Howard Starkman

Biography – Video

Howard Starkman discusses his life in Edmonton through the lens of a Jewish community member, including Beth Israel Synagogue, Talmud Torah, Victoria Composite High School, the University of Alberta, and Beth Shalom Synagogue.

My father was an observant Jew as best he could be and felt that his two daughters, well more particularly, he felt that his youngest son, me, should have a Jewish education more than he could provide than in Roblin [Manitoba] where there were about 100 Jewish families. So we moved to Edmonton when I was in about grade five. I couldn’t go to Talmud Torah at that time because I hadn’t started with my contemporaries. In those days they had night classes and I wasn’t even equipped for the night classes yet. The night class teacher was a man by the name of Charles Koliger, Mr. Koliger, a delightful fellow, who I, in later years, learned to respect and reflectively enjoy, but I can’t say I embraced him with enthusiasm as a youngster. Because I was obliged by my father to attend the private lessons which would enable me or equip me to go to the night classes that would enable me to go to Talmud Torah. None of us in the night classes really were very attentive to our studies, we were young and wanted to play, but that’s why we came to Edmonton. My father sold a successful business to make the move and became a wholesale dry goods man in Edmonton. He purchased a business called Bond Dry Goods Limited from a Jewish man in Edmonton by the name of Mr. Jake Samuels. Then his entrepreneurial skills kicked in and, in addition to being a dry goods wholesaler here, he became interested in real estate and property. Having said that, he was a very active member of Beth Israel Synagogue and the Masonic Lodge. I followed in his footsteps into the Beth Israel family of synagogues but never joined the Masons. 

That’s interesting, my Bar Mitzvah was held at the old synagogue on 95th Street and I remember it well. I remember the party we had at our homes, Bar Mitzvah celebrations were a little more modest in those days. It was a lovely event, I know it pleased my parents to equip me to become a Bar Mitzvah. In addition, visiting with Charlie Koliger who went into business incidentally and opened a frozen meat business very successfully. But it also gave birth to his nickname amongst some of us — we called him “Frozen Charlie”, not to his face of course. We had a wonderful rabbi in those days in Edmonton, Rabbi Postone. My father was less than pleased with the lack of religiosity that the more secular study at the Talmud Torah presented, so he sent me to have lessons with Rabbi Postone twice a week. At the time I was a little resentful of having to take away play time for study time, but as the years followed I came to appreciate enormously the wisdom and the affection not only that I had for Rabbi Postone, but that many of my peers had for him. I don’t know if you’re aware that Rabbi Postone was, in football terms, a “triple threat” — not only was he a rabbi, and could daven beautifully, but he was a shochet, and also a mohel. So almost without exception, my contemporaries had been subject to his ministrations at Brit Milah though I missed out on that from him (I had elsewhere). We were all very fond of him. He was wise, gentle, and a wonderful rabbi. I still consider him retrospectively as my rebbe. Our night classes at Talmud Torah at that time, I think it was 103rd Street, just off Jasper Avenue. That was also the home of  and the beginning of my involvement with the Jewish community. It housed the various youth Jewish organizations such as Young Judaea and eventually AZA (I don’t think they spent much time meeting there). Certainly Young Judaea spent a lot of time there. It was a building that was much used. It had a huge second floor and one of my early memories is the celebration and large meeting that was held there in 1948 when Israel was declared a state. Then the school moved to its new location and that’s where my children attended. 

It’s interesting because we were members and the new Beth Israel was built on 119th Street and again, Rabbi Postone held classes there. I don’t know if we had a junior congregation — the junior congregation was held on 103rd Street at the old Talmud Torah building and Rabbi Postone prepared many of us to daven. His word was “This week you’ll be the shliach tzibbur — the leader of the congregation, and we had to do shachris and then we went on to learn. Subsequently, we moved to the new synagogue. As a youngster we had Sunday morning tallis and tefillin clubs. I can still hear and see the deliberate cadence of Rabbi Postone leading us in the prayers so that we would learn them with him and be able to memorize them or say them with cadence and deliberation.  All my friends were there: David Grossman, now gone; Aaron Shtabsky, now gone; my venerated friend, Ron Bercov; Ed Pakes, who’s still alive ministering to the needy and in Toronto; Jack Cohen; we had a whole cadre of people. 

The other building that I should mention is Beth Shalom, the building on 119th Street. When it was first built, the community contributed to it, even members of Beth Israel — my father contributed, my wife’s father, Abraham Estrin, was a contributor. Many, many people contributed because they held out that it would be a location where we could meet and play, which we did. AZA [BBYO] used to have its meetings there and they had a gymnasium on the second floor. As a grade eight, grade nine, great ten, we played basketball and it was a wonderful time in Edmonton because there was less abrasiveness between synagogue affiliation and more unity amongst young people as being just members of the community that could hang out together and play. 

I suppose I wasn’t a part of the Federation when the location was purchased overlooking the River Valley, but I was asked to be the first President of the Edmonton Jewish Federation when they emerged from the Community Council, as the spending element and United Jewish Appeal, the collecting element. That merger once again required some stick handling skill in terms of bringing the two facets under one roof, the spenders and the gatherers, so to speak. Over those years I used to take a different role because originally, I was an advocate for the Talmud Torah to receive funding from the United Jewish Appeal. Afterwards this new Federation set up had to adjudicate on applicants seeking funds. 

There are other buildings as well we could spend a little time on: the 95th Street building which apparently has had a number of renovations that became a Catholic church. As I understand it there’s rumblings that it might be available to become some sort of archival location and I’m hoping that it will. One of the great moves in Edmonton was the building and the creation of the new Talmud Torah which I believe was built in about 1999. At the same time that we were building the new shul in the West End there’s a bit of an unsung hero involved in Edmonton, perhaps a controversial figure but one who has done some essentially good things. His name is Barry Slawsky and he almost single-handedly took on the fundraising role to establish a new Talmud Torah school and he with his then-wife Cheryl were very, very instrumental in organizing a cadre of of people that moved heaven and earth to get enough private funding to put this school together. Kudos to them because the school itself is beautiful and it’s a wonderful location. On a personal note, of course you’re speaking to me, my family contributed to this school building project as did the family of my wife, as well as hundreds of others in greater or lesser degrees. What’s interesting to me is the fact that the land and that building belong to the Talmud Torah Society. It was purchased through negotiations by Barry Slawsky and from the school board and does not belong to them. That seems to be a thread that we have in Edmonton, hardcore capital places that we built and that have been created by public contributions remain. So hopefully as time changes in our community as it demographically shrinks with the inevitable ebb and flow of population trends in Canadian communities. Edmonton seems to be on a bit of a wane right now but there are great opportunities for young people to move to this great city. We do have a Jewish community that can be made as vibrant as the members of the community want it to be and the city itself has the opportunities that make life here quite pleasant, and I might say, affordable. When I hear about the cost of tuitions in major cities like Toronto and Montreal and reflect on tuition costs at our Talmud Torah which are significant for an age group of parents that have children here, our parents in Edmonton are blessed with the situation of being a member of the Edmonton Public School Board and having defrayed ever so much of the possible in that context. I just have one general observation, again in that context, Edmonton has nurtured me in terms of being a young man involved in Jewish organizations where I learned and had the opportunity to chair meetings and to see how organizations run. It served me personally in good stead. As a high school student, a few of the Jewish community attended Victoria Composite High School as a brand new school as opposed to Westglen High School where most of our Jewish youngsters took their secondary education, notwithstanding the small number of Jewish students at Victoria Composite High School which was a veritable melting pot at that. In the ‘50s as a brand new school I became school president of that school and once again, learned to swim in waters that carried diverse interests and a cooperative way of diversity into a cohesiveness that moved forward. That too served me in good stead at the University of Alberta where I studied Political Science and extracurricularly where I was a member of the debating society and the Political Science Club, I think I was president of both of those, as well as other organizations. I remember in 1956 or ‘57 hearing John Diefenbaker speak for the first time on the Suez Crisis. His voice still resonates in my ears. While I didn’t become a member of his party, I did answer the speech from the throne in our Mock Parliament where I was involved, and we changed the name from Mock to Model Parliament. That political involvement moved forward when I graduated from law school and both my wife, who was the real politician in our family, and I became heavily involved in a variety of public political processes, provincial and federal. We’ve been recognized so much by the community and we’re so grateful to the community. One of the highlights and  memories we have is our involvement at the Negev Dinner, it was a grand affair. Important to note as well, in terms of Beth Israel not only was I Bar Mitzvahed in Beth Israel but Esther and I were married in the Beth Israel on 119th Street. Each of our children were married in Beth Israel; the two girls married on 119th Street and my son Daniel and Marina were the first marriage to take place at the new Beth Israel Synagogue on Wolf Willow. I think that that’s a history for my family worth remembering and certainly makes the facilities of. Since I was Bar Mitzvahed at the old 95th Street synagogue, it gives me a really unique connection to those buildings.

Howard Starkman discusses his time as President of the Talmud Torah.

That’s a very telling and interesting story. Alberta was one of the few provinces that supported independent schools with financing and, in fact, they had an association called the Independent School Association. Independent schools at that time, initially under the Social Credit government, received about 70 percent of the funding that the public school received. The Talmud Torah was a member of that association and I was a board member of that association, which became interested in independent schools. The cost of the school and the cost of maintaining the school and paying teachers became very much an issue for the then board and it was my term, while I was serving as president, that we explored the possibility of becoming a “program” as they called it under the public school umbrella. That was facilitated and basically conceptualized by the then superintendent of schools, Mike Strembitsky, a giant in education. He felt that there was no reason why schools of diversity couldn’t fit under the umbrella of a public system and so we were the first to explore and invited to attend. We attended many meetings and there were wonderful board members that were involved in this entire process, but it wasn’t without opposition. The group that opposed giving up the independence of the school was led by a most formidable member, a senior and respected member of the community, Alderman Dr. Morris Weinlos. I don’t know at whose behest or if it was his idea, but anyway, he mounted a challenge to this whole process. As a result, a huge community meeting was held, I think, in the boardroom of the Talmud Torah school, which was located near the road bridge, I think 132nd Street. I think to this day, it was probably the largest attended meeting in the city. I was privileged to chair that meeting and to try to hold the diverse arguments in favor or against this acceptance of this opportunity to join the Edmonton Public School system — together with the arguments back and forth and finally a compromise was put forward and accepted. The compromise was that we would caveat our school: we would not sell the school, the physical school, to the school board. We would continue ownership of it, lest we get cut out or we decided to cut out. A key question was would they interfere with the Judaic study or not? They assured us they wouldn’t, then of course we became a member of that system. Then we had to sell the concept to the then school board and we attended two or three meetings in that context. It was not entirely easy but the school board accepted us and this became the precursor of a multitude of independent schools that followed us into the umbrella of the public school system. It’s interesting to note that not against, again amongst those who were opposed we had some formidable opposition. There was a member of the Legislative Assembly out of Calgary, Sheldon Chumir I think was his name, and he felt that the Talmud Torah should not be funded with public funds. He was against the process in Calgary but wisely, Calgary found a way around the process and associated themselves with a separate school board in Calgary. They became a program there under the separate school board, the Roman Catholic school board, while we remain with the public system. I think it’s worked out over the years, certainly to save thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars for our parents who sent children to the school.

