Windsor Jews old and new are invited to “come home” for October gala.
Something to ponder: What’s the first foreign city south of Detroit? No, it’s not a trick question. It’s Windsor! And this Canadian metropolis, which enjoys a close relationship with the Motor City, both logistically and emotionally, and boasts a 140-year-old Jewish community, will in October celebrate its native sons and daughters at a gala reunion hosted by the Windsor Jewish Community Centre (WJCC).
With a theme of “There’s No Place Like Home,” the celebration is expected to attract hundreds of attendees, those living in Windsor and those now living in Detroit and throughout Canada and the United States, who will visit their hometown for the Saturday, Oct. 20, event. Anyone 19 years of age and older is welcome to spend a fun-filled evening reconnecting with old friends, sharing stories and memories, reminiscing about the “good old days” and commemorating the longstanding relationship between the Jews of Windsor and Detroit.
Toronto-born Jay Katz, former executive director of the Windsor Symphony who now serves as the WJCC’s executive director, has much to celebrate about Windsor — the city where he grew up and returned to after seven years, both for his job and for the comfortable environment and easy quality of life Windsor offers.
“We have an inviting and close-knit Jewish community in Windsor,” Katz said. “This reunion is intended to celebrate the great legacy of Windsor’s Jewish community, to fortify WJCC’s reputation as a place where enjoyable and meaningful events take place, and to give people a chance to reconnect with the congenial community where we all grew up.”
“The Jewish community of Windsor remains small but mighty. Generations have moved and yet the bonds … have remained strong …”
— Amy Shafron
The main organizers of the event, a first-ever program for the WJCC, are co-chairs Karen Moness (daughter of Windsor Jews now living in Toronto) and Amy Shafron (the child of Windsor and Detroit Jews, now an Atlanta resident). Event planning committee co-chairs are Natalie Freed Newman (a West Bloomfield resident married to a Detroit Jew) and Bethe Jarcaig (a Jewish Detroiter married to a Windsorite and living in Windsor). Windsor resident Marc Katzman and Aubrey Friedman of Toronto chair the fundraising committee. Michael Dodick and Sheryl Davies, who both grew up in Windsor, head the hospitality committee. The event’s outreach committee co-chairs are Naomi Eisenberg of Toronto and Richard Kamen of Windsor.
Whether from Ontario or Michigan, the organizers felt the best time to get together was the fall.
“Everyone agreed October was the perfect time to have our reunion,” Newman noted. “Summer travel has ended, and it’s right before the snowbirds travel south for the winter.”
Windsor’s Jewish Heritage
Katz points out the camaraderie of those involved stems from a Jewish community that has waxed and waned over the years, but still exhibits a vibrancy he hopes will continue to grow.
“The Jewish population has grown from a few dozen families at the turn of the last century to just under 3,000 people from the 1930s to ’80s, to the present level of around 1,500, which has held steady for around 15 years,” he explained. “The original immigrants of the late 19th century took advantage of the comparative lack of anti-Semitism and the opportunities available to them in Windsor, and many Jewish families prospered here. Many of today’s prominent businesses were started by these immigrants and are still run by their descendants.”
One of those families was that of Natalie Freed Newman, whose grandfather Sam founded Freeds in 1929, now Canada’s largest men’s and ladies’ clothing store. Newman, an event co-chair, noted the importance of the Detroit-Windsor Jewish connection through several generations in her family.
“My father, Gerald Freed, a Windsor native, met my mother, Mikie, who lived in Detroit, at a summer camp in the 1950s. She moved to Windsor in 1957 and traveled to Detroit to visit family on a weekly basis. I met my husband, Billy, at Camp Walden and easily made the transition to living in Detroit once we were married. It was close enough to home with all the great advantages of living in the U.S.”
According to Amy Shafron, the idea for the reunion had been circulating for years, and at last is coming to fruition with the cooperative work of everyone involved.
“The Jewish community of Windsor remains small but mighty,” she said. “Generations of Windsorites have moved and resettled elsewhere in Canada and the U.S., and yet the bonds of friendship coming out of this warm Jewish community have remained strong across the years and across the miles,” she said.
“I’m serving as co-chair with my childhood friend Karen Rosenbaum Moness. We knew we weren’t alone with the special memories we have from our childhoods in Windsor. We thought once we got the ball rolling, others would want to join in our excitement to reconnect with family and friends. Sure enough, many others are involved on planning committees, sharing photos in our Facebook group and making travel plans to reunite,” she added.
No Place Like Home
It’s apparent there certainly is no place like home for these three, who summed up their feelings in anticipation of the reunion.
“It’s amazing to me that my memories of Windsor, growing up in that Jewish community, are so special,” Newman said. “I’m just worried there won’t be enough time to talk to and see everyone who meant so much to me in my life there!”
Shafron agreed. “Whether you were born in Windsor, lived there for a short time, were raised there or moved there more recently — whether you live there today or haven’t been back since you moved away years ago — your life was impacted by the nurturing, loving community that embraced you. I can think of no better theme than ‘there’s no place like home.’ Coming back will be coming home.”
Katz said, “Those words remind me what a fun time I had growing up in Windsor’s Jewish community. I have many kind-hearted and sincere friends here, and we all were well-prepared to go out into the world with a confidence, warmth and kindness I later learned is unique to the character of Windsorites. No matter how far we have ventured out into the world, we can always come back to Windsor for that amiable and welcoming feeling that’s hard to find anywhere else!”
The Windsor Reunion begins at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, with a Sponsors’ Pre-Reception, then a Reunion Reception at 7:30 p.m. with dairy hors d’oeuvres. A dairy dinner and dessert will follow at 8:30 p.m. All food will be provided by the WJCC kosher kitchen. Attire is Saturday-night casual.
Also, an optional brunch at the WJCC’s Mazal Tov kosher restaurant will begin at 10 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 21.
Tickets are $75 per person for Saturday evening, and $100 per person for both Saturday and Sunday activities. To purchase tickets or for more information, call the WJCC at (519) 973-1772 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.