Healer of Toronto’s Jewish com­mu­nity

The Canadian Jewish News (Toronto) - - News - – BILL GLAD­STONE

Dorothy Gold­stick (later Dworkin) donned the mod­est white cap of a ma­ter­nity nurse in 1909, but her ac­com­plish­ments ranged from char­i­ta­ble work and phi­lan­thropy, to business, pub­lish­ing and in­sti­tu­tion build­ing on a scale that ben­e­fited the en­tire city of Toronto.

A driv­ing force behind the es­tab­lish­ment of Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hos­pi­tal, Dworkin was des­ig­nated a Per­son of Na­tional His­toric Im­por­tance by the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment sev­eral years back – a des­ig­na­tion, as then-en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter Jim Prentice said at the time, that “will help to en­sure that her im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tions to Canada’s rich cul­tural her­itage are ap­pre­ci­ated and re­mem­bered by fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.”

Dworkin took her first ride in an au­to­mo­bile while going to de­liver a baby with Dr. Sa­muel Lavine, Toronto’s first Jewish doc­tor, who cranked the mo­tor fran­ti­cally to get it started. “I told Dr. Lavine how thrilled I was to drive in a car, but he sug­gested that I should not count my chick­ens be­fore they hatched,” Dworkin later re­called. “One never knew whether the car would keep going or for how long.”

Many Jewish im­mi­grants, Dworkin found, were ter­ri­fied of hos­pi­tals, re­gard­ing them as a tem­po­rary stop be­fore the ceme­tery. She fi­nally per­suaded one poor woman, who was in pro­longed labour for two days, that a hos­pi­tal would be a bet­ter place for her than her tiny, im­pov­er­ished home. “The am­bu­lance ar­rived, the pa­tient was on the stretcher – but at the last minute, she pan­icked. Her baby came quickly af­ter that … a healthy, nor­mal child.”

Around 1909, Dworkin took a lead role in open­ing a med­i­cal dis­pen­sary in a neigh­bour­hood full of re­cently ar­rived Jewish fam­i­lies. The dis­pen­sary proved pop­u­lar be­cause the staff spoke Yid­dish and vis­its cost only 50 cents, in­stead of the $1 charged at other fa­cil­i­ties. Drugs were sup­plied by the Hash­mall phar­macy.

She left the dis­pen­sary in 1911, when she mar­ried Henry (Harry) Dworkin, but the im­pe­tus for a Jewish hos­pi­tal, where elderly pa­tients might re­ceive kosher meals and be un­der­stood in Yid­dish, re­mained strong. Af­ter a decade of fund-rais­ing and plan­ning, Dworkin – in league with the Ezras Noshem women’s char­ity and a group of Jewish doc­tors who were eager for a place where they might be al­lowed to prac­tice – opened the Toronto Jewish Ma­ter­nity and Con­va­les­cent Hos­pi­tal at 100 Yorkville Ave.

Ezras Noshem had raised $12,000 – “most of it in nick­els and dimes,” ac­cord­ing to his­to­rian Les­ley Mar­rus Barsky – for the down payment on the $35,000 build­ing, an ag­ing struc­ture that had al­ready served as a pri­vate hos­pi­tal for decades. The orig­i­nal 20-bed fa­cil­ity, which be­came the first Mount Sinai, is no longer stand­ing; the hos­pi­tal façade that is vis­i­ble on Yorkville to­day was the re­sult of a 1935 ex­pan­sion. Dworkin was again on hand when the new and much-ex­panded Mount Sinai opened on Uni­ver­sity Av­enue in 1953.

Trag­i­cally, Dworkin be­came a widow in 1928, when Henry Dworkin was killed by an au­to­mo­bile. A busi­ness­man and founder of the Labour Lyceum, and a friend to count­less im­mi­grants whom he and Dorothy helped, Henry’s rep­u­ta­tion was such that his fu­neral cortege drew an es­ti­mated 15,000 to 20,000 spec­ta­tors.

Dworkin took over her late hus­band’s phil­an­thropic and business af­fairs, which in­cluded a travel and steamship agency, bank and tobacco shop, of which a prof­itable side business was im­port­ing and sell­ing daily Yid­dish news­pa­pers at street kiosks around the city. In 1935, Dworkin be­gan pub­lish­ing a small Yid­dish news­pa­per, the Keneder Nayes (Cana­dian News), which was dis­trib­uted as a free in­sert in the Yid­dish pa­pers that ar­rived each morn­ing from New York.

Thus, Dworkin main­tained a sig­nif­i­cant in­flu­ence over the Yid­dish-speak­ing com­mu­nity of Toronto, at least un­til 1954, when the pa­per folded. This im­por­tant as­pect of her ca­reer is spot­lighted for the first time in the re­cent book, The Jewish Hour: The Golden Age of a Toronto Yid­dish Ra­dio Show and News­pa­per, by Michael Man­del.

“The story of Dorothy Dworkin,” said then-im­mi­gra­tion min­is­ter Ja­son Ken­ney at the cer­e­mony hon­our­ing Dworkin as a Per­son of Na­tional His­toric Im­por­tance, “is a fine ex­am­ple of how im­mi­grants in­flu­enced the his­tory of Canada and helped make it the rich and di­verse coun­try it is to­day.”


Dr. Si­mon G. Fines and Dorothy Dworkin.

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