One thousand lives touched by the kindness of a quiet mom

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Phyllis Nashen with Jeremy and Nathalie dropping off Holiday gifts with Stephanie at the Shriners Hospital (Dec. 12, 2018)

When a mother of four very active boys realizes they’ve all grown up and don’t have the same needs for her protective and nurturing ways what is she to do to continue providing happiness and joy to young children? Many return to their chosen professions or choose new ones. Some take time for themselves. Others choose to volunteer their time for a host of charities and community organizations.

My mother had volunteered in public schools in the capacity of a social worker, helping kids who didn’t fit in, or had difficult family situations or acted out in class. She would help them by playing games with them and sharing in one of her favourite pastimes, drawing and painting.

She also decided that she would continue to spread a little sunshine to some far less fortunate than her own kids and she turned to the Shriners Hospital in Montreal. Since late autumn of ’75, my mom has repeated her annual tradition of going out and purchasing little gifts for kids who would be spending their holidays in the world-renowned children’s orthopedic hospital. In the early days, she would head out to Woolworth and Kresge, two long forgotten department stores and stock up on 25 toys for little girls and boys. Her gift wrapping would be unique for Christmas and Chanukah, for boys and for girls.

Mom was always very organized in preparing for her annual pilgrimage to the Shriners before her winter treks to Florida. Now at 90, my mom no longer vacations down south but that hasn’t slowed her own Santa’s Workshop in getting ready for these kids.

Phyllis Nashen, an unlikely Santa Claus, with Julie at the Shriners Hospital (Dec. 3, 2010).

For several years she recruited my daughters to help with the toy purchases, gift wrapping and the drop off at the hospital. My mother always believed that acts of kindness and charity were very important for the whole family to partake in.

“It’s important to me to put a smile on their faces,” Phyllis says.

While assisting my mom in wrapping gifts in December 2010 when my daughter Nathalie was seven years old, she said, “This is my project – I do it every year for Christmas and Chanukah. It is a Mitzvah (a good deed).”

That same year, my eldest, Nicole was 10. She remarked that this activity was lots of fun. “It makes me feel good knowing we did something to cheer up the kids who will spend their holidays in the hospital. Some can’t even get out of bed and they need even more happiness.”

Through the years my children have learned important life lessons from my mother’s generosity and acts of kindness. Indeed, our entire family is involved to varying degrees of volunteerism and community life.

Nicole and Nathalie Nashen (aka Phyllis’s Elves) deliver gifts at the Shriners Hospital (Dec. 3, 2010).

“It makes me feel good to share with others and to make the kids at the Shriners happy by doing a small thing like this,” Phyllis explained. “I’ve taught my children, and grandchildren, that we’re lucky to have what we have and we must appreciate this and give a little back.” My mom always loved children and thought that she could continue making a difference in the lives of those less fortunate. Maybe some didn’t have family close by. Perhaps some didn’t have family at all. “I like giving, not receiving,” Phyllis says.

My father, George, 95, couldn’t be more proud of his wife. “She has always shown compassion and acted with kindness,” dad says.

Nathalie, now 15 says she is, “incredibly proud of this legacy that my grandmother has created. I will be honoured to participate this year once again, and every year that Bubs (as Phyllis is affectionately referred to by her grand-kids) continues to do this.” Nathalie goes on to say,”My Bubs is like a candle spreading light, illuminating the next candle, and the next, one thousand times over.”

What’s my mother’s message to my own children? “Don’t be selfish and think of yourself. Think of others first,” she says. “Imagine the smiles on all of the faces you’ve touched, without ever knowing them or seeing them,” she says.

Though she never met face to face with a single child at the Shriners, her message is one of pure love and goodness. “I hope you enjoy what I’ve given you. I hope you’ll be healthy as possible and live a long and happy life.”

For more than 40 years my mom has wrapped and delivered holiday toys to bring joy to more than 1000 children who had to be in the hospital instead of at home with their families. My mom created 1000 happy moments out of gloom, turning 1000 frowns into smiles. We’re mighty proud of my mom, 1000 times over.

