Practicum Experience: Ndali Maureen Ugboma

Photo: Ndali Ugboma
Photo: Ndali Ugboma

The time I spent at the OJA was the greatest adventure ever. I was a practicum student and volunteered for 105 hours. As a future information professional and a graduate student at the University of Toronto, I was happy to be a part of the OJA family because being part of a family makes you feel appreciated and proud of yourself. And I am really grateful for being part of the family.

I decided to take the practicum course because one of my course mates (Ritchie Singh) recommended it. Before volunteering, I kept wondering how I could gain Canadian work experience, and I always imagined what the social work sphere would be like if I finally had the opportunity. However, when I got the chance to volunteer at the OJA, Michael Friesen (my supervisor and boss), I will admit, I admired his work efficiency and accuracy. If I could choose a supervisor again, I would choose him all over again. Oh, did I forget to mention Donna and Faye? They were terrific and accommodating. I could remember the uncountable times I approached Faye for answers. These three people made sure that my time at the OJA was worth it. 

Okay, let’s get into it! My early days at work, my nerves were on the edge. Although I studied the theoretical aspect of recordkeeping, putting it into practice was a difficult task. I didn't know where to start from -- it all started from trial-and-error. As time went on, I finally got my balance.

I started by completing the background of the organization, including its history and activities. I re-arranged the documents and created finding aids, assessed the condition of the records, created a file-level finding aid, and transferred all the records to acid-free boxes. Using Rules for Archival Description, I also arranged the records into files and series, created item-level descriptions, and assisted in creating a fonds-level description in the recordkeeping database.

To me, the work made me feel like an investigator, especially the administrative history. I tried to put some pieces of information together to make sense of what I was proposing to my supervisor. However, I can say I feel differently toward my career as a future archivist because I know what my expectations are for the future.

My observation: I am not exactly sure about this, but are all archivists very quiet at work? OJA is one of the quietest workplaces I have ever been to, and I loved it. Well, if I should be truthful about who I am, I like a very calm place where I can be in my world, and I was glad to be placed there. At OJA, you could only hear keyboard clicks for hours and all eyes on computers. But there is a fun part: During working hours, I used my headphones to keep myself busy while working on my assignments. Overall, it was worth the ride.

Preserving the Koffler Legacy

Photo: Steve Isozaki (Dad)

Kara Isozaki.

Photo: Steve Isozaki (Dad)

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.

Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, fonds 127.

Marvelle and Murray on their honeymoon to Cuba, 1950.

Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, fonds 127.

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.

Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, fonds 127.

Murray in a Shoppers Drug Mart store, Oshawa, [197-?].

Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, fonds 127.

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.

Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, fonds 127.

The Koffler family, August 1989.

Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, fonds 127.

Scandal Rocks the Toronto Jewish Community: Multiple Stories Unfold

By Nessiya Freedman

Man examining poster, [Jerusalem], [1973?]. Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, accession 2018-11-1.

Man looking at public notices (including one about an upcoming demonstration) in Mea She'arim.

Man examining poster, [Jerusalem], [1973?]. Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, accession 2018-11-1. Photo: Nir Bareket.

At first glance, it was an innocuous folder. It contained one set of yellowed flyers pertaining to kashrut, written in Yiddish, with no information to mark their origin save a single name: E. Miller or E. Mitler. The flyers resemble the style still popular today in Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim neighbourhood: a large, bold heading, followed by smaller text broken up by lines in medium to large sizes for emphasis, put up as public notices of various sorts to the neighbourhood at large.

This set of flyers, however, is from Toronto. It bears familiar street names: Spadina, Brunswick, Kensington, Queen, Dundas… The flyers also repeatedly mention a place known to those who grew up in Toronto in the last century: the Labour Lyceum at 346 Spadina Avenue, meeting place for unions and other members of the community until 1971. In the flyers, the Labor Lyceum serves as the location for mass meetings for causes as diverse as meat strikes and the formation of a new organization for the supervision of poultry kashrut, to protests against Hitler’s prosecution of the Communist Party of Germany in the wake of the Reichstag fire of 1933.

