In 2016, Aidan Solway, then-13, visited Baycrest on a mission to take pictures of members of Café Europa, a social club/program offered to clients, patients and community members who are Holocaust survivors. He decided he wanted to capture the essence of what life is like at Baycrest for older adults in honour of his late, great-uncle Ben Solway who was a resident at Baycrest.
Aidan’s great great-grandmother Jean Lepofsky and his great-grandmother, Jenny Snyder, were also Baycrest residents.
The endeavor was also part of a promise Aidan made to himself to do a mitzvah (a good deed) in honour of his bar-mitzvah, which he had just celebrated in May 2016.
The Café Europa program gives community members a chance to share stories, experiences and socialize with others who can relate to each other’s background and feel comfortable being open with people who can truly empathize with their life struggles. At Baycrest, Café Europa is a treasured space for healing, relaxing and enjoying the company of new and old friends.
“I’m an artistic person and I really like to take pictures, Aidan says. “I thought that capturing people at Baycrest in pictures would really show what Baycrest is like.
In addition to taking pictures of Café Europa members, Aidan also captured photos of some of the art hanging in the Donald and Elaine Rafelman Creative Arts Studio and around the Baycrest campus in general.
The exercise in photography had a profound effect on him.
“Some of the time, I felt sad speaking to [Cafe Europa participants]. It was really sad to hear that they had to experience those things [in the Holocaust]. I don’t know how to put my feelings into words. It was sad, Aidan recalls. “But at the same time, seeing Café Europa and seeing those people being happy and having a lot of fun now… I was happy for them.
Aidan’s parents, Alison and Kenny Solway, were very supportive of his Baycrest picture project.
“Some of the pictures he took, they’re just stellar, says Alison. “They really capture moments here. He’s a tremendous photographer and I think it was educational for him to do this. He wasn’t only taking pictures. While interacting with residents and guests at Baycrest, some of them opened up and shared their life stories and Holocaust experiences with Aidan. Those were exceptionally moving moments. Those conversations made the pictures that much more important, as they represent who these people are today and what still needs to be remembered about the Holocaust.
She adds: “And his pictures of artwork created by residents at the Rafelman Creative Arts Studio show that just because you age, doesn’t mean you aren’t still artistic and creative.
Aidan says the photography project allowed him to get some perspective on how important it is to live life to the fullest and enjoy every moment.
“I’m really happy that I got to take these pictures; because over the next few years, almost all the Holocaust survivors will be gone. I’m glad I was one of the few people who were allowed to capture these moments – in pictures – of their lives today.