Centennial College honoured Jewish-Canadian veterans on Nov. 10 in an intimate ceremony at the Royal Canadian Legion Hall on Pape Avenue.
On March 4, 2009, Canadian soldier David Macdonald pulled ahead of his convoy on its way into Kandahar to ensure that a bridge ahead was safe. Fourteen days later he came out of a coma in a German hospital bed.
“I woke up … (and ) they told me about my injuries. I asked them where my platoon was and they said they were still back in Afghanistan,” MacDonald said. “That was far worse than hearing about any injuries I had.”
The sound of soft voices is echoing through the music room at Holy Cross Catholic Elementary School, in East York. It’s the music of a famous Beatles tune.
“Let it be, let it be, let it be,” Alexandria Hunters, 11, sings with her classmates and vocal teacher, Patricia Hinschberger.
The Holy Cross student glee club is rehearsing for the school’s upcoming Remembrance Day ceremony.
Morris Polansky worries that Canadians don’t understand the relevance of Remembrance Day.
“I spend a lot of time with the Legion, and we spend a lot of time delivering great bags of poppies to schools,” Polansky said.
Polansky, 95, is a Jewish-Canadian war veteran, who works with the Royal Canadian Legion to distribute poppies to different Toronto schools and subway stations. He is the vice-president of General Wingate Legion, Branch 256, the only Jewish-based branch in the organization.
Mildred Kennedy’s family served Canada in its armed forces, but few noticed.
“It was lonely,” she said.
Mildred Kennedy is the widow of Gottfried Kennedy, a Royal Canadian Air Force photographer, who served in the military in 1967, during the Cold War in the Canadian Arctic.
Janet Davis has discovered new importance in the annual Remembrance Day, in personal wartime correspondence she inherited.
“I found all the letters that my father and brother wrote to my mother during the war,” Davis said. “They talked about not being sure what was going to happen next.”
In the days leading up to Remembrance Day, Nick Fusca takes time to remember comrades from the War in Afghanistan.
“On my last tour, in 2006, we had six soldiers in my (brigade) who were killed in Afghanistan,” Fusca said.
Fusca particularly grieves for his good friend, Pte. Mark Anthony Graham, 33, who was killed in a friendly-fire incident on Sept. 4, 2006, in Afghanistan.
“A couple of those guys were close friends of mine,” he added. “To me, Remembrance Day is very important in remembering them and supporting their families.”
On Tuesday, Narin Shamasi joined her classmates in the gym at Jackman Avenue Junior Public School in East York.
As a recording played out the music, Narin swung her arms behind her back and then back in front of her chest in a prayer motion; occasionally she froze in a tableau.
“All my life I’ve been waiting for, I’ve been praying for people to say … ‘We don’t want to fight no more,’” the song says.
She was preforming to the song “One Day,” by Matisyahu, a Jewish-American reggae vocalist.
“I always sing the song in my head and then I look at myself as if I’m doing it,” Narin said.
On a moonlit night in June 1944, Martin Maxwell, a glider pilot with Allied forces, landed his aircraft near a bridge in Normandy, France. He then joined invasion troops seizing the bridge and quietly killing the German sentries with bayonets. Maxwell, 20, hadn’t even finished high school.
“It didn’t feel good, let me tell you that,” he said. “It changed my life; the war made me who I am.”
Maxwell, now 92, was born in Austria in 1924. He will be speaking of his service in the Second World War during a Remembrance Day observance at Centennial College’s East York campus on Nov. 11.
The loss of a personal friend pushed Theo Hopkinson to volunteer in the Second World War. At the time she lived in Cardiff, Wales, where German aircraft regularly bombed the city docks.
“One day, when I was at school, I was sent home to see why one of the girls in my class hadn’t come (to class),” Hopkinson said. “I walked to her house and bodies were being brought out.”
During the aerial raid, bombs fell on her classmate’s house and exploded. Then only 17, Theo decided to volunteer for the military.