Recollections and Experiences
with the
Jewish Press in Toronto

By: Ben Kayfetz

From: Polyphony Summer 1984 pp. 228-231
© 1984 Multicultural History Society of Ontario

My remarks on the Jewish press in Toronto must not be mistaken for any kind of definitive study. They are only my highly subjective, very personal, very imperfectly recalled observations based on my exposure to the Jewish periodicals of the city since childhood, going back some fifty-five years.

My first experience was with "Der Yidisher Zshurnal", which carried the English name "The Hebrew Journal" even though it was written in Yiddish not in Hebrew. Possibly, back in 1913 when the paper was established, the feeling was still prevalent in certain circles that ''Jewish" was too stark a word, and ''Hebrew" more refined. It appeared six days a week, every day but Saturday, and met the needs of the immigrant population for five decades. In my own case, at "cheder" my Hebrew teacher spent a few minutes with me every day going over the ''Neies Bei Unz in Shtot'' section of the paper, which was a summation of the local general news-a story involving a Jewish pedlar who was arrested, a theft here, a violent robbery or hold-up there-all culled from the metropolitan downtown press. This daily review gave me a personal intimacy with the Yiddish press, which has never left me to this day.

Throughout its history the "Zshurnal" had to withstand stiff competition from the three (and earlier four) Yiddish New York dailies, which were on sale in Toronto on the same day they were published. There was a joke that circulated in the city-it was similarly told in New York about the Tog and Forverts- ''How did the Toronto "Star" find out a full day in advance what news reports the "Zshurnal" would publish the next day?" In New York, it was theTimes in place of the Star, but the implication of ''scissors and paste'' and quick translation was the same.

It is probable that when the "Forverts", "Morgen Journal", "Tageblatt" and "Tog", all of New York, were publishing their combined circulation in Toronto was far greater than that of the "Zshurnal". This sort of competition is something the "Globe", the "Telegram" and the "Star" never had to endure. Yet the amazing thing is that the "Zshurnal" survived as long as it did into the 1960s. It lasted twenty years longer than similar Yiddish dailies in American cities with much larger Jewish populations- Chicago, Cincinnati, Boston, Philadelphia and Cleveland- whose daily, local Yiddish papers expired in the early 1940s. For the most part, in the 1950s there were no Yiddish dailies anywhere in the United States outside of New York City; while in Canada, the "Adler" in Montreal and "Zshurnal" in Toronto were still appearing six days a week.

The editor Shmuel M. Shapiro had a group of "angels" he would turn to when the paper needed an infusion of money, or when the creditors were getting impatient. Among the backers were Ben Sadowski of Toronto, Bronfman of Montreal and Melech Grafstein of London, Ontario who was the landlord of the paper's premises at 542 Dundas Street West in Toronto. But Grafstein withdrew his patronage in a dispute about editorial control. Within a few months Shapiro and the paper moved to new quarters at College and Lippincott Avenue where the paper remained for approximately ten years.

The exchanges in the "Zshurnal" were often fierce, and many talented writers contributed. Both editorial views and styles were highly personal. For example, when Shapiro, under a pseudonym, referred to one of his backers and contributing writers as a ''graphoman,'' their collaboration ended for good. In the world of Yiddish writing, there is nothing more offensive than being called a graphoman. It is a bit of a surprise that this useful expression of Greek origin has not entered the English language. A graphoman is someone who suffers from the disease of graphomania, an extreme obsession with writing without the commensurate and required talent that should accompany it.

It is difficult now and in English to evoke the personal and ideological fire of Canada's Yiddish-language journalism. Perhaps one experience of my own out of the recent past can recapture the flavour. In 1956-I was then on the staff of the Canadian Jewish Congress-I had just returned from a trip to Winnipeg. Shortly afterwards an article appeared in "Vochenblatt", the communist weekly, which included the ritual denunciations of Max Federman and other renegades from the working class. But this time the attack was different. The editor, Joshua Gershman, had found someone lower than Federman. In fact these were the exact words: "S'iz do eyner vos er iz nideriker fun Federman!" ["There is someone who is even lower than Federman!"] I read on impatiently to see who this unspeakable wretch could be, and there was the name in boldface, "Un dos iz Ben Kayfetz!" No matter what justification ideological enmities and certainties provided, personal attacks in the Yiddish press left people with many scars and long memories.

