Interviewer: Irene Dodek & Ron Stuart
ID: You said that your mother encouraged you to go into law. Did you ever at any time consider another field? Did you ever consider medicine?
NN: No, no.
ID: Never. And how did law school change you?
NN: Well, I think the discipline of law was a thing...
ID: The work load?
NN: The work was heavy. In those days, this was after you had a degree but before we had a full fledged law school, we had something, people wanted to go back to a system...You would go to law office...
ID: Before you went to law school?
NN: No, after you went to law school. You would go into a law office.
ID: As an articling student?
NN: As an articling student, and you’d spend three years if not four years there. Then you would proceed to go to lectures, and lectures at four o’clock. They’d get real money out of you by working you. And you got a real princely sum of $15. I eventually got $35 a month.
ID: What did you do as an articling student?
NN: Well, as an articling student you did everything that you knew exactly things that many young lawyers don’t know. You’d know how to draw wills, you’d know how to draw all of the practical things.
ID: You mean young lawyers don’t learn this?
NN: Well no, because they’re in a different milieu. They learn all about jurisprudence, you know, and all the fancy problems that arise in famous cases but as for doing the actual work there was a change. But that disappeared, that’s disappeared.
ID: So the work load really...Did any of your professors influence you in a particular way?
NN: Yes, well they did, because we had a very fine group of professors at the school and the Vancouver Law School and they did, they’re very, very good.
Inteviewer: Irene Dodek & Ron Stuart
ID: Do you remember your first grade in Watrous?
NN: Oh, I went to Grade 1 to 4 in Watrous.
ID: Tell me about those years. What do you remember about them?
NN: It’s interesting you should question me about that, because I just saw a picture I was showing my daughter-in-law the other day of me at school. My teacher—who has the same name as my successor in the courts, [McEacran], I must tell him. I’ve forgotten to tell him the other day—she was my first school teacher and she took a liking to me. And boy, oh boy. The schools then were different than now.
ID: In what way?
NN: Well, because you had three classes in one room. You would shift your chair sideways to get out of the way when she did the next class. [Laughter]. I said to somebody who asked me once they were telling how difficult it is to teach a single class nowadays in a school when I was on some commission. I said, “You don’t know what it’s like when I took schooling.”
ID: So you really had to block out,
NN: You had to block out.
ID: Or else listen.
NN: Or listen.
ID: Or you’d be in the next grade already.
NN: That’s right, that’s right. One way of getting promoted [laughing].
ID: How many children in the classroom?
NN: I would think in those classrooms about 30 kids. So you’d have a mixture of about ten in each class.
Interviewer: Ann Krieger & A. Myer Freedman
AK: Okay, tell us about Habonim please.
DN: Habonim is spelled H-A-B-O-N-I-M, Habonim Lodge is a fraternal, cultural group of Jewish culture and Zionism. That was one of the most effective groups that give us for many years already the leaders of Vancouver. It existed for several years ‘til the war.
AK: What war?
DN: The Second World War. Rabbi Zlotnick left for South Africa as the head of the youth educational department and then the Habonim Lodge kind of more or less broke up. Now, as to other Zionist and Jewish activities I want to…
AK: Just a minute, before you stop that, you said it had a cultural, you were a cultural group.
AK: Did you also study the culture of Palestine?
DN: Palestine, and Jewish history, and Jewish education in general. See, this is all that was…
AK: And Rabbi Zlotnick was the leader?
DN: Rabbit Zlotnick he was our leader and a spiritual advisor.
AK: Your spiritual leader and your cultural leader.
DN: And really he was…We wish we could have afforded a time to keep him but the, we couldn’t.
AK: He went on to bigger things.
DN: That position…For that matter I’ve seen Rabbi Zlotnick in Israel. I have a letter, the last letter he wrote with his own handwriting and I value it very, very dearly. In 1939 I built myself a house in Vancouver.
AK: Where is it, was it located…
AK: Where was it located?
DN: At 585 West 28th. But my way of planning the house was this: a nice living quarters for ourselves but a place for Young Judaea or the Zionist group to meet so therefore I have a complete basement with a recreation room large enough to hold 150 to 200 people, complete kitchen facilities, and that’s where most activities of the Jewish youth, particularly Young Judaea and the Zionist groups.
AK: Did you say ‘I’? Or do you mean your wife and you? She must have been quite a woman to have allowed this to happen.
DN: So this is where I wanted to say…
AK: This must be quite a woman.
DN: I’ll come to that.
