JHSBC Oral History Collection
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.
ID: And were these the years that you went to Camp Hatikvah? Were you one of the first campers at Camp Hatikvah or…
MD: This was, I’m just trying to remember the year, this would be probably about the same time, yes, would be about the same time, and this was a totally new experience for me because this was the first time that I was to be exposed to anything that had any kind of Zionist or religious overtones. And it was a, sponsored by the Zionist Organization. And the camp was located at Crescent Beach. And we went there by train and I remember getting off…Camp Hatikvah, this was the first Camp Hatikvah…
ID: Was it the Zionist Organization or the Council, National Council of Jewish
MD: Oh, maybe it was the Council, could have been. But it was Zionisitically oriented, same with the songs and the whole concept was.
ID: And who was the camp director, do you remember who it was?
MD: One year Morrie Rothstein was camp director. This may have been the second year I went. I think there was another, there was a husband and wife, the first year I went there there was a husband and wife from Israel who were camp directors...they shared the directing of the camp. And I thought it very strange because this was the first time that I was ever learned to sing in Hebrew. And I remember I really wanted to go home…the first few days because I felt so strange.
ID: Why did you feel strange?
MD: Because I, there were a lot of other children who were there who I guess knew the Hebrew songs, there was another, Young Judaea, who was existing, coexisting with AZA, not very strong, coexisted with AZA. So I actually this was the first exposure to a lot of other children, other people that ordinarily wouldn’t have associated with.
MD: But as it turned, we arrived in the camp, there was a whole, there was a pile of straw or hay and some, and we had to stuff some sheets, and that was our mattresses. And things were very, very primitive.
ID: Did you sleep in tents?
MD: We didn’t sleep in tents but they were wooden huts with outdoor plumbing. But after the second day it turned out to be a beautiful experience.
ID: So then in your teen years you were involved in AZA I think.
MD: That’s right.
ID: Tell me a little bit about AZA. Where did you have your meetings?
MD: The, all of a sudden there just seemed to be a sudden appearance of a large number of young Jewish people my age, young kids. And the AZA seemed to be a focal point where everybody met and were able to get together and became very strong. And we used to meet at the Jewish Community Centre. We had taken over…Chapter 119. It was, by the time we got to 14 or 15 years of age the previous member of the 119 were all gone. They all went in the war. And so there were only a few left. And there was just, like a just a sudden surge of new blood that became available in the community, this youth. And the movement was so successful that within about two or three years another chapter was formed called Totem AZA. So there’s 119 and Totem.
ID: And what about the girls? Same thing?
MD: And same thing, the girls obviously whether boys or girls, and the BBGs [B’nai B’rith Girls] became very…successful as well.
ID: Did you have to pay rent in the centre for your meetings or how did they work?
MD: I’m not sure. We had the basement and I don’t think so. I’m not sure whether the B’nai B’rith sponsored it and paid rent. Whatever it was it must have been nominal.
ID: How often would you meet?
MD: We would meet once a week.
ID: Once a week.
MD: Yep, once a week.
MD: On Sunday night. And we would, we planned some very successful programs but one of the highlights of my life in AZA, of course I eventually became an Aleph Godol, president of my chapter, and prior to that I think I was Aleph Mazkir, that’s secretary. And a good friend of mine Gordie Katznelson was Aleph Godol during that year. And Gordie Katznelson and I were at school since Grade 4, when I was on 16th Avenue went to Cecil Rhodes School with him and knew him since that time. Anyhow, we put on a regional convention and this would have been about 1945, ’46. And it was an unbelievable convention. Very successful. People that came Seattle, there were at least two chapters in Seattle, there was at least two chapters of AZA in Portland, and there was a smaller chapter from Spokane.
SB: I was married in the year nineteen hundred and twenty-four. There wasn’t too many Jewish people in the city, but what there was usually concentrated at the Schara Tzedeck shul at the corner of Heatley and Pender Street. That was the centre of all social affairs and that was, a few years afterwards, the community centre was built on Oak Street. And that place then was the place where all the Jewish people had their social affairs. But the shul on Pender Street and Dunlevy was the only one in Vancouver at the time where on special Jewish holidays the people came to daven and hold prayers and meet others. A few years after I arrived they built another shul in the area now…
AK: Where the present Schara Tzedeck is?
