The Birthday Girls of HBT
By Gillian Rosenberg
Fredzia Marmur, Sybil Geller, Esther Tile, Nancy Ruth, Ellen Karabanow, Bea Sidlofsky, Diana Goodman, Sandy Atlin, Linda Wolfe, Zita Gardner, Sheila Smolkin —
These names are familiar. You know them as leaders, volunteers and active participants at Holy Blossom Temple and in the broader Jewish community. In fact, their collective contribution to Holy Blossom alone is staggering. But this article is not about their resumes. It’s about their friendship and a support network that is nearly three decades old.
Fredzia, Sybil, Ellen, Bea, Esther, and Nancy, having become friendly through volunteer work at Holy Blossom, are the founding members, the original 6. Somewhere in the mid-1990s, Fredzia suggested they start celebrating their birthdays together, and the group was born. No one is quite sure when they began to refer to themselves as the Birthday Girls, although, it was long before the first recorded notation, in 2008.
Over the next several years, Diana and Linda, then Sheila and Zita, and most recently Sandy were invited to join. The criteria for membership are a little mysterious. But birth month, hosting skills and compatibility might be involved, as the goal was to celebrate a birthday every month, at one house or another, with lunch, cake, jokes, laughter, original poetry, singing, and just a little bit of gossip.
Once per year, they got down to the task of planning for the year to come, including who would host whose birthday lunch and when. Drawing names and picking dates, a seemingly straightforward process, usually devolved into chaos, with complex negotiations taking hours and a dozen or so emails. This isn’t too surprising, given their strong and outspoken personalities. Not a shrinking violet in sight. But all part of the fun and always accomplished with goodwill and humour.
Over time, there were modifications to the celebration. Initially and for quite a while, the host would be responsible for collecting money from everyone and purchasing a collective gift for the honouree. In a moral moment, they decided that none of them really needed anything and that the money should be donated to a charity of the birthday girl’s choosing.
They also got tired of making lunch and decided to go out to restaurants. For landmark birthdays—70, 75, 80 (not saying whose)—more adventurous outings were planned, including the ROM, AGO, Bata Shoe Museum, Gardiner Museum, and even the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake, when they travelled for 3 hours to see a 30-minute show. Whatever the outing, lunch and the delight of being together were the priorities.
But it hasn’t always been sunshine, lollipops and rainbows. The group has suffered loss, illness and accidents. Sybil and Nancy are greatly missed. As are several husbands, who were occasionally invited to join the girls. Whether these were individual challenges or group challenges, the caring, compassion, support, comfort, and distraction they offered each other has been invaluable, even lifesaving at times. The girls are more than friends. They are family, always available to help and advise, no matter the scale or scope of the issue. The ties among them are so strong that Fredzia, far away in Israel, never misses calling on a birthday or offering support and is always kept informed of upcoming get-togethers.
Their secret? There is no politicking, no judging, and no jealousy. And no one carries an agenda, other than to enjoy each other’s company and be supportive.
While the group is independent of Holy Blossom Temple, they would never have come together without it. Holy Blossom provided and continues to provide a context for their common interests and experiences. Hence, you will often see them sitting together during services and at events. We often hear Holy Blossom spoken of as a second home. If the definition of home is the place where families are nurtured, then the birthday girls “family” is certainly confirmation that this is so.
Yasher Koach, Birthday Girls!