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Fern Shawna Rykiss


Fern in Israel standing between two flags


Romi Mayes, Fern's sister


Fern (left) with a friend in Israel by the sea

 
REMEMBER ME: THE STORY OF A GUARDIAN ANGEL FERN SHAWNA RYKISS , Z'L

by Myles Shane, posted here October 4, 2022

 

It was the summer of 1989 and the Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate graduating class was enjoying their annual excursion to Israel. Allisa Anzarut was one of the 29 students who were on the trip, “We  worked on a religious kibbutz called Ein Tzurim. We peeled vegetables in the kitchen, worked in the chicken coop helping to give shots to the baby chicks, picked weeds in cotton fields, etc. We also traveled to all the major sites in Israel.” The night before the trip ended the group had one last hurrah. Friends were dancing, the ghetto blaster kept repeating the song, Time by Pink Floyd and two classmates wearing togas were the life of the party. Later that night Fern Rykiss, a fun loving bubbly 17 year old with a brain to match her personality, handed Allisa a poem she’d written as part of the graduation festivities.

 

Remember Me

For I am your childhood

Your adolescence

Your old age

I am your past,

Your Present

And your future

I am time

And time does not change

And if you ever need to know where to find me

look in your heart

And I’ll be there

 

 

 

BUS 405

 

July 6, 1989

 

Jeremy Feuer, recalls the day it happened. "We had just finished our JWC trip and there were four of us, including Fern and I, staying at a hostel in Jerusalem for a few days. I went to Rishon LeZion on the July 4th or 5th to stay with relatives. When Bus 405 happened on the 6th, the whole country was shocked. My relatives begged me to call my parents and tell them I was ok… at first I resisted but I finally relented.”

 

Shy Kurtz, remembers the moment that completely changed his life. He was staying with the Canadian delegation at the Kfar Maccabia which was the hotel hosting athletes during the Maccabi games. “The games took up the majority of my energy but I recollect trying to coordinate a time for Fern and I to meet. We set up tentative plans for Jerusalem, but I never heard back from her.” Later, when he returned to his room he called his parents, who told him their distressing news.

 

Shari Dirks, was in Israel when the attack happened, "That is a day that I wish I could forget, yet it is very clearly burned in my memory."  Shari was with Michelle, Ali and Julie at a youth hostel in Tel Aviv. Julie had recently flown in to join her friends with the intent of backpacking through Europe. The girls had just heard about the bus accident. 

 

 

According to the Jerusalem Post, “On July 6, 1989, Palestinian terrorist Abed al-Hadi Ghaneim hijacked the No. 405 Egged bus traveling from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and ran it off the edge of a cliff, killing 16 people and injuring 17. On that day, Islamic Jihad operative Ghaneim, boarded the crowded bus and seated himself near the driver. As the bus passed a gorge near the Telz-Stone community, he wrenched the steering wheel from the driver's hands, shouting in Arabic. The terrorist waited until the bus picked up speed before swerving it off the road, bursting through the safety barrier and rolling 100 meters down the ravine. Students from the nearby Telz-Stone Yeshiva rushed to the scene to take care of the wounded until paramedics arrived. Army helicopters quickly descended on the scene and evacuated the victims to hospital, including the terrorist, who survived.”

 

Fern Rykiss was on bus 405.  She did not survive the attack. Her classmates and family who heard the devastating news were all shocked and horrified - paralyzed both mentally and physically.

 

Revital Sharabi,  was Fern’s best friend and the last person to see her alive.  “She was killed on her way back from visiting me. I just remember saying good bye to her like any other time because I thought that I would see her again.”

 

Romi, Fern’s younger sister, who today in her forties is a Winnipeg rock’ roll icon, was 14 when she received the incomprehensible nightmarish news.  Romi shared that her sister's destiny wasn’t originally bus 405. “She was supposed to take a different bus but plans got changed and she was going to meet a friend so they could start their summer European travel.”

 

Jeremy, who today is a successful lawyer lost one of his best friends that day, “Tamar called me on the morning of the 7th to say that Fern had been identified as one of the victims.”

 

The phone call Shy had with his parents changed his world forever. “My mother said something to the effect of,  “thank god you’re ok”, and I can’t believe what happened to Fern”. Shy was  confused. He tried to explain Fern was fine. Suddenly his mother burst into tears, he must not know yet” … and that’s when they told me.” Shy only remembers feeling rage and going crazy. The hotel security quickly restrained him but when they realized the situation, they tried comforting him.  “On that day, at that moment, my life changed forever. I decided to throw away my return ticket to Canada. From there, I joined the Israeli army.” Over thirty years later Shy is living his best life, “I live in between Dubai and Israel. I have returned to university and am finishing my MSc in Blockchain and Digital Currencies.

