Some people devote their lives to ideological beliefs and causes that are playing out far beyond the communities where they live.
It was edited by their son, Jacob, a retired professor who taught in the University of Waterloo’s School of Optometry. He has added his own observations to the memoir, which was jointly written by his parents in Yiddish, then translated to English years later by his father. Max Sivak died in 2002, six years after the death of his wife, Jennie.
Max and Jennie met as teenagers in Montreal, where their respective families — he was born in Ukraine and she in Lithuania — wound up after escaping persecution in Europe during the turmoil of the First World War. Both were activists, keen to do more than pay lip service in supporting the settlement of Jews in pre-independence Israel, then called Palestine.
In the 1930s, now married, both Max and Jennie left Canada to take up the kibbutz life. They had some success, but found the experience very challenging in ways they hadn’t expected.
They returned to Montreal in 1937, still devoted to the cause, but resigned to supporting it from a distance.
For roughly 15 years Max was a building superintendent for the Adath Israel Congregation in Montreal. He then went into business as an “instalment merchant,” in effect providing loans to help people pay by instalment for consumer purchases they were otherwise unable to make in the years before credit cards became widely available.
His first customers, for example, would make $1 weekly payments for 53 weeks to purchase a $50 package (plus $3 tax) of bedding (pillows, pillowcases, sheets, blankets and bedcovers) that Max himself was able to purchase from a supplier for less.
While it’s only a partial portrait of Max and Jennie as people, the book offers a thought-provoking look at their efforts to succeed as a family unit in Canada while also making a difference on the larger world scene.
Their son, Jacob, conveys his own sense of wonder in his parents, noting that while many other people of their time “got caught up in ideological movements,” few of them actually walked the talk and acted on their beliefs.
“I know that my parents (as they aged) wondered what young people do with themselves in the absence of an ideological sense of purpose,” he writes.
Jon Fear, Staff Reporter, Kitchener Waterloo Record, June 8, 2012