Bubie and Saidie Weitzman lived at 475 Major Street in Toronto, a tall 2-storey row house with a not-so-small storage place on the first floor in the hallway, under the staircase that went upstairs. Cleaning, getting rid of the Chumetz (any non-Passover foods and dirt) and changing over to Passover dishes and pots and pans was a ritual before Passover. When I was 7 or 8, it was my job to help my Bubie get out the Passover dishes from under the steps in the small storage place with my little brother. The space was too small for her to get into and besides she had a bad leg. It was always wrapped in white bandages to cover the gangrene in her leg, the scourges of untreated diabetes.
Aaron and Bubie Weitzman were devoutly orthodox and lived that way until my grandfather passed when I was 10 years old. With coal in the basement and ice in the icebox, it was a comfortable life. Bubbie always sat on a wooden box in front of the kitchen counter. She had a wooden cutting board that pulled out from under the counter and she always wore a white apron, slicing, dicing and cooking with her leg up on another wooden box.
Passover was a big event. At their house long tables were set up for all the people who would attend. They held big Passover Seders with Zaidie leading the prayers, always smiling because of his family being together and the 2 of his grandchildren who has been born by that time.. The Seders wouldn’t begin until the men had returned for synagogue and the meal wouldn’t begin until late into the evening.
The two first nights of Passover honour our escape from bondage in Egypt and the story was retold during each and every, very long Seder. At one point, I would recite the Four Questions in Hebrew. I had attended Jewish school on Sundays at the synagogue at Allan Road and Eglington Avenue for several years so could do it well…all along, my grandfather Qvelling! That was a highlight of the Seder for me. Kosher sweet Manishewitz wine would be drunk in crystal glasses and the red wine would be dropped in our plates like the blood of our forefathers. Each of the 10 drops represent the 10 plagues.
It was always so exciting for the children to steal the Afikomen (the one piece of matzo that was separated from the rest) from my grandfather when he left the table to wash his hands. We would hide it and after the meal we would auction it off so that he could finish the rest of the Seder with the promise of a new bike or a gift of money (no money could be exchanged at the time but the promise was always kept!) Throughout the Seders it such a joyful time, with all the Passover Seder songs that everyone knew the words and the melody for, singing along in unison.
Traditions Carry On:
Celebrating religious holidays with family was a must – and my grandparents passed on this tradition to my daughter and I. Every year for Passover in my Bubie’s honour, I make Egg Noodles with no Chumetz (wheat flour or leavening), the same recipe that she used all those years ago. And I honoured my grandparents with my own long tables for Seders, dressed with white table cloths, the best china and silver, welcome any friends and family who may not have a seder to go to. Including many Gentile friends to celebrate the Pesach (Passover) together.
My shopping for all the ingredients for my own Seders included boxes and boxes of Matzo, eggs for the eggs and salt water, and briskets for the main course, and egg yolks for the huge pot of chicken soup, and boiling the matzo balls, and chicken livers for chopped liver, and Charoses made with apples, walnuts, honey and red wine, carrot tsimis with knedlach, along with many other delicacies. I would joyfully commiserate with Jewish women all over the world, in their kitchens, doing the very same thing to keep the traditions of Passover for the generations to come.
History: My grandparents, Aaron and Sophie Weitzman, Orthodox Jews, came from Warsaw, Poland to escape the pogroms, and for a better life. The streets of Canada, it was said, were paved with gold! They first settled in Montreal in 1920, where an affluent and influential branch of my Zaidie Weitzman’s family still live. An uncle whose last name was Crystal was a judge and a son became a politician at that time. Then the moved onto Toronto in 1922. My father, Lou Weitzman, and my Uncle Jack were both born in Canada. My grandfather sold newspapers and magazines at the corner of Yonge and Dundas Street and after a few years, opened a Dry Goods Store at 22 Walton Street next to Yonge Street. (About 10 years ago, Walton Street closed and became a part of the Delta Chelsea Hotel).
My grandfather would take orders from the affluent neighbourhoods close to Yonge Street. Rosedale was one of them, residents were Gentile and it was my father’s job, as a handsome athletic teenager to deliver the orders by bicycle. Young boys would throw stones and racist slurs about his being Jewish.
As a little girl less than 4 years old, I would sit on the counter of my grandparents’ Dry Goods Store, looking ever so cute in one of the beautiful lacy, frilly, fancy dresses that my mother sewed for me, mixing the beans up in their bins, much to the dismay of the Zaidie, although ever so proud of his little granddaughter.
When Morley got big enough, about 3 years old, we would go outside to play on the grass in the front of the house on Major Street. Morley was always a troublemaker even when he was small. He would pick up the chestnuts that had fallen from the huge chestnut tree out front of their house and throw then at passing cars or people on bicycles and even aim for me! He and I always came home with a collection of chestnuts hidden in their outer rough cover. Inside were the smooth and shiny
There were many Sunday dinners at my Bubbie and Zaidie’s house, and after the meals, we would all sit glued to the TV set, watching the Ed Sullivan Show after dinner. On one of those nights in 1964, The Beatles performed for the first time in North America. That still is a historical moment for the music industry!
Family History Month is long past but what better time to work on a special genealogy project during the winter months? There’s time to organize papers and display old photos, or work on your own research during the dark days of winter. Here are some ideas.
Scanning, Displaying & Using Old Photographs
We all have old or antique photos stashed away, whether from our own childhood or from previous generations. I recently obtained my mother’s old photos and I just scanned them all. I am going to make a photobook of them all. Here are some ideas:
- Scan that collection of old photographs, and choose some to display in a digital photo frame.
- Write captions and identifying information on labels to put on the back of old photos. Then read Protect and Preserve Old Photographs to find out how to care for them.
- Make a photobook and give to your grandchildren.
Start Writing Your Personal History
Letters and journals from ancestors are a great find, but your children and grandchildren would like to know about you, too. I recently began my memoir journey by writing about my life, starting from childhood and on into the present. I jotted down all the experiences, memories, details and feelings about my life and hope to continue to produce my memoir in book form.
- Write about your best friend in high school.
- Write about the first date with your spouse.
- Write about how you got interested in genealogy.
- Write what you were doing when you heard about the shooting of President John F. Kennedy.
- Write about another memorable event in your life.
- Ask your parents or grandparents the same questions and write their responses.
Make Family History Related Gifts
- Make copies of a favorite ancestor’s photo, put in small, light frames, and give as Christmas tree ornaments.
- Create a montage of ancestors’ photos, or photos of current family members, and give as a gift.
- Write the story of one ancestor’s family and give to family members. If possible, include a photo of them or something related to them. Recently my younger cousin asked me about my uncle, he dad, who passed away early in his life. He also wanted to know about our grandparents, whom he had never known. In addition to my brother’s memories, which are few, I can give him my story about our grandparents to make it real for him.
- Create a digital scrapbook page of an ancestor’s story, plus photos and excerpts from documents, and print as a gift. While my father was in Britain during WW2, my mother and father who were engaged before he left, sent photos back and forth. They both wrote love letters on the backs of the photos. I am going to include those inscriptions in the photobook.
Plan a Family Reunion
- The younger generation in our family does not know the rest of our family descendants from our great grandparents. We are planning a spring reunion to get together, share family stories, look at old photos and have fun.
- Create a Family Group on Facebook and find lost relative, little know facts, and with everyone’s input, plan a reunion or just simply stay in touch.
I’m on a phase in my life where my family’s past is of great importance to me. Knowing details of family events and life 100 years ago is of great interest to me. Perhaps it’s the same for you!