The "Zshurnal", I must admit, never had the prestige that its Montreal counterpart, the "Adler" (Eagle), enjoyed. It never pretended to be anything more than it was-a provincial daily serving the needs and interests of a very local public. Shapiro gathered around him a number of talented and able writers. There was Moishe Fogel, who had a daily column in the paper; Itzchok Feigelman, who wrote European-style "feuilletons"; and Nachman Shemen, who wrote under his own name and various pen-names. Most of these writers were also Hebrew teachers as well, or had been teachers previously. Gershon Pomerantz undertook the editorship of "Der Yidisher Zshurnal" in its last two years as a regular daily newspaper. He thoroughly enjoyed this position: denouncing and criticising right and left, reprinting his literary criticism, poems and reviews and putting out the entire paper himself, typesetting the editorials right into hot type. But eventually ill-health forced him to give up the paper.

In 1935 because of an editorial dispute at the "Zshurnal", a new Yiddish publication was created, the weekly "Kanader Naies" (Canadian News), which was published and edited by Morris Goldstick and his sister Mrs. Dorothy Dworkin in Toronto. This was not sold across the counter, but was distributed as an insert with the weekend edition of the New York Yiddish papers of which Mrs. Dworkin was the distributing agent. The paper appealed to both major ideological elements in the Jewish community-pro-Bundist, because Mrs. Dworkin continued the tradition of her late husband Henry Dworkin who was active in the socialist movement, and pro-Zionist, because Morris Goldstick was a devoted Zionist. The paper lasted twenty years, ending publication in 1955.

There was also a third Yiddish paper in Toronto that I recall. It was officially considered a New York paper, yet the advertising and much of the writing, editing and printing was done in Toronto. This was the "Proletarisher Gedank", the organ of a very small minority group, the Left Poale Zion. The Jewish or rather Yiddish-speaking communist movement in Toronto had a long history of having their own press organ. Their first paper was called, appropriately, "Der Kamf" (The Struggle), and its first editor was Philip Halpern. In 1939 during the non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, the Communist party was illegal. The newspaper's name was changed to "Der Veg" (The Road). And after the war when the party was respectable, at least for a few years, the name "Vochenblatt" (Canadian Jewish Weekly) was adopted. The long-time editor was Joshua Gershman, and when his health failed about two or three years ago, the paper stopped publishing. It was not, of course, self-sustaining. Gershman himself would take a Canada-wide trip once or twice a year to raise funds to keep the paper going. The contributors and co-editors included the cartoonist Avrom Yanofsky, Harry Guralnick, Joe Salsberg and Sholem Shtern of Montreal.

Before I leave the "Zshurnal", let me say something about its English page, a feature it acquired in the late 1930s. Its first editor was the late Moses Frank, the former publisher/editor of the "Jewish Standard". He also wrote a daily news commentary in the "Zshurnal". The succeeding editor of the English page was David Rome, who served from January 1940 to November 1942. He was followed by Ben Lappin who held the position for one year. Leo Hayman, Rabbi H. Goodman and Nathan Cohen were also editors.

What was happening in the meantime in the English-language Jewish press? Not very much, I am constrained to say, at least not until 1930. The "Canadian Jewish Review" had been founded in Toronto in 1921 by George and Florence Freedlander Cohen from the United States. This was a publication that paid great attention to social notes-comings and goings to the Catskills, the Adirondacks and the Laurentians, detailed descriptions of what the bride wore, who held the baby boy at the briss and who poured tea at any given reception. Soon after Ontario introduced the government-supervised sale of liquor but, unlike Quebec, still did not permit its commercial advertising, the Review moved its main office (as did other periodicals) from Toronto to Montreal to take advantage of this advertising revenue. It now became a two-city weekly, establishing a precedent which has been followed today by the "Canadian Jewish News."

