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My First Trip to the Manor

Andy Réti recently contacted the OJA eager to share his Bathurst Manor story. Although Andy never lived in the Manor, he quickly realized that he has been connected to the neighbourhood throughout his Toronto life. Andy’s story begins with his reminiscences of the first party he attended in the Manor in 1960, shortly after his arrival to Toronto from Hungary, confessing “we were all car- and girl-crazy—but not necessarily in that order”, to his present-day volunteer work as a Holocaust survivor speaker at the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre.

By Andy Réti

I was invited to a house party in the Overbrook and Wilmington area. The year was 1960, and I didn’tknow that I needed two tokens to get there. The bus stopped at Eglinton and Bathurst, and I had to pay a second token before the driver moved on. I didn’t know that my destination was in a new development called the Manor.

Photo: Courtsey of Andy Réti.

Andy Réti on the dance floor, Central Tech dance contest, 725 Bathurst Street, (Toronto, ON), ca. 1958.

Photo: Courtsey of Andy Réti.

I was such a “greener,” and there were so many other things I didn’t know yet, including the fact that we Jews tend to migrate a lot. The time I am reminiscing about is 1958–1960—just after my mother and I arrived in Toronto. The Manor was only the first of many new destinations for Toronto’s Jewish community. Years later when I was a father of two young children, I too moved to another new suburb at Leslie and Greenlane.

In 1960, I also didn’t know that three institutions located in the Manor—the Bathurst Jewish Community Centre (formerly YMHA or Y), Bnai Brith, and the Holocaust Centre—would become an integral, almost central, part of my life. My connections to the Y at Spadina and Bloor started in 1958, where my fellow Hungarians and I met the young ladies who already lived in the Manor or were in the process of moving there. I started my thirty-year volunteer swimming instructor and lifeguarding career at the Y and continued at the BJCC. Years later, I became a survivor speaker at the Holocaust Centre located in the Lipa Green building, right next to the BJCC.

Photo: Courtesy of Andy Réti.

The Hungarians parked behind the Bloor Street Y, Major Street, (Toronto, ON), 1960. Individuals identified in photo: Julius Batori, Peter and Ervin Dan, David Greisman, Miki Andradi, David Greisman, Tom Arandi, Peter Landeszman, Mike Weisz.

Photo: Courtesy of Andy Réti.

The street was Pannahill, and the home had a recreation room in the basement with a wet bar. I had no idea that homes had anything other than an apartment in their basement. Everything was new and exciting: the house, the furniture, the people, the food, the music, the dresses, and, of course, the cars on the driveways and in the streets. We were all car- and girl-crazy—but not necessarily in that order.

Over the years, the friendships and relations changed but the memories are still vivid; it was my first impression of suburbia. Julius, my classmate from Hungary, was the first from our group to get married. He married Drora, a Manor girl. I was the best man at their wedding. That wedding was the beginning for all of us on our way to become adults and to have our own families.

Although I never lived in the Manor, I spent a lot of time there. Until I saw the invitation to contribute to the OJA’s project to collect the history of Jewish life in the Manor, I didn’t consider how much of my life I spent there. It was not the geographical location that mattered or made a difference; it was the people and what we did.

Photo: Courtesy of Andy Réti.

Birthday celebration in Bathurst Manor, [Pannahill Road], (Downsview, ON), ca. 1960. Individuals identified in photo: Julius Batori, Drora Meghori (m. Batori), Tony Alexander, Pam Applebaum, Andy Réti, Mary Citoyen Cohen.

Photo: Courtesy of Andy Réti.

I became a volunteer and eventually a Holocaust survivor speaker after my dear mother passed away in 2005. This is my twenty-second year as a Holocaust educator. I speak to hundreds of people annually. In each presentation, I make it a point to announce that I live in the Bathurst and Sheppard area, which is still a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood.

Since I live on Alexis Boulevard, the first street south of Sheppard, I firmly believe that this makes me an honorary Manorite.

Headshot of Andy RetiAndy at 78; Husband, Father, Grandfather, Survivor Speaker, Writer, Author, Motorcycle rider, and taxi industry veteran. He tells his kids that he has a Phd. in life skills but they don’t listen.

