From Romanian poverty and the Holocaust: Marcel Adams Rose to Billionaire Real Estate Developer in Century-Long Life

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—Born in a Carpathian mountain village to a peddler of animal hides, Marcel Adams became a billionaire through shrewd investment in the burgeoning postwar real estate boom in Canada and an extraordinary single-minded determination.

That iron will no doubt contributed to his longevity. Adams died on Aug. 11, nine days after his 100th birthday.

Marcel Adams
Marcel Adams

For years, Adams was listed among the richest Canadians by Canadian Business magazine and, in 2017, his wealth was calculated at US $1.5 billion, with assets in mostly commercial properties across the country and in the United States.

Adams immigrated to Canada in 1951 from Israel with virtually nothing and, following in his father’s trade, worked in a tannery in Quebec City. While still an employee, he took the advice of a lawyer he met at his synagogue and invested in the development of a modest residential building. Soon he had several apartments and, fortuitously, switched to commercial real estate, most profitably, shopping centres – a new phenomenon. He completed the first mall in the provincial capital in 1959.

Despite his success, Adams never fit the image of the moneyed class. Physically unprepossessing and a man of few words outside his intimates, Adams preferred to blend into the crowd and avoided honours. His philanthropy grew with the years, but he remained low-key personally, while still seen frequently at Jewish community events well into his 90s.

Writing in the Jerusalem Post, his son-in-law, McGill University history professor Gil Troy, observed: “’With his thick peasant hands…and thicker accent, Marcel loved being underestimated by elegant Canadians.” He remained famously frugal, always pleased at finding a way to save money even on the most mundane of daily expenditures, and planned each day’s agenda with a pencil and paper.

Adams knew the importance of paying attention to details and the small gains that led to broader outcomes.

Born Meir Abramovici in Piatra Neamt, Romania, the young Adams toiled in Nazi slave labour camps between 1941 and 1944, when he escaped and fled to Palestine via Turkey. There, he raised cattle and joined the army, fighting in the 1948 War of Independence.

Thanks to his proficiency in French, Adams was tapped by the Jewish Agency to serve in Algiers and Marseilles, helping to get North African Jewish refugees to Israel.

Adams founded Iberville Developments Ltd. In 1958, moving the business to Montreal in the mid-1960s. The privately-held company became one of the largest commercial real estate enterprises in Canada.

After his father left its day-to-day operations, Sylvan Adams ran Iberville. Since he made aliyah five years ago, Iberville has been headed by Sylvan’s son, Josh.

“He was a great man, a Holocaust survivor, who never complained, never looked back, only forward, as he worked hard to build a better life for himself and his family,” stated Sylvan upon his father’s passing.

Adams and his late wife Annie, also a Romanian immigrant, were particularly supportive of Tel Aviv University. Among the projects they initiated there are the Adams Institute for Business Management Information Systems and the Adams Centre for Brain Research. Annie Adams died in 1997.

In 2005, Adams established, with the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities a fellowship program providing US $1 million annually to promising PhD students. To date, 142 students have benefited, many going on to promising careers in Israel.

Although his formal education was curtailed, Adams had a keen intellect and a lifelong hunger for learning. He had a genius for mathematics and read widely, at least, anything he felt would further his practical knowledge.

“As the historian son-in-law, my ‘job’ was to feed him serious works of history, biography, current events,” Troy related. “Whenever I threw in a novel, he scoffed, meiselach (trivialities).”

Those who knew Adams remember a warm, engaging and eternally optimistic man, a great storyteller who drew on his own incredible life.

In a condolence on the Paperman funeral home website, Rabbi Allan Nadler, formerly of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, said the Adams he knew was “’down to earth, warm and a haymisher Rumaynisher Yid who was often the anonymous donor when an urgent situation arose that required discreet charity.”

Besides Sylvan, who devotes himself to promoting Israel to the world through such spectacular events as bringing the Giro Italia cycling race to Israel for the first time, Adams is survived by his son Julian, a biochemist known for his key role in developing the drug Velcade for the treatment of myeloma; Troy’s wife Linda, a lawyer; Leora, a nurse; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Stuart Smith: The Jewish Premier Who Never Was

By STEVE ARNOLD

Stuart Smith never got the chance to be premier of Ontario, but that’s one of the few things at which he didn’t succeed during a long and accomplished life.

Smith, the first Jewish leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, died June 10 at age 82 after a lengthy struggle with a form of dementia.

Tributes that began flowing as soon as news of Smith’s death became public recalled him as a mentor, a kind and calm employer, a brilliant psychiatrist, teacher and business leader.

One of the first statements came from Steven Del Duca, interim leader of the Ontario Liberals. He memorialized Smith as a kind and generous man who mentored countless others.

“He was our first Jewish leader and a man of great intellect,” Del Duca said. “Stuart leaves a lasting legacy for our party. He carried us through tough times.

“It was under his leadership that the Ontario Liberal Party laid down roots in urban Ontario – work that has resonated for decades afterwards.”

Others sending memories across Twitter included former Ontario cabinet minister Ted McMeekin, who recalled Smith’s first provincial campaign in 1975 against then-city councillor Bob Morrow, who ran for the Conservatives.

“Dr. Smith was brilliant. The 1975 campaign pitting a beloved Councillor Morrow vs. well-liked Dr. Smith was a classic. Smith’s camp urged voters to ‘Keep Bob working for you – in Hamilton.’ Smith became MPP and Bob became Hamilton’s longest-serving mayor. RIP Dr. Smith.”

Former NDP Premier Bob Rae remembered Smith as “a very engaging and bright soul. He confessed to me once that he found the pressures of politics debilitating, but loved public service. He contributed much to our province.”

One of those Smith mentored to a stellar political career was former Deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps. After failing in her first bid for office in the Ontario election of 1977, Copps went to work for Smith.

“He was a great boss who never blew his top,” she said in an interview. “He was always very generous and open.”

Copps won her next bid for a provincial seat and worked under Smith on a variety of issues that helped move the Ontario Liberals from a largely rural party to one that also appealed to city dwellers.

One of those issues was an early resolution to advance LGBTQ rights. Although it only gained only three votes in the Liberal caucus, Copps remembers how Smith urged her to move on something they both believed was right.

“He gave me the courage to go ahead and move that motion,” she said. “He was always there to push the envelope in a positive way.”

Stuart Lyon Smith was born May 7, 1938 to a family that ran a grocery store in east-end Montreal. His grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Russia, Poland and Austria. Smith attended McGill University, earning a medical degree and a specialization in psychiatry. While there, he also became president of the McGill Student Society, was a champion debater, and active in the McGill Liberal Club.

In 1965, he sought the Liberal nomination in the heavily-Jewish Montreal-area riding of Mount Royal, but dropped out of the race at the urging of party leaders anxious to nominate another up-and-coming star – Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Putting political ambitions aside, Smith moved to Hamilton, Ont. in 1967 to become professor of psychiatry at the new McMaster University medical school.

Those early political aspirations bubbled up again in 1975, when Smith won a seat at Queen’s Park. The next year he won a close contest to become leader of the Ontario Liberals, becoming only the second Jew to lead a provincial party; Stephen Lewis was the first when he took over the NDP in 1970. Larry Grossman would later leader the Progressive Conservatives from 1985 to 1987.

Smith led the Liberals through two general elections but was unable to defeat the Tories under Bill Davis.

Stuart Smith with Pierre Elliott Trudeau
Stuart Smith (right) with Pierre Elliott Trudeau

Copps remembered her mentor as someone who loved the business of creating public policy, but not the cut-and-thrust of politics.

“I think the best thing he ever did was leave politics because it gave him a lot of grief and terrible migraines,” she said. “They were so bad that sometimes he would escape from Queen’s Park and go sit in a dark room in one of the area hotels.”

After his political career, Smith served as chairman of the Science Council of Canada, led a commission examining the state of post-secondary education across the country, and chaired the National Roundtable of the Environment and Economy.

