Obituary: Jack Prince, 96, a pillar of Halifax’s Jewish community and a steadfast supporter of Israel

Barbara and Jack Prince

Jack Prince disembarked in Halifax harbour in the summer of 1939, at age 11. He spoke no English, but was fortunate enough to be aboard the last ship out of Poland before the start of the Second World War.

And when he died on March 8, at the age of 96, Prince left a legacy that changed not just the Halifax Jewish community but also impacted future generations in Israel.

His wife Barbara said that, after the Oct. 7 attacks, he even revised his will to leave a $1-million bequest to impacted families.

“Jack Prince was an accomplished and highly regarded man,” said Mark David, president of the Atlantic Jewish Council. “It was hard to do anything Jewish in Halifax without bumping into him. He was involved in everything.

“Jack was a pillar of the Jewish community in every way possible; he took on important leadership positions in all aspects of Jewish life from synagogue to Camp Kadimah, to Israel and everything in between. He was also an extremely well-respected member of the Halifax legal community,” said David.

Shmul and Sara Prince’s youngest son Jack was born on Yom Kippur 1927. “His father was a leathersmith. It was a family of modest means,” his son Seymour said. “Jack grew up with his older brothers Dovid, Zvi, Yehoshua and Yechiel in Ludmir. It was a town where you were either ‘frum’ or ‘ultra frum.’” 

By 1939, his older brothers were in yeshivah and his mother Sara had the foresight to get Jack out of Poland.

“In 1939 there were three ways to emigrate,” explained Barbara Prince. “If you were clergy, if you were a farmer or if you were adopted. My husband’s cousin Rachel Rafuse and her husband Elkanah lived in Halifax. After their two-year-old daughter died, they wanted to adopt a child from Poland and they were sent photos of four boys from Ludmir. Jack ‘won’ the photo contest. The other three boys perished.”

Jack’s mother told him that he was going to Canada for a more liberal education and emphasized how important it was to go to university. His family took him to the port, and he boarded the ship bound for Halifax.

“Jack remembered waving goodbye to his mother until she was just a speck in the distance,” Barbara added. “He received letters from his mother but then they stopped.” He never saw his family again.

In the 1960s, Jack and Barbara learned that the Princes hid other Jewish families in their basement during the war. When the Nazis arrived in Ludmir, they were all executed by death squads.

Prince always believed that if the State of Israel had existed in 1939 his family would have survived. 

In Canada, Prince fulfilled his mother’s wishes, completing a bachelor of science degree and two years of post-graduate work in chemistry and physics at Dalhousie University. He then pursued his law degree eventually achieving QC designation.

At the funeral, Rabbi Yehoshua Grunstein, former rabbi of Beth Israel Synagogue in Halifax, praised Prince’s extraordinary achievements.

“Jack was part and parcel of the culture around him. He fulfilled his mother’s wish to get a university education, became a successful lawyer able to support his family and help every last client especially in estate planning, as if they were his own family. They leaned on his professional advice and trusted him to ensure that their wishes would be fulfilled beyond their life. 

“And he did the exact same thing for his colleagues, insisting that they get insurance to secure their built-in vulnerability.

“He was also a leader of the Jewish community and dedicated to the Jewish people.  He joined almost all the local Jewish boards in Halifax and did everything possible to support the Jewish community in Halifax as well as the State of Israel. Before his first child was born, he told his wife Barbara that he hoped she would accept another child—Israel.”

Prince’s love for the country translated into action and he inspired his Jewish clients to include support not just for the Halifax community alone, but also for the Jewish state.

Halifax native Sidney Warren turned to Prince for advice on how to disburse his estate. Prince researched options and after Warren died, with Jack as executor, the estate provided $1.6 million for a science education centre for youth at Tel Hai College in addition to a program for 12-to-17-year-olds at the nearby Danziger school, and a program for youth at risk in Kiryat Shemona. His guidance resulted in the largest gift ever made from Atlantic Canada to Israel.

Prince first met his wife Barbara at Camp Kadimah, where she was a senior camper and he was a senior counsellor. Several years later he sat next to her at a cousin’s wedding. They had four dates over two weeks and were engaged on Labour Day weekend in 1957, two days before she planned to start law school.

Barbara was 12 years his junior. When he told her, “I’d like to have children while I can still play hockey with them,” her plans changed.

His son Dana describes Jack as a devoted father and husband. “Growing up in Halifax we ate dinner together every night. If my dad was busy and came home late, we waited. It was our family time. On Fridays my mom always lit Shabbos candles and we ate dinner with my mom’s parents. Saturdays we went to shul.

My dad was driven to make the world a better place and to instill these values in his family. We grew up on the principle of tikun olam.”

“Everything our dad did, at home, at work, at synagogue, at charitable fundraising events, socializing or playing sports was done with great passion, enthusiasm, persistence and to the best of his ability,” added son Seymour.

Barbara Prince recalls the time an aspiring lawyer came to Jack for career advice. At the conclusion of the meeting, she mentioned that she had attended university on a bursary. Then she realized that she was speaking to the man who created the Jack and Barbara Prince Bursary at Dalhousie Law School with preference for African-Canadian students.

But according to his wife, his favourite charity was “any Jewish cause.”

As newlyweds, the Princes donated $1,000 to scholarships at Hebrew University. During the Six-Day War in 1967, he challenged other community members to match his $5,000 donation to Israel. In the 1970s he donated $25,000 to Bar Ilan University in memory of his parents and brothers. 

The Princes moved from Halifax to Toronto 15 years ago and Rabbi Jarrod Grover of Beth Tikvah summed up Jack Prince’s contributions. “I would suggest in his lifetime he was a representative figure of the story of the Jewish people in the 20th century. From destruction to rebirth, Jack had an extraordinary life. Jack had a miraculous life. He was a true leader of the Jewish people in his time. He was a religious leader, a community leader, a leader in his profession, a leader in ethics and a philanthropic leader.”

Earlier this year Prince told his wife of 66 years, “I’m 96. I’ve had a good life. We are leaving a wonderful legacy.”

Prince leaves his wife Barbara, sons Seymour and Dana, and his grandchildren Hiiro and Sarah. He was predeceased by his grandson Zachary.