Tribute: Jules Kronis, 79, a lawyer who brought his Jewish values to Canadian politics

Jules Kronis died in Toronto on Jan. 11, 2023. This is an edited version of the eulogy delivered by his daughter Tamara Kronis.

Jules Neil Kronis was born in Toronto, the only son of Sam and Anne Kronis. But the seeds of my father’s identity were planted a generation earlier when three brothers and a sister came to Canada from Eastern Europe. Two of those brothers were cabinet makers, and they settled in the Junction which at the time, was its own town. Their names were Naftali and Abraham, and they married two sisters, Sima and Sarah Bookman, who came to Toronto from Philadelphia with their parents. Together, the Jews of the Junction hand-built an incredible synagogue, Knesset Israel, the Junction shul, which remains the oldest purpose-built synagogue building still used as a synagogue in Ontario today, and truly one of the most beautiful.

On the other side of the family, my father’s grandparents, Judah—for whom my father was named—and Fanny Finkelstone lived in Glasgow where they had two children, Phil and Anne. Tragedy struck, and Judah perished in the 1919 flu pandemic leaving the family destitute. And so, Fanny brought 14-year-old Phil and nine-year-old Anne to Canada, hoping for a better life. They landed in Quebec City on June 17, 1927, as third-class passengers and made their way to Toronto.

My uncle Phil had a massive influence on my father’s life. The Jewish community in Toronto was mostly poor at that time, and my uncle Phil had to drop out of school to support the family.  Anne grew up and married my grandfather Sam, and my father grew up in a one-bedroom apartment on College Street with his parents and his grandmother Fanny.

Uncle Phil was a role model and mentor to my dad—proof that a good life could be built with hard work. Uncle Phil taught himself to type and became a DJ at CHUM where he played the first rock ’n’ roll song in Canada. Uncle Phil ultimately became a vice-president at the station, he knew a ton of people, and he took care of his nephew. And so, when my father was just 10 years old and had to become the breadwinner in his own household, Uncle Phil got my dad a job selling programs at Maple Leaf Gardens. My father said that job saved his life.  

He sold programs at the Gardens for 16 years—through middle school, high school, and law school, doggedly working his way up through the crew to get to a good position by the entrance to the Gardens where the most program-sales money could be made. Dad sold programs at the Gardens until the night before he was called to the bar.

He also sold women’s shoes at some point, which is unfathomable to anyone who ever saw dad’s wardrobe, but is nonetheless part of the story of my dad’s bloody-minded determination to build a better life for himself and his family.

My dad had a lot of stories from when he was working at the Gardens. The boys selling programs could leave their bags in one of the stadium’s rooms during the games, but they had to come get them before the beginning of the third period. One night, when my dad went to get his bag, he found himself slammed up against the wall upon leaving the room. Once he got his wits back, he realized he had been sidelined by a secret service agent because he was about a foot away from Bobby Kennedy who had come to the game as a guest of John Bassett’s.

One of my dad’s other favourite stories from the Gardens from when he was in law school was the time that Dougie Bassett shouted over to my dad from the family box: “Hey Kronis, are you going to keep selling programs when you become a QC?”

My dad was a busy young man in those days. Warren Rumack, my dad’s friend of 70 years, recalls that in high school, my dad would meet some of his classmates for pool or pizza after selling programs at the Gardens and then go home and do his trig homework late into the night.

They were all poor. Warren and my dad toasted their 21st birthdays with tomato juice because they didn’t have enough money to get something more interesting. But what they did have was determination and moxie.

Warren remembers that dad’s signature line when he was selling programs was “Sorry, I don’t have any change”. With the money he made, my dad bought my grandparents the house they lived in. He paid that mortgage off the week before he married my mom.

In those years, my dad was also active in an all-Jewish troop of boy scouts that met every Tuesday night at Clinton Street Public School with his good friend Michael Wyman. In her memoirs, Michael’s mother Mildred Wyman of blessed memory recounts how Michael and my dad and some other boys tried to earn a difficult badge called “The Bushman’s Thong.”

Armed with a map, a compass, two matches and a potato, the boys were dropped off in Haliburton and told to locate a cache of food in a hidden thicket. They were required to make camp and cook their meal before nightfall, then set out by dawn the next day to find a rendezvous point. As Mildred recounts, it took hours of searching for clues to find the supplies which turned out to be several live chickens that had to be caught, slaughtered and cooked to make dinner which they could not even eat because the chickens were not kosher.

Mike and my dad became the second and third Jewish boys to become Queen Scouts in Canada and were rewarded with spots on the Canadian Scouting delegation to the World Jamboree in 1959 in the Philippines. Rabbi David Monson, of blessed memory, who would later officiate at my parents’ wedding, sent Michael and my dad a care package so that they would have kosher food.

