The Tailor Project: Our Brothers’ Keepers

By PAULA DRAPER

In the spring of 1948, Max Enkin, a prominent Toronto Jewish community leader and clothing manufacturer, spoke to a gathering of his peers. He had recently returned from visiting Europe’s post-war displaced persons (DP) camps, where he led a small team of garment industry manufacturers and labour leaders on a mission.

Their goal was to bring as many Holocaust survivors and their families to Canada as they could squeeze through obstructive, antisemitic immigration restrictions. Enkin and his colleagues – Sam Herbst, Sam Posluns, Bernard Shane and David Solomon – had been deeply moved by the plight of the survivors they met in Germany and Austria. They were shocked by the degrading conditions they witnessed in the DP camps, many constructed on the sites of former concentration camps.

Limited by the government to a quota for Jewish tailors, the five men were forced to make heart-wrenching decisions about who could be included among the chosen. They returned determined to inspire their fellow Canadian Jews to do all they could to help the survivors when they arrived.

Through articles in the Jewish press and public speeches, the team pleaded with community members to open their hearts and homes to the survivors who were beginning to arrive as garment workers. They faced a community both exhausted by its pre-war failures at rescue and unable to comprehend the uniqueness of the survivors’ experience and their desperate need to rebuild their lives.

“I am beginning to doubt,” Enkin told them, “if many know or appreciate how these people find themselves there, who they are, and what we owe them if we are to justifiably uphold our own respect and genuinely acknowledge that we are our brothers’ keeper.”

The Tailor Project (the book, which came out in October), is a study of Canadian Jewry’s efforts to rescue Jews stranded in the killing fields of post-war Europe and find homes for them in Canada – to be their brothers’ keepers. Prof. Harold Troper’s introduction summarizes the obstinate restrictive government policies that preceded the post-war opening of Canada to immigration. The authors then examine the post-war bulk labour schemes and how these programs were devised to import skilled and unskilled single men into the growing post-war economy.

Young, unmarried Jewish survivors were more than willing find a way out of the camps by applying for Canadian labour schemes; their applications, which noted their “Hebrew” religion, were invariably rejected. Realizing the potential these programs offered for opening the doors to Jewish DPs, the Jewish Labour Committee, Jewish clothing manufacturers and the Canadian Jewish Congress banded together to create the Tailor Project.

In our book of the same name, we explore the personalities and community politics that coloured the attempts to bring survivors to Canada after the Second World War. This is also a study of the Jewish-dominated garment industry and the Tailor Project’s unprecedented collaboration between garment manufacturers and unions.

Funded by the Canadian Jewish Congress in conjunction with the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society and other agencies, they succeeded in settling some 2,500 European Jews in cities across Canada in 1948 and 1949.

The history of the Tailor Project is complemented by the reminiscences of the survivors and their families who established new lives in Canada. Some were trained as tailors before the war and continued working in the garment industry. Others were barely able to sew a buttonhole and forged other careers after their arrival. All understood that the program was their chance at rebirth.

Survivors and their children describe their journeys to Canada, the challenges of their early years of settlement, and the extended survivor families they created in their new homes. The Jewish garment workers and their families were the first large group of Holocaust survivors to gain entry to Canada. They were soon followed by DPs who joined other labour programs initiated by the Jewish community – notably by the furrier and hat-making industries.

Mendel Good was one survivor who came to Canada with the Tailor Project. He was 23 and an experienced tailor when he arrived in Ottawa in 1948, sponsored by the garment workers program. After suffering over six years in ghettos and camps, the only survivor of his extended family, Mendel spent three years recovering his health. He met and married Valerie Blau, another survivor who had come to Canada under the domestic bulk labour program.

Mendel established the M. Good Tailor shop in the Byward Market, a business still open today. His positive spirit and gregarious nature left a lasting impression on both his clients, and the thousands of Ontario students he educated about the Holocaust.

Mendel died last month at the age of 95. Rabbi Reuven Bulka eulogized that Mendel “became a tailor because he wanted to stitch together a better world.”

The Tailor Project is the story of how Canadian Jewry came together to rescue the remnants of European Jewry, and how Holocaust survivors like Mendel reshaped Canadian life.


