JHSBC Oral History Collection
CP: Harry, at one time you told me that your sister Chava’s husband, Abrasha Wosk, was instrumental in starting the first Jewish burial chapel. Tell me about that would you?
CP: He had something to do with it didn’t he?
HN: No, my brother-in-law, Abrasha Wosk was the first one to buy an old store on Broadway East to make a Jewish chapel. Before that we had to…depend on the Christian chapel at 11th and Granville.
CP: Oh yes.
HN: I forgot the name of it. We had a lot of difficulties and sometimes we couldn’t get the chapel in Vancouver, and we had to go to Westminster to perform, to get our services.
CP: Oh, I remember that, my aunt was buried from Roselawn, I think it was, in New Westminster. So?
HN: So, due to that, so he went to bought the building on Broadway and we used it for some time until a chance came. A Christian chapel was available on Broadway, which was not to be sold, they wouldn’t sell it to a Christian.
CP: This was Broadway and Alma, was it?
HN: Broadway and Alma. So, Abrasha bought it at a bargain price at $25,000. He paid his own deposit on it and then he called on the community to complete the deal.
CP: He took it upon himself to buy it knowing that there was a need for it and hoping that the community would...
HN: Well, the chapel was worth at least $100,000.
CP: Really, yeah.
HN: Beautiful chapel. He could have made a profit, he was offered a profit but he refused it. He says he’s working for the community and that was his contribution.
CL: What do you remember about the early days on the farm?
AS: I remember visiting, having people come to the house, you know neighbours they’d walk. Saturdays, the fun we’d have was just going to visit neighbours. I remember I didn’t get to start school until about eight years old. And I had to walk three miles. Used to milk a cow before I went to school. And walked three miles with my brother Ben and Fannie and before I got there I was pretty well worn out, they had to hang on to my arms to help me along to get there.
CL: Did you…What happened in the winter with the snow and everything?
AS: They didn’t have school in the winter. They didn’t have school. I know when the boys went to school, they had to herd cattle. And one day one would go to school and the next day another one would go to school. There were no [fences] then.
CL: What do you remember of the school? What did the school look like?
AS: Well, I know we were the only Jewish children, I think. Going to school the gentile child used to be curious about us. They liked to look in our lunch boxes. Like Pesach we would have maybe different food and they used to sort of, you know, kind of make a little fun of us.
LL: We have not mentioned so far what happened when we had the first bris—or the circumcision of a Jewish boy—in Trail. And it happened to be in Rossland. The hospital there was run by the Catholic sisters, a most splendid, wonderful group. I don’t know of any group that went out of their way so much to see that this bris was conducted the way it should be conducted. We had to bring the rabbi from Spokane to perform it but the strange thing was that the entire medical staff of the hospital came in to watch the job being done. We had a big party, same thing, we had a kiddush—the blessing—after it. And the staff at the hospital, you would think that they were almost Jewish in their feeling about this traditional rite which takes place in our Jewish life.
CL: Your dad, what was his name?
BA: Phil Adelberg.
CL: Phil Adelberg. And he homesteaded in the Peace River. Peace River in BC? Whereabouts?
BA: The BC side, six miles from Dawson Creek going west or six miles east of
CL: When would he have gone there?
BA: Well we left Calgary in the winter of 1913 when I was a child. And we got as far as Athabasca Landing which used to be called Smith Landing and we stayed over the summer waiting for the freeze-up as there was no roads to go into the North Country. The freeze-up came in the fall of 1914 and we went up over the Athabasca River into Lesser Slave and Lesser Bear Lake or what was commonly known at that time as Dundreggan Hill which is a historical route into the North Country. And took up a homestead about six miles west of Dawson Creek or so many miles, I can’t remember south of Pouce Coupe.
CL: What was the instigation for him to go homesteading?
BA: Well, originally my father came from South Africa where he had done some trekking and farming.
CL: I see.
BA: And came to Canada. And my mother’s family were homesteading near Cochrane, Alberta, before the turn of the century like, in the 1890s.
