Black and white print shows an boy, possibly Avinoam Ben-Ron (son of Mr. Ben-Ron standing beside him who led services) standing on the bimah at Congregation Emanu-El, possibly a bar mitzvah.
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.
CL: Is this 1914?
SF: And he, your grandparents were also from London?
AV: Well my great grandmother was from Wales but they moved to London, so then she was put into service to a Dutch Sephardic family and lived in Amsterdam. She was put into service when she was twelve years old and the cook taught her to read and write. It was a thoroughly Orthodox Jewish home, a Sephardic home and so she had the same pronunciation that we have in our congregation which is Sephardic, and so when I found Jews and they had the Ashkenazi pronunciation it was like different languages and I didn’t understand it. But she had taught me some Ladino that I had learned too but that wasn’t until shortly before she died and we came to Canada the year after when I was 18.
SF: And that was in what year?
SF: And you went to?
AV: Halifax, the infamous Pier 21 [laughs], and I’d love to go back and see how they’ve made it into a museum. So we came across by train and even though we’d paid for first class tickets we were put onto a special immigrant train, and we didn’t know we had any choice, we could have stayed overnight and got into Calgary a day earlier than we did because the porters, the staff, all these nice young black fellows that you know, we weren’t used to speaking with—there had been some black people in Wembley where I grew up but they weren’t close, you know, they weren’t part of our life—and they were saying that they had never seen a train so old and weren’t they lucky, “ha ha,” to be given that job! [Laughs]. So they were only on for a day and then they deadheaded back or they got a train back and so they didn’t do the whole trip and we kept getting new people as porters and people.
SF: And you made your way to Calgary?
SF: Why Calgary?
AV: Well we had to be sponsored and my father had come from a family where his father’s generation had spread out across the Commonwealth. Well, the thing is that my mother and I thought we were going to go to New Zealand so we spent two and a half years studying New Zealand, we went to illustrated lectures, we had library books and whatever we could find out about New Zealand we were studying. And then immigration was cut off to families because there was a housing crunch and they said only single men can come and my father refused to go on his own because he had left us during the war with no choice and he didn’t like the way my mother was independent when he wasn’t around so he wasn’t let that happen again so my mother said, “Find us another country.” And he went around Trafalgar Square to all the colonial houses and Canada was the best option, but we had contacts—Southern Rhodesia, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, so he wrote to all of these uncles and aunts that he found out where they were and my aunt, his aunt Frances in Calgary...
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].
AZ: So you came to Trail and then went to Rossland later.
CW: Rossland, well after, I took my business course and I was to go to Vancouver. I was the only Jewish girl my age in Trail and my parents were a little bit concerned, you know, here I am eighteen years old and I’m dating non-Jewish boys [laughs] so I was to go to Vancouver to stay with relatives because I had taken my business course and just before that Chuck came, my husband, came to Trail. I worked in a confectionery store after school and on Saturdays and he came to give regards from Saskatchewan to my boss, and I met him there and but, we would date, because it was a small community we would often be invited to the same parties and everything. So I still was booked to go to Vancouver and stay with family but he wrote me letters every single day, I got thirty some odd letters for the month and my aunt said, “You know we live here but you’re the only one that gets the mail.” And I was to go to be a dental assistant but my auntie said, “You know if somebody cares enough to write you every day, you’ve got to go back and make sure that this is the life you really want.” So I went back and I stayed there, we became engaged and married in Trail, that was the first Jewish wedding there, and then my husband came as a graduate to work at Cominco. There were a few other boys who came at the same time, and he was employed as a research chemist until he graduated.
Once you apply yourself to something he found out that that was the way he really didn’t want to go so he went into business with my dad and it was a family business, we all worked together in Rossland and we moved into a hardware store, left the grocery business and went into the hardware business. And they, my dad and my husband worked together for another fifteen years in Rossland and my parents wanted to retire, and so Chuck had his education but everybody said he should be a teacher because he’s just a born teacher. So he went back for one year to take his teacher’s training and he came back and he taught in Castlegar and then he signed up for Victoria and Vancouver, and Victoria came first. He had been coming here to mark papers and the kids had been coming here, oh I had three children, two girls and a boy, and they were in school bands and everything so they knew what Victoria was like and they said, “Oh Mom you’ll love it there, you’ve got to go and see it.” So we moved here, we came in ’67 so we’ve been here forty two or three years now, and he passed away two years ago.