Hinda Hershorn Shapiro
Birth: May 24, 1893 in Belarus
Death: December 21, 1988 (age 83) in Victoria, B.C.
Gravesite Details: Row D – Plot 54
פּ״נ (Here lies)
Pruzeny Russia PACKFORD
Hinda b. Yitzchak v’Mindel Hebrew Name
ת נ צ ב ה
abbreviation for Biblical quote: “May her soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.”
She was born in Pruzhany (Belarusian: Пружа́ны, [pruˈʐanɨ]; Russian: Пружаны, Polish: Prużany, Yiddish: פרוזשענע Pruzhene), a town in Brest Voblast, Belarus. At the time of her birth it was in Russia.
Rabbi Victor Hillel Reinstein gave the following eulogy at her funeral:
Funeral: December 23, 1988; 15 Tevet 5749
Yhorzeit: 13 Tevet
Pause for a moment….Listen to the silence…. There is something missing. It is the sound of her voice breaking the stillness. Hard of hearing, she sought to understand, to knowingly participate. She was unaware of the volume of her voice, so she would ask. Her queries were pure and innocent. Her voice became part of the cadence of our davening, the chant of our prayers. Unaware, she helped us to avoid the trap of solemnity and artificial spirituality. In recent weeks we have been painfully aware of the absence of her voice, which now joins the ancient echoes that fill this sanctuary. Mrs. Shapiro, Hinda bas Yitzhak u’Mindl, was a beloved gentle presence among us.
“Mrs. Shapiro”, used almost as a title of deference, indeed as the ‘Holy One’ shall probably greet her, died during the week of the Torah portion called ‘va ‘yechi’ which means “and he lived”, referring to our ancestor Jacob. Ironically, the portion is about Jacob’s death. Te rabbis explain that while everyone does, the important question is whether or not we truly live. Thus the phrase, “and Jacob lived”. In the framework of this portion marking the week of her death, so shall it be said of Mrs. Shapiro, “and she lived”. Her life is a chronicle of unassuming courage, an ordinary person with extraordinary strength. Our sages asked, “Who is rich?”, and they answered, “ha sameach b’chelko”, “one who rejoices in their portion”. Like Jacob, Mrs. Shapiro lived a difficult life, yet she rejoiced in her portion, and through the fullness of years was grateful for the gift of life.
Mrs. Shapiro was born in 1893 in the shtetl of Pruzney in Russia to the Hershorn family, a family of eight daughters. With older sisters already in Canada, she came to Toronto in 1907 with her father and another sister. Her mother came later with two younger sisters. She began working at Eaton’s as a sewing machine operator almost immediately upon her arrival. She lost her job for joining the first strike at Eaton’s and then continued to work in the garment industry on Spadina. While she was not a labour activist, it is fascinating to note that as a young woman she went to secret meetings in the forest of Pruzney to discuss and organize unions. She was also a life-long member of the ‘Arbiter Ring’, the Yiddish ‘Workmen’s Circle” and read the “Forvetts” from the time she came to Toronto. Even in the last weeks of her life, copies of the “Forvetts” could be found in her hospital room. Working hard from a young age, one of the great misfortunes in her life is that she was not able to go to school and never had any formal education.
Mrs. Sapiro’s actual birth date was never known so in later years Bernice chose Mary 24th, an easy date to remember because it is Victoria Day. To all who knew her it was fitting, for she was truly of ‘royal birth’. In 1913 she married Samuel Levitz, Bernice and Goldie’s father. He died in the early 20’s, leaving a very poor family. Soon before his death, Mrs. Shapiro, with the help of her sisters, opened a dry goods store in Toronto. She ran that store for 31 years, though she couldn’t read or write and depended on the help of her children and nephew and nieces. The store weathered the depression, and as Bernice said, “the store fed us”. At times they would place empty boxes on the shelves to make the store look full. Mrs. Shapiro sewed blouses and camisoles in the store to earn a little extra money. The mother and two girls lived upstairs from the store in the heart of industrial Toronto, surrounded by railroad tracks. Mrs. Shapiro worked in the store six days a week from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 at night. For many years after she closed the store she would walk for twenty minutes to help a sick sister and prepare food for her for the next day. Then she came home and stoked the furnace and prepared for another day. On Thursdays her mother would bring fish and chicken and she would make gefilte fish for her family and for her sister. She still chopped fish until last year. For 31 years she continued in this gruelling way and never complained. Bernice left the store in 1945 when they closed the store and sold everything down to the fixtures. Mrs. Shapiro was very strong physically. In recent weeks she recalled being in the hospital soon after she arrived in Canada because she had bunions from having her feet forced into shoes that were too small. In 1951 she married Nathan Shapiro, from when came her name Mrs. Shapiro. He died a few years later in 1954 on Yom Kippur.
