Canada Comes Together to Mark Yom ha-Shoah

Yom ha-Shoah commemorations were held cross-Canada virtually on April 8 for the second consecutive year due to the pandemic.

The ceremony marked the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Europe and was hosted by Toronto-based actor Jake Epstein, the son of Kathy Kacer, the award-winning author of The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser and other Holocaust-related books for young adults.

Earlier, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement in which he called the Holocaust “one of the darkest chapters in human history. Sadly, more than 75 years after the liberation of Nazi concentration and extermination camps, Jewish communities in Canada and around the world continue to face violence, hate, and rising anti-Semitism. This is unacceptable.

“As a country, we urgently need to address the resurgence of anti-Semitism, wherever and whenever we find it. Canada is equipped with the tools and resources needed to combat anti-Semitic attitudes and Holocaust denial, including through our support for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which we adopted (in 2018) as part of our Anti-Racism Strategy.”

In his remarks to the program, Trudeau spoke of the need for education, alluding to recent studies showing young people have poor historical knowledge of the Holocaust.

That, and rising anti-Semitism, are the reasons, he said, that he named former justice minister and human rights advocate Irwin Cotler as Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Anti-Semitism.In his remarks, Cotler said the world knew that the wartime murder of Jews in Europe was happening.

“Nobody could say we did not know,” he said. “We knew, but we did not act.”He drew a line between that and the ongoing genocide of the Uighur people. He said the slogan that arose from the Holocaust – “never again” – has become “again and again and again.”Anti-Semitism did not die in the Holocaust, said Cotler. “It remains the bloody canary in the mineshaft of global evil today.” The Holocaust is “a paradigm for radical evil, as anti-Semitism is a paradigm for radical hate.”

The program also heard greetings from Marco Sermoneta, chargé d’affaires at Israel’s Embassy in Ottawa, and from Sen. Linda Frum.

Jewish Federation leaders from across Canada reflected on the importance of Holocaust remembrance for their communities, while Jewish day school students across the country shared messages of the importance of Holocaust education.

Community leaders across the country recited a chapter from the Megillat HaShoah, The Shoah Scroll: A Holocaust Liturgy.

Holocaust survivors Pinchas Gutter, Anita Ekstein, Elly Gotz, Felicia Carmelly, Rachel Shtibel and Michael Kutz spoke of their experiences and why remembering and teaching the Holocaust is important.

A virtual candlelighting featured cross-Canada participation from descendants of survivors: Sam Dunner in British Columbia; Jana Bryant, Cobi, Lev and Micah Fryberg in Alberta; Heather Fenyes in Saskatchewan; Israel Mida in Ontario; Muguette Myers in Quebec; and Israel Unger in New Brunswick.

The concluding memorial prayer “El Malei Rachamim” was led by Rabbi Adam Scheier and Cantor Gideon Zelermyer of Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue in Montreal, which earlier this year was the target of anti-Semitic graffiti.

The program was a joint effort presented by the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre; UJA Federation of Greater Toronto; The Azrieli Foundation; Facing History and Ourselves; Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA; March of the Living Canada; the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem; and Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies.

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