Posthumous Honour for Cooking Maven Norene Gilletz

By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

Last weekend, friends and admirers of the late food maven Norene Gilletz received very exciting news on Facebook: Canada’s “Queen of Kosher Cuisine,” was posthumously inducted into the Taste Canada Hall Of Fame.

Norene Gilletz
Norene Gilletz

Taste Canada is an umbrella organization that connects food and beverage writers, publishers, chefs, restaurateurs, farmers, industry, culinary colleges, media and cookbook fans.

Gilletz’s induction was part of Taste Canada’s virtual awards ceremony that was live-streamed on Facebook the evening of Oct. 25.

She was honoured for lifetime achievement in culinary writing.

Indeed, she authored 12 books, articles for a host of kosher publications, and was a long-time columnist and food blogger for The Canadian Jewish News.

Gilletz died last February. She was 79.

Taste Canada also announced awards in a number of categories for the country’s best cookbooks of 2019. Gilletz’s last book, The Brain Boosting Diet: Feed Your Memory – co-written with the late Edward Wein – was on the long list of nominations for a Taste-Canada Award in the category of Health and Special Diet Cookbooks.

Gilletz’s induction into the Taste Canada’s Hall of Fame was serendipitous, related Carol Press, the administrator of Norene’s Kitchen, an 11,000-member Facebook group founded by Gilletz in 2011.

Press said she came across a Facebook page for the Culinary Historians of Canada (CHC), where she discovered the Taste Canada Hall of Fame.

“I had contacted Taste Canada about this time last year about considering Norene for the award…I wrote them a letter. I told them who I was and I gave a brief introduction to Norene.”

Press wrote about Gilletz’s culinary accomplishments including her role as editor of Second Helpings, Please!, the iconic kosher cookbook that launched Gilletz’s culinary career.

“I told them that she had a new book coming out and that she was in her late 70s…They said they would take this into consideration for 2020.”

Just two days before Gilletz’s death, Press said she contacted Taste Canada again. “I don’t know what possessed me… I wish I had known about the award earlier.”

She said Gilletz was very tech savvy, having embraced new culinary technology like the microwave and food processor ahead of others.

Press pointed out that Gilletz also understood the role of social media and was connecting to her followers on Facebook, years ahead of people her age.

Gilletz’s son, Doug Gilletz, a culinary instructor and trained chef, also got involved with the CHC. “I decided to join the Culinary Historians as a way of promoting Mom,” he said from his home in Montreal. “Carol nominated her last year.

“In June we were told that she would be an inductee into the Hall of Fame, but we couldn’t tell anybody…I thought it was a great honour.”

He said he and his two siblings were hoping to attend the ceremony in person, but with the persistence of COVID, the awards evening became a virtual event,” Doug recalled.

“They gave us approval two days before the Taste Canada Awards [ceremony] to announce the event on Facebook.”

Gilletz said his mother was hard-working throughout her career. “She never took a vacation. She’d always be on her iPad. She never stopped.

“Even when she was in the hospital, she never took a break. She would tell me who to call and who to contact. She got a lot of satisfaction from her work.”

Book Review: Borders and Belonging (Palgrave Macmillan) By Mira Sucharov

Oct. 29, 2020

By DUSTIN ATLAS

Mira Sucharov’s Borders and Belonging is an intimate memoir of formation, something of a Portrait of a Political Scientist as a Young Woman. A contemporary work, its trajectory is non-linear: hopping from year to year, we see intimate flashes of feelings, events, and relationships; there is no sense at the book’s end that the process is complete, or that the insecurities which propelled the story have been resolved. This, along with the book’s intimacy, is one of its many strengths.

Sucharov, a political science professor at Carleton University, fearlessly arms the ungenerous reader. I myself would not be capable of writing with such transparency, and left the book respecting her bravery.

However, this is not the main reason the book is valuable. There are, after all, many “unflinching memoirs.” It is valuable because of the way the book tackles a difficult question: How much of a person’s political position is owed to their ideals, and how much to their pathologies? The position in question here is, as one might expect, the issue of Israel and Palestine.

This issue, which inflames arguments, ruins parties, and deadens critical thought, is the book’s breadcrumb trail: the shifting of Sucharov’s position is well detailed, and the arguments found along the way will be familiar to many. What is less familiar is how candid Sucharov is about her own psychological investments, and how they inform her politics and thinking. Where less honest writers claim to be fighting for justice, or perhaps loyalty, or some other transcendental virtue, Sucharov’s memoir reveals a tangle of insecurities, humiliations, sexual desire, hypochondria, panic, allergies, and a need for affirmation. And through it all, Facebook, relentlessly amplifying these insecurities, trivializing them while intensifying them. The book’s art is in neither reducing her politics to these pathologies, nor in separating them cleanly, acting as if they have nothing to do with one another.

So, while Borders and Belonging may not have a specific answer, it does have a question: how much of our politics is owed to coping with being a human being – something which is never easy, no matter how generous life has been – and how much is owed to reasoning or disinterested ethical commitment? The book shifts between argument and psychology, unwilling to give either the final say.

Sigmund Freud features as a character in the background, but not in a heavy-handed way. If anything, he offers comic relief: the young Sucharov intones his words without understanding them, the teenage Sucharov anxiously talks about his Jewishness to a security guard. The same goes for the narrator’s many political arguments: they are serious, but Sucharov shows us how a passing insecurity or flirtation can disarm the most strident case. Rather than decide between the two, the book gently asks the question, “is this a matter of justice, or just a way of coping?” and then performs the answer. To use a cliché, Sucharov shows us an answer, but does not tell us one.

This is a brave book, and will be of interest to anyone looking to delve into an anthropology of academia, who wants a collection of snapshots from Canadian Jewish life, or who has spent too long trying to honestly discern why we care about the causes we care about.


Dustin Atlas

Dr. Dustin Atlas is the Director of Jewish Studies and Assistant Professor in the School of Religion at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. He specializes in contemporary Jewish thought, identity and aesthetics, especially works that concern fragility, imperfection, and non-human creatures.

Ontario Endorses IHRA Definition of Antisemitism: Jewish Groups Approve; Others are Upset

Oct. 27, 2020

Ontario has become the first province in Canada to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism – motivated by the recent anti-Jewish vandalism at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa.

In a statement, Government House Leader Paul Calandra said Premier Doug Ford’s cabinet “took swift and decisive action” on Monday (Oct. 26) to “adopt and recognize” the definition, even before the legislation could be passed.

“After a heinous act of antisemitism at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa [on Oct. 14], it is crucial that all governments be clear and united in fighting anti-Semitism and our adoption of the working definition has done just that,” Calandra said in a statement on Oct. 27.

“The government of Ontario is proud to adopt and recognize the working definition of anti-Semitism. We stand with Ontario’s Jewish community in defence of their rights and fundamental freedoms as we always have and always will,” he said.

The “Combating Anti-Semitism Act,” known as Bill 168, passed second reading earlier this year. It sets out to use the IHRA definition as a framework for interpreting acts, regulations and policies going forward.

It was scheduled to go to committee hearings in late October for public input. But the government’s pre-emptive adoption of the definition means the committee suspended public hearings.

“The government decided to act swiftly in view of the events of Ottawa over the weekend,” York Centre Tory MPP Roman Baber told the CJR via-email, referring to antisemitic graffiti found etched into the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the capital.

“It also seemed appropriate given the second anniversary of the Pittsburgh shooting [at the Tree of Life Synagogue],” Baber stated.

The legislation will not go to third reading he noted, “as we have accomplished what Bill 168 set out to do.”

The move to adopt the definition and bypass public hearings was carried out by an Order in Council, which read as follows:

“On the recommendation of the undersigned, the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, by and with the advice and concurrence of the Executive Council of Ontario, orders that:

Whereas the Government of Ontario believes that everyone deserves to be treated with fairness, respect and dignity;

And Whereas systemic racism, including antisemitism, is a persistent reality in Ontario preventing many from fully participating in society and denying them equal rights, freedoms, respect and dignity;

And Whereas on May 26, 2016, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) decided at its Plenary in Bucharest to adopt a working definition of antisemitism;

Now therefore the Government of Ontario adopts and recognizes the Working Definition of Antisemitism, as adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Plenary on May 26, 2016.

Premier and President of the Council

Approved and Ordered: October 26, 2020.”

Jewish groups issued statements approving the development. They did so jointly – for the first time in recent memory.

Ontario joins “a growing number of jurisdictions, at all levels of government and around the world, in taking action against the growing threat posed to our society by antisemitism,” said Shimon Koffler Fogel, president and CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).

The IHRA definition “provides a framework that can help guide Ontario government institutions interested in understanding contemporary forms of antisemitism, such as Holocaust denial,” Fogel said.

The adoption of the definition and its many illustrative examples of antisemitism “is a major step forward. From high schools and university campuses to police hate-crime units, this announcement promises much-needed relief for Jews across the province,” stated B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn.

“Ontario will now be equipped to identify and react to incidents of antisemitism in a clear and precise way, and be better positioned to prevent antisemitism and react to it whenever it rears its head anywhere in the province. We applaud the Ontario government for becoming the first province in Canada to adopt the IHRA definition,” said Mostyn.

Michael Levitt, president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC), applauded the move.

He called the IHRA definition of antisemitism “a vital tool in the ongoing fight against hatred and discrimination targeting the Jewish community in Ontario…By making clear what antisemitism is and looks like, the IHRA definition will allow civil society and government to work together more effectively in our shared goal of eliminating hatred in our province.”

Karen Mock, president of JSpace Canada, remarked that “there is clear consensus about the need to combat the alarming rise of antisemitism. We cannot protect our society from the scourge of antisemitism if we are unable to name it, to identify it properly, and to address it consistently. By adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism, the government of Ontario has demonstrated a commitment to implementing human rights and anti-racist policies.”

The New Democrats appeared to have been caught off guard by the government’s unexpected move.

In a statement on Oct. 27, the NDP said the government “secretly” adopted the legislation “behind closed doors and passed it by Ford edict instead of by democratic vote.”

Nearly 100 Ontarians asked for a chance to appear before the committee and “thousands” of messages were sent, the statement said.

