Shabbat Message from Ezra S. Shanken

A Week of Loss and Remembrance

Shabbat Message from CEO Ezra S. Shanken


April 21, 2023 | 30 Nissan 5783



This message has about 850 words and will take about 4 minute to read.

This has been a week of remembrance and loss in our community. It is with a heavy heart that we share with you the very sad news that Alex Buckman z’l, the Holocaust survivor who was accompanying the current March of the Living group, passed away earlier today. With him in Poland on the March was his son, Patrick. On behalf of our entire organization, I want to express my sincere condolences to Alex’s wife, Colette, to Patrick, and to the entire Buckman family. 

There are students from Coast-to-Coast partnership communities, including one from ours, who are traveling in the group with Alex z’l. Their health and wellbeing is foremost in our minds. They and their chaperones are receiving robust mental health and spiritual support from two trauma specialists and a rabbi who were brought in immediately to help, as well as March of the Living staff who are with them in Poland right now. We have reached out to their parents to provide an update. And we expect to provide additional supports when they arrive home. We, and the March of the Living organizers, are also mindful of providing support to the chaperones. 

Chaperones shifted the group’s itinerary today, and tonight's Kabbalat Shabbat included a stream for teens who want to talk through what they are experiencing. They always begin with the Mourner’s Kaddish, which they say so many times throughout the March, and tonight I know that the group is holding Alex z’l in their hearts.  

One of the chaperones let us know that Patrick was there with them to welcome Shabbat because “he wanted to be with this beautiful community that has developed over the past week.” Dafna Silberstein, our associate director of Israel and Global Engagement, spoke with Patrick today and says he is overwhelmed by the love and support he's receiving. 

Alex z’l was committed to Holocaust remembrance and was very actively involved with our partner, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre. He served as president of the Vancouver Child Survivors group and traveled with March of the Living trips as a survivor-participant this year and in 2010.
Alex z’l was only seven months old when the Nazis invaded Belgium, his home country, and spent his childhood fleeing the Nazis with his cousin Annie at an orphanage, while his parents were sent to Auschwitz and ultimately perished. He arrived in Canada in 1951 at the age of 11 and had long been a strong advocate for child survivors, as an author of a memoir “Afraid of the Dark: The Memoir of Alex Buckman”, and as a speaker at a variety of Holocaust memorial events and commemorations. 

We find ourselves in an emotional time having marked Yom Hashoah, the day of remembrance for the Jewish victims and survivors of the Holocaust, this week. Each year, the number of survivors at our community events dwindles. Just this week, we also lost David Erlich z'l and Louse Stein Sorensen z'l. We mourn and remember each courageous survivor who we have lost; we value the vulnerability they have invited us into so that we can learn and carry on their memories, and the strength with which they have inspired us all.

It is for this exact reason that trips like March of the Living are such a crucial aspect of our community and of Jewish education for young people. We must preserve the memory of the Holocaust, the stories of survivors, and the accounts of unspeakable cruelty so that we can ensure that we, our children, our children’s children and beyond continue to fight for a just and equitable world guided by our Jewish values, stories, and memories.

I want to acknowledge the organizers, participants and attendees of our community commemorations. Thank you to Premier Eby, and the MLAs and officials who stood with us in Victoria at the legislature, and to our partner, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC), and our advocacy agent, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs for organizing. Thank you as well to the VHEC, survivors, and musicians and singers who made the Vancouver commemorative event extremely moving. 

We always like to end on a somewhat lighter note, and there is some good news to share today.  

This Shabbat finds me in Israel, where our board chair, Candace Kwinter, Karen James, and I have accompanied Gordon and Leslie Diamond and members of their family. Gordon and Leslie will receive the Yakir award from Keren Heyesod for their commitment, generosity and leadership, and we are proud to have nominated them. We will bring you more next week on this, the Jewish Agency Board of Governors meetings, and Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly, all of which are timed to coincide with Israel’s 75th birthday. 

In the meantime, please plan to join us to commemorate Yom Hazikaron on Monday at the Norman Rothstein Theatre and online, and have a look below to see the three weeks of community events planned to mark Israel@75, culminating in a community concert.  

Next week, we are looking forward to sharing with you a special message from Sarah Mali, director general of Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA in Israel.

Shabbat shalom.

Ezra S. Shanken
CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver

Alex Buckman z'l at March of the Living

Yom HaShoah memorial at the BC Legislature