People

Young Côte Saint-Luc resident excels on the cello thanks to generosity of others

The Montreal Cello Ensemble, based in NDG,  gives talented local children a full scholarship opportunity to learn from and perform with cellists Genevieve Guimond and Gary Russell of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, educator Josh Fink, and pianist Sandra Hunt. The  goal is to ensure that the highest level of music education is made available at no financial cost to children who show talent, dedication, and a love for music.  This is  a registered charity that has received support from private donors, the Dr. Julien Foundation, the Unitarian Church of Montreal, Luthiers, Wilder & Davis, Carrefour jeunesse emploi - NDG, and  the law firm BLG.

Amaka6
District 2 resident Amaka and her cello.

 

Fink tells me they are planning on adding many students for this summer and families should apply by May 15 if they are interested via https://www.cellomontreal.ca/demande-application . They just released their debut album, Petits mondes endormis, which contains 10 original songs. Each one is written and performed by one of their young cellists:

Students  come from across the island, meeting in person Saturday mornings at either The Unitarian Church of Montreal or the  Carrefour jeunesse emploi - NDG. “During the pandemic we did a lot  online, as well as outdoor classes when the weather permitted. We developed an extensive online curriculum of around 3,000 at-home practice videos," says Fink. 

One such success story is nearly seven year old Amaka, who started with the cello at age four years. An incredible talent, she just composed and recorded a  track on their album: https://cellomontreal.bandcamp.com/track/i-love-my-barbie-doll

The Côte Saint-Luc District 2 resident attends  École Des Amies-du-Monde.

Amaka  was born in May 2015 and hails from Issele Azagba in the  Delta State of Nigeria. A series of events caused the family to leave Nigeria and they arrived here in January 2018. As with most new endeavours, settling into a new environment definitely came with its challenges and one of the most difficult was finding an affordable daycare for her as she was so young and her parents couldn’t afford the private daycares at that time. She had to stay home while the family searched for ways to keep her engaged. As luck would have it,  a neighbour turned friend named Rachel, who is also a musician,  happened to introduce her to Fink. “He told me about this amazing free cello music program for kids that was in the works and suggested I have one of my kids try out for the auditions to get in,” said mom Joan. “We had never ever heard of  or seen a cello so this was a totally new experience for us.” 

Amaka was the very first to audition and she fared very well  and this began her journey into the wonderful world of the cello.  Added her mom: "Amaka has always loved listening to music and also singing as we would occasionally find her tapping away on the keyboard at home as she was fascinated by the sounds it made but her keen ear and appreciation for music was brought to my attention by her amazing instructors at Cello Montreal."

“She is also very excited about her very first song which she composed under the guidance and expertise of her instructors titled I love my Barbie doll and is looking forward to making more music,”  Joan continued. “Playing the cello has become one of her very favourite things to do and she never misses a chance to play at any occasion whenever it is requested. It’s amazing to see how far she has come and how talented she is and we appreciate her instructors who are helping  to nurture her talent and open her up to possibilities which we would never have imagined.” 


A fascinating story about brothers and sisters connecting for the first time

Bram Eisenthal and I have been friends for many years.

A longtime Côte Saint-Luc resident, Bram has recently fallen upon hard times health wise.   Adopted at a young age, Bram spoke often about wanting to find his birth parents and to learn if he any siblings. Before he got sick and had to be placed in assisted living, he was able to unite with his siblings in a story that one could only see in the movies. I feel so badly for Bram in many ways. He dreamed of this opportunity all of his life. Now he cannot even experience it.

The Washington Post  filed an extensive feature and you can read it below.

‘DNA Doesn’t Lie. People Lie.’

After discovering six adopted brothers and sisters, these siblings
believe their story is more than a sprawling family secret
 
By Jaclyn Peiser
Feb. 9, 2022

 

The following are Anne and Mike’s children.

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Barbara Louis

BORN AUG. 5, 1949
Barbara appears to be Anne and Mike’s first child. She was raised by Anne.
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Sharon Coppola

BORN AUG. 16, 1950
Sharon was adopted by Eleanor and Alex Joseph, a Jewish couple in Brooklyn.
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Rene Holm

BORN OCT. 5, 1951
Rene was adopted by June Cohen, an American living in Montreal, and Sam Cohen, a Jewish man.
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Naomi Baum

BORN OCT. 9, 1952
Naomi was adopted by Max and Anne Padber, a Jewish couple in Montreal.
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?

1953
Bob swears that Anne had a child every year from 1949 to 1957, but this year is unaccounted for.
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Reissa Spier

BORN MARCH 15, 1954
Reissa was adopted by Saul Gordon and Rose Levine, a Jewish couple in Montreal.
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Jon Sherman

BORN APRIL 15, 1955
Jon was adopted by Aaron Sherman and Hilda Bacher Sherman, a Jewish couple living in Detroit.
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Michael Bryntwick

BORN APRIL 17, 1956
Michael was raised by Anne until her death in 1967.
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Bram Eisenthal

BORN APRIL 26, 1957
Bram was adopted by Mike and Mina Eisenthal, a Jewish couple living in Montreal.

We’re moving” was a phrase Bob Bryntwick heard once or twice a year during his childhood in the 1950s. There were many times when he’d come home from school to find the contents of his family’s Montreal home scattered across the front lawn. His single mother, Anne, didn’t make rent again. He’d shrug, gather his things and mentally prepare to start over in a different neighborhood, going to a new school and making new friends.

With each move, Anne took pride in their dwellings. Almost immediately, she’d freshen up the walls with a new color or paint the floral crown molding with vibrant hues. Her feet pattered on the wood floors as she danced to “Tennessee Waltz,” no matter where they lived. There were also the familiar smells of frying dough, borscht and potato pockets that filled the home. So, too, did the sounds she made giving birth — each home christened when she had a child.