“Antisemitism and antisemitic acts of hate are growing in Ontario, and we need to take concrete actions as a province to stomp out this growing, racist movement,” said NDP critic for the Attorney General Gurratan Singh. “Adopting a new definition of antisemitism should be done in consultation with the people of Ontario, and discussed in open and transparent debate.
 
“Excluding the voices of community members is no way to build a united coalition against hate.”
 
The NDP had voted for the bill on second reading “while explicitly and specifically saying it was doing so in order to ensure Ontarians would be welcomed into committee hearings, and amendments could be proposed,” the statement said.

Questioned by reporters later, NDP leader Andrea Horwath said she had “no idea” how the bill was handled.

“All of a sudden, out of nowhere, the government moved ahead on it. When we’re changing the laws in Ontario, we should really have public hearings.”

She said this and other examples of the Ford government cancelling public hearings are “pretty dictatorial. We were waiting to see the outcome of the public hearings and we didn’t get that opportunity, which is the whole point of having a democracy. You’re supposed to actually listen to people and not just ram things through.”

Groups that have opposed the IHRA definition because they believe it would silence criticism of Israel and squelch support for Palestinians were angered by the Ford government’s move, charging that was undemocratic.

NDP MPP Rima Berns-McGown, in a Facebook post, said she found it “appalling” that the government “did an end-run around democracy and snuck the IHRA definition through by order-in-council, the day before it was to go to justice committee hearings and the day before 100s of civil society organizations had asked to speak to it.

“It is obvious that they were afraid of the storm of public disgust that was on their way in committee — including by many respected Jewish public figures.”

Montreal-based Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), which supports the BDS campaign against Israel, condemned the Conservative government “for pulling the plug on democracy in an attempt to protect Israel from criticism.”

“We were less than 24 hours away before members of the public were set to testify before the committee about the dangers of IHRA in regards to free expression,” said Michael Bueckert, vice president of CJPME. “Apparently, the Ontario government didn’t like to see that they were receiving thousands of emails opposing IHRA, and they shamefully decided to pull the plug before Ontarians had a chance to share their opinions,” said Bueckert.

Another pro-BDS group, Independent Jewish Voices of Canada, said the government’s “anti-democratic order is fitting for the IHRA definition, which poses such a grave threat to democratic principles of free expression and the right to protest.

“One thing is for certain: that we will not be deterred from our efforts to denounce the state of Israel for its systemic racism against the Palestinians. If that means we will be engaging in civil disobedience, then so be it,” said a statement from Corey Balsam of IJV.

Mira Sucharov, professor of political science at Carleton University and founding co-chair of the Jewish Politics division at the Association for Jewish Studies, acknowledged that the Ontario government needs to combat antisemitism. “But by conflating criticism of Zionism with antisemitism, this particular definition is the wrong way to go about it,” she told the CJR.

The IHRA working definition of antisemitism is opposed by other organizations, including the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Federation of Students, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, and more. More than 450 Canadian academics signed an open letter opposing the IHRA definition’s adoption by universities, citing threats to academic freedom.

The working definition has been adopted by 35 countries, including Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Several cities have also endorsed it, while others have shelved it.

Bill 168 was a private member’s bill introduced by Conservative MPP Will Bouma in late 2019 and co-sponsored by fellow Tory MPP Robin Martin.

* The above expands a previous version of this story with quotes from the NDP, and clarifies that the Ford government’s move to adopt the IHRA definition unilaterally was done with all-party support.

COVID Vaccine Distribution by Early Next Year: Moderna Chief

Oct. 29, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL— Moderna Therapeutics’ COVID vaccine should be ready to begin widespread distribution by late winter or next spring, Dr. Tal Zaks, the company’s Chief Medical Officer, said on Oct. 7 in a videoconference hosted by the Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Dr. Tal Zaks

Zaks is hopeful that the vaccine will be available in early 2021 for those at high risk, such as front-line workers or the elderly.

“My sense is that by the start of the next school year, things will be back to normal,” Zaks said.

In August, the Canadian government signed a deal with Moderna for 20 million doses to be delivered in 2021. An option for an additional 36 million doses was appended to the agreement last month.

In late July, the Cambridge, Mass.-based biotechnology company became the first in the United States to begin Phase 3 clinical trials of its vaccine candidate. Currently, 30,000 adults are enrolled in the late-stage investigation, conducted in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health.

Zaks, an Israeli oncologist, earned his medical degree and a PhD at Ben-Gurion. Israel has placed orders for the Moderna vaccine, among other countries.

The company expects to produce between 500 million and a billion doses next year, he said, noting that two inoculations would be administered, with a booster shot about a month after the first one.

Zaks said this vaccine has been shown to produce even more antibodies in a person infected with the coronavirus. Some in the trial have experienced mild flu-like symptoms that last a day or two, he said, but no serious side effects have been recorded.

How long immunity will last is not known, he acknowledged, but it should be at least a few years.

New vaccines are developed each year for the seasonal flu because different strains arise, he explained. Mutations have occurred in COVID, but that will not diminish the Moderna vaccine’s effectiveness, he said.

Moderna is currently expanding its trials to ensure the vaccine’s efficacy among children, pregnant women and those who are immune-compromised.

Mark Mendelson, chief executive officer of Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University, said there were nearly 220 registrants for the Zoom webinar, an indication of the high level of interest in the subject – and the pride of the university’s supporters.

In response to questions, Zaks assured that no corners are being cut to rush the vaccine to market. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is “working in lockstep” with Moderna, he said, and has been, in fact, “overly conservative by some measures.” The company published the success of its findings in the New England Journal of Medicine on Sept. 29.

He warned that demand for a vaccine will likely outstrip supply, and countries that are less rich may have trouble meeting their citizens’ needs, at least in the first year. It’s also unclear how the several billion doses he expects to be needed by the end of next year will be deployed around the world, he said.

The Moderna vaccine will cost between US $20-$37 per dose, depending on the volume of purchase, he said.

Asked what keeps him awake at night, Zaks replied, “Our ability to explain our science to a public that is highly fractured in how it gets its information, where venues are polarized. That worries me.

“We are on the cusp of one of the greatest achievements in modern medicine and we find ourselves getting the very strange response of either we are not moving fast enough or ‘I do not believe you.’”

On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Oct. 28, 2020

Colin Linden (April 16, 1960 – ) Roots & Blues singer/songwriter, record producer, acoustic and slide guitarist

Colin Linden

By DAVID EISENSTADT

My cousin Eric Rosenbaum, a long-time folk music mover and shaker with years of event volunteer service in Calgary and Edmonton, reminded me of a somewhat unsung Canadian musician, Colin Linden, who qualifies as a CJR “Canadian Jewish Musician of Note.”

I was aware of Linden’s reputation as a first-call sideman guitarist for artists like Gregg Allman, Emmylou Harris, Diana Krall, Alison Kraus, and Robert Plant, but I didn’t know he was born into a Jewish family in Toronto, a fact confirmed by the Canadian Encyclopedia.

“If you live outside Canada, chances are you’ve probably never heard of Colin Linden. This despite the fact that the Canadian-born artist has established himself as an ace producer in Nashville, twiddling the knobs on more than 100 albums for the likes of the Band, Bruce Cockburn, Colin James, Sue Foley and Stephen Fearing, among others. He’s probably best known in Canada as being a member of perennial folk festival favorites Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, a folk-roots super group that also consists of Fearing and Tim Wilson,” wrote Zachary Houle in popmatters.com.

Born in Toronto, Linden was an infant when he and his parents, Evelyn (Dobrovitch) and Harold David, moved to White Plains, N.Y., from where Linden’s father commuted to work in Manhattan. His parents split, and Colin and his mother returned to Toronto in 1971 to be near family.

“Mom didn’t want me to grow up and be subject to the U.S. draft.” Linden recalled.

It wasn’t long before he began to draw musical inspiration from country, pop and rockabilly stars, including the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Ricky Nelson, Roy Orbison and Johnny Rivers.

“I can’t remember life without them,” Linden told musicologist Rob Bowman in About Colin Linden – The Whole Book. “The emotions, singing and drama in those records seemed so real. The room sounds, believe it or not, were things that made me think that Roy Orbison was in a deep, dark place. These things affected me a lot. There are certain things that have always appealed to me in an instinctual way, which is real pretty melodies and really funky grooves.”

He was enamored with bluesmen Howlin’ Wolf, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and Taj Mahal. He connected with and was inspired by Sam Chatman, Peg Leg Sam, Son House, Sylvia Tyson, Sippie Wallace and David Wilcox, who gave the youngster 140 albums to help him learn about blues styles.

Linden quit school at 16 to become a musician. To join Wilcox’s band, the Teddy Bears in 1976, he started to play electric guitar, and over the next few years, toured Western Canada, and recorded with octogenarian blues legend Sam Chatmon. Linden then formed Group Du Jour, a rotating crew of Toronto roots musicians highlighted on his first album, Colin Linden Live!!!!! in 1980.

He’s acknowledged the influence of members of The Band – Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Levon Helm – who all contributed to Linden’s recordings and songs, leading to recording deals over the years with A&M, Warner Chappell, and Sony Music Entertainment.

For nearly four years, he was Bruce Cockburn’s sideman, and in the 1990s, turned to recording gospel music, having taken lessons from Dave Wall, a Bourbon Tabernacle Choir singer.

That same year, he joined Tom Wilson of Junkhouse and Stephen Fearing to form Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, a tribute band to Canadian singer-songwriter Willie P. Bennett. After the album High or Hurtin’ on True North Records, their second album, Kings of Love won a Juno.

In 1999, Linden was honoured with a Toronto Arts Award. As he told me, “I have always aspired to honour the memories of my heroes in blues music, who were almost exclusively African-American and were older, in their 60s, 70s and 80s. Growing up in the 1960s in the Civil Rights era gave me a window into and a great love of African- American culture. As a Jew, I felt like I had a lot in common with them, especially in terms of spirit. Many of my favorite blues interpreters in that era were Jewish as well, and through them too, my connection felt so strong.”

This year, Linden was the only Canadian to win a Grammy for producing Keb Mo’s album Oklahoma. His track record includes three Grammy nominations, 25 Juno Awards as an artist producer, winning top honours nine times.

