Not Yet Hanukkah: A Story of Miracles

By BERNIE FARBER

November is Holocaust Education Month, a time we tell stories of survival. My father, the sole Jewish survivor of his small Polish village, used to say that it took 1,000 miracles to survive the Shoah because 999 were simply not enough.

The following is not only the story of 1,000 miracles, but at its conclusion we will understand what the circle of life is really all about.

In 1939, when Samuel Pisar was 10 years old, both the Nazi and Soviet armies invaded his native Poland. Interestingly, Samuel came from Bialystok, 50 kilometers from my father’s village of Bothki. When Adolf Hitler broke the Nazi/Soviet pact in 1941, Samuel was captured along with thousands of other Jews. He was young and strong and survived incarcerations at Majdanek, Auschwitz and other camps whose only purpose was to murder Jews.

His final camp, Dachau, became the concluding volume in this first chapter of his life. It was the spring of 1945. Young Samuel was out on a Nazi slave labour detail as Allied forces approached. Nazi SS guards gathered the work detail and marched them away from the advancing Americans. They marched for three days with little water or food. Many succumbed. Still young, Samuel stayed alive.

It was on the third day when a number of Allied fighter planes spotted both the Nazis and their slave labour detail. Thinking it was a column of Nazi soldiers, the planes’ pilots descended sharply and strafed the area. Taking advantage of the ensuing confusion, a number of prisoners made a break for the forest. The bombing and Nazi bullets mowed most of them down but young Samuel used up one of his thousand miracles and made it to the safety of the embracing forest.

Starving, emaciated, Samuel hid in an abandoned hayloft. A few mornings later, he was awakened by the sound of a rumbling motor. Cautiously looking out from his hiding place, sure that he would see the dreaded swastika, he saw instead an American insignia.

Washed over with relief, he stumbled from the hayloft in tears of joy. The hatch of the tank popped open and emerging was Corporal Bill Ellington, the son of a former slave and member of the storied 761st Tank Battalion, known for being comprised primarily of African-Americans. They were the original “Black Panthers.”

The son of a former slave and the young survivor of the Nazi death camps held each other while Samuel cried the only words he knew in English, “God Bless America.”

He was just 16, the sole Jewish survivor of his family in Poland when he emerged into what would become the second volume of his life.

Miracles followed Samuel. He was raised by the remnants of his French and Australian family, graduated from the University of Melbourne, and later earned doctorates of law from Harvard and the Sorbonne.

His rise was rapid. He worked for the United Nations and UNESCO and was appointed a special advisor to President John F. Kennedy. He counseled the State Department and worked as legal adviser to both the House of Representatives and Senate. He was one of the youngest, most respected government advisers – so much so that in 1961, through a special act of Congress, Pisar was awarded U.S. citizenship.

His legacy continued. He counselled governments and world- renowned personalities from pianist Arthur Rubenstein to tech whiz Steve Jobs. His passion became human rights and he took up the causes of the novelist Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.

He became a trustee of the Brookings Institute, was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and has addressed international conferences and world leaders at Davos, the International Monetary Fund and the European Parliament.

Samuel was twice married upon his death in July 2015 and left two daughters, one from his first marriage, Leah and Norma, from his second wife, Judith.

Here’s the promised kicker: Samuel also left a step-son from his marriage to Judith: Antony Blinken who, on Nov. 23, was nominated to become U.S. Secretary of State in the administration of President-in-Waiting Joe Biden.

Samuel Pisar was a man of many miracles, maybe even 1,000. May his memory continue to be a blessing.


Bernie Farber
Bernie Farber

Bernie Farber is publisher and co-founder of the Canadian Jewish Record, Chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a writer and human rights advocate. 

Wishing Biden and Harris Well Online? Buckle Up…

Nov. 17, 2020

By RAFI YABLONSKY

My parents were born in Israel. I was born in Israel. All four of my grandparents were Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Israel. All four of my wife’s grandparents are Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Canada. My wife’s grandfather, Bill Glied, with whom I sat at the verdict of Reinhold Hanning, one of the last Nazis to be tried for war crimes, had spent the last two decades of his life pursuing Holocaust education and telling his story to thousands of students. I have spent my adult life working in the Jewish community, raising millions of dollars for Israel and Jewish communal organizations.