Bob, now 73 and living in Mississauga, a Toronto suburb, remembers rotating the volume dial on a small black-and-white TV in hopes of drowning out his mother’s recognizable shrieks of pain emanating from the bedroom. “My mother was like clockwork,” Bob tells me, emphasizing the routineness by snapping his fingers. “Every year, year and a half, she was having a baby.”

But even as his mother gave birth annually for almost a decade, he remained the middle child of the five being raised by Anne. Bob says the newborn children were always gone after only a few days or weeks. No one explained what happened to them.

The last infant came and went when Bob was 9, and soon his memories of the transient babies faded. It wasn’t until decades later, when he sent a tube of spit to Ancestry, that he would be confronted with undeniable truths about his upbringing and his family.

More than 300 miles from Bob’s childhood in Canada, Eleanor and Alex Joseph’s hopes of becoming parents were chipped away by each miscarriage. The middle-class Jewish couple living in Brooklyn had also tried adopting, but the endeavor proved futile in 1940s New York because of a segregated system in which Jewish families could only adopt babies of the same religion. By 1950, after the couple exhausted all options, they turned to their family physician for advice. He told them he knew of a doctor in Montreal facilitating adoptions. At a price. After their meeting, the doctor got word that an infant was available. The Josephs traveled to Quebec and picked up their daughter. They named her Sharon.

Now 71 and living in Tampa, Sharon Coppola is grateful for a life in which she wanted for nothing. Her parents offered a perfect balance of temperaments: Her mother, a school aide, was smart and strong-willed; her father, a plumber, was caring and sweet. She insists she never longed to know her biological family. It wasn’t until 1989, after her mother died, that Sharon’s father unwrapped a secret he’d kept tightly bound for decades. “He came to me right after the funeral and said, ‘I have something to tell you,’ ” Sharon recalls. “He said, ‘You have a twin sister.’ ”

Alex then showed 39-year-old Sharon a letter he had received shortly after her adoption from a nurse who cared for her as a newborn (“I was glad to hear that your daughter is so much improved. She really does well, God bless her.”). The note referred to another baby and included a last name and address for the family who adopted the other child. Sharon’s father told her that he and her mother vowed not to tell Sharon about the letter or her sister. Alex, who was a twin himself, claimed that if they had known she had a twin, they would have adopted both. Sharon doubted his explanation because her cousin had told her that the Josephs borrowed a large sum of money from her grandparents to afford the adoption. There’s no way they could have paid for a second child, Sharon speculated.

She soon started on an earnest mission to find her sister. But the last name and address of the family surfaced nothing. Widespread use of the Internet was still more than a decade away — and without further context of the circumstances surrounding her adoption, which her father could not provide, she quickly hit a wall.

By 2013, however, new technology had emerged, and finding a relative was as easy as sending a DNA sample through the mail. Hoping to finally locate her twin sister, Sharon joined the Ancestry database. Like Bob, her discoveries would lead her in a direction she never anticipated.

Reissa Spier knew she was adopted but never cared to know the details. She understood that her father, Saul Gordon, a sales representative in the plumbing and hardware industry and a proud Jewish veteran of the Royal Canadian Air Force, and her mother, Rose Levine, a part-time bookkeeper, struggled with infertility following World War II. They adopted Reissa’s older brother in 1951 and Reissa three years later. She adored her parents, whose active participation in their Montreal synagogue instilled her with a strong Jewish identity. The family was a tightknit unit, and for much of Reissa’s childhood they lived in a duplex with her aunt, uncle and cousins residing upstairs.

Only at 51, when Reissa was diagnosed with breast cancer, did she start down a path that would lead to her origin story. She was anxious to know if her daughter was at risk for the disease, so she asked her doctor to test her for mutations in the BRCA genes, genetic changes that signify increased risks of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Ashkenazi Jewish women are at higher risk of carrying the mutation. But Reissa’s adoption made it difficult. “I had to prove that I had a first-degree relative who also had breast cancer, and I didn’t know any first-degree relatives,” Reissa, now 67 and in remission, explains. “They said, ‘You don’t qualify because you’re adopted.’ Well, that’s backwards. I should qualify because I’m adopted.”

Ten years later and living in Surrey, south of Vancouver, Reissa had all but given up on her efforts when she started seeing ads for 23andMe. Among the various genetic tests, the service offered results for the BRCA mutations. Her husband gave her the kit for her 62nd birthday.

When the results came in, Reissa was relieved to learn she didn’t carry the mutation. What she found was far more startling. First, she learned she wasn’t fully Jewish — she was half, through her biological father. Second, she had a full sister named Rene Holm.t

Rene (pronounced like “rain”) always dreamed of having siblings. She remembers as a little girl pleading with her adoptive mother for a baby sister. “It’s never going to happen,” was always the response. Rene doesn’t know why her parents — June Cohen, a Massachusetts-born showgirl living in Montreal, and Sam Cohen — didn’t have a biological child. Whatever the reasons, June, who converted to Judaism to marry Sam, made clear to Rene, now 70, that she had come at a price: “I paid good money for you,” she told her daughter.

A woman with radiant beauty yet a harsh personality, June was never warm and nurturing toward Rene. June left her husband when Rene was a toddler and took her to Worcester, Mass., eventually leaving Rene in her parents’ care. When June resurfaced a decade later, Rene didn’t welcome her return. On Rene’s 13th birthday, June brought her to a strip club for the first time and put her to work. “As soon as the show was over, my job was to go onto the stage, pick up all her clothes and take them back to the dressing room,” Rene recalls. Given her adoptive mother’s instability, Rene grew curious about her biological parents. June always said Rene’s biological mother was a young, poor unwed woman who had no other children — a tale Rene found dubious.