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Feds must act to require school bus seat belts

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Tens of thousands of school children are riding daily on buses that Transport Canada knows are not safe enough. Despite evidence showing that three point seat belts on school buses prevent or lessen injury and save lives, the government has not taken action to correct this serious situation.

In October 2018 the CBC Fifth Estate investigated the issue and concluded that seatbelts on school buses could have prevented thousands of injuries and numerous deaths.

The report continued with a follow up in December looking a the campaign to make buses safer across Canada by changing outdated legislation.

An online petition is nearing its goal of 50,000 signatures. I have signed and encourage you to do so as well.

More can be done to bring about change.

I call upon my mayor, Mitchell Brownstein, of Cote Saint-Luc, Quebec, to adopt a resolution in support of this urgent legislation at the next public meeting and ask the city to share their resolution with all municipalities across the Montreal region. You can do the same in your city or town anywhere in Canada.

As well, I am fortunate to have one of the most passionate and accessible members of parliament, Anthony Housefather, as my representative. I call upon him to speak with his colleague, Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport, who has reportedly called for a report from his department in the past weeks. You too should contact your MP’s office.

Finally, there must also be pressure upon industry itself. To that end I will raise the issue with my kids’ school, where I serve on the Board of Directors. Bus companies that offer seat belts should be hired ahead of those that don’t. Bus companies should know that parents and schools are seeking providers that are proactive and take the necessary measures to keep children safe, even in advance of legislation.

Each of us plays an important role in making school buses safer across Canada.

100 Years of Remembrance and Saluting my dad for his service

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This Remembrance Day marks 100 years since the end of hostility in World War I, the War to End All Wars.

This week we also mark 80 years since Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, which notoriously was the beginning of what became known as the Holocaust, or Shoah.

Sergeant George Nashen, Royal Canadian Air Force, 1944

My father, George Nashen, 95, served in the Royal Canadian Air Force from December 1942 to April 1946 and was stationed at RCAF Overseas Headquarters in London, England for nearly three years. Luckily, he was not called up to the front lines. But his buddies were. Some never returned.

My father enlisted in December 1942 with several of his friends from Baron Byng High School, and was shipped off for two months of basic training in Toronto where the RCAF had taken over the CNE Fairgrounds. From there he was stationed at the Rockcliffe Airbase in Ottawa from February until August 1942 and then to Halifax where they boarded the Queen Mary cruise ship that had been commandeered to transport troops.

“We were 26,000 troops and 1,000 crew members crammed into the ship for the four day crossing to London, England,” my father told me. “There were 54 troops to a room and we took turns sleeping, 27 at a time slept on the hammocks lined up three high in nine columns,” he said. “It was so uncomfortable and there were so many disturbances that I chose to sleep in the hallways and stairwells. But the ship would list from one side to the other every seven minutes as it curved to avoid sailing in a straight line to escape any pursuing German U-boats. I remember the empty Coke bottles rolling bake and forth in the halls and hitting the walls preventing any rest there as well,” my dad said.

RCAF Aircraftsman 2nd Class, George Nashen (1943)

“In London, we slept in the Canadian Legion Hall until we could find an apartment,” my dad reminisced. There were no barracks in the city as they couldn’t chance losing so many soldiers in a targeted German bombing raid. “One night a bomb fell right outside the Legion Hall and blew in the doors and windows. As the glass flew and the ceiling collapsed I immediately rolled under my bed to take cover,” he said. “I yelled out to my buddy, Mel Nicol. ‘Are you alright Nic?’ Mel Nicol was real joker and responded, ‘I’m not sure, I’m looking for my leg’. Of course, he was just fine,” George said.

George and Mel eventually rented an apartment at Queens Gate Gardens about a 30 minute walk from Harrods, where the RCAF set up their administration and accounting division. We often joke that my father served in women’s lingerie during WW II, in reference to the department in Harrods where the Accounting Office was located. They were paid $2.50 per day subsistence allowance for their lodging and another $1 for food.

