Honest: There’s No Films Like These Anyplace

Aug. 31, 2020 – By RUTH SCHWEITZER

UPDATE: There’s No Place Like This Place, Anyplace sold out!

The Ontario Jewish Archives and the Toronto Jewish Film Festival are presenting a virtual film series celebrating the life of theatre impresario Ed Mirvish and his beloved discount department store, Honest Ed’s, which closed in 2017.

The series, The Honest Ed’s Experience, which runs until Sept. 2, opened on Aug. 25 with the 75-minute documentary There’s No Place Like This Place, Anyplace, named for one of the bombastic signs on the store’s exterior.

Directed by Lulu Wei, the 2020 film profiles gentrification in Toronto through the history, demolition in 2018, and redevelopment of the Honest Ed block, which encompassed the 68-year-old store and the adjacent Mirvish Village on Markham Street, a row of houses where Mirvish rented inexpensive space to artists and art galleries.

For the documentary, Wei interviewed residents of the area, Bloor and Bathurst, who were affected by the loss of the block.

“Laments for these lost places and their dislocated inhabitants are captured by Wei,” wrote Peter Howell in the Toronto Star. “It’s not a feel-good memory piece about Ed Mirvish, who is seen only briefly in archival footage.” Mirvish died in 2007 at age 92.

Two of the films in the series focus on Mirvish: A Day in the Life of Honest Ed’s and Honest Ed Mirvish: The World’s Most Unusual Shopkeeper. A third film, Honest Frank, is the story of an immigrant who worked in the department store.

Ed Mirvish

A Day in the Life of Honest Ed’s is an eight-minute film made by a group of York University students in 1978. One of the young filmmakers was Larry Weinstein, who went on to make Inside Hana’s Suitcase and Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas.

Honest Ed Mirvish: The World’s Most Unusual Shopkeeper (1998) is John Martin’s 54-minute in-depth portrait of Mirvish, from his beginnings as the child of Jewish immigrants from Austria and Lithuania who ran a small grocery store on Dundas Street, to his being made a Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. The film travels with Mirvish to his birthplace of Colonial Beach, Va. He shares stories about the opening of the store in staid postwar Toronto, his 35 years in show business – Mirvish purchased the Royal Alexandra Theatre in 1963 and refurbished it, revitalizing the Toronto theatre scene – and his creation of Mirvish Village as an artists’ colony.

Honest Frank is a six-minute documentary about filmmaker Danielle Heifa’s uncle, Frank Salerno, who started working at Honest Ed’s department store as a new immigrant in 1959 and retired when the store closed in 2017.

For information, visit ontariojewisharchives.org

Small Acts Fill Big Needs

By ELIZABETH KATCHEN

It is difficult to put into words what we are going through right now. The unthinkable, the unbelievable, the heart-wrenching. We are in the middle of a global pandemic, something rarely conceived of in the past 100 years.

This is our reality, and while it is safe to say that everyone is experiencing a new set of challenges, some populations are harder hit than others.

Currently the United States, Brazil and Russia have staggering numbers of COVID patients, so much so that their citizens have been banned from entering the European Union.

The homeless are particularly vulnerable to the pandemic. Many have pre-existing health conditions, and due to physical distancing measures, fewer beds in shelters are available. Further, the usual resources, such as case managers assisting in the relocation of the homeless and following up with regular support, have decreased.

From another perspective, certain ethnic minorities are at higher risk of contracting the virus, of requiring hospitalization, and even of dying from COVID. While information is constantly updated, according to Statistics Canada, those at greater risk include Indigenous populations, among others.

In addition, Public Health Ontario has announced that sociodemographic and race-based data will be collected and used to plan for public health practices.

Like the rest of the world, the Jewish community has been shaken by the pandemic, both physically and economically. Of note is that the proportion of Jews dying in the Diaspora, as opposed to Jews in Israel, is much higher. Israel was able to contain the virus with extremely strict restrictions in place from the outset, despite a recent spike in infections after much of the country re-opened.

