Through the Eyes of the Eagle: The Early Montreal Yiddish Press

Through the Eyes of the Eagle: The Early Montreal Yiddish Press




About the Author

Pierre Anctil has translated from the Yiddish into French the memoirs of Israel Medres, Simon Belkin, and Hirsch Wolofsky. He is currently president of the Institut québécois d'études sur la culture juive and associate professor at the history department of the Université du Québec à Montréal.

David Rome was the director of the Jewish Public Library (1953-1972). He became the national archivist and then historian of the Canadian Jewish Congress until his death in 1996. His last years were devoted to the compilation and translation of articles from Yiddish sources.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781550651485
Publisher: Vehicule Press
Publication date: 01/01/2001
Pages: 186
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.51(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Yiddish language press appeared in Montreal at a time when the Jewish community of the city was at the very beginning of a long process of internal structuring and consolidation. In this environment the Yiddish newspapers, led by the Keneder Odler, from the outset assumed the task of facilitating the birth and growth of an entire set of new Yiddish-speaking institutions. They would contribute towards the harmonious adaptation of a wave of Jewish immigration whose size was without precedent in Canadian history. In this sense, they would be an experiment and an innovation of the first order, in the same manner as many of the Jewish organizations which emerged for the first time in the same period. Moreover, as observers who wrote in the Montreal Yiddish newspapers, recent immigrants themselves, noted, this country into which the Eastern European Jews were integrating was itself in the process of emerging and discovering its identity, even as the new inhabitants were arriving en masse upon its shores.

What was Canada at the very beginning of the twentieth century and what characterized its identity? What did it have to offer to Yiddish speakers? How was it distinguishable from its powerful neighbour to the south? These are questions no one could answer with certainty, given the newness of the country, almost as new, in fact, as the Jewish community beginning little by little to settle there. This was the striking reality quickly noted by visitors like Abraham Coralnik, at the time a young journalist from New York, staying for a short while in Montreal. Such conditions were not that unusual at the time within the Jewish diaspora. Already in 1915, Coralnik wrote, one couldsense that the Canadian - and the Canadian Jewish - historical framework would prove different from that of the United States.

And in what way? While the great American Jewish communities were undergoing enormous assimilationist pressure, their members trying to conform as quickly as possible to prevailing social and economic canons, in Montreal Yiddish-speaking Jews acted, thought, and spoke with the same accent as their co-religionists in Russia. All things considered, the life of the shtetl and the continuation of certain Eastern European traditions seemed completely possible in Canada, while in the United States they confronted insurmountable obstacles. Moreover, Canadians themselves then seemed so uncertain of who they were and how they differed from other peoples that the immigrants in their midst passed relatively unperceived, thereby profiting from a larger margin for maneuverability than elsewhere in North America.

Could it be, wondered Coralnik, that Yiddish speakers discovered in Montreal and in Canada a medium more favourable to the flourishing of their culture?

At the time that these texts appeared, Canadian Jewry was almost entirely commensurate with Montreal Jewry. The observations in Montreal's Yiddish press applied across the country, and already one could sense that the rhythm of development of the community established around St. Lawrence Boulevard would have a decisive influence on the entire Canadian Jewish twentieth century. It is enough to read the description that Rabbi Hirsch Cohen wrote in 1913 of the emerging Jewish institutions in the city to be convinced that the future of Judaism in Canada was to be played out in Montreal, and that no major obstacle lay before it when he wrote. Already by this date the diversity and complexity of the Jewish organizations appeared remarkable in the city and the optimism of its principal organizers was contagious. At this time Eastern European immigrants were still arriving in this city founded by de Maisonneuve, a city where their predecessors of only a few years earlier had already found the means to receive them by establishing the first embryos of a community structure.

Another subject under discussion at that time was the uniqueness of the Jewish immigrants' situation when compared to the rest of the newcomers who were then entering Canada. From 1905 to 1914, until the beginning of the World War I, is the period during which the country admitted the greatest number of new citizens. The Jews, points out journalist and poet Joseph Goodman, did not leave Russia for economic reasons alone, but above all because they were threatened by bloody pogroms and violent methods of political repression. In 1912 Goodman believed that this situation could only continue and that the Canadian Jewish community had to develop the means to receive the new groups of refugees who would certainly come as a result of the conditions of the post-war period. Here was one of the principal motivations which pushed Canadian Jews to establish institutions for the long-term, and to develop an effective and durable community structure.

