Some Hutterite colonies in Manitoba are repaying the supportive kindness toward them displayed by the Jewish community in the province nearly 75 years ago. The details of this long-standing positive relationship were described on January 30 by the Winnipeg Free Press.
On April 21, 1947, a group of Jewish businesspeople testified at a hearing in the Manitoba legislature against a discriminatory measure being considered. If enacted, it would have limited the rights of Hutterites to buy land in the province. The Jews argued that the proposed law would affect other minority people as well.
Ian Kleinsasser, a Hutterite historian and teacher from the Crystal Springs colony, treasured a newspaper clipping from 1947 about the incident. He wanted to continue the reciprocal kindnesses offered by the two groups. When he learned that a 200-bed Jewish personal care center in Winnipeg was making an appeal for help, he led a group of Hutterites to respond.
At first, when the group met with Cindy Greenlay, the manager of support services at the Saul and Claribel Simkin Centre, they discussed the immediate need of the center. It was seeking help in coping with the pandemic. It had suffered from an outbreak of the disease. The staff had to change into fresh, clean isolation gowns every time they entered the room of a different resident infected with COVID-19. The staff was seeking help from volunteers with the task of folding the gowns after they were washed.
The conversation quickly expanded. The Hutterites offered to start making more of the yellow polyester gowns to supplement their supply. The Simkin Centre paid for the supplies, which included 1,400 meters of fabric, and the Hutterites would set aside their own sewing projects back at the colony and devote their time for a while to making the isolation gowns.
Lillian Kleinsasser, a cousin by marriage of Ian Kleinsasser, who also lived and worked at Crystal Springs, by the end of December had cut out hundreds of gowns for others at her colony to sew. In a couple weeks, dozens of people at the colony had fabricated hundreds of gowns for the Simkin Centre. Ms. Kleinsasser, who has five children, expressed the feelings of the group: “It gives you a very nice warm feeling inside if you can help somebody else.” Some other colonies contributed new gowns as well.
By the middle of January, Mr. Kleinsasser, who acted as the delivery person for the colony, had given 500 isolation gowns to the Jewish care facility. He also shared with Ms. Greenlay the 1947 press clipping about the Jewish gesture on behalf of the Hutterites. He said that except for historians, the story is not very well known.
After he delivered the gowns, Kleinsasser concluded, “This is an opportunity to give back some loving kindness to strangers and just reach out and make a difference.”