Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Chanukah With the Liberal Caucus

Last night on December 7th, Ellen Scheinberg and Brooky Robins attended a Chaunkah party at the Legislature Building hosted by the Ontario Liberal Caucus. This was the first time they have held this type of event and it was a splendid affair. Monte Kwinter (MPP,York Centre) and Dr. Eric Hoskins (MPP, St. Paul's) the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, co-hosted the reception.

Monte Kwinter

There was a large group in attendance that included senior UJA Federation lay people such as Elizabeth Wolfe (Chair, UJA Federation) and David Spiro (Chair, Committee of Public Affairs for UJA), all of the CJC staff, some UJA Federation staff and many other community leaders. There were also major philanthropists there as well such as Joe Lebovic.

A number of the Liberal MPPs, besides Kwinter and Hoskins, attended as well. We had the opportunity to chat with Michael Colle (Eglinton-Lawrence), David Zimmer (Willowdale), Tony Ruprecht (Davenport) and Linda Jeffrey (Bampton-Sprindale), the Minister of Natural Resources. Everyone was very friendly and and in good spirits. I particularly enjoyed my conversation with Linda, since she came across as being very open and willing to reveal some of the interesting challenges she was confronting today.

The Chanukah ceremony began with a brief opening speech by Dr. Hoskins, followed by an address by Monte Kwinter. Monte introduced Rabbi Goldfarb from Holy Blossom Temple, who recited the prayers for the lighting of the menorah. The honour of turning the lightbulbs on the electric menorah that they had was given to Premier Dalton McGuinty. He did a commendable job pronouncing "chag Sameach" and seemed to enjoy this role. 

Premier McGuinty Greeting the Crowd

After the ceremony, the crowd continued to mingle and enjoy the wine and hors d'oeuvres that were available. Everything was delicious, however the Legislature could truly benefit from my bubbie's latke recipe. Their latkes were a little too moist in the middle and lacked the crispyness that most of us appreciate. Given that this is their first year hosting a Chanukah event, I suspect that they will address this concern and refine their recipe, so that those who sample their latkes will be taken back to the Kensington Market era and the delicacies that were enjoyed in restaurants like United Bakers and Goldenbergs.

On the whole, I would rate this Chanukah party very high and felt it was a very successful reception. The Liberals have been very committed to supporting Jewish initiatives and voicing their objections against anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propoganda and actions within the province. In turn, Monte Kwinter has made great efforts to promote education about the Holocaust, by taking part in the Yom HaShoa event and briging that important issue into the Legislature each year. They should certainly be commended for their responsiveness to these issues and support.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Russian Veterans Initiative

The Archives is currently working on a project that involves interviewing approximately 20 Jewish veterans who served in the Russian military during the Second World War. They are all living in Toronto at this time and many were given medals for their bravery.

Len Pearl is responsible for conducting the video interviews. He is relying on state of the art technology, employing a green screen background and HD footage. The interviews will be used in the future for programming and exhibitions implemented by the OJA along with the Canadian Jewish Museum that will be constructed within the next few years.
Grigoriy Genin giving a lecture to a
group of soldiers in 1945 outside the
village of Kefermarkt, Austria.
OJA, Accession #2010-11/11.
In addition, the OJA has been acquiring photographs, documents and artifacts from the veterans and scanning items in cases where the individual is not comfortable donating their treasures. As a result, we have acquired wonderful photographs of their lives in Russia before the war, medals, certificates, honours and other items. Since this group was not very well documented by the OJA in the past, this project will help document the many important stories and adventures of these heroic veterans, ensuring that the interviews and records are well preserved for future generations to enjoy and appreciate.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mount Sinai Hospital Plaque Ceremony

On the 17th of November, Mount Sinai Hospital held a reception and ceremony to reveal the historic plaque that Heritage Toronto created to commemorate this important Jewish institution. The OJA was responsible for the selection of sites -- which were reviewed and approved by the HT Board -- as well as the review of the text for the plaque and contribution of photographs.