By the fifth document, a story familiar to the Toronto Jews of 1930 begins to coalesce. An outcry is arising from the community about butcher shops which have been operating outside of the supervision of the Toronto Rabbinical Board (or even outside of rabbinical supervision altogether), and therefore selling meat that is considered by the Kehillah treif (unkosher) and thus unfit to eat. Similar scandals rocked the Toronto Jewish community throughout the first four decades of the twentieth century: At first, there were butchers operating outside of rabbinic supervision, and possibly without even the proper certification for butchering kosher meat. The Kehillah, meaning “community”, of Toronto was an organization formed in 1923 specifically to oversee kashrut and thus eliminate the problem of treif meat being sold as kosher; however, the Kehillah faced so many problems that a rival organization, the Va’ad Ho’ir, was formed just under a decade later in an attempt to improve upon its efforts. (In Europe, kehillot were not limited to kashrut alone, but rather oversaw everything from education to the certification of rabbis, judges, and other public Jewish figures, and could even sometimes levy taxes. The Kehillah of Toronto was limited to ensuring the kashrut of meat from the start.)

Manes Greenblatt, [ca 1929-1930]. Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, item 56.

Manes Greenblatt, a Canadian Packers masgiach (supervisor) who was also active within the Kehillah and other organizations.

Manes Greenblatt, [ca 1929-1930]. Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, item 56. Photo: Unknown.

In the flyers, Toronto Jews are reminded repeatedly that the only kosher meat is that which bears the Kehillah of Toronto kashrut stamp: no other stamps are valid. Lists are given of the butcher shops that are still under control of the Toronto Rabbinical Board (Va’ad HaRabbonim), with names and addresses. This listing of shops is repeated through so many kosher meat scandals that the Abram Brothers appear to have had enough time to expand from three shops to six.  The scandal continues through the folder: “…[T]reif meat looks cheaper than kosher in all times, but even the poorest Jews would never, kholile, think to weaken our holy ways by paying a cent for it…” There is even a flyer begging Jewish women in particular not to buy meat that does not bear the community stamp (and to further tell their butchers, should they not be on the list of approved butchers, that they will buy no more meat from them).

It doesn’t end there: a flyer titled “Will the Call be Heard?” publicly chastises the rabbis and the butchers for their inaction in resolving the problem. The flyer is signed, “the Jews who still believe there can be kashrut instituted in Toronto.” Another flyer addresses the rabbis of Toronto, bemoaning their inaction and the false information floating around the community. (This flyer may well have been written after one in which the Rabbinical Board itself addresses the rumours running rampant in the community with a list of facts.) It ends by inviting delegates from all the organizations, unions, synagogues, and societies to “a conference of the entire city,” to be held on the 23rd of December, 2 p.m. sharp, at 350 Dundas Street West. It is signed, “a committee of city homeowners.” Yet another flyer calls upon the rabbis to make peace with the community over their alleged inaction during the kashrut scandal.

To date the flyers and the events they contain requires a certain amount of detective work. While some flyers mention weekday, day, and month, very few include the year, and many bear no date at all. It is also not so simple to identify them by event: Throughout the first four decades of the twentieth century, there were multiple butchery scandals with similar causes and even some of the same names. This makes it difficult to conclusively divide all the flyers even by decade. Certain clues do exist, such as the presence of the Va’ad Ho’ir (which was founded ca 1929 or 1930), and names like those of Rabbis Gordon and Weinreb (whose time in Toronto and involvement in various events are documented).

However, overall, similar issues resurfaced so many times that no flyer lacking such clues can immediately be identified with its decade of origin. Even the flyers reference the resurgence of similar issues, in such forms as accusations that the wholesalers profit every time there is an argument over butchery practices, as they become exempt from paying certain fees, or claims that with every strike the butchers’ union learns more about how to fight and the associated rabbis profit. A potential method for dating more of these flyers precisely would be to track down and examine the same documents and flyers that Stephen A. Speisman used to research his book The Jews of Toronto (which has been invaluable in identifying key players and events) and compare them with the contents of this folder.

