June Avivi, a leader in Holocaust education in Saskatoon and an advocate for the mentally disabled, will receive the Saskatchewan Order of Merit, the province’s highest honour, at a ceremony in Regina on Nov. 29.
“It comes as a real surprise,” says the 85-year-old Avivi, a long-time resident of Saskatoon. “I had no idea that my name had been submitted. What I have accomplished in my life, I didn’t do for the glory. Still, it is nice to know that my efforts are appreciated.”
Born and raised in Prince Albert, Sask., Avivi (then Katzman) and her family moved to Saskatoon in 1945.
She left Saskatoon in the early 1950s for Israel, but returned with her late Israeli husband, Avi, in 1955.
A teacher by trade, Avivi was recognized four years ago by Congregation Agudas Israel Synagogue for her 60 years of dedicated service to the community’s children, by renaming the senior classroom after her.
Avivi has also been involved with the Early Childhood Education Council and the now-defunct Canadian Jewish Congress.
Avivi is being recognized with the Order of Merit for her work with intellectually disabled people and for promoting Holocaust education in Saskatoon.
“It was 25 years ago that we started a Holocaust education program in Saskatoon that was aimed at adults,” she recalls. “I was a teacher and said that we needed Holocaust education aimed at students, too. Within a year, we had introduced a yearly Holocaust awareness program for high school students.”
She notes that there are no longer any Holocaust survivors left in Saskatoon’s Jewish community. As a result, for the past few years, educators have been flying survivors in from Winnipeg, Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto to address the students.
Avivi’s other major contribution to the community has been her work with the disabled community for the past 55 years through the Community Living Association Saskatoon Inc., the Saskatchewan Association for Community Living (SACL), the Valley View Centre (VVC) Family Group and, most recently, the VVC Transition Steering Committee.
Avivi herself has a son with an intellectual disability, who had been a long-term resident of the VVC in Moose Jaw, Sask. The 24-hour care centre was built in 1955 to house 1,500 people with intellectual disabilities. It stopped accepting new residents in 2002.
“We did it right,” she says of the closing of the care centre and transitioning of the residents into their families’ communities. “The families worked with SACL and the social services agencies and made sure that safety nets are in place for the former VVC residents in their new homes.”
Her own son moved into his new home in Saskatoon just before Rosh Hashanah.
“We used to have to drive over two hours to see him and maybe spend 10 minutes with him,” she says. “Now he is close by and we can see him a lot more often.”