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Celebrating One Hundred Years in North America

by Cheryl (Shayndel) Tallan

(published in “The New Light”, published by Temple Israel of Great Neck, New York, Spring 2005. Vol. XLVII, No.3, pp. 27-28, 42)

In 2004, the Bossins, my mother’s family, would be celebrating one hundred years in North America. It was a milestone; a time to get the family together.

It was my cousin Gloria Wetzler who suggested a family reunion. It wasn’t such a novel idea. We had had one twenty years before, and I, too, had been thinking about doing it again, but I hesitated to suggest it. If it was my idea, I thought, I might end up doing most of the work. So I had kept quiet. Gloria’s suggestion was the opening I was waiting for.

The first members of the Bossin family to leave Europe were the offspring of Yehudah Leib and Surah Leah of Brusilov, a shtetl in the Ukraine, not far from Kiev. Yehudah Leib and Surah Leah had two sons and two daughters. The oldest son, Zussman, was my maternal grandfather. He and his brother Mottel and his two sisters Chaya Gitel and Devorah Freidl make up the four main branches of the Bossin family.

Zussman, the oldest son, fled with a friend in 1904 mainly for economic and religious reasons, and made his way to Toronto, where his friend had a family connection. His brother Mottel came soon after. At that time, Canada was quite undeveloped and welcomed immigration.

Zussman did the same work he had done in the shtetl; he was a carpenter. As soon as he established himself, he sent for his own wife and children. Mottel sent for his. Within the next few years, their two sisters came, followed by the parents. The family all worked as tradesmen, making a modest living. They maintained similar occupations to those they had had in Brusilov and kept their religious traditions.

The four Bossin siblings had many children. One became a journalist, others went into business. By the fourth generation, there were two doctors in the family.

Although a large number of the cousins remained in the Toronto area, some traveled to Western Canada and to the United States. In later generations, others chose a life in Israel, still others in Bermuda. But Toronto still has the largest concentration of family members, so it seemed clear that the reunion would be held in that area.

We agreed to try and get a committee together, so in the Fall of 2002 we invited all the Bossin descendants still living around Toronto to come and discuss the idea. About twenty people showed up, including our eighty- five-year-old cousin, Pearl Bossin, who became one of our most stalwart committee members. We were determined to make this reunion the biggest and best – and the most inclusive.

We decided that our reunion would be held at the Nottawasaga Inn, a large resort about forty miles north of Toronto, and sent out a mailing to all 122 families. We asked for genealogical information from all Bossin descendants in order to prepare a family tree.

E-mail made things a lot easier for all of us. Our cousin Marilyn Gotfrid volunteered to prepare a CD containing a photo-story of the family tree from as many branches of the family as she could get. Many people submitted photos, and with the help of other family members, she prepared “The Bossin Family Reunion: 100 Years in North America, A Visual Family Tree.”

Another cousin, Allen Bossin, volunteered to prepare the booklet which was handed out to all who attended the reunion. This was a very special souvenir pamphlet. It contained a welcome page to all the cousins, an official thanks to the planning committee and an official schedule of events. There was also a family list, with the names of those who were not attending in shaded boxes; acknowledgments; and finally, “The Bossin Story: One Hundred Years in the Making”.

The history of the Bossin family was adapted mainly from a series of audio tapes that had been recorded in the 1970s and ‘80s. At that time, under the influence of Arthur Haley’s, Roots, Bobby Bossin had interviewed the older members of the family. Some remembered parts of their lives in Brusilov, and all remembered the early days of the family in Toronto. Present-day members of the family added additional information to the history.

Once we knew that the family history was being taken care of, the arrangements committee, under the co- chairpersonship of Ruthe Schipper-Rotstein and Gloria Wetzler started to work on the menus for the reunion meals. In addition to the breakfasts supplied by the Inn we arranged three meals: a Friday night barbecue, a Saturday night buffet dinner, and a Saturday box lunch, all with vegetarian options.

On August 12, an article about our family and the coming reunion appeared in the Canadian Jewish News and this heightened the anticipation for the Canadian branch of the family.

