2020 Vine Awards for Canadian Jewish Literature Announced

Nov. 23, 2020


The winners of the 2020 Vine Awards for Canadian Jewish Literature were announced at a recent live virtual ceremony presented by the Koffler Centre of the Arts. The prize in each of the four award categories was $10,000.

Sarah Leavitt won in the fiction category for her graphic novel Agnes, Murderess (Freehand Books), based on the legend of the Scottish-born British Columbian killer Agnes McVee. The book “explores and then metaphorizes the ways in which childhood and adolescent trauma can pursue us into adulthood, shaping our obsessions, our decisions and our actions,” Andrew Woodrow-Butcher wrote in Quill and Quire.

At the awards ceremony, Leavitt said that although McVee isn’t Jewish, the character is an outsider who feels Jewish to her.

“I always felt when I was writing about Agnes that she is hovering around the edges of the world and trying to figure out what she is looking at because she felt like a complete outsider,” Leavitt said. “And when I was growing up in small towns in Maine and in the Maritime provinces, I always felt like an outsider as a Jew. Agnes to me feels like an honourary Jew.”

The history prize went to Matti Friedman for Spies of No Country (Signal, McClelland & Stewart), about Jewish spies who operated from Beirut during the Israeli War of Independence, from 1947 to 1949. Part of Israel’s first intelligence station in an Arab nation, the four men hailed from the Arab world – Syria and Yemen. 

Speaking at the awards ceremony, Friedman quoted spy novelist Johnle Carré, who observed that espionage is the secret theatre of our society.

“Countries have covered stories and hidden themselves, just like their spies, and our clandestine basements conceal insights into the world above ground,” Friedman said. “This observation is why I was drawn to these men and this strange adventure. Who they are has something important to tell us about the country they helped create.”

The awards jury’s favourite for non-fiction was Naomi K. Lewis’ Tiny Lights for Travellers (University of Alberta Press), a memoir about a journey she embarked on after her family found a diary documenting her grandfather’s escape from Nazi-occupied Holland in 1942. Travelling from Amsterdam to Lyon, Lewis retraced his journey to freedom.

Lewis included excerpts from her grandfather’s diary in her book and said she sees him as a co-writer. “I can only hope that he would have approved of how I followed, included and elaborated on his words.”

She added her grandparents and other family members have grappled with issues of identity and belonging and what it means to be Jewish in a sometimes hostile world.

“By researching and writing this book and by speaking to readers, I’ve come to understand more clearly that there are as many ways to be Jewish as there are Jews. Receiving this award has provided me a form of acceptance and a kind of closure that means a great deal to me,” she said.

The young adult/children’s literature winner was Broken Strings (Penguin Random House Canada Young Readers), co-authored by Kathy Kacer and Eric Walters. “Broken Strings seamlessly blends themes of young love, artistic identity, 9/11, grief and the Auschwitz orchestra into a moving and insightful young adult novel,” the awards jury, comprised of authors Judy Batalion, Allan Levine and Shani Mootoo, said in a release.

Speaking at the awards ceremony, Kacer said that writing the book gave her the chance to write about an aspect of Holocaust history she had long wanted to explore – the orchestras made up of Jewish musicians who performed on the train platforms of death camps, “playing those unsuspecting new prisoners to their death.”

A child of Holocaust survivors, Kacer has dedicated her life and career to writing about the Holocaust for young readers. “This was one more chance to pass important history on to the next generation,” she said.

Kacer added that as co-writers, she and Walters, an award-winning author of young adult fiction, developed “a seamless working relationship, trusting where the story was going, challenging those moments that didn’t quite work for one of us and rewriting and rewriting until it sounded exactly as we wanted it to.”

The 2020 Vine Awards shortlists included:

Fiction: David Bezmozgis, Immigrant City (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd) and David Szalay, Turbulence (McClelland & Stewart).

History: Zelda Abramson & John Lynch, The Montreal Shtetl: Making Home After the Holocaust (Between the Lines), and Heidi J.S. Tworek, News from Germany: The Competition to Control World Communications, 1900-1945 (Harvard University Press).

Non-fiction: Ayelet Tsabari, The Art of Leaving (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd) and Diana Wichtel, Driving to Treblinka (Heritage House Publishing).

Young adult/children’s literature: Edeet Ravel, A Boy Is Not a Bird(Groundwood Books) and Kathy Kacer, Masters of Silence (Annick Press).

The books can be purchased at benmcnallybooks.com.

On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Nov. 17, 2020

Ofra Harnoy – (Jan. 31, 1965 – ) Cellist


Listening to Ofra Harnoy, the Israeli-Canadian cellist’s new album, On The Rock, brought back a memory.

In the spring of 1998, I was working on a Temple Sinai Brotherhood fundraiser with Lew Rasminsky, Allan Kalin and Frank Berns. We were fortunate to book Harnoy, then a young cellist with a serious pedigree. She delivered an extraordinary concert that left the Temple Sinai audience breathless.

“The only time I really feel that I’m making music,” Harnoy told Tim Janof at cello.org, “is when I’m performing. I love the vibrations of the audience, when they hold their breath through the silences, which is when I really feel a bond. It’s an incredible experience.” 

Her family immigrated to Canada from Hadera, Israel in 1971 for her father, Jacob Harnoy, to enroll in a master’s of engineering program at the University of Toronto. 

Harnoy began her studies at six with her violinist father. When she was given her first student-size cello, she thought her legs were supposed to go through the instrument’s F-holes.

As a teenager, she studied with respected masters Jacqueline du Pré, Pierre Fournier, Vladimir Orloff, William Pleeth and Mstislav Rostropovich.

Her soloist debut with an orchestra came at 10, and at 17, she won the International Concert Artists Guild award at Carnegie Hall in 1982.

She has performed on five continents and played for princes, presidents and prime ministers. A five-time Juno Award winner as Best Classical Soloist, she received the Grand Prix du Disque. In 1995, she was named to the Order of Canada.

Harnoy has collaborated with Jesse Cook, Placido Domingo, Loreena McKennitt, Igor Oistrakh, and Sting. 

About her recording Ofra Harnoy & The Oxford String Quartet Play The Beatles, she said: “The album is a compilation I recorded when I was 16 or 17. The arrangements are beautiful sounding, somewhat like Schubert string quartets with a cello solo. I was hesitant when [the] CD first came out, since many people concluded that I must not be a serious classical musician.”

By the early 2000s, she had recorded 43 albums and was touring 10 months of the year. From 2004 to 2011, Harnoy focused less on music while raising her two children and caring for her mother, who died of leukemia in 2011.

Her last performance included scheduled concerts with pianist Anton Kuerti in 2011. But the rigours of touring and recording had taken their toll. Harnoy battled an acute shoulder injury and required reconstructive surgery. During that period “many felt she’d fallen off the classical radar,” wrote Classical MPR’s Julie Amacher.

In 2017 and 2018, she reconnected with childhood sweetheart Mike Herriott, a multi-instrumentalist, arranger and co-producer whom she married and who helped in her recovery. Harnoy returned to the stage with an official comeback performance in November 2018. She released her 44th album, Back to Bach, in early 2020.

“One day when I was in the stage of coming back to playing, Mike pulled out his trumpet and we took some music and said, ‘Let’s see what it feels like to play together,’” she told an interviewer. “And neither of us could believe the musical connection that we had. We think exactly the same musically. We breathe the same musically. And that was like, ‘Wow. We need to do something like this.’”

As TheWholeNote related, “In bringing her vision to life, Harnoy also wanted to experience with using brass instruments instead of the traditional string or pipe organ accompaniments, so Herriott created complex brass arrangements and performed all the parts himself – piccolo trumpet, trumpet, flugelhorn, French horn and trombone. There are literally only a handful of individuals in the world who could have accomplished what Herriott has so deftly done on the remarkable project. This recording is a triumph and a must-have for any serious collector.”