The Jewish community has a well-deserved reputation for philanthropy. Tzedakah (charity) in Judaism states that the giver benefits more than the receiver. In fact, it is a mitzvah (a commandment) to give 10 percent of one’s earnings to charity. Children from a young age are taught to give charity – even dropping a few coins in the tzedakah box can be a meaningful gesture. Maimonides, the great Jewish philosopher, identified eight levels of charity, each greater than the last. Now, during these most challenging times, is a perfect time to review these levels. Beginning with the highest, they are as follows:

Level 1 – Enabling another individual to be self-sufficient.
Level 2 – Giving when one does not know the recipient and the recipient does not know the giver: anonymous giving.
Level 3 – Giving when one knows the recipient, but the recipient is unaware of the giver.
Level 4 – The recipient knows the giver, but the giver is unaware of the recipient. This level allows for less shame to the recipient.
Level 5 – The giver gives directly to the recipient but without being asked.
Level 6 – The giver gives to the recipient after being asked.
Level 7 – The giver gives insufficiently, but still gives with a smile.
Level 8 – Giving in a reluctant manner.

Financial giving is certainly a timely gesture right now, but it is important to address other forms of charity that can also have a huge impact. Volunteering can reduce feelings of loneliness and provide a sense of optimism. Donations of non-perishable items are needed for food banks that are currently under greater demand. Checking on elderly neighbors (at a safe distance or by phone) is surely appreciated at this time. Fostering a pet is another special opportunity if you can safely care for an animal. If you have a special skill, such as website development, writing or marketing, do a web search for volunteer opportunities. The list goes on.

Tzedakah is supposed to be done with a full heart. Performed in a less willing manner, the effect is not quite the same. It is said that even presenting someone with a smile, and nothing else, is a form of tzedakah. Please help if you can. Consider what way would be meaningful to you, and do so with a smile. 


Elizabeth Katchen
Elizabeth Katchen

Elizabeth Katchen was born and raised in Victoria, B.C. and cares deeply about animals, the environment and the Jewish community. She is the former editor of FutureTense magazine, a national Jewish student publication, and a past freelance contributor to the Canadian Jewish News. Elizabeth is executive assistant to the programs department at Toronto’s Schwartz/Reisman Centre and Prosserman JCC.

UPDATED: Mayor Joins Chorus against Foodbenders; Others Cut Ties

Toronto Mayor John Tory has denounced antisemitic and anti-Zionist statements emanating from the Toronto restaurant Foodbenders.

“There is no place for this type of hate or discrimination in our city or anywhere else in Canada,” Tory stated in a tweet on July 8. “I stand with Toronto’s Jewish community in condemning this type of hate and intolerance and commit to continue to build up our city as a place that is inclusive of everyone.”

The day before, Ontario Premier Doug Ford condemned Foodbenders statements. “Language and actions like this are disgusting and will not be tolerated here in Ontario,” Ford stated. “Our government stands with the Jewish community in condemning this kind of behaviour here at home, and across the globe.”

Meantime, another food delivery service has cut ties to Foodbenders. On July 7, DoorDash announced that it severed relations with the business.

In a letter to Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, director of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre’s Campaign Against Antisemitism, David London, who’s listed at LinkedIn as head of U.S. East, U.S. Federal and Canada Government Relations at DoorDash, wrote to say his company investigates reports of “inappropriate behavior as soon as they are brought to our attention and have decided to remove the merchant [Foodbenders] from our platform for failure to follow the community guidelines and our partner code of conduct. This took effect immediately.”

London said DoorDash was founded “to connect people and we strive to make sure everyone in our community feels safe when using the platform. We do not tolerate any form of malicious, discriminatory or hateful behavior, and any violation of this policy is grounds for deactivation.”

Only the day before, Uber curtly informed Foodbenders that its agreement with the eatery “is terminated effective immediately.” On the same day, the food delivery service Ritual also cut ties to Foodbenders.

As well, Ambrosia, a natural foods store with three locations in Toronto and Vaughan, will no longer carry products from Foodbenders.

In an online reply to Daniel Koren, director of Hasbara Fellowships Canada, Ambrosia said it will no longer sell Foodbenders’ products at its three locations. “We believe in love, community, and togetherness,” the business added.

Two Toronto coffee shops, Blue Heaven Café and Café Con Leche, have also cuts ties to Foodbenders.

Located in Toronto’s Bloordale neighbourhood, Foodbenders has come under intense scrutiny for its antisemitic and anti-Zionist pronouncements on social media and on signs outside the store.

It first drew attention for proclaiming “F@ck the Police” on a sandwich board outside the business. But in recent weeks, it turned its ire toward the Jewish community.

One sign said “defund Israel,” while another stated, “F@ck Mossad, IDF, Bibi.

