Tuesday, September 02, 2008
I was digging around in search of some photos from my late mother's collection, and I came across three sheets of note paper stapled together, a first draft of a vignette that she had written about the famous Hadassah Bazaar. I thought that since this is the Bazaar's last year, I would share with you this colourful little piece that I was so fortunate to stumble upon.
For most of my childhood, my mother spent much of her free time devoted to Massada, her Canadian Hadassah Wizo chapter. Although she was a full-time career woman who owned her own dress shop in the west end of Toronto, nothing could tire her out enough to miss a Hadassah meeting with the thirty or so ladies who made up the chapter. They were like a family -- these Holocaust survivors, most of whom were from Poland, many of whom had kids my age, and some of whom worked in their husband's businesses. The organized teas, they canvassed for things to sell at the bazaar, they had garage sales during the year. They argued, they irritated each other, they roared and then they roared with laughter. The stories I'd hear! But in the end, what they were doing was "for a good cause," and that was what it was all about. And we all counted down the days to the bazaar. It was the most exciting day on the calendar -- like a holiday, but without synagogue. It always fell just prior to Halloween, and there was a bit of a Mardi Gras feel to it, very festive and free, with live music, a car raffle, off-track betting, and even a high-tone auction.
I loved it best when young male students would approach the Massada chapter tables, and the members would run to coddle them, dress them up, tell them what was the right length, what matched their eyes, and what was a good bargain. There were also mountains of kids' clothes, some quite "vintage." We loved dressing up the little moppets who tagged along with their mothers.
How many times did I see my mother shaking her head from side to side, and then I'd overhear her say to someone, "It's not flattering. Come over here to this rack, let me show you something that is more suited to your frame."
My job was to create ensembles and then mount them high enough for the throngs to see. I would put a blouse on a hanger, puff it out over a snazzy belt and pin a pair of slacks to it from behind. We also sold these "models" first. Toward the end of the day, one of the members would announce, "Fill a bag for five dollars!" and again, the huddled masses would storm the tables.
I cannot recall how many times over the years my mother prayed for someone to relieve her of her role as chapter president. On those nights she would put the gavel in a plastic bag, along with her binder, and go out the door, gone for hours. Invariably, the next morning, the gavel would reappear, like a bad penny. She was the perpetual Hadassah lady, toiling away for the benefit of a far-off hospital in Jerusalem that most members saw maybe once or twice in their lifetime.
I was saddened to hear that Hadassah was pulling the plug on the bazaar, although intellectually I do understand it. Back in 1999, my mother also saw the writing on the wall at the Automotive Building of the Canadian National Exhibition grounds, which was the gargantuan home to the bazaar in its heyday. Nothing could compare then, and nothing will, ever.
(Pictured above: former Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman with my mother. Pictured below: Several members of the Massada chapter in front of the massive booths at the bazaar)
by Ann Szedlecki
My late, wonderful mother
Our blue smocks come out of the closet once a year. They identify us as members of Hadassah Wizo, the women's organization. Massada, our chapter, is thirty-five years old.
Finally the preparation is over and we wait for 9 a.m. That's when the doors open and a sea of humanity surges forth. They waited outside in the line for hours.
Ours was a large chapter. The members either housewives or career women, bringing up young children.
We watched them grow up, go to high school and institutions of higher learning, and on to their chosen professions. We, the members of Massada, attended their simchas, and also shared in their losses. Over the years it became evident that we were aging, and the chapter could not stay as active as it had been before. We joined the organization and attended its conventions, either in Israel or in Canada. We did the best we could, because we felt that as Jews we work for a worthy cause, benefitting Israel.
Who could forget vivacious, funny Molly, always with a joke. Even with an oxygen tank she attended our meetings and never felt left out. Or Frances, a wonderful generous person who was always willing to volunteer for tasks that were hard to fill. They are both gone now.
The rest of us are less able to do the job, but we are trying.
We are flooded with memories of the bazaars past. One man changed his mind and got his back up for a pair of pants. In one of the pockets we found twenty dollars. We took the money, but for the sake of public relations we returned ten dollars. A lady offered eight dollars for a piece of material that we had priced at eight dollars. Obviously she did not hear.
People attend the bazaar every year and we see familiar faces. We never heard a negative word about Jews or Israel, even though most of the customers were not Jewish. My daughter, who lives in New Jersey, drove all day Tuesday with a nine-month-old baby, and left Thursday early, so eager was she to be here, where she attended so many bazaars over the years.
Everybody in the chapter brings a bag of food, drinks, fruits, so that, G-d Forbid, we wouldn't starve. Our own coats get stored in boxes under the tables. Some of them get sold (by accident!), my own jacket included!
Nine o'clock, doors open, and we are open for business. Everything so neatly displayed on tables immediately gets messed up by people browsing for bargains. We don't bother to straighten anything -- the next person will probably find what they were looking for at the bottom of the pile.
Time goes fast. Another sandwich and another coffee. Some members go home to be replaced by others. A few, including me, stay until the end in order to provide return transportation for the other members.
The loudspeaker announces closing time. Some of us have been on our feet since seven this morning, and it is around nine o'clock at night now. Tens of thousands of people have been through our three continuous booths, loaded with used clothing, and some new things, such as shoes and clothes that have been donated by our suppliers. Even fur coats. The leftovers are picked up by other organizations to be sold again.
So this is it? Where did the time go? Maybe, just maybe, we'll be able to do one more bazaar in the year 2000. That will mark a double-chai for our chapter. Allevay!!