Growing Up in the Manor: The Box

Bathurst Manor LogoIn response to the OJA’s call for Bathurst Manor stories, Allan Rosenfeld contacted the OJA eager to share his memories of growing up in the Manor. He had a story to share—in fact, he had several. Rosenfeld’s short story The Box, is set at Cedar Grove Public School. The drama unfolds as a young Allan is challenged to a game of Leaners where he risks losing his entire bubble gum trading card collection, including his prized Gordie Howe all-star card.

The Box

By Allan Rosenfeld

The kids of Bathurst Manor loved collecting bubble gum trading cards. All kinds of cards. There were hockey cards, and TV show cards like Batman and the Beverley Hillbillies. It didn’t matter what kind of cards you collected, although most of the guys liked the hockey cards. Every guy that was cool collected cards.

You could buy them anywhere, but we often went to the Cigar store to get them. Kids clamored to purchase the 6-card pack with a stick of bubble gum for a nickel. The more cards you had, the cooler you were.

I was in grade 3 and went to Cedar Grove Public School at the very north end of Bathurst Manor. There was another public school in the Manor but it was far to the south and was called Wilmington Public School. Every now and then, the guys from our school would compete in an organized sporting event against Wilmington, but usually we never ventured south of Overbrook Street.

Rosenfeld Family Collection. Ontario Jewish Archives, accession 2020-06-01.

Allan Rosenfeld, 10 Terrydale Drive, (North York, ON), 1972.

Rosenfeld Family Collection. Ontario Jewish Archives, accession 2020-06-01.

I loved going to Cedar Grove. There was a huge field behind the two-floor school that housed 2 baseball diamonds and behind the field was a ravine where a small creek ran and sometimes after school we’d going hunting for frogs and tadpoles. The school had portables that some kids had to make their permanent classrooms. Those were the heady days of childhood were nothing was ever wrong in the world, and every day you’d wake up with a sense, of newness and adventure. Days where life was full of wonder and excitement, whether it was exploring the creek in the ravine, riding your bike to a friend’s home to watch Get Smart, or just collecting more and more bubble gum cards.

There were all kinds of games we played with the cards. There was a game called Shootsies where you’d face off against an opponent, and flick your card at wall, with the card that landed closest to the wall being the winner. The loser had to give up his card, so if you had a really precious card, you’d be an idiot to play it unless you thought you were going to win for sure. I played a lot of Shootsies, because the stakes were small and I wanted to keep my cards.

There was game called Kissies, where you’d keep shooting your cards against a wall, and when you landed on your opponent’s card, you won, and would take all the cards that had been played. Sometimes, this was one card if you landed on it right away and sometimes you could win several of your challenger’s cards. You really only played Kissies if you didn’t care if you lost some cards, or you were pretty confident about your flicking abilities. Kissies rarely resulted in you being skunked, where you lost all the cards you had in your hand.

The card games got even more competitive, with Knockdowns, being the next game in the skill hierarchy. In this event, you’d put a card leaning up against the wall, and the goal was to shoot one of your cards at the leaner card and knock it flat. Sometimes this happened right away, but more often than not, it would take several cards on both sides to knock down the standing card. This could result in a big loss or big payday! This was my favorite game. I just seemed to be pretty good at it for some reason.

The final game was Leaners. This was the game with the biggest potential stakes. The quest here was to shoot your card at the wall and get it to land so it was standing up on the wall. This was really tough to do, especially if your cards were new or you kept them in mint condition. Everyone had their special leaners card, that was worn in and usually a little bent.

Sometimes, you’d take a card and try to bend it or crumple it a little bit, to increase the chance that the card would float to the wall and settle in to a standing position. However, it didn’t always work that way. Sometimes these worked over cards were too soft and worn in and would just flop to the ground and not even make it to the wall. Leaners was a tough game and you could easily get skunked. It took a lot of guts to engage in leaner’s showdown.

