The Yiddish Book Center's
Wexler Oral History Project
A growing collection of in-depth interviews with people of all ages and backgrounds, whose stories about the legacy and changing nature of Yiddish language and culture offer a rich and complex chronicle of Jewish identity.
Monty Hall's Oral History
Monty Hall, z"l - media personality, philanthropist and original host of Let's Make a Deal - was interviewed by Christa Whitney on March 11, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. Both sides of Monty's family were from Ukraine and settled in Winnipeg, Canada. In Ukraine, his paternal grandfather and great-grandfather were in the cattle business. Monty tells stories about his grandfathers, one of whom migrated to Canada without papers; he was not allowed off the train in Montreal or Toronto. Luckily the few Jewish families in Winnipeg had arranged to meet every train to help any Jew who embarked, and within one day Monty's grandfather had a room in a boarding house, a place to pray and a job. Monty recalls that during the Depression his family had to move into a house with his grandparents, uncles and aunts—fifteen people and one bathroom! Monty recalls hearing Yiddish, Ukrainian and English spoken by the different generations. He tells stories about walking his great-grandfather—and ten years later his grandfather—back and forth to shul every Saturday. Monty's father trained as a bookkeeper and his mother as a schoolteacher. His father had vision problems and had to go work with his father and brother in their meat business. Monty doesn't provide details, but his father was fired by his family and struggled terribly during the Depression. Eventually he got a job as a kosher butcher and started his own business. Monty worked as the delivery boy until his mother could scrape up enough money to send him to college; when he ran out, a young philanthropist who did not even know young Monty came to his aid, teaching him a lesson he never forgot. Monty says that his mother was the most unforgettable character he ever met. He describes a large and culturally engaged Yiddish community in Winnipeg with bookstores, radio and a wonderful theater. His mother was a teacher, dancer, singer on Yiddish radio, actor in Yiddish theater, playwright, labor organizer, and vice-president of Hadassah in Canada. Monty learned that family comes first. For him, charity and then television are second and third. He learned from his parents' dynamic and now admires his father's refusal to give up through hard times. Monty remembers encountering antisemitism in Winnipeg where there was a Nazi Bund and at the University of Manitoba, where he became the first Jewish president of the student body. Once he came to Hollywood, Monty enjoyed sharing Yiddish with Danny Kaye and entertaining Sid Caesar with Yiddish expressions in his later years. When asked about a Yiddish phrase that resonates with him, Monty responds "Men trakht un got lacht" [Man plans and God laughs]. He is pleased that one of his daughters is planning to learn Yiddish and tells a funny story about his non-Jewish business partner misusing the word "moyel" [ritual circumciser] as a verb. He loves the fact that Yiddish is such a "juicy" language that can capture so much in a few words. Monty is very proud to be a Jew and often uses the title "Jewish Pride" when asked to speak. He sees a resurgence of interest in Yiddish and is amazed at what the Yiddish Book Center has accomplished. He ends with a story about a friend speaking Yiddish to a child in Israel which encapsulates for him the importance of Yiddish.
This interview was conducted in English.
Monty Hall was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in 1921. Monty died in 2017.
Video highlights from this oral history
A Perfect Stranger Put Me Through College: Monty Hall Tells the Story of Max Freed's Generosity
2 min 53 sec
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"She Was a Combination of Golda Meir and Molly Picon": Monty Hall's Memories of His Mother
5 min 6 sec
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The Most Important Thing About Being Jewish? "Continuity! ...and Yiddish" Says Monty Hall
1 min 24 sec
Slide 2 of 9
A Job, A Place to Live, and a Pray Within 24 Hours: Mutual Aid for Jewish Refugees in Winnipeg
4 min 15 sec
Slide 4 of 9
A Passover Story You Couldn't Make Up: Monty Hall Tells A Three-Part Story Spanning Three Countries
4 min 47 sec
Slide 7 of 9