Last Sunday, I packed up my life in Vancouver to start at the Ontario Jewish Archives the next day, chugging coffee to keep the jet-lag at bay. I was in Vancouver for a year interning at the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia and working in Japanese Canadian heritage. I moved out there right after graduating from the University of Toronto’s archives and museums masters programs. But when I saw the Ontario Jewish Archives’ job posting to process the Murray and Marvelle Koffler Fonds, I had to apply. I wanted to learn more about the Jewish community in my home city and specifically about a couple who contributed so much to it.
I also saw it as an opportunity to contribute to the Jewish community in the way I know best. During and after WWII, Japanese Canadians were considered enemy aliens by the government and were forced to leave the West Coast. Many came to Toronto, including my grandparents, where they continued to face discrimination. Jewish community members offered them housing and jobs, allowing them to gain their footing in this new, unknown place. By the time I was born, my community was strong with deep roots in the city. When I felt ready to explore my often painful heritage, I volunteered at my community’s archive where I heard these stories of compassion towards Japanese Canadians. As I learned how my community’s past molded my identity as a Japanese Canadian and as a Torontonian, my desire to pursue a career in community heritage grew. So today, I am joyously wading through thousands of photos, documents, and audio-visual materials telling the incredible story of Murray and Marvelle Koffler who helped shape my home.
Over the next six months, I have the privilege of preserving and making the fonds accessible online and in person. Right now, I am conducting preliminary research and perusing the materials to understand the stories behind them. As a Torontonian, I am familiar with the Koffler name, but I did not understand the extent of their local, national, and international impact. In addition to creating Shoppers Drug Mart, Super-Pharm in Israel, and the Four Seasons Hotels, they contributed to countless projects with lasting legacies like the Toronto Outdoor Art Fair, the International Weizmann Women for Science, and The Canadian Jewish News. I am struck by the diversity of their business and philanthropic interests and their ability to recognize a need and meet it.
All the while, they were raising a huge family of five children and many, many grandchildren – resulting in truly epic matching t-shirts for family trips. What most excites me about the fonds is that it not only tells the story of Marvelle and Murray’s partnership in work but in life. I’ve never used this to describe an archival fonds before but, honestly, #relationshipgoals. I am so honoured to help preserve and promote their story.