ONLY YESTERDAY: Collected Pieces on the Jews of Toronto
by Ben Kayfetz and Stephen A. Speisman
Toronto’s old Jewish neighbourhoods centered in the Ward and on Spadina Avenue are vividly recalled in these 18 evocative pieces by Ben Kayfetz and Stephen Speisman, both well-known chroniclers of Toronto’s Jewish community.
Collected here for the first time are their colourful stories of the Jewish community and its daily concerns, synagogues and social institutions, Yiddish theatres and newspapers, and an assortment of memorable characters from Mayor Nathan Phillips to anarchist Emma Goldman.
Kayfetz is at his best as he explains the names of Toronto synagogues, as he does in an article from the Globe and Mail of 1955, or reminisces about the city’s once-formidable Jewish press. He also provides a biographical sketch of the legendary J. B. Salsberg, remembers the Spadina Avenue and Kensington Market of yesteryear, and revisits the days when discrimination against minorities in home sales, hotels, department stores, private clubs and the professions was both legal and socially acceptable.
Speisman’s articles include a masterful essay on the vanished downtown neighbourhood of St. John’s Ward where thousands of Jewish families settled upon first arriving in the city of a century ago. He also sketches the history of the once-vibrant local Yiddish theatre and offers a profile of Benjamin Brown, Toronto’s first Jewish architect who designed the Henry Street Synagogue, Balfour Building and other landmarks.
The text is enhanced with 144 photographs and illustrations, including dozens of photographs of former Toronto synagogues that have since been demolished or converted to other uses. Many were taken by Speisman and have not been published before. Additional photos came from the City of Toronto Archives, Ontario Jewish Archives, Archives of Ontario and various private collections. Softcover, 206 pages, new for Spring 2013.
“[Editor] Bill Gladstone has assembled some of the most memorable articles of key communal insider Ben Kayfetz, whose productive pen and keen eye combined to produce vignettes of everyday Jewish Toronto from the 1930s to the ’50s. Gladstone has also unearthed many excellent articles by Stephen Speisman, premier historian of the community and a founder of its archives. This fine collection, prefaced by Gladstone’s excellent introduction, will appeal both to everyone who wants to remember a city all but vanished through urban redevelopment and to historians of these exciting eras in Toronto Jewish history.”— Jack Lipinsky, PhD, author of Imposing Their Will: an organizational history of Toronto Jews, 1933–1948.
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Based on a 60-year-old manuscript that surfaced only recently, The Rise of the Toronto Jewish Community by Shmuel Mayer Shapiro paints one of the most colourful and authentic portraits yet to emerge of what is now Canada’s largest Jewish community, from its earliest days to about 1950, highlighting its strong immigrant and Yiddish flavour. Here are vivid thumbnail sketches of many early synagogues, “anshei” congregations, landsmanschaft organizations and immigrant aid societies, along with a gallery of key personalities from the community’s formative period. The author, himself a prominent figure in his day, brings Toronto’s vanished Ward neighbourhood back to life with vivid descriptions of the soup kitchens, soda parlours, steamship agents, coffee houses and Christian missions that once graced its predominantly Jewish streets.
The narrative also offers detailed accounts of the evolution of the local Yiddish press, Jewish labour unions and indigenous garment industry on Spadina Avenue, as well as of the consequential garment workers’ strike at the T. Eaton Company in 1912. The text is enhanced with many period photographs and illustrations, a glossary of Yiddish and Hebrew terms, and an afterword by the late Ben Kayfetz.
Shmuel Mayer Shapiro (1887-1958) was born in Mozir, Russia and came to Toronto about 1911. He began writing for the Yidisher Zhurnal or Hebrew Journal, Toronto’s daily Yiddish newspaper, in 1912; he eventually became its publisher and operated it until 1957. He was also a provincial justice of the peace and an honourary president of the Canadian Jewish Congress. He wrote The Rise of the Toronto Jewish Community in the late 1940s but it was never published in his lifetime and only resurfaced in a synagogue archives about 2009.
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