(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.
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.
was “impressive, very solemn, and moving,” said Cantor Rabbi Raphael Cohen, a
Paris-based clergyman, in an email after the ceremony.
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)|
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.
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)
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
2015 will see the world mark another milestone: the 70th anniversary
of the end of the war in Europe, or VE-Day.
Labels: Beatrice Fenelon, Cantor Raphael Cohen, Deauville Chabad, Hercules C-130, Hudi Lahav, Isabelle Allard, jean-max skenadji, Joel Bruneau, kaddish for dday, Lawrence Cannon, Rabbi Moshe Lewin