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Chapter 24

Our first most joyous event, was the birth of Tammy on December 17, 1960. From this point on, and for many years to come, I looked forward returning home from work. Nothing gave me greater pleasure than playing with my little girl, and eventually with both girls, looking after her needs, changing diapers, bathing her, rocking her to sleep, nursing her when she was sick, going for a walk with the carriage, eventually feeding her, watching her grow up, saying her first word which I think was "Aba," taking her first steps; all of these things were an endless source of enjoyment.

I was quite happy with my work as a teacher. My work combined four different elements: the day school, which required my presence in school between 8:30 A.M. till 3:20 P.M. The afternoon school, where I worked from 4 P.M. to 6 P.M., Monday to Thursday and from 9 A.M. to 1 P.M. on Sundays. The third element of my work was the private lessons; usually one hour between 6:30 and 7:30 P.M. and two hours on Sunday afternoon. Finally, there was my summer job in Unzer Camp. The most meaningful, the most time consuming and the most satisfying part of my job was my work in the day school.

As a rule, I developed a good relationship with my students (most of the time I taught grades 5 and 6, each grade for three hours per day). I treated my students as equals and with respect, but firmly insisting that they follow the rules. I was always available during recess or lunch time to give my time to those who wanted to talk to me concerning their work or any other problem that arose. My guiding principle was to teach my children in class how to learn, how to organize one's time to do the daily homework and especially before a test. If the children had behaviour or learning problems, I would call upon the parents to participate in solving those problems. Every class was given either a test every week in a different subject or a special project or to write a composition. Every day I devoted a certain amount of time answering the children's questions on matters which they encountered in their homework or in their preparations for a test and could not overcome by themselves. I also spent time helping the children in their games and taking them for outings, not necessarily for educational purposes, sometimes simply to have fun. On Fridays at the end of the school week I devoted twenty minutes to telling them about my adventures in Russia. The students considered this story time an important privilege and they were very careful not to lose it. They enjoyed my storytelling immensely and I had enough material in my inventory to last for the entire school year.

There were two more privileges which I bestowed upon my pupils as a special reward. On Fridays, when I was free to go directly home after work, I would offer a lift home in my car to two or three students, who would normally go home by public transportation. Another custom of mine was to invite the pupils to my home for a visit. Gina would prepare some food and I would entertain them with some games. From time to time the students would invite me to their home to participate in the celebration of a birthday party, but because of my busy work schedule I was usually unable to attend.

In general, the atmosphere in the classroom was cheerful (I often employed humour in my work), industrious, relaxed and friendly, but respectful and disciplined. The principal used to say that the most important celebration during every school year occurred on May 18, my birthday. The children would bring a large birthday cake and some soft drinks. The classroom was decorated with balloons and good wishes in Hebrew. Practically each child would bring me a gift (a tie, cufflinks, after-shave lotion, a book, etc.). Naturally I would have to reward them with some games and a story. Every year I put on a play for Chanuka or Purim. That too was a source of enjoyment for the children. Our relationship did not end on the last day of school. Every year there were some students whose parents decided to make Aliyah. Those students continued to communicate with me by mail for many years to come. The others I continued to see in school and follow their progress as they moved on through our high school and even later through University. I derived a great deal of satisfaction by managing every year to transform some so-called poor students into interested, hard working students, especially since I taught Hebrew subjects, which were sometimes regarded as secondary in importance.

While the children in the day school attended classes during normal school hours and the majority of them came from traditional Jewish homes which imparted some motivation for the study of Hebrew subjects, those children who attend the afternoon school had everything going against them. At 4 P.M. they were forced to sit in class for an extra two hours after attending a regular public school. They were bussed or transported by their parents from one school to the other without a proper rest period. They had no motivation to succeed. They saw no reason why they should have to study Hebrew, no relevance nor benefit resulting from such an effort. The most common statement made by the children was: "my parents are doing very well without knowing any Hebrew, so why should I have to study?" It was indeed a Herculean task to teach such children, to make it as relevant and as meaningful as possible. I taught grade 7 and 8, the graduating class, each of them for six hours per week.

With the Rabbi's co-operation and especially with the help of the Cantor, I took the children to the Synagogue as often as possible to learn about a service by performing it by themselves in a simplified way with a full explanation of every prayer, every custom and ceremony. I often concentrated on contemporary history of the Jewish people, requesting that they discuss the events that took place this century with their relatives and bring back to the class information which they learned from them to share with the rest of the class. I had one important advantage in my afternoon classes: the use of English, which made communications with the children easier. In the day school I used only Hebrew, but there were quite a few children in grade six who could converse freely in Hebrew. Sunday was the best day as far as their ability to absorb new information went, but not necessarily their willingness to do so. They were probably missing a trip to the ski hills or a hockey game or some funny cartoon on television. My success or failure to achieve meaningful results varied from day to day, from class to class, from year to year. All in all, it was about a fifty-fifty rate of success and failure. I could point with pride to many of my students who became prominent members of the Jewish community. I was particularly happy to see, in later years, some of my afternoon school students who became parents themselves and decided to sent their children to a Hebrew day school. When I frequent public places and one of my ex-students, who by now is a parent himself or herself, comes over to greet me and to have a little chat, because it is twenty or thirty odd years later, I usually have difficulty recognizing them and remembering their names, but I can tell almost immediately whether this ex-student attended the Adath Israel day school or the Beth El afternoon school, simply by the warmth of their voice.

