Monday, September 28, 2015

My Friend Hy

Last year I received an unexpected phone call that would change my life.It was a social agency, with whom I had done some volunteer work in the past.Was I available to visit weekly an elderly Jewish  man.His only request that the volunteer speak Yiddish,the language of my ancestors in Eastern Europe and a language he had learned as a boy attending folk school in Ottawa.I had gleaned a rudimentary understanding of the language, listening to my mother talk to Peggy, the German live-in nanny, who soon became part of our family.
 After a cursory police check to see if I was breathing,I was given his address and told to go see him.No instructions given and no instruction taken. I was on my own! 
After,relieving on my trusted sense of directions, and not my GPS, I arrived at his modest well kept home. I knocked at the door."Come in he yelled". Soon I was seated across the kitchen table  from this rather petite man who was exceedingly well dressed.We talked and talked and talked some more, immediately connecting at a very familiar and comfortable level. In many respects I was looking at a older version of myself. Here was a mensch(honourable man), a doer, a rebel and a brilliant mind who had lived his life in the service of others. 
After our initial meeting we agreed to met weekly. On the appointed day, I phoned Hy at precisely 11am and confirmed I would be coming shortly to visit. On most occasions we engaged in long conversations in which I learned about Hy's remarkable life.Each story was always followed by a life lesson.Occasionally we would venture further afield by car, always visiting notable venues that had influenced Hy. .My favourite Hyism is how he differentiates between the good and the bad. According to Hy he learned from his black neighbours in the Barbados" There are people with soul and others who are simply a--holes".
Hy was born,July15/1921 , and together with his younger brothers Barney and Henry  was raised on Kent St where his father had a tailor shop adjacent to the family home. Hy, who came from a traditional kosher orthodox home, adored his mother. A warm ,gracious woman, who despite their meager surrounding, always was ready with a bowl of soup for  anyone who dropped in unannounced.There is no doubt in my mind  that Hy's generosity and concern for his fellow being comes from these experiences.
 As a young boy, Hy was introduced to the world of sound  by his father, Soon , on his own , he was exploring  the various radio shops located on Bank St.He quickly learned how to build basic microphones. Hy, had found his calling. He knew then the purpose of his life was to magnify and bring sound to the people.While at Lisgar Collegiate he made ampliphiers and installed the first public address system at the school.
 After completing his studies he visited cousins in New York city and was introduced to the latest technology of record studios and radio stations.He was on his way to a career in sound .
 Arriving back in Ottawa in the 1930's, he initially worked for Orme's Music shop,but subsequently his innate talent was recognized and he joined the military section of the NRC.Initially a civilian,he was made to enlist in the Army to keep  his job. This did not seat well with Hy who hated the discipline and structure of the Army. After being forced by his superiors to shovel snow in  a bitterly cold miserable winter day ,Hy knew he had to find a way out.
A confidential discussion with an influential Dr.who was also a member of the military,led Hy to volunteer to become a spy for the British Army.It seems Hy's gifted hands could be of  use to the British during the Second World War.
After being flown to England ,unbeknownst to his family, Hy soon found himself training and learning  survival skills .. Hy's gifted hands were soon trained to remove any lock in under 10 seconds.
 On 3 separate occasions Hy who spoke fluent German, was parachuted into Nazi  Germany,where he preformed his new trade.On a recent visit to his home he showed me the pin he was given when in Germany. The pin was given to HY as a member of the Nazi Youth Club.Clearly visible on the pin is the swastika symbol of Nazi Germany
 Hy, a great story teller, tells  how on one mission he was hungry, despite protests from his mate he decided to seek out a German-Chinese restaurant. Met by an elderly Chinese man who spoke to Hy in prefect German, he received a meal fit for a king. Returning to Germany some 25 years later with his girl-friend,won't you know it, he met that same man who remembered fondly that meal.
In1980 world events occurred that had a profound impact on Hy's life.Concurrently both the federal government and Mayor Marianne Dewar  made a critical decision. They decided to sponsor Vietnam refugees, the so called boat people, to Ottawa.At the same time the passing of Hy's mother found him without family.
 One day Hy noticed this rather shy Vietnam man, who lived above his shop with other refugees.Over a cup of coffee he learned Cheung's journey and a lifetime bond was initiated. Chueng was a married engineer from Hanoi, who was trying to make a better life for his family. Hy, the main sponsor of 3 generations of Cheung's family, helped the family re-unite and adjust to the Canadian way of life. Today they constitute Hy's closest family.
One of the many stories of how the family managed to cope with the communist censorship bares telling.. Cheung would send regular care packages to his family carefully placing the fabrics his wife used to make clothes covered by cigarettes and toothpaste which he knew would be confiscated by the censors.The real trick was to hid prescription drugs in the material. Upon receipt the family would sale the valuable drugs on the black market and live on the proceedings.
 Hy has made sound the focus of his life.He has made and sold over 30,000 amplifiers,he fondly calls them his children, and recorded a multitude of politicians and celebrities in concerts and presentations .He knows the famous and the not so famous but throughout it all he has maintained his humility, compassionate and care for others. I am proud to be considered by Hy his friend. G-d Bless.