Recollections of Kum a Haym

A 100th Anniversary Reunion

by Julie Zatzman

About 500 people reunited and recollected during the joyous Kum A-Haym that took place in Glace Bay in early August.

They came from all over North America. A couple few even traveled from other continents to immerse themselves in their Glace Bay roots once again.

A large number of those who took part in the event had actually never been to Glace Bay. Instead, they were drawn by the stories their parents and grandparents had shared with them of life in the coal town, and the many colourful characters who were part of its Jewish community.

Judith Mirkin Strom, of Connecticut, was one of those visiting Glace Bay for the first time. She had traveled with her husband and family and her 89-year-old father Joseph who had left Glace Bay more than 50 years ago. Her face beamed as she poured over the commemorative books, tee shirts, golf shirts, ball caps and Cape Breton tartan yalmakes available for sale. "I just can't believe I'm here. I'm so happy," she said.

There was no doubting the affection felt by the descendants of the now tiny Congregation Sons of Israel. Sharon Shore-Jacobson, of Toronto, grew up in Glace Bay during the 1960's and remembers it as a community that valued Jewish education and nurtured strong Jewish identities.

"It reminds me of Anatevka, (from Fiddler on the Roof) because when you listen to the introduction Tevya says "Everyone knew who he was and what G-d intended him to do. We knew who we were and what we were supposed to do."

Her friend Sharon Simon, also of Toronto, agrees. "The shul, when we were growing up, was the centre of our existence. We just gravitated there and I know a lot of people, when they're going to Upper Canada, and they're looking for shuls, they're looking for this shul and they can't find it."

The four-day event went off without a hitch and even the weather co-operated with the Kum A-Haym's organizers.

Sounds of people meeting and greeting filled Glace Bay's beautiful Savoy Theatre on August 2, the first night of the event. Lt. Governor Myra Freeman officially opened the Kum A-Haym followed by a rousing performance of Klezmer music from the Halifax-based Rhapsody Quintet.

Visitors filled the seats of the 100-year-old Congregation Sons of Israel synagogue for Shabbos services and returned to the Savoy for an impressive luncheon kiddish Saturday afternoon. Many sauntered across the street to enjoy a large display of photographs that recalled the 100-year history of the town's Jewish community. A gala evening of entertainment at the Savoy Saturday night showcased the talents of the congregation's children and descendents recalling the proud tradition of stage performances that highlighted Jewish life in Glace Bay.

On Sunday, the last day of the Kum A-Haym, the festivities paused to remember departed loved ones with a special ceremony at the cemetery. The establishment of a perpetual care fund to ensure the site is properly cared for in the future was an underlying objective of the Kum A-Haym. Later Sunday the homecoming closed with a Cape Breton picnic and barbeque on the beautiful Mira River. Visitors roamed the grounds of the Mira Boat Club, enjoyed delicious food, swam, took boat tours, had family photographs taken and enjoyed an unforgettable day.

Shirley Chernin, chair of the six-person volunteer committee that organized the event, said the success of the Kum A-Haym lay in the people, themselves, who came and participated.

"It was a time for families. It was so wonderful to be there with out families and, in some cases, meet family members we didn't know. That was the pinnacle of the whole thing."