Ben Kayfetz

Ben Kayfetz, [ca. 1970]. Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds 33, series 4, item 20.Born in Toronto in 1916, Benjamin Gershon Kayfetz (1916–2002) was the fourth of five children. He would grow up to become a leading figure in the Jewish community through his work as a Canadian-Jewish public servant, journalist, broadcaster, and human rights activist. He graduated from the University of Toronto in 1939 with an honours bachelor of arts degree in modern languages. He then continued his education at the Ontario Teachers College, graduating in 1940 with a specialization in language teaching. He only spent a brief time teaching between 1941–1943, with a spell spent in Huntsville, followed by Niagara Falls. In 1943, he joined the war effort, taking on a position with the Department of National Defense in Postal Censorship. His main responsibility was reviewing incoming and outgoing mail of POWs or prisoners of war. After the war, Kayfetz stayed on with the Canadian military and was sent to British-occupied Germany in the immediate post-war years. In Germany, he worked as a telecommunications censor for the Control Commission until 1947.

Upon returning to Toronto in 1947, Kayfetz was hired as the National Director of Community Relations by the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), where he worked until 1985. In addition, he also served as the National Director of the Joint Community Relations Committee in 1955 and as the Central Region Executive Director of the CJC in 1973. Ben married his wife Eva Silver in 1954 and over the course of their marriage they had three daughters together: Zena, Tamara, and Rebecca. Kayfetz worked for many years with a variety of different organizations and groups but always with the same theme or goal in mind: to better the Jewish community. He worked with various churches, unions, and minority groups to develop anti-discrimination laws and for the protection of minority and religious rights. He was instrumental in organizing successful campaigns for a passage of legislation banning discrimination in employment and housing, removing nonsectarian teaching from Ontario public schools, and enacting federal anti-hate legislation and legislation dealing with war crimes. He remained one of the Canadian-Jewish community's outspoken advocates in the struggle against antisemitism, Holocaust denial, and racism. Kayfetz was also actively involved in promoting the welfare of Jewish communities worldwide, making visits to Cuba in 1962 and 1965 and Russia in 1985 to study and report on the state of these Jewish communities.

In addition to his professional activities, Kayfetz wrote articles for various Jewish publications under both his own name and the pseudonym Gershon B. Newman. He also gave a weekly radio address on CHIN radio, in which he addressed various contemporary Jewish issues. He was also actively involved in the Toronto Jewish Historical Society, serving as its president and founder; the Canadian Jewish Historical Society; and the Yiddish Luncheon Circle. After his retirement in 1985, he was awarded the Samuel Bronfman Medal by the Canadian Jewish Congress. In recognition of his efforts to promote human rights, he was also awarded the Order of Canada in 1986. Ben Kayfetz died on 15 February 2002 at the age of eighty-five.

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