Remembering beloved librarian Estelle Backman

Remembering beloved librarian Estelle Backman

By Donna Guttman

The Jewish community in Ottawa has been blessed by the efforts of many dedicated individuals who work to enhance Jewish life. Each of these individuals is a hero in that they selflessly seek to do for others.

On February 17, Ottawa lost a quiet hero when Estelle Backman z”l, died suddenly, at home, at age 74.

Estelle loved books. She also loved her community. Estelle served as Jewish community librarian for more than 20 years, until her retirement at the end of 2014.

At first, she laboured quietly in the basement of the Jewish Community Centre (JCC) building on Chapel Street. Working with only a tiny budget and more often only with donated books, Estelle sought to build a resource of Jewish learning accessible to all. Hers was a quiet endeavour that required patience, persistence, dedication and love.

In 1998, when the JCC moved to its new home – the Soloway JCC on the Jewish Community Campus in the west end – Estelle was overjoyed to find herself in beautiful new surroundings. The newly minted Greenberg Families Library made it possible for Estelle to shine and accomplish all that she had always hoped and dreamed of doing.

Under her watchful eye, the collection was expanded and the old card catalogue was replaced by an electronic database. This intensive process involved culling old, irrelevant books and creating digital records for all titles in the collection. Cultural programs blossomed with the vital support and dedication of avid readers and friends of the library. With the new prominence of the Greenberg Families Library, came the ability to build a true community resource – a resource which continues to enrich the lives of anyone seeking to broaden their knowledge of all things Jewish.

I was fortunate to have worked closely with Estelle during the first seven years after the library moved to the Soloway JCC. During our shared time in the library, I came to know the quiet determination of a woman who did not look for honour or attention, but sought only to help others. Estelle was always ready to assist anyone searching for a book suitable to their needs – and she always did this with a smile, grace and kindness.

Estelle’s work in the library lives on. Her years of service to the Jewish community were vital to building a resource that serves as testimony to her love of her community, and to her love for the books that tell our story.

Estelle will be deeply missed by her husband Sydney, her daughter Andrea and her family, her son David and his family, and her sister Anita. To them, I say, May You Be Comforted Among the Mourners in Zion.

Estelle will also be missed by the many people who had the good fortune of benefiting from her help and warm smile. May her memory be for a blessing.

Donna Guttman worked alongside Estelle Backman as a librarian at the Greenberg Families Library in the Soloway JCC. She now lives in Jerusalem.