The last major one-day Hadassah Bazaar in Canada will hold its final sale Nov. 1, a victim, like similar events elsewhere, of changing demographics and modern retailing trends.
London, Ont.’s Hadassah-WIZO Bazaar will end a 55-year run, during which it served as a focal point for breaking down barriers not just among people in the city’s Jewish community, but among the wider London population as well.
“This crossed all lines,” said founding chair Judy Goldberg.
Goldberg and other organizers weren’t sure why London’s event has outlasted other bazaars, including those in Kitchener and Toronto, which both closed over the past decade. Montreal and Vancouver also once had bazaars that raised millions of dollars for Jewish women’s and children’s causes – such as schools, daycares and hospitals – in Canada and Israel.
But the fact London is smaller, relatively tight knit, and somewhat removed from larger centres like Toronto helped created an event to which the entire community was drawn.
“Our customers weren’t just Jewish customers,” Goldberg said.
Goldberg, originally from Montreal, brought the Hadassah experience with her. In turn, the wider community learned about Jewish culture in many of its manifestations.
“We didn’t have the bakeries that there are in Toronto and Montreal,” she said. “This was novel. This was an education process as well, for not only our Jewish people, but for the entire community.”
The event was so popular that even a bus strike didn’t prevent people from showing up in droves. In its early years, the bazaar was something unique in a city that was less multicultural than it is today.
“In the middle of the night before the bazaar, we had a car go up to Toronto and get a 100-dozen bagels, because nobody knew what a bagel was in London,” Goldberg laughed.
Organizers of the then-12-hour event even brought in big-name entertainers, such as CBC-TV’s Juliette, a national star from the 1950s to the 1970s.
“Hadassah really put the Jewish community on the map with its bazaar,” she said.
The event also had something of a small-town feel. One member, for example, had an apple orchard and donated 100 bushel baskets, which sold out. “We did a lot of homespun things. It dropped the barriers,” she said.
While the fact this is the last bazaar makes her feel “sad,” Goldberg was realistic about societal changes that have brought this about. They include the fact people can now buy used clothing at Goodwill and Value Village, as well as at pop-up stores, and that major department store have sales throughout the year.
“Everything in life changes,” she said. “It fulfilled the goals that we had established, and then you have to move on.”
Those staffing the event were also getting older, said volunteer recruiter Judy Silver. But she was happy to report that there is still one booth “that’s managed completely by younger people, so that’s exciting.”
Silver also said newer sale items will be donated like they have been in the past, including Teva Naot footwear.
The bazaar was once so big that it was held at London’s Western Fair Grounds. It later moved to Northland Mall, and finally about 10 years ago, it shrunk in size and found a home at the London Jewish Community Centre.
“It’s on a much smaller scale than it was,” said Michelle Bottner, president of the local Canadian Hadassah-WIZO (CHW) council. Nevertheless, “it’s a pretty big undertaking.”
Bottner said the group used to have a donated warehouse where people could bring goods for sale months in advance of the bazaar.
But when Nov. 1 rolls around this year, there will still be plenty of sale items, along with a popular on site restaurant featuring latkes, blintzes, bagels with lox and cream cheese, and matzah ball soup.
The final bazaar doesn’t necessarily mean the permanent end of a Hadassah event at this time of year. “It doesn’t mean that we’re not going to ever bring back some sort of incarnation of it,” Bottner said.