CL: What were your mother’s family [called]?
BA: [Richevskys], we have one living aunt here still. And when my grandfather got killed as a very young man, she [Bernie’s grandmother] moved into Calgary and with her four daughters and opened the only kosher restaurant and delicatessen west of Winnipeg I presume […] Father came out in 19—after the Boer War, he was in the Boer War so he came out about 1903. And for, by which time my mother had moved from the farm back into Calgary with her sisters. And they were married and at that time my father, he was a builder, an engineer and he built streets and streets of houses in the city of Calgary up until 1913 the city went into bankruptcy which, he managed to hang on to enough money when he found 12 Irish Catholic families that came over from Ireland and they were interested in going to the North Country. So we developed this wagon train which you have a picture…
CF: In later years, when I guess I was a teenager or just before we used to go Sundays to the beaches up at Parksville or Qualicum and Mother used to get up around six or seven in the morning and cook and bake like you wouldn’t believe. She would cook a roast, a beef roast, she would usually make chopped herring and eggs or chopped sardines and eggs, and she would inevitably make a pie, probably a blackberry pie. And she always had trouble with the blackberries running over into the inside of the stove. And it was, in those days, you know, no self-cleaning ovens, etcetera, and not even any Easy-Off. So it was a real problem. And she would talk to people and get various ideas and one of the things, one idea was to get straw, do you know that? And you would cut them maybe in half and put them in so the juice so the blackberries would go up and stay in the straw rather than run over on to the oven floor.
RT: This was your picnic fare?
CF: Yeah, I mean that was, but she used to get up so early in the morning and this was after working five, six days a week. And she often times, you know, did her own housework. And she did not have an automatic washing machine for many, many, many years. She had a wringer washer.
RT: And hung outside?
CF: Sometimes it would be hung outside, yeah.
Interviewer: Irene Dodek & Cyril E. Leonoff
ID: At the time that you were going to Hebrew school where did most of the Jewish people live? Did they live around the Heatley Street synagogue or were they already living the West End?
MS: No, very few Jews lived in the West End and I’ll tell you about them in a moment. The concentration of Jews—I suppose there were 200, or 250, or maybe even 300 families—were in the East End. That’s in the Georgia, Pender, Keefer, Heatley, Campbell Avenue.
ID: Where Chinatown now is, is it Chinatown or Gastown?
MS: Yes, but east of Chinatown extending to what we know as Commercial Drive area.
ID: Yes, Strathcona School that’s where…
MS: That’s right, Strathcona School which was the centre of the intercultural, multicultural, the melting pot. There was also another very large, a substantial school called the Central School which is the site now of the trade school on Pender Street between Homer and Richards.
ID: The vocational school?
MS: That’s right. That was Central School and that was a, with a mixture, a very large Chinese school population, a few East Indian, a few Japanese, a few Jews. But in the West End there resided very few Jewish families. And I must mention that as a kid I got to know the Freeman family and later I married their cousin, Mildred [Rosa] Freeman. The Zlotnicks, Sid and Hal lived in the West End. Mitchell Snider whom I mentioned earlier. The [Koshevoys] who I mentioned earlier. Other than that I don’t remember people living in the West End.
ID: This was in 19—what?
MS: From the period of 1925 to the period of 1937. [Inaudible].
ID: Mort’s [Morton Dodek, Irene’s husband] father came in ’34 and through the West End. They lived in the West End. And there was Silverberg, did you know that name at all
MS: Sure. George, Silberberg. Not Silver, Silber.
ID: I thought it was Silverberg but I may be wrong. George anyhow, it’s George.
MS: Yeah, George became a furrier and a neighbour of mine in business. His business was located close to mine. There were the Lessers were there. Family by the name of Blooms. Holts lived for short while. Leon Holt, who’s father had a fur store on Granville Street, lived for a short while. And there were a number of business people who had businesses on Granville Street but didn’t live in the West End to the best of my knowledge.
ID: Where did the Jewish people mostly live?
