Friday, June 27, 2014

Why Stephen Harper should speak louder to help free Mohamed Fahmy and other Al Jazeera journalists in an Egyptian jail

As a national director of the Canadian Association of Journalists, I was invited to speak Thursday on SUN News Network,  about our earlier news release, which condemned the conviction of Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy and his colleagues by an Egyptian court Monday. It asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper to be more vocal in working for Fahmy's release.

I participated in a short interview on the show "The Source" with Ezra Levant.

Here is the clip.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Watch French Jews say the memorial Kaddish for Canadian and U.S. D-Day soldiers in Normandy, June 8, 2014

(video courtesy Jean-Claude Prot, Mediaglobalcom)

While a giant grey Hercules C-130 military aircraft carried out a solo fly past overhead, more than 200 French Jews gathered Sunday June 8, 2014 at the Normandy American Cemetery for what organizers called  “a very emotional service” – the very first communal Kaddish recited in memory of the fallen Canadian and American Jewish servicemen from the Second World War who are buried nearby.

The ceremony took place in the same spot where two days earlier, world leaders including U.S. President Barrack Obama and French President Francois Hollande paid tribute to the 70th anniversary of the historic military sacrifices of June 6, 1944, which led to the liberation of Europe.

“When the Jewish Choir of France began singing, led by Cantor Raphael Cohen with that tenor voice…it was just something unbelievable,” said organizer Jean-Max Skenadji, who became inspired to arrange Sunday’s landmark Kaddish while on a private trip to Normandy last winter.

“I discovered Stars of David at the [Colleville-sur-Mer] cemetery and I was just taken by such a big emotion and felt very sorry because, since I was alone, I wasn’t able to say Kaddish for them [the soldiers], ” Skenadji recalled Tuesday, in a telephone interview from his office in Paris.  After checking the religious legality of staging such an event, Skenadji, a long-time promoter in France, launched the D-Day trip.

“What would have become of us without the disembarkation of the Allies in France in June 1944?” he told the crowd.

One by one, the visitors read out the names of the 149 Jewish American soldiers whose tombstones are shaped like Stars of David at the cemetery, just inland from the famous Omaha Beach. The crowd also read out the names of nearly 60 Jewish Canadian airmen and soldiers. Their graves lie further east along the Normandy coastline, in cemeteries including Beny-sur-Mer, and Bretteville-sur-Laize.

The ceremony was “impressive, very solemn, and moving,” said Cantor Rabbi Raphael Cohen, a Paris-based clergyman, in an email after the ceremony.

During the 90-minute memorial, Cohen led the singing of the El Maale Rahamim prayer, plus Esa Einay, a funeral hymn, and the blessing for the State of Israel.

Cantor Rabbi Raphael Cohen and the Jewish Choir of France, courtesy Jean-Max Skenadji)

The crowd then recited the Kaddish aloud, led by Rabbi Moshe Lewin, the chief Jewish chaplain to France’s armed forces.

Rabbi Moshe Lewin
Isabelle Allard, local MLA, and Caen Mayor Joel Bruneau

Jean-Max Skenadji (right) with flag bearers (all photos courtesy Jean-Max Skenadji)
Among the other dignitaries on hand to pay respects were the mayor of Caen, Joel Bruneau, Isabelle Attard, a member of the French National Assembly from the Calvados region, Col. Yehudi Lahav, the military attaché at the Israeli embassy in Paris, and nine French war veterans who acted as flag bearers.

Local rabbis from the Deauville Chabad community inscribed the first few Hebrew letters in a fresh new Torah scroll they are dedicating to the memory of the Jewish servicemen and their wartime sacrifices.

(courtesy Jean-Max Skenadji)

While organizers were pleased that so many people turned out for the event, including many non-Jewish visitors to the American cemetery who stopped to watch, Skenadji remains disappointed that neither the U.S. nor Canadian embassies in France sent representatives, despite repeated invitations.

“They just couldn’t come back to Normandy in order to be present at another ceremony,” said Skenajdi, acknowledging how diplomatic staff may have been too busy from the official state ceremonies on Friday.  “But from my point of view, that’s no excuse.”

A spokesperson for the Canadian Embassy in Paris, Colonel Guy Maillet, did send his regrets, saying there was just no time left for either himself or the Canadian ambassador, Lawrence Cannon, to fit this Sunday commemoration into the busy D-Day calendar.

