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

Report anti-Israel Signs, CIJA Urges

Aug. 11, 2020 – The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) says it is “aware” of signs posted in Toronto which falsely alleging Israeli involvement in the recent explosion in Beirut that killed some 150 people and injured many more.

The bizarre signs, which have been seen along the Bathurst Street corridor, especially at Lawrence Ave., Sheppard Ave. and Steeles Ave., refer to the Beirut tragedy was a “nuclear blast,” adding the words “Isreali (sic) missile video,” and a warning that “Damascus is in peril.”

Readers are urged to visit the website “Hearthelordjesus.com,” which offers wild conspiracies about the Christian end times and various apocalyptic scenarios involving COVID.

The signs have been affixed high on utility poles, indicating a ladder was used to put them up.

“These kinds of outrageous conspiracy theories are both absurd and dangerous,” CIJA said in a Facebook post.

“If you encounter one of these signs, please call 311 to report it as a violation of Chapter 693, Article IV of the Municipal Code. Be sure to note its location and ask by-law officers to remove it. Then send us an e-mail at info@cija.ca that includes a photo of the sign and the location where you saw it so that we can follow up on your report to the city,” the organization added.

In recent days, social media has lit up with news of the signs. Some have proudly indicated they have removed the signs themselves. There have also been photos posted of a white van with an electronic sign at the back that displays similar messages.

Police Backtrack on ‘Hate Crime’ Against Ukrainian Monument

Halton Regional Police, west of Toronto, no longer consider the defacing of a memorial dubbed a “Nazi monument” to be a hate crime and regret any “hurt” arising from the incident.

The event provoked a firestorm on social media, with many questioning why a monument to a World War II-era pro-Nazi unit exists in Canada at all.

The episode began on June 22 when Halton police were called to St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Cemetery in Oakville to examine graffiti on a monument in the graveyard.

Someone had painted “Nazi war monument” on a stone cenotaph commemorating those who served with the 14th SS Division in the Second World War.

Also known as the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, the paramilitary unit was comprised predominantly of Ukrainians and ethnic Ukrainians from the region of Galicia, according to historian Gordon Williamson.

Formed in 1943, it was part of the Waffen SS, the military branch of the SS. Members of the unit have been accused of killing Polish civilians and Jews during the war.

According to a Halton Regional Police statement, the initial information collected by investigators indicated that the graffiti “may have been hate-motivated, targeting the identifiable group of Ukrainians in general, or Ukrainian members of this cultural centre.”

After reporting and social media posts revealed that the monument pays tribute to a pro-Nazi unit, police changed course.

“At no time did the Halton Regional Police Service consider that the identifiable group targeted by the graffiti was Nazis,” said a July 17 statement from police.

“We regret any hurt caused by misinformation that suggests that the [police] service in any way supports Nazism,” it added.

Police are now treating the incident as a case of vandalism, said Det. Sgt. Barrett Gabriel. The investigation continues, police said.

Halton Regional Police Chief Stephen Tanner went further on Twitter, questioning the reason for the monument.

“The most unfortunate part of all this is that any such monument would exist in the first place,” he tweeted, as reported by the Ottawa Citizen.

“To those who died for the freedom of Ukraine,” states the cenotaph’s inscription. But it also displays the crest of the 14th Waffen SS division, whose members are alleged to have taken part in killing hundreds of Polish civilians in 1944 in the village of Huta Pieniacka, the Citizen added.

The memorial has been in the privately-owned cemetery for years.

Oakville Mayor Rob Burton issued a statement saying the city has little influence in this matter.

“Unfortunately, municipalities have no role in regulating the contents of private cemeteries. [The memorial is] personally repugnant to me. I have family who died fighting Nazis.

“If Ontario laws permitted me to have it removed, it would have been gone 14 years ago,” Burton said, according to insidehalton.com.

On July 18, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress sent a letter to the Ottawa Citizen about the paper’s coverage of the incident.

The Citizen article “propagates the narrative originating from the Russian Embassy in Canada that Ukrainians in general, and particularly all Ukrainians who took up arms against the Soviet Union during the Second World War, are ‘fascists’ and ‘Nazis,’” the letter stated.

Labeling Ukrainians as Nazis is “part of Russia’s ongoing effort to sow division in Canada and other Western democracies,” said the letter. The Russian campaign is “disinformation.”

The letter said veterans of the Galicia Division “never fought against Allied forces,” and were screened by the Allies before being allowed to immigrate to Canada.

The 1986 Deschenes Inquiry into Nazi-era war criminals in Canada “cleared these veterans of any involvement in war crimes…” said the letter, signed by Ihor Michalchyshyn, CEO of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

The memorial in question is not the only problematic one in Canada.

As the CJR reported recently, another is a bust of Roman Shukhevych, located at the entrance of the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex in Edmonton’s north end.

Shukhevych was supreme commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) during World War II and held leadership positions in the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, correspondent Paula Kirman wrote.

“While viewed as a hero by Ukrainian nationalists for his anti-Soviet posture, Shukhevych shared the Nazi ideology and was responsible for commanding troops that committed massacres with the goal of creating an ethnically ‘pure’ Ukraine free of Poles, Jews, and many others during the Holocaust,” Kirman wrote.

