Throughout the past year, we’ve had the privilege to be able to help some of the most amazing people in our community. Their stories of triumph, perseverance and hope are a strong encouragement for our team to remain strong during these trying times. We reached out to them to learn about their lives, passions, and most importantly, for some advice to us younger generation folks. Enjoy! (Names have been changed to protect the privacy of our clients).
One of the people whom our organization helps on a weekly basis is a lovely lady named Miriam. She is always an absolute pleasure to talk with on the phone and has the most outgoing and friendly personality. Everyone on our team feels like they have a personal relationship with her, and everyone hopes that she calls our hotline when they are on shift so that they get the opportunity to have a nice chat while they take down her grocery list for the week. We love hearing her stories about her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, to all of whom she is a super proud mother, grandmother and great-grandmother!
We asked her to share some of her life story with us. “I was born on Passover, at the original Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto,” she told us. “My parents were Polish immigrants who came to Canada before WWII, hopeful for a better life.”
She was raised in the heart of the bustling and ever-growing Toronto Jewish community, which, back then, was mainly centred around the now-quaint Spadina Avenue and St. Clair intersection. “I went to public schools during the day, and I attended the Jewish Hebrew school on weekends,” she said. “I enjoyed participating in many extra-curricular activities. I played the piano, sang in the choir, was a skilled dancer, and loved going to art galleries and the movies with my pals.”
Miriam was also super athletic; she enjoyed biking, and played badminton and tennis. “I also played for the basketball team. I played point guard!” she told us excitedly.
As first-generation immigrants, her parents were dedicated workers, committed to providing an income for their family. Her father owned a small furniture store on Dundas St. in downtown Toronto, and she would spend her summers working there.
When World War Two broke out, and news of the Holocaust began to spread to Canada, Miriam and her family took it upon themselves to save as many Jewish lives as they could. They were successful in saving several families from Europe and helping them immigrate to Canada.
We asked Miriam if she has any advice for us young students. “Life is a learning experience,” she said. “Make sure your work is something that you love, and surround yourself with good people. See the good in ALL people, and build a legacy and family filled with good deeds and kindness. And remember to treat everyone with kindness!”
Charlotte is a lovely, cheerful, and super-sweet lady whom we have had the privilege of getting to know over the past year. Each week, she provides us with a highly-detailed and clear grocery list, handwritten in her unique elegant style. She is also quite tech-savvy: we communicate with her not only via phone calls, but also email, texting, and emojis! We were thrilled when she offered to share some of her story with us.
Charlotte was born (95 years ago) in Montreal, Quebec. She was the younger of the two children in her family, which consisted of her parents and her brother. Her father began working as a tailor and eventually would enter the real-estate market. “I used to love going on train and bus rides with my father, and eventually we bought our own car”. Her mother was heavily involved in the community and partook in charity organizations.
“I remember Shabbat as a child,” She told us, “I would spend Shabbat with my friends, and would attend the service at the Synagogue”.
The Jewish community in Montreal was originally heavily Ashkenazic, or Jews of European descent, and would later see the arrival of Sephardic Francophone Jews, mainly from Morocco and Tunisia.
Eventually, she would move to Toronto, Ontario, where she has lived for over 50 years. She worked as a high school teacher in Toronto for 25 years. “I loved my job!” she told us proudly. Her advice to young people? “Stay in school!!”
Jacqueline has a happy-go-lucky attitude, and is always a pleasure to work with. She is always exceedingly punctual, sending in her weekly shopping list the moment Shabbat ends, and is extremely grateful to our wonderful volunteers for helping her. She is a retired teacher, a third-generation Torontonian, and says that Chesed vs COVID-19 “has literally saved [her] life.”
Growing up with her grandmother living in her home, she vividly remembers the Sunday afternoons when her uncles and aunts would come over to visit. There was a lot of action and fun when they came over, although in general life was simpler and quieter. “Jewish Toronto was much smaller then,” Jacqueline says, “everyone seemed to know everyone. There was a coziness about the neighborhoods,” which were small and walkable, and each Shabbos she used to go visit her cousins, who were close in age to her. “We loved playing Monopoly, cards, pickup sticks and skipping. We would crawl under tables and pretend the space was our hiding place,” she recalls fondly.
Jacqueline’s immediate family consisted of her father, a fur operator, her mother, who worked part-time jobs babysitting and at the post office, and a brother six years her junior, to whom she acted as a “little mother.” The early training in child-rearing paid off handsomely, as it led Jacqueline to a 50 year career as a teacher. “I taught all ages, from very young up to adults,” she relates. “The work was difficult at times, but usually rewarding.”
Asked for a message that she can impart to the next generation, Jacqueline thoughtfully advises to “not let life's challenges block out all the sunshine in your life.” Although she claims that she still needs to work on this, we at Chesed-vs-C19 have had only the most positive experience with her!