ONLY YESTERDAY, by Kayfetz & Speisman, hot off the press

Kayfetz-cvr-loToronto-based publisher Now and Then Books is delighted to announce publication of ONLY YESTERDAY: Collected Pieces on the Jews of Toronto by Benjamin Kayfetz and Stephen A. Speisman, a prolifically illustrated book featuring eighteen evocative articles by two notable historians of Toronto’s Jewish community.

The pieces in ONLY YESTERDAY focus on Toronto’s old downtown community—the people, synagogues, Yiddish theatres and newspapers, and the vanished “Ward” and Spadina neighbourhoods. The stories are enhanced with 144 photographs and illustrations, including many exclusive photos taken by Stephen Speisman while he was researching his magnum opus, The Jews of Toronto: A History to 1937.

A former public relations officer at Canadian Jewish Congress, Ben Kayfetz wrote often about Toronto’s Jewish community. A champion of minority rights, he was instrumental in establishing Ontario’s Fair Employment Act, Fair Housing Act and Human Rights Code, achievements for which he was named a member of the Order of Canada. He died in 2002.

Stephen Speisman was the founding director of the Ontario Jewish Archives and served in that capacity for nearly 30 years. A former colleague of Kayfetz at Congress, he won a City of Toronto Book Award in 1980 and died in 2008.

Kayfetz’s articles in ONLY YESTERDAY include an informative piece explaining the names of Toronto synagogues, a biographical sketch of legendary politician J. B. Salsberg, a colourful history of the city’s once-influential Yiddish press, and various reminiscences about the old Spadina neighbourhood and a pantheon of community leaders, rabbis, pioneers, prizefighters and celebrities from Mayor Nathan Phillips to anarchist Emma Goldman. He also chronicles how discrimination against Jewish doctors, lawyers, teachers and other professionals turned to acceptance in the 1950s and 1960s as an increasingly cosmopolitan city became more accepting of minorities.

Speisman’s articles in ONLY YESTERDAY include a primary essay on the vanished downtown neighbourhood of St. John’s Ward where thousands of Jewish and other immigrant families settled upon first arriving in Toronto in the early 1900s. He also supplies a history of the once-vibrant Yiddish theatre as well as profiles of Benjamin Brown, the city’s first Jewish architect, and Rabbi Meyer Levy, a significant early spiritual leader.

ONLY YESTERDAY offers many photographs of former Toronto synagogues that have either been demolished or converted to other uses; many were taken by Speisman and have never been published before. Other sources of photos are the City of Toronto Archives, Ontario Jewish Archives, Ontario Archives and various private collections.

ONLY YESTERDAY: Collected Pieces on the Jews of Toronto features a select bibliography, glossary of Hebrew and Yiddish terms, and index. The publisher is Now and Then Books of Toronto. The softcover volume is 8 x 10 inches in size, has 206 pages, and sells for $25.00.

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