Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Kaddish for D-Day in Canada to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Landings in Normandy

The Jewish Community of France will say Kaddish on Sunday, June 8, for the Allied Jewish servicemen --- including 70 Canadians -- who were killed in France during the Second World War and are buried in the Normandy area.

We should do this, too. I'm calling it #KaddishforDDay.

Let's remember the names and sacrifice of each of these Canadian soldiers and airmen who went overseas and didn't come home, in the name of freedom. There’s the lawyer,  the Yiddish poet, the farmer, the optician, the father of three, the son of Russian immigrants, the insurance salesman. Some come from big cities including Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa. Others come from small communities including Inverness, Cape Breton, and Edson, Alberta. They were as young as 20, and as old as 45. Privates, Lieutenants. Gunners, Troopers.

These Jewish men who enlisted to fight for Canada and for freedom, lie in French cemeteries, their graves mostly unvisited. Yet their tombstones stand out among the rows of crosses, for aside from the Maple Leaf symbol, they also often have Stars of David on them. 
Courtesy Veterans Affairs Canada

France is honouring these men because I sent the organizer and note and asked them to, as part of that country's wider commemoration, one that originally wasn't going to include Canada's Jewish casualties.

And now I’m asking all Canadian Jews to remember these liberators, by participating in a national #KaddishForDDay. 

Let’s make it a Canadian national prayer. You can choose when to do it to coincide with the 70th anniversary of D-Day next week. How about on Yikzor for Shavuot? Or on the next Shabbat? Or sometime this summer? You can find a list and hometowns and bios/stories about the 70 Jewish casualties here on my blog. Feel free to print the information out, and share it.

I just learned that the Reform Jewish movement in the United States is doing a similar campaign called Normandy Kaddish.

This is an important opportunity to honour the sacrifices of men from our own communities. 

Jean-Max Skenadji, the organizer of the French D-Day 2014 Kaddish, and the CRIF, the main Jewish federation in France, were planning to honour only the 150 American Jewish servicemen buried at Colleville-sur-Mer, near Omaha Beach, the site of the U.S. D-Day landings June 6, 1944.

When I heard about this, I emailed Skenadji at his office outside Paris, and asked him to consider including our Canadians. He replied yes immediately.  He’s already invited Canada’s Ambassador to France, Lawrence Cannon, to be there.

“What would have become of us without the landing of the Allies on June 6?” the CRIF statement asks.

Already, several synagogues in Canada have taken up the challenge of # KaddishforDDay, including Toronto’s Beit Rayim Synagogue, where I am a member.

According to the rabbi, Chezi Zionce, Jews have an obligation to say Yizkor for every individual soul, which is why he will read the soldiers’ names out at Yizkor services on Shavuot, Thursday June 5.

“It’s about time, “ Zionce said of the long overdue D-Day prayers, noting that Israel marks Yom Hazikaron every year for her fallen soldiers and victims of terror. “It’s a wonderful thing and it’s also a great reminder for our new generation."  

In Montreal, Congregation Dorshei Emet will mark #KaddishforDDay on June 7.

“The command to remember, zakhor, is central to Jewish tradition, as is the value of gratitude, hakarat ha-tov,” wrote Rabbi Ron Aigen in an email. 

Let's remember and give thanks, as the French and Americans are doing, for the Canadians like Bombardier George Meltz. I first came across his grave on a trip to France in July,  2011. His tombstone in the Beny-sur-Mer military cemetery, near Juno Beach, has a Star of David on it, and the powerful epitaph, put there by his British war bride, Trudy:  “He died so Jewry shall suffer no more.” Before the war, he sold wallpaper in Toronto, and died  of his wounds after D-Day, in July, 1944, at age 25. 

Please follow @KaddishforDDay on Twitter, and use the #KaddishforDDay hashtag yourselves, and spread the word. And please let us know if your organization or synagogue will join the movement.

Hometowns of Canadian Jewish Military Graves in Normandy, France from the Second World War


Death /burial


George Meltz
Son of Nathan and Rachel Meltz. His tombstone reads “ He died so world Jewry should suffer no more.”
Bombardier, Royal Canadian Artillery
July 8, 1944, Beny-sur-Mer
Abraham B. Cohen
Son of Jack and Betsy Cohen; husband of Bessie Cohen, of Toronto,

Private, Royal Canadian Ordinance Corps
Aug 20, 1944, Beny-sur-Mer
David D. Goldsmith
Son of Reuben and Rose Goldsmith
Private, North Nova Scotia Highlanders
July 8, 1944, Beny-sur-Mer
Fred B. Harris
(Holy Blossom Synagogue)
Sgt Fred B. Harris- was one of the closest friends of the late Canadian federal politician Barney Danson. In an interview with CBC, Danson says Harris "was killed right on the beach. He hardly got out of the landing craft."(