On Instagram, the eatery announced: “#zionistsnotwelcome,” and “Zionists are Nazis.”

On Canada Day, the restaurant put out a sign saying, “Happy KKKanada Day.”

The business also praised Leila Khaled, who hijacked two planes 50 years ago as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a group designated a terrorist entity in Canada. Alongside a photo of Khaled clutching a rifle, the business proclaimed: “There is only solution: Intifada. Revolution.”

Of Canadian Jewish groups, it said, “These people control your media and elected officials.” On her personal Facebook page, Foodbenders owner Kimberly Hawkins described Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a “Zionist puppet.”

The statements prompted days of fervid activity on social media and denunciations from Jewish advocacy groups. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said it would refer the matter to its Legal Task Force.

“Simply put, the overwhelming majority of Jewish Canadians are Zionists,” CIJA noted.

B’nai Brith suggested contacting 311@toronto.ca to request an investigation of that Foodbenders’ business license.

In a later post on social media, Foodbenders said “criticizing the Israeli zionist state occupation or the police isn’t a hate crime. Nor is it anti-Semitic to say that zionist journalists in Toronto and now Israel have written slander [sic] fake news pieces about me to present me as racist for the sole reason of silencing me on Palestine. They are controlling the narrative of my story and they are lying.

“Jews are very welcome to shop with us, zionists may also shop if they can do so without insisting they’re [sic] right to a homeland justifies killing other people,” the post went on “When a Zionist tells us Palestinians should be murdered, something that happens all day long, we ask them to leave because THAT is hate speech.”

– CJR Staff

‘Zionists not Welcome’ and the Responding Deafness

By JEFFREY WILKINSON

The phrase “Zionists not welcome” appeared as a hashtag in an Instagram post on or around July 1, 2020 from the owner of Foodbenders in Toronto. Soon after, an avalanche of criticism was directed at the restaurant’s owner, Kimberly Hawkins, led by pro-Israel advocacy groups which saw the post as blatantly racist and called for a boycott of the establishment.

In the past couple of days, Facebook and Instagram have been filled with responses (and responses to the responses) producing little, if any meaningful discourse, but instead, resorting to the usual tribal screaming and insults directed at those with opposing views, on both sides of the argument.

There is no simple right or wrong, as much as we would like to feel that we are completely on the right side, whatever that side is. There was, however, a great deal of propaganda peddled in the responses to the post.

If we take Hawkins literally – that she is banning Zionists from her store, and, by affiliation, banning most Jews – of course, this is highly offensive and totally inappropriate in a civil society. In a response in blogTO, Hawkins said that she, of course, welcomes Zionists and Jews; that she was making a political statement about Palestinian rights and would gladly have a conversation about this with anyone who is interested.

Many who were convinced that the post was, plain and simple, a clear example of antisemitism, immediately dismissed her claim.

There are some common ideas which inflame more than help, pushed by many in the outcry over the owner’s post. First, Zionists and Jews are synonymous, so banning Zionists is equivalent to the days of “No Dogs or Jews.”

Second, as one post stated, “Zionism is the Jewish national movement of rebirth and renewal in the land of Israel – the historical birthplace of the Jewish people. That’s it. It’s not support for a specific Israeli government or any actions of that government.”

Third, as the vast majority of Canadian Jews support Israel, the term “Zionist” equals “Jews.” In other words, if you are anti-Zionist, you are anti the vast majority of Canadian Jews and therefore antisemitic. This conflation has been a focal point of pro-Israel advocacy groups, particularly in light of the general acceptance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s definition of antisemitism by many Canadian governmental and non-governmental organizations, which connects certain types of criticism of Israel with antisemitism.

Each of these points is meant to reduce or silence criticism of Israel, and devalue the concerns of Palestinians and their supporters. A measure of how effective this has been is seen in how assuredly many people responding to Hawkins’ post took “Zionists are not welcome” to mean barring Jews, rather than seeing it as a political statement resisting the consequences of Zionism to Palestinians. In fact, she has an embossed decal on her store window stating “I Love Gaza,” not “I Hate Jews.”

In the many responses back and forth, blanket statements about Zionism are hurled at the other. While one post states; “Zionism is a colonial enterprise” and another fires back; “Zionism is an anti-colonial enterprise, resisting the Arab colonialists, creating freedom for an oppressed people.”

