Memorial service to honour former Toronto rabbi (Winer)

Yiddishist Rabbi Gershon Winer, who was raised in Toronto and worked at the Jewish Teachers Seminary in New York City prior to making aliyah in 1970, died in Jerusalem on Yom Kippur (2003). He was 81.

Rabbi Winer, who was a frequent guest lecturer at Beth Tzedec Congregation and for years conducted High Holy Day services at Beth Sholom Synagogue, was born in Widze, Poland in 1922. He was eight years old when his family came to Canada and settled in Toronto.

He attended Harbord Collegiate and received a Jewish education at several local Hebrew schools and yeshivot, including the Brunswick Talmud Torah (later the Associated Hebrew Schools).

He went on to study at Yeshiva College and Columbia University in New York City, and was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1948. He also earned a PhD from Michigan State University.

He met his wife Nechama Levin at Camp Massad in the Poconos and they were married in 1946.

He served as a congregational rabbi in the United States for 14 years, and was dean and professor of Yiddish literature at the Jewish Teachers Seminary in New York for 10 years.

In 1973, he served as Beth Tzedec’s interim rabbi for two months and conducted High Holy Day services there, and for nine consecutive years starting in 1974, he returned for one weekend a year to lecture at Beth Tzedec in English, Hebrew and Yiddish.

For many years, he also returned to Toronto to lead one of Beth Sholom’s High Holy Day services.

In Israel, he served as city manager for the town of Dimona and as secretary to the Academy of Hebrew Language. He also founded the Yiddish chair at Bar-Ilan University, where he was a longtime professor of Yiddish language and literature, and he organized the Institute for Yiddish and Yiddishkeit for Jewish students in Russia.

Rabbi Winer wrote a book on Zionism, as well as many articles, and he was a sought-after lecturer.

In her eulogy, his daughter Eudice said her father had three main loves: a love of Eretz Yisrael and the Hebrew language; a love of Jewish tradition; and a love of Yiddish and its culture.

Rabbi Benjamin Friedberg, rabbi emeritus of Beth Tzedec and a colleague and friend of Rabbi Winer, said Rabbi Winer “was a teacher par excellence in everything he did, and he was one of the most creative people in organizing Jewish life.”

Rabbi Winer is survived by his wife Nechama and three daughters, Eudice and Avi, who live in Israel, and Tirza, who lives in Florida. A memorial service will be held at Beth Tzedec at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 19, 2003. ♦

© 2003 by Cynthia Gasner