Granito de arena – If everyone put their own grain of sand

“I want to show my kids that it’s worth it to give back to the community. We are here to help other people,” said Andrea Cooperberg, pictured here with her children and husband Fernando Frankel.

Exactly 10 years ago, Andrea Cooperberg and her husband packed up all their belongings, left their family in Argentina and began a new life in Montreal.

“When we decided to leave Argentina, the situation of our country was hard economically. Even when we both had jobs and our situation was very good, we felt we needed a professional challenge that unfortunately we could not find in Argentina, so we decided to open a ‘new door in our lives’,” Cooperberg said. “Before deciding to move, we did an exploratory trip where we met with JIAS (Jewish Immigrant Aid Service – now Ometz), who ended up helping us with the immigration application. We liked the city. We liked how the Jewish community received us. We continued with the papers and a couple of months later, we came.”

During their exploratory trip, Cooperberg and her husband, Fernando Frankel, established a great relationship with Cooperberg’s distant cousins, Jack and Nancy Cooperberg.

400

Since 2000, over 400 Argentinian Jews (adults and children) have made Montreal their home with the help of the Jewish community.

“From the minute we met, we felt like family. They hosted us, took us to visit different places, showed us how Montreal was and introduced us to their son and daughter. We are all now a bigger family! We also met Joyce Fishman at JIAS, and her beautiful family, who also helped us go through the process of immigration and to settle down.”

With the support of their cousins and the Jewish community, the couple slowly began to integrate into their new lives in Cote-des-Neiges. Cooperberg studied French and worked at the Bronfman Jewish Education Centre and Fernando started his PhD at the Jewish General Hospital within two weeks of arriving.

“The hardest part was to close all our stuff in Argentina, like our condo, and to leave our family. We were newcomers and this is a hard feeling. We were lonely. We did not know many Argentinian families here, we were some of the first ones. So it was emotionally hard,” she recalls. “I felt many times like what am I doing here? Why did I come? Why is it so hard with the winter, the wind and the snow, having a baby without my parents? We were crazy.”

Despite these hardships, their family flourished. By the time Cooperberg earned a Master’s Degree in Educational Technology at Concordia University and Frankel completed his PhD at McGill University, the couple had two sons.

“We didn’t want to just get a job and that’s it. You could say we have a Bachelor’s or a Master’s and companies would understand that, but we said we needed to do something here, to have a certificate or something from here that proves that we can work and be part of the society too. We both feel that this was a big accomplishment individually and as a couple.”

In addition to going to school, working and having two children, they also helped plan special events and holiday celebrations for the wave of Argentinian Jews that followed in their footsteps, and served as a resource to provide information for incoming families.

Cooperberg and the West Island Federation CJA team at the Hands On Mitzvah Day, with decorated mezuzahs that were given to new immigrant families. (photo by PBL Photography)

“In that way, we started bonding with families,” Cooperberg said. “When you have somewhere to go, you feel the emptiness go, too. Every event makes you feel different. Chanukah, Yom Ha’atzmaut, Purim…”

About five years ago, the family moved from the city to Dollard-des-Ormeaux, where they got involved with Federation CJA West Island about a year later.

“We had a great feeling, like a connection. For me, it is great to have this community as a frame. I think of this community as my family. We also had a strong Jewish community in Argentina so I feel at home in a certain way,” she said. “If you go to the meetings, you meet with people and you bring your ideas, which is very important. I think we can put in place ideas that work in Argentina that could be very rich, very meaningful here.”

The culmination of Cooperberg’s dedication came this past December when she chaired Federation CJA West Island’s Hands-On Mitzvah Day. Over 120 people attended the event and decorated mezuzahs that were given to welcome new immigrant families to Montreal. Participants also donated over 100 new toys that were given to the immigrant children as gifts for Chanukah.

“I thought it was a great opportunity because we were making mezuzahs for families who immigrated, so for me it was like putting my foot in someone who passed the same as me. It was a great feeling looking at the people coming with so much energy and happiness, with all the kids around. People going in, going out, families saying hi, singing the songs and very concentrated on making the mezuzahs, parents working with their kids – that’s community in action. That’s rewarding,” Cooperberg said happily. “I almost could not tell my speech because I was shaking so much. My husband and kids were looking at me… I could tell they were proud of me and that’s a reward too. To have this picture of your family looking at you, I know that I’m teaching them something.”

For Andrea Cooperberg, who is now Educational Technology Integrator at Hebrew Foundation School, that is the singularly most important reason she has committed so much of herself to the community – her two children, Lucas, 8, and Matias, 5.

“I want to show my kids that it’s worth it to give back to the community. When we are older, they are going to run the community so we have to be a model for them, to support the community. We are working for people who can’t… I say to them that there are kids that don’t have food. There are kids that their parents don’t have jobs. We are here to help other people, older people live with dignity, show the Holocaust so we don’t lose the memory of what happened. We say in Spanish, we put our granito de arena – if everyone would put their own grain of sand. Small things that anyone can do can help the whole community. And now, after 10 years, even with my accent,” she jokes, “I feel like my life is plenty of accomplishment.”


Get involved

Ometz’s Immigration Department offers affordable services to facilitate the legal entry of Jewish individuals and their families into Canada. It offers information on immigration procedures, evaluation of profiles for permanent-residency status, assistance in completing immigration forms, and mediation with government agencies, if needed. For more information, please contact 514.342.0000 or email info@ometz.ca.

Federation CJA West Island supports and promotes Jewish identity by encouraging the West Island community’s active engagement with Federation CJA and its family of agencies. To get involved, please call 514.624.5005 or email west.island@federationcja.org.

  • Brenda Rodier says:

    Yasher Koach Andrea & Fernando,
    You are an exemplary couple who have overcome and achieved so much in such a short time. You have an obligation to our community to lead others in your footsteps. Mazal Tov on such a heartwarming article.

  • We welcome your feedback and invite your comments.

    Leave a comment

    Reader comments are the opinion of the comment writer, not Federation CJA

    Comments that make false or unsubstantiated allegations will not be published, nor will comments that contain defamatory, inaccurate, rude, distasteful, disrespectful, abusive, vulgar, hateful, harassing, obscene, profane, sexually oriented or threatening language.

    Comments that use hearsay or are based on reports where the supposed fact or quote is not a matter of public knowledge also may not be permitted.

    Federation CJA reserves the right to withhold from publication comments that are deemed to be spam or unrelated to the article at which they are posted. Comments that include personal attacks on other people taking part in this website and/or are invasive of another's privacy may also be withheld from publication.

    Spelling and grammatical mistakes will not be corrected.