Friday, December 7, 2012

Festival of Lights

The OJA recently put a call out to the community for your Chanukah photos for the debut of an exciting music video created by the OJA and the critically acclaimed children’s band Oozakazoo. The video is now online, just in time for this year’s eight-day Festival of Lights on December 9, 2012.

This video celebrates the centuries-old tradition of lighting the Chanukah candles to commemorate the act of fighting for what you believe in, the triumph of the Chanukah story.


For a complete list of photos and videos that appear in the Festival of Lights music video, click here.

Represented in this video are families, youth groups, synagogues, schools, and other Jewish organizations celebrating the holiday of Chanukah. Woven within this holiday story are photographs that document the community’s ongoing commitment to building a brighter future which, over the years, has included advocating for the freedom of Soviet Jewry, supporting immigrants, standing up for Israel, helping those in need, and improving the lives of the most vulnerable in our community. All of these stories are found in the Ontario Jewish Archives.

The photos submitted will be added to the Archives’ permanent holdings, as part of the chronicle of Jewish life in our province. To learn how to donate additional material to the OJA, please visit our website.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Conflict and Commemoration at the OJA

This year marks the bicentennial of the War of 1812. Commemorative events are set to take place across the country this summer and while the Ontario Jewish Archives does not hold any material relevant to this war, conflict as a broader theme is ever-present within a number of fascinating archival collections. Material documenting the Jewish community’s involvement in a number of civil and human rights struggles has been consistently sought after by researchers at the OJA. As a result, we have focused on ensuring greater access to those collections that provide a better understanding of the many conflicts confronted by the Jewish community of Ontario during the 20th Century.

The records speak to a century-long story of struggle: the struggle of immigration to a new land; of integration into larger established communities; of caring for the vulnerable poor, sick and aged; against hatred and discrimination; for equitable treatment and opportunities; and for rights and freedoms for those in Canada and for those living in foreign lands. These collections have allowed the OJA the opportunity to help commemorate those very sacrifices and achievements that have helped shape Ontario’s Jewish community.

Among the records are those documenting the creation and development of the local Jewish fundraising organization and our parent body, the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. These help to illustrate the united philanthropic activities of the Jewish community beginning in the second decade of the 20th Century and document the care for the vulnerable and the disenfranchised, the funding of Jewish education, the provision of aid during times of strife, and the erection of Jewish community centres. The records also tell us about the leaders, donors, benefactors and dissenters, while exploring past harmonies and conflicts within the community. Much of the early development of the UJA Federation was in response to various world conflicts and the need to provide opportunities and infrastructure for those who fled these conflicts to create a new start in Canada.

United Jewish Appeal campaign booklet, 1947.
OJA, accession 2008-6/6.

The records of the Canadian Jewish Congress' Community Relations Committee document efforts to fight anti-Semitism and civil inequalities in Ontario. The blanket theme of anti-Semitism is one of the most commonly researched topics at the OJA and this series of records is the best source of information on the community's efforts to combat it, both pre- and post-Second World War. Beginning in 1938, this committee was mandated with investigating incidents in the community, advocating on behalf of equitable treatment, and lobbying for improvements to better protect citizens from racial and other prejudices. These records are commonly used to examine past efforts of Jewish organizations, community leaders, lawyers and politicians to combat racism, prejudice and endemic inequalities and to develop a more open Canadian society.

No Jews Wanted sign, Jackson's Point, Ontario, 1938.
OJA, photo #1181.

Another CJC Committee, the Committee for Soviet Jewry document the efforts of Toronto and Canada’s Jewish communities to ameliorate the effects of Russia’s anti-Semitic policies and activities during the 1970s and 1980s. They bring to light the massive efforts of Canada's Jewish communities to assist their brethren trapped in the USSR during these two decades when they were cruelly persecuted by the Soviet government. Historians continue to utilize these records, uncovering remarkable stories of unequalled Jewish activism, which effectively embarrassed the Soviet government into the release of several high-profile Russian Jewish dissenters.

Demonstrators along  Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin's motorcade route,
Toronto, Oct. 1971. OJA, fonds 17, series 3-5, file 7, item 3.

Finally, there are the records documenting the efforts of Jewish Canadians to support Canada’s war efforts during the 20th Century. A number of recent outreach initiatives with Jewish veterans groups in Toronto have resulted in a stark increase to our military holdings. Exhibits and commemorative events have enabled us to build partnerships with the veterans groups and thus acquire new material related to their wartime experiences. Through the Historica Dominion Institute’s Memory Project, the OJA was also able reach out to Jewish veterans in an effort to record a number of those experiences for posterity.

