By Irene Borins Ash M.S.W., R.S.W.
Social Worker, Photographer & Author
My earliest memories go back to living on Palmerston Blvd. with my parents Beverley, Sidney and my brother Sandford Borins, my late Buby Ludwig and my beloved Uncle Dr. Bernard Ludwig. Congregation Shaarei Tzedec, the Markham Street Shul is still at Ulster St. and Markham St. and although we moved away when I was 4 years old I remember the orthodox men and their wives and children coming out of synagogue and walking in front of our home. I believe I began taking black and white photographs in my mind at this young age as I am still mesmerized to this day when I see Jewish men and women and their children walking home after attending services.
I started going to Holy Blossom at 5 years of age. One of my earliest memories was when Heinz Warschauer, who was the Director of Education allowed me to go up to the tower and choose a book. I still treasure this book “Elementary Introduction to the Scriptures” written by Simcha C. Peixotto. It was the sixteenth edition, published in 5642-1882 and sold for 50 cents. I feel that Heinz gave me a bit of special attention as I was a rebellious student and he probably was not sure what to do with me.
Years later I wrote two books “Treasured Legacies- Older and Still Great” Second Story Press 2003 and “Aging Is Living: Myth Breaking Stories From Long Term Care” Dundurn Press 2009. As a social worker my work was always with seniors and their families. I feel that my connection to Holy Blossom influenced my life’s work as Holy Blossom Temple is a vibrant and dynamic centre with people of all ages as members. I was also inspired tremendously by Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut as he was the rabbi throughout most of my teens and well into my adult life and his powerful sermons and writings helped my thought process develop.
There were several people who were temple members who were highlighted in my first book, some being Ethel Raicus, Jerome Diamond, Etta Ginsber McEwan, Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut, Florence Rosberg, John Weinzweig, Eugene Kash, Sydney Katz, Sara Pachter, and my mother Beverley Borins.
Rabbi John Moscowitz asked me if I would display my photos and text that became my first book: Treasured Legacies: Older and still Great” at Holy Blossom. I felt very honoured and when it came time to have a launch the legendary Oscar Peterson came out with his wife Kelly and Oscar gave a speech on creativity and ageing. “That day will stay with me forever.” When Kelly and Oscar drove up in a limo and he spoke with temple members- it was a thrilling, thrilling experience.
Debby Vigoda, a temple member, and was the Executive Director of the Ontario Gerontology Assn. wrote a piece for my book “Aging Is Living- Myth Breaking Stories From Long Term Care”. Debby’s husband Morris had been a resident of Castleview Wychwood- a long term care home and Debby told her story in the book. She also wrote a piece entitled “If I Don’t Take Care of Me, I Can’t Take Care of Him.” Morris Vigoda was a volunteer for Internal Security for the Out of The Cold Program along with many other volunteer responsibilities.
Ethel Raicus who had been the Principal of Holy Blossom Religious School and I became friends and every year would go to see the World Press Photos at Brookfield Place together. Ethel possessed an open minded and inquisitive outlook throughout her entire life. Etta Ginsberg McEwan who had been the Director of Social Work at Baycrest when I worked there is a dynamic and inspirational member to many at Holy Blossom. Etta contracted polio (infantile paralysis) at the age of five, and the disease in many ways determined her personality. She has been very instrumental with issues concerning the disabled.
In a 3 page portion of my second book, I wrote about the Holy Blossom Seniors Group. Over the years and after having interviewed over 100 seniors I tried to understand why some people become depressed as they age while others were living with a healthy and positive attitude, yet by this time in life they all had various health challenges and many losses in life, which is a natural occurrence.
When my Mom mentioned that she was going to a Purim Shpiel as part of the senior’s weekly program I decided to take my camera and capture some images of the joyous, vibrant and lively event. One woman in the group is 107 years old. People who are connected to community and not isolated fare better then people who withdraw from life. I believe my photos will speak to this. The program is run by Sheila Smolkin, Paula Warren and many other dedicated and creative volunteers.
My website is www.ireneborinsash.com I have been heavily involved in a project entitled “One Planet: Harnessing Hope” about what some multi faith and multi cultural groups are doing to help the environment. I have been fortunate to have met some of the most renowned environmentalists in North America. I partnered with Dr. Lucy Cummings, the E.D. of “Faith and the Common Good” and “Greening Sacred Spaces” in this endeavor. After having met Dr. David Suzuki several times over the years and also interviewing so many seniors, they expressed their concern about what the world will be like for their children and their grandchildren in relation to the changing environment. We are one. We are in this together.
“Our lives today are inextricably woven to life in the past, both biologically and historically. We drink the water that our ancestors waded through when they crossed the Red Sea; we look at the same sky that Abraham gazed upon. Those who grasp these links learn awe, humility, and pride.” Ellen Bernstein, Let the Earth Teach You Torah.
The preceding quote was shared with me by Risa Cooper, the E.D. of Shoresh and Sabrina Malach, The Director of Engagement of Shoresh, a Jewish Environmental Organization which operates the Kavanah Garden and Bela Farm.
My new project will be dedicated to the late Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson and Dr. Bernard Ludwig.