(l-r): Richard Yaffe (JFM Vice-chair), Chloe McComb (Chair,. Women’s Endowment Fund Grants Committe), Jeanne Beker, Dr. Eric Winograd (JFM Chair)

By MYRON LOVE
2018 was another year of growth for the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba.  Last year, current President Eric Winograd reported, as the second largest such foundation in the province (after the Winnipeg Foundation) the Foundation’s capital base grew to $125 million  and it was able to distribute a record $4.5 million from interest on its capital fund to programs and services that benefit both the Jewish community and the larger community as a whole.

 

 

 

 


Speaking to an audience of over 400 supporters attending the 25th annual Jewish Foundation of Manitoba Luncheon in support of its Women’s Endowment Fund (which provides funding specifically for programs that address the needs of girls and women), Winograd noted two important JFM  events last year.  One was the Foundation’s funding contribution to a major new survey by the Environics Institute which provided an updated picture of the state of Canada’s Jewish community.
The other was the sale of its property in Middlechurch just north of Winnipeg.  The Middlechurch property has been a JFM asset right ever since the Foundation was created in 1964. In that year, Winograd reminded his audience, businessmen Joseph Halprin and brothers Abe and Sam Werier founded the JFM. At the time, they presented the fledgling organization with a tract of land in Middlechurch.

“They were visionaries,” Winograd said of the three founding fathers.  “They expected that we would one day sell the land for the benefit of the community.  Last year, we sold the land for over $900,000 and created a new endowment fund that generate $40,000 a year in interest to support programs in the community.
“Our founders looked into the future.  We are living the future that they envisaged.”

Jeanne Beker’s presentation also combined  both past and present.  Beker, a journalist who is best known as the host of Fashion Television, spoke not only about her illustrious career, but also about her parents - Holocaust survivors Joseph and Bronia Beker, and the life lessons she learned from them.
Five years ago, the Azrieli Foundation published the Bekers’ story of survival as part of that foundation’s Holocaust Survivors Memoirs Program.  (Every guest at the JFM luncheon was given a copy of the book.)  As Beker recounted, her parents were from a shtetl by the name of Kazowa in eastern Poland.  They met in the late 1930s and fell in love.  When Bronia’s family all died while trying to evade the Nazis, Joseph deserted his Polish army unit to come back for her and the couple survived the war years either in hiding or on the run.
They came to Canada in 1948 with Jeanne’s older sister, Marilyn.  Jeanne herself was born in 1952.  “My parents had wanted to come to Canada,” Jeanne Beker said.  “My mother had an uncle here.  My father told us that one day someone from Canada came to the Displaced Persons camp where they were living.  He was looking for furriers to bring back to Canada. My father claimed to be a furrier, even though he had no experience in the trade.  He was able to avoid taking the test because he had a rash on his arms.”

Once settled in Toronto, Joseph and Bronia found factory work. After Jeanne was born, her mother became a full-time homemaker.  Her father eventually was able to start his own business making slippers, which he sold across Canada.
To help pay for their new house, the Bekers took in boarders.  “It was great for me,” she said.  “We didn’t have any family. Our boarders became my extended family.”
Unlike many other Holocaust survivors who were reluctant to talk about their experiences, Jeanne Beker’s parents began telling their children their stories of survival while the sisters were still young.  “It wasn’t easy listening to the stories,” she recalled, “but we learned from them.  We learned resilience.  I guess it was therapeutic for them.
“My dad always used to tell us not to be afraid and to never give up.  That is advice that has always stayed with me.”

Jeanne Beker especially appreciates that her parents allowed her to live the life she wanted to live, whatever  misgivings may have had.  As a child, she took drama, art and ballet lessons.  At 16, she recounted, she decided that she wanted to be an actress.  She successfully auditioned for a role in a production being filmed in Toronto.
At 19, she announced to her parents that she wanted to move to New York to study acting.  After a year, she returned to Toronto and enrolled in a theatre program at York University.  After a short time in the program, she quit to become a mime artist.  She subsequently spent a year in Paris studying mime.

Having fallen in love with a fellow student back in Toronto, she followed him to St. John’s, Newfoundland, where she pursued her career as a mime artist.  “I was the only mime artist in Newfoundland,” she noted.  “As it was difficult making a living doing mime, I walked into the local CBC radio office and got a job as arts and entertainment reporter.”
She returned to Toronto in 1978 – after three years in St. John’s  – and  was promptly hired by CHUM radio.  Shortly thereafter, she was chosen by producer Moses Znaimer to co-host his pioneering  NewMusic TV show.
Her next career move – in 1985 – led her to become the host of the new Fashion Television, a role she played until 2012 –and a role that made her an international star.

Beker noted that she had it all – a successful career, marriage, two children, a nice house, and a place in the country.  Then, in 1998, it all came crashing down.  Out of the blue (for her) her husband of 12 years said that he wanted a divorce.
“He had recently lost his job and was going through a midlife crisis,” he said.  “I was devastated.  But I remembered my father’s words – never give up.  I was the daughter of Holocaust survivors and I could survive this.”

In the years since, she has developed her own limited edition fashion lines as well as continuing to write and speak about fashion. Beker has received many honours, including induction into the Order of Canada in 2013.
In her presentation she noted that her father passed away in 1987, but did live long enough to welcome her first daughter. Her mother passed away in 2014.
A few years before her mother died, Jeanne had the opportunity to take Bronia with her back to Poland. She recalled how she was in Poland to film a segment about fashion.  Her mother turned out to be the centre of attention. Bronia was able to serve as an interpreter for the film crew and, at a presentation that Jeanne was giving, all eyes turned to her mother after Jeanne introduced her.
“Everyone wanted to talk to my mother about her experiences,” Jeanne said.