A great many younger members of our Jewish community may be moving away from Jewish practices, but 14-year-old Chason Nudler gives one cause for hope for the future.

In early May, the oldest son of Katherine and Aaron Nudler was part of a group of 30 St. John’s Ravenscourt students in Europe on a tour of the battlefields of the two world wars. The tour also coincided with events commemorating the 70th anniversary of VE Day – the end of World War II in Europe.
The tour included visits to several war cemeteries (including Flanders Field, which has been immortalized in poem) containing the graves of Allied soldiers who fell in combat. “Some days, we were visiting two cemeteries a day,” Nudler recalls.
In the first of the cemeteries, amidst the countless rows of crosses, Nudler noticed one gravestone adorned with a Magen David. He instinctively picked up some stones to put on the grave and, from that point on, sought out – with the help of three or four other Jewish classmates - other Jewish graves to do the same honour.
“We are so proud of Chason for taking this on by himself,” says his mother, Katherine. “He knows the custom from our regular visits to his zaida’s (the late Morris Nudler) grave. He didn’t ask anyone for permission. He just did it.
“The teachers asked him for an explanation and he replied that this is a Jewish custom.”
The European trip was one of three travel choices that Nudler had. Being a top debating student at SJR (and at the Gray Academy before that), he was eligible to participate in the national debating championships in eastern Canada. He was also eligible to go on the last Asper Foundation-funded tour for Jewish Grade 9 students (not attending the Gray Academy) to the Holocaust Museum in Washington.
“I was encouraging Chason to choose the European trip,” says Katherine. “I was inspired by Rabbi Green’s remarks at Yom Tov last year.”
The SJR group left on May 2. The first stop was Amsterdam, where they went on a guided tour that included the Anne Frank House and the Jewish Historical Museum. Chason notes that the line-up to get in stretched around the block.
There were no pictures allowed at the Anne Frank House, he says.
On May 6, the students passed through Wageningen en route to Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery and Memorial for the official liberation day ceremonies, which included a speech by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Katherine Nudler notes that the Dutch hold Canada in high regard. (It was Canadian soldiers who liberated Holland.)
“The people on the street cheered and applauded the Canadian students as they went by,” she says. “They played O Canada at the ceremony and flew the flags at half mast. They also heard veterans tell their stories.”
Other stops on the SJR students’ tour included the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam, World War I battlefields Ypres and Vimy Ridge (where Canadians figured prominently in the fighting) and Juno Beach (where Canadians were also in action on D-Day). The students were also shown a model of a World War I trench. Their last day was spent in Paris on a walking tour that included the Latin Quarter, the Louvre and Notre Dame Cathedral.
“After this, I will think of our Remembrance Day ceremonies in a different way,” Chason Nudler says. “Actually seeing the graves and the battlefields has a much stronger effect than whatever you may see in a movie or read in a book.
“It is also good to know that all those graves are still being well cared for and the soldiers buried there are still remembered and being honoured.”