JG: When you came to Victoria were you looking to connect with the Jewish community?
LS: No. No way was I, I wasn’t, I was what I call relatively neutral, Jewishly. I didn’t hide but I didn’t really do too much. You know I, sometimes, you know, melodies would come and things like that. The Victoria story, it’s only in Victoria is this story possible. So when Charlotte and I were about to get married, I met Charlotte here in Victoria at a therapy workshop. So as we started a relationship, we started to get married she didn’t even know I was Jewish really originally. It turns out that Charlotte had independently of anything to do with me always been interested in Israel and Zionism. And actually spent some time on a kibbutz, right. So, but as the marriage started and, you know, and I’m in a different phase in my life something started to happen where I wanted to do something to do with Yiddishkeit [the Jewish way of life] in my marriage. So, I started the talk around and to see what I could do about that. There was no rabbi here at the time. So I talked to someone who was sort of functioning as a lay spiritual leader. He wouldn’t officiate which I certainly respect now, and I did at the time. So we were married by a Unitarian minister. And my brothers came up from, where were they, one in California, one in North Carolina, I think, for the wedding. And we interpolated, you know, some Jewish thematic material. But it was through that marriage that I started dipping my foot back, my feet back into the waters. So I went to shul. And you can’t imagine what it was like then. It was chaotic, nobody knew what they were doing. So the first time I’m at shul nobody’s there who’s able to doven [lead prayers] or lead shachrit [morning prayers]. So they say, “Can anybody do this?” I knew I could do this because spontaneously at different times in my life the melodies would just come back to me. So I did. And that was really the beginning of my reconnection, yeah, which is now becoming, you know, the centre [of my life]. So that’s the story. It’s not an unusual story for Victoria. Many, many of the people in the congregation of Victoria had very little to do with Yiddishkeit, very tangential in their lives. And somehow or other either through children or through something, you know they had to make some kind of movement, but tremendously deepen their connection with [Jewry] here in Victoria.
JG: So what does the synagogue or what is the synagogue, the Temple Emanu-El that allows people to do this?
LS: It’s really hard to describe because it’s a culture of encouragement, permissiveness, but limit setting at the same time. People have a lot of room to move into leadership roles here. And we encourage participation. So we encourage training, we teach each other, and different people move in and out of the limelight along that. So that’s just, sometimes it’s just been necessity because that’s the way it was but now it’s a value.
BS: Describe your religious affiliation.
BS: Do you consider yourself a religious man?
FS: No I, I don’t consider myself religious, although I am observant. We are members of Or Shalom a, what is considered a Jewish Renewal community, where, I, it’s, yeah pretty well. Or Shalom, Jewish Renewal, which in this case it means a way of, to my understanding at least, at least this is what I find, a way of combining the spirit, the enthusiasm that, that we found in the Orthodox synagogue, that kind of close knit, ‘haimishness,’ the homeliness of the people along with a, with an understanding of what is happening with a more egalitarian, broad minded, acceptance of change as an important part of our lives and incorporating that into the life of our religious community. I, Or Shalom to me has always been more community, than rather an institution of religion and which is, and I think most people who attend feel the same thing.
RM: I was very much involved with the start of the Richmond Delta Jewish Community Association, back in the 1970s, I’m really going back here but…
BG That’s okay.
RM: It was, I think it was about 1970, a group of us that lived in Richmond, we had, we met at the home of the Rabbi, I’ve forgotten the name of, at the time and we decided that we wanted to have a school, a Jewish school set up in Richmond. And what came of that meeting was the formation of the Richmond Delta Jewish Community Association. We had a meeting, trying to get all the Jewish people together, at the Jewish Community Centre, I can’t give you the exact date but different people took on positions, my former husband became ways and means, I was nominated and I was, accepted, the position, of becoming the first education chairman for which was then Richmond Jewish, which then became, okay well I’m messing up here.