Looking back, Linden said, “the last 10 years have been the best so far for my life in music: playing with Bob Dylan, working on the great ABC TV hit Show Nashville, producing the 10th album for Bruce Cockburn, many records, film and TV shows with T Bone Burnett, getting signed to Warner Music with Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, and mostly, making music in the studio that my wife Janice Powers built for us. I feel blessed.”


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner of tcgpr.com, the Canadian Partner of IPREX Global Communications. He’s a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.

Families Protest Possible Admission of COVID Patients to Nursing Homes

Oct. 28, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL— Families of residents of the long-term care institutions Maimonides Geriatric Centre and Jewish Eldercare Centre, which were hard-hit by COVID this spring and summer, are pleading with health officials to halt a plan to admit outside patients with the virus to recuperate in those facilities.

Jewish Edlercare

“My initial reaction was, ‘What are they thinking?’” Helen Adam, president of the users’ committee at Maimonides, told the CJR. At the outbreak’s worst, one-third of Maimonides’s 380 residents were infected and 39 would die, in addition to the staff members who tested positive. It took reinforcement by members of the Canadian Armed Forces and then the Red Cross to get the situation under control.

Eldercare had an even more difficult time from the outset of the pandemic in March, and lost more residents.

On Oct. 19, CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, the government health agency that administers Maimonides and Eldercare, informed families that there were no longer any COVID cases among residents and that the “hot zones” at both sites would, if necessary, accommodate certain people with the virus who live in the geographic territory served by the CIUSSS.

The email, signed by Barbra Gold, director of the CIUSSS’s Support Program for the Autonomy of Seniors, states that these beds would be for “COVID-positive patients who are medically stable (do not require hospitalization) but require a greater level of care than what is being offered at their current locations, such as private seniors’ residences, intermediate resources or those recovered in hospital who are not strong enough to go home.”

To date, no such transfers have been made and Gold noted that “every effort” is being made to keep such patients where they are. She added, “We are confident that this approach will not compromise the health and well-being of our residents and is in the best interest of the community we serve.”

Adam said families are flabbergasted that after waging such a lengthy battle to contain the virus – which included stopping visits for months and moving residents to different rooms and makeshift spaces to separate the infected from those who were not – the two institutions are now being opened to ill people from the community.

At Maimonides, the hot zone is located in part of the uppermost seventh floor. Adam said she is fearful that staff will inevitably move to other areas of the building despite the best intentions.

“I think Quebec has gone out of its mind. They try one thing one week and another the next. Now it looks like they are setting us up as an adjunct to the hospitals. People are so scared and confused,” said Adam.

Asked by the CJR to respond, the CIUSSS emailed a statement that those with COVID will be moved “only as a last resort” and with extra precautions.

“If and when any COVID-positive individuals arrive at the facility, they will not come into contact with uninfected residents. They will be put into designated hot zones that are separated by permanent walls from the other residents and the other units,” it said.

“They and the staff who care for them will also use designated elevators that will be unavailable to other residents and personnel. As well, they will receive care from dedicated members of the staff—in other words, the COVID-positive person or their health care provider should not have any contact with the other residents, caregivers or health care teams at Maimonides or Jewish Eldercare.”

West-Central Montreal adds that, “like every CIUSSS throughout the province, we are required to provide residents in our area with emergency spaces in a non-traditional site, such as a long-term care centre.”

This is not reassuring to Maimonides resident Beverly Spanier. The retired high school teacher is afraid of another COVID outbreak and has little confidence in the institution’s ability to deal with it.

“This is supposed to be our home, not a hospital,” she said, still traumatized by the upheaval that took place earlier this year. “We’ve already been through hell. I don’t want to live in a war zone again.”

In a letter to Premier Francois Legault, the users’ committee says a “highly vulnerable population” is being put at risk and suggests an alternative. “There are many virtually empty hotels, who would probably welcome the work. Why not use them?

“We appeal to you M. Legault to rethink this directive.”

The committee has also reached out to the Conseil pour la protection des malades, a group defending the rights of users of the health care system.

Adam’s mother, who lived for six years at Maimonides, died in May, but not of COVID. Adam thinks many residents’ passing, including her mother’s, was due to the loneliness and stress caused by the pandemic restrictions. She did not see her mother in person from mid-March until just before her death when she was allowed to visit on compassionate grounds.

She does not want that to happen again to any other residents or their relatives.

By the official count, more than 6,100 people in Quebec have died of COVID, the great majority of them residents of nursing homes or seniors’ facilities.

Editorial: Oberlander Must Go

Oct. 28, 2020

On Feb. 28, 2000, Federal Court judge Andrew Mackay delivered his decision in the matter of Helmut Oberlander, and many of us felt that the case was now settled, that justice would finally be served, even if delayed, and in miserly portion. After all, the decision made it clear that on a balance of probabilities, Oberlander had lied about or misrepresented his wartime activities in order to fraudulently gain entry to Canada and then citizenship. Last week, he lost his bid to convince the Immigration and Refugee Board that it lacked jurisdiction to hear his case. The next step is a deportation hearing.

To recap, Oberlander served as a young translator in Einsatzgruppe D, a subunit Ek 10a, a mobile Nazi death squad. Einsatzgruppe D was responsible for the killing of more than 90,000 innocent civilians – part of the Holocaust by bullets that murdered more than one million Jewish men, women and children throughout the bloodlands of Eastern Europe and Ukraine.

Oberlander denied his membership in the unit and certainly denied any knowledge of the activities of the Einsatzgruppen, but Justice Mackay did not find his denials to be credible.

And 20 years later, Oberlander remains.

In the months that followed the initial decision, Oberlander’s lawyer claimed that the process was unfair, that his client had no means of appeal.

And 20 years later, Oberlander remains.

Oberlander’s cause was picked up by those who claimed that the process was a sham, and that he had been found guilty because of lobbying by Jewish advocacy groups 

And 20 years later, Oberlander remains.

His presence in Canada is an affront to the Holocaust survivors who are still with us. But more, it is an affront to all Canadians whose family trees have been brutally trimmed by genocide: the First Nations of Canada, Armenians, Ukrainians, Rwandans, Bosnians, Cambodians, Guatemalans, Sudanese, Darfurians.

But more it is – or should be – an affront to Canadians who believe that this country should be a sanctuary to the oppressed and not a haven for the oppressor.

In the two decades that have passed since that February 2000 decision, Oberlander’s defenders have pointed to his sterling behaviour in Canada, his contributions as a businessman; his deep roots in the Kitchener community.

It’s irrelevant – all of it. Not because we think so, but because, in successive judicial decisions, the courts have said so. Oberlander’s lawyers said that we should consider his spotless Canadian reputation? We have. And he lied to enter Canada.

His lawyers said that we should consider his family situation? Now we have. And he lied to enter Canada.

We should consider that his participation in Ek10a should be seen as the result of coercion? We did that as well. And he lied to enter Canada.

In each case, Oberlander has been afforded the full scope of all that Canadian law permits. Appeals were filed, heard, and rejected – on the facts – one after another.

What remains? Oberlander’s current legal representation (he outlived his initial lawyer) may simply be attempting to run out the clock. Their client is 96 years old. Perhaps they can keep the legal merry-go-round turning until their client shuffles off his mortal coil and faces a judge who is more certain and less tractable?

Perhaps. But it didn’t have to be this way. Like Edmund in King Lear, Oberlander could have said, “I pant for life. Some good I mean to do, despite of mine own nature.” He could have confessed. He could have said, “I was young and frightened and I gave in. Forgive me.” He could have offered a model of repentance and provided lessons – so incredibly important – for a generation in which history is optional both as an academic subject and as an intellectual compass. Instead, he remains obdurate.

Oberlander may still ask the courts to review his loss at the IRB. But Canada should not await his next legal somersault. Let him go now. Let him appeal his case from Germany. His continued presence in our country defiles all we should be as a nation.

He must go. 

Campaign Seeks to End ‘Illegal” IDF Recruitment in Canada

Oct. 28, 2020

By RON CSILLAG

Progressive activists want Canada to prohibit what they call “illegal” recruitment by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in this country.

In an Oct. 19 letter to federal Justice Minister David Lametti, they called on the government to conduct a “thorough investigation…of those who have facilitated this recruiting for the IDF, and if warranted, that charges be laid against all those involved in recruiting and encouraging recruiting in Canada for the IDF.”

The campaign is being waged by the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute, Palestinian and Jewish Unity, and Just Peace Advocates.

An open letter signed by the American linguist and public intellectual Noam Chomsky, Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, author Yann Martel, and more than 170 Canadians was delivered to Lametti this month asking him to investigate recruitment taking place in Canada for the IDF.

“It is a crime in Canada to recruit anyone for a foreign military,” says a statement from Just Peace Advocates. “It is also a crime to aid and abet such recruitment by offering incentives and encouraging any person to serve in a foreign military.”

The groups cite Canada’s Foreign Enlistment Act, which states that “any person who, within Canada, recruits or otherwise induces any person or body of persons to enlist or to accept any commission or engagement in the armed forces of any foreign state or other armed forces operating in that state is guilty of an offence.”

The groups note that the only exception would be the recruitment of Israeli citizens who are not Canadian.

On “several occasions,” they allege, the Israeli consulate in Toronto “has advertised that they have an IDF representative available for personal appointments for those wishing to join the IDF.”

The consulate has “gone further” and arranged for IDF soldiers and veterans to be present in schools, summer camps and other venues in Canada “with the goal of inducing people to enlist.”

They add that according to one estimate from the CBC, 230 Canadians were serving in the IDF in 2017. “It is unclear how many of these individuals were recruited in ways that violate the Foreign Enlistment Act,” they say.

The campaign made front-page news in Montreal’s Le Devoir newspaper on Oct. 19.

Asked about the effort at an unrelated news conference in Ottawa on Oct. 19, Lametti said “diplomats from another country, therefore the diplomats of Israel who are here, follow Canadian law,” adding that the issue is “a question for investigators [and] the police, to decide whether there have been violations… I will leave the decision to the institutions we have in Canada to monitor the situation.”

