Family gift to Tomorrow Campaign honours memory of art lover

Family gift to Tomorrow Campaign honours memory of art lover
Sylvia Dzialoszynski Waks Rotunda will be gateway to new Koffler Centre

By Daniel Horowitz--While most typical Jewish mothers would be perfectly satisfied to spend the winter months poolside in Florida, Sylvia Dzialoszynski Waks z”l preferred whiling away the hours studying Renaissance art at the University of Toronto.

But then again, as anyone who had the great good fortune to know Sylvia would tell you, she was anything but typical.

Sylvia, who passed away on December 20, 2009 surrounded by her loving family, was an elegant, intelligent and passionate woman with a deep and abiding love for art.

A Holocaust survivor who was hidden by a non-Jewish Polish family outside the Warsaw Ghetto, Sylvia came to Toronto in 1949 where she quickly met the love of her life, Henry. They were married for 57 years and had two sons - Fred and Jay.

“My parents were best friends, and absolutely inseparable,” said Fred. “They shared the same passion for art, Yiddishkeit and tzedakah. Because of the war, mom wasn’t able to receive the education she would have liked but she always said, ‘if you’re passionate about something, learn everything you possibly can about it.’”

And she clearly practiced what she preached.

“My mom spent the last thirty years of her life studying art at the University of Toronto,” explained Fred. “Despite the lack of a formal education, she was extremely intelligent, well-read, and could take on anyone when it came to questions about art.”

“She would stay up until all hours of the night reviewing, rereading and studying; feeding her insatiable appetite for art history,” said Jay. “She loved to learn about all forms of art. She wanted to learn about modern art just in case she felt obligated to correct one of her art history professors during a lecture.”

So, when Henry, Fred and Jay were looking for a special way to honour the family’s matriarch by combining her love of Yiddishkeit, tzedakah and art, they looked to UJA Federation’s Tomorrow Campaign and the future Koffler Centre of the Arts, and, after making a $1.5 million gift, The Sylvia Dzialoszynski Waks Rotunda was born.

The Rotunda bearing Sylvia’s name will be an area of high prominence within the new Centre. With visibility from both the external areas of the Sherman Campus as well as from the Ellen Prosserman Atrium, the uniquely designed Rotunda will welcome visitors to the rich array of programming offered at the Koffler.

“Outside of the Basilica in Rome, this space at the new Koffler Centre would have been mom’s favourite place on which to have her name attached,” explained Fred, chair of the Koffler Centre of the Arts Foundation and an art major.  “While spiritually speaking Israel was her favourite place, intellectually and architecturally speaking, it was Italy. The opportunity given to us through the Tomorrow Campaign at the new Koffler Centre provided the perfect recipe to honour mom’s memory whiling respecting her love for tzedakah, Yiddishkeit and art, and creating something that was as unique as she was. It was the perfect fit.”

“The Sylvia Dzialoszynski Waks Rotunda will be a beautiful, inspiring and welcoming space at the heart of the new Koffler Centre of the Arts,” said Murray Koffler. “We share the Waks family’s love of the arts and Jewish culture and are thrilled they have made this important gift to the Tomorrow Campaign.”

Sylvia, who was involved with Hadassah-WIZO, Hebrew University and was a Lion of Judah through UJA Federation adored, and was adored, by her seven grandchildren and her great-granddaughter, Emily.

“The night before mom died, she was surrounded by her entire family,” said Fred. “Emily was in bed with her and we all talked with her about anything and everything we could. She was completely lucid right to the end. At two in the morning, I sent everyone home while dad, Jay and I stayed with her until she passed way at 8:00 a.m. the next morning.”

“My mother enriched and touched all of the lives of the people that she met, and we will always carry the reminders of her passion, her generosity and the love that she bestowed upon us,” said Jay.

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