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Chapter 23

Although my hosts were very gracious and helpful, I wanted to become independent as quickly as possible. The following day I began searching for a job and for a room to rent. In the course of two days, I managed to get in touch with all the major Jewish schools in Montreal, requesting that they call me as a substitute teacher and that I was available for a part-time job in a Jewish afternoon school. The prospect of getting some work as a teacher in the remaining two and a half months of the school year were not good, but when I approached some Jewish summer camps for children, I met with a positive response.

Before leaving for Canada I visited a certain Mr. Cheifetz, a Montreal Jew, who now lived permanently in Avichayil, a moshav on the outskirts of Natanya. Mr. Cheifetz, who was very active in the Jewish community of Montreal prior to making Aliyah, gave me the names of the principals of the Jewish schools, as well as of some teachers. He especially recommended that I should see Mr. David August, who was about four years older than me, taught at the Folkshule, but was also the head counsellor of Unzer camp, a Jewish camp associated with the Labour Zionist movement. David spent a few years in Israel, but for some reason unknown to me decided to return back to Montreal. I was hired to work as a counselor in the camp for two months, in charge of fourteen six-year old children. I was also offered work for two weeks prior to camp opening and one week after closing. It involved washing and waxing the floors of the cabins, dusting the mattresses, setting up the beds, cleaning the windows and the bathrooms, the dining room, the recreation hall, and the playgrounds and preparing all the equipment. After camp closing, everything had to be stored away for the winter. This job was very important to me, because it meant that I would have food and board during the three months of the summer and earn enough money to pay for my fees and my books for the first year. If I proved myself as a good counselor, I would be able to do the same thing the next summer, eventually getting a better salary and more responsible jobs. I continued to work in Unzer Camp for six years, the last year as Head counselor.

I also succeeded in finding a place to live, on Darlington Street. A very nice old Jewish couple had a free room in their apartment, since their daughter just moved out of the house after her marriage. They charged me twenty five dollars a months and for an additional ten dollars per week, they also provided me with my main meal of the day. Within four days after my arrival to Canada I had my own place and an assured summer job.

I continued to search for a job prior to summer camp and found a job in a record player factory. It was a boring, low paying job. I had to affix a small metal net to an opening in the box into which the mechanism of the record player would be installed. The purpose of the net-covered opening was to provide ventilation for the moving parts inside the box, so as to prevent overheating. I worked from seven to four thirty, for nine hours, with half an hour for lunch. I earned fifty cents per hour (twenty two and a half dollars per week).

As luck would have it, at the Adath Israel Hebrew School on Ducharme and Davaar, a grade six teacher became very ill and had to be replaced immediately for the remaining two months of the school year. After only three days' work in the factory, I became a full-time teacher, at two and a half dollars per hour, for twenty-five hours a week. My weekly salary was now a respectable sixty-two and a half dollars. I opened up a bank account and began saving some money. I brought along from Israel all my science text books, so that during the next two months I spent many hours reviewing my high school work in math, physics and chemistry. I was also searching for a teaching job in an afternoon Hebrew school that would not interfere with my regular classes at McGill.

Towards the end of the school year, I found just the right job. Temple Emanuel, a Reform synagogue, whose members were very prominent in the Jewish community, offered me a job tailored to my needs twice a week between four and six in the afternoon and two hours on Saturday morning. Eventually I found a couple of private lessons as well, and my work, which consumed some eight hours a week, provided me with enough funds, some thirty five dollars per week, to enable me to support myself. In 1956-57 I needed some one hundred and twenty dollars per month to be able to support myself. I became a financially independent student, which made me feel very happy and very proud.

During my first two years as a student in Montreal, every Friday night I went for supper to one of my two relatives. Either to Arnold and Maza and their two lovely children, Victor and Lilian, with whom I often liked to play, or to the Rosenberg family. Emanuel Rosenberg was a cousin of my mother's. His wife Fanny was afflicted with Parkinson's disease and her condition was becoming progressively worse. Their son, Israel, was a student at the Law faculty of McGill. A good athlete, a member of the McGill football team and a fairly good piano player, especially of Jazz.

Emanuel and Fanka managed to escape the Nazis in Vienna and moved to Israel in 1938. Their son Israel was born shortly thereafter in Jerusalem where the Rosenbergs settled. During the War of Liberation they went through a lot of suffering, as did all the other residents of the besieged city and Fanka, who had close relatives in Canada, encouraged the family to emigrate to Montreal. Although Emanuel was a lawyer by profession, he could not practice law in Canada since his documents were not recognized in this country. He joined the firm of Matador Inc. whose main shareholder was Abraham Weintraub, Fanka's relative, as one out of four partners. He continued to make his living at Matador until his retirement in 1975 at the age of 75. By then, Fanka was long gone, having succumbed to her illness. Israel married shortly after completing his studies and eventually made Aliyah, settling in Haifa in a beautiful villa on Mount Carmel. He practices law in Israel. Emanuel spent the last years of his life, after retiring, in Israel, close to his son and family.