In 2015, Rene’s children gave her a 23andMe DNA kit as a Mother’s Day gift. But she left the box untouched for nearly a year, dreading what it could reveal. When she finally took the test, the buildup was almost all for naught. No meaningful results surfaced — until 13 months later when she received a message from Reissa, her biological sister. “It was just so surreal,” Rene tells me in her sun-drenched den in Rutland, Mass. The two formed a quick and close bond. “I just freaking love that woman,” she says as she wipes away her black eyeliner-stained tears.

But the fact that Rene and Reissa had the same parents puzzled the two women. “This couple was together, had a baby girl, and gave her up for adoption. And two a half years later they’re still together” — and then “they gave me up?” Reissa says. “We both thought this was really sketchy. Why would they have done this?” To widen their DNA net, Reissa signed up for Ancestry in the spring of 2018. When she received her results, she connected with Bob Bryntwick.

On opposite ends of Canada, the estranged siblings were piecing together their shared family tree. Reissa and Rene matched in 2016, and Bob and Sharon exchanged messages on Ancestry the following year. Then Reissa and Bob found each other, all four sharing the same biological mother: Anne Chop Bryntwick.

Anne was born in 1914 to a Ukrainian Catholic family in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She grew up on a farm with 13 siblings and never received a formal education. Bob described her as a loving and sometimes jovial woman who didn’t work and occupied her time cooking, baking, cleaning and sewing her children’s clothes. But there were many times when she collapsed into fits of grief and sadness.

Bob was one of five siblings in the house. There was the oldest, Ed, born in 1939, the result of Anne’s first and only husband, Alex Bryntwick. She left him not long after Ed was born, but they never legally divorced. Next came Ann in 1946, the product of one of their mother’s flings, according to Bob. Bob, the middle child, was born in 1948. Then there were his younger siblings, Barbara, born in 1949, and Michael in 1956.

Bob, Barbara and Michael were all told their father was Max “Mike” Mitchell, a tall, gregarious man whose presence could take over a room. Mike, who was born and raised in Montreal in a Jewish family, never stuck around for long, Bob says. He would float in and out of their lives, often for a weekend here and there each year. “Every time that big black car was sitting in front of our house in Montreal, we knew it was him — my dad,” Barbara Louis, 72, tells me over the phone from her home in Vernon, British Columbia. The kids would rush in, and Mike would hand them candy, gifts or sometimes money to use at the corner store. On a few occasions he took them on day trips.


Over the course of Mike and Anne’s almost decade-long relationship, according to the siblings, they bore more children. “I was young, and I didn’t understand why she would keep on having babies,” Bob says. When he was a teenager Ed told him that their other brothers and sisters were sold to families. “Mike was getting $10,000 per child,” Bob remembers Ed telling him. Understanding that the various pregnancies amounted to selling the babies made sense to Bob and Barbara, who described their family as poor. Barbara remembers eating better when Mike was around. “There was money when he came through,” she says.

What the Bryntwick children suspect was happening in their home was not illegal in Quebec in the 1950s. Neither Canada nor the United States had federal laws barring the sale of babies. In 1955 there was only one Canadian province that banned the act, and in 1956, The Washington Post reported, 32 states had “no criminal statute barring baby sales.” This lack of oversight bred an exploitative environment.

There were several factors that made Quebec the ideal place for what is now referred to as the black-market baby trade. In part, it was because of a complex social welfare system, which at the time included both government-run and private institutions segregated by religion, according to Magda Fahrni, a history professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal. But with most of the population being Catholic, the church had a powerful cultural hold over the province and many people turned to religious resources for social services. Because of the church’s influence, the majority of Quebec followed the religion’s moralistic rules: Premarital sex was a sin, abortion was illegal and unwed child rearing was discouraged. But if a single, poor pregnant woman wanted to avoid going to the church for help, the most feasible option was a disreputable, underground and often unsanitary maternity home, where she would give birth and then the sale was facilitated through a network of brokers, doctors, lawyers and clergy.

After World War II, there was significant societal pressure to have children in Canada and the United States. For couples who could not have children of their own, adoption was popular and one of the only ways to attain a nuclear family. With not enough Catholic families looking to adopt, the church-run orphanages were overcrowded. On the other end of the spectrum, there were not enough Jewish children up for adoption and too many Jewish couples across North America looking for one. But it was illegal to adopt a child of a different religion in Quebec, so the imbalance created a classic supply and demand problem.

“Of course, we don’t want children to be commodities, but the reality of looking at any of this stuff is that they are treated as commodities [at the time],” says Karen Balcom, a history professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and the author of “The Traffic in Babies: Cross-Border Adoption and Baby-Selling Between the United States and Canada.” There was “a premium, or desire, for a child who is, or can, be made to appear as Jewish,” she adds.

There were a few ways of achieving this, Balcom explains. Because the clergy oversaw birth registrations, some black-market brokers would employ a “phony mother.” This scheme meant the Catholic mother, who gave birth at a maternity home run by the brokers, would hand off her newborn to a Jewish woman, who would pretend to be the mother and bring the child to a rabbi to register the child’s birth; a Canadian or American Jewish family could then legally adopt the child in Quebec. Other schemes involved a clandestine handover of the child to the adoptive family inside a hospital immediately following the birth.

