ON THE RECORD: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

By DAVID EISENSTADT

ETHEL STARK (Aug. 25, 1910 – Feb. 16, 2012)

Montreal-born violinist and conductor Ethel Stark was way ahead of her time.

Among her many accomplishments, she founded and was the first conductor of the Montreal Women’s Symphony Orchestra (MWSO) at age 27 in 1940, and held the baton until 1960.

Ethel Stark
Ethel Stark

She studied at the McGill Conservatory of Music under luminaries Alfred De Sève and Alfred Whitehead, and from 1928 to 1934, and at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia with Louis Bailly (chamber music), Carl Flesch (violin), Lea Luboshutz (violin), Fritz Reiner and Arthur Rodzinski.

Stark guest conducted the Toronto Symphony “Pop” Concert in 1946. One year later, the Montreal Women’s Symphony signed a contract to play New York’s Carnegie Hall, to which she is reported to have said that the achievement was “not so much (a credit) to her and her musicians (but) the answer to every artist’s hopes and ambitions as an acknowledgement that at last, it is accepted that there’s room for women in music.”

Her credentials encompassed being founding director of New York Women’s Chamber Orchestra; the Ethel Stark Symphonietta; and the Montreal Women’s Symphony Strings. Over the years, she was a guest conductor with symphony orchestras in Canada, Israel and Japan. For many years, Stark was on the faculty of the Montreal Conservatory of Music.

CBC Radio One’s Sunday Edition produced a documentary about the MWSO after Stark’s death in 2012. Interviewees included Stark herself, musicians Pearl Aronoff, Rosemarin Lyse Vezina and Violet Grant States, the latter the first Black woman to play in a Canadian symphony orchestra and the first Black symphony musician to play Carnegie Hall.

As a violinist and conductor, Stark participated in more than 300 radio programs in Canada, the United States, and Europe.

A laureate of the Quebec Academy of Music, recipient of the Curtis Diploma, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Art, she became a member of the Order of Canada in 1979 and a Grand Officer of the National Order of Québec in 2003. Concordia University awarded her an honorary Doctor of Laws in 1980.

Born to Austrian parents, she is buried in Montreal’s Spanish and Portuguese Congregation cemetery. In 2016, Montreal’s Parc Claude-Jutra was renamed Parc Ethel-Stark, located at the corner of Prince-Arthur Ouest and Clark streets.

In an interview with Lou Seligson for the Canadian Jewish News, Stark spoke of her accomplishments and love for Canada. On conducting the first Canadian orchestra to perform at Carnegie Hall, she said, “We had a great success. Now I can’t believe our nerve,” acknowledging the challenges she and other women faced in gaining access to the world of professional classical music. “I’m a thorough Montrealer,” Stark added. “I was born here. I came back and stayed here. I helped develop Canadian talent.”


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is founding partner of tcgpr and a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.

Diverse, Complex Characters Populate Stories Set in Thornhill

By RUTH SCHWEITZER

Sidura Ludwig’s collection of linked short stories, You Are Not What We Expected, set in Thornhill’s Jewish community, just north of Toronto, is populated by a diverse group of characters who find themselves in circumstances they never expected.

YOU ARE NOT WHAT WE EXPECTED

When Ludwig looked at all the stories together, she realized that was the moment for each of her characters.

“My characters are at that stage in their life where there’s emotional movement,” Ludwig told the CJR. “That’s what I feel this ‘you are not what we expected’ is – putting the characters in a position where they’re going to be moving from point A to point B.”

The challenge for her characters “is that they’re overcoming something that they didn’t expect they were going to deal with.” They are complex and the stories have many surprising twists and turns.

Several concern the fictitious Levine family. A secular Jew, Elaine Levine is raising her two grandchildren, Ava and Adam, after their parents deserted them. Elaine has asked her 72-year-old brother, Isaac, a bachelor who lives in Los Angeles, to move to Thornhill to help.

Isaac is the central character in the stories. He’s strong-willed and likeable, which can make for comic situations, as when he complains to the manager at Sobeys that the grocery chain is misrepresenting the size of the store. After Isaac begins yelling about the rotten prepared food in the store, the manager threatens to call police.

“When they threaten with the police, it usually means they have nothing in their artillery to argue back. He sees this as a sign that he has won and leaves willingly. Isaac does not need to be dragged out of a kosher grocery store,” Ludwig writes. 

In the opening story, “The Flag,” Isaac is angered by the sight of an Israeli flag flying outside an Orthodox day school, below the Canadian flag.