He also tried his hand at business, forming RockCliffe Research and Technology Inc., a firm which introduced public-private partnerships into government laboratories.

In 1994, he was named founding president of Philip Utilities Management Corporation, a company created to manage Hamilton’s water and sewer systems. PUMC was a division of Philip Services Corp., but the parent company collapsed in 1997 when it was forced to acknowledge it had significantly overstated earnings from its copper-trading business.

Terry Cooke, a former chair of Hamilton-Wentworth Region, remembered Smith as “brilliant and multi-dimensional.”

“He used to make fun of the fact he was probably too intellectual for politics and business,” Cooke added. “He had many dimensions to his life and was successful in all of them.”

Smith served as a director of Esna Tech in Richmond Hill and as director and long-time chairman of the board of Ensyn Technologies Inc.

He is survived by his wife Paddy (Patricia, née Springate) and children Tanya (Betsy) and Craig (Sandra), along with five grandchildren.

A celebration of Smith’s life will be held when conditions permit. Memorial donations can be made to any charity, or by planting a tree in his memory.

Canadian-born Rabbi, Legal Scholar dies at 92

Special to the CJR

A Canadian-born rabbi who headed a Toronto synagogue and became a world-renowned authority on Jewish law, died in Israel on May 6.

Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch was 92.

Rabbi Nahum Rabinovitch

He was dean of the Birkat Moshe hesder yeshiva in Maale Adumim on the West Bank and a highly respected posek (Jewish legal scholar and decisor) on issues of Halachah.

Yeshivas in the hesder movement combine service in the Israel Defense Forces with Torah study.

Born in Montreal in 1932, he studied at Yeshivas Ner Israel in Baltimore, where he received smichah (ordination). He went on to earn a master’s degree in mathematics from Johns Hopkins University, and later completed a PhD in the philosophy of science from the University of Toronto. His doctorate examined statistics as they apply to probability in the Talmud.

From 1952 to 1963, he was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Charleston, South Carolina. He served as spiritual leader of Toronto’s Clanton Park Synagogue from 1963 to 1971.

Rabbi Rabinovitch established himself as a leading expert on the Jewish sage Rambam, Clanton Park’s Rabbi Yehoshua Weber, told The CJR.

“I was always mesmerized by his range of knowledge. He was famous for his magnum opus in the Rambam, he was the consummate rosh yeshiva, a leading halachic authority, and he had an unusual way of addressing contemporary issues in an exceptionally open-minded, sensitive way,” Rabbi Weber said.

After Toronto, Rabbi Rabinovitch moved to London, England, where he served as dean of the London School of Jewish Studies and became a close spiritual advisor to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who went on to become the United Kingdom’s chief rabbi.

Rabbi Sacks eulogized Rabbi Rabinovitch as “one of the intellectual, moral, and spiritual giants of our time…a bold and formidable posek.

“He was above all a teacher, raising up many generations of Torah scholars and fighters for the State of Israel,” Rabbi Sacks wrote on Twitter. “He was my Rav, I was his disciple, and I count that one of the greatest blessings of my life,” he added.

Rabbi Rabinovitch assumed duties at the Birkat Moshe Yeshiva after making aliyah in 1983.

In 2015, he co-founded the Giyur K’Halacha rabbinical courts, which provided conversions to Judaism outside the state-run Chief Rabbinate, and he was remembered as a champion of easing the process, the Times of Israel reported. He served as the court’s senior rabbinical judge.

The decision to set up an independent conversion court was opposed by some senior rabbinical figures in the religious-Zionist community for undermining the Chief Rabbinate, The Jerusalem Post reported. But Rabbi Rabinovitch persisted.

Rabbi Rabinovitch’s death was also mourned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Rabbi Rabinovitch was a polymath — a tremendous scholar, a prominent legal decisor and an educated scientist,” said Netanyahu in a statement. “Maimonides was his model of the educated Jew merging Torah and wisdom. His love of the land of Israel brought Rabbi Rabinovitch to the hesder yeshiva in Ma’ale Adumim, in which he groomed Torah scholars serving in the IDF. His spiritual leadership was characterized by merging devotion to Halachah and social sensitivity. The issue of conversion was dear to his heart and he sought to bring people closer.”

