Remembrance Day: Two Commandments

The rabbi conducting the graveside funeral on Sunday for my friend’s mother said he would keep his speech brief, because it was very cold outside and also snowing. But his words, which were meant mainly as a comfort to the mourners, resonated strongly with me as well, as we mark another Remembrance Day around the country.

According to Rabbi Meir Dubrawsky of the Yorkville Jewish Centre, the Hebrew Bible commands Jewish people to never forget what the enemies of the ancient Israelites did to their ancestors, but also to remember what they did. While the passage was talking about the Amalekites, modern-day thinkers have labelled Hitler and the Nazis as members of that tribe.

How a Toronto soldier encountered Holocaust survivors after liberating France in 1944:

Former Canadian Army sergeant Lorne Winer, Royal Canadian Artillery.

It is curious, the rabbi said, why the scribes of old needed to include two distinct rules, when one would suffice. His explanation? There is passive remembrance, and active remembrance. And we have to do both to properly fulfil our obligations.

It is not enough, he said, to recall what a courageous woman my friend’s mother was: fleeing the Holocaust in Europe and WWII, building Palestine, and then moving a third time to Canada, to establish her family in the safety of North York. It is not enough to passively reminisce about the loving, warm home she created for her husband and children. Although these memories are very appropriate ways not to forget her.

But the rabbi said we have to also actively remember her by doing a good deed for someone, or doing an act of kindness, giving charity, or by reaching out to someone in need.

It is not enough to not forget

It is a message we should heed during Remembrance Week, when Canadians hold parades and solemn ceremonies at local cenotaphs to honour the Canadian soldiers who died in war, and also the surviving veterans. It is not enough to not forget. Be active in your remembrance.

That could mean making a donation to the Royal Canadian Legion’s fund for homeless veterans, or veterans with PTSD. Going to your local veterans’ hospital, such as Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, and visit one of the veterans. Write a postcard to a serving Canadian forces member. Find the grave of a fallen soldier when you are next on vacation somewhere: take a photo, learn who he or she was, reach out to their family. Say thank you.

Most of all, actively work for peace, justice, tolerance, and freedom.

Ellin Bessner speaks about WWII, Remembrance Day, and the Holocaust all around the world. Follow her events here.

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