Montreal roots of Itty Ainsworth, a Canadian Surfside victim

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Tzvi and Ingrid (Itty) Ainsworth (Credit: Facebook/Sue Shapiro Blanas)

Funeral services were held Tuesday for Itty Ainsworth, the first Canadian victim identified among the dead and missing in the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, Florida. Rescuers recovered the bodies of Ainsworth, 66, and her Australian husband Tzvi Ainsworth, 68, on Monday.

The Hasidic couple had been living in Florida for four years, after spending nearly 20 years as part of the Chabad Lubavitch community in Sydney, Australia. They wanted to be closer to their seven children and many grandchildren, who live in the Miami area.

Itty was one of ten children born to a family of Holocaust survivors in Montreal. Her mother, Miriam Goldwasser Fellig, was saved from the Warsaw Ghetto by a Gentile nanny. The woman hid Miriam for several years, and then put her in a convent, until the war ended. A distant relative arranged to have the now-teenaged orphan brought to Canada. Miriam’s story was included in the 1998 young adult book Heroes of the Holocaust by Arnold Geier. Miriam, who is 89, was a popular speaker in Florida about her wartime rescue, as well as about her close relationship with the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

Itty’s father, Joe Fellig, escaped Austria on a Kindertransport train to England with his brother and sister. However, the boys were among hundreds of war time Jewish refugees whom the British considered to be enemy aliens, and shipped them to a prison camp near Montreal. Fellig came from the Belzer Hassid community, but he became an adherent of the Montreal Lubavitch community after local rabbis arranged for the boys’ release. When Joe and Miriam married, it was on condition that she agree to raise the family in a religious home, according to a 2011 account of her mother’s life written by one of Itty’s siters, Goldie Tennenhaus.

After their wedding in 1950, Joe and Miriam Fellig lived at 628 Champagneur Ave. in Outremont, and later settled in Snowdon at 5338 Trans Island Avenue until at least the late 1970s. They lived there with Itty’s siblings including Jack, Tzvi and Hannah. Joe Fellig was listed in voter’s records as a manufacturer.

Media reports say Itty met her future husband, Tzvi (Harry) Ainsworth, while he was visiting Montreal from his native Australia. The couple was married for over forty years, and had six sons and one daughter. Their children all live in Florida. They had been renting a condo on the 11th floor of the Collins Avenue condo tower.

Itty’s parents and surviving siblings had all moved to Florida, except for one brother Hershy, who is reported to live in Montreal, according to the COLLive News service.

Itty’s mother Miriam felt very close to the Chabad Rebbe, and would bring her entire family from Montreal to see him at the Chabad-Lubavitch World headquarters on 770 Eastern Parkway each Simchat Torah. The Lubavitch website shows a half dozen photos of Itty meeting Schneerson, and receiving the traditional dollar bill which he handed out to pilgrims.

COLLive reported that the funeral procession Tuesday for Itty and Tzvi passed by 770 Eastern Parkway, before heading to the Old Montefiore cemetery in eastern Queens, New York, for burial. This is the same cemetery where the Rebbe is buried, as is Itty’s father, Joe.

According to relatives, Itty suffered from fibromyalgia, a painful condition that affects the whole body. Yet her daughter Chana Wasserman described her mother as not letting her illness dim her spirit.

“Every person she encountered, ever in her life, became her friend. Everyone was treated as equals,” Chabad.org quoted Wasserman, writing in a Mother’s Day blog post. “The guy at the laundromat, the guy working at the fruit market… I know I will never be able to match my mother’s pure enthusiasm for life but it’s inspiring to watch,” the article said.

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