Jewish life

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JG:          So how did you maintain a Jewish lifestyle?
 
BO:        Would you believe my mother brought her kosher food in from Quebec City [the family was living in Cabano, a small town outside of Quebec City at the time]? Every week we got a parcel of meat and poultry. Our house was strictly kosher. We had 4 sets of dishes, two for Pesach and two for the rest of the year. And on Pesach my mother used to go up to the dairy with her own pot and milk the cow herself into the pot, so the children could have fresh milk. We had chickens in our own yard so we had fresh eggs and eventually we had our own cow and my father owned a horse.
 
JG:          Did you celebrate the holidays with other Jewish families in the area, with
   your uncle and aunt?
 
BO:        No. The only holiday we celebrated with anybody, and that was just my father and myself, my father combined a buying trip with Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur and we went into Montreal. On the way we picked up some of the Jewish men from Rivière-Du-Loup because you had to change trains and we all went together to Montreal and we stayed with one of my father’s brothers. I remember sleeping on a bed made out of a rectangle of chairs, piled with pillows. My father belonged to what was called then the Romana Shul it was actually the Beth David synagogue, one of the largest synagogues in Montreal. I also remember very clearly Kippurs before Yontif…
 
JG:          Describe that.
 
BO:        My father or my uncle would take a white chicken by the legs and wave it over my head and say the Kippuris prayer and I was always petrified that the chicken would have a little diarrhea maybe [laughter].
 
JG:          It was a tense moment!
 
BO:        It was very tense, not knowing how the chicken felt [laughter].
 
[Fade]
 
JG:          Now you were always within walking distance of the synagogue with all of these homes, did you remain kosher and Shomer Shabbat, as your family had been?
 
BO:        Okay, as far as kosher is concerned when we came here we were not kosher. We did actually observe Pesach because when we drove out here it was Chol Ha-Mo'ed Pesach. We had fruit and juices a couple of boxes of matzah in the car and that’s how we travelled.
 
JG:          Yep I’ve travelled like that.
 
BO:        Yeah I would not desecrate Pesach even though we were travelling. But we weren’t kosher as far as the food we had in the house or our dishes. And what happened is that Anita [] came to a, I guess it was a debate, that some of the teenagers were participating in, Les Horowitz was one of the participants and there were a few other kids and they actually sent out a message to Anita anyway, about the confusion that existed between what they were learning in Talmud Torah and what they saw in their own homes. And they felt very confused about really what was right to do as far as kashrut and Shabbat observances and so on. Anita came home that night and she said from now on our home is going to be a kosher home. When she told this to Shirley Goldenberg, Shirley and the Rabbi came down here, koshered all of our cutlery, our pots, our pans, and they went out and bought us our first set of dishes from Army & Navy and our house has been kosher ever since.
 
JG:          So the kids teach the parents now and then.
 
BO:        Absolutely.