And somehow, here was a comment on my Facebook post telling me that I was no longer Jewish, no longer Israeli.

What was my crime? My unforgivable sin, according to too many commenters?

After four years of the bigotry and venom that Donald Trump and his followers unleashed on the world, and after nearly four days of vote counting, Joe Biden had been declared President-elect in the United States. His running mate, Kamala Harris, had made history by becoming the first woman and first person of colour to hold the title of Vice President-elect.

Her election is an inspiration to millions of young girls across the United States. I was elated to see an end to the sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and racism coming from the White House. I didn’t think too much of it. Maybe that would be the end of the happy story. 

I put up a brief post on my Facebook wall – a picture of the VP-elect, and a message of congratulations.

I didn’t expect what was to come. 

I didn’t expect to be bombarded with over 100 comments attacking me. I didn’t expect to be sworn at, to be told that I was anti-Israel, antisemitic, and a Nazi party supporter to boot.

A sampler:

– For a Jew like you to support Biden is like supporting Nazi Germany.

– Congratulations on cheating.

– F**k you Rafi, you’re pathetic.

Paraphrasing, one commenter said I’m not Jewish. I’m not Israeli. I’m a Canadian communist for supporting Biden/Harris.

I founded the Hasbara at York group, a student organization at the university which focuses on Israel education. I’ve been called a fascist and a racist for supporting Israel in the past. I’ve been called an occupier and Nazi for supporting Israel. I’ve never had my Jewishness negated by a fellow Jew.

I didn’t expect to have my Judaism diminished. And I certainly didn’t expect that an old friend I’ve known for almost two decades would like that comment. 

I received a number of messages of support. From friends, from family, from current and former members of Parliament and heads of major Toronto Jewish institutions. But I barely slept that night. This was the first time I’ve blocked people on Facebook. I had to “unfriend” someone in real life. 

The truth is, I cannot remember a time when the Jewish community has been this starkly divided, and never this viscerally. Our community is drenched in sinat chinam, baseless hatred. Donald Trump has divided the Jewish community into two kinds of Jews. There are Jews who, ignore, or worse, laud and emulate his hatred towards women, minorities, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and anyone who opposes him. These sentiments stem mainly from his decision to move the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and several other pro-Israel policy shifts. And then there are the rest of us. 

My grandparents who, thank G-d, survived Auschwitz, used to tell me how in the cattle cars, there were Jews of every denomination, from every corner of the political spectrum. Their destination didn’t care if they were secular or Hasidic, right or left wing. They were just Jews destined for the same fate. 

Jews argue. We disagree with each other. It’s a trait that is deep and celebrated in our history and our texts. But the Talmud tells us kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh – all of Israel is responsible for one another. We are not the enemy. But there is a part of our community – one that has been growing over the past four years – that treats any Jews who dislike Donald Trump as heretics. 

In the days since Biden and Harris were elected, there’s been a lot of calls for unity. I think that’s great. We are in desperate need of reconciliation, in the Jewish community as much as the rest of society. But reconciliation and unity doesn’t mean we meet in the middle. 

We meet in a place that respects women, Indigenous peoples and people of colour – and we in the Jewish community must dig particularly deep for Jewish women, and Jewish women of colour. We meet in a place that accepts and celebrates the LGBTQ+ community and the Jews who I’ve marched with in the Toronto Pride Parade when Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QAIA) tried to have us barred from participating.

I replied to that Facebook commenter, saying that while I pitied him, I didn’t think his support for Trump had cost him his Judaism. I still think about all the negative comments I received over the past few days and I hope daughters never see what their fathers wrote. I hope they instead see Harris shatter the glass ceiling and be encouraged to follow their dreams. 

And more than anything else, I hope that those Jews who have taken to dismissing our Jewishness remember that kol Yisrael arevim ze bazeh and that we are all Jews and will always be family.


