Hamilton Jewish News
It was a wholly unexpected but welcome discovery. The revelation that in the 1930s, there had been a locally published Yiddish language newspaper was exciting news to the creators of the Jewish Hamilton Project. Further investigation brought them to the home of Morley Balinson, whose father, Henry was the editor and publisher of the "Yiddishe Shtime deHamiltoner" or the Jewish Voice of Hamilton.
Henry Balinson immigrated to Canada from Russia in 1911 at the age of 23. His political education was nurtured in the city of Odessa, where his work as a typesetter led to his becoming active in the labour movement. In Hamilton, he was among the founders of the Arbeiter Ring, or Workmen's Circle, a strongly socialist, labour oriented Jewish organization. His business, International Press, was located at 246 King Street West, and, like many immigrants of the time, he lived with his family directly above the shop. Henry, according to his daughter-in-law, Joan Balinson, was an extremely well educated man who wrote plays and poetry and loved to talk politics. "I was 19 when I met him. He was fascinating, brilliantÉ with pale grey piercing eyes. That was his pose, his posture. [referring to the photograph above] When he looked at you like that he was totally with you. He had the ability to bring you right in, as if he was totally interested in you."
Unlike her husband, Henry's wife, Sarah Garshowitz, "was a very simple peasant," who was patient, quiet, and well loved for her work on the Hevra Kadisha.
Fond memories of the rich fabric of early Jewish Hamilton notwithstanding, the fact is that for many immigrants, life was a constant struggle. Well educated and highly literate, Henry stood out among the Jewish immigrants of his day, and a particular source of bitterness was the success of these "proster yidn" while he struggled to make a living.
"He worked very hard raising five kids and putting two through university," said Joan. "He couldn't talk to these immigrants who had no educationÉ.Who did you talk to if you were argumentative and opinionated?"
It was the pages of the Jewish Voice that served as an outlet for Henry's opinions and observations, particularly in the paper's signature front-page column, "Mein Shpatsir iber Hamilton" (My stroll around Hamilton). According to his son Morley, Henry used this space to provide his readers with a colourful commentary on Jewish Hamilton one that was just as likely to receive praise as to raise hackles.
In addition to the Jewish Voice, International Press attracted business from a number of other immigrant groups because of its ability to typeset in Polish, Cyrillic, Russian, Ukrainian, Hungarian, and Latvian. A frequent visitor was the Catholic Polish priest from St. Stanilaus Church who would engage Henry in long and heated discussions in Hebrew about the Talmud. And, if he stopped by on a Friday, he was treated to homemade gefilte fish from Sarah.
The year 1925 marked the beginning of a string of tragic events that would set off a downward spiral for Henry and Sarah. The life of their four-year-old daughter Ann ended tragically when her dress caught fire while playing firecrackers with a group of children in the alley behind their shop. Another son, Reuben, succumbed to Diphtheria. But the event from which Henry never recovered was the death of his son Alex, a CAF wireless air gunner who, at the age of 24, was killed in an air raid in World War II on the island of Malta.
Henry railed against his son's untimely death in a eulogy on the front page of his newspaper that included these bitter words, "when you took my son, you gave me a free hand. I am promising to give up writing anything that is false. I break off my ties with the world..."
According to Joan, those words turned out to be prophetic. "He continued to live but he never made a recovery," adding, "I think family units either fell apart with that sort of situation or they became stronger. And it was much more difficult to become stronger." Morley was taken out of Westdale school to help run the business, with help from his younger siblings Victor and Goldie, who at the age of five was collating jobs in the shop. The eldest son, Bob had his own medical practice. He had obtained his degree at the University of Toronto but had to intern in the United States due to quotas against Jews in Canadian hospitals.
In 1961, Henry Balinson passed away at the age of 75 from a stomach hemorrhage that was most likely brought on by excessive drinking. His daughter-in-law is convinced that he was clinically depressed. "Today, [Henry] would have been seen as one who was suffering from the disease of depression and it got in the way of life, which it does in people. I think he must have been a tormented soul."
The history of a community is only as interesting as its inhabitants who have lived, loved, suffered and rejoiced within its streets and alleys. By this benchmark Henry Balinson can be said to have been one of this communityÕs most interesting personalities.