For Jewish Book Month—remembering writer Ethel Vineberg

October 29 | 2021

When I was a girl in Montreal, my mother presented me with the children’s book Grandmother came from Dworitz: A Jewish story (Tundra Books, 1969)My mother was keen to impress upon me that the book’s author, Ethel Vineberg, was related to us. Only now, a half-century later, have I discovered that the connection was through my paternal grandmother, and that Ethel Vineberg was equally the author of The History of the National Council of Jewish Women of Canada. I’ve discovered, too, the whereabouts of Dworitz, or Dvorets—in present-day Belarus.

What hasn’t changed over the decades is my enjoyment of this family narrative of traditional life in the Pale of Settlement, including the decision made by one fearless young daughter to immigrate to America. Nachama, whose father encouraged her to read the Bible but also Tolstoy, eventually settled with her husband near Saint John, New Brunswick, where she raised her daughter Ethel. Ethel Vineberg thus begins her family history with the words, “I write this because I am the link between the old and the new. I was born here, but my mother came from Europe. I shall tell you the stories she told me and that her mother told her of a way of life that no longer exists.”


October 22 | 2021

I’m thrilled and honoured to share the news that my recent memoir, The Smallest Objective (New Star Books), has been shortlisted for the 2021 Vine Awards for Canadian Jewish Literature in the history category.

Several exciting panel discussions are scheduled in advance of the awards presentation on November 23. I’ll be participating on November 18 at 7 p.m.,-Motherhood,-and-Lived

Harvest time—imagining Thanksgiving

October 5 | 2021

Betty Crocker’s Dinner for Two, published in 1958, was a cornerstone of my Aunt Carol’s recipe collection. The cookbook she studied as a young bride is now one I like to browse through myself, especially the holiday tips for “When Company Comes.” For Canadians, harvest time arrives early, and so does Thanksgiving. To set the tone for this weekend’s festivities, Betty Crocker recommends surrounding tall ivory candles with “richly colored fruits and golden wheat” or arranging gleaming red apples, clusters of grapes, and ears of corn on “a doily of autumn leaves.” Other items on the table? Candied yams, celery sticks, creamed onions, cranberry ice, and pumpkin chiffon or minced pie. Bon appetit, everyone!

His very best salute

September 15 | 2021

My father in wartime, savouring a rare moment of leisure. As a young doctor seconded to the Canadian regiment The Queen’s Own Rifles, my father was called upon to give his utmost, including, possibly, his life. He counted himself lucky to have survived the D-Day landing on Juno Beach. The challenges facing today’s medical personnel are no less formidable, and I’ve no doubt that my father, if he were still alive, would honour them with his very best salute. 

Summer through a lens

August 12 | 2021

Mid-August, the pace is lazy, the temperature’s rising, and nothing is more alluring than the beach. My mother thought so, too. Here she is in the 1950s posing for the camera in Ogonquit, Maine. The beach movie genre of the 1960s—Where the Boys Are, Beach Party—was still to come, but my mother could already have been inspired by Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity. The 1953 classic is remembered for the scene in which Kerr and Burt Lancaster make ardent love on the beach. Unlike Karen, Kerr’s character, my mother wasn’t risking an “affair.” The photographer here was my father, camera shy and besotted with his bride to be. Both my mother and my father are major players in my recent memoir, The Smallest Objective

“Bright, optimistic, energetic”

July 29 | 2021

For her high school scrapbook on birds, shown here, my mother was awarded a “B” without comment. Dating back to the 1940s, the scrapbook is wide ranging and lavishly illustrated. More than any others, perhaps, the birds of Australia and New Zealand intrigued my mother, but also worthy of her attention were the birds of Eastern Canada. As I tell in my recent memoir, my mother briefly studied biology at McGill University. There she put into practice the lessons from her scrapbook, striving to be a Canada warbler—“bright, optimistic, energetic”—and not a Wood Peewee, “a “feathered sad sack haunting somber groves.” 

Birds scrapbook

Defiant Joy

July 15 | 2021

The summer of 1933, though almost a century ago, in some ways resembled the summer of 2021. Having endured the upheaval of the Great Depression, Canadians were hoping for better times ahead even as drought decimated the Prairies and homelessness was widespread, immigration severely reduced, and racism on the rise. None of this is apparent in the photo of my grandmother Rose with her first-born, Rene. Here they are on the stoop of their Montreal home in a moment of defiant joy. Rene, my mother, and her family are the subject of my recent memoir, The Smallest Objective. 

Our Accelerated World

July 2 | 2021

Leafing through my father’s stamp album, I came across two vintage stamps that reminded me how speed is relative. Before email and WeTransfer, air mail was the quickest means of delivery, nudged along by helicopters or even angels. My father’s stamp album features in my recent memoir, The Smallest Objective. Many of the stamps are postmarked, indicating a vanished history. Missing are the painstakingly composed letters they conveyed and the recipients who awaited them with such patience. 

Remember Expo?

June 21 | 2021

Lots of talk these days about vaccine passports. In 1967, the sought-after passport was the one for Expo, the universal exposition held in Montreal. As I tell in my recent memoir, the theme of Expo 67 was “Man and His World,” hardly an obvious draw for a small girl obsessed with pigtails and Liddle Kiddles dolls. But I adored the world’s fair! I was six years old and travelling the globe—from Barbados to Mexico to Uganda. Illustrated here are some of the “visa” stamps from my child’s passport. Does anyone else remember Expo? 

Roaring Twenties

June 11 | 2021

With Ontario finally opening bar and restaurant patios today, everyone’s getting ready to party. Here’s my grandmother Rose in the flapper era, aged 14, dressed for a night out. The year was 1924, coinciding with the Jazz Age and the Roaring Twenties. Rose in her later years appears in my recent memoir, The Smallest Objective.