Despite securing Reena’s first million-dollar gift, Leon Kieselstein says it is he, who is grateful to Reena for everything they’ve done. “My nephew (Daniel Dushensky) spent 12 years of his life at the RCR (Reena Community Residence), and they were the best 12 years of his life.”
Kieselstein became involved with Reena in the early 2000’s sitting on the board and eventually becoming Reena Foundation Chair from 2009-2011. It was during that time Leon Kieselstein helped secure the largest gift ever to Reena Foundation at the time; $1 million from the Maxwell and Ruth Leroy Charitable Foundation which provided great momentum to the $18 million Reena campaign for the new Reena Community Residence. Kieselstein, a family friend of Maxwell Leroy, as well as his children Candace Leroy and Ed Lewis recalls that in late 2009, Max and Candace were looking for a charity that met their interests where they might donate. Leon says he brought the Holocaust Remembrance Garden to their attention, and they liked the concept and what it could mean to both the Reena client population and to the wider Jewish community. As Candace explained at the time “This garden will be very worthwhile for Reena and to the whole Jewish community. Reena will not allow the fact that the first 200,000 people to die in the Holocaust were the disabled people, which the Nazis considered useless, to be forgotten. That is why giving to this project at Reena was so attractive to my dad and me.” In fact, Kieselstein says, they were more than generous, “I first asked for a $100,000 gift from the Leroys to honour their father with a garden but was then told the garden was 1 million dollars!” Kieselstein says he called them back and told them, ‘I’m sorry, its 1 million dollars for the garden, not $100,000,’ and the answer was simply, okay.
The outdoor Maxwell and Ruth Leroy Holocaust Remembrance Garden is located on the west side of the Reena Community Residence, on Ilan Ramon Boulevard. The garden is in full view of the community and clearly visible from the Residence, which boasts full-length windowpanes. This environment visually and physically welcomes the community into the building, while ensuring that residents and program participants are seen and included in everything as well.
The garden features stone interpretive panels containing supplementary learning materials to enhance the learning experience of students, visitors, and the public which honour the memory of the over 200,000 people with disabilities who were rounded up and killed during World War II.
Government grants from the Ontario Ministry of culture and tourism and the Ontario Trillium foundation were used to support an educational course and tour of the Maxwell and Ruth Leroy Holocaust remembrance garden. The garden was also, at one time, equipped with an education centre and audio stations and touch screens in the corridor leading from the classroom to the Maxwell and Ruth Leroy Holocaust remembrance garden. The remembrance garden tour, as well as the course itself, was an opportunity for minority groups and newcomers to explore why and how people are devalued and what we can do as a society to fight and prevent it.
As for Reena’s future, Leon Kieselstein hopes for only the best, “I wish people who are in Reena and experiencing Reena and will come to experience Reena in the future will have that same experience that (my nephew) Daniel did.”