Updated: Mar 4, 2019
FOUR GENERATIONS OF INSPIRATION
By Wendy Schneider
Editor of The Hamilton Jewish News
My life has been significantly impacted by the values my parents and grandparents instilled in me.
My family story begins in the early days of the 20th century with the arrival in Hamilton of my great-grandfather Jacob Goldblatt.
Like many Eastern European Jewish immigrants of his generation, Jacob started his life in Canada as a peddler, selling his wares door to door from a horse-drawn cart. These were the humble origins of what would eventually become a thriving scrap iron and metal company built on Jacob’s reputation as a man of honesty and integrity, that gained him the trust and respect of Stelco executives.
As his own fortunes rose, Jacob sought ways to ease the struggle of those around him, helping distant relatives come to Canada and mentoring them in the business. That many of these individuals would become his future competitors was a thought that never crossed his mind.
I grew up hearing many stories about my great grandfather’s legendary acts of kindness, and the reverence in which he was held by the family made a great impression on me.
After Jacob’s passing, my grandfather Frank, together with his brothers, George and Morley, took up the mantle of community leadership and philanthropy, as did my father, Marvin and his brother, Abby, when it was their time to step up.
Many of Hamilton’s Jewish institutions would thrive under their stewardship, notably Beth Jacob Synagogue and Hamilton's Jewish Community Centre, but so too did individuals. Every week people would line up outside their offices at 73 Robert Street, to request a loan, a helping hand, or a sympathetic ear. The image of these sophisticated businessmen taking time out of their busy day to help others never fails to amaze me. To them, however, it was all in a day’s work. Helping others was a calling of no less importance than providing for their families.
Most young people of my generation left Hamilton for university to seek careers in other places. Indeed, that was my own plan before fate brought me back to this city in the early 1980s after being away for 11 years. Looking back after all these years I can’t imagine that raising my family in any other place would have brought me the level of personal and professional fulfillment that I’ve found here.
Here in Hamilton, my children forged deep connections with their grandparents and felt the significance of their own place in our family’s history. As for me, here in Hamilton I found community, fulfilling volunteer work, and an exciting career that allowed me to indulge my growing fascination with Hamilton Jewish oral history.
Of all my volunteer endeavors over the last 40 years, it is the Jewish Hamilton Project, an oral history documentary I co-produced in 2009, that most deeply resonated.
As a fourth-generation member of a family whose name is inextricably linked to Hamilton Jewish history, I was endlessly fascinated by the colorful stories of 20th century Jewish life in this city related to me by the more than 40 interviewees, among them, my father, whose memories now form part of a trove of recollections preserved for posterity in an online archive.
More than anything, The Jewish Hamilton Project revealed to me that there have been countless women and men throughout Jewish Hamilton history who have made immeasurable contributions to Jewish life in this city.
It’s been both a privilege and my greatest pleasure to have had the opportunity to record, preserve, and share their stories.
My greatest hope is that these projects will inspire people like yourself to sit down with your own family members, ask a lot of questions, record their answers and then watch and share these precious memories and life lessons with your loved ones.
In the end, we’re all a product of our families, of our societies and of our chosen communities. To quote James Baldwin, “Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.”