Rifke: An Improbable Life

Sharp, Rosalie Wise

  • Rifke (Rosalie Wise Sharp) grew up in North Toronto, which felt to her like a foreign place because there were no other Jewish families there in the late 1930s. Yiddish was spoken in her household, and the food, dress, and customs of Ozarow — the Polish shtetl (small Jewish town) from which her parents emigrated — were all maintained.

    Rifke’s peers took lessons in tap-dancing, ice-skating, the piano, and the flute; activities that didn’t translate into the Yiddish vocabulary at the Wises, where only hard work, no nonsense, and book-learning were permitted. Rifke secretly decided to pass as a Gentile, joining a bible class and the Christmas choir. She did not bring home friends, in case they were witness to a Jewish ritual like the koshering of meat. Rifke was guilty about her pursuit of Gentile activities during the war time, when her mother was frantic with fear that their family in Poland was being slaughtered by the Nazis.

    In high school, Rifke’s life changed when being “a freak” translated to being “eccentric” and “respectable.” It was there that she met and married her soul mate Isadore, who worked in the construction business, much to her parents’ disappointment. Prosperity, took time; however, Isadore’s audacious dream to build a world class hotel chain, The Four Seasons, came to pass. In this memoir, Rosalie Sharp casts a wry and self-deprecating look back on her childhood, with anecdotes about the chance events and comic ironies that make up a life.

  • Rosalie Wise Sharp was born and raised in North Toronto, where she currently lives. She is the co-editor of Growing Up Jewish and the author of Ceramics, Ethics and Scandal.

  • Published: April 2007

    ISBN: 9781550227758

    Dimensions: 6.75 x 9 in.

    Pages: 252