Howard Starkman discusses his family’s building on Jasper Avenue.

The first location that I’m going to refer to, and you refer to it as a building on Jasper Avenue, that is referred to and called and has a sign on it called the Starkman Building. It’s been there for many years; it was built in 1949 and I think my father bought it in either ‘49 or 1950. It’s been part of our family for all these years. It’s now my building and I hope it stays in the family. It had many manifestations — my father had his wholesale dry goods in the basement of the Starkman Building, which at first when we first purchased it housed the Hudson Bay Company tobacco wholesale which was kind of interesting. It’s had a very checkered and varied career in the basement. The main floor was always interesting; it had a grocery at one point, and a Jewish family by the name of Shapiro ran a grocery store there. Subsequently, one of my good friends, a Lebanese man by the name of Ken Halaby, had his grocery store there. Coincidentally he was my very first client when I became a lawyer. He cleverly came to my office and asked me to do a lease on a store he was buying and to act for him in that context. I readily agreed to do so until I found the address and I said “Well isn’t that a building owned by my dad?” He said “I know that, I’m sure you’ll do a fair and good deal for me”. I think that he got a favorable rate as a result of my intervention with my father. It then became Sid Estrin’s restaurant called the Hot Box Restaurant, which is one of the early delicatessens in Edmonton. It subsequently became a restaurant owned by Normand Campbell who is celebrating his 32nd consecutive year as a tenant. In that building we always seem to have long-term tenants, from the Hudson Bay tobacco we now have a basement that’s filled with a new cannabis store. It’s called Cellar Cannabis — I must admit that I’ve never been in that basement. He had to live with it while it’s been operating but I did see it being developed. 

In grade eight or grade nine we lived in the back of the Starkman Building. I felt very independent because I had a room to myself on the second floor, which years and years later became the mainstay office of my son Daniel Starkman. He’s a realtor there and we have our business office in that building, so the building is still belongs to us and is tied closely to our family history.

Howard Starkman discusses his time as President of Beth Israel Synagogue.

Beth Israel was an integral part of my upbringing. As I mentioned to you, we would attend tallis and tefillin classes when I was a youth and then there was the inevitable wane, as the tide of times changed. When I was going to high school and university I spent less time certainly involved in Beth Israel and in that world. But as a young lawyer I was asked to serve as a secretary early on in Beth Israel. I started to go to services when they needed a minyan at the behest of one of our famous predecessors Nate Siegel. Nate Siegel was a man to whom you did not say no. He would call me or one of my contemporaries (or two or three of us) to help make up a minyan on a certain morning. We always showed up out of derech eretz or respect for Nate. As years went on, I became secretary to the board and then again had a hiatus. There was a movement afoot to build a new synagogue or to change the location from where it was on 119th Street to a new location. The leadership at that time felt it important to have, what we were referred to as, “young turks” involved in that transition and I think it was Zane Feldman, who was president, called me and some of my contemporaries to serve on the board. We started to serve on the board and of course, eventually, I was secretary again. I think David Axler was also a secretary. Then we moved, or the movement was complete, to build a new new site and I became less involved in the building, but more involved as I was asked to be president during the transition in 1999. We moved into the new Beth Israel in the year 2000 and that was probably one of the most involved and interesting tasks that I enjoyed as being involved in the community.  

It was difficult to say the least; the tensions between the old guard and the new guard were ever present. We were changing presidents, we were changing rabbis. My two predecessors in the old school were quite wonderful — Mr. Levine, Ron Levine, and then he was followed by Alvin Weinstock. I took over from Alvin, but as you can see, we were all a younger group. There was some tension between the established older people in the congregation and the younger people. My job, as I saw it, was to create a smooth transition and to create a an ambience that was a big umbrella to allow a comfort zone for all ages in the synagogue and for all manner of observance in this modern Orthodox synagogue. Many interesting board meetings took place and, of course, the saw turning took place in, I think, 1999 — it was a huge event. It’s still a beautiful synagogue. I think it’s one of the nicest ones in Canada. Kudos to all those senior members of the community that worked tirelessly to raise money and to build the synagogue: the likes of Joe Shoctor springs to mind, Mr. Hersch Bookhalter, a man by the name of Mr. Laskin, my brother-in-law Jack Soroka was a long-time secretary and fundraiser. There was a whole cadre of people that were involved — Elexis and Eric Schloss were big contributors and active in putting the synagogue on its feet. Then we had to deal with finding an appropriate rabbi. That was a challenge in itself. So our first rabbi that we hired was a young fellow, and those were still the memorable glory days of the Oilers. I was mindful of the fact that Wayne Gretzky came to the Oilers as a young man and proved to be a superstar. So we hired a very young, first term rabbi by the name of Rabbi Enkin and that proved to be a very challenging and interesting time period. He was subsequently replaced by a wonderful rabbi of many years, Rabbi Friedman and his wife Batya. If ever a dynamic duo they were and they really put Beth Israel on its feet. But there were many issues during that period of time involving the degree of observance that we wanted the synagogue to have such as the mechitza, which was a big problem, and the sound system. In the synagogue on 119th Street we had a sound system and it had been approved by a rabbi in South Africa. The religiosity of that sound system became a problem in the new synagogue. So we had many discussions and attempts to find ways of satisfying those with hearing difficulties at the synagogue. We encouraged seats near the front during “sermon” time but I don’t know how successful we were there. “Sermon” time was nap time for me anyways, but as president I sat on the bimah and it was a fight to stay awake and to participate. I remember many financial incidents in that context but that was a great adventure in Edmonton and proved to be a very interesting building.

Howard Starkman discusses his involvement with raising funds to renovate the Misericordia Community Hospital, as well as being President of Jewish Federation during The Keegstra Affair.

I was a board member of the Misericordia Hospital for about 13 years and became a secretary of that board. It’s a community hospital and they want to do new buildings now [again]. Back in the ‘80s I think, I became chairman of that. I was the first chairman of their foundation and Marvin Weisler was involved in that and other doctors as well, but it was not necessarily doctors involved. The point was to raise money to build a renovation that is now becoming in need of further renovations. We raised 21 million dollars to assist in the building of this expansion to the hospital. It was an exciting time and lo and behold, it became the time that Mr. Klein became Premier of the province. As a result, there was belt tightening and as a further result while the building got to be built, the operating rooms within were held vacant for a period of time because of funding shortages. What goes around comes around; we always seem to be in those cycles.

There’s one other location that is of significance in my memory and history as President of the Edmonton Jewish Federation. I think the most challenging job I had was to deal with the then infamous Keegstra case. That case ultimately went to the Supreme Court of Canada, I think in 1990. Prior to that, it came to the attention of the Jewish community that a teacher in a small town called Eckville, Alberta (I think he was also the mayor) was a Holocaust denier firstly, and teaching Jewish conspiracy theories emanating out of the Elders of Zion Protocols. It was brought to the school board’s attention by a non-Jewish parent whose child was in grade 12. Well, this created a stir, because the Ontario folks had a problem with a similar hate advocate by the name of [Ernst] Zundel. We had Keegstra, and so our efforts during one or two terms of my office was to coordinate an effort to deal with this man. So in terms of the Jewish community, we held a number of meetings: the important thing we thought to do was to get the then Premier of Alberta, Peter Lougheed, to make a declaration in the Legislative Assembly disassociating right-thinking Albertans from hate. Well easier said than done. Eventually we held a meeting hosted by Premier Lougheed at Government House. An enormous and diverse segment of the organized Jewish community through representatives coalesced at a meeting at

the boardroom, I think it was the Shoctor law firm boardroom. It was overflowing and we had a consensus to meet with Premier Lougheed to express our concern about this hate-filled diatribe that was being passed on as free speech by a teacher in an Alberta classroom. Well it was an extraordinary meeting of people of diverse backgrounds and interests, and we determined that we were able to get a meeting with Peter Lougheed who hosted the meeting at Government House. We attended there and for many of us, it was a first time personal meeting with the Premier of Alberta. He indicated that he would indeed make a statement in the House. We agreed that our advocate or our spokesperson would be the venerated Joe Shoctor. He spoke very well and we had members of the courts in attendance, as well as members from all facets of the religious spectrum in Edmonton attending, and representatives of all organized Jewish organizations in attendance. Indeed, Mr. Lougheed came through and made a wonderful statement in the Legislative Assembly that gave comfort to us. I think it ultimately led to legislation that added penalties to hate crimes in Alberta. The case became a very famous case and went on to the Supreme Court of  Canada. Rather disappointingly, the decision upholding the application of the Charter that there are limitations to speech in the Charter, and while the Charter was sustained, you couldn’t spout, espouse, and talk about hateful things to an identifiable group — it’s an interesting decision.

Locations Mentioned in This Video

Esther Starkman

Biography – Video

Esther Starkman discusses her life as part of Edmonton’s Jewish community, as an educator, and as a school board trustee.

My roots with the City of Edmonton’s synagogues are long and deep. My paternal grandfather, Solomon Estrin, was the “sexton” or the shammash of the old Beth Israel synagogue on 95th Street. He did that in about the 1920s and his primarily religious duties made it the job of his dreams. When they sold the homestead and came into Calgary, it was very difficult for him to get a job because he wouldn’t work on Shabbat. When he got this job in Edmonton, it was amazing. From the information I’ve gleaned from his obituary, written by Mr. Jacob Baltzan, he was fulfilled and happy in that position until his death in 1932. Actually in the written material, it was apparently the largest Jewish funeral of that time. Solomon was beloved and respected for his knowledge of Torah and for his people skills. Our grandfather Solomon bought a small two-story house next to the synagogue on 95th Street. I have a copy of the invitation for my parents’ wedding which took place at that synagogue on July 5th, 1925 at 5 pm 101110 95th Street, and the reception following at 9510101 Street or Avenue (I’m not sure which one it is today).