My father had many, many achievements in his life, but the one he remained proudest of until the end was becoming a Queen’s Scout. And, being able to fit into his boy scout uniform well into his 40s.

My dad attended King Edward Public School and then Harbord Collegiate, where he was on the basketball team, and then he earned a bachelor of commerce and a law degree from University of Toronto. Somewhere along that journey, my father became involved in Hillel and the Hart House Debate Committee, and it was there that he got hooked on politics.

He got involved in the youth wing of the Conservatives and became fast friends with a young woman named Maureen McTeer. Maureen ultimately met and married a man named Joe Clark, and from there followed numerous meetings, events, and campaigns. 

This brings me back to the parshah, to Shemot. At the time of the enslavement of the Jews in Egypt, the sages teach that the Jews of the time were close to being completely assimilated into Egyptian culture. In fact, they were so assimilated that some of the angels are said to have objected to rescuing them. But one of the reasons that God ultimately decided that the Jews of Egypt were worth saving was that they kept their Jewish names. In short, no matter their success in Egyptian society, they remembered that they were Jews. This encapsulates who my father was in politics.

While he was certainly on deck to help with anything, my father came to politics as a Jew first and never stopped being a fierce advocate for the Jewish community. My dad helped bring Jews to Canada, he helped bring politicians to Israel, he wrote letters and he pushed Canadian governments—Conservative and otherwise—to stand shoulder to shoulder with Canadian Jewry and with Israel.

He did all of that while playing an active role in Canadian Jewish organizations and pushing them to play an active role in politics and law. When Frank Dimant and Pearl Gladman came to visit my dad in the hospital, they recounted how my dad convinced B’nai Brith to be represented at the Deschenes Commission, the inquiry on war criminals in Canada, and helped raise the money to make that possible. With Rabbi Barry Schneider of Beth Emeth and others, he helped build the synagogue at Sunnybrook Hospital.  With Bill Attewell, Joe Clark, Ron Atkey and others, he worked tirelessly to get Soviet Jews and others at imminent risk of death to Canada in the late 1980s.

And he did all of this while building a law firm and a career. Dad graduated from UofT law school in 1968, and articled at Rosenfeld Schwartz before building a law firm with Jack Rotztain and Arnold Sommers. Sommers, Kronis and Rotztain went through a few iterations on its way to being KRMC, and my dad, Jack, Arnold, Andrea and Bruce certainly had their ups and downs, but they have built quite a legacy, one that we are all proud of and that supports so many households today.

My dad conducted himself with incredible integrity at all times. He believed you had nothing if you didn’t have your good name, and so he never put his good name at risk. As Toronto mayor John Tory wrote in a note to my dad while he was in palliative care: “You have come through 50-plus years in politics liked and respected by everyone without exception and with your integrity totally intact. There aren’t many people who can say that.”

In Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers, Rabbi Shimon said:

“There are three crowns: the crown of torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of royalty, but the crown of a good name supersedes them all.”

Jules Kronis had both a good name and a good soul.

A few months ago, I got a text from a classmate I hadn’t heard from in at least 20 years. He was staying at a yeshiva hesder in Ma’alot and there was a plaque on his dorm room that read “In Honour of Frances and Jules Kronis, Our Children, Tamara Kronis and Martin Traub-Werner, Jennifer and Jeremy Simon, Sarah Kronis and Yacov Artom. Our Grandchildren, Sam, Joel, Av, Maya, Avishai, Judah and Nadav.” What’s your connection to the yeshiva?” he asked. “I have no idea,” I replied.

But this is a quintessential Jules Kronis experience. The yeshivas and synagogues of both Canada and Israel are riddled with chairs, windows, Torahs, and plaques that are a testament to my parent’s generosity. Sure enough though, I was digging through boxes in my parent’s basement last night I found a file labelled “Yeshivat Hesder—Maalot”.

I slept at the hospital for the first few weeks that dad was in palliative care. We are incredibly grateful to the PSWs, nurses and doctors for the care he received, and particularly so to all those who staffed the registration desk and checked in the hordes of visitors—there were so many visitors that Sunnybrook actually ran out of visitor stickers.

One evening, I was sitting with my dad. “You know it’s incredible,” he said to me, “I can’t believe how far we’ve come. Not bad for a kid from College Street.”

The seeds of my father’s personal history were planted in the Junction, took root on College Street, were nurtured at the UofT, blossomed on Delhi Avenue in the old riding of Armourdale, and grew like the most stubborn of invasive shrubs on Timberlane Drive. But like all things in nature, we are ephemeral, and later today, we will restore my dad to the earth in the cemetery of the Junction shul, returning him to his parents and the one-of-a-kind cast of characters that reside on Lambton Road.