Jewish History Month: The Incredible Impact of Judaism on WBC Designs

Jewish Heritage Month: The Incredible Impact of Judaism on WBC Designs

May is Jewish Heritage Month. So, I decided to share some of the Jewish heritage that has contributed to WBC Designs’s success and is a part of our history and shapes our future. Judaism in Canada was established in Montreal as early as 1768 with the formation of Congregation Shearith Israel and Montreal has a long and vibrant history of Jewish entrepreneurship and culture influencing its business landscape. As early as the 1860s, two Montreal brothers, Jacob Henry and Jesse Joseph, helped develop Canada’s first telegraph system as well as the St. Lawrence Railroad. Names like Schwartz’s DeliSt-Viateur BagelSteinberg’sReitmans, La Senza, Le Château, BrownsPajar and the Belgo building might come to mind. But what does this have to do with Web by Craig?

Ida Steinberg
Ida Steinberg
Ida Steinberg street in Montreal
Ida Steinberg street in Montreal

Ida Steinberg and The Start of Steinberg’s Grocery in Montreal

My great grandmother, Ida Steinberg (née Roth), immigrated to Canada in 1911 with her Husband, William (Vilmos), and 4 young children and only $65. After selling all their possessions and departing Hungary they boarded a ship in Belgium and set sail for Quebec city. It was there that an Immigration officer mistakenly changed their name from Sternberg to Steinberg. They then headed to Montreal where she gave birth to two more children, including my Grandfather Morris. The family lived together in one room of a cold-water house, renting out the other rooms to raise precious pennies. Ida decided to separate from her husband after the birth of her last child in 1914. Their children were- Lily, Jack, Sam, Nathan, Max, and Morris.

In 1917 in the bustling heart of Montreal’s Jewish community on St Lawrence Boulevard, a spirited young woman named Ida opened a modest grocery store. Despite long and arduous hours of work, the store prospered, prompting her son, Sam, to leave school at just 14 years old and become his mother’s apprentice. With the store open six days a week from 8 am to 11 pm, Ida worked tirelessly to build her business. Her unwavering dedication and diligence paid off as the store quickly gained popularity not only in the local neighborhood but throughout the city. In 1933 she retired and Sam took over as the head of the family business.

Black and white photo of Steinberg Grocery store on the main (St Laurent Blvd) in Montreal in the 1920s. Jewish Heritage Month
Mrs. I. Steinberg grocery on the Main in Montreal
The five Steinberg brothers that owned and operated Steinberg's Grocery Chain. Jewish Heritage Month
Left to right: Morris, Max, Sam, Jack, Nathan

Her five sons, led by Sam Steinberg, grew the company from a tiny storefront on St. Lawrence Boulevard into the most popular and largest supermarket chain in Quebec. It was the first to create the “supermarket” concept in Quebec, in 1934, with expansions into Ontario and parts of New Brunswick. Steinberg’s opened more stores in Montreal and Quebec over the years. In keeping with increasing French language pressures in Quebec, Steinberg’s dropped the possessive “‘s” from its name to become “Steinberg” in 1961. This was accompanied with the introduction of a new S logo (formerly Sam Steinberg’s signature). Despite the change, the chain continued to be referred to as “Steinberg’s” among the English speaking Quebecers and media throughout its history and beyond.

For several decades, and until the late 1980s, Steinberg’s was the largest supermarket chain in the province of Quebec. Store outlets could be spotted in nearly every district of the island of Montreal and was a major competitor for chains like Provigo and Metro. Sam Steinberg was one of the first employers to implement mandatory bilingualism (English and French) for all his personnel and, as a result, the company became so entrenched in Quebec culture that among French speaking Quebecers, “Je fais mon Steinberg” (“I’m doing my Steinberg’s”) became synonymous with grocery shopping. Just like we say Kleenex instead of facial tissue.

Steinberg’s was very innovative and led the way with ideas that are now commonplace in business. My grandfather created the first customer loyalty program in the province with his idea of Pinky stamps. You could collect them in a booklet just like points to exchange for products later. Another big hit was car order groceries where you could drive up to the store and have a bag boy load your purchases into the trunk. It is still used today at some locations like the Cavendish Mall. Which brings me to a story my Grandfather told me…

One day a lady came to a store to return a turkey. The bag boy saw that it was half eaten and said “you can’t return that!” The lady was insistent that the turkey was no good and wanted her money back. So the boy went to see the manager who, at the time, was Sam Steinberg. Sam said “ok so take the turkey and giver her back her money”. Upon returning to the cash register he noticed there was an A & P sticker on the turkey packaging. He again protested that she can’t return it here; it wasn’t even bought here! But the lady persisted and claimed she just packed it in whatever she had lying around. So once again he returns to Sam and says that “she didn’t even buy the turkey at Steinberg’s!” Sam replies: “the customer is always right. She may not have bought that turkey here but I guarantee you that if we give her the money anyways she will shop here for everything from now on.”

