Snapshot of Jewish education in Toronto, 1917

From the Toronto Daily Star, August 11, 1917

Workmen's Circle School, undated photo

Toronto Jews Foster the Higher Education

Schools Many, and No One Is Neglected Among the City’s 35,000 Hebrews


Hebrew and Yiddish Taught, and a Yiddish Paper is Published

Although the Jewish population in Toronto forms but one-sixteenth part of the entire city’s population, there being approximately 35,000 Jews here, yet they produce a sufficient amount of activity and “pep” to arouse one’s attention. When one examines all the various institutions they have established within the past few years, one cannot but help admiring their vivacity and accomplishments.

Nine Large Synagogues

That they are religious can quite easily be inferred from the number of places of worship they have in Toronto. They possess nine large synagogues, including one at the Junction. Each as a capacity of about 1,000. There are six rabbis; one is reformed, the others are orthodox. In addition to the synagogues, there are also over twenty-five “minyanim” (small places of worship) scattered over the city. Many Jews, living at a great distance from a local synagogue, find it much more convenient for them to attend a nearby “minyan,” as the latter are much more proportionately distributed throughout the various parts of the city.

The Jewish education of the youngster is also carefully attended to by his parents. Most of the rich Jewry employ private tutors to give their children a fair grounding in Hebrew, so that they can read the prayer book (it is written in Hebrew, not Yiddish).

For these children whose parents cannot afford to engage a private tutor, there are four “Talmud Torahs” (public schools). The oldest and largest of these institutions is that on Simcoe Street, of which Mr. Ben Zion Nathanson has been principal for many years.

Besides these public schools, there are also over 36 private schools (chedorim). At all of these schools the curriculum of study consists of Hebrew and religious knowledge.

There is also a Jewish school in Toronto which does not teach religion, although it is not opposed to it. This is the well-known “Perez Schule” on Beverley street, of which Mr. Aaron Bromberg is the head teacher. This school differs from the others in two respects: firstly, as has been said, no religion is taught there. Secondly, special stress is laid on the Yiddish language, and not Hebrew.

The authorities of the institution claim that children, in order to grow up good and obedient, must understand the language of their parents, which is Yiddish. The children are taught there Jewish history and literature. Hebrew is introduced in the senior classes. This school was founded in 1911 and now has 360 pupils in attendance. It also has a branch at the Junction, where 100 children are enrolled.

Sunday Schools, Too

The Toronto Jews also boast of several Sunday schools. The oldest and most progressive is that conducted by Mr. Edmund Scheuer, at the Zionist Institute. It was founded in 1908, with an enrolment of only 21 girls (it is a girls’ school). There are now 426 pupils. An average attendance is 280.

House in Junction used to be Peretz shul

The Sunday school next in rank is that formerly conducted by Rev. Dr. Julius J. Price at the University Avenue Synagogue. At both of these schools the curriculum of study consists in giving the pupils a fair knowledge of the history of the Jews, the commandments, codes, holidays, and the like.

Recently the “Young Judaea” movement was introduced in Toronto by Mrs. J. Selick, Messrs. A. Cohen, L. Goldstick, and Sam Factor. This movement aims to revive the Hebrew language, culture, and literature.

What is “Yiddish”? Do the Toronto Jews speak Yiddish or Hebrew? Yiddish is a hybrid of Middle High German and Hebrew. To this may also be added an additional super-stratum of Slavonic origin. In Toronto there are about 20,000 speaking Yiddish, the rest converse in English.

Although Hebrew is not spoken, yet there are two local societies with a membership of about 400 Jews, where the meetings are conducted entirely in Hebrew. The sole object of these societies is to promulgate the study of the Hebrew language and literature throughout the city. One of the most active members of this movement is Mr. Archie B. Bennett, M.A.

Yiddish Paper Printed

The Toronto Jews have also a Yiddish paper, called “The Toronto Hebrew Journal,” of which Mr. Harry Winberg is president and general manager. Although this organ was founded by four years ago, yet Mr. Winberg has managed to make it a success.

There are also two Jewish public libraries. The Sholem Aleichem Bibliotheque is situated at No. 5 St. Patrick Street. It has a handsome collection of books. Mr. S. Katz is librarian. The other library, “The Yiddische Socialistische Bibliotheque,” was founded in 1907.

