ONLY YESTERDAY: Collected Pieces on the Jews of Toronto (Kayfetz/Speisman)


ONLY YESTERDAY: Collected Pieces on the Jews of Toronto features 18 evocative pieces about Toronto’s old downtown Jewish community in the ‘Ward’ and Spadina neighbourhoods. The authors, both notable historians, recall the old synagogues, the rabbis and communal leaders, the politics and daily life, the Yiddish press and Yiddish theatre, and offer fine portraits of J. B. Salsberg, Emma Goldman, architect Benjamin Brown and others. With 144 photographs and illustrations from the City of Toronto Archives, Ontario Jewish Archives and various private collections, including many previously unpublished photos of vanished old synagogues taken by Speisman. Softcover, 206 pages.

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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. 

Regular $25. Shipping, only $3, Canada & US only. (HST if applicable.)


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