It’s a strange opening but I’ve never been able to figure out what I am or have become. I seem to be a lot of things. I believe I have evolved rather than grown up.
If there is any one person that motivated me to amount to something, it would have to be my father but for all the wrong reasons. My father was a barber by trade but never made a living. Not because he couldn’t but because he devoted himself to his left-wing cause. He was an intellectual who believed in socialism; a writer and an orator. I was born at the time of the Depression and my mother worked at Tip Top Tailors making pennies for every pad lapel she sewed into a jacket. She was the breadwinner of the family. My father’s time was devoted to improving mankind; not his family’s circumstances. He was full of anger and, he would strike out at my older brother Murray and me as a form of punishment, whether justified or not. He ignored our youngest brother Mort, the child who wasn’t supposed to be. Eventually,
I didn’t know at the time that I had A.D.D. – Attention Deficit Disorder. My grades in school were very poor. I was called a malingerer, a troublemaker and someone who would amount to nothing. My brothers and I were an embarrassment to my father. To him we were losers. None of us attained the academic heights worthy of his expectations. To my relatives we were known as “Annie’s kids”, a term that was derogatory, a put-down. My father, however, was not associated with our disgrace.
While in my teens, I worked in a printing plant from until , Mondays through Fridays to supplement my mother’s income, and, on weekends I sold programmes at the CNE, Pinecrest and, on occasion at Ancaster. I wanted to be a journalist but high school was a dismal failure for me and I didn’t have the grades. When it came time to graduate, I was given my high school diploma on the condition that I not return. Two weeks after I graduated, my father died of a fatal heart attack and school was no longer an option anyway. I was 18.
My father’s friend, a printer, took me under his wings and taught me to be a typographer. I discovered I had a talent to create images from the visuals in my head. Because of my A.D.D. it was harder for me to focus but it was easier to cast aside the stigma of failure and try again. To accomplish anything, I did things the long way, not the efficient way. I learned to be a plodder. I never would allow myself the luxury of quitting. Quitting was not an option. Whatever I did, I had to succeed. And to me, success was determined by wealth. I needed to prove to my relatives that I wasn’t what my father once called me – a loser.
When I was 21, I met 15-year-old Marilyn Epstein, a short, overweight girl with bangs and braces, who stuttered. Three years later, in 1960, I married her. Over the years, I have discovered the swan inside the young duckling. A swan with foresight and direction.
The year we married, we formed The Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of
Together we became volunteers for The Muscular Dystrophy Association. We were part of the first telephone canvassers for the Labour Day Telethon, in the days when we had to bring our own dinner with us to Sears in
In 1963, I embarked on my own business. The printing industry was in flux. Technology was changing the method of typesetting. I built the largest linotype house in
I became the President of Leonard Mayzel Ontario Lodge, B’nai Brith in 1978. That year, we were the first Lodge to raise in excess of $100,000 and the first Lodge to make a single donation to one group of $10,000 to Baycrest Home and the second largest contributor to Jewish National Fund. I received the Man of the Year Award from LMOL. It was the year I had my first heart attack.
In 1979, Marilyn and I became volunteers with Jewish National Fund, both of us becoming Directors and I continued on to be Vice President until I stepped down in 2005. I was awarded the Bernard M. Bloomfield Medal in 2002 for my work in the organization.
By the end of the 70s, Marilyn and I were also the parents of three children – two daughters and a son. I purchased other companies and sold some. In 1979, in agreement with a sale, I withdrew for one year from the graphic industry. I chose to become an art auctioneer during that time, travelling from
At this time, my desire to be a writer never died. I continually scribbled down stories that were never published. I was self-trained which meant I was not trained at all. In the early 1980s I agreed to compile the writings of Rabbi Abraham Feffer: My Shtetl Drobin. My mother would ask me when I was going to put my dreams onto paper. That was her way of referring to the stories I made up but never wrote. I answered that I was too old to become a writer. To which her answer was, “It is never too late to dream.”