Among prominent Jewish citizens of Toronto who have done much for the up-building of the various local Jewish institutions are: H. Dworkin, founder of the free soup kitchen for the poor; Edmund Scheuer, president of the Federation of Jewish Charities of Toronto; Bernard Stone, president of the Toronto Zionists; H. Winberg, proprietor of the Jewish Journal; Ald. L. M. Singer, ex-president of the Toronto Zionists, and chairmand of the Palestinian Tag Day; Moses Gelber, a liberal donator to the various funds in aid of the war sufferers; Rabbi Jacobs, of Bond Street synagogue; Rabbi Gordon of McCaul Street and University Avenue Synagogue; Rabbi Weinreb, of Teraulay Street Synagogue; Jacob Cohen, J.P.; Mrs. J. Selick, social worker; M. Goldstick, chairman of the Jewish Congress; E. Pullan, and Benzion Nathanson, principal of the “Talmud Torah” (school).

The local Jews may be divided into two groups, the Zionists and the non-Zionists. The former, including the “Poalei” (Socialistic) Zionists, number about 1,800 approximately. They look toward the segregation of the Jewish people upon a national basis, and in a particular home of its own.

In other words, the movement seeks for the Jews a “publicly and legally assured home in Palestine.” Money is continually collected from the members of the various Zionist associations, which are seventeen in number in Toronto, and sent to Palestine. Last year the local Zionists sent away over ten thousand dollars. They buy land in Palestine from the individual owners, which becomes the property of the Jewish people.

Moses Gelber

There are about 100 local Jewish organizations, such as clubs, societies, unions, and the like. There is a Jewish Professional Men’s Society, of which Dr. M. Schwartz is president. This society was founded two years ago, and now has about forty members, including nine physicians, five dentists, thirteen lawyers, three druggists, two architects, one college lecturer, and three S. P. S. graduates. At the Toronto University there is a “Yiddish Club,” of which Prof. W. R. Taylor, Ph.D., is honourary president.

There is also a Toronto Hebrew Student’s Association. Among the most progressive is the “Herzl Boys Club,” organized by Alexander Schatz five years ago. Most of these clubs hold their meetings at the Zionist Institute, 206 Beverley Street. ♦

More than 90% of pupils at McCaul Street School are Jewish (1910)

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The following article, from the Globe and Mail of March 21, 1922, also emphasizes the high importance that Jewish parents put on the value of education for their children.

8% of Pupils Attending Schools in City Children of Jewish Faith (1922)

More and More They Avail Themselves of Chances for Education in this City

Parents Eager to Co-operate with Teachers to Maintain Discipline, Says Principal

A historical phenomenon is repeating itself in Toronto. The Jews, living up to their traditional love for intellectual pursuit, are availing themselves of the educational facilities of their adopted country.

For the past decade they have persistenly invaded the university and colleges, and today they are presenting themselves in ever-increasing numbers for admittance to the high schools, collegitate institutes and other secondary educational institutions of the city.

Although the Jewish citizens form only slightly under 7 per cent of the total city population, Jewish pupils in high schools, collegiate institutes and other secondary educational institutions make out 8 per cent of the total enrolment. It is only within recent years that this invasion has begun. One collegiate institute, where a few years ago only three or four Jewish pupils attended, recently formed a fourth form, the scholars of which were all Jews.

Over 35,000 Adherents

The latest city population returns show that from a total of 532,666, there are no fewer than 35,262 adherents of the Hebrew faith in Toronto, or nearly 7 per cent of the city’s population.

The total enrolment in the high schools, collegiate institutes, private high schools, and other institutions of secondary education was 10,110 at the end of the last term. Since that time the attendance of the high schools has considerably increased on account of the enforcement of the Adolescent School Act.

Although the exact figures of Jewish pupils taking secondary education in Toronto are not available, various officials in close touch with the educational system of the city estimated that nearly 8 per cent of the total enrolment would be Jewish.

Indications would show that the Jews will be present in larger numbers during the next terms, if the increase of the past few years progresses along the lines established within the past 10 years.