David Green prepares for his interview at the Lipa Green Centre,
May 13, 2010. Photo by Michael Rajzman.

The processing of records documenting the extent of the involvement of Canada's Jews in 20th Century conflicts has been critical in unearthing the documentary evidence to support further research and future events meant to celebrate and remember those efforts. The records also continue to benefit researchers of all categories, from students to community members, to historians, and to our major communal organizations.

Conflict, we are reminded, has a way of uniting a community, of creating a sense of belonging against a common adversary. To study a community’s struggles and sacrifices is also to study their communal beliefs, their will, and their power or lack of power within a society. Much can be learned by examining the issues that a community deems important enough to fight over and perhaps this is why these particular records have garnered so much interest from researchers.

(Adapted from a recent presentation given by Donna Bernardo-Ceriz at the Archives Association of Ontario annual conference in Toronto, June 16, 2012)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A New Director Joins the OJA

I am absolutely delighted to join the Ontario Jewish Archives as Director and to introduce myself to both the Jewish communities of Ontario and to the national and international networks of archives. I look forward to guiding this extraordinary organization into the next chapter of its distinguished history. After living away from Toronto for close to thirteen years, I am thrilled to return to a vibrant cosmopolitan city alive with thriving cultural institutions of all shapes and sizes, neighbourhoods with distinctive character, and delicious restaurants!

Throughout my career, I have been committed to engaging audiences with stories that present multiple perspectives on Jewish culture, tradition, and history. Working with artists, scholars, students, archivists, and collectors, I create experiences that make Jewish values and ideas relevant and accessible to audiences of all ages and backgrounds. I look forward to bringing these skills to the OJA, an institution that is bursting with stories waiting to be told. Over my first few weeks here, I have had the pleasure (with the support of my crackerjack team of archivists—Donna Bernardo-Ceriz, Melissa Caza, and George Wharton) of discovering some of these stories. Not only have I learned so much about the foundation of the Jewish community but also about the building of the City of Toronto, the province of Ontario, and even about my own family. The OJA is rich in legends, mysteries, tales, and a few bubbe-meise and I look forward to sharing them with you.

I plan to start connecting audiences with a selection from our archives right away through a newly launched Facebook page: I invite you to join me as I explore the Archives. I will regularly post photos, video, and other records along with comments and questions so you too can engage with the material and learn something new. And, I want to create a dialogue so please add your own photos and comments. And, remember, we do want to collect these stories in the Archives, not just online. If you are interested in donating materials, please contact us:

I look forward to creating exhibitions on all of the UJA’s campuses and in other venues that further explore the collection and engage visitors in unexpected and surprising ways. I plan to invite visual artists and writers to create new works of art inspired by items in the Archives.

Another one of my goals is to strengthen the collection and fill in the existing gaps. We definitely need more documentation from the recent past, 1970s to the present and I want to make sure that the Archives represents both affiliated and unaffiliated members of the community. I plan to reach out to the Day Schools, the Sephardic community, the various summer camps, the gay and lesbian community, the synagogues, the creative community, and the youth and student organizations that are all so central to the Jewish experience in Ontario. These partnerships with the OJA are so important in preserving the community’s stories but also in making them more accessible to a wide range of users.

This is the moment to transform the OJA into a dynamic resource that reflects both the past and the present and that fully embraces the unlimited potential of today’s technology. I hope you will join us at the OJA to learn more about the past and the present. Our stories are your stories!

Dara Solomon
Director, Ontario Jewish Archives

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Harbord Collegiate Celebrates 120 Years with Wayne and Shuster

On April 27, Heritage Toronto unveiled a legacy plaque at the 120th anniversary celebrations of Harbord Collegiate in Toronto. The plaque specifically honours comedians Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster, who met in 1930 in their Grade 10 class at Harbord and then went on to study English literature at the University of Toronto.

Johnny Wayne (1918-1990) was born Louis Weingarten in Toronto to Sarah and Charles Byron Weingarten. He was married to Beatrice Lokash and they had three children: Michael, Jamie and Brian. Frank Shuster (1916-2002) was born to Bess and Jack Shuster in Toronto but also lived in Niagara Falls where Jack Shuster ran the local Colonial Theatre. Married in 1947, Frank and his wife Ruth Burstyn had two children: Rosalind and Steve. Notably, Frank's cousin Joe Shuster was one of the creators behind the famous Superman comic character.

