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Munkatch at the Oak Bay coffee shop

Michael Schwarcz, a retired teacher from Brooklyn, comes every summer, with his wife Jo, to spend a month in Victoria.

One afternoon last week we got into a conversation about Michael’s family history. “My mother was born in Munkatch to a wealthy Jewish family; her grandfather owned a big brick factory right outside of the city...” When I heard of the brick factory outside Munkatch – it sounded very familiar to me...

Later that evening I was on the phone with George Pal, a holocaust survivor from Munkatch who lives in Victoria. “I remember in the story of your community's deportation to Auschwitz you mentioned that you boarded the trains from a brick factory outside of the city, is it possible that it was owned by a Jewish family? Because I think I know their descendant...”

george.JPGLast Friday, Michael, Jo, George and I sat together at a coffee shop in Oak Bay. George remembered very well the factory owned by Michael’s family at the north end of the city; this is where his father and uncle went on the train...  During this conversation Michael learned about his family and their town more than he ever knew before. “My family spoke very little about their pre-holocaust life, it is really ‘bashert’ that I got to meet George, and from all places, here in Victoria...”

Towards the end of the conversation George sighed. “Can you imagine” he said “If not for this cruel madman, we could have been sitting now in the beautiful city of Munkatch with our extended family! What destruction!”

In 1958, the Lubavitcher Rebbe referred to this thought, but in his amazing way, turned it to a drive for goodness. In his words:

“One individual had brought the world to the brink of destruction, but for the mercies of the King of the Universe, who ordained that, "The earth shall stand firm and shall not fall."

“If such is the power in the realm of evil, surely the potential of any single individual is much greater in the realm of good.” 

Meeting of Victorian soldiers

Ari Shortt, a good friend (and a Chatan who is getting married in 3 weeks. Mazal Tov!), shared with me an amazing story from his recent visit to Israel. As fellow Victorians, I belive you are going to be amazed by the Divine Providence of this incident and you may take great pride in the picture he shared with me.

Five years after Ari volunteered to serve in the IDF, he came with his fiancée Eva to visit family. It was a beautiful day when they decided to get some fresh air in the Golan Heights. They hiked Mount Odem, picked some cherries and were ready to head south.

As they were passing next to an army base, they saw, as frequently seen in Israel, a few soldiers waiting at a bus stop. In the spur of the moment Eva suggested to stop and share the cherries with the young men who looked like they may enjoy some fresh fruits... Eva remembered what Ari had told her of the great appreciation the soldiers had for kind people, who would stop by a check point and spoil them with a snack or pizza, in the middle of a long day...

Ari wasn’t sure how these guys would react, but Eva insisted. So they made a quick u-turn, and found themselves offering the soldiers the cherries they had just picked... Turned out that one of the soldiers was originally from the US. They had a great conversation about life in the army, and exchanged some experiences.Suddenly the soldier turned to Ari “You are from Canada, do you know Michael Starr?” to which Ari answered “of course I know him! In fact, he is the only soldier from Victoria serving in the IDF right now... and our families are close friends”. 


Minutes later, Michael was standing next to Ari; he was serving the base that by “chance” was just up the road.

Ari remembered when Michael as a young teenager came to consult with him whether he should volunteer in the IDF. Ari was very encouraging. Now he was rewarding Michael with cherries, for his great service as a warrior, for the safety of our people. 

CGI secret of success

I spent yesterday morning at the doctor with a counselor in our day camp, who fractured her thumb while cleaning up after another great day at Camp Gan Israel.

When I spoke to the doctor, he told me what impressed him about the young lady.  To me it felt so natural and self understood, but I realized that this is the secret of success of our camp, so I thought I should share it with you. 

The doctor was moved by the fact, that while he was talking to the counselor of the possible impact of the broken bone, including being in a cast for a significant amount of time, she was concerned about only one thing - she was afraid that she’ll need to go leave Victoria and won’t be able to continue looking after her bunk.

Due to my acquaintance with the girls, it sounded so natural to me. The staff of our camp consists of girls who come to work in our day camp, not to get anything in return, but to help share the Jewish spirit they received growing up, with our children in Victoria. When I interviewed them, they never asked about payment or accommodations, all they wanted to know is that they can make a difference.

Not only are they working from 8 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon, their entire stay here is focused on giving the children a joyous Jewish experience they will never forget.

When you’ll meet Mattie, Estie, Bluma, Rivky, Henny and Mushky you'll see that they are not saints, they are ordinary girls, with a great sense of humour, who know how to have fun and laugh, but at the same time they have such a great sense of purpose and direction that they can easily forget about themselves when helping others. This is the secret of success of our camp, and this is what I hope they instill in our children.

Heaven on Vancouver Island

Dear friends,

"Where you ever in Tofino?" I was asked, once again, last Friday night. "No," was my response somewhat embarrassed. "How could it be that you have Tofino around the corner and you never visited?! We came all the way from Israel to see it! It's like visiting the Garden of Eden!" 

This is a synopsis of a conversation I had with two couples, visiting from Petach Tikva, Israel who were our guest for dinner.

These visitors couldn't stop describing their excitement from the sightseeing they had in the past week in the Canadian Rockies and Tofino. “My husband and I were dreaming for decades to come see this magnificent place, and finally we made it. This is like experiencing heaven!”

You can imagine how it felt, being unable to participate in the conversation or comment anything about the ‘heaven’ which is in my neighborhood…

Shabbat morning services was great as always in our little Shul. After the lively Kiddush, I went to say good bye to our new friends, when one of the women shared “originally we were debating the plan of spending Shabbat in Victoria, which was out of our traveling route. We are so happy we came. In fact Shabbat in Victoria was the highlight of our visit!”

I no longer felt so terrible for not yet visiting Tofino. It seems that to experience Heaven, after all, it’s a question of perspective.


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