Edward Izikson

Edward Izikson.jpgPlease tell us a little about your career.
I am an engineer, and a member of the Ontario Association of Professional Engineers. I studied at the Latvian State University in Riga. Why in Riga? The authorities there were rumored to be having problems with the local population, so Russian-speaking Jews were considered allies and they were not subject to the usual limitations on admission. And so it was that in our group there were almost 30% Jews. Riga is almost “abroad,”: a different environment, a different language, even a different Soviet power. There was somehow more freedom, and it was easier to breathe.
For more than twenty years I worked at the Latvenergo electric utility company as the head of service. In Riga, our Jewish identity grew very quickly. Israel's victory in the 1967 Six-Day War was of tremendous significance. Even non-Jewish Latvians secretly congratulated us. In the beginning of the movement for the immigration of Jews from the Soviet Union, the Jews of Riga played an important role. Unfortunately, not everything is known about this yet. In my family, too, a period of complete rejection of Soviet power began, and we joined this struggle.
Even one-hundred years ago, some of my relatives in my grandparents’ generation, having given a bribe at the Polish border, ended up in London. After a year of waiting, they arrived in Canada. So we decided to leave for Canada. Having relatives there gave us a sense of security, just in case, because there was so much uncertainty ahead. Fortunately, despite the serious difficulties of the initial period, no help was required. The main challenges were language and work. After three years, I became a member of the Ontario Professional Engineers Association. My engineering contributions are present in many downtown Toronto skyscrapers, theaters in North York and Mississauga, Scarborough Hospital, Pearson Airport Terminal 3. Twenty-five years ago, my partner and I opened our own electrical installation company. We have dozens of large shops, nursing homes, multi-story residential buildings, religious institutions, and other projects.

Where does your family come from?
I was born in Minsk. Now the whole world follows and sympathizes with the struggle and peaceful protests against the dictatorship in Belarus. The world is finally getting to know this talented, friendly, peaceful, patient, creative population. But we Belarusian Jews have always known about this. Back in the times of the Commonwealth, Jews, persecuted by oppression, moved to Belarus. By the time of the accession of Belarus to the Russian Empire at the end of the 18th century, Jews constituted almost half of the entire urban population.
Over the centuries-old history of the Jewish dispersal, the Belarusians turned out to be the only people with whom the Jews have always lived in peace and harmony, their cultures mutually enriched, they learned from each other. In 1918, independent Belarus had three state languages: Belarusian, Polish and Yiddish.
Many Belarusians spoke or at least understood Yiddish. At the beginning of the war, I fell behind my parents and ended up in an orphanage in the town of Khvalynsk on the banks of the Volga River. A year and a half later, when the Battle of Stalingrad ended, and navigation on the Volga was restored, my mother somehow found me and I was reunited with my family. In 1944, after the liberation of Belarus, we returned to Minsk, where tragic news awaited us. All relatives from my father’s side died in the Minsk ghetto, and many from my mother’s side were shot in the town of Lapichy. My older brother, grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles, and aunts all died. Mourning the dead, my mother found out that one of her nephews was still alive, and was in an orphanage in Tartary Region, in the town of Chistopol, for almost four years. My mother took in this child and adopted him. I gained a brother with whom I became very close. Some in Russia are asking: “Why are there no Jewish children among the large number of abandoned children?” The answer is simple: Jews do not abandon their children.
Meanwhile, my father was sent to restore the oil depot in the city of Bobruisk, where I finished school and entered the University of Riga.
After graduation from university, two important events happened: I received my engineering degree, and I got married. To unite your destiny with a wonderful, loving, caring, honest, devoted person is a great success in life. I have been together with my wife, Mila, for many decades. Her maiden name is Pen, she is from Vitebsk. Interestingly, her paternal grandfather's brother, artist Yehuda Pen, was the first teacher of the famous Marc Chagall. We have two children, four grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

If you could choose to meet anyone in history to share a l’Chaim with, who would it be, and why?
With world chess champion Mikhail Tal. We are of the same age, we started studying at the same university. He did not know me, but I often went to the chess club. He was an amazing storyteller, possessing a phenomenal memory and encyclopedic knowledge in many issues. He talked with sparkling humor about his foreign tournaments. He was very intrigued by Jewishness, he knew Yiddish very well, and he was on good terms with the star of the Polish Jewish theater, Ida Kaminskaya.

What are your plans for the future?
To survive this unpleasant COVID time, to visit free Belarus so I can say goodbye to the graves of my family, and to communicate with the wonderful people of Belarus.