“It’s degrading!” Isaac tells the principal. “It’s disrespectful! I can’t even stand to look at what you’ve done. You want to honour Israel, but you’ve done just the opposite!”

When the conversation heats up, a teacher intervenes: “Rabbi,” she says, her voice quiet but shaking, “should I call security?” 

“The principal shakes his head. They both know there is no security. They would have to call the police.” 

In the schoolyard, Isaac sees a boy running, the “tassels from his tzitzit hanging out from under his shirt and flapping in the wind.” This triggers Isaac’s memories of Israel, where he’d volunteered on a kibbutz in Israel in 1969. His experience there left him with a strong attachment to the country but an unfavourable view of ultra-Orthodox Jews.

“Isaac remembers the men and the boys who wore those in Israel, those anti-State, freeloading, they-don’t-even-pay-taxes-but-they-use-the-state-of-the-art-hospitals-for-the-births-of-their-thirteen-children, no-good religious Jews,” Ludwig writes.

The Levine stories cover a period of about 15 years. In the closing story, “The Happiest Man on Sunset Strip,” Isaac has a stroke and his grandniece, Elaine’s granddaughter Ava, who’s enlisted in the Israeli army as a lone soldier, visits him in a nursing home in Thornhill. 

He tells Ava, “I’m only here because of you. You know that? Your grandmother begged me. I could be in California right now. She never told you that I came to help look after you guys?” 

“I don’t owe you anything,” Ava replies.

Some of the stories focus on Elaine Levine’s observant neighbours. 

The title story, “You Are Not What We Expected,” is an engrossing and unsettling tale about living with an in-law. Rina and Shalom, a couple with an 18-month-old daughter, Sarah, share a house with Shalom’s mother, who tells them they have to separate. Addressing Rina, the older woman says: “You can stay until you find your feet. Of course, Sarah will be looked after. But you are not what we expected.”

In “Keeping Ghosts Warm,” Shula is in the midst of a divorce that began after she discovered her husband, Avi, was cheating on her. Shula, a baal teshuvah (a secular Jew who becomes religiously observant) was named Janis before she met Avi. Her father never approved of Shula embracing the religious life. Fifteen years before, when Shula and Avi, an observant Jew, announced their engagement to her parents, her father told Avi: “You’re not welcome in here.”

Conflicts can arise when children of secular Jews become observant, but not necessarily to the degree where the father in the story disapproves, Ludwig said.

“What I’ve noticed in my own life, the kind of conversations that would come up when you have young people who are choosing to lead a more religious life, centres around this idea: ‘What was wrong with how we raised you,’” she continued.

“How we identify within the Jewish community and within the Jewish faith is something that’s very individual. There’s also fear that comes along with that.”

If someone chooses to lead a more religious life, asks Ludwig, “does that mean they won’t eat in my house anymore? Does that mean we won’t be able to communicate? Are they going to move far away from me?”

Ludwig’s debut novel, Holding My Breath, a coming-of-age story, was published in 2007. She began working on these short stories about six years ago, with the intention of writing another novel.

“My kids were 8, 6 and 2, and I was still managing to write every day when my youngest was in daycare or when I would put him down for a nap,” Ludwig said. “And I’ve always been very strict about that, protecting my writing time.”

After writing hundreds of pages, she realized the novel wasn’t going anywhere.

Sidura Ludwig
Sidura Ludwig

“I was having trouble at that point in my life reading a novel. I couldn’t stay awake for 10 minutes to read one. And if I was having trouble reading a novel, I probably was going to have trouble writing one.”

“I knew then that I needed to switch my focus, and I always loved short fiction. As a young writer in my teens I would write short fiction, so I went back to that format – not because it’s easier, it’s not – but because it was really what I could contain in my head at that point in my life,” she continued. 

“And I also felt it was so many years since my first book had come out, and there had been a lot of lows after that kind of high. I needed to be able to finish something. And so if I was writing a short story, it wasn’t going to be months until I got to the end. I needed to be able to finish something, and then work on something else.” 

You Are Not What We Expected, published by House of Anansi Press in May, was launched online due to restrictions imposed by COVID. Ludwig has been connecting with readers and book clubs through Zoom. She occasionally posts her “Knead and Read” videos on Facebook, where she discusses books and reads from her own stories while she demonstrates how to make challah.