 

Shari and her girlfriends continued to try to account for her classmates whereabouts. "Either Julie or Michelle suggested that they call the Canadian embassy. Later that day when I saw them in the hallway I asked if Fern was on the wounded list. Julie had said no, and I kept asking where she was. At that point, I noticed Michelle, a little further back down the hall holding a book over her face. Julie told me that Fern was gone. What did she mean, gone? I began yelling at her, demanding to know where she went. Julie finally yelled back she was dead. All I remember is us running down the streets of Tel Aviv crying and screaming.” Currently Shari is an Operations Manager at Strauss event and Association Management.

 

 

THE HOSTEL ON BEN YEHUDA

On July 7th, the day after the terrorist attack, the students who still remained in Israel wound up at a hostel on Ben Yehuda street. No one could believe what had happened.  Everyone was in shock.  These teenagers who had become more than a family were crying and screaming. In a matter of days they had entered the adult world.  They were experiencing all four stages of grief at once, shock, anger, denial and acceptance. Allisa is still haunted by the images of her classmates, “No one knew how to be.  No one knew what to say or how to react.  I remember friends yelling in horror - “no.no.no.no! It’s can’t be her!.  There’s a mistake. It must be a mistake.”  One guy was banging his feet non-stop. The scene was surreal.”

 

CELEBRITIES

 

July 9, 1989

 

When the students stepped out of the buses near the funeral home thousands of people were waiting for them. There were hundreds of international news crews and photographers set up to capture the story. By 1989 the world was consumed with 24 hour news stations and viewers wanting to know more about bus 405 and it’s victims.  The class tried to ignore the media. Over three days they had all turned into minor celebs for all the wrong reasons. Shari can still see images from those moments in her mind like a dream without sound, “I remember the room was more dark than bright and Fern casket was in the middle. I started crying. I remember looking around and saw that even the guys were crying, we were all crying, sobbing.”

 

“I flew back to Canada  with her body. It took a lot out of me then and I still think of her all the time.” Revital catches her breath then continues, ‘I often wonder if we'd still be friends at this time.”

 

 

SISTERS

Joyce Rykiss had two daughters Fern and Romi. By the time Romi was 2 years old Joyce and her husband had been divorced. Subsequently, Joyce and the kids moved in with her mother who lived in East Kildonan. During elementary school the kids attended the Talmud Torah, as Joyce felt it was important they  receive a Jewish education.  When interviewed by The Manitoba Money Shot Podcast with Ronald Greg Moore”,  Romi reflected on her early education. “I got pushed down once for carrying Jewish prayer books in the core of the north end.  My sister and I always walked from Matheson to Inkster where my grandfather lived -  to get there you had to pass some tough north end kids.”

 

Growing up Fern become very engaged in Jewish culture and joined groups like the B'nai Brith Youth Organization (BBYO) and eventually became the President of the United Synagogue Youth (USY). Fern was also heavily involved in a special Talmud and Tanach studies program and participated in Ruach, a Jewish folk dance group for girls 13 to 16 years old.

 

Maxine Meeah befriended Fern at the Rosh Pina chapter of USY. “We hung out at Kinnus and other Shabbaton types of weekends.” The two also attended JWC together and both participated in the Yeshiva track. Maxine remembers Fern as being, “fun funny and vibrant and had a zest for lifeI” She still can see them skipping classes with friends and hanging out at the burning bush which was near their high school. “The burning bush” is where we went to smoke or to hang out with the cool kids even if we didn’t smoke. Shawna as she preferred to be called always made me feel welcome even if I wasn’t always part of the cool crowd.” Today Maxine is a speech-pathologist in Illinois.

 

THE  FUNERAL

 

July 10, 1989

 

This wasn’t just another day for the Rykiss family.  It wasn’t just another ordinary day for the Winnipeg Jewish community and it certainly wasn’t a typical day for Romi.  In a few hours she’d be attending her sister’s funeral.  Filled with rage, bargaining with God if there was a God and trying to accept the unacceptable, Romi received a piece of mail. “I received a postcard from Israel that arrived on the day of her funeral. Crazy, right? It said some sweet stuff about seeing each other soon.” In Winnipeg a crowd of over a 1000 mourners crammed into the B’Nai Abraham Synagogue for her funeral. Rabbi Moshie Sokol, one of her teachers from Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate, described Fern as a student unafraid to let her unique character shine.