My private lessons included a variety of people, some with a great deal of motivation and interest: the adults who desired to improve their knowledge of the Hebrew language; some of my students who completed high school, but wanted to continue their studies of the Hebrew language, literature and Bible. Then there were students who did not receive any Hebrew education at all and whose parents decided that some Hebrew education was in order. I had such students for about eight years in a row once, or twice a week, and they were usually very bright and willing and managed to acquire a solid foundation of knowledge. Because of the lack of motivation in the home, however, it did not become an integral part of their spiritual baggage.

The fourth element of my education occupation was my work in Unzer Camp. In the summer of 1962, I brought along my family to camp. Unzer Camp had a section which was inhabited by adults, who spent a few weeks of their summer vacation in camp. We were allotted a cabin which contained a bed for Gina and me. There was just enough room to place a crib for little Tammy. The room also contained a commode and a chair. The intention was to use the outdoors as much as possible and to use the cabin only for sleeping. Gina felt uncomfortable right from the beginning. It was difficult to keep herself and Tammy busy all day since the adult section of the camp was restricted in their activities so as not to interfere with the activities of the children's camp.

I was busy with three jobs. I was Drama Counsellor, that is, I had to put on a play every week (eight plays in all) with different age groups. I was in charge of the waiters, all high school kids, who needed supervision to prepare the dining room before, during and after the meals. I was also in charge of the CITs (counsellors-in-training), with whom I met twice a week to discuss problems which they encountered in handling the campers. About three weeks after camp started, Tammy became ill with an upset stomach. Gina felt very ill at ease in our cramped cabin, having to take care of a sick child. About a week later, Tammy became ill again. We quickly decided to return home where Tammy would be seen by her own doctor, instead of the camp doctor and where Gina would have an easier time taking care of her. We packed everything up into our car and we drove back to Montreal in the middle of the night. I then drove back to camp, so as to arrive before 6 A.M., the time I had to wake up the waiters to start their morning work. The following evening I went to bed very early.

Fortunately by now I had a car in good working condition. We purchased a standard shift Vauxhall in 1960. I was very proud of my first brand new car. In the summer of 1960 Gina and I took a trip to Cape Cod for our delayed honeymoon in our new car. We rented a room in a retired sea Captain's home in Falmouth and spent several very enjoyable weeks bathing in the sea, sightseeing on the Cape and attending some very good theatre performances. The memory of our first Cape Cod summer vacation had a lasting effect, so that in later years, the late sixties and early seventies, when we went camping with our children, we always ended up in Cape Cod for a week or two. Almost every vacation on Cape Cod was a pleasant one for the entire family.

On January 23, 1963, Dafna, our second daughter was born. Although we both hoped for a son, we very quickly accepted the fact that we were granted the privilege of having two lovely girls and we plunged wholeheartedly, and with a great deal of love and devotion, into the task of taking care of them. We spent as much time with them as possible and giving them a good continuous Jewish education from Nursery through University.

In 1964 I managed to fulfill the major part of our original plans following our marriage: the purchase of our own home. After four years of living in the rented lower duplex on McLynn Avenue, we moved to our new home in Cote St. Luc, on the corner of Leger and Guelph. It was indeed an important achievement, since everything we purchased so far was fully paid, except, of course, the house. It required a down payment of four thousand dollars and I had only two thousand. The owner agreed to accept the other two thousand one year later, interest free. 1964 was my last year of working in summer camp, by then as a Head Counsellor. That job contributed one thousand dollars. The other thousand dollars we managed to save up in the course of the next year. By 1965 the house was legally ours. There was, of course, a mortgage that would continue for another fifteen years, but it was easily manageable.

My association with Unzer Camp from 1956 to 1964 was mostly enjoyable, enriching my experience as an educator and very helpful financially, just when I needed it most. By eliminating my camp job I was able to spend my summer vacation with my family for a period of two months, which was very important to me and most enjoyable.

In the second half of the sixties I began to show a greater interest in the affairs of the Jewish Teachers' Federation (the Union), especially since teaching became the only source of my income. By 1969 I became the President of the Union and initiated a two-year period of very hard negotiations to achieve a first joint contract with all the Jewish school boards (there were five boards). Our goal was to achieve parity with the teachers under the Protestant School Board. The gap was so large that by the end of our negotiations (which I mentioned previously when telling you about our friends, the Broders) we could only eliminate the differences over the next three years of the life of the contract. There was a lot of hostility, bitterness, study sessions, working to rule and one day walk outs. It took a lot of diplomacy and skill to keep on negotiating for two years, sometimes till three in the morning (never affecting my ability to perform my job). The contract was signed in 1971. By the time I started my school year of 1972, there were several factors which forced me to seriously consider the possibility of resigning my teaching position.

