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Elliot Leven

Elliot Leven: Etz Chayim Bar Mitzvah Evoked Rosh Pina Nostalgia

By Elliot Leven, April 5, 2014

I recently had the pleasure of attending a friend’s son’s Bar Mitzvah at the Etz Chayim Synagogue. Needless to say, the Bar Mitzvah boy did a wonderful job and gave his parents lots of nachas. I had not been in the building for several years, and the visit evoked waves of nostalgia.

Jewish historians can tell us about the Winnipeg Jewish synagogues that no longer exist, from the Ateret Yisrael and the Tiferet Yisrael to the Bnay Avraham and the Beth Israel.

When I was growing up in the North End, the building on Matheson was the Rosh Pina Synagogue.  As a kid, I attended many Bar Mitzvahs there. In those days, not every Jewish girl had a Bat Mitzvah, but I attended a few of those as well.

I also attended many Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties at the Rosh Pina. In those days, the Whiskey Sour was a popular drink, and the bartenders at these events would pre-mix 10 or 20 Whiskey Sours and set them out on the bar.  Little did they realize how convenient this was for underage friends of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah, who helped themselves to these forbidden beverages when the bartenders were not looking.

My own Bar Mitzvah was at the Chevra Mishnayes on Jefferson Avenue, which still goes by the same name today. My late father was the president of the Mishnayes at the time, so it was a given that my Bar Mitzvah would be there.

The Mishnayes was a smaller shul, and some of my South End friends had never heard of it.  I was amused when some of them even confused it with the Chesed Shel Emes (the Jewish funeral home on Main Street).

I also have delightful memories of weddings at the Rosh Pina. The late Rabbi Shalom Rappaport would preside in his usual gentle manner. My good friend Gayle Charach was married at the Rosh Pina on the day that the Pope was in Winnipeg. At least one of the speakers at the wedding purported to read greetings from His Holiness, to howls of laughter from the crowd.

Rabbi Rappaport and Cantor Judah Smolak were the mainstays of the services at the Rosh Pina. Rabbi Rappaport’s wife Elaine was a talented English teacher and I had the pleasure of learning Grade 12 English from her.  It always annoyed her to be called “Rebbitzin Rappaport”.  We were not sure what title to use for Cantor Smolak’s wife Libby. One friend of mine suggested “Cantorina”, but I don’t believe anyone ever called her that to her face.

In those days, Auby Galpern, Mooni Rosenzweig and Dora Zazlovsky were the kosher caterers in town.  The late Auby Galpern catered my Bar Mitzvah. He was a humorous and colourful character. My mother was discussing the menu with him and asked if he could provide egg rolls. He replied: “I can provide anything. If you want, I can provide a six-foot high statue of Madonna and child made out of chopped liver. Just name it!”

Alas, many of the people I remember from the Rosh Pina are no longer with us, but my good memories of the institution and the many happy events that took place there will always endure.

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