Harnoy now lives in St. John’s, Nfld. where her husband grew up. In September, she released On The Rock, celebrating the sounds and spirits of Newfoundland.

The album features many Newfoundland musicians, including Alan Doyle formerly of Great Big Sea; fiddler Kendel Carson; vocals by Ofra’s daughter, Amanda Cash; vocalist Fergus O’Byrne; and St. John’s jazz chanteuse Heather Bambrick, the morning JAZZ.FM91 host. 

“The more I explore this beautiful island and get to know the people, food and the culture, the more I feel Newfoundland is becoming a part of me,” she said. “Through these songs, I can really express the wonderful connection I have with my new home.”

David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

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

On The Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Nov. 10, 2020

Morris Eisenstadt (Nov. 6, 1926 – Nov. 21, 1991) – Saxophonist, Clarinetist, Flautist, Composer, Teacher

Morris Eisenstadt


Earlier this year, Toronto lawyer Michael Fraleigh’s generous acknowledgment of one of my columns inspired me to write about my woodwind player and composer uncle, Morris Eisenstadt.

“Your tribute to Ben Steinberg (CJR, June 15, 2020) was really appreciated,” he wrote. “As an active Temple Sinai lay leader, it was nice to see Ben get the recognition he deserves. Speaking of recognition, as a teenager, I took up clarinet in senior public and high school. At the same time, my parents thought it would be good for me to take private lessons, which were arranged through the Royal Conservatory. I was taught by Morris Eisenstadt. I remember him to be a kind, compassionate, very accomplished player. He had endless patience, which I suppose was important for someone teaching teenagers. I look back on those years fondly and while I stopped pursuing the instrument after I entered university, his passion for music was something that I have carried with me throughout my life.”

Morris Eisenstadt taught saxophone at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto for three decades, starting in 1959. From 1966 to 1968, he also taught at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music. Uncle Moe called these his “pin money gigs.”

The youngest of my grandparents’ Harry and Toba (Frankel) Eisenstadt’s four sons, Morris (Moe) studied the saxophone and in 1941, at age 15, joined the Calgary Musicians Local 547.

In 1950, he moved to Toronto. His career took off as a tenor and alto saxophonist, playing both for well-known band leaders. He continued studying and working on his clarinet skills with Herb Pye, on composition, and orchestration with Sam Dolin, John Weinzweig and others.

On Oct. 15, 1953, a string quartet by Morris Eisenstadt was performed at the Composers Festival at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. More of his works were performed on CBC Radio.

He played tenor and alto sax under the iconic Moxie Whitney, leader of Canada’s then-gold standard dance band, based at Toronto’s Royal York Hotel during the 1950s and 60s. They played all the CN and CP railway hotels’ ballrooms, including the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, the Palliser Hotel in Calgary, Banff Springs Hotel, and the Chateau Lake Louise.

Morris Eisenstadt, on right, seated (Canadian Science And Technology Museum Archives; X-44112)

During this time, he came to a career crossroads. His friend, the renowned flautist Moe Koffman, urged my Uncle Moe to consider playing on jingles and commercials, at a time when work for studio musicians was growing. 

But he declined, choosing instead to pursue orchestral composition. He composed the Suite of Three Canadian Dances in 1952, “which includes one movement of Indigenous and one of Inuit-based music,” according to the Canadian Encyclopedia.

I’ll never forget how proud our family was when he sent us sets of his three vinyl LPs. We listened for hours to his orchestral music on my grandparents’ RCA Victor record player.

From 1950 to 1960, he joined the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps Band under Lieut. J. Alan Wood in Toronto. During that decade, he also played theatre and artistic performer engagements at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Ice Capades at Maple Leaf Gardens, and the Canadian National Exhibition.

That led to landing a permanent woodwind chair in 1961 under O’Keefe Centre Musical Director Dr. William McCauley. For 26 years, he was one of the longest tenured members of that orchestra. He faced some challenges and explained that when McCauley retired, buget cuts meant the new conductor was tasked with downsizing a number of musicians.

“I was told that if I wanted to keep my chair, I’d have to learn to play the flute,” he recalled. So like the pro he was, he did, at age 62, and kept his chair until health issues forced his retirement just before he died.

Before enrolling at grad school in Ottawa, I spent a week in Toronto in September 1966 with Uncle Moe. I watched him perform in the O’Keefe Centre’s orchestra pit, met the fellow who made his saxophone and clarinet reeds, and got to see Moe Koffman at George’s Spaghetti House. He also took me to Honest Ed’s and to two musicians’ haunts for lunch and dinner: Mars on College St. and Bassels on Yonge St.

My dad, Max Eisenstadt, unable to attend his brother’s funeral because of his own health battles, wrote a eulogy. “I remember how Morris’ lifelong dream was to play with a big band and how one of his first gigs was with a four-piece group about a block and a half from where he lived in Calgary. I recall the pride he had after coming home with a $5 pay cheque for three hours work.” 

A passionate and respected woodwind musician, somewhat under the radar, he is remembered as a “nice guy” who never fussed over that sometimes elusive big payday. In our family, Uncle Moe will never be forgotten.

David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

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

A Jewish Tour of Northern Ontario

Nov. 10, 2020


Since I started learning about geography in elementary school, I’ve been mystified by Canada’s vastness and enormity. A country of nearly 10 million square kilometers – almost 500 times the size of Israel – Canada is almost incomprehensibly large.

And it wasn’t just Canada’s size that intrigued me. It was the fact that, growing up in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), the rest of the country was so dissimilar from the megacity where I was raised.

So, this year, after the Jewish holidays ended in October, still very much in the midst of the COVID pandemic, I decided to start – modestly – to explore a small corner of Canada that I had always wanted to see: northern Ontario.

First, it’s worth pointing out that Ontario is nearly 1.1 million square kilometers, or still about 50 times the size of Israel, but it far from entirely accessible. A large swath of the province has no year-round roads leading to it, and locals – mostly small native villages and reservations – rely on trains, winter roads (either packed snow or frozen lakes) and float planes to access their remote communities.

My goal was to see a part of Ontario – wild, natural and rugged – and I began my road trip heading north, towards North Bay. I had one Jewish spot marked on a map that I had read about, but I didn’t realize how Jewish life would become a much bigger part of my visit.

Sunny and warm on the day I visited, North Bay, Lake Nipissing and environs were beautiful, and the town itself has an established but small Jewish community, as well as a semi-functioning synagogue, Sons of Jacob, in the downtown area. According to its website, it remains the oldest Ontario synagogue north of Toronto still in use, established 107 years ago.

Heading north further is a blink-and-you-miss-it town of Temagami, home to a 100-foot fire tower on top of a 400-foot small mountain, affording views of lakes and hills over a wide area.

Further north still is the town of Cobalt, a once-bustling centre of silver mining, but now tragically crumbling, though Tesla is reported to be searching for lithium, a necessary battery component, in the region. There are still vestiges of the old mining history throughout the town, including a self-guided driving (or walking) tour, in which closed silver mines can be seen up close.

Ten minutes east is the town of Haileybury, a larger but otherwise nondescript place, except for its location abutting the crystal clear and large body of water, Lake Temaskeming. On the other side of the lake is Quebec, and the views, in my opinion, were better than anything Muskoka could offer.

The cemetery in Krugersdorf served Jews in North Bay, Kirkland Lake and Sudbury

One hour past Haileybury, I had read online about a small Jewish cemetery of about 60 graves established more than 100 years ago. When there was a tiny Jewish community in Kirkland Lake and surrounding areas, a cemetery had been set up in the hamlet of Krugersdorf to serve local Jews. And although I had directions, it was still surprisingly hard to find. Turning off highway 11 (a modest two lanes by then) onto a dirt road, I passed logging trucks and machines, and drove past utter nothingness for about 10 minutes until I caught in the corner of my eye a sign reading “Hebrew cemetery.”

