The importance of community was not a value that I had to be taught. Growing up in a household of eleven people, sharing and supporting each other were necessities of my daily life. My parents, Moishe and Goldie Grafstein, raised eight daughters and one son in our lively home near College and Spadina.
Before I was born, my talented and charming sisters had already gained some notoriety in the community. The Grafstein sisters’ seven-piece musical ensemble entertained guests at many simchas and charity events. The youngest of nine children, friends have always known me as ‘Budgie,’ the childhood nickname given to me by my eight older siblings.
My father emigrated from Poland in 1908 and, through the persistence of a newcomer determined to seize the opportunities that Canada promised, established a thriving fabric store on College Street.
While attending high school, I worked part time in my father’s store. I have fond memories of the colourful characters that populated Toronto’s garment district, and I have a strong sense of the many different ways in which members of the Toronto Jewish community supported one another.
Because my father was as charismatic as he was hard-working, our house on Brunswick Avenue became a hive of activity and a hub for the Toronto Jewish community. Those early days established my Jewish roots and ensured that I would have a lifelong commitment to family and community. On any given night, it wasn’t unusual to find my mother generously stretching her meal to feed an assortment of relatives, landsleit, actors from the Jewish theatre, or customers who had bonded with my father while haggling over a bolt of cloth. Following my mother’s example, my friends and relatives know that they are always welcome to stop by my home at teatime or for a Shabbat dinner.
My husband, Joe, has an equally strong sense of community. Joe has worked hard throughout his life, and we feel blessed that we are in a position to help support our local, national and international Jewish communities, as well as cultural, educational and health-care institutions worldwide. Together, we are involved in many organizations, including Baycrest, UJA Federation and Mount Sinai Hospital. I have also been an active member of Hadassah, the National Council for Jewish Women and Beth Tzedec Synagogue.
Joe and I have dedicated ourselves to helping the Jewish State thrive. For the last 30 years, through our involvement with the Israel Children’s Centers, we have visited Israel annually and helped to create 14 tennis centres throughout the country. Through sport and personal development programs, these centres provide a much-needed sense of normalcy and serve as an oasis of peace for thousands of Israel’s young people.
Our children have made Joe and me proud in enacting our values. Simmie, David and Camelia have each found their own meaningful ways to contribute to their communities and to pass these values on to their children. With seven grandchildren, we hope this tradition continues from generation to generation!