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.”

Pandemic Delays Plans for New Montreal Holocaust Museum

Sept. 22, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—The COVID pandemic has forced the Montreal Holocaust Museum (MHM) to abandon plans for a new multimillion-dollar premises, but says the project is still going forward.

In her annual report, outgoing president Dorothy Zalcman Howard said the MHM had found “an ideal location” to build a much larger museum and “achieved unprecedented success in obtaining funding commitments…The dream was about to be transformed into reality when COVID struck, and our board faced the difficult decision of stepping back from the brink and reshaping the vision.”



Holocaust survivor Mila Messner is captured in a photographic triptych for the Montreal Holocaust Museum’s new virtual exhibit, Witnesses to History, Keepers of Memory. (Photo courtesy MHM/Stéphanie Cousineau)

But she stressed that a new museum remains a top priority. “I invite you to stay tuned for good news in the future,” Zalcman Howard stated.

In 2018, the MHM announced plans to relocate and expand, leaving the Federation CJA building that was its home since it was founded in 1979.

The Azrieli Foundation pledged to underwrite a third of the cost, up to $15 million.

Zalcman Howard did not specify where that ideal location was, but the museum had said it wanted to move downtown in order to reach a wider audience.

The only one of its kind in Canada, the museum was receiving an ever-increasing number of visitors and demand for its educational services, necessitating the ambitious expansion.

A study by an independent consulting firm supported the project’s feasibility.

The work of the MHM remains more important than ever, as “Holocaust diminishment has taken root and awareness is declining,” Zalcman Howard told the MHM’s annual general meeting, held virtually Sept. 14.

Completing her two-year term as president, she assured: “Our future is vibrant and secure.”

MHM communications director Sarah Fogg later told CJR, “We are actively looking for a new location and have explored three excellent possibilities since April. We are definitely confident we will find a great site.”

The pandemic forced the MHM to close from mid-March until its reopening, with restrictions, on July 6. Despite this curtailment, Zalcman Howard reported that the facility reached hundreds of thousands of people over the previous 12 months, including 20,000 visitors, 9,750 of those students. More than 8,700 attended some 55 events organized by the MHM and 19 Holocaust survivors told their stories to some 12,500 people before the shutdown.

The MHM now has 13,405 items in its collection, the majority donated by local survivors or their descendants, as well as 858 videotaped survivor testimonies.

Following the shutdown, the museum’s already multi-faceted online and digital presence was further enhanced and attracted even more users, Zalcman Howard related.

Executive director Daniel Amar said the website and virtual exhibits had 116,000 visitors, while videos on YouTube of survivors’ testimonies were viewed 198,000 times, a 25 percent increase over the previous year.

The MHM produces pedagogical materials and runs teacher training programs. Over 35,000 visits to the educational pages on its site were recorded, traffic that did not stop while the schools were closed.

Zalcman Howard hailed the fact that her successor, Richard Schnurbach, is the first grandchild of survivors to serve as president of the MHM.

Three new members named to the board of directors reflect the MHM’s aim of attracting a more diverse public. Yasmine Abdelfadel is a founding member of Mémoires & Dialogue, a group fostering rapprochement among Jews and Arabs of North African origin; Widia Larivière is an Indigenous rights activist; while Denis Marion, a former senior political aide to Bloc Québécois and Parti Québécois members, is mayor of Massueville, a town near Sorel-Tracy. He lived in Israel in the late 1980s, earning a master’s degree in political science at Hebrew University.

Jennifer Carter, chair of the museum committee and University of Quebec at Montreal museology professor, is vice-president.

The latest virtual exhibit produced by the MHM is “Witnesses to History, Keepers of Memory,” portraits by Marie-Blanche Fourcade and Eszter Andor of 30 Montreal survivors who were photographed at home with objects that hold precious memories.

The annual meeting began with a memorial to the 60 survivors who died in the past year, conducted by Cantor Hank Topas and Rabbi Mark Fishman of Congregation Beth Tikvah.