The middle of three siblings, Gail Freeman was born in Johannesburg in 1953. The daughter of committed Jews, she fondly remembers the beautiful seders her parents would host, sometimes having as many as forty-to-fifty people joining them for Pesach. Growing up, she attended a Jewish day school in Linksfield, a positive experience that would later influence her decision to enroll her own children in Jewish day schools in Canada. Overall, it was a happy, almost utopian childhood, which took on a slightly more complicated character when she developed a political consciousness as a teenager.
It was at a cousin’s wedding that Gail met her future husband. Years later, she would joke that they met under the chuppah. The young couple married a short time after meeting and had two children in South Africa before moving to Canada and having two more.
Upon arriving in Canada, the family received a warm welcome from Toronto’s South African community, which she describes as “out of this world.” Gail, who has a master of education degree in educational psychology, found work in the Jewish school system while her husband found work as an accountant. The family’s immigration a success, her parents followed suit, thereby ensuring that her children would grow up with grandparents nearby.
Today, Gail feels proud to be a Canadian, not least because Canada allows her to be proud of her Jewish identity. As she puts it, in Canada “everybody [is] from everywhere.”
Freeman, Gail, 1953-
Johannesburg (South Africa)
00:19 Gail was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1953.
00:30 Gail discusses her grandparents' immigration to South Africa from Russia. Her maternal grandparents were from (Kadam?) and her paternal grandparents were from Vilna. Her mother was born in Vilna and her father was born in South Africa.
01:17 Gail's mother is the youngest of three sisters. Her father is the eldest of three, with a younger sister and brother. Gail has an older brother, Hilton, living in New York, and a sister, Felicia, living in California.
01:55 Gail's father was born in the suburbs of Doornfontein.
02:14 Gail's parents were married in 1948. They worked in the building industry.
02:26 Gail describes her family's practice of Judaism while she was growing up.
03:39 Gail's parents originally lived in the neighbourhood called Bez Valley but moved to Linksfield, a Jewish neighbourhood where the King David Jewish day school was built.
04:25 Gail attended King David from nursery to high school. She briefly describes the school.
05:22 Gail mentions that another branch of King David later opened in Victory Park. She notes other Jewish day schools in Cape Town, Durban, and Pretoria. Later Yeshiva College opened.
06:15 Gail notes that her own school experience influence how she selected schools or her own children, who attended the Associated Hebrew Day School in Toronto.
07:28 Gail notes that there is a King David alumni group on Facebook. She mentions class reunions and a fundraiser spearheaded by former schoolmaster Elliott Wolf.
08:25 Gail earned a bachelor of arts with a major in Hebrew and sociology at the University of Witwatersrand. She earned a teaching diploma at the Hebrew Seminary. She completed her practical work at King David School. She returned to university and earned a bachelor's in social work and a master of education degree in educational psychology.
09:56 Gail discusses her involvement with "Boys Town" as principal in a children's home.
11:30 Gail shares some childhood memories concerning friends and school while growing up in Linksfield.
12:40 Gail notes that she became more politically aware as an adolescent. She identifies some of the issues that challenged her morally as a Jew. She comments that her ability to protest was limited due to the restrictions imposed by the police state.
14:14 Gail describes her warm relationships with her nannies.
15:11 Gail describes Jewish life in Linksfield. She attended weekly Shabbat services with her friends at King David. She recalls fond memories attending holiday services with her family at the Jewish Hebrew Congregation in Doornfontein, where her father was chairman. (Gail has a photo of the synagogue in her home.)
16:26 Gail participated in a group bar mitzvah through school.
17:44 Gail identifies a strong commitment to Israel as a major component of her Jewish tradition. They were encouraged to volunteer in Israel, support Israel and move to Israel. She recalls David Ben-Gurion visiting her school.
18:27 Gail was married in 1977. She describes how she met her husband and where they lived after they were married (Norwood, Berea and Linksfield).
20:34 Gail worked as a social worker for Jewish Family and Child Services and for Yeshiva School. Her husband worked as an accountant.
22:30 Gail discusses how the circumstances in South Africa that contributed to their decision to emigrate. She explains how she and her husband considered applications to the United States, Canada, Australia, and Israel. She discusses the trauma involved with leaving family and moving to an unknown, new country.
27:02 Gail's parents moved to Canada two years later.
28:13 Gail describes what they were allowed to take out of South Africa and what they brought.
29:25 Gail shares some of her initial impressions upon arrival in Toronto.
30:15 Gail describes how she was able to secure work as a guidance counsellor with Associated Hebrew Day Schools of Toronto while in Washington for a Tay Sachs conference.
31:40 Gail explains how through family connections they were able to find housing in a neighbourhood with an established South African community. She recalls how she was well-received by the South African community.
34:22 Gail and her family arrived in Toronto in 1988.
34:30 Gail recollects more difficulty fitting into the Toronto Jewish community and having few Toronto friends.
36:30 Gail describes the decision to move to a new subdivision near Associated Hebrew Day Schools on Atkinson in 1993, her current home.
37:50 Gail's family joined the Chabad Flamingo synagogue after the move, but has since returned to the synagogue on Green Lane to be with her parents.
38:48 Gail describes the relative ease of adapting to Canadian society and her pride living in Canada.
40:28 Gail worked as a principal for a Jewish day school in Irvine, California for three years.
41:50 Gail discusses some differences in child-rearing between South Africa and Canada.
43:33 Gail explains that her reasons for teaching her children the values of respect and kindness stem from her personal experience living in South Africa.
44:30 Gail has returned to South Africa twice over thirty years, but her husband has not returned.
45:38 Gail discusses some of the differences, both positive and negative, she observed when she returned to South Africa.
47:00 Gail notes that her children feel a strong connection to South Africa (e.g. history, culture, accent, foods, politics).
50:00 Gail speaks with pride about the contributions made by South Africans who have immigrated to Canada.