There were other factors to consider when engaging in a battle of cards, depending on the game being played. Distance to the wall, ground surface, wind and rain were all variables that one had to consider in any given match. As a kid, you didn’t consciously think about these things. You just kind of knew. Probably, the most important factor that could influence a match’s outcome was wind. Maybe not so much in Shootsies or Kissies, but wind could wreak havoc with Knockdowns or Leaners.

We were fortunate at Cedar Grove though. We had “The Box.”

The Box was a large rectangular area at the back of the school that was sheltered on 3 sides from the elements. It was really the back door out of the gym, but was deep and long enough, that it was sheltered from the wind and rain. It became the main ring for any card duels, but there was a hierarchy to its use. You see, in the school yard, dominance was determined by aggression and grade, and in that order. Failing to comply, usually resulted with a punch in the face or worse. I was in Grade 3, and was low on the pecking order. To make matters worse, I was a pretty gentle kid, who shied away from confrontation. So, my friends and I rarely got to play in the box unless it was after school. At recess or lunch, there no chance in hell, that we’d get near it. The older grade guys would monopolize it as they engaged each other for bubble gum card dominance. The box always had crowds of kids looking on to see who was battling. The guys in my grade, usually played against the back wall of the school or against the portables, but that really sucked, especially in the late fall when it started to get cold. The box provided some shelter from the wind, so it wasn’t nearly as cold. Some of us even tried playing with gloves or mittens, but that was pathetic. You couldn’t control anything you shot. As fate would have it, I did get a turn at the box one late October day, during an afternoon recess.

I happened to get a Gordie Howe all-star card in my most recent purchase of cards. I was ecstatic. The Gordie Howe all-star card was a limited edition. There were hardly any of them around. If you looked at guy’s checklist, it was almost always the only card remaining to complete a full list. I was never sure why it was so important to have your checklist completed. It was just one of those things that kids kind of knew without having anyone tell them. When you played card games, the checklist card had almost no value, but everyone wanted their checklist completed! Well, I couldn’t help but show off the card when I got to school. My friends couldn’t believe my luck, and soon word got around the school that a Grade 3 kid had picked up the Gordie Howe all-star card. I become a celebrity of sorts, and reveled in my new-found popularity, until Tanzer approached me at lunch break.

Tanzer was a grade 6 kid. I had never met him, but he and his gang monopolized the box almost all the time. He was part of the cool, older guys, that wouldn’t ever even look at a grade 3 kid. Long, straight black hair, surrounding a thin, angular face, Tanzer was King of the Card games. He always had cards in his hands, and I wondered if he even brought them into class. He hung out with some other guys, that I’d heard had been in some trouble with the principal, Mr. Brown. I think they’d all been caught smoking near the ravine, but they never bothered with the little kids, unless it was to clear us out of the box.
So when Tanzer approached me at lunch, I was a little surprised and a lot scared. He didn’t say hello, he just said, “You the kid that got the Gordie Howe card?”

His gang stood behind him looking kind of bored, like what the hell was he doing talking to me. I noticed that his eyes shifted back and forth and his hair looked a little greasy from this close.

“Ya”, I answered hesitantly, worried that if I said too much, he’d smack me. I’d seen his gang in fights before.

“Lemme see it”, he gestured with his pointy chin towards my cards.

I pulled out the card and he looked at with ferocity of a lion about to pounce on a lamb.

“I’ll play you for it at this afternoon’s recess.”

I pulled the cards away. I didn’t want to play him. I’d seen him play in the box before, catching a peek, between torsos and legs. He was really good. I’d seen him skunk guys almost at will, at any of the games.

“I’m not sure”, I stammered. His gang behind him seemed to grow taller.

He looked at me for a moment. His eyes narrowed and his face got a little red.

“One way or another, I’m getting that card kid.”

I knew he meant it. I simply nodded my head slowly. He began to walk away, and turned to me again. “Leaners in the box at afternoon recess,”, then Tanzer and his gang disappeared behind the portables.

Leaners! I was beside myself. I wouldn’t just lose the Gordie Howe card. I’d lose all my cards.

My friend Larry had watched the exchange from a distance. I explained what had transpired.

“What are you gonna do?”

