The Removal and Preservation of the Mandel's Creamery Window


The word “community” is the wireless password at Bicerin, the charming coffee place, a few stores down from 29 Baldwin Street where this morning, the Ontario Jewish Archives oversaw the careful removal of the original hand-painted Yiddish sign from Mandel’s Creamery that had remained there for over 70 years. 

As I walked away with my coffee, I smiled at this chosen password, given what we were about to do in the next hour. Baldwin Village, a designated heritage neighbourhood, is a thriving assortment of independent bookstores, record shops, noodle houses, new age boutiques, an Asian Gelateria. This is indeed a community, and an increasingly rare one in our Starbucks-saturated city.

I began to consider the various meanings of the word “community” that we toss around so frequently. I think about the heartfelt and helpful response of the community when the OJA first raised awareness about the potential threat to this last Yiddish sign of the once thriving Jewish neighbourhood.

When, just 10 days ago, the OJA was asked by the owners of Formocha, the incoming business at 29 Baldwin Street, to remove the window, a very different community came together to ensure its safe removal. Within hours, through the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s Real Estate Division, led by David Sadowski, the Ontario Jewish Archives was connected with a trustworthy glass company who brought their best people out to do the job. And through the OJA’s connections with the Heritage Community, we had a number of consultants eagerly sharing their expertise on how to handle the removal and ensure its long term preservation. They, too, sent their people this morning to aid with this job. For this community of people that quickly reacted and responded, we are grateful.

And, of course, I think about this Jewish community of new immigrants that once thrived on these streets--the community that used to buy their butter and cheese at Mandel’s Creamery, their blueberry buns and Shabbat Challahs at various bakeries, the street peddlers, the legendary live chickens. The smells of the community! And, I hear the sounds as well—the Yiddish that was once spoken on these streets. During this period (roughly 1920-50s), there were three Yiddish newspapers printed and read locally in Toronto, including a daily—The Yiddisher Zshurnal. It was the mother tongue that brought all these immigrants together in this community. Unfortunately, it was not passed on to their children as the parents wanted their children to assimilate—to learn English, to be Canadian, part of that community. Gey Gezunt.

The Yiddish language is long gone from this neighbourhood. And, the removal of this sign—the last remnant—saddens me. However, we will work with Formocha to install a reproduction of the window so that the origins of its  location is remembered. And, the OJA will preserve the sign and find a way to create a tribute to this language of the past in Baldwin Village, to remind us of the many layers that make up our city of newcomers.

The OJA is incredibly grateful for the cooperation of the owners of Formocha and the considerable support received from the Mandel family. And, as always, I am grateful for my OJA community--Archivists Donna Bernardo-Ceriz and Melissa Caza. If you have further questions, please contact ojainquiries@ujafed.org.  

Dara Solomon

Director, Ontario Jewish Archives

Update on Mandel's Creamery Window

I wanted to give you an update on the Mandel Creamery window on Baldwin Street – the last remaining Yiddish sign in the former Jewish neighbourhood that flourished in the 1930s and 40s.

When John’s Italian Caffe closed its doors at 29 Baldwin Street, there was concern that the Mandel Creamery sign would be lost. But I write to let you know that a solution has been reached with the owners of Formocha – the new owner – to preserve and protect the window.

More information here: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2015/07/12/yiddish-sign-survives-threat-to-last-vestige-of-jewish-enclave-on-baldwin.html 

After ongoing conversations, the owners of Formocha – who are currently rebuilding much of the interior of the space – have asked the Ontario Jewish Archives to come remove and preserve the window. Formocha’s owners understand the significance of the window and thankfully do not want to risk damaging it during the extensive renovations.

The removal by a professional glazing firm will likely happen next week. To ensure the preservation of the window and sign, the Ontario Jewish Archives are working with heritage consultants and professional art handlers during the process.

We are proud that our efforts to raise community awareness and support helped to highlight the importance of this sign and the need for its preservation. Our plan is to preserve the glass while exploring options for creating a tribute to the Yiddish language in the former Jewish neighbourhood.