The lessons I have learned, from my family, permeate how I run my business today. They taught me that the customer is always right (even when they’re wrong) and the value of treating clients and employees with respect. Morris knew how important customer loyalty was and we value our customers so much, which is why we have clients that have been with us for over a decade. The motto for the store was to give customers a little more than they expect. WbC always tries to over deliver, whether by improving our Monthly Packages without being asked to, and at no extra cost, or by delivering ahead of schedule.

Mayor William Steinberg being awarded the Queen's Diamond Jubilee medal
Mayor Bill Steinberg being awarded the Queen's Diamond Jubilee medal

Hampstead Mayor Dr. Bill Steinberg

Jumping forward a generation, Bill Steinberg, my father, was the Mayor of the Town of Hampstead for 16 years. He is an extremely honest and ethical man. He wrote the code of ethics for the town and spurred the Quebec government to start requiring municipalities to enact their own codes of ethics. This sense of honour clearly had an impact on me and my business. Web by Craig has rescued many clients who had been taken advantage of by unethical web designers. This company believes in offering great value and will never gauge our clients. Which brings me to two very Jewish principles which I believe in personally and professionally: Tzedakah and Tikkun Olam.

Give Charity and Heal the World: Tzedakah and Tikkun Olam

Tzedakah is a Hebrew word that refers to the Jewish tradition of charitable giving, often translated as “charity,” “justice,” or “righteousness.” It is an important religious obligation in Judaism and is considered a fundamental act of social justice and kindness.

Tzedakah can take many forms, including giving money or resources to those in need, volunteering time or expertise to help those less fortunate, or supporting charitable organizations and causes. The goal of Tzedakah is not only to help those in need but also to promote fairness and equality in society and to fulfill one’s moral and ethical responsibilities as a member of the community. It is often seen as a way to balance the scales of wealth and power and to create a more just and compassionate world.

Tikkun olam is a concept in Judaism, which refers to various forms of action intended to repair and improve the world. It is the idea that every person has a responsibility to make the world a better place, to heal what is broken, and to promote justice and peace.

Web by Craig has applied these principles by prioritizing social responsibility and sustainability in decision-making. This involves considering the impact of business practices on the environment, employees, customers, and local communities. We have donated time and money to charities, give preferential pricing to non-profit organizations, and volunteered our skills to help make the world we live in a better place. We are a green company minimizing our impact on the environment by having servers that are powered by renewable energy and operating paperless and remotely. Web by Craig is an equal opportunity employer and hires people based on skill and merit. We don’t care about your gender, color, orientation, race, religion, etc…

My Bubby the Survivor

On my mother’s side my grandmother, Kristina (Krisia) Staniszewski (aka Bubby), was an extremely elegant, kind, positive and slightly neurotic person. Her brief encounters left a lasting positive impact on everyone she met. This positivity and happiness was especially impressive because of her dark past. Her beloved parents, Rose and Mendel Reichman and her brothers Israel and Meir, were tragically murdered in the Holocaust. Kristina was a woman of great courage, who relied on her strength, wisdom, and perseverance to survive the horrors of war. She taught me invaluable life lessons.

Any time my business was going through a difficult time I knew to keep going and that it would pass because of my Bubby, Kristina. No matter how dark things may have seemed at the moment they were nothing compared to what she endured. She taught me about the importance of having a place to call home. She is the reason I have been to Israel 5 times and believe strongly that the native and aboriginal land of the Jewish people must be defended. After the Second World War ended antisemitism was still ever present and very few countries were accepting Jewish refugees. Canada and the US didn’t fully open its borders to Jewish refugees until almost ten years after the war had ended. The only place my family could go to escape the anti-Jewish hatred in Poland at the time was the fledgling modern state of Israel. They lived there for two years before emigrating to Montreal.

Kristina, was one of the many strong women from my heritage that helped nurture who I am today. My other grandmother, Clara, my mother Doris, my sister Tara are all shining examples of what women can accomplish. Half of the Web by Craig team is made up of women. Judaism puts a lot of emphasis on the maternal. In fact, Orthodox Judaism holds that anyone with a Jewish mother also has irrevocable Jewish status; that even were such a Jew to convert to another religion, that person would still be considered Jewish by Jewish Law.

Jewish Heritage Month

In conclusion, Jewish heritage has had a significant impact on Canada’s history and business landscape. More specifically, on my own life and how I operate my business, Web by Craig, to this day. Jewish Heritage Month is an important time to reflect on the contributions of Jewish Canadians and their impact on our society. Please share your stories relating to Jewish heritage in the comments.


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