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

COVID Rips Through Jewish Retirement Home

Nov. 12, 2020

By LILA SARICK

Coronavirus has ripped through a Toronto Jewish retirement home, infecting all but one of the residents and leading to the deaths of several elderly patients.

147 Elder Street, a retirement home that cares for seniors with dementia, has seen 45 of its 46 residents test positive for the virus, with one test still pending.

147 Elder Street, North York, Ontario (source: 147elder.com)

Seven residents have died, since the outbreak started in mid-October and six residents are currently in hospital, Krista Samborsky, director of resident and family relations, wrote in an email sent to family members on Nov. 11.

According to a report posted Nov. 9 by Toronto Public Health, 25 staff at the retirement home have also tested positive for the virus.

“This is a devastating virus that is severely impacting us right now,” Samborsky wrote to families. “While loss of life is a natural part of 147 Elder Street, our team is impacted particularly deeply by these events.”

The home, located in a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood in North York, advertises that it serves “the Jewish and general community.”

The source of the virus’s spread has not been pinpointed, but “in all likelihood it is a combination of factors, combined with the high transmission rate of the virus in the community, the prevalence of dementia in our home and our high staffing ratios,” the email to families stated.

The home did not have any COVID cases during the first wave of the pandemic. Since this outbreak started, staff from Humber River Hospital’s Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) Team have been at the home daily to review operations and make recommendations. The hospital has also sent doctors and nurses to the home to treat residents, Samborsky said in an email to the CJR.

The home has increased staffing and has added more personal support workers than usual. Staff compensation has been increased to retain staff, and accommodation has been offered to employees who are not comfortable going home due to the health status of their families, Samborsky said.

Sue-Ann Levy, whose 91-year-old father lives at 147 Elder and has been diagnosed with COVID, said the home had taken every precaution to keep residents safe since the beginning of the pandemic.

“I think they did everything they possibly could to keep it (COVID) out and in my view, unfortunately it was just dumb luck,” Levy told the CJR.

In the early days of the pandemic in the spring, the home required caregivers to work at only one facility, before the province mandated it. Visitors were carefully screened and had to have a negative COVID test and wear full protective gear before entering the facility, Levy said.

Since the outbreak, the home has conducted testing regularly and involved Humber River Hospital early on.

Levy, a columnist with the Toronto Sun, said she has written stories about families with loved ones in long-term care where they hear nothing from the home for four or five days, a situation she calls “unacceptable.”

In her case, she and her brother have received two emails and two phone calls a day about their father.

The home operates on a model that encourages residents not to isolate in their rooms, which has been “wonderful” for her outgoing father, Levy said.

“But that kind of formula leads to a very quick spread and unfortunately, that’s probably what has happened,” she said.

Residents are now isolated in private rooms. While family visits have been suspended, the home was working with authorities to allow one designated caregiver per resident to enter, Samborsky said, 

Levy said she plans on visiting her father this Friday, with a negative COVID test in hand. “My dad has dementia, as does everyone else, and they feel it would be good emotionally for him,” she said.

The toll at the home has been sobering, but not unexpected, Levy added.

“I said this all along throughout the summer, having covered all this, that if it got into a dementia facility, it would be a nightmare and now, we’re living it.” 

On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Sharon Hampson (Mar. 31, 1943 – ); Lois Lilienstein (July 10, 1936 – April 23, 2015); Bramwell Morrison (Dec. 18, 1940 – )

Sharon, Lois & Bram – Children’s Music Trio, Family Entertainers

Sept. 15, 2020 – By: DAVID EISENSTADT

Skinnamarinky dinky dink
Skinnamarinky do,
I love you!

Kids, parents and grandparents the world over love that memorable tune, thanks to the inspired creativity of three Toronto Jewish actors/singers/musicians, Sharon, Lois & Bram, who sang those easy-to-remember but differently-spelled lyrics.

“That word actually means nothing,” confides supersimple.com. “It’s just a silly, made-up word originally from an early 20th century Broadway musical, and over the years, it has been sung (spelled) as skinnamarink, skinnymarink, skinnymerink, and more.”

At a recent Shabbat dinner, friends Marilyn and Frank Kisluk said their three-year old granddaughter loves the song, prompting me to look at this trio’s musical contributions, which generates lots of memories and smiles.

The threesome met in the mid-‘70s at a Mariposa in the Schools program, according to Jason Ankey, writing in artistdirect.com, and they shared a common philosophy of creating quality music for people of all ages.

A&M distributed their first album One Elephant, Deux Éléphants. With that, the pachyderm became an important visual element throughout the group’s 42-year career.