People started drifting in early on the Friday morning of the reunion. The golf players and their families came first. Then the others followed. After everyone registered with the Inn and received their room keys, they came to the Bossin reception room, were checked off the list and collected their kits. In each kit there was the booklet with the family history, the CD, a family tree containing 744 entries, another family list which also contained second families, a tee-shirt and a hat with the Bossin logo. The Bossin reception room served coffee, cookies, and soft drinks. There were also family photographs both on the walls and in books on the coffee table. On one of the walls was a fabulous fabric family tree with each member represented by a leaf on the tree, designed by cousin Gloria Wetzler, who had help from her daughter and granddaughter. Everyone who came in to register was given a leaf to put up on the tree with his or her own name and birth date. The idea was to show each person where they fit into the family. The tree, ten feet high and eight feet wide, was made of fabric and the leaves were paper. It took about three months to put all the 744 entries on the tree and onto the leaves.

It was interesting to see the consistent physical traits running through the different families, and the resemblances between those in the old photos and those attending the reunion. Some physical differences popped up as well. For example, in a basically brown-eyed group, blue eyes appeared from time to time, a legacy from my great-uncle Mottel whose sons were all blue-eyed.

Occupations also maintained some consistency through the generations. The family founders had worked with their hands by necessity. The first step into the middle- class, white collar world was to get a job as a bookkeeper or become a storekeeper of a small retail shop. My grandfather had a second-hand store for most of his later years. But the next generation, now able to get an education, became accountants. There are still lots of accountants in the family as well as some lawyers and teachers. But we have a few actors and entertainers, too, and over in Berlin, Germany, one of our cousins, Jeffrey Bossin, is a respected carilloneur, playing the carillon in the Tiergarten.

Religion runs the gamut among the Bossin cousins and second-cousins. We range from fairly religious to completely secular. Some of us are Orthodox and kosher, others hardly observant, and a few are Christians. There is even one Buddhist couple.

Despite our differences, we had our family ties in common and everyone tried to connect, to help make the reunion a success in his or her own way, and to have a good time. The program committee, chaired by Pam Bossin, had done its work well and there was something for everyone. A golf tournament was arranged for Friday afternoon, followed by an evening barbecue, a showing of the CD containing family photographs, and a Bossin family quiz. The quiz included fifty questions about various branches and/or members of the family. We were promised answers at dinner the next night. Friday night was capped off with an old Bossin tradition: a late evening poker game.

Saturday began with a short religious service led by one of our cousins, Diane Sax. After services there was miniature golf for the children, and an optional swim in the indoor pool. Lunch was a traditional picnic, with an inter-age baseball game and all sorts of races for children and adults. Everyone had a great time.

At the buffet dinner that evening, there were a few speeches and the answers to the quiz questions were given. The highlight of Saturday night was a presentation of “The True Adventures of Zussman Bossin” a unique version of the family history. It was written and performed by one of the Bossin cousins, Bobby Bossin, who is a professional entertainer, and his narrative was interspersed with original songs. The show was a huge success.

Later in the evening, a DJ got us in the mood for dancing. Some of us danced late into the night, others drifted off to bed or wandered off to continue the poker game, while the teens and young adults gathered in someone’s room and talked long into the night.

On Sunday after breakfast, we all said a teary good-bye and promised to keep in touch. “Let’s do this again in five years,” a few suggested. Others wanted a repeat performance in ten or maybe twenty years. By then, of course, it will have to be the next generation who picks up the ball.

As a denouement, several months after the reunion two mementoes were distributed: a videotape that had been made during the weekend, and a group photo of the 230 Bossin family members who attended. These items were sent not only to those who took part, but also to some who couldn’t be there. Seeing those pictures months after the reunion brought all the excitement of the weekend back.

There were Bossins at the reunion from four countries: Canada, the United States, Bermuda, and Israel, and from several different states and provinces. Some see each other frequently, some rarely, but many had never met other members of the family before. The oldest person at the reunion, Rose Bossin, is ninety years old and still remembers my grandfather Zussman and his family. The youngest, my granddaughter Rosie Tallan, is eight months old. She’ll never know the elders in the family but she will grow up with all their stories.

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