In the sixties, Adath Israel, which until now was a very liberal Jewish school, had to amalgamate with the Young Israel school, which was a very religious school. Gradually the liberalism of the Adath Israel was overtaken by the religiosity of the Young Israel. By 1972 the Hebrew Academy, the new name given to the school, became a ''modem'' religious school. Most of the Rabbis in Montreal registered their children at the Hebrew Academy. I began to feel uncomfortable, I had to watch my behaviour in school and out of school so as not to betray the fact that I was really not an observant Jew. I suspect that some people were aware of the facts, but the results of my educational efforts in the classroom were significant enough to justify my being accepted as a teacher.

Then, there was the burn-out factor. After sixteen years of teaching forty eight hours per week (instead of the normal twenty-five) in addition to all the hours spent in preparation, in checking homework and tests, in speaking to parents and the work done for the Teachers' Federation (on a strictly non-remunerative, voluntary basis), all this with a great deal of energy and devotion, I reached a point that it became impossible to continue in the same manner. Either I slow down my pace or I change my profession. The third factor involved my health: my vocal cords became affected by all the talking I did, to the extent that I was often in pain and had difficulty talking. The doctor advised me to take special lessons to train the use of my vocal cords without straining them, as well as to reduce drastically the amount of talking. Factor number four provided me with an easy way out: the availability of another job.

My father was in the midst of a very serious negotiation, especially in the last quarter of 1972, to purchase in partnership with Mr. George Zuckerman, a quilting plant named "Wadding Converters" and a wadding plant called "Matador Inc". My father owned and operated two delicatessen stores, one after the other, in the course of the first three years of living in Canada. After selling the stores he managed to save up enough money to try something different: the toy business. He went into partnership with a Mr. Jaime Prutschi and they opened up a wholesale toy enterprise. By then our little girls began to appreciate the value of toys, and my father provided them with quite a variety of imported toys. Unfortunately Mr. Prutschi's business temperament was just the opposite of my father's. He was excessively cautious, afraid to take risks and holding back the development of the business. The partnership dissolved in less than one year.

My father then decided to go into the quilting business, because he saw that Emanuel Rosenberg, who was a partner at Matador, was doing quite well. He found a small quilting plant with two machines, run by a Mr. Baker, who happened to be a good mechanic for the quilting machines but a very poor businessman. Since my father was quite ignorant in quilting, Mr. Baker severely restricted his activities, by not allowing him to deal directly with customers, forcing him to be in inside man. Within one year the business lost $26,000 in bad debts, more than twice the amount my father invested and much more than the actual value of the business at the time. Mr. Baker suggested declaring bankruptcy, but my father offered to free Mr. Baker of all obligations and to take over the business as the sole owner. Baker's answer was: "I accept, but you're crazy to do that."

The first thing my father did, upon taking over Baker Quilting, was to install two more quilting machines. then he put in a 12 hour night shift. Thereby he quadrupled production capacity. He went out to see customers and make deals: that was his talent, his strength. Within two weeks he was producing up to 24,000 yds. per week (he also worked Saturdays) instead of the previous 5,000 yds. The following year he doubled the number of machines to eight producing almost 50,000 yds. per week. His motto was: "One does not become impoverished from small profits." The business would be profitable as long as the quantities were there.

The other quilters in town began to put pressure on him, call him to meetings and to threaten to undercut his business. My father told them to go ahead, he was certain that he could play the game better than the others. He was a super salesman and dealmaker. Emanuel Rosenberg and his three partners (Weintraub, Oppenheim and Zeisler) decided to buy my father's business (if you can't beat him - join him) and engage him as a general manager of their enterprise. They paid him a hefty sum to do so, as well as a substantial salary to attract him into their plant. For the first time in his life, he became an employee, but only because he knew that soon he would be able to convince them to sell the business. The partners, except for one, Nandy Oppenheim, were all advanced in age, ready to retire. When the partners found out that Mr. George Zuckerman would be the buyer (they did not know that my father wanted a 50% share, they thought that he would only be a minor partner), they had mixed feelings about it, since his firm was a major competitor of Matador Inc. and Wadding Converters. The fact that George was the only buyer available and that his credit was reliable (the payments were made to the four partners, spread over several years), persuaded them to deal with him. It was my father who negotiated the entire transaction. The deal was now complete and factor four became a strong reality.

My father convinced me that my future would be brighter, more secure, that I would have no financial worries, I would rest my vocal cords, be able to live as I pleased and not have to be concerned about the judgment of others as to the degree of my religiosity. Following several months of soul searching, I finally made up my mind. The teacher would become a businessman.

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