Asked by Le Devoir whether he “completely wash[es] his hands” of the matter, Lametti replied that “we have institutions in Canada that are responsible for reacting to such situations. They are not exactly the same institutions in other countries and so as I said in the first answer, I will leave room for the responsible people in Canada to do what needs to be done.”

In a statement to the CJR, Galit Baram, Consul General of Israel in Toronto and Western Canada, said: “In Israel, the law requires compulsory service. Every Israeli, male or female, must serve in the Israel Defense Forces. Israeli citizens living abroad are obligated to settle their status with the Israeli authorities.

“As part of the consular services provided to Israelis living abroad, Israeli diplomatic missions assist in connecting with the IDF authorities. In large Israeli communities abroad, such as Toronto, which is the largest in Canada, a recruiting office representative may be dispatched at times to conduct in-person interviews.

“Israel and Canada are steadfast allies. Any allegations against Israel in this matter are unfounded,” Baram said.

In a similar vein, Israel’s Consul General in Montreal, David Levy, told Le Devoir that “these consular services we provide are reserved for Israeli citizens and do not apply to non-Israelis who volunteer for the army.”

Winnipeg-based lawyer David Matas points out that the Foreign Enlistment Act prohibits enlistment “in the armed forces of any foreign state at war with any friendly foreign state.”

Israel, said Matas, “is not at war with any foreign state which is a friend of Canada.”

He said the prohibition described in the act is limited to recruitment or other inducement.

“The behaviour of the Israeli consulate described in the [letter to Lametti] is not a recruitment or other inducement, since the Israeli announcement is limited to persons who wish to join the Israeli armed forces,” according to Matas, who’s considered an expert in the intersection of Canadian and international law, particularly as it applies to Israel.

“These persons would already have formed the wish to join the forces. There is no inducement nor [does there] need be any for persons who have already formed the wish to join the [IDF].”

Matas said those people “are self induced, not induced by the Israeli consulate.”

Breaking News: Ontario Endorses IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

Oct. 27, 2020

Ontario has become the first province in Canada to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism – motivated, it seems, by the recent anti-Jewish vandalism at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa.

In a statement, Government House Leader Paul Calandra said Premier Doug Ford’s cabinet “took swift and decisive action” on Monday (Oct. 26) to “adopt and recognize” the definition, even before the passage of legislation currently before the house.

The “Combating Anti-Semitism Act,” known as Bill 168, passed second reading earlier this year and was scheduled to go to committee hearings this week for public input. It contained the IHRA definition as a guide for interpreting acts, regulations and policies going forward.

The government’s pre-emptive adoption of the definition, done with all-party approval, according to a CJR source, means that the committee has suspended hearings on Bill 168. Several communal organizations were scheduled to speak both in favour of and against the bill.

“After a heinous act of anti-Semitism at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa [on Oct. 14], it is crucial that all governments be clear and united in fighting anti-Semitism and our adoption of the working definition has done just that,” Calandra said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The government of Ontario is proud to adopt and recognize the working definition of anti-Semitism. We stand with Ontario’s Jewish community in defence of their rights and fundamental freedoms as we always have and always will,” he said.

The move to adopt the definition and bypass public hearings was done by an Order in Council, which read as follows:

“On the recommendation of the undersigned, the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, by and with the advice and concurrence of the Executive Council of Ontario, orders that:

Whereas the Government of Ontario believes that everyone deserves to be treated with fairness, respect and dignity;

And Whereas systemic racism, including antisemitism, is a persistent reality in Ontario preventing many from fully participating in society and denying them equal rights, freedoms, respect and dignity;

And Whereas on May 26, 2016, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) decided at its Plenary in Bucharest to adopt a working definition of antisemitism;

Now therefore the Government of Ontario adopts and recognizes the Working Definition of Antisemitism, as adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Plenary on May 26, 2016.

Premier and President of the Council

Approved and Ordered: October 26, 2020.”

Jewish groups issued statements approving the development. They did so jointly – for the first time in recent memory.

Ontario joins “a growing number of jurisdictions, at all levels of government and around the world, in taking action against the growing threat posed to our society by antisemitism,” said Shimon Koffler Fogel, president and CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).

The IHRA definition “provides a framework that can help guide Ontario government institutions interested in understanding contemporary forms of antisemitism, such as Holocaust denial,” Fogel said.

The adoption of the definition and its many illustrative examples of antisemitism “is a major step forward. From high schools and university campuses to police hate-crime units, this announcement promises much-needed relief for Jews across the province,” stated B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn.

“Ontario will now be equipped to identify and react to incidents of antisemitism in a clear and precise way, and be better positioned to prevent antisemitism and react to it whenever it rears its head anywhere in the province. We applaud the Ontario government for becoming the first province in Canada to adopt the IHRA definition,” said Mostyn.

Michael Levitt, president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC), applauded the move.

He called the IHRA definition of antisemitism “a vital tool in the ongoing fight against hatred and discrimination targeting the Jewish community in Ontario…By making clear what antisemitism is and looks like, the IHRA definition will allow civil society and government to work together more effectively in our shared goal of eliminating hatred in our province.”

Karen Mock, president of JSpace Canada, remarked that “there is clear consensus about the need to combat the alarming rise of antisemitism. We cannot protect our society from the scourge of antisemitism if we are unable to name it, to identify it properly, and to address it consistently. By adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism, the government of Ontario has demonstrated a commitment to implementing human rights and anti-racist policies.”

According to CIJA, the IHRA definition has been adopted by “dozens of countries and other institutions, including Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.”

Bill 168 was a private member’s bill introduced by Conservative MPP Will Bouma in late 2019 and co-sponsored by fellow Tory MPP Robin Martin.

Holocaust Education Week 2020: Hindsight 2020

Oct. 27, 2020

By CARSON PHILLIPS

In a year characterized by increased antisemitism frequently linked to COVID conspiracy theories and social unrest caused by the lingering effects of systemic racism, it seemed only natural that Holocaust Education Week 2020 would tackle some of the the underlying conditions that contribute to such activities. In a quickly changing world, it is more relevant than ever that we understand the role Holocaust education can and does play in fostering an inclusive society that respects all Canadians.

Holocaust Education Week (HEW) runs Nov. 2-9 with programs continuing throughout the month. This year’s theme, Hindsight 2020, developed by UJA’s Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre, the organizer of the event, aims to do just that. By reflecting on the role that Holocaust education has played in our community, and promoting best practices in education that encourages deep learning, a solid foundation is laid for dealing present day challenges.

Now more than ever, nurturing Canadian civil society through the lessons of the Holocaust is a vital goal of HEW.

In response to the pandemic, the Neuberger has transformed Holocaust Education Week into a digital experience continuing throughout the year. By partnering with the Virtual J, programs will be presented live, free of charge and available for viewing on-demand long after the conclusion of each presentation.

Dara Solomon, the Neuberger’s executive director, commented on the new format: “Partnering with the Virtual J extends the reach of our programming to diverse audiences everywhere. Now, anyone with internet access can learn about the Holocaust wherever they live, at any time of day assured that the programming is built on the best and highest pedagogical standards,” she said.

HEW’s opening night unpacks the theme with American journalist Yair Rosenberg addressing the role Holocaust education and memory play in combatting the threats of contemporary antisemitism, prejudice, and fascism. He and Canadian journalist Sarah Fulford, editor-in-chief of Toronto Life magazine, will respond to some of today’s most pressing questions, including how and where does Holocaust education fit in to our current situation, and what have we learned from the Holocaust as a society that can better inform our future and point us towards a more just, equitable, and peaceful world?

A carefully curated film series that delves deeply into this year’s theme runs from November until next April. Each screening features special guest speakers, such as actor George Takei of Star Trek fame. As a child, Takei, along with other North Americans of Japanese heritage, was subject to forced relocation to internment camps during the Second World War. He has written a graphic memoir about his childhood experiences, titled They Called Us Enemy, which is an important entry point into learning about how our countries responded domestically while fighting fascism in Europe.

Takei’s personal insights provide yet another aspect of how the Second World War affected Canadians and Americans.

“For Canadians grappling with what our nation’s wartime conduct means, it helps provide a more complete picture and encourages dialogue on the significance of human rights in today’s civil society,” said Solomon.

Another not-to-be-missed program features philosopher and cultural commentator Susan Neiman, who will share her insights into grappling with the past and its significance with respect to contemporary memorial culture. A three-part Neuberger book talk series is devoted to her recent publication Learning from the Germans. Guest presenters are featured weekly and the series culminates with a discussion with Neiman.

HEW’s closing program will feature Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter’s personal reflections on the impact of Holocaust education and remembrance. Gutter, has spoken internationally about his Holocaust experiences, published his memoirs Memories in Focus with the Azrieli Foundation, and was one of the first to be interviewed for the USC Shoah Foundation’s Dimensions in Testimony program.

In conversation with the Neuberger’s Education Coordinator, Michelle Fishman, herself the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Gutter will expand on the role and power of education in combatting inequality, racism, fascism, and antisemitism.

A special tribute marking the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht, when a wave of violent anti-Jewish pogroms rampaged across Nazi Germany on Nov. 9 and 10, 1938, is also part of this program.

Visit the Neuberger’s website www.holocausteducationweek.com for a complete listing of all programs. 


Carson Phillips, PhD, is Managing Director of the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto

Great Nixon’s Ghost! Donald Trump and the Jews

Oct. 26, 2020 

By ANDREW COHEN

In the last days of his embattled presidency, facing impeachment and removal from office, Richard Milhous Nixon was alone. He had been undone by Watergate, a byword for a regime of skullduggery, deception and criminality.

As he prepared to resign on Aug. 9, 1974, Nixon could rely on one unflagging loyalist. His name was Rabbi Baruch Korff, an émigré from Ukraine who had seen his mother murdered in a pogrom and had a history of incendiary behaviour.

Korff defended Nixon fiercely that summer. Claiming Nixon was a victim of a “carefully staged circus of hate,” Korff founded the National Citizens Committee for Fairness to the Presidency. Nixon called Korff “my rabbi.”

Oh, the cynicism. Audio recordings from the Oval Office released in 1999 and 2013 reveal the depth of Nixon’s antisemitism. His conversations illustrate a vulgar disdain for Jews, soaked in resentment and a sense of betrayal.

