Friday, December 24, 2010

A tribute to Dr. Morris Erenberg, and a story of Christmas past and present

News of the passing this past Tuesday of Dr. Morris Erenberg Z'L" evoked very strong memories for me.

His son David, a fellow true-blue Sittler/McDonald/Salming/ 'Paaahl-ma-teeeah makes the saaaave' Maple Leafs fan, was one of my closest friends in high school.

We did dueling Bob Cole imitations and aspired to great misadventures. A sarcastic, witty and athletic guy, he waxed philosophic on the issues of the day, That 70's Show style, while shooting hoops, playing field hockey and football, and yes sceptics, even riding our bikes sometimes.

The next son in line, Reuven, was a lanky classmate of my sisters' and was an even bigger character than Dave.

Legend had it Reuv once got tossed out of Hebrew class - surely intentional - and on the way out marched up to the teacher (who as an Israeli would have had no clue what he was doing), evoked the Baron von Raschke claw pose, announced " and DAT is all de people need to know !! ", and goose-stepped out of the room.

The youngest, Noah, was a well mannered and light-hearted kid who shared my interest in documentary journalism, was fleet afoot, ran the Manitoba Marathon as a lark, and became the kid brother to all of us. When he played sports with us older teens, there was a no-hit sign on him and everyone respected it.

The Erenberg family had endured the tragedy of the death of an older daughter Brina after a valiant battle with cancer. (Her name endures today with one of Noah's children.)

Two years later, when my own father died, the Erenberg boys were at my side.

The Erenberg boys were reflections of the intellect and ethics of their father and mother Miriam. "Mo" completed his internship in Anaethesia at Deer Lodge Hospital in 1965, a man well versed in patient care, philosophy and Yiddishkeit. He led High Holiday services at B'nai Israel Synagogue around the corner from the family home in Garden City, and later in life, led the Sunday morning Minyan at Sha'arey Zedek Synagogue and was a respected Talmudic scholar.

Dr. Erenberg gave me great counsel during my own fathers' illness.
His home was always open to all the friends of his children. My deepest condolences to the Erenberg family for the loss of their patriarch.


Around 1993, I became friends with 3 girls who were roommates. None were from Winnipeg, and all were around 20 years old. I was in love with the first one of them I met, but ended up eventually dating the second girl, while becoming good friends through the months with the third.

In early December that year, late one night, I gave a ride to the girl I was in love with. She got in the cab and sweetly said (that was her usual tone) " I have a question for you ". She hesitated, but went on. Her roommates were going home for the holidays, one east and one west, and, being that I am Jewish and all ... she was wondering if she could stay with me for Christmas instead of alone at their place. She hesistated to ask because, as she reminded me this week " you were SO old!(I was 33) ", but she got over it thankfully...

The calendar was the same that year as this year, with the holiday falling on a weekend. That meant my roommate at the time, Chi Chi Cruz, would not be working or away wrestling, and wasn't able to go home to Hartney, Manitoba either. I would be taking the days off work too, but he was pretty happy for me and quite liked the girl so he was cool with us having company over for the weekend as my guest.

So, on that Friday night 17 years ago, I drove my shift with some eagerness.

Freezing cold it was that year, when there was far more hustle and bustle hauling last minute shoppers on icy city streets -- until it suddenly shifted gears like into a different day, into families visiting each other, going to church, or maybe the last minute $10 ride to the airport.

At 11 PM, with my Uncle Phil ready to take over the cab and already reminding me about the Winnipeg Jewish tradition -- " Christmas Day lunch at 11.30 AM at Shanghai Martin!- don't sleep in! I'll be starving!", I picked my friend up at their west end apartment.

It was a remarkable weekend I remember always at this time of year. Mostly we watched some WCW and Tony Condello promotion wrestling on VHS, laughed at music videos on TV, and I was busy fixing sumptuous meals of kosher-style cuisine ("What's a Strubbs?"), while my two twenty-ish Christian friends from small town Canada invoked toasts of everyone and everything they could think of, as they reflected on Christmases past, in their snowy small towns, and of being little kids waiting for Santa to visit.

The third roommate, who I had seen for 10 minutes once by accident 1000 miles away 11 years ago, but basically, haven't spent any time with in over 16 years, is now visiting Winnipeg from the coast. Her son's girlfriend was still overdue and wasn't in the hospital as expected so she came by to visit and reminisce. I told her that I had a meeting to go to at Osborne House that afternoon, and she offered to drive me over and sit in as part of our day together.

She found a parking spot and we walked a short distance to the women's shelter. My friend suddenly exclaimed - "I recognize that place".

That was only the first surprise.

Now working in the administration of a university, she told Executive Director Barb Judt about arriving at that same door about 18 years ago, and how the staff had to carefully pry her infant son out of her left arm, as her partner had shattered it with a baseball bat.

The shelter saved her life and that of her son. I did not know that. Now she had returned, to await and welcome her first grandchild.

In addition to her regular job, my friend also works many evenings at a woman's shelter. That I knew, but I did not know, until the chance meeting of her and Barb, of the deep connection she has to the clients of these kinds of social services.

The second surprise, far more pleasant, was that Barb and my friend share another mutual friend beside myself, as she had grown up in western Manitoba with Jennifer Howard, now Manitoba Minister of Labour -- and a huge supporter of Osborne House.

The meeting with Barb was about Christmas at the shelter.

Last year, one of the children plaintively asked a question.

"How can Santa find us if we aren't at home?"

So of course Barb had bought a Santa suit, and the third surprise of the conversation was on my friend, because the meeting was about how this year (tomorrow) - I get to add "Santa Claus" to the roles I have played in this life.

That night, when we telephoned girl #1 for a holiday reunion, the girls had quite the laugh as they imagined me as the man in the red suit, handing out jars of Strubbs Sour Dills no doubt, to confused little children.

This opportunity came to me, because of the trust built by our work on Kick-FM this Summer and Fall, to defend the shelter from the antics of City Hall, whose "experts" decided the victims of domestic violence should be secondary to the demands of the Bike Lobby to alter the South Broadway neighborhood.

( And, who cares if the shelters' Taxi bills could triple due to streets being blocked to traffic? Oh ya, us. The day TGCTS were canceled, was to be the launch of a $10,000 fundraising campaign to try and help Osborne House make ends meet.)

I may not be the first Jewish Santa in Winnipeg, but I've been studying up on the names of the reindeer, cause I want to be the best.

In the future, if you are looking for a suitable recipient of Christmas hampers, there is no more worthy cause you can give to, than the clients of Osborne House. Barb would love to hear from you.

Facebook comment of the week:

"I don't believe the consultants on bike paths are willing to acknowledge the existence of winter. They believe winter is a vicious rumor started by Marty Gold"


Tomorrow, a special Christmas present to all the supporters of TGCTS - Spirited Kenny says Santa is bringing him...

The Live Event Podcast Special, Part One

Before we get to the sports highlight of the night, here's Santa with Gordon Solie:

and for the sports fans:
The free throw for the ages, from Idaho State: