The complexity of the early years of Winnipeg Jewish communal life was nurtured in the soil of a contested terrain for competing ideological and philosophical perspectives that sought to place their imprint on defining the contours and texture of what it meant to be Jewish. Each of these was invested with a world view that negotiated the vicissitudes and vagaries of Jewish culture and identity with the dictates and demands of Canadian political and civil institutions. In short, this was not simply the transplanting of old-world views and customs in a new land, it was something more bolder, more engaging. It constituted an attempt to redefine what It meant to be a Jew in the maelstrom of Canadian life.
By the 1920s, the cultural, social, and political mosaic that was Winnipeg Jewry reflected a range of views, both secular and religious, including various stripes of socialism and Zionism as well as the acceptance of mainstream Canadian political parties such as the Liberals, Conservatives,and CCF/NDP .
Zionism, the appeal and commitment to the creation of a Jewish state, took on a variety of ideological forms, including Labour Zionism which integrated socialist principles with nationalist sentiments, and other strains of Zionism epitomized by the General Zionists and Mizrachi. The coterie of organizations engendered sought to guide and influence every sector of the community regardless of gender and age and utilized numerous means associated with the machinations of civil society such as charitable work, mutual aid, sports, schooling, literary groups and the performing arts. It would not be an understatement to assert that Winnipeg Jewry had created a social network of organizations that was second to none in both qualitative and quantitative terms. This was based on the premise that the essence of what it means to be a Jew transcended simplistic and unidimensional models of culture and ethnicity.
Within the Zionist framework, numerous women’s groups emerged that represented the panoply of ideological orientations. Among these was Hadassah. In the wake of the 15th national conference of the Zionist Federation of Canada held in 1917 in Winnipeg, Hadassah was proclaimed a national organization. The objective was to spread the influence and outreach of Zionism to a broader constituency, to win the hearts and minds of all Jews in the worthy cause of building Jewish nationhood. In 1920, the Winnipeg chapter was created with Goldie Finesilver elected the first president. One of its objectives and a major challenge at that time was to fundraise for the many homeless, starved and ill Palestinian Jews, victims of the Allied – Turkish war.
Accounts of the history of the Hadassah, gleaned from the works of Allan Levine and Arthur Chiel, reveal a prolific and dedicated organization. Levine wrote that one delegate to the 1924 Zionist Organization of Canada meeting characterized the Winnipeg chapter as “frantically active.”
Chiel and Levine noted that Hadassah spearheaded a bevy of significant activities. These included fundraising through teas, bazaars and raffles, to establish schools, hospitals and daycares in British Mandatory Palestine (Israel post-1948) and organizing Zionist study groups, Jewish history courses and theatrical productions. Through the guidance and efforts of Sally Gotlieb (mother of diplomat Allan Gotlieb), Winnipeg Hadassah contributed to the Youth Aliyah project which was designed to rescue children from Nazi – dominated Europe. In 1951, Gotlieb was elected national president, a testament to the sterling reputation of the Winnipeg chapter.