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I’m rummaging about in the closets of memory, poking into the corners to see what I can find.

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The Lubavitcher Synagogue, on Magnus Avenue in Winnipeg, had the traditional upstairs women’s gallery, unbelievable acoustics, and was a keystone of Jewish life in the North End in the mid-1900’s. In the 50’s Rabbi Zalman Schachter - emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe - was the Rabbi Cantor of the Lubavitcher Shul. (Photo: Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada)

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I have more years than most of you behind me. I remember what seems to me all the big events, prominent in memory.

These days, I do try to pay more attention to the daily rounds. For example, one day this summer I bought some plants to fill spaces in my garden in the sky, seeking yellows and oranges to harmonize with the bountiful presence of the predominantly-red geraniums fully in their flowering. We ate breaded chicken for breakfast, a gift from Jimmy, Cookie’s son, while watching the Tokyo Olympics results-Canada is doing great! I spent the Saturday morning at the Community Center, playing with clay, creating the fantastical faces I would not hope to meet on my street.

II think it’s important that we pay lots of attention to the minutiae of daily life, glorying in the simple things that fill our Presents, appreciating how they add to the pleasure of living.

But I also worry about losing the detail about my life in the past, the bits and pieces that brought the day by day elements of that life into the Now at those times. It takes some work to ferret things out. So I’m rummaging about in the closets of memory, poking into the corners to see what I can find.

Can I remember what it was like when I was a kid? I was the single boy being raised with sisters.

Didn’t I get the feeling that I was favored as the male, and my older sister was called upon to help my mother with the housekeeping. My youngest sister was nevertheless the spoiled one, being considered the most vulnerable to mistreatment. I recall how I tried to keep my room neat and tidy so that was where we had our family meetings. All this might be a figment of my egomaniac’s self-image so we will have to check the facts with living witnesses.

Can I remember what it was like to be the only Jewish kid in the neighborhood when the family moved to Jarvis Avenue in the North End of Winnipeg?

The kids next door tried to make our lives miserable by throwing stones at our windows, and parading in front with catcalls deriding my mother’s Jewish names for us. How many times did I fight with Mikey, down and dirty in the mud? And Tony and Danny, from three houses over, scrapping in the schoolyard? And Eddie, who knocked me unconscious in front of a crowd, in grade seven? I survived the blemish on my brain, and Eddie, too.

Didn’t my tiny sister protect me when Big Harry on Dufferin was going to beat me up on our way to school? What did it smell like outside our house, with the coal yard in front and the junkyard at the back?

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And yet it felt like we, my family, lived a totally peaceful private life inside our home there. Dad had his job shoveling coal at the Cold Storage down the street. (He would end up a graduate engineer after years of home study).

We ate our three squares in our rented home, and went the four blocks to Aberdeen School each day. We celebrated the Sabbath each Friday with a special bread and the best meal of the week. I frequented the Library every chance I could, (maybe escaping the then current world,) and often spent the night reading by flashlight under my covers. We went to the neighborhood synagogue for the High Holidays. I remember eating chicken in the back lobby on fast days.

And there I had my Bar Mitzvah wearing a suit and with a fedora on my head.

In the summer, gangs of kids used to gather on the street corner, I think it was Powers St. and play road games far into the night. Sometimes we’d end the night raiding summer vegetable gardens and have fights with the tomatoes we stole. And yes, I do remember the mosquitos.

Nearby to Max Roytenberg’s childhood home on Jarvis Avenue, Jewish-owned businesses thrived on Selkirk Avenue and were a big part of community life and festivities. For Rosh Hashanah in September 1952 the Boroditsky Brothers, owners of Bell Bottling Co. Ltd., greeted their customers with news of a larger, family-sized bottle of pop sure to boost sales of Wynola as everyone’s favorite. Coca Cola? Feh! (Image: Boroditsky Brothers archive)

Somehow I don’t remember much about greenery while Winnipeg had a reputation for trees. I do remember holding round the trunk of one when we played Buck, Buck, How Many Fingers Up?

I remember sucking honeysuckles I gathered off the hedges for their sweetness and holding dandelions, which were so plentiful, under our chins to see the yellow there. I remember we liked blowing their heads off when they were ripe. And collecting bull-rushes from the ditches where they grew in the gathered water. Winnipeg had some of the deepest ditches. Winnipeg was famous for its lilac bushes, I remember their heavenly scent. 

Winnipeg was a city with a very diverse population. There seemed to be large communities of people from a dozen different origins, from Iceland to the Ukraine, from France and of course, England, Russia, Germany, the Middle East and Asia were all represented. 

While the city government was initially in “English” hands, it changed over time to represent other ethnic communities.

What I remember above all was how active the Jewish community was, and how every political viewpoint, and every internal community need, was represented by some Jewish organization. I got the feeling that, although I lived in Canada, I could in some way be living within a totally Jewish environment if I so desired. It dispelled the feeling of isolation that I felt in my younger years. And yet, as I launched myself into the wider world, when I left Winnipeg, I felt totally at home in my Canadian persona.

I really only appreciate that now in retrospect.

Digging into the roots of memory and coming up golden!

Max Roytenberg is an author, poet and blogger, with many published articles in Jewish periodicals in Dublin, New York, Winnipeg and Vancouver. After a career as an Economist and Executive in the Food Industry, in Canada and abroad, he writes, and lives with his Bride, in Vancouver. He has children and grandchildren in the US, Canada, China and Israel. His last book, “Hero In My Own Eyes”, is available through major booksellers and on Amazon.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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