Virtual Yom HaShoah commemorations honour Holocaust survivors in Edmonton and Calgary

Ninety-seven year old Helen Markovich and her family are among the highlights at the virtual Yom Hashoah commemoration in Edmonton.

by Deborah Shatz

(AJNews) – Yom HaShoah was commemorated around the world and in both Edmonton and Calgary on April 8 with special virtual ceremonies as the Jewish Communities honoured and remembered the victims of the Holocaust and paid tribute to the survivors and their remarkable journeys to freedom.

The Calgary commemorative service was held at the Holocaust Memorial at the JCC and, in accordance with Covid 19 health measures, limited numbers of community members were welcome to say kaddish and lay a rock in memory of those murdered in the Shoah.

The service consisted of meaningful prayers and readings by the Rabbis and Calgary Jewish community leaders as well as a touching poem read by Sid Cyngiser, followed by a moving Partisan song performed in Yiddish by Jeff, Ritch and Steve Eichler, second generation survivors in honour of their parents.

The presentation, (which was available on You Tube), included a powerful video about the survivors’ return to life in displacement camps. It concluded with an incredible montage of photos that showed the journey of several of Calgary’s Holocaust survivors – from concentration camps, to displacement person’s camps, to starting their lives in Calgary and then decades later, surrounded by their children and grandchildren in Calgary. The images are amazing; they truly show the phenomenal impact that these individuals have had as community builders in Calgary. From out of the ashes of the Holocaust, our small Jewish communities have flourished.

At the end of the program, the Calgary Jewish Federation gave a sneak peak at a  very special project that is in progress – a legacy video that will feature testimonials by Calgary’s Holocaust survivors. It is expected to launch in the fall of 2021.

I urge everyone to visit the Calgary Yom HaShoah service as well as the complete displaced persons’ camps photo gallery.

The Edmonton commemorative service, entitled Legacy, Keeping the Flame Alive –  was also very impactful but in a totally different way. The event, which was screened on You Tube, included prayers and meaningful  readings by the Rabbis and community leaders of Edmonton as well as by Holocaust survivors, second generation survivors and Alberta Minister of Culture Leela Aheer.

A highlight of the presentation was an intimate look at three Holocaust survivors who live in Edmonton – Clara Kagan, Ann Davis and Helen Markovich – with members of their families via Zoom calls. Their conversations included discussions about how family members were impacted by the experiences of their elders; when and how they learned about their family history and the responsibility that each person felt in making sure that the lessons of the Holocaust would be remembered. Thanks to the creativity of Reel Mensch Studio, we were given a fly on the wall view of family resilience and generational family dynamics.

A Yom Hashoah service generally includes a candle lighting ceremony and using some clever videography, the candles were lit and passed from family member to family member across the miles and the screens of the zoom locations. In the background, Emily Levine played the guitar and sang the Partisan song in Yiddish. Within each family, the lit candle was shared and then the three families that were featured shared the lit candle among each other. The fluidity of the shared candle lighting among the families was a poetic moment of honouring and remembering. Of shared values and shared histories. From screen to screen, from generation to generation, from family to family.

Another poignant moment during the service was the recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish. Simultaneously but in separate locations Abe Goldstein and his son Michael recited Kaddish with the image flashing from one to the other; at times their voices were separate and at times they were in unison. Again, the generational images were powerful.

These elements in the program had a high level of conceptual creativity but more than that – the delivery in terms of timing, sound and lighting was really outstanding.

The Edmonton service concluded at Talmud Torah School, with the students in the playground, safely distanced and wearing face masks – singing HaTikvah (The Hope) – the national anthem of Israel. It was a very special ending to a very creative and meaningful virtual commemoration.

Click here to view the Edmonton Yom Hashoah commemoration. 

Yasher Koach to the Calgary and Edmonton Jewish Federations for rising to the challenge of commemorating Yom HaShoah with virtual services that emphasized the importance of honouring and remembering those that perished in the Holocaust and at the same time celebrating the survivors and their important contributions to our Jewish communities.

So many branches of so many Jewish families were devastated in the Holocaust, but the branches that survived are strong and vibrant.

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