Time for My Story—Jay Mandelker: Rolling With a Cause

This profile was produced by Time for My Story, a service that turns your memories into a magazine.

A life devoted to giving back to the community, and a taste for adventure are the values that have shaped Jay Mandelker’s destiny.

Jay was born in Brooklyn, New York, but he was a young child when the family moved to Montreal where his father started a thriving business assembling shower doors.

Jay, his younger brother Brian, and their parents would return to New York three times a year. It was on these trips that Jay developed a love of maps.

“I was reading maps before I read comic books. I remember following the route at six, with the Texaco maps.” These navigation skills would come in handy a few decades later when he trained as a pilot.

The family moved a few times in Montreal but eventually settled in Chomedey.

“My mother made me study and was adamant that I learn French because she knew how important it’d be to my success,” he recalls. Jay’s first summer job was at a Handy Andy Hardware store because of his French ‘savoir faire.’

When it came to his life at Chomedey Polyvalent High, Jay recognized that much of his success or failure was based on who he was hanging out with.

“When I was with the dunces in class, I told many jokes and had a fun time but didn’t score well. I did well when I hung out with the more academic students, but it wasn’t as much fun as being with the dunces!”

Jay recalls that he could get along with many different groups in school. “I always seemed to be looking for peace—trying to find happiness or compromise if there was an argument.”

The school administration appointed Jay as a prefect; he was then elected to the student council and served on its executive.

While in high school, Jay took a vocational aptitude test. It said he’d make a good rabbi, priest or teacher. Life had other plans. After high school, Jay wound up at a private college for a year.

“In high school, I dreamed of becoming a pilot or a veterinarian. But for some reason, I had become somewhat disenchanted.”

At about 20, Jay began to follow his father around while he went on sales calls.

“Wherever we went, it was always ‘Hi Bernie! How are you?! Is that your son? Oh, I’ve known your father many years—such a nice man!’”

As Jay explains, it all seemed so pleasant. The reception that his father got from his customers made Jay believe it was more play than work.

One day, as Jay returned with his dad to the office, one of the company’s owners asked him when he was starting. “This man had seen me grow over the years, and I could see myself working there. So, I thought, ‘Why not?’ and told him I’d start Monday.”

Jay’s position was strictly on commission, and the first year took much persistence.

“The only feasible way was because I was living at home, driving my mom’s car, and my dad was paying for the gas!”

In the second year, Jay broke even, and by the third year, he was making money.

In 1973, Jay purchased his first new car, a station wagon. “Why would I, a single guy, buy a station wagon rather than a sporty convertible?”

Jay explained, “I just loved the idea of piling in a bunch of kids to enjoy a day at places like African Safari Park or going camping.”

It turned out that Jay’s yearning to take people camping was about to come to fruition.

“My father was the vice-president of the Shaar Shalom Synagogue in Chomedey. I asked him why they didn’t have a Cub Pack or Scout Troop, and he told me they had no one to run it. So I said, ‘What if I run it?’”

Jay got permission from the board to start a Cub Pack. At first, they had 24 members. In the second year, they hit 36, and by the third year they also had a growing Brownie Unit and a Scout Troop.

“I started the Cub Pack because I enjoyed being in Scouts as a boy. I thought everyone should have that benefit.”

This spirit of helping and giving back extended to the ski slopes when Jay joined the Canadian Ski Patrol in his early 20s.

“I had two friends going out every weekend to ski, and I wanted to join them. Although I was not as proficient at skiing as they were, I was determined and excelled in first aid.”

In the first season, Jay was told he was not allowed to take an injured skier down the mountain on a toboggan by himself. But he practiced during the week at Mount Laval, and by December, he was skilled enough to tackle the expert slopes at Mont St. Sauveur until he was able to take the toboggan down by himself.

The first aid knowledge that he picked up as a ski instructor he taught to the other Cub and Scout leaders.

In addition to volunteering with the Scouts, Jay spent much time with B’nai Brith’s Balfour Lodge # 2473 and was soon named the most valuable new member.

Jay says he loved being a part of B’nai Brith mainly because the group always had fun doing good things. “We’d fundraise and then perform entertainment shows at seniors’ residences.”