“I don’t know. I gotta play him or he’ll kill me.”

“Shit, the Gordie Howe all-star card”, he whispered in disbelief. “Maybe tell Principal Brown."

“If I do, I’m as good as dead”, I said. The lunch bell went off and I reluctantly trudged my way back to class. The afternoon dragged by and I couldn’t focus on long division or capital cities of the provinces. I thought about telling my teacher that I was getting sick and had to go home. Mrs. Bates was a kind, matriarchal woman and would probably let me go as I only lived around the corner from the school. But I figured there was no good away out of this and I’d have to play Tanzer sooner or later now that he knew I had the card.

The 2:30 afternoon recess bell reverberated through the halls and reluctantly I made my way to the box. Larry and a few friends followed me, as the crowd of onlookers parted way for me. Tanzer stood in the box, and his buddies gathered around him.

“Ready kid”, he said and smirked at one particular guy with long, greasy brown hair, who I always saw smoking near the far baseball diamond. That guy scared me. There was a funny look in his eyes, like he wasn’t really all there, and he was always getting into fights with Grade 7 and 8 kids.

“I guess”, I stammered and moved into the box with Tanzer as his cronies took their places on the periphery.

“Leaners kid”, he chortled, “and you shoot first."

I realized that he didn’t even know my name. I was some punk ass grade 3 kid who he would skunk and get the Gordie Howe card he so much coveted.

I pulled my cards out of my jacket pocket, grabbed the first card, gave it a little bend so it would have a higher chance of leaning up on the wall. I wondered if I’d get lucky, and my first shot would finish the game. I was gonna save the Gordie Howe card. The card sailed up to the wall, and settled in a horizontal manner. If we had been playing shooties, that would have been a great shot.

Tanzer flipped an old beat up card at the wall, that also slipped into a flat position.

His buddy with the crazy eyes, looked at the card I had thrown. “Tell him to play the card you want. He’s holdin out!”, he growled.

Tanzer looked at me and pointed at my cards. “Play the Howe card.”

Reluctantly, I pulled out the card. I couldn’t bend the Howe card. That would-be sacrilege. Carefully, so as not to damage the card, I flicked it ever so gently towards the wall, and the Howe card settled in close to the other two.

Tanzer shot next and we went back and forth for a few rounds with no leaners. I realized after 5 rounds and no winner, that he wasn’t that good. For some reason I had thought he was the master of shooting card games. But he wasn’t. He just hung with a tough crowd and acted like he was. The game went on and cards began to pile up on top of each other. A couple of times, he got close to getting a leaner, and the crowd oohed and awed. Soon I was down to my last couple of cards and so was Tanzer. The big guy with the greasy, brown hair kept whispering in Tanzer’s ear, like he was giving him suggestions on how to shoot his cards. I looked out beyond the box into the school yard and it seemed like the entire student population was watching or trying to find out what was happening. I swear there were even some Kindergarten kids poking around.

Finally, we were down to our last card each. I had started with around 40 cards. Tanzer shot next. He bent his card and flicked it at the wall. The card floated up to the wall, flipped at the last second and landed horizontally on the wall, on top of the already played cards. The crowd began to disband as I felt tears begin to roll down my cheeks. I had almost been skunked. I had lost the Gordie Howe card.

“Wait”, Tanzer shouted and pointed to the last card I was holding on to.

“I’ll give you a last chance if you want.”

I wiped away my tears and looked at the card. It was a Ron Ellis card, some guy who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs and wasn’t worth much as it was a common card. What the hell, I thought to myself. Why not? Might as well be skunked.

I stepped back into the box, and took my shooting position. The crowd which had partially disbanded returned to their previous spots. I pinched the top left corner of the card, flexed my wrist, took aim at his card leaning on the wall and quickly extended my wrist firing my card.

The Ron Ellis card took off from my hand like it was shot from a cannon and careened into the mass of cards 3 to 4 inches in front of Tanzer’s leaner. What a crappy shot I thought to myself. It was short of the mark. It skidded along the floor of cards and struck the leaner at its base, knocking it down and flipped up on the wall.

