1889 – 1949
A forceful and innovative Zionist leader, Rose Dunkelman came to prominence in Toronto during World War I because of her work for veterans, Jewish war orphans and the Red Cross. Born in Philadelphia to Harry and Dora (Belkin) Miller, at the age of twenty-one she married David Dunkelman (1880–1978), who became one of Canada’s most successful industrialists and retailers. For a short time, she participated in his business activities, chiefly the Associated Clothing Manufacturers and Tip Top Tailors, a chain of stores selling moderately priced clothing across Canada.
Although wealthy and acculturated, the Dunkelmans embraced Zionism at a time when their counterparts in the United States and elsewhere generally preferred assimilation to Jewish nationalism. The pair worked in complementary ways to advance the Zionist cause. For many years, David was Canada’s largest donor to the movement, and he guaranteed bank loans which made it possible to purchase Emek Hefer in the 1920s.
Rose was a founder and long-time vice-president of Canadian Hadassah-WIZO and served as president of its Ontario region for many years. In 1925 she was named to the National Executive of the Zionist Organization of Canada of which Hadassah-WIZO was a constituent. Later, she served as national chair of Youth Aliyah and was an active participant in the work of the Jewish National Fund for land reclamation in Palestine.
Dunkelman was a consummate fundraiser, but she was equally well known for her activism and willingness to strike out on new paths. She founded the Toronto Hadassah Bazaar in 1925 and thereafter ran it for many years. The Bazaar raises funds for projects in Israel through the sale of donated, mostly used, high quality clothing and other merchandise. Held at the Canadian National Exhibition grounds, the Bazaar remains at the turn of the twenty-first century a highly successful annual event. Dunkelman also originated and edited the Hadassah Cook Book.
When, in 1929, Maurice Eisendrath assumed the position of rabbi of Holy Blossom Temple, Toronto’s patrician, Reform and oldest synagogue, he also became editor of The Canadian Jewish Review. The young rabbi, who years later would head the Union of American [Reform] Hebrew Congregations, was a staunch anti-Zionist, and he used the paper and his pulpit to promote his views. Dunkelman led a group of community stalwarts in taking action to counter Eisendrath, whose ideas diverged greatly from community norms. They founded a new journal, The Jewish Standard, importing as its editor Meyer Weisgal (1894–1977), the American Zionist editor and impresario who acted as Chaim Weizmann’s right-hand man in the United States. Weisgal stayed in Toronto only about a year, but in that time he succeeded in putting the Standard on firm footing. It is still publishing in 2004, albeit after several changes of ownership and format.
In addition to her Zionist endeavors, Dunkelman took part in the activities of the Conservative synagogue to which her family belonged (now Beth Tzedec), the Talmud Torah and Hebrew Free Schools, the YM/YWHA, and the Federated Jewish Charities of Toronto. In the 1930s, together with Mattie Rotenberg and a number of others, she attempted to shore up the faltering Toronto Kehilla, which had been created to forge a united community organization. After World War II, she served on the Ontario Family Allowance Board.
The Dunkelmans had six children. One, Ben (1914–1997), served with distinction as an officer in Israel’s War of Independence. In addition to leading Operation Hiram, which secured the Galilee for Israel, he played an important role in the construction of the Burma Road, which circumvented the siege of Jerusalem, and introduced the notion of military rank. He later returned to Canada with his Israeli-born wife to head the family business. Fittingly, Rose Dunkelman is buried in Kibbutz Deganya Alef.