The community paper – on the occasion of the JI’s 85th
The community has always enjoyed a good contest, JWB, December 1948.
Paging through 85 years of this newspaper reveals a stunning consistency of recurring phenomena, repetitious concerns, familiar family names, perpetually unresolved issues across decades and a solid tradition of community-building from generation to generation. The reporting across the decades reveals a comfortingly familiar refrain of the paper rallying the community to support the UJA Campaign, the Home for the Aged, Israel Bonds,
Hebrew University, Talmud Torah, Histadrut, summer camps, and the full range of communal organizations and causes, many of which continue to thrive today. Individuals are fêted for service to the community, for becoming bar or bat mitzvah, for graduating from university.
So perpetual are some of the issues facing the community and the Jewish world that headlines could be plucked form one decade and dropped unobtrusively onto the pages of the paper many years earlier or later. For fun, try to guess the years when these headlines appeared: “The past year will long be remembered as one of stress and strain;” “Jews must help Israel regain ‘positive image’”; or “Religious storm in Israel.” (Answers: the 1931 Rosh Hashanah issue editorial; 1985; 1950.)
Or these ones: “US won’t accept Likud position on territories”; “The trend of the time is toward the elimination of useless and duplicating organizations”; or “… it has been said that our loyalties are divided. That, in being Zionists, we fail as Canadians.” (Answers: 1977; 1925; 1929.)
Of course, some headlines are unique. On Nov. 3, 1988, the paper’s headline blared: “Israel achieves UN victory.” This was about a failed attempt led by Arab states to have Israel thrown out of the General Assembly.
Philanthropy is a continuous thread joining the decades. As early as 1930, the editorial was acknowledging that “The residents of the Vancouver Jewish Community doubtlessly at times become impatient with the term, ‘A worthy cause’” … before inveigling upon readers to support another commendable undertaking.
Warning of the dangers to communal well-being at the start of the Great Depression, an editorial in December 1930 takes a very Keynesian tone: “The foolish philosophy of tightening the purse-strings during a business depression, although the purse-holder is still well able to spend, becomes a selfish and heartless philosophy when applied to philanthropy. To deny assistance to those who are gripped in the vise of illness or need when the horizon looks darkest, is to display a false attitude to the charitable ideal.”
Pressure, sometimes not at all subtle, urged readers to give generously to the community chest campaign. “Larger Pledges Needed for Success of Chest,” the headline of October 9, 1936 read. “Open Your Door to Your UJA Canvasser,” pitched an issue in 1951.
Also unsubtle, but justifiably so, was the ominous plea for the 1940 campaign aimed at sending aid to the Jews of Nazi-occupied Europe: “Vancouver Jewish External Welfare Fund seeks support for Jews in Hungary, Poland, Germany and Romania … Tomorrow may be too late.”
Running in 1930, this headline nevertheless could have been from any decade in the paper’s history: “Bronfman Family Create Scholarship.” In this case, it was for the Talmud Torah and a Jewish orphanage in Winnipeg, but more than half a century later, the Bronfman family was instrumental in the creation of the Birthright-Israel program, which has sent thousands of young Jewish Canadians to Israel.
In decades when Jewish allegiance to Canada was sometimes implied or openly expressed, the paper routinely adopted a highly patriotic tone. From heralding King George VI to lamenting his death with pages of editorial, there were also major assertions of Jewish allegiance to the new Queen Elizabeth II at the time of her coronation in 1953. Meetings of Jewish communal officials with elected leaders, including prime ministers, have been prominently reported, including just weeks ago when Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with Sephardi Canadians in Ottawa.
Emphasizing the responsibilities of citizenship has been a recurring theme. In 1930, the editorialist noted: “Indifferent people are often heard to say, ‘It doesn’t make any difference to me what party is in power, so why should I vote?’ Such a statement is the furthest thing from the truth and reflects an attitude which is to be strongly deplored.”
Although allegiance to Canada has been conspicuous, so too has been this community’s deep connections to the Jewish homeland.
In 1930, the paper reported on the appointment of a commission “to investigate the Moslem and Jewish Claims to the Wailing Wall.”
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, anti-Jewish riots and pogroms in Palestine killed hundreds and shattered hopes of a peaceful existence in the Yishuv.
“As these words are written,” an editorial in 1936 lamented, “Palestine is again the scene of disorders, riots, bloodshed, sniping, isolated attacks and agonized mistrust, fomented hatred and international complications. The land of peace is again being ravaged by hate, and the eternal people of peace is again forced to consider problems of defence and even to raise physical means to ensure its own safety.”
These riots had the intended consequence of leading the British authorities to end Jewish migration to the Mandate. While met with outrage and agitation by Jews worldwide, the catastrophic historical impact of that decision would not be fully recognized until the endangered Jews of Europe suffered the Holocaust.
