One of the last vestiges of Yiddish writing in Toronto has narrowly escaped being erased.
One of the part owners of the new tea house replacing the old Mandel’s Creamery near Kensington Market has told Dara Solomon of the Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre (OJA) that he will co-operate and give the window with the Yiddish lettering to the OJA.
The Yiddish lettering that for decades has adorned a glass window at a storefront at 29 Baldwin St., which is located in the former Jewish neighbourhood near Kensington Market, translates to “Eggs, cheese, cream cheese, made fresh every day.”
The sign, believed to be the last commercial Yiddish sign in the city, is a remnant of the shop’s former incarnation as Mandel’s Creamery, a Jewish family-run dairy store that operated from 1915 to 1970. Mandel’s was one of the many Jewish businesses run in the neighbourhood by Eastern European Jewish immigrants in the first half of the 20th century.
Though the Yiddish lettering was preserved for decades by the non-Jewish business that succeeded Mandel’s, John’s Italian Caffe, the latter’s recent closure and sale to new owners has put the fate of the historic sign in peril, says Dara Solomon, director of the Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre (OJA).
The new owners are, according to posters put up overtop the storefront’s windows – Yiddish lettering included – opening an artisanal bubble tea house in the space in September.
The Yiddish lettering originally found on Mandel’s Creamery may be given to the OJA for preservation. JODIE SHUPAC PHOTO
Solomon said the OJA, which on July 3 launched a social media campaign to garner support for the sign’s preservation, finally met, on July 10, with one of the part owners of the new tea house after several unsuccessful attempts to reach them, and was told by him that he understands the significance of the sign to the Jewish community and will fully co-operate with the glass window being removed and given to OJA for preservation.
He also told her that before the owners were told about the sign’s historic significance, a contractor had scraped off one of the letters.
“When we asked if we would consider leaving [the sign] in place, he said he would discuss with his partner and designer,” Solomon said, noting her relief.
On July 8, before OJA had managed to reach the owners, the organization posted a blog on its website calling on the Jewish community to spread the word about the sign’s relevance and to financially contribute to the organization’s efforts to preserve local Jewish heritage such as this.
The goal of the campaign, Solomon had explained, is to either persuade the new owners to keep the lettering on the window or allow the OJA to pay for the window’s removal.
Though the first option was her first choice, Solomon said, in the case of the latter, OJA would like to use the window to create some sort of monument to Yiddish language in the neighbourhood.
“It would be an educational piece about how Yiddish was once the language of these streets,” she said.
Brent Pearlman, a commercial realtor with Royal LePage and an active volunteer at Kensington Market’s Kiever Synagogue, told The CJN on July 8 that he went to check out the Baldwin street building after hearing about the sale and was “stricken” to discover the Yiddish sign had been covered.
“People sitting at the café next door told me the lettering had been scraped off. I didn’t do further investigation but let Dara [Solomon] know right away,” Pearlman said.
He subsequently returned and found, after looking at the window from a different angle, that the lettering hadn’t been removed, but was simply covered up.
“The question is, would the letters be recoverable [in light of] the stickiness of the decal over it?” he wondered.
Pearlman stressed that based on what he’s heard from contacts in the real estate business, English is not the first language of the new buyers, and the obscuring up of the sign can almost certainly be chalked up to a “language thing… a cultural chasm” and is not deliberate.