In 1957, after a few visits, she came to Victoria to live with Bernice. Together they bought the house at 152 Cambridge Street. No longer a young woman, a new phase of her life began in Victoria, the part of her life that made all of us her “mishpocha“, her family. She jumped right into her new life, taking care of the house and looking after the day-to-day raising of Leah. Leah’s relationship with her grandmother, her Bobi, was a beautiful one, a type that is so rare today. Leah and Bobi shared a room. Each night Bobi would say “Kri’shma” with Leah, expressing her own simple faith. Only later did LEah realize that the Yiddish was “Kriat sh’ma“, the Sh’ma Yisrael, watchword of our faith. Looking back, Leah reflects that “sharing a room was totally natural. I never questioned or thought twice about it.”
Her family was central for Mrs. Shapiro. She did not often venture beyond her family, but did go to Hadassah meetings and to the Shul from the time she came to Victoria. Though we wouldn’t have realized it in later years, she was shy and lacked confidence through most of her life. But she felt comfortable in a Jewish environment.
The Shul was central to Mrs. Shapiro’s life. It was her primary social context. She saw many changes in the Shul and in the Jewish community over the years. Flexible and unassuming, she accepted change as part of life and community and always continued to participate. Her attitude was that you don’t walk away from the Shul. It someone’s angry, “so what, you still go to Shul”. She simply couldn’t comprehend someone’s turning their back on the Shul. Belonging to the Shul was not conditional for her; you may have differences, but how can you get mad at the Shul and what it represents? It was not a matter of concepts for her, of ideals such as unity, but rather a simple heartfelt truth, a truth that we would do well to take to heart and to be inspired by.
She didn’t talk much about God or use religious language, but she was a deeply religious person. She was observant in the ways of our people, sometimes in her own way, keeping kosher and lighting Shabbos candles. She loved Yiddishkeit. Her week came to turn around Shabbos. In her precious way of caring, Bernice helper h to remember which day it was by carefully arranging each day around a task – launtry day, ironing day, baking day and so on. If the weather was right on laundry day she would always hang the clothes outside. She never let Bernice help with this difficult task because she didn’t go it right. NOW Bernice hangs the clothes exactly like she did because as Bernice says “it’s the best way”. In her simple ways we may often find the best way.
In 1981 Goldie and Jack came to Victoria and she was delighted. In Jack she came to have a beloved son. When Leah and Uri and the children came the circle was complete to the fourth generation.
Mrs. Shapiro never thought of herself as old. And she was right, she was ageless. As the week turned to Shabbos it brought her to Shul, to the place where most of us knew her best. Here we tasted her mandlebread and the green rice casserole that she made for community Shabbos dinners. Here we knew her laughter and love, her humour and wit, the sparkle of her eyes, the light of her smile. How we all shall remember her response to any praise offered her – “No, come on…yeah?” Her eyes would open wide with her laugh. Even near the end, she occasionally managed to open her eyes wide and fill the room with brightness. When it was time to clean up after something in the Shul she would take a broom and sweep the floor. After Yontov or on other significant events she would say “I want to be with you next year.” She exuded a love of life and was truly grateful for her portion of life. She was at home with herself and was content. She lived the old wisdom and never complained about ‘fate’ or said she had a hard day. Though she would chide people for not coming to Shul, she never raised her voice in anger. She spoke even then with a laugh.
Jack explains that she was a symbol for so many of her generation who perished, a Bobi from the old world. She taught us a different kind of values. In Victoria this has been especially true. Most of us don’t have extended families here. She was a mother or Bobi to so many of us. Mrs. Shapiro was a deeply beloved woman. She was unaware of how much joy she brought, of how much her presence meant.
Her presence shall continue to be felt among us. From that bench a few rows back on the left her voice shall continue to touch us in moments of silence. As her voice now joins the ancient echoes that fill this sanctuary, it shall continue to give us joy and strength and touch us with her love. As she is gathered to her people, so sleep with her ancestors, as the Torah portion says of Jacob, her memory cannot help but be a blessing among us, for among us she is one who truly lived.
Even as we give our love and comfort of Bernice, Goldie, Jack, Leah, Uri, Ayal, Tamar and Adam, let us be mindful of the blessings of her long life…so may we take to heart her unassuming wisdom and make the memory of Mrs. Shapiro a blessing in our lives.
First Husband: Samuel Levitz
Second Husband Nathan Shapiro
Bernice Levitz Packford (1915–2010)
Goldie Levitz Gardner (1918–1996)