Gallerist, entrepreneur, wife, mother. Born on June 20, 1926, in Haifa, Palestine; died on May 29, 2016, in Toronto, of cancer, aged 90.
Yael Lifshitz was the second child of Russian immigrants who moved in 1920 to Haifa, Palestine. After her parents divorced, she moved to Tel Aviv with her mother, who died when Yael was not yet 20. She lived with friends while finishing school, then joined the Israeli army. When war broke out in 1948, Corporal Lifshitz was secretary to the northern commander, typing and dispatching orders. She delivered one such message to Ben Dunkelman, commander of the 7th Armored Brigade, having no idea that the meeting would change her life forever.
Their encounter began with a curt exchange, followed by an apology from the dashing and confident commander from Toronto. This quickly developed into a personal relationship followed by a short engagement, culminating in an exchange of vows.
In 1949, after Israel’s War of Independence ended, Ben was offered a senior army position. Although he seriously considered it, the newlyweds made the difficult decision to leave Israel and make Canada their home. Ben’s mother was not well and his father needed help running the family business, Tip Top Tailors.
Yael and Ben settled in Toronto and raised six children, four girls followed by twin boys. Their family later grew to 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Yael created her own relationships with each of her children, their spouses, their children, their pets, and treated us all with love and respect.
Ben and Yael, devoted partners until his death in 1997, established many successful businesses, including several restaurants, and were integral in building and operating the Constellation Hotel and Cloverdale Shopping Mall. Perhaps closest to their hearts was the Dunkelman Gallery. They were introduced to the art world through art patron Ayala Zacks-Abramov, and became not only collectors but gallerists, with a deep desire to support emerging and international artists. The Dunkelman Gallery, which opened in 1967, was the first private gallery in Canada to exhibit Picasso’s work.
The gallery made an indelible mark on Toronto’s art community, and Yael made a lasting impression as a curator and art consultant. Her skill at identifying beauty and uniqueness in art was an extension of her own impeccable style. Watching her critique a painting was always a privileged experience for me. Pointing to her heart, she would say, “I feel it in here, and then I react to it.” Her criticism of art was never limited by rules or boundaries; she responded only to how a piece affected her emotionally.
She responded similarly to music, especially classical music, and regularly attended the Toronto Symphony. She was equally engaged in current affairs, and had a deep knowledge and strong opinions of world news and politics.
Yael had no shortage of friends and invitations to dinners, parties and events, both fancy and not. At home in any circumstance, she was always eager to get to know others. She was iconic in the humblest of ways. It never mattered whether you were related by blood or connected by fate, her embrace was always full, her heart sincere and her mind open.
Yael did not slow with age, continuing to learn and connect with everything and everyone around her. Her spirit always felt youthful, if not immortal.
Tracey Dodokin is Yael’s daughter-in-law.Report Typo/Error
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