Monday, March 07, 2005

Diggin' Deep

I've said it before and I'll say it again: One of my favorite blogs to read is that of A Simple Jew -- In his simplicity, he is most eloquent; he says more by saying less. Recently, in his wisdom, he touched upon timing and coincidences.

At some point in our lives, we each encounter an incident that leaves us gaping in wonder -- Can you believe that just happened? I don't believe it! Wow, this is 'min ha-shamayim.' Most of us have more than one incident that we can recall falling into this category of "timeliness." Here is just one of mine...

Since 1983 I've been a volunteer with the Toronto Jewish Archives cataloging committee. That means that I've had the pleasure of meeting one night a month for much of the year with a group of varied individuals, and we talk as we sort through files of Jewish agencies and organizations, files of reknowned Jewish Toronto figures, files that have yellowed with age, become water-stained, dog-eared and the like. It is like the Cairo genizah -- a receptacle of the history of Jewish Toronto and the province of Ontario. And it has been my pleasure all these years to sit with these people as we transfer and sort files into acid-free file folders, identify people in photographs, label files, etc. I have always been the youngest volunteer member of the committee, so I get to hear from the older volunteers the personal stories of growing up Jewish in this city. I'm getting an "insider's look" at the way the city was (my parents were immigrants in 1949 and 1956, giving me a later version of the city's history), and as is said, "The pleasure is all mine."

The files we look through are varied, some drier than others. But several years ago, for quite some time, we worked on cataloguing the JIAS (Jewish Immigrant Aid Society) files -- we were working in particular on those files in which people were applying to sponsor relatives from abroad to come to Canada, to Toronto. They were primarily files from the mid- to late 1940's, after WW2.

It was very sad to review these applications and see names of people and the write-ups of their experiences in the war -- which camps they were interned in, which ghettos they escaped from, occupations before the wars, names of family members before the war. Although sad to read, the files were also captivating.

One night, I picked up a handful of these files, to sort through their contents and transfer the items. One file caught my eye: it had my maiden name and a woman's first name, her Jewish name. Now, I have an aunt who lives in the U.S. but used to live in Toronto after the war, and although I know her by her English name, the name on the file was the same as my aunt's Jewish name. Hesitating, I opened up the file, and began to scan one document. Address of named client; occupation of named client; length of time in Canada of named client and person she wanted to sponsor. None of it rang any bells for me. I moved on to another document. Same client name, occupation, and in this document, some time had passed. Then I saw the name of the person this client wished to sponsor: it was my father. This client was in fact my aunt, my father's sister, who was the other sole survivor of his family. She had come to Canada before him and was now looking to sponsor him. His personal story, some of which I hadn't known, was briefly outlined in the application.

I'm sorry to say this was no reunion story, but it was one of those "stop, take a breath and stare in wonder" stories. How is it that I, Pearl _____, happened to be at Archives that night, happened to pick up a file with my family name, and it happened to be about my family? Had anyone else in the room picked it up, they wouldn't have brought my attention to it because they really knew me only on a first-name basis, and the family name would have rang no bells for anyone else, either. I had just attained another small piece in my family puzzle, and I was thrilled with it. I got permission to photocopy the file and to share it with my parents, with my father in particular.

The contents of that file provided me with some missing links, and that file has since become part of my personal "genizah"!

Sign Sign, Everywhere a Sign

En route to work today, I noticed an interesting sign alongside a ramp to get onto a highway. The sign said: WAIT FOR GAP. Now I know what it means, but I wondered if people didn't quite get it, they might stand at that piece of road and wait and wait until a GAP store is built onsite.

And then I thought of another sign I've seen that's made me wonder. I travel down the world's longest north-south street, Yonge Street, and there is an intersection with lights and streets running east-west. The east side has Church Avenue; the west side has Churchill Avenue. WHAT?? Did Toronto's roadworks department decide to change the street name midway, or did they start with Churchill Avenue, and then run out of enough paint for the east side's name and stopped at Church?

And yes, there is a church on the north-east corner, at Church Avenue. That's funny, I haven't see any "Shul Boulevard, "Temple Road" or "Synagogue Crescent" anywhere in the city.

Has anyone out there noticed any odd street signs that deserve a mention here?