We are incredibly grateful for the cooperation of the owners of Formocha and the considerable support from the Mandel family. If you have further questions, please contact ojainquiries@ujafed.org.  

Dara Solomon

Director, Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Heritage Centre

Mandel's Creamery Window

For close to 100 years, the hand-painted Yiddish writing from Mandel's Creamery at 29 Baldwin Street advertised "..Eggs, cheese, cream cheese, made fresh everyday...".

Unless swift action is taken, this historic sign - and a very real and visible connection to the past - will be gone from this once vibrant Jewish neighbourhood.

In the collections of the Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Heritage Centre (OJA), the sign appears in the backdrop of a number of photos through the decades. The window is a regular stop on the OJA's "Sense of Spadina" Walking Tour, an opportunity to see the the last remnant of Yiddish in this former Jewish neighbourhood that teemed with butcher shops, cafes, labour union offices, and community buildings - where Yiddish was the predominant language on the street.

Though Mandel’s Creamery closed in the late 1970s, John's Italian Caffe, a charming “checkered-tablecloth-red-sauce" restaurant protected the Yiddish writing, integrating it into its identity. In the summer, patio patrons ate Margheritta pizzas in front of the Yiddish writing - a beautiful co-mingling of cultures across time.

When the OJA learned that John's Italian Caffe had sold to new owners, efforts were made to reach out to them, but were unsuccessful. On July 2, we heard that the Yiddish writing had been scraped off. Fortunately, this was not so. It appears that the writing remains on the glass, hopefully sandwiched safely between a window-covering sticker advertising the coming of the new business, a Taiwan-style tea shop called FormoCha.

The OJA is making efforts to reach out to the new owners in an effort to preserve the sign in the current location. If they are not interested in keeping the Yiddish writing on the glass, the OJA will raise money to have the window removed, preserved and, hopefully, re-installed in a public monument. 

As OJA's mandate is to collect, preserve and make accessible the documentary resources of the Jewish communities across Ontario - it is incumbent upon us to preserve this sign.

We need help to do that. We hope you will help us protect this window. There are two things we are asking.  

1. Share this blog post through social media using #MandelsCreamery.

2. Help us financially to continue our efforts to preserve our local Jewish heritage through efforts like this. Donate online.

If you have questions about how else to get involved, please contact me directly ojainquiries@ujafed.org.

My Eyes Have Seen: Remembering Nir Bareket

Last week, a shining light went dark when we lost our dear friend Israeli-born photographer Nir Bareket (1939-2015). Knowing that we can no longer see the world through his lens, fills me with a deep sadness. Nir brought our attention to important societal issues like homelessness, the perplexity of the prison system, and the peril and beauty of urban life. The sensitivity he brought to these subjects and his keen ability to draw our eyes towards people and places that we look away from was powerful. He made us see. And in this seeing, we gained truth and wisdom.

After a stint in commercial photography on Madison Ave in the 1960s, and a return home to Jerusalem as chief photographer of the Israel Museum, Nir settled in Toronto in 1975. Decades of photographic achievement in the theatrical, commercial, industrial, and architectural world was combined with teaching photography. In 1994, Nir was commissioned by the March of the Living to photograph the annual trip of Canadian students marching from Auschwitz to Birkenau culminating with the celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day) in Israel. This important portfolio is part of the OJA’s collection. Nir brilliantly captured this transformative experience, illuminating how the impact of the Holocaust becomes etched in the DNA of these young Jews as they approach adulthood.

When I joined the OJA in 2012 and saw this collection for the first time, I was immediately moved. I wanted to see more of Nir’s work. We met. We talked. We looked. We talked. And, we looked some more. Over the brief period that I got to know Nir, I admired his thoughtfulness and his soulful spirit. He was an encouraging colleague and a friend. He was a good listener and in our conversations, I could feel him listening. It was something in his eyes and in his stillness. I think this ability to listen closely is deeply connected to his talent as a photographer. This listening allowed him to see differently -- deeply. And, I am grateful that he shared what he saw with us, through his photographs. Over the past three years and up until his parting, we were making plans to work on a project together at the OJA that explored the Jewish businesses and people of Bathurst Street. I will miss my talks with Nir and as I drive up Bathurst Street, I am reminded to look, and to watch, and to see as he would have.

