From Dashev Ukraine to Hespeler Ontario, my ancestors arrived to a prosperous country, with pre-war scars of anti-Semitism but none of wartime loss. They possessed only opportunity; more valuable than riches. Grandfather peddled blankets door-to-door, before expanding to rubber boots and clothing for men and women. “Making it”, meant having enough to feed a small family, live Jewishly and bond with Jews in nearby Galt where my mother’s parents were founders of B’nai Israel. Paying tax, as great uncle Jack would say, was a privilege. “Who wants to pay tax”, I asked. “Yingele”, he replied, “it means I earned enough to have the right to pay tax, and give back in this land of opportunity.”
Our parents were ruthless in their commitment to raise literate Jews. They drove us daily to synagogue to learn Hebrew, learn the siddur, grow to the age of mitzvoth and lead a kehillah in prayer.
We watched and learned from our parents as they put coins in the pushka. We joined our fathers when they cut imported Toronto bagels, vegetables and smoked fish, set up and put away tables and chairs and im kol ehad – with one voice - bless G-d for the breakfast we shared after the Sunday morning “tefillin club”.
We learned to be or lagoyim – an example to our non-Jewish neighbours to whom grandfather regaled with tales of a foreign land that had no sky, only straw above. I could not fathom how my relatives moved from foreign lands, crossed a vast ocean and restarted their lives. From the biblical Benjamin to Benjamin my grandfather, Jews kept their faith and traditions through unique and often limiting and different lifestyles. I came to accept that I was a link in the chain that connected the generations.
Our parents attended shul meetings, had us count coins collected to help children less fortunate. We sold tickets to assist children with disabilities and we handed out gifts at holiday time. Our parents taught us that while what we did with our lives was important, how we did what we did, was more important. By example they prodded us into goodness.
They struggled for connection, engagement and Jewish life experience. They motivated me to work as a Jewish Communal Service professional, an osek b’tzorkei tzibbur, one who is engaged in the work of community. A journey from small town Ontario, through Manhattan, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, Rochester and finally part of the great Toronto community. I never learned to fight the bully, but I did learn the sweet science of fighting for Jewish continuity.
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