New Book: How Jews contributed to Canadian history

“Northern Lights” has my chapter on Canadian Jewish military history

Cover of the book “Northern Lights”

There’s an important new book out by the Canadian Jewish News. It’s called Northern Lights: A Canadian Jewish History. It tells the history of Canada’s Jewish community through the archives and photos of the country’s award-winning Jewish weekly newspaper.

It was supposed to be a project to mark the 60th anniversary of the CJN’s founding. In 2018, then editor, Yoni Goldstein commissioned me and others to contribute a chapter. My chapter was to be about the history of Jewish Canadians in the military: from the earliest days of settlement in New France in the 18th century, the Plains of Abraham battle in Quebec City in 1759, and up to today.

Goldstein commissioned chapters from high profile Canadians such as former Lieutenant Governor the Hon. Myra Freeman, of Nova Scotia, journalists Marsha Lederman, Bryan Borzykowski, and Jay Teitel, as well as from political scientist Gil Troy, human rights champion Hon. Irwin Cotler, and more. They wrote about the arts, politics, business, etc.

The book was supposed to be published in the spring of 2020. It was supposed to be distributed to every paying subscriber to the CJN.

Then Covid Happened

Fast forward to April 2020. Not only did the COVID-19 pandemic interfere with the publication of the book, but the financial crisis which hit all newspaper and digital advertising worldwide, led to the closure of the Canadian Jewish News. Many were left wondering what would happen to the book?

Happily, two copies arrived at my home last month. After donning gloves and disinfecting the wrapper in my laundry room, I opened the parcel and was so thrilled to see the beautiful book “Northern Lights”. My chapter is called “Fighting for Canada”.

Watch Ellin open the parcel here:

A new book about Canada’s Jewish History by the Canadian Jewish News. I have one chapter in it. Watch the unboxing when the book sample copies arrived at my home!

Who’s Who

In the chapter, you meet the members of the community’s founding Jewish families including the Harts, who served on the British military side during the battle for New France in 1759. Subsequently we talk about some of the generation of 4,700 Jewish fighters who served in WWI, including William “Bill” Tobias of Winnipeg, and Myer Tutzer Cohen of Toronto.

Lt. Myer Tutzer Cohen, portrait at the former Jewish Canadian Military Museum in Toronto. (Ellin Bessner photo).

The 17,000 in World War II

You will know that I documented the stories of many of the 17,000 Canadian Jewish men and women who helped defeat Hitler in my recent book “Double Threat”, published in 2019. But other veterans who did not make it into the book are now in this chapter, including Alex Polowin, 96, a navy rating from Ottawa, and Montreal’s Reuben Gorodetsky, a member of the famed Black Watch regiment. He was killed in 1944.

Reuben Gorodetsky, Black Watch Regiment, of Montreal. (Photo courtesy Gloria Fuerstenberg)

We touch on those who served in Korea, including the war hero who never got a medal Mike Levy, and Toronto’s RCAF Capt. (Ret.) Mort Lightstone. The chapter moves through the Cold War, UN Peacekeeping operations, and the conflict in ex-Yugoslavia, where you meet Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Ed Fitch, of Victoria, B.C., who was the highest ranking Canadian Jewish army officer.

You will also meet some current serving Jewish regular force members, including Maj. Garret Book. Book served in Afghanistan in 2013, as you can see in the photos below. Book’s family contributed some great photos of his deployment and we hoped they would all be used in “Northern Lights”, but there wasn’t room.

Maj. Garret Book, in an armoured vehicle, while on duty in Afghanistan in 2013. (Photo courtesy Book family)
Maj. Garret Book, a Canadian combat engineer, in Aug. 2013, in Afghanistan. (Courtesy Book family)

Special thanks also to Maj. Gen. Fitch, OMM MSM CD, and Lt. Col (Ret.) R.S. Garber, CD, MA, MBA, of Ottawa, and Maj. (Ret.) Jonathan Knaul, of Toronto, and Capt. (Ret.) Lazer Danzinger, of Toronto, (both in the book) who all generously helped with the research and fact-checking.

Northern Lights is a beautifully designed and solidly researched coffee-table book, with important journalism in it. I’m told that subscribers of the former CJN should be receiving their own copies shortly. It is also available for the general public from the publisher Lola Stein Institute’s website.

Take a sneak peak at some of the pages of the book.

8 thoughts on “New Book: How Jews contributed to Canadian history”

  1. Hello Ellin!
    How do I get a copy of this book? I’m a Toronto girl living in Northern California.
    Thanks for the review and contribution. I’m excited to enjoy this.
    Thanks. Shalom.

  2. My sister just received a book and she’s highly recommending it. Where can I get a copy of Northern Lights?

  3. At long last, armed service recognized that changed the world. And how appropriate that Ellin Bessner is also recognized among her historian and writer peers. Congratulations!

  4. wouldnt mind getting a copy of Northern lights myself, is it still available anywhere?

    (“interesting” sidebar- Bryan B most likely doesnt know this, but we are related- his mother is the daughter of 1 of my mother’s 1st cousins; and his father is the brother of an old friend, from our teen years…)

    anyway…if it is available somewhere, let me know if possible?

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