Wiesenthal Education Weekly
Jewish Heritage Month Resources
April 30, 2020
In 1738, a young Jewish woman named Esther Brandeau landed in New France on a ship named the St. Michel, hiding her true identity during the trip by posing as a cabin boy named Jacques La Fargue. Shortly after arrival, Esther’s gender and religion were discovered and she was given the option to convert to Roman Catholicism and remain in New France or be deported. Esther refused to abandon her Jewish faith and was subsequently sent back to France in 1739. This fascinating episode is one of the earliest known intersections of Jewish and Canadian history and Esther Brandeau is believed to be the first Jewish person to ever set foot in the colony of New France. Although scant on detail, Esther’s story also functions as an allegory that illuminates broader questions of identity, plurality and inclusion that have defined the experiences of Jewish people and other minority groups in Canada for generations.
For almost 300 years, Jewish Canadians have played an integral role in the shaping of our nation. We recognize these contributions each May, designated as Jewish Heritage Month by the federal government through the Canadian Jewish Heritage Month Act passed on March 29th, 2018.The act was passed in recognition of the fact that the Canadian Jewish community has made incredible contributions to the growth and prosperity of Canada as a whole, in spite of anti-Jewish discrimination and other barriers.Commemoration efforts during the month of May provide Canadians of all ages with opportunities to “remember, celebrate and educate future generations about the inspirational role that Jewish Canadians have played and continue to play in communities across the country.” At FSWC, we champion these efforts and recognize the importance of examining the unique story of Jewish people in Canada. Each year, thousands of students learn about Jewish experiences and resilience during the Holocaust through FSWC workshops, but this snapshot of history does not encompass the entirety of the Jewish experience. Our educators have found that for non-Jewish Canadians, knowledge of Judaism starts and ends with Holocaust. Jewish Heritage Month provides us with the opportunity to reflect on Jewish resilience in the face of adversity while also dismantling misconceptions and expanding public perceptions of what it means to be Jewish in a uniquely-Canadian context.
FSWC is proud to present a comprehensive Jewish Heritage Month Resource on our website for educators, parents, students and beyond.
Throughout the month of May, the Education Team will be highlighting articles, personal reflections, resources and activities that can be done at home or while working remotely.
Personal Reflection: The Importance of Family
FSWC Education Associate
Growing up I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandparents. I was no older than five or six when I began to take an interest in learning about my family’s past. I vividly remember asking my grandmother Nora, or as I called her, Nana, what her parents were like. She responded by telling me that she and her mother, Vera, were very close, but she does not remember her father because he died shortly after she was born. According to USHMM’s Holocaust Survivor and Victims Database, my great grandfather, Sandor Granitz went missing in January of 1943. My Nana was just two months old. After the Nazi occupation of Hungary in 1944, thousands of Jewish people living in Budapest were notified of their deportation. Vera gave Nora who was almost two at the time to a Christian family who lived in their apartment building should she not return.
At the very last moment, Vera was slipped falsified documents exempting her from deportation. She retrieved my grandmother, but the majority of her family had persisted in the Holocaust. In 1956, during the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, Vera and Nora sought refuge in Canada. Two generations later, my Nana did not have as much information for me about her family history as I would have liked to know. She told me that she was always afraid to ask her mother about the events that took place leading up to and shortly after the death of much of her family. Nonetheless, my exposure to the Holocaust and heroic stories that led to the survival of my grandmother and my great grandmother at such a young age remain a large part of my identity today. Although some survivors of trauma do not wish to share their personal stories, others find it healing. We must not take those who are willing to share for granted. Before my Nana passed away in 2015, I asked her every possible question that I could. Although there are still gaps pertaining to the Holocaust, I am grateful to know about her journey to Canada and the aid that she and Vera received from prominent Jewish organizations upon their arrival. Much of my undergraduate and graduate work became focused on this subject.
I encourage all people to learn as much about their family history as they possibly can. Respect those who do not wish to share but listen to those who do. Do not take stories for granted. Stories and human experiences are what shapes us, and one day, we will have the opportunity to pass ours on as well.
Kindness Counts Challenge
During these uncertain times, the team at Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center continues to be dedicated to community advocacy. While practicing safe social distancing, FSWC’s educators picked up and delivered groceries to vulnerable people, created care packages for Holocaust survivors, helped weed and maintain gardens in the community, and helped combat the spread of misinformation online.
Our team nominates YOU to participate in our Kindness Counts Challenge and take a photo of you performing a good deed using the hashtag #FSWCares to be featured on our page. Remember, all it takes is one person to make a big difference!