Stories of love and marriage abound in the collections preserved by the Ontario Jewish Archives (OJA)—from loving embraces captured in everyday photographs to fabulously glamorous formal wedding portraits. Similarly, they are evident in thousands of letters, telegrams, greeting cards, wedding invitations, and films, donated by individuals eager to preserve romances, wedding traditions, and a way of life.
For Valentine’s Day, the Ontario Jewish Archives invites you to get lost in the romance and personal histories of Jewish couples in Ontario.
William Harris and Tillie Shayne, [High Park], Toronto, ca. 1918. OJA, 1986-7-6.
The couple stealing a kiss on this Toronto park bench is Dr. William Harris (b. 1895) and his new bride Tillie Shayne (b. 1896). The photo, reminiscent of Robert Doisneau’s iconic 1950 Parisian photo The Kiss by the Hotel de Ville, depicts romantic young love. In 1914, Harris inscribed a message on his University of Toronto graduation photo addressed to his “sweetheart” with a prophetic promise, “May the next picture I take in my life be with her as my wife.” Harris and Shayne were married in Montreal on February 24, 1918. The Yiddish term bashert, which means a person’s predestined romantic partner or soulmate, seems apt for this picture. In other words, they were “made” for each other.
Bunny and Jetta’s wedding day, 1949. OJA, 2018-6-22.
Newlyweds George and Rina Fleischmann, Israel, 1953. OJA, 2018-6-4.
Bunny Bergstein recounted, “The first words I said to my wife were shut up.” It was 1942 and Bergstein was a counsellor at Camp Yungvelt. He was on night duty when he first met Jetta Warnick, a rambunctious camper. The following summer while visiting the Colony Cottages adjacent to Camp Yungvelt, he again met up with Jetta, now a first-year counsellor. But romance would have to wait. Bergstein joined the Royal Canadian Air Force later that same year serving as a radar operator in Newfoundland. It was fall of 1945 when he returned home and received an invitation from his buddy, Harry Gorman, to join him and his date for a Saturday night movie. By that time, everyone Bergstein knew was either married or engaged, and then he thought of Jetta. Lucky for him, she was free. They became engaged in 1946 and married on June 1, 1949, at Toronto’s Bais Yehuda Synagogue. After 72 years of marriage, Warnick recently reflected, “I couldn’t have picked a better one.”
Born in Toronto, Rina Smith was raised in the apartment above her parents’ grocery shop at the corner of Ulster Street and Brunswick Avenue. In 1950, Smith, an active youth member of the Zionist group Hashomer Hazair, was attending a program at Christie Pits. “They prepped us before the event to keep an eye out for a new member joining our group, a recent immigrant from Hungary. I took one look at George seated on the park bench, introduced myself, and we have been together ever since.” Smith reflected that the foundation of their relationship was their commitment to Israel and making aliyah.
In the documentary film Periphery, Nobu Adilman shares the epic love story of how his father met and married his mother after knowing her for two weeks. Adilman explains, “My father—a bit of an oddball—instead of getting a car and being a man about town he was a man about the world and travelled the world. They met in Japan . . . and then she (Toshiko Suzuki) came to Toronto and . . . my father proposed to her in that two weeks. He didn’t tell his parents anything . . . she eventually says, ‘Yes.’ And he flies to Japan to get married.”
More on this love story can be heard on CBC’s 2016 Day 6 program “Toshiko and Sid Adilman: A love story for Valentine’s Day; Toshiko Adilman remembers her late husband and their most remarkable love story.”
Following the breaking of the glass, bride and groom Goldie Balinson and David Leibman kiss under the chuppah, Beth Jacob Synagogue (Hamilton, ON), 11 Oct. 1953. OJA, item 1915.
Groom taking a ceremonial sip of wine under the chuppah at the wedding of Ida and Berel Blum with matchmaker and best man looking on, Toronto, 16 Nov. 1952. Photograph by Dale Studio. OJA, 2018-5-14.
A rich vocabulary around marriage rituals exists in Jewish culture that connects us to traditions across time and place. Jewish wedding customs rooted in millennia—old traditions are evident in stories of finding one’s bashert, marriage rituals leading up to signing of the ketubah, the chuppah, and the breaking of the glass at the ceremony’s finale. Contemporary culture is evident too and reflected in trends in hair style, fashion, decor, celebration style, and choice of venue.
In this romance, the bride’s brother Michael Turk made a shidduch (match) that resulted in the marriage of his younger sister Ida to his friend Berel Blum. As Blum loved to recount, “when Mike pointed out his younger sister to me at a Saturday night dance at the Brunswick Street Talmud Torah, I promptly feigned illness and escorted my date home.” He then quickly returned to be with Ida declaring “it was love at first sight.” They were engaged two months later and married the same year at the D’arcy Street Talmud Torah.
Abe and Dvora New stand under the chuppah next to their daughter Lea New Minkowitz and Toronto born groom Avi Minkowitz, (Brooklyn, New York) 12 Dec. 2012. Ceremony officiated by Rabbi Yosef Yeshaya Braun. OJA, 2018-6-13.
Marriage of Lea New Minkowitz and Avi Menkowitz. Like many Orthodox couples, Lea and Avi’s chuppah was under the sky, symbolizing God’s blessing to Abraham that his children shall be “as numerous as the stars.” During the wedding ceremony, the groom’s buttons and shoelaces were undone, symbolizing the idea that on the groom’s wedding day, he is boundless.
Left: Bride to be Esther Osiel, Noche de Novia, Toronto, July 1994. Right: Noche de Novia for Esther’s mother Mercedes Benhaim (centre) and Mercedes’ sister-in-laws to be Esther Osiel (left) and Perla Osiel (right), Toronto, Dec. 1960. OJA, 2018-6-12.
Traditionally celebrated on the eve before the wedding day, Noche de Novia (Night of the Bride) is a Sephardic Moroccan ceremony in which the bride dresses in an elaborate gown and headdress. For Esther Osiel, this was the most meaningful part of her wedding. Wearing a gown worn by three consecutive generations of women, including Esther’s mother, maternal grandmother and dozens of relatives, demonstrates the central role that tradition plays in Jewish weddings and how culture is passed down from one generation to the next.
Langbord-Vogel wedding, 29 Dec. 1959. OJA, fonds 18, series 4, file 1.
Preserve your stories of love and marriage at the OJA. Founded in 1973, the OJA is the largest repository of Jewish life in Canada. The collection spans all segments of Ontario’s Jewish community, including families, businesses, cultural organizations, and synagogues. These records date from the community’s earliest days in the province in the 1850s to the present. Through exhibitions, programs, research assistance, and walking tours, the OJA tells the stories of Ontario’s Jewish community.
To learn more about how to preserve your family’s history contact an archivist at (416) 635-5391 or email email@example.com.
Visit us at ontariojewisharchives.org.
These stories of love and marriage were drawn from the OJA’s wedding exhibition Something Borrowed and its current exhibition Periphery.
Founded in 1973, the Ontario Jewish Archives (OJA) is the largest repository of Jewish life in Canada. The collection spans all segments of Ontario’s Jewish community, including families, businesses, cultural organizations, and synagogues. These records date from the community’s earliest days in the province in the 1850s to the present. Through exhibitions, programs, research assistance, and walking tours, the OJA tells the stories of Ontario’s Jewish community.
To learn more about how to preserve your family’s history contact an archivist today at 416-635-5391 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.