A silver samovar, passed from one family to another, tells a story – TheRecord.com

Posted By on June 22, 2020

Just a few faint traces remain of Kitcheners old Jewish neighbourhood on Madison Avenue South.

But the solid brown-brick building that used to be the synagogue still stands on the hill, with rounded arches over the windows and door.

The building is now the Crkva Bozja Church of God. Theres a crucifix pictured on the front of the building where the Star of David used to be.

Whenever I walk by, I wonder what stories this building could tell.

Here is one I heard recently that captured my heart.

In 1927, when the synagogue was newly built, Israel Rosen and his family came to Kitchener to escape persecution in Russia. At first they lived with Israels brother, Aaron.

Rose, Israels wife, got ill with diphtheria, then a highly contagious and dangerous disease. A quarantine sign was placed on the door of their home.

From across town, Dr. Harry Lackner visited Rose every day for three weeks, said Heather Lackner, who is married to Harrys grandson, Jim.

Harrys own wife had recently died and had left a letter to her son that said: I hope you will commit your life to making other people happy. Nothing is more important than love.

That letter helped inspire Harry as he treated Rose and helped her recover, Heather said.

The Rosen family had no money to pay the medical bill, so they gave Harry their most precious possession instead. It was a sterling-silver samovar that Rose had brought from Russia.

The samovar was used to hold hot water to make tea. Its a work of art, Heather said.

Harry accepted the gift and treasured it all his life, Heather said. When he died it was handed down to his son, Allister, and then to Jim.

Meanwhile, the Rosens built a life in their thriving Jewish community.

The number of Jews in Kitchener-Waterloo grew from approximately 300 to 400 during the 1920s, according to the Ontario Jewish Archives.

Part of the reason Kitchener was such a draw for Jewish immigrants is that the Yiddish language many of them spoke was close to the German commonly used here at that time, said John English, distinguished professor emeritus at the University of Waterloo and an expert on local history.

Israel started as a pedlar with a horse and cart. He soon bought land nearby to start his own metal and paper recycling business. It prospered. Once a year, the family hosted a free meal at the synagogue to share their good fortune with everyone else in the community.

When a new synagogue was built on Stirling Avenue in 1963, the old building was sold to a Mennonite church. By then, the Rosen family was well established. But still, they missed their family heirloom.

Jack Rosen, the son of Israel and Rose, was the first Jewish person to sit on the board of St. Marys General Hospital. He met Allister at a board meeting there and asked him about the samovar, said Jacks daughter, Judy Rosen.

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My father asked to buy it back from him, and Allister said, I couldnt possibly. It meant too much to my father.

Judy, who lives in Hamilton, said her late father had mixed feelings about that response.

He was disappointed he couldnt buy it back, but he was thrilled it was treasured the way our family had treasured it.

More decades went by. Heather and Jim were thinking about possessions and what they mean to people.

Jim and I have both grown up with many, many antiques that have passed through several generations of our families, and they are extremely important to us, Heather said.

We as a family are so connected to that history. I felt the Rosen family would be equally connected to that magnificent samovar.

In November 2018, more than 90 years after they received the samovar, the Lackners invited the Rosens to come to their home and take it back.

Judy led the delegation of three generations of Rosens.

It was truly a dream come true, Judy said. It was overwhelming.

The samovar is in her home now. It has a special meaning for her as a symbol of the shared understanding between an established doctor and a struggling immigrant couple.

Engraved on the samovar is a Latin inscription: A te pro te, which translates to: from you, for you, Judy said.

It is as if the Lackners inscribed it themselves.

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A silver samovar, passed from one family to another, tells a story - TheRecord.com

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