Mother’s Day at the Ontario Jewish Archives

Since 1973, the Ontario Jewish Archives has been actively collecting, preserving, and sharing records documenting Jewish life in Ontario. These records provide evidence of the many organizations founded by our mothers to support the most vulnerable in our community locally and abroad. Individually and collectively, their efforts have aided the needy with unsurpassed skill, devotion, and creativity. Their vital contributions reverberate in our present day lives as we continue to support the very institutions they helped found. Today, we are tasked with not only following their lead and continuing their legacies, but also considering how we as individuals and as a community have benefited from their gifts of courage, strength, and compassion.

Many early Jewish women’s organizations focused their efforts on mentoring young women and girls. Pictured here are the National Council of Jewish Women’s Junior Council girls, picnicking in Thornhill, 1920.  Ontario Jewish Archives, item 1868.

Toronto’s earliest Jewish philanthropic bodies were quick to respond to the influx of immigrants fleeing eastern Europe in the early 1900s. Women-run institutions provided widows, orphans, the sick, and the needy with critical services. Here, we take a closer look at the immense effort and impact of early women leaders in our community.

Founders of the Home and School Council, Toronto, 1916. Ida Siegel standing back row, first left. Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds 15, file 37, item 1.
Portrait of Ida Siegel as a young woman, [ca. 1905]. Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds 15, file 37, item 20.
Ida Siegel with her children Rivka (far left) and returning Canadian servicemen Avrom (left) and David (right), Toronto, Dec. 1945. Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds 15, file 37, item 9.

Ida Lewis Siegel (1885–1982) was instrumental in the founding and development of several of these early Jewish organizations. She is credited with helping found the Daughters of Zion, the first ladies’ Zionist society in Canada (1899); the Herzl Girls’ Club (1904); Hadassah-WIZO Organization of Canada (1916); the Hebrew Ladies’ Sewing Circle, the YM-YWHA (1919); and more. Siegel was also instrumental in unifying the early Jewish social service organizations into the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies in 1917, when they realized that fundraising needed to be centralized.

Portrait of Dora Till, [194-]. Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds 52, series 8, file 10, item 2.
Women in a chorus line, Mothers’ and Babes’ Summer Rest Home, [ca. 1948]. Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds 52, series 1-7, file 5, item 3.
Studio group portrait of Dora Till with her granddaughter Sheila Gottlieb and her great-granddaughter Elyse Gottlieb, Toronto, 1979.  Elyse was voted the “Child of the Year” by the Baycrest Centre’s Women’s Auxiliary. Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds 52, series 2-5, file 10, item 1.

In 1918, Dora Till (1896-1987) took her first steps towards becoming an important figure in Jewish communal health and welfare when she joined the Hebrew Maternity Aid Society. She would serve in this capacity for fifteen years. One of the most important projects Till facilitated as vice-president of the society was the Mothers’ and Babes’ Summer Rest Home. Till founded the rest home in Bronte, Ontario in 1919 and became its first president. The home provided mothers and children with two-week vacations, a much needed respite from the heat of the summer. Till continued to play an important role in the Mothers’ and Babes’ Summer Rest Home until its closure in 1977.

Dorothy Dworkin (centre) with members of the Mount Sinai Hospital Ladies Auxiliary, Toronto, [ca. 1923]. Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds 10, item 1.
Dora, Harry, and Honey Dworkin, 1915. Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds 10, item 12.
Medical and Dental Auxiliary at Sinai’s. Individuals identified include Mrs. (Lionel) Bea Marks, Dora Dworkin (back row, centre), Jean Appleton, Vera Eisen, Ruth Brown, Mrs. Rosenberg, and Mrs. Rainer Kay, Toronto, ca. 1940s. Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds 10, item 19.

Dorothy Dworkin (1890–1976) was a prominent healthcare worker in the Toronto Jewish community and a founder of Mount Sinai Hospital (Toronto). Throughout her life, Dorothy played a pivotal role in helping to raise both public and financial support for this important institution. 

