Tribute: Mira Koschitzky, 87, a hidden child of the Holocaust who became a Jewish leader in Toronto

Tamar Goldstein is the daughter of Mira Koschitzky, who died on June 11, 2023. The following is an edited version of the eulogy Tamar delivered at the funeral.

I am bereft at having lost my mother of 59 years, Mira Koschitzky. But, I also feel incredibly grateful to have been blessed to have Mira as my mother.

Our mother was a hidden child of the Holocaust and that fact molded who she was, how she lived her life, and how she and her husband Saul raised their children. Born in July of 1935 in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, her childhood was cut short and forever altered by the outbreak of the Second World War.

In 1943, her parents placed her and her younger sister Lily into hiding with a peasant couple who had worked with my grandfather prior to the war. At the age of eight, Mira was separated from her parents and burdened with the responsibility of making sure her younger sister Lily did not unwittingly reveal their Jewish identity when they were in hiding.

Mira, Lily, and their parents Vilma and Frank, miraculously survived the war as an intact family unit– nearly unheard of– and they immigrated to Toronto when Mira was 12. She eventually attended the University of Toronto and spent a gap year in Israel in 1955 at Hebrew University, before it was fashionable. She was an ardent Zionist.

Upon her return, Mira married my father Saul, moved to Calgary, then Israel and ultimately Toronto. My mother was incredibly active in the broader Jewish community both during university and after she was married. She was head of the Associated Hebrew Day School PTA when the student body numbered nearly 2,000. She chaired the national executive of the Canadian Jewish Congress and the CJC Ontario region at a time when there were very few women in leadership positions. And then, my father Saul had his first heart attack and my mother put aside her ambitions to focus all of her energies on my father and her family.

This past Shabbat we read the parsha of Beha’alotcha which mentions Miriam, Moshe Rabbeinu’s sister. I couldn’t help but notice the significance of the timing, as our family gathered around my mother Mira (whose Hebrew name is Miriam). Our son Adin pointed out that at first glance, though the story of Miriam here is not so positive, it does reveal something very profound about her capabilities and her priorities. Miriam, a capable prophet in her own right, believed it was right to prioritize the needs of a spouse and family over her own important work as a prophet. My mom did that when my father had his first heart attack.

My mother was strong. She was opinionated, and very kind-hearted. She stood up for what she believed was right. Her friend Alice Fisher called my mother a “rock” and said that she was someone she leaned on. She was a tremendous source of support for my father and her own mother after my grandfather passed away relatively suddenly.

Here is an example of the support she gave and who she was.

My father had his first heart attack and went into the intensive care unit at Mount Sinai Hospital. About two days later, my mother’s father, Frank, had a heart attack and ended up in the emergency room in the same hospital. He did not survive. But the doctors told my mother not to tell my father. So, my mother tended to her husband in the ICU and at the same time shuttled back and forth to sit shiva for her father. And she never said a word.

Robbed of their own childhood, my mother and father—Joel and David, I speak on your behalf too, clearly—were determined to give me and my brothers what they didn’t have growing up: vacations, summer camps, and most critically, a formal Jewish education. My mother Mira spoke seven languages and was an avid reader. Mommy, you instilled in me a love of reading and a tremendous appreciation of nature. Knowing my love of animals, you arranged for me to take horseback riding lessons as a young girl and you allowed me to have as many pets as I wanted, except for dogs (which was fine). She even had the carpenter cut a hole in the garage door, to let a stray cat that I adopted go in during the winter when the temperature was too cold.

You taught me conservation before it was in vogue. I remember your Monday night cholent soup so as not to waste leftovers from Shabbos. I remember you washing silver foil and plastic bags to reuse them. And gratitude. You always were thankful for the miracle of your family’s survival and for the multitude of blessings ha-Shem bestowed on you. You never forgot to say thank you even in the later years when communicating became a trial.

You were also a tremendous cook. Most of you think of my father Saul as being slight and thin. You should have seen my dad before his first heart attack and before my mother redesigned her cooking expertise to be low-fat and no-salt.

Mamitchka, you taught me responsibility for family members by sending me to help Great Bubi in Belgium when Great Zaida had a heart attack. I was 11 or 12. You again sent me to help my sister-in-law Riva with Yekutiel when she was on bedrest pregnant with Amitai. At age 13, you sent me to live with the Edrei family in Israel, our very close family, to hone my written and spoken Hebrew. My brothers were also sent.

You assigned us chores in the home (to me, and David and Joel) and we were all given kitchen duty. This though, is where I excelled and my brothers didn’t. However, to be fair, both your sons David and Joel followed your lead and they work tirelessly for both their local and the global Jewish communities. As has your son-in-law, my husband Ricky.

For well over a decade my mother has suffered from cognitive decline. It has been a journey for our entire family. Throughout it all our father has shown incredible love and support and managed her care with the help of her dedicated and loving caregivers.

This past weekend, as we gathered around my mother, we sang many Hebrew songs that were her favourites and one of them was “Jerusalem of Gold” by Naomi Shemer, the lyrics of which really struck me.

In English it says: “And in the slumber of tree and stone captured in her dream the city that sits solitary and in its midst is a wall.” It goes on: “Jerusalem of gold and of bronze and of light, behold I am a violin for all your songs.”

Mamitchka, you are Daddy’s and mine and David and Joel’s and your grandkids and your great-grandkids’ Jerusalem of Gold. You have slumbered within your dreams and sat solitary when you couldn’t communicate. But we have absorbed your lessons and we have sung them to your future generations.