Hirsch Wolofsky, the founder and long-time managing editor of the Keneder Adler, Montreal’s only Yiddish daily newspaper, was born in 1879 in a small village in Poland. His father was a crown rabbi, a functionary of the tsarist regime. Wolofsky received a traditional religious education before his parents died when he was 15. He soon married and in 1900 joined two of his brothers who had already moved to Montreal.
Wolofsky lost his first business, a fruit store on St. Lawrence Boulevard, to a fire, and with the insurance money salvaged from the disaster he founded the Eagle Publishing Co. in 1907, and began publishing the city’s first daily Yiddish newspaper, the Keneder Adler (“Canadian Eagle”). The Adler served the fast-growing Jewish community whose native tongue, Yiddish, was then the third most widely spoken language in Montreal. The Adler specialized in local Jewish news, but also published stories in Yiddish about events around the world, often taking a Jewish and socialist angle, which for some readers was not socialist enough and for others was too radical. It encouraged and hosted the city’s most distinguished writers,reported on labour disputes and on the vibrant Yiddish theatre, and created in its pages a vibrant cultural stage. The most important function of the Keneder Adler was to mediate the everyday negotiations between new Yiddish-speaking arrivals and the different groups into which they hoped to assimilate – including the pre-existing Jewish community, and overall Montreal, Canadian and Quebec society.
Samuel Bronfman called Hirsch Wolofsky “both a recorder and maker of Canadian history.” Indeed, in addition to his responsibilities at the Adler, Wolofsky was deeply involved in other aspects of life in the Montreal Jewish community: mediating labour disputes, engaging in fierce political debates, and establishing schools, hospitals, libraries, and communal service organizations. Wolofsky was intimately involved in the creation in 1922 of the Va’ad Ha’Ir (Jewish Community Council), which oversaw 66 community organizations, including labour unions, benefit societies, synagogues, and Zionist groups. Interestingly, for such a politically engaged Jewish intellectual, Wolofsky was also a religiously observant Jew, and wrote columns on each week’s Torah portion, publishing it in the Adler in 1928–1929 in a column called Eybiken kvall (“From the Eternal Source”).
Wolofsky published three books, including Mayn lebns rayze (1946), which the poet A. M. Klein translated into English as Journey of My Life. In 2005, the city of Montreal dedicated a park to Wolofsky on Coloniale between Sherbrooke and Prince Arthur, not far from the former office of the Adler.
After Wolofksy’s death in 1949, the newspaper was run by his son Max, who struggled to maintain its relevance in the face of a declining Yiddish language. After unsuccessful reincarnations as a weekly and as a bilingual English–Yiddish publication, the Adler finally folded in 1977.
Compiled by Richard Kreitner.
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Levendel, Lewis. A Century of the Canadian Jewish Press. Ottawa: Borealis Press, 1989.
Medres, Israel. Trans. Vivian Felsen. Montreal of Yesterday : Jewish Life in Montreal 1900-1920. Véhicule Press: Montreal, 2000.
Robinson, Ira. Rabbis and Their Community. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2007.
Rome, David. Men of the Yiddish Press. Montreal: Canadian Jewish Congress, 1989.
Wolofsky, Hirsch. Trans. A. M. Klein. Journey of My Life. Montreal: Eagle Publishing Co., 1945.
*Images courtesy of the Jewish Public Library Archives and the Canadian Jewish Congress Charities Committee National Archives.