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Stories of Simkin Family and Many Others Added to Jewish Foundation's Endowment Book of Life -Donor Recognition Evening October 4, 2012

by Rhonda Spivak, October 29, 2012

At the Jewish Foundation's Endowment Book of Life Donor recognition, several members of the Simkin Family, signed the Book of Life along with 18 other individuals and couples (who will all be listed later in this article).
We are all very fortunate that the program in which a person promises to leave the Foundation a gift from his or her estate and the signor is able to chronicle their family's history, has been so successful--because of it our community will benefit for years and years to come. There have been  705 signers --a very significant number for a community our size and one that the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba can rightly be proud of.
Marsha Cowan, CEO of the Jewish Foundation says that "Donations have ranged from $1000 to several million and everything in between.
"She adds that "People from all walks of life are participants" and that "The Endowment Book of Life participants have donated approximately 20 million dollars over the past 14 years."
This year's event, which had a crowd of over 325, was a very special evening, made ever more so for me by the fact that I got to meet 90 year old Abe Simkin for the first time.
When I graduated from law school in 1989, I went to article at a law firm by the name of Simkin Gallagher. I never knew who the "Simkin" in the name of the firm was --but now thanks to the Jewish Foundation--some 23 years later I finally figured it out. Abe Simkin explained to me afterward that he is in fact the "Simkin" in "Simkin Gallagher," and I listened closely to his remarks at the event.
Abe Simkin was called to the Bar and admitted to practise in 1947, and joined together with his principal Alexander Cantor, Q.C., and Roy Matas to form the law firm of Cantor, Matas & Simkin which evolved into Simkin, Cantor, Goltsman & Rosenberg, and then Simkin, Gallagher. In 1968 Mr. Simkin left the practice of law, which explains why in 1989 some 20 years later when I arrived, I never saw anyone with the last name "Simkin" at the firm.
Abe, the patriarch of the family, and the only surviving member of his nuclear family, decided that he didn't want to sign the "Book of Life" on his own. As a result, the next generation of Simkin children (Sharron Dudeck, Judi Simkin, Barbara Hyman, Em Cohen, Jackie Simkin, Jerry Cohen, Ruthie Gale and Martin Erlichman) joined Abe at the signer’s table to sign in memory of their parents, (Abe’s siblings) and as well there was the In memoriam stories of Abe’s parents. Abe’s initiative proved to be a marvelous thing for our community.).
Abe Simkin, born in 1922, was the youngest of seven children born to Samuel and Fanny Simkin, who at the time, had a family farm in Pine Ridge, on a property that is now part of Birds Hill Provincial Park. Abe’s brothers were Jim, Saul, and Israel (Blackie). His sisters were Jen (Cohen) and Clara (Erlichman) and, Esther Malka, who died at the age of two.
As Abe recalled, "life on the farm was difficult," but his father Samuel still managed to make a living from the challenging soil and despite poor economic conditions. His parents 'were driven by hard work, a commitment to Yiddishkeit, and instilled in him and his siblings the importance of family and Jewish education" (This commitment to Jewish education was evidenced years later by the fact that his sister Jen's son , Jerry Cohen, would go on to become the principal of Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate. I have extremely fond memories of Jerry parading the halls in his array of green suits as principal.)
In 1928 when Abe was still a young boy, the family moved from Pine Ridge to Stella Avenue and Abe's dad, Samuel launched Simkin’s Fuel, which was the seed that would later turn into an extremely remarkably successful family business. Abe and his brothers, Jim, Saul, and Israel (Blackie), all joined the family business. He and his brothers founded BACM Industries, a construction company – employing 10,000 people at its height. They took it public, selling it to Genstar Ltd, a subsidiary of Société Générale de Belgique in the 1970s. The company built roads, entire communities, brick plants, power plants, 5000 houses annually and essentially took part in the construction of every major dam and airport between Winnipeg and Vancouver.
Abe and his wife Fan (z'l) raised three sons – Gary (married to Karen Fingold), Bernie (married to Carey Lavitt), and Murray (married to Kathy Polson). There are 10 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren (so far).
It was clear from Abe's speech that to him family is the most valuable asset anyone can have, and this was the case also for his wife Fan (z'l). This love of family and the idea of giving back to one's community permeated his speech.
In their Endowment Book of Life story [, ] in honour of their father, Saul Simkin, Jaqueline Simkin and Diane Simkin Demeter write of Saul, Abe's older brother, "His whole life our father strived, alongside his siblings, to maintain the integrity of his beloved family:... He taught us the importance of forgiveness for the sake of peace and unity."
Jaqueline, who now lives in Florida was in town for the event, and Dianne also wrote, "During the Depression, he continued to deliver fuel in winter to customers he knew could no longer pay. Although he never talked of it, he was known to have helped many buy homes, pay for their educational expenses, and find work. He also helped people suffering business reversals, using his many contacts, financial assistance, and business ingenuity to help them right themselves. People came to him with family problems, as well, as he was reputed to have “Solomonic” wisdom."

The memory of former teacher Wanda Tolboom, who taught English for over 30 years at Ramah Hebrew School and Talmud Torah was also honoured at the event.

Tolboom died in 2007 and left a bequest to the Jewish Foundation that Cowan noted had been used to buy books, grades four to six, for the Kaufman Silverberg library..

Daniel Kroft, who recently graduated from the school, whose mother Cara was one of Tolboom's students] spoke about Tolboom's generosity, and said she "had a tremendous impact on hundreds of Jewish children."

"While not Jewish herself, Wanda felt at home in Winnipeg's Jewish schools. She loved the kids, took the time to learn about Jewish culture and religion, attended many bar and bat mitzvahs and even spent a summer in Israel," Kroft added. "We were blessed to have Wanda Tolboom in our midst."
The musical entertainment for the evening began with a gorgeous song sung by Marla Berchard in memory of her baba Annie Rose.

The "main act" for the evening was made up of the Mayors of Sambour band led by Myron Shultz (clarinet), and Victor Shultz (violin), with Don, Daniel and Leonard.  Tracy Kasner Greaves, whose regular gig is at the Etz Chaim synagogue every Saturday morning, (and who spends a lot of time with the Jewish Foundation's David Greaves), sang beautifully (I have always loved her voice) as a special guest of the band. The traditional klezmer and new songs dished out that night were eagerly eaten up by the audience. The title of the band "Mayors of Sambour" - is due to Sambour being a town in Poland that the Schultz family came from, and Schultz means Mayor in Yiddish.

I should not forget to mention that I was seated at a table with Myron and Victor's aunties and relatives, [needless to say everyone at the table loved the music], as did I.

The sunflower centerpieces for the event were great. For some reason, our table did not get wine right away, but Sharon Zalik, ( Exec Director of the Winnipeg Chapter of Hebrew U) made sure that wine arrived, and arrived promptly (which is good since I was about to start crushing grapes by hand- Zalik saved me numerous blisters no doubt).

Kudos to the Jewish Foundation. It really was a lovely evening.

Fore more information about the Jewish Foundation, go to : 


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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