Jewish pre-schoolers stage The Wizard of Oz via Zoom

By SUSAN MINUK

Hillcrest Progressive School senior kindergarten students weren’t going to let a quarantine prevent them from going ahead with their production of The Wizard of Oz. These talented kids got creative.

Staff at the Jewish pre-school, located on two acres of wooded land in Toronto’s Hogg’s Hollow neighbourhood since 1955, were determined to help the graduating students perform their year-end school play. Parents fully backed the effort.

“Because of COVID, we didn’t want them to miss out on this amazing experience that every SK class has at Hillcrest,” said Melanie Fux, school board member and mother of two Hillcrest students.

Hillcrest Progressive School
Hillcrest Progressive School senior kindergarten students

Founded in 1929, Hillcrest is Ontario’s oldest Jewish pre-school. Its slogan: “Every day is a special day,” is meant to encourage children to investigate the world and find their place in it. 

“One of the things this play did was to turn the pandemic into a challenge, and see it from the positive side, with good energy,” said Fux. “Taking what life gives you and making the most of it – that is something these kids will take with them to the future.”

How did Hillcrest execute a virtual theatre production?

“It was a family effort,” explained Fux. “We had to rehearse, prepare the scenery, perform and film from home. This gave each kid the opportunity to be creative with their family.”

Hillcrest’s principal, Queenie Spindel, brainstormed with several teachers.

Families were sent a weekly task. Kids received the songs, both just lyrics and just music, and then record their voices over the musical track, Fux explained.

“They missed being together but being able to see such an amazing result of all their hard work was sort of a surprise to them,” said Fux.

The Zoom production required time-crunched editing and was filled with special effects that brought genuine smiles to students.

“I listened to the songs over and over and I practiced with my Mom, explained five-year-old student Alec Fux, who played the Cowardly Lion.

“I loved dancing and being a lion. It was amazing to see the final video I loved the special effects,” Alec told the CJR.

How is he handling leaving the school now that he’s graduated? The Cowardly Lion is anything but in real life.

 “I don’t want to leave,” he admitted. “I am a teensy bit scared [for Grade 1] but I will be fine later.”

The production was presented privately last week and published on YouTube June 19. To date, there have been a little over 300 views between the mini-clip and full play, a number the school says is growing.


Susan Minuk
Susan Minuk

Susan Minuk is both humbled and heartened by everyday stories with the power to touch or inspire her readers’ lives.

BOOK REVIEW: The Conflict Over the Conflict: The Israel/Palestine Campus Debate

Kenneth S. Stern, The Conflict Over the Conflict: The Israel/Palestine Campus Debate
New Jewish Press, 2020
296 pages

Reviewed by MIRA SUCHAROV

While international conflicts have been known to exhibit ripple effects far from their borders, nowhere is the microcosm of ideological tensions over Israel/Palestine more apparent these days than on university and college campuses.

In a smart, personal and engaging book, Kenneth S. Stern, director of Bard College’s Bard Center for the Study of Hate, takes us on a tour of today’s American campus Israel/Palestine debates in the context of a full-throated argument for free speech.

While Stern focuses on American college campuses, Canadians might read this through slightly different eyes, given that our respective laws around speech are not identical in their scope. Unlike the U.S. with its First Amendment provisions (which permits all speech except for direct incitement to violence – so-called “fighting words”), Canada does have hate-speech provisions, although hate speech cases are notoriously hard to prosecute in this country.

Kenneth Stern
Kenneth Stern

The book takes the reader through the polarized debate around antisemitism, anti-Zionism and different views of academic freedom, stemming from the controversial 2001 Durban conference on racism and the rise of the academic boycott movement against Israel. 

Stern describes how he founded an academic group called Alliance for Academic Freedom, devoted to opposing the academic boycott of Israel (a group in which I was involved from the ground up before I eventually resigned, my views having changed slightly; full disclosure, since he mentions me in the text).

In the contemporary culture wars, Stern’s is an argument against such current phenomena as “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces.” And perhaps surprising to some, given that he proclaims himself a Zionist in the book, Stern is concerned by a current chill on campus speech brought about by the incorporation of anti-Zionism into the contemporary antisemitism definition much used today.

It may also read as ironic, given that Stern was instrumental in drafting the definition that is now much debated, and which has been adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (and last year by Canada). But this is where the strength of the book lies: It is a principled discussion of free speech, whether or not one agrees with his threshold.

