Bill Gladstone

A Second Look at Harari’s ‘Sapiens’ (2018)

Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind has proven to be one of the most thought-provoking non-fiction books published in recent years. It’s such a stimulating book that I reread it recently. Originally written in Hebrew, the English-language version of Sapiens appeared in 2014 and quickly became a publishing sensation. Having dominated the…

Rhea Clyman chronicled Soviet famine

Rhea Clyman, an accomplished journalist born to a Jewish family in Toronto in 1904, wrote many front-page newspaper stories in the late 1920s and 1930s about political events and their tragic human consequences in Russia, Ukaine and Germany, but died in near-obscurity in New York in 1981. Clyman wrote rare and chilling eyewitness accounts of…

Mary Berg and the Warsaw Ghetto

Four years ago, a Pennsylvanian antiques collector purchased a trove of old scrapbooks and photo albums at an estate sale in the town of Red Lion, Pa. The cache, which included hundreds of photographs including some taken in the Warsaw Ghetto between 1940 and 1943, cost only $10. Discovering that the material was related to…

Jewish Soldiers of World War One

The number of Jews who fought in the First World War has always been difficult to tally because Jews fought on both sides and in multiple armies involved in the conflict. On the Allied side, at least 500,000 Jews served in the Russian Army, about 250,000 served in the United States Army, roughly 50,000 in…

A ‘robust, new’ history of Jews in Canada

Seeking the Fabled City: the Canadian Jewish Experience, by Allan Levine (McClelland & Stewart) Proficient, prolific, and preternaturally talented, Winnipeg-based historian Allan Levine has produced a robust new history of the Jewish experience in Canada that seems both compelling and fresh. Seeking the Fabled City — the title comes from a line by the late…

Archaeology of Toronto’s ‘Ward’

The Ward Uncovered: The Archaeology of Everyday Life, edited by Holly Martelle, Michael McClelland, Tatum Taylor, and John Lorinc. (Coach House Books, 2018) In recent years the history of the old “Ward” neighbourhood of downtown Toronto has been reclaimed and remembered in books, museum exhibits, and, most significantly, a vast archaeological dig behind City Hall…

Visiting my ancestral towns in Belarus

From the Canadian Jewish News, 2018 Zhlobin, in the Minsk province of Belarus, was the birthplace of my maternal grandmother, Esther Arnoff Naftolin, who was born there about 1895. Her grandfather, Binyamin Rubinowicz, had been a blacksmith in Zhlobin, and she had had many uncles, aunts and cousins there as well. She left as a…

Toronto City Guide befits a great city

Toronto Architecture: A City Guide (McClelland & Stewart) From the Canadian Jewish News, February 2018 In 1985, when architectural journalist Patricia McHugh released the first edition of her encyclopedic Toronto Architecture: A City Guide, the old industrial and residential neighbourhoods near the downtown core were still in decline, and, although the city was experiencing a…

Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut: An Appreciation

From the Canadian Jewish News, 2017 From the moment in 1961 that he stepped into the role, Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut was always much more than rabbi of the esteemed historic Reform congregation, Holy Blossom Temple of Toronto. It was entirely Toronto’s gain and St. Paul Minnesota’s loss when Holy Blossom enticed Rabbi Plaut here,…

Obit: Simcha Simchovitch, eminent Yiddish writer (2017)

From Canadian Jewish News, July 2017 Simcha Simchovitch, a Polish-born Holocaust survivor and prominent poet and writer in both Yiddish and English, died in Toronto on July 12, 2017 at the age of 97. The winner of various literary prizes including several Canadian Jewish Book Awards and two I.J. Segal awards for Yiddish Literature, Simchovitch…