VIDEO: How a Jewish soldier fought for religious freedom in the Canadian Army during WWll

Manny Rubinoff of Toronto served as a sapper after he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Army in the Second World War. When he refused to attend Catholic or Protestant church services on his army base in Ontario, he was”paraded” or brought up in front of the colonel, to be disciplined. Instead, Rubinoff unbuttoned his uniform, showed the officer the Jewish daily prayer garment known as “Arba Kanfot” that he wore under his clothes, and pulled out his pocket-sized Hebrew prayer book, handed it to the colonel, and waited. He tells “Double Threat” author and journalist Ellin Bessner what happened next. Continue reading “VIDEO: How a Jewish soldier fought for religious freedom in the Canadian Army during WWll”

How a Jewish RCAF airman’s wartime love letter was restored to his Toronto sons, 74 years after it was written

Two sets of cufflinks. Some WWll service medals. A watch. A few photographs. Until now, these were all the physical heirlooms that the Colman siblings had left of their father Abe Colman, a Second World War veteran from Toronto who died half a century ago. But thanks to the gesture of a North York woman, Eleanor Maxwell, they now also have a treasured letter from their father, written while he was in uniform in 1943.

Maxwell, a retired teacher, found the wartime letter nearly forty years ago on her front lawn.

“Now this literally blew into my face on Denmark Crescent,” Maxwell said July 12, when she met Abe Colman’s three sons and presented them with the old letter.  “I thought, you know what, I’ll pick it up.”

Maxwell thinks the letter blew up the street in the Bathurst and Finch area sometime between 1972 and 1979, when she and the Colmans’ mother lived for a time on the same street in North York:  Colman at No. 12 Denmark Crescent and the Maxwells at No. 2. The families didn’t know each other.

Maxwell says she immediately realized the letter was old because the envelope was postmarked December 29, 1943, and it had a 4 cent stamp with the image of King George on the front.  It was addressed to a Mrs. A. Colman, 535 Palmerston Boulevard, Toronto. The return address was from Aircraftman A. Colman, posted at the Royal Canadian Air Force training school in Rockcliffe, Ontario, and now part of Ottawa. Continue reading “How a Jewish RCAF airman’s wartime love letter was restored to his Toronto sons, 74 years after it was written”

Why the Rhine River town of Bacharach, Germany is a dark spot in Jewish history: more than Riesling and medieval castles

A moving van was blocking the narrow, cobblestone lane outside our hotel in the quaint town of Bacharach, Germany, on the banks of the Rhine River. A white-haired truck driver saw that I was struggling to squeeze between his parked truck and the walls of the building, trying to heave my suitcase over its giant wheels, in order to reach my car. He stopped what he was doing, smiled and helped me lift my bag. After stowing the luggage in the trunk, I headed back to the hotel to settle the bill. That’s when I noticed two brass plaques embedded in the street in front of the truck.

I got goosebumps.

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A real-life Double Threat: two Jewish WWII veterans meet at a tribute breakfast at Crestwood Preparatory College in Toronto

They both grew up in pre-war Toronto, although one came from the poor neighbourhood known as The Ward, while the other came from a nicer neighbourhood near the Beaches. Both served in the Second World War, and it isn’t hard to see why they’d never met: Lt.- Col. Norman Cohen served as a navigator in the RCAF and was posted to England and then to Burma, while Lorne Winer was with the Royal Canadian Artillery and served in England and then through Normandy and Northwestern Europe after D-Day until long after V-E Day.

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