The "Review" did not appear to pursue any structured editorial policy with regard to Jewish politics. What it did subscribe to was a mild non-Zionism, even extending sometimes to anti-Zionism, perhaps reflecting the middle class, culturally assimilated, older American and "classical reform" background of its founders. Non-Zionism was quite acceptable in those days. The American Jewish Committee, B'nai B'rith and most of the reformed rabbis were non-Zionist, including Rabbi Eisendrath who came to Holy Blossom Synagogue in 1929, and who contributed a weekly column to the "Review".

The 1929 attack on the Jews at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and in Hebron put the entire Jewish world in turmoil. The Zionists, led by Mrs. Rose Dunkelman, were terribly frustrated. There was no place that the Zionist point of view could be put forward to reach the English-speaking Jews and the general non-Jewish Canadian public. So Mrs. Dunkelman started her own paper in 1930, the "Jewish Standard".

In his two years as its editor, Meyer Weisgal made quite an impact on Toronto Jewish journalism. He continued his practice of inviting contributions from world-renowned writers, and in the next few years, the "Jewish Standard" ran original, commissioned articles by Dorothy Thompson, Pierre Van Paassen and Winston Churchill. Weisgal used his Zionist Organization of America contacts to get writers like Louis Lipsky, Felix Frankfurter, Nahum Sokolow and Menachem Ussishkin. In this way Weisgal turned the "Jewish Standard" into an international journal, which happened to be published in Toronto. But the depression of the 1930s and his free hand with money were incompatible factors. Eventually Weisgal left Toronto to do other things, after which the Standard went steadily downhill. The ownership went through many vicissitudes and changeovers from 1932-37. It was sold to non-Jewish publishing firms-J. Laird Thompson, the Age Publishing Company on Willcocks Street and, for a while, it was one of the Maclean Hunter stable of periodicals. It then fell into the hands of Moses Z. Frank whom we mentioned earlier. Frank was a good editor, but not as good a businessman. In 1937 Julius Hayman, then thirty years old, a newcomer from Winnipeg who had been the paper's former business manager and had started a rival periodical, the "Jewish Sentinel", bought the "Standard" from Frank for under $1,000 and finally brought stability to the publication as its editor/publisher, a position he still holds.

There was a long period through the 1940s and 1950s when Toronto had no English-language Jewish weekly. The "Jewish Standard" was at various times a monthly and a fortnightly, but never a weekly, and the "Review" had moved to Montreal. It was not until 1960 that M.J. Nurenberger switched languages and the Canadian Jewish News appeared as a weekly in English.

Archie Bennett was probably the first bilingual Jewish journalist in Canada. He used to contribute to the "Kanader Adler" and was the first truly national journalist we had in eastern Canada. Being raised in Kingston, he was open to both Toronto and Montreal. He wrote for the old "Jewish Times" of Montreal, the Jewish Chronicle of Montreal, the Jewish Review when it was in Toronto and Montreal and, in the last twenty-five years or so, for the Jewish Standard in Toronto. As a young man in the summer break from teaching at Queen' s University in Kingston, he was editor of the Canadian Jewish Times in Montreal. There were various other personalities marginally linked with the Toronto Jewish press in the past. Cantor Nathan Stolnitz and Israel Plattner both contributed to the Journal. Another contributor to the Toronto Yiddish press was a streetcar conductor, S. Nepom, whom I knew from my days as a newsboy on the corner of Roncesvalles Avenue and Queen Street, and who wrote for the Adler, the Journal and the leftist Kamf.

Despite the rhetoric of the Yiddishists, the Yiddish press in Canada is receding into the past and the English-language Jewish press has become more of an impersonal nationwide operation. I am rather pleased, looking back at it, that I was around in the era when journalism was still a business for individuals. Do not misunderstand what I am saying. I am not looking back nostalgically to a better day. The public, I am sure, is better served today. But while it lasted, it was enjoyable, and I am delighted that I can recall such episodes.

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