For a moment there was only silence, and then the crowd roared in disbelief. Tanzer’s eyes went wide, and he kept looking from the cards and then to me. His buddy looked pissed, and brushing Tanzer aside, started to pick up the cards like Tanzer had won. I wasn’t sure what to do next. I was scared of Tanzer and more frightened of his friend.

“Hey asshole put those cards back. The kid won fair and square. Tanzer locked eyes with his friend, who hesitated, dropped the cards he had already picked up and stepped closer so they could have a further discussion.

“You won Tanz. You gave the kid an extra shot.”

“Doesn’t matter. I’m good for my word. Kid got lucky but I ain’t cheating him.”

I listened to the exchange immobilized by disbelief. Tanzer had a soul. He was more than a chain smoking punk that preyed on little guys.

“Then just take the Howe card”, said greasy hair and fished the card out of the pile.

“Nope Levi. Give the kid his cards and let’s get outta here.” Greasy hair had a name. He dropped the cards, glared at me for a second, brushed his hands through his oily scalp, and they wondered off into the school yard.

I moved to gather my winnings with Larry right behind me.

“Holy Shit!. You skunked Tanzer”, Larry said incredulously and looked at me like I something out of the Mod Squad.

“Sort of”, I said and began to gather up the cards as the bell shrilled through the school yard. Carefully, I sought out the the Gordie Howe and Ron Ellis cards. These two cards, I put in my back pocket and the remaining were placed in my jacket.

The afternoon slowly evaporated into the end of the school day, and I made my way home, on the lookout for Tanzer and Greasy Hair. I took the Ellis and Howe cards out of my back pocket and hid them in my drawer at home. A drawer where I only put the most special things like my diary and special report cards.

I didn’t see much of them for the next few days, and when I did, Tanzer kind of looked at me like I was just another kid. He never bothered me or tried to play me again. I kept playing cards and every now and then, I’d get a chance to play in the box, but only for small stakes and against kids my own age. Eventually we moved onto to other recess and lunchtime pursuits like handball and yoyo challenges and playing cards moved to the wayside. But I never forgot beating Tanzer in the box.

Photo of Allan RosenfeldAllan Rosenfeld grew up in Bathurst Manor. He is a physician, writer and author of several award winning medical short stories. He recently adapted his self-published book Holocaust Lumber, a story of growing up as a child of Holocaust survivors, into a play that finished third nationally in the 2019 Miles Nadal Jewish Playwright contest. His current project is entitled "Tales of Growing up in the “Manor.”

COLLECTING OUR COMMUNITY’S HISTORY ONE FAMILY AT A TIME: THE GRYFE BAKING DYNASTY

By Dr. Cyril Gryfe

Shlome Graif learned the bread-baking craft in Romania from his father as did Shlome’s older brother, Zacharia. In 1910, Shlome followed his two older sisters to Hamilton, Ontario, where, at first, he was unable to find work as a baker. His experience in a hot and dusty work environment proved to be an asset in tolerating his thankfully brief role as a labourer in the foundry of Hamilton’s International Harvester Company. Eventually he was employed by a local Jewish bakery. Around 1916, he became the independent baker, Sam Gryfe, York Street, Hamilton.Sam Gryfe, (Hamilton, ON), 1916. OJA 2010-6-20_15

By 1920, relations between the two brothers and the two sisters appear to have cooled, and Sam and Zach (now Jack) moved to Toronto. After working in Aaron Perlmutar’s bakery at 175 Baldwin Street for a few years, Sam again decided to exercise his independence and in 1925 acquired the property at 319 Augusta Avenue, for which an oven needed to be built. 
Sam Gryfe (left), Art Gryfe and bakery employee, 319 Augusta Ave., (Toronto, ON), ca.  1936.

Nearby, on Major Street he found bricklayer Lipa Green, who, although certainly experienced in building fireplaces and chimneys, confessed that he had never before built a baker’s oven. Sam, however, had built at least one outdoor oven in Hamilton, and Mr. Green thus learned a new skill, which was subsequently the basis for his three sons to also learn the craft of bricklaying. 