It is unclear why there were so few Jewish babies up for adoption. Pierre Anctil, a history professor at the University of Ottawa who has studied the Jewish community in Quebec, says it could be because of cultural differences. “I’m thinking that the Jewish community of the time was much more liberal-minded than the Catholics,” Anctil tells me, adding that many young Jewish women in the post-World War II era were more empowered and independent, getting university-level degrees, pursuing careers in education and the medical field. They also may have had better access to contraceptives and safe abortion, Anctil says, and in more progressive communities, it would have also been less taboo for a single, Jewish woman to raise a baby on her own as opposed to the pressure and shame Catholic women felt to give a baby up for adoption.

Black-market operations were very profitable, with the going rate for a baby ranging from $3,000 to $10,000, according to news reports in the mid-1950s, equivalent to more than 10 times that today. There’s no way of knowing how many babies were sold to couples in Canada and the United States, but in 1956 the Baltimore Sun reported that the baby trade across North America was valued at $25 million annually, which is about $250 million today. The mothers rarely got much of that money. “Nothing that I have read or seen are the women who give birth benefiting financially,” Balcom says. “They get kicked out on the street with like 50 bucks.”

In most cases, historians say, a mother selling a child was a one-off. But what the Bryntwick children believe happened in their household was almost methodical, though it is unclear how much money was being made or how it was distributed. Recent DNA testing indicates at least eight children were born to Anne and Mike between August 1949 and April 1957, six of whom were adopted. In other words, it’s an extreme case from a former era in which babies were all too often treated as mere goods. But it’s also an unusual version of a familiar story from our era, where DNA has brought to light numerous family secrets — albeit few secrets as byzantine and sprawling as the baby-selling operation that, as they were discovering decades later, linked the Bryntwick children to one another.

Bob and Barbara remember the last child their mother had in 1957, a year after Michael was born. They named the new baby Richard and Barbara took to him. “I’d help change his bum and carry him and play with him like he was my little doll,” she says. But her time with Richard ended abruptly. “I remember Dad coming home,” says Barbara, who was 7 at the time, “and he took him right out of my arms.”

The incident was Anne’s last straw, Bob says. He clearly remembers the day his mother and Mike ended their relationship, soon after baby Richard. Watching through an upstairs window, Bob saw his mother walk to Mike’s car and sit in the passenger’s seat as they talked. Twenty minutes later, she got out. “She finally closed the door, walked upstairs and that was the end of Mike Mitchell,” he recalls.

For the kids who remained in Anne’s care, their home life was unstable and, for Barbara, dangerous. The eldest sibling, Ed, had a short temper, and she says he was physically and sexually abusive — frequently sneaking over to Barbara’s bed and touching her inappropriately. “Quietly in the middle of the night,” she says, noting that she shared a bedroom with him and Bob. “I remember that so vividly. So vividly.” Ed wasn’t the only one who violated her. Some of the men Anne brought home also abused her. “Those kids that got sold out to the families are the luckiest kids alive,” Barbara says. “We were left behind, and we went hungry, and we were cold and beaten.”

Nine years after Mike exited the Bryntwicks’ lives, Anne died of colon cancer and the five siblings went their separate ways. Ed took off on his own and died of colon cancer in 1990. Ann and Barbara hitchhiked to British Columbia. Both got married young and divorced not long after. Ann died of cirrhosis of the liver in 2016. Bob stayed in Montreal, went to McGill University, got married and worked in sales.

Michael, who was 10 when their mother died, was sent to the Weredale House, a now defunct boy’s home run by the Quebec government, where he says he was abused. He described it as worse than jail, a place he landed a few times after running away from the home. In his late teens in the early 1970s, he became a nomad — roaming North America and Europe, using drugs, panhandling, camping with hippies and working in a labor pool. In 1981, after years of self-destruction, he moved to Ontario. Now 65, Michael lives in Stoney Creek, about 70 miles south of Toronto, and has been sober for more than 20 years.

“It’s her love that actually saved me,” Michael tells me, referring to his mother, Anne. “It was what I carried with me all my life. So, I was able to weather the bad things that happened because I had a sense of love.”

When Bob explained his childhood to Reissa Spier, she realized she had some delicate news to share. Despite what Bob was told growing up, Mike was not his biological father. Reissa, who had become fascinated by genetic genealogy, recognized that their genetic match on Ancestry was half that of her connection with Rene Holm. Instead of her match with Bob being labeled as “sibling,” it said “close family.” Reissa understood that Bob was in fact her half brother, sharing only the same mother. “I was the one who had to tell Bob that he had a different father,” Reissa says. “It was a difficult conversation to have.”

LaKisha David, a genetic genealogist whose research is focused on descendants of enslaved Africans brought to the United States, says Reissa’s analysis is correct. Ancestry uses labels like “close family” because the percentage match for half siblings, grandparent and grandchild relation, aunt or uncle and niece or nephew relation are similar. It’s then a matter of process of elimination, she explains. “So, if you know the age, you know these other bits of information, you can eliminate these other relationships,” she says.

Reissa took the lead in continuing to piece together their burgeoning family tree, and the growing popularity of 23andMe and Ancestry worked in her favor. Over 12 million people have used 23andMe, and more than 20 million have used Ancestry’s DNA product, according to spokeswomen for both companies. Recent spoils of these websites have gone so far as to help solve murders and track down unethical fertility doctors.

LaKisha David believes these websites are a “great thing” because they allow people to better understand their histories. “It will expose the stuff that folks want to keep a secret. A lot of our older generations don’t like to talk about this stuff,” she says. “For a lot of people, DNA is the only way they can piece together their story.”

Reissa received another “close family” connection on Ancestry in the summer of 2018. His name is David J. Mitchell; his father was Mike Mitchell, as was hers. Upon further review of his genetic map, Reissa understood that he, like Bob, is her half brother. Not wanting to scare him off, Reissa sent David a note without mentioning what she suspected. But she was confident in her understanding of their genetic connection. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to people: DNA doesn’t lie. People lie,” Reissa says.