Dara Solomon                                                                                                        

Director, Ontario Jewish Archives, May 21, 2015

Why is this night different than all other nights?

Celebrating Passover at the Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre

For decades, Passover has been the most widely celebrated holiday on the Jewish calendar. And, the sheer volume of Passover-related records in the collection of the Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre is evidence of this phenomenon. There is a wide variety of Passover-related material from both private and institutional records.

Passover Seder at Fort Brady (Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan), [ca. 1942]. Ontario Jewish Archives, item 4819.There are a number of photographs of large-scale Seders organized for Jewish servicemen and women during the Second World War. This photo is from a Seder held at Fort Brady military base in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan in 1942. It was attended by military personnel from both the United States and Canada and Rabbi Fishman of Congregation Beth Jacob in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario led the Seder. Canadian Winston Rubinoff attends a 1943 Seder for army personnel at the Balfour Club near Trafalgar Square in London, England.  There are also photographs of a Seder in Prince George, British Columbia on April 3, 1944, also for military personnel.

In the collection are records documenting the very meticulous preparation required for the holiday. Included are contracts for the sale of chametz in accordance with the restriction of eating "leaven" -- any food that's made of grain and water that has been allowed to ferment and “rise” during Passover.  This includes bread, cereal, cake, cookies, pizza, pasta, and beer. In the records of community leader Solomon Edell, a pharmacist, we find contracts that permitted him to sell chametz in his pharmacy during Passover. A Passover Kashruth seminar organized by COR was held at the Shaarei Shomayim Synagogue in 1982.

Preparation of the holiday also includes the baking of the matzah and we have a wonderful collection of photographs from the 1940s opening of the Gula Matzah Factory on Monarch Road in Toronto’s Junction area in 1948. The photographs include leaders from the Orthodox community watching in awe as the machines churn out the matzah on an assembly line. 

There are also photographs of Seders held by families around the province of Ontario—north, south, east and west—the Dubinsky family of Kirkland, a model Passover Seder at the Beth David Synagogue in Brantford; the Davidson family Seder in 1912 in Burks Falls. Eddie and Brian Greenspan describe their family Seders in Niagara Falls, Ontario in a recorded oral history.

The OJA documents community-organized Passover initiatives that demonstrate how the holiday’s relevance is renewed each year by recognizing and helping those who are still unable to practice religious freedoms in their countries. During the 1960s, the Central Region of the Canadian Jewish Congress began sending relief shipments to Cuban Jews unable to acquire kosher foods for Passover. The National Council of Jewish Women also organized Passover food drives in Toronto.

In 1986 the Committee for Soviet Jewry, part of the Canadian Jewish Congress, organized a Passover Poster Contest for Hebrew Day School students that raised awareness around the plight of the Refuseniks unable to leave the Soviet Union. And, in 1990 the UJA’s Walk for Israel created a special Operation Exodus Haggadah for Passover which included a fifth question to be asked at Passover Seders that year.  The answer:

“As we observe this festival of freedom we are heartened to be part of the largest exodus of soviet Jews in recent history. For decades Soviet Jews resisted suppression with faith. Struggling to live as Jews, many sought valiantly to leave for Israel, the land of redemption. Many suffered harassment and some endured prison…. At last, many are allowed to go free. We walk with them in their exodus. At our Seder, we commit ourselves to accompany our fellow Jews on their road to freedom, pledging the assistance they require now and in the future, for we do not know how long the door of freedom will remain open.” (Fonds 67: 17-1-16)

Check out our Facebook Page during Passover to see many of the photos mentioned here.

Share your Passover stories and photos. To donate material, email: ojadonations@ujafed.org 

From all of us at the Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, we wish you and your families a very healthy and happy Passover. Chag Sameach!



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