Joseph Riesenbach

May 8, 1929 - April 25, 2013


Photo of Joseph Riesenbach



Memorial Slide Show (4.5 minutes)





Winnipeg Free Press Newspaper Obituary

Obituary, as published in the newpaper on May 4, 2013.

Joe Obituary


Funeral Eulogies

Adrian Raizman (daughter)

<Extended version>

Rabbi, family and friends:

In reflecting these past few days about his life, I asked myself what my father would want us to remember about him.  It’s not an easy task to sum up my father’s life in a couple of pages. He was not a person who shared his feelings and thoughts readily….. As I ruminated this question, I came to the realization that my father had incredible inner survival strength, optimism, courage and determination and with his strength of character, was able to leave behind his footprint on his family and community.  It was miraculous that he survived the holocaust and was able to live a blessed life.  Whatever my father did in his life, he did it with his heart and soul. 

My father was an adoring and devoted husband to my mother; she was the love of his life.  He was always so proud of her and always complimented her on how beautiful she looked and dressed. He would say:  the best. My father was a good provider to his family and we were always comfortable and had what we needed and wanted; he was a family man. He was a loving and generous father to us, his 3 children, a good father- in -law to Jack and Perla, and a proud and caring grandfather to his 5 beautiful grandchildren, Joshua, Alisa, Ariel, Noah and Carmi, his pride and joy.  As the grandchildren came along one by one, he loved to hold them as babies, and as they grew up, he always was actively involved in playing with them, especially at the swimming pool when they lived on Vanier Drive, always ensuring that he was part of their lives.  He was so proud of everything they accomplished.  In 2010, my daughter married her husband Sean and my father loved him as a grandson. Like all families, we had our ups and downs, but we were a solid family and he was our patriarch.

My father was a practical man and he always knew what he wanted and liked. He fell in love with my mother at the age of 19 and married her in 1952.  They were married for 61 years this past March and we were fortunate to celebrate together with our family.  He was a successful business man and owned his own grocery store, Westhome Foods, for 36 years until he retired in 1990.  He worked hard, 6-7 days a week.  I remember as a young child playing up and down the aisles of the store with my brothers every Sunday afternoon while my parents did the bookkeeping.

My father loved entertaining and I remember all the parties with my parents’ and the family gatherings with vivid memories of my father as a wonderful, vibrant and generous host.  He always made sure you had a drink in hand and was famous for his herring, liver and bean spreads, pickles, fruit salad, special spices, and incredible BBQ’s during the summertime.

My father loved to dance.  He and my mother were amazing dance partners in their younger years and probably could have rivaled any of the “Dancing with the Stars” celebrities. He also loved to play cards and I remember the weekly late night raucous poker and gin games.

My father loved to travel. He never missed a family event or occasion and my parents often went to Toronto to be at a special events or occasions for his grandsons and other family including nephews and nieces.  He was a loving son to his parents and loved his sisters Jenny, predeceased in 2009, and Marion with all his heart, his brother- in laws, Sam Rosenberg and Lou Wasser, and his sister-in-law, Ada Letinsky.   He adored his nieces and nephews and their families and they loved him in return.

Trips with my mother included many exotic places such as Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Acapulco, Cuba, Argentina, Hawaii, Mediterranean and Caribbean cruises, and Israel. My parents owned a condo for the past 22 years in Hallandale Florida. He loved to socialize with the snowbirds he met throughout the years; there were brunches, lunches and parties. He wanted desperately to go to his condo again, maybe because he knew it might be for the last time.  He had to cancel the trip in December because of his medical conditions.  But in February he was determined to go to his special winter home and he and my mother made the trip. 

My father enjoyed Jewish tradition. He read Hebrew fluently with the most quaint old country accent. He was determined to be at the seder this past Passover. And as difficult as it was for him to be dressed and make the excursion with an attendant from the hospital to my home, he was with us for the seder, barely over one month ago.   He always took great pride in ensuring the seder plate and table were perfectly arranged. We will miss his place at the seder table and his chanting of the Haggadah in the years to come. 