Continuing another few hundred meters, I didn’t see a cemetery, so I stopped on the side of the road and approached a local farmer. I asked him where the cemetery was. “Across the street,” he replied. I looked and saw nothing, but he told me it was there, so I crossed the dirt road, opened a small gate, and walked 200 feet into an open field, where I finally saw 60 graves, some dating back around 100 years, and a small white building with a sign announcing, “Northern Chevra Kadisha: Krugersdorf. Est. 1905.”

A sign for the chevra kadisha (burial society) in Krugersdorf

I stopped to say the Kel Maleh Rachamim, the Jewish prayer for the deceased, and a psalm, knowing that probably no Jewish visitors ever found their way to this remote graveyard.

Continuing north-west about two hours is Timmins, the commercial centre of the region. Although it has a population of only 45,000, it feels much larger because of temporary workers in lumber and mining, in addition to truckers and transporters passing through.

A wooden menorah, now in the Timmins Museum, from the town’s B’nai Israel Congregation, which closed in the early 1970s.

The Timmins Museum chronicles the town’s history, and while perusing the items on display, I noticed a wooden menorah from B’nai Israel, the now-defunct local synagogue. Seeing Jewish items in a museum was definitely a sobering experience.

‘Synagogue Avenue’ in Iroquois Falls

About one hour northeast of Timmins is Iroquois Falls, a small village which was once home to a modest Jewish population, but now “Synagogue Avenue” is its only vestige.

Next, I headed west, through the hinterland towards Chapleau, site of the world’s largest crown game preserve, and a large population of bears. There was about a one-hour drive on which there was no store, no house, no radio coverage, no evidence of human existence. After a night in Chapleau, I continued west to Wawa.

Scenic Wawa, population 3,700, felt like British Columbia. Nestled on Lake Wawa and surrounded by hills and canyons, I found it resembled Vancouver Island.

Congregation Beth Jacob in Sault Ste. Marie

My next stop was Sault Ste. Marie, home to Congregation Beth Jacob, established in 1945 and still functioning. Although the Jewish population once numbered 250, it is now under 100, but it is still widely involved in local Jewish life. 

The interior of Congregation Beth Jacob in Sault Ste. Marie

My guide in Sault Ste. Marie told me about a small cemetery, about 1.5 kilometers east, in a hamlet called Massey, where, off to the side of a non-Jewish cemetery, were eight Jewish graves, the oldest dating to the late 1800s. The final resting place for Jews who lived in Sudbury, about an hour still east of Massey, a number of the graves were of infants, and given the year on a couple epitaphs – 1918 – possibly victims of the Spanish Flu. I once again stopped by to recite the Jewish prayer for the dead and to pay my respects to Jews who likely receive virtually no visitors.

A grave in Massey, Ontario

The final stops on my way back to Toronto were in Sudbury and environs, home to another shul, Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue, but time did not permit more exploration of the city’s Jewish life. 

While I did not intend to do a Jewish tour of northern Ontario, one vestige led to the next, and allowed me to peer into a nearly-forgotten corner of Canadian Jewish life. Although at its peak, in all of northern Ontario – Timmins, Kirkland Lake, Iroquois Falls, North Bay, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay and other smaller towns – probably didn’t ever total even 2,000 Jews – the impact of Jewish life there far outweighed numbers.

And while these Jews didn’t disappear – their descendants live largely in Toronto and southern Ontario – visiting northern Ontario was a stark reminder that Jewish life anywhere is not a guarantee, but rather requires constant infusion of energy, dedication and commitment.

Robert Walker is a Jewish community consultant in Toronto.

All photos by Robert Walker

French-language Quebec Novel Wins Top J.I. Segal Award

Nov. 9, 2020


MONTREAL—A French-language historical novel by a well-known Quebec author that captures the political ferment during the Depression in Montreal’s working-class Mile End district is the winner of the top prize of the Jacob Isaac Segal Awards, sponsored by the Jewish Public Library (JPL).

Le Mammouth by Pierre Samson, published by Héliotrope last year, is based on a forgotten actual event: The fatal police shooting in the back of Nikita Zynchuck, a Ukrainian immigrant labourer, in March 1933.

PIerre Samson

The police officer who delivered the fatal bullets – himself the son of Italian immigrants – is never brought to justice, a scandal that rallied trade unionists and civil rights defenders across ethnic, linguistic and religious lines.

The incident was illustrative of the authorities’ fear of growing communist sentiment, especially in immigrant communities, a movement in which Jews were predominant, while less attention was paid to fascist sympathies.

Samson weaves into the fictional narrative such real-life Jewish figures as labour organizer Fred Rose, the first Communist Party candidate elected to Parliament, and lawyer Michael Garber, later president of Canadian Jewish Congress, who led the outcry against the killing of Zynchuck, nicknamed le mammouth because of his size.

Le Mammouth was chosen the inaugural Best Quebec Book on a Jewish Theme, which carries a $5,000 prize, by an independent jury. The four members hailed Samson for “portray(ing) the Jewish community, which occupies a prominent place in this world of immigrants in the first decades of 20th century, with admirable topographical and psychological precision, while being sensitive to the internal tensions that divide it and the relationships it maintains with the francophone community and the other groups of recently arrived immigrants.”

The jurors, all writers, were literary critic Alberto Manguel, former director of the National Library of Argentina; University of Montreal French literature professor Catherine Mavrikakis; philosopher and Columbia University professor Emmanuel Kattan; and Adam Gollner Leith, former editor of Vice magazine.

Le Mammouth was a finalist for this year’s Grand Prix du Livre de Montréal.

The other 2020 Segal Award winners are Boris Sandler, former editor-in-chief of the Yiddish edition of the Forward, for Antiques from My Travel Bag (published by Yiddish Branzhe), selected for the $1,000 Dr. Hirsh and Dvorah Rosenfeld Award for Yiddish Literature; and, sharing the Rosa and David Finestone z”l Award for Best Translation of a Book on a Jewish Theme, also worth $1,000, are Goldie Morgentaler, and, jointly, Lori Saint-Martin and Paul Gagné.

Morgentaler, a University of Lethbridge English professor, translated from the Yiddish her late mother Chava Rosenfarb’s Confessions of a Yiddish Writer and Other Essays.

This collection of non-fiction by Polish-born Rosenfarb (1923-2011) covers a variety of subjects, including her experiences during the Holocaust, reminiscences about Yiddish writers she knew in postwar Montreal, where she lived for many years, and travel writings, especially on Australia, a part-time home. Rosenfarb is best-known for her trilogy novel set in the Lodz ghetto, The Tree of Life.

Saint-Martin and Gagné are cited for their translation into French of Canadian author Gary Barwin’s novel Yiddish for Pirates. The translation was published as Le Yiddish à l’usage des pirates by Éditions du Boréal.

The Segal Awards will be presented at a virtual ceremony on Nov. 12 at 7:30 p.m., when Samson, two of whose earlier novels were nominated for Governor General’s Awards, will be interviewed.

Reservations may be made at https://bit.ly/37pnEjS.

JPL executive director Michael Crelinsten said the introduction of the Quebec book category by the Segal Awards, now in their 52nd year, reflects the JPL’s “double, but intertwined, mission of being both Jewish and public. With the new format, the JPL also highlights the contribution of Jewish culture to a richly diverse contemporary Quebec.”

On Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m. as part of Jewish Book Month, the JPL presents an online lecture by Chilean-born writer Isabel Allende on “Write What Shall Not Be Forgotten: A Journey into Memory and Soul.”