Rafi Yablonksy
Rafi Yablonksy

Rafi Yablonsky holds a BComm from York University and worked in the hi-tech industry before working at United Jewish Appeal as Manager of Strategic Initiatives. Rafi has worked as the Toronto Director of Chai Lifeline, as campaign director at JNF Toronto, and most recently, at the Baycrest Foundation as Manager of Major Gifts.

Holocaust Survivor’s Slovak Cuisine Delighted Her Family

Nov. 6, 2020

By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN 

Shabbat Shalom, and welcome to “Kitchen Talk,” the weekly food blog of The CJR. Nov. 2–9 is Holocaust Education Week (HEW), an annual series of programs run by the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre.

The recipes this week come from the late Katarina Jolan Siroky, a survivor of Auschwitz. Siroky, née Holzman, was an excellent cook and baker, according to her daughter, Dagmar Niffeler.

After Siroky’s death in 1982, Niffeler organized her mother’s recipes into a cookbook for family members. “I thought that as our family has survived so many hardships, it would be nice to pass on some of these traditional foods, many of which go back to our grandmother and our Holzman heritage.”

Siroky prepared many of the dishes she had grown up eating in her native Slovakia. The food was Hungarian style because Slovakia had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of the First World War.

I am sharing a few of Siroky’s recipes this week. These classic Hungarian dishes include Chicken Paprika (or Chicken Paprikash); nockerl, or nokedli – Hungarian-style dumplings, and Sacher-Torte. 

This famous chocolate cake was invented in 1832 by Franz Sacher, an Austrian Jew. He was 16 and apprenticing as a sous chef when he created the namesake dessert.

His son, Eduard, went on to open the famous Hotel Sacher in Vienna, which today exports some 360,000 hand-made Sacher Tortes world-wide.

Family Life Fulfilled Siroky After Auschwitz 

Siroky grew up in Rudno, a small Slovakian village. She and her sister, Ilka (Doupovec) were the youngest of the six Holzman children. Her two older brothers immigrated to Canada and the United States, before the Second World War.

The two younger girls were shipped to Auschwitz in 1942. Siroky was 26 at the time. Because she spoke German, she worked in an office and did typing for a female SS officer. Niffeler said the two sisters kept each other alive in Auschwitz, on the death march of 1945, and later, in Bergen Belsen.

After the war they returned to their home town. Their parents and older sisters did not survive. Siroky married a childhood friend and gave birth to Niffeler in Slovakia.

With sponsorship from their brothers in North America, the family was able to emigrate in 1949. They ended up in Montreal and later settled in the predominantly Jewish suburb of Cote Saint-Luc.

Siroky gave birth to her son in 1953 and was an avid cook and gardener. In fact, in a baking competition held in Cote Saint-Luc, she won second prize for her Sacher Torte.

“Baking days were always a big event in our home,” recalled Niffeler. “My mother, often together with Aunt Ilka, made many pastries. Coming home to the sweet fragrant aromas and making shapes in the cookie dough was a real treat.” 

SACHER TORTE  Katarina Jolan Siroky

2 cups (500 ml) semisweet chocolate chips or 8 oz (230 g) chocolate 
12 eggs, separated
6 tbsp (90 ml) icing sugar
½ lb (230 g) butter, at room temperature
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla
2 cups (500 ml) ground walnuts**
6 tbsp (90 ml) flour
1 tsp (5 ml) baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup (250 ml) apricot jam
** Ground almonds, hazelnuts or pecans can be substituted for the ground walnuts

Icing

8 squares (8 oz or 230 g) semi-sweet chocolate
3 tbsp (45 ml) butter
Whole almonds blanched for garnish (optional)
Whipped cream for serving

Line 2 8-or 9-inch, (21–23 cm) round baking pans with parchment paper. Grease with butter and sprinkle with flour. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over simmering water or on medium high heat in a microwave. Set aside to cool slightly.

Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, whip the egg whites until they reach a soft peak. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the ground nuts, mix the dry ingredients well and set aside.

Transfer the yolks to the stand-mixer bowl. Add the icing sugar and beat with the yolks. Add the vanilla, and butter. Add the melted chocolate. Combine well.

