90th commemoration

Samuel Rosenthal

Samuel Rosenthal

Played by Hayden Finkelshtain

Joey and Zev’s father, Samuel Rosenthal, is the proud owner of the family drug store around the corner from the Christie Pits ballpark. Unlike his wife Rebecca, he doesn’t want to think about the possibility of “Toronto the Good” falling prey to the kind of antisemitism that Jews are experiencing in Germany. But there’s more to the story: he is still deeply affected by the persecution he and his family suffered in Russia when he was a child.

Historical Context

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, unemployment was very high and living conditions were difficult. As the economic situation worsened throughout the decade, anti-Jewish feelings grew even more intense around the world, including in Toronto. Stereotypes connecting the Jewish people to financial institutions led to Jews being used as a scapegoat for the Great Depression.

The uncertainty that was created by the Great Depression caused many people to look beyond Canada's current political or economic systems for solutions. For some, fascism became the best way to deal with the effects of the Depression while preserving democracy and fending off communism.

In the mid-to-late 1800s, the small Jewish population in Toronto had largely integrated into Canadian society. Many individuals were from English-speaking countries, had settled quickly with little aid, and were professionals or merchants. It wasn’t until a large group of poorer, Yiddish-speaking immigrants settled in Toronto in the early 1900s that anti-Jewish sentiments began to rise dramatically.

Jewish immigration increased rapidly during this time because of a series of violent attacks on the Jewish people in the Russian Empire, known as the pogroms. By the 1930s, the Jewish people were the largest minority in the city; however, they were still small in numbers compared to the mostly British population. 

By 1933, the Jewish community had migrated from their earlier community in St. John’s Ward (“the Ward”) to Kensington Market, primarily because of poor living conditions and overcrowding in the Ward. By then, approximately eighty percent of Toronto’s Jewish population lived in or around Kensington Market. 

This concentration was partly due to antisemitic housing restrictions in other parts of Toronto, but also simply because Jewish people wanted to live amongst their community with shops and services that catered to their specific religious and cultural needs. Anything that was needed for the Jewish home could be found in the market and along Spadina Avenue. People would hear Yiddish on the streets and would see it written on storefronts and in their local community newspapers. 

Along with boxing, baseball was one of the few sports that was accessible to the lower classes. It was an avenue for many Jews, who faced regular discrimination, to embrace their new home and its dominant culture. Prior to the riot, the Jewish community thought they had “successfully used baseball to integrate into society and diffuse the fact that they were different than most Canadians.”