She sits as erect as an English school head mistress. She can be just as articulate, as English is her third language and she's conscious and careful of every word and sentence that she utters.
Yet when she speaks, she sounds like that glamorous celebrity of years past, the Hungarian Jewish actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, who came to America and conquered Hollywood. But what makes Goldi Steiner, Hungarian immigrant, and long-term Canadian citizen, different from Gabor is her mission.
“I want to create a new Jewish holiday,” she says as she makes me a cup of coffee and plies me with the kind of pastries that one would expect at a Viennese patisserie in Budapest. “What?” I ask her in total surprise, “Are there not enough Jewish holidays? Why do we need a new one?"
“Well,” she said, “Let me clarify what I mean. I want to create another Israeli national holiday that once endorsed by the Knesset [the Israeli parliament], will then be celebrated globally. That means, of course, also in the diaspora!”
I realized that this was going to take some time, so I sipped my coffee, dug into my pastry, and said, “Convince me.”
Goldi then began. “It all started on a train to Auschwitz. I was on that train with my mother. I was 5 years old and the Nazis had taken us from the Jewish ghetto in my hometown of Mako on transport whose destination was that notorious extermination camp Auschwitz. But for the grace of God we were re-routed. We suspected that slavery and death awaited us there but we were not sure, just terrified.
"At the time all I knew was a visceral fear of the future. During our journey I heard the train change lines and then we were taken to a former Austrian barracks, which was turned into a prison camp. We were kept there for a year until Soviet troops arrived at the gates of our camp and liberated us.
"I had been raised in an Orthodox Jewish family of Chassidim, a community who was part of the founding group of what later became the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta. But after the war in Hungary, after our return to my hometown and with the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, at the age of 10, I was old enough to think for myself and recognize that a state that protects Jews from murderous enemies is a good thing. I did not need a Ph.D. in philosophy to figure that one out.
"After World War II, many relatives and neighbours had gone to Israel, actually the Palestine Mandate, some as legal refugees that the British allowed in and some as illegals such as those described in the book and film 'Exodus' by Leon Uris.
"At the age of 10 I was being sent to afternoon classes at a Jewish school and I presented an aerogram from Israel in a play organized to celebrate the Declaration of Israel’s Independence. Then I announced that the aerogram was living proof of a Jewish state, as a state is allowed to create its own postal system—or something like that. From that day on I was a lover of the State of Israel, and when I was old enough to understand what it meant, I declared myself and still remain a committed Zionist.
"My family applied to come to Canada as the communists in Hungary were on the horizon, and here I became a full adult, first living in Vienna for four years, then Montreal, and coming to Toronto and spending a good number of years living in Venezuela with my first husband.
"We came back here. I went into real estate, raised my son and daughter, worked on various Holocaust and Holocaust education projects. Married to my second husband, the artist Ernest Raab, I was the catalyst in building the Yad Vashem Memorial erected in the Earl Bales Park, and later the monument to my role model Raoul Wallenberg.
"In Canada I supported Israel in any way I could. Then 12 years ago something changed. I met Salomon Benzimra.”
Before I describe Benzimra, what he did, and why it's important, let me quote what Israeli Knesset member Naftali Bennett thought about him and wrote about their meeting days before his death:
“I had the honor of meeting Mr. Benzimra in Jerusalem, only a few days before his sudden passing. His dedication to Israel and the Jewish People were remarkable. This book uses facts to debunk myths, showing how the State [of] Israel, the Jewish nation-state, is an integral part of international law.”
Most Israelis are not lawyers, and those Israelis who are lawyers don't for the most part necessarily study international law. And so many Israelis feel that after the Holocaust, the British betrayal of the terms of the Mandate for Palestine, and their political and military support of the Arab League in its genocidal war against what was to become the State of Israel in 1948, gave the Jewish people in the land the moral right to fight a war of independence, more truthfully a war of survival, which they miraculously won.
Since then, Israel has done everything possible to join the family of nations, expanding its legitimacy by signing on to as many international treaties as it can, without jeopardizing its own security or national independence.
The frustrating part is that most Israelis don't know that the foundation and legal legitimacy for the State of Israel didn't begin with their defensive war of 1948, nor did it begin when the League of Nations (which later became the U.N., inheriting all its legal precedents) adopted the Mandate for Palestine in 1922, which was a blueprint for a modern Jewish state.
Israel, that is to say, the sovereign state of the Jewish people in Palestine, was given its legal charter according to international law that's still valid today at the San Remo Conference.