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RT:         So I know you had a Bat Mitzvah and I’d like it if you could tell me a little bit more about how you prepared.
BC:         Mostly, I forget I even picked my portion out but I guess it has to do with when you’re born and what time of year you’re having your Mitzvah. [It is generally pegged to the torah portion close to one’s birth date on the Hebrew Calendar.] I forget how that came about but I remember there were certain calculations involved in it and then it was chosen and that was the part I was going to do. And then, of course there was the big hurdle of learning how to read it and speak it, and I didn’t know at all except for the little prayers that we did as a family on the holidays. Other than that I didn’t know anything. So Peter [a family friend who was her Hebrew teacher]- I pretty much - a couple times a week I would meet with Peter. He would come over here and I would learn. I had to learn with all the little accents [nikkudot – vowel symbols that indicate the pronunciation of a letter.]. I had to rely on that heavily because I didn’t know how to do it without them…
RT:         You mean the dots underneath the…
BC:         Yeah.
RT:         The nikkudots.
BC:         Yeah. And I learned that. And I would call, I would ask my aunt Liz, who is here right now, because her, both her children had a Bat Mitzvah and a Bar Mitzvah, and I would ask them, ‘What do you do for this and what do you do for that?’ if I ever had any questions. And other than that, it was a kind of “Here we go!”
RT:          Did Peter have a tape for you?
BC:         Yeah. And then there was also a woman, I believe she was from Vancouver and she recorded herself singing my portion for me and I learned by ear quite a bit, so that was really helpful.
RT:          How old were you? Were you twelve or thirteen?
BC:          I was thirteen.
RT:          And where did the impetus for having a Bat Mitzvah come from?
BC:          It came from…well I went to my cousin Max’s Bar Mitzvah and I thought it was great. I’m just six months younger than him and it wasn’t shortly after he had his, but I thought it was a very nice celebration of life and I wanted to have one too. Basically my other cousin Natalie she had her Bat Mitzvah but I couldn’t attend that. But it was just the idea that they got to have a celebration and they had a community to do it in and a synagogue. And then also my mom never got to have a Bat Mitzvah. She grew up in a very Jewish family and they went to synagogue but she never had a Bat Mitzvah. And it was sort of for both of us to go through together. She was very involved and really excited. I mean it was sort of for her as well. We could go through it together.
RT:         Did you have a Torah? Did they bring one in somehow?
BC:         The rabbi that we had, he…
RT:          I didn’t realize that, I should have asked you that. I just assumed that Peter conducted it. So the rabbi from Vancouver, Rabbi Marmorstein came and…
BC:         Yeah, we went and met him before the Bat Mitzvah because Peter wrote to him and asked if he would be willing to come and […] lead the services because Peter said that he would, but it would not be proper if he did, and that was okay by us. The whole Jewish community was very excited about a rabbi coming out. So we emailed him, and then we went to Vancouver and we met with him. And all day we were just at his house, talking. And he said that he would be able to do that.
 And then the prospect of bringing the torah out was quite a big deal. We had to go to the synagogue and actually borrow it for the weekend…or they had a spare one?
RT:         Was it Or Shalom?
BC:         I think so. That name rings a bell. And they had a big wooden case that they had it in and we carefully put it in our car and drove back with it and then the Bat Mitzvah was held in a community hall at Six Mile. Actually, before the Bat Mitzvah we put it on top of the piano because we figured that was a sacred enough place for it. And then we brought it to the hall for the Bat Mitzvah.
RT:         How did it go back then?
BC:         We drove it back.
RT:         Right after?
BC:         Not right after. It stayed there for a couple days. And I’m not sure if it went back with Yitzchak or if we drove it back.
RT:         Did all the family come in, fly in?
BC:         Yeah, lots of them did. Actually most of the relatives on my mom’s side, the Jewish side, they didn’t make it because we’re not particularly close with them. Because our connection was my mother’s parents and they passed away when I was nine so those connections are kind of fading. They obviously invited them but many of them weren’t able to make it. But my mom’s sisters and brother came with their families. And my dad’s mother and father came and that was—they’re Christian, not practicing Christian necessarily but they grew up Christian and brought my father up Christian so that was a new thing for them and they were very excited to come.
RT:         They were proud of you?
BC:         Yeah.
RT:         Were there lots of people from the community?
BC:         Yep, we invited everyone in the community, and lots of them made it, and then all the people in my life when I grew up were invited as well.
RT:          Seems like it was a wonderful celebration. Was there anything after? A
   lunch? Or party?
 
BC:         We had a party afterwards. So we had a caterer and lots of food. Everyone came to both events. And then a band—good friend of ours has a kind of blues/jazz/rock band—they came and played. It was all very exciting [laughs] and then we did some of the traditional dances too [the hora]. I got raised up on a chair and everyone went ‘die di die di die’ and we danced around. And my mother and father got lifted up on a chair, and some family members.

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JG: Right. I don’t want to pass over that. What is a Chevra Kadisha and who is involved in the procedures?
 
BO: Okay, Chevra Kadisha is, if you will, a burial society. They’d made up of, it’s made up of people, presumably, who are observant Jews. These people prepare the body for burial, and these people on a rotating basis, sit with the body until such time as the funeral takes place. These are very dedicated people, it’s something that not everybody would like to do. We have a women’s Chevra Kadisha and a men’s Chevra Kadisha. Of course it’s obvious that one looks after women and the other looks after men. It’s been pretty much the same people for several years. Every once in a while we get a new member joining. It’s a type of position that you can’t just go out and hire somebody to do. It’s something that somebody does because they have a special feeling for the person who is being buried.
 
JG:          Now, can anyone - does it serve anyone in the community or is it just for members of Schara Tzedeck?
 
BO:        Serves everybody in the community. It’s the only Chevra Kadisha in Vancouver, anyway. I was going to say all of British Columbia because I don’t think there’s an official Chevra Kadisha anywhere else including Victoria, to the best of my knowledge. But anyway it serves all of British - all of Vancouver and the outlying areas and it serves all of the synagogues, certainly not just for Schara Tzedeck.
 
JG:          Okay and if someone is not affiliated with a synagogue and you know that he or she has died and they’re Jewish…
 
BO:        They still get looked after. We even look after bodies that have to be shipped elsewhere. The body is prepared and put in a casket and sent where ever they have to be sent. We’ve sent some to Israel, to the prairies, to Montreal, still looked after by the Chevra Kadisha.

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