Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembrance Day Ceremony With the Wingates in Toronto

This is the second year in a row that I have had the honour of attending the ceremony at the Jewish community centre in downtown Toronto in the presence of the surviving members of the Generate Wingate Branch 256 of the Royal Canadian Legion.

This year, we were blessed with sunshine and a soft, sort of warm breeze.

The first thing I noticed was there that there were far fewer veterans present this year, and of course that is natural. The second thing that I noticed, particularly in light of my irritation with the 'poppy hijab' story posted below via Mark Steyn, was how seamlessly the Jewish ceremony blended in to regular, Canadian commemoration.

There were Jewish accents, of course, but the ceremony was certainly Canadian.

The small crowd sang Oh Canada and G-d Save the Queen and later Hatikvah, The Last Post was played on trumpet and gave me chills and two minutes of silence were observed. School children read In Flanders Fields, and the Mourner's Prayer was sung in Hebrew, but not before it was explained in English-and all servicemen who served their country were cited.

The cantor explained (or reminded some, as the case may be) that the Mourner's Prayer is not about mourning. The Mourner's Prayer is about exulting the name of G-d, particularly because the dead are not able now to do so. We do it for them and for us. When you think about it, that's a profoundly beautiful, life affirming and very Jewish way of dealing with loss and grief.

There was a little baby in a baby backpack who cooed intermittently when the cantor was singing the Mourner's Prayer. And while his Mom tried to hush him somewhat and with an embarrased smile, I felt it was the most absolutely perfect juxtaposition, his soft baby voice a heavenly reminder of the beauty and renewal of life, even amongst the mourning and the mourners.

The littlest ceremony participant, pictured here with a veteran, was a magnificent force of life among the aging, venerable veterans. His littlest poppy is tucked into his jacket.

And after the ceremony as the veterans headed into the JCC, a spontaneous round of applause broke out. Inside the building, they were thanked for their service and one simply answered "it was an honour to serve my country."

The children at the Jewish day school had just finished their own school ceremony.

Unfortunately, but understandably there were security concerns that prevented them from participating in the outdoor ceremony. Parents were apprehensive. So this makes me angry and sad as well. Jewish schoolchildren in Canada cannot participate in a public, outdoor ceremony to honour veterans because-well, don't we all know because why?

Every single child and every single staff member in that building had a poppy on. Every. Single. One. Not a poppy with a Jewish star. Just a poppy. So there's that.

The children put their artwork up where the veterans gathered, also to say thank you.

It was, all in all, another lovely, meaningful Remembrance Day with the Wingates.

I imagine if any of our departed soldiers were looking at it from down below, they would have been pleased at the mix of young and old, Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and non-religious, with the sunshine and the anthems and the simple fact of remembrance being observed.

A collective and living, breathing memory ensures the eternal life of an idea, of an ideal and indeed, most humbling, of a human soul.

G-d willing, see you next year.