Our Stories are Your Stories
The Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre (OJA) is the largest repository of Jewish life in Canada. At the heart of the OJA is its collection. Collected over half a century, the collection reflects how Jewish communities around the province were built, sustained and thrived from their earliest days to the present. Within the vast collection of records from families, businesses, cultural organizations, social service agencies and religious institutions – one can discover endless stories, big and small, that make up our community’s history. The OJA supports a wide range of researchers through its vital work. Through exhibitions, programs, research assistance, and walking tours, the OJA tells the stories of Ontario’s Jewish community.
What’s in a Name?
In 1971, The Toronto Jewish Historical Society (TJHS) established an archives committee to preserve the records of Toronto’s Jewish community. This prompted the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) Central Region to join with the TJHS to establish an organization that would preserve records of Jewish communities across Ontario. At a CJC Central Region Officers’ meeting in 1973, TJHS president Victor Sefton proposed that the Historical Society’s Archives Committee become an official arm of the CJC. After approving the proposal, the CJC Central Region allocated a budget and a staff person to the Archives, beginning July 1, 1973, forming one archival organization that operated under the umbrella of the CJC, Central Region.
Since 1973, the OJA has undergone unofficial and official name changes. When first established the OJA was called the Canadian Jewish Congress Central Region Archives. When the Archives became a legal corporation in 1977, the corporation was named the Ontario Jewish Archives Foundation but the public name remained unchanged. In 1992, the responsibility for the archives was transferred to the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) Federation, and the archives’ public name officially became the Ontario Jewish Archives (OJA). The OJA remains a department of UJA Federation today. Thanks to a generous donation made by the Blankenstein family in 2014, the OJA’s public name changed to the Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre (OJA).
Our founding director, Dr. Stephen Speisman, served from 1973 until 2000 and was responsible for establishing and building the bulk of our collection. Ellen Scheinberg served as director from October 2002 until January 2011. Our current executive director, Dara Solomon, began in May 2012.
What We Do
The OJA and our collections act as a bridge between past and present, creating ongoing opportunities for building continuity and identity, knowledge sharing, and community cohesion and inclusion. The core of the OJA’s work is acquiring records with long-term historic value from the community; processing, cataloguing, and managing the preservation of the collection; and providing direct research assistance to scholars, students, curators, journalists, genealogists and the general public.
The OJA creates opportunities for the public to engage with and understand local Jewish history in a variety of ways, such as physical and virtual exhibitions; programming like podcasts, webinars, and our award-winning walking tours; and through community partnerships that extend our reach and ensure that broader Canadian narratives include the Jewish experience. The OJA also partners with local arts, culture, and heritage organizations and collaborates with local universities, school boards and Jewish day schools on various educational initiatives to share local Jewish history and increase archival literacy.
The OJA archivists support researchers from all fields taking the time to understand and help define their research inquiries and facilitating access to our records, remotely and in-person. Additionally, the OJA takes on large scale digitization initiatives to make accessing the collection easier for remote users on our website and other digital platforms.
The OJA plans strategic collection development initiatives and works closely with individuals and organizations to ensure that the OJA is understood as a safe and valued home for their records. OJA archivists interact daily with community members, building and stewarding relationships with the end goal of building a repository that represents the diverse lived experiences of Jewish communities around the province.
The OJA implements best practices in handling and storing archival collections, including monitoring environmental conditions in our vault, rehousing collections into archival-grade enclosures, as well as ensuring at-risk records are digitized for access. The OJA’s digital preservation infrastructure ensures our digital collections are safe and accessible for future generations.