There are several secondary threads within the folder. One is the price of meat, which was so high at fifteen cents per pound in 1933 or 1939 that it led to a strike. The strike raged, with meetings at the Labor Lyceum, and women joining the picketing even before the flyer that called them to come out in full force to picket for a success. A second outraged flyer called for the picketing of every butcher’s store after a group of women picketers, leaving an evening mass strike meeting to picket on College Street and others, was attacked by a group of “butcher-ruffians” (“butcher-khuliganes”) wielding knives. To the joy of the strike committee (and, presumably, the masses), the strike was won. The price of beef and calf meat was lowered to twelve cents per pound.

However, that was not to be the end: in the same flyer announcing their win, the strike committee takes up the cause of the community butchers. According to the committee, the popular cry that the butchers make thousands of dollars is “a hoax.” Instead, fifty percent is taken by the Butchers’-[Financial] Trust; thirty-five percent goes to the rabbis; and, of the remaining fifteen percent, a thousand dollars per year goes to a lawyer, forty-five dollars per week goes to a secretary, and thousands of dollars are used for advertising and miscellaneous costs. What, the committee asks, can possibly remain for the butchers themselves? They call the masses to a meeting, promising that they will be “astounded” when they hear all the facts about the Kosher-Meat Trust.

Man carrying sandwich board of the Ontario Poultry Buyers strike, Kensington Market, Toronto. Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, item 3875.

Image from the Ontario Poultry Buyers strike in 1939.

Man carrying sandwich board of the Ontario Poultry Buyers strike, Kensington Market, Toronto. Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, item 3875. Photo: Unknown.

The argument that the butchers themselves saw very little of the money earned from their products bears similarities to the old struggle with the wholesalers, which had raged even in the previous decade. At various points in the 1920s and 1930s, public sentiment (at least as portrayed in the flyers from various communal organizations) was very much against wholesalers and private businesses. One such flyer, likely from the 1920s, contains the description of rich wholesalers “who stock their packets with poor [people’s] money.” The same flyer accuses wholesalers of profiting every time an argument about kashrut arises, presumably by managing to turn higher profits in the confusion.

Adding to the ill will against wholesalers, there had been since at the least the 1920s a problem of rabbis from outside (and even sometimes from within) the Va’ad HaRabbonim splitting off to certify the products of specific butchers and sometimes setting up private businesses, which earned more than the butchers who were part of the union and worked with the Va’ad HaRabbonim. At one point, even Rabbi Yehuda Leib Graubart, spiritual leader of the Polish Jewish community in Toronto since 1920, was accused of having taken six butchers and started up a business, thus effectively declaring war against the Butchers’ Union and the Kehillah. A presumably later flyer included in this folder contains the community response to his newly published Sefer Zikorn, or memoir. It begins: “Polish Jews, Hear a Horror!” In tones of absolute outrage, Graubart is taken to task for allegedly leveling accusations in this book which are more antisemitic than have been heard even from the greatest enemies of the Jews. The flyer ends with a call to the Polish Jews not to let this offence stand. The resolution is unfortunately neither included nor easy to track down; however, given that Graubart is remembered today as a great and learned rabbi and leader, it seems likely that, at the very least, the event did not ruin his reputation beyond repair.

There are other documents in the folder, covering such topics as protest meetings about Hitler’s actions in 1933 against the Communist Party of Germany; a commemoration evening marking the tenth anniversary of the Lithuanian-Latvian Jews’ annihilation (held at the Londoner Shul, which merged with Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda in 1975), the flyer for which entreats the community to “come all as one”; and a four-page memo from 1936 about yet more problems within the kosher meat industry. The most interesting is the longest and largest flyer in the folder: an open letter from the poultry butchers of Toronto to the community at large, ca the early 1920s. So big the original collector folded it in half to fit, the poultry butchers’ open letter to the community is well worth a thorough read. It teems with dramatic hyperbole and religious quotations and covers not only complaints but a sequence of events.

The letter first introduces the poultry butchers themselves, describing their poor working conditions. Unlike other workers with reasonable hours, it claims, the butchers must work throughout the day and night. And the job entails far more than meets the eye: They must bring the chickens to the right place, prepare them, deal with the expense of checking them—and all while being yelled at to “hurry up!” “Is this humane? Is this kosher?” Come to Kensington or Bathurst on a Sunday, the letter says; you will see butchers pulling wagons piled high with chicken coops!