The event was held at the MoRoCo chocolate shop and restaurant located across the street from the original hospital situated at 100 Yorkville Avenue. The CEO of Mount Sinai along with Dr. Gross, designer Brian Gluckstein and Eric Slavens, the board member of Heritage Toronto who initiated this program, delivered speeches. Special mention was made of the fact that Dr. Harry Arthurs, the former Dean of Osgoode Law School and grandson of the founder of Mount Sinai Hospital, Dorothy Dworkin, was present. Since he is a great friend of the OJA, we made sure to notify him about this event and were extremely pleased that he could come. Eric Slavens also graciously thanked Ellen Scheinberg for her contribution to the plaque and role in the program. 

Rebecca Carson (HT), Dr. Ellen Scheinberg,
 Dr. Harry Arthurs and Brooky Robins
The ceramic plaque is quite beautiful and includes four black and white photographs of the early building, the hospital, Dworkin and her Ezras Noshem Society and a doctor examining a patient during the 1920s. This institution was extremely important to the community, since it fulfilled the crucial function of providing kosher food and services in Yiddish to Jewish patients. Since other hospitals would not hire Jews at that time, it also provided work for Jewish doctors who wanted to remain in Toronto and practice medicine. Everyone was quite pleased with the design and content of the plaque and the Mount Sinai board in particular were thrilled that their hospital was being recognized.

Recently the building was demolished, but the original facade was preserved and is now the entrance for Teatro Verde, a commercial and condo complex located in the heart of Yorkville. Since this is the only remnant left of the original edifice, the plaque will help provide the historical context needed to reveal its rich history and importance to the city of Toronto.

Teatro Verde

Remembrance Day Ceremony at Lipa Green

On November 11th the OJA organized a Remembrance Day event at the Lipa Green Centre in the Tamari Family Hall. We were fortunate to have approximately 55 veterans in attendance, many of whom arrived in uniform with their medals, accompanied by family members. Although most of them served in the Canadian forces during the Second World War, we also had a significant number in attendance who were part of the Allied forces or the Machal during the War of Independence. A record number of Lipa Green Centre staff, in the range of 90 people or more, was also present. A few of the veterans revealed that they had never been to this building before and all expressed how pleased they were to be invited to take part in the Federation ceremony.

The ceremony began with a message from UJA Federation President, Ted Sokolsky, welcoming everyone and discussing the importance of honouring our veterans. He also informed the crowd about a new program that Federation is launching to support Jewish veterans in need. He was followed by Norm Gardner, from the Jewish War Veterans of Canada, who delivered the main address. Cantor David Rosen from Beth Radom Congregation gave a moving version of the prayer for fallen soldiers, as well as the Canadian and Israeli national anthems.

There was an informal reception held after the ceremony. This provided us with the opportunity to chat with the veterans and discuss new programs, such as the oral history initiative and Jewish Museum project, that are in progress.     

Carol Kassel and David Green

Three Russian veterans

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

OJA's Home Movie Project

The OJA has been working on a home movie project for the past year. We have been actively collecting home movies dating from the 1920s until the 1950s that document Jewish Toronto. The archival films have been digitized and a variety of clips will be selected and included in a film that will highlight these wonderful depictions of early Jewish life in Toronto. The selected footage documents themes such as simchas (weddings, anniversaries, bar mitzvahs), recreation, Jewish camps, travel and important events within the community. The film will be shown at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival in April of 2011.

One of the largest collections that the OJA possesses is that of Dr. A.I. Willinsky, one of the first Jewish doctors to practice in Toronto and an early photography and film enthusiast. His films document the construction of Holy Blossom Temple in 1937 as well as his family's activities, adventures and travels. In order to provide a glimpse at the type of footage that will be included in the home movie event, Melissa Caza, the archivist responsible for arranging, describing and preserving the films, has placed a short clip from the Willinsky fonds on YouTube. This clip was taken around 1928 and documents the Willinsky family's visit to the Kronick cottage, situated at Long Branch, Lake Ontario. Dr. Willinsky was the brother-in-law of Sam Kronick. His son Joe, who established and ran Camp White Pine -- which is now run by his son Adam -- was only two years old when the film was taken. 