The head of the Association of Hesder Yeshivot, Uri Pinsky, mourned “the loss of a great luminary and teacher to thousands” and as “one of the most important arbiters and disseminators of Torah in our generation, who established generations of students who sanctify the name of Heaven in everything they, and in whose footsteps they go.”

The Orthodox Union eulogized “one of the greatest poskim in the religious Zionist world in Israel.”

Rabbi Rabinovitch was the father of six children. His daughter, Dina Rabinovitch, a columnist for The Guardian, died in 2007 of breast cancer at the age of 45.

Sylvia Ostry, Economist, Civil Servant, dies at 92

Sylvia Ostry, a distinguished economist and Canada’s first female federal deputy minister, died in Toronto on May 7. She was 92.

Photo courtesy Statistics Canada.

A polymath mandarin and expansive thinker, Ostry tallied a long and prestigious list of achievements that represented breakthroughs for women in the workplace. She was the first and only female Chief Statistician at Statistics Canada, and was the country’s first female federal deputy minister in several government departments before becoming the chief economist at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris.

“Sylvia had a very sharp mind,” former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney told the Globe and Mail in its obituary on Ostry. “She was able to explain the government’s position in down-to-earth terms. She was a loyal public servant. I liked her personally and felt that as a woman, she didn’t get the recognition she deserved,” said Mulroney, who tapped Ostry to help represent Canada at several international meetings, including the Group of Seven summit in Toronto in 1988.

She was born in Winnipeg in 1927 to Morris J. and Betsy Stoller Knelman. According to the entry on Ostry at the Jewish Women’s Archive, her father (1894-1982), a businessman, was born in Odessa and arrived in Canada in 1910. Her mother (1893-1982), a school teacher, was born in London, England and also came to Canada in 1910.

Ostry studied economics at McGill University, where she earned her BA in 1948 and her MA in 1950. She earned her PhD from Cambridge University in 1954, and went on to teach at McGill and the University of Montreal.

From 1990 to 1997, she chaired the Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto while serving as Chancellor of the University of Waterloo.

While in England in 1956, she married Bernard Ostry, a native of Wadena, Sask. A historian, professor, and media personality, Bernard Ostry served for a time as CEO of TVOntario. He died in 2006.

Sylvia Ostry’s government career tallied a long list of posts: She was Chief Statistician of Canada (1972-1975); deputy minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs (1975-1978); chair of the Economic Council of Canada (1978-1979); deputy minister for International Trade and coordinator of International Economic Relations (1984-1985); ambassador for Multilateral Trade Negotiations, and the prime minister’s personal representative for economic summits (1985-1988).

From 1990 to 1997, she was Chair of the University of Toronto’s Centre for International Studies.

According to the Jewish Women’s Archive, although never actively involved in Jewish affairs, Ostry once served on the academic advisory board of World ORT.

In her time, Ostry was something of an Ottawa celebrity and knew everyone who was anyone in the nation’s capital. Statistics Canada’s website relates that a lengthy Saturday Night magazine profile about her, written while she was working for the OECD in Paris in 1981, noted that “next only to Pierre and Margaret [Trudeau], no pair had more celebrity in Ottawa in the 1970s than the Ostrys.” The article also remarked: “Two things almost everyone – including Sylvia Ostry – says about her are that she is intensely ambitious and that she works like a dog at whatever she is doing.”

She wrote, co-wrote or edited some 80 publications, most of them focusing on policy analysis.

She was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1978 and elevated to Companion in 1990. Since 1992 the Sylvia Ostry Foundation has sponsored a prestigious annual lecture on international affairs.

Ostry leaves her two sons, Jonathan, an economist at the International Monetary Fund in Washington; and Adam, who works at the OECD in Paris; and two grandchildren, Daniel and Joshua.