Anne Marie Johnston speaks to a rapt audience at the OCJ

A Presentation of Remarkable Courage

On November 5th, the OJC hosted an evening commemorating Yad Vashem honourees. It happened at a fitting moment in time, when history is on the verge of repeating itself (yet again). It is critical that we continue to remind ourselves of the public attitudes that allow aggression and persecution to flourish, and more importantly, the situations where humanity wins out.

How fortunate we were to hear Vernon’s own Anne-Marie Johnston speak of her memories of the Holocaust in Holland. Mrs. Johnston’s family hid two Jewish women throughout the war, and her parents, Harry and Josephina Bindels-Jongen, were recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

“We are not our brother’s keeper, we are our brother’s brother.”

Mrs. Anne-Marie Johnston and her family's Yad Vashem medal

Her story is heartbreaking and inspiring: though she was only 6 years old, Anne-Marie’s father refused to shield her from the political situation, instilling in her the idea that has guided her life, “We are not our brother’s keeper, we are our brother’s brother.” We learned how the German invasion affected all Dutch lives, Jewish and gentile, and of the bravery of Anne-Marie’s parents and others involved in the Resistance. From the secret songs all of the children on her block learned to use as a warning when the Nazi soldiers were coming near, to the nuns who regularly provided refuge to the neighbourhood men in order to avoid forced conscription, Anne-Marie painted a picture of a community that took her father’s creed to heart.

There are so few witnesses to the atrocities of the Holocaust still alive to tell their stories. What an honour for the OJC audience to hear about Anne-Marie’s experiences in person, told with an awe-inspiring wit, conviction, and even humour. Todah rabah!

We also watched a video highlighting the work of another Yad Vashem recipient, Aristide de Sousa Mendes. As Portuguese consul-general to France, he secretly saved the lives of tens of thousands of individuals by issuing visas in direct defiance of orders. As a result of his actions, he suffered political and professional disgrace, and estrangement from his family. His bravery was not recognized by his own country until a few years ago. Generations of Jewish families are alive because of his sacrifice.

Thank you to Steven Finkleman and to friends of the OJC Gail and Chris Mobbs for helping to coordinate this wonderful evening.

This program is generously supported by a grant from the Isaac and Sophie Waldman Endowment Fund

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Israeli flag and quote from Psalm 122

War has a tragic and devastating toll on life and society. In Israel this week, the atrocities of the coordinated attacks by Hamas are profoundly distressing. Civilians are bearing the brunt of the violence, their families and communities torn apart. The immediate human cost of war: the loss of innocent lives, displacement, and psychological trauma, will have a rippling and long-lasting effect.

Here in the relative safety of Canada, we can have a discourse about peaceful resolution and urgent dialogue, but families here have been directly affected by this war. At this moment, the ability to provide emotional and physical relief is paramount.

Israel has a rich and multifaceted story of resilience and determination, and Jewish resistance there has deep historical roots. Diverse perspectives and narratives, and the unwavering commitment of the Jewish people to our identity and the preservation of our culture, means that we can and should come together to provide one another with support and solidarity.

The OJC condemns violence in all of its forms. We mourn all of the victims of this horrific war. Our friends at the Okanagan Chabad House have made themselves available to anyone needing spiritual or emotional assistance at this time. The Jewish Federation has opened an Israel Emergency Campaign to aid those affected by the devastation. They have also curated resources to help young families explain this difficult topic to their children.

Throughout this nightmarish time, let’s take solace in the knowledge that we as a collective Jewish community are–always and ever–strongest together.