 

Robyn Shapiro, is currently a photographer with two children, who attended Ferns’ funeral.  Fern’s  death shattered Robyn's senior year. Her death made a profound impact on Robyn's life and it was her first glimpse of how fragile life could be and how much anger and hatred there was in this world.  "I would never see her ever again.  I would never hear her voice, never see her funky fashion styles nor her beautiful smile.”

 

WISH YOU WERE HERE

A short time afterwards Romi found a tape while looking through Fern’s belongings which had been sent back from Israel. The name of Pink Floyd’s world chart-topping album,  “Wish You Were Herewas scribbled on the cassette. “At the time I was unfamiliar with the music. I put it in the ghetto blaster and if you recall, the album starts with this sort of low-fi switching of radio stations and with background talking until the song, “Wish You Were Here” kicks in. At first, I really thought it was her and her friends recording a song from the radio and I rewound the tape and listened to the beginning a million times to try to hear my sister’s voice. The entire experience sent chills down my spine.” Romi paused for a second then finished her thought, “Eventually I realized it was just the way the album started. The song, “Wish You Were Here” has always been a trigger for me and makes me miss her.”

 

A few years later Romi was sixteen years old and driving home from her boyfriend’s house late at night trying to meet her 1AM curfew. “The day I returned from BB Camp I hadn’t slept much the night before so I was super tired but I missed my boyfriend.  I borrowed my mom’s car and drove from East Kildonan to Garden City. I fell asleep watching a movie with him.  He woke me up and said I needed to get home or I’d miss curfew. Even pulling away on the street I was already nodding off and hitting curbs. I had never fallen asleep behind the while so I figured I’d roll down the window, shake it off and turn up the radio.  The Tragically Hip was playing.  I fell completely asleep at  Redwood and Henderson after crossing oncoming traffic and took out a street sign.  I was woke up as I hit this little church house’s steps. Not a scratch on me or the car.  It was a miracle.”  Romi doesn’t necessarily buy an angel was watching over her but it’s hard not to believe someone or something was protecting her that day.

 

 

THE EULOGY

Rabbi Sokol held the mice tightly, cleared his throat than glanced down at the sea of mourners who’s faces were filled with sadness, anger, shock and disbelief. He continued with his eulogy, “Fern had many names, Fern, Shawna, Charlie, Ichabad.”

LAKE OF THE WOODS

In 2021 Romi was on The Fast Lane Podcast and shared with the listeners how she became a musician. She’d been spending parts of her summers at Lake of The Woods, BBYO canoe camp for years. “There was this one woman Leah, she bought a guitar and sang the Kumbaya type songs at the camp fire. My mind was like I want to do that. It was a four week canoe trip and the whole time, my mouth was drooling trying to get her to teach me chords. When I got back to Winnipeg I went straight to my mom and said you gotta’ by me a guitar. She bought me this $150 fiesta guitar at this little shop on McPhillips. I loved it, so I started writing songs.” Perhaps one of Romi’s classic 80’s memories was, “I used to pretend I was Joan Jett lip-synching her songs, singing into my hair brush while looking in the mirror.”

 

 

MEMORIES

Fern’s friends and family have vivid memories of her growing up. Cari Satran, who's now an elementary school teacher shared her memories of her cousin. " At family get togethers she was always fun and commanding attention. She loved to sing and perform. I have images of her at my grandparents’ house and at Gimli."

 

“I think we started becoming friends in grade 6 and then the friendship just got stronger”, remembers Revital,  who recently gave birth to her first child and lives in the city of Givat Shmuel which is not far from Tel Aviv.   “We spent a lot of time together.  Her family used to come to our Passover seders. She called my grandfather, zaida.. She was a whiz at math. I first learned of tuna cheese melts from her:). She was a pretty good artist too.” For the last 15 years  Revital has been a nurse and works in the baby wellness clinic,

 

Shari Dirks says, ”I remember going over to her house on Winterton Avenue in East Kildonan, sitting at her kitchen table and chatting with her and her mom. I remember her big beautiful eyes, and how smart she was. She skipped a grade and was a year younger than the rest of our class, yet she was always so comfortable in her own skin, and so sure of herself.”