I recall the rabbi’s veneration of Nixon when I hear American Jews, a generation later, rush to the defence of Donald Trump. Like Korff, they rationalize the re-election of another corrupt Republican guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors” – and a country club bigot, too.

One of Trump’s fervent apologists is Lauri B. Regan, who served on the Board of the National Women’s Committee of the Republican Jewish Coalition. In Hadassah Magazine, she calls Trump “the most pro-Israel president America has ever had.” She cheers the United States moving its embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal – all dear to conservative Jewry.

For American Jews who put Israel first, her argument is predictable. If you’re a one-issue voter, Trump is your man, particularly if you think he’s more Zionist than David Ben-Gurion.

Trump’s policies won’t advance Israel’s peace or security, but that’s not the point. For blinkered Jews who also lionize Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump is the man on horseback, much as Stephen Harper was for Canadian Jews.

Had Regan declared herself a one-issue voter and left the rest of her valentine undrawn, she would be more credible. Or, if she’d admitted that she’s really voting for Trump, as many Jews are, because he’s made them richer.

But Regan goes further: She hails Trump as “one of the most patriotic presidents in recent memory.” It isn’t enough that Trump is the savior of Israel – let’s all chant Dayenu – now, he’s the saviour of the United States, too!

Regan fears rising anti-Jewish sentiment on campuses, in the Black Lives Matter movement, and in the Democratic Party. This threat should make Jews “prioritize protecting themselves, not the social issues that traditionally sway their votes,” she warns.

Doesn’t Trump stand up for the military and the police to protect us “in their synagogues” from the mob? Isn’t keeping America great keeping Jews “safe”?

Curiously, Regan sees antisemitism everywhere but in the presidency. She finds a bipartisan soul mate in Andrew Stein, former president of the New York City Council and founder of Democrats for Trump. Donald Trump an anti-Semite? No, says Stein. Didn’t Trump “welcome Judaism into his family” when Ivanka married Jared Kushner? Didn’t he combat hate crimes against Jews with an executive order?

Forget the torch-bearing brownshirts of Charlottesville; Trump’s indifference to those white supremacists was a “media distortion,” claims Regan. On Trump’s embrace of the Proud Boys and QAnon while he attacks the judiciary, the military, the media and other institutions, Regan and Stein are silent. While Republicans of conscience abandon Trump – see The Lincoln Project – and Americans prepare to repudiate Trump, this pair peddles a fantasy.

They would find their reflection in Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf of Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America. Smarter than everyone else, the wooly-minded Bengelsdorf fell so heavily for Charles Lindbergh that he missed the danger of Lindbergh’s antipathy toward Jews until it was too late. My late father called Bengelsdorf’s ilk “educated fools.”

Regan and Stein think nothing else matters to Jews but themselves, as if they are distinct or detached from society. To them, Jews ought not care – need not care – about the existential threat Trump poses to democracy, social justice, civil rights, and the rule of law.

Ironically, when he loses, Trump won’t appreciate the affections of Stein and Regan any more than he does the Vichy Republicans in Congress. Having privately ridiculed the evangelical Christians, he’ll reserve a scorn for Jews harsher than Nixon’s Jewish “bastards.” Eventually, we’ll know what he thought.

In the meantime, the charade unfolds. Rabbi Korff, meet Rabbi Regan and Rabbi Stein. They are your spiritual descendants and happy collaborators – as naive and embarrassing to their co-religionists today as you were then.


Andrew Cohen
Andrew Cohen

Andrew Cohen is a columnist for Postmedia News, professor at Carleton University’s School of Journalism, and author of Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made History.

Increased Payments to Holocaust Survivors Announced

Oct. 26, 2020

Faced with continuing COVID hardships, Holocaust survivors, including those in Canada, will see a rise in their benefits from Germany.

The increases were announced this month by the New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, or the Claims Conference.

They result from the organization’s most recent negotiations with the German government on behalf of Holocaust survivors.

A statement from the Claims Conference to the CJR notes that there are currently 1,600 survivors in Canada who receive pensions from Germany that are administered by the Claims Conference. The current benefit of €513 (CAD $800) per month will increase to €580 (CAD $900) a month as of Jan. 1, 2021.

The most recent negotiations also resulted in two supplemental payments, each of €1,200 (about CAD $1,860), for survivors eligible under the conference’s Hardship Fund. The payments will be made in each of the next two years, for a total of €2,400 (CAD $3,725).

The Claims Conference estimates that approximately 5,000 Holocaust survivors in Canada will be eligible for supplemental payments under the Hardship Fund.

Additionally, the German government will directly provide to spouses of so-called BEG payment recipients who died after Jan. 1, 2020, and do not get a BEG spouse pension, a “transitional payment” of up to nine months. Some residents of Canada qualify for this program.

As for funds the Conference allocates to Jewish social service agencies in Canada for the welfare of Holocaust survivors, “we are assessing needs now and will have a final result by year’s end,” said a spokesperson.

For 2020, the Conference allocated over CAD $37 million for homecare, food, medicine, transportation, programs to alleviate social isolation, and other services. The recent negotiations resulted in a €30.5 million increase (approximately CDN $47 million) over last year in funding for social welfare services for Holocaust survivors.

“These increased benefits achieved by the hard work of our negotiation’s delegation during these unprecedented times will help our efforts to ensure dignity and stability in survivors’ final years,” said Gideon Taylor, President of the Claims Conference.

The COVID pandemic “has adversely affected the elderly, and survivors have faced an onslaught of health, emotional, and financial hurdles,” the Conference stated in a recent news release.

The Conference estimates that approximately 240,000 survivors will be eligible for these additional payments. The largest populations reside in Israel, North America, the former Soviet Union, and Western Europe.

In the negotiations with the Claims Conference, the German government agreed to expand the categories of survivors receiving direct compensation. Specifically, Germany accepted the results of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum regarding “open ghettos” in Bulgaria and the report from Yad Vashem on “open ghettos” in Romania, which together recognized 27 specific places as ghettos, thus enabling survivors of those places to receive compensation payments.

Hamilton’s Sandi Seigel is New President of Na’amat Canada

Oct. 26, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

When Sandi Seigel walked into her first Na’amat meeting 20 years ago, she was looking for a way to make friends in a new city.

Sandi Seigel

The Toronto native had just moved to Hamilton with her new husband and she was looking for a Jewish women’s organization in which to get involved. Now, the Hamilton pediatrician and McMaster University medical school professor has been elected National President of the organization.

Na’amat – the name is an acronym of the Hebrew words meaning Movement of Working Women and Volunteers – is one of the largest agencies providing social services in Israel.

Like many service groups, Seigel said, Na’amat is facing a tough challenge in convincing women to spend some of their scarce free time on its projects. But the need is so great, she’s determined to see the group survive and thrive.

“It has been challenging for a long time to get people involved,” Seigel said in an interview with the CJR. “That has been a challenge for all of us, and even more so during the COVID crisis. The needs we’re trying to meet, from a social standpoint, are just huge.”

Na'amat Canada

Founded almost 100 years ago, according to the history recorded on the group’s national website, Na’amat was known as Pioneer Women in its early days and was dedicated to the idea that women could work with men in equality and help other women improve their families and society.

In the early years, Na’amat women – including a young, idealistic American who took the name Golda Meir – worked in the fields, factories and communal kitchens of Israel, even before it was a state. Today it is the largest women’s movement in Israel, filling a gaping social need government simply can’t meet.

It is the largest provider of daycare centres in the country, with over 200 facilities; operates women’s shelters; provides scholarships for women in gender studies and the sciences; and campaigns against domestic violence.

“We’re filling a gap with services that just wouldn’t exist if Na’amat wasn’t there,” Seigel said. “The scholarships we provide go to women who otherwise wouldn’t be able to continue their education.”

In addition to its work in Israel Na’amat chapters across Canada are active in such efforts as providing school supplies for the children of women in shelters.

Na’amat is also active in the field of domestic violence – a problem Seigel said has become especially troubling during COVID-related lockdowns.

Before moving onto Na’amat’s national stage, Seigel was co-president of the Hamilton chapter. Nationally she served two terms as chair of the National Education Committee, and has been national vice-president and chair of the Na’amat Canada National Development Committee.

She has also participated in a solidarity mission to Israel, has headed the Israel leadership seminar, and has represented Na’amat Canada in Israel at the Na’amat International and World Zionist Organization meetings.

Professionally, Seigel is a general pediatrician practicing at St. Joseph’s Healthcare and McMaster Children’s Hospital.  She has cared for HIV-positive patients and children and infants of HIV-positive mothers.

She has also been involved in assessing children for possible abuse and caring for premature infants.

She served as deputy chief of pediatrics at St. Joseph’s Healthcare for 13 years and was the 2020 recipient of the Sister Joan O’Sullivan award.

Her husband, Joel Yellin, is a Hamilton native. They have three sons, Samuel, Jonathan and Robert.

Antisemitic Graffiti at Tomb of Unknown Soldier Condemned

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan have condemned the recent antisemitic desecration of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Ottawa police are searching for a man they say carved hateful graffiti at the National War Memorial. Police say the man used a sharp object to etch graffiti onto the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the memorial at Wellington and Elgin streets.

It happened around 9:45 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 14, police said.

“The antisemitic desecration of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is completely unacceptable, and I strongly condemn this hateful act, Trudeau stated in a tweet. “I urge anyone with information regarding the perpetrator’s identity to contact Ottawa Police.”

The vandalism was “despicable,” tweeted Sajjan. “The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier represents the gallantry and the sacrifices of those who fought for our freedom. On Remembrance Day, we’ll come together to recognize our veterans.”

Police described the man as white and wearing a light-coloured sweater, dark pants, a dark toque and carrying a black back pack. He was riding a mountain-style bike, police said.

The graffiti were removed within 24 hours, said Ottawa police spokesperson Const. Amy Gagnon. “We don’t know yet what motivated this person,” she added.

Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay called it a “disgusting act.”

“This was not the vandalization of public property – it was the desecration of a site that stands as a permanent reminder of the memories and sacrifices of every single person who has fought and died in services of Canada,” he said in a statement.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson called it an “insult and disgrace to our war dead and veterans. If anyone recognizes this lowlife, please contact police,” Watson said in a tweet.”

