Winnipeg’s Jewish community has a penchant for school reunions, such as the 100th anniversary of the I.L. Peretz Folk School (which closed its doors around 1980), the more recent celebration of a century of Jewish education in Winnipeg, the 75th and 100th anniversaries of St. John’s High School, the 100th anniversary of the Aberdeen School and the 50th anniversary of Garden City Collegiate (each of which had substantial Jewish enrolment in their early years).
There have also been a number of smaller Peretz School class reunions over the years. The graduating class of 1963, for example, has been convening every two years for the past six years.
The one exception to this rule has been the former Talmud Torah/Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate. “We have never had a school reunion specifically for Talmud Torah/Joseph Wolinsky students,” says Avrum Rosner, who attended the school from 1952 to 1964.
Rosner, who has been living in Montreal for the past 30-odd years, is a member of a committee working toward redressing that oversight. Their Winnipeg Jewish Schools Reunion – for 1950s, ’60s and early ’70s graduates of TT/JWC, as well as other Winnipeg Jewish schools, is set for the October long weekend.
“I have never seen anything like Winnipeg in the 1950s,” Rosner says. “Our Jewish population was at its peak. There was a tremendous outburst of Jewish education and culture, on par with anything happening anywhere else in the country. We had a vibrant Yiddish culture alongside Hebrew day school. Even though many of us subsequently left Winnipeg, Winnipeg always remained a part of our generation.”
The idea for the reunion, Rosner says, actually began as a joke. In June 1962, Eaton’s put an ad in the Jewish Post in Winnipeg offering copies of Joan Comay’s Everyone’s Guide to Israel (coinciding with Israel’s bar mitzvah year) to the first hundred kids who were celebrating their bar mitzvahs to come to the store.
“Zev Cohen (who lives in Israel), Cyril Kesten (who lives in Regina) and I decided to create a Facebook page and reprint the ad, inviting those who hadn’t yet picked (up) their books to respond,” Rosner says. “Hundreds of former students responded and began exchanging memories, pictures and souvenirs.”
It was Cohen who suggested organizing a “better late than never” reunion.
“We started with just Talmud Torah and Joseph Wolinsky students,” Rosner says, “but there was too much demand from former students of other Winnipeg Jewish schools. Our Facebook group took on a life of its own. We have over 600 Facebook group members now and thousands of photos posted.”
Last fall, Rosner and Cohen formed an organizing committee with Winnipeggers Eileen Margulius Curtis and Bert Schaffer who will be co-ordinating activities on the ground.
“So far, we have about 200 former students and their spouses registered,” Schaffer reports.
The weekend’s activities, he says, will start with a Shabbat dinner, speakers and panel discussions, an evening at Rumor’s Restaurant & Comedy Club, a bus tour which will drive by the former Jewish school buildings and other old north-end Jewish landmarks, a big party at the Asper Jewish Community Campus and other programs still to be determined.
“We will have a flexible schedule,” Schaffer says. “There will be lots of time for schmoozing.
”We hope to have a few former teachers joining us, too. We have been in contact with a half-dozen former teachers and are looking for more.”
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