September 28, 2020

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North End glimmers in Jewish curling novel

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/11/2019 (323 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Author Michael Tregebov captures the flavour of an era as North-End Jewish curlers take on the nouveaux riches from the South End in a shareholders’ battle to save Winnipeg’s only Jewish curling club, the Queen Victoria, affectionately known to its members as the "QV."

The club is fictitious, but Tregebov’s third book, Shot Rock, is loaded with other Winnipeg landmarks; you don’t have to know them to enjoy the story, but if you do, the narrative becomes far more personal.

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Shot Rock is set in the early 1970s, a time when North End Jews were beginning to migrate to the South End. Blackie Timmerman, who skips a rink at QV, leads his North End team in the fight against Max Foxman, the South End villain who wants to sell the club to Dominion Stores.

Blackie’s son, Tino, is a mystery to him, and he is clueless when it comes to women, particularly his soon-to-be-ex-wife Deirdre.

A typical exchange between them goes something like this: "If you don’t come back home, you’ll never find someone else like me," Blackie says, to which Deirdre responds, "That’s the idea."

Tregebov often creates a warm buzz out of a lengthy string of non sequiturs, all the while finding the right buttons to push in the Jewish community, as he did in previous book, The Shiva.

Duddy, another team member, brings his transactional morality to the rink and to his life. He just got out of jail for bank robbery, caught while trying to make a getaway on his bike. Why didn’t he drive? He had misplaced his driver’s licence.

Under Tregebov’s guidance, members of Blackie’s rink wear their friendship like a comfortable old glove. They are constantly meeting and eating to work out their strategy to save the club. Chips at Kelekis, corned beef and pickles at Oscar’s, nips at the Sal’s on Matheson and Main and a smorgasbord of non-kosher Chinese food at the Nanking restaurant. That’s the Chinese restaurant for North End Jews. South Enders eat at the Shanghai, a team member explains to Michael, Tino’s rich, non-Jewish friend.

When Michael hears of plans to donate money from the sale of the QV to Israel, he points out to the group that "Israel’s a colonial settler state… built on land stolen from the indigenous population." Tino follows this up with an argument that Israelis aren’t Jews... that "they gave up the right to be Jews when they became Israelis... Israelis have nothing in common with us."

Tregebov throws in a smattering of comments like this, sure to leave Zionists spluttering in their breaded shrimp platters. He also pokes fun at another sacred cow, with a plan Max Foxman has to use money raised from the sale to plant a forest in Israel’s Negev Desert and name the forest after the QV.

Winnipeg’s North End has a well-worn history as an incubator for radical left-wing politics, so neither Blackie nor his teammates are surprised that Michael and Tino are Trotskyists. The men recall the day people gathered in front of the White House on Selkirk Avenue crying at the news of Trotsky’s murder in Mexico. At city hall, the area is represented by Communist alderman Joe Zuken, a Stalinist.

Tino shatters the final sacred cow, the cliché dream of every Jewish mother, "My son, the doctor," when he tells Deirdre he is dropping out of pre-med to become a poet.

Although Tregebov has lived in Spain for many years, he clearly has not forgotten his Winnipeg Jewish roots.

Gordon Arnold is a Winnipeg writer.

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