Sharon’s daughter, Randi Hampson, said Lois often joked that the trio lost their last names when they became Sharon, Lois & Bram. Hampson told me that for their first live performance, they borrowed a costume from a touring production of Babar, “and that’s when the dancing elephant made its first appearance.”

They had several elephant friends over the years on tour, appearing on their The Elephant Show, which aired on the CBC in the 1980s, and later on U.S. cable network Nickelodeon through 1996, featuring 30-minute episodes with children’s entertainer Eric Nagler.

They also worked with other children’s stars, including Raffi and Fred Penner. The show attracted other well-known performers and morphed into a second series called Skinnamarink TV, broadcast on the CBC and the Learning Channel in the United States from 1997-99.

They performed in major concert venues around the globe and headlined many stage and screen gigs. The trio were named Goodwill Ambassadors for UNICEF in 1988, and in 1996, were appointed spokespersons for UNICEF Canada’s 50th anniversary celebration.

Sharon Trostin
Sharon Trostin

Born in 1943 and raised in Toronto, Sharon Trostin started singing in coffeehouses and at hootenannies across North America as a teenager. She married Joe Hampson of the Canadian Travelers and had two children. A three-time survivor of breast cancer, Sharon is one of the founders of Willow Breast Cancer Support Canada and has spoken publicly about her journey. She also speaks about the importance of music for children and their families. In 2007, she received the YWCA’s Woman of Distinction Award.

Lois Ada Goldberg
Lois Ada Goldberg

Chicago-born Lois Ada Goldberg was a classically-trained singer and pianist who studied music at the University of Michigan, where she met her future husband, Ernest Lilienstein. They moved to Toronto, where he taught sociology at York University. They raised one son. She retired from touring with the trio in 2000. 

Lois, said Randi Hampson, would occasionally appear for special charity events, the last of which was an outdoor concert in Toronto to celebrate an outdoor playground named in their honour. A music garden followed after Lois died in 2015 at age 78.

Bramwell Morrison
Bramwell Morrison

Bramwell Morrison, born Toronto in 1940, began playing coffee houses in the 1960s with iconic Canadian folksinger Alan Mills, who inspired him to become a music teacher. In 1975, Bram met Sharon and Lois at the Mariposa program and they began to play as a group. He and Sharon celebrated the trio’s 40th anniversary with a farewell tour in 2018, then retired from touring in December 2019 after releasing their first duo album, Sharon & Bram and Friends.

In 2002, they became members of the Order of Canada; Lois was named an honourary member as a non-Canadian. Their combined career track record includes numerous awards. The group produced 17 recordings, three songbooks, many compilations and a best-selling picture book, Sharon, Lois & Bram’s Skinnamarink. Their one-year TV series in 1997 was called Skinnamarink TV. In 2020, a Sharon, Lois & Bram YouTube channel was successfully launched.

Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, Sharon has been performing virtually with daughter Randi, a family law lawyer who said she’s looking forward to returning to in-person, live performances.


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner of tcgpr.com, and a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.

High Holy Days Greetings from the Presidents of GTA Conservative Synagogues

Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, presidents of Greater Toronto Area Conservative synagogues noted below have been meeting by Zoom on a weekly basis to discuss concerns, share ideas and brainstorm solutions. We’ve talked about the challenges of managing our shuls, large and small, through this crisis and the impact on our day-to-day operations. And we’ve discussed how we’ve responded with online services and programs, our respective plans for the High Holy Days, and much more.

Most of us did not know one another before we began our weekly calls, which we all look forward to and which we hope will continue in the future. We have all thoroughly enjoyed the experience and have developed a profound respect for one another and for the outstanding work of our clergy, executive directors and staff, lay leadership and volunteers. Most of all, we have developed, through regular communications, a deeper appreciation of the remarkable power of community.

All synagogues, regardless of denomination, offer a vital service, particularly during a crisis, and we are all here to support our members and communities in times of joy and sorrow. We thank you, our members, for your commitment, support and contributions in helping to sustain a vibrant and relevant Jewish community through your synagogue affiliation.

As we approach a High Holy Day season unlike anything that many of us have ever experienced, we extend our best wishes to you, your families and loved ones for a safe, healthy and happy New Year.

David Urbach – Adath Israel Congregation 
Larry Miller – Beit Rayim Synagogue and School
Andy Pascoe – Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am
Malcolm Weinstein – Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue
Mark Vernon – Beth Radom Congregation
Abe Glowinsky – Beth Sholom Synagogue
Doug Millstone – Beth Tikvah Synagogue
David Lewis – Beth Torah Congregation
Debbie Rothstein – Beth Tzedec Congregation
Jeff Shabes – Lodzer Centre Congregation
Steve Bloom – Pride of Israel Synagogue 

September 14, 2020
Elul 25, 5780