My first season in Unzer Camp was very successful. I was well liked by my campers, as well as by my co-workers. I enjoyed looking after the youngsters, taking good care of their hygiene, food and conduct. I carried out a rich variety of programs, so that the kids had fun combined with an unobtrusive learning process, in sports, in nature and in Jewish culture. Based on the generous tips I received in the middle of the season and at the end, I knew that the parents were well satisfied with the results. During my stay in camp I gave up my rented room to save money and when I returned to Montreal I rented another room on Fairmount Street on the corner of Park Avenue. David August introduced me to a young man named Bernard Herman, who lived with his mother and was interested in renting out a spare room. The location was convenient, because I could reach McGill by taking the streetcar for a short ride.

The area was considered a Jewish district. It was easy to find restaurants and bakeries selling Jewish food. It was also easy to find new friends. Some of the Jewish boys who attended McGill also resided in this area. I became very friendly with Pinhas Fiskus, who also studied engineering. It was Pinhas who introduced me to my future wife. Some years later when we were both married, we lived in Cote St. Luc, just a few blocks away from each other. Pirlhas, his wife Shalhevet and their children made Aliyah some twenty years ago and they settled in Rehovot. He still works for El-AI as an engineer. He does a lot of traveling in the course of his duties, as well as on vacation and he comes quite often to Montreal where we have a chance to see each other.

In my first year at Unzer Camp, during the two weeks of preparations prior to camp opening, my co-worker was Tashie Broder, a guy who was full of fun and certainly in no hurry to put in a hard days' work. We became very friendly and spent a lot of time discussing our past. He showed much interest in learning about my experiences in Russia, while I learned a great deal about Canada, the Jewish Community of Montreal and its Zionist movements. He was a member of a family devoted to the Labour Zionist movement. He was a student at the McGill Law faculty. Years later, when he was already an accredited lawyer and married to Chana, an English teacher at a Hebrew school, they bought a house in Cote St. Luc, on Leger Street, the street my family and I lived on. We were now good neighbours. Our daughters became friends. Tashie also undertook the task of representing the Hebrew Schools Teachers' Federation in their long and tedious negotiations for a first contract. I was the president of that federation and so I worked in close cooperation with Tashie for a long time. Chana was a member of the negotiating committee, so she was also devoted to our cause. All this happened at the end of the 1960s. Sometimes in the 1970s, Tashi and his family moved to Israel. They settled in a suburb of Tel-Aviv. Tashi works as a lawyer for the government, while Chana continues to teach.

Of all the friends that I managed to acquire during my student years, Max Kugler was the most important, the closest friend I had. There were several reasons for this closeness. Our fathers were friends and partners during the second decade of this century, in the old country. They owned extensive agricultural fields on which they cultivated sugar beets. The crops were sold to a nearby sugar mill. When my father decided to tackle other ventures, the partnership was dissolved, but the friendship lasted. At the time of my father's arrest in 1940 until about 1955 there was no contact between them, however, when my going to Canada became a certainty and my father found out that Joel Kugler was residing in Montreal, the friendship was renewed through correspondence.

Mr. Kugler, his wife and their only son Max lived in Duvernay, which in the mid-1950s was still an agricultural area. They owned a substantial amount of farm land which they used for grazing and for growing feed for their herd of cows. They had a modern, well-equipped barn, a silo, a large chicken coop and a machinery shed. They had to employ some labourers to work on the fields and to tend the animals. Since the Kuglers lived and worked on farms all their lives, they were quite used to hard work and long hours. From time to time, Max would invite me to visit him on the farm. It was about a two-hour ride by public transportation and I usually spent the night there. I enjoyed helping out, since I was not a stranger on farms either. I enjoyed the plentiful, simple and fresh food, the fresh air, the wide open space. It was almost like going on a one day holiday. Max was accepted as a student of the engineering faculty of McGill and a year later we saw each other almost every day.