People on the far left and Israel’s enemies believe that by endlessly repeating the big lie that Israel has no legal right to exist and, that the State of Israel is a violation of international law, don't realize that those same legal precedents and treaties that they themselves endorse in their false attack on the Jewish state created and still support the State of Israel. This didn't begin in 1948, but in 1920 at San Remo.
"attended by Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan—with the United States as a neutral observer, was held in San Remo, Italy, in April 1920. The conference was a continuation of a previous meetings between these Allied powers that had been held in London in February 1920, where it was decided, among other things, to put Palestine under British Mandatory rule. At San Remo, the Allies confirmed the pledge contained in the Balfour Declaration concerning the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine."These deliberations became part and parcel of the legal baggage of the League of Nations. And so, when independent Arab states such as Iraq and Egypt joined the League of Nations before World War II, they were actually legally bound to recognize the Jewish people’s sovereign right to the land of Israel. They didn't, and by declaring war on the Jewish state in 1948, they actually violated their own legal obligations to Jewish sovereignty as members of the League of Nations and later the U.N.
Benzimra had that Cartesian exactness of someone trained in the French intellectual tradition. He used it to pursue his educational goal—to write a clear, short, and simple book that explained to anyone interested the history of Israel’s legal rights to the land of Israel. His book is well worth the read and, it's short.
Israel’s legal rights were not a big topic in Jewish, pro-Israeli, or conservative circles 12 years ago, but through the efforts of Goldi, Benzimra, and their supporters at the CILR, the arguments explained in Benzimra’s book are now gaining ground.
Goldi, Benzimra, and their supporters have lobbied the Israeli government to create a national holiday, San Remo Day (Yom San Remo in Hebrew).
"The Knesset will declare the 7th of Iyar every year to be a national holiday marking the San Remo Conference, where the Allied Powers of World War I charged England to implement the Balfour Declaration and 'reconstitute a national homeland of the Jewish People in the Land of Israel' … The day will be marked in state institutions, in schools and in the Israel Defense Forces. The day will be commemorated in government meetings, at the President’s House, by the Israel Defense Forces, where the Chief of Staff will publish special remarks. The commemoration day will be marked in schools, by youth movements, and in youth organizations …"Goldi then told me: “I am not saying that I or Salomon are the single cause behind bringing awareness to the public about Israel’s legal rights. However, the plea to the government to declare San Remo a national holiday is CILR’s initiative. We hope that with Uzi Dayan’s powerful contribution, of creating the bill, and bringing it into the Knesset, this will contribute to the environment where such a suggestion will now be taken seriously by the Israeli government.
"As is well known, too many millennials in our colleges and universities are brainwashed by critical race theory that today even Jewish students do not know the legal arguments for Israel’s existence and many believe the big lie, that Israel is ‘occupying’ someone else’s land.
"On the contrary, Israelis are not occupiers, but owners of the land. Sadly, millennials do not know this as they have become ahistorical. This is well documented, and we can thank the teachers in our schools and universities and our national media for this. Our job now is to teach our children and grandchildren history and legal history. This cannot be done in schools or universities alone."
I was still puzzled. “So why create a new Jewish holiday, San Remo Day?"
Goldi explained: “You know how the Jewish people get things done. If San Remo Day becomes a national holiday then schools will have to honour it by giving students and kids education and projects to do. Then Jewish parents all over the world will discover what Salomon explained in his book. We have translated his work into Hebrew, which has been distributed and taught to thousands of students at the top Israeli universities by our partners in Israel and shared with many Israeli schools, and public libraries.
"Then Jewish and hopefully even secular schools in the diaspora will have to study it, too. The understanding—in an ideal world—of the legal justification of the State of Israel can then become part of the wider historical, civil, and political discussion. It is that simple!”
“But why a holiday?” I persisted.
Goldi said: “Jews teach their children history through holidays. We teach about freedom from slavery and independence in ancient Israel at Passover and resilience and religion at Chanukah and so on and so forth. When Jews find an excuse to eat and celebrate a holiday they explain it to their children and it becomes a positive and valued part of family tradition. So, it is time to establish Yom San Remo.
"The rest is commentary as the Rabbis said, and one can read that commentary in Salomon’s short and concise book. The good thing is that Yom San Remo will rarely if ever overlap with Passover.”
I had arrived a skeptic but left a believer. I look forward to celebrating Yom San Remo and explaining Israel’s legal rights to Jews in Israel and to people around the world, and of course to my children and grandchildren.
The problem, now, is to decide what to eat.