News of Muni’s death brought immediate warm accolades and memories from two close friends. We are including their tributes here as, on several occasions, Oraynu has been the grateful recipient of grants from the Leybel Basman Scholarship Fund, as mentioned below. Their reminiscences also provide an insight into earlier secular Jewish life in Toronto and how the three strove to keep the Yiddish language alive. To that end, Muni and his wife Carol produced a wonderful book/CD combo a few years ago called “Sing and Learn Yiddish.” Daughter Davida, her husband David and their kids (Oraynu members) were all involved in various stages of its production, with Zach and Rachel being the “guinea pigs.”
From Jerry Bain:
Muni Basman was bom in 1934 into a family that came from a great multifaceted secular-cultural European Yiddish tradition. His father was Leybel Basman, the widely-beloved Yiddish pedagogue who was the principal of secular Jewish schools in several Canadian cities, including the Morris Winchevsky school in Toronto. Muni grew up with Yiddish, and a passion for its language and culture . Muni had also been senior staff at the secular Jewish Camp Naivelt where Leybel was the Director. Despite some of the more doctrinaire aspects of life in the Jewish left, Muni was always his own man, marching to his own tune which was usually of his own creation. Muni was a bright articulate, tough-minded but gentle man who always presented himself with warmth and humour to his friends and family. He was also a brave man as he faced the inevitable outcome to the pancreatic cancer he was battling.
He didn’t whine. He faced life and then death with dignity and pragmatism and he was greatly supported in that approach to the inexorable end by his caring and devoted wife, Carol, his children, Ken and Davida, his family and his many friends. I had many personal and cultural connections to Muni and his family and there will be an irreplaceable void in my own life with Muni’s death. Men like Muni with such a breadth of intelligence and intellectual understanding are few and far between. He’ll be missed by Sheila and me and countless others who were touched by his wit, intelligence and friendship.
From Gerry Kane:
Muni was part of our “social” family for most of our lives. Kane, Bain and Basman all grew up in the “left” of the Morris Winchevsky Yiddish schools, of which Muni’s father was principal, and in the fresh air of Camp Naivelt. These venues gave us a love for the Yiddish language and helped form us as rebellious, questioning, secular humanist Jews.
He was a friend and my lawyer. As my friend he was tough as nails when he thought I was doing something stupid -and he told me so, in a manner that never insulted me…and always left me better. As my lawyer, he applied that same toughness, that same brilliant analysis to keep me from driving my business over a cliff.
Muni was always with a joke. Muni also told the worst jokes in the world. He relished them. And, when you phoned his office you had a choice – to listen to the joke he recorded as part of his answering service or to pass it by. I never passed the joke by. I was an addict. I needed the Muni “fix”… and I listened and said “never again.” But, I was weak….and I listened, again, and again, and again.
Muni loved the Yiddish language. Kane and Bain love the Yiddish language. On the death of Leybel Basman (Muni’s father), Jerry Bain and Gerry Kane formed the Leybel Basman Scholarship Fund, which raised money to help fund students who wanted to study Yiddish and also to fund Yiddish Cultural activities. Up until three months before his death, the three of us, and several other friends, used to get together at the “Arcadian Court” – a restaurant at the Bay’s downtown location. The Arcadian Court was once a bastion of the blue-rinse Rosedale dowager and Bay Street culture. It was there we chose to have loud, lively funny, lunches discussing Yiddish language and literature. We usually woke the other diners – and that was good, too. We wanted them to know there was more to life than chicken pot pie.
We will miss Muni for many reasons. Selfishly- because now I have one less person with whom to converse in Yiddish; selfishly because I loved his skewed humour and brilliant mind; selfishly in the loss of Muni, I’ve lost another thread to my mother’s background in Lithuania. Muni and I are Litvaks. My mother and Muni’s father both grew up in the city of Vilkomir – and knew each other as young people and selfishly, because Muni’s death is unfair to those of us who relish life and who enjoyed it tremendously when we were in his company.