Refuge Canada Tent & Love the Stranger
By: Nancy Lerner
I grew up hearing stories from my mom about her childhood, being a child of immigrants from Ukraine. Throughout her childhood, her family lived in a small apartment above Careful Hand Laundry, a business my grandfather started years after arriving in Toronto in 1923. My mom often recounted how she never knew who was going to be sleeping in the chairs in their small living room when she awoke for school. So many new immigrants arrived on my grandparents’ doorstep, their first stop in Canada, being offered food, warmth and a place to stay.
As if this outreach of generosity wasn’t enough, my grandfather took these new immigrants to the bank and found them work and housing, so that they too, could become proud Canadians.
As a young child, I remember my grandparents’ home being filled with friends and family, all of whom were immigrants, fleeing pogroms without a penny in their pockets and an uncertain future. As years went by, my grandfather became involved in greater community service, committed to helping immigrants start a new life. He was one of the founders of JIAS, the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society. Even after his tenure as President of JIAS, he remained committed, to providing services and support to new Canadians. While I can’t remember exactly when he was awarded an honour from the Prime Minister of Canada for his lifetime of community work.
After my grandfather passed away, my mother started a JIAS scholarship in my grandfather’s name. Each year, she sat on a nominating committee, making the final decision as to which deserving young immigrant would be awarded tuition. It was always such a hard decision for her. My mom sadly passed away 10 yrs ago, and now, my wonderful son is carrying on our family tradition. He has now joined the nominating committee for the Shindman Scholarship, and he is so proud to do so.
Last Shabbat, I walked by the Pier 21 exhibit on the 2nd floor. As I glanced at the panels, there were my grandparents! I was almost brought to tears, as they were with me, reminding me of our family’s commitment to bettering the lives of all immigrants. They would be saddened, however, to learn that yet again, Canada is welcoming thousands of Ukrainians fleeing terror. Thanks to the generosity and goodness of JIAS, this generation of immigrants, once again, has hope for their future.
Refuge Canada Tent and Love the Stranger October 13 – November 28, 2022, at Holy Blossom Temple
In celebration of 100 years of Jewish Immigrant Aid Services in Canada, JIAS Toronto invites you to a dual exhibit.
Refuge Canada Tent is a travelling exhibit created by the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. It is designed to resemble a tent used in refugee camps today. The exhibit also investigates Canada’s historical track record of responding to refugees.
The Ontario Jewish Archives has curated a complementary exhibit, Love the Stranger. The exhibit recalls that many Canadian Jews were refugees over the last century – we too were “strangers in a strange land” – and that JIAS has played a central role in welcoming and supporting Jewish refugees from around the world.
Click here to learn more!