Portrait of a Patriot: Toronto artist’s search for the unknown Jewish veteran comes to a happy end

A Toronto artist’s year-long quest to learn the identity of the gregarious Jewish war veteran whose portrait she’d painted last year, brought her and the canvas to a boardroom at Baycrest Hospital last Sunday. There, at the regular monthly meeting of the Royal Canadian Legion Wingate Branch 256, comprising Jewish Second World War and Korean War veterans, the portrait of Jerry Rosenberg found a permanent home.

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VIDEO: Keeping Kosher and Dad’s Cookies

One of the challenges facing Canadian Jewish servicemen and women during the Second World War was trying to keep kosher, or eat according to the dietary laws of their religion. There were no provisions made for special menus for observant Jewish personnel. Harry Kaushansky of Montreal served in the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals. He grew up in a home where his mother served only kosher food. Kaushansky tells “Double Threat” author and journalist Ellin Bessner what he ate, and didn’t eat, when he turned up for basic training in 1941 at an army base south of Montreal.

VIDEO: How a Jewish soldier fought for religious freedom in the Canadian Army during WW2

Manny Rubinoff of Toronto served as a sapper after he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Army in the Second World War. When he refused to attend Catholic or Protestant church services on his army base in Ontario, he was”paraded” or brought up in front of the colonel, to be disciplined. Instead, Rubinoff unbuttoned his uniform, showed the officer the Jewish daily prayer garment known as “Arba Kanfot” that he wore under his clothes, and pulled out his pocket-sized Hebrew prayer book, handed it to the colonel, and waited. He tells “Double Threat” author and journalist Ellin Bessner what happened next. Continue reading “VIDEO: How a Jewish soldier fought for religious freedom in the Canadian Army during WW2”

How a Jewish RCAF airman’s wartime love letter was restored to his Toronto sons, 74 years after it was written

Two sets of cufflinks. Some WWll service medals. A watch. A few photographs. Until now, these were all the physical heirlooms that the Colman siblings had left of their father Abe Colman, a Second World War veteran from Toronto who died half a century ago. But thanks to the gesture of a North York woman, Eleanor Maxwell, they now also have a treasured letter from their father, written while he was in uniform in 1943.

Maxwell, a retired teacher, found the wartime letter nearly forty years ago on her front lawn.

“Now this literally blew into my face on Denmark Crescent,” Maxwell said July 12, when she met Abe Colman’s three sons and presented them with the old letter.  “I thought, you know what, I’ll pick it up.”

Maxwell thinks the letter blew up the street in the Bathurst and Finch area sometime between 1972 and 1979, when she and the Colmans’ mother lived for a time on the same street in North York:  Colman at No. 12 Denmark Crescent and the Maxwells at No. 2. The families didn’t know each other.

Maxwell says she immediately realized the letter was old because the envelope was postmarked December 29, 1943, and it had a 4 cent stamp with the image of King George on the front.  It was addressed to a Mrs. A. Colman, 535 Palmerston Boulevard, Toronto. The return address was from Aircraftman A. Colman, posted at the Royal Canadian Air Force training school in Rockcliffe, Ontario, and now part of Ottawa. Continue reading “How a Jewish RCAF airman’s wartime love letter was restored to his Toronto sons, 74 years after it was written”

Why the Rhine River town of Bacharach, Germany is a dark spot in Jewish history: more than Riesling and medieval castles

A moving van was blocking the narrow, cobblestone lane outside our hotel in the quaint town of Bacharach, Germany, on the banks of the Rhine River. A white-haired truck driver saw that I was struggling to squeeze between his parked truck and the walls of the building, trying to heave my suitcase over its giant wheels, in order to reach my car. He stopped what he was doing, smiled and helped me lift my bag. After stowing the luggage in the trunk, I headed back to the hotel to settle the bill. That’s when I noticed two brass plaques embedded in the street in front of the truck.

I got goosebumps.

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