“Alice in Shandehland” by Monda Halpern— Settling

Halpern, Monda. “Alice in Shandehland: Scandal and Scorn in the Edelson/Horwitz Murder Case”, McGill-Queen’s University Press , 2015.


Amos Lassen

In 1931, Ben and Alice Edelson had been married for twenty years and had seven children. Nonetheless, Alice had been having an affair with Jack Horwitz, a married man. On the night of November 24, Ben, Alice, and Jack met at Edelson Jewelers to “settle the thing.” Words were exchanged and a brawl erupted during which Jack was shot and killed. This brought about a sensational legal case that captured Ottawa headlines in which Edelson faced the death penalty. Through a detailed examination of newspaper coverage, interviews with family and community members, and evocative archival photographs, Monda Halpern has reconstructed a long-silenced murder case in Canada during the Depression. She contends that despite his crime, Ben Edelson was the object of far less contempt than his adulterous wife whose shame or disgrace (shandeh)-seemed indefensible.

Alice faced the censure of both the Jewish community and the courtroom while Ben’s middle-class respectability and the betrayal he suffered gained him favored standing and, ultimately, legal exoneration. The tensions around ethnicity, sexuality, gender, and class are looked at in detail here as the book explores the divergent reputations of Ben and Alice Edelson within the growing yet insular and tenuous Jewish community, and within a dominant culture that embraced male success and valor during the emasculating 1930s.

“Alice in Shandehland” is based on fine research and it is an excellently-written and illuminating portrait of Jewish life in Ottawa and the struggles toward a middle-class respectability. This is the story of the surprising investigation of a once-prominent scandal and the aftermath. It was a case, Halpern learned, that no one wanted to talk about and she had a difficult time interviewing surviving family members who were reluctant to talk. One of the surprises here is the extent of anti-Semitism in Ottawa at the time and it was shocking to read how the Jews were treated.