KAYFETZ, BEN (1916–2002), Canadian Jewish public servant, journalist, broadcaster, human rights activist, Yiddishist. Kayfetz was born in Toronto's immigrant community. In 1939 he graduated from the University of Toronto with a B.A. in modern languages and, after a short stint as a high school teacher, he worked for the Canadian Wartime Information Board, then for the Canadian Control Commission in post-war Germany. After visiting Holocaust survivors in Displaced Person's Camps and attending the 1946 Zionist Conference in Basle, Kayfetz returned to Canada as director of public relations for the Canadian Jewish Congress (cjc). He worked in the Central Region cjc for the next 37 years, becoming director of the Joint Community Relations Committee in 1955 and executive director of the cjc Central Region in 1973. During that time he was involved with numerous issues, including international affairs, Soviet Jewry, Yiddish, kashrut and Israel advocacy. He retired in 1985, but continued to advise cjc leadership until his death in 2002.
Kayfetz is remembered for his important work advancing human rights in postwar Canada. He was instrumental in organizing successful campaigns for passage of legislation banning discrimination in employment and housing, removing nonsectarian teaching from Ontario public schools, and enactment of federal anti-hate legislation and legislation dealing with war crimes. He remained a backbone of the Canadian Jewish community's struggle against antisemites, Holocaust deniers, and racists, often organizing the secret infiltration of hate groups.
While Kayfetz insisted that he was not a professional historian, he had an encyclopedic knowledge of the Canadian Jewish community and the Toronto community in particular. He published many popular and scholarly articles on the Canadian Jewish community and freely shared his knowledge with scholars and students alike. Kayfetz was a founder and president of the Toronto Jewish Historical Society; he wrote Toronto Jewry 60 Years Ago and edited Canadian content entries in the first edition of Encyclopaedia Judaica. He was also a frequent contributor to the Globe and Mail, the Canadian Jewish Standard (under the pseudonym of Gershon B. Newman), The American Jewish Yearbook, The Jewish Chronicle of London, and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. In his last years, he was a radio commentator in Toronto.
In 1985 Kayfetz was honored with membership in the Order of Canada in 1985 in recognition of his efforts in securing human rights.
[Frank Bialystok (2nd ed.)]