And in Ottawa, the Department of Foreign Affairs issued a brief statement, saying Canada was represented in Normandy “at the highest level” during the D-Day ceremonies, and repeated Canada’s position on the State of Israel.

“Canada has a strong and close relationship with Israel based on shared values, common interests, and strong political and social ties between our two countries,” said Beatrice Fenelon, a spokesperson for the department.

For his part, Skenadji is hoping for a different answer next year, when he plans to stage the  Kaddish service again in Normandy.

And for next time, Skenadji is planning to invite the families of the American and Canadian soldiers killed here, to make the trip to France.

Next May, 2015 will see the world mark another milestone: the 70th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe, or VE-Day.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

How Canadian Synagogues said Kaddish for D-Day 2014

Adath Israel logo, Montreal

Montreal Rabbi Michael Whitman paid tribute Saturday June 7, 2014 to the three RCMP officers killed in Moncton, as part of a wider memorial service at Adath Israel synagogue for all Canadians who risked their lives to serve others, including those killed on the 70th anniversary of D-Day in the Second World War.

As world leaders including Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barrack attended the official 70th anniversary events in France, synagogues from Manitoba to Montreal took part in the Kaddish for D-Day initiative. They paid tribute to the seventy Jewish soldiers and airmen from Canada who were killed in France and are buried in cemeteries across Normandy.

“By 1944, the Jewish soldiers understood they were not only fighting for Canada, but also for the remnant of the Jewish people in Europe,” Whitman said, explaining why he added their sacrifices, and the murders of the three Mounties, to the Adath’s regular prayer for the Canadian Armed Forces.
Rabbi Alan Green, Shaarey Zedek (courtesy of synagogue website)
Some congregations, like in Winnipeg, did it as part of the Yizkor prayers recited on the holiday of Shavuot.

Calling the D-Day invasion a “mega-historical event”, on par with the founding of the State of Israel, the moonwalk, and the Holocaust, Rabbi Alan Green of Winnipeg’s Shaarey Zedek called on his worshippers Thursday June 5, to remember the sacrifices of local Jewish men who went overseas.

Among the casualties on D-Day and in ensuing battles, were fourteen Jewish rifleman, troopers, captains, doctors, pilots, and lawyers--from Winnipeg,” Green told the congregation. “They're now buried in cemeteries in Northern France, and, as we're are about to perform the special Yizkor service for Shavuot--along with all those we're remembering today--on this day before the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, I would ask you to add, the following fourteen names.”

He then read out the names, including Harry Segal, a rifleman with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles. The Rifles landed on Juno Beach at 7:49 a.m. on the morning of the invasion, and sustained heavy casualties, according to military records. Segal died June 8, 1944. He was married, and the son of Charles and Sarah Segal.

In Toronto, several synagogues participated in Kaddish for D-Day, including Beit Rayim, in Vaughan, led by Rabbi Chezi Zionce, who read out all 70 names Thursday, also during Yizkor.

For Beit Rayim worshipper Nellie Miller, who knew one of the men on the list, Private Joe Gertel of Montreal, hearing the names “just sent a chill up my spine.”

“I recall those days,” Miller said in an interview, recalling growing up in Montreal when Gertel went off to enlist. He is buried in the Beny-sur-Mer Military Cemetery near Juno Beach, in France. He was killed in July 1944, while attached to the North Nova Scotia Highlanders. He was 22.
Joe Gertel's tombstone in Beny-sur-Mer, France (John Friedlan photo)

Prayers were also said at Conservative synagogue, Beth Tzedek in Toronto, led by Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl.

“I think it was exceptionally important and encouraged the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs to circulate the information, “ Frydman-Kohl wrote in an email. “The yahrzeit [anniversary] on the Jewish calendar will be 25 Sivan.”

And at the City Shul, Rabbi Elyse Goldstein read the names of five Canadian servicemen from Toronto and gave a little bit of information about each one, whether they went to the University of Toronto, or whose family were members of Holy Blossom Synagogue.

“It was beautiful. People were very moved,” she wrote, in an email.

In Montreal, services for the Canadian war dead were also held at Congregation Shaare Zion and at Congregation Dorshei Emet.

According to Dorshei Emet member Lois Lieff, “it was indeed a very moving and emotional Kaddish.”

