June 14, 2024
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June 14, 2024
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Moving Words From a Friend

One of the most difficult struggles upon making a major move in life is leaving behind dear friends and realizing that one will probably never again have the same ties with those in the new destination.

Rabbi Michael and Marci Whitman moved to Montreal about 20 years ago, arriving from New Haven, where Rabbi Whitman had been the rav of the Young Israel of New Haven and taught at Yale Law School. Fortunately for us, through the serendipity of an airplane ticket, we had the opportunity to get to know one another. It was “love at first sight” for the two couples, and each admired the other immensely. I got to know exactly which comic books their daughter Leia preferred, and when her parents went out of town she found refuge in our home. Many years ago when our daughter Naama became critically ill, their home became ours.

As the rabbi of the Adath Israel Congregation and an adjunct professor of law at McGill, Rabbi Whitman immediately became beloved by the Montreal community by his involvement in many communal activities. As one of his claims to fame, he and Marci signed a post-nuptial agreement after 35 years of marriage together with 75 other couples of the community, who realized the importance of such an act no matter how long one has been married. Obviously the goal is to prevent the situation of agunot.

Over the course of the pandemic, the Adath Israel has featured a lecture series on Zoom titled “Everyone Has a Story: Virtual Speaker Series.” As they explained, in every community there are people who have remarkable stories. On Zoom, they were able to showcase many of the talented and engaging speakers who are their neighbors, friends and congregation members. I remember telling a friend that I thought this would be a brilliant idea for this community as there is such a diversity of people living here.

Last Sunday night we had the pleasure of watching our friend Rabbi Michael speak about his life growing up in Memphis, and primarily about the impact his grandparents had on the community and the deep feelings they inculcated in their close and extended family toward one another. As well as I thought I knew our good friend, I learned so much.

Rabbi Michael’s grandfather, Sam Margolin, a son of immigrants, was born several years after his parents arrived in Memphis with three other children, and later another child joined the family. It was Sam who became a prominent Memphis civic leader, founder of the Memphis day school that eventually became the Margolin Hebrew Academy, and founded, together with his two brothers, National Mortgage Company.

I could go on and on about this remarkable man and his wife who was nicknamed Skip as she ran the ship, but what most impressed me is the legacy he and Skip left their family. No matter the number of children and grandchildren, they sculpted a family of love, caring and devotion to each other. Many know that originally the Baron de Hirsch synagogue in Memphis was quite far from where many Jews lived. It was the Margolin family that began the tradition of having “Shabbat homes.” Sam and Skip purchased a home large enough to accommodate their entire family every Shabbat and chag. We are not talking of one son with his wife and three children. We are talking about every child, every sibling of Sam and Skip and their children, oodles and oodles of people in one home with Sam at the helm. He was adored by his family because he took the time to listen to each one and treated them individually even though they were a large crowd. He took each of his grandchildren on different trips that they will remember forever, and if he were alive today and had been able to Zoom in to his grandson Michael’s presentation I am certain that one of the things that would have pleased him the most were the number of family members who were on the Zoom from all over the world, anxious to see each other and be together to honor this man.

I was extremely moved by this. The Margolin clan, which has expanded worldwide, has not forgotten its roots nor allowed the distances between them to impinge upon their closeness. The “in” joking that was done amongst family members—it just all felt good.

How many of us can say that we are in touch with all of our aunts, uncles and cousins? Certain relationships will always be cherished despite distances and differences in lifestyle. It is that important message, it is obvious to me, that Sam and Skip Margolin taught their family.

I have always felt proud to have the Whitmans as our friends, but hearing Michael speak and then sing one of his grandfather’s favorites from Shabbat, Yismechu Hashamayim, sent chills down my spine. We are honored to know them.


Nina Glick lives in Bergenfield with her husband, Rabbi Mordechai Glick, after many years of service to the Montreal Jewish community. Nina coordinated all Yachad activities in Montreal and was a co/founder of Maison Shalom, a group home for special needs young adults. She can be reached at [email protected].

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