A Story of Resilience - Media Icon Reflects on her Parents' Influence

by Stu Slayen | Mar 19, 2019
Jeanne Beker describes her family home in Toronto’s west end as “leibedik”—a lively place that shaped her ambition and her character.

It was the late 1950s, and Beker’s parents—Bronia and Joseph—had finally saved enough money to buy a home large enough to raise their two daughters and to take in boarders who, like them, had immigrated to Canada.

“My father would call the renters downstairs, pour a Crown Royal, and say ‘tell me your story’,” says Beker. “Watching that as a young girl sparked my fire to have a career in media and storytelling.”

Other stories told in the Bekers’ home had an even greater impact. While many survivors of the Holocaust initially stayed silent about their experiences, Bronia and Joseph told their stories often and in detail. So often that sometimes a young Jeanne would hide under her bed.

“They had no extended family, and there was stigma about getting professional help. So they talked to their small circle of friends, to each other, and to my sister and me,” says Beker. “They had a very strong feeling that the world would forget what happened if we didn’t keep these stories alive.”

Their own story includes the tragic death of Bronia’s family in Poland, her own miraculous survival, Joseph’s heroism, and the young couple’s deep love for each other as they escaped to safety by hiding in barns, cellars, and attics. They made their way to Canada in 1948.

The Bekers were poor, but positive, hard-working, and driven. “Their experiences didn’t embitter them to the point where they couldn’t rise up and continue putting one foot in front of the other,” says Beker. “They chose to look forward and taught me what it takes to be resilient and pick yourself up.” 

Inspired by her parents’ work ethic and attitude, Beker became a trailblazer of Canadian television. She first gained popularity in 1979 as the host of The NewMusic on City TV, and later hosted the acclaimed Fashion Television from 1985 to 2012. Today, she is the style editor and host of Style Matters on The Shopping Channel.

She has been on the frontlines of fashion journalism for nearly 35 years and says that her upbringing has kept her “a real person in an unreal world.”

Beker also writes and edits, and is developing a documentary about the fashion scene with a producer in the U.K.

As busy as she is, she always finds time to tell her parents’ story of survival—stories from which she hid as a little girl.

“Now that they are gone, it is my responsibility to continue to share their story,” says Beker. “I share it for them, I share it for the family members I never knew, I share it for my kids, and for their kids. It is my obligation and my honour.”

Jeanne Beker will be the keynote speaker at the May 10 JFM Luncheon in support of the Women’s Endowment Fund: “Now that (my parents) are gone, it is my responsibility to continue to share their story.”  

Click here for tickets.