Then in 1989, my friend, Andy Reti, asked that I meet his mother Ibi Grossman, a Holocaust survivor. I thought I knew all about the Holocaust, about the Jews and Hitler. I wasn’t interested in the Holocaust and found many reasons not to meet her. Finally I relented. What happened at that meeting changed my life forever. I expected to hear a story of pain and death; about loss and anger. I was wrong. I listened as Ibi read to me love letters she had sent to her husband in a labour camp which were returned to her by mail, unopened, when the war ended. He had died and she had been unaware. When she read me those letters, I then realized that the Holocaust was not about numbers but about people and each one had a story that needed to be told.
I was born with Congestive Heart Disease and in 1990, I was advised that my heart had weakened and that my work pace had to be modified. I dissolved the art business and stopped buying companies, focusing on the original graphic design business. In 1990 and 1992 in anticipation of my health declining Marilyn and I went to
I also volunteered to assist the Survivors of the Shoah in videotaping Holocaust survivors in
It was at this time that my values changed as well. I no longer worked a 15-hour day. Marilyn had insisted that I come for Sabbath dinner one Friday night. I had hardly seen my two daughters in weeks. When I came home, I was too tired to do more than eat and doze off before dragging my tired body up to bed. I had to be up at
By the time I returned to work, I was torn between trying to run a business and being a student. I found myself contemplating quitting school because I found the two activities too much of a mental burden for me. Age does not lessen the effects of A.D.D. To live with this affliction, it is necessary to find a formula that allows the person to function at their peak. School and work were two problems that I had trouble formulizing. But one day, Dennis Rowe walked into my office. I hadn’t seen him in years. We discussed the ‘old days.’ He asked me where his old desk was. I told him it was in the plant. I asked him why he wanted to know and he said he was staying until I got better. He stayed until I retired five years later. I continued with my education. I graduated from
In 1997, I wrote my first manuscript, The Light After the Dark; true stories of six children who survived the Holocaust by chance and circumstance and turned their lives into something positive. I was 61-years-old and unpublished. No one was interested. Marilyn insisted that I self-publish. She felt the stories needed to be told even if only to a handful of people. I self-published and sold more than a 1,000 books within six months and had to publish another run. Professor Irving Abella interceded on my behalf and gave Key Porter Books a book. They offered me a contract and published a further 3,100 copies. All together, more than 8,000 copies were published and almost all have been sold.
Three important things came about because of that book. A woman in
Finally, I had promised the six people in my book that if the book every made a profit, I would donate the profit to Jewish Charities. In 2004, I invited the six to my home, and turned over $20,500 in royalties to several charities. Fifteen thousand went to J.N.F. to purchase a grove of trees in
In 1998, I sold my first short story to Chicken Soup for the Parents Soul. I have had 30 stories published to date in such publications like Women’s World Magazine (
Over the years, I have published a children’s book, Why, Zaida?, other short stories collections, The Light After the Dark II, and Stories I Wrote, a detective mystery, The Unlikely Victims, which was nominated for the Arthur Ellis Award in 2002, the first novel in a trilogy, An Eye For An Eye, which won the International BookAdz Award in 2005, and now The Minyan, part two of the trilogy. I am currently writing the third novel, In the Name of Justice – a story of anti-Semitism.
All my stories are about being Jewish. Many of the incidents I write about have been taken from my own experience or from the stories of those who revealed portions of their past to me and that I felt were significant enough to put into a story. I try to show those readers who may not be Jewish what a Jew is. My stories are character driven. They are about people. I use the Holocaust as the backdrop because I feel it is a subject that should not be forgotten.
I have had more than 100 speaking engagements. I try to focus on non-Jewish organizations and, especially feel it is important that schools in which English is a second language become aware of what the Jewish faith represents. The purpose is to destroy the myth that Jews control the government, that all Jews are rich, that Jews never fought in the war, and so on.
What makes me run?
Adrenalin. And the need to put onto paper what I see.
The Light After the Dark
The Light After the Dark II
The Unlikely Victim
Stories I Wrote
An Eye For An Eye