My siblings, three of them, were born and lived in that house along with our grandparents until 1939 when the house was sold. The family moved three miles west to 122nd Street, which was then the “new West End”. It was a better house, a better neighborhood, and a more affluent lifestyle. Lots of Jewish families moved to that area from the East End and we were surrounded in our neighborhood by, if I recollect correctly, the Superstein family, the Taradish family, the Ritches, the Shtabskys, Dr. Shlain and his mother, and on and on. I personally was born on January 7th, 1940 and was transported to that home on 122nd Street. It was a small-ish two-story yellow stucco house and it was in the location where Paul Kane Park is today. The corner was Christ Church, where I attended Brownies, and one block away was Robertson Church, so you can identify it. Our house was also in proximity to what was going to be the “new” Beth Israel synagogue on 119th Street, but it hadn’t been built yet. It was also close to the Glenora Figure Skating Club on 120th Street where I spent every day after school doing figure eights and three jumps trying to improve. I think I was then in grade six and seven at Oliver School. On the same street, on 120th Street, was the Glenora Figure Skating Club and next to it was the Royal Curling Club. They actually merged and became the Royal Glenora Club, which is in our River Valley today and where Howard and I have membership and enjoyed a lot of athletic activities with our children in the coming years. I do have a few memories of the old Beth Israel on 95th Street: one memory is of my mother, Rebecca [Becky], and I climbing the stairs to sit in the balcony with the other ladies where we could throw candies at the Bar Mitzvah boys below. I also have a memory of standing with my father close to the front of the synagogue underneath the balcony and he was holding my hand. I was surrounded by lots of elderly men with tallesim on and one of which I think was Mr. Nelson, who was then the shammash of the shul on 95th Street. In that front corner there were benches and you lifted up. almost like a shelf, it was on a hinge and underneath that hinged piece were the siddurim and the tallesim. That’s how they were stored then and those are my memories of that synagogue, even though I was a very small girl at the time.

In the early 50s, our parents moved again to the “new West End” and their new home was at 13822 Ravine Drive and they designed and built that home. They were not the only ones — all of those people mentioned before all moved to the “new West End” again. We were surrounded again by many people: the Rollinghers, the Bernsteins, the Laskins, the Pekarskys. So many people bought homes in that area at that time. I guess when we moved I was in grade eight and I was enrolled at the new Westminster Junior High School. When I went there, I have to say I loved the school, I loved my teachers, I loved my classmates, and I think it was there, I believe, that I learned to love school. My destiny was set — it was going to be education and ultimately, teaching. Westminster at that point had been open for about a year, and I was tasked with writing the school constitution for Westminster School. Well the good news was that I had a brother, Saul, who was then enrolled in law school at the University of Alberta. Together we produced the constitution. Much later in life, well not so much later, I returned to that school, Westminster and I was a teacher there of Drama and English. One of my star students in Drama was Fred Singer. I enjoyed my time there, really enjoyed. My children were junior high age and it was just a pleasure to teach junior high students then. Much, much later our granddaughters Molly and Hannah picked Westminster as their school of choice for junior high school, so it does have meaning for us. 

I mentioned the store and I think that’s kind of interesting and that you might like to hear about that. When I said that my dad worked six days a week, he owned one of the wooden stores on 101st Street between the King George Hotel and the CN tracks. That stretch had a multitude of Jewish men selling goods, from fur and hides to hardware, all along that strip. My father’s store was called the Standard Exchange and the sign above it read “we buy and sell anything of value”. After many years of making a very nice living there he replaced his wooden store with a smart new brick structure. He sold that building at 10235-37 101st Street to a developer who was developing the Four Seasons Hotel, which is now the Sandman where Chops is located. I’ve actually got the cornerstone of that building in my garden. 

I’m going to go back a little and transition from that Westminster school that I told you about. When it was time for me to go to high school most of the Jewish kids went to Westglen High School. Very few went to other schools, a couple did, but Westglen was the key place for Jewish kids. It turned out that Westglen was way overcrowded and they were going to build the school Ross Sheppard then. In the interim a certain group of young people were asked to go to Victoria Composite High School and I was designated as having lived in the area which would go to Vic. It was the newest and largest high school. It was called Vic Composite then because it had a big academic building in the front and at the back, were tons of buildings where they provided education in the trades. You could study plumbing there, you could study any of the trades, and so it was really a huge school. Anyway, I was in the academic section and I came in and I spotted an individual. At that point I thought to myself “I think this guy (who was then the president of Vic) is going to be my life companion”. Sure enough, it was Howard Starkman and he did become my life companion. Some years later I returned to Victoria School and I taught there. I was an English teacher there. Then a third reiteration, I actually came back to Victoria School in Continuing Education. It’s interesting to note that the old Vic School, the predecessor of this giant composite school, educated most of the children of the Jewish families from the East End. That’s the school that Joseph Shoctor, who founded the Citadel, went to, that’s the school that Arthur Hiller, the famous director, went to, and so it does have a huge history for our Jewish families and for the city of Edmonton. 

My first teaching position was at Queen Elizabeth High School where I taught English and Drama. That first year I had grade twelve students who were almost as old as I was, and certainly larger and very much taller, even when I wore my three-inch heels, which in those days teachers wore, believe it or not. We produced our first year play which was “Arsenic and Old Lace” and my then fiance Howard sold out the house to everyone he knew, his relatives, his friends, other articling students, other lawyers, and we jam-packed the place.

At that school where I taught, Queen Elizabeth High School, I first met and worked with Mr. Michael Strembitsky and he went on to become the superintendent of Edmonton Public Schools. He was superintendent during my tenure as school trustee. If we’re talking buildings, one of the buildings that means part of my essence and part of my being and where I reinforce my support for excellence in public education, is the big blue building on Kingsway in 101st Street.

I have to say that I believe strongly in a high quality public education system based on fairness, inclusiveness, accessibility, fiscal accountability, and a commitment to excellence for all students. I was really thrilled to be elected to serve on the public school board for two terms and part of that as board chair. So needless to say, that blue building became a home to me every Tuesday night, and sometimes more often, for about eight years. So it’s a place of quiet, it’s a place of intelligence, it’s a place that I like to come to, and even now, I’ve been privileged to work on a diversity day conference for youth. I come back to that building to work with some of the staff and I’m always pleased to be there.

I was a teacher for over 30 years, but in 1975 I took a little bit of a slight career change. I went into Continuing Education teaching adult upgrading first at Vic and later at Alberta Vocational College, now Norquest. What is adult education? Well at the beginning, when I worked in those two places, we were adapting high school courses for adults. You can’t teach the same literature and you can’t have the same stories or perspective for adults that you have for young students, so that was our challenge. AVC, as it was known, was located on 108th Street and 102nd Avenue, it’s still there but it’s greatly expanded. They have almost taken over all of 108th Street between 102nd and 103rd Avenues. It was a return to a downtown school from the old Talmud Torah to AVC where I worked for more than 15 years. 

It might interest you to note that Alberta Vocational College was established for army veterans who came back and wished to have some retraining. That was the beginning of that school and it subsequently has maintained its main purpose of retraining, but of course has added things since that time. I had fun there. I did teach some regular classes teaching English to the equivalent of grades 11 and 12. I also did some Continuing Education in the sense that I developed an English program for Russian physicians. They were young kids in their 20s who were already accepted at a medical school in Canada and we worked for the improvement of their language skills before they went to Dalhousie to take their medical training. I also did, which was kind of ahead of its time, I created and managed a cross-cultural training program with an Aboriginal focus for a power company. We were teaching them how to deal with their customers when they went out to deal with power issues. 

In 1989, I was elected as a public school trustee. In the fall, when civic elections are on and sometime late September, just after the election, I was called into my senior supervisor at the college. I thought I had really done something wrong and that I was in trouble but it turned out that he asked me, now that I was an elected school trustee, if I could coordinate an initiative for literacy. He had been involved in an adult literacy group, along with a chap from Edmonton Catholic Schools and they wanted to have a major bang-up initiative because 1990 was declared the International Year of Literacy by the United Nations. There’s been another one since, but that was the one. So he said “because you’re a trustee, maybe you can get Edmonton Public Schools involved and we can do something”. My answer to him was that I didn’t want to do any fundraising, but would be happy to do other things. I went back to my school board people and actually the idea caught fire. This was the first initiative and the only initiative, really, for school children to hold hands with adults and to preach literacy. It had always been adult illiteracy and the schools looked after literacy, because that’s what schools are about. The project started with Alberta Vocational College, Edmonton Public Schools, and Edmonton Catholic Schools, probably the first time they joined hands to do anything of this nature. There was no cost — everything was done by the personnel of those three organizations. In those years AVC had a printing shop and we did the print there. It came into being, some time later we were joined by the Edmonton Public Library, by Grant MacEwan College, by the University of Alberta, by the Francophone School District, and one year even by the Royal Bank. It became a weekly annual celebration of literacy. So every year, the first week in October, schools throughout the city (Public, Catholic, Francophone) celebrate Read In Week. 

Read In, which I was lucky enough to create and share and participate in over the years, is a city-wide initiative which raises public awareness for literacy and its important role in the success of individuals and communities. The event is an annual week-long celebration during the first week in October, There’s usually about a hundred thousand students and volunteers reading in schools, libraries, and other public places. One year, we bungee jumped for Read In, one year we did poetry at an Edmonton Eskimos football game, and we had an opening at the beginning of the week and a closing at the end of the week. In more than 75% of the times over the years, the Minister of Education would come. People just loved reading and they loved to participate. It was a great opportunity for adults who hadn’t been to school for a long time to come into a school, to talk to the kids, read them stories, and get feedback from the kids. It is great for the kids to find out what they do in real life and how important literacy is for them. I was very fortunate to be in attendance and to participate in 2019 when we had a huge celebration for the 30th anniversary of Read In, in the public school which bears my name. I have to say, there are not many initiatives which last, now, 32 years — it’s been a long run for Read In.

In 1996, you may find this interesting, I was honored to be named ship sponsor of HMCS Edmonton. I had the great thrill of cracking a champagne bottle to launch the ship in Halifax and then the next summer, to commission the ship in Esquimalt, BC at the other coast. I believe that I’m the only Jewish person to have launched a Canadian naval vessel. The ship is an adjunct to the City of Edmonton and proudly represents our city wherever it sails. If you don’t get out to the West Coast to see the HMCS Edmonton in dock, you can go to City Hall here and you can see a perfect two-scale model of it done the year that it was commissioned. It was flattering to me and it was exciting that some of the sailors from the HMCS Edmonton were so inspired by Read In — one captain whose wife was a teacher, decided to have a Read In at her school and the winners who read a certain number of lines and books were invited to be take a trip on the HMCS Edmonton to have a scavenger hunt there. Another year, the sailors who always donate a certain amount to charity, took their money and three sailors came to Edmonton and spoke to the kids at Read In. Then donated x number of books to the Read In, so it was really very interesting to have those two initiatives cross paths. 