In her own words, she reflected:

“No history of Mount Sinai would be complete without an accompanying history of its women’s aids. Lack of space prevents telling a complete story, but during the course of its busy life, Mount Sinai would have fallen by the wayside time and again had it not been for the unflagging enthusiasm and devotion of its women supporters. In 1926, the Mount Sinai Hospital Women’s Auxiliary was formed. I was its first and only president. No volunteer, working for Mount Sinai today as a member of an organized group, can conceive of the tasks performed by these women. When cooks could not be hired or were absent for some reason; when there was a lack of dishwashers; when vegetables needed to be peeled or fruit to be canned; if there was shortage of bed linen, if it needed mending and so on and on.”

Ray Sinukoff and her grandson Dustin Sinukoff volunteer at the annual Toronto Hadassah-WIZO Bazaar, 2004. Inscribed on reverse, “Grandchildren came out to help, passing on to the next generations.” Ontario Jewish Archives, accession 2016-5-12.

Archives collect historical records, but did you know that we collect contemporary records too? Contemporary records chronicle present-day activities in the Jewish community and will one day serve as evidence of the past. In response to a recent outreach campaign to collect Mother’s Day greetings from our colleagues at UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, we received the following heartfelt tributes. These stories of resilience, community activism, strength, and nurturing are not only lovely meditations on the impactful role of our mothers to us individually but are examples of the role mothers collectively play in our community. We are pleased to share with you this recent acquisition, a new collection at the Ontario Jewish Archives. 

Jordan (right) and Corey Glass walking their mother, Fern Haniford, down the aisle, Newmarket, ON, 26 May 2019. Mother’s Day collection. Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds, 135.

It isn’t often that sons get to walk their mother down the aisle, but my brother Corey and I had that opportunity. My mother has been a lot of things in her life, but most important to me is as a mother. Before there was anyone else in my life there was her. You see, she was a single mother when I was born. Things weren’t easy, but we had each other. That is why it was so important when she was married for the second time in 2019 . . . that we got to give her away. 

Thank you, Mom. For everything.

—Jordan Glass

Dvora Brown celebrating her daughter Samantha’s Bat Mitzvah, Temple Har Zion, (Thornhill, ON), 1982. Mother’s Day collection. Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds, 135.
My mom (Maureen Wright), enjoying a glass of chardonnay. Mother’s Day collection. Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds, 135.

My mother moved to Toronto with her parents when she was in high school and was active in a variety of different Jewish women’s organizations during that time. After marrying and starting a family, she and my father Arthur (from Wingham, Ontario) joined a new Reform congregation in Thornhill called Temple Har Zion—an offshoot of Holy Blossom Temple. Both of my parents were very active in the congregation: Mom was the second Sisterhood President and also taught in the supplementary school on Sunday mornings and sat on a variety of committees. 

Thank you, Mom, for everything and for being such an incredible role model. You are missed dearly.

— Samantha Bacher

My mom has a great laugh. In this photo, we were in Niagara-on-the-Lake wine tasting for my dad’s birthday. It was a lovely family day together. I can’t remember what she’s laughing at, but it must have been funny! My mom is also the most beautiful and fashionable woman I know. She always looks put together and is stunning in every photograph.

Thank you, Mom, for being my role model and my friend.

— Sam Mogelonsky

‘Bubbie Marilyn Cohen helps her grandson Shai celebrate Shabbat, Associated Hebrew Schools, Posluns Campus, Toronto, 2019. Mother’s Day collection. Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds, 135.