It was only when they spoke on the phone a few weeks later that Reissa told him they have the same father. “It was a surprise,” David, now 67, told me in May 2019. “I’m still absorbing it.” Reissa learned that David was one of eight children Mike had with his wife, who was Roman Catholic. A strange revelation was that David and Reissa were both born in Montreal on March 15, 1954.

David never suspected his father had this other life. From what David could remember, his parents “were close,” he said. “We grew up like middle-class royalty in Canada in the ’50s and ’60s and ’70s.” David said his father, who died in 1991, was self-employed, but he declined to give specifics on how Mike made money, saying he didn’t want to divulge too much information because he was writing a book about his family.

When we spoke, David said he wasn’t sure whether his mother, who died in 2000, was aware of Mike’s relationship with Anne. He defended his father’s involvement in the adoptions, placing doubt that Mike benefited financially from the alleged arrangement. “He helped her through some difficult times,” David said, referring to Anne. “I think the impulse that I’ve been able to determine and document was that he was, in his own way — may have been misguided as a young man. But in his own way, he was endeavoring to help her.” David declined to offer evidence to support his assertions. He also questioned the extent of his father’s relationship with Anne, which consisted of occasional weekend visits for almost a decade, according to Bob and Barbara: “That’s an interpretation that comes from Bob, who was a very young boy at the time.”

Bob disagrees. “[Mike Mitchell] was having a strong relationship with my mother for 10 years, and these kids were coming out on a regular basis,” he says. “It was going to feed his family, wasn’t going to feed ours.”

Over the years, I have attempted to make additional contact with David, but my requests were rebuffed or went unanswered. I also attempted to contact the other living Mitchell siblings but did not hear back.

Reissa asked David to pass along her contact information to his siblings, saying she’d like to talk to them. No one has reached out.

In a noisy, dimly lit corner of Bâton Rouge Steakhouse & Bar in Montreal in March 2019, five siblings sat around a dinner table for the first time as a group. “This all feels way too comfortable,” Rene said, looking around the table at Bob, Michael, Reissa and Bram Eisenthal, a new addition. He was born in 1957 and is most likely Anne’s last child, known as baby Richard. Like Reissa and Rene, Bram was adopted by a Jewish couple in Montreal.

When I glanced at the siblings all next to each other, I could see the resemblance. Rene and Bob share warm and kind eyes, while he and Reissa are similar in spirit and smarts. Michael and Bram — the two youngest — look strikingly similar. Their expressions mimic each other — similar modest smiles and dark eyes. “I said, ‘He looks familiar,’ but now I realize I’m looking in a mirror,” Michael said, though Bram’s hair has thinned while Michael sports thick salt-and-pepper locks, which he covered with a camouflage ball cap.

As the courses came and went, the siblings compared notes on their lives and personalities. “I think I have ADD,” one said. “Me too!” echoed another. “Do you have trouble sleeping? I do.” Bob and Reissa discussed their cancer diagnoses, a common thread among some of the siblings. Sharon Coppola, who couldn’t make the reunion, had breast cancer, too, and is in remission. They recounted how they found one another and pieced together their story. “You were the key to everything,” Reissa said to Bob.

Bram, who like all the adopted siblings besides Reissa was an only child, told me over breakfast that morning that he had a lonely childhood and longed for the companionship of brothers and sisters. He was largely quiet at the restaurant that night. Someone from the group pointed out his silence and asked if he was okay. “I’m still soaking it all in,” he responded. He then glanced around the table at the strangers he now knew as his family and added, “It’s wonderful being here with you all.”

Along with Sharon, another sibling was missing from the Montreal dinner. Barbara, traumatized by her childhood of instability and abuse, expressed no interest in getting to know her newfound siblings. “I’m an old woman now with bad memories,” she said when we first spoke in 2019. But Reissa’s consistent, heartfelt emails hoping for a connection finally got through to Barbara. She now has a relationship with all her siblings, including Michael, whom she hadn’t spoken to for more than 40 years. “It didn’t really hurt me by meeting them. If anything, it enhanced me,” she says.

Naomi Baum and Jon Sherman. (Courtesy of Naomi Baum)
Naomi Baum and Jon Sherman. (Courtesy of Naomi Baum)
Since the gathering, two more siblings have surfaced — Naomi Baum, born in 1952, and Jon Sherman, born in 1955, both also adopted by Jewish families — further completing the Bryntwick family tree. All eight children born from 1949 on are full matches, meaning they have the same biological parents. But questions linger for the expanded Bryntwick family. For one, Bob swears that Anne had a child every year from 1949 to 1957, so one year is unaccounted for: 1953. And there are conflicting theories among the group regarding Sharon’s supposed twin. Barbara believes that she could be the twin, but there’s no way to identify fraternal twins through DNA. Even though, according to their birth certificates, she was born in 1949 and Sharon was born in 1950, Barbara questions those records because her mother didn’t register her birth until she was 7 years old.

Complicating the matter, the six adopted children all likely have falsified birth records. When the Quebec government opened up its adoption records in 2018, Reissa applied to find any documentation of her birth. After several follow-up conversations with a social worker, Reissa received a formal response notifying her that the records include only her “adoptive name and the names, occupation, address of your adoptive parents.”

“I do not exist,” she explains to me, “except as the daughter of my adoptive parents. There is no birth record, there’s no original birth certificate, there’s no record of live birth. … I have no way of proving that I was born in Canada, on a specific day.” She adds, “It’s as though [my siblings and I] just magically materialized for our adoptive parents and we didn’t exist until then.”

The bonds between the siblings have solidified over the years — they have a running email chain and Facebook Messenger chat. Since the 2019 gathering, many have met up one-on-one. This summer, Reissa, Bob, Rene and Naomi all got together in Toronto.