I guess it’s no secret to say that not only my vocation but my passion in life was and continues to be education. The old mantra “free education with the addition of excellence” remains part of my advocacy. When I’m privileged to speak to the young sailors at Esquimalt, I advocate for and reflect on the benefits of life-long learning, which they’re doing as they man these ships. Our children’s future and, indeed, our country’s future is dependent on the fundamental core value endorsed by so many and certainly by so many of our Jewish faith. We are called the People of the Book. Following my years as a public school trustee and chair of the board, I’m so humbled and appreciative to have my name associated with a very successful K-9 public school in Terwillegar. It was opened in 2010. The Esther Starkman School may pay tribute to me on a personal level, but it should be noted that it reflects as well the inclusiveness of our community of Edmonton, inasmuch as I am identified as Jewish by faith. Thank you.

Esther Starkman discusses memories of the Talmud Torah in its original location.

I did start school at the old Talmud Torah. It was on 103rd Street, just south of Jasper Avenue in the business district of Edmonton. It was a two-story brick building with the classrooms on the main floor and the office on the second floor, as well as a large room which was used as a multi-purpose room. I think as students we used it as a gym as well. In fact, that space was rented out to Jewish families and it was where Beth Shalom first started before they had their own building. As well, it was there where my parents, who had been married in the old [Beth Israel] synagogue, celebrated their 25th anniversary, in the Talmud Torah. They also celebrated the engagement of my sister Phyllis to Dr. Tom Hardin, which would have been in 1950, when I was 10 years old. 

The schoolyard had the sidewalk in the middle with shale on either side. We often fell on that shale and scraped our knees. We sort of were worried about the neighbors — there was actually a house on either side of the Talmud Torah and if our balls or any of our equipment went over the fence, we thought the people were really mean because they kept the equipment. Those were wonderful years and I remember well. Many of the students that I went to school with; Dr. Marvin Weisler, Dr. Marvin Levant, Rona Margolis, Cyril Shapiro, Doreen Pakes, Evelyn Prepas, Florie Rubin now Axler… these were mainstays of the Jewish community and children of the mainstays. I also have a memory in the old Talmud Torah of it having a basement and in the basement there was a suite for Mike and Lisa and their daughter, who were the cooks. They prepared the food for us. As well, there was a small office which was pretty smoke filled and that’s where the Young Judeans hung out. Of course, my brother Tevie, Dr. Tevie Estrin, was one of those kids who hung out at the Young Judea office in the basement of that school.

Going home from the school, and mothers didn’t drive in those days, so we used the streetcars system and buses when they came along. My friend and I would walk from the Talmud Torah on South of 103rd and Jasper to 104th Street, where this wonderful place called the Palace of Sweets was. We would walk down the roads looking for things that we would buy and usually it was seafoam. We would take that home with us until the next day. In addition to what I’ve told you about the Talmud Torah, they also held junior congregation services at that school. My dad was appointed from the board to look after the junior congregation, so the junior congregation had a pretty strong place in my life. We would go in the morning, have the service and then my brothers were responsible for me. So we would walk to a downtown bowling alley where my mother had given us lunch, we’d eat our lunch, I would watch the boys bowl, and then the procedure was to go to a matinee at either the Capitol Theater or the Rialto Theater. That was their duty and it was freedom for my mom.
My mom was sort of a woman ahead of her time. She decided that my musical talent was pretty deficient, so she decided to give me elocution lessons. Those were at the Alberta College which was then, and I think still is, located on 100th Avenue, not far from where the old Talmud Torah was. Those elocution lessons, I think, sort of defined my life. I came to do a lot of public speaking and of course, in my teaching I was always presenting to a class. I have to say that across from the Talmud Torah was the Masonic temple where all the music competitions were held. I remember competing in “speech arts” as they called it and my poem was from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and it began “Ooh eyes so wicked”. Of course, I had to learn to roll my eyes to match my speech and there were a couple of interesting incidents from that time that I still remember, but I’m going to move on. I do think that those lessons really affected my life.

Esther Starkman discusses memories of the Talmud Torah school in its second and current locations.

I talked a little bit about the early Talmud Torah and I want to go back to the Talmud Torah. All three buildings; 103rd, 133rd, and now the new Talmud Torah, well relatively new, on 172nd Street played a major role in my life. It started with my father’s belief, which he talked about when we were at the table or in the house that if all Jewish children attended Talmud Torah elementary school, there would be less of a divide in the Jewish community. I think he, for a man of his time, looked at it in a broad way. I think that even today, one might think about that a little more.

We know stories of my mother telling me that in the early years of Talmud Torah, she and her friends would go out collecting for milk and things like that for the kids at school. Remember, it was a private school and it was totally supported by the community. Her fundraising, I think, morphed into the famous “Magen David Bridge Club” where 12 ladies met once a week to play cards and raised money for the Talmud Torah. They would raise money to buy a projector, or in those years a copy machine, which we then called a Gestetner. When you used it, you got purple ink all over your hands. That’s the kind of thing that those ladies did, and that was, of course, prior to the new school. It was a good thing that the community had something to work toward. They always had something to work toward, but it felt as if they were a part of it.

I was in the school recently, the beautiful school, and I looked up at some of the plaques that were on the wall. As Chief Dan George said, my heart swelled: there was my mother’s name as president of Mother’s Auxiliary, there was my sister’s name, Phyllis Hardin, as president of Mother’s Auxiliary, and there was my name as president of Mother’s Auxiliary. I think it all came from the dedication of our parents to the school. Although, I have to say, the plaques are a little different at the beginning. If you look at the plaques, all the women go by their husband’s name; it was Mrs. Abraham Estrin or Mrs. Tom Hardin. As you go down, it could be Mrs. Esther Starkman. So they changed just as society changed. 

We were dedicated to to the Talmud Torah. I guess we were imbued with it and imbued it at home. Our children, Hillary, Georgina, and Daniel, attended the school on 133rd Street. Who can forget those lineups of cars waiting to drop kids off or waiting to pick pick children up. Even though that was our children’s school, we were very happy to contribute to, along with our respective families, the building of the new school on 172nd Street.

Again, as Talmud Torah’s close to my heart, it was a great honor for me to co-chair the Talmud Torah’s 75th anniversary with Daniel Pekarsky, now of Vancouver, whose father was one of the major principals at the Talmud Torah. Later on, I am thrilled and, I have to say, honored again to have been co-chair of the hundredth anniversary with Stacey Wright. So the Talmud Torah has been meaningful to me. As a couple, Howard and I did a lot of things as a couple. I think that we both in our own way were huge supporters of Talmud Torah. He was a two-term president and on the board during the period when Talmud Torah school became a program under Edmonton Public Schools. I remember well the evening when Howard shared that fateful meeting. The gym on 133rd Street was packed to the rafters and there were a lot of detractors who did not want the Talmud Torah to lose its independence. Ultimately, it led to an acquiescent vote favoring Talmud Torah coming under the umbrella of Edmonton Public Schools. I think great thanks and kudos to the board of the time who were a very strong board, and to the staff under then Superintendent Strembitsky who made it happen. We were the only Hebrew school in North America to receive that kind of per-pupil funding and that kind of educational support that only a very large educational system could give, so it was a major step forward.

Esther Starkman discusses her connection to the Edmonton Jewish Cemetery and Chevra Kadisha.

I’m sure Paula, that many of the people that you’ve talked to have talked about the cemetery as being important to them, how amazing it was that those early pioneers created the cemetery right in the first years of coming to Edmonton. It’s a special place for me in particular, because all my family have that cemetery as their final resting place. Solomon, the man I talked about that was the shammash at 95th Street [Beth Israel], his first wife, Mariasha, became ill on the homestead. Many Jewish families homesteaded, they were given land and homesteaded, but it was very hard for them. Most sold their interests and moved to two cities. But she became ill on the homestead and is buried there. Solomon’s second wife, Esther Gofsky Estrin for whom I’m named, is buried there. My parents Abraham and Rebecca Estrin are there, and a child that was born to them and died at two years old is there. Of course, my beloved sister, Phyllis Estrin Hardin, was laid to rest there as well. 
But the cemetery also has another connection for me. It also represents Chevra Kadisha and, as my brother Dr. Teviah Estrin wrote in his book Travels and Travails, our father worked six days a week from 8-7 in the store [Standard Exchange]. On Sundays he would pack his Chevra Kadisha briefcase and head out the door for a 10 a.m meeting, for either Chevra Kadisha or Talmud Torah. Two Sundays a month you could find him at those meetings. Dad was secretary of Chevra Kadisha for 40 years and a member of the Talmud Torah board in various capacities, including board chair, for 35 years. The other two Sundays, one might find him at the steam bath on 95th Street, right next to the Flatiron Building, which has been recreated and is still there. I think it’s a City of Edmonton building there, but right next to that was a steam bath. Many of the Jewish men went there from time to time and I think on the other two Sundays my dad could be found playing cards and schmoozing with the boys there. I do have a memory that sticks in my mind: my mother, being so proud that my dad was a member of the Chevra Kadisha and she so respected that work that when, once a year, they had a seuda, it was like one of the highlights of her social calendar, so to speak, to go to that seuda. She felt that that work was so important and so honorable.

Esther Starkman discusses memories of Beth Israel Synagogue’s second and current locations.

In 1953, the new Beth Israel, on 119th Street and 102nd Avenue, became our family’s spiritual home. Howard and I were married there in 1962, as were our daughters, Hillary to Dr. Lyle Gorenstein, Georgina to Daniel Danzig, and then once again, the Jewish community moved to the new West End. The third iteration of the Beth Israel was built on 170th Street in Wolf Willow. Not to leave out our son, he was our third wedding at Beth Israel, but the new Beth Israel. Daniel and Marina were married there on June 18, 2000 and they were the first wedding in the new building at that time.

My husband Howard was president of Beth Israel during the transition between the 119th Street shul and the new one in Wolf Willow. He and his board actually stick handled a lot of challenges in the time of the move from one synagogue to another. There were many, many issues at that time. 

In keeping with the tradition in my family and my commitment to the Jewish community, I was active at the synagogue. I chaired with my lifelong friend, Marilyn Cohen, a very successful and high-profile 95th anniversary dinner for Beth Israel. I did serve on the board from 2003 to 2009, and in 2014 Howard and I were honored, along with Michael and Jodi Zabludowsk,i by the synagogue.

Dr. Eric & Elexis Schloss


Eric & Elexis Schloss came to Edmonton from smaller cities. Elexis recounts some childhood anti-Semitism in Medicine Hat, while Eric was the first Bar Mitzvah in Beth Shalom on Jasper Avenue. Elexis also talks about designing the current location of Beth Israel Synagogue. Both also discuss the Hotel Macdonald, as well as interesting houses in the Connaught Drive area – including their own (although we did not pin that location on our map at

I’m Elexis Schloss and that’s a tricky name to say quickly. And I’m Eric Schloss. 

