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Noel Hershfield: Memories of the YMHA/RADY JCC 100th Anniversary Reunion

by Noel Hershfield, Calgary, Janaury 11,2020

I attended the Hundredth anniversary celebration of the YMHA/Rady JCC  Winnipeg with my wife just over a year ago. The anniversary weekend consisted of a good meal and some excellent vocal entertainment accompanying Shabbat dinner on the Friday night.

On Saturday evening we attended a faux version of a Saturday night canteen, which in retrospect was a clinic on how to attract teenagers. I cannot recall any serious events on those evenings. There was good music, and usually a short play, followed by jitterbugging, and  shoulder  dancing. I did see some attempts at jitterbugging but nobody seemed to know what shoulder dancing was all about, including my wife!

I thought over the past year about the impact of the Y on the young people living in the North End.   I  have decided it was an incubator for many children with restricted resources, to be exposed to the infinite possibilities that occur in a free country. This was difficult because most of them came from countries where minorities were simply second-class citizens with virtually no rights at all. My uncle Leible Hershfield frequently commented that the only way that minorities could survive in this country, was to show the population that they were hard-working, they were fair in their actions with their customers, and that they would exert all their strength and talent on the athletic field to show that they were as equal as the opponents.

I should mention we were all members of various clubs and many of us including myself, married members of the club. We had sex education, how to respond to anti-Semitism  (would be a good course for somebody to take at the present time), and many other activities and learning experiences which are extremely valuable.

I should also mention the great softball teams and soccer teams that competed in Western Canada, and who won many championships, as memorialized by my uncle, Leible Hershfield in his book The Jewish Athlete, a Nostalgic View

I recall how the Y MHA withdrew from all competition in the 30s, because of anti-Semitism which was very active during this period of time, when Winnipeg was a hotbed of Nazi-ism! The Y never returned to competition outside of the organization.

When my uncle’s book first came out many sportswriters claimed it was a oxymoron to think that Jews could be athletes. How wrong they were! Many members are now in the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, including two of my uncles. The Jewish Y was the employer of Canada's greatest Jewish athlete of the last century, Leible Hershfield, who was not only a great athlete, but as the athletic director of the Y for most of his working career. In his book, he stated many times that Jews would prove themselves  on the field of sport which they undeniably accomplished. But he also predicted that with equal rights they would compete in their new culture,  unlike their miserable existence from whence they came, where they were second class citizens. Many members became professionals literally by the thousands, and  produced doctors, lawyers, accountants, businesses and the first Jewish dean of the medical school, (still the first one in Canada) judges, and entertainers, (who ended up in the international scene such as the late Norman Mittleman, Aubrey Tadman, Monty Hall, (who delivered meat to my mother in Winnipeg) and other entertainers prominent in many nightclubs and other venues.

It should also be mentioned that many members of the Y, including my two brothers joined the armed forces during the Second World War. Dr. David Bercusson, who is an expert on military history, claims that Jews outnumbered any other ethnic group in the Canadian forces per capita.

The reason I went to the YMHA/RADY JCC 100th anniversary was because my father was the first President of the Y in 1927 when they had two bare rooms on Fisher Street, and then moved to Albert Street. The Albert Street gym had a pole in the middle and the baskets in the two diagonal corners, much to the players' consternation. n Bernie Fratkin, who was an innovative user of the pole,  scored many points. I recall one could even bounce the ball off walls. That was YMHA basketball!

I should also mention that four players on the Bomber's team that won the first Grey Cup in the West were Jews. They were Tubber Kobrinsky, Lou Mogul, Rosey Adelman, and AE Weidman and all of them were members of the Y. In addition on the board of the team was GS Halter.  He became very much involved with amateur sport in Canada and was a great supporter of the Olympics, especially the one in 1936 when a  female high jumper who was a German Jew, and two American sprinters who were Jewish, were not allowed to compete.

The grounds on which your Jewish community building is constructed are also very familiar to me. I can't remember the street name but I worked on it when I was employed by the city of Winnipeg and for the Simkin company, and where I played football for the Winnipeg Light Infantry for three years.     

Needless to say I was absolutely impressed with the wonderful buildings and the facilities at the Rady and the Asper Jewish community Campus. It's a great tribute to the city of Winnipeg and clearly the result of extremely hard work by the people who are honored in the entrance area of the center.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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