Toy Designer is Changing the World Through Empathy

Nov. 5, 2020


Ilana Ben-Ari, inventor of the Empathy Toy, has been making waves near and far by bringing the transformative power of child’s play to thousands of schools and offices in some 50 countries.


Ben-Ari’s expanding collection of toys, workshops, and training programs places crucial emphasis on toys teaching what textbooks cannot, with the accent on empathy.

“Empathy is the number one job skill,” Ben-Ari told the CJR in an interview. “Empathy, resilience and creative-concept problem solving have never been more relevant. These are skills that we are taught in kindergarten but then we stop.”

Ben-Ari is a multiple-award winning design entrepreneur, Ariane de Rothchild Fellow and TEDx Speaker. Her company, Twenty One Toys, has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, and Bloomberg.

The Empathy Toy has been praised by Time magazine as a technology that is “reshaping the future.” The Empathy Toy is the first in a series of toys Ben-Ari has designed to tackle and challenge what and how people of all ages are learning. The toys invite kids to be creative and to explore curiosity.

The Empathy Toy is a blindfolded collaborative puzzle game that can be solved only when players understand each other. In less than 15 minutes, players must recreate each other’s puzzle patterns without sight. Players can be as young as six or as old as 99, and a group can be two or 200.

As Ben-Ari explained, “Each toy piece has a different shape and texture. One player starts with a pattern of assembled puzzle pieces, and everyone works together to recreate the same shape with the matching pieces.”

The Israeli-born designer and social entrepreneur credits her early years living on a moshav near Carmel as the catalyst for her success.

“Growing up on a moshav left a huge imprint on me,” said Ben-Ari. “The importance of community is a different way of existing in society that has influenced both the products that I design, as well the reason I went into social entrepreneurship.”

Ben-Ari’s parents met while students in Israel. Her father was from Winnipeg and the couple moved back to Canada when Ben-Ari was six. She graduated in industrial design at Carleton University in 2006, and founded Twenty One Toys in 2012. Now in her 30s, she lives in Toronto.

Her goal is simple: “To positively impact the world.”

Ben-Ari originally designed the Empathy Toy in university as a navigational aid for the blind. “It took a number of years before I had the chutzpah to decide I was going to start a business,” she said.

Last year, she launched the Failure Toy – a game of balance and experimentation that helps players build healthier relationships with failure.

“It teaches how you manage risk and how competition and expectations play into your behaviour,” Ben-Ari explained. “You have these abstract pieces and you have a limited amount of time to make a shape that is as ambitious or safe as you or your team wants it to be.”

The game, she said, makes players just uncomfortable enough to gain insights into how to better handle patience and frustration.

Ben-Ari draws inspiration from the inventor of kindergarten, Friedrich Froebel, who also came up with a series of abstract educational tools he called gifts.

“Twenty One Toys stands for 21st century skills,” said Ben-Ari. “Froebel designed twenty toys… we like to say we are picking up where he left off.”

The next plaything will be dubbed the Improv Toy, which builds on her earlier work. The idea is that empathy, failure, and improvisation are foundational to human development. While empathy “is key to understanding a child’s inspiration and research phase, and failure is all about prototyping and innovation, improve ties into brainstorming and collaborative ideation,” says Twenty One Toys’ website.

You (and/or your children) will have to wait a while to try it out.

Cardiologist Follows his Heart and Becomes Composer


MONTREAL—Jaap Nico Hamburger’s mother gave him two invaluable pieces of advice. 

When he was young, she told him that, yes, he played the piano very well, but he must have a reliable profession. Decades later, after Hamburger had achieved international recognition as a cardiac surgeon, she said he had worked hard enough as a doctor and it was time to devote himself to his first love, music.

So it was that, mid-life, Hamburger gradually wound down his practice in Vancouver in minimally invasive heart procedures, which had begun in his native Holland, and embarked on “the great adventure” of being a full-time composer of classical music.

That transition was completed this year when he left the University of British Columbia where he had been a clinical professor since 2000, and moved permanently to Montreal to be composer-in-residence for Mécénat Musica, a donor-supported cultural program.

The cross-country relocation also meant settling down with his new wife, Kathy Assayag, executive director of the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal.

His mother’s counsel proved wise – not that Hamburger ever doubted it. Janny Moffie-Bolle, after all, had survived Auschwitz and other camps. This formidable woman died in 2016 at age 95, still a force to be reckoned with.

The Holocaust was not an off-limits topic when Hamburger was growing up, but he has not attempted to give it musical expression – until now.

In advance of Remembrance Day, Hamburger released an album on the Canadian label Leaf Music of two new compositions for chamber orchestra that evoke the Holocaust and commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Europe. (His Piano Concerto, featuring Israeli pianist Assaff Weisman, was put out by Leaf in August.)

Chamber Symphony No. 1, performed by Montreal’s Ensemble Caprice conducted by Matthias Maute, is subtitled “Remember to Forget,” a phrase from the Tanach that cautions against the futility, even destructiveness, of second-guessing oneself. Self-criticism should lead to self-improvement, he explained, and the biblical Joseph serves as a model for perseverance.

Hamburger was inspired by the life of Hungarian-Jewish composer Gyorgy Ligeti (1923-2006), who survived the Holocaust, unlike his father and brother. Ligeti, who later fled communism, became an outstanding classical composer, known for his avant-garde style. The soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was designed from Ligetti’s work.

Hamburger’s Chamber Symphony No. 2, “Children’s War Diaries,” performed by the Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal under the baton of the Dutch Vincent de Kort, is also optimistic.

About 20 years ago, Hamburger read the diaries of five teens who had perished in the Holocaust. Anne Frank’s was, of course, the most famous. The other four, largely forgotten – unlike Frank, who stopped writing after she was discovered in hiding – bore witness to what they experienced in the death camps.

In 2010, Hamburger’s 89-year-old mother, who was a teen at the start of the war, published her autobiography. With her at Yad Vashem for the book’s launch, he was shaken by the memorial to the 1.5 million murdered Jewish children. After emerging from its darkness to the blazing Jerusalem sun, he was impelled to translate his overwhelming emotions into music.

“The contours of a new symphonic work came to mind virtually complete,” he said. “I went home and wrote “Children’s War Diaries” in five short movements.”

The work’s world premiere was recorded at the “Violins of Hope” concert held last November at the Maison symphonique de Montréal in tribute to the victims of the Holocaust and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Holland by the 1st Canadian Army.

The actual Violins of Hope, which belonged to Jewish musicians before and during the Holocaust, have been restored by father-and-son luthiers in Israel. They are played with orchestras around the world as a symbol of victory over tyranny.

This is the spirit Hamburger intends in his symphonies. He is not, he emphasizes, trying to capture the horror experienced by those who survived the Holocaust.

“That would be presumptuous and impossible,” said Hamburger, who was obsessed with Beethoven at age three and began his music education soon after. “I could read scores before I could read language,” he said.

He earned a soloist degree in piano from Amsterdam’s Royal Conservatory while studying medicine. He became an expert in the development of laser coronary angioplasty at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, and travelling around the world. He stopped giving recitals, but continued to compose in his limited spare time.

“The only thing I can do is try to use the language of music to express how I experience what I know, and what I think the Holocaust means for the world today. We always said, ‘Never again’, but we see what is happening all over.”

The release of his album on Nov. 6, fortunately, was not stopped by the COVID pandemic, unlike another of Hamburger’s big projects. His first opera, Goldwasser, was scheduled to premiere at the Lincoln Center in New York in March, featuring laureates of the Richard Tucker Music Foundation. All being well, Goldwasser will debut next season.

Typically, Hamburger looks on the bright side. It was at the foundation gala in 2018 in New York that he met Kathy, a fellow opera lover, and would start a new chapter of his extraordinary life in Montreal.