CJR Staff

EDITORIAL: Eschewing Hate and Embracing Harmony

It would seem that as we continue to hover in the eye of the pandemic, everything is magnified – from our anxieties, to our learning; from our health, to our diet; and most notably, from our avowed hatreds and dislikes.

All too often, the expressed hatred takes the form of bigotry, racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, and more. Prior to the pandemic, we of course saw signs of hate and extremism around us. Given our new fears and concerns, issues of racism remain no longer well-hidden or even camouflaged. Indeed like a rabid, growling dog, it is biting us square on the tuches.

Two incidents this past week in the GTA give us all reason for worry.

The proprietor of a little-known Toronto eatery called Foodbenders has chosen to express herself quite publicly about how she believes the Israeli government has abused and mistreated Palestinians, specifically in the occupied territories.

To be sure, there is much to be concerned with. Their treatment, especially by Israel’s current government, has prompted global condemnation. Surely the owner of a small restaurant in Toronto has the right to her opinions about Israel and its policies.

But in this case, those criticisms moved well beyond the political into hardcore antisemitism and anti-Zionist sentiment, mirroring those on the extremes of the political spectrum who have used the term “Zionist” to mean “Jew,” and have done so simply as an excuse to foment antisemitism. In years past, and to this very day, we have seen white supremacists and their ilk use terms like “Zio-Nazi” to mean “Jews.”

And while she has insisted that she has nothing against Jews, the owner of Foodbenders chose to post “Zionists are not welcome” at her eatery (leaving it unclear how she would discern a Zionist if one walked in).

In other social posts, she raised old anti-Jewish tropes: That Jewish groups control the media and influence the economy. She claimed that “Zionists are Nazis.”

Naturally, this led to harsh but proper reaction from mainstream Jewish organizations some of which are launching complaints with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. Toronto police hate crimes officers are also investigating.

Sadly, some of the more extreme anti-Muslim elements within and outside the Jewish community have used this hateful incident to engage in some hate of their own, scrawling anti-Muslim graffiti on the sidewalks and walls in front of the offending restaurant. Once again the Toronto police hate crimes unit is kept busy investigating these offences as well.

But it doesn’t end there. Just a few days ago in Mississauga, Ont., what started as a peaceful pro-Palestinian rally quickly degenerated into an anti-Israel harangue replete with ugly antisemitic epithets including “Jews are our dogs.”

All of this occurs while mainstream Jewish and Muslim groups have been trying to find an avenue to dialogue. Indeed, both the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and the National Council of Canadian Muslims have been cooperating of late on anti-racist programs, inter-faith dialogue and more. They join groups like JSpace Canada and Salam/Shalom, which have been engaged for years in dialogue and joint programming.

This is the way towards harmony. Canada provides us with a unique platform steeped in its own attempts at reconciliation and multiculturalism. There is still much work to do on these fronts, but we all have the opportunity. Let us not allow a few with hate in their hearts to spoil our efforts to find a path forward.

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.

UPDATED: Anti-Israel Protests in Toronto, Mississauga

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) has denounced a series of “hate-filled” anti-Israel protests that took place across Canada over the past week, including one in Mississauga where protesters were filmed chanting “Jews are our dogs.”

UPDATE: Mississauga’s mayor has denounced a rally in her city at which Jews were called “dogs.”

In a tweet on July 7, Mayor Crombie said: “I stand with our city’s Jewish community in strongly condemning these hateful and disturbing anti-Semitic comments. Hate has no place in Mississauga. We’re a welcoming city that promotes unity, understanding and acceptance. Those who seek to divide us are not welcome here.”

B’nai Brith Canada has filed a hate-crimes complaint with Peel Regional Police after protesters chanted “hateful” antisemitic slogans at the anti-Israel protest in Mississauga on July 4.

The protests, which took place in Toronto and Mississauga over last weekend, followed similar demonstrations in other cities and made false claims about Israel and Zionism, promoted the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, and called for “intifada,” or a violent uprising against Israel, the FSWC said in a statement.

In response to the event in Mississauga, where protesters chanted “Palestine is our country and the Jews are our dogs,” FSWC called on Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie to speak out publicly against the hate, and send a clear message that the city will not permit such antisemitism and other forms of hatred.

“It is unbelievable that to this day, in diverse cities like Toronto and Mississauga, we are repeatedly witnessing blatant antisemitism rear its ugly head, even in public places,” said Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, director of FSWC’s Campaign Against Antisemitism.

StandWithUs Canada used truck ads to counter the protesters’ message in Toronto, said Randi Skurka, a founding board member of the organization.

She said the trucks drove around the vicinity of the Toronto event on July 4 with messages including “Israelis Want Peace,” “Palestinian Leaders: Stop the Hate, Negotiate Peace,” and “Israel Needs a Partner for Peace.”

“Importantly, the ads don’t signal a position on Israel potentially applying sovereignty to or annexing parts of the West Bank,” Skurka said.

The Toronto rally, dubbed “Day of Rage,” was attended by about 200 people and took place at the intersection at Yonge and Bloor streets, with speakers shouting “Viva Intifada” and “From the River to the Sea,” Skurka said.

“StandWithUs Canada is sending a message that we will not be silent or tolerate hate speech that incites violence against Israel and the Jewish people,” Skurka said.

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.