From generation to generation

by Elizabeth Puterman

Elizabeth and her family

I was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela, in a very traditional Jewish home and in an orthodox-based school and synagogue system, so my connection to Judaism is very well-rooted. My memories growing up include our holidays’ celebrations, both at school and at home, which were always filled with our great Jewish songs and melodies (these always moved me to the core and made me cry, something that still happens today with enormous emotion in my heart- who knows why?).

My grandparents on my dad’s side immigrated just before World War II, but in my case to Venezuela.  Visiting them was always a special treat for me.  Among the many great memories, two reside with me, solidifying my Judaism at quite a young age.

The first one was sitting with my abuelo Julio (grandfather Joel) sharing the Torah stories I was learning at school and how proud he seemed to be of me.
The second one, I was a slightly a bit older, and they were showing on TV the movie series of the Holocaust. My siblings had turned the TV on at his house to continue watching the series and when my abuelo realized what we were watching, he anxiously and extremely upset yelled at us to turn it off. Needless to say, he had lost five out of seven of his siblings during the war.  And that is when I learned how directly touched we also were by the Holocaust.

After living in Israel for eight months and studying at Tel Aviv University, I could not find myself at home in Venezuela anymore.  The day after I presented and defended my theses, I flew to Montreal, where my parents had a condo and business partner and visited often.

With their support, I came as an International student and I took ESL courses at McGill and applied to Concordia to complete my Bachelors Degree in Commerce (Major in International Business).  These were wonderful years, but without much Jewish involvement. It was really hard for me to meet people within the community – I always felt judged and unaccepted. I kept, nonetheless, doing my own Jewish thing, like going to synagogue on the High Holidays, joined the YM-YWHA, etc… You see, the circumstances never stopped me from being who I am – a Jew.

I met my Canadian-Italian husband in a bar; what a cliché, eh? When my son was born, my parents came from back home to meet and help with the new grandson and they were the ones organizing the Brith Milah. My dad called a moel and as many people as possible that he knew – old business contacts – so we could gather at least a minyan.  It hit me then how hard it was going to be for me to raise my child Jewish, all by myself (without my family and its support) and give him and create for him the same rewarding memories I had growing up.

Around the time my son was two years old, I finally began making some contacts with acquaintances from the community and was even able to make some good friends as well.

In applying for tuition assistance from a Jewish elementary school, it finally clicked – I wanted to continue in the footsteps of my parents and I want to help OTHERS and MYSELF, as well. I grew up seeing and admiring my parents while they were canvassing and attending many meetings and communitarian events to help Israel and our Venezuelan Jewish community.

Today, my son, David is in the public school system, but I happily schlep him to the West Island YM-YWHA for the “What’s Newish, We’re Jewish” Hebrew classes. We love coming to as many events as we can offered by our Federation and other Jewish organizations from this superb Montreal Jewish community, which I’m extremely proud to call my own.  Working with Federation for the last three and a half years for our community feels like home Federation CJA West Island has become my friends, my family and my long-searched support.

What is my inspiration? My son – My amazing parents – Wanting and being able to do good for and by others… Simply put, for me, the continuity of our great peoplehood, our core values and heritage are inspiring to me. May I only be able to leave something as valuable behind to my child as my dad, may he rest in peace, and my mom have left for me and inspired me to transmit.

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