Paula Draper

Paula Draper is co-author of The Tailor Project. How 2,500 Holocaust Survivors Found a New Life in Canada (Second Story Press) with Andrea Knight and Nicole Bryck, introduction by Harold Troper

Meet the Authors: The Tailor Project

Editorial: Goldie Hershon – and Jewish Leadership

Dec. 8, 2020

The Canadian Jewish community has been blessed with many fine leaders. Leadership itself can be simple in complicated times and complicated in simple times. It takes a wise person to navigate these various roads. Those who successfully complete that journey are the leaders we remember (it’s hoped we forget the bad ones).

Goldie Hershon, who died last week at the age of 79, was a leader who successfully navigated complicated roads in complex times. Her port of service was Canadian Jewish Congress (of which CJR publisher Bernie Farber was CEO, and worked closely with Goldie).

She held many different lay leadership positions within the organization. Whether it was national vice-president of CJC, chair of the CJC National Plenary Assembly, vice-president of the North American section of World Jewish Congress, chair of CJC’s Soviet Jewry committee, or her three years (1995-1998) as national president of Congress, Goldie was unique.

She was no politician. She spoke her mind and heart and demonstrated truth to power. Whether meeting with heads of state, presidents, prime ministers, or premiers, Goldie was simply Goldie. She engaged with Holocaust survivors, Jewish poor, and CJC staff as though they were all part of her family. She took advice but knew her mind. People wanted to be in her company. She had a great laugh and warm smile that grabbed you from the moment you met her.

When Goldie became president of CJC in 1995 she fought for it. Unlike today, Canadian Jews then chose their leaders. Her opponent, Thomas O. Hecht, was a popular Montrealer, and the race was passionate and emotional. Goldie squeaked to a narrow victory and Canadian Jewry was the real winner.

She led us through the fractious Quebec referendum of 1995 and deftly took former Premier Jacques Parizeau to task when in a bitter concession speech, he blamed “money and the ethnic vote” for the loss. Canadian Jewry was staunchly nationalist and was part of a group of ethnic leaders who spoke out against separation. Goldie was very much its leader. She scolded Parizeau’s choice of words as “reprehensible,” and many feel that it was her public pronouncement, among those from other “ethnic” leaders, that hastened Parizeau’s retirement from politics shortly thereafter.

With Goldie’s death, we are able to look both back to the past and ahead to the future. We yearn for the days when leadership percolated up from the grassroots, enabling stalwarts like Goldie.

And yet, as we look to the future, we are concerned that leadership today does not see the worth or feel it necessary to emulate the Goldie Hershons of yesterday.

Perhaps in Goldie’s passing, we will all have an opportunity to embrace the importance of amcha and the need for us all to play a role in Canadian Jewish life.

May the memory of Goldie Hershon always be for a blessing.

Obituary: Goldie Hershon, Former CJC President, was 79

Dec. 8, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—Tributes are pouring in for Goldie Hershon, who was president of Canadian Jewish Congress from 1995 to 1998, following her death on Dec. 4 at age 79.

Hershon, the daughter of Polish immigrants whose community activism was strongly motivated by a visit to Auschwitz in 1979, was one of only two women to hold the top national post with CJC, which was disbanded in 2011.

(The first female president of CJC was Dorothy Reitman of Montreal from 1986 to 1989.)

An activist for Soviet Jewish emigration, Hershon chaired CJC’s Soviet Jewry committee and moved up the ranks to become the organization’s Quebec Region chair in 1989 and later, a national vice-president.

But her ascent to the national presidency succeeding Toronto historian Irving Abella was far from assured. Thomas Hecht of Montreal, a longtime community leader and prominent businessman, challenged Hershon for the post.

What ensued was one of the most keenly contested campaigns in the history of CJC. In the weeks leading up to the triennial CJC Plenary Assembly in the spring of 1995 in Montreal, Hecht made an intense bid for office.

Hershon’s win was razor-thin, beating Hecht by just 16 votes. Her term began with the need to heal the polarization in the community, which she succeeded in doing.

Hershon’s three years as president were among the most consequential for the Canadian Jewish community since the Second World War. The country was in the midst of a national unity crisis triggered by the failure of the Charlottetown Accord in 1992.

The Parti Québécois government was gearing up for a referendum on independence, to be held in November 1995 after months of tension. Although narrowly defeated, the province would be plunged into a long night of self-reflection. Anglophone and ethnic Quebecers felt especially uncertain over their future.

Other major issues Hershon had to deal with were the continuing effort to bring suspected Nazi war criminals living in Canada to justice and the need to better serve small Jewish communities across the country.