Stern takes us deftly through the debates around Donald Trump’s “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2019”, which uses the IHRA definition to define what is acceptable to say on campus. Stern opposes using this definition to assess campus speech. “Decrying anti-Zionism at the UN or in bilateral relations or recognizing it for data collection is one thing,” he writes; “declaring anti-Zionism as antisemitic for campus application can only chill free speech.”

Where I think the book’s argument falls short is around much of what is known as the “deplatforming” debate: The robust opposition to having certain speakers come to campus. Stern sees speaker freedom as akin to the principle of free speech. But I would argue that Stern’s argument should provide more scaffolding about who deserves an invitation to a given campus, not only on one’s right to constitutionally protected speech. Campuses are distinct entities: a campus invitation comes with resources: advertisements, space, security, and so on. And such invitations also come with a certain amount of conferred prestige: a speaker invited to a university can put the event on their CV; not so if one simply stands on a soapbox in a public park and opines.

Stern’s view is that as long as campus officials or student groups follow proper procedures in inviting a speaker, any idea should be fair game for airing. His is an argument that relies on the marketplace of ideas to weed out bad ideas and elevate good ones.

But I might challenge the idea that campuses should be viewed as akin to unregulated markets. I would suggest that they should apply specific intellectual standards: They are institutions of learning, not simply open-air streets where ordinary speech laws should apply.

Others will wonder whether Stern’s view opposing safe spaces and trigger warnings lacks pedagogical compassion. And indeed, there is a bit of an inherent built-in tension in parts of his book, as when he recounts an evening around a dinner table with a group of students who noted that they felt so much more comfortable talking with him about the sensitive issues around Israel/Palestine than they do on campus, where they often meet vocal and vociferous opposition.

Readers might wonder whether the students’ appreciation stemmed from Stern actually having, over the course of that evening, provided a “safe space” for the exchange, however defined.

These quibbles suggest a book worth reading; a narrative worthy of wrestling and conversation.


Mira Sucharov

Mira Sucharov is professor of political science at Carleton University in Ottawa. Her most recent books are Public Influence: A Guide to Op-Ed Writing and Social Media Engagement (author) and Social Justice and Israel/Palestine: Foundational and Contemporary Debates (co-editor)

ON THE RECORD: Today’s Reminiscences of Jewish Canadian Musicians of Note

By DAVID EISENSTADT 

VICTOR FELDBRILL – Conductor, Violinist (Apr. 4, 1924 – June 17, 2020)

The music world said goodbye to a Canadian champion today.

Conductor extraordinaire and classically-trained violinist Victor Feldbrill died in Toronto yesterday at the age of 96.

Victor Feldbrill
Victor Feldbrill

A Harbord Collegiate alumnus, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants Helen (Lederman) and Nathan Feldbrill, he was destined to pick up a baton and lead orchestras around the world, starting in high school.

For future conductors, it was all about leadership. “Authority comes from being prepared,” he once told the Toronto Star’s classical music columnist Bill Littler.

During his high school years, the young violinist also conducted student orchestras, and after sharing his ambition with Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) conductor Sir Ernest MacMillan, Feldbrill enrolled in Ettore Mazzoleni’s conducting class at the then Toronto Conservatory of Music. He succeeded his music theory teacher John Weinzweig as the University of Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s conductor in 1942-‘43.

His TSO conducting debut took place on March 30, 1943.

Stationed in London during the Second World War with the Royal Canadian Navy, he played violin in the Navy Show while continuing his violin, harmony, composition and conducting studies for two years at the Royal Academy, but returned to his fiancée Zelda in Canada, ultimately holding concertmaster and assistant conductor positions from 1945-‘49 with the Royal Conservatory of Music Symphony Orchestra and Opera Company.

He was TSO’s first violin from 1949-56 and freelanced as a violinist and conductor for a variety of CBC-TV and radio programs.

The maestro had a special interest in young musicians and during the 1950s, he conducted for Ontario School Broadcasts and National School Broadcasts.

Always honing his skills, he became TSO’s assistant conductor in 1956-‘57 and took the reins of the Winnipeg Symphony in 1958. His stable leadership over the next 10 years helped give Canada, for the first time, a symphonic ensemble with a serious commitment to Canadian music.

Feldbrill never regretted building his career in his home country.

Victor Feldbrill - Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
Victor Feldbrill leading the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra

There were guest appearances over the years with symphony orchestras across Canada, the UK, China, Italy, the Philippines and the Soviet Union, followed by a short-term teaching engagement which led to a professorship and principal conductorship of Tokyo National University’s Geidi Philharmonic.

