COVER

RARE GLIMPSES OF A TIME PAST

THE JEWISH EXPERIENCE IN CANADA

NORA UNDERWOOD April 16 1990
COVER

RARE GLIMPSES OF A TIME PAST

THE JEWISH EXPERIENCE IN CANADA

NORA UNDERWOOD April 16 1990

RARE GLIMPSES OF A TIME PAST

THE JEWISH EXPERIENCE IN CANADA

The articles on display include a handembroidered sampler made in Montreal around 1771, a child’s wooden gravestone with a Hebrew prayer inscribed on it from Yorkton, Sask., and—on a lighter note—a 1920s road sign bearing the words: “Only 45 miles to Dave Epstein’s Store, Sydney, Nova Scotia. He wants to see you.” The articles are among the more than 300 artifacts that are part of an engrossing exhibition covering 200 years of Jewish history in Canada, which opened last week at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Que. Despite its generally optimistic tone, the exhibition glances occasionally at the darker side of the Jewish experience in Canada. One exhibit is a copy of an 1892 handbill appealing to German farmers to come to Canada—

and pointedly noting that Jews were not welcome. But, said Alan Rose, executive vicepresident of the Canadian Jewish Congress, “our aim is to tell our fellow Canadians about the substantial contribution that Jews have made to this country.”

Roles: The show, formally titled A Coat of Many Colours, provides glimpses of the widely varied roles that Jews have played in Canada’s development. In preparing the show, curator Sandra Morton Weizman travelled across the country for more than three years looking for historical items. The ones that she found include a 183year-old hammered brass menorah (the traditional nine-branched lamp that is used at the festival of Hanukg kah) and a tum-of-the-centuS ry ritual circumcision knife. 1 Most of the articles, said

development. In preparing the show, curator Sandra Morton Weizman travelled across the country for more than three years looking for historical items. The ones that she found include a 183year-old hammered brass menorah (the traditional nine-branched lamp that is used at the festival of Hanuk kah) and a turn-of-the-centu ry ritual circumcision knife. Most of the articles, said

Morton Weizman, are “humble objects, things that ordinary people would have used.”

The exhibit grew out of a suggestion made by Andrea Bronfman, the wife of billionaire Charles Bronfman, co-chairman of the Seagram Co. Ltd. and the major owner of the Montreal Expos baseball team. Cosponsored by the Museum of Civilization and the Canadian Friends of Beth Hatefutsoth Museum of the Diaspora in Tel Aviv, and with Seagram as principal corporate sponsor, the show resulted from 3V2 years of research and organization.

Parable: After five months at the Museum of Civilization, the show will move to Winnipeg and later to Saskatoon, Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal and New York City before winding up at the Museum of the Diaspora in Tel Aviv in August, 1993. In a companion book, A Coat of Many Colours-. Two Centuries of Jewish Life in Canada, published by Toronto’s Lester & Orpen Dennys this month, Irving Abella, a professor of history at Toronto’s York University, recounts the history of Jewish settlement in Canada. And in October, a television program on the exhibition is scheduled for broadcast by the CBC.

At a party and preview on March 31, Andrea Bronfman invoked the biblical parable of Joseph, whose father gave him a brilliantly colored coat. The boy’s brothers, who were jealous of their father’s love for Joseph, sold him into slavery. But Joseph survived and rose to become the most powerful man at the court of the Egyptian pharaoh. “Even when the bright colors of life seem to be dulled and greyed by severe problems,” said Bronfman, “we are a people that persist in the idea that, as individuals working together, we can help make the world as bright and colorful as Joseph’s coat.”

Roots: The artifacts on display at the Museum of Civilization serve to emphasize the deep historical roots that Jews have put down in Canada. Some of the oldest exhibits, including a lock, a bullet and part of a wineglass, came from Fort Michilimackinac (now Mackinaw City, Mich.), a military post and fur-trading centre. Among those who used the fort was fur trader Ezekiel Solomons, who went on to become one of the founders of the first Canadian synagogue, in Montreal in 1766.

Although the exhibit does not formally address anti-Semitism, there are occasional reminders of the hardships experienced by Jews in Canada. One exhibit is a document carried by one of the Jews interned during the Second World War in a prison camp at Ripples, N.B. In England, at the outbreak of the war, British officials ordered the arrest of many Jews from Germany and Nazi-ruled European countries as enemy aliens and sent them to Canada for internment. For her part, Morton Weizman said that she hoped the exhibit would appeal to Canadians of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. In that way, she added, the exhibit may help to foster understanding and tolerance for an enterprising community that has helped to shape the nation.

NORA UNDERWOOD

DAVID HATTER