Who is Morris Winchevsky?
Morris Winchevsky (né Leopold Benzion Novokhovitch) for whom our school ("Shule") is named, is a celebrated Jewish poet and one of the founders of secular Jewish culture on the North American continent. Many of his songs and poems are as timely today as when they were written.
Born in Yanova (Kovno), near Lithuania in 1856, Winchevsky wrote articles and satire in Hebrew, German and Yiddish. In London he helped found the first Yiddish Socialist newspaper "Dos Poilishe Yidl" (The Little Polish Jew) and became its editor. At this time he began to write working class songs. In later poems, Winchevsky stressed the dignity of labour and dedicated his verses to the shoemakers, tailors and carpenters. Inspired by the working class, his songs of the late 1880's do not only describe the life of the toiler but call for a struggle for a better life. Winchevsky emigrated to the United States in 1894.
While a Maccabean spirit pervaded his calls for action, he also conveyed a deep internationalism and like the prophets of ancient times, Winchevsky was a true people's prophet. His influence can be seen in the work of such American Jewish poets as Morris Rosenfeld, Dovid Edelshtat and Joseph Bovshover. In his songs and poetry, he continued to call for militant action until his death in 1932.
Our Progressive Jewish Shules
Originally written in Yiddish in 1946 and 1948 by Shule teacher
Leibel Basman (1905-1975 Teacher - Writer - Raconteur)
Abridged and translated into English by Ester Reiter
The origins of the Yiddish Shule lie in the stormy period of the Jewish Renaissance, which took place before and after the first World War. Two main strengths influenced the development of the Yiddish Shule. First, the lure of the Haskalah (the enlightenment), which arose as a movement of the Jewish bourgeoisie and middle class intelligentsia, with its primary focus on Western European culture and the ideals of Russian liberalism. The main slogan of the Maskilim was "let us bring light to the dark tents of our people of Israel." That lure, however, arose from outside. Its leaders looked from above...They were distant from and strangers to the suffering and want of the people...The path they took was "enlightened assimilation" with its adherence to Hebrew and Russian, and contempt for Yiddish, the inferior, the servant girl's language.
The other lure was the workers movement, which grew out of the emergence of the Jewish working class in Eastern Europe. Jewish workers sought to escape the
impoverishment of Jewish life initially through emigration from the villages [shtetlekh] to the cities, and later to America. This attraction was rooted in the depths of the peoples' lives...The leaders of the movement themselves emerged from the folk masses and absorbed the teachings of socialism and the self-sacrificing idealism of the Russian Narodniki (Populists). Therefore, they had a deep desire to teach the people, to make them socially aware; hence evolved their warm love of the Yiddish language and the folk creations. Morris Winchevsky, our second grandfather, was the grandfather of the Jewish working class movement with his colourful, creative, and militant life.
In the history of the Shule movement in Canada, the Morris Winchevsky Schools in Toronto will occupy an honoured place...They influenced the general development of Jewish education and showed the way for the Jewish workers' Shules...The idealism of the Shule supporters and teachers has made possible, under the most difficult conditions, progressive Jewish education in Toronto. Their enthusiasm, devotion and self-sacrifice knew no bounds. It was my fate to arrive in Canada exactly twenty years ago  and three years later to join the local workers movement when, in 1931, I was appointed as teacher in the Toronto Morris Winchevsky Shule, then on Markham Street. My arrival in Toronto I always considered a particular privilege...I was then a young and enthusiastic immigrant, a Jew from Lithuania for whom the faraway remote Canada took me by surprise with its strangeness and newness. I was full of hope in mankind and terribly naive...
We want our children to feel close to the wonderful treasures of our people to the language and our culture. Let us bring back the pioneering spirit to the Shule work. Let us bring the parents more into the Shule. Let us show them how we teach. Let us persuade them to feel the tremendous task that stands before us and before them together to build the children's school and together, bravely and boldly, go to meet the new day dawning.
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