There is a consensus among most of the siblings — now in their 60s and 70s — that finding one another later in life was meant to be. “The fact that we all met again is something I knew would happen,” Michael says. “I always had a sense that they would come.”à

Bram
Bram Eisenthal

 

Several of the siblings — Reissa, Bram, Bob, Rene and Michael  — in 2019. (Jaclyn Peiser/The Washington Post)

About this story

Jaclyn Peiser is a reporter on The Washington Post’s Morning Mix team.

Photo editing by Dudley M. Brooks. Design by Clare Ramirez. Family graphic photos provided by Bob Bryntwick, Reissa Spier, Naomi Baum.

 

 


IGA Lipari at Côte St. Luc Shopping Centre going the extra mile to assist clients for Passover orders

It is hard to believe, but we are headed towards our second COVID-19 Passover and that brings with it many challenges.

Right about now, grocery stores in the Jewish communities have aisles of Passover products. Most of the non-perishables are in while we might have to wait just a little bit longer for the frozen goods.

There are still many people in our community, particularly seniors, who do not wish to physically go into a store. To avoid that they have relied upon curbside pickup or delivery the past year.  In order to do so you must register an account with IGA, Provigo or Metro and input your order several days in advance.

For Passover, though, you are not really going to see a list of items you need on the data base.

Now I have always done my Passover shopping at the IGA Lipari at the Côte Saint-Luc Shopping Centre. Owner Pete Lipari is a prince of an individual. Last summer he worked with the Nellie Philanthropy Foundation.  David Lisbona, Councillor Mitch Kujavsky, his sister Pam Kujavsky, and Melissa Margles spearheaded a group of about 200 volunteers who packed and delivered orders to seniors. Lipari let them stay after hours  and before opening in the morning to complete the task.

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Peter Lipari is ready to assist.

 

Well, once again, Lipari is stepping up.  Beginning  Friday, March 12 people can reserve their Passover orders by sending an email to igalipari@gmail.com.  It is important to merely list the name of the product you want, such as egg matzvah or chocolate cake mix. Someone will call you within two days to go over the items and take your credit card. You can then arrange for it to be delivered or picked up. The last day of operation for this option will be Monday, March 22 at Noon.

This is something those of us who have elderly parents can take care of it they do not have email. Many seniors have received their first vaccines, but they do not kick in for three weeks. So it remains highly advisable for them to stay home and safe.

Here is a basic list of Passover items you can order:

  • Borch
  • Gelfilte fish
  • Matzah
  • Egg Matzah
  • Whole wheat Matzah
  • Matzah Farfel
  • Matzah meal
  • Cake meal
  • Vegetable oil
  • Sugar brown sugar
  • Passover coke/diet coke
  • White rock seltzer
  • Chicken consume
  • Matzah ball min
  • Matzah ball and soup mix
  • Jam, assorted flavors
  • Instant coffee/tea
  • Cereal
  • Passover cake mix
  • Kedem grape juice
  • Candles
  • Spices
  • Matzah crumbs
  • Passover cookies, cakes
  • And many more items including meat, cold cuts, salads, dairy, etc

If you have another item, just list it.  The phone number is 514-486-3254.


CSL mom creating customized letter crayons, animals and numbers by hand

As we’re all looking for positive stories to end 2020 on a high note, bravo to Cote Saint Luc resident Lauren Kovac for doing her part. She is the niece of the late Councillor Ruth Kovac, who would no doubt be very proud of her.

Recently, Lauren started a small business: Cray by LK. Out of her kitchen in District 8, Lauren is hand-making customized letter crayons, animals and numbers. These crafts make perfect and unique gifts for the upcoming holidays, as well as year-round for birthdays, loot-bags, graduations and any other celebration you can think of, but for the next few weeks, every sale will also benefit some wonderful charities.

LaurenbatchUntil Christmas, Lauren has decided to donate 10 percent of all her sales to the CTV Montreal/English Montreal School Board’s Spirit of Giving campaign. In my role with the English Montreal School Board, this campaign is something that I’ve personally worked on for over a decade and funds collected support 10 very worthy local charities.

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“I’m very fortunate to have a roof over my head and food on the table, but there are so many people, especially this year, who are not as lucky,” said Lauren, the mom of beautiful one year old Avery Ellle and the wife of my colleague Daniel Smajovits, “I know that every little bit helps and I wanted to do a little something to help support a very worthy campaign.”

You can see all of Cray by LK’s  incredible creations and place your order via Instagram: www.instagram.com/craybylk, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/craybylk or email Lauren directly at: craybylk@gmail.com.


Elliot Lifson appointed to the Order of Canada

Seven years ago Côte Saint-Luc got lucky when a most distinguished citizen, Elliot Lifson, moved to our community from Hampstead. In fact he became my constituent in District 2.

Today it was announced that Elliot has been appointed to the Order of Canada by the Governor General for his leadership and mentorship in the apparel industry,  his commitment to Canada’s economic growth, and for his community involvement.

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Elliot Lifson sports his new Order of Canada pin.

 

Next to his name on the press release, it says Côte Saint-Luc instead of Montreal. “That was done on purpose,” said Elliot. “I am so proud and happy to be living in Côte Saint-Luc that I wanted that included.”

Elliot found out the good news a month ago. “It was difficult to keep this quiet,” he said. “I was so emotional when I got the call. They asked me if I accepted. I laughed that they had to be kidding. Who turns down an offer like this? I still do not know who nominated me.”

A ceremony at Rideau Hall is expected to be held next May or June. Elliot hopes that the COVID-19 pandemic is under better control by then so he can travel to Ottawa.