In September 2000, my father along with my mother and brother Ron, journeyed to Poland, the place of his birth, for the purpose of reuniting with the family who risked their lives to save them from the Nazis. My father was a holocaust survivor who at the age of 13, along with his mother, father and two sisters, hid from the Nazi’s for 2 years and 5 days in Poland.  It was remarkable that they were able to survive together all those years.  He spent 3 years as a displaced person and finally left Austria for Canada in October 1948 at the age of 19.  He was always so grateful for his life here in Canada.

My father was a very generous man with a big heart.  Besides giving generously to his community, he also never forgot the Barr family in Poland who saved him and his family.  He sent them parcels of food, clothing, and medicines and money. We will continue this tradition to honor his memory.

My father also sponsored the Polish daughter’s grandson to stay with my parents on two occasions; for two months in 1996 and then for a year in 1998, giving him an opportunity to see what life was like in Canada.

In his later years, my father found peace and comfort in attending Shabbat services at the Eitz Chaim.

He was a regular congregant until he became too ill to attend. He loved his Jewish heritage and traditions. 

His community accomplishments and achievements were many:

My father was an amazing role model to his family.

How proud I am of my father. He instilled in all of us the importance of family values, a good work ethic, loyalty, generosity, and Tzedakah. He has left a legacy of love and family. His blessed memory will always be with us.

He Is Gone

You can shed tears that he is gone
Or you can smile because he has lived

You can close your eyes and pray that he will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that he has left

Your heart can be empty because you can't see him

Or you can be full of the love that you shared

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday

You can remember him and only that he is gone
Or you can cherish his memory and let it live on

You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what he would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

(David Harkins)



Ron Riesenbach (son)

Do you see this picture?  I took it.

Some of you may know that I am an amateur photographer. Through the last 35-years, I have shlepped my camera to all kinds of places and events and have annoyed more than one of you by dazzling your eyes with my flash or catching you unawares in the midst of a mouthful of food. Photography is part of my deeper interest in recording my family’s history to create a record for the generations to come. Perla has the patience of an angle putting up with my endless hours in the workshop organizing my photographs and documenting our family’s journey.

It is a peculiar thing, photography. We tend to bring out our cameras to capture the special moments in life – celebrations, trips and milestones of all kinds. We photographers capture still-frames of a highly fluid constantly changing life. Taking a snap-shop is like cheating time. The photo makes permanent fleeting moments and provides an anchor for our untrustworthy memories.

Thinking back on the life of my Dad, is like looking back through the highlights of my photo collection. Happy times, smiling faces, adventures, proud moments, important events. I have black & white pictures of Joe, has a teen-ager, just a few years after he arrived from post-Holocuast Europe, posing awkwardly with his fiancée (my Mom). Photos of him in a stunning 1950’s formal suit complete with skinny tie being led down the wedding aisle by his beaming parents, Yakel and Eta. I have some shots taken of him standing in front of his business, Westhome Foods, proudly wearing the white apron of grocery store proprietor.

In those early years, he and my Mom spent many long days working at the store, laboring to make a living and to provide for their growing family. During the few recreational hours he had in those days, our house would be full of family and friends, laughing, kibitzing, shouting, playing cards and eating. Lots and lots of eating. Our house was a riot of warmth and Yiddishkiet . Photos from those days show the glowing faces of my Zaydas, Babas, uncles and aunties with us kids running around getting in mischief.

I have a number of cherished photos of our family trips to Toronto to visit with Dad’s side of the family -- Bubbie, Zaydie, Sam and Marion, Lou and Jenny and all the cousins. During those trips, Dad would talk about the streets where he and Mom lived and worked. The hard-times, the good-times, the adventures and the great memories. I have the most beautiful picture of my Dad’s parents Yakel and Eta standing in front of Jake's Lunch Counter (the little business they had on Baldwin Street) faces full of vigor and purpose.

I have many, many delightful snapshots of him crawling on the floor playing cards or dolls with his grandchildren, nieces and nephews. He just loved kids, and they loved him.

Family was very important to my Dad. But so were his friends. Escaping from the ashes of Europe, the ‘Greener’ of Winnipeg found one-another and made the kind of life-long friendships that are all too rare nowadays. Our home was always full of parties and dinners with Dad and Mom’s friends. Almost every Saturday night, Dad and Mom would go out in great crowds of friends or they would visit with one another at their homes. My parents’ friends were so much like family we kids would naturally call them uncle and aunty. Many are with us in this room now. Others are here with us in our hearts.

