May 17, 1956. I share the same birthday with Sugar Ray Leonard, arguably one of the greatest boxers to ever step foot into the ring. Both of us have suffered detached retinas in our left eyes. Apart from that bit of medical trivia, our paths have remained, surprisingly, uncrossed. I came into this world at 5:46. The reason I know that is that my mother, bless her soul, fastidiously – some may say, obsessively – saved every possible document concerning mine and my brother’s early years.
I have in my possession an album with every report card issued in my name from the second grade until graduate school. For all I know I may have skipped kindergarten and grade one. My guess is that she figured some future employer would be mightily grateful if he knew my first semester geography mark in grade five. I am particularly fond of one of my second grade teacher’s comments: “Marvin is an excellent worker- I would like to see Marvin control his “bad” habit of talking out in class.” That pretty much sums up my academic profile right through university.
According to my mother, I was supposed to be a girl. At least that was what she was convinced she was carrying right up until they wheeled her into the delivery room. Apparently my appearance precipitated an animated exchange between my mother and the medical team on duty. Eight days later the mohel put to rest any lingering doubts. I’m not sure if my mother harboured any regrets about my designated gender, but for the most part, I’ve been happy with how things worked out.
I am named after my father’s oldest brother, Moshe, who died in the Holocaust. Most likely, my parents figured that Marvin sounds close enough to my given Hebrew name. Marvin – it’s such a 50’s name, right up there with Irving, Myron, and Sheldon. Our parents probably thought they were doing us a big favour by giving us these names – a solid, modern name would help us integrate better into the real world. Moshe was not likely to cut it on Wall Street, and for sure not on the streets of Hamilton.
When I was growing up, Hamilton had the reputation of being a tough guy’s kind of town – lots of hard-working, blue collar immigrants. We were known as Steel Town, the Pittsburgh of Canada because of the two enormous steel mills – Stelco and Dofasco – that dominated the landscape. Many of the Jewish immigrants to the city made their living selling scrap metal to the mills. Not my family. My father and two uncles were in the shmatteh trade. They were not interested in getting their hands too dirty; they preferred to outfit the tough guys who got their hands good and dirty.
I don’t think I ever entertained the thought that someday I may inherit my father’s business. More importantly, it probably never occurred to my father that either of his sons would continue in his footsteps. We were destined for something bigger and better than hawking shmattes, preferably something that required a diploma with some Latin inscriptions. I have the diploma, just not the accompanying profession – at least not the profession that my parents’ probably envisioned.
Never, in my wildest dreams, did I imagine that when Lori and I moved to Israel in 1986 we would eventually become the owners of a bakery and catering company. Even further from my thoughts was the prospect that I would spend years on Aza Street in Jerusalem running our shops. In essence, I became my father; except I was peddling cheesecakes instead of three-piece suits. Nothing to be ashamed of, mind you; just another reminder that you really never know, do you?
We mock the things we are to be – thank you, Mel Brooks. And true to form, I never miss an opportunity to encourage my boys to get a good education, Latin inscriptions notwithstanding.