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by Harriet Berkal, April 11, 2018

As far back as I can remember, I disliked my first name. It was hard for others to say, being three syllables, British in origin and harsh sounding. Who calls a baby Harriet? Oddly enough my mom followed her sister, who called my elder cousin “Harriet” as well. But other than us two, I knew of no one else with that name when younger.


As I grew up I found out there were a few more Harriets in Winnipeg. The biggest irony was that my husband Larry, actually dated another Harriet in the city, long before me. We joke often about me being Harriet #2 but he says: “No way you are Harriet # 1 - always have been!”


Reading “Harriet the Spy” and studying about “Harriet Tubman”, restored some glamour to my namesake, which was uncommon, and it stuck.


I looked up its meaning way back and was pleased to find that it meant: “Ruler of the House.” That bestowed some dignity upon it for me. It’s unique and I’d say for those who really know me, it’s only apropos that I have an unusual name. In fact, maybe it’s even been character building. It’s taught me in part to stand on my own two feet. Given today’s trends, I’d take Harriet anytime over “Stormi”,

“Apple”, “Blue Ivy” or a symbol like a hamsa the person formerly known as Harriet.


This spring marks Israel’s 70th anniversary into being born a homeland for all Jews. Given our history as a people, it is remarkable how much of a struggle we have had to endure to earn the right to “rule our own homeland.”


My parents had been to Israel about three times on a musical journey. The synagogue sent my father Rabbi and Cantor Louis Berkal, along with the choir to the zimrya festival, where choirs from around the world compete. ( Many people have never heard of this incredible event which celebrates the joy of music.



So, it’s an interesting connection that MUSIC drew me as well, to the land of milk and honey.


Shockingly, I didn’t make my first voyage to Israel until about 8 years ago in 2010. My daughter Sophie was selected to perform in the Hallelujah contest,   ( so Larry and our son Manny set forth on our voyage. As a rabbi’s daughter many people are amazed that I was in my 50’s before I ever set foot in the holy land. I had had many Israeli teachers at Ramah Hebrew School and at Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate and yet lacked a desire to go.


After grade 12, I knew of many Canadian young women, who set their sights on going to Israel, to land a husband. The men were gorgeous and maybe they’d like to move to Canada with you? Even this, did not motivate me. But I finally did make it there and my observations are notable.


What impressed me the most was how innovative and driven the people were. Their agricultural irrigation system was brilliant for a desert and I saw a nation incorporating exercise and self-defense into their daily lives. The Ayalon ammunition factory was nothing short of brilliant. The daily realization that you are surrounded by enemies, made me rethink what I take for granted in Canada and the sacrifice our brethren make for us.


In senior high, I nearly lived in the art room at Grant Park school. I remember asking the art teacher to please build me a narrow but enormously high canvas. I had seen a photo of Isadore Herzl. He was a pioneer and I found him and his appearance fascinating. So, I painted a massively high image of him that I have til this day.


You know it’s okay to be different. It’s empowering to stand for something. And it’s our right to exist! May we all stand TALL as Jews celebrating this remarkable milestone.


70 years and still going strong.

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