Semitic Memories

January 25, 2013

In Blog

Honourable Sir,


I just noticed with sufficient exasperation that Dr. Norman Finklelstein was at OISE last night. I wonder what kind of reception you got? If I remember correctly, a function not to be taken for granted at my age, OISE is addressed on Spadina Ave. is it not? Down the street from you Norman, close to College Street, was the original Jewish community in Toronto. I believe it was first created by garment workers who worked for the Timothy Eaton Co. Probably Russian and east European Jews. In the 20s there was a strike, and the Jewish workers settled along Spadina and opened various haberdasheries. I used to buy some pretty boss hats there.  A gentleman named Harry Rosen probably was one the most successful.  If you have 350$ to lay down on a shirt, do check him out next visit to Toronto.

So,  on the west side of Spadina was the Jewish market.  My wedding cake was bought in a place called Perlmutters.  Russian Jews who made, among other delicious things,  black bread with Chernushka seeds.  I still dream of it from time to time.  They closed in about 1978.  The whole city turned out. And Kaplans cheese store. Amazing.  Butter (sweet) was sold from a huge mound that you could practically ski on. It was battered into a saleable squares by wooden paddles operated expertly by the store’s employees. There was a small fruit stand operated by two Hungarian Jews who’d spend the last years of the war in a Russian POW camp on very short rations. They complained about it from time to time without losing their sense of humour. I used to arrive with a kinda Trotskyist revolutionary cap with a de rigueur red star,  which they found amusing. They remembered seeing the real thing.

Another notable Toronto Jew was Harry Stransman.

As a high school student in the 60s I won a trophy as outstanding juvenile boxer contributed by Harry ‘one-punch’ Stransman.

I was in awe of the guy until at U of Toronto when boxing for the university team, I mentioned Harry ‘one punch’ to my coach Tony Canzano. Tony remembered him well; however, Harry apparently gained his sobriquet from the fact that he could confidently be counted on to be counted out after receiving one solid punch:  sic transit Gloria,  mundi.

I could go on and on about that community. Bagels and borsch soup perhaps rivalled, but not anywhere surpassed. Not even in Brooklyn. We even had a kinda  namesake of yours: Dany Finkelman . He had a Saturday night radio program: Finkelman’s 45s. !

At that period I met your friend Noam Chomsky. He came to the university on a linguistic conference.  He was still debating B.F.Skinner at that time and accepted an invitation from the Poli-Sci dept. (Vietnam Mobilization Committee?) J.B.  McPherson was present. Do you still read him? The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism?


Anyhoo, Chomsky, speaking on the Viet Man war, gave the entire academic community, continent-wide, a really thorough waxing for their moral cowardice. Too bad you missed it.

Toronto’s most famous mayor, to finish, the beloved Nathan Phillips (the city hall square is named after him) was a Jew who broke the Orange Lodge stranglehold on civic politics and became the ‘mayor of all the people. ’


All this Norman as an introduction to the fact that I watched recently American Radical on Utube. It was really very moving. Please don’t wince Norman. It really was.

You presented at the end a song from Paul Robeson; very appropriate. At the same time I remembered a defiant observation from Freud: many enemies, much honour!


Of course I should mention in closing, that you have a very appreciative readership here in Québec.


Hope to meet you some day….


Sincerely,   Patrick Glynn


PS ….on one of your public appearances that I watched you were in a kinda cultural mode and made reference to Annie Hall and sang a few bars from ‘give peace a chance.’

Norman, as a well-wisher, I’d advise you not to quit your day job without professional voice training.