No overview of the period would be complete without a comment on the breadth of the gap which separated the Montreal Yiddish-speaking immigrants and members of the first Jewish community established in the city during the nineteenth century, whose lifestyle mirrored those citizens of British origin in the general population. The cultural and ideological rupture between uptowners and downtowners is perfectly summarized in the lampoon delivered by Rabbi Simon Glazer in 1915, which complained about the lack of respect shown by the more established and anglicized Jews towards the aspirations of their newly-arrived Yiddish-speaking co-religionists. The outraged tone, the barely veiled threats, and the feelings of rejection which filter through Glazer's text would define the relationship between these two Montreal sub-communities during the first half of the twentieth century, and prevent the Jews of the city from presenting a united front on certain fundamental issues of interest to both groups.

Table of Contents

Montreal Jewish Contex
The Fourth America 8
Question for Public Opinion 20
Editorial 21
Canada and the Jewish Immigrants 23
Obligations of Canadian Jewry 24
I Protest 25
As the Year Ends 27

Keneder Odler
To the Jews of Canada 33
Brainin in the Editorial Room 34
Counsel: The Monologue of a Visitor to the Odler Office 36
A Day in the Editor's Office 38
On the Editor's Office 40

Reuben Brainin

R. Brainin on the Jewish Masses 47
What to Do? 48
Young Jewish Criminals in Montreal 49
Anti-Semitism and its Causes 50
Reuben Brainin 53
Life Among the Common Folk 55
On Brainin & Kaufman 56
On R. Brainin and Clarence de Sola 57

The Jewish Institutions of Montreal

The Institute and the People 62
On Fundraising in Montreal 63
We Must Found a Bikur Kholim in Montreal 65
Jewish Poverty in Montreal 66
The Jewish School Issues in Quebec 66
About the Folksbibliotek 67
On the Task of Der Veg 68

Strikes and Social Protest

The Tailors' Strike 75
Daughter of the Jewish People 76
An Open Letter to Reuben Brainin 76
Strike of Yiddish School Children in Aberdeen School 78
Strike of Yiddish School Children 79
The New Generation 80
Strikers in Montreal 81

The Diaspora

On the Jews in London, England 86
Polish and Romanian Jews in Belgium 87
The Jews in France 89
Among Brethren 90
The Power of Darkness 92
The Problem of the Sikhs 94
Article by Sholom Aleichem 95
A Letter from Sholom Aleichem 96

The Canadian Jewish Congress

Reuben Brainin's Call forFoundation
of a Canadian Jewish Congress 102
Canadian Jews and U.S. Jews 103
A Jewish Congress in Canada 104
The Standstill in the Congress Movement 105

Yiddish versus Hebrew

Does Jargon Have a Future? 110
On Yiddish 112
The Modern Generation of Confusion 112
Prominent Jews 114
Yiddish or Hebrew? 115
Writers and Readers 116
The Sons of My Generation ... 117
On Merits of Hebrew 118

The Yiddish Theatre

Yiddish Theatre 122
Our Theatre 123
On the Yiddish Theatre Debate 125
Untitled 126

On French Canada

A Lesson from the French 133
The Church and the French Language in Canada 134
My Voyages in Canada 135
On Labour Zionism and the Bund 136


Main Street 142
Montreal: How the Immigrants Found An Intellectual Atmosphere 144
The Forverts Among the Jewish Masses of Canada 145
The Influence of the Jewish Press on Life in the U.S.A. and Canada 148
The First Library in Montreal 149
35 Years Since the Founding of Congress 153

Light Pieces

One Must Have Luck 159
An Interview with the Shul Shames 162
A Little About Batlones 164
A Walk in Papineau 166
Papineau Neighbourhood 168
Papineau District 169
Papineau Road 170
Papineau Synagogue 172


A Jewish Wife 176
A Penny 178
Yankele the Insane 179
Leaving Hamburg, The Dream No More 182
The Little Messiah Infant 186
First Picnic in America 188
Storm Man 191
Question to a Rabbi 193
A Quebec Story 196

Glossary 207


In 1987 David Rome and Jacques Langlais founded the Institut québécois d'études sur la culture juive (IQECJ), a non-profit organization whose princi-pal goal was to make better known, mostly among French-speaking people, the historical and cultural heritage of Montreal's Jewish community. It also endeavoured to make available the documentary sources pertaining to Montreal and Quebec Jewish history, and to ensure the transmission of Montreal Yiddish language and literature.

