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Memories of the Second Generation - Part 1 - Sarah Senior (nee Sniatowski) - As told to Susan Yellin

posted 6 Apr 2016, 20:01 by Lodzer Shabbat-Bulletin   [ updated 7 Apr 2016, 16:39 ]


It doesn’t take long at all for Sarah Senior to reminisce fondly about the first days of the Lodzer.

Originally started as the Lodzer Centre Mutual Benefit Society in the 1950s on Spadina Avenue, what is now the Lodzer Synagogue on Heaton Street began -- as many ideas did back then -- around a card table with the men schmoozing, a cup of tea in one hand and a bagel in the other. “The closeness of them altogether was amazing,” recalls Sarah. “It was more like a family.”

In the late 1970s the growing number of members of the mutual society decided they wanted to build a synagogue. The shul would not just stand as a religious haven for Holocaust survivors and their families, but also to keep alive the memories of the people killed during the Second World War and to prove to the world that the Jewish people continued to thrive. 

When the actual shul was being built, many families didn’t see their fathers very often. “A lot of the men were always hanging around watching the site go up.”

Sarah’s father, Leon, was like many other members who donated their time or materials to make the actual building.  Leon was in the scrap metal business and used to buy rolls of wire that he then donated to the shul to make the electrical wiring for the building.  While some of the boys worked the back hoe, Sarah volunteered to help test whether the lines were live. “If the monitor said ‘yes,’ then the line was live, but if it said ‘no,’ then you would cut down the pieces of the wires until you got two positives.”

Fundraising was another plank in getting the shul built, mainly through New Year’s parties, dances and other events. At the same time the society raised money for Israel, including the donation of 11 ambulances to Magan David Adom and $48,000 during the Six-Day War.  A sisterhood was created and they too did their share of fundraising, often through a bake sale. 

When the shul opened in 1980, the High Holidays were filled with members and their families.  “They were packed to the rim with more than 600 people attending,” Sarah remembers. 

The horrors of the Holocaust were still strong in the hearts and minds of the survivors. But being able to see their children and their grandchildren in shul sparked a sense of pride in the continuity of the generations.  “There was a lot of bragging when the first grandchildren were born. The men were so happy to carry in their grandchildren during the High Holidays and show them off,” says Sarah.

“My children were 18 months apart and I had a double stroller. My father was the happiest man to get behind that double stroller at the end of services and walk home from shul. For the survivors it was a very big deal. They wanted to show everyone that ‘we will multiply again, we will be strong’.”

But like all things, there came a time when the original founders were ready to hand over their responsibilities as board members to the second generation.

Sarah recalls vividly how she became “elected” to the Lodzer board. 

“In 1990, my father invited me to a board meeting. Then he stood up and said: ‘I’m giving up my seat and giving it to my daughter and she is going to look after all the festivals – the parties, getting the baby sitter here for the High Holidays and making sure the kids were involved.’  He never asked me, but that’s when my full involvement started at the Lodzer. And slowly, slowly, the second generation came on the board.”

It was a time when volunteers helped out with all the events. She remembers a Purim party with a circus theme, where the men set up the room with streamers and hula hoops hanging from the ceiling of the sanctuary and little animals swinging on the hula hoops. “We had a good time.”

Sarah went on to become president of the Lodzer board from 2001 to 2003. Later, she resigned from the position and took over the office.  

While many people moved from North York and environs to Richmond Hill, some of the second generation of the original founders still call the Lodzer “home.” 

“This shul was an integral part of my upbringing.  I have great memories here.”