Lonia Usiatinsky Menzer
Birth: December 31, 1908 in Poland
Death: July 24, 1994 (age 85)
Rabbi Victor Hillel Reinstein gave the following eulogy at her funeral:
Funeral: July 26, 1994
Yohrzeit: Menachem Av 16
Lonia was a gracious woman of magnificent dignity who came to love his community and find here extended family, as indeed many of us have found.
Lonia’s father…born in Ukraine, mother in Poland. Her family name- Ushatinsky…family orinins in Ushatin.
She was born in Poland, raised in Vienna from age 9.
Her parents were very observant… her father was a follower of the “Chortkover Rebbe”. An early memory she once shared was with her father to visit the Chortover—impressed by his beard….
She had another beard memory—last Rosh Hashonah during a discussion I asked people to share earliest memories –Lonia’s was sitting in her grandfather’s lap and playing with his red beard. Red hair was a trademark on her mother’s side.
Though she had memories of early Jewish love, Lonia had a life-long sense of frustration at the Jewish education denied her in the context of her early years because she was a daughter.
Lonia married Rezo who came to be known as Reginald, a Hungarian Jew in 1936, after which she moved to Budapest. Elizabeth was born in Budapest.
As clouds of hatred darkened Europe — Lonia’s parents had great foresight —fled Europe; much of her husband’s family perished. Lonia insisted that they had to leave.
She visited Vienna soon after Kristallnacht and saw the devastation.
Each year at our Kristallnacht she would light a candle of memory for the Jews of Vienna, and pass it to one of our young people.
In 1941she miraculously managed to enter Canada when the gates closed.
She came to New York and then after visiting with her parents moved to a small town near Montreal – Cowansville -where Reginald had a job working at a textile factory called Bruck’s Silk Mills. He was a screen printer, a skill he learned in Europe because as a Jew he was not allowed to go to University.
After 3 years the family moved to Montreal where Reginald went into business for himself.
Lonia adapted to North American quickly and well. — “a terribly normal” mother, says Elizabeth. … took Elizabeth to music lessons by trolley and even sat through the lessons.
She was proud to look good and still be frugal.
In the early ’70’s Lonia and Reginald moved to Victoria. After he died, not many years later, she forced herself to be active and reached into the Jewish and general communities.
Lonia was interested in everything — curiosity, – a lifelong trait helped keep her going…. She enjoyed life…. food, travellng, culture, music, theatre…. and most of all people.
She would take the bus to concerts at U-Vic. —after hearing a Hungarian pianist who studied with Bela Bartok she exclaimed she had heard Bartock in Hungary. Her eyes twinkled so easily with excitement.
She liked doing things in later years she hadn’t had a chance to do when she was younger. Like cooking over a fire in the country with Elizabeth’s family, or sitting in the back of their camper a simple sandwich on wheels. She loved younger people— a major reason she enrolled in French literature class at U-Vic.
Her curiosity at times could get the best of her in a beautifully childlike way. — Chaverim trip to the Art Gallery— could not resist touching display of fabric. —(A connection to her husband?)
Deeply cultured in fine European sense — knowledge and love of art, music, language and most of all ideas. Not having been exposed to worldly culture at home, she was proud of what she acquired on her own.
In later years the Jewish community became the focus of her life and passion for people.
She was a regular shul goer– every week — sat right in front and often contributed a thought to a Torah discussion. So too, she always sat as close to the speaker as possible — not to miss anything…
She was involved in everything – Chaverim, Hadassah, ORT, JCC, JNF, and committed to all.
She would attend lectures on any subject.
She supported by her presence “everything going”, as Annette Wigod said.
If someone else was too tired to go to a program she would say “No, we must go!” We need to support what the Rabbi is doing or the JCC, or Hadassah and so on. She would attend at odd hours simply by getting on the bus — so independent!
She was a generous supporter of Israel which she said was “important to the Jewish people.” She often spoke of her first trip to Israel in the early 50’s to visit her late sister; the experience of walking – even there from the bus along a dusty road.
She had such a special sense of responsibility — not enough to just be a member.
She would bake for meetings and programs and help with the cleanup even when tired.
She opened her home — with its gracious European air to individuals and for meetings.
She was very hospitable — she even placed Annette’s name on fine napkin to insure she would feel at home in her home.
She loved nature — “I can’t believe I live here.” When offered to be taken for a ride whould say, “Anywhere is fine, all is beautiful.”
She was never a complainer. In the last few weeks, before and after her fall, she seemed to know the end was near — she arranged for the sale of some of her fine art and she confided to Annette “I want to be able to chose the door and say this is it. I free myself to feel I have done what is required of me.” Beyond organizing practical details, she knew– and was preparing to take her leave graciously and in control, as she had lived.
So too, she continues to speak to you, Elizabeth in the little notes of instruction around the apartment — whether they were meant for herself or indeed for you.
Remember also, Elizabeth, those little bonds — like the cut parsley in the same way she always did.
Lonia was preparing to go to a party when she died — so fitting for this person who loved people.
Ada and Lesley — you answered her greatest fear, that she would not be left alone in death — for you were both there so quickly and responded so lovingly.
She died peacefully as a gentle kiss called forth her soul.
We bid a fond farewell to you Lonia. We will deeply miss the fullness of your presence in our lives. May you ask the Holy One many questions and may your memory be for a blessing in our lives.
Gravesite Details: South Zone – Plot 32
פּ״נ (Here lies)
Wife of Reginald
Died July 24, 1994
Name in Hebrew: Leah b. Moshe v’Bat-Sheva
ת נ צ ב ה
abbreviation for Biblical quote: “May her soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.”
Rezo “Reginald” Menzer