DN: My wife, of course, was very much Zionist but when we first got married, I mean, [I won’t say that], we had quite a bit of disagreement. She was a Jabotinsky-ist.
AK: What does that mean?
DN: Jabotinsky he was a member…
AK: Would you spell that please?
DN: I can’t spell that.
DN: Ja-bo-tinsky. You’ll find that…Jabotinsky was a revisionist, a militant man. And his ideas were that, don’t wait ‘til they’ll give you Palestine…
AK: Take it by force.
DN: Take it by force and he was the one, and she was with him. I of course was a pro-Weitzmann-ist, to obtain Israel, a state, a Jewish state…
AK: You’re speaking of Chaim Weitzmann.
DN: Chaim Weitzmann. A Jewish state by peaceful and political way of doing it. And [we] had quite a big arguments ‘til one day we came to the conclusion that it doesn’t lead us anywhere and we had to, that politics had to be left aside if we wanted to succeed. And then we did, and then it was fine. My wife gave us a tremendous help and doing all this work, all my Zionist work and all the entertaining, [all that]...
Interviewer: Marvin Weintraub & Cyril E. Leonoff
MW: Yes. Phyllis you had a few, a few things that you started in the [Beth Israel] synagogue, didn’t you?
PS: Actually yes the very first thing that I started was at a suggestion from Rita, from your wife, and that was what we called Institute Aleph. As we mentioned before there were really only two synagogues in the city and there was not much going on education wise for the women, there were no classes, and so the concept, the idea came into being that we should start a morning class and it turned out to be a Thursday morning class and we called it Institute Aleph because we always felt that we were starting, we were always starting from the beginning and there was just so much to learn that we would never get beyond aleph. [Laughter]. That first year, that first year, and it was going to be courses in basic Judaism and then as it turned out, and the classes developed, we discussed history and philosophy and ethics and many other things. The first class we had about 60 women that came out and they represented different parts of the community, people from Schara Tzedeck, because there was nothing else. But after that class we had anywhere between 20 and 40 people that would come on a Thursday morning for maybe eight sessions in the fall and eight sessions in the spring. And out of that group, which went on from 1967 until about I don’t know for about 20 years, I think. Every Thursday morning there were about five or six people, women, who started with us in ’67 and went all the way through. And then there were of course all these new people. And this was a great joy to me because it was not just a question of teaching, it was a question of exchanging ideas. We sat around the table and we discussed things.
Interviewer: Marvin Weintraub & Cyril E. Leonoff
MW: Yes, well I remember very vividly your first visit to Congregation Beth Israel, Rabbi, when you came up from Spokane for the interview, for the position, I didn’t know that you were interested in [working in] Seattle also at the time. I’m glad we didn’t know, otherwise you would have gotten a much better deal with us! Can you recollect, now you didn’t come until the fall, I think August ?
PS: In August, yes.
MW: Of that year, and by the time you both came I had the honour of being the first to welcome you, I was president of the Congregation at that time.
WS: Yes that’s right. To us you were the image of the Congregation.
MW: Oh yes.
PS: You succeeded Albert Koch right?
MW: Albert Koch was the president prior to me.
PS: When we were hired.
WS: That image hasn’t suffered at all.
MW: Thank you. Can you recollect any of your impressions of our Congregation and of our Jewish community at that time when you first joined us?
WS: Well not only I recollect my own impressions but all of the echoes in the community of what Beth Israel was to various people. And one of the things that at first shocked me was to know that there were many, many people who referred to our, to Beth Israel as the Reform Congregation.
MW: Really? I hadn’t heard that.
WS: I assumed that this was out of a lack of knowledge as to the difference between reform and conservative, but I think it was not entirely that, I think there was the impression that by contrast to Schara Tzedeck…
PS: Which by the way, apart from Beth Hamidrash which was very small, were the only synagogues in town. Beth Israel, Schara Tzedeck and the small Beth Hamidrash.
WS: The two synagogues, that’s right, people found it easy to sort of make things black and white. There’s so many grey areas in both congregations…
MW: This upset you, did it?
WS: At first. Not to the point where I felt crestfallen or anything like that but I felt that we’d have to do some image building here, and it wasn’t only for the purpose of giving the impression of being just as frum or Orthodox as you, but I intended to make the impression and the reality that conservative Judaism was not only just as authentic but just as intensive in many ways, not in only one direction, and could be more meaningful if it reached out to the community. So my…
MW: So this became your [deliberate] program as a result of that.
WS: My task was to see if we could approximate that goal.