Debbie Maslowsky

My Story...

Roots are essential; without them, a tree cannot survive. It's the same for families and for communities. Our roots sustain us. Our shared heritage and values shape who we are. That's why it's such an honour to share my story through the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba's Endowment Book of Life. The project celebrates roots in a very meaningful way; in a way that nurtures our next generation.

I was born in 1962 to Sam and Evelyn Maslowsky (née Yacowar). My mother's parents, my Zaida Abie and Baba Freda, came to Canada in 1925 from Ananyev, Russia. They moved to Leader, Saskatchewan, and my mother was born in 1927 in Burstall.

My father was born in 1923 in Pavlich, Russia, and came to Canada with his parents, Ziskind and Shaindel Maslowsky in 1927.

I was raised on Jefferson Avenue, steps away from Chevra Mishnayes, a shul that my Zaida Abie helped establish and I still attend today. I never knew my Baba Shaindel, but all of my grandparents lived on Jefferson. I attended I.L. Peretz School, Jefferson Junior High, and Garden City Collegiate...all located on Jefferson. I had to attend clubs at the Y and USY at Rosh Pina so I could see what other streets looked like!

My dad, who passed away in 2007, was a grocer; my mom helped at the store and also worked as the supervisor of the Henderson City Directory. My parents provided an exceptional upbringing for me and my siblings: Bobbi, Kenny, and Jerry. We weren't especially wealthy, but our home was rich with song, laughter, and Jewish spirit. Our grandparents were essential parts of our lives while we were growing up. I could not imagine a more supportive way to be raised; our parents and grandparents encouraged us to pursue our dreams, no matter what they were.

My sister Bobbi, who was 13 years older than me, moved out east to pursue her dreams when I was still a little girl. Sadly, she died at the age of 39 in 1988. Our family was devastated and we miss her deeply. We honour her memory through a fund at the Foundation and my daughter, Sarah Brooke Cohen, is named after "Auntie Bobbi" and her Grandma Sarah Cohen.

My older brothers were active, successful performers. As the youngest, I would tag along while Kenny choreographed Jerry in Annie Get Your Gun at Jefferson Junior High. I performed in dozens of school concerts and recitals, and sang in Sarah Udow's choir at Peretz School. I also studied piano with Aviva Katz.

My first public performance was when I was 10. I appeared in a show that Kenny directed at the Playhouse Theatre. At 12, I appeared as an elf in a production at the YMHA. By then, I was very excited about performing and had a sense that it would always be a part of my life.

A real turning point was an invitation to be an extra in a CBC-TV production about Moses leading the Israelites through the desert. It was being shot in the Carberry Desert and featured the Chai Folk Ensemble. Many of the regulars were off at summer camp and they needed extra bodies to recreate the Exodus. I didn't have to sing or dance, just wander. That wandering turned into a joyous, seven-year stint as a Chai singer under the guidance of brilliant co-Artistic Directors, Jill and Nenad Lhotka.

My time in Chai overlapped with my brother Jerry, and one of my greatest memories is singing "Hallelujah" with him as a duet. The song had just taken the world by storm as Israel's successful entry into the Eurovision contest.

My relationship with the Lhotkas turned out to be pivotal in my performing career. Jill invited me to join "Take a Good Look, Manitoba," a travelling production designed to encourage tourism. Nenad invited me to perform in Fiddler on the Roof at the Hollow Mug theatre, where I ultimately performed in 50 different productions.

After high school, I attended the University of Winnipeg and earned my theatre degree. During school, I performed around town and helped out my mom at the Henderson Directory.

Summers were busy and outstanding as I performed for many years at Shalom Square in Folklorama. I also worked for the Folk Arts Council for a few years. So, with summers spoken for, I didn't have the opportunity to perform at Rainbow Stage until later. My first show was Guys and Dolls, and in my second summer I appeared as Tzeitel in Fiddler on the Roof. It remains a highlight of my life—a large, challenging role; a big audience; an exciting memory of my days at the Hollow Mug; and the chance to take part in an important slice of Jewish culture.

As passionate as I was—and still am—about singing and acting, I never wanted it to be my entire life. I wanted to do other things in my career, and I wanted a family. I have held a few very interesting positions over the years, including a 12-year stint at an event management company. Today, I work independently as an event management consultant. I still perform in plays and musicals, too, and I also direct and choreograph; I simply love the balance in my life.

More important, I have an amazing family including my husband Arthur Cohen who is remarkably supportive. I've been married to Arthur since 1997. We were introduced to each other by Debbie Lipkin, a mutual friend. She got the idea to fix us up while she and I were working on a reception for a touring production of...believe it or not...Fiddler on the Roof. Sarah arrived in 2003. She goes to the Hebrew Bilingual program at Brock Corydon where I am a proud volunteer. When I hand out eggs at Sarah's school Pesach Seder, I have vivid memories of my mom doing the same thing at Peretz School.

That's Jewish continuity. This is what the Endowment Book of Life is all about. Our community is very fortunate, as am I.