For those who are interested in donating home movies to the Ontario Jewish Archives or learning more about the home movie project, please contact the Director of the OJA, Ellen Scheinberg. We are still looking for donors to help support this venture. Please give us a shout if you would like to contribute to this important initiative. Not only will it bring the importance of home movies to the fore, but it will help educate the public about the importance of safeguarding and preserving these rich and irreplaceable records that depict family and community life from the early part of the 20th century, in a truly vibrant and dynamic way.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The JCRC Records Processing Project

Responding to depression-era anti-Semitism in Canada, the Canadian Jewish Congress and B’nai Brith together established in 1938 a new joint committee. Since then the Joint Community Relations Committee has documented racist threats in Canada; initiated advocacy activities to work for improved civil rights; promoted legislation combating hate; worked to ensure equality of access to employment, education and accommodation; and investigated specific incidents of discrimination. The JCRC, for example, played a key role in achieving the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1944, and the Fair Employment Practices Act of 1951, key steps leading to Canada’s current Human Rights Code.

This is an example of the type of
anti-Semitic cartoons and literature
documented in the files within this collection and
combatted by the JCRC
The textual records of the Ontario Region JCRC were originally created and maintained by the Canadian Jewish Congress, whose Toronto office donated them to the Ontario Jewish Archives. Although the files had been previously listed, access for research purposes remained extremely difficult. To correct this problem, the OJA is now reorganizing the JCRC records, applying national descriptive standards to ensure ease of understanding and access for future researchers. Guided by archivist George Wharton, and utilizing the efforts of three of our volunteers over the past year, approximately 24 metres of files have now been re-organized into five large sub-series to more precisely document the decisions and activities of the JCRC.

September 2010 marks the completion of the initial phase of this major project, involving records from 1938 to 1978. Phase two will involve the further sorting of the files into sub-series. As well, file within each sub-series will need to be organized either alphabetically or chronologically.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bernard Yale Donation

Bernard Yale with two children
from Bergen Belsen, 1945
OJA, Accession 2010-5/15.
Several months ago the OJA acquired records created by Bernard Yale after initiating a drive to document the experiences of Jewish veterans who served during the Second World War. Bernard served in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a photographer. He arrived in England in 1944 and was shortly thereafter posted to 443 Squadron, 144 Wing (a Spitfire Wing) in the town of Ford. While stationed there, he was responsible for servicing cinegun cameras that captured the damage caused each time the Spitfires fired ammunition at a target.

From Ford, Bernard moved with his squadron to various other towns; including, St. Croix Sur Mer (during the invasion of Normandy), Chartres, Louvain and other towns in Belgium and Holland. In 1945, his squadron began moving into Germany and encountered slave labourers who had just been liberated. Soon after, Bernard was posted to serve in the occupation forces with 84 Group Disarmament Staff. His unit was responsible for disarming and dismantling the German air force. As part of this unit, Bernard processed photographs of Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp guards, the burning of the wooden quarters used for Bergen Belsen’s inmates, and other structures and remains found there. A squadron leader in Bernard’s unit, Ted Aplin, organized Sunday picnics for the children of Bergen Belsen during the summer of 1945. Bernard captured many photographs of these outings.

The Yale accession consists of photographs and textual records that document Bernard's activities in the Royal Canadian Airforce during the Second World War. Included are images of Bernard and his photography school classmates, shots taken just after the Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp was liberated, such as, photographs of captured S.S. guards and of the Sunday picnics organized for the children, and images taken by Bernard while he was on leave.
Canadian servicemen with the
survivor children, 1945
OJA, Accession 2010-5/15

These records are of great value, since there are very few photographs in existence that include interactions between Canadian servicemen and Holocaust survivors. The images of the survivor children frolicing in the fields with the soldiers are truly amazing. They will likely be incorporated into exhibits mounted by the Toronto Holocaust Centre and perhaps other Holocaust Centres in North America.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sammy Luftspring Albums - The Conservation Project

Sammy Luftspring, 1930
OJA, Photo #2516
In 2009, the OJA acquired the personal scrapbooks of famed Canadian boxer, Sammy Luftspring. Luftspring was born in 1916 in St. John’s Ward. He began boxing in 1932 and by 1936 was selected to join the Canadian Olympic team. He chose, however, to boycott the Berlin Olympics, which were being organized under Nazi-rule, and decided instead to attend an alternative event known as the People’s Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. After making the trip to Europe by ship, Sammy, along with fellow Toronto boxer Norman “Baby Yack”, faced the disappointment of having the event cancelled after the Civil War broke out on the eve of the opening ceremonies. Sammy returned to Toronto and began to box professionally, winning the Canadian welterweight championship in 1938, a title which he held for two years.