Hamilton Jewish Book Fair, Holocaust Education Week Combine

Oct. 30, 2020


Holocaust heroes and survivors. Mossad spies. Infamous Nazis. Wealthy Jews who once controlled Shanghai.

These and other inviting subjects are set to be explored at Hamilton’s Jewish Book Fair and Holocaust Education Week.

Usually separate events, the celebration of Jewish books and Shoah memorial has been combined into a series of online programs this year.

Gustavo Rymberg, CEO of the Hamilton Jewish Federation, said that in the age of COVID, merging the events made sense.

“Instead of asking people to register separately for both events we’d do them together,” he told the CJR. “It’s also a chance for some of our young families to get familiar with Holocaust Education Week.

“We think it’s important for our young people to learn about that now and not wait for a teacher to bring it up in school,” he added.

“Everyone has a responsibility to talk about the Holocaust, not only in educational settings but conversations need to take place at home. It is shocking that a large number of young Canadians are unaware that over six million Jewish men, women and children were killed during the Holocaust.”

The plan for this year is to centre around nine books – five during book festival events Nov. 1-4 and four during Holocaust week, Nov. 8-12.

Leading off the book festival is Jonathan Kaufman presenting on his book The Last King of Shanghai. It chronicles the moral compromises, foresight and generosity of two extraordinary Jewish families – the Sassoons and the Kadoories – who ruled over Chinese business and politics for more than 175 years.

Both originally from Baghdad, they profited from the Opium Wars that tore China apart and then survived the communist takeover of the country.

Now the director of the School of Journalism at Northeastern University in Boston, Kaufman spent 30 years and won a Pulitzer Prize covering China for the Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News.

In an interview, Kaufman said the idea for the book was born in the late 1970s when, newly arrived in China, he began to see traces of a century of Jewish influence on the country.

In addition to being a story of wealth and power, Kaufman said the book adds an important piece to our understanding of Jewish history.

“We tend to think of Jewish history as the stories of poor European immigrants who work hard and rise to great heights,” he said. “This is another part of the history of Jews who also worked hard and climbed to great heights.”

Kaufman is also the author of A Hole in the Heart of the World: Being Jewish in Eastern Europe and Broken Alliance: The Turbulent Times Between Blacks and Jews in America, which won a National Jewish Book Award.

The book festival will also include presentations on Red Sea Spies, the true story of the Mossad operation that used a diving resort on the coast of Somalia as a cover to rescue thousands of Ethiopian Jews and smuggle them to Israel. The book was written by long-time BBC Middle East correspondent Raffi Berg.

On Nov. 2, former New York Times reporter Howard Blum will discuss his book Night of the Assassins: The Untold Story of Hitler’s Plot to Kill FDR, Churchill and Stalin. It’s the true story of a Nazi plot to destroy the leaders of the Allies during their Tehran conference in 1943. With their leaders dead, the German hope was that the stricken Allies would then be willing to make peace with the Third Reich.

Concealed, to be presented Nov. 3 by author Esther Amini, tells the story of her struggles growing up in Queens, N.Y. in the 1960s – the daughter of Jewish-Iranian refugees trying to find a balance between her parents’ traditions and her longing for American freedom.

The final book festival presentation is slated for Nov.4. The title for that night will be Nobody Will Tell You This But Me, Bess Kalb’s recounting of family lore and secrets from her grandmother chronicling the lives of four generations of women and the men who loved them.

Holocaust Education Week events kick off Nov. 8 with a presentation of Toronto author Kathy Kacer’s true story, The Brushmaker’s Daughter.

It tells the tale of a 12-year-old German-Jewish girl and her blind father on the run from the Nazis. They are sheltered by brush factory owner Otto Weidt, who employs blind Jewish workers in his factory, determined to save as many as he can.

Kacer, a former psychologist, has written often about the Holocaust and the people who struggled against it. In an interview, she said “as soon as I heard about this, I knew it would be the next story I would tell. The example of individuals who exhibit that kind of moral strength is a great one, especially today. Capturing stories like this is even more important today. We still have a small window of opportunity today to capture those stories.”

Kacer added that while the central character of the story is fictional, Weidt and his factory are historical. Weidt and all the people he helped are now dead but the factory itself survives and has been turned into a museum.

Capturing Holocaust stories, she added, is important because her parents were both survivors: Her mother hid during the war while her father survived a concentration camp.

On Nov. 9, author A. J. Sidransky will discuss his novel The Interpreter, the story of a 23-year-old American G.I. Kurt Berlin, who returns to Europe to help interrogate captured Nazis as part of a program to recruit them to work against the Soviet Union in the coming Cold War.

Former Nazi hunter David Marwell will discuss his book Mengele: Unmasking the “Angel of Death” on Nov. 10. The book explores how an ambitious researcher could become a faithful servant of the Nazi cause.

Marwell served as chief of investigative research at the U. S. Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations in the 1980s and worked on the hunt for the notorious “Angel of Death” Dr. Josef Mengele.

The final book presentation for the week is slated for Nov. 12, when journalist Peter Ross Range will discuss The Unfathomable Ascent, his detailing of Adolf Hitler’s eight-year march to the pinnacle of German politics.

Holocaust Education Week also incorporates the virtual exhibit Vad Vashem: Shoah: How Was it Humanly Possible, and the Nov. 15 special presentation Voices of our Holocaust Survivors with young Hamiltonians interviewing Holocaust survivors.

Times and details for all events are available at https://jewishhamilton.org/2020jewishbookfestival

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

Oct. 29, 2020


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.

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


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.

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.

New Jewish TV Show to ‘Cut its Own Path’

Oct. 21, 2020


Move over, Jimmy Kimmel. There’s a new talk show host in town and not only is he Jewish, so is the show.

Canadian Jewish TV (CJTV) debuted on Oct. 1, and its host, the poet leden Wall, promises an exciting and provocative line-up of guests on the half-hour program, which airs Thursdays at 11:30 pm on Toronto’s OMNI Television. (It currently airs in Ontario, British Columbia and the Atlantic provinces).

Canadian Jewish TV host leden Wall

Wall may not be a household name, but he’s been imagining hosting a show like this for a long time.

“I have been chasing my dream of being a late-night talk show host since I was just 15 years-old,” he told the CJR. “I hosted my own live after-school talk show at Northern Secondary in grade 10. I’ve been pitching talk shows ever since.”

He started pitching a Jewish-themed program about 17 years ago, “feeling very strongly that there was a need for a Jewish talk-show that offered cherished values and the much-needed message of progress.”

Reverence for Jewish history and Judaism’s rituals and practices “do not have to be lost in the quest for progress. That has always been my feeling.”

It’s a bare-bone set, seemingly broadcasting from Wall’s basement, though it’s actually filmed in CJTV’s “quaint” studio, as Wall describes it, in downtown Toronto.

In one recent episode, Wall interviewed sports broadcaster Dan Shulman, going through his path to sportscaster fame, but touching only glancingly on Shulman’s religion, with the subject offering up some tidbits on his time studying at Bialik Hebrew Day School in Toronto and Wall’s mention of Shulman’s involvement in Jewish causes.

More interesting and original was Stay, a spoken word film poem, introduced by broadcaster Valerie Pringle, and written by Wall. It’s a personal, highly emotional plea against suicide, with Wall, speaking over images of a lost man wandering the streets of an anonymous city, urging the listener to opt to live and not be afraid to speak to God, who can and will help you through your despair.

This isn’t your regular talk show, but in many ways, it’s the essence of who leden (yes, the “l” is lower-case) Wall is.

“Rogers Media and OMNI TV have informed me that what impressed them about my vision for a Jewish show was the way I incorporated my spoken-word poetry into the format,” he says.

