August 28, 2018 marks my 40 year anniversary working at The Canadian Jewish News. 4,000 papers later, I sit here reminiscing and wondering where the time went. How could a job that was supposed to be a short stint of a couple of months stretch out to be a 40 year career? It’s funny how life’s journey takes you on a road you never thought you’d travel.
Here’s how it began…
On a crowded street in Tel-Aviv, the Egged bus driver came to an abrupt stop, put his arm over the back of his seat, narrowed his eyes and glared in my direction. I froze. He proceeded to yell at the guy sitting beside me who was spitting garinim, sunflower seed shells all over the bus floor. I had to laugh, what a place this was. After living here for a year, Israel had a hold of my soul. It was at that moment I knew where I belonged. I needed a plan.
I was 21 years old. I would fly home to Toronto, go back to school, save some money and make Aliyah.
It didn’t take long before I was accepted into a tourism program at Ryerson. I had 5 months to work and save before school started. Sitting at my kitchen table, I scanned the classified section of the Toronto Star. There it was, the perfect job, The Canadian Jewish News was looking for a receptionist. Could it get any better than that? It was besheret. Growing up, The Canadian Jewish News arrived week after week in my mailbox. It was a familiar staple in our home.
Armed with a resume, letters of reference, a new outfit and the gift of gab I walked in for my interview and walked out with the job. I started work the following Monday, August 28, 1978.
Within a couple of weeks I was promoted to the advertising department where I could really be part of the action. The newspaper business was exciting. The sounds of the reporters pounding the keys on their typewriters, smoldering cigarettes burning in ashtrays, the telex machine spitting out messages from our Montreal office, a headliner machine thumped out long strips of headlines, a waxing machine, boxes of border tapes, exacto knives, broadsheet cardboard flats, and lots of people to put it all together. The energy and intensity was infectious and I wanted to be part of it.
Plans changed and my dream of living in Israel faded. I didn’t need to be a travel agent, I found a fabulous, exciting career with hands on training and a pay cheque.
Over the years editors came and went, employees came and went, but I was surprised how much of the staff stayed for what seemed like forever. Despite other job offers, I became one of those people. We called ourselves “lifers”.
The CJN was more than a job, it was my second family. We shared every stage of life with each other; marriage, divorce, pregnancies, children, grandchildren, illness, good-byes and death. Working with the same people for decades, you hear every detail, every vacation, every High Holiday or Passover drama. You share wedding plans, holiday recipes and lots of vacation photos, aches and pains, family drama. You laugh together, rejoice in every simcha and support each other through sorrows.
We worked hard but had fun doing it.
You know that feeling when the blood drains out of your face and little cold sweat beads form on your forehead? It’s the feeling we got when we gathered around one of the desks to gawk at the horrible typo we could do nothing about, knowing the phones would soon be ringing off the hook. Some of the more memorable ones were – Jewish Pubic Library, short sleeve shits, kosher chocolate mouses, Kedem rape juice, and my all time favorite – tucked away in the woods printed as *ucked away in the woods.
My advice column, Ask Ella was first published in 1995. Since I was dubbed the “Dear Abby” of the office anyway, Paul Lungen, a reporter and fellow “lifer”, suggested to our editor Mordechai Ben-Dat that I become the advice columnist in The CJN. People in the community got to know my face from the photo that ran with the column. I’ve been asked advice in the strangest places; bathroom lineups, in line at TJFF, at United Bakers, the doctor’s office, parties, weddings, funerals, shivas, – just about everywhere. Writing Ask Ella also led me to write a Holocaust book, which was recognized by the Ontario Library Association and today Hidden Gold is in schools across Ontario being used to teach kids of all religions and cultures about the Holocaust, about tolerance and acceptance. I loved presenting at Holocaust Education Week, and being invited to schools across the city to talk and teach about this important topic.
It was April 2013 when the rug was pulled out from our untouchable existence. Donald Carr, the president of the board, announced that after all these years we were shutting down operations. The last paper would roll off the press in June. The print newspaper business was hit hard and papers were shutting down everywhere. It was the end of an era. How could this happen? How could a paper that had been part of the Canadian Jewish landscape simply no longer exist?
Word traveled fast…very fast. Within the hour the phones rang from Toronto, Montreal, other parts of Canada, Israel, and the U.S. The emails poured in from subscribers and advertisers. Our community was not letting this paper go down without a fight.
Many hard decisions had to be made and our CJN family was torn apart for the greater good of keeping a Jewish voice alive for our communities. The staff was cut in half, we moved to much smaller offices, we went from Canada Post delivery to door-to-door drop off. Elizabeth Wolfe, stepped in as president of the board, a position her father Ray Wolfe held when I first started at the paper. Mordechai Ben-Dat, the long-time editor of the paper, stepped down stating that it was time for a younger editor to take over.
Yoni Goldstein came on board and changed the direction and look of the paper. It needed to speak to a younger audience if it was going to survive. With the Internet and social media taking over, news was instantaneous and free. Gone were the days when The CJN was a “news” paper. Yoni had to address the challenges the Jewish communities of today were facing. He needed to keep the original, loyal subscribers happy, while bringing in new, fresh ideas to engage a younger, growing, Jewish audience. The CJN needed an online presence.
Today The CJN is still a major part of the Jewish landscape. Week after week there are relevant features, excellent columns, editorials, controversial political stories, recipes, entertainment, events calendar and it’s still a great place to compare prices for gefilte fish before the holidays. There’s something for everyone.
It’s inspiring to see a younger staff as engaged and excited as I was when I first started.
As for the old gang, some have passed away, but their legacy and their writing lives on. So many of us are still friends. Facebook and Instagram has allowed us to continue to be part of every milestone of our original CJN family. We’ve never lost touch. We continue to rejoice in each other’s simchas and support each other through difficult times, and we’re still comparing brisket, turkey, kugel and dessert recipes for the high holidays.
Today as I mark my 40th anniversary at The CJN, I’m now the operations manager and continue to write Ask Ella. About 20% of the current staff are original CJN “lifers.” I still subscribe to the paper and receive my CJN on my front porch every Wednesday morning. I love seeing it on my kitchen table. I still love my job, it makes me feel connected, exactly like it did when I was growing up, part of a vibrant, active, Jewish community.
Once a family, always a family.