My concern here is to highlight the deafness that is rampant in the Israel-Palestine discourse these responses epitomize. Is there an irrefutable truth in the statements being tossed back and forth? Is anyone interested if there was?

Imagine a response from a Jew that went something like this:

Dear Ms Hawkins:

I am a Jew and I felt quite hurt by your Instagram post, particularly the hashtag “Zionists not welcome.” What do you mean by Zionists? Do you mean all people who have an affinity for Israel? Do you distinguish people who have no interest in what is happening to Palestinians from those, like me, who value Israel but have deep concerns over what Israel has become, particularly its harmful effects on Palestinians? Would you please clarify what you meant and be clearer in the future so that we can all learn and listen to each other with an ear towards healing rather than further division?

Sincerely, a concerned fellow Canadian.

If one were to respond in this manner, it might be possible to learn rather than demonize. We need to be more wary of those who are deepening the divide in the discourse about Israel-Palestine, and the conflict by stoking past traumas and forwarding only a zero-sum, us vs. them paradigm. By responding to a hurtful post with such force, the hurt is only magnified. We can be hurt and still listen. Another can offend us without us dismissing them. We can and must do better.


Jeff Wilkinson
Jeffrey J. Wilkinson, PhD

Jeffrey J. Wilkinson, PhD, is an educator, facilitator and researcher focused on the psycho-social causes of intractable conflicts, researching not only how these conflicts are formed, but also how they may be undone over time. His doctoral dissertation explored the Israel/Palestine conflict through the experiences of Canadian Jews and Palestinians. He is the co-author, with a Palestinian, of an upcoming book addressing the current polarization in Jewish-Palestinian discourse within the two diasporas.

Toronto Eatery Triggers Outrage, Protest

Days of outrage at antisemitic and anti-Zionist statements emanating from a Toronto business saw social media boil over with indignation directed at Kimberly Hawkins, owner of Foodbenders, a restaurant and catering business in the Bloordale neighbourhood of Toronto.

Days of outrage at antisemitic and anti-Zionist statements emanating from a Toronto business saw social media boil over with indignation directed at Kimberly Hawkins, owner of Foodbenders, a restaurant and catering business in the Bloordale neighbourhood of Toronto.

Foodbenders’ windows prior to the protest by the Jewish Defence League.

In a development on July 6, Uber announced it is breaking relations with Foodbenders.

In a letter to Hawkins and Jann Meneses of Foodbenders, an Uber official wrote that the agreement between the food delivery service and the restaurant “is terminated effectively immediately.” No reason was provided.

Foodbenders first triggered notice for proclaiming “F@ck the Police” on a sandwich board outside the shop. But in recent weeks, it turned its ire toward the Jewish community.

Another sign outside the shop said “defund Israel,” while one stated: “F@ck Mossad, IDF, Bibi.

On Instagram, the eatery announced: “#zionistsnotwelcome,” and that “Zionists are Nazis.”

On Canada Day, the restaurant put out a sign saying, “Happy KKKanada Day.”

The business also praised Leila Khaled, who hijacked two planes 50 years ago as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a group designated a terrorist entity in Canada. Alongside a photo of Khaled clutching a rifle, the business proclaimed: “There is only solution: Intifada. Revolution.”

Of Canadian Jewish groups, the establishment said, “These people control your media and elected officials.” On her personal Facebook page, Hawkins described Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a “Zionist puppet.”

In a tweet on July 6, Premier Doug Ford stated: “Language and actions like this are disgusting and will not be tolerated here in Ontario. Our government stands with the Jewish community in condemning this kind of behaviour here at home, and across the globe.”

Jewish organizations all took notice of Foodbenders.

“It is outrageous that Jews would be denied service at an establishment in our city just because of who they are,” said the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).

CIJA said it will bring the matter to its Legal Task Force “and will pursue all options available to send a clear message that there is no place in Toronto for antisemitism.”

The sentiments expressed by Foodbenders Hawkins are “hateful and deplorable, and have no place in the Canadian food industry,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada.

B’nai Brith offered concrete steps activists can take, including contacting Uber Eats and Doordash to ask they stop delivering Foodbenders products until the company renounces antisemitism and apologizes, and emailing local city councillor Ana Bailão, area MPP Marit Stiles, and MP Julie Dzerowicz.