Even so, the paper recognized surprisingly early on the threat coming from Germany’s far right. In 1930, three years before Hitler took power, the Bulletin was already warning of the threat posed by the Nazis: “The Hitlerites, who, at the recent election in Germany made such tremendous gains, are marching to power on the wave of a dangerous and prejudiced nationalism. Their anti-Semitic policy is definite and has already manifested itself in many outbreaks and disorders of a most distressing kind.”
Concern for Jews all over the world has been constant in these pages. When the Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937, the paper expressed fears for the Jews in China, noting that … “After Palestine, the United States and Latin America, China was the largest recipient of Jewish refugees in the 1930s.”
Jews and Christians packed Vancouver Lyric Theatre to overflowing after news of Kristallnacht signified what we now understand to have been the unquestioned beginning of the Holocaust.
By 1944, the realization of what had happened to European Jews was widely understood and an above-the-banner editorial held no punches: “To anyone working for one Jewish cause or another it becomes increasingly apparent that there are those among us who are SHIRKING THEIR DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES.
“Yes, there are those among us who are too busy with their own affairs to think of their fellow man.
“Many of our fellow Jews never care to remember that somewhere in the darkness of Hitler’s Europe thousands and thousands of men and women and children are hiding in basements, in walled ghettos and in dismal forests in an attempt to escape certain death, while we abide in the glorious freedom and abundance of Canada.
“At this moment half the Jews in Europe are dead. WHAT IN GOD’S NAME WAS THEIR CRIME?
“You know, and I know, that their only crime is that THEY WERE BORN AS JEWS.
“Do you ever stop to ponder that it is only a curious turn of fate that led you or your parents to leave Europe and that you or your children might otherwise be among those who were exterminated by the Nazi slaughterhouses of Europe. WE MUST LEARN TO FEEL THE PAIN AND SUFFERING OF THOSE POOR BROKEN, BLEEDING PEOPLE AND DENY OURSELVES, IF NECESSARY TO SAVE THEM.”
When the war ended and the camps were liberated, the local community came together, helping in different ways, special prayer services among them.
Awareness of the extent of the Holocaust – and the role of Jewish statelessness in allowing it to happen – was made plain immediately after VE Day in an editorial penned by M. Freeman, president of Vancouver Zionist Organization: “For the Jews who have managed to survive this holocaust, Palestine and Palestine alone stands out as their only refuge. Only in a Jewish fatherland will they be safe. Only in Palestine can they start the broken lives anew with hope of ultimate restoration. We can help make this possible. We betray our own birth-right if we do less. No Jew, whatever his shade of opinion can withdraw from co-operating with the resurgence of his people. If we gave everything we ever owned, it still could not measure up to what they have already paid.”
From 1945, the issue of Soviet Jewry made top news month after month until 1989, when a new revolution allowed Jews across Eastern Europe to emigrate, changing the face of Israel and Vancouver, among other places.
The pages of the Bulletin also show that global events had unexpected ripples for Israel and the Jewish people. In 1973, the paper noted that, with the ceasefire in Vietnam, left-wing and other protest groups were turning their attentions to “Middle East peace.”
The connection between Jewish British Columbians and Israel leaps off the pages of the paper (including before Israel was “Israel”). The passing of the Partition Resolution was reported with jubilance and, months later, the dangers facing the new state were downplayed, declaring “A Nation Reborn.”
In 1954, in an event typical of discussions in the paper and in the community in the intervening years – and continuing today – a forum at the community centre mooted “What does Israel mean for us here?”
After the 1967 war, before the moral and military practicalities of occupying the West Bank took over the pages, the paper celebrated news of a reunited Jerusalem: “After 1900 Years City of David Returned to Israel.”
The paper has also highlighted the achievements of Jews around the world, from the first Jewish governor of Oregon to the appointment of a Jewish American ambassador to Albania. In 1930, the paper hyperbolically declared: “Of interest to every Jew in Canada is the recent election of David Arnold Croll, 30-year-old Jewish barrister as Mayor of Windsor, Ontario.” This item may not have had the universal interest the author believed, but Croll did go on to serve in the Ontario and Canadian parliaments and became the first Jewish senator in Canada.
Closer to home, the chronicling of events and achievements large and small has been the paper’s life’s blood. “Hadassah Chapter has Successful Year,” said a 1931 headline. “Permanent Camp Site Purchased by Jewish Council Women,” in 1937, was the first of many articles about the birth of what became Camp Hatikvah, originally in Crescent Beach, near White Rock, which was deemed by the reporter to be “the finest bathing resort in British Columbia.”
Since its beginning, the paper has been reporting on community-held contests of various sorts, including photo and public-speaking competitions – the latter still held annually despite worries as early as 1966 that, “These days when the custom of watching television has caused sociologists concern over the possibility of mankind forever losing the art of conversation …” began one editorial.
And, through it all, the community and the paper has managed to keep a sense of humor. From 1958:
Scrap collector: “Any beer bottles lady?”
Lady: “Do I look like I drink beer?”
Scrap collector: “Well, any vinegar bottles, lady?”