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Hanukkah Then and Now

While most Jews around the world are supposed to be marking Hanukkah 2020 in socially-distanced ways, it is heartening to see this wartime Canadian Army photo showing Canada's Jewish volunteers in uniform overseas acting like Maccabees. 
Not only did they liberate Europe from the Nazi regime during the Second World War, but while the war was still raging, Jewish chaplains in uniform such as Rabbi Samuel Cass asked the Jewish personnel to donate chocolates and other goodies from their care packages from home.
Cass, then 36, knew this would be the first Hanukkah celebration since the Nazis captured Europe five years earlier. He also knew many of the children would be orphans, and that many of the Jewish communities had been decimated by the Holocaust.  

Jewish soldiers in Belgium

Cpl. Mimi Freedman and Hon. Capt. Rabbi Samuel Cass along with Canadian troops threw a Hanukkah party for Jewish war orphans in liberated Belgium in December 1944. (Library and Archives Canada photo).

   This photo shows Cass, a Toronto native who became a pulpit rabbi in Vancouver, and Cpl. Mimi Freedman of Montreal, at the party in Antwerp on Sunday Dec. 17, 1944, the final night of the festival when all eight candles would be lit on the Hanukkiyah.


jewish soldiers at Hanukkah

Corporal A. Lobsenzer of the U.S. Army, Private Eve Keller of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (C.W.A.C.), Private H. Fishman and Lance-Corporal E. Sassoon with children during the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah, 17 December 1944. (Library and Archives Canada).

This photo was taken at the same party in Antwerp. I like it because we see several girls and boys struggling to open their Hanukkah gifts. They seem reserved, even pensive. One has the tiniest of smiles, while in contrast, the Jewish uniformed personnel look so happy. The woman is Pte. Eve Keller (Daniels) of Regina, who was overseas doing administrative duties with the Canadian Women's Army Corps. 

I interviewed Keller's daughter Leslie Kinrys for my book "Double Threat". Her mother always said that the Hanukkah party was extremely important not just for the war-shocked children, but also for the adults who were there, because of the symbolic value. She remembered what happened when a captured Nazi soldier was brought in to witness the festivities.
“He didn’t believe them when they said they were Jewish because he claimed Hitler said he got rid of all the Jews,” Kinrys said, referring not only to the children, but to the Jewish personnel in uniform. “They showed him how wrong Hitler was.”

Lights over Canada

Modern-day Jewish Chaplains have also been spreading the Festival of Lights' message of hope and religious freedom, both to Canadian Jewish personnel currently serving, as well as the wider military community. In Halifax, Capt. Rabbi Noteh Glogauer sent out holiday gift bags to serving Jewish personnel, plus arranged for a candle-lighting ceremony on the RCAF base in Shearwater.

(Photo by Aviator Olivia Mainville, 12 Wing Imaging Services, RCAF.)

An Edmonton family wants you to read their uncle's diary

This past Remembrance Day was doubly sad for the family of the late Dr. H. Rick Uretsky of Edmonton. The Uretskys usually mark November 11 by thinking about their uncle, Harry Uretzky, who was killed in action in 1943.
This year, the family had decided that it was time to publish the contents of Harry's diary written seventy-seven years ago while serving with the RCAF as a navigator in England. Among the pages are several poems. Harry joked that he wrote these as a lark, to compete with another Edmonton friend overseas, Mickey Dlin.
I sent in my story on Monday, Nov.  9, for publication in the Canadian Jewish Record.  Dr. Uretsky, who was named after Harry, did not live to see the article come out. I take comfort in knowing that I was able to fulfil one of his final wishes. 
Copyright © 2020 Ellin Bessner, All rights reserved.

Ellin Bessner · 951 Carlaw Avenue · Suite 149b · Toronto, Ontario, Ontario M4K3M2 · Canada

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