In Kitchener, where Beth Jacob Congregation lost three members of the shul during the Second World War, Kaddish was recited on the Friday evening June 6.  

According to the synagogue bulletin, the three casualties were Sidney Acker, Lorie Reider and Samuel Harry Roseman. Reider and Roseman are buried in France.  Acker, of Guelph, was killed when his Anson bomber crashed during training in Ontario, in 1942.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

50 Canadians went and said Kaddish for Bomb. George Meltz of Toronto, 25, at his grave in Normandy

Three years ago, my family walked by the tombstone of Jewish Canadian serviceman George Meltz, of Toronto, standing out among the thousands of white headstones at the Second World War Beny-sur-Mer cemetery, near Juno Beach, in France.

Now, my dear friend Ted Barris, a Canadian military historian, author and broadcaster, is back in Normandy, and has lit a memorial Yarhzeit candle at Meltz's grave, seventy years after Meltz made the ultimate sacrifice as part of Canada's D-Day invasion in 1944.

The group of 50 Canadians who are travelling with Barris on this international anniversary saw the Meltz tombstone, and read the powerful epitaph "He died so Jewry shall suffer no more." Thank you Ted, and all Canadians who remembered Meltz, as well as the 70+ Jewish servicemen buried in France, and said Kaddish for them.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Twin Jewish brothers from Toronto served in the Canadian Forces during the Second World War: One went to France after D-Day. And didn't come back.

(photo courtesy of
Steve Rogers)
So thrilled to hear from the family of Bombardier Albert Tweyman, of Toronto, killed Aug. 8, 1944 near Caen, France, on D-Day + 63 of the Normandy invasion. Bombardier Albert Tweyman, of the Essex Scottish Regiment, was one of eight children, and a twin to brother Jack, who also served in the Second World War, and is still living in Toronto, at age 94.

Albert was also born in 1919. He lived with his parents Rose and Harry Tweyman and some of his seven brothers and sisters In Toronto, on Dundas Street West. He loved sports, and could drive. He finished Grade 9 at Central Tech high school, but told the militia he’d had to leave school at 14, according to his official service records, to help out at home. He worked for several years before being called up, including as an editorial assistant and composer for the Daily Hebrew Journal (Yiddisher Zhurnal), and later, for Columbia Pictures, as an office clerk.
In March 1941, he was called up and assigned to the militia. On his interview form, he said he preferred to be in the Air Force, but his application was rejected because he couldn’t provide the RCAF with his parents’ naturalization papers, as they were married in Poland. He was a small man, at just 5'3 and 129 pounds. He was assigned to an Anti Aircraft Battery and spent over a year in Kitchener, Borden, and Halifax before transferring to active service in Saint John, New Brunswick in May 1942.
Tweyman would spent another two years training in Canada, mainly in Sydney and Windsor, Nova Scotia, but also in southwestern Ontario. A Captain A.C. O’Grady who interviewed him in July 1943, suggested to his superiors that Tweyman would be better suited for the navy, but that never happened. He was trained as an army driver and then worked as a Bombardier instructor.
He embarked for England, from Halifax, on June 3, 1944. At the time, he was earning $1.50 a day.
The crossing took a week. He disembarked in England on June 10, 1944, a few days after D-Day. He was sent to France a month later, on July 22, 1944 and was likely part of the Canadian Army’s campaign to push the Germans back past Caen, and then southeast towards Falaise.
According to historians, the Essex Scottish Regiment was involved in two major battles in July. They were also involved in Operation Totalize, which began at 11:00 p.m. on Aug. 7, 1944, south of Caen.
It started with a massive Royal Air Force bombing raid to soften up entrenched German positions including near Cormelles, a factory town on the outskirts of Caen. At 9:00 the next morning, the Germans counterattacked. The Canadians, British, and Polish artillery were working from one direction while the Americans were working on the other side, trying to trap the elite German troops stationed in the area.
But the fighting was heavy, and the Canadians decided to call for air support. At noon on August 8, over 600 USAF bombers pounded the area with high explosive bombs and fragmentation bombs. According to Ken Ford in "Falaise 1944: Death of An Army", some of the American bombers dropped their loads on top of the Canadians, Poles and Brits, by mistake. When the smoke had cleared, there were over 300 men dead, killed in friendly fire.
While we don't know where exactly Tweyman was when he was wounded that day, a medical report says Private Tweyman suffered “traumatic” shrapnel wounds to his leg, that left him with “gross damage.” He received morphine, and Anti Tetanus serum at about 10 p.m. that night in a British field hospital, and died shortly afterwords, at 22:10.
The army buried him “with religious rites” in a temporary cemetery in a factory near Cormelles.
His family was officially notified two weeks later, and at first, they were told only that he’d been wounded. When they replied by telegram asking about Tweyman’s condition and what hospital he was in, in England, the officials apologized for confusing them, and said that he had, in fact, never made it to a hospital, but had died of his wounds on Aug. 8, 1944.
Courtesy Veterans Affairs Canada, Virtual War Memorial
They sent Tweyman’s gold ring, and his wristwatch back to Canada. After the war was over, officials reburied Tweyman in the large Canadian war cemetery in nearby Bretteville-sur-Laize, in 1946.