I’m a southern girl, I’m from Medicine Hat. [Eric] was born in Camrose and grew up in Camrose. Well I came because we got married and we’d like to live together. I came to Edmonton and honestly it was love at first sight not only for Eric, well you already know Paula how much I love Edmonton. I came here 53 years ago, we’ve been married 53 years.

Elexis has an interesting story about Medicine Hat. Growing up in Medicine Hat we had a fabulous Jewish community of about 40 families. My grandmother bought the first synagogue there which was a used Model T dealership. When I was a little girl, I knew nothing about any problems or anything — I wish the world the whole world was that naive. I had a friend over and then the next day I went to her house. Then she came behind the screen door and she said “I’m sorry, you can’t come in,” and I said “Well why? what did I do?”. She said, “No, my grandmother says I can’t play with you anymore because you killed Jesus,”. So I said “It wasn’t me, I don’t even know Jesus! It must have been my brother Lionel, he’s always in trouble,”. So that was my first bit of antisemitism. Not only that, I was so afraid to go to Calgary because I heard Jesus died in Calgary — but it’s actually Calvary. 

But the community was so interesting that in the Museum of the Diaspora in Tel Aviv, I came around the corner and there was a picture of our entire cheder class in black and white, with all of the kids and the rabbi. It was an example of Western Jewish communities.

As I said, I grew up in Camrose but I came with my parents and family to all the high holidays in Edmonton and to the seder at my aunt’s. My folks belonged to the Beth Shalom and it was on 103rd Street — the old Talmud Torah at that site, but I had the first Bar Mitzvah in 1951 at the new building on Jasper Avenue, so that’s my claim to fame. Other than that, my memories of growing up and coming to Edmonton are based mainly on visiting. We usually went over to my aunt’s [and uncle’s], [their] name was Joe and Fanny Samuels. They lived on Connaught Drive at the time, not far from where our house is now. I was very familiar with this area and that’s where we had come for high holidays, seders, and everything else. The other place in Edmonton that I was very familiar with, actually was the Macdonald Hotel because my mum and dad were in the clothing business so they came in to see travelers there. They’d take my brother and I with, so we’d spend Sunday afternoons in the Macdonald Hotel running around the hotel as kids. We’d read our comic books and see all the other Jewish men in the clothing business in the halls, so that was fun. I really can’t think of any place more than that. Another place very important to us was the old Talmud Torah because our children went there.

As time went on, my other strong relationship was — I was the Chief of Design for the Beth Israel synagogue when it was being built out in the West End. I was working with Joe Shoctor to get that building up. 

You know [the old Talmud Torah building on 135th Street] was a lovely building and just to drive up and the camaraderie of all of the other Jewish mothers picking up their kids carpooling,  it was very special. 

When I was in university, I lived in the Sammy House, it was the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity on the South Side — it was on 88th Avenue. Not far,  just around the corner, was the tuck shop which was the main place that people had coffee and such on campus. So it was very central and there were there were almost no apartments at that time, this was in the 50s and uh so uh those of us from out of town had lived in the fraternity house and most of the people there were from Calgary because Calgary had hardly any university at the time. A lot of the guys that were there were in engineering at the time, a lot of them were in chemical engineering like Irving Kipnes was, but almost none of them stayed with chemical engineering. Anyways, I was there for about three years. The fellows in Edmonton who were going to university would come over for lunch and I remember there was always an argument about where should we get our kosher food from — Friedman’s or Zal’s the butcher. There’s always an argument.

Part of my love for Edmonton was when I moved here, I didn’t know a single soul. I didn’t know anyone and the community of the ladies were so welcoming. Millie Singer took me under her wing, Celia Boltzen and Ceta Margolis were just wonderful to me and immediately brought me into the Jewish organizations. For several years we put on a beautiful ball once a year at the Macdonald Hotel. Just getting to know these ladies — and they would have me for lunch — and people like the Weinlos’s, who invited us for our first seder. The community was so warm that I just loved it immediately. 

We remember that house particularly because it’s off Ravine Drive. I was by the other day and the house, of course, is still there, but it was famous because it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It was one of the few Edmonton houses that was really well known. Actually, an American author did a pictorial of all of the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings and their house was in it. As well, he actually influenced us too because when Elexis did the design for the new Beth Israel synagogue we had just been to Chicago. We went over to the neighboring community where Frank Lloyd Wright lived. We saw the houses, and the type of brick that was in many of them we used, or Elexis used, for the design of the exterior of the new Beth Israel synagogue. I was very influenced by that type of design. I was involved with the architect from the beginning and they did all of the work with designing the exterior and I did all of the interior. I think it stood up for itself over time, it still looks very contemporary but warm. That was the look I was going for — it was about 20 years ago, I can’t believe.

Are there any places that meant something to you but are no longer in existence? If so, what do you miss about them?

Well I was thinking of the Sammy House and the houses that my aunt and uncle lived in, first on Connaught Drive. The houses are still there but of course they’re not there. I have lots of memories about them and also my uncle’s brother was also Samuel, Ralph Samuels, Dr. Harold Samuel’s father. I was always over at their house too, I called them Aunt Rose and Uncle Ralph. So the families were very close at the time. With me Paula, you know I was the Chief of Design for Maclab for 18 years so I’ve done a lot of housing. I try, I make an effort not to remember everything or I’d be so sentimental all the time. But any and everything in Edmonton I think is beautiful. 

We’ve been in our house for 42 years, but about 30 years ago there’s a well-known film director Anne Wheeler who was well known in Edmonton. They asked us whether they could use our house for a film called Angel Square which was being shot mainly on the South Side. So they went and they put snow in front of our house, it was a Christmas scene supposed to be in the 1940s. So there was a scene in the front, they put actually a Christmas tree in our front window, and then they were shooting it and the girl who was directing it, actually her name was Wolch, she was a cousin to Ron Wolch, I think she was from Winnipeg. Anyways, they were filming it and all of a sudden she said “Halt! Hold! Cut, cut, cut!” Everybody said “What’s the matter?” She said “We’ve got to remove the mezuzah from the door!” With Santa coming, this was Christmas. So anyway, it was a funny incident. I have a picture, actually, from it. I don’t know if you can see this, we started the movie and Elexis said that she looked like Joan Crawford and I was Humphrey Bogart. We’re with our son JJ who was a teenager at the time. Anyway we all dressed up for that, I took time off for work, and we had a lot of fun. So the next scene was in the Corbett Hall. They turned the basement into an old Woolworth’s store and there were Christmas decorations. JJ and I were supposed to be shopping. We wound up on the cutting room floor, but Elexis was in the filming. The star of the film was Ned Beatty, he was Santa Claus. I remember we brought a whole bunch of people over for the premiere, to watch Elexis premiere as a star. Then we offered an award to anyone who could find Eric and JJ. We never ended up in the film, but this house that we live in has been used for other movies, for commercials. 

This house has a really interesting history Paula, because in the 30s when Aberhart was the Premier, he was a pretty mean guy. The Lieutenant Governor and his wife were living over in Government House, behind the old museum. So Aberhart went one night to the Lieutenant Governor and he said “I want passage on two orders, I want royal assent on two things: the first one is complete censorship over the Edmonton Journal,” and the Lieutenant Governor said “No chance,”. The second ask was he wanted to print Alberta money and the Lieutenant Governor said, “Again, sorry,”. Aberhart was very vindictive and didn’t know that the beautiful building was not owned federally, it was owned provincially. So he sent in packers and evicted them from the house the very next morning. There’s a wonderful picture of them out on 102nd Avenue with the dog, the nanny, the prams, the children, and their luggage all out on 2nd Avenue. Our house was actually built by Alberta’s first Supreme Court Justice and he said to them, “Look, I’ve been dying to move into that brand new Macdonald Hotel, why don’t you move and take my house?” So this house, actually, for 11 years was Government House. When I was first looking at it, there were two of those little Birks picture frames on the mantle. And in childish handwriting said “thank you for letting us stay with you, Princess Margaret and Princess Elizabeth.” So the house has a wonderful history. When our daughter was young and if she wasn’t behaving, I would say to her, “Queen Elizabeth stayed in that room, you better go hang up your clothes.” It didn’t work.

Paula Kirman


Communications professional and heritage practitioner Paula Kirman discusses her connections as a life-long Edmontonian in the Jewish community, including Beth Israel Synagogue, the Jewish Community Centre, Andy’s IGA, Bliss Baked Goods, Zal’s and Edmonton Kosher Deli butcher shops, and others.

So the first one would be Beth Israel synagogue, particularly the second location that Beth Israel had downtown in the Glenora area on 119th Street. My family’s always been associated with Beth Israel and I used to attend as a child. I mostly would go on Simchat Torah because it was a lot of fun watching the Torah being marched around the synagogue. I was a little girl, so I didn’t have to sit in the women’s section exclusively, I could sit with my brother and my dad and it was a lot of fun. The rabbi would toss candy to the children and I remember the beautiful red velvety seats that were in the pews in the women’s section quite vividly. A number of those pews are now in the current Beth Israel. They were brought over and they’re in the small chapel that’s in the new Beth Israel on the women’s side. It was always a little bit of a production to get there because my father is Shomer Shabbos and he won’t drive on Saturdays. There was a rabbi who was in the community at one point who made a minhag that it was acceptable to take the bus if a ticket was used, not cash and the ticket was pre-torn and carried in an appropriate fashion. So it was always a big deal getting ready in the morning to go and having our bus tickets and walking to the bus stop. That was also like the first time I ever took public transit. I went to the bus stop and we took the bus. We got off by some sort of used car dealership and walked the rest of the way to the synagogue. There would be an ice cream party in the basement for the kids — that was always a lot of fun. Eventually it stopped being so much fun because I became a teenager and I had to sit in the women’s section, and I was too old to take part in the ice cream party. Being a typical teenager I sort of lost interest in religion altogether and kind of got interested in other things. Life pulled me in other directions but Beth Israel is part of my life once again. In more recent years after my mother passed away, of course we needed a rabbi to officiate the funeral. So my father, being Orthodox asked for the rabbi at Beth Israel, who is currently Rabbi Zolly Claman. We began attending there again — my father and my brother are both involved on the Board of Directors there and prior to COVID I attended, I’d say semi-regularly. Occasionally on Shabbat and the High Holidays and special events. So probably once restrictions lift and it’s safe to do so, I will probably resume doing that. 

Temple Beth Ora has also been a presence in my life here and there over the years. I’ve attended Bat Mitzvahs there — I have a friend who never had a Bat Mitzvah when she was a teenager so for her 40th birthday she decided to have the Bat Mitzvah that she never had. She’s a part of Temple Beth Ora so that’s a memory for me there. That’s in the current location, where the Chevra Kadisha also is. During COVID I’ve been Zooming into a number of services at Temple Beth Ora as well. 

