Torontonians Fay and Harry Nesker celebrated their wedding anniversary on May 28, 75 years after marrying in secret.
Family and friends attended a reception at Cummer Lodge where Fay is a resident to rejoice in their marriage that took place on May 28, 1928. On that day, Fay Lefkovitz and Harry Nesker, who were then living in Chicago, eloped to Waukegan, where they didn’t have to wait for a license, lied about their ages and got married.
After, they returned to their homes and did not tell anyone they were married because they knew Fay’s family would think they were too young.
In an interview with Harry, 95, and his son Jerry Nesker, a Toronto lawyer, Harry said the secret came out when he came to pick Fay up to take her on a picnic.
Fay’s mother said, “You don’t take my daughter anywhere until she is your wife.”
Harry replied, “But she is my wife. We are married.”
To make their parents happy, Harry and Fay exchanged vows for the second time, on July 3, 1928, this time under a chuppah.
Today, Harry said, he lives alone, travels by public transportation and is still independent. His wife has Alzheimer’s and has been living at Cummer Lodge for 11 years.
“I love her very much,” Harry said. “Sometimes I could just eat her up. When I go to see her, her face lights up and she responds to me. We had problems like everyone else, but my wife was remarkable. She knew how to make people, even strangers, feel happy.”
Jerry said, “I absolutely enjoy my Saturdays when I take my father to visit my mother. There is something about watching the two of them together. There is a twinkle in her eyes the minute she sees him.”
Harry’s grandfather, Michel Nisker (the family names are Nisker and Nesker), came to Toronto in 1905 from Kielce, Poland. He made several trips back and forth while setting up business before he had enough money to bring his family here. Harry’s father, Yukel Nisker, came to Canada at the beginning of World War I. They were not able to bring Harry’s mother and the rest of the family until 1920.
At the age of 18, Harry left Canada.
“My father was too religious for me,” he said. “I couldn’t take it.”
Leaving with six friends, he went to work as a busboy in the Catskills and later moved to Detroit to live with a friend’s aunt.
In those days, he said, you didn’t need citizen papers to enter the United States. You only had to pay a head tax.
“I and my friends did not have the money for the head tax so we snuck in across the border by hiding from the inspectors — when they went upstairs, we went down, and when they went down, we went up until we finally got across.”
But the authorities eventually found them and they slipped away to another relative in Chicago.
“On the first night we were in Chicago, we went to a dance where I first saw Fay.”
He says he was not introduced to her that night, “but I thought she was a very good-looking girl.”
That weekend, he attended a party and saw Fay. “She came to the party with a boyfriend, but I took her home that night.”
After they had been married a few years, there was trouble. Harry wanted to move back to Toronto to go into the grocery business with his brother. But his mother-in-law, who didn’t want them to move, convinced Fay to remain in Chicago with their young daughter Pearl (Weinberg).
Six months later, Harry returned to Chicago to convince his wife to come with him. He told her, “Come with me and if you don’t like it in Toronto, you can come back to Chicago.”
That never happened. The Neskers stayed in Toronto and had two more children, Brenda (Dolman, who died in 1992) and Jerry.
Harry and his brother owned six grocery stores, which they sold later to Leon Weinstein of Power Supermarkets. Harry also owned a hotel and a chain of men’s retail clothing stores.
He said he told Jerry he would retire when Jerry graduated from law school. In June 1972, immediately after Jerry’s graduation, Harry retired. He was 64.
In their retirement, the Neskers visited Israel several times and spent their winters in Florida.
When Fay moved to Cummer Lodge, Harry travelled by public transportation to be with her at least four days a week.
Harry and Fay have 10 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.
“They tried to stop us from getting married but they couldn’t,” Harry said. “And 75 years later, I’m glad that they didn’t succeed.” ♦
This story originally appeared in the Canadian Jewish News and appears here courtesy of Cynthia Gasner. © 2003 by Cynthia Gasner.