In a statement, Royal Canadian Legion dominion president Thomas Irvine said it’s “unthinkable that anyone would deface this sacred place…we strongly condemn this criminal act.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact a Hate Crime Investigations Unit detective at 613-236-1222 extension 5453 or to leave an anonymous tip through Crime Stoppers.

Parshat Bereishit: Take the Red Pill

Oct. 23, 2020

By ILANA KRYGIER LAPIDES

“This is your last chance – there is no turning back. You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed… You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: All I’m offering is the truth.”

– Morpheus, from The Matrix

The creation story in Bereishit is one of the most evocative, mystical, and beautiful stories ever told. The light racing to replace the darkness, the swirling of the heavens and earth, the sun, moon, and stars flashing into existence, the birds and fish and animals inhabiting the world. And then, the pièce de resistance: Humanity is born: “Male and Female He created them” (Gen 1:27). It is all good.

Then, after Shabbat is established as the day of rest comes a new verse about the creation of the first humans. Why two versions? What happened to the first “them”? Our sources and mythology say Adam had a first wife named Lilith who was literally a demon. In recent years, the legend of Lilith, who defied marital customs and had sexual agency, has been reclaimed by the women’s movement and is now a symbol for female independence and strength.

Nice for Lilith, but what about Eve? The second wife, the second thought. Not a whole creature but crafted out of a rib. The image of the serpent snaked around the Tree of Knowledge, of Good and Evil, tempting the naive woman, has led to cultural and political norms so internalized that we don’t even notice them: Eve disobeyed G-d, she let herself be seduced and then tricked her husband into eating the Forbidden Fruit. Ergo, woman cannot be trusted: we are temptresses – dumb at best, immoral at worst. We must be tightly controlled and regulated lest we cause Paradise Lost…again. Pretty heavy consequences for eating a piece of fruit.

It’s a bit of a mind-game to imagine an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent Creator allowing the first woman to fail so spectacularly. It seems unfair, like a gotcha, and to those paying attention, it doesn’t make much sense. Elohim just created the entire universe but couldn’t conjure up a little reverse psychology to save the day?

Kabbalistic writings propose another perspective: None of this is a surprise to G-d; there is no sin here. This was the plan all along. In the beginning, Eve and Adam were innocent children with no shame or pain or problems. As they got older, they realize the world is not perfect so they seek wisdom to understand right and wrong. Eve first, followed by Adam, defy their “parent” and choose, for good or bad, to become fully aware and actualized human beings. Their story is our story – an allegory for coming of age.

“G-d expels Adam and Eve from Eden, which can be seen as a punishment. But it can also be seen as a painful but necessary ‘graduation’ from the innocence of childhood to the problem-laden world of living as morally responsible adults” (Eitz Chayyim, p. 18).

Rabbi Niles Goldstein says, “By acting with free will, Adam and Eve begin the process of individuation from God, psychologically and existentially. They are now on their own. They, like each of us, are now ready to go forth into the unknown.”

In the mystical tradition, G-d stopped work on the sixth day to allow humans a turn to be partners in tikkun olam – the repair of the world. Eve and then Adam ate from the tree because it was time to become full partners with G-d.

Yes, it seems like G-d was delaying the inevitable, but who wouldn’t? For those of us who are parents, watching our children mature and make mistakes is frightening and heartbreaking, but we still have to let our children grow up and away from us.

In life, as in The Matrix, it’s tempting to stay innocent in Gan Eden, to take the blue pill and stay ignorant of the stress and toil of reality. But that existence infantilizes us and prevents us from becoming the developed partners that G-d needs. As painful and counterintuitive as it seems, it is part of our contract with G-d to take the red pill. As Eve realized, we are only truly human when we act with the courage and strength to grow up and eat that fruit.


Ilana Krygier Lapides
Ilana Krygier Lapides

Ilana Krygier Lapides is a Jewish educator and storyteller in Calgary. She is currently attending the online Rabbinic School, the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute (JSLI) in New York, and will be ordained in December 2020.

Food Brings Comfort in Times of Loss and Uncertainty

Oct. 23, 2020

By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

Shabbat Shalom and welcome to “Kitchen Talk,” the weekly food blog of the CJR.

Last week, I attended an international culinary event about comfort foods in the comfort of my own kitchen. The event was hosted by American Friends of the Parents Circle – Families Forum (PCFF). Founded 25 years ago, PCFF is an Israel-based grassroots organization made up of Palestinian and Israeli families who have lost immediate members in the Middle East conflict.

PCFF Members conduct dialogue sessions, give lectures, and engage in projects and activities to support dialogue and reconciliation, which they say is a prerequisite for achieving a sustained peace.

Award-winning chefs Gil Hovav, a leading Israeli culinary personality, Israeli-born American author and restaurateur; Michael Solomonov, and Palestinian author Reem Kassis were invited to talk about their favourite comfort foods and the role of food in easing pain and stress.

Solomonov’s participation in PCFF had particular resonance because he shares a connection with many PCFF members: His younger brother, David, was killed in 2003 at the tail end of his military service in Israel.

Despite this loss, one of Solomonov’s closest friends is Kassis. The two spoke about their friendship and food. Kassis’s book, The Palestinian Table, has been a national bestseller.

Hovav joked that he has attended PCFF dinners – uplifting events where Palestinian mothers and grandmothers take over the kitchen and give the Israelis directions and tasks.

Each of the three chefs shared recipes for their favourite comfort foods. Hovav described his mother-in-law’s Egg Salad, a recipe he described as “simple, but so delicious.” Kassis also suggested an egg dish, IjjehPalestinian Herbed Frittata. 

Solomonov said borekas, his comfort food, evokes memories of his Bulgarian grandmother. She made these flaky pastries from scratch.

He provided his recipe for making the puff pastry dough, which is delicious, but very labour-intensive. He said borekas can also be made from ready-made puff pastry dough, which is what I used for my Feta and Mushroom Borekas. 

I defrosted the dough in my fridge the night before using and I also vented the borekas by making some tiny slits in the dough before baking. The recipes for the fillings come from Solomonov’s awarding winning cookbook, Zahav

EGG SALAD Gil Hovav

4 large yellow onions, diced
½ cup (125 ml) canola oil.
10 large eggs
Kosher salt to taste
Pepper to taste
optional 3 scallions, chopped

In a large sauce pan, add half the oil and half the onions and cook until the onions are browned. Repeat with the remaining oil and onions. Set aside.

While the onions are browning, boil the eggs. When the eggs are cooked, peel and grate them.

Mix with the browned onions and their oil. Add lots of kosher salt and some black pepper. You may add chopped scallions.

IJJEH – PALESTINIAN HERBED FRITTATA Reem Kassis

8 eggs
4 scallions, finely chopped
½ cup (125 ml) flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
½ cup (125 ml) fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (optional) 
1 scant tsp (5 ml) salt
½ tsp (2 ml) cumin
¼ tsp (1 ml) black pepper
1 tbsp (15 ml) flour
Olive oil, for frying
Labaneh and pita bread, to serve

Place the eggs in a large bowl and whisk until mixture is a pale yellow and starting to froth. Add in the chopped herbs, salt and spices and mix until evenly combined. Sprinkle the flour over the eggs and whisk until incorporated. 

Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a frying pan on medium high heat. You can use one very large pan or a small one and work in batches. 

Once the oil is hot, pour the omelet mixture into the pan, tilting it around to get an even layer of eggs. Cook until the edges start to curl and the top is starting to solidify. Periodically lift the eggs with a spatula to make sure the bottom is not burning. 

When the omelet is no longer runny from the top, flip it over to brown the other side. Continue to cook for another minute or two until done. If using a small pan, repeat, adding more olive oil, until the egg batter is done.

Slide the omelet onto a plate and serve immediately with fresh pita bread and a side of labaneh. Makes 4 servings.

FETA BOREKAS Michael Solomonov

Makes 24 small or 6 large pastries Ingredients

Dough 

Option 1 defrost puff pastry dough and then follow the recipe for filling

Option 2 Puff pastry dough from scratch

2 cups (500 ml) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling 
1 tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
1 tsp (5 ml) apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp (15 ml) kosher salt
1 scant cup (250 ml) seltzer, plus more as needed
8 tbsp (125 ml) unsalted butter, softened 
1 egg, for brushing the dough

Combine the flour, oil, vinegar, and salt in a food processor, then add the seltzer. Process until the mixture looks crumbly, then continue for a few minutes more, adding a drop or two more of seltzer until the dough comes together in a ball. Process for 10 seconds, then flour the largest cutting board you have and scrape all the dough onto it. (You can also make the dough by hand in a large bowl with a wooden spoon.)

Press the dough into a rectangle about 6 inches long. (The dough is easiest to work with the closer you get to a perfect rectangle.) Flour your rolling pin and roll the dough out to the size of your cutting board, starting in the centre and rolling in a fluid motion, moving your arms and applying gentle pressure instead of pressing down. When you’re about halfway there, roll up the dough on the rolling pin, set aside, and flour the board again. Unroll the dough on the board.

Place the stick of butter on one end of the dough and, using a butter knife or silicone or offset spatula, spread it evenly in long motions over half the dough, leaving a ½-inch (1 cm) border on the edges.

Fold the unbuttered half of the dough over the buttered half. Fold the edges up and in to keep the butter inside. Fold the right and left edges into the centre of the dough and fold in half again to make a book fold.

Sprinkle a bit of flour on the board, then pat the dough down into a perfect rectangle. It should feel smooth. Transfer the dough to the freezer (right on the cutting board, uncovered) for 15 minutes. 

Remove the board from the freezer and gently press a finger into the dough. It should feel pliable. If you feel a shard of butter, it has hardened too much, so leave the dough out for a few minutes. You want the dough and the butter to be closer to the same temperature so the butter doesn’t crack and they roll out smoothly together.