In Europe and all of America, the letter continues, butchers are already “doing their holy work with a system”; only Toronto is still behind the times. The letter details how the butchers asked the Kehillah and the Toronto rabbis for help, but ultimately found them ineffective; they even obtained a ruling from the New York rabbinical association stating that poultry kashrut must be overseen by the Toronto rabbis and Kehillah, to no lasting success.

At this point, the topic changes. A man named Abraham Horwitz enters the scene. He has refused to sign the latest bargaining paper, when he had previously signed all of them and even taken responsibility for writing them. In the wake of this action his fellow butchers have decided to denounce him as an insolent man who always pushed boundaries. His actions, they claim, might be because he has four thousand dollars in the bank. They believe, however, that this is no excuse. Horwitz had even kept his shop open at a time when all others were closed awaiting arbitration. When he was called to a meeting where Rabbis Graubart, Weinreb, Gordon, and Levi were presiding, he allegedly responded by telling them they could all go to hell. Religious texts are then quoted by the butchers to the effect that a person with such behaviour is wicked, and that if said person is a butcher, he should be investigated by his community.

The letter ends in outcry: “Jews! Whoever is for God, follow me! Don’t be enablers of sinners! Jewish hearts! Should the Jewish feeling of mercy persist inside you, save forty families from being forever enslaved and ruined; help us! It will cost you no money to ensure we don’t have to work twenty-two hours out of every twenty-four—do not profit by the blood of your fellow! (Lev. 19:16). Give us a little clean air, free to breathe, so that our lives shouldn’t be consumptive and rheumatic, kholile.

“With bloody tears, we ask you to allow us to live! Our wives and children shouldn’t have to cry—have pity—we are living corpses! Hear our true and holy earnest voices! Help, Jews! Help us!”

It is signed, “the embittered, enslaved butchers of Toronto.”

Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre.

Nessiya hard at work

Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre. Photo: Faye Blum.

Details regarding community history (particularly dates and some full names) were gleaned from Stephen A. Speisman’s The Jews of Toronto: A History to 1937, particularly chapter 17. All other details come from translation and analysis of the flyers themselves.

“Whoever is for God, follow me!” – the rallying cry of the Maccabees.

The translation of the Leviticus quote is from Sefaria.org.

Nessiya Freedman is a recent graduate from York University's BA Hon. Jewish Studies program. She is a language enthusiast and creative writer who has been volunteering at the OJA, and is now going to seek her fortune in Israel.

Preserving our history

by Jordan Desai

As a young Canadian Jewish woman, I believe that it is my responsibility to research and write the history of Canada’s Jewry in order to preserve our unique history for future generations. My grandfather is Canadian-born, but his family immigrated to Canada from Poland in the 1920s with little trouble. My grandmother immigrated to Canada during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution after all of her family, with the exception of her mother, perished in concentration camps around Europe in 1944. Upon her arrival, she and her mother were greatly aided by local Jewish organizations in Toronto. It is my interest, as a Canadian nationalist and historian, to understand what happened between these two periods and ultimately question, why did Canada turn her back on Jewish refugees? This project was conducted for my MA research, a project that is still underway.

With an interest in foreign relations during the World War II era, I was drawn to understand what the role of William Lyon Mackenzie King was during the Jewish question of the 1930s and 1940s. King was a complicated man, and as he prepared himself to lead Canada through another war, he was focused primarily on one thing: national unity. King was so afraid to spark an anti-Semitic riot in the province of Quebec that he and his government turned his back on several thousand Jewish people seeking asylum in Canada, many of whom were women and children. King often expressed his sympathies for the Jewish people of Europe and even had personal and professional relationships with Jewish people. Within his private diaries, King expressed his conflict quite often.     

With Canada going through an economic crisis, the country was preparing itself for another war, and was increasingly becoming anti-Semitic, it is evident that many people advocated to keep Jewish refugees out. In February of 2019, I found myself at the Ontario Jewish Archives searching for some insight, and in a way, justification for Canada’s neglectful role in the refugee crisis. While I cannot say that Canada should be held solely responsible for the atrocities in Europe or the fate of 6 million Jewish people that perished at the hands of Nazis, it is evident that Canada’s handling of the issue was indeed horrific.

