Sandra Brown is an outstanding leader of the Toronto Jewish community. Brown received her BSc in pharmacology from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1963 and her MSW from McGill University two years later. She then worked as a psychiatric social worker at the Jewish General Hospital of Montreal and later as a family counsellor with the Family Service Association of Toronto. She has also been recognized for her volunteer work with a number of social service agencies, most in the Toronto Jewish community. In 2005, Brown was awarded the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award, which celebrated her decades-long efforts in building an exceptional Jewish education service and developing and leading numerous programs surrounding vocational services, counselling, and special education for persons with disabilities.
Family and Education
Sandra (Sandy) Brown, an outstanding leader of the Toronto Jewish community at the turn of the twenty-first century, is one of the many Canadians—especially Jews—who in the post-World War II era left smaller communities across the country for Toronto. Born in 1941 and raised in Saint John, New Brunswick, Brown is the daughter of Joseph Tanzman (1903–1981), and Celia Bernice Soles (Soltz) Tanzman (1911–1998). Her father, a physician, was brought to Canada from Warsaw by his parents in 1906. Her mother, a homemaker, was a native of Grand Valley, Ontario, and was a certified early childhood educator who taught nursery school for a short time. Brown received her BSc in pharmacology from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1963 and her MSW from McGill University two years later.
Following graduation from McGill, Brown worked for a year as a psychiatric social worker at the Jewish General Hospital of Montreal. She then assumed a post as a family counselor with the Family Service Association of Toronto. Her real “career,” however, has been volunteer work with a number of social service agencies, most of them in the Toronto Jewish community. She is one of the most influential and effective leaders of Toronto Jewry, highly regarded as a person of extraordinarily broad experience, unfailing fairness and commitment, and unusually deep knowledge of education.
Brown’s adult life has been characterized by extraordinary service to the community but no less by dedication to her family. Since 1963 she has been married to Melvin Brown, an orthodontist (b. 1939); they have three daughters: Heidi Rachel Minsky (b. 1966), Mara Ruth Shore (b.1967), and Naomi Beverly Mason (b. 1969). She maintains a lively interest in music, the Hebrew language, potting, tennis, skiing, and bridge.
Service to the Community
As a foot soldier, Brown has worked with the United Way, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Kidney Foundation, the Salvation Army, Senior Care for the Jewish Elderly, the Heart Fund, and the United Jewish Appeal. She has served as president of the Forest Hill Nursery School, the Yachad Chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women, the Parent-Teachers Association of Bialik Hebrew Day School, and the board of directors of the Jewish Vocational Service. She was the first woman elected president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Toronto, a post she occupied from 1995 to 1997. Brown has chaired the board of directors of the Bialik School, the Educational Counselling Centre of the Jewish Vocational Service, the 1987 and 1988 National Education Conferences of the Canadian Zionist Federation, and the Toronto Board of Jewish Education, as well as school, Jewish Federation, and other community committees, including the Educational Planning and Allocations Committee of the Toronto Jewish Congress (1988–1990).
Policy task forces in which Brown played a leading role have investigated services for the learning challenged and the special education needs of Jewish day schools, the delivery of second-language instruction, and school evaluation. She has actively assisted the management of Jewish agencies in negotiating labor union contracts. She also co-chaired a Continental Leadership Conference on Jewish Education of the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA) and served on the JESNA board and executive.
Through her work with the Jewish Vocational Service of Greater Toronto, Brown has guided many people in finding their life’s path. Brown served as JVS Toronto Board Chair from 1986 to 1988. Regarding that time, she stated that “immigration to Canada saw people arriving from Hungary, Poland, Romania, former Yugoslavia, Israel and Middle Eastern countries; and many found their way to JVS Toronto for job search support. A partnership with JIAS Toronto was formed to help the continued wave of Jewish newcomers from Russia connect quickly to employment” (Chabot)..
The foregoing is by no means an exhaustive list of Sandra Brown’s communal activities. What is more remarkable than the extent of her involvements, however, is Brown’s willingness to engage in every level of community activity. Although she has occupied the most prestigious and important volunteer positions in the Toronto community, she has also participated in committee work in a variety of agencies, including her (Conservative) synagogue, Beth Tzedec.
Honors and Awards
Beginning in her student days, Brown has been the recipient of a number of awards. In 1987, she was presented with the Shem Tov Award of the Toronto Jewish Congress and in 1991 and 1995 with the Ontario Government Volunteer Service Award. In 2002, she was honored for her contributions to the community by the She’arim School for learning-challenged Jewish children in Toronto.
In 2005, Sandra Brown was awarded a Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers entitled the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award. The award celebrated Brown’s decades-long efforts in building an exceptional Jewish education service and developing and leading numerous programs surrounding vocational services, counselling, and special education for persons with disabilities. She was commended for always treating others with thoughtfulness and respect and helping establish social and cultural services for women and seniors in the Toronto Jewish community.
Sandra Brown’s dedicated work has impacted the lives of countless people. She has labored tirelessly in various capacities with the motivation of helping others. She is both a leader and a guide. Brown’s commitment to serving her community, to education, and to improving the lives of other people, sets an inspiring example for anyone seeking to help other people, and strengthen communities.
Chabot, Donna. “The Power of Employment over 70 Years.” JVS Toronto. JVS Toronto, November 7, 2017. https://www.jvstoronto.org/news-highlights/the-power-of-employment-over-70-years/.
Office of the Secretary to the Governor General. “Mrs. Sandra Brown: Sovereign's Medal for Volunteers.” The Governor General of Canada. Government of Canada. Accessed April 12, 2021. https://www.gg.ca/en/honours/recipients/342-15375.