For several years, he conducted nine of Tokyo’s ten symphony orchestras.

Throughout his career, he included, when possible, one Canadian work in every concert he conducted. A highlight in his 50th year of conducting for the TSO was leading the premiere of Srul Irving Glick’s The Reawakening.

Victor Feldbrill, TSO Canadian Mosaic Concert October 2017

A recipient of many accolades and honours, including the first Roy Thomson Award in 1985, Feldbrill was made an Officer of the Order of Canada that year and named to the Order of Ontario in 1999. Toronto’s Arts and Letters Club recognized his body of work, bestowing upon him the Sir Ernest MacMillan Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Toronto Musicians’ Association.


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is founding partner of tcgpr and a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.

Book Provides Prescription For Israeli-Palestinian Peace

The War of Return, How Western Indulgence of the Palestinian Dream has Obstructed the Path to Peace
Written by Adi Schwartz and Einat Wilf
Translated into English by Eylon Levi
English translation published in 2020 by St. Martin’s Publishing Group, New York, NY

By DAVID ROYTENBERG

Why doesn’t Israel have peace?  The War of Return, written by two veterans of the failed Oslo peace process, offers an unorthodox answer.  It is an important book about a question constantly discussed in the media, in international fora, in universities and around many Jewish dinner tables.  Acrimony over this question bedevils North American Jewish communities. 

The book identifies a fundamental problem which has thwarted all progress toward peace and provides a prescription for beginning to address it.

 “The Palestinian demand to ‘return’ to what became the sovereign State of Israel in 1948 stands as a testament to the Palestinian rejection of the legitimacy of a state for the Jews in any part of their ancestral homeland,” the authors, Adi Schwartz and Einat Wilf, write. “Practically nothing could be understood about the Palestinian position in the peace process and the conflict itself – and no effective steps could be taken towards its resolution – without delving deeply into this issue.”

In short, the belief in a Palestinian “right of return” is the key obstacle to resolving the conflict.

To make their case, the authors look at the 1948 war, in which Palestinian Arabs and the neighbouring states tried to prevent the establishment of Israel by force of arms.  They look at the aftermath of the war, in which 750,000 Arabs lost their homes, and how the Palestinian refugees were treated by the international community and by their countries of refuge.  

The authors compare the Palestinians with a similar group who lost their homes as a result of war, the 10 million ethnic Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia and the former German territories annexed to Poland.  They compare a successful strategy, which solved the German refugee problem, with the failed strategy which perpetuated and exacerbated the Palestinian refugee problem.

This failure is the story of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), created as a temporary agency to resolve the refugee problem, and modeled on similar agencies that resolved refugee problems in other parts of the world.  

Unlike other temporary refugee rehabilitation agencies, UNRWA was systematically prevented from fulfilling its mandate by the Arab countries where it operated.  In 10 years almost no Palestinian refugee was resettled.  This was part of a strategy to perpetuate the 1948 conflict by other means.  Western nations shied away from taking a firm stand for fear of alienating the governments of the Arab states.  

After 10 years of futility, UNRWA ceased even to pretend to fulfil its mandate, and instead turned to providing health and educational services to registered Palestinian refugees.  Moreover, UNRWA extended refugee status to the children of Palestinian refugees, ensuring that rather than solving the refugee problem, it would only grow larger.

In throwing in the towel on UNRWA’s mandate while continuing to fund it, the western powers convinced themselves that funding UNRWA and providing social support to the growing number of Palestinian refugees was better than winding it up and leaving them to be supported by the countries of refuge.  

The authors make a compelling case that this was a serious mistake.  The UN-sponsored and western -funded UNRWA schools became the crucible of a Palestinian identity rooted in the belief that the existence of the State of Israel was an intolerable injustice which they were duty bound to correct.  In due course the children brought up in this system became the foot soldiers and leaders in a terrorist campaign to reverse the results of the 1948 war and undo the existence of Israel.  Thus UNRWA, a UN- sponsored entity, became a strong factor in perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Turning to the present, the authors describe an UNRWA which is controlled by the Palestinian refugees and which continues to promote both the “right of return” and the inevitable liberation of all of Palestine.  This is an ideology which is incompatible with the UN charter and with the two-state solution, the express policy of the western states which still provide most UNRWA funding.  They make a compelling case that putting an end to UNRWA is a necessary first step to opening up the possibility of peace.

