OTTAWA — When a newly built synagogue opened recently in the Ottawa suburb of Barrhaven, it was cause for celebration among the area’s Jewish community.
For months, the neighbours had been watching the construction on a quiet street called Lamplighters Drive as the portables being used for the Ottawa Centre Chabad made way for a beautiful new building.
Finally, just before Rosh Hashanah, the grand opening took place and everyone was invited to take a look around. Not only the Jewish neighbours were looking forward to the event, though. For one family, completion of the building signalled the completion of a story that had been passed down for several generations.
Susan Bloomfield had been watching with interest from her home across the street as the synagogue took shape. Although she and her family are not Jewish, they owned a menorah that had been in the family since just after World War II.
Her late grandfather, Bernard Richel, had immigrated to Canada from Holland. During the war, said Bloomfield, her great-uncles had fought in the resistance and one of them, Gerhard Richel, had saved the lives of a Jewish family.
“My great-uncle and his wife had a sickly son. In his room was the door to the attic. They let the Jewish family hide in the attic and when the Germans came the family asked them not to disturb their sick son. The Germans were skeptical and even sent one of their doctors to check him out to confirm that he was ill. He actually ended up dying shortly after the war,” said Bloomfield.
“In my Christian faith, I think God had a hand in it… the family was in the attic at least two years. At the end of the war, they were able to come out. I don’t know their names or where they went. They left their menorah as a thank you. They had nothing else to give, but they were so grateful.”
Bloomfield became the owner of the menorah when she got married. Her grandfather had brought it to Canada after attending his brother’s funeral in Holland. He, in turn, left it to his daughter (Bloomfield’s mother) who in turn passed it on to her daughter. Bloomfield’s sons wanted her to keep it in the family but when she looked out at the synagogue she felt that the time was right for the menorah to go “home.” So she took a picture of it and wrote out the story for her children.
“I sent an email to Rabbi [Menachem Mendel] Blum and offered the menorah, if anyone wanted it,” she said.
The spiritual leader of Ottawa Centre Chabad accepted with gratitude, and at a special ceremony attended by the children of the shul’s Hebrew school and their families, Bloomfield told her family’s story and presented the menorah to Rabbi Blum.
“This menorah is a tangible symbol of Jewish survival even through the harshest time in Jewish history,” said Rabbi Blum.
“It allowed a Jewish family to keep their faith during the war and they used it to express their gratitude for their survival. We are honoured that our new shul is the new home for this special menorah. It will inspire our children and grandchildren and we will cherish it and light it for many years to come.”