The Canadian government has officially recognized the national historic significance of two seminal Montreal Jewish writers of the early 20th century, Hirsch Wolofsky and A.M. Klein.
At a ceremony at the Jewish Public Library in Montreal on Nov. 19, two plaques from the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada were unveiled in the presence of members of their families.
“The work of these two men is considered today an invaluable historic testimony of the cultural expression of the Montreal Jewish community of the period,” said Mount Royal MP Anthony Housefather, who encouraged all Canadians to learn more about them.
Laurentides-Labelle MP David de Burgh Graham – who came on behalf of Catherine McKenna, the minister responsible for Parks Canada – added that Wolofsky and Klein “built a lasting legacy in the country’s Jewish community. This is part of my family’s history and I am very proud of it.”
“It is important for all of us, for the current generation, to remember these two men who helped shape the identity of our community,” said Graham, who is Wolofsky’s great-great-grandson (his grandmother, Goldie Wolofsky-Eskenazi, was Hirsch’s grand-daughter).
Jack Wolofsky, Hirsch’s grandson and Goldie’s brother, cited the dedication that Samuel Bronfman wrote in a book he gave to Hirsch Wolofsky in 1943: “To H. Wolofsky, one of the outstanding pioneers of Jewish communal life, both a maker and recorder of Canadian history.” The gift was a limited edition of Stephen Leacock’s Canada: The Foundation of its Future.
An immigrant from Poland, Wolofsky (1876-1949) was a pioneer in Canadian Jewish journalism, who founded the Eagle Publishing Company in 1907. It published the Yiddish-language Keneder Adler and, from 1914, the English-language Canadian Jewish Chronicle.
For more than 40 years, Wolofsky was influential in the establishment and development of such community institutions as the Canadian Jewish Congress, the Jewish Community Council of Montreal, United Talmud Torahs and the Jewish Public Library.
As the government’s backgrounder notes, Wolofsky “worked tirelessly both to educate and defend the interests of Canadian Jews,” especially immigrants and workers. His newspapers also were a platform for Jewish writers, whether in Yiddish or English, thereby helping lay the foundation for Canadian Jewish literature.
Klein (1909-1972), who was born in Ukraine, was also an activist journalist, as well as a lawyer, but is best remembered for his poetry. His writing expressed “the reality, traditions, difficulties and hopes of Montreal Jews in the first half of the 20th century,” as well as the feelings of a generation that witnessed the destruction of European Jewry and the creation of the State of Israel, notably in his 1951 novel, The Second Scroll.
‘These two men helped shape the identity of our community.’
He was the first Jew to receive a prestigious Canadian literary award – the Governor General’s Award in 1949. His influence was felt well beyond the Jewish community. Today, Klein is considered to have helped shape English-Canadian literature as a whole.
His sons, Sandor and Colman Klein, were present for the ceremony.
Where the plaques will hang permanently has yet to be determined, said Kay Wolofsky, Jack’s wife. Both families would like to see them in Jeanne Mance Park, near the Georges-Etienne Cartier Monument. The park, on the eastern slope of Mount Royal, is near the heart of the old Jewish neighbourhood of the Plateau.
She said the next meeting to finalize its location with Parks Canada is set for April.