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!



Two Decorated Brothers: Leo and David Heaps at the OJA

Highlights of the Heaps Family Accessions

The stories of the only Jewish brothers to receive the Royal Military Cross during the Second World War are found at the Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre (OJA). Born in Winnipeg in 1916 and 1923 respectively, David and Leo Heaps were the sons of the politician A. A. and Bessie Heaps (nee Morris). Prior to enlisting in the Canadian army in 1942, David Heaps worked as a journalist. In 1943, he was promoted to Sergeant and served in the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division in the Allied Expeditionary Force. He was the only soldier in his regiment to serve for the entire European campaign, and fought at Caen, Channel Ports, Brussels, Antwerp, Falaise Gap, the Schelde and the final campaigns in Holland and Northern Germany.

Ontario Jewish Archives, accession 2012-4/2.

David and Leo Heaps with their father, A.A. Heaps on leave from the front in London, Feb. 1944.

Ontario Jewish Archives, accession 2012-4/2.

Leo Heaps received his education at Queen's University, the University of California, and McGill University. At the age of 21, during the Second World War, he was seconded to the British Army and found himself commanding the 1st Parachute Battalion's Transport. He participated in the Battle of Arnhem (1944) as a paratrooper. He was captured by the Germans and upon his escape, he went on to participate in the Dutch underground resistance movement, whose members helped him cross over enemy lines and rejoin the war. Leo Heaps was awarded the Royal Military Cross for his work with the Dutch Resistance. David also achieved the same distinction, thereby making them the only Jewish brothers during the Second World War to win the decoration.

After the war, Heaps went to Israel and aided their army in the establishment of mobile striking units. Whilst there, he met his wife-to-be, Tamar. Together they had one son, Adrian, and three daughters, Karen, Gillian, and Wendy. During the Hungarian Revolution, Heaps led a special rescue team to bring refugees out and across the border. In the mid-1960s he returned to Britain where he dabbled in various entrepreneurial projects as well as writing several books, notably The Grey Goose of Arnhem, telling his own story of Arnhem, the aftermath of the battle, and also the stories of other Arnhem evaders and their dealings with the Resistance. Leo Heaps spent most of his life in Toronto, Canada, and was amongst the forty Canadian veterans who returned to Arnhem in 1994 to mark the 50th anniversary. He died in 1995

Ontario Jewish Archives, accession 2012-2/4.

Paratroopers before landing in Holland, Sept. 1944.

Ontario Jewish Archives, accession 2012-2/4.

David and Leo’s father Abraham Albert Heaps (1885-1954) known as A. A. Heaps, was the founder of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the forerunner of the New Democratic Party. He was arrested for his involvement in the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, but later acquitted of all charges. He began his political career as an alderman and member of the Trade Union Council and later was elected to the federal House of Commons representing Winnipeg North. He fought against antisemitism and quotas and advocated for the acceptance of Jewish refugees in Canada. He was defeated in 1940 and retired from public life and lived the rest of his days in Montreal.

Over the years, Leo Heaps’ son Adrian has donated records to the Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre related to both his father’s and uncle’s military service and more peripherally, to his grandfather’s political life. This includes extraordinary photographs, military currency, business cards, manuscripts, postcards, as well as war-time correspondence between the brothers and with their father A.A. Heaps. In the most recent accession, there is also a 1948 letter from Leo to Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, discussing some issues he was experiencing with the Israeli army. Preserved for future generations and the thousands of people that do research at the OJA, these records document the extraordinary contributions made by the Heaps family. Through them, we gain an intimate view into various world events of the past century. 

Renovation Schedule at the OJA

As many of you already know, the OJA was the fortunate recipient of a Canada Cultural Spaces Fund grant from the Government of Canada with a matching gift from the Blankenstein family. This grant is allowing us to renovate our vault and public space in order to better serve our community into the future. Renovations are inherently disruptive but the staff of the OJA will do our best to minimize the effects. The following is our renovation schedule and how it affects you:

Pre-Renovation Closure: Dec. 15-Dec. 23

This clousre is necessary to allow us time to pack up our offices and reference collection and prepare the vault for the move. We will be closed to researchers and will not be accepting new donations of archival materials. If your need is urgent, please contact us and we will try to accomodate you.

Holiday Closure: Dec. 24-Jan. 2

The OJA will be closed over the Chistmas and New Year holiday period.

Vault Move: Jan. 5-Jan. 6

These two days have been dedicated to the move of our archival material. Thousands of boxes of textual records, over 60,000 photographs, our films, oral histories, and shelving will be moved out of our space to be housed in temporary quarters until the renovations are complete. Our collections will be inaccessible during these two days.

Renovations and Move Back: Jan. 7-March 31

OJA staff will continue to have access to our collections during the renovation period. We will do our best to accomodate your research requests in a timely manner. On-site research will be available for those who need direct access to the records. Donations of new material will be accepted.

Please contact us if you have any questions or would like to discuss your needs with an archivist. Thank you for your patience and we look forward to seeing you in our new space in April!

OJA Receives Capital Grant from the Government of Canada

The Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre (OJA) is pleased to announce that we are the recipient of $195,100 from the Canadian Government through the Canada Cultural Spaces Fund for the renovation of our vault and public space. The announcement was made yesterday by Member of Parliament Mark Adler (York Centre) on behalf of the Honourable Shelly Glover, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages.

 “We are pleased to provide funding for the Ontario Jewish Archives, an important cultural space in our community that hosts a significant collection of artifacts documenting the contributions of the Jewish community in Canada,” Adler said in a statement.

This grant will support the installation of a modern, dedicated HVAC for the OJA vault as well as new lighting, monitoring system and compact and moveable shelving that will provide the archives with more storage space and better environmental conditions. The project will also update the public areas, creating a more comfortable and efficient space for researchers and staff. This grant is matched by funds generously provided to the OJA by the Blankenstein family.

 “The OJA is the largest professionally maintained repository of Jewish archival material in Canada. We have over 5000 cubic feet of textual material and 60,000 photographs. We also hold films, oral histories, artifacts and newspapers,” says Dara Solomon, Director of the OJA. “We have an obligation to ensure that these treasures are managed according to best practices and under optimal conditions. As a result of this grant, the OJA will be better positioned to continue our important work of preserving, collecting and sharing the stories of our community into the future.”

Left to right: Jackie Shulman, OJA Foundation Board of Directors; Mark Adler, MP; Dara Solomon, Director of the OJA.

Mark Adler, MP, makes the announcement on site at the OJA.

Left to right: Jackie Shulman, OJA Foundation Board of Directors; Mark Adler, MP; Dara Solomon, Director of the OJA.