While Sam and Molly were raising their children, their expectation was that the offspring would join the family business. Firstborn Bill resisted the task of actually baking, but became the very effective sales agent for the business. He started as a pre-teen with sister Ida, as the two peddled kaiser rolls on city streetcars from a large, wheeled wicker basket. 

Second son, Art, apparently harbored ideas of becoming an engineer or an architect, but Sam was insistent, and Art, followed by Ben, then Srul all became skilled bakers—their participation in the family business first proudly proclaimed in 1930 as “S. Gryfe & Sons Bakery.” 

Crown Bakery, 319 Augusta Ave., Toronto, ca. 1936.

Bill’s outside interests included athletics, which led him to create a club with its gym in part of the bakery building. and the club was named the Crown Athletic Club after a suggestion from one of the club members. By 1936, the sign on the window at 319 Augusta Avenue had become “Crown Bakery.”

Like his father, Art had aspirations of independence. In 1938—after marrying Ruth Price—he went to work in Philip Newman’s National Bakery at 404 Spadina Avenue for about five years. In 1945, he was a partner of Louis Silverberg in Atlas Bakery on St. Clair Avenue West.  Shortly thereafter, he ventured out with Ruth to acquire Chisholm’s Bakery at 298 Queen Street East. Persevering through five setbacks over the following ten years (including relentless antisemitism at the Queen Street location) Art and Ruth finally grasped success when, in 1957, they acquired Esther Sky’s Bakery at 3435 Bathurst Street, which has become famous as Gryfe’s Bagels.

The story of the recipe for the bagels that finally rewarded Art and Ruth has several very different versions, but whatever may be the actual history of the bagels’ recipe has been made irrelevant by the bagels’ unique quality that perpetuates their fame.  

Remaining bakers Ben and Srul drifted away from the family business, and in 1947 Sam sold Crown Bakery to Ben Richman and Max Hartstone, who in 1952 changed the name to Crown Bread and expanded to include 311 Augusta Avenue. However, Sam could not abandon his lifelong and familial devotion to baking and in 1950 opened a bakery in Jackson’s Point, Ontario, where he and Molly worked until their retirement and return to Toronto in 1955.  In 1954, Crown Bread opened a branch at 1246 Eglinton Avenue West, but both sites were closed by 1963.

Sam’s brother, Jack, also adhered to the family’s baking legacy. After they moved to Toronto, Jack worked at Samuel Zimmerman’s bakery at 17 Phoebe Street, before venturing out himself in the mid 1920s on Kensington Avenue. By the mid 1930s he was firmly established at 4 Fitzroy Terrace, where he lived and worked until retiring in 1952.

Jack’s eldest child, Morris, also learned the craft from his father. After working for Canada Bread for a few years, he and his wife Jean moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where she enjoyed a more favorable climate for her chronic respiratory illness, and Morris (now known as Murray) continued to work as a baker.

Dr. Cyril GryfeCyril Gryfe is a retired physician, who specialized in geriatric medicine. Listening to his patients report their medical symptoms within the context of their long and often complicated life stories, perpetuated and reinforced his interest in history in general, which had been kindled during high school studies. Throughout his professional career this was focused on the history of medical practice, and in more recent years he has also devoted much time to the genealogy of his extended family.   

Looking Back on The Penny Rubinoff Fellowship

By Renée Saucier

I was initially attracted to the Penny Rubinoff Fellowship because of the opportunity to engage in all aspects of the archival field in a community archives setting (see my previous post), and I am pleased to report that that is exactly what I’ve been doing. I’ve been working in several areas and on several projects, all with the shared aim of providing access to documentation of the Jewish experience in Ontario.

In addition to developing my skills as an archivist, I’ve been gaining a deeper understanding of the matrices of relationships underpinning this particular community archives. Community archivists work with records, but the core of their work consists of building and maintaining relationships with records donors (and their families), educators, partner organizations, researchers/users, volunteers, board members, financial supporters, and other community members. ‘Community’ itself is a messy/complex term, for any given community has contested boundaries and is in fact composed of multiple overlapping communities—in the OJA’s case, communities that are spread throughout and across the province. Each day, I learn more about the religious, ethnic, racial, political and linguistic diversity of Ontario’s Jewish communities, and my time here has been an opportunity to learn how the OJA’s dedicated staff approach their work and undertake to preserve and share back documentation of the diverse range of experiences of Ontario’s Jewish communities.