In three additions, fold the flour and ground nut mixture into the yolk and chocolate mixture. Fold the beaten egg whites into the batter in two additions.

Transfer the batter to the prepared baking pans. Bake for 20–25 minutes. The cake should be moist when done. The cakes can be removed from the pans while still warm. Let them cool completely.

To make the icing: In a large bowl combine the chocolate and butter. Set the bowl over simmering water and mix until the chocolate is glossy and the mixture has the thickness of icing. (Alternatively melt the chocolate mixture in the microwave on medium heat.)

To Assemble: Turn the first cake upside down on a serving plate. Spread the apricot jam over the top. Place the second cake on the jam layer to create the top layer of the cake. Spread the icing over the top of and sides of the cake. 

Optional: Garnish the cake with almonds in the shape of a daisy. Serve with whipped cream. Makes 10–12 servings.

PAPRIKA CHICKEN (CHICKEN PAPRIKASH) Katarina Jolan Siroky

A 4-lb (1½ K) chicken, cut in 8 pieces
2 tbsp (30 ml) paprika
2 tsp (10 ml) salt
1 tsp (5 ml) pepper to taste
2 tsp (10 ml) caraway seeds
3–4 tbsp (45–60 ml) olive oil
1–2 tbsp (15–30 ml) coconut oil (optional) 
1 large onion, sliced
1–3 cloves garlic, whole
** ½ green pepper, sliced
2–3 cups (500–750 ml) of broth
2 tbsp (30 ml) tomato paste
1 tbsp (15 ml) corn starch
2 tbsp (30 ml) water for corn-starch slurry
Juice of 1 lemon

**a red, yellow or orange pepper can be substituted

Coat a large skillet with the oil. Add the chicken pieces and sprinkle with the salt, pepper, paprika and caraway seeds. On medium heat sauté the chicken, browning well on both sides. Remove the chicken pieces from the pan and place them on a plate Add the onion. Sauté in the oil. Add extra oil if necessary. When the onion slices are browned, return the chicken to the pan. Add the broth, stir in the tomato paste. Add the garlic, and sliced pepper. 

Cook chicken until tender, about 25 minutes. Transfer chicken to a hot serving dish and remove the pepper slices.

Make a slurry: Mix 1 tbsp corn starch with 2 tbsp water. Add to the sauce and incorporate to thicken. Bring the sauce to a boil and reduce the heat. Taste for seasoning. Add the juice of ½ lemon.

To serve pour the sauce over the chicken or return the chicken to the sauce in the pan and serve from the pan. Makes 4–6 servings. Paprika Chicken is usually served with nockerl or dumplings, but also goes well with rice. 

NOCKERL (Dumplings) Katarina Jolan Siroky

2 cups (500 ml) all purpose flour, sifted
1/2–3/4 cup (125– 185 ml) water
3 eggs
1 tbsp (15 ml) salt
2–3 tbsp (30–45 ml) margarine for melting 

Fill a 2 quart (2 L) pot halfway with water. Add salt and bring to a boil.

In a large bowl combine the flour, water, eggs and salt. Mix well to form a soft, pasty dough. Roll out the dough on a wet bread board. Dip a sharp knife into the boiling water and cut the dough into 1-inch (2.5 cm)-wide strips. Cut the strips into 1-inch (2.5 cm) squares and place them directly into the boiling water.

Stir to prevent sticking and do not overcrowd the pot. Cook about 7 minutes. When the water begins to boil again, turn off the heat. When the nockerl are done they will rise to the top. Drain them in a colander.

Melt the margarine in the pot. Place the nockerl back in the pot and coat with the margarine. 

Transfer the nockerl to a hot serving dish and serve with Paprika Chicken (Chicken Paprikash).