University College Follies program, 1938.
OJA, fonds 73, series 2, file 5.

Both Wayne and Shuster were active in dramatics as high school students, and later as university students with the Beta Sigma Rho fraternity. In 1941, while still in school, Wayne and Shuster created their first show for CFRB radio, titled Wife Preservers. It was followed shortly thereafter by their hit comedy show, The Wayne and Shuster Show, on CBC's Trans-Canada Network. In 1942, the two men joined the Canadian infantry and brought their Army Show to different military bases across Canada. They took the show to Normandy after D-Day and wrote a 52 week series for veterans.

Following the war, the Wayne and Shuster Show returned to CBC radio and went on to become a much beloved program, earning the men a national audience. The half-hour radio program was broadcast live at 9:30pm on Thursday evenings. The show often featured comedic spoofs on classical plays and literature and was therefore described as "literary slapstick." Wayne and Shuster performed alongside co-stars Eric Christmas, Terry Dale, Herb May and several other guest comedians. The show was produced by Jackie Rae and Samuel Hershenhoren provided the music. The radio program ran until 1954, at which point Wayne and Shuster began to produce hour-long specials on CBC television. In 1958, they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in the United States and in fact, became a regular feature, breaking the record for the number of appearances by any one guest. In 1999, Wayne and Shuster were inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame.

Wayne and Shuster make an appearance in a number of the OJA's collections. A small selection of radio scripts from the Wayne and Shuster show are contained within the Morris Norman fonds. The pair are also found in the Beta Sigma Rho Fraternity fonds, the Al Gilbert fonds and a number of smaller family collections.

Radio script from the Wayne and Shuster show, March 1952.
OJA, fonds 22, series 3, file 25.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

May declared Jewish Heritage Month by the Ontario Legislature

Shumer and Geldzaeler families, ca. 1895.
Ontario Jewish Archives, photo 1230.
On February 23, 2012, the Ontario Legislature passed Bill 17, making the month of May Jewish Heritage Month in the province. The Bill was presented by Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle and co-sponsored by Thornhill MPP Peter Shurman and Parkdale-High Park MPP Cheri DiNovo. The Ontario Jewish Archives was in support of the bill and provided research assistance to Mike Colle's office by highlighting some important historical figures and organizations in the developement of Ontario's thriving Jewish community.

The bill recognizes the long and significant history of Ontario Jewry in the province. According to Irving Abella's A Coat of Many Colours, Moses David was the first practicing Jew to permanently settle in Upper Canada in 1803, in what is now Windsor, Ontario. Yet, it wasn't until the 1830s that Jewish settlements and communities in Ontario began to grow and by the 1850s, the Jewish population in Toronto was significant enough to warrent the formation of the Province's first synagogue: the Toronto Hebrew Congregation, now known as Holy Blossom Temple.

Although individuals have played an important role in the development of Ontario, it is the collective strength of the Jewish community that has allowed it to flourish into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, especially during times systematic discrimination and antisemitism. Now thanks to the Ontario Government, this collectivity will be at the forefront every May as we celebrate what has been a remarkable two hundred years of Jewish communal development.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Digitization of the Shields Family Films

Through the generosity of Mel and Lorne Shields, the OJA has completed digitizing its collection of the Shields family’s home movies. Mel and Lorne’s parents, Harry and Esther Shields, were married in Toronto in 1937.  Harry owned a sportswear business called Shields Sportswear Ltd., which was located at 349 Queen Street West. Their family films offer a rare and vibrant glimpse of every day Jewish life in Toronto between 1937 and 1970, including footage of Lorne’s Bar Mitzvah at Beth Tzedec Synagogue, weddings from the 1930s, a family trip to Pontypool (a summer destination for many Toronto Jews), and clips of summer camps that were popular within the Jewish community, such as, Camp Rockwood and Camp Winnebagoe. The OJA is thrilled to make these films accessible to current and future generations and extends its warmest thanks to the Shields family for their generous support with this initiative.

Visitor Day at Camp Winnebagoe, ca. 1959.

The OJA has over 30 hours of home movie footage from the late 1920s to the 1970s documenting weddings, birthday parties, Bar Mitzvah’s, family vacations in Ontario and around the world, graduations, Toronto recreation and amusement, cottage life, and other every day family outings and activities. Please contact us if you would like to learn more about our home movie collection or if you have home movies of your own you'd like to donate.