How Jewish women have shaped our na­tion

The Canadian Jewish News (Toronto) - - News - LINDA FRUM SPE­CIAL TO THE CJN

In 1913, when anti-semitism in Canada and around the world was rife and un­abashed, and Jewish doc­tors were banned from prac­tis­ing in es­tab­lished hos­pi­tals, a group, in­clud­ing four Jewish women, set out to fund a hos­pi­tal in the city of Toronto.

They were de­ter­mined to pro­vide Jewish pa­tients with a place to go in times of need, while also giv­ing un­em­ployed Jewish doc­tors a place to prac­tise. By 1923, Slova Green­berg, Dorothy Dworkin, Ida Siegel, E.F. Singer and Si­mon Fines, had raised enough money to pur­chase a build­ing and es­tab­lish a ma­ter­nity and con­va­les­cent hos­pi­tal on Toronto’s Yorkville Av­enue. To­day, we know it as Mount Sinai Hos­pi­tal. The vast con­tri­bu­tions that Mount Sinai has made to both med­i­cal science and com­mu­nity care are im­mea­sur­able. It is worth re­mem­ber­ing that this legacy would not be pos­si­ble with­out the pi­o­neer­ing spirit of the women who founded it.

In­deed, the happy his­tory of the success of Canada’s vi­brant Jewish com­mu­nity is, in so many ways, the story of strong women.

While Jewish-cana­dian his­tory is not with­out its dark chap­ters, Cana­dian Jews have per­se­vered through ad­ver­sity, over­come chal­lenges and played a ma­jor role in shap­ing our great na­tion. For Canada’s Jewish women, that story has been the same.

Soon af­ter Canada’s found­ing, Jewish women as­sumed roles of lead­er­ship in or­ga­ni­za­tions ded­i­cated to women’s en­gage­ment, such as Had­dasah-wizo, founded by Ot­tawa res­i­dent Lil­lian Freiman, as well as Na’amat and the Na­tional Coun­cil of Jewish Women. In fact, the women’s di­vi­sion of United Jewish Ap­peal of Greater Toronto was for­mal­ized way back in 1937. These or­ga­ni­za­tions pro­vided op­por­tu­ni­ties for women to raise money, so­cial­ize and make an impact on the com­mu­nity and be­yond.

In the cen­tury that fol­lowed, it be­came com­mon to find women in lead­er­ship po­si­tions within the com­mu­nity. In 1983, Dodo Hepp­ner was elected as the first woman to lead Mon­treal’s CJA. Four years later, Mon­treal res­i­dent Dorothy Reit­man be­came the first woman to lead a na­tional Jewish or­ga­ni­za­tion, with her elec­tion as pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian Jewish Congress. In 1973, Rose Wolfe be­came the first woman pres­i­dent of the Toronto Jewish Congress, the pre­de­ces­sor or­ga­ni­za­tion to the Jewish Fed­er­a­tion of Greater Toronto. In 1991, she was ap­pointed chan­cel­lor of the Uni­ver­sity of Toronto.

To­day, we see Jewish women in lead­er­ship roles in ev­ery sphere of na­tional life, in­clud­ing the fields of medicine, art, law, academia, pol­i­tics and hu­man rights.

Among the more no­table ex­am­ples is Supreme Court Jus­tice Ros­alie Abella, who was born in a dis­placed per­sons camp in Ger­many in 1946 to two Holo­caust sur­vivors. At 29, Jus­tice Abella was the youngest per­son in Canada to ever be­come a judge and was also the first Jewish woman ap­pointed to the bench. In 2004, she be­came the first Jewish woman ap­pointed to the Supreme Court of Canada. Among her many hu­man rights ac­com­plish­ments, Jus­tice Abella drafted a study on ac­cess to le­gal ser­vices by dis­abled per­sons and served as com­mis­sioner of the Royal Com­mis­sion on Equal­ity in Em­ploy­ment, which helped change the way Cana­di­ans think about em­ploy­ment eq­uity be­tween men and women.

Re­cently, Jus­tice Abella was named global ju­rist of the year by a Chicago law school. While her ac­com­plish­ments are most cer­tainly her own, she con­tin­ues to shape Cana­dian so­ci­ety as a proud mem­ber of the Jewish com­mu­nity. She is a woman who is deeply rooted in tra­di­tion and she rec­og­nizes the impact that her Jewish her­itage has played on her life and her un­der­stand­ing of jus­tice.

In her re­cent com­mence­ment speech at Bran­deis Uni­ver­sity, Abella ex­plained:

“My life started in a coun­try where there had been no democ­racy, no rights, no jus­tice and all be­cause we were Jewish. No one with this his­tory does not feel lucky to be alive and free. No one with this his­tory takes any­thing for granted. And no one with this his­tory does not feel that we have a particular duty to wear our iden­ti­ties with pride and to prom­ise our chil­dren that we will do ev­ery­thing hu­manly pos­si­ble to keep the world safer for them than it was for their grand­par­ents.”

Judy Feld Carr is an­other ex­am­ple of an in­spi­ra­tional Cana­dian Jewish woman who has made an in­deli­ble impact on the com­mu­nity. Through her com­mit­ment and pas­sion for hu­man rights and her de­ter­mi­na­tion to help in the deadly sit­u­a­tion faced by Syr­ian Jews be­tween 1975 and 2000, Feld Carr helped thou­sands of Jewish peo­ple leave Syria. She has worked tire­lessly, of­ten in dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions, to en­sure the safety of peo­ple who were be­ing per­se­cuted for be­ing Jewish.

I hope it is not im­mod­est to add men­tion of the role that my late mother, Bar­bara Frum, played as a fem­i­nist pi­o­neer in Cana­dian broad­cast jour­nal­ism. It was Bar­bara who nor­mal­ized the idea of an in­tel­li­gent woman – and a Jewish one at that! –ap­pear­ing on tele­vi­sion on a nightly ba­sis.

In pol­i­tics, Jewish women have held of­fice in Canada since 1974, when Simma Holt was elected as the mem­ber of Par­lia­ment for Van­cou­ver-kingsway, a rid­ing with a small Jewish pop­u­la­tion. Many Jewish women have served, and still do serve, as mem­bers of Par­lia­ment, mem­bers of provin­cial leg­is­la­tures, provin­cial and fed­eral cabi­net min­is­ters, lieu­tenant gov­er­nors and, in­deed, sen­a­tors.

A few months ago, I had the priv­i­lege of spon­sor­ing Se­nate Bill S-232, an Act Re­spect­ing Cana­dian Jewish Her­itage Month, which will for­mal­ize into law an an­nual cel­e­bra­tion of the con­tri­bu­tions of Canada’s Jewish com­mu­nity. The bill re­ceived unan­i­mous con­sent in the Se­nate and will now pass to the House of Com­mons for ap­proval. This bill has proved es­pe­cially salient at a time when we are wit­ness­ing a rise in the num­ber of anti-semitic in­ci­dents in Canada. But Cana­dian Jewish Her­itage Month, once its for­mally es­tab­lished, will also serve as an im­por­tant tool to ed­u­cate our fel­low cit­i­zens about the myr­iad of ways in which Cana­dian Jews have helped to make Canada the great na­tion it is to­day. Telling the sto­ries of the re­mark­able women in our com­mu­nity will be an es­sen­tial part of this ini­tia­tive.

So, on Canada’s 150th birth­day, to our Jewish fore­moth­ers, let us say: thank you. You are re­mem­bered and ap­pre­ci­ated.

Linda Frum is a Con­ser­va­tive sen­a­tor from On­tario.

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