My parents, Harry and Bertha, immigrated to Canada separately, but within a year of each other, between 1919 and 1920. Like so many newcomers, they were left to their own devices in order to establish themselves. Higher education was not an option for many immigrants (too costly and detracting from earning wages). So, my father became a produce wholesaler. This would become my first job, as soon as I was old enough to help out. Little did I know that this sales experience would help lay the groundwork of my eventual business.
I was fortunate to be born in Canada, and into relatively improved living conditions, compared to what my parents faced in their early years. But money was still scarce, and antisemitism was rampant, even in Toronto. I was beaten up many times by my non-Jewish peers, and no one dared to intervene.
With the little they had, my parents remained very generous. There was a simple credo by which their generation operated: work hard and look after each other. One specific memory from that time best illustrates this: It was near the end of World War II and the horrors that befell the Jews in Europe were just beginning to come to light. The Jewish wholesalers in Toronto banded together to help Europe’s Jewish refugees by collecting funds. Every one of us contributed. I donated my full week’s salary. In that moment, my commitment to help others was cemented.
In the mid-1950s, I ventured into a new industry: real estate. At the same time, I became an active canvasser for UJA Federation. This was my way of carrying on the commitment that I had made from the days of working with my father. Today, my charity extends to many important social services that exist both within the Jewish community and the community at large, with an emphasis on poverty and health.
My wife, Elise, our three wonderful children – Corrine, Shawna and Michael, and our 10 amazing grandchildren have each demonstrated their commitment to our community in their own way, through their work, their own acts of tzedakah, or both.
Elise and I have not slowed down, and we intend to keep working as long as we can. Similarly, we are grateful that each of our funds established with the Jewish Foundation ensures that our community commitment will continue. If we are capable and able, we must do our part.