Led in business, academia and phi­lan­thropy

The Canadian Jewish News (Toronto) - - News - – LAU­REN KRAMER

When Rose Wolfe died at 100 in De­cem­ber 2016, the Cana­dian Jewish com­mu­nity lost a strong leader and a woman at the helm of many social causes. She and her late hus­band, Ray D. Wolfe, made in­valu­able con­tri­bu­tions to Jewish life in Canada, and the re­sult of their work con­tin­ues well into the present time.

Rose was the first Jewish woman to be­come chan­cel­lor of the Uni­ver­sity of Toronto, serv­ing two terms from 1991 to 1997. She served in lead­er­ship roles in mul­ti­ple or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing the United Jewish Ap­peal, Mount Sinai Hos­pi­tal, Cana­dian Jewish Congress, Fed­er­a­tion of Jewish Women’s Or­ga­ni­za­tions and Jewish Fam­ily and Child.

Rose played a sig­nif­i­cant role at the Uni­ver­sity of Toronto, where she’d stud­ied as a stu­dent in the 1930s. She es­tab­lished the Chan­cel­lor Rose and Ray Wolfe Chair in Holo­caust stud­ies, and she shifted em­pha­sis from com­mem­o­ra­tion and emo­tion to study of the Holo­caust as a global aca­demic en­ter­prise.

Rose served as a se­nior fel­low at Massey Col­lege and Uni­ver­sity Col­lege. She also helped shape the uni­ver­sity’s global rep­u­ta­tion, said Michael Mar­rus, pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­tory at the U of T. The uni­ver­sity had been “smug and self-sat­is­fied” prior to Wolfe’s lead­er­ship, Mar­rus said. “Wolfe broke the mold from the stiff up­per-lipped lead­er­ship. She set a new standard for reach­ing out to the com­mu­nity and for do­ing so with warmth and ex­cite­ment and mak­ing every­body feel good. She had grace and style, and those qual­i­ties made for ter­rific lead­er­ship.”

Rose helped bring Jewish donors back to the uni­ver­sity and to dis­pel neg­a­tive feel­ings to­wards the uni­ver­sity based on its his­tor­i­cal record of dis­crim­i­na­tion against Jewish stu­dents. In her hon­our, the uni­ver­sity’s alumni as­so­ci­a­tion es­tab­lished the Rose Wolfe Distin­guished Alumni Award.

Her daugh­ter, El­iz­a­beth, de­scribed her mother as a bridge builder and door opener. “She was formidable, smart and in­tu­itive, and she al­ways made peo­ple feel at ease and that they were im­por­tant,” she re­called. “She had the abil­ity to elicit in­ti­macy with a range of peo­ple, but she never hes­i­tated to speak her mind, chal­lenge con­ven­tional wis­dom and make peo­ple ac­count­able. She chal­lenged them to do bet­ter.”

Rose was hon­oured through­out her life­time for her com­mu­nity lead­er­ship. She re­ceived the Golden Ju­bilee Medal, the Di­a­mond Ju­bilee Medal and the Or­der of On­tario. In 1999, she be­came a mem­ber of the Or­der of Canada.

Ask Skip Sigel about his friend and men­tor, Ray Wolfe (1917-1990), and he’ll tell you Ray “was Canada’s lead­ing Jew in the Cana­dian business world, rec­og­nized as such from Hal­i­fax to Van­cou­ver.” To­gether with his close friends J. Irv­ing Oel­baum, Ben Sad­owski, Mor­ris Kauf­man, Dr. A.A. “Bucky” Ep­stein and oth­ers, Ray founded the Jewish Wel­fare Fund in Toronto at 150 Beverly St., which be­came the head­quar­ters for both Toronto and Cana­dian Jewry. Ray and his friends were life­long Zion­ists and trav­elled to Is­rael con­stantly. “Ray was on a first name ba­sis with Is­rael’s prime min­is­ters, min­is­ters of fi­nance and business lead­ers,” says Sigel. “He was also a ma­jor pro­po­nent of Jewish ed­u­ca­tion here in Toronto and a fa­ther to the nascent Is­rael Bond or­ga­ni­za­tion in Canada.”

Ray was part of a con­sor­tium that bought The Cana­dian Jewish News in 1971 and was its first pres­i­dent. He joined a small fam­ily pro­duce whole­saler, and with his vi­sion and business acu­men, trans­formed it into The Oshawa Group Ltd., a ma­jor cor­po­ra­tion on the Cana­dian land­scape. The com­pany be­came one of the coun­try’s largest food-drug-de­part­ment store busi­nesses and a sup­plier to IGA su­per­mar­kets from coast to coast.

Ray was one of the first Jews to be elected as a di­rec­tor of a ma­jor Cana­dian pub­licly traded cor­po­ra­tion, Cana­dian Pacific Ltd. He was also the first Jew to serve as a di­rec­tor of any of the Cana­dian banks – in his case, the Bank of Nova Sco­tia.

He played a ma­jor role in the Cana­dian Jewish com­mu­nity, serv­ing as chair of both the UJA campaign and the United Jewish Wel­fare Fund. He was de­voted to the pro­mo­tion of business in Is­rael, par­tic­u­larly with the found­ing and de­vel­op­ment of the Su­per­sol chain of gro­cery stores. Ray founded the Canada-is­rael Cham­ber of Com­merce. He also served on the boards of the Cana­dian Friends of Haifa Uni­ver­sity, the Cana­dian-is­rael In­sti­tute for In­dus­trial Re­search and De­vel­op­ment and the Cana­dian Coun­cil of Chris­tians and Jews. Ray was awarded the Or­der of Canada in 1980.

Rose Wolfe

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