Sergeant, Queen’s Own Rifles
June 6, 1944, Beny-sur-Mer
Frank Silverberg
Son of Abraham and Ida Silverberg
Trooper, First Hussars, Canadian Armoured Corps
June 11, 1944, Beny-sur-Mer

Biographies by Cemetery of Canadian Jewish casualties in northern France during the Second World W

There are some larger, more well-known Canadian War Cemeteries like Beny-sur-Mer, and Bretteville-sur-Laize, and also, farther east, such as the larger Hautot-sur-Mer cemetery, where the dead from the Dieppe raid of 1942 were buried.

Most of the casualties at Beny and Bretteville happened after the June 6, 1944 Normandy D-Day invasion at Juno Beach, and in the subsequent fighting, south and east closer to Caen and Falaise later on that summer and fall, as well as RCAF crews who were killed flying air raids from bases in England.

                                    In Beny-sur-Mer.

                        There are 19 Jewish Canadian servicemen buried in this cemetery.

1.    Bombardier George Meltz, 25, Toronto, Canada. Royal Canadian Artillery,

Son of Nathan and Rachel Meltz; husband of Gertrude Meltz, of Neasden, Middlesex, England. He enlisted in 1941, and trained in England. He participated in the D-Day landings. His family says he was killed by a sniper. He died July 8, 1944. He was married to Trudy, an English war bride. They think it was she who had the epitaph placed on his tombstone, with the words “He died so Jewry should suffer no more.”

2.     Private   Joseph E.  Gertel, Gunner, North Nova Scotia Highlanders, age 22, 8 July 1944, from Montreal. Born in Poland.
Gunner Joseph Gertel of Montreal, Quebec, died of wounds on July 8, 1944. He was buried in the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian Military Cemetery, France. Gunner Gertel enlisted in the Royal Canadian Artillery in 1943 and was attached to the North Nova Scotia Highlanders when he fell in the battle for Normandy early in July. Gunner Gertel was born in Wodiwetz, Poland, in 1921.
Photo by John Friedlan. July 2011.

 3. Corporal Myer Mike Litwack, Royal Canadian Army Service Corps, age 22, 25 July 1944.  He was from Ottawa, Ont. Son of Mr. and Mrs Jack and Dora Litwack, of 409 Bronson Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Normandy D-Day 70th anniversary: French Jewish community to say Kaddish for the 42 Canadian Jewish servicemen who gave their lives for freedom

George Meltz, in uniform, with a brother, (courtesy Isabella Meltz)
Seventy years ago, a 25 year old Toronto wallpaper salesman, George Meltz, came ashore at Juno Beach in France at the beginning of the D-Day landings, as part of Operation Overlord. He was one of 14,000 Canadian troops who pushed past the entrenched Germans along France's northern coast, despite horrendous casualties. Meltz was a bombardier, with the Royal Canadian Artillery.

He lived for another month, and his family says he was hit by a sniper. He died of his wounds on July 8, 1944.

His tombstone in the Canadian War Cemetery at Reviers, Beny Sur Mer, is one of 20 belonging to Jewish servicemen buried in this cemetery. There are another 22 Jewish Canadian troops buried farther east in the Cintheaux cemetery, near Bretteville-Sur-Laize.  

But Meltz's gravestone, with the inscription "He died so Jewry should suffer no more" has become a symbol, in Toronto, of the motivation that caused many Jewish men to enlist in the Second World War: to fight the Nazis and stop the annihilation of their Jewish brethren in the Holocaust.

Meltz tombstone with inscription, Normandy, John Friedlan photo

Now, Meltz's name and the names of the other 41 Jewish Canadian soldiers in the two locations will be read out during a solemn Jewish memorial anniversary ceremony on Sunday June 8, being organized in Normandy by the CRFI, the main French Jewish federation. 

Organizer Jean-Max Skenadji is holding the Kaddish services at the much larger U.S. Cemetery at Colleville Sur Mer, to honour the 150 American Jewish men who lie buried there.  But now, after I emailed him to ask him to add the Canadian names, Skenadji quickly agreed to read the 42 Canadian names aloud and say Kaddish for them, too.

"NOUS CITERONS LEURS NOMS ET FERONS KADICH A LEUR MEMOIRE," wrote Skenadji in an email on Sunday. 

Just last month, in April, Bombardier Meltz's niece Isabella Meltz, of Toronto, was one of the honoured guests at the Jewish community's official Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony held at the Schwartz Reisman Centre, on Sunday April  27, 2014. She and her cousins, and her daughter, lit one of the six large white memorial candles, representing the liberators.

