On November 11th, at 11:11 a.m., all of Canada stands silent and remembers the sacrifices of the past and the present that the Canadian Armed Forces made and continue to make to preserve our democracy and rights. At the Ottawa Torah Institute, this solemn commemoration began on the 10th, with the visit of Mr. Irving Aaron, a veteran of the Second World War, who shared his poignant reflections with students and members of the community. “War brings only death and destruction, and I’m not here to glorify it,” he began, “The Second World War, though, was as close to a just war as they came. Without it, our freedoms would have disappeared.” Throughout his presentation, he made reference to his vivid memories of the events of the Second World War, and especially of the colorful personalities involved. He told the students of Winston Churchill, who was urged to sue for peace but refused. “Winston Churchill was the right man at the right time. The war was won due to his resolution,” he added. Mr. Aaron drew on Churchill’s resilience to challenge the school with the message that that every person has the potential to change the world and make a difference, citing Rosa Parks as another example of what an individual’s action could do.
He also spoke about his own military experience during the Second World War, remembering living on a minesweeper with tight quarters and broken toilets. After he was done speaking, the students asked questions about Mr. Aaron’s experiences and received insightful responses. One of the questions asked concerned the differences between the world’s attitude towards the Jews then and now. Mr. Aaron recalled feeling worried about the Holocaust. “I was sitting in a 2nd Form economics class, but my mind was thinking about the fate of the Jews of North America. We could have been next.” He spoke about the antisemitism prevalent in 1940s Canada, sharing personal experiences, and commented, “Today we have Israel, though. Things would be different.” Mr. Aaron concluded by speaking about the need to remember the fallen. “Veterans would tell you that the real heroes of war are lying in military cemeteries.”
Shmuel Benzaquen, a Grade 12 student, said that he was inspired by the presentation. “Mr. Aaron made me feel that a part of Remembrance Day is thinking selflessly and that every person’s potential to make a difference is important, whether through fighting for Canada or through social justice.” The following day, on Remembrance Day proper, the entire school gathered for a moving assembly in which students shared their own thoughts on remembering, and “In Flanders Fields” was read prior to a moment of silence in memory of those who died. In Canada, we are blessed to live in a county where our freedoms and rights are respected, and it is only fitting on Remembrance Day that we remember those who fought to make it that way.