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Montreal City Hall Continues B’nai Brith Yom HaShoah Tradition

Mike Cohen

MONTREAL – As Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre prepares for the 2017 elections in November, there is no question that he has the support of the Jewish community behind him.

Last fall, Mayor Coderre led a much publicized mission to Israel with his Toronto counterpart John Tory. Two of his senior councillors, Lionel Perez and Russell Copeman, are Jewish, as is his special advisor Howard Liebman. Last summer, Coderre was the keynote speaker at a Canadian Friends of Tel Aviv University gala honouring Justice Herbert Marx.

We can now add B’nai Brith Canada’s Quebec Region to Coderre’s fan club. Since 2002, B’nai Brith has conducted a humble ceremony on the steps of Montreal City Hall for Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) entitled “Unto Every Person There is a Name,” reciting the names of those who perished during the Holocaust.

Each year, the mayor, city executive committee members, city councillors, the Israeli Consul General and other community leaders attend the Montreal event to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust, read the names of the victims, light the memorial candles, and hear a rabbi recite the appropriate prayers.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre

On the advice of Perez and Liebman, last year Mayor Coderre decided to make the Yom HaShoah ceremony an official community-wide event in the Hall of Honour at City Hall.

“I believe that Montreal is the only Canadian city to have made Yom Hashoah an official city event,” said B’nai Brith Canada Quebec Director Harvey Levine.

The commemoration will continue this year on Monday, April 24 at 11 a.m. and B’nai Brith leaders will participate, as usual, alongside other members of the Jewish community. Students from a number of Jewish and public day schools will also attend.

“I believe the mayor has really proven his support for the Jewish community by expanding this ceremony into City Hall, whereas before we were having the ceremony on the steps of the building,” said senior B’nai Brith Canada leader Ted Greenfield. “It is surely very positive, as instead of the small number of people who attended or passed by in previous years, the Hall of Honour will be full.”

He added: “I believe Mayor Coderre is a good friend of the Jewish community. Aside from this particular ceremony, after being encouraged by B’nai Brith he also promoted and helped launch a hate crimes squad in the Montreal Police Force.”

Greenfield has been involved with the annual ceremony for at least a decade.

The Montreal iteration of the “Unto Every Person There is a Name” ceremony (ceremonies are also occurring in Winnipeg and Oakville) will take place after a community-wide program sponsored by the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre at Congregation Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem in Côte Saint-Luc. Meanwhile, in Quebec City, the National Assembly has been commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day for more than 20 years, initiated by now retired Liberal MNA Lawrence Bergman. His successor, David Birnbaum, has made sure it continues. In May, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard will lead a mission to Israel and visit, among other places, Yad Vashem.

Mike Cohen is B’nai Brith Canada’s Quebec news bureau chief, a veteran writer and municipal politician. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @mikecohencsl