For the past decade or so, Riva Grosman, 92, and Fay Kieffer, 90, have been attending the Azrieli Foundation Café Europa at Baycrest. The social group was established to provide a safe place for Holocaust survivors to come together for conversation, a light meal and musical entertainment.
During the Second World War, Riva was at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, which was liberated in April 1945 by the British Army. She came to Canada in 1959. Fay was in a ghetto and in hiding by herself during the war, and arrived in Canada in 1948.
The two women are fast friends who enjoy spending a few hours together once a month at Baycrest. Riva says Café Europa is very important to the survivors who really count on seeing each other at least once in a while.
“It’s almost like a family kinship. You know, I didn’t know her (Fay) before the war, but now I have nobody left in my immediate family. This becomes family… you take part in whatever ails them, and hear about their kids. It’s an opportunity to see each other. There’s the telephone, but it’s not the same as seeing someone in person. It’s a different connection.”
Fay says it’s not easy for her to use public transit and she takes advantage of the special door-to-door bus service that is provided to Café Europa members courtesy of generous donors. “It’s exceptional. The transportation is good and always on time,” she says. “It’s beautiful to have once a month – we’re very thankful for this.”
On a recent Friday, singer Adam Mishan had the entire room smiling as he entertained the group with old standards like “Sunrise, Sunset” from “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Save the Last Dance for Me.” He wandered among the tables and even got down on one knee to serenade a few people.
Riva and Fay both acknowledge that their group of friends has – sadly – dwindled, so they cherish the time together at Café Europa.
“You come, really, to meet your people who survived – survivors that you don’t see otherwise,” Riva says. “Everybody’s living in a different part of the city, so you come and you really pick up where you left off a month ago.”
How you can help write our next chapter
As part of Baycrest’s next chapter, Café Europa will continue to provide a space for Holocaust survivors to get together and gather, embracing our vision of a world where every older adult enjoys a life of purpose, inspiration and fulfillment.
Our Next Chapter highlights the connections between our residents, patients, families and staff. These stories underscore the ways in which we are working together to fulfil a promise to realize our vision, and the important impact of committed supporters.