Jay was embarrassed when one of the octogenarians asked him to dance with her. “With her orthopedic clodhopper shoes, she danced better than I did!”

One of the truly memorable experiences with B’nai Brith was working on the Passover Baskets Program which delivered 2,000 food baskets to needy families annually.

Jay found out that there were Jewish prisoners and wondered if anybody was doing anything for them. He expanded the food baskets and third seder programs to include them and also to include veterans.

The first prison Jay visited was Leclerc Institute, north of Montreal, an old building with concrete and stone walls, as thick as a fortress.

“As I walked around inside, I looked in amazement and said to myself, ‘In case of a war, this is a great place to be; nobody can get in.’ Seconds later, I reminded myself nobody could get out either. I didn’t sleep the next two nights.”

Jay’s other B’nai Brith positions included being president of Balfour Lodge; president of the Quebec Regional Council; vice-president of Don Mills Lodge and vice-president of B’nai Brith Canada. He organized B’nai Brith tours of Chicago and Washington D.C., and a mission to Cuba.

On the trip to Cuba, Jay and his entourage brought much-needed drugs donated by a pharmaceutical company, baseball equipment donated by the Thornhill Baseball League and school supplies.

The group met the local Jewish community. Prior to the revolution, there were about 150,000 Jews in Cuba. Many had come from Europe, seeing it as a stepping stone into the United States or Canada. Following the Communist takeover, 90 percent of them left.

Jay worked as a representative for over twenty years at Fleurco Industries. Unfortunately, due to the political climate in Quebec, construction businesses started to suffer financially. Sadly, the company went bankrupt, and in April 1996, Jay, like many Montrealers before him, took ‘Flight 401’ to Toronto.

Jay spent many years flying planes, but eventually, it became quite an expensive hobby. “At $100 per hour, I realized that as much as I loved to fly, I couldn’t afford to do it anymore.”

In 1999, his brother, Brian, bought a new Harley-Davidson motorcycle. A few years later, Jay followed in his brother’s footsteps and purchased a used Honda Shadow.

“Riding a motorcycle gives me a sense of freedom. When I first started riding, it gave me almost the same feeling as flying,” he explains. “There are days when I can be stressed. I find that as soon as I get out and ride, a huge smile emerges from my face, and the feeling of exhilaration is incredible.

“There’s an old quip: You never see a motorcycle parked outside a psychiatrist’s office!”

It didn’t take long before Jay became a motorcycle safety instructor at Humber College.

Jay and his brother have spent hours riding together and are part of a Jewish motorcycle club called ‘Yids on Wheels’ or YOW for short.

But, true to form, Jay isn’t just a member of YOW; he’s also the president.

There are 36 Jewish biker clubs across North America. They have some pretty unusual names, like Hillel’s Angels, The Mazel Tuffs, Chai Riders, Guns and Moses. These clubs all belong to the Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance (JMA), of which Jay (no surprise) is the secretary.

The group gathers every year to participate in The Ride to Remember, a fundraiser for Holocaust education. The most recent ride raised funds for the Wisconsin Holocaust Research Center in Milwaukee. Over 110 Jewish bikers participated in this ride, which Jay did on his comfy Goldwing motorcycle.

The 2024 Ride to Remember will be held in Toronto to support the Toronto Holocaust Museum, which opened in June 2023. YOW Toronto is expected to lead a ride of up to 200 bikers through the city to the museum, where they’ll have a ceremony and make a presentation. (Anyone caring to donate to this cause is welcome.)

Jay had to stop this interview to attend (online) his Florida Home Owners Association meeting. Guess what—he’s the president of that too.

Jay is also a proud member of the King David Bikers of South Florida, which every year packs Purim gift bags for over a thousand service men and women worldwide.

When asked for the words of wisdom which have guided his life, Jay didn’t hesitate: “If you believe you can or can’t, you’re right, in either case. If you want something, nothing will stop you as long as you keep going for it. There is no such thing as failure, only the decision to stop trying.”

This profile was produced by Time for My Story, a service that turns your memories into a magazine.