As an Aircraftsman 2nd Class they received $1.30 per day. Dad used to send $10 per month back to his Mom in  Montreal to save for him. Upon his return, three-and-a-half years later he had saved up about $300.

George Nashen in front of the Cote Saint-Luc cenotaph in Veterans Park 2012

One night they were awakened by a bomb blast and heard that the nearby hospital was hit. Mel and George raced over to offer their assistance only to find out that 30 babies had been tragically killed. “It was the saddest day of my life,” my father said.

Back at Harrods he was busy taking care of Airman Pay Accounts to ensure each of the troops received their salary. Daily Routine Orders were meticulously entered for the tens of thousands of airmens’ accounts, all manually, of course.

My dad lost his best friend in battle. “Jay Singer was like a brother to me,” my father recounts. “Jay and I were inseparable from kindergarten through Baron Byng High School. Jay was an air force pilot from the age of 19. His plane went missing while laying mines in the Baltic Sea on June 15, 1944. Jay was just 22 year’s old when he died in service. I’ll never forget him.”

Jay Singer

Jay Singer

 

My father endured the bombardments and hardship of everyday life in London but fortunately was safe relative to so many others. The thick, dark clouds that hung over the city many nights from fog made it impossible to see right in front of you. My father recounts as he would feel his way along the walls of the buildings on his way home, counting off the number of doors and turns in the road to find his way home.

One night a bomb fell at a pub just outside of Harrods and some Londoners were killed. The next day, a young Princess Elizabeth, came by to visit and offer her support. My father watched excitedly from the window as the future Queen made her way along the street.

My father returned home in April 1946.

Three generations of Cote Saint-Lucers: George, Glenn and Jeremy Nashen 2013

Each year, I ask dad to take out his medals and his beret and to teach my own kids what it meant to serve Canada as a soldier.  They listen in amazement at his stories of 70 years ago, as they reflect on their lives in the best country to live in, Canada.

WWII veteran George Nashen, 93, deposits the wreath on behalf of Royal Canadian Legion Branch 97 at the Cote Saint-Luc Cenotaph in Veterans Park. Accompanied by his grandson Cory, son Jeff and vCOP Phil Mayman. (Photo: Darryl Levine, CSL).

Each year on Remembrance Day, I salute my dad, and all those who served, who paid the ultimate price, who sustained injury and who were lucky to return just like George. His bravery and commitment, and theirs, to stand on guard, to liberating those who had their freedom taken from them so many years ago, to keeping Canada glorious and free, shines like a beacon to my kids and our entire family.

With my dad on Remembrance Day (Jewish General Hospital, 2014)

We’re proud of his accomplishments and grateful to still have him, and my mother, as our bridge between our past and our future.

 

George and Phyllis Nashen at their 95th and 90th birthday party (June 2018)

 

 

More:

A day of remembrance, honour and appreciation in CSL

In tribute to my father, the soldier

Councillor Mike Cohen’s blog

The JGH Remembers

Canada apologizes to Jewish community for “None is Too Many”, turning back refugees to Hitler’s Nazi Germany

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This was a historic, monumental day not only for Canadian Jews, but for Canada. Today’s apology by the Government of Canada for turning away the 907 Jews fleeing the Holocaust aboard the ill-fated MS. Saint Louis was long overdue. In issuing today’s apology Canada has solidified its place as a tolerant, peace-loving and safe land. The Prime Minister has committed to doing more to safeguard places of worship and to fight antisemitism.

Thank you to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his eloquent and emotional words of accountability and apology. Your words, Mr. Prime Minister, are powerful and meaningful and will be felt for generations. Thank you to the Government of Canada and to all Members of Parliament for standing in solidarity, united across party lines, to acknowledge the failures of the past and to take corrective actions to secure our future. The occasion was made even more powerful by the solemn remarks by the leaders of the Conservative Party, NDP and Green Party.