The vice-president of Peerless Clothing, Elliot recently became the  president of the Board of Directors  of the Segal Centre. In addition to these duties, he is a respected member of the Montreal community, a dedicated philanthropist, and is actively involved with many organizations and boards, including Member of the Board of Directors of Export Development Canada (EDC); Professor and Board Member at the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University; Member of the Faculty Advisory Board, McGill-HEC EMBA Program; Member of the Board of MR- Montréal Relève pour la Persévérance scolaire; Past Chairman, currently sitting as advisor to the Board, Chambre de Commerce de Montreal; President of the Canadian Apparel Federation (CAF); and sits on the Board of many charitable institutions such as The Montreal Heart Institute Foundation, and The Jewish General Hospital Foundation, and past Co-Chair of Centraide. Mr. Lifson received his MBA from the Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario. He is also a Graduate in Law from the Université de Montreal and a Member of the Québec Bar. Elliot Lifson has been a member of the Segal Centre for Performing Arts’ board for the last 12 years.

Elliot is also the recipient of many awards including the ‘Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal’, the ‘Desautels Faculty of Management Distinguished Teaching Award’ (Graduate Level), Quebec’s Fashion Industry’s ‘Recognition Award’, McGill University Alumni Association ‘Honorary Life Membership Award’, and the Senate of Canada 150th  Commemorative Medal.

Bravo Elliot!


High School student Elan Vigderhous launches COVID-19 themed care package business

During this pandemic, it has been heartening to see different young  people step up,

Take Elan Vigderhous for instance. The soon-to-be 15 year old Côte Saint-Luc resident  has started a home-based business called “Care Packages,” which is composed of a week's worth of COVID supplies (mask, gloves, and hand sanitizer). For every purchase, $3 goes to Hope and Cope, which has been providing compassionate, supportive, evidence-based cancer care for over three decades.  He chose that charity because his grandfather, noted musician Gideon  Vigderhous,  is now hospitalized due to an invasive cancer. 

“A while back when quarantine started and school was suspended, my father started to teach me about business and we decided to put the lessons into practice,” said Elan, a Grade 10 student at Royal Vale School in NDG. “ I decided to start a business that not only would be helpful to the clients, but I wanted to make sure I could help a charity close to home too. I liked the idea of making gift boxes that could be sent to a family member or friend, as a gift. I decided that the box should include the essentials: masks, gloves and hand sanitizer. I also added a little candy, to make it a little  sweeter.”

Carepackages
Elan is putting his free time to good use.

 

Originally Elan was going to raise money for COVID-19 relief,  but  given the fact his grandfather got diagnosed with melanoma a few years ago and recently he had to go to the hospital, he opted for  Hope and Cope.

Since launching a website  at https://www.care-packages.ca, orders have started to roll in. “I enjoy running my first business, and I go to work every day working on sales, marketing, packaging and delivery,” said Elan.

See this report from Global TV.

 


Here’s a big hand for 12 year old cookie entrepreneur Matthew Liebman

Twelve year old Matthew Liebman is one of three sons to Howard Liebman, a longtime political strategist to the likes of Irwin Cotler and Denis Coderre and current government relations director for Air Transat and Willingdon Elementary School  Grade 4 English teacher Heather Leckner. I have known his grandparents, Rick and Gloria Leckner, for most of my life. Rick, of course, was the legendary traffic  reporter on CJAD and for many years an investor relations and PR guru to corporate giants.

Given his lineage, it was not surprising to hear that young Matthew has decided to put his baking skills to good use during these times of confinement. The Côte Saint-Luc resident and District 2 constituent of mine is impressive.

After his full day of remote learning is done as a Grade 6 graduating student at JPPS,  Matthew dons his apron to bake dozens of fresh cookies for his growing client list.

Helping to keep track of orders and behind  the beautiful packaging is mom Heather. Swift local drop off deliveries (free in CSL, Hampstead, NDG and Montreal West) have been entrusted to dad, Howard, to allow the baker to focus on his creations in the kitchen.

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Matthew Liebman gets down to business.

To start, a simple menu of fresh-baked classic chocolate chip cookies or sugar cookies are being offered, attractively priced at $10 per dozen or $18 for two dozen. Different varieties are in development in the test kitchen. The cookies make an excellent dessert or snack at home or are the ideal gift for others.

Matthew’s Bakery invites clients to get their Father’s Day orders in early!

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Some of the finished product.

"As we are all in this together, Matthew’s Bakery will generously donate 10 percent of sales to MADA and The Depot,"  mom Heather says of the  organization formerly known as the NDG Food Bank.

You may place orders for these delicious cookies at matthewsbakery13@gmail.com.

Now chocolate chip cookies happen to be my weakness so I was more than happy to take a container home and try. The verdict is already in and everyone at our dinner table gave a big thumbs up to the decadent dessert. I highly recommend this purchase!

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People step for our used air conditioner and fan campaign

A few weeks ago, Ariel Davidson and I put out a call for people to donate used air conditioners and fans to low income families  and individuals in Côte Saint-Luc.

AdlerSteve Almar
Steven Adler

First of all thanks to our invaluable jack of all  trades Morris “Moe” Giobbi from Parks and Recreation who took care of  the first set of pickup and deliveries on June 8.

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Daniel Gal

Hats off to our initial donors: Steven Adler from Almar Appliances provided two 10,000 BTU units and Daniel Gal had a 12,000 BTU portable unit.

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Laura Elfman and Moe.

Moe picked up the machines, placed them in his truck and delivered them to three very happy individuals. One was District 2 resident Laura Elfman. Previously I donated one of my own old ACs to a family on Sir Walter Scott Avenue. They immediately told me how much they appreciated this.

