AJ: We had a, we had a synagogue. My grandmother brought a sacred Torah over from Russia with her. And they built a synagogue around the Torah. And we were the only synagogue between us and Regina which was 72 miles away. And people from the, people from the de Hirsh colony came to our synagogue, people in the surrounding towns. There were towns all over, 8, 10, 12 miles apart from each other and many of those people came to our town on the High Holidays. We had the synagogue, we had a rabbi who also acted as a mohel [person in charge of conducting circumcisions], he acted as the…
LR: Shochet [kosher butcher].
AJ: Shochet. He did everything.
LR: Wow. So growing up, I mean, your parents must have been fairly religious to have maintained…
AJ: Yes they were, yes they were.
LR: …everything while they were in such a small town in Canada.
AJ: Yes, that’s right. It was very important to them.
LR: And do they come from an Orthodox background then?
LR: And your father did he have any Jewish education back in the Ukraine, cheder [Jewish elementary school education], or yeshiva [Jewish higher education] or…
AJ: Well he had a Bar Mitzvah, he could read, he could doven [pray], he was certainly at home in a synagogue.
LR: Yeah, and he could read Hebrew.
LR: And spoke Yiddish I’m sure.
LR: Any other languages?
AJ: He spoke Yiddish and Russian.
LR: And Russian. And your mother…
AJ: And of course they learned to speak English, the same thing.
LR: The same thing. And was it difficult to keep kosher I’m guessing probably in such a small town?
AJ: No, well we had this [rabbi].
LR: Right, right and he was local, he lived right in the actual town?
AJ: He lived right in our town.
LR: Oh, that’s wonderful.
AJ: He was supported by the small Jewish community.
LR: Right, right, and so how many people in terms of numbers in the Jewish community were there?
AJ: We were about 12 families that lived in the town.
DB: I think we bring to the Jewish calendar a lot of new spirit. We celebrate at home, everything. You know, the Jewish holidays that people are celebrating here or even Jewish holidays that people are not celebrating here. Everything is getting special attention in our house. When we do, you know, the Seder it’s from beginning ‘til end. Again, like I mentioned in my family we bring in a lot of extra reading into the Seder table, we bring a lot of songs. We, the table is always full with people. And the last few years it’s basically with friends. And we try to give the warmth and the beautiful spirit of the Jewish tradition to our children, so I go above and beyond the call of duty of just celebrating. I celebrate it with meanings. I celebrate it with joy. I celebrate it with all the little details that I can bring into the, whatever ceremony it is. In Rosh Hashanah for example, you know, I try every year to give something new to every member that sit around the table. Just a little gift, it can be for a dollar or a $1.25 but something symbolic to celebrate something new. And you know, we sing a lot. Some of our children play musical instruments or they always help us with music and whatever. Nice, you know.
You see, we just had Tu Bishvat, so Tu Bishvat, you know, I will not go to plant a tree because I don’t, I cannot do to it here. In Israel I’ve done it. But for dessert the same night I will give some dried fruit and we will discuss it and we will talk about it. And basically what we discuss about is the recollection from Israel celebrating those days. But you know what, now my three children are basically not at home. And it’s not the same with me and Michael. It’s not the same even the Shabbat, you know, unfortunately. But whenever we try to celebrate, we try to do and we try to bring the beautiful spirituality behind our Jewish calendar.
Interviewer: Sid Israels, Ann Krieger, & A. Myer Freedman
SI: And this is, we’re talking here now in the early ‘20s, late ‘20s. Did your parents keep a kosher home?
JM: Very much so.
SI: How difficult was that?
JM: Very. One of the interesting factors was there wasn’t any means of attaining kosher meat so the only locality that had it was Calgary, Alberta, and it was used to…the butcher would send the meat by express on Friday and every Friday morning at five o’clock in the morning, I used to get up in the morning and go out to the express office to pick up the week’s meat. First of all it was the time that I could easily attend and the other was we didn’t want to leave the meat too long before it spoiled.
SI: You say you were, the rest of the families in the area were Orthodox as well, they would have obtained their supplies at the same time. Tell me, winter—I grew up in that same environment as you did—must have been a godsend for you, because you now had natural refrigeration.
JM: [Laughter]. No, as a matter of fact, it didn’t worry us a great deal because we had one of these old fashioned ice boxes where you put in a block of ice about 15 or 25 pounds and that lasted a certain length of time and then you replaced it.
SF: Adele would you like to say your Hebrew name.
AV: Oh sure, well my original Hebrew name was Hannah and then when I went through the pro-forma with Rabbi Victor Reinstein to become Jewish I adopted my great-grandmother’s Hebrew name as well because I wanted to be like her, she was indomitable, and her name was Miriam so I am now Miriam Hannah bat Gittel. And finding the name Gittel was quite a surprise because my mother, because of Kristallnacht and her foster mother from Berlin, they were crying by the radio listening to what was going on in Germany and that’s when my mother said, “Don’t let anyone know we’re Jewish.” And so out of the whole family, being the oldest of the six children, I’m the only one that has got back to the roots to be Jewish, the others are not and they’ve forgotten if they ever really knew. So I’m a latecomer to practicing Judaism but I’ve always known that I was Jewish and I can remember when I was about seven or eight years old telling my next-door neighbour who was two years older than me that I was Jewish but not Orthodox, and she said, “What does Orthodox mean?” and I said, “I have no idea!” [Laughing].