Other places of importance to me would be the Jewish Cemetery. Even before my mother’s passing I’ve always found it a really interesting place. I’m very much interested in history and in particular, Jewish history. I used to write for the newsletter for the the Jewish Archives and Historical Society of Edmonton and Northern Alberta, and I would occasionally just go to the Jewish Cemetery just to look at the headstones and see the names of all these people who were founders of the community and people who are really important in the community, and also people that I’ve known over the years. I just find it a really serene and beautiful place and the art on a lot of the headstones is just beautiful. I think it’s very interesting to see the different styles of headstones over the years and how they’ve changed. I just find it a very interesting place. I used to attend the Holocaust remembrance services — they used to be held in the cemetery until they moved to the Legislature where there is now a Holocaust memorial sculpture built by Susan Owen Kagan.

As well, Bliss Bakery is a place that I tend to frequent because it’s the only kosher bakery in Edmonton. As far as I know, it’s the only place in Edmonton where you can get kosher prepared food and I love their doughnuts so I’m there quite a bit. Another place would be Andy’s IGA. In doing some of these interviews I’m actually surprised Andy’s IGA hasn’t come up yet, so I wanted to bring it up because Andy’s IGA has been one of the only places in the city where you can buy kosher meat. It’s mostly frozen, they do have some prepackaged deli now that you can get that is not frozen and quite good. It used to be like the place people would go to do their Passover shopping because they always bring in [everything]. I remember the big wall of matzah and all of the foods and everything for Passover. There are one or two other groceries in Edmonton that now have a limited Passover and kosher meat selection but to me, Andy’s Valleyview IGA has always been the place that my family would do the bulk of its kosher meat and Passover shopping expeditions, particularly after there was no longer a kosher butcher in Edmonton. So speaking of that, places from the past that are of note to me would be the old Zal’s kosher butcher and the Edmonton Kosher Deli. I used to go there with my dad all the time as a child and as a teenager to buy meat. I knew the owners — I would see Mr. Nate Siegel on a regular basis. He was the mashgiach in the community for quite some time, but my favorite person who I’d always see there was Feivel Zalmanowitz who worked at the front counter. He was just a very kind man and when I was a child, sometimes he would have some pareve chocolate or candy or I’d want to buy a chocolate bar and he just gave it to me for free one time. He was just a really warm, friendly person and I’d always enjoy going to the butcher shop. My parents used to order in quite a lot of kosher meat and specialty cuts. Feivel always did what he could to accommodate my parents requests and I remember one time the phone rings and my mother answers and it’s not, “Hi it’s Feivel here and your order has come in,” it was, “I got the veal!” I guess there was some kind of veal order that my parents had made and I remember my brother saying “Oh my gosh it’s a good thing he got the right number,” because that would have been quite shocking to somebody at the other end who would have no idea what he was talking about. I remember my grandfather visiting, my grandfather was a kosher butcher and he was visiting Edmonton. We took him to Edmonton kosher deli and got to meet the owners and the butchers there, and and there’s actually a photograph of my grandfather that I’ll put on the screen, of him and Nate Siegel and Noach and Feivel Zalmanowitz all together in Edmonton Kosher Meats. That would have been taken in the mid-80s, I think I would have been around 11-ish when it was taken. Other places would be the old Jewish Community Center, I guess it’s the Hillcrest Country Club area because that’s where the Jewish Archives was located. I was writing for the newsletter for the Jewish Archives so I would always go there to meet with Debby Shoctor, who was then the archivist and to look at files and do research. It was in a very beautiful location. I’d usually ride my bicycle over there and spend some time wandering around the area. Other places would be, I guess the last one would be Bon Ton bakery. As a little girl and even up to now, I take regular trips there. Of course as a child I’d go with my father to pick up bread and treats. I remember the little gingerbread people that I think they still sell and the happy face cookies. There are a lot of things that they sold back then that they don’t sell anymore that I miss, like the rum cake and the hamantaschen. I remember going there all the time with my dad. I remember meeting Mr. Edelmann who was the owner. Mr. Edelmann was a Holocaust survivor so that led my father to tell me, to educate me about the Holocaust and I remember Mr. Edelmann just being really friendly. I really enjoyed going to Bon Ton as well, because usually it meant I’d end up with a cookie or a treat or something to take home. When you’re a kid, that’s a big thing. I would say the one place that is the most similar that’s still around and is still the most similar to the way it was when I was a child would be IGA. Especially since Andy himself is still involved in IGA. I would say that that has probably a very similar meaning for me and a feeling for me when I go there. When I think about Beth Israel it’s a different location now, Bon Ton over the years has changed owners a couple of times and the vibe has changed a little bit, a lot of the merchandise has changed, a lot of the things that I used to go there for on a regular basis they don’t sell anymore — which is I mean, that’s you know just part of change. That’s just part of the way things change over time. I’m certainly not complaining about that, but I do feel differently about the place now.

Bliss Bakery wasn’t around when I was a kid so that’s been something more recent. Temple Beth Ora that’s also something that’s more recent. I would say that Andy’s IGA would have a similar feeling for me as a child and now because it’s still around for me to have something to compare it with. It’s a place that hasn’t changed all that much really.

I probably have to say Beth Israel Synagogue to answer that. As a child it was fun, it was a fun place to go and it was special because I didn’t go very often. It was always fun because if you were a kid it was fun and then that changed when I got older. Returning there now as an adult, I have the hindsight to reflect upon how I felt about attending when I was a child but I think looking at my myself in a more I guess you’d say “mature way” and wanting to experience services from an Orthodox point of view even though I myself am not what you would call observant in an Orthodox way… it’s something that I find I’m getting to know more about the community, but I’m also getting to know more about myself and trying to make connections in my life. For me, today it’s a really kind of enlightening experience because somebody with my, shall we say someone… who leans in the political direction in which I lean, which is quite far to the left, people like me are not usually found in Orthodox spaces, at least that’s been my experience. So for me to navigate an Orthodox space as the person who I am, I’m finding it very interesting and I’m finding it a learning experience for sure. I would say that a few years ago it’s not even something I would really have given a whole lot of thought to because why would I? Why would I really concentrate about or think about that? I wasn’t really involved in any religious community a few years ago and it wasn’t something that particularly interested me, but you know cycle of life events happen and those tend to be the times that we connect to our cultures and to our heritage, so that is more when I started thinking about… You know Beth Israel was the choice because that was what my father wanted and that’s the synagogue that he’s always been affiliated with. Then when he and my brother started attending regularly I figured you know, okay I’ll give it a chance. Sometimes it’s important for us to step out of our comfort zone and to mingle with people who have different views than we do. I think that if you’re always in your own echo chamber you don’t have the opportunity to grow that you do if you step out of your comfort zone. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with everybody and it doesn’t mean that they have to agree with you, but it’s important as people to grow and learn over life and to reflect on who you are.

I think that a space, a physical space, might be less important now than it did say even like 20-25 years ago. COVID has really shown us this — we can be connected in ways without necessarily having a space. I’ve been zooming in to synagogue services in Vancouver and making new connections and meeting new people. There are things now that simply were impossible even ten years ago, even five years ago, so I’m not sure having a physical space is as much of a need as it was in past generations. Certainly there are spaces now that are Jewish spaces but are used interdenominationally or for special events where Jewish people from different backgrounds come together. We see that happen in all of the synagogues, at the Jewish Drop-In Center. There are Jewish events or Jewish-related events that happen in places that are not even traditionally Jewish like the Heritage Festival in Hawrelak Park, like the Jewish Film Festival which is held in a variety of locations, like the Holocaust memorial event that’s held on the Legislature grounds. There are Jewish connections to places now. We’re making Jewish connections in places that are not historically Jewish, so to have one overarching space, I don’t know, it  would almost seem not as necessary now.

Susan Owen Kagan


Artist Susan Owen Kagan discusses her connection with Beth Shalom Synagogue, as well as the creation of “Vessel of Souls,” the Holocaust memorial sculpture at the Alberta Legislature.

First would be the Beth Shalom Synagogue because I grew up going there as a child. We were there a lot of course and through both my brother’s Bar Mitzvahs and Sunday school, so that might be the most significant place for me. I was married there, our children had their Bar Mitzvahs there. Our family goes there regularly, it’s our synagogue and it’s our go-to synagogue for any religious needs. I can’t even walk by or drive by without memories because I did spend a lot of time there as a child. So of course, those kinds of memories… and obviously they must have all been pretty positive, except that I got booted out several times, but even that’s a positive memory. 

There was actually a call for submissions and I put together a proposal with a maquette and my proposal was accepted. [Kagan’s father was a] refugee from Germany, he escaped from Germany just after Kristallnacht. That connection had a great deal to do with the construction and concept, but the actual reason I was chosen was because… I think what happened was the Federation put out a call to different artists in the city and I was one of them. So I was invited to submit a proposal — I had in my mind I wanted to create a sculpture that had a universal concept. Actually at the time I was working on small sculptures based on the ideas of vessels. So I was putting bowls and such into my sculptures and imagining them as vessels that had a human connection. So when I went to work on the concept for the memorial I immediately thought of a vessel concept. The first thing I was thinking about was doing some sort of a well that would be a sunken vessel. But that then evolved into the idea of a cup, specifically a Kiddush cup because I imagined it symbolizing an object that would be passed around and drunk from. That was a very universal idea of community, so I was connecting the idea of vessel to community. Because it was important to me that this was an object that people inherently would appreciate and connect to, that’s how the idea of having a Kiddush cup as the base for the idea for the sculpture came about. The Kiddush cup is cracked and broken, and the concept is that it’s this universal object of community that’s been battered and bashed but it still stands strong. The entwining metal bits that surround it represent oppression and fire, and the base of it is sitting on the prayer for the deceased and the quotations beneath it to lift people to have hope and hope in humanity. All of those things… there are little details in the base that I built that represent images on tombstones of people that died in the Holocaust. So one image is of a branch that’s broken. That is often seen on a child’s tombstone, not now but a hundred years ago where it symbolized a branch that was broken too soon. Another image is of a butterfly which we would see on Jewish tombstones, which symbolizes a metamorphosis or arising from the earthly soul to the heavenly soul. The third is of a Menorah which is often seen on a tombstone which symbolizes eternal light. So I put all these little details into the memorial. All I can say is that when I have done tours of the memorial these are some of the things I talk about and people are very interested. 