MoeChrisAgholar
Moe and Chris Agholar

We are probably in for a warm summer, so any more donations would be appreciated. I have two more set for next week.

Just email me at mcohen@cotesaintluc.org.

Adamainteh
Recipient Adama Inteh.

 

 


Local resident publishes unique book: "I Love You In Every Language"

I was pleased to welcome to our city council meeting on Monday, January 13, resident Assaf Havilio and his wife Merav.

Assaf, a graphic designer who moved here from Israel 12 years ago, spent a decade turning his wonderful book “I Love You in Every Language” into reality. He was gracious enough to donate a copy to our CSL Public Library and I am sure it will be very much in demand. I accepted it along with Mayor Mitchell Brownstein and Councillor David Tordjman, who holds the library portfolio.

The book is self-published and available for purchase on Amazon. It explains and teaches readers how to say “I love you”  in different languages. On each page, Assaf chose the symbol of each country. In addition there is an explanation of how to pronounce “I love you” and also how to write” I love you”  in each language. At the beginning of the book, there is a background story with the two main characters who travel around the world and explore different cultures.

2020-01-13 21-24-02 Council Meeting
Assaf Havilio and his wife Merav present a copy of the book to CouncillorDavid Tordjman, Mayor Brownstein and myself.

“The story comes with an important message: love is universal and it exists in each and every one of us, no matter where you come from,” said Assaf.  “Besides this, the book is talking about love and about different cultures, languages, and countries. My goal is  through this book, people from different countries will understand each other and will learn about different cultures in a way to understand each other better.  In Canada  a subject like this is very important because it's multicultural.”

Assaf says that feedback about the book from  children and adults has been wonderful. “I have met parents who told me that their children cannot put it down and they enjoy it so much,” he said.

You can purchase the book at Amazon at the following link.

Assaf hopes to have it available at some stores soon. He is available for public appearances. email me at mcohen@cotesaintluc.org and I will share your request.

 


The Segal Centre for Performing Arts Welcomes Elliot Lifson as New Board President

The Segal Centre for Performing Arts  has announced that Vice Chairman of Peerless Clothing Inc, and  Côte Saint-Luc District 2 resident. Elliot Lifson has been officially welcomed as their new Board of Directors’ president, as voted upon by the Board at their AGM.

Elliot Lifson at the Segal Centre
Elliot Lifso
 

In addition to his duties at Peerless, Mr. Lifson is a respected member of the Montreal community, a dedicated philanthropist, and is actively involved with many organizations and boards, including Member of the Board of Directors of Export Development Canada (EDC); Professor and Board Member at the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University; Member of the Faculty Advisory Board, McGill-HEC EMBA Program; Member of the Board of MR- Montréal Relève pour la Persévérance scolaire; Past Chairman, currently sitting as advisor to the Board, Chambre de Commerce de Montreal; President of the Canadian Apparel Federation (CAF); and sits on the Board of many charitable institutions such as The Montreal Heart Institute Foundation, and The Jewish General Hospital Foundation, and past Co-Chair of Centraide. Mr. Lifson received his MBA from the Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario. He is also a Graduate in Law from the Université de Montreal and a Member of the Québec Bar. Mr. Lifson has been a member of the Segal Centre for Performing Arts’ board for the last 12 years.

He is also the recipient of many awards including the ‘Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal’, the ‘Desautels Faculty of Management Distinguished Teaching Award’ (Graduate Level), Quebec’s Fashion Industry’s ‘Recognition Award’, McGill University Alumni Association ‘Honorary Life Membership Award’, and the Senate of Canada 150th  Commemorative Medal. Mr. Lifson is following Joel Segal who will remain on the board as a Director / Immediate Past President.

“It’s been an honour to serve as Board President over the last four years," said Mr. Segal.  "The Segal Centre for Performing Arts will always remain an important part of my family’s legacy and I’m confident in its future under Elliot’s leadership as it continues to grow as a resource for the community, create and produce exceptional theatre, and transform our national artistic landscape."

“I am excited to lead the Segal Centre for Performing Arts’ Board of Directors and work closely with Artistic and Executive Director Lisa Rubin, management and staff at the Segal Centre as it continues to establish itself as a leader in Canadian theatre,” said Mr. Lifson. “I am inspired by the outstanding leadership of my predecessors, Joel and Alvin Segal, and their dedicated commitment to the cultural crown jewel of this city that is the Segal Centre.”

Current Segal Centre for Performing Arts Board of Directors are: Joel Segal (Immediate Past President), Myer Bick (Vice-President), Michael Tevel (Secretary), Shawn Rozansky (Treasurer), Alvin C. Segal, O.C., O.Q. (Chairman Emeritus), Karen Aflalo, Gideon Arthurs, Adam Barza, Françoise Bertrand, Maia Cooper, Janie Etinson, Moe Liebman, Sylvi Plante, William Rosenberg, Barbara Seal Shiveck, C.M. (ex-officio member and Chair of the Advisory Committee), and Howard Stotland.

The Segal Centre could not be luckier than to land a star like Elliot Lifson in this role!

About the Segal Centre for Performing Arts

The Segal Centre for Performing Arts is a not-for-profit theatre company dedicated to creating, developing, producing and presenting world-class English-language theatre and to showcasing the best professional artists from Montréal and beyond. A part of the community since 1967, the organization was reborn in 2007 as the Segal Centre and has expanded to become a nationally recognized venue for the performing arts with a focus on creation, innovation, diversity and cross-cultural collaborations. Driven by a belief in the power of the arts to strengthen and connect communities, the Segal’s programming emphasizes original interpretations of popular classic and contemporary works, new Canadian musicals and engaging productions with universal appeal. www.segalcentre.org