Marilyn Cohen is shown with her youngest grandson, Shai. This picture captures her essence as a hands-on bubbie. She gains great joy from attending events with her grandchildren and showing them how much our Jewish traditions mean to her. Here, she attended a workshop with Shai to create a beautiful challah cover. Jewish community is of great importance to Marilyn and a value that she modeled for all her kids. She served as Beth Tikvah’s Sisterhood President and interim conductor of the choir and devoted countless hours to the synagogue’s music program. Recently, she has taken on the role of Women’s League president of the International North East Region. With bubbies like Marilyn, our traditions are secure!

Thanks, Marilyn, for being an inspiration to those around you! You inspire us all to volunteer our time and enrich our Jewish community. We all wish we had your spirited energy!

— Debbie Savage

My mom will do ANYTHING to hang out with her five grandchildren. Even if that means going way outside her comfort zone and snorkeling with the rest of the family. In addition, she ensures we celebrate every Jewish holiday together as a family with traditional food. In short . . . she’s the best!

Mom, you are always there when I need someone to talk to. Thanks for being the best mom and bubbie to your five grandkids. We all love you very much! 

— Mindy Goldblatt Webber

Elena Goldblatt snorkeling with her grandkids! Dominican Republic, 2021. Mother’s Day collection. Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds, 135.
Olga Abazov visiting her daughter Kate, Toronto, ca. 2018. Mother’s Day collection. Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds, 135.
My mother, Ida Blum, greets her brother, Norman Turk, as my father, Berel Blum, gazes towards the crowd. Mezinka dance, Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda, Toronto, 9 Nov. 1991.  Mother’s Day collection. Ontario Jewish Archives, fonds, 135.

My mom is Olga Abazov. She was born in 1954 in the post-Stalin city of Stalingrad (now Volgograd), a city that was destroyed by the Nazis to the ground and rebuilt in the 1950s. 

My mom finished school and pursued her passion in music and opera. She enrolled in the State Music Conservatory to become an opera singer. In the late 1970s, she left for Moscow to study with the world-famous mezzo soprano Elena Obraztsova and performed in opera theatres across Russia.

In the mid-1980s, my mom had to give up her opera career to take care of her little children (my brother and me) and of her dying mother. She spent most of her years as a music teacher in early childhood education. 

In early 1994, we made aliyah to Israel, and she had to, once again, change her work and redirect. After learning Hebrew in an ulpan and briefly juggling work in retail, she went on to become an early childhood education professional. She continues to work with kids to this day. 

My mom lives in Israel with my father and uses every opportunity she gets to come visit us in Toronto, a city she loves dearly. 

She is loving and kind, and she always puts others first to make sure they are helped and happy.

— Kate Noam

Seated in the centre of the dance floor, adorned with a floral wreath, and honoured like a queen: this photograph perfectly captures my mom’s lighthearted and joyful demeanor. A Holocaust survivor, Mom fled her hometown village Serniki, Ukraine, in the fall of 1942. She hid in the nearby forests and marshes for two years, after narrowly escaping the massacre that destroyed her community. She was cold and scared, sometimes with family and sometimes alone, and dreaming: dreaming of survival and that one day she would have a family. In this photo, she celebrates the crowning accomplishment of marrying off her last child, the mezinka. The expression on her face says it all! 

I hear your Yiddish sing-song laughter in my heart every day. Thank you for your gentleness and resolute belief in the human capacity for kindness.  

— Faye Blum

Toronto Hadassah Western Chapter sewing circle, Toronto, 1930s. Photograph by Modern Studios. Ontario Jewish Archives, 2006-8-12.

We are grateful for the opportunity to share these beautiful narratives from our community. We hope you will be inspired to contribute to our Mother’s Day collection. Please consider preserving your family’s history at the Ontario Jewish Archives.


Contact to learn more.

Header Image: Mothers’ Day in front of Goldenberg’s Restaurant, east side of Spadina Ave., north of Dundas St., Toronto, 11 May 1941. Ontario Jewish Archives, item 4316.

“Mother’s Day at the Ontario Jewish Archives” is brought to you by the Ontario Jewish Archives with Faye Blum. 

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