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Leona Billinkoff


By Sharon Chisvin

Camp Massad has been a fixture in the Winnipeg Jewish community for almost 60 years, thanks largely to the efforts of Leona Billinkoff. While it has been decades since Billinkoff actually spent summers out at the camp as Eemah, her impact on Massad, and consequently on the local Jewish community, remains significant. It was in recognition and appreciation of this that Billinkoff’s Massad family decided to honour her on her recent 90th birthday.

The birthday event, held on February 28 at the Gwen Secter Creative Living Centre, was attended by dozens of Billinkoff’s family and friends. Many Massad alumni were also in attendance, eager to wish Mazel Tov to the woman they all knew as Gveret B.

The Sunday affair began with Massad co-chairs Ivy Kopstein and Mia Elfenbaum welcoming everyone in attendance, and was followed in true Massad fashion with shtick and songs courtesy of the Massad Alumni Choir.

Quoting liberally from Massadnik Al Levine’s Winnipeg Jewish history, Coming of Age, the co-chairs spoke about Billinkoff’s initial involvement with Massad and her commitment to making it unique among Jewish summer camps.

“To Leona, Massad always has been more than a Zionist camp,” Elfenbaum said. “It was a place…where every little boy could learn to dance and every little girl could learn to hammer a nail; where everyone could sing and appear on stage.”

“It was important to teach Hebrew,” she added, “but you also had to teach menshlichkeit.”

Thanks to Gveret B’s long involvement with the camp,  these ideals became embedded in its ideology, and remain as integral to Massad’s success today as they were half a century ago.

“Leona’s role was important not only because she was the longest attending camp Eemah, “ Kopstein explained,” but because she had a vision for Camp Massad that has endured over the years and has separated Massad from other camps.”

Camp Massad in 2010, in fact, is very similar in many ways to Camp Massad in 1953. In spite of the passage of time, it is still a place where Jewish children dance, sing, build, create, speak Hebrew and joyfully celebrate their Jewish identity and connection to Israel.

To learn more about Camp Massad visit 

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Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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