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Windsor natives coming home for Jewish community reunion

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(Ken Lund/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Since the 1950s, the Jewish population in Windsor, Ont., has halved, from around 3,000 to 1,500, but an upcoming reunion will bring the community back together.

“There is something intangible in Windsor that cannot be described in words, that made us all so close,” said Nancy Putterman, a Windsor native who now lives in Vancouver.

As a teenager, she couldn’t wait to go to Toronto for university. But, reflecting on her childhood, she admitted, “I don’t think I could ever duplicate the upbringing I had for my children.”

Members of the Jewish community in Windsor, Ont., pose for a group photo during a trip to Israel in the 1970s.

When her brother died suddenly in 2015, there was an outpouring of support from Windsor natives who now live all over Canada and the United States. Despite the tragedy, everyone was so happy to return to their home town and reconnect with one another.

There, the seed was planted for a Windsor Jewish community reunion.

“Toronto is my home, but I have to tell you, whenever I go back to Windsor, it’s an incredibly warm feeling of being home,” said Karen Moness (née Rosenbaum), the co-chair of the Windsor Jewish Community Reunion campaign.

Members of the Windsor, Ont., B’nai Brith bowling team pose for a group photo in the 1950s.

She said that she loves Windsor, but Jewish life there was challenging.

“I remember coming to university in Toronto and walking into a huge banquet hall where everyone was Jewish. It was the weirdest thing,” she said.

The Jewish community in Windsor was small and close knit, but they didn’t have the same resources as big cities. Luckily, since Windsor is close to Detroit, the two communities were highly involved with one another. Some parents even drove their children across the boarder every day to go to Jewish day school.

Eli C. Goldin, president of the Windsor Jewish Community Council, centre, signs a contract for the construction of a new JCC in Windsor, Ont., in 1958.

The B’nai Brith branches in Windsor and Michigan were also coupled together. Every weekend, a school bus full of Jewish kids from Windsor would travel to Michigan for social events.

“It was our Jewish lifeline growing up … it was our existence,” Moness said.

In the 1950s, the Windsor Jewish Community Centre (WJCC) was built and became the epicentre of Jewish life in the community.

People take part in an event at the Windsor Jewish Community Centre in Windsor, Ont.

“We’ve taken the Jewish community centre that was built yesterday and we’re preparing the Jewish community for tomorrow,” said Jay Katz, the executive director of the WJCC.

In 2015, after moving back and forth from Windsor three times since the ’90s – having lived in Toronto, Los Angeles, and Boston – Katz moved back to take on his current role at the WJCC. Although he wasn’t born in Windsor, he moved to the city when he was seven and considers it home.

The theme of the Windsor Jewish Community Reunion is “There’s No Place Like Home.” Anyone who is 19 years of age or older and lives in Windsor, has family roots there or lived in city since the WJCC opened in the ’50s, is invited.

People swim in the Windsor Jewish Community Centre’s pool in the 1960s.

“Our reunion is unique in the sense that it is for Jewish people of all ages, denominations and life experiences who all share a common connection – Windsor,” Moness said.

The reunion committee created a Facebook page to share photos and memories in the lead up to the event. The group started with 25 members and grew to over 400 in just over a week. They are expecting hundreds of guests from all over Canada and the U.S.

The reunion will take place at the WJCC on October 20.