Luftspring's career as a boxer ended in 1940, when an opponent’s thumb punctured his eye, detaching the retina and leaving him blind in one eye. He re-invented himself as a boxing referee, overseeing fights involving some of the greatest boxers of all time, including Mohammad Ali and George Chuvalo. He also opened up a number of nightclubs in Toronto such as the Mercury and Tropicana, which attracted famous entertainers such as Henry Youngman, Vic Damone and Tony Bennett. He passed away in 2000 at age 84.

The two scrapbooks donated to the OJA were created by Sammy Luftspring himself and reflect his personal life and career. The scrapbooks contain over 700 photographs, as well as invitations, postcards, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia. They were in very poor condition and required some basic conservation work. In order to protect the items in the scrapbooks from the acidic paper, acid-free tissue paper was inserted in between each page. In turn, a scanning project was initiated in order to protect the original scrapbooks. By creating a digital reproduction, information included in the original arrangement will remain accessible, while the objects themselves are granted a longer life span.

So, over the course of two weeks in the summer of 2010, the Luftspring scrapbooks were digitized in their entirety by our summer intern, Emma Leverty. Scans were made of the original document size at 300 dpi and saved as TIFF files. The larger of the two scrapbooks (65 x 48 cm) needed to be scanned in three sections and then stitched together using a special software program. In total, over 400 scans were completed to create the 200 pages that make up the scrapbooks. Finally, individual photographs were selected and scanned and item level descriptions were completed for those images that were deemed to be of greatest archival value and likely to be of interest to the public.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sense of Spadina & Pape Avenue Cemetery Tours

Sense of Spadina Tour

For over 30 years the OJA has been offering the Sense of Spadina Tour, which provides participants with a glimpse at old Jewish Toronto in Kensington Market. It is a 90 minute walking tour offered from April to October. We provide 4 public tours during the season as well as tours for private groups. The last public tour will be held on Sunday September 22nd.  For those interested in signing up for this tour you can either pay on-line or contact us at

Pape Avenue Cemetery Tour

The Pape Avenue Cemetery tour takes participants through Toronto’s oldest Jewish cemetery, established in 1849. It is led by Dr. Ellen Scheinberg, Director of the OJA and Susan Brown, artist and local community leader. Participants will be exposed to the rich history of this cemetery as well as stories surrounding the individuals who were buried there. The last public tour this season will be held on Sunday October 2nd. For those interested in registering you can pay on-line or contact us at the e-mail address above.

Public launch of the Facets of Fame Exhibition

Al Gilbert
The OJA held a public launch for its recent exhibition "Facets of Fame: Portraits by Toronto Photographer Al Gilbert" on July 29th at the Market Gallery. The display opened on April 22nd and  includes approximately 75 portraits taken by internationally acclaimed portrait photographer Al Gilbert. During his 60 plus year career, Gilbert has photographed some of the most notable personalities of our time such as Frank Sinatra, Charles Best, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, Oscar Peterson, Pope John Paul II, the Queen Mum and many others.

The event attracted over 120 visitors who viewed the display and had the opportunity to mingle with Al and partake in the refreshments. Several of the subjects who are featured in the exhibit attended this event such as Mel Lastman, Raymond Moriyama, Judy Feld Carr and Rabbi Frydman Kohl. The family of the late William Wen, who owened the popular Chinese restaurant Sai Woo, were also in attendance.

Al GIlbert on left with Mel Lastman
and Raymond Moriyama
The exhibition will remain at the Market Gallery until September 11th. After that time, the OJA will organize a travelling exhibition so that institutions from across North America can borrow it. We would encourage everyone who hasn't yet had the opportunity to see it to pay a visit to the Market Gallery before it closes. We would like to thank Pam Wachna, the head of the Gallery, as well as the curator, Michael Dowbenka, for their work and support. It's been a real pleasure working with them and having our display mounted at such a spaceous and professionally run venue.

Ellen Scheinberg (Director of the OJA)
and Ralph Coram from the AO
Photo Credit: Michael Rajzman
Melissa Caza and Emma Leverty from the
OJA pose by the Gallery window showcasing
the view of the city
Photo Credit: Michael Rajzman