There have been three Jewish mayors in Toronto’s history, and now it seems there will be a fourth—at least according to halacha, or Jewish law.
Archival records obtained by The Times of Israel indicate that Mayor-elect John Tory has a maternal Jewish grandmother. According to the Jewish law of matrilineal descent, this makes Tory himself Jewish.
During a pre-election debate hosted last month by the Centre for Jewish and Israel Affairs and the United Jewish Appeal, mayoral candidate Doug Ford caused a stir by rattling off a list of all the Jews in his life (his doctor, his accountant, his lawyer, etc.) as a means of defending his brother, scandal plagued Mayor Rob Ford, against accusations of anti-Semitism. Ford even mentioned for the first time publicly that his evangelical Christian wife is actually Jewish on her mother’s side.
What Ford probably did not know is that he could have included Tory, who was on stage with him, as a Jewish person in his life, albeit as his political opponent.
It seems that the 60-year-old Tory’s Jewish roots are generally unknown, even within the Jewish community. Biographic articles about Tory, who was the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party from 2004 to 2009, state that he is a member of the United Church. Tory also reportedly descends on one side of his family from a soldier in the 71st Scottish Regiment who fought during the American Revolution.
Prior to provincial elections in 2007, Tory said that if he were elected premier, he would push forward a plan to provide public funding for religious schools, including Jewish ones. He also suggested that creationism could be explored in public schools, but later backpedalled, saying that he meant that discussion of creationism should be limited to religion classes and kept out of the science curriculum.
Research done by The Times of Israel with the guidance of the Ontario Jewish Archives, as well as by professional Toronto genealogist Bill Gladstone, produced documents showing that Tory’s maternal grandmother, Helen Yvonne Solomon, was born in to a Russian Jewish family in 1909. Her parents, Norman (Nathan) and Kate immigrated to Toronto in 1903.
Helen Solomon married Howard Edward Bacon, who, according to the Canadian census of 1921, lived in the same Ward 2 neighborhood as the Solomon family and adhered to the Church of England.
A newspaper death notice for Helen Solomon from 1992 (known by then as Helen Bacon Hemmings) stated that her funeral took place at a Toronto church.
Helen Solomon and Howard Bacon’s daughter Elizabeth married John A. Tory in 1953, and their son John H. Tory, the mayor-elect, was born in 1954.
Nathan Phillips, Toronto’s 52nd mayor, was the first Jewish mayor of Toronto, serving from 1955 to 1962. The two other Jewish mayors of Toronto were Philip Givens, who was mayor from 1963 to 1966, and Mel Lastman, who held the office from 1998 to 2003.
Tory, who was elected October 27, will take office as Toronto’s 65th mayor on December 1.
A request for comment on the mayor-elect’s Jewish roots sent to his transition team went unanswered, as did a request for comment from the Toronto UJA-Federation.