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What began as a bit of a lark – three old buddies in the summer of 2016 starting up a Facebook group for former students from Winnipeg Jewish schools from the 1950s and 60s, turned into a terrific four-day event over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Some 240 individuals attended one or another of the many events that were part of what was the Jewish Schools Reunion. Originally the idea of Avrum Rosner, who lives in Montreal, Zev Cohen in Israel, and Cyril Kesten, in Regina, soon to be joined by Winnipeggers Bert Schaffer and Eileen Margulius Curtis, the Facebook group began to attract increasing numbers of members as word of its existence spread.
It wasn’t long before the idea of holding an actual reunion began to take hold. Various dates were bandied about until the weekend of October 6-9 was settled upon. Granted, there was a conflict with Sukkot and Shabbat, but in the end the organizers decided to go ahead with those dates.
We had written about the reunion several times in this paper – as well as posting those stories to our website and, together with reports in other media, especially Facebook, word spread to the point that there are now over 700 members of the Facebook group for former Jewish students from the 50s and 60s.
To a certain extent there was some skepticism that a reunion of students from different schools would hold the same attraction for students of the Peretz School as it would for former Talmud Torah and Joseph Wolinsky students. The organizers though, made concerted efforts to bring everyone into the fold and, by the time the actual reunion began on Friday, October 6, there was solid representation from every Jewish school that had been in existence during the 50s and 60s, including not only the large day schools in the north end, but also Ramah Hebrew School, Herzlia Academy, Shaarey Zedek evening school, and Rosh Pina kindergarten and evening school.
As well as students, teachers were also invited to attend – and, as mentioned in our last issue, one of the great highlights of the Friday evening Shabbat dinner was seeing former teacher Henny Paritzky attend – and light the Shabbat candles.
As well as enjoying dinner at the venue that served as the home base for the reunion – the Holiday Inn Airport West, attendees were treated to a collection of Hebrew and Yiddish songs performed by the North End Jewish People’s Choir. Also, following the dinner several former students gathered on stage to lead audience members in some favourite old Hebrew and Yiddish songs that used to be regularly sung in Jewish schools in the 50s and 60s.
The next morning participants gathered for brunch in the hotel. On the program that morning were two presentations: one by Prof. Dan Stone on the history of the Winnipeg Jewish community, and the other by this writer on the history of Jewish newspapers in Winnipeg. (I tried to keep my presentation light – referring for instance to the Yiddish radio program hosted by the late Noah Witman, and reminding everyone there how much that was a part of our parents’ and grandparents’ lives during the 50s and 60s.)
At one point I asked for a show of hands to see how many of those in attendance were from out of town. I think everyone was quite surprised when more than half of those who were there put up their hands. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one wondering why, if so many people had made the effort to travel to Winnipeg for an event like this, so many others who still live in Winnipeg didn’t bother to attend? No doubt some of those Winnipeggers will be kicking themselves once they realize what a once-in-a-lifetime event they missed.
Also during the Saturday morning program were musical performances by two different groups: the adorable children’s choir from the Etz Chayim Synagogue know as “Yonah”, under the direction of the effervescent Lena Stretslov; and the duo of Danny Koulack on bass and Myron Schultz on clarinet performing klezmer tunes. (And no, Myron, I won’t post a video of you performing, as per your request, in case you might have hit a bad note.)
The next morning reunion attendees met in the Multipurpose room of the Asper Campus for brunch and to hear a presentation by Gray Academy Head of School Lori Binder. Then, at noon, about 120 of the reunion attendees boarded three different buses for a tour of Winnipeg landmarks that had some resonance for anyone who grew up in Winnipeg in the 50s and 60s. There were stops at three different buildings that once housed Jewish schools: the Adas Yeshurun-Herzlia synagogue, which once housed the Herzlia Academy (and later Ohr Hatorah Day School); the former Peretz School on Aikins; and finally, the former Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate /Talmud Torah on Matheson.
Later, Sunday evening a “sock hop” was held at the Rady JCC. (Unfortunately, we weren’t able to attend; we were at a wedding that evening. Apparently it was a big weekend for weekends – and at least one bat mitzvah that we heard about.)
The final day of the reunion, Monday, October 9, saw one more brunch at the Holiday Inn – and a chance for reunion attendees to tell stories and say their good byes. One by one, a long line of individuals approached the microphones on the floor - to congratulate the organizers – and say what a great time they had.
Then, toward the end of the program, one individual by the name of Jerry Katz (who now lives in Edmonton) got up and told two absolutely hilarious stories: one about an experience he had when he sang off key one Shabbes morning in the Talmud Torah synagogue when Cantor Brownstone was conducting the choir; and another about Zev Cohen and a mishap he had on his flight to Winnipeg from Israel. (It turns out the story about Zev wasn’t true, but it sure was a great story!)
I approached Jerry after the program was over and told him that his story about Brownstone was absolutely priceless. Could he tell the story again, I wondered, this time so that I could record it on my iPhone?
Lucky for me – and for the more than 1500 people who have now viewed the clip of Jerry telling that story on Facebook, he told the story again – complete with gestures and mimicking of the voices of various well-known individuals. If you haven’t seen that clip yet, watch it here: http://jewishpostandnews.ca/categories-media/71-local/226-cantor-brownstone-story

And – even if you don’t have a clue who it is that Jerry is talking about – it’s the kind of story that most everyone  is bound to find absolutely hilarious.