What I learned at the Ontario Jewish Archives was the importance of Jewish Immigrant Aid Services (JIAS). Annually, JIAS met in order to discuss strategies for i) assisting and sponsoring Jewish refugees from Europe, ii) aiding Jewish people in Europe iii) advocating for Jewish people on the home front. Upon reading through the minutes from annual JIAS meetings, I was able to discern that the organization was hopeful, yet realistic about Jewish immigration. Moreover, I learned about their strategies in aiding Jewish people around the world, which I was then able to apply to my own family’s history. However, the most notable aspect of JIAS was their dedication to the Jewish people. With insufficient funding and as Canada’s doors remained only slightly open for over a decade, the organization never gave up in their advocacy and support for the world’s Jewry and that, to me, was extremely admirable.

Upon arriving at the archives, I was met by an extremely helpful archivist who expressed much interest in my topic. She had files already set aside for me and continued to help me locate more files as I made my way through my research. Faye provided me with important documents including immigration records, minutes from notable organizations, and propaganda. It is at this point that I stress the importance of not only preserving any historical documents that you may possess, but to donate them to the appropriate archives. The organization and preservation of history is extremely important for future research into complex and sensitive issues and ensures that we can learn from our past.

Jordan Desai

MS candidate, History Department, Wilfred Laurier University

Volunteer Spotlight: Karl Mangune

Ontario Jewish Archives volunteer Karl Mangune

My time at the OJA was brief but fruitful. As a grad student at McGill University’s School of Information Studies, I wanted to gain experience in a professional archive. The OJA was gracious enough to allow me to volunteer there over the summer. “But Karl, what did you do there?” Well, imagined journalist interviewing me, I shall tell you.

My first day at OJA was admittedly nerve wracking, because before that point I had absolutely no experience working in an archive. Of course, I’ve been to archives before, used them for class assignments, and studied the theories and efficacies of being an archivist, but there’s no substitute for hands on experience. Anyway, Michael, my supervisor, (Boss? Manager? Overseer? That was never clear.) told me that he wanted me to experience as much as I could in terms of what a professional archivist would do. And I did. The whole nine yards.

I accessioned records, created finding aids, took part in preservation management, and site visits to pick up donated material. I assisted with research requests, I processed an archival fonds. I processed donated material and digitized photographs. They made sure that as an archive student, I would know exactly what I would be getting into if I continued in this profession. Did this deter me? Naw, but it did give me a gist of what I would enjoy and detest.

For starters, I did not expect to enjoy deframing photos and other material as much as I did. (Of course, that could probably be explained by the fact that it reminded me of old CSI episodes I used to watch.) No doubt deframing is an important part of preservation, without it material damage and storage issues arise, but it was never really mentioned nor highlighted in my studies. But I found a form of dissonant calm as I was ripping nails off the back of an old picture frame. Although I suppose I enjoyed the preservation management aspect as a whole. For me, there is something about interacting with material personally that’s enjoyable. Even if it’s just transferring material to acid free boxes. 

But, with all things, not everything was great. I did not like the coffee. This sounds hypocritical coming from someone who mostly drinks instant coffee in the morning, but I avoided it as much as possible. I did not like making the accession records. Or anything that had to do with the computer really. I always did those tasks last. Which was somewhat amusing to me when I learned that Michael held the opposite view on doing computer tasks. The most annoying was the digital scanner; quick enough that you couldn’t really do anything meaningful between scans, but slow enough that you got bored at times. Actually, wait, no, finding space in the vault for processed material. THAT was the most annoying. 

Although, side note, the vault was pretty cool. There were a lot of interesting things I saw in there. My favourite, as someone who reads comics sporadically, was an original Joe Shuster sketch. As a person born to Filipino immigrants, it was interesting to see the history of another immigrant group to Toronto collected and preserved.

Final Thoughts: Volunteering at the OJA was great. 9/10 would volunteer again. Needs better coffee.

Karl Mangune
MISt candidate, School of Information Studies at McGill University