value of choosing life and living it as moral beings with a purpose of tikkunolam (putting the world to rights). Federal, provincial and municipal political
leaders, the acting Chief of Police and representatives from faith groups stood
together with members from the Victoria’s Jewish and non-Jewish communities for
two minutes of silence in respect and remembrance.
An important objective of remembrance and education events
organized by the Victoria Shoah Project is to have multi-generational
participation, as this honors the determination of survivors to begin life
again and strengthens the memories of those who perished. This year’s program
was made even more special as Leo Vogel, a child survivor, told his very
personal and emotional story of the tragic death of his family and the heroism
of the Dutch resistance and the Christian family who risked their lives to save
him. He explained that for him remembrance is not once a year, but every day.
When a man with Leo’s direct history asks “When will the world learn?,” the
question has a profound message for us all.
A presentation by Jillian
Shoichet and the B’nei Mitzvah students told of the “Twinning Project” where,
as part of their preparation for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah, students do research
through Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
They each chose to remember a young child who
perished in the Shoah and learn their name, birthplace and any other
information available and in this way bring the child who perished with them on
the journey to a B’nei Mitzvah which that child never could experience. This
learning and connection has a powerful impact and honors the more than one
million children who were killed in the Shoah. These presentations were
followed by the beautiful violin playing of Julien Haynes and Jeanel Laing of
UVIC music program and the evocative singing of Eili, Eili by Orly Salama-Alber.
As remembrance is
central to Yom HaShoah, Rabbi Harry led us in the El Malé Raḥamim memorial prayer and Peter Nadler led those in
attendance in the Kaddish of the Camps,
telling the story of his family who perished and reminding us that while
millions died in the concentration camps there were also a million and a half
who died in villages, ghettos and forests.
The last parts of the
program reflected an important part of our commemoration. Julius Maslovat, who
as a young child survived the notorious Buchenwald and Bergen Belsen camps led
us: Jews and non-Jews, young and old, political leaders and community members,
in the Pledge of Mutual Respect and Support, in which we all commit to stand
together against racism or discrimination against any peoples in our community and
to foster dialogue, based on mutual respect, amongst diverse groups.
concluded with a symbolic act of regeneration after the horrors of the Shoah.
The children planted a Garry Oak tree. As Isa explained, “What better metaphor
to symbolize our planting new life, right here, in our cemetery, which in
Judaism is called a “Beit Haim” or House of Life.” As those in attendance
slowly and silently made their way through the cemetery, the power of the
first-hand stories of survivors, the example of the B’nei Mitzvah students who
honor children who perished, and the spoken commitment of the broad spectrum of
the Victoria community in attendance to stand together when hatred is directed
at any group are the images and messages that will remain as powerful reminders
of this year’s Yom HaShoah commemoration.
The Victoria Shoah
Project welcomes contributions to support its programming. Donations can be made
through Congregation Emanu-El.