THERE IS NO “OTHER” COMMUNITY
by Ted Schmidt
So the trail has led to this place, Adath Israel synagogue on a brisk December night.
In the afterglow of Christmas holiday and celebrations,I happened to mention to two of my grown daughters that I had been invited to read from my memoir Shabbes Goy: A Catholic Boyhood.
I chuckled to myself when they both chimed in like they were seven and ten rather than twenty-seven and thirty-one: “Can we come, Dad?”
And here we were as guests of the vibrant L’Chaim club, a dynamic group of largely seniors in one of Toronto’s most established conservative synagogues.
It was not difficult to choose a passage to read. The incident I described was a seminal moment in my young life. As well, my heart was still heavy from the recent death of one of the protagonists in the incident, Dr. Harvey Atin, then a twenty-one year old playground supervisor and my coach at the time.
Harvey had assembled a great ball team at Harbord Collegiate that summer of 1950. We were “pee wees,” under twelve. We were also (though I never realized it) all Jews, except for me, the eldest son of a large Irish-Catholic family.
Harvey was a great coach who placed sportsmanship at the pinnacle of lessons he wished to teach. He demanded that we comport ourselves like young gentlemen. This was a city championship team which whipped everybody, and I was an eighty-pound second baseman, a passionate soul on fire eagerly drinking in Harvey’s every word. We had internalized our beloved coach’s warning never to gloat or show up the opposition. This day we were off to play McMurrich.
The very name richly symbolized the Toronto of my youth. The school was named after William McMurrich, the mayor of Toronto in 1881. It was a block away from Ossington Avenue named after the ancestral home of the Dennisons, a prominent British family of early Toronto. All of the adjacent streets were similarly named. Most of the local citizenry was of British stock. Though we did not realize it, each of us was wearing an invisible Star of David. We were indeed “the Jews from Harbord.”
It was terribly confusing for me. Why were these guys getting angry as the score mounted? Could it have been that after Schmidt batting leadoff, I was followed by Baumal, Klein, Analevitz, Cooper, Kline, Gold, Weisbart and Fruitman? Indeed that seemed to be the case. As soon as the last out was recorded, the bottles flew and the ugly racist curses followed us down Shaw street with our vanquished and humiliated opponents in hot pursuit.
I thought my twelve year old heart would burst as we finally reached the friendly confines of our own playground. Five years after the world had discovered Auschwitz, Treblinka and the other death camps of Europe, I had experienced the ugly virus which leaps land and sea, the virus for which no cure has yet been discovered; racism.
For many years I pondered this mystery. The fact that I was judged, convicted and verbally abused because I was a Jew really rattled me.What had I done to merit this? What had my friends done to experience such rejection? What had Manny Gold’s nine aunts and uncles done to be incinerated at Treblinka? Why had Brian Analevitz’s cousin Mordechai Analiewicz, perished under Mila 18? Did not the heroic leader of the armed uprising in the Warsaw ghetto have so much living to do?
In time, the questions coalesced into a steely resolve to do something about this monstrous injustice. In my thirty-three years as an educator I pioneered the teaching of the Holocaust within Catholic education. It also put me into contact with the many survivors of the Shoah, and the marvelous work of the Holocaust Remembrance Committee.
And led me this evening to Adath Israel with two of my children.
After reading from my memoir, I suggested to the Jewish community assembled there that certainly one positive thing has come out of September 11. We are realizing that no community should live in isolation, treated as “the other” as Jews were in 1950. There should be no such entity as “those people, the different ones.” One gentleman present who had just returned from the World Zionist Congress said that that was one of the messages heard loud and clear.
On our way home, Eileen and Susannah raved about the warmth and hospitality extended during the evening, the stimulating conversations we had, the essential commonality of our lives. For me, it was an evening of pure, unmerited grace.
And it probably never would have happened had not a young Catholic boy been chased down a Toronto street 50 years ago, his only crime that he was “a Jew from Harbord.”
Ted Schmidt is the author of Journeys to the Heart of Catholicism (Seraphim). He is currently editor of New Catholic Times: Sensus Fidelium (newcatholictimes.com). He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.