Ralph Benmergui visits the opening of Margaret’s Legacy, a new Holocaust education centre in Hamilton, Ont.

Ralph Benmergui at the opening of Margaret's Legacy on May 2, 2024.

It’s a sunny and warm Thursday downtown in my city, where sandwiched between a paint store and the brick-and-mortar home of a sports app on Main Street is a place called JHamilton.

The Hamilton Jewish Federation hasn’t always lived here, though. And like much in this community, it’s had its share of ups and downs. But ever since CEO Gustavo Rymberg arrived seven years ago, it’s mostly felt on the upswing.

So, my city is now in the ideal position to appreciate Margaret’s Legacy.

That’s the name of the new local Holocaust centre, which not only about preserving memory, it’s also here to advocate for Jewish heritage in Hamilton—a place with a fascinating history of its own.

Home to Canada’s first Reform congregation, it also has active Orthodox and Conservative synagogues, serving around 5,000 souls living in Steeltown.

Torontonians particularly know this place had an image problem to overcome. And being known as the hate-crime capital of Canada means antisemitism still bubbles right beneath the surface in a city of a half-million.

The opening of Margaret’s Legacy is part of a proactive effort to change that, primarily through the sponsorship of the family of Margaret and Arthur Weisz, who survived the Holocaust—they reunited when she wrote his name on a package of bread thrown over the fence of a Russian prison camp in Central Hungary—to arrive in Hamilton with a small suitcase and a baby named Tommy.

Arthur founded the property management company Effort Trust, which he headed until his death in 2013, four years after the passing of Margaret.

The collaboration between the Hamilton Jewish Federation their children, Janet Weisz and Tom Weisz, and granddaughter Danna Horwood, and is reflected in the beautiful floor-to-ceiling panels among the artifacts that tell the story of the rise of Nazi power in 1930s Germany—and the antisemitic hysteria that led to the murder of six million Jews.

Margaret’s Legacy team (L to R): Jazmin Rymberg, Georgina Katz, Lila Strub, Gustavo Rymberg, Danna Horwood, Donna Carnicelli, Maggie Norris

It’s a space that will also be used for other Federation events. And what’s remarkable about the design is its ability to appear and disappear. A flick of the switch can turn the glass enclosures into opaque frosted panels. But when tour groups are brought through, the frosting disappears and the exhibits come to life.

On view at Margaret’s Legacy are the striped clothing of Holocaust survivors, and documentation related to both the lives of righteous gentiles and evil Nazis.

But the most important stories told here concern the deported—and, finally, the fortunate ones who found refuge in Canada to thrive in Hamilton and beyond.

The opening ceremonies on May 2 included local Liberal MP Filomena Tassi announcing $175,000 in federal funding to enhance the educational offerings of the centre, which also incorporates material related to the events of Oct. 7.

Now that Margaret’s Legacy is up and running, it gives a chance for young and old to look, listen and learn in the hope of being able to say one day, for all peoples: Never Again.

Ralph Benmergui hosts Not That Kind of Rabbi at The CJN Podcast Network.