SB: Yes, yes, you know where it is?
AK: At Oak and 16th.
SB: Oak and 16th. And then they built the other shul, Beth Israel, and they had a few different rabbis since that shul has been built. During those years, from 1924, many Jewish people came to Vancouver from all parts of Canada. At the first shul at Pender and Dunlevy the number of Jewish people living in Vancouver was very limited, but as the years went by and the people living here told their friends how beautiful the climate was and so on, by the year 1930 there was about 10,000 Jewish people in the city of Vancouver. People of very Orthodox and others progressive but they all came to the same shul. Later on a more progressive school opened up on Broadway. It was called the Peretz School. They done away with a lot of Orthodox principles, it was quite modern, so parents sent their children to the Peretz School where they were taught Jewish and Hebrew, and not many of the Orthodox things that the…learnt years ago. Most of the activities at that time was carried on at the Schara Tzedeck synagogue, social affairs and so on ‘til eight or ten years later the first community centre was built on Oak Street near Broadway. That was a gathering place for all social affairs. But on special holidays the very sacred ones and so on, all the Jewish people in the city of Vancouver until the community centre was built, met at the Schara Tzedeck at the corner of Heatley and Pender.
AK: You’ve come to settle in Vancouver. Why did you pick this beautiful city?
SB: I did because I was discharged from the army, and in Winnipeg, Manitoba, there was considerable labour troubles that made world news, there was no work, and I got to Vancouver the best way I could, walking, and riding these freight cars and so on. When I got to Vancouver things were very bad here too. It was in 1921.
AK: Did you know anyone in the city?
SB: No, no. I had a few dollars in my pocket tied up, money was very scarce at the time, and the large trams ran to the American border, which cost a dollar and a half one way. Sumas was the area where the buses stopped, that was just about 200 feet across to the American side. I took the bus, got to Sumas, went through the customs, they asked me many questions and so on, but they passed me. Then I worked my way to Los Angeles; it was getting on to the year 1922. In Los Angeles they had a big delivery barn where they rented horse and wagons for $1.75 a day, and these wagons had sides on them where you went out to the packing house and for one dollar they poured, they filled it up with oranges, oranges of different sizes that were ungraded for their shipping. For one dollar we loaded up this wagon full of oranges and we went to Fifth Avenue in Los Angeles, parked on a side street where we sold three dozen oranges for twenty-five cents. The entire wagon load of oranges only cost a dollar and we were glad to get rid of them. Tourists would come to California, pass by on Fifth Avenue and in three or four hours we sold these oranges, and I was at that game for about a year and a half, saved enough money and came back to Vancouver, bought myself a small truck and got myself a route for vegetables. In 1924 I got married. Rabbi Pastinsky at that time performed the ceremony of marriage.
[Tape cuts out]
SB: But the eyes were getting bad and I hired a Japanese that worked for me for a few years, driving my truck for me. The time came when you had to go through a test and I couldn’t pass and I had to have somebody drive my truck. After that my eyes got so bad that I opened up this store on Powell Street, in 1946, for the same type of business. With good fortune, the first two days I was there I didn’t have too much of a stock but a crowd of people came because I used to sell the off the truck and the same people came and told their friends, and from 1948 ‘til 1955 we’d serve about 100,000 people a year in the store.
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.
BS: Now Vivian, I’ll turn to you. Did you go to secular school or religious school?
VG: I went to Talmud Torah, the day school, from kindergarten to graduation I went to Talmud Torah.
BS: And what memories do you have of those days of going to school?