CULINARY CALENDAR

Nov. 8, 2 p.m.: Montreal-style Pizza making workshop through MNJCC’s Jewish& Virtual Cookbook program https://www.amilia.com/store/en/miles-nadal-jcc/shop/activities/2864377 

Nov. 11, 11 a.m.: Asian Dumplings –Virtual Cooking with Maria Lindgren (Bernard Betel Centre)

https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYocuyupjgtHdH4SkYK9XS69aolga5nsjd_

Dec. 3, 5 p.m.: Cook Global Cuisine with Carolyn Tanner-Cohen, sponsored by Grandmothers Partnering with Africa, Stephen Lewis Foundation. Email: GPWafrica@gmail.com

Cardiologist Follows his Heart and Becomes Composer

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—Jaap Nico Hamburger’s mother gave him two invaluable pieces of advice. 

When he was young, she told him that, yes, he played the piano very well, but he must have a reliable profession. Decades later, after Hamburger had achieved international recognition as a cardiac surgeon, she said he had worked hard enough as a doctor and it was time to devote himself to his first love, music.

So it was that, mid-life, Hamburger gradually wound down his practice in Vancouver in minimally invasive heart procedures, which had begun in his native Holland, and embarked on “the great adventure” of being a full-time composer of classical music.

That transition was completed this year when he left the University of British Columbia where he had been a clinical professor since 2000, and moved permanently to Montreal to be composer-in-residence for Mécénat Musica, a donor-supported cultural program.

The cross-country relocation also meant settling down with his new wife, Kathy Assayag, executive director of the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal.

His mother’s counsel proved wise – not that Hamburger ever doubted it. Janny Moffie-Bolle, after all, had survived Auschwitz and other camps. This formidable woman died in 2016 at age 95, still a force to be reckoned with.

The Holocaust was not an off-limits topic when Hamburger was growing up, but he has not attempted to give it musical expression – until now.

In advance of Remembrance Day, Hamburger released an album on the Canadian label Leaf Music of two new compositions for chamber orchestra that evoke the Holocaust and commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Europe. (His Piano Concerto, featuring Israeli pianist Assaff Weisman, was put out by Leaf in August.)

Chamber Symphony No. 1, performed by Montreal’s Ensemble Caprice conducted by Matthias Maute, is subtitled “Remember to Forget,” a phrase from the Tanach that cautions against the futility, even destructiveness, of second-guessing oneself. Self-criticism should lead to self-improvement, he explained, and the biblical Joseph serves as a model for perseverance.

Hamburger was inspired by the life of Hungarian-Jewish composer Gyorgy Ligeti (1923-2006), who survived the Holocaust, unlike his father and brother. Ligeti, who later fled communism, became an outstanding classical composer, known for his avant-garde style. The soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was designed from Ligetti’s work.

Hamburger’s Chamber Symphony No. 2, “Children’s War Diaries,” performed by the Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal under the baton of the Dutch Vincent de Kort, is also optimistic.

About 20 years ago, Hamburger read the diaries of five teens who had perished in the Holocaust. Anne Frank’s was, of course, the most famous. The other four, largely forgotten – unlike Frank, who stopped writing after she was discovered in hiding – bore witness to what they experienced in the death camps.

In 2010, Hamburger’s 89-year-old mother, who was a teen at the start of the war, published her autobiography. With her at Yad Vashem for the book’s launch, he was shaken by the memorial to the 1.5 million murdered Jewish children. After emerging from its darkness to the blazing Jerusalem sun, he was impelled to translate his overwhelming emotions into music.

“The contours of a new symphonic work came to mind virtually complete,” he said. “I went home and wrote “Children’s War Diaries” in five short movements.”

The work’s world premiere was recorded at the “Violins of Hope” concert held last November at the Maison symphonique de Montréal in tribute to the victims of the Holocaust and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Holland by the 1st Canadian Army.

The actual Violins of Hope, which belonged to Jewish musicians before and during the Holocaust, have been restored by father-and-son luthiers in Israel. They are played with orchestras around the world as a symbol of victory over tyranny.

This is the spirit Hamburger intends in his symphonies. He is not, he emphasizes, trying to capture the horror experienced by those who survived the Holocaust.

“That would be presumptuous and impossible,” said Hamburger, who was obsessed with Beethoven at age three and began his music education soon after. “I could read scores before I could read language,” he said.