Disclosures Might Not Help

Several Principals of collegiate institutes and high schools, when interviewed by The Globe, were averse to the idea of disclosing the number of Jewish pupils attending their schools. They feared that such disclosures would not benefit the cause of secondary education. They affirmed, however, that the Jews were returning in larger numbers each year, but there was just a feeling of uneasiness on the part of some of the Principals that non-Jewish parents would resent the presence of a large number of Jewish pupils in the schools.

“The Jews are taking advantage of our educational system. No blame can be attached to the Jewish citizens for this praiseworthy attitude, but it would seem to me that the situation reflects on the attitude of Gentile parents. The schools are open to all, and it is clear that the Jews see their opportunity and grasp it,” was the verdict of one Principal in the area adjoining the downtown district.

Parents Eager to Help

Another Principal told The Globe that the most remarkable matter in connection with the large number of Jewish pupils which attended his school was the attitude of the parents. “They are co-operating with the teachers’ staff in all things. While other parents would at times try to excuse or condone any breach of rules or misconduct in their children, the Jewish parent is anxious to find out if there is anything wrong with his boy or girl, according to this Principal.

From investigations carried on among Jewish parents who have children attending Toronto high schools, The Globe learned that in many cases the parents knew nothing of the blessings of education in the old lands beyond the seas. Over 90 per cent of the Jews of Toronto are immigrants, the majority of them from Poland, Galicia, White Russia, and the Ukraine. For centuries their forefathers have lived in ghettos and restricted areas. They have passed through pogroms and terrible persecutions. Education was denied to the Jew, and is even today denied to him in Poland and other mid-European countries.

Minds Sharpened on Law

The only further means of developing their mental power after leaving the elementary schools in those countries was the study of the Talmud and the Torah. The philosophy and involved legal questions contained therein sharpened the minds of the Jewish students. As one Toronto rabbi remarked, it is nothing to see a Jewish workman in Europe, after toiling all day in the factory, take up the sacred rabbinical writings at night and pore over the ancient manuscript for long hours.

Hardly has the first generation of Hebrew immigrants settled in the cities of America and the great opportunity of secondary education becomes known when the second generation takes advantage.

There is nothing new in this. In the dim past of the exiled Hebrew lads in the land of Nebuchadnezzar were superior to the native magi of Babylon in their knowledge of the occult sciences.

Dr. R. B. Brickner, rabbi of Holy Blossom Synagogue, was not surprised to hear of the large increase in Jewish attendance in Toronto high schools.

Same All Over America

“It is the same all over America. The Jews feel that learning can be used universally. In New York Jewish pupils number 13 per cent of the registration in the secondary schools of the city,” Dr. Brickner stated.

He added that there was an ancient tradition among the Hebrew people, according to which social position never came through wealth, but solely through learning, and that there was no greater shame than to be called an ignorant man in the days of ancient history.

“Russia restricted the attendance of the Jews in the colleges and universities; the Jewish young men went to France and Germany, and even there they often had to contend with all manner of anti-semitic feeling. It is in this wy that Russia lost some of her brightest citizens,” the rabbi declared.

Rabbi Julius Siegel, who recently came to University Avenue Synagogue, said: “There was never a higher praise for a Jew than to be called a Lamdan, a scholar, a learned man.” The rabbi was of the opinion that the study of the talmudic books for consecutive generations of Jews had sharpened their minds in the keen struggle for existence. The Jew had been forced to live by his wits, and consequently he had always struggled for more knowledge to equip him.

Ratio Is Five to One

According to Dr. S. Margosches, Zionist Chief in Canada, who came to Toronto from New York a few months ago, Jewish children stand in a ratio of five to one to the nearest group of immigrant children attending high schools in New York.

“The Jews are proving that they always have been an intellectual race. It is not a question of yesterday, but one extending over thousands of years,” the doctor said. “The Jews has had to struggle through the ages, and it has mentally improved him tremendously. Intellect is a Jewish worship. Study and the pursuit of knowledge has always been an integral part of the Jewish home life. Jews will stint themselves to give their children an education. The child must climb on the shoulders of his father and so lift himself out of the slum atmosphere. The first generation dwell in the slum district, but the second often moves to the hill, in American cities,” Dr. Margosches stated.

“I would not be surprised that you would find the ratio of Jewish children, and children of other immigrant groups, attending institutes of secondary education in Toronto to be the same as exists in New York and other American cities,” the doctor stated. ♦