Mar 19, 2015

Leonard Cohen's Montreal

In the New Yorker by Bernard Avishai

A few years ago, I walked through Bialystok with a historical map of the now destroyed Jewish city—before the First World War, Jews comprised about half the population—and found my father’s house.

I was struck by how familiar Montreal’s large immigrant Jewish neighborhoods might have seemed, at least on the surface, to my father in 1928, when he arrived at the age of fourteen.

The Museum of Jewish Montreal

Mar 18, 2015

Passing On Unwanted Stories

From: The Globe and Mail (edited)

I tried to hide the Holocaust from my son -- mainly by never once leaving him alone with my father.

Emotionally shredded, he perpetuated the damage by sharing his tales with me and my siblings long before we were psychologically equipped to absorb them.

My father’s early oversharing filled me with anxiety and an almost lifelong subterranean sadness.

Read the full story here:

Mar 16, 2015

You can't always get what you want

The tales we want to hear from our relatives are not always the ones they want to tell.

My grandparents never talked about their war experiences. My grandmother died after 40 years in the United States never even admitting she was Jewish.

From my father I’d learned many of our relatives had been deported: to Terezín, to Auschwitz, to points obscure and distant.

I planned to travel across Eastern Europe where my father’s family had lived. At the end of my journey, I would visit my grandmother’s first cousin Honza at his home outside London, to track down his story.

After a month in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria, and Romania, I arrived at Honza’s flat. “I want to hear about your experience of the war,” I said.

Read the rest here.

Mar 15, 2015

Found His Father Through DNA

Doctors contacted Paul about his dad, who had died from a very rare cancer. They wanted to know a little bit more about his father’s life and the family’s health history.

“I called my uncle in Newcastle and when I started asking questions he immediately said, ‘Paul, Len is not your father,’ That is how I found out.”

Paul started looking for the identity of his biological father.

His mother gave him false leads but she also told  Paul that he had “Jewish blood” which turned out to be true.

After going down many dead ends, Paul finally got a break when he tested with 23andMe.

First he got a DNA relative match with a first cousin who helped him track down his half sister.

From her, Paul learned his father, Leon Rossien, had been a merchant marine who served on the USS Cristobal, a troop ship.

Leon was in port around VE Day in May of 1945 and Paul believes he may have been conceived during the celebrations around the end of the war.

After the war, Leo became a jeweler. He liked to bet on horses and was married four times. He died in 1999. Paul also learned that he had two other half-sisters who had passed away.

Read the rest:

Field Trip: Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library

ADDRESS: 120 St. George Street, Toronto
DATE: April 23, 2015
TIME: 2 to 3:30 pm

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Toronto  is organizing a tour for its members to to the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library.

The rare books library is part of the Robarts Library at the University of Toronto.

There is currently an exhibit at the library called “As it is Written”: Judaic Treasures from the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library

The tour can accommodate 20 people.
Please respond to indicating the names wishing to participate.

It will be first come first served. Given the relatively small number that can be accommodated, we can only register paid-up members of our Society.

You will receive a confirmation e-mail, and once the 20 places have been filled, we will keep a waiting list, just in case there are cancellations.

The Fisher Library's Judaica holdings span over 1000 years. This exhibition will feature items that were produced every century from the 10thto the 21st, including biblical manuscripts, works of Jewish law and liturgy, incunabula, rare Constantinople imprints, and much more.

Highlights are the manuscript of the Zohar, which belonged to the famous false Messiah Shabbetai Tsevi, and a copy of Maimonides law code Mishneh Torah with Sabbatean markings.

Another highlight is a facsimile of the Alba Bible, one of the most elaborate illuminated biblical manuscripts ever produced.

The exhibition will also feature contemporary works by Jewish and Israeli artists and bookmakers.

A section devoted to Canadiana features one the earliest Canadian imprints, dating from 1752 as well as the first English translation of the Hebrew prayerbook (1770), among whose sponsors were the Canadian merchant Aaron Hart and his wife.

The exhibit is on now until May 1, 2015.  Please go to website for hours.

Mar 1, 2015

Non-Jewish Interest In The Old Jewish Culture of Poland

Date: Wed April 29, 2015
Time: 8:00 pm

The non-Jewish interest in things Jewish in Poland has been looked upon with skepticism by North American Jews.

American cultural anthropologist Erica Lehrer will give us a glimpse into the backstage of the Jewish heritage industry.


Erica is Assoc Prof and Canada Research Chair in the depts of History and Sociology-Anthropology at Concordia U in Montreal.

She is the author of Jewish Poland Revisited: Heritage Tourism in Unquiet Places (Indiana University Press 2013), and co-editor of Jewish Space in Contemporary Poland (Indiana University Press, 2014), and Curating Difficult Knowledge: Violent Pasts in Public Places (Palgrave 2010).

As a curator, she produced the 2013 exhibit Souvenir, Talisman, Toy: Poland's Jewish Figurines in Kraków's Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum, and published the accompanying catalog Lucky Jews (Ha!Art 2014).