What does Passover look like for different Jewish Montrealers?
Joyce and Ruth Rappaport (mother and aunt of Zev Moses, the Museum of Jewish Montreal's executive director) were born and grew up In New York, but drove up to Montreal every April to celebrate Passover with their grandparents, Wolf and Luba Chaitman. They discuss these seders below:
JOYCE: This photo was taken in 1969. I believe it was our next-to-last seder in Montreal, at 3955 Dupuis Avenue, apartment 12. By 1971 our grandfather was getting weaker and we began to have our seders in New York, where we lived. The picture is of Wolf (Velvel) Chaitman, teacher at the Jewish People’s School, and he was in his mid-eighties here. With him is Luba Chaitman, our grandmother. My sister Ruth, just about age 14, is standing next to them and probably bringing him a cloth napkin to dry his hands, since in our family he washed at the table (and was the only one who washed). I am sitting nearby, age 17, in my last year of high school.
Our seders were eclectic and recited in Yiddish, Hebrew, and English. We shared them with the Gold Family (Dr. Solomon and Edith), on the second night going to their house in Outremont, where the discussion was always focused on social injustice. We also shared them with Max and Rivka Pascal. Zaidy Velvel and Uncle Max, as radical and non-religious as they were, would insist on completing the whole Hagaddah, including the after-dinner prayers. We’d wait for the songs and sing them loudly. Zaidy would give us Canadian silver dollars as afikoman presents.
RUTH: The first seders I recall were in the apartment that my grandparents had at 205 Mount Royal Avenue West. They shared a flat with Dr. Solomon Gold’s medical practice that smelled like alcohol-based tinctures. After the seder the kids—including Dr. Gold’s sons—would often play in the doctor’s office and I recall sitting on a big green examining table.
If I can recall correctly, we used the old Maxwell House coffee hagaddah and in it there was a picture of a guy who we thought looked like Alfred E. Newman.
Lyrics of ”Partisan Song” handwritten by Wolf Chaitman, courtesy of Joyce Rappaport
We sang some remarkable songs whose melodies are uncommon. We had especially great versions of “Had Gad Ya" and "Echad Mi Yodea.” But the most chilling and memorable was the “Partisan Song” (Partizaner Lid, “Zug Nit Kaynmol”). Penned by Hirsh Glick after the Warsaw Uprising, it was the anthem for the Jewish men and women who fought the Nazis. “Zug Nit Kaynmol" translates to "Never Say You Have Reached the Final Road." My Zaydie Velvel wrote out the words in impeccable penmanship, a work of art. We all stood and sang the song with conviction. There has never been another song that touches me the same way and to this day I sing it every Pesach.
One year I came down with German Measles and I could not attend the second seder. The family went off to celebrate with the Golds, and my Bobie Luba stayed back with me. She permitted me to eat toast.