"Of course, Fern and I would dance together at least once at many of the JWC dances — everyone danced with everyone… it wasn’t a specific couples” type of thing, we were only 13.”  remembers Charles.  To this day when I hear, Journey’s “Faithfully”, I remember dancing with her. Currently Charles Segal is an attorney is Philadelphia.

 

 

THE BLUE NOTE

The Blue Note was a piece of Winnipeg history. According to Stephen Brunt, a CTV reporter who grew up in the peg, “It was where every musician in town would show up after finishing their set to unwind after shows. They would be joined by students, artists, locals and some nights, touring musicians who often accepted Curtis’s offer of an open stage jam, turning a one-time Main Street greasy spoon into something special. Like the time former Winnipeger Neil Young showed up - after having avoided Winnipeg for most of the previous two decades - and jammed away onstage at the Note.”

 

At 15 years of age Romi began working at the Blue Note. “I’m serving after hours beer in these tea cups. My friend Bobby was on stage and said I’m going to call Romi up to play.  I was like, “no, not a chance.” I went up on stage and played some songs I’d written. The first few songs you ever write are going to be the saddest most revealing songs you ever write. I wrote about my sister dying and my dad leaving.”

 

BILIARY ATRESIA

In 1999 Romi was married on Vancouver Island but divorced three years later.  In 2000 she gave birth to her daughter Ashley.  Recently Romi  become a Nanna to Ashley’s little boy Levon.  “My grandson is healthy and happy and thriving now but was very ill with a liver disease called biliary atresia and needed a liver transplant. Luckily, my daughter’s partner Tristan was a match and Levon received a section of his dad’s liver.  It would seem, going back to the postcard Romi received on the day of Fern’s funeral, the Pink Floyd tape being shipped home, her falling asleep at the wheel and this medical science miracle, Fern has been like a guardian angel watching over her sister. Romi admits one of the ways she’s been able to deal with what happened all those years ago is throwing her emotions into her songs, performing and sharing them with her audience.  For her this has been a form of ongoing therapy. 

 

 

 

THE WINNIPEG ROCK ICON

Today Romi is a Senior Producer of Curbside Concerts. As a musician, she  has relentlessly toured Canada, US, and Europe while winning countless awards for her music. The Juno nominated Winning rock icon describes her sound as, “maybe, country, roots and blues” When Romi turns back the clock and looks at her career it’s been all consuming, “I’ve been trudging along under my own management, label, booking agency, since the start, doing it my own way, and redefining what success looks like.”

 

REMEMBER ME

After the Rabbi finished the eulogy, Fern’s younger sister Romi began reading a poem but her words were muffled accompanied by uncontrollable tears.  If there were a soundtrack playing in the background “Wish You Were Here.” by Pink Floyd would have been playing.

WHAT IF?

Our pictures slowly fades away until we’re in Tel Aviv. It’s July 6, 1989 but something is different.  The background music is “Time” by Pink Floyd. A crowd of tourists and locals wait for bus 405 as it comes to a stop.  Riders slowly climb onto the vehicle as Fern and a friend walk passed the idle bus.

Our next image has Fern, slightly older, attending a university class with hundreds of other students.  In fact it’s revealed she’s studying at Hebrew University in Israel. 

As we fast forward in time she’s seen graduating from university. Close up of her hugging her sister, her mom Joyce and other friends and family.  The images begin to move faster.  Fern is wearing a lab coat preparing some type of tube with a liquid.  Next she’s walking down as an isle styling a gorgeous white wedding dress.

Years later, she’s pregnant but radiant.  More times passes. Fern’s plays with her kids in the backyard of an enormous house probably somewhere in the south end of Winnipeg. She’s never been happier. She loves her kids more than life. Time keeps on moving faster and faster until Fern Shawna’s hair is totally gray. She must be in her eighties.  She sits at a picnic bench with Romi, surrounded by their children and grandchildren. Our picture fades out again and we start at the beginning.

We flashback to last party the group had in Israel together while they were on the Kibbutz. Friends were dancing, the ghetto blaster kept repeating the song, “Time” by Pink Floyd and two classmates wearing togas were the life of the party. We zoom in on Fern’s face smiling at her friends and taking it all in. We  hear her voice.

 

Remember Me

For I am your childhood

Your adolescence

Your old age

I am your past,

Your Present

And your future

I am time

And time does not change

And if you ever need to know where to find me

look in your heart

And I’ll be there

 
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