Rose and Benjamin Dunkelman

Rose Dunkelman circa 1905

The Dunkelman family constituted a Zionist dynasty of sorts. But unlike patrilineal dynasties, this dynasty passed from mother to son.

Rose Dunkelman (née Miller) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1889. When Rose was fourteen years old, her family moved to Toronto. It was there that she met and married David Dunkelman (1883–1978), the founder and president of Canadian menswear retailer Tip Top Tailors. While Rose participated in her husband’s business activities for a time, her real passion was Zionism. She gave generously of her time to numerous organizations, several of which she founded, including Canadian Hadassah-WIZO, Youth Aliyah, and the Zionist Organization of Canada. In 1925, she founded the Toronto Hadassah Bazaar, which raised funds for various projects in Israel. She and David, himself a committed Zionist, also established the Jewish Standard, a Zionist periodical intended to counter the anti-Zionist line of the Canadian Jewish Review, which was edited by Rabbi Eisendrath of Holy Blossom Temple. When Rose died at the age of fifty-nine, she was buried in Goel Tzedec’s cemetery on Dawes Road. Her remains were subsequently re-interred at Degania Alef, Israel, in 1951 in accordance with her wishes.

Benjamin “Ben” Dunkelman was one of six children born to David and Rose Dunkelman. Born in 1913, Ben grew up on his family’s thirty-six-hectare estate, the site of today’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. At the age of eighteen, Dunkelman travelled to what was then Palestine in order to live the life of a kibbutznik—a decision that was influenced in no small part by his mother’s idealism. In his memoir, Dual Allegiance, Ben would recall, “I went off a flabby, pampered boy; I returned as a tough young man who had seen the world.” When the Second World War broke out, Ben volunteered to fight even though he could have evaded military service had he wanted (according to Mitch Potter, foreign affairs writer at the Toronto Star, the family business was inundated with orders for military uniforms). After serving with distinction in the Canadian Army, Ben returned to the Holy Land to fight in Israel’s War of Independence. In that war, he helped break the siege of Jerusalem and, as commander of Israel’s 7th Battalion, took Nazareth for the nascent Jewish state. Notably, Ben defied a direct order to expel the city’s Arab population. Partly as a consequence of his decision, Nazareth remains Israel’s most populous Arab city. After the war, Ben returned to Canada with his wife Yael, herself a corporal in the Israeli army. Back in Canada, he resumed his work in the family business before turning to real-estate and, later, art, with he and Yael running several restaurants in addition to the Dunkelman Gallery. He died in 1997 at the age of eighty-three.

Archivist Notes

The records that make up the Dunkelman fonds offer fascinating insights into one family’s contribution to the building of the State of Israel in the first half of the twentieth century. In so doing, they showcase the different ways individuals contributed to this monumental project, for example, donating money, volunteering time, or taking up arms.

3 Responses

  1. David Dunkelman married my great great grandfather Jacob Greisman’s brother Henry (not to be confused with his son S. Henry, my great grandfather) Greisman’s daughter Pearl Greisman (who was widowed by Harry Rotenberg in 1937) in 1950 after Rose passed away in 1949.

    Pearl passed away at age 91 in 1976, I believe still married to David Dunkelman. He was 96 when he passed two years later.

    Do you have any information on Pearl and David? Since they were married for over 20
    years after Rose passed away I think it would add to your exhibit.


    1. Hi, Ben!

      We have a small amount of material documenting David Dunkelman. In the Benjamin Dunkelman fonds, for example, there is a David and Rose Dunkelman sub-series that contains some five centimetres of textual records plus three photographs. Unfortunately, we do not have a fonds for David as we do for Rose and Ben. As for Pearl, I’m not aware of any records; however, I’d encourage you to search our website to see what you can find!

      Thank you for your question!

      1. Thanks!
        The Jewish Foundation had a gala in 2017 to share the history of Henry Greisman, Pearl’s father, at Beth Tzedek, so they are sharing their research with me through their vice president, Janice Benatar.

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