TORONTO — Though 60 years have passed since Israel became a state, there are still many members of Toronto’s Jewish community who remember that joyful moment in May 1948 like it was yesterday.
Just a week before a massive 60th Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration sponsored by UJA Federation of Greater Toronto is set to take place in the city – next week at the Ricoh Coliseum on May 8 – two local women and passionate Zionists spoke to The CJN about their recollections of May 8, 1948, in downtown Toronto.
Hindy Hirt, 67, TOP RIGHT, a retired Jewish school teacher who taught at both United Synagogue Day Schools and Bialik over the course of her career, has a vivid memory of the festivities that erupted in Toronto’s Jewish neighbourhoods after the state of Israel was declared.
“I was only seven, just a piskeleh at the time. I don’t remember the actual declaration, but I remember walking down Brunswick Avenue with my father and my uncle and there was this prickling in the air,” Hirt said. “We walked along College Street all the way to Maple Leaf Gardens.”
Hindy Hirt’s commemorative pins and memorabilia from Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations in Toronto over the years. Of note, a 10th anniversary pin sits atop the 50th anniversary handbag.
Once in the Gardens, Hirt said she remembers the “throngs and throngs of people” that just kept pouring in to celebrate the birth of the Jewish state.
Of particular note was the raucous singing of Hatikvah that erupted at the gathering, she said.
“It was the loudest Hatikvah I heard in my life,” Hirt said. “That was my introduction to being a passionate Zionist.”
Hirt added that as a result, she’s been active in support of Israel and of UJA Federation causes ever since, as both a donor and a volunteer on numerous projects over the years.
“I tried to instil in my students my own passion for Israel,” she said.
While Hirt was a young, enthusiastic bystander at the Maple Leaf Gardens celebration back in 1948, she clearly remembers the woman who was on stage, leading the rapturous crowd in the singing of Hatikvah, Bayla Chaikof.
Chaikof, 77, also told The CJN about her memories of the event.
“We were ecstatic, overwhelmed [at the proclamation],” she said. “It was a Friday night and we ran out into the streets… dancing horahs. That Sunday, we [Zionist youth group] students marched to the rally at the Maple Leaf Gardens. My father was the leader of the Labour Zionist Movement in Toronto.”
Chaikof said the feel of the celebration was different back then, adding that the Jewish community wasn’t as “spread out” in Toronto as it is today.
“We were concentrated in the College and Spadina neighbourhood. Remember, three years before, [Holocaust] survivors had started coming to the city,” she said. “A few of the boys at the time, managed to get a truck… with loudspeakers and drove up and down the streets advertising one, that the state of Israel had been declared, and two, there would be a Sunday rally at the Gardens.
“I don’t know why, but I led Hatikvah, and Maple Leaf Gardens looked full to me from on stage. It was a very exciting time for Jews in Toronto.”
Both Chaikof and Hirt said they will be at the 60th anniversary bash next week, happily celebrating Israel’s continued survival and successes to this point.
For more information on the event, visit www.jewishtoronto.com