But we had many meetings at different people’s homes, I can’t tell you how many meetings were held at our home and how many cakes I baked for different functions. We realized that we needed a Jewish school and we realized that we needed different places for our High Holidays, for, you know the High Holidays, and various other events. So, I was education chairman, so I had a committee made up of many teachers. [Laughs] And as I said before, thank goodness I didn’t become a teacher, but my committee were mainly teachers. So, we managed to find, a space in a church in Richmond and we decided that we were going to rent that space, and I said, it wasn’t what was important, because people challenged us, “How could we have a Jewish school in a church?” And I responded, because the price was right [laughs]. But what I said was, it didn’t matter about the external walls, it was what we created within those walls.
RM: So we managed to have a nursery school, a kindergarten, and an after school day school, two days a week. The third day was held in my former husband’s and my home, on a Sunday. So, that, I, I think I spent four or five years in that position and we managed to really get things off the ground in those early years. We rented different spots in different hotels for High Holiday services, it was a fun type of thing, we were actually creating something from nothing, at all our meetings, so we would plan different events…We were trying to, besides the school, we were trying to get youth organizations going, we would meet with, “Oh, you have nothing for my children.” And then we’d go back to people and it was “Oh well, you didn’t have something before so you know, my kid’s became involved, it’s too late for them to be involved.” That type of person, of course, really expected everything to be handed to them. And they weren’t prepared to, to help out. But that was also a very exciting time. It was, we were building something from nothing. It created a wonderful sense of community. And we, you know I hired David Ruben to become our senior teacher, to be our Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah teacher, and we had other teachers, certainly nursery school, kindergarten, all of course with Jewish content. So this certainly was a great boost, for me. It was a confidence builder, getting the school off the ground, no one expected us to get the school going, you know, there were different things we had to speak to, we had to speak to the fire department, and this department and that department. At the time we didn’t get much money from Federation, so everything was just, but it was an exciting time and certainly a confidence builder.
ID: Now I want to talk about your marriage. You said you met Anne. What
was Anne’s maiden name?
AM: It was Anne Ruth Heller.
ID: And can you describe your wedding?
AM: Oh! My wedding. Another story. You’re getting a lot of stories today. Nobody got, nobody got these stories.
ID: I want them.
AM: Anyway, when I was going to get married, of course I never did things the proper way. I just went to one dinner and gave her a, went to the father and said I want to marry your daughter and...
ID: Oh, you asked permission?
AM: Yea, but the way I asked it you know, I like it is a fait de compli so, you know and things like that and I always. Anne was coaching a little baseball team of young girls and I went to the young girls even before I got married and I said, I’m going to marry your coach and things like that. So the girls said, “By the way you know Albert is going to marry you.” So....
ID: That’s before you asked her?
AM: Yeah, before you know things like that. So things were always done in a different way, unorthodox way. Then when come to the wedding, I wanted to have is Sephardic and Ashkenazi, so we had to, you know this idea of compromises, so we did it in a small town called Brantford, which is about...
ID: Brantford, Ontario.
AM: Ontario, which is about and an hour and a half two hours from Toronto.
ID: Why in Brantford?
AM: Because this is what she was grew up and all her family, I didn’t have family, so it was normal to do it where all her family was and that, but I wanted part of it to be Sephardic. So what I did was, I asked my people to come to Brantford so we had a bus and cars coming. And I had a choir coming in the Sephardic way, you know, to say some of the blessings in Sephardic. So we had it half and half. Melodies Sephardic and that. But one of the most problem was that the rabbi was his first wedding, he was a young fellow, his first wedding and then he was all nervous. So here I am running my wedding and coaching the rabbi telling him, “This is what you do next,” and, “Calm down.” You know, [laughs], “You’re doing fine.” Meanwhile I’m getting married and that. And then at the end of the marriage, the second day, the mother says, I hope the guy finishes…the city, he had the rabbi registration, but the Ontario one, “I hope he…” and that. So I went to the mother and said jokingly, “Oh, if I don’t have the license I don’t…” So the mother panicked it was just a joke, and I said, “No worry the wedding is legal.” So, what happened is Anne was still working, so the way the honeymoon was is after two day after the day of the marriage she went to work and I will wait for her every day for her in Toronto. We had a hotel and then I came back to Vancouver, watch her finish her school month, she had one more month, and then she joined me in Vancouver, and…
ID: The rest is history.
AM: The rest is history.
