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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On Saturday evening, October 21, OJC hosted a poetry reading with Fern Carr. It was a delight listening to Fern’s own works, many of which come from her book, “Shards of Crystal.” Signed copies of the book were available for purchase by those in attendance. Thanks go out to Fern for her very meaningful rendition of her creations and how surprised we were to hear many on a Jewish theme, and two poems written in Yiddish!

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OJC was pleased to host our 3rd Monthly Shabbaton weekend for our congregation. This week-end we enjoyed having out again to Kelowna, Rabbi Schachar Orenstein from Montreal. It was a lovely and well-attended Friday night dinner and service, similarly matched by the Saturday morning service. Thanks go out to all who assisted in making it possible, including Ted Wenner and Zoe Wise for hosting Rabbi in their home.

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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.

After a brief tribute to Israel, its victims, its wounded and its hostage-taking crisis during the terrible terrorist attack of Shabbat, October 7th, our member, Maya Pilin, introduced our speaker Dr. Barbara Kishenblatt-Gimblett. Dr. Barbara was the curator of the main exhibit of the newly created POLIN museum in Warsaw which tells the 1000 year history of Polish Jewry on the Pale of settlements, from which the majority of Ashkenazic Jewry originate from. The presentation was excellent, combining a very intriguing visual presentation with excellent discussion about the history and the content by Dr. Barbara, the curator of this phenomenal museum. Thanks go out to Dr. Barbara and to Maya Pilin for presenting this event for us.

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What a great program and what super attendance. It was a pleasure to meet and greet everyone present, especially those who were new to OJC programs. Special thanks to Jody Gruber for arranging the program, so special with the sukkah decoration, the explanations, the shaking of the lulav and etrog, and the pizza and treats. Thanks to Joan Ironstand for growing 15 baby etrog plants which were given out to the children and parents. Joan, we have more seeds for you to plant this year!

High Holiday services for 5784 were very well attended and enjoyed by all. The community came together with good spirit and participation as one ushered in the New Year. Special thanks to Evan Orloff for his superb leadership of all the services. The attached photo shows the participation at the Tashlich service at Mill Creek by the Parkinson Rec Centre, where one was able to again throw in our sins from the previous year and hope for a very happy and healthy upcoming New Year!

Our Shabbaton week-end with Rabbi/Cantor Russ was wonderful. It was great to have him back at OJC, and we know that his feelings were exactly the same on being back with us. Friday Shabbat dinner and evening service was very well attended. As expected, there were less in attendance for Saturday morning. His cantorial and now rabbinic skills were very much enjoyed and appreciated. The Saturday evening social event with regards to his career and training as a Hazan was a delight with numerous operatic arias which were somewhat unexpected but thoroughly enjoyed. Wow! What an eventful week-end for those who attended.

On a somewhat less smokey day, August 27, 2023, OJC was able to hold its planned second Community Picnic of the summer at Sarson’s Beach -Okanagan Mission Activity Centre. In spite of still smokey skies, 25 persons were able to attend, and it was great to see everyone out after the challenging 2 weeks that Kelowna has seen because of the fires. Thanks again to Mondy and Misty for arranging the pizza and also to those who brought side dishes for the event.