The final section of the book offers a sector-by-sector examination of UNRWA’s present activities and proposes a strategy in which UNRWA can be abolished without harming the Palestinian Arabs who still depend on it for health, education and welfare.  

A problem whose causes are unrecognized is unlikely to be solved.   A problem for which the cause is incorrectly identified is as likely as not to be tackled with inappropriate strategies, which may exacerbate it rather than fix it.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an example of a conflict in which decades of diplomacy have failed to correctly address the cause of the problem.  It is not surprising then that we are no closer to solving it than we were in 1949.  

The authors of this book have made a compelling argument which points us in the right direction, so that future efforts may have a greater chance of success than the efforts of the past 70 years.  I heartily recommend it to any reader concerned about the future well-being of Israel and the Palestinians.


David Roytenberg
David Roytenberg

David Roytenberg is a computer consultant living in Ottawa.  He is secretary of MERCAZ Canada and chair of adult education at Kehillat Beth Israel congregation.

Obese Sex Worker Subject of Poetry Collection by Ruth Panofsky

By RUTH SCHWEITZER

Ruth Panofsky’s latest poems revisit the world of Hoda, an obese Jewish sex worker and the protagonist of Canadian author Adele Wiseman’s 1974 novel Crackpot.

Panofsky, a Wiseman scholar, has produced a powerful first-person account of Hoda’s story in Radiant Shards: Hoda’s North End Poems, based on the Wiseman novel set in Winnipeg’s North End from 1910 until after World War II. Panofsky’s book includes historical photographs of the North End.

Radiant Shards panofsky

Hoda is earthy, bawdy, vulnerable and big-hearted, and stands out because of her big, bold personality. “Hoda demands that her voice get heard. That’s why I felt so compelled to write in the voice that I imagined for her,” Panofsky told the CJR.

The language of Radiant Shards (Inanna Publications) is contemporary, bringing Hoda’s story forward into the present. In the novel, Wiseman’s use of English is archaic, influenced by Yiddish, her first language. 

As someone who’s struggled with her own body image, Panofsky said she admired Hoda for the easy way she inhabits her gargantuan body.

“I was heartened by Hoda in that her body was a source of pleasure,” said Panofsky, an English professor at Toronto’s Ryerson University. “She also took pleasure in her work, which is a radical revisioning of how the sex worker usually is presented.”

Hoda’s parents are poor Russian-Jewish immigrants living in a shack in the North End, a haven for Russian Jews who escaped pogroms.

Hoda’s mother, Rokhl, is humpbacked, and her father, Danile, is blind. Rokhl cleans houses to support her family, taking the infant Hoda with her to work. She feeds Hoda to keep her quiet, and Hoda becomes an overweight youngster other children torment.

Along with putting up with the young bullies in her neighbourhood, Hoda is faced with antisemitism at school.

“Wiseman’s story builds on stories I heard from my own parents growing up, about how teachers in the public school system would humiliate their Jewish students,” Panofsky related. “She (Hoda) was bullied by teachers because they were so dismissive of her as the ‘other.’”

When Hoda’s mother dies of cancer, the family’s source of income disappears. Her father’s Uncle Nate wants to leave Hoda at the Jewish orphanage and put Danile into the old folks’ home, but Hoda and Danile refuse to be separated. To support her father, Hoda becomes a sex worker, servicing the boys and men in her community.

Hoda and another sex worker offer their services in downtown Winnipeg, where they think the money will be better, but after being badly beaten, Hoda returns to the safety of the North End, never to leave. 

“Hoda’s community eventually comes to accept her and embrace her. She provides a need for the community, but the community also protects her. They have a complicated relationship with Hoda,” Panofsky said.

Unaware she’s pregnant, Hoda gives birth to a son, David, who’s raised in an orphanage without knowing his mother. The first time David meets his mother is as one of her clients.

Wiseman’s Crackpot was rejected by publishers at least 27 times.

“That’s because of the profoundly difficult subject of incest that is at the core of it,” Panofsky said. “She is protecting him by not revealing herself to be his mother, and then continues having him as a client because she understands if she is to turn him away, she’ll destroy him. So she decides to take that trauma onto herself and protect the boy.”

Panofsky said she finds Hoda’s capacity to remain loving and kind in the face of the most profound traumas uplifting.

“I was heartened by the fact that she could go through what she went through and still survive,” she added.

Ruth Panofsky
Ruth Panofsky

Panofsky won the Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Award for her 2007 book, Laike and Nahum: A Poem in Two Voices. Radiant Shards won a Hadassah-Brandeis Institute Research Award in 2018 under the working title Flesh and Bones: Hoda’s North End Poems.