Thank you as well to our honourable and outstanding Member of Parliament for Mount Royal, Anthony Housefather, for his leadership role in today’s declaration. Anthony has worked tirelessly on behalf of not only his constituents but all Canadians in ensuring the Government of Canada support its Jewish Communities, fight against BDS, denounce antisemitic acts of hate and support the Jewish State of Israel.

Canada has taken a major step in ensuring ‘Never Again’ resonates from coast to coast to coast.


Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer taking part in the Canadian government’s official apology for the 1939 decision to turn away the MS St. Louis and its 907 German Jewish passengers fleeing the Nazi Regime. 10:43


The NDP’s Guy Caron taking part in the Canadian government’s official apology for the 1939 decision to turn away the MS St. Louis and its 907 German Jewish passengers fleeing the Nazi Regime. 9:36


Green Party Leader Elizabeth May taking part in the Canadian government’s official apology for the 1939 decision to turn away the MS St. Louis and its 907 German Jewish passengers fleeing the Nazi Regime. 7:19

vCOP fills the hall, Suburban chief thanks the troops

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Photo courtesy David Goldsmith

A capacity crowd of 80 Cote Saint-Luc volunteer Citizens on Patrol members filled the council chamber at city hall this week to hear the Suburban Newspaper’s editor-in-chief Beryl Wajsman speak on a wide range of topics, but mostly on the political landscape in Quebec. Wajsman was raw and uncensored, swinging wildly, particularly at provincial politicians. The considerably knowledgeable and articulate speaker was unscripted in his gashing assault against the political elite who he described as unconcerned about the citizenry and focused solely on attaining power by saying whatever was necessary to secure votes.

Against this negative backdrop Wajsman described CSL mayor Mitchell Brownstein as unique in his “openness and accessibility”. You can meet with Mitch or call him anytime. He answers his own phone, Wajsman said. “He cares and it shows.”

Beryl Wajsman addresses the vCOP corps of volunteers

But Wajsman’s ultimate compliment was saved for the volunteers in their bright yellow uniform jackets and orange polo tops. You are the true examples of what it means to be a community, to care for your neighbour and to help people who really need your help, he said. He congratulated the vCOP members for their service to the elderly, to all residents.

“I truly enjoyed speaking to a very special gathering of some of the most engaged citizens around. The CSL Volunteer Corps of Citizens on Patrol. The only one of its kind on the island (actually the only one in Quebec) and they cover every sector where the 33,000 residents of CSL live. Great Q&A too,” Wajsman posted to his Facebook page

Long-serving volunteers Susie and Harvey Schwartz

vCOP meets every other month to refresh on protocols and procedures, learn new skills and techniques and to hear from community leaders and experts in public safety. They are a dedicated and energetic group that give of their time, day and night, to safeguard the community. Once again, I salute CSL’s men and women in yellow and orange.

A Bintel Brief: Yiddish Theatre alive and well in Montreal

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A review by Glenn J. Nashen

NEW: Now featured in the Jewish Standard Magazine!

 

The Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre opened its 60th season this week with its latest production of A Bintel Brief. This performance at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts  is brought back to the stage after it originally opened in Montreal in the 1970s. It is a story based upon real letters to the editor of a Yiddish language daily newspaper in New York City in the early 1900s.

 

The production is composed of a series of true stories of Jewish immigrants coming to America and trying to adapt to their new world. It not only connects the stories of immigrants in the early 20th century to their former lives in Russia and Europe but it also connects them to their descendants 100 years later.

 

A Bintel Brief peeks inside the immigrant experience of long ago and reminds us that little has changed and that the struggles and efforts made are both timeless and universal.

 

The show is brought to life by budding director Michelle Heisler who has previously acted in the DWYT and works with young children’s theatre. Heisler is a talented actor and singer having performed on stage across Canada, the United States and Europe.

 

The cast is an energetic and spirited group of youngsters, young adults and older folk who come together as though they were a true family.

