FOX, RIVKA (Rebecca) (Landsberg), Jewish communal worker and philanthropist; b. 21 Dec. 1863 in Biebrusk (Babruysk, Belarus), daughter of Leib Wolf Fox and — Rosenberg; m. c. 1880 Abraham Landsberg in Russia, and they had six daughters and three sons; d. 20 Feb. 1917 in Toronto.
Rivka Landsberg epitomized the dedication of the urban Jewish home-maker whose volunteer service had a significant impact on her community. After leaving Russia she and her family spent some time in England, where two of their children were born in the early 1890s. In 1893 or 1894 the Landsbergs came to Toronto. Abraham found work as a tailor while Rivka, confronted by the absence of any practical means of distributing charity among East European Jews, who congregated largely in St John’s Ward, soon involved herself in ameliorating the living conditions of this emerging community. One of the founders in 1899 of the Toronto Hebrew Ladies’ Aid Society, the first formal charitable organization among East European Jews, she served as principal inspector for its investigating committee, formed after 1903 to seek out destitute families.
Unlike the investigators of comparable organizations outside the Jewish community and of the ladies’ society of the local English Jews [see Solomon Jacobs], whose approach was to grant relief only to the “deserving poor,” Landsberg operated on Talmudic principles she would have known in Russia. These directed that no questions be asked and that families who had fallen on hard times be maintained at the living standard to which they had been accustomed. She saw her task, therefore, as ensuring that the poor asked for what they really required, and she arranged for food and fuel to be delivered anonymously. As well, she reported to the society on women “in confinement” who might need volunteer assistance with child care, household duties, and shopping; paid weekly visits to those receiving relief; and participated in the door-to-door collection of funds for the society. Since her husband had achieved some success in cloak-making and she had invested wisely in real estate in the Ward, she was able to supplement these moneys with donations of her own. Moreover, she headed the drive to purchase the first hearse to be used exclusively by the local Jewish burial society (Chesed Shel Emes).
She was one of the founders in 1909 of the Jewish Day Nursery, an outgrowth of a day-care centre set up that year by the Hebrew Ladies’ Aid Society to prevent the children of working mothers from being placed in Christian facilities. Eventually the nursery was situated in a house run as a Jewish charities building. Landsberg was also instrumental in 1909 in organizing an orphanage on Simcoe Street, the Jewish Children’s Home. She visited it every day and played with the young children, and would serve as its vice-president for the remainder of her life.
Rivka Landsberg was not well known outside her community. When she died suddenly from a brain tumour in 1917 at age 53, little attention was paid by the English-language press, which was preoccupied with wartime news. The Yiddisher Zhurnal/Daily Hebrew Journal (Toronto), however, accorded her passing front-page coverage, and her funeral was attended by the leadership of the Jewish community and throngs of ordinary people. Her casket was escorted through the Jewish neighbourhood to McCaul Street Synagogue (Beth Hamidrash Hagodol Chevra Tehillim), where it was carried into the sanctuary, an honour reserved in Orthodox practice for great scholars and exceptionally righteous individuals. Rabbi Jacob Gordon eulogized her in glowing terms, describing her death as a loss for the entire community. He recalled her as an exemplary mother who had reared an orphan in addition to her own family, a universally beloved woman who had helped both rich and poor. She was buried in the Jewish cemetery on what is now St Clair Avenue East.
A tribute to Rivka Landsberg written by her daughter Lillian in 1972, “I remember Mama,” was graciously transcribed and provided by a granddaughter, Michele Landsberg of Toronto, from a mimeograph copy in her possession.
AO, RG 22-305, no.33758; RG 80-3-2-73, no.901833; RG 80-8-0-613, no.2082. NA, RG 31, C1, 1901, Toronto, Ward 3, div.14: 7 (mfm. at AO). Private arch., S. A. Speisman (Thornhill, Ont.), Interview with Ida Lewis Siegel, 20 Jan. 1972. Canadian Jewish Times (Montreal), 1 Aug., 19 Dec. 1913. Globe, 23 Feb. 1917. Yiddisher Zhurnal/Daily Hebrew Journal (Toronto), 21 Feb. 1917. The Jew in Canada: a complete record of Canadian Jewry from the days of the French régime to the present time, ed. A. D. Hart (Toronto and Montreal, 1926). S. A. Speisman, The Jews of Toronto: a history to 1937 (Toronto, 1979).