Page 21 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 30

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— M
o n tr e a l
ew ish
u b l ic
Canada at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the
twentieth centuries, they found none of the traditions and insti­
tutions familiar to them. Many of the men came to Canada long
before their families and worked to save the family passage
money from their meagre earnings as Hebrew teachers, peddlers
or workers in the clothing trade. Living in straitened economic
circumstances, they felt keenly the lack of mental stimulation
the folk library had provided. Eventually, the Jewish Public
Library was to supply such an institution for this Yiddish-speaking
The Beginnings of the L ibrary
As early as 1888, Alexander Harkavy and several associates
established a Hebrew library in Montreal, but this venture was
short-lived. Twelve years later, two small libraries were founded:
one by the Zionist Organization, the other by the Baron de
Hirsch Institute. Since both libraries were open only during
the day, they did not meet the needs of the working population.
In 1903 a reading room was opened above the Yiddish book
store owned by Harry Hershman. To ensure a well-balanced yet
varied content, Mr. Hershman travelled to New York to consult
the editorial staff of the
T zukun ft,
though the amount available
for book purchase was only twenty dollars. The Jewish Public
Library possesses several volumes from this collection which
still contain the regulations “to be strictly observed.” One such
rule states, “Books may be kept for one week on pain of a daily
fine of one half cent.” Another stipulates, “Deposit on book
500, charge for loan 50.”
In this same year a small discussion and reading circle was
formed by a number of young men, members of the Dorshai
Zion (Seekers of Zion) group. Because of cramped quarters,
they brought reading materials from their homes to each meeting,
carrying them back at the end of the evening. A youth later
donated twelve dollars, his week’s salary, to purchase a book­
case. Subsequently, this group moved to larger quarters but
dissolved several years later, and the books were stored in the
home of a former member.
The Poale Zion organization also established a library in 1903
which, within a few years, had outgrown its premises. In 1912
this organization called a convention of the Jewish labor associa­
tions, many of which were the Canadian offshoots of European
organizations and therefore concerned not only with the working
conditions of their members but with adult education as well.
I t was this common interest that prompted the convention’s