MS: They moved from the Georgia Street area which was the immigrant area to the Mount View Pleasant…Mount Pleasant area. Main and Hastings. That was a sort of a stepping stone…
ID: Just a minute, Main and Hastings is not Mount Pleasant.
MS: Excuse me.
ID: Main and…
MS: Broadway. I’m sorry. That area there, there were a lot of Jewish families including Chaim Leib Freedman who was possibly one of the stalwarts of the community. And his son is, he had a number of children, but the best known of them is Myer Freedman who was the originator if you will and the first president of the Jewish Historical Society lived in that area. And at that time, prior to, or just about at the same time as the Jewish Community Centre was being built, the first Jewish Community Centre…
ID: On 11th Avenue.
MS: On 11th and Oak Street. The building was, the cornerstone was laid in 1925 and the building was completed in 1928. And if I recall my history Shmarya Levin laid the cornerstone, I believe. And there are pictures of pioneer families, J.P. Jaffe, Rothstein, etcetera. You know even more or as much as I do about that time. And that was the impetus, Jews then began to live from 4th Avenue right up to 25th Avenue in the corridor, bordering the corridor of, Oak Street corridor.
NR: Where were you living, what place was it?
DG: We were living in Kerrisdale, when I, just before I was born family moved there. I believe they were down on 13th Avenue, around 13th and Oak, I never, I don’t the address, I don’t know where the house was but before I was born we moved up into Kerrisdale on Marguerite Street, 45th and Marguerite. There were a handful of Jewish families in the area at that time. And when I say a handful, really just a handful. There was the, let’s see, who were our neighbours…There was the Diamond family but, his name will come to me, he died such a long time ago. His wife was Bessie Diamond. And they had, their company was National Spice. He packaged spices. And gave jobs to all the kids out of school and to a lot of the, you know, newcomers to town. They had two kids, Marsha lives in Toronto now, I can’t remember her married name but she’s an actress and Allan lives in Los Angeles. That was one family. There was the Brotman family, their daughter Tobi, Tobi Lenett still active in the Jewish community here. There was the [Marlov] family, their daughter, I can’t remember…See a lot of these I can’t remember a lot of the names. But there’s also, there’s Charlie Korsch, who in the early days, he was a manufacturer. I believe he made hats and then he went into real estate, his two sons Len and Stan are still in Vancouver, very prominent in the Jewish community.
So this was, and there was the Beck family, Ralph Beck. I think he was in the automotive industry, died young. Their three kids no longer live here so there’s no vestige of that family here, yet one of the sons Stan Beck, I believe he, and I think Howard too, they went into law and they became professors, prominent professors at Eastern universities. There was Sam Albert, Sam and Ida Albert. I believe he was in wholesale jewellery and their family isn’t here anymore. So there were, there was a big group that, and these were the ones that started the Congregation Beth Israel.
NR: So these were all the...Okay, this was Congregation Beth Israel, these weren’t people living up around Kerrisdale?
DG: This was the Ker…Yeah.
NR: These were the Kerrisdale…
DG: These were the, yeah, these were the Jewish families that lived in the Kerrisdale area. There was the Chess family, there were I think two brothers. And I believe the [Zion] family. So there were quite a few…and the Browns. There were quite a few. In our growing up.
NR: And you went to which school?
DG: I went to Magee. Went to Maple Grove for my elementary. Then at that time Point Grey was a junior high so went there for seven, eight, and nine. And then went to Magee for, to complete high school.
NR: And was it difficult being such a small number of Jews, was there ever any issue?
DG: I never found it difficult. I never found it difficult at all.
