OTTAWA, CANADA–Three years ago Marjorie Feldman was invited by Devora Caytak to speak at the Jewish Women’s Institute, a project of the Jewish Youth Library of Ottawa. “I had never been to the library before, and I had never met the Caytaks,” says Marjorie, but as soon as she did, she “fell in love with both.”
The library, says Feldman, has “generated a real love of Jewish learning, books, and music, attracting Jews from every affiliation and those without any affiliation at all.” On Sunday night Marjorie joined two hundred people in Canada’s capital city to celebrate twenty years of the Jewish Youth Library in Ottawa.
Founded by Devora and Yosef Caytak, in 1983, the library was born in the Caytak family basement with a collection of Jewish children’s books, and has evolved into a multi-faceted educational and outreach center, with more than 8,000 volumes and hundreds of videos and tapes, as well as a whole range of programs catering to Ottawa’s Jewish community.
When Sarah Swedler, an Ottawa resident, lost her daughter some six years ago, the sense of despair was overwhelming. With her two-year-old, orphaned grandson in tow, she turned to the Jewish Youth Library for support. It was here that Josh became deeply connected to his Jewish roots, while the Caytaks anchored Sarah emotionally. In addition to providing Josh with a strong Jewish background and identity, the Caytaks, says Sarah, “helped me regain a faith I had lost.”
Reflecting Chabad’s wide impact on the local community, Sunday’s affair drew supporters grateful for the Caytaks’ contributions to Jewish life in Ottawa. According to Marty Davis, director of UJA affairs in the city, “Chabad’s influence in Ottawa is tremendous, reaching Jews on the periphery, as well as members of the community.”
The expansion of activities at the Jewish Youth Library was augmented back in 1989, when the library was moved into a home its very own after the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s call to purchase, renovate, and beautify Jewish homes and institutions.
Programs soon included the Tiny Treasures Preschool, now the Jewish Preschool for the Arts, a summer Jewish Women’s Institute, and the girl’s division of Ottawa’s Camp Gan Israel. A Friday morning Noah’s Ark Shabbat drop-in, Sunday story time, and a series of adult classes and workshops, in addition to Shabbat meals and holiday events, were soon incorporated into the growing gamut of activities sponsored by the Jewish Youth Library. Canadians are very low-key,” says Mrs. Caytak, and the “library has proven to be the perfect vehicle to inspire an interest in Judaism.”
An anniversary celebration, the dinner also honored the memory of Gaby Sassoon, who died last year. Sassoon was a staunch supporter and longtime member of the library’s committee.
Organized by a planning committee of 17, the dinner began on Sunday afternoon with cocktails and a live Klezmer band. Greetings were delivered by Chaim Divon, the Israeli ambassador to Canada, and a close friend of Sassoon’s. Guest speaker at the event was Judy Feld Carr, renowned for her efforts in saving Syrian Jewry, and a friend of Sassoon’s, who recounted her rescue operation experiences, and spoke of Sassoon, himself a Syrian Jew. Cantor Daniel Benlolo sang Sassoon’s favorite Sephardic tunes, and guests enjoyed a short video presentation on the Library’s camp activities.
“The Jewish Youth Library is a great magnet for people from across the Jewish spectrum,” says Davis. As a library, the center appeals to a contingent of people who would probably shy away from a synagogue-based Chabad House. The setting is warm, and personable, and according to Davis the library provides a “spiritual environment that involves a real cross-section of the community, and has become a rallying point for local Jews to come together.”
Reported by S. Olidort