B’nai Brith also suggested contacting 311@toronto.ca to request that Foodbenders have its business license investigated. “Be sure to mention section 27 of By-law No. 574-2000, which prohibits the use of a licensed business to discriminate against any member of the public on grounds of race, colour, or creed,” the Jewish group advised.

It is “absolutely shameful that any business would show support for violence against the Jewish people or to suggest that Jews are not welcome as customers,” said Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, director of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre’s Campaign Against Antisemitism. “We urge all city leaders to speak out and condemn this and any other hatred taking place in our city.”

Also weighing in was York Centre Liberal MP Michael Levitt, who said it was “absolutely disgraceful to see this antisemitic rhetoric publicly displayed in our city. We are so much better than this. Shame on them.”

The response, noted Levitt, is “condemnation and education, and legal action if necessary.”

The furor over Foodbenders also prompted supporters of the Jewish Defence League to gather Sunday night (July 5) at the closed shop, whose windows were festooned with two large Israeli flags, one concealing an “I [Heart] Gaza” logo. Earlier screen shots had shown Stars of David had been scrawled onto the glass.

“The days when the Jewish community is going to put up with antisemitism [are] over,” proclaimed JDL leader Meir Weinstein, who added he would employ “any means necessary to shut down this hate.”

In an interview with the website blogTO, Hawkins stated: “I’m not antisemitic. That would go against all the other principles that I’ve been standing up for the past few weeks. I believe that Palestinians should be free and have the same equal human rights as everyone and that’s not a stance I will apologize for.”

She told the site that she’s received a flurry of hate messages but welcomes dialogue.

“When I’m making a statement about Zionism, I am not referring to Jewish people… It’s about the state government.”

Hawkins described herself as a “white Canadian settler on Turtle Island” and said she’s been pro-Palestinian since she was 16 years old. She also said that about half of her customers are Jewish.

Suggestions posted to social media have included boycotting the shop but also complaining to Foodbenders’ suppliers and other eateries that carry its products.

– By CJR Staff

NOTE:

Jewish pre-schoolers stage The Wizard of Oz via Zoom

By SUSAN MINUK

Hillcrest Progressive School senior kindergarten students weren’t going to let a quarantine prevent them from going ahead with their production of The Wizard of Oz. These talented kids got creative.

Staff at the Jewish pre-school, located on two acres of wooded land in Toronto’s Hogg’s Hollow neighbourhood since 1955, were determined to help the graduating students perform their year-end school play. Parents fully backed the effort.

“Because of COVID, we didn’t want them to miss out on this amazing experience that every SK class has at Hillcrest,” said Melanie Fux, school board member and mother of two Hillcrest students.

Hillcrest Progressive School
Hillcrest Progressive School senior kindergarten students

Founded in 1929, Hillcrest is Ontario’s oldest Jewish pre-school. Its slogan: “Every day is a special day,” is meant to encourage children to investigate the world and find their place in it. 

“One of the things this play did was to turn the pandemic into a challenge, and see it from the positive side, with good energy,” said Fux. “Taking what life gives you and making the most of it – that is something these kids will take with them to the future.”

How did Hillcrest execute a virtual theatre production?

“It was a family effort,” explained Fux. “We had to rehearse, prepare the scenery, perform and film from home. This gave each kid the opportunity to be creative with their family.”

Hillcrest’s principal, Queenie Spindel, brainstormed with several teachers.

Families were sent a weekly task. Kids received the songs, both just lyrics and just music, and then record their voices over the musical track, Fux explained.

“They missed being together but being able to see such an amazing result of all their hard work was sort of a surprise to them,” said Fux.

The Zoom production required time-crunched editing and was filled with special effects that brought genuine smiles to students.

“I listened to the songs over and over and I practiced with my Mom, explained five-year-old student Alec Fux, who played the Cowardly Lion.

“I loved dancing and being a lion. It was amazing to see the final video I loved the special effects,” Alec told the CJR.

How is he handling leaving the school now that he’s graduated? The Cowardly Lion is anything but in real life.

 “I don’t want to leave,” he admitted. “I am a teensy bit scared [for Grade 1] but I will be fine later.”

The production was presented privately last week and published on YouTube June 19. To date, there have been a little over 300 views between the mini-clip and full play, a number the school says is growing.


Susan Minuk
Susan Minuk

Susan Minuk is both humbled and heartened by everyday stories with the power to touch or inspire her readers’ lives.