Vivian Morris Rakoff was born on 28 April 1928 in Cape Town but was quickly whisked off to Port Nolloth, a small town on the northwest coast of South Africa, where he spent his earliest years. And while Port Nolloth was home to less than a dozen Jewish families, his mother would still braid challah every Friday night.
The family moved to Cape Town when Vivian was six. At age eleven, he had a bruising encounter with apartheid that left a strong impression on him. Having innocently boarded a bus set aside for Black South Africans, he was thrown off by the conductor who told him, “You can’t come here!” Afterwards, he told his aunt he was not going to live in South Africa.
After completing a degree at the University of Cape Town, Vivian set sail for England, where he was planning to study English at Oxford. Instead, he followed friends down to Marseilles where he met Yiddish-speaking Holocaust survivors waiting to set sail for Israel. The encounter was a pivotal one and led Vivian to journey to Israel, where he lived on kibbutz for a year.
After losing his passport, Vivian returned to South Africa, where he completed a master’s degree in psychology. He then travelled to England, this time staying for more than eight years. He studied medicine at University College London and enjoyed the city’s theatres and museums. After completing his degree, he decided it was time to see his parents so he returned once more to South Africa.
While in South Africa, Vivian met a friend who suggested he enroll in McGill University’s psychiatry program. Vivian thus set sail yet again, this time with wife and ten-month-old baby. After an eighteen-day journey, the family arrived in Montreal, where Vivian did his residency. Residency complete, he accepted a job offer in Toronto, where he stayed for the rest of his career, serving as chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto and as the namesake for the Rakoff Centre for Positron Emission Tomography. In 2015, the Government of Canada appointed him a member of the Order of Canada in recognition of his contributions to psychiatry as well as for his role in founding the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
Vivian died on 1 October 2020. He was survived by his wife Gina Shochat-Rakoff, son Simon, daughter Ruth, and grandchildren Micah, Amit, Sasaf, and Zoe.
Rakoff, Vivian Morris, 1928-2020
Cape Town (South Africa)
Port Nolloth (South Africa)
00:29 Vivian discusses the immigration of his father's family to South Africa. His grandfather left Lithuania around the turn of the twentieth century. His grandmother and her children joined him in South Africa. Vivian lists the members of the family.
04:24 Vivian discusses the immigration of his mother's family. His mother, who was born in Chicago, came to South Africa in 1914.
05:00 Vivian's family settled in Port Nolloth. Vivian discusses the economy of the region. He discusses his father's businesses and marriage to his mother, Bertha. Vivian is one of four children.
06:48 Vivian was born on 28 April 1928 and lived in Port Nolloth for his first six years.
07:35 Vivian shares memories of growing up Jewish in Port Nolloth. He recounts anecdotes concerning his father's Zionist leanings.
09:40 Vivian describes his family's Jewish observance and shares memories from his youth.
12:30 Vivian discusses the impact of Zionism in his personal life. He describes his involvement with HaShomer HaTzair and travelling to Israel.
13:13 Vivian describes synagogues in Cape Town. He discusses his Jewish education after his family moved to Cape Town when he was six.
14:26 Vivian discusses the Jewish lives of his grandparents in Lithuania. He discusses the influence of the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) and the rise of Zionism.
17:17 Vivian discusses the impact of South African politics on his life. He recalls a poem he wrote for his Zionist youth magazine. He recalls how an incident from his childhood that highlights the oppressive nature of the apartheid regime. The incident influenced his decision to leave South Africa.
21:04 Vivian describes the circumstances that triggered his decision to go to Palestine in 1947. His plan to study in England was interrupted when he decided to join a group of displaced persons in Marseilles who were travelling to Palestine. He remained there for a year.
24:26 Vivian describes his educational studies in South Africa and England.
25:27 Vivian expounds on living in London for eight years.
28:15 Vivian discusses his decision to come to Canada to study Psychiatry at McGill University.
29:18 Vivian describes his journey by steamship to Canada with his wife and ten-month-old baby.
30:13 Vivian discusses his impressions of South Africa when he returned from England.
00:13 Vivian discusses early memories of living in Montreal and how reality differed from expectations. He worked as a psychiatry resident at the Jewish General Hospital, but his wife, also a doctor, was unable to work. He describes a feeling of disappointment when they were not invited for High Holidays.
00:00 Vivian explains that he had decided to leave Montreal in 1967. He discusses Expo 67 and their many visitors.
00:00 Vivian discusses how his first job offer in Toronto at St. Michael's Hospital in 1967 was retracted due to antisemitism. He was then offered a position as director of postgraduate education in the psychiatry department.
01:00 Vivian describes some of the early challenges faced by his family when they arrived in Canada such as financial challenges and antisemitism.
02:28 Vivian and family move to a home on Ridgewood Road where they remain for twenty-three years.
03:00 Vivian contrasts his early experiences in Toronto with those in Montreal.
04:07 Vivian's children attended Bialik Hebrew Day School.
04:16 Vivian describes his family's Jewish observance.
04:52 Vivian explains that his primary connection to the South African Jewish community in Toronto is through relatives.
05:25 Vivian continues to discuss his Jewish observance.
06:25 Vivian discusses some of his family members who came to Toronto.
08:00 Vivian discusses his research concerning the challenges faced by children of Holocaust survivors. He continues to discuss his professional and literary writing.
09:5 Vivian outlines his professional positions: director of postgraduate education, chief of psychiatry at St. Michael's Hospital, chief of psychiatry and professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto.
10:25 Vivian highlights a personal achievement concerning bringing a positron emission scanner to the Clark Institute (CAMH).
11:50 Vivian discusses his interest in art.
13:17 Vivian discusses some of the challenges encountered by new immigrants.
14:30 Vivian addresses his own decision to immigrate to Canada.
15:41 Vivian addresses his Canadian identity.
15:58 Vivian describes a trip with his grandchildren to Port Nolloth.
17:36 Vivian shares some of his lasting memories of Cape Town.
19:08 Vivian discusses the common destinations for South African Jewish immigration.
20:12 Vivian discusses his experience as an immigrant of Canada.