I was absolutely concerned with connecting with the Jewish community. It was of foremost important to me not just with the community, but to survivors of the Holocaust. It was the most important thing to me when I was building this structure that I connected with the community, that the structure connected, and so a hundred percent that’s what it was all about. When the memorial was first unveiled and then the years after… I would say that was number one, was that that connection was created, so a hundred percent, absolutely it’s hugely important that the memorial meant something, and is significant, that there is a connection, and that the memorial succeeded, really, to satisfy what the community needed in order to mourn and to pay tribute to the Holocaust.

Judy Edelmann

Bon Ton Bakery – Video

Judy Edelmann talks about the history of Bon Ton Bakery, and her and her late husband Gene Edelmann’s personal histories as Holocaust survivors.

My name is Judy Edelmann. I was born in 1930 in Budapest, Hungary. I am here to talk about the origin of BON TON Bakery.

Bon Ton Bakery started well before it was established in 1956.

Eugene Edelmann, the original owner of the bakery, was born in a small town in Hungary in 1923. Before WWII broke out Eugene’s father felt his children (two girls and Eugene) should prepare to leave the country, and with that in mind, they all had to learn a trade. At age 17 Eugene left for Solnok,  a larger town, to apprentice as a pastry chef. He learned to bake and decorate beautiful and delicious tortes, petit fours etc. By the time his apprenticeship was over, he was unable to continue working for the bakery, because of the new law–as a Jew the bakery couldn’t keep him any longer.

By this time the war was on and Eugene’s family was unable to leave for “America” as it was impossible to get visas. He and his whole family ended up in Auschwitz, and all but Eugene perished–his parents, Soma and Janka in the gas chambers, and his two sisters, Maca and Gyorgyi were shipped to Ravensbrook concentration camp and died there.

Against all odds Eugene survived. In Birkenau, he worked in the munition factory, where prisoners were checked regularly if they were in good enough health to work. Three times he was taken out and put in a corral for the crematorium. Despite a permanent limp from a botched childhood surgery, due to his exceptional work habits, his Heftling (“station master”) came and took him out of the line. That was pretty lucky for him.  

After liberation in January 1945 he found a sled and a blanket and started his long journey back to his hometown. The 250 km walk took him a whole month. Once home, he waited a year for his family’s return. Finally realizing he was the only survivor, he crossed over to Austria to a refugee camp where he spent a year and a half until at last his visa for Canada came.

Eugene arrived in Toronto in 1948, and worked at Health Bread Bakery for seven years where he learned to bake bread and pastries.

I was brought to Winnipeg by the Jewish congress in 1948 as an orphan, as I too lost my parents to the War. My father Jozsef (46) died at Auschwitz, sent to the Crematorium immediately on arrival, and my mother Gizella (38) was shipped to Stutthof where she, her sister and her niece all perished.

I was lucky thanks to Raoul Wallenberg, who issued special Swedish visas in Budapest and with these visas many of us had been saved. Once again in Winnipeg I was very lucky, being taken in by a wonderful family, the Ludwig & Karlinsky family.

A year after my arrival, I left for Toronto, where I met Eugene. We were married in 1952.

Eugene always dreamt of opening his own bakery, but felt Toronto was not the place there were too many bakeries, so we would have to move to a smaller place.

Mrs. Karlinsky, “Granny” as I called her, came for a “Pioneer Women’s” meeting, after we had told her about our dream to start our own bakery. She introduced us to Lil Pakes from Edmonton, who suggested we should come to Edmonton. Eugene quit his job in Toronto and went to see the possibilities.

After travelling to Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, he decided Edmonton was the right place for a new bakery. Soon after our arrival, he met Joe Sheckter (Tasty Maid Bakery) who first wanted Eugene to join him in his bakery, but seeing that Gene wanted his very own business not a partnership, he was very helpful in getting us started. He became a lifelong friend.

In March 1956, BON TON PATISSERIE (as it was originally called) opened on 113 Ave. and 116 St at “Tower Shopping Centre” with $3,000, lots of good support from the community and plenty of hard work.

Eugene baked and I did the cleaning, selling and bookkeeping. As the bakery’s reputation grew, we needed extra help. It was getting harder for the two of us to manage, especially since I was expecting our first child. 

Our first employee was Hulda, a very efficient and kind soul, she was older than we were and not only looked after the bakery, but after us as well.

All the baking was done by hand; we couldn’t afford machines, which would made work easier.

We both put in exceptionally long hours. One day, Mrs. Elsie Phillet  came into the bakery and saw how hard we worked. The next day her husband Mickey came in, took Eugene aside and asked, “What would you need to make life easier?” Eugene: “We would need a bigger mixer and some other equipment, but we can’t afford it.” Mickey: “How much money would you need? Whatever you need you go to the bank and I’ll sign a loan for you.” He did that. It was the most generous gesture. He did not really know us.

We stayed at that location until November 1959, when we moved to the present location.

Bon Ton Bakery played an important role in the Jewish, Hungarian, and Polish communities who were drawn to the bakery’s European style breads and Hungarian tortes, Strudel, Poppy and walnut rolls. As the only Kosher bakery at the time, Eugene shipped boxes of bread and pastries every Tuesday to Calgary from the old CN station downtown Edmonton to Woodwards Calgary, as well as regular shipments to customers in Yellowknife.

Every year the Edmonton Young Judea would operate a fundraising bagel drive when the kids would take over the bakery for the weekend to help bake and package bagels, which they sold and delivered to make money for their programs.

For many years, children’s birthdays at the old Talmud Torah were highlighted by Bon Ton’s vanilla and chocolate cupcakes for their classmates in the lunchroom. Purim included poppy and prune Hamentashen.

By this time, we had three sons and after having some bad experiences with babysitters, it was decided that I would stay home with the kids.  

Eugene worked very hard until the very end, sometimes working 20-22 hours in a day. At one point we had a couple of outlets, and also delivered to several Safeway stores in Edmonton, but it proved too much work for too little profit.

Over the years BON TON won many awards. For years it won for best Christmas Cake, but it also won for its specialty breads and pastries. In the late sixties Bon Ton won first prize in a National Baking competition.

When Queen Elizabeth visited Edmonton (to open the Commonwealth Games) Bon Ton had the honor to make Petit Fours for the banquet. For many generations special events in the city were generally accompanied with cakes and deserts from Bon Ton.

Most of the children born in the late 50’s through the 80’s remember the bakery’s display cabinets and the baked goods with great fondness. There was always a tray of cookies for the staff to give to the wide eyed children. Parents and children alike will remember how the youngsters would stand in front of the first two cabinets which held cookies, cupcakes, Gingerbread Boys and rafts hoping to walk out with a treat. Adult’s favorite was Rum Cake and Lemon Cake, Strudel, and knishes. I am still reminded of them by former customers.

Bon Ton was always a family and community business, each our boys began working at the bakery after school and Saturdays around age 13. When they got older, they would often work Friday nights. Seeing how hard their dad worked and having him as a task master was probably central to creating their work ethics and making them successful adults.

By the time Eugene retired we had 20+ employees, but Eugene was still there every day and many nights He liked to hire new immigrants, we had bakers from Holland, Yugoslavia, Germany, Italy, Hungary, and Vietnam. Some of them went on to start their own bakeries or other business, others stayed at  Bon Ton until they retired.

Eugene always helped them to start their new life in this country. They became like family, even after they left they would still still visit. Even now some of them come with their children and the children’s families.

We always had several teenagers who had their first job at the back of the bakery scraping pans, washing dishes, helping the bakers, or in the front serving customers.

It was always a point of pride when many of them returned to visit as customers once they started their families and careers.

In 1998, at age 75 Eugene retired and sold the bakery to Hilton and Michelle Dinner who expanded and updated the shop. They maintained  the high quality and the good reputation of the bakery while putting their own mark in its character. Eugene died in 2004 at age 81. He didn’t see many of the changes, but was very impressed with the direction the bakery was taking. The Edelmann family is forever grateful to the Dinners for the care and love they instilled in the business.

Sadly, Hilton passed away in 2020 and Bon Ton once again has new owners: Gerry and Edgar Semler. Gerry worked with Hilton for many years and continues the commitment to quality that was important to Eugene and Hilton. I am sure, they too will make their own changes, but trust, that Bon Ton will continue to thrive under their management as one of the oldest operating bakeries in Edmonton.

Judy Edelmann briefly talks about her memories of Beth Israel Synagogue, the Jewish Drop-In Centre, and a few other places important to her.

Well, I don’t know if I have a connection to but I really miss our old Beth Israel synagogue I felt it was cozier and this is a beautiful synagogue and I like it but I miss the old Edmonton I guess I am old-fashioned and then I also miss the Drop-In Centre the way it used to be you know it still is running but it’s not quite the same not the same people running it now of course they are all gone now but it used to be really a place for older people to go at that time I was too young to appreciate it  other Jewish places I don’t know but I do miss many of the old stores like Woodwards and Joseph Walker which was way before your time you wouldn’t know about it what do I miss there are so many things you know that you can’t even think of I tried to memorize it but  I try to remember what I miss but it was very personal you know what we miss to go to the Italian ice cream place on 95th Street on 95th Street I used to take my children to a little Italian place also some of the restaurants I can’t think of anything much

Dr. Bernie Adler


Dr. Bernie Adler talks about his history with Beth Israel Synagogue, including his reputation as the “Candy Man,” his second Bar Mitzvah, and becoming President. He also discusses being honoured at the JNF Negev Dinner in 2010, hanging out at Bliss Baked Goods, being in the choir and on the board of the Jewish Drop-In Centre, and living at Our Parents’ Home.

I graduated in Dentistry and I wasn’t too sure where I should go, to Beth Shalom or Beth Israel. Now the Beth Shalom was the Conservative synagogue and Beth Israel is an Orthodox synagogue. I attended Beth Shalom and a few services there and then went to Beth Israel. While I was there, Hersch Bookhalter said to me “You know I would like to form a Mister and Missus club for young married couples,” and he said “Well nobody wants to do it,”. So I said, “Okay, I’ll do it”. So, that’s how I got started in the Beth Israel. We formed a Mister and Missus club, a lot of young fellows volunteered with me to help out. For every yontif we had a party. We had the sisterhood working with us, and they prepared the food. We would help out and for a whole year, everybody was celebrating for every holiday. Then I gave it over at that point, someone else took over, and needless to say, it didn’t continue. There’s a lot of work — in fact, I was halfway through when I said, “Miriam,” (that’s my wife’s name, Miriam) “I don’t think I can do this anymore.” She said, “We took a job, you got to finish it,”. She was a real disciplinarian, so I did and everyone had a good time for that year, anyway.

One of the older members of Beth Israel told me “You know, someday you’re gonna become president here,”. Well guess what, it happened. I ended up being a president in about 1968. I’ve been a member of Beth Israel for many, many years — on the board, chairman of the board of trustees, and I’ve been an executive for many, many years.