LL: My family was very assimilated. They were very Jewish in their own way but many, many Austrians and German Jewish families were very assimilated. And the only holidays that we really celebrated was Yom Kippur. My mother said it was the best holiday because she didn’t have to cook. And we, we fasted from, actually I don’t know if we, I don’t know whether my brother and I fasted, I can’t remember when I fasted the first time. But my mother didn’t cook and that was a big holiday that she didn’t have to cook. And Rosh Hashanah we had a family meal and that, we never went to the synagogue. I think the first time I went to the synagogue was when I was over 13 or 14 when I joined Habonim. And maybe once I went to a Bar Mitzvah. My parents did have Jewish friends who were also non-synagogue goers but a couple of them had younger children that had—and they came after the war, so before the war was finished, you know, these people came probably in the ‘50s. I went to a Bar Mitzvah anyways when I was in the early ‘50s and I think that was the first I hit a synagogue. My brother did not have a Bar Mitzvah. We did have Hanukah. We, it was very, very small at the time like you got…And the tradition in our family was not getting money it was getting a little present. And we lit the candles for the eight nights. And then Pesach, Passover, we had a family that invited us every year for Passover and we went to the same two families. One for the first night, and one for the second night of Passover every year for many years. And, and that was a typical, regular Passover. This family also always brought in new refugee people that they had collected along the way and they were also at the Passover.
MT: I grew up on St. George Street which is east of Main just off Kingsway and Broadway. And that was, at that time the Jewish neighbourhood. And we went to Florence Nightingale [School]. My mother, and there were friends of mine who did get, guys got beaten up for being a Jew.
LR: Oh my God.
MT: That never happened to me because across the street was a gang sort, of a group of brothers, I think there were three or four brothers. And the mother and my mother were good friends. So the word came down from the mother that I wasn’t to be touched. And I had this protection which I didn’t know until years later. So, the quote gangs that were there—certainly not like the gangs now, there was no knives.
LR: [Much more hoodlums].
MT: That’s right. It was more physical than it was dangerous. Didn’t touch me, I had the protection of this gang simply because our mothers said don’t do it and they listened. And…
LR: Which is scary in itself that she had to tell them who to hit and who not to hit.
MT: Well, I don’t know, as I said, I was protected, yet my girlfriend who lived four or five blocks away from me wasn’t. She, she was beaten up a couple of times and she was name-called and all the rest. Never happened to me. I didn’t have it.
LR: Wow. What about in school, I mean was it a very clear, distinct like…what I’m getting at is, was growing up as a Jewish kid very different than growing up as a gentile kid and I know the answer is yes obviously but what I mean is in the actual school environment.
MT: No, not really.
LR: Did you sense that, you know, in the classroom or anything like that…
MT: No, nah uh, I didn’t. I don’t know if others did but I didn’t. Any of this happened after school, weekends, because in that area from Broadway ‘til about 25th, from Main east was Jewish. Well, Jewish type. And so it was a real conglomeration of people at the time. So if you were going to have any kind of anti-Semitism it would be after school and weekends when you were at a store, or roaming around with a friend, or walking, or whatever. When you were on your own rather than the comfort of the school, the protection of the school itself.
LR: And the reason they’d know probably is just because the community was so small that they knew they could point every finger they had at who was a Jew.
MT: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. No question.
LR: And what were the teachers, what was it like being a Jewish kid in a public school, they were totally…
MT: They were fine. Didn’t bother me at all. You know if were a smart kid you got treated differently, if you weren’t you clogged along. No, I don’t remember any kind of problems at all.
LR: And what about, like I’m sure there were, whatever denomination, Jew, non-Jew, whatever you are, I’m sure there were probably parts of the city that were like, you know, the hot spots for teenagers to go and hang out. Probably like the movies or coffee shops or…
MT: 16th and Oak.
LR: 16th and Oak.
MT: There used to be a restaurant called Pal’s and that was the hang out for all King Ed. All King Ed, didn’t matter, if you wanted to be seen, if you wanted to meet somebody it was there.
LR: Yeah, so like the diner.
MT: The diner, that’s right. And there were a couple places on Kingsway that had hamburger joints that also had it. Then of course there were drive-ins too, in those days.
LR: Yeah, and going into these cafes and into these diner and then probably the drive in movies was it again, was it a very separate like social environment, from the Jewish kids and the secular kids?
MT: No, no, no, it wasn’t big enough. You know, the city isn’t big enough to have any kind of exclusion. Whereas in Montreal there the Jewish area.
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.