Everyone knows there are Jewish War Veterans, but did you know there is a Jewish Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion in Toronto?
No beer fridge or bar, but like other Branches, a surviving membership that cares for Canada and warriors who served with bravery through two World Wars and the Korean War.
As November 11 approaches, I always look for a Wingate vet and donate some cash, usually three or four times, as I lose my poppies often because I never pin them on properly.
As my friends, 91 year-old President Murray Jacobs with wife Millie at his side, and his members beat the bushes on street corners and shopping centres distributing those poppies (long days, sore feet, cold weather), I'm reminded their numbers are dwindling. And that will be evident as they diligently prepare for the Branch's Annual Remembrance Day Service (11am in front of the Miles Nadal JCC, at the corner of Spadina and Bloor) in Toronto.
In 2012, there are fewer Wingate vets and more unmanned boxes. But the members soldier on. Here's their story:
In the 1920s, long before the name it now bears; the Jewish brigade was a member of the Great War Association while its first president was installed in 1932, a charter for a Jewish veteran's Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion was granted in 1934.
As a compromise, 1933 was chosen as the "Anniversary" date. In the mid-40s, the Jewish Brigade officially became the General Wingate Branch. The name was chosen to honour Major General Orde Charles Wingate D.S.O., a non-Jew and distinguished British Army officer, who became an ardent Zionist after he arrived in Palestine in 1936.
At the beginning, the legion branch met at a veteran's hall at Crawford and College Street. After assisting the Bloor Jewish Community Centre to raise funds to build the "Y", Branch 256 was to have a place to meet, but instead, were given funds towards the purchase of their own house on Bathurst North of St. Clair Avenue West. The house was expropriated for the Spadina Subway in 1968. The Branch then moved to Eglinton Avenue and finally to its present location in the Zionist Centre on Marlee Avenue.
Wingate 256 helps support the Sunnybrook Hospital Veteran's Wing and several years ago was instrumental in forming the hospital's Jewish chapel. Funds raised from poppy donations help care for veterans and their families where needed. Medical equipment for community health facilities and for medical research are also Wingate beneficiaries. There are monthly Shabbat Services in cooperation with several Synagogues.
There is an annual memorial march and service at Mt. Sinai Cemetery, where stands a magnificent cenotaph funded and maintained by the Branch -- a place which memorializes Jewish servicemen and women who died and are buried overseas, and those who fought in Israel's War of Independence and partisans who fought the Nazis.
Let us never forget!