I was practicing dentistry, and a friend of mine, Dr. Mel Cassidy, said “I’m representing dentistry on the Alumni Council and I’m letting that go right now, how would you like to take my place?”. Well, I’m a nice guy, I can’t say no to Mel, so I took his place on the Alumni Council. I don’t know if you know what the Alumni Council is — it’s a council with representatives from all the faculties of the University of Alberta; Medicine, Dentistry, Engineering, Education, etc. Every faculty has a representative there, and as I was there, Alex Marko was the executive director of the Alumni Council. After two years he said, “Bernie, how would you like to run for vice president of the Alumni Council?” Alex was a very, very nice friend of mine and I couldn’t say no to him, so I said okay. There was someone opposite me running for the position. He had run the year before and normally the person that runs the year before wins, and the next person, which would be me, gets in the next year. Well, I won! I won and I became the Vice President of the General Alumni Association and after that, the next year I became President of the General Alumni Association. I’m so proud of the fact that that year, when I was President of the Alumni Association, Dr. Myer Horowitz was the President of the university — a Jewish president of the University of Alberta!

One of the accomplishments I made while President of the Alumni Association that I’m particularly proud of was that I received a letter from the Board of Governors (that’s before I was on the Board of Governors, I was president at that time) stating that they were going to tear down Assiniboia Hall and Athabasca Hall. So let me explain what that’s all about — there were three residences at that time; one for ladies called Pembina Hall, Assiniboia Hall for men, and Athabasca Hall for men. The two men’s residences were run down, the ladies’ apparently wasn’t run down as bad, and they were going to keep that residence. I, in my position said, “Well, I stayed at Athabasca Hall and we have an attachment to that building, I’d like to see if we can keep it.” What they did do was tear up the insides and rebuild it and now, we have those two, all three of Pembina Hall, Assiniboia Hall, Athabasca Hall, side by side. They’ve formed what they call the “Alumni Walk”. So they now have an “Alumni Walk”, which goes through into the campus and that’s because we saved that space. So at the university I enjoyed my time there and they don’t forget the old past Presidents. I’m one of the oldest ones left alive I think, so when they have Christmas parties and other functions I’m always invited. 

Because I was on the Senate at the university — I don’t think I mentioned that when I became President of the Alumni Council, I was ex officio on Senate at the university. When I was representing Dentistry on the Alumni Council I was also on Senate.  I was responsible for helping Gene Forest get selected as a Chancellor of the University, so I had some input when I was there. Tevie Miller was a President of the General Alumni Association and I was the second one, and Myer Horowitz was the President of the University of Alberta. We also had another President before him.

I was also very active in B’nai Brith and we used to have our own meetings. I was active with Mizrachi too. We are very strong Zionists, we supported Israel. So in my background, I was always active in any cause involving Israel — Mizrachi and the synagogue among others. 

Being as I was on Senate, I had the honour of being able to go up to the head platform. When any convocation came along, I was invited (I’m invited to all the convocations). When my son Marc graduated from Law, I was on head platform and shook his hand as he went across the stage. When my daughter Heather graduated in Education I was there to shake her and when she went across the stage. When my grandson Tal graduated I was there for him too. So I contend that if anybody I know is graduating, I can be on the head platform. All the professors and such march up the front stage, I can be with them. Now that I’m so much of a senior age, it’s nothing left, I get pretty close to the President and the Chancellor.

I went to Hawaii for 35 years. We had our own condo in Hawaii on the 26th floor of the Waikiki Banyan, and it’s been home away from home for two months. Because of my wife’s condition, she couldn’t go anywhere — she might have developed a condition called Lewy Body Dementia. They say that with that kind of condition you only last for about three years. When Miriam was in the Capital Care Lynnwood I played the piano for her every day for seven years from four to five. I had somebody with her from nine to twelve and five to nine, and my share was from two to five. I entertained her every day and even when we had COVID-19 here, I had my son Marc, thank you Marc, get me an iPad and my daughter got me a proper iPhone so I got Spotify and I could play music for Miriam. She could hear all kinds of Jewish songs and she would have trouble eating so I would play songs for her and depending on her mood would depend the kind of music I would play for her. It kept her going for eight years. She just passed away the last day of Hanukkah; like the Hanukkah miracle she lasted until the last day Hannukah. My daughter Shirlann stayed with her for almost two weeks to be with her so she knew she was well loved.

Actually I was actually living with Reisa for a little while, when I was having my 90th birthday I was going to have a real bash. I was going to invite all the congregants from the Beth Israel. We’re talking about having 125-250 people from family and visitors coming in. We were going to have about 250 for a lunch on Shabbos at the Beth Israel and Friday night supper at the Beth Israel. We were gonna have a brunch at the Fantasyland Hotel, so all the family were prepared to come in for our big simcha. Heather came in from Israel with two children — with Avi who is now in the Israeli army and with Liat. They moved into the house and Tal came back and he was in the house, so when Reisa’s husband had to have surgery on his knees it wasn’t convenient for me to be there. That’s when I moved here into the OPH [Our Parents’ Home] — we’ve got a very nice condo on the seventh floor looking out on 101st Street towards Jasper — 119th Street at Jasper. We can have kosher meals here, which is significant, and they recently sold the building to Revera and they’re keeping up the kosher meals; whoever wants kosher meals can have it. They’ve got all kinds of programs and I started a program of Jewish music on Sunday. I don’t have very much attendance, but I have a few and I’m going to play the piano for them.

On Thursday they have an hour where you can have a drink and entertainment. Before, I would always come to the Bliss Baked Goods with Shirlann. I’d be there from about 5:00 to 7:30 and she’d always have me there. It was comforting because I was there and we’d go leave at the same time. But after I moved into the OPH I wasn’t there anymore. Now we have our grandson Tal, Tal stays now with Shirlann. You’re talking about food — I get kosher meals five days a week for suppers and Shirlann provides me with suppers for Saturday and Sunday. And now, I’ve been going to their house also for supper on weekends, so I’m getting fat. I’ve got so much food. And of course those spaces, you know they’re so good, but they also prepare a lot of good food.

As well, I was on the board of the Jewish Drop-In Centre for many years andI was involved in them quite extensively, but in the last few years I haven’t been as active anymore. In the Drop-In Centre we had a real wonderful program growing at the Drop-In Centre. We had a lady called Bojina and she was wonderful as a cook. She cooked very good meals and for every holiday that came along we had good attendance. In fact, we would have some plays that the local — I was in the original choir of the Beth Israel synagogue and I was in the choir at the Drop-In Centre for many years, so I was actually with the Drop-In Centre but the last few years, not so much.

When they came to ask me to be an honoree [for the Negev dinner] I said “Surely you can find somebody more worthy of the honor,” and they told me, “No, no, we want you,”. Well guess what, they had a fantastic turnout. I forgot to tell you that on Shabbos in the synagogue, I was giving out chocolate kisses to all the congregants. I started only with a smaller group of men, friends of mine and then Dr. Beck wrote a poem about me, “The Candy Man” in the Beth Israel Bulletin, so the secret was out. Everybody knew I was a candy man, so all the men that came to synagogue from then on they all got a handshake and a kiss from me. Then there also two ladies, special ladies, that I also gave chocolate kisses to. So when I had the Negev Gala, I had a lot of people, maybe they felt that since they gave him all those kisses they were gonna come and honor me. We had a real good turnout and I suggested having the gala party at the Beth Israel Synagogue. That was the first time they did that and it turned out to be a real success. At Beth Israel synagogue we’ve got a real nice dining hall and we had a wonderful function there. They asked what would I like to have my choice for my being an honoree of the Negev Gala and I chose Rebuilder of the Jerusalem Wall. So they raised a lot of money helping to reconstruct the Jerusalem Wall. They have a plaque in Israel of all the donors and my children that have been there have seen that plaque. So my name is in Israel, I have a connection to Jerusalem. Now my name is on the wall in Jerusalem, I think maybe Hashem is looking down on me from there.

I met Miriam and I said “I want a date with you every Saturday night if that’s okay”. I set a date because that’s a Saturday off and she agreed. All the other Jewish boys were trying to date her on a Saturday night and she wouldn’t go because she agreed to go with me which was my lucky day. In those days, we used to have a dance, a Yom Kippur dance, after Yom Kippur services at the Beth Shalom. I didn’t ask Miriam to come to it with me and this lady Mrs. Spevakow. that’s the house where she was living in now, asked me when I came for the date “Who are you taking to the Yom Kippur dance?”. I told her “Miriam, of course”, to myself I thought it was a silly question. Well Mrs. Spevakow had to get Miriam all dressed up — she didn’t know if I was taking her to the dance. She got nice shoes and a nice dress, and there was another fella staying in the house hoping I wasn’t going to take her because he would have liked to take Miriam to the dance. I’m getting along the sideline, but anyway we had a nice dance and I’ve enjoyed my life with Miriam. We were married for 65 years, 65 years, and we have a letter from the Queen of England, thanks to my son Marc. He’d sent a letter out to England for a certificate for 65 years of marriage, so I have that certificate and also from the Premier  and Prime Minister so I have souvenirs of 65 years. Miriam lasted just another three months after our 65th anniversary, she passed away on the last day of Hanukkah.
I’ll tell you a story when I turned 83 Rabbi Friedman said, “Bernie, you should have a second Bar Mitzvah.” I said, “how can I have a second Bar Mitzvah?”. Well if you live to 70 years of age and if you live another 13 years, then you qualify for a second Bar Mitzvah. Oh well I’m not that smart, I didn’t know Hebrew that well. He asked me to show him how well I could read Hebrew. So I read something from the Siddur and he said “Oh that’s Talmud Torah level,”. I said “I don’t think I can do it,” but my grandson, that’s Shirlann’s son Shmuel, by the way Shmuel is in Israel right now. He’s going to Yeshiva, and he is six foot three, he’s a big boy. He’s a very smart one too, he’s been in charge in the Yeshiva where he was in the kitchen and he would do the Torah reading. He was responsible for making sure that the reading was done every Shabbos and if there was no one there to do it, he did it. Can you imagine doing that, all of it going on the Haftorahs, amazing. So Rabbi Friedman said he could do the Haftarah for my Bar Mitzvah and Tal said he’d find the melody for my prayers. He put that on my computer, so for two months while I was in Hawaii, I was studying the nusach, the melody for the prayers before and after the reading of the maftir. So guess what? I told Rabbi Friedman “Yes thank you very much, I’m going to have a second Bar Mitzvah,” and I did. So I had a second Bar Mitzvah and we had a big turnout at Beth Israel and we all celebrated. Rabbi Friedman was a good friend of mine and I surprised him. In fact Shmuel says to me “Zaida, I’m very proud of you. I couldn’t have done any better myself.”