Nova Scotia Jews Helping Crash Victims’ Relatives Cope

On Sunday morning, about nine people climbed the picturesque rocks near the Nova Scotia coast where Swissair Flight 111 crashed last week.

The relatives of some of the tragedy’s Jewish victims chanted Hebrew prayers, many from the Book of Psalms.

No words or prayers can completely console the families of the victims, but those who participated in the service appeared to derive some comfort, said Rabbi Mendel Feldman, who led the service. One of the relatives, said Feldman, the Lubavitch emissary in Nova Scotia, came up to him after the prayers and said, “You can’t imagine how reassuring it was.”

Initial reports said as many as 50 Jews might have been among the 229 victims of the crash near Peggy’s Cove, which created some worries that the small Jewish community in the province’s capital of Halifax would be unable to accommodate the relatives of the Jewish victims.

But that initial fear proved to be unfounded — as of Tuesday, only seven Jewish victims could be confirmed and it is unlikely that more than 20 Jews perished in last week’s crash, according to Jon Goldberg, the executive director of the Atlantic Jewish Council, the Jewish umbrella organization for eastern Canada.

Among the Jewish victims of the crash, which appears to have been the result of electrical failure, was Jonathan Mann, the first director of the World Health Organization’s AIDS program.

Local volunteers provided kosher meals, and six rabbis made themselves available to grieving families.

Investigators have identified just one of the bodies so far, which makes it unlikely that traditional Jewish burial rites will be performed for any of the victims. According to halachah, or Jewish law, a burial service cannot be performed without a body.

Instead, a non-denominational burial service will likely be held for any body parts that are retrieved.

A memorial service for victims was held at the Beth Israel Synagogue in Nova Scotia’s capital of Halifax on Sunday.

In the meantime, relatives of the victims have begun sifting through the personal remains that have been recovered from the icy Atlantic waters.

According to Feldman, the family of one of the victims, Stanley Klein, has claimed an empty bag that contained his Jewish prayer shawl. That, said Feldman, has led to speculation that “when the plane was going down and he had no idea if he would live, he put on his tallis and davened.”

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