Internationally, CJC was engaged in aiding Jews in the former Soviet Union and pressing Swiss banks to release dormant accounts that were held by victims of Nazi persecution.

Hershon (née Libman) grew up in what was the Jewish immigrant district of Montreal. She attended United Talmud Torahs and Herzliah High School, and became a teacher.

She and Shelly, her husband of 61 years, were among the young Jewish couples who settled in the then remote West Island suburb of Dollard-des-Ormeaux, where they raised their children, Cindy and David. The couple contributed significantly to the development of the Jewish community and, in particular, Congregation Beth Tikvah.

Among the plethora of condolences on the Paperman & Sons funeral home website are many from those who fondly remember the Hershons from those years.

Others are from her CJC days. “I have many happy memories of Goldie and consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to work with her at CJC. She was a determined and courageous community leader, and a lovely person,” wrote Jack Silverstone, who was Congress’s national executive director.

Former Quebec Region chair Dorothy Zalcman Howard commented, “She was vibrant, warm, generous and kind. She was a friend and a colleague you could always count on, and she had an innate ability to bring people together, to uplift those around her and lighten the burden of others…Goldie leaves a legacy of love and compassion for family, for friends, for communities at home and around the world.”

Mohammed Hashim: The Right Man at CRRF

Oct. 16, 2020

By BERNIE FARBER

(CRRF) was created in 1997 as a Crown corporation, born of a dark chapter in Canadian history: The imprisonment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War.

These were Canadian citizens of Japanese ancestry. There needn’t have been any suspicion of treason or support for Japan, even though it was part of the Axis powers. That their ancestors were from Japan, some, going back many generations, was enough to uproot entire families, confiscate homes, disrupt professions, and imprison all, from young infants to the elderly. It was a gross abuse of political power, racist, and in the eyes of history, despicable.

Jews, of all people, well understood what this form of discrimination was about. Among those Jewish leaders in Canada who fought vigorously for Japanese-Canadian redress was Milton Harris, president of Canadian Jewish Congress from 1983 to 1986.

But amends would take decades. Under the guidance of the newly-established National Association of Japanese Canadians and its leaders – Art Miki, Roger Obata, Audrey Kobayashi, Maryka Omatsu, along with others, including Harris – redress and compensation, as well as a full apology, were realized in Parliament on Sept. 22, 1988.

On that date, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney rose in the House of Commons to apologize for Canadian human rights abuses against Japanese-Canadians. Mulroney announced individual redress payments, as well as a living legacy: A multi-million dollar community fund that would educate and engage in social and cultural programming emphasizing the vital need for positive race relations in Canada.

And so was born the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.

CRRF has been a force for good in Canada since its establishment. Its mandate to promote and facilitate race relations training, support development of effective policies to combat racism, and has been a shining example of Canada’s commitment to multiculturalism as a political ethos.

Each of its past executive directors put their own stamp on the organization. Moy Tam was followed by Dr. Karen Mock, a friend and colleague who used the same advocacy spirit at the CRRF that she brought heading B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights. Then came Ayman Yassini, Anita Bromberg (also formerly from B’nai Brith Canada), and Dr. Lillian Ma. We should also note that Rubin Freidman, a fixture in Canadian Jewish communal organizations, worked effectively for CRRF in its communications division, as did Len Rudner, who had come from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

Mohammed Hashim
Mohammed Hashim

On Oct. 6, 2020, Mohammed Hashim was named the new executive director. Anyone who knows Hashim and his work will agree that he is unquestionably the right man for the right job at precisely the right time.

He arose from student activism during his days at the University of Toronto to become a labour organizer and human right rights advocate. Most recently, he spent considerable energy as a senior organizer with the Toronto and York Region Labour Council.

His organizing skills were equalled by his ability to relate to people. Their faith, sexual orientation or skin colour never mattered. He has always been present in the fight for fairness and empowerment. A devout Muslim, he has Jewish friends from across the religious spectrum. He is young, dynamic, wise, and warm.

Mohammed Hashim (centre) with Jeffrey Brown, president of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto Congregation (left) and Bernie Farber, publisher of the CJR and chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.

This is a tough time to be the executive director of the CRRF. With racism reaching unprecedented levels and white nationalism expressing itself in violent words and actions, those of us doing human rights advocacy welcome his appointment with strong and open arms.


Bernie Farber
Bernie Farber

Bernie Farber is publisher of the Canadian Jewish Record and Chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.