Writers, Actors, Scientists and Media Leaders

Project Description


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Photographer: Jean-Marc Carisse©

Leonard Cohen, National Arts Centre, Ottawa, 2009

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Cartoon by Aaron the Artist

Drake, 2011

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Pauline Donalda, opera singer,
Montreal, 1907

McCord Museum II-165243

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Wiki Commons

Jacques Bensimon

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Courtesy of Linda Frum

Barbara Frum

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Credit: Alex Dworkin Canadian Jewish Archives | Archives juives canadiennes Alex Dworkin

Mordecai Richler as a young man

Writers, Actors, Scientists and Media Leaders

Literature, music and performing arts have been deeply influenced by Canadian Jews. Montreal was home to a cluster of literary giants, such as poet A.M. Klein, novelist Mordecai Richler, poets Leonard Cohen and Irving Layton, and playwright Ted Allan. More recently, Naïm Kattan in French language writing and Sheila Fishman in translation have helped continue the city’s important Jewish literary presence.

Western Canada spawned distinctive Jewish contributions to Canadian literature with figures such as Adele Wiseman, Eli Mandel, Jack Ludwig and Miriam Waddington. According to author and literary critic Seymour Mayne, “Jewish Canadian poets… are recognizable by their emphasis on the human dimension, the translation of the experience of the immigrant and outsider, the finding of joy in the face of adversity.…”

As the centre of Jewish population has moved to Toronto, Jewish writing there, including playwrights, has slowly increased. Poet and novelist, Anne Michaels, playwright Hanna Moscovitch (originally from Ottawa) and the novelist, David Bezmogis, are examples of the newer wave.

While Jewish contributions to medicine and other sciences are well known, it is hard to believe that until after the Second World War there were explicit quota restrictions on the number of Jewish students accepted by Canada’s universities. The University of Manitoba was the first in Canada to rid itself of this discriminatory quota system in 1945, but they remained in place at prestigious McGill until the early 1960s.

Among the many Jewish medical doctors and scientists who have made significant contributions. Dr. Louis Slotin of Winnipeg, was recruited to work on the Manhattan Project to develop the first atom bomb. He died tragically in 1946 from radiation poisoning. In more recent times, Dr. Mark Wainberg and Dr. Éric Cohen of Montreal have each emerged as preeminent HIV/AIDS researchers, while Victoria Kaspi is a world-renowned physicist in the field of astrophysics at McGill University. Rudolph Arthur Marcus, a graduate of McGill (and previously the famous Baron Byng High School that was the incubator of so many Jewish Montrealers) received the 1992 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work, in the United States, on the theory of electron transfer reactions in chemical systems.

Jewish leaders in the field of journalism have included such luminaries as Barbara Frum at the CBC and Peter C. Newman of Maclean’s Magazine, as well as national political commentators from a wide range of viewpoints, such as Barbara Amiel, Andrew Cohen and Naomi Klein. Musical talents include composers such as Louis Applebaum and Srul Glick, opera singer Pauline Donalda, rapper Drake, and in music journalism, Sonia Benezra. Other well-known Jewish musicians include singer-songwriter Corey Hart, Steven Page, former lead singer of the Barenaked Ladies, and Geddy Lee, lead vocalist of the rock band Rush.

Jewish visual artists of note include Gita Caiserman-Roth, Aba Bayefsky, and Sorel Etrog. Not to be forgotten is the important art dealer, Max Stern. In the world of public exhibitions, Matthew Teitlebaum was head of the Art Gallery of Ontario during its major expansion with Frank Gehry as architect while Victor Rabinovitch was President of the country’s largest museum (the Museum of Civilization, now the Canadian Museum of History), from 2000 to 2011. He also led the renewal of the Canadian War Museum.

Many Jewish actors and producers have earned international fame, particularly in comedy where Canadian Jewish humour has broad appeal. A few notables include Lorne Greene, from T.V.’s Bonanza, William Shatner of Star Trek fame, comedians Wayne and Shuster, Al Waxman who was the undisputed king of Kensington, Lorne Michaels who created Saturday Night Live, and the Mirvish family and John Hirsch in live theatre production. Prominent game show hosts have included Monty Hall of Let’s Make a Deal, and Howie Mandel of Deal or No Deal and America’s Got Talent. The National Film Board of Canada was led by the dynamic Jacques Bensimon, who was previously head of French-language TVOntario.

The remarkable talents of Moses Znaimer cross many fields in production and innovation, notably the creation of Citytv and ZoomerMedia. In the public broadcasting sector, Robert Rabinovitch was President of the CBC/Radio-Canada, successfully guiding innovative work during some of its most challenging years.

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