Medres’ Montreal

Israel Medres

Israel Medres’ Jewish Montreal

By Eiran Harris

Israel Jonah Medres was born in 1894 in Lechovich, White Russia. At the age of 13 he was enrolled in the Lida Yeshiva (Jewish seminary) which was known for incorporating secular

subjects into the religious curriculum. During his three years at the Yeshiva he acquired a well-rounded basic education. Fleeing the anti-Semitic persecution of Tsarist Russia he arrived in Montreal at the age of sixteen in 1910.

During his first twelve years in Montreal, Medres held a variety of jobs, including stevedoring and tailoring. These experiences resulted in his lifelong involvement in the Labour movement.

In 1922 he was hired by Montreal’s Yiddish language daily the Keneder Adler (Jewish Eagle) as a staff writer. He remained with the newspaper until his death in 1964, occupying positions of court reporter, labour editor, current affairs columnist, news editor and enthusiastic factotum. He was a keen observer and chronicler of the social history of Montreal’s Jewish community. His articles were reprinted in Yiddish publications throughout the world.

Medres was an active member of the Labour Zionist movement, a sought-after speechwriter and was considered a “living encyclopedia” of the Jewish community. He also edited the local Labour Zionist newspaper “Dos Vort” (The Word) and was the Montreal correspondent for the New York Daily “Morgen Zhurnal” (Morning Journal.)

Medres was at ease with a variety of people; bundists, atheists, Zionists, religious, trade unionists, philanthropists, merchants and idealists, and they felt comfortable with him.

His first book “Montreal of Yesterday” was published in Yiddish in 1947. In it Medres recorded the social history of the Jewish immigrants residing in Montreal prior to 1920. It was written for them in a simple Yiddish which they could understand. The book contained a compilation of his newspaper columns which appeared over a period of many years.

In 1997 “Montreal of Yesterday” was translated into French by anthropologist Pierre Anctil, who was aware of the book’s vital importance to the study of Quebec’s ethnic history. In 2000 the book was translated into English by Vivian Felsen, Medres’ granddaughter.

The accompanying gallery texts are re-printed with the generous permission of Véhicule Press.