Rogers executives seemed taken with the idea of a talk show hosted by a socially conscious poet.

“And that made me think that both my broadcaster and I were truly on the same page – always the desired arrangement for a collaborative media project,” Wall mused.

CJTV will feature a series of spoken-word films “that reinforce a distinctly progressive Jewish voice, one of tolerance, diversity and gender equality.”

Not surprisingly, the Jewish precept of tikkun olam (repair of the world) figures prominently in Wall’s vision.

“CJTV will have a special focus on tikkun olam and the charitable and philanthropic efforts of Jews across Canada,” he promises

While the show is still young, it’s Wall’s hope that it creates a platform “to celebrate the unique contributions Jews have made to art, history and culture in Canada and abroad.

“In doing so, I am hoping to draw attention to the deepest Jewish values that were instilled in so many of us, such as family, respect for our elders, conquering ridiculous odds, giving to charity and reaching out to those less fortunate.”

So how Jewish will CJTV actually be?

“I would say the emphasis with the guests is on both their Jewishness and their accomplishments,” he explains. “The focus will vary depending on the guest and their comfort level with Jewish topics.”

And some of it is just obvious and jokey, as when Wall calls his interviews “Jooom,” a Hebraic takeoff on Zoom.

Guests will include influential and high-profile members of the Jewish community, including Robert Lantos, Paul Godfrey, Mark Breslin, Libby Znaimer and Heather Reisman, and sometimes non-Jewish guests.

“I am open to non-Jewish guests who have a worthwhile and compelling connection to the Jewish community,” Wall says.

Wall does, however, want to tread carefully when it comes to politics, especially surrounding the often contentious issues regarding Israel (though an Israeli flag features in the show’s opening credits.)

“I will be making a concerted effort to stay away from divisive politics. It’s just not that type of show. This show will be steadfast in its intent to focus on the unique contribution of Jewish art, history and culture in Canada and abroad. The show will look to highlight the universal Jewish values that travel through every sect and denomination in the Jewish world,” he says.

Wall’s other credits include a self-published poetry book, The Wisdom of Wall (2016), which sold some 30,000 copies, with a sequel, Wisdom of the Wall 2, on the way. There have also been medical marketing videos and documentaries he produces though his own production company.

And he’s bullish about the show’s prospects.

“I hope the show gives viewers a better appreciation for the immense contribution Jews have made to the world of art, history and culture in Canada and abroad,” says Wall, “And I hope it lets gentile viewers see how tikkun olam shapes the collective psyche of Jews all around the world, and how important it is for Jewish folks to help those less fortunate – in our own community (and) in all communities around us. Any way you slice it, CJTV will cut its own path.”

YidLife Crisis to Lighten That Other Crisis

Oct. 20, 2020


MONTREAL – Jewish community institutions are hoping a little comedy will lift pandemic-weary spirits and bring the socially distanced together, at least virtually.

The Segal Centre for Performing Arts is presenting A Call to Montreal, an original video show created by and starring the irreverent YidLife Crisis duo of Jamie Elman and Eli Batalion this Thursday (Oct. 22) at 7:30 p.m.

Jamie Elman, left, and Eli Batalion make A Call to Montreal outside the Segal Centre for Performing Arts. (Thomas Leblanc-Murray photo)

They promise to “lightly roast and toast” the city and its Jewish community with their trademark smart and sassy humour.

The 45-minute “one-time only” presentation was largely shot this summer on the Jewish Community Campus, with the enthusiastic participation of its key institutions: the Segal, the Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA, the Jewish Public Library, and the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors, which all ceased normal operations in March.

Elman and Batalion have been together since they launched YidLife Crisis as a web series in 2014 casting themselves as the youngish Yiddish-speaking odd couple, Chaimie (Elman) and Leizer (Batalion), who literally chew over the big questions of modern Jewish identity in the mama loshen they learned at Bialik High School.

A Call to Montreal follows on their first film love letter to their hometown, the 2018 documentary Chewdaism: A Taste of Jewish Montreal, which was nominated for four Canadian Screen Awards and played Jewish film festivals throughout the United States and elsewhere.

A Call to Montreal is in English with only a smattering of Yiddish, and eating is not on the menu, say the two boychiks, who have already packed on the “quarantine 15” over the past months.

The show is a mix of skits, musical performances, and surprise guests, shot respecting all health protocols on site, as well as remotely.

The Segal and its partner institutions see the event as a way of reaching out to the community and reminding it of “its vitality in the face of adversity.”

The show, which will be live-streamed, will be followed by a real live question-and-answer session between the audience, Batalion and Elman, who lives in Los Angeles but thinks of himself as an honorary Montrealer. He hopes the great Montreal diaspora – Jewish and not – will also be watching.

Tickets are $18 per person or $36 per household, with part of the proceeds going to the institutions involved.

A recording of the show will be available on-demand for up to 48 hours afterward for ticket holders.

The duo will be up against another comedy act scheduled for that night – the second U.S. presidential debate – but that starts at 9 p.m. and will have less Yiddish, they point out.

The idea is to make A Call to Montreal as inclusive as possible, so anyone who cannot afford a ticket should enter their plea at info@yidlifecrisis.com.

For those who want an authentic experience, YidLife Crisis has arranged with the Snowdon Deli a special menu of traditional fare that can be picked up before the show.

“After ‘exporting’ Jewish Montreal to the U.S. and beyond, it gives us great pleasure to ‘return’ to our resilient community and remind them of what they already know: that while we may be down, we’re still alive and – gently – kicking,” says the duo.

As Batalion exhorts in the promotional trailer: “Don’t be a shmendrick, buy your ticket now.” To which Elman adds tongue in cheek: “May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life for 5781 – in a Sharpie.”

Simcha Jacobovici’s Newest Project Probes African Slave Trade

October 16, 2020 –


Three-and-a-half years ago, Canadian Jewish documentary filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici set out to uncover the history of one of the world’s forgotten tragedies: The trafficking, enslavement and mass murder of African slaves.

The result is Jacobovici’s new six-part docuseries, Enslaved: The Lost History of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, which debuts on CBC-TV and CBC Gem on Oct. 18 at 9 p.m. and on the Documentary Channel 9 p.m. on Oct. 17.

From left to right, director, Simcha Jacobovici; Hollywood film star, Samuel L. Jackson; and journalist Afua Hirsch in a scene from the sixth episode of the documentary series, Enslaved, which debuts on CBC TV Oct. 18 at 8 p.m.

Hollywood mega-star Samuel L. Jackson, the series’ on-screen lead, is a co-executive producer of the project.

While Jacobovici made aliyah with his family five years ago, his production company, Associated Producers, is still based in Toronto as are Enslaved co-producers Felix Golubev and Ric Esther Bienstock.

Speaking from his home in Ra’anana, Jacobovici recounted how he became interested in the history of the slave trade.

During the filming of an underwater documentary with Hollywood director James Cameron of Titanic fame, marine archeologists spoke of the existence of sunken wrecks of slave ships that had been used en route to the Americas.

“They said they knew of sunken slave ships, but nobody cared,” Jacobovici recalled. “That was the first time I thought about the Transatlantic slave trade. I did not know that we’re talking about 400 years… There were a lot of shocking things in this series.”

Of the 12 million slaves sent to the Americas, some two million died en route.

“Nobody has talked about the two million,” Jacobovici lamented. “There is not a single memorial to the two million who died… It’s like global amnesia.”

As a child of Holocaust survivors, Jacobovici said he takes the maxim of “never again” very seriously.

“Just as I believe in Holocaust education, we have to educate the planet about this mass murder, otherwise the bad guys win,” he said. “They can say it never happened.”

His team spent six months researching the project.

Each episode of the series examines a different facet of slavery, from economics and culture, to politics and abolition.

