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Canadian Jewish Community Says Goodbye to a Legend

Despite being small in stature, Norma Cummings, z”l had a huge heart

By: Daniel Horowitz
Published: January 21st, 2013 in News » World
Norma Cummings in 1955

When Norma Cummings passed away on December 20th, 2012, Montreal’s Jewish community lost one of its most passionate, enthusiastic and generous supporters.

Although she was small in stature, Norma, the daughter of Louis Reitman, Founder, along with his brothers, of the iconic clothing chain Reitman’s, was known by her countless admirers for her enormous heart, and as a unique individual with a passion for life, laughter, community, and most of all, family, which includes her three children, nine grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.

“My brother, sister and I grew up in the late ‘50s, Montreal,” recalls one of Norma’s two sons, Richard. “It was an idyllic time. Our sense of life and our sensibilities about life were very much based on growing up surrounded by love and support. By the same token, ours was a home, and a dinner table, where the issues of the day were always present and where matters of social justice were always grist for our mill.”

“Who was our mother, and how did she leave such a lasting impact on so many?” asked son, Steven, in the siblings’ heartfelt and touching joint eulogy to their mom. “First and foremost, Mom believed in family. No one had our back the way our mom had our back. She believed that holidays, birthdays, happy – but also sad times – were times to be together. Families stay together by respecting and rejoicing in the common threads that bind us. Mom knitted that colourful quilt that was our family, and was vigilant in holding all the pieces together.”

And today, in a time when it seems that many families are being divided by life’s myriad of distractions, Norma’s commitment to family has paid obvious dividends which continue to keep that bond intact today.

“There was no greater expression of this love of family than our home in Vermont where four generations continue to play, laugh and love together,” said Richard. “She forged deep relations with us all. When you were alone with Mom, you had the sense that you were the only person in the world. That is why people felt so intensely about her. So many truly loved her.”

“Mom was a real force,” said daughter Nancy Cummings Gold, who is returning to a graduate degree in Philosophy at McGill University. “People noticed her. She was a beautiful, incredibly stylish woman – one with a very unique and independent style. Heads turned, but she was easy to reach out to. She made people feel comfortable in her presence. Mom loved our dad. She loved him fiercely. He remained her great love throughout her life. Together they built a beautiful home and gave us a wonderful childhood with strong values, a sense of justice and a moral compass. We will carry that with us forever.”

And it’s that sense of justice and morality that propelled the three siblings into working for the betterment of the Canadian Jewish community, both as volunteers and as a professional.

Richard is the Executive Director of Jewish Family & Child (JF&CS) in Toronto and Steven worked with CIJA and is a Past President of Montreal’s Jewish Federation (CJA) and of the city’s Jewish General Hospital.

The list of Norma’s volunteer and charitable efforts is indeed an impressive one that includes, among others, CJA, Jewish National Fund, Jewish Public Library, Jewish General Hospital, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Tel Aviv University, Ben Gurion University, McGill University and Concordia University.

One of Norma’s favourite activities, and something that perhaps best personified the woman, took place every Tuesday over the last ten years, when she would invite 20 to 30 women between the ages of 17 and 97 into her home for “Tuesdays with Norma.”

“My mother’s capacity to engage the world was particularly evident in this Tuesday tradition,” said Richard. “And, if you got invited to Tuesdays with Norma, you also got some pretty impressive bragging rights. These women would come, sit, drink scotch, and talk about anything and everything including art, as my mother was quite a talented artist. She was simply a gracious woman and her grace translated into support for the community, for her family, and her friends. She loved to open her home to events that touched her heart and helped others. And our Yontifs were always standing room only. If we had 60 people for any given Yontif at her home, it was not unusual.”

“Norma was an active and caring participant in Federation CJA,” said CEO Deborah Corber. “Always helpful, positive, and with a sense of humour and grace. She felt a special responsibility to the community, due to her lineage, which transcended beyond financial generosity to incorporate leading by example.”

“The passion for, and dedication to community that Norma Cummings demonstrated throughout her life is something that we should all aspire to,” said Ted Sokolsky, CEO & President, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. “And her legacy of communal involvement lives on today within her children, all of whom play an ongoing role in Jewish life across Canada.”

Related articles: Canada, Jewish, Community, Death, Legend, Norma Cummings, Montreal, Louis Reitman, CJA
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