ID: Now I’d like to move into your, you are a member of Beth Hamidrash and
I’d like to know how you got involved. I know you’re a regular attender of services.
AM: Well, Beth Hamidrash again is one of the projects in with I am the
founding director of the society, but the whole thing started again like many other things. There was a teacher at Talmud Torah who wanted to do something Sephardic. I forgot his name, he is a Rabbi now in California, and he came to me and says, Albert, you know for the same reason, we should have something Sephardic here and all that. So, anyway we got our first services in my house and in other houses in the beginning there were a few of us. Then, because I was involved with the Centre and other things like that, our first Yom Kipper, Rosh Hashanah, I rented the nursery at the JCC to have our first services. Then of course other people took the mantle and things like that and then there was a group of Ashkenazi which they were passing away and they gave us their synagogue for one dollar. This is one of the, we started our first [society], we started our first constitution which I signed. And after the thing again like everything else once it’s going, then other people took the mantle. I only came and worked for the board always when I see something is not working a little bit, I get involved, when it’s working, I get out. So at the present time you know, a few years I was on the board, now I am not. There are better people now.
ID: So, there was a small number of Sephardic Jews when you first came here.
AM: Oh, there were many Sephardic Jews when I came here, and then little by
little they more and more came, but then because Vancouver is very expensive we have many Sephardic Jews in Richmond, in Coquitlam, in other places. But there is a community, Sephardic, but not all of them…Beth Hamidrash needs more members, it’s a small community keeping an ideal and were struggling with the budgets and all that, but we still are the only western Sephardic voice.
ID: When you say western, you mean like west…
AM: From Ottawa, from Toronto, Montreal to here.
AM: Yeah, so…
ID: So, where…I know there are Sephardic Jews in Edmonton
AM: Oh there are…Yeah, but...
ID: But they don’t, there’s not…
AM: But they don’t have like an identity like a Sephardic synagogue organization and things like that.
ID: So who were...
AM: So, so my involvement lately with that is to bring back the history and the folk lore. So I have been giving a lot of workshops on the history, Ladino music and customs. It’s one of the new hobbies, after I retired, I needed a hobby and I decided to get to know more about my culture. And then I begun to sharing it with other by giving workshops in Ladino, in Sephardic, music and singing.
ID: So who are the movers and shakers now in the Sephardic…
AM: Oh, now they have a third generation. A young group, very, yeah, is very good because now we have got people who have grown up with the synagogue for a long time, and the problem with our synagogue like many other people is that we have a small base, you know, like 50, 60 paid members. And to keep a building and a rabbi and all that, so half of our time is the struggle to raise money, and half of our time is like that. But we try to keep as much as we can the customs and that from the Sephardic thing.
JY: Did your family keep kosher, were they…?
ML: Yes, absolute. Two sets of dishes, kosher with another set, couple of sets of dishes for Passover. We had a chicken coop with chickens and turkeys and ducks so that every four to six weeks the shochet [kosher butcher], an itinerant shochet, you know what I mean?
ML: Came by and killed some chickens which my mother would, in the winter time, she would cook up and then freeze. You may ask what sort of a freezer did we have in the ‘30s? Well, we had a piano and my father kept the piano box, kept it outside the kitchen door, shelves were put into it and between, we were at Canora several hundred miles north of the border and it was quite cold in those days so that the freezer, the freezer was a piano box between October and May. You know the piano box was big and was sturdy for shipment. In the summer time the way she preserved things, she used to corn chicken and we had…whenever my father went into Winnipeg on a buying trip which was about every three months, three or four months, he would bring back beef of some sort so that we had beef then, other than that we had chicken, we had fish, lake fish because there were a couple of lakes close by. My mother and the girls used to pluck the chickens and they kept the goose down and the duck down for making pillows and comforters and things like that. I remember intermittently they used to have…she used to have help in the house and she also used to help pluck the chickens and do that sort of thing.
JY: That’s a tough job.