Ellin Bessner, in Normandy, 2011, John Friedlan photo

I stumbled upon her late uncle's grave in 2011, on a family visit to Normandy, after the urging of colleague Ted Barris, the Canadian military historian and journalist, who has written 17 books on Canada's contribution to the First and Second and Korean and Afghanistan wars. While Barris didn't know about the Meltz story, he had urged me to take my family to see Normandy. The powerful inscription about "So Jewry should suffer no more" was stunning to me, and I wanted to learn more about who this young Toronto man was.

When I returned to Canada, I discovered that his namesake, nephew George Meltz, a real estate agent, lived just a couple of blocks from me in Richmond Hill, Ontario, and was a former president of my synagogue, Beit Rayim Synagogue, also in Richmond Hill. I also discovered his niece, Isabella, is a close friend of my cousin Judy Guttman, and also lives in Toronto. 

I met Isabelle on Remembrance Day in 2011, when Ted Barris invited her to speak about her late uncle, at Centennial College, where Barris and I both teach journalism. Isabelle has a few souvenirs from him, and photos of him in uniform. She also has begun to light a Yahrzeit candle for him every year on the anniversary of his death. But she has not been able to travel to Normandy to visit his grave. 

Isabella Meltz with Ellin Bessner at Centennial College, 2011 (courtesy Toronto Observer)
Toronto lawyer David Matlow also was moved by Meltz's tombstone when he and his wife toured the cemetery last summer. Matlow contacted me when he read my story about Meltz, and Matlow was responsible for having Meltz's relatives participate in the Holocaust Remembrance ceremony. Matlow still talks about Meltz's example when he speaks to donors about making contributions to United Jewish Appeal. Matlow is the producer of a recent documentary about Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism. Matlow has the world's largest personal connection of 2,500 Herzl artifacts and memorabilia.

The story I wrote for the Canadian Jewish News about Meltz has been shared with  the young participants in Canada's March of the Living, who visit Nazi death camps in Poland before heading for Israel. 

Now, Meltz's story will keep on being told by the French Jewish community, when they say his name, and recite the Kaddish for him on June 8, seventy years after the youngest child of the Meltz family came ashore at Juno Beach and would never come home.

I'll tell you some of the stories of the other 41 Canadian Jews buried in the Beny Sur Mer and Cintheaux cemeteries, in my next post.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Centennial Journalism students win awards!

We have a lot to be proud of here at Centennial Journalism, as the students and grads rack up the hardware for their excellent work  --  work that has been recognized not just in house, through marks,  but by senior journalists from organizations across the city, province, country and indeed, North America.

Lauren LiBetti won best student journalist at the Ontario Newspaper Awards gala May 3. "Lauren was recognized for her moving magazine article she researched and wrote on aboriginal suicide. The award was judged by Toronto Star reporter Louise Brown, who praised LiBetti’s ability to get aboriginal teens to open up to her," said Mark Toljagic, Centennial spokesman.  Lauren will be graduating at Centennial's spring convocation in June. LiBetti is working at MediaFace, a storytelling video production company in Toronto.  

You can read the Vital Signs magazine and Lauren's article (p.41) here:  Vital Signs
Centennial Journalism's Lauren LiBetti receiving her ONA award, May 2014. (photo provided by LiBetti)

Nina Raynars won the Al Hamilton Scholarship award at the Centennial College Student Success Awards. It is named after the founder of Toronto's "Contrast" newspaper which launched the career of many black journalists including Hamlin Grange and Royson James, according to the website. 
Nina Raynars, winner, with Brad Chapman, CFO, Centennial College. 

Christine Hogg's two photojournalism pictures have been included in the Toronto Star's new coffee table book about the December 2013 Toronto Ice Storm. Hogg's photos were accepted when the Star reached out to readers asking for their best photos that captured "The Beauty The Devastation The Aftermath". You can buy the book from Chapters or Costco or the Star's own website.  

(Christine Hogg, courtesy her Twitter page)

Christine's two photos are here (courtesy her Twitter account)

Teona Baetu's story won a Bronze medal from the Truck Writers Association of America in April 2014, and you can read the excellent article here (it was published in Today's Trucking in September 2012.)

Both photos courtesy Teona Baetu's Facebook page!

Matt Green, 26has been profiled by Centennial student Daryl Reyes in this moving short documentary called Life in the Media. Matt has overcome Asperger's Syndrome, ADD, and epilepsy, to start his own entertainment and music journalism website MattGreenMedia, and has conducted over 80 interviews so far. Matt has just completed his first year at Centennial Journalism. 
(Matt Green, photo courtesy Daryl Reyes)