Ben (Berel) Schwartz never forgot the Ottawa Jewish Community Centre (JCC). In 1940, at the age of 18, he moved to Ottawa from Toronto to work in the federal government – an institution not yet acquainted with multiculturalism. Ben found solace and companionship at the old JCC and, when he passed away February 26, he left a bequest to the Soloway JCC.
“He always remembered that the JCC was there for him, and he believed it should always be there,” said David Schwartz, his nephew.
After serving in Burma with the Royal Canadian Air Force as a radar technician during the Second World War, Ben received a degree in mechanical engineering and returned to Ottawa to work in the federal government’s Trade and Patent Group. He found his long-time friends on the basketball court in the JCC gym on Chapel Street.
The JCC was a comforting and safe place for a young Jew alone in the city. Jews were not welcome in many of Ottawa’s clubs and organizations in the first half of the 20th century. Sports were not just recreation, they were community. The JCC was the place where Ben found connection.
Ben and other Ottawa Jews also created their own social hubs, such as the Montefiore Club on Gilmour Street. The club was created in 1944 as a business and professional men’s club, with the Doublers’ Bridge Club as its centrepiece. In addition to playing locally, the members participated in tournaments all over North America.
When the club dissolved and the property was sold, the proceeds were invested in a fund at the Ottawa Jewish Community Foundation, as a legacy for the community.
According to his nephew, Ben had a lively mind and loved bridge, playing jazz piano and games of chance that required skill and strategy. He frequented the racetrack and there found his life-long companion, Germaine Bolduc, a harness racing jockey, a rare occupation for a woman at that time.
They eventually retired to a farm in Embrun. Ben spent his last years in a retirement home in Toronto, returning to his roots and to his tallit and tefillin.
“The SJCC is grateful for the bequest and will use it to enrich the experience of our members and all who gather for events at the SJCC,” said Barry Sohn, president and chief operating officer of the Soloway JCC.
“Ben was an engineer and chose the most efficient method to transform his memories and experiences into a means of sustaining and developing the JCC, which meant so much to him.”
For information about creating a Jewish legacy through a will or estate planning, contact Arieh Rosenblum, director of development at the Ottawa Jewish Community Foundation and Jewish Federation of Ottawa, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 613-798-4696, ext. 270.