Feta Filling

2 large eggs
2½ cups (325 ml) crumbled feta
**2 sheets of Boreka dough or store bought puff pastry
2 tbsp (30 ml) poppy seeds (optional)
2 tbsp (30 ml)sesame (optional)

In a mixing bowl beat 1 of the eggs and add the feta

Filling the Pastry:

Place the cold sheet of boreka dough on a floured surface **Cut the dough into 8 4-inch squares.

spoon 2 heaping tbsp (30 ml) of feta filling onto 1 half of the square leaving a ½-inch (1 cm) border at the edge.

Fold the dough over into a rectangle and press the edges to seal. Repeat until all the borekas are filled and formed.

Arrange the borekas on a parchment lined baking sheet and refrigerate 1 hour. They should be cold and firm to touch.

Preheat the oven to 425°F (200°C) with a rack on the upper third, beat the remaining egg and brush the tops of the borekas, then sprinkle the poppy and/or sesame seeds.

Bake until the dough is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Makes 8 large borekas.

**NB: Many Canadian packages of puff pastry dough have smaller sheets. Use 2 sheets to get 8 borekas.

MUSHROOM BOREKAS Michael Solomonov

1 tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
2 cups (500 ml) mushroom
¼ cup (60 ml) chopped onion
2 garlic cloves minced
½ tsp (2 ml) kosher salt
2 large eggs
2 sheets of the Boreka dough
2 tbsp (30 ml) poppy or sesame seeds

Warm the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the mushrooms, onion, garlic and salt. Cook stirring until the mushrooms and onions are tender and beginning to brown. 

Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and cool. Add 1egg and stir into the mushrooms. Refrigerate until the mixture becomes cold.

To fill the pastry follow the directions for the feta borekas

CULINARY CALENDAR

Oct. 25, 12 –1:15 pm: Museum of Jewish Montreal and the Wandering Chew present a virtual Brazilian-Jewish cooking workshop with Mauricio Schuartz. He’ll share his Bubbe Clara’s Brazilian honey cake recipe. Pay-What-You-Can, with a suggested amount of $18. To access the Zoom link, RSVP with Eventbrite link: https://www.eventbrite.ca/o/the-wandering-chew-4691434761 

Oct. 28, 11am –12 pm: Bernard Betel Centre: Virtual Cooking Club: Persian Rice & Lentils with Maryam Roozbeh. To register: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYocuyupjgtHdH4SkYK9XS69aolga5nsjd_

Nov. 8, 2–3:30 pm: Building the Jewish& Cookbook: Pizza Napoletana with Kat Romanow 

Hosted by the Miles Nadal JCC & The Wandering Chew

https://www.amilia.com/store/en/miles-nadal-jcc/shop/activities/2864377

Canadian Jewish Literary Awards Celebrate 2020 Winners in Online Ceremony Oct. 25

Oct. 22, 2020

The Canadian Jewish Literary Awards is honouring nine outstanding books for 2020.

Now in its sixth year, the Awards recognize and reward the finest Canadian writing on Jewish themes and subjects.

“Even during this year of isolation, choosing only nine Award winners from the depth and breadth and quality of the submissions was a challenge,” said jury chair Edward Trapunski.

Winners have been declared in the following categories: Fiction, biography, Jewish thought and culture, poetry, history, books for children and youth, Yiddish, scholarship, and Holocaust.

The awards ceremony will be presented on the Canadian Jewish Literary Awards and the Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies YouTube channels on Oct. 25, 2020, at 2:00 p.m. It will be available for later viewing on these channels.

The Honorees

Fiction:

Through Shadows Slow by Abraham Boyarsky (8th House Publishing) is a love story about memory and forgiveness. Daniel, a Holocaust refugee, is diagnosed with tuberculosis and sent to a renowned sanatorium in the Laurentian mountains. He meets and falls in love with a more assimilated woman who grew up in Canada. He marries her but he is haunted by doubts about her fidelity because of her worldly nature. In the twilight of his life, he finds salvation and redemption on the Israeli fortress at Masada.

Biography:

Mahler’s Forgotten Conductor: Heinz Unger and His Search for Jewish Meaning, 1895–1965 by Hernan Tesler-Mabé (University of Toronto Press). The Berlin-born orchestral conductor Heinz Unger devoted his life to the music of Gustav Mahler. In 1948, Unger settled in Canada and was celebrated for his Mahler interpretations with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Promenade Symphony Orchestra and, most significantly, the CBC Symphony Orchestra. The book explores the way a German Jewish musician understood and expressed his dual identity by way of his allegiance to music and how Jewish cultural values from Europe manifested themselves in Canada.

Jewish Thought and Culture:

Waste Not: A Jewish Environmental Ethic by Tanhum Yoreh (SUNY Press). The Jewish prohibition against wastefulness and destruction is an ecological ethical principle by contemporary Jewish environmentalists. Waste Not is an intellectual history of this concept, offering a detailed and studious analysis of the Jewish prohibition against wastefulness and destruction (bal tashhit), blending close readings from traditional texts, beginning with the Bible, and moving through rabbinic, medieval, and contemporary Jewish environmentalist commentaries. Tanhum Yoreh, Assistant Professor in the School of Environment at the University of Toronto, draws on the study of religion, ethics, and ecological thinking for a timely meditation on a subject deserving the world’s attention. The connection between contemporary environmental thought and Jewish principles creates a foundation for an environmental ethic for today.

Poetry:

Swoon by Elana Wolff (Guernica Editions). This collection of poems explores a variety of subjects but returns again and again to our longing for transcendence. Informed by Jewish texts and contexts, with a sure-handed control of language and image, the poems are passionate but mature, precise and curious, willing to risk everything for a chance to slip behind the curtain of the familiar to get a glimpse at the divine. The poems in Swoon are philosophical considerations, meditations on the sacred and profane with a subtle understanding of one’s own connection to the world. It is a subtle, sensual book of observances pleasing to the ear.

History:

Theodor Herzl: The Charismatic Leader by Derek Penslar (Yale University Press). This work by an eminent Canadian-American historian masterfully blends a richly textured biography about the father of Zionism with an insightful analysis of the ways that Herzl fits into and struggled with both European social and intellectual currents and the Jewish publics with whom he was both connected and disconnected. Prof. Penslar has written an accessible, deeply thoughtful, carefully crafted, and thoroughly enjoyable book about one of the giants of modern Jewish history.

Children and Youth:

A Boy is Not a Bird by Edeet Ravel (Groundwood Books) is a fictionalized story based on what the author’s fifth grade teacher, Mr. Halpern, used to tell her class about his childhood in Soviet occupied Zastavna, Romania. The compelling story recounts the events that marked the life of 11-year-old Natt Silver, his family, friends and neighbours, just before and during their deportation to Siberia in 1941. Natt is a sweet kid who just wants to belong and yet he must endure the horror of living under the influence of Stalin and Hitler. While the book is recommended for readers age 9 and up, it is a memoir a reader of any age could enjoy.

Yiddish:

How Yiddish Changed America and How America Changed Yiddish, edited by Ilan Stavans and Josh Lambert (Restless Books), considers the complex encounter between Yiddish and America through several different lenses. Essays, memoirs, songs, letters, poems, recipes, cartoons, and interviews represent a diverse selection of perspectives on Yiddish language and culture. The book features work by Isaac Bashevis Singer, Cynthia Ozick, Chaim Grade, Art Spiegelman, and many other lesser known cultural figures. It places them in a dynamic conversation around the interaction between Yiddish and American. The anthology also refreshingly expands the definition of “America” to include voices from Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, Colombia, and Canada, reflecting the unbounded history of modern Yiddish. Josh Lambert’s roots are in Canada. Arriving at a moment when Yiddish has entered a new phase in its long history, this book celebrates the complicated, tense, and delightful ways languages and cultures transform one another.

Scholarship:

Athens and Jerusalem: God, Humans, and Nature by David Novak (University of Toronto Press). This book by a distinguished professor of religion and philosophy at the University of Toronto examines the intersection of Greek philosophy and Jewish theology. The subject has long been controversial because of the conflict between monotheism on one side and pluralism on the other. But the Greek philosophers and the Jewish Talmudists were contemporaneous if not contemporary and Athens and Jerusalem addresses how the influences must have spread through the region. As a theologian, ethicist, and rabbi, David Novak is well equipped to expound on the subject. He has written 16 books and hundreds of articles about how Jewish theology and Greek philosophy engage and he could have distilled existing knowledge. But academics and scholars will find that Athens and Jerusalem presents fresh ideas and insights.

Holocaust:

Le Temps des orphelins by Laurent Sagalovitsch (Buchet/Chastel). A young American rabbi, Daniel Shapiro, joins the Allied forces in April 1945 to liberate Europe. In Germany, he is one of the first to enter the Buchenwald concentration camp and experience the horror there. His descent into hell would have been without return if he had not met the gaze of a five-year-old child who is waiting for someone to help him find his parents. The novel, in French, by Vancouver-based author, Laurent Sagalovitsch, depicts with poignancy the atrocity of the camps and the disbelief of those who were the first to discover them. The child with oversized eyes who, without a word, convinces Daniel that life is stronger than horror. Towards the end of his life, Holocaust chronicler Elie Wiesel said: “From now on, art and literature will be the true way to express the Holocaust.” This moving novel based on fact offers a meaningful path to understanding the Holocaust.

The Canadian Jewish Literary Awards Jury for 2020:

Edward Trapunski: Chair, author of three books and winner of an ACTRA Award as best writer.

Rona Arato: Award-winning children’s book writer and author of 15 books.

Miriam Borden: Doctoral student in Yiddish at the University of Toronto and researcher of twentieth century Jewish Torontonian culture in the Canadian Yiddish press. She has curated exhibitions about Yiddish language and culture at the Robarts Library and the Canadian Language Museum.

Alain Goldschläger: Director of the Holocaust Literature Research Institute and Professor of French at Western University, and former Chair of the National Task Force for Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research.

David Koffman: J. Richard Shiff Chair for the Study of Canadian Jewry at the Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies at York University.

Michael Posner: Award-winning author and playwright and former reporter for the Globe and Mail.

Adam Sol: Author of four books of poetry and one book of essays, How a Poem Moves. He teaches at Victoria College, University of Toronto.

For more information, visit www.cjlawards.ca.

First Volume of Leonard Cohen Bio Sheds Light on Enigmatic Troubadour

Oct. 22, 2020

By RUTH SCHWEITZER

Leonard Cohen rarely gave candid interviews and he also managed to avoid media scrutiny. He was a man of mystery cloaked in bohemianism.