He earned a soloist degree in piano from Amsterdam’s Royal Conservatory while studying medicine. He became an expert in the development of laser coronary angioplasty at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, and travelling around the world. He stopped giving recitals, but continued to compose in his limited spare time.

“The only thing I can do is try to use the language of music to express how I experience what I know, and what I think the Holocaust means for the world today. We always said, ‘Never again’, but we see what is happening all over.”

The release of his album on Nov. 6, fortunately, was not stopped by the COVID pandemic, unlike another of Hamburger’s big projects. His first opera, Goldwasser, was scheduled to premiere at the Lincoln Center in New York in March, featuring laureates of the Richard Tucker Music Foundation. All being well, Goldwasser will debut next season.

Typically, Hamburger looks on the bright side. It was at the foundation gala in 2018 in New York that he met Kathy, a fellow opera lover, and would start a new chapter of his extraordinary life in Montreal.

Toronto Teen Wins Diana Award for Holocaust Education

Aug. 20, 2020 – By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

When Erin Sade was in Grade 6 she was given the opportunity to learn about any charitable organization that interested her. She chose the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem (CSYV) and in subsequent years she dedicated much of her spare time to helping other young people learn about the Holocaust.

Fast forward seven years and Sade, now 18, was one of seven Canadian recipients of the 2020 Diana Award. Named for the late Princess of Wales, the accolade honours young people for their humanitarian efforts and social action. Sade was nominated for her commitment to Holocaust education.

The virtual 2020 ceremony held last month was hosted by the Vamps’ James McVey and included celebrities like the Duke of Sussex (Prince Harry) and actor, Dame Emma Thompson. About 180 people worldwide received the award this year.

Sade, a recent graduate of Havergal College – she will be on her way to medical school in England later this month – said she was thrilled to win the Diana Award.

Sade Friedman
Erin Sade

She was nominated by Ellen Schwartz, creator and executive director of Project Give Back (PGB), the organization that ran the education program that spurred Sade’s involvement with CSYV, when she was in Grade 6.

“I owe her [Schwartz] so much,” Sade said in a telephone interview from her home in Toronto. “She did everything to nominate me…She has so much kindness. She is so dedicated to the [PGB] program and the students she brings it to.”

Through her connection with CSYV Sade participated in the Twinning Program, which encourages youngsters to dedicate their bar or bat mitzvahs to a specific young Holocaust victim. Sade’s “twin” was Lily Friedman, who died in Auschwitz just shy of her 12th birthday.

“Yad Vashem pairs you with a child who died before their bar or bat mitzvah,” Sade explained, noting that she was able to discover information on Friedman because her sister had survived the war.

The twinning was “a beautiful experience,” Sade said, noting that her own middle name is Lilly. “Having that little connection made it feel more real. That was an empowering experience.”

She said after her bat mitzvah, she was motivated to learn more about the Holocaust and to increase awareness of Nazi atrocities by helping to educate other students, particularly non-Jews.

She encouraged students to participate in the Ambassadors of Change Program, also run by the CSYV, in which high schoolers get the opportunity to connect with Holocaust survivors in small groups.

She would also represent the CSYV through class presentations at various schools in the GTA. She would create and distribute booklets with the personal histories of individual Jewish youngsters from the Holocaust era. 

The students would each receive a booklet and then they would find out about the fate of the individual child they had learned about. Each booklet had a QR code that the students could scan with their phones to see if the child had survived or perished during the Second World War.

“That part of the presentation always got through [to the students] the most,” Sade said, pointing out that most of the children they learned about did not survive.

She said she also arranged for Holocaust survivors to speak at Havergale, something that had never been done before.

For Sade, the Diana Award brought to mind another prize she received from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau four years ago.

In 2016, the Yad Vashem society created the Cantor Kraus Catalyst for Change Award in honour of Cantor Moshe Kraus, a Holocaust survivor. The award was to recognize individuals showing dedication to Holocaust education. Sade was one of three recipients.

“It was insane,” she recounted. “They didn’t tell me that Prime Minister Trudeau was going to present the award. I was starstruck the entire time. “You realized that the work that you’re doing actually matters. It was an amazing feeling.”