Jewish Community


      A man named Thomas Cahill — a scholarly student of religion — became one of the most famous writers of theological history. I took an interest in him because he expressed the character he felt in the Jewish community. As he put it: “Underlying values make all of us, Jew and Gentile, believer and atheist…. Without the Jews, we’d see the world through different eyes, hear with different ears, even feel with different feelings … we’d think with a different mind, interpret all our experiences differently, draw different conclusions from the things that befell us. And we would set a different course for our lives…’’ Dr. Cahill’s book reflected a keen observation and a truly heartfelt feeling.

       My upbringing – in the coal mining town Glace Bay, in Cape Breton — was calm, gracious and favorable with its numerous community of Jewish store keepers, lawyers, physicians, teachers, and young people all on their way to their professions. The Jewish people were very close to me, and me to them, male and female. Overtime the town’s coal mine industry died. Well, today in Glace Bay, so many I knew are now gone, including Enid my playmate, whose funeral in Toronto I spoke at a few years ago

    When I was in my teens it became known that I was to become a minister, the knocks on the front door would sound and often a Jewish citizen would be there with a gift for me as I was soon to go to Mount Allison. One was J. Louis Dubinsky, a lawyer actually born in Nova Scotia, who in time became the first Jewish citizen to serve on the province’s Supreme Court.  I was not in Glace Bay when Louis came to see me but he told this to my father whom I never forgot: “He’s entering the highest of all the professional callings.” He’ll be very respected in the clerical life.

        When I was about 16 years old I worked at MacLeod’s Bookstore — now long closed –- but owned back then by a large and pleasant owner who looked with pleasure on a student like me about to enter Mount Allison  to become a United Church minister, which I still am. Mind you, the town had, in general, two segments, white collar businessmen and coal miners displaying the black of the coal they worked with. On Saturdays, I’d be at the counter selling “Flash” or “Hush” — if you can recall them – and the magazines would be gone in a half hour.

    Once, when I was home for a weekend, and was to leave the next day for Mount Allison, I was at the dining room table.  Dinner was pretty well over, when my young brother, red in the face and bursting into tears, came to the dining room upset. My father, a firm and somewhat stern man, asked what was wrong. “We were playing basketball in the hall and the janitor told the boys we had too many Jews playing.” Instantly — I can use no other word — my father tossed his napkin to the floor and was gone out the front door before he spoke a word. I wondered if he’d burst. No, but he came back still red faced.  He said he told the janitor that it was perfectly fine when Jewish boys join with the church boys to play basketball gym.  My father, at times, had a serious temper. He told the janitor he might fire him. The janitor was dreadfully shaken – he had a family. Then my father promptly gave him his second chance and came back to the house. So be it.

    He was, in a general way, a good man – ethical, competent and active — both in work but even more so in church. Yet he and I had our differences. I did some early radio announcing through high school and later. My father didn’t like it.  I’m still at it –a daily commentator on a radio station in which I use microphone and computer at home in north Toronto reaching considerable distance with local and worldly issues for commentary.

    So that’s a window to see a bit of my boyhood and adult life. (I’ll soon, in age, set it all aside. My parents sleep in the eternal rest of a beautiful village cemetery, with the trees and the nearby sea, in Cape Breton’s small town called Port Morien.  Many of you remember Angus MacQueen – a native of Port Morien and a first class preacher in two places of Ontario: the city of London and the city of Toronto. Angus and his wife, Nettie, were great friends of mine and now rest in Black Brook Cemetery by the swaying trees, the calm waters. Beyond that it’s all beside their pretty leafy village of Port Morien with its small population of a few hundreds. I remembered it every day as a boy, but now I remember the sea itself where it existed from life’s beginning and my becoming an adult and a father and then grandfather. My parents and many many friends rest in the cemetery beside the sea now and forever — in comfort, but also memory for us all, including my mother Mary and my father Billy. So be it.





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