Generations of fans of the brilliant Montreal-born poet, novelist and singer-songwriter have been touched by his interesting mind and his penetrating song lyrics for decades. They’ve connected to him, sometimes deeply, yet know little about him.

Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen

A new Cohen biography, Leonard Cohen, Untold Stories: The Early Years, published by Simon & Schuster Canada, reveals more about Cohen’s personal and professional life than previous biographies do. At nearly 500 pages long, it will certainly satisfy the inquisitive.

This is the first volume of Michael Posner’s series about Cohen. Posner, a former writer for the Globe and Mail, interviewed more than 500 of Cohen’s friends, associates, one-time lovers, and acquaintances, and gathered enough material for three books. The second volume is due in the fall of 2021, with a third to be released in the fall of 2022.

They are oral biographies, made up of brief excerpts from the interviews Posner conducted, with some quotes from Cohen himself. Posner doesn’t vouch for the accuracy of those memories that often come into conflict. Was it Cohen who gave LSD to the 15-year-old son of his muse, Marianne Ihlen, or was it the boy’s father? From the accounts in the book, it was probably not Cohen, but we’ll never know for sure.

In his introduction to volume one, Posner writes that one of the virtues of oral biography is that “everyone gets to take the stand, and the jurors – readers – decide whose version of the truth they endorse.”

The book opens with chapters about Cohen’s family and his youth in Montreal during the 1940s and ‘50s – he was born in 1934 – and ends in 1969, by the time he’d achieved minor stardom as a songwriter and singer.

Cohen’s grandfather, Lyon Cohen, was president of Montreal’s Shaar Hashomayim synagogue, where the extended Cohen family filled two rows during services. About Judaism, Cohen said: “What I missed in the tradition was that nobody ever spoke to me about methods, about meditations. I was hungry as a young man – I wanted to go into a system a little more thoroughly. I wanted to be exposed to a different kind of mind.”

What Cohen found lacking in Judaism was the seed that propelled him on a lifelong spiritual search, from Scientology to Zen Buddhism. Then at the end of his life, the search brought Cohen back full circle, to Judaism.

Leonard Cohen with his mother, Masha

The most influential woman in Cohen’s life was his mother, Masha. Cohen’s longtime friend, fellow poet Irving Layton, paints a picture of Masha as a stereotypical, domineering Jewish mother, commenting that “her eroticism was directed at Leonard.” Linda Clark attributed his inability to make a full commitment to a woman to Masha, because part of Cohen heart always belonged to her.

But Cohen had a huge appetite for sex. Deadly charming, he was frequently on the prowl and seduced many women. “A friend of mine once asked me if Leonard had ever hit on me,” Cheryl Sourkes says. “I said no. She said, ‘We must be the only two women in Montreal [that he didn’t hit on].’” Many worshipful women were drawn to Cohen, too, attracted to him like metal filings to a magnet, recalls Max Layton, Irving Layton’s son.

Some readers may be troubled by the sexism of Cohen’s generation of men and his younger, artistically inclined male followers, who got easy access to the women around Cohen. “The men around him were treated to the women, whether they were married men or not,” recalls Carol Zemel. “It was one of the ways he held men in his thrall – there were always women around. If he wasn’t sleeping with them, he shared them.”

In 1960, Cohen moved to the Greek Island of Hydra, where he lived with Marianne over a period of seven years, when he wasn’t in Montreal or New York City. Hydra was an artists’ colony and, being the 1960s, sexual freedom was blowing in the wind. But freedom didn’t necessarily make for happiness. “Relationships were unraveling. Everyone was sleeping with everyone else,” says Aviva Layton, Irving Layton’s wife. “Open marriages. It really was a painful, emotionally dangerous time.”

Drugs were easily available on Hydra and Cohen indulged in several, including cannabis, hashish, LSD and amphetamines. Always a hard worker, drugs didn’t stand in the way of his creative output, maybe even enhanced his work.

Leonard Cohen

Several books of Cohen’s poems were published in the 1960s: The Spice Box of Earth in 1961; Flowers for Hitler in 1964, and Parasites of Heaven in 1966. His semi-autobiographical novel, The Favourite Game, came out in 1963, and a second novel, Beautiful Losers, was published in 1966.

The critic Leslie Fiedler said Beautiful Losers was either one of the best or worst novels he’d ever read – he wasn’t sure which. 

Critic Myra Bloom wrote that Beautiful Losers’ “experimental form, along with its critique of history, religion and other metanarratives, make it a perfect object lesson in Canadian postmodernism.” But she added that “lately, though, the book has started to resemble a how-to guide for writers who want to tank their literary careers.”

Sales were poor for Beautiful Losers, so Cohen decided to become a singer-songwriter. But it was not just for the money, Barry Wexler, a Canadian writer and producer and friend of Cohen’s for 50 years, maintains: “Leonard never thought he’d be spoken of in the same breath as T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and e.e. cummings – or even first-rate poets like Sylvia Plath, Langston Hughes, and Allen Ginsberg,” Wexler said. “He knew he was good, but didn’t think he was great. That, in part, is why he applied his talent to song. There, a minor poet – no small thing in itself – could become a major lyricist.”

The release of Cohen’s first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, in 1967, foreshadowed the kind of chart success he would go on to achieve. The album, which included Cohen’s signature song, Suzanne, reached No. 83 on the Billboard 200 and peaked at No. 13 on the UK Albums Chart. Cohen had made it to the bottom rung of stardom.

Cohen wasn’t a good singer, but by 1967, that no longer mattered, after a folksinger with a whiny voice, Bob Dylan, had paved the way for Cohen to become successful singing his own songs. Audiences were beginning to appreciate what songwriters bring to performances of their own material.

Leonard Cohen, Untold Stories: The Early Years is a detailed account of Cohen’s fascinating early life and career. For serious Cohen fans, it’s a page-tuner.

Editorial: Leadership and Service: There is no Higher Honour

Oct. 22, 2020

Erik Larson is a New York Times bestselling author known for his splendid narrative non-fiction books. He writes about historical events from a human point of view, often referencing “mass population diaries” to get a sense of what the common person was feeling and thinking at the time.

It’s not surprising that vox populi often supply the most accurate and colourful telling of history.

One of Larson’s better-known books, In the Garden of Beasts, is a bone-chilling account of the United States’ first ambassador to Nazi Germany and how he and his family endured the brutal rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazism.

Of particular interest now is Larson’s latest epic, The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz. It vividly describes, through the diaries regular Britons were urged to keep, combined with the papers of Winston Churchill and his family and other historical documents, the daily experiences of Londoners during the Blitz and how Churchill, in full pugnacity, led his people during the most dangerous and horrific times they had ever experienced.

As Larson himself noted, the book takes readers “out of today’s political dysfunction and back to a time of true leadership, when in the face of unrelenting horror, Churchill’s eloquence, strategic brilliance, and perseverance bound a country and a family together.”

Larson’s book is worth reading for other reasons, both for its parallels to today and most specifically, for the manner in which it speaks to the vital urgency of true political leadership in a time of deep crisis.

We need not go over the insanity south of the border. We do, however, need to take stock of the lessons of leadership and its importance in these dangerous times.

In past generations leaders have risen to take on the monstrous responsibilities of war, fear, insurrection, poverty and need. Whether it was John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile crisis, David Ben-Gurion fighting to lead his tiny population of Jews towards a resurrected state, Franklin Roosevelt’s bold New Deal to lead the way out of the Great Depression, or General Charles de Gaulle inspiring the people of France during the Nazi occupation, it was leadership that made it all happen.

As we consider today’s leadership, it would be wise to recall the words of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth:

“Leaders lead because there is work to do, there are people in need, there is injustice to be fought, there is wrong to be righted, there are problems to be solved and challenges ahead. Leaders hear this as a call to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness. They lead because they know that to stand idly by and expect others to do the work is the too-easy option. The responsible life is the best life there is, and is worth all the pain and frustration. To lead is to serve; The highest accolade Moses ever received was to be called ‘eved Hashem’ – ‘God’s servant’ – and there is no higher honour.”

Arrests Made in Several Incidents in Toronto, Vaughan

Oct. 22, 2020

Three recent arrests are of interest to the Jewish community.

On Oct. 19, Toronto police responded to reports of a man seen in the Allen Road and Eglinton Ave. W. area with what was believed to be two firearms. He was wearing what was described as a swat suit, balaclava and an army cap.

As a result, several schools in the area, including some Jewish day schools, were put on hold and secure mode.

The next day, police responded to reports of trouble in the same area. It was alleged there was a man on a bridge wearing camouflage and a bullet-proof vest.

Danny Elias
Danny Elias

Officers arrested Danny Andres Elias, 28, of Toronto. He has been charged with three counts of possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose; impersonating a peace officer; possession of prohibited ammunition; and threatening death.

Toronto police also arrested a man who allegedly threatened to commit a shooting at an unidentified school on an online chat last week.

On Oct. 16. the suspect allegedly told another man in an online chat that he had a firearm and intended to commit a shooting at an unnamed school later that day, police said in a news release.

A number of schools were put on hold and secure across the city.

Tygar Allen Campbell
Tygar Allen Campbell

Tygar Allen Campbell, 28, of Hamilton, was charged with uttering threats, possession of a weapon, two counts of possession of a firearm and ammunition, and a hoax regarding terrorist activity.

And in Vaughan, York Region Police made an arrest following a series of hate-motivated incidents.

Last month, someone contacted police after a stranger began yelling antisemitic remarks at him in the New Westminster Drive-Steeles Avenue area. When the victim began recording the incident, the suspect approached and attempted to assault him.

A suspect was identified last month. On Oct. 18, with help from the community and media, investigators received tips leading to the arrest of Kurt Edwards.

Kurt Edwards
Kurt Edwards

A further six incidents were linked to the same suspect. Those incidents, in the Mullen Drive neighbourhood on Sept. 18, involved hate-motivated graffiti referencing the Black and Jewish communities.

Edwards, of no fixed address, is charged with seven counts of mischief to property under $5,000, assault, and failing to comply with a probation order.