The heart -- The thing about all my thousands of pictures is that they are next to useless without the intercession of the heart. My camera may capture the scene of, say, Dad dancing with Mom at a wedding. But it’s my heart that makes sense of it. Look at the picture. See the gowns and suits and hair styles in a riot of Kodachrome colours .

Now look closer.

Look at the way that Dad’s eyes are beaming. See his smile. See the gentle way that he is holding Mom’s hand and the lightness of his step. He is happy. He is proud. He is fulfilled. This is what the heart tells us about this picture.

Bravery is also something that you see in pictures of my Dad. In 2000, Joe, Ruth, and our newly discovered Argentinian cousins and I journeyed back to Poland to visit Joe’s childhood village. We went to visit the family that saved him and to see the places he played as a child. I have been all over the world on many adventures, but this trip was like no other I have ever taken. My Dad’s courage at taking this trip amazes me to this day. To journey back to the place where there was so much fear, so much suffering to pay his respects to the family that saved his family’s life shows remarkable inner strength. I have many pictures and videos from that extraordinary trip that I am happy to share with you if you visit my website. But there is one very special photo that I would like to draw to your attention. It is of my Dad gazing out of the cabin window as we took a train from Warsaw to Krakow. The light of a September afternoon is on his pensive face. His chin is resting on his hand, and he is watching the Polish countryside go by. You cannot help but wonder what was he thinking? What memories were welling up in him?

So many photos, so many memories.

In the months and years to come, I will take great comfort in these memories.

I will take comfort in knowing that my Dad led a full life. That he made his mark in the world and did his part to do Tikun Olam.  That he loved and was deeply, deeply loved in return.

As I look at my photos over the months and years to come, I will listen with my heart and will surely learn more about the man he was and lessons he has left for all of us.

Zikhrono Livrakha– May his memory be as a blessing.

 

Jeff Riesen (son)

----- OOOOOH MY DAAAARLIN -----

Sound familiar?

OH MY DARLIN CLEMENTINE.

Remember how Joe would sing the one line from that vintage standard? I don't think he kenw the rest of the words, but it didn't matter. So, I did a little Googling last night and found that that song came out over 125 years ago. 1884 to be exact. Yes, Joe sure loved the classics.

You know, whenever he sang that little song it was a signal that life was good. He was happy, and in good spirits. Living for the moment and enjoying the people around him.

In the spirit of keeping my personal tribute short & sweet, I would like to share something with you that I regret I never told my father. 

Dad, when you sand that little melody - even if it was for a brief second or two, you lit me up. Even though we had our difficulties communicating personal feelings with each other, I felt an unspoken connection with you.

There is another song that some of you might know from about 20-years ago by a very famous Nashville singer - Garth Brooks. These words I find would be indicative of the way my father (our father) lived his life.

For a moment…. wasn't I the king ….
But if I'd only known how the king would fall….
Who's to say .…. you know …. . I might have changed it all….
And now I'm glad I didn't know ……
The way it all would end…… the way it all would go…..

Our lives are better left to chance……I could have missed the pain …..
But I'd of had to miss …….the dance .

Josh Raizman (grandson, on behalf of all of Joe's grandchildren)

A Life Built With Hands and Heart: Remembering My Zaida

Like the diverse collection that spilled over the shelves, my Zaida wore many different kinds of hats. Zaida Joe was a Holocaust survivor and educator, a proud Canadian, a natural leader, a humble volunteer, a great philanthropist, a generous host, a knowledgeable butcher, a savvy businessman, a skillful handyman, a funny joker, a creative chef, a meticulous landscaper, an opportunistic card-player, a sports fanatic, a keen bartender, a Florida snow bird and so much more. Zaida had many interests: from his leadership roles on endless community boards (such as the Holocaust Education Centre/Synagogue boards/condo meetings), to his thoughtful planning of meaningful events like the recent 50th anniversary party to commemorate him and his friend’s immigration to Canada, to managing the many buildings he owned across the city, to beautifying his lush front yard, to perfecting his famous herring/steak spice (with no MSG, might I add)/farmer’s salad/Charoset recipes just to name a few. Zaida poured a mean cocktail, chopped beautiful platters of colourful fruits, made 100’s of bottles of garlicy pickles, bought countless Ford cars, wore elegant clothes which included his fancy gold jewelry and white shoes with pointy toes.