Sam Stein and Aron Gonshor (Courtesy CJNews.com)

Aron Gonshor and Sam Stein are iconic in the DWYT and for good reason. Their vaudeville singing and dancing with old-fashioned, side-splitting humour kept the audience in tears of laughter. Their shtick was out of Wayne and Shuster and they were classic funnymen. They also took on serious roles in skits ranging in theme from overworked and underpaid, depressed immigrants to tragic episodes involving loss of life and great despair. If there are lifetime achievement awards for outstanding performance in Yiddish theatre this duo is certainly right for the prize.

 

Mikey Samra is known for  his many performances in the Cote Saint-Luc Dramatic Society but his stage presence in Yiddish was equally spectacular. He is a compelling young actor who will continue to flourish in whatever language he chooses.

 

Jodi Lackman has played at the Segal before but her performance in A Bintel Brief takes the cake. Her facial expressions and shrieking voice at learning her husband has another wife and children, her melodramatic overtones in yearning for her secret lover and her comedic expressions are worthy of praise and applause.

 

The list of talented and dedicated young actors who have put in tremendous effort to speak a language that is probably quite foreign to most of them is long and impressive. Kudos to all of them for entertaining the audience with song and dance, with drama and comedy and by keeping the language and rich history alive.

 

One particular skit involves a class of immigrants trying to learn to speak English. It is ridiculously funny with mispronunciation and misunderstanding. I could just imagine my Bubby and Zaida in such a class with their thick yiddishe accents trying to learn their new language. Indeed, I still remember the words of my very funny Russian-born Zaida who’d say, “I speak 12 languages and don’t understand any of them!”

 

The stage was simple and old fashion in the Segal Centre’s smaller theatre. Presented with English and French supertitles it is an easy-to-understand show even if you’re not fluent in mama-loschen. The four piece band was fun and lively under the musical direction of Nick Burgess.

 

Despite the young children who sing and dance in the first act (they leave at intermission to get home for bedtime) the heavy adult themes would give this musical performance a PG-13 rating, not age appropriate for pre-teens.

 

DWYT President Ben Gonshor thanked the capacity opening-night audience for continuing to support community theatre, particularly in Yiddish. With such great benefactors such as Alvin Segal, Barbara Seal and the Azrielli Foundation and Federation CJA Montrealers are fortunate in that they will continue to be treated to such memorable and entertaining evenings for years to come.

 

A Bintel Brief continues at the Segal Centre though October 21. Tickets are available at SegalCentre.org or by calling 514-739-7944.

 

A West End Little Oasis: Jardin Iwaki

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Published on MTLRestoRap

A review by Glenn J. Nashen

Tadayuki Endo is hard at work in his tiny kitchen creating tasty and delectable masterpieces

You may have driven by this tiny, unassuming restaurant for years and never even noticed it was there. My chance outing to this little oasis exemplifies that wonderful surprises are sometimes located closer than you think.

 

Tadayuki Endo has been a part of the restaurant scene in Montreal for over 30 years, the past six as the owner of The Jardin Iwaki where he has been serving up impressive Japanese cuisine to the West End. The longtime chef spent many years downtown at Sakura Japanese cuisine and the iconic Desjardins seafood restaurant. But after two decades of serving up dishes to common diners and prime ministers, Endo decided it was time to turn his attention to finer detail. Ever since he has focused on each and every dish that he thoroughly prepares for each customer.

 

And so began Endo’s venture into the Kaiseki traditional Japanese cuisine in which a series of small, intricate dishes are prepared. Each dish is unique and prepared in one of 11 different styles of cooking including fried, grilled, baked and steamed.

I entered the 12 seat restaurant with my mother and daughter and we immediately felt as though we entered a typical Japanese home: warm and inviting, bamboo and wood, not too bright with traditional decor. We were greeted by our smartly uniformed server, Tomomi, a lovely young woman who has been at Jardin Iwaki for the past three years (having arrived from Japan just four-and-a-half years ago).