Meanwhile, my parents were anxious to immigrate to Canada as well, and they felt that the Kuglers could offer them their best chance. Canada in the 1950s had a very restrictive immigration policy. One of the accepted reasons for granting immigrant status was to a farmer whose expertise was needed by a Canadian citizen. Kugler had the right conditions and connections to carry it out. Even though we started working on the project right away, it took two years for my parents to arrive in Canada. For the first year, the Kuglers did not invest too much effort, during the second year the effort was there but we had to overcome the bureaucratic delays.

For my second year at McGill, I had to move again, mainly because I was unwilling to maintain my room during the three months of my summer camp job. I found a room on Clark Street, almost on the corner of Mount Royal with the same conditions, twenty five dollars for the room per month, ten dollars per week for the main meal. The location was good. It was still in the heart of the Jewish district, the library was right around the corner. I could even walk to McGill if the weather was nice. J.I.A.S. was on Esplanade Avenue not far from the library. Since J.I.A.S. was specializing in helping new Jewish immigrants, I used to frequent their office in search of advice and help in my efforts to bring my parents to Canada.

The Herzl Clinic was also on the same street, so I could get some medical help for free (way before Medicare). My diligent studies, my work as a teacher and my concerns for my parents put me under a considerable amount of stress and I developed stomach trouble. After undergoing a series of tests, the doctor advised me that I was really physically fit, but that I had to learn to relax, to be calm and not to worry so much. Easier said than done. Unfortunately, I have had stomach troubles for the last thirty seven years. I had to undergo many tests from time to time, simply to ascertain that stress was the only cause of my malady. During most of these years I also had to observe various diets to help me ease my pains.

The family whose room I rented consisted of an older Jewish mother and her son who worked in a clothing factory as a cutter. The son was in his late thirties and although he earned a decent salary, remained a confirmed bachelor, causing untold sorrow to his mother who wanted to live to see some grandchildren. I did not see much of my landlady and her son, since I was very busy with my work.

My second year at McGill was more interesting than my first and I found it more satisfying. I often went for my lunches to Hillel, an organization helping Jewish students (similar to a fraternity). Sometimes I would eat my lunch at the McGill "Union" which was like a student club for the benefit of McGill students, located on Sherbrooke Street, right across from the McGill campus. In my third season at Unzer camp I received a letter from McGill University dated July 22, 1958 stating that I had been awarded a University scholarship for the 1958-59 session. Furthermore, the scholarship was renewable until graduation provided I maintained a sufficiently high standard in my university work.

On September 4, 1958 I received another letter from the Faculty of Engineering informing me that I could register in the third year of the Honours course in Engineering Physics, which I promptly did. Little did I know what I was undertaking. This was a very demanding course, which left me with hardly any free time.

In the summer of 1958 my parents finally arrived to Canada. We were again happily reunited, but there were now new and urgent concerns: the search for an apartment, for a job or a business, the need to learn a new language. My father, with his natural intelligence, began to pick up some English words here and there, but it was a long and difficult struggle for him to be able to communicate and be understood. One of his favourite stories demonstrating the difficulties he faced is related to his first day on the job in a general food store. The customer requested from my father, who was standing behind the counter: (very politely) "May I have a Christy, crusty loaf'?" My father was completely baffled. Had the customer mentioned the word "bread" he would have solved the riddle, but "Christy" which was the name of the bakery, "crusty loaf" that was "Oxford English" as he would say. The problem was finally solved when the customer was invited to point out the item he desired. My mother went about it in a more systematic way. She attended various courses offered to new immigrants in English and in French and she became quite proficient in both languages.

In the course of almost one year my father searched for a new occupation. He checked and tried the peddling business, he investigated the possibility of forming some business partnerships in many different fields. Finally he decided to concentrate on groceries, delicatessens, bakeries or some combination of all three. He would choose a likable target and literally stake it out by spending days outside the store and observing the flow of customers. Then he would ask permission to spend a few days on the inside, to learn about the profitability of the store and the type of clientele it catered to. By the time he bought himself a partnership with a Mr. Amsel, who was the owner of a variety food store, he had only four thousand dollars left from the original ten thousand which he saved up in Israel.

Immediately after my parents’ arrival, we rented an apartment on Barclay Street. The apartment was clean enough, but it had only one oil stove located in the corridor leading to the two bedrooms, the kitchen and the living room. If the doors to all these room were kept open, then the temperature inside was tolerable, but not very comfortable. The neighbours were sometimes quite obnoxious, noisy, and quarrelsome. The only good thing was the low rent.

My father and I decided, mainly with my prodding, that we need a car. We bought a 1951 Buick for five hundred dollars. It was not a good deal. The car required a lot of repairs and for the first half a year it spent a lot of time in the repair shop. I gave up my room and moved in with my parents. Although there were no conflicts between the three of us, there was a lot of tension and worry.

