By Joe King
The first Jewish calendar in Canada was produced in the late 19th century by Ogilvy’s Department store,today a shop for the elite. But in those days, Ogilvy’s serviced a large contingent of peddlers, mostly Jewish. So the calendar was in Yiddish! Children as young as 12 or 13 were granted limited credit (up to $5.00) for small items (needles and thread, etc.) which they could try to sell on the street. Meanwhile, their older brothers fought their way out of widespread poverty by shouldering heavy back packs and peddling their wares outside the city. The price for staying over at a farmer’s home in the countryside generally was something like a handkerchief.
One of the greatest pioneers of the Montreal Jewish community was a littleknown rabbi’s wife, Taube Kaplan. Known as the Greene Rebetzin, she almost single-handledly raised $15,000 (going door to door in every kind of weather collecting gifts of 5 and 10 cents) to create in 1914 the Hebrew Maternity Hospital. Some 20 years later, aware that the Jewish community needed its own general hospital (Jewish doctors and nurses were not being accepted by other health care facilities), she trudged up the hill to the mansion of Allan and Lucy Bronfman, pressing Allan to lead a campaign to raise funds for a Jewish General Hospital. He agreed and, despite the blow of the Great Depression, the Jewish community, challenged to raise $800,000, collected double that amount. When Lucy Bronfman told Kaplan they planned to name a wing in her honour, she recoiled in horror. “Philanthropy must be anonymous,” she declared.
The Rubenstein family established a metalworking factory in Montreal a few years before Confederation, but the family’s fame came from son Louis who became the Canadian and then the American Figure Skating Champion. When, in 1885, plans were announced for the first world Men’s Figure Skating Championship, in St. Petersburg, Imperial Russia, Louis’ friends collected the impressive sum of $400 to allow him to compete. But when Rubenstein arrived in the Russian city, he was arrested and jailed, because he was Jewish! The Canadian Governor General, Lord Stanley (the Stanley Cup of the NHL is named after him) intervened and demanded that Louis be allowed to compete. Despite three days in jail, and no chance to work out, Rubenstein was the winner, and the very anti-Semitic Czar, Alexander III, had to grit his teeth and pin the ribbon of victory on Louis’ chest.
Harry Hirschman helped rescue more than 150 Jewish orphans from the Ukraine, in 1922. Their families were murdered in Pogroms, and Jewish communities all over the world rushed to rescue them. There were no adoption regulations then, so Harry, on Friday, after he closed his newspaper shop, would take an orphan by the hand and stroll up and down St. Urbain Street, then 99% Jewish with six synagogues. One afternoon, he intercepted a man named Cooperburg (of Cooper Clothing) and pressed him to adopt a little boy he had with him. Cooperburg, finally convinced, took Yankel home with him. Some years later, during the Great Depression, Harry’s doctor had bad news for him. “I know times are tough but I have to send you to a specialist. I am sending you to Dr. A.A. Cooperburg.” He was sending him to the orphan!