Yes, Zaida was a practical man who taught me the importance of building community, appreciating my neighbors, the necessity of embracing tradition, cherishing my roots, and leading by example through ultraism and hard-work. My Zaida had a witty sense of humour always making people around him smile. He had a soft voice with a steady hand always flexible, always helpful, always inspirational. Yet, beyond the hammers and screwdrivers, beyond the card deck, beyond the 71 Vanier pool chemical kit, beyond the dirt-laden golf clubs, beyond the pile of paper work in his clandestine briefcase, behind his stylish button down shirts, there was a burning passion that ultimately defined him: this was his dedication to his grandchildren. His love for his grandchildren speak not only as a reflection of his success overcoming adversity by establishing a rich life in a new country, but also his commitment to love, his commitment to cherish, his commitment to educate. During high school at Garden City Collegiate I would walk around the corner to Baba and Zaida’s place for lunch. Zaida would greet me with a great big hug wearing a full body apron ready to whisk up delicious deli sandwich platters in seconds. Watching his grandchildren splash in the pool at 71 Vanier brought him pure nachas…and I too, always enjoyed watching Zaida attend to his many projects around the house like keeping the pool and deck immaculately clean, watering his prized cherry tomatoes, and attending to his grandchildren’s endless drink/food requests.

Always a candy in his pocket, Zaida was a giver. He would always be there for me shuttling me around the city by picking me up, dropping me off, picking me up, dropping me off: repeat cycle year after year. His motto was all about participation – I always felt so fortunate that he included me in many of his activities, from accompanying him to high schools where he educated students about human rights and spoke about his Holocaust story, to bonding over a round of golf at Kildonan Park, to helping with tasks around the house. I was so proud of my Zaida, it brought me great joy to learn from him. Zaida’s presence was steadfast, resolute, and infinite.

Zaida used his hands to build many things, yet these creations where not nearly as brilliant and treasured as the family he built with his heart. Despite the many changes that we all may experience through the years, it is really the constants in our lives that enriches our hearts, that provides purpose, that defines our values, that lights the path on that darkened road. Zaida’s constant was his family, his grandchildren…this was his life, this was his true identity. And it was this devotion to his family which made MY life more meaningful -- more constant. From weekly multi-course/cocktail Shabbos dinners that highlighted the end to a hard week, to his unwavering patience to teach me the art of wood working in the garage, to his eagerness and passion to share his stories of survival in Europe and his subsequent trials and tribulations making a home in Canada at a young age.

Every Pasaech I made sure to consult with Baba weeks before the Seder to reserve MY spot. I was very adamant that I sit at the very front of the long winding table that became a fixture during the holidays; I surely would have it no other way. It gave me so much pride to sit at the front; guess who was next to me? Closest to my Zaida, of course! I felt empowered to watch him lead his beloved family and friends during the course of the evening. But Zaida’s style was not merely to dictate, but rather to ensure that his grandchildren were fully involved and engaged. For Yom Kippur I always stayed in Shul until the bitter end when most had retreated back home to break the fast early. I did this because of inspiration from my Zaida who was always committed to keeping tradition alive. I enjoyed sharing experiences with Zaida as he was always fun, easy-going, and stoic with a calm demeanor. He was extremely proud of my academic and professional accomplishments, perhaps a reflection of his discontinued education up to grade 4 due to the war. Most recently, I felt extraordinarily privileged that Baba and Zaida traveled to Ottawa this past fall to celebrate the special occupation of my PhD convocation with my family. As a testament to his devotion and pride, Zaida made the trip despite being unwell. He had to be there.

Look around you. My Zaida’s legacy is truly in this room today. He built a life with his hands. He built his family with his heart.

I will miss smiling when I hear your say, “Oh my darling…” and “ cuckamunga”.  Goodbye Zaida.


Donations In Joe's Memory

Donations in Joe's memory may be made to the Holocaust Education Centre (204) 477-7460 or to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (204) 289-2000. Thank you.

Other Links



Messages and Guest Book

Should you wish to send a private message to the family, please email Joe's daughter, Adrian Raizman .

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