The series also includes an interview with the U.S. civil right leader John Lewis, who died in July.

Jacobovici said he was surprised to learn that only four per cent of African slaves ended up in the United States. The majority went to South America and the Caribbean, where they worked on sugar, coffee and chocolate plantations. He pointed out that slave labour kept the prices of these commodities low.

He said the series also examines the origins of racism in Europe, which can be traced to the 15th-century, anti-Jewish Toledo edict, the first law to legalize racial discrimination.

It defined people by blood rather than faith, and Jews were not pure blood.

As a storyteller, Jacobovici said engaging the audience is crucial.

“I thought the idea of searching and diving for sunken slave ships would create a great television odyssey. You follow the divers as they do their detective work. We used that concept as the springboard to tell the larger historical story.”

The series was filmed in 12 countries on four continents. Each episode revolves around a dive for a specific ship.

For instance, in episode three, Follow the Money, divers locate the Dutch ship Leusden off the coast of Suriname. Records show that as the ship was sinking, the crew nailed down the hatches and let the 640 slaves aboard drown. Apparently, companies could then make insurance claims for “lost cargo.”

Jacobovici said he had many important elements for success: An “amazing” diving team, unique research on the sunken ships, and a compelling, untold story.

However, he said he needed one more element to attract a global audience: Star power.

“Through an amazing intervention I got a meeting with Samuel L Jackson,” he said, explaining that he knew that Jackson had had his DNA traced to the Benga tribe of Gabon on a PBS television show, but he had never met the descendants of his ancestral people.

“Jackson said he did not want to go [to Africa] as a Hollywood star. He wanted it to be more meaningful. He was waiting for the right moment. When we met he felt this was the right moment. This was the right project and he was in. He felt he could turn his personal journey into a platform for educating the planet about the Transatlantic slave trade.”

Jacobovici feels that after COVID, identity politics is currently “the biggest issue. It must be understood in the context of 400 years of slavery.”

In the series, Jackson talks about his great-grandfather, who had been a slave. His grandmother would tell him what her father’s life was like.

“Slavery wasn’t something that happened thousands of years ago,” Jacobovici said.

You can find the trailer here:


On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Oct. 15, 2020

Howard Shore (Oct. 18, 1946 – ) Composer, Orchestrator, Conductor/Bandleader, Music Producer, Film Score Writer


“Charismatic with a charming smile” is how neighbour Mark Mager described his Forest Hill Collegiate high school friend, Howard Shore.

My earliest memory of Shore was on Lorne Michaels’ Saturday Night Live (SNL), where, from 1975 to 1980, he was the iconic show’s first bandleader/musical director. 

Shore and Michaels grew up in the same Toronto neighbourhood as Mager. Shore said SNL “started with a show that Lorne and I did at Timberlane summer camp. We would do an improv with music, comedy and acting.”

Shore wore sunglasses, never spoke or took credit as the leader of the “Howard Shore and His All-Nurse Band,” appearing in numerous musical SNL sketches.

For the Toronto-born son of Jewish parents Mac and Bernice (Ash) Shore, his music passion ignited at age eight. At 13, he mastered the clarinet, flute, organ and saxophone, and by 17, was on a career trajectory to write classical and orchestral music and film scores.

Howard Shore (Photo: Sam Santos, courtesy Canadian Film Centre)

Fast forward: His scorecard includes three Academy Awards, four Grammys, three Golden Globes, six Canadian Screen/Genie Awards, one opera (The Fly), over 80 films, and he was a five-time nominee for a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Award.

In 2017, Shore became the third winner of the Lifetime Achievement Kilar Award of the FMF Krakow Film Music Festival, named after the late Polish composer Wojciech Kilar. The Order of Canada, an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres de France, and a Canadian Governor General’s Performing Arts Award grace his trophy case.

Mager told me that while he and his friends took off for various universities, Shore enrolled at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, “which shocked us because no one realized how deeply entrenched he was in music.” At Berklee, Shore studied with choral composer John Bavicchi. In the late 1960s, Shore, on saxophone, was one of the original members of the Canadian rock group Lighthouse.

But he really excelled at writing film scores with heavy emphasis on violins and cellos. In 1978, he connected with David Cronenberg for The Brood, and continued as Cronenberg’s composer of choice for most of the director’s future productions.

In the ‘90s, Shore also scored films by Jonathan Demme, Chris Columbus, Tim Burton, David Fincher, Michael Lehmann, Tom Hanks, and Kevin Smith. Titles included M. Butterfly, Philadelphia, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Client, Ed Wood, Nobody’s Fool, Seven, The Game, The Truth About Cats and Dogs, That Thing You Do!, Dogma and The Cell. He worked with Martin Scorsese and Penny Marshall and was a BAFTA Award nominee in 1991 for Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs.

A major triumph came in 2001, when he was selected to score the first of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, netting him his first Oscar and Grammy, as well as nominations for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA.

It was “the beginning of my journey into the world of Tolkien, and I will always hold a special fondness for the music and the experience,” Shore noted at quotab.com.

Shore won his second Oscar for Best Original Score, and a third for Best Original Song, for Into the West, shared with Fran Walsh and Annie Lennox. He also garnered his first Golden Globe, his third and fourth Grammys (the fourth for Best Song), and was nominated for a third BAFTA.

The scores for The Lord of the Rings, performed primarily by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, became one of the most successful film scores ever written “and the biggest success in Shore’s career,” reported the BBC.

With a filmography listing 80-plus works, the in-demand Shore continued to collaborate with Scorsese in 2004 on The Aviator and Hugo in 2011. He scored Cronenberg’s A History of Violence in 2005 and Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit series in 2013.

Since 2004, Shore has conducted local orchestras across North America, Europe and China, playing new symphonic arrangements of his Lord of the Rings scores. He is a coveted speaker at film festivals and master classes.

Modest about his accomplishments, he said, “I never shied away from a challenge and love doing big epic films. They’re interesting to me just on a pure music level, in terms of the amount of music I could create for a symphony orchestra and chorus.”

David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

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

Q&A: Prof. Gil Troy on Being Natan Sharansky’s Co-Author

Oct. 13, 2020


The newly published Never Alone: Prison, Politics, and My People by Natan Sharansky and Gil Troy (PublicAffairs, 480 pages) offers an intimate portrait of the man who spent nine years as a political prisoner in the Soviet Union for his activism on behalf of Jewish emigration and who, after his release in 1986, became an outspoken politician in Israel. More recently, he was head of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Troy, who made aliyah 10 years ago, continues to serve as a Distinguished Scholar in North American history at McGill University, where he’s taught from 1990. A specialist in the U.S. presidency, the New York-born Troy is a prolific author on the subject, as well as on Zionism. His most recent previous book was The Zionist Ideas: Visions for the Jewish Homeland.

The CJR interviewed Troy about Never Alone and his impressions of Sharansky.

How long have you personally known Natan Sharansky? How long did you work on the book together, and how much are his words/ideas vs. yours?

I had the privilege of first meeting him in the early 2000s when he was Diaspora Affairs Minister, among other positions. He was very concerned about antisemitism and anti-Zionism on campus, and I shared that concern as a McGill professor. It was mostly, however, a “hello, how are you?” type relationship, with occasional brainstorming meetings in his Jewish Agency office.

When I finished my last book, The Zionist Ideas, I asked him to write the preface, thinking of him as the most prominent and legendary Zionist in the world today. He kindly agreed – then turned it around and asked me to be his co-author.

Natan Sharansky and Gil Troy
Natan Sharansky and Gil Troy

We were true co-authors. We worked extremely closely together for three years, arguing lovingly about every word, every phrase, every logical sequence. And yet, in all that time, despite coming from such different worlds, we never had an ideological disagreement. So the book truly is our words, our voice – we call this a “memoir-festo,” a manifesto and memoir, because we are using his life story to tell a broader story about Jewish peoplehood and freedom.

