A kind gesture by my Zaida Lou in the lobby of the McLaren Hotel — before I was even born — gave birth to a deep relationship between two wonderful families, and ultimately led to my marriage.
Zaida Lou (my mother's father) was the co-owner of the hotel, and watched with curiosity one day in 1968 as a young man from India signed the registry as "Joseph Benjamin". My Zaida followed the man into the elevator and asked: "Are you Jewish?". When Joe answered in the positive, my Zaida invited him over for Shabbat dinner. Joe had no job and only six dollars in his pocket, but he had made his first meaningful Canadian connection.
Zaida Lou was the son of Gedalia Katz, who came to Winnipeg from Mezhirech, Poland, before World War I. Gedalia's wife, Chava, stayed in Poland with Zaida Lou and his three siblings until the end of the war and the family reunited in Winnipeg, where a fifth child was born. Lou married Cecile, the daughter of Ben and Pauline Simovitch (née Cohen). Ben was from Rudnia, Russia; Pauline was born in Montreal — the daughter of Russian immigrants.
Lou and Cecile Katz were the parents of Marcia (my mother) and Brian.
My father, Louis, and his siblings, Harvey and Leya, are the children of David and Bertha Cogan (née Sosowsky). Bertha was born in Pavolich, Ukraine, to Shai and Chaia Sosowsky. David was born in Yarosheu, Podolia, Russia, to Yehuda Leib and Rose Cogan. My father's parents' families arrived in Canada in the early 1920s.
I was born in in 1969 in Winnipeg, the youngest of Marcia and Lou's three children (my older sisters are Susan and Karen). We lived first in River Heights before moving to Tuxedo.
My father's mother — my Baba Bertha — died when I was an infant, but I remember the warm and loving personality of my Zaida David, who passed away when I was 10. My mother's parents — my Baba Cecile and Zaida Lou — both lived well into my twenties and I had a special relationship with them. I especially remember sleepovers at their home, my Baba's sense of humour, and her red convertible. I remember once as a young boy watching my Baba knit a balaclava and wondering aloud if it was for me. "That's not for you," she said. "It's for another grandchild." She was referring to Jessica Benjamin, the daughter of Abigail and Joe from the McLaren. By then they had become my future wife's surrogate grandparents.
I had a great childhood. We enjoyed our grandparents' cottage in Winnipeg Beach, family road trips, a major trip to Israel, and other activities. We went to shul fairly regularly and I had my Bar Mitzvah at Shaarey Zedek. I loved going to Winnipeg Jets games with my Dad; and I will never forget the love and tenderness with which my Mom prepared Shabbat and holiday meals. Her homemade gefilte fish is legendary.
For school, I went to Ramah, Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate, Laidlaw, Shaftesbury, and University of Winnipeg Collegiate. In childhood (and still today) I was a huge sports fans and I played tennis and competitive soccer. My team won a couple of provincial soccer championships.
I used to go to the occasional USY and BBYO program, and I did spend one session at BB Camp — where I discovered I wasn't much of a camper.
After graduating high school, I attended the University of Manitoba where I got my commerce degree. While studying business, I got some real-world experience by launching a company called Pool Pros with a partner. It was fun and successful, and the story of our business is featured in a case study in a course at Western University. I'm pretty proud of that, and even more proud that the man to whom we sold the business is still enjoying success.
When I graduated, I took some time off to travel through Europe and Israel. Upon my return I started working at Richardson Greenshields and then moved over to BMO Nesbitt Burns where I have been for over 20 years. Today I am a Senior Investment Advisor and Portfolio Manager.
I believe very strongly in giving back to the community and have been honoured to serve on the Boards of Congregation Etz Chayim and the Winnipeg Chapter of the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University. I have also served on the Jewish Federation Allocations Committee and have spent some rewarding time as a Big Brother.
Through our families' connections, I met Jessica Benjamin on a trip to Edmonton when I was 15. We connected again in Edmonton 1996 — an encounter arranged in advance by my sister (who had moved to Edmonton) and Jessica's father. We spent a month speaking almost daily on the phone before my arrival in Edmonton, ostensibly to visit my sister. Jessica and I met again face-to-face, sparks flew, and the rest is history. We got married in 1998.
We have three remarkable children. Rachel was born in 2000, Lauren was born in 2002, and Benji was born in 2005. My family is the most important part of my life — and I enjoy every minute we are together, especially at our cottage in Winnipeg Beach. In my private time, I enjoy going to the gym and have recently discovered the joys of yoga.
I try my best to impart good values to my children. I teach them to be honest, to be good people, to take the high road, and to work hard. I want them to know that with hard work and persistence, anyone can find success. And when you are good to others, good things will happen — a lesson I embrace when I think back to my Zaida and Jessica's father's encounter in the lobby of the McLaren nearly 50 years ago.
It is a privilege for Jessica and me to participate in the Endowment Book of Life. I like the idea that a decision we make today will have an impact on the community forever.