ML: Yeah. My mother was a gardener. We had a large, a large…a small house and a large piece of land. By large piece of land I mean the size of two city lots, two standard city lots. On this property was the house, a chicken coop and a granary because during the Depression my father frequently took grain as barter, I presume, from farmers for things from the store. And the rest, I guess maybe it was the size of three, maybe four city lots and the rest was a big garden. There was a small patch of flowers and grass and the rest was garden. My sisters as I recall were not really interested in the garden and my mother…perhaps some of my best quality time with my mother was digging and weeding and doing other things in the garden. She sewed, she sewed everything, she sewed clothes for her girls. And she read in Yiddish. There were all sorts of Yiddish books around the house.
JY: Did she sell any of the garden, any of the vegetables or it was all for the family?
ML: No. We had a cellar and root vegetables were put away, carrots and beets and turnips and potatoes which we then ate through much of the winter and then when we ran out we’d get it from the store of course. But mostly that’s what we had. And her…one of her favourite spices, herbs that she grew was dill and dill was present in many things.
JY: Did you observe all the Jewish holidays?
JY: Do you have any fond memories of occasions?
ML: No. Except that the Seders used to go on beyond midnight and my sisters used to sit there. Actually the oldest three sisters were out of the house before my memory because I think they got married in 1932,’33 or something, ‘34. So my memory of the early Seders was with Hannah, Dori and Dubby and sometimes I used to see that they were reading things other than the Hagadah. No, it was not…they were not a festive occasion, they were a religious event and if you can imagine in those days maintaining a strict two sets of dishes kosher household in rural Saskatchewan this was a tour de force for my mother, I never really appreciated it at that time.
JG: Where do you get your meat now?
ZG and HG: From Omnitsky’s [Vancouver] and Kaplans.
HG: Marty Kaplan. I don’t know the man.
ZG: I get some stuff from him too.
HG: Safeway used to bring it in, but they bring in chickens, only chickens.
ZG: But they don’t any more. They haven’t got a place.
JG: What do you do for Passover?
HG: No problem.
ZG: Well Passover, Safeway brings in enough stuff for us because for the last what four years now that we’ve had Passover Seder at the Centre.
HG: They used to have them a hotel or someplace, but now they have them at
ZG: They were catered, but we finally, well, we’ve got our own Centre, we should do it in our own kitchen. And so we clean the kitchen up. Our kitchen is dairy. But for Pesach we wash it down and use it for meat.
HG: And Calgary sent...I think they came from Calgary, the dishes, they came from Calgary the meat dishes that we use, don’t they?
ZG: Yeah, the dishes we got from Calgary. One of our members, a mother, Susan Shawley, her mother bought the dishes that we use there for everyday, so we bought a few things and cooked our first Seder.
HG: They store away, nobody uses them.
ZG: They have them covered up on top. The first year, I don’t know how I got into it—thanks to Mel—my girlfriend Ruth Finkleman and I took on. Well, we didn’t know anything about it, cooking for how much you should do. So we ordered turkeys and chickens and that and we…
HG: Way too. They ordered way too much.
ZG: Way too much. We didn’t cook all the turkeys we had ordered. I bought the ones that weren’t cooked. But a lot of our members went home with food after the Seder because I think we had about 75 people and I think I had cooked three turkeys which was quite a bit.
HG: They have more than 75 now.
ZG: Yeah, they have over 120 now, but that was the first one. It was good, it was fun, it was the first time we had it in our own place. Everybody helped; Susan Shawley helped us. She taking it over for this year now, and we in turn are going to help her.
AK: At what point did you come to British Columbia?
GZ: Let’s see, I got married and we were married a couple of years and my husband was working for the Army & Navy in Edmonton and he had worked for the Army & Navy also in Vancouver but he then decided he would like to have his own business and he was looking around and he found this store in Mission, British Columbia, that’s about forty miles from Vancouver. So we moved, I had at that time one child, he was nearly a year old and we moved to Mission, the only Jewish family in Mission.
AK: That’s very interesting, so you met your husband in Edmonton.
GZ: In Edmonton.
AK: How did you meet?
GZ: He was working across the street and I was working as a credit manager in this place and that’s how we met.
AK: What’s his name?
GZ: His name was Sam Zivot.
AK: And so you were initially in Edmonton and then he found this opportunity in Mission and you pulled up your roots and came to British Columbia.