BS: So you had a Bar Mitzvah. Do you remember, you know, anything about it, about the preparation? Did you enjoy having, having this Bar Mitzvah?
FS: Ah, well bar mitzvahs…well it, there were two things I will say. I think it hasn’t changed at all over the years. No I didn’t enjoy the preparation, but it was nice having the party and, and the attention and the presents. I, yeah, it was all quite standard. The boys were… First of all there were only the boys, no girls. My Bar Mitzvah was at the Beit Hamidrash, before it was a Sephardic synagogue it was an Orthodox synagogue. My mother and my aunt and other relatives who came, I can’t remember even who came, but friends of the family helped out. They did all the cooking and the baking. Since we had it in the morning there was a luncheon and that was it...you know. My speech was writ...I said my, spoke my speech in Yiddish and I didn’t understand a word of it because it was written by the person who taught me my Haftorah.
BS: Do, do you remember it?
FS: Nothing, absolutely nothing about the speech, nothing about the Haftorah. And that’s all. I remember is my aunt my aunt made wonderful strudel, the real thin skin, it was like baklava. The, it was very crispy, it was wonderful. And that’s what I remember, besides getting a chemistry set and a watch and a pen and all the other traditional items that Jewish boys got in, in that time as, as presents to mark their Bar Mitzvah.
MS: Yeah, I think it started off…you see my dad was never very religious growing up. He was the only boy after four older sisters and he was like the Messiah and so, but he was kind of a bad boy, not like a bad, bad boy but like a jazz guy and out late. And he moved here from Winnipeg and he never was interested in his Judaism and ironically you know, he met my mom who was also a jazz aficionado, like a blonde haired non-Jewish girl who liked jazz and that’s how they met. And then obviously they got serious but he knew that, “Okay, now if I’m going to get married I’d better, she’d better convert,” and my mom was actually very open to it because her parents, my grandparents, were very open, amazing people. So she already actually had an affinity for Judaism and what it stood for. So of course she was the boss, my mom, and she created the Jewish house even though my dad would be like, “Are you kidding me, we’re going to keep kosher.” But of course along the way they got more and more involved and more and more religious. I remember when we joined Beth Israel synagogue, I was probably in Grade 1, and in those days new members got to sit on the bimah [a raised platform in a synagogue] and my dad and I got to sit on the bimah and it was actually one of the most memorable moment of my Jewish life is being so proud to sit in this beautiful and sitting on the bimah.
So anyways the first involvement I think my parents had in the Jewish community was probably through the synagogue and they got involved. At one time my dad was president of the Men’s Club, my mom was president of the Sisterhood and I was president of USY [United Synagogue Youth, and then my dad went onto the board of the synagogue and he was involved in JNF [Jewish National Fund] and did a lot of work for the Jewish Family Service Agency. He started the Jewish Film Festival, that was one of his big things, when he was president of the Jewish Festival of the Arts he got the Jewish Film Festival off the ground. So he was very interested in cultural arts and my mom was very involved with the Sisterhood, Women’s League on the regional level and she went to Sisterhood conventions and was very involved in Hadassah. Until the day she died she was doing the books for her Hadassah chapter.
RT: Can you recall what was done on High Holidays?
BD: Yeah I do, I have very, very special memories of Leo Levey being our patriarch and taking charge of the, I think we used the Eagles Hall or one of the service club halls, and it was just as it is for any child, a special time to get dressed up with your parents and meet with everyone else and children ran in and out like they do at shul in Vancouver. And we did the whole thing and we’d occasionally have the rabbi come from Spokane to help us.
RT: And Pesach?
BD: Always had a seder, always, always.
RT: At your own home?
BD: Yeah, I think my Mum and Dad put on seders but I just remember that we always had the full thing and it was done a lot more seriously I think than it is in this day and age, it just seemed like a long ordeal.
RT: With other families?
BD: Oh yeah, we always made sure that, you know, I think we just had so many families per home but no one was alone for sure.
BS: Vivian, you talked about how you met your husband...
VG: We were married in the Schara Tzedeck, Rabbi Hier married us and then what was really nice is my older daughter was married in the Schara Tzedeck as well and there’s a photograph that was taken at my wedding looking down you know at the bimah and I asked the photographer at my daughter’s wedding to take the same photograph and it’s just a very nice tradition to have us married in the same spot. And my marriage did change my life because my husband is Orthodox and so we adopted an Orthodox life and I decided if I was going to be living this way I’d better investigate and see what it was about, and my husband’s also very scholarly and very knowledgeable in Judaic so I did this project of really learning the Tanah, going right through and to my amazement instead of just doing it because that was a promise I made to my husband I found it very meaningful. And I find living the Orthodox lifestyle, and it’s not an ultra-Orthodox, it’s a very modern Orthodox lifestyle but I find it extremely meaningful and rewarding and both of my children grew up that way and to my delight both married Orthodox young men and really it matters to both of them to continue that traditional lifestyle so really I think it’s made us much happier as a family and so I’m quite grateful for it.