Tova Vickar

My Story...

Jewish people helping Jewish people. It's been a dominant theme in my life as I was born in post-war Europe; moved to the fledgling State of Israel; and settled in Winnipeg as a young woman. I can't say for certain where or when I was born. I know it was after World War II, and I know it was somewhere between Poland and Russia, but there is no birth certificate to confirm the details. My parents were Nucham and Yente Soiferman (later anglicized to Superman). I'm not sure of my mother's maiden name because she changed it while in hiding during the war. My father was an officer in the Russian army. Toward the end of the war, he was shot in the head, but survived. In the hospital, he was treated by a caring nurse — my mother. A week later, they were married.

I know little about my father's parents. I do know that my mother's father was a rabbi who was hanged by the Nazis.

After the war, my parents found themselves in a displaced persons camp in Poland waiting to immigrate to Israel. The Jewish Agency (the Sochnut) took us and so many others by train from Poland to Germany, and then to Italy where we waited for a ship to go to Israel. Through all of the angst, uncertainty, and travel, my parents did their best to keep the experience light, and even fun. As a young child I had no sense of the scale of what was happening and when I think back on it all, it is not a bad memory.

My parents had four children in five years: Jacob, Shoshana, Tzvi, and me.

We finally landed in Haifa in 1954. I was taken to an absorption centre designed just for children. My father's health had been compromised and my mother had developed a condition where she couldn't walk well, so raising children would have been too difficult. I was born as Ogenia, but in Israel I became Tova. At the centre, which was run by the Sochnut, I remember making friends and studying Hebrew. I also remember the process by which kids were sent from the centre off to different kibbutzim and settlements. We would line up and an administrator would handpick a few children at a time to be sent to new homes. I remember being passed over a few times until the age of 12 when I was finally sent, along with a few friends from the absorption centre, to Kibbutz Ramat Ha'Shofet, close to Megiddo, just west of Haifa.

It was a wonderful move, and a beautiful way to grow up and learn about community. On kibbutz, we were invited to select a family that we could call our own. I chose Chana and David Shteigman who were very good to me. I loved going to school on kibbutz and didn't mind the couple of hours of daily work we needed to do, even on school days. As a young kibbutznik, I was only able to see my parents twice a year. They lived in Haifa, then moved to Tel Aviv. At the age of 17, I left kibbutz to join the army for a year and a half.

Growing up in an absorption centre, then moving to kibbutz, and then serving in the army helped to define my character. I felt brave and fearless, and celebrated my independence. It was that independence that led me to buy a one-way ticket to Winnipeg after my military service in 1969. My mother had found out that her sister Rose Levine was living in Winnipeg, so it seemed like a good place to visit.

The day after I got here was the day I wanted to return home; I missed Israel almost immediately. I realized, though, that I needed to make money to buy a ticket. I could barely speak English but managed to get a job at Hercules Manufacturing sewing pockets on blue jeans, and later at the Sharon Home as a nursing assistant. People were fantastic to me in Winnipeg, offering work and places to stay. I started to get used to my Canadian life and started to study nursing and later interior design at Red River Community College. Almost everybody I met wanted to help me.

On one cold night in the late 1960s, I went to bowl at Roxy Lanes as part of a Winnipeg Organization of Jewish Youth program. A young man named Larry Vickar offered me a ride home. He seemed nice enough, and, well, it was a warm car on a cold night. I became very interested in Larry and was attracted to the fact he was raised in small-town Saskatchewan and his family had a farming background. A bit like a kibbutz, perhaps.

We were married in 1971 at the Rosh Pina Synagogue. Larry was carving out his career in the car business and I was still working at the Sharon Home. We raised two sons together: Sam (born in 1974); and Stephen (born in 1977). Sam and his wife Lisa have two sons: Mason and Vaughn.

Over the years I've worked at wonderful places, and today, I am proud to work with Larry in the car business. I've been an active volunteer in the Jewish community, volunteering with Hadassah, the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre, the Combined Jewish Appeal, Jewish Child and Family Service, and other organizations. I like to think of myself today as one of the people who helps other people in need. Just like I was helped by so many others many years ago.

I see the value, and enjoy the feeling, of helping Canadians of all backgrounds. Larry and I actively support a number of charities in the Filipino and other ethnic communities; we provide high school scholarships in five schools to deserving students looking to pursue post-secondary education; and we also help L'Arche, an organization that provides homes for the intellectually disabled.

I am a proud person who values independence, and enjoys simplicity. I try to be authentic; I try to be strong; and I value family and community.

By participating in the Endowment Book of Life, I am expressing my passion for Jewish unity. I benefitted from the immense power of unity through my journey from Europe to Israel and then to Canada. My greatest hope is that we stay together, as we have always done.