GZ: Right, so then we were there for about seven years, I had two more children both of them born in Mission, one is a daughter and the other is a younger son who, when he was born, we had to bring in the mohel [person who performs circumcisions] from Bellingham, Washington State, [laughs] so we brought him in and he was circumcised there
AK: So now you have three children.
GZ: I had three children now and I felt very strongly about having them educated and being Jewish. We met a Jewish family in Abbotsford which was across, we met a Jewish family in Chilliwack and we sort of all got together for holidays, sort of, and then as time went on and my youngest was five, yeah five, seven and nine, I said to my husband “We cannot,”—because we were running into New Westminster on Sundays so that they would have Sunday school, we were running to Bellingham to go to synagogue.
AK: How long was the drive to go to synagogue?
GZ: Oh Bellingham, not very long, about an hour.
AK: Right, but it’s still quite a drive.
GZ: So the funniest thing that happened was when my second child was born, and we were living in Mission of course, and it was Christmas time and we were driving into Vancouver and of course there were Christmas lights and Christmas lights and the oldest one said, “Oh I want Christmas lights,” and I said “Lou, you are Jewish, we don’t have Christmas lights and we don’t have Christmas trees.” “I want a Christmas tree and I want lights,” and I said “Lou, you’re Jewish, we don’t have those.” Fine, but now a week later I’m bathing the baby and the doorbell rings and I said to Lou, “Lou, go see who’s at the door,” because the doors were all…and he says, “A man says he’s selling Christmas trees.” And I hear this little voice that says, “Oh no, we’re Jewish.” So I was so excited that it got to him. Then I said to my husband, “We can’t do this.” I says, “We have to move somewhere where they can be with Jewish people and have a Jewish education.”
AK: I think you said you were the only Jewish family in Mission?
GZ: We were the only Jewish family in Mission but we had Jewish friends in Abbotsford and...So anyway my Dad at that time had a yard goods store, fabrics, in Edmonton and he suggested that we have a fabric store in Calgary. So that was fine, he went to Calgary to find out a location, etcetera, etcetera, and we moved to Calgary where the children had Jewish family also, I had two sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law living there with their children…
LL: We have not mentioned so far what happened when we had the first bris—or the circumcision of a Jewish boy—in Trail. And it happened to be in Rossland. The hospital there was run by the Catholic sisters, a most splendid, wonderful group. I don’t know of any group that went out of their way so much to see that this bris was conducted the way it should be conducted. We had to bring the rabbi from Spokane to perform it but the strange thing was that the entire medical staff of the hospital came in to watch the job being done. We had a big party, same thing, we had a kiddush—the blessing—after it. And the staff at the hospital, you would think that they were almost Jewish in their feeling about this traditional rite which takes place in our Jewish life.
LL: My family was very assimilated. They were very Jewish in their own way but many, many Austrians and German Jewish families were very assimilated. And the only holidays that we really celebrated was Yom Kippur. My mother said it was the best holiday because she didn’t have to cook. And we, we fasted from, actually I don’t know if we, I don’t know whether my brother and I fasted, I can’t remember when I fasted the first time. But my mother didn’t cook and that was a big holiday that she didn’t have to cook. And Rosh Hashanah we had a family meal and that, we never went to the synagogue. I think the first time I went to the synagogue was when I was over 13 or 14 when I joined Habonim. And maybe once I went to a Bar Mitzvah. My parents did have Jewish friends who were also non-synagogue goers but a couple of them had younger children that had—and they came after the war, so before the war was finished, you know, these people came probably in the ‘50s. I went to a Bar Mitzvah anyways when I was in the early ‘50s and I think that was the first I hit a synagogue. My brother did not have a Bar Mitzvah. We did have Hanukah. We, it was very, very small at the time like you got…And the tradition in our family was not getting money it was getting a little present. And we lit the candles for the eight nights. And then Pesach, Passover, we had a family that invited us every year for Passover and we went to the same two families. One for the first night, and one for the second night of Passover every year for many years. And, and that was a typical, regular Passover. This family also always brought in new refugee people that they had collected along the way and they were also at the Passover.