Bill Mahon

My Story...

Bill Mahon was born in Winnipeg in 1940 to Fanny and Emerson Mahon.

Fanny was born in Kremenitz, Russia, in 1895 to Ethel and Wolfe Golbert. After her parents died, she moved to Canada in 1927. In the 1930s, she met Emerson Mahon, the first Black Jew to settle in Western Canada.

Emerson was born to Frederick and Dorothy (née Howard) in Grenada in the British West Indies. He came to Canada in 1912 and completed his conversion from Anglicanism to Judaism in 1921. He had a previous connection to Judaism as his grandmother was owned by a Jewish family in the 1800s. Interestingly, one of Emerson's siblings (Bill's uncle) converted to Islam.

Despite unconventional roots, Bill led a traditional Jewish life in Winnipeg's north end with his parents and sister Ethel (z"l). He grew up on Cathedral Avenue and attended Talmud Torah, Luxton School and St. John's Tech. His father worked as a teacher, a farmhand and a sleeping car porter for the Canadian Pacific Railway. His mother worked as a cashier in a movie theatre. Bill was active in sports and B'nai Brith in his youth and, to this day, cherishes his childhood friendships.

Bill went on to study at the University of Manitoba. He fondly recalls getting a weekly ride to the university with Hillel leader Rabbi Zalman Schachter and having coffee and fascinating conversations with the rabbi, a minister and a priest before class.

Bill met Judy Tennenhouse in 1961 and they were married in 1965 at the B'nay Abraham Synagogue. They have two daughters: Tracy Kowal, who lives in Toronto with her husband (Jeffrey) and two children (Nathan and Jonah); and Dana, who lives in Vancouver with her partner, Chris. Bill and Judy take great comfort in the fact their grandchildren are receiving a Jewish education.

Bill has had a colourful career that has provided him with rich experiences. He taught at an inner-city school; he owned a driving school; he worked in chartered accountancy; he drove a taxi; he sold insurance; he was in the military; and he was a field worker for the city's welfare department. Much of his career has been spent as a financial planner. Today, he is a branch manager for Dundee Private Investors Inc., with Judy by his side as a part-time office manager.

Judy and Bill can also be found side-by-side at Congregation Etz Chayim, where they attend services frequently. He finds comfort and connection to the community at shul, and is eager to see the Jewish community become more vibrant.

"Rabbi Schachter always said that 'Jew' should be a verb, not just a noun," says Bill. "Rather than seeing it as a static religion, we need to see Judaism as a dynamic way of life. To be a Jew means to conduct yourself in a moral and ethical manner in business, personal dealings and in all facets of your life."

Bill's commitment to Jewish life and community also manifests itself through his fervent support of Israel, particularly in recent years. Bill and Judy have travelled to Israel twice, including a 2008 trip to celebrate Israel's 60th birthday. On that trip, Bill and Judy visited Sderot and Bill returned home with the tailfin of a Qassam rocket that had landed on the town. That piece of metal, he says, is a reminder to him that we must support the State of Israel tirelessly as it tries to thrive under challenging circumstances.

For Bill, being Jewish is about being "moral and ethical." "I've never been ashamed of anything I've done," he says proudly. While morals and ethics are essential to Bill, humour also ranks high on his list. "You need to find something to laugh about in every situation."