 

With a mere four tables to seat 12 diners, quaint would be an understatement to this really small establishment.

 

The menu was simple, posted on three blackboards, summing up the nightly offerings. The ‘Iwaki’ seven course menu is $35, the ‘Edo’ seven course menu is $45 and must be ordered a day in advance and the ‘Omakase’ (dishes selected by the chef) menu runs from $55 depending on how many courses you choose (from 8 to 11). The latter must be ordered three days in advance. We opted for the first and we were in for a surprise.

Endo creates dishes that are appealing to look at as well as to eat. Notice the season-appropriate red maple leaf. Such detail.

Tomomi quietly and elegantly fluttered about the room serving the two larger tables. She patiently explained each and every dish in detail as she delivered the courses and laid the unique, handcrafted dinnerware upon the bamboo placemats. Each of the six courses was  served in different types of handcrafted vessels (dishes, shells, bowls) with intricate designs, shapes and textures.

 

Our interesting appetizers consisted of edamame with cream cheese, chicken liver paté, chicken breast, fried shrimp, shimeji mushroom and baby scallops. Each  dish was creatively and seasonally-appropriate. As an added touch, one dish was adorned with a small red maple leaf, hand picked by Endo.

 

Next came the soba noodle salad. What a pleasant texture made from buckwheat and covered with tofu, tomato and green leaves. It was juicy, salty and very flavourful with three dressings: ginger, sesame and a mentsuyu glaze. All are home made by Endo.

Nicole enjoys the delicate presentation and the delicious taste

The warm sea bass carpaccio was served raw and thinly sliced on a beautifully crafted dish. Tomomi drizzled the fish with boiling sunflower oil right at our table and within seconds it was perfectly cooked – piping hot and lightly sprinkled with sesame seeds. Oh, so juicy!

 

A mini Japanese pancake called Okanomiyaki with ginger, mayonnaise and bonito fish was brought out. The fish consisted of shavings set upon the pancake made of flour, cabbage and ginger. It was so hot that the shavings literally swayed back and forth. Wow. It had a tangy bbq sauce unlike the previous courses.

Mom loves the look, the taste and the ambiance

The small delicious dishes kept coming, each one unique in its taste and presentation. A grilled butterfish was next with a negi miso (or green onion) sauce. It was served with pumpkin, rapini and vinegar white radish; what a savoury morcel, laid upon a thin slice of orange. It was one of the best white fish I’ve ever had. My dinner guests were equally pleased.

 

I love mushroom but never before tasted a soup with five kinds of mushroom and rice. There were enoki, oyster, shimeji, kikurage, and shiitake mushrooms. Sensational and so very hot. A spectacular ending to a wonderful meal and unique dining experience.

Tadayuki Endo in his warm and cozy Jardin Iwaki

Jardin Iwaki is only open for dinner (but seven nights a week). Reservations are a must as we witnessed: a family of five entered, saw there was no more room and said they’d be back another night. I was told they are regulars. Endo says many of his customers return again and again and we certainly learned why.

 

My daughter said it was the “prettiest” meal she had ever eaten. My mother proclaimed Jardin Iwaki as an excellent dining experience. The small dishes don’t seem like a lot of food on their own but it all added up to a nicely filling meal, she said.

 

Endo takes great pride in working every single night. He takes his time to ensure that everything is just right with great attention to detail. As fresh fish is delivered to Montreal twice a week he is sure to go to market frequently to buy small portions of whatever is in season.  

 

Many Montreal Japanese restaurants are western-style, Endo tells me. Not here. Jardin Iwaki is an authentic experience throughout.

 

Jardin Iwaki is located at 5887 Sherbrooke St. West in Notre Dame de Grace, nestled among many cosy ethnic restaurants, lounges and grocery stores in the residential neighbourhood. There are only 12 seats indoors with a small terrasse. Remember, reservations are a must and some menus must be ordered in advance. 514-482-1283.

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