Collections Development & Donors

I have had the opportunity to work one-on-one with donors to advise on and coordinate the donation of records to the Ontario Jewish Archives. As well, I have been working to help build the OJA’s collections through the Bathurst Manor Project, the OJA’s major collections development initiative for 2020. (You’ll hear more on that in the coming months!) I have surveyed our current holdings, identified and consulted relevant holdings elsewhere, and helped to plan focus group meetings to determine our collecting priorities.

Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, accession 2018-7-4, image 24.

Exterior of St Mary’s Gk. Church, 257 Shaw Street, Formerly the B’nai Israel Synagogue.

Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, accession 2018-7-4, image 24.

Welcoming New Materials into the Archives

I spent my first few weeks accessioning new collections. This was a means for me to familiarize myself with the OJA’s holdings and procedures, as well as a way to help reduce the current backlog (…every archive has one!) I’ve accessioned a variety of media including textual records, photographs, slides, and film. Along the way I’ve learned about the OJA’s procedures for rehousing different media and have also had the opportunity to develop appraisal criteria. One highlight was an accession of photographs and slides created by Stephen Speisman and donated by Bill Gladstone; these images capture downtown Toronto synagogues in the 1960s-70s, documenting the changing use of the buildings as congregations merged and/or moved northward.

Making Records Accessible

One of my main projects has been processing records created and accumulated by the Executive Director/CEO of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. These records occupy a dozen banker’s boxes and span the late 1970s through the 2000s. Given the high-level nature of the work done by this office, the records pertain to a variety of activities involving an array of partners and groups, documenting initiatives ranging from integration services for Soviet Jewish immigrants in the 1980s to the formation of an AIDS Task Force and Policy in the early 1990s.

Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, fonds 67, series 5-5.

Allan Reitzes, Executive Director of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, in his office in 1998.

Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, fonds 67, series 5-5.

I have a personal interest in the history of information and communication technologies, and these records offer portals into the materiality of that history. For example, there is an observable shift in the medium of correspondence from typewritten documents and signed letters to faxes and then printed-off emails. Meeting minutes and budget proposals document the adoption of new technologies, including the establishment of an “online Internet presence” and a “Jewish Information Highway”. On a related note, I am excited to be on board to observe and learn about the OJA’s process in selecting and introducing a digital preservation program to preserve born-digital materials documenting Ontario’s Jewish communities.

Access: Behind the Scenes, Behind the Screens

I have also been supporting my colleague Faye with the OJA’s social media outreach, brainstorming, researching and designing posts for Facebook and Instagram. One focus here has been to feature ‘behind the scenes’ posts every week to enhance our audience’s understanding of archives and the work that takes place in them. We’re going to be featuring highlights from the Koffler family fonds, sharing both the materials and also the processes by which they are cared for and made accessible. One of the goals of our social media strategy is to convey the historical significance and importance of family and individual records and to encourage others to donate their materials to the archives.

One of my most enjoyable responsibilities has been providing reference services to researchers over email and in person on topics ranging from war criminals to revolutionary youth to family-run businesses in Kensington Market. Some researchers come to the OJA in order to recover details of stories that they were never fully told, such as a parent or grandparent’s immigration to Canada. Their experiences here demonstrate how community archives can support an individual in attaining a deeper understanding of themselves, their family’s history, and their relationship to larger historical events. Other times, researchers who aren’t expressly researching Jewish history in Ontario contact the archives because their topics (such as radical leftist organizing) have an historic association with segments of the Jewish community and are therefore richly documented in our holdings. These cases demonstrate the important role of community archives in supporting collective memory not only for their direct community, but for all of society.