VG: I didn’t love school in general but I actually did...my favourite teacher was Mrs. Kron, I loved her and what was really interesting is that my older daughter also had Mrs. Kron, both my daughters went to Talmud Torah and Ariel had Mrs. Kron and Mrs. Kron would regularly call her Aviva which is my name, well she looks like me and acts a lot like me and Mrs. Kron kept saying, “Well it’s like having you back in my class again.” She was lovely, I really enjoyed her and she was of course incredibly Zionist, all of our projects were doing the map of Israel and knowing all the cities in Israel, and all the customs of Israel, that I enjoyed tremendously so it was the only part of school that I really liked. And I remember we had to go until four o’clock and we would be sitting and looking out the window at all the public school kids getting out at three o’clock and marching away but it’s better I guess than having to go to afternoon school which was worse, we only had the one extra hour.
BS: Were you able to read Hebrew?
VG: Yes, all of our Hebrew teachers except for Mrs. Kron were Israeli so we actually learned Hebrew very well, I’m trying to remember the name of this really lovely young woman... maybe Mrs. Klausner, she was married to a Canadian, to a Vancouver boy, but she was Israeli and she taught us really excellent, I find languages pretty easy so when I graduated I could speak Hebrew really well and with a very Israeli accent which was very convenient.
BS: Reva, early education – did you go to a Talmud Torah or what kind of school did you?
RH: Well I went to Talmud Torah but it was before the days that Talmud Torah was a day school and when I grew up I went to the Talmud Torah for kindergarten and then I started in the public school for Grade 1 and I think when I was in about Grade 3 they opened the Talmud Torah day school but I was already at Grade 3 and they only started at Grade 1 and then they kept adding a year later but I was always two years ahead of them. So I went to the evening school, so I went to elementary school, public school Grade 1 and then I started at Talmud Torah which was four afternoons a week after school, which I hated, and I went until about Grade 7 all the way through and I remember I hated it every minute. But I definitely did get a good grounding in Hebrew, I learned the basic fundamentals of Hebrew and when I went to Israel after high school I very, very quickly started speaking and the foundation that I had received in Talmud Torah served me in good stead and it really all kind of came together. And the negative attitude that I had about going to school all those years was very much transformed when I was living in Israel and it became a living language instead of a torture to go to school.
ID: You really had your own meat, and you probably had a garden…
ED: Oh yes. We were very, very comfortable there because we did not, we didn’t want of anything until the revolution.
ID: And then what happened?
ED: During the revolution we had, we couldn’t, didn’t have bread to eat, we didn’t have anything. And I remember it like I can see it now, that a gypsy came along and she says, “I’ll tell you your fortune.” She says, “Where’s your mother?” And my mother was sick. And we were living in Schwartzman’s grandmother’s place across the street. Ralph Schwartzman’s grandmother’s place.
ID: Ralph Schwartzman who lives here?
ID: His grandmother?
ED: Yes. And the woman said, “If you give me a piece of bread,” she says, “I’ll tell you your fortune.” So I took her into my mother and she told my mother the fortune, exactly what was going to happen. And my mother says, “Oh,” she says, “It’ll never happen,” you know. But she told my mother we were going to leave, we were going to cross the ocean and she says the dark men are going to look after us. So my mother says, “Oi, I’m sick, I’ll never live long enough for that.” So she says, “Yes, you will live but your husband will only live a year and a half after he crosses the ocean.”
ID: And is that what happened?
ED: Yes, that’s why I will never go to a fortune teller. [As] I remember myself, I will never go to one...
Interviewee: Segall, Ben & Anna
BS: We were in Princeton for approximately 10 years. From April of 1964 to February of 1974. July of 1974…or April of 1974 would have been 10 years exactly. And according to what we understand from the people that we’ve talked to—and I’ve inquired extensively—we apparently were the first Jewish merchants to ever do business in uh, Princeton for that length of time…
AS: Or even in the Similkameen Valley.
BS: Yes, or even in the Similkameen Valley at that time.
CL: And what goods did you carry?
BS: Well, we carried mostly men’s work clothes because of the mining and the lumbering and of course all the activities that go a long with that. And then my wife had a ladies’ department, [and] she carried a very nice stock. And we also had children’s. And we went in very big for shoes because miners wear out a lot of shoes and so…
AS: And also cowboy boots (laughs).
BS: And also cowboy boots because it’s partially a ranching country as well as mining, lumbering, and tourism. Tourism… there are people in Princeton, it’s amazing, from all over the world.