To see and hear Ruth Panofsky read from Radiant Shards, visit:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5n9cLs1pig&list=PL6I2JU-W6PEcWN92pTB3NLcP5Kz1YGFlu&index=2&t=0s&fbclid=IwAR1Qn6rTObJdE6BO_l4YjObrW6jmEvi5nwL_IKWPL-9Ad8-R8jT1yiUpbKQ

Montréal Célèbre le Cinéma Israélien D’aujourd’hui

Par ELIAS LEVY

La 15éme édition du Festival du cinéma israélien de Montréal (FCIM) se tiendra en dépit de la pandémie de la COVID qui sévit depuis plusieurs mois.

Le président d’honneur est Brian Bronfman, président de la Fondation Brian Bronfman/Peace Network for Social Harmony.

Ce festival fort attendu, organisé annuellement par la Communauté sépharade unifié du Québec (CSUQ), mettant en vedette le 7ème Art d’Israël, se déroulera exceptionnellement cette année en ligne, via le Web, du mercredi 10 juin au dimanche 21 juin. 

Un défi de taille que les membres de la dynamique équipe organisatrice de cet événement cinématographique sont résolus à relever avec entrain.

« Cette année, la barre est très haute. Nous avons tous été pris de court par cette terrible pandémie qui a profondément chambardé les plans organisationnels des principaux festivals montréalais. Le comité organisateur du FCIM 2020 travaille d’arrache-pied pour que cette nouvelle édition soit un grand succès. Les écueils à surmonter sont nombreux, notamment au niveau de la logistique. Mais nous sommes très confiants de mener notre bateau à bon port malgré les eaux houleuses sur lesquelles nous tanguons depuis plusieurs semaines », nous a confié Gérard Buzaglo, coprésident, avec son épouse, Chantal Buzaglo, du FCIM 2020.

Au programme : 20 films inédits (longs métrages, documentaires, classiques et série) conviant les cinéphiles montréalais à découvrir les multiples et riches facettes du cinéma israélien de la deuxième décade du XXIe siècle et les similarités entre le Québec et Israël en ce qui a trait au cinéma d’auteur.

Les films seront présentés avec des sous-titres en français et en anglais.

Thème central de la cuvée du 15ème FCIM : « Regards sur les défis de la société israélienne ». 

Le public montréalais pourra découvrir, ou redécouvrir, la puissance, la richesse narrative et la grande créativité du cinéma israélien d’aujourd’hui.

« Cette année, nous allons présenter des longs métrages, des documentaires, des films classiques incontournables et une série consacrée à la vie hors norme de Moshé Dayan. Des productions d’une grande qualité mettant de l’avant la diversité et la richesse de création du cinéma israélien. Le principal but du FCIM est de montrer Israël sous son vrai visage : un pays hétéroclite et profondément humain confronté à de nombreux défis: sociaux, sécuritaires, identitaires, politiques… Aujourd’hui, de jeunes cinéastes israéliens posent un regard iconoclaste, et souvent décapant, sur leur société à travers des oeuvres puissantes qui nous incitent à la réflexion, à l’échange et au partage », précise Gérard Buzaglo.

Présidé par Michael Prupas, producteur et PDG de Muse Entertainment, le Jury du 15ème FCIM est composé par : Élie Castiel, éditeur et rédacteur en chef du site Web consacré au cinéma KinoCulture Montréal; Jamie Elman, acteur, réalisateur et producteur; Claude Fournier, réalisateur et auteur réputé; Lorne Price, coprésident de WaZabi Films ; Beverly Shaffer, réalisatrice à l’Office national du film du Canada (ONF), et Gerald Wexler, auteur, producteur et scénariste.

« Le cinéma israélien est un petit bijou dans le monde du cinéma international montrant des cinéastes capables de raconter leurs histoires personnelles de façon sincère et courageuse », dit Michael Prupas, président du Jury du FCIM 2020.

Le 10 juin, un film audacieux et perspicace, The End of Love, réalisé par Keren Ben Rafael, ayant comme trame de fond la communication à l’ère de Sype et des réseaux sociaux, donnera le coup d’envoi du FCIM.

D’autres productions percutantes au menu:

The Art of Waiting de Erez Tadmor. Un drame poignant relatant le combat inlassable mené par un couple infertile subissant des traitements de procréation. Ce film a été nominé pour 4 Prix Ophir, dont celui du meilleur film.

