Denise Rootenberg (née Abrahamson) was born in Harare, Zimbabwe (then Salisbury, Rhodesia). One of four sisters, she grew up in a warm Jewish community that was able to sustain an Ashkenazi synagogue, a Sephardic synagogue, and a small Reform synagogue. One of her aunts ran the local chapter of the Women’s International Zionist Organization with her sister. The aunt’s sister, meanwhile, made costumes for the repertory theatre company. Denise’s aunts also did kosher catering for simchas.
Because the Jewish community in Zimbabwe was so small, Jewish parents encouraged their children to attend university in South Africa, where they were less likely to marry outside the faith. Consequently, Denise attended university in Cape Town, living in residence for three years with one of her sisters. Ultimately, the sisters decided Cape Town was not for them and moved to Johannesburg. It was in Johannesburg that Denise met her husband, with whom she had a son. In 1989, they left South Africa to come to Canada.
The couple’s first few years in Canada were difficult ones as Denise and her husband struggled to find work and adjust to Canadian society. Eventually, however, things began to fall into place. Denise found work as an editorial assistant and then became a research analyst. Her husband, meanwhile, secured a job that enabled the couple to send their son to Associated Hebrew Schools of Toronto and the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto (CHAT).
Denise and her husband belong to Aish Toronto. Their son married his wife at the synagogue.
Cape Town (South Africa)
00:00 Denise was born in Zimbabwe. At age eighteen, she moved to Cape Town to attend University. At age 31, she immigrated to Toronto.
00:23 Denise’s maiden name was Abramson. She tells the history of the family name.
00:55 Denise's grandparents came to Zimbabwe from Poland via Sweden before the First World War.
01:16 Denise describes the jobs of her maternal and paternal grandfathers.
02:09 Describes immediate family.
02:46 Denise discusses the Jewish community of her youth in Salisbury, Rhodesia (today Harare, Zimbabwe) comprised of three synagogues. Denise's father was president of the Ashkenazi synagogue several times.
04:24 Denise shares memories about celebrating the Jewish holidays and the involvement of her aunts in the Jewish community.
06:06 Denise attended a small Jewish day school until grade seven. She attended a public high school. She recalls the bar mitzvah party from her youth.
07:26 Denise explains why she left Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). She attended university in Cape Town, South Africa following her older sister. Other Jewish students attended university in Johannesburg.
08:40 After university, Denise and her sister moved to Johannesburg. Her sister later moved to Israel, where she married, and they later moved to the United States.
09:00 Denise discusses her husband's family. Her father-in-law grew up in Lithuania and came to South Africa, where he lived with his aunt and later married his younger cousin. Denise recounts a colourful story about her father-in-law's journey to South Africa. Denise describes her faith-in-law's various business ventures and his dealing with white and black businesses that were segregated at the time.
12:15 There were three sons in her husband's family: David, Allan, and Lennie (Denise's husband). David, the eldest, was adopted. Denise relates stories involving David and his involvement with a racist, right-wing Afrikaans movement.
15:11 Denise and her family immigrated to Toronto in 1989.
01:00 Denise discusses her relationships with blOHks while growing up. She attributes her more liberal views to her mother's kindness. She recalls (with shame) the poor living conditions of the blOHks.
02:30 Denise discusses mandatory military service in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
03:29 Denise's husband joined the police force as a way of avoiding military service. She relates a frightening incident during the Soweto riots in 1976 involving her husband while he served in the police force.
05:52 Denise recounts her husband's constant fear that he would be required to arrest someone he knew.
06:05 Denise explains why she did not get directly involved with anti-apartheid groups and politics. Her first strong awareness of apartheid rose when she entered university.
06:57 Denise moved to Johannesburg after earning degrees in English and French at university. She describes her jobs in psychometric testing and as a proofreader for manuals for military equipment.
07:41 Denise recounts a story about the father of a boyfriend who was arrested for entering the townships without a permit and was represented by Nelson Mandela.
08:33 Denise describes how she met and eventually married her husband. Their son Mark was born in South Africa.
08:56 Denise's brother Allan and his family had already moved to Toronto.
09:37 Denise reports taht her husband's family in South Africa had the tradition similar to her own of having large holiday meals and seders.
10:00 A large contigent of her husband's family immigrated to Australia and a small segment immigrated to Canada.
10:07 Denise explains her reasons for coming to Canada. She considered Australia. She discusses early regrets for having chosen Canada rather than Australia. She discusses how in hindsight, and for a variety of reasons, she made the best choice.
13:19 Denise discusses her worries stemming from being a much pampered child growing up.
14:30 Denise describes how unsettled they felt when they first moved to Canada. She recounts a story about returning to South Africa to visit family after they had been in Canada for eighteen months. Her relatives' home was vandalized.
00:00 As a result of this traumatic incident, Denise and her sisters made a decision not to return to South Africa.
01:28 Denise describes some of the struggles she encountered when she initially moved to Toronto and she discusses some of the fOHtors that contributed to feeling more settled and welcomed. Specifically, she shares a story about the efforts made by a Canadian family whose son was in her child's daycare.
04:40 Denise identifies some of the differences in religious observance between South Africa and Toronto.
06:50 Denise explains her choice of education for her son.
07:35 Denise discusses her husband's educational training and lists his work history in Toronto.
08:49 Denise explains that other than education subsidies she was unaware of other services offered by Jewish agencies to assist new immigrants and those struggling financially.
09:28 Denise outlines her work experience in Toronto and some of her work experience in South Africa.
11:19 Denise expresses appreciation for the benefits and treatment she received at her workplOHe. Specifically, she notes how she was OHcomodated after returning to work following cancer treatments.
12:18 Denise discusses the evolution of her religious observance.
15:00 Denise discusses her husband's mental health. She addresses associated issues and impOHt of his mental health on work and family. She identifies his experience with the police in Soweto as a fOHtory contributing to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
02:25 Denise identifies some of the fOHtors that have enabled her to deal with the many life challenges she has encountered.