Even though I registered into the Honours Course of Engineering Physics and tried to pursue my studies in my normal manner, I felt that the pressure on me was mounting and my health problems were on the increase as well. In the summer of 1958, shortly after my parents arrived, I was introduced to Gina Perera, by my friend Pinhas Fiskus. Pinhas had a girlfriend named Lily, who was a good friend of Gina, and so Lily came along with Gina and Pinhas came along with me. Our first meeting took place in Fletcher's Field, a park bordering on Park Avenue, near Esplanade. Gina worked at J.I.A.S. and often spent her lunch hour in the park. Since Gina spoke Hebrew and was as enthusiastic about Israel as I was, it immediately created a bond of common interest. The rest came later, gradually in the course of the next year. Our friendship grew and we saw each other quite often until the beginning of my third year at McGill. By then the pressure mounted, my time for fun was very limited and I often had to resort to the telephone to keep in touch with Gina.

There was another problem. I was still living in Canada on a student visa, I was not a landed immigrant even though I had lived in Canada for some two and a half years. As soon as my parents arrived in Canada as landed immigrants, I applied for landed immigrant status as well. It took over half a year of bureaucratic hassle and a lot of help from J.I.A.S. until my application was finally approved.

The combination of my studies, my work, my father's search for a means to make a living, my struggle to gain landed immigrant status, all these factors caused my health to deteriorate to the extent that I had to change my lifestyle to avoid a nervous breakdown. Upon completing the first half of the third year at McGill, I decided to stop my studies. At first I regarded it as a temporary measure, I thought it would be possible for me to resume my studies at a later date, but events proved me wrong. I managed to acquire several part-time teaching jobs in the first half of 1959 and eventually a permanent teaching position at the Adath Israel day school and at the Beth El afternoon school for the school year of 1959-60.

My health improved and I became confident enough to propose marriage to Gina at Rosh Hashana time. Gina accepted and a date was set for Chanuka, at the end of 1959 when I would be off from work for over a week. We were now busily engaged in the preparations for the coming events. We rented an apartment in a duplex with a garage on McLynn Avenue not far from Barclay for $120.00 per month. We bought all the necessary furniture for the living room, kitchen and bedroom. We still have the large combination short wave radio with record player and outlets for tape recorder and extra speakers. We still use our original bedroom set (these words are written in June of 1994), as well as two chairs from our living room set.

The wedding took place on December 26, 1959, in a hall on Hutchison Street, owned and operated by Reverend Master. He also took care of all the legal formalities, and he officiated at the ceremony under the wedding canopy.

All the preparations for the wedding: the food and bar, the flowers the music and the invitations were handled by Gina's mother, Ela Perera, of blessed memory. It was a big financial drain on Ela's modest income, as well as a great physical effort to have everything set up beautifully to the complete satisfaction of the hosts and the over one hundred thirty guests. Although it was a modest affair, in comparison to the weddings of our daughters, it was very joyous, with lots of dancing and the abundant quantities of food served in a buffet style, and with much warmth and intimacy. The most emotional moment for me was the actual ceremony under the chupa. Later on, some of those emotions erupted forth in my dancing of the Russian kozachok. Gina's uncle, Micko Kalmich, of blessed memory, was our official photographer. Unfortunately, something went wrong with the film camera and the film was not successful. We had to take our wedding pictures a week later, and to supplement them with some photos taken by the guests.

When I compare today's exaggerated wealth poured into a wedding to the simplicity of our wedding, I feel a complete sense of satisfaction. There was a genuine spirit of heartfelt joy, and intimate camaraderie, a lack of pretense. There was no mention of competition, so prevalent in our opulent affairs of today, when every simcha tries to outdo the preceding one.

I looked forward to our marriage as a new chapter in our lives with love and understanding, strong enough to overcome not only the normal tribulations which every young couple encounters, but also as a way to eradicate the bitterness with which our lives were so often permeated until then. It was time to forget the past, enjoy the present and be full of hope for the future.

My parents and I decided that as soon as I married they would move out of their Barclay apartment to a location closer to their store. The store was located on Decarie the south of the Norgate Shopping Center. They found a fairly good apartment just two blocks away, with central heating, fully equipped, with the usual modern conveniences. My parents were happy with the income from the store, but the long hours and seven-day weeks eventually forced my father to search for a new business. My wife and I were quite happy in our new apartment and we were looking forward to new acquisitions. We both wanted at least two children as soon as possible. A new car was badly needed, the old Buick was hardly alive. A washing machine would be next and of course the purchase of our own home....

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