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A new book by Concordia’s Norman Ravvin blends his research on migration with a personal story

Who Gets In examines the struggle the professor’s grandfather faced to bring his family from Poland to Canada in the 1930s
June 7, 2023

Smiling man in a blue T-shirt standing in front of a brick wall. Norman Ravvin: “I drew from all the sources I could gather.”

Norman Ravvin, professor in Concordia’s Department of Religions and Cultures, has published a new book, telling an account that hits close to home.

Who Gets In: An Immigration Story chronicles the story of Ravvin’s grandfather, Yehuda Yosef Eisenstein, who left Poland for Canada alone in 1930, leaving his young family behind. As a Jewish man, he was alarmed by the rise of right-wing Polish nativism, with its potential for antisemitic feeling.

The book launches at the Museum of Jewish Montreal on June 15.

Eisenstein claimed to be single when he arrived, and he soon discovered reuniting his family would be very hard.

Who Gets In follows a kind of work I’ve been doing for some time, which blends my creative writing with the research expected of academic work,” explains Ravvin, who was Concordia’s Chair in Canadian Jewish Studies and, most recently, interim director of the Concordia Institute for Canadian Jewish Studies.

“The hoped-for audience is a general one. When the University of Regina Press picked it up, they offered to put the book in a series they mount for trade books, though the bulk of their publications are vetted as one would expect at a university press,” he adds.

“So, this, too, acknowledged the unusual mix of approaches I take.”

Sepia coloured book cover with the words "Who Gets In" and picturing one soldier and two men in old-fashioned clothing. Cover of Norman Ravvin's new book.

Digging into archives

In addition to dealing with emigration from Poland, Ravvin’s story touches on life in the Saskatchewan prairies as it was experienced by Jewish newcomers.

“I drew from all the sources I could gather, to follow my maternal grandfather’s efforts to bring his family after him to Canada at a time when this was very difficult to do,” he says.

The book required years of archival research.

“I was fortunate that his letters in Yiddish and English from the time were preserved in three important archives. My effort to mine these archives is a part of the story I tell,” he notes.

For Ravvin, the book challenges the historical notion that Canada was a welcoming country.

He maintains that his grandfather’s story still resonates today. “The reality of his file is: never take no for an answer,” Ravvin says.

“The ‘none is too many’ rubric that officially ‘explains’ the Jewish efforts to enter Canada in this period does not apply to him,” says Ravvin, referring to the unofficial Canadian policy in the 1930s and ’40s that blocked Jewish immigration.

“He would not have heard this phrase but would have declined to follow its guidance.”

launch of Norman Ravvin’s new book, Who Gets In, takes place on June 15 at 7 p.m. at the Museum of Jewish Montreal (5220 St. Laurent Blvd.)

Find out more about Concordia’s Department of Religions and Cultures.



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