(photos courtesy of
Steve Rogers, and Veterans Affairs Canada Virtual War Memorial)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

How an Edmonton man from a prominent Jewish family came to be buried on a hilltop in Normandy, France after D-Day.

Berou-la-Mulotiere, Cemetery, France. (Photo courtesy of Alain Octavie)

Alan Rodd (Abram Rodnunsky) photo courtesy Veterans Affairs Canada, Virtual War Memorial.

Flight Sergeant Alan Rodd, 25, (born Abram Rodnunsky), was the son of Sam and Annie Rodnunsky, of Edmonton. He initially enlisted in Winnipeg with the Canadian army, but switched to the air force. He took flight training in Canada, then went overseas and was posted to the RAF base in Tuddenham, Suffolk, with the 90 Squadron RAF.

Just after D-Day, Rodd and his crew were among 432 Allied aircraft involved in a massive overnight bombing raid with Bomber Command, on June 10, 1944 from England. Rodd’s plane was relatively new: the British airforce took delivery of the Lancaster in May, 1944, and it had only 31 hours of flying time logged. The pilot, Lt. George Atherton Thatcher, was British, and there were two other Canadians on board: John Alfred Anderton, and John Carr Francis. The Lancaster Mark III was number NE149. The pilot took off at 11:13 p.m. on a mission to bomb the railway station and installations at Dreux, west of Paris, to prevent German reinforcements from reaching the D-Day beaches in Normandy.

According to records, Rodd and his crew flew across the English Channel towards France in good weather, with clear skies, and good visibility. The three-hour flight was uneventful, but the Germans were waiting for them. They had radar, and had seen the hundreds of Allied bombers approaching targets near Paris. It’s not known whether the Lancaster managed to drop any of its bombs, nor whether a German fighter plane hit them, or they were hit by ground Flak, but the Lancaster crashed in the village of Berou-la-Moulotiere. All seven crewmen were killed. A total of six Lancasters were lost that night over Dreux.

Rodd and his crewmen were buried together in the village cemetery. Rodd’s grave is the first one from the left. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Kaddish for D-Day is front page news in the Canadian Jewish News today.

Since we started the campaign to get Canadian Jews to say Kaddish for D-Day's 70th anniversary, the editor of the Canadian Jewish News, Yoni Goldstein, has been on board as a supporter, lending the CJN's credibility to this effort. Today, the story was front page news in the Toronto and Montreal CJN editions, as well as on Page 8, and I can't thank him enough.

As you and your families read about the sacrifices made by our Canadian Jewish servicemen during the Second World War to help liberate Europe from the Nazis, please say Kaddish for them, too. There are 71 Canadian servicemen from this war buried in graves in Normandy and Northern France. The full list of their names and hometowns is here.

The Facebook page Kaddish For DDay, has bios and stories of individual casualties.

The Twitter account is Kaddish for DDay.

So far, synagogues (the ones we know about) who are commemorating the Kaddish for D-Day include:

  • Congregation Beit Rayim in Toronto, 
  • Congregation Dorshei Emet in Montreal, 
  • Congregation Machzekei Hadas in Ottawa, 
  • Congregation Adath Shalom in Ottawa, 
  • Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Winnipeg, 
  • Congregation B'nai Torah in Boca Raton, Florida,  
  • Beth Jacob Congregation of Kitchener-Waterloo, 
  • Shaarei Emeth in St. Louis, Missouri.
If you know of a synagogue or kehila that also participated in Kaddish for D-Day, please let us know. or Post it on Facebook or Tweet us.