In 1992 the IQECJ received a significant subsidy from the Minister of Multiculturalism and Citizenship Canada to carry out the translation from Yiddish into English, excerpts drawn from the Keneder Odler (The Canadian Eagle) and other Yiddish newspapers in Montreal published just before and during the World War I, as the largest wave of Eastern European Jewish migrants was arriving in the city. The founders of the IQECJ chose this period of Montreal Yiddish literary history because it was relatively unexplored by researchers and because it revealed the goals and experiences of the early immigrants. Most of these immigrants established themselves during the years immediately following the beginnings of the mass Yiddish-speaking immigration to Montreal, 1905 to 1914 - from the Russian insurrection against the Czar to the beginning of the World War I. Their first years in Montreal embodied the circumstances and the debates which were to give rise to the Jewish community in the city. In the space of ten years the new arrivals would set up the nucleus of a Montreal organizational structure which was as much secular as it was religious. They would found ideological movements, establish networks formutual aid, and launch powerful unions in the St. Lawrence Boulevard area, all using Yiddish, the Jewish lingua franca of Eastern Europe.

During the last years of his life, David Rome translated close to four hundred excerpts from the Yiddish press within the framework of this project. They begin with the editorial from the first issue of the Keneder Odler of August 30, 1907 and end with a text published in the Veg in February 1916, a period of less than ten years which constitute a turning point in Montreal Jewish history. At the time of the translator's death in 1996 these texts remained in random order and it was not possible to determine how David Rome had intended to classify and present the excerpts in question. In addition, the complete collection of Yiddish press articles and editorials translated by Rome was of uneven quality, and several texts remained unfinished. Obviously, the translator had still been engaged in his work when he was taken from this world. It was deemed not possible, for these reasons, to publish the entirety of the work Rome carried out. Moreover, in a practice well known to the people who worked over a long time with David Rome, he did not always manage to find the exact date of the texts which he had translated, nor their source. The working methods of this historian and archivist little resembles those presently accepted in the academic world. He remained faithful, instead, to those of an ancient Jewish literary continuity of pre-scientific origins, with roots in the grand tradition of Talmudic compilation. Throughout his life David Rome preferred to accumulate information on the many varied topics which interested him, even if partial and incomplete, leaving to others the task of imposing order and finding an end point. It is in this context that his collection of translations from the pre-war period was presented to us. Confronted with this situation, David Rome's successors and fellow members of the IQECJ chose to honour the archivist by respecting his mode of thought, in not modifying the spirit and the letter of his contributions to the field of Yiddish translation.

From the approximately four hundred existing texts, I chose to retain eighty-six for publication. These selections were made in consultation with my IQECJ colleagues, including Janice Rosen of the Canadian

Jewish Congress Archives, who worked alongside David Rome from 1986 onward. These excerpts from the Yiddish press were selected according to three criteria: their historical significance and the light they shed on the period of the mass Yiddish-speaking immigration to Montreal; their literary quality; and finally their validity in the field of translation and with regard to their source. In order to verify the information which had been left to us, the organizers of the IQECJ engaged Yiddish scholar Rebecca Margolis, then a McGill University undergraduate student in Jewish Studies, to reread the body of David Rome's translations to check its coherence and to attempt to track down the texts which appeared most problematic. This being said, one can easily surmise that the non-dated and unidentified excerpts included belong in a general sense to the same literary and historical context as rest of the corpus for which David Rome had defined the boundaries. For this reason they are also worthy of the reader's attention.

In the matter of spelling conventions, the standardized YIVO spelling conventions are used, for example, in using "kh" to represent the guttural sound traditionally rendered in English transliterations as "ch." The ellipsis (...) is used to indicate places where the translator has omitted a portion of the original text. Square brackets [...] indicate that the text has been para-phrased by the translator. Finally, square brackets are also used to indicate where the original titles of articles could not be confirmed.

In addition to recognizing the many-faceted IQECJ contributions, I wish to gratefully acknowledge the painstaking initial typing and formatting of this work by Phyllis Kimia, formerly of the CJC Archives; and the later revisions ably executed by Hélène Vallée from the Archives; and Bella Lehrer, formerly of CJC, Quebec Region. Janice Rosen, Archives Director, was on hand to supervise and offer assistance at all stages of the project. I also wish to acknowledge the help of Jacques Langlais, Alexis Nouss, and Jack Wolofsky.

Even if it is not strictly speaking signed by David Rome, this work must nonetheless be regarded as the last project conceived and executed by the historian during his long career. My hope, and that of our colleagues, is that our efforts will serve to bridge the often considerable distance which separated these texts from their potential readership, in particular researchers interested in the literary and cultural history of Yiddish Montreal during this crucial period at the beginning of the twentieth century. The work and personality of David Rome has had a major and enduring influence on most of the present organizers of the IQECJ. It is therefore only fair that we now offer him this work in homage.

Pierre Anctil, August 2001

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