Reflections on Volunteering at the OJA

By Bronwyn Cragg

Entering my final year as an undergraduate, I have hit the inevitable crossroads: what should I be doing with the rest of my life? For the past four years, I have been studying at the University of Toronto. I had originally majored in history–I had a dream in high school of becoming a Holocaust researcher–but over time my interests expanded, and I found myself switching to Jewish studies. Minoring in art history and German studies, my skillset and interests have drawn me to two options: continuing in academia or becoming an archivist. Thus, the OJA felt like a natural choice: here I could get a feel for the field while still engaged in subjects that I’m interested in.

I had initially sent in a request to volunteer sometime in 2018 but was encouraged to email back the following summer. Still excited about the idea of volunteering, I emailed back the following year and was asked to come in around August to get a feel for what I would be working on. For the past month, I have been getting a taste of a whole slew of archival work: At first, I was tasked with creating posts for the OJA’s social media accounts, and for the first two weeks I worked on sorting through and scanning items relating to Camp Yungvelt, a Yiddish summer camp established in 1925 that was once nestled in the woodland of Pickering.

Photograph of J.B. Salsberg participating in a presentation for young adults in 1938, with Soviet-style imagery of factories, workers, and Stalin in the background. Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds 92, series 4, file 23.By the next day I had moved onto the J. B. Salsberg fonds, which provided both a fascinating and intimate look at the history of Communist politics in Toronto, alongside a healthy amount of mid-century graphics. On my supervisor Faye’s suggestion, I even completed a weeks’ worth of posts about the history of Jewish cinema in Ontario, the archives hosting a decent collection of photographs of the glitzy art deco architecture of twentieth-century theatres.

With newly-acquired experience in scanning and filing items, I then began to process accessions. Though perhaps one of the more tedious parts of working at the OJA, I had fun sorting through boxes, figuring out how to best organize items, and finding a way to enter details in the system that would make the files easily accessible to researchers. Our acquisitions from Canadian Young Judaea provided a glimpse into the history of Zionist movements in Canada and even youth aliyah, and my interest in the Yiddish language led me to a number of related boxes, including the archives of the Toronto-based Friends of Yiddish, for which I organized photographs, flyers, and administrative records. I was also able to work on several family archives and was even able to flex my language skills by translating letters, documents, and photograph captions from Yiddish, German, and Polish. (I thought Yiddish handwriting could be a stress to decipher, but 1920s Polish handwriting was something else!)

Bronwyn Cragg,
A series of photographs that particularly stuck with me: Photobooth pictures of Jerry Glass, age 5, in 1943. - Bronwyn Cragg

One of the more personally-rewarding aspects of working at the Ontario Jewish Archives has been sifting through family photo albums. Quaint, tender, and at times heart-bursting, piecing together family stories through photographs and scraps was, to me, one of the most compelling parts of the job. I have experienced my fair share of listening to others’ family stories and poking around photographs and files. But as a student whose focus has been Holocaust studies, I’ve barely had the chance to consume average, candid, slice-of-life narratives. To discover individual histories of immigration, failures and successes, family growth, and Jewish contributions to Ontario culture was immensely satisfying, even if it did mean that I had to sort past the occasional illegible postcard or utilities bill.

Though I feel like my time at the Ontario Jewish Archives was much too short, it has certainly cemented my desire to go into archival- or research-based work. This August I was able to use a whole host of my skills–from languages to administrative skills, to knowledge of Jewish history and making use of my art history-trained eyes–but there was never any point where I felt tapped out or bored. My time at the OJA has helped me to expand my interests to (perhaps ironically) a local scale. And though I still feel the panic of having eight months to figure out the rest of my life and career, I now know that I can make an informed decision and that archival work is a fulfilling and exciting choice. I look forward to potential future involvement with the archives, whether that be continuing my volunteer work or using it as the vast and rich research resource that it is.

Bronwyn Cragg, 2019. Courtesy of Brownyn Cragg.Bronwyn Cragg is a fourth year undergraduate student of Jewish studies, German, and art history at the University of Toronto. His present research interests include fascism and the Holocaust in WWII Romania, and he has recently written works on art, aesthetics, and nation building in Mandatory Palestine. Bronwyn is currently studying Yiddish and seeks to continue his studies through translation, original research, and archival work.

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