Significantly, October 12, on Simchas Torah, a holiday that marks the end of the cycle of Torah readings and the beginning of a new cycle, I lost a lifelong friend when Yudke Grossman passed away. We grew up as youngsters on St. Urbain Street near Laurier Avenue, living next door to each other. As kids, we owned the streets and the back lanes. There was no television.
Our mothers sent us out of the house to keep from going mishugah (crazy). We invented all kinds of games and played until it turned dark. The neighbourhood was safe. The people residing in the surrounding area were almost all Jewish, with most of the parents being immigrants. We had this little joke that the first letters of the four streets east of Park Avenue – Jeanne Mance, Esplanade, Waverly and St. Urbain spelled Jews. Yudke’s father passed away when he was five and he lived with his mother, older brother Morty, his younger sister Rhoda and his Uncle Itchie.
When we reached our teens, the YM-YWHA on Mount Royal Avenue across from Fletcher’s Field became our second home. There we played sports, swam in the large pool, took out library books and were members of the “Y” Comrades, one of their many youth clubs. Mordecai Richler was among our club members. Yudke also belonged to Hashomer Hatza’ir, a Socialist-Zionist, secular Jewish youth movement, which instilled in him a strong desire to one day live in Israel.
Yudke and I both graduated Baron Byng High School and then Yudke attended McGill University where he received a degree in economics. In 1953 Yudke left Montreal to live in Israel at kibbutz Galon. The kibbutz raised hens for eggs and cows for milk. Yudke, a city slicker did not know anything about farm work, but now he was milking cows every day. He took courses in Rehovot at the Hebrew Agricultural University for two years to learn state-of-the-art farming techniques. Yudke then went through the ranks of doing every job in the kibbutz, from money management to eventually becoming president. As members aged and were no longer able to farm, Yudke organized a factory that produced household fans that were much sought after in the country’s hot climate.
In 1964 Yudke married Nurit. Born Jean Alicia Furst in London, Nurit made aliyah to Israel in her 20s. One of their four children lost his life in a car accident. Since then Nurit has been active campaigning to make Israel roads safer.
Yudke will be best remembered in Montreal for his efforts to bring teens to visit Israel through a variety of programs he established during two terms as a Jewish Agency emissary in 1975 and 1988. Through his efforts, more than 2,000 Canadian teenagers came to visit. Yudke then began working with North American universities, creating semester-abroad programs. While in Montreal, the Grossmans both worked in a youth centre that they set up in the Cavendish Shopping Mall, creating parents’ nights, Shabbat dinners, movie and coffee events — and the opportunity to visit Israel. In later years Yudke organized bar/bat mitzvah tour programs for North American families visiting Israel. In 2009 an ambulance was presented to the People of Israel and dedicated to Nurit and Yudke Grossman by their family and friends.
Yudke welcomed friends and acquaintances to visit his kibbutz and he usually was able to get them to help out with chores. In her early days of her practice Westmount Dr. Susan Greenwald along with Yudke’s nephew Dr. Mark Grossman spent considerable time looking after kibbutz member’s dentistry needs.
My first visit to Israel was on a tour with the late Rabbi Sidney Shoham. While in Tel Aviv I phoned Yudke to tell him that I hired a cab and was coming tomorrow to spend the day with him. “No need to do that”, Yudke said, “I’m sending our limousine to pick you up.” Early next morning a driver showed up in a truck that had seen better days. My wife and I sat exposed in the back experiencing a long bumpy ride until we finally reached the kibbutz.
Knowing Yudke’s sense of humour, I should have seen that coming.