Transkids de Hilla Medalia. Un documentaire bouleversant décrivant les effets émotionnels, physiques et sociaux des traitements hormonaux administrés à des enfants transgenres en quête de leur identité. Ce documentaire, nominé pour plusieurs prix, s’est mérité le Prix d’excellence MIPCOM Diversity TV au Festival du cinéma international de Cannes 2019.

Mossad, une comédie hilarante, réalisée par Yaron Zilberman, narrant les aventures rocambolesques d’agents du Mossad. 

Mossad comedie Alon Gur Arye
“Mossad,” Une comedie d’Alon Gur Arye

Chained de Yaron Shani. Un drame narrant les démêlés d’un policier épris de justice qui, après une enquête dont il a fait l’objet, voit son équilibre familial imploser après son limogeage des services de police. Nominé comme meilleur film, Chained a obtenu l’Ophir du meilleur acteur, du meilleur réalisateur et le Prix du public au Festival du film de Jérusalem 2019.

Chained film Yaron Shani
“Chained,” un film de Yaron Shani

Dayan. The first Family. Une série en deux parties retraçant le parcours marquant d’une illustre figure d’Israël, le général Moshé Dayan.

Dayan First Family ANAT GOREN
Dayan, the First Family

Ma’abarot. Un documentaire choc et fort controversé relatant l’installation des immigrants sépharades nord-africains dans des camps de fortune dans l’Israël naissant des années 50…

Les prix du Jury seront dévoilés lors de la soirée de clôture qui sera diffusée en ligne le dimanche 21 Juin à 19h.

Pour le prix modique de 20$, on peut se procurer un « Passeport » donnant droit de visionner les 20 films au programme à n’importe quel moment entre le 10 et le 21 juin.

Pour consulter la programmation détaillée du FCIM 2020, visitez le site Web : http://www.fcim.ca

CBC Holocaust Doc Wins Four Awards

By RUTH SCHWEITZER

A CBC documentary about the prosecution of a German SS officer who counted and sorted money confiscated at the Auschwitz concentration camp, won four 2020 Canadian Screen Awards during a recent virtual ceremony held by the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television.

The Accountant of Auschwitz, directed by Matthew Shoychet, written by Ricki Gurwitz, edited by Ted Husband and produced by Ric Bienstock and Ricki Gurwitz, won awards for best history documentary program, best editorial research, best visual research and best original music. 

The Accountant of Auschwitz

It will be screened on CBC on June 11.

In the early 1930s, barely into his teens, Groening joined a group that was to become the forerunner of the Hitler Youth. He participated in burning books written by Jews and other authors the Nazis considered degenerate.

After enlisting in the German army in 1940, he was assigned a desk job as a bookkeeper, and in 1942 he was transferred to Auschwitz. 

Groening’s responsibilities at Auschwitz included sorting and counting the multitude of currencies taken from arriving deportees, sending it to Berlin and guarding the belongings of arrivals until they were sorted.

On at least two occasions, Groening witnessed horrific Nazi crimes. During his first day at Auschwitz, he said he noticed children hidden on a train and he heard a baby crying. In May 2005, Groening told Der Spiegel magazine that “the child was lying on the ramp, wrapped in rags. A mother had left it behind, perhaps because she knew that women with infants were sent to the gas chambers immediately. I saw another SS soldier grab the baby by the legs. The crying had bothered him. He smashed the baby’s head against the iron side of a truck until it was silent.”

In 1985, Groening gave an interview about his activities during the war as a response to Holocaust deniers, believing he was immune from prosecution.

It took German prosecutors 29 years, until September 2014, to charge Groening as an accessory to murder in 300,000 cases, for his role at Auschwitz.

His trial began in April 2015 and he was found guilty and sentenced to four years in prison three months later. After his lawyer filed two unsuccessful appeals, Groening applied for a pardon. He died in hospital on March 9, 2018, at 96, before beginning his sentence.

Besides covering Groening’s trial, The Accountant of Auschwitz also looks at the complicity of other lower-level SS guards and the debates surrounding their prosecution.

“The reason why he was on trial is because they could prove that he was on the ramp where the selections took place: this person goes to the gas chamber, this person goes to work,” Shoychet told the Toronto Star.

“He was right there when the genocide was taking place, so just him being there makes him complicit.”

The Accountant of Auschwitz will be shown on CBC at 8 p.m. on June 11. It’s streaming on CBC Gem and Netflix.