Why the title Never Alone?

I was brainstorming with a good friend, David Suissa, [a former Montrealer now living in Los Angeles]. I told him that the KGB kept telling Natan, “you’re forgotten, you’re abandoned, you’re alone,” but Natan says, “I knew I was never alone.”

“That’s it!” David shouts. “For 75 years we’ve emphasized ‘Never Again’ – and of course we will always revere our Holocaust martyrs – but our message now is that if you are a part of this amazing people called the Jewish people, you can know you are never alone.”

What surprised you the most in getting to know Sharansky so personally? Were there any revelations?

The newsiest part for me – and the most surprising – is that this guy is the real deal. This is a story of a man [and his wife Avital] who should have been crushed by the Soviet Union. Instead, they stood up, resisted, became symbols of freedom, and are now doing everything they can to continue the struggle, while living the simple, humble life they fought so hard to enjoy.

What does Sharansky have to say concerning Canada, about Irwin Cotler, who acted as his legal counsel while he was in prison, and the Soviet Jewry movement here? Of more recent note, the book discloses that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to dissuade emigration of French Jews to Canada to ensure their aliyah. True?

There is some fascinating Canadian content: heroes like Irwin Cotler, one of his attorneys, along with Andrea Bronfman and the Group of 35, [who] were part of that army of “students and housewives” that literally saved his life. “Students and housewives” was the dismissive phrase of one of his KGB interrogators that Sharansky, in typical fashion, flipped into a flag of honour.

When Natan arrived in Israel, Andrea and Charles [Bronfman] were among the donors who helped him ease the way for other Soviet Jews arriving by bankrolling innovative programs. Irwin Cotler remains a close friend of both authors, and a mentor to me.

And yes, Natan does report that Bibi thought that [then Prime Minister] Stephen Harper’s sympathetic, enthusiastically pro-Israel Conservative government might discourage French Jews from moving to Canada and encourage them to move to Israel. Natan [and I] approach Zionism differently. We don’t want to be commissars of Zionism; we encourage an Aliyah of Choice based on Identity Zionism, a decision to join the Jewish people and live in the Jewish homeland to seek ideological fulfillment and a certain kind of communal experience, not because you are forced to or fear antisemitism.

What opinion does he express about Netanyahu? Donald Trump?

Natan and Bibi have been friends for 30 years. Natan is grateful for all that Bibi did to save Soviet Jews, and to defend Israel’s security as effectively as he has. But Natan is also repeatedly disappointed by Bibi’s demagoguery against Arabs and against critics, and felt personally betrayed when Netanyahu sabotaged the Western Wall compromise to welcome egalitarian prayer at the Kotel – especially because Bibi himself knew how important it was.

Natan [and I] were stunned that American Jews couldn’t thank Trump for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, or now, can’t appreciate the breakthrough of the Abraham Accords. But we are both dismayed and often appalled by Trump’s boorishness, his bullying, and his uncharacteristic caution when it comes to clearly denouncing the antisemitic extremists who have felt encouraged by his rise to power and his rhetoric.

What does Sharansky say about the state of Israel today or its future?

In the book, we propose what we call the Driving Test: in what direction is Israel or any country going? We are happy to report that, despite some worries here and there, the directional signals all point positively. Take a simple test: would you rather be in the Israel of 1950 or 2000 or 2020? There’s a lot of false nostalgia about early Israel, but Arabs have more equal rights today, Mizrachim [non-Ashkenazi Jews] enjoy more respect, we are closer to peace and we have more freedom, democratic quality of life, and prosperity – quite the miracle, we both like to say.

On Israel-Diaspora relations, particularly with American Jews, what is his outlook?

We do see warning signs of divergence, of two different communities with two different agendas, but we also see encouraging signs of convergence and a new mutual respect. Programs like Birthright illustrate the new Identity Zionism approach of partnership, wherein Israelis and Diaspora Jews learn from one another, look out for one another, save one another, rather than assuming that it’s a one-way relationship.

Sharansky has been in our consciousness for close to half a century, yet he remains an enigma to all except those who are closest to him. He’s not a man of faith in the conventional sense and his ideology is hard to categorize. So what sustains him? Is he someone who had “greatness thrust upon him” and perhaps would have preferred the life of an obscure mathematics professor?

With him, what you see is what you get. He’s really modest, a mensch, a funny, ironic, thoughtful idealist who doesn’t wallow in the pain of the past but delights in the miracles of the present while working for even more miracles in the future. I am an historian. Usually, when I scrutinize popular gods up close, I discover their clay feet really quickly. Natan and his wife are genuine – they live their values and getting to know them is getting to appreciate them on deeper levels, far beyond the hero worship, which makes them both uncomfortable.

While he is not a formal philosopher and was not only never a king but thought he was a terrible politician, he is more philosopher-king than man of faith or humble academic. He is driven by ideas, but wants to live by them and inspire others to live by them – so he is less interested in refining them theoretically than championing them practically.

Secondly, he understands that dictatorships are fear societies and really appreciates the freedom we all too often take for granted in modern Western democracies. And third, he really loves the Jewish people, loves being Jewish, is thrilled to live in Israel, and wants to share that with others, not in a heavy-handed way, but in an educational manner.

Sharansky insists Never Alone is not a memoir because he is not done yet. What are his plans?

He starts his work days at 5:30 a.m. and, until the pandemic, travelled around the world. He chairs the Shlichim institute of the Jewish Agency, training emissaries from Israel to work all over the world, and chairs the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy, headed by Montreal native Charles Small.

He also chairs the initiative to have a proper, thoughtful memorial and museum in Babi Yar [site of a Second World War massacre in Ukraine] and he just won this year’s Genesis Prize.

Informally, he is writing, teaching, and fighting for the big ideas in our book, about identity and freedom, about the joys of being Jewish and the dangers of veering to one extreme – or the other.

– This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Azrieli Music Prizes Concert to be Live Streamed for Free

Oct. 8, 2020


MONTREAL— The biennial Azrieli Music Prizes (AMP) concert – the world premiere of the most recent winning compositions of orchestral Jewish music and Canadian art music – goes virtual this year due to the pandemic.

The concert is scheduled to be live streamed from the Salle Bourgie of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on Oct. 22 at 8 p.m.; on the classical music channel Medici TV, and on the AMP Facebook page, free of charge.

Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne (NEM), which is resident in the U of M’s music faculty, will be making its debut on Medici TV under the direction of its founder, Lorraine Vaillancourt. Soprano Sharon Azrieli, who created and heads the AMP project, and Hungarian-Canadian mezzo Krisztina Szabò join NEM as soloists.

The performances are part of the total prize package each AMP laureates receives, valued at over $200,000, including $50,000 cash. Two later international performances and a recording of the winning works, to be released on the Analekta label, round out the package.

Keiko Devaux, the inaugural winner of the new Azrieli Commission for Canadian Music, is cited for her work, Arras, which “weaves together the tapestries of her French and Japanese-Canadian heritage.” She is currently completing a PhD in composition at the U of M.

“These collective sonic memories that we have held onto, shared, diffused and celebrated together are what define the Canadian sound to me,” she said.

Yotam Haber’s Azrieli Commission for Jewish Music winner is Estro poetica—armonico III, written for mezzo-soprano solo, chamber orchestra and pre-recorded audio, reflects his interest in the music of the Jewish community of Rome.

“As a composer of Israeli background, I have spent years thinking about how I should look back at my past while looking forward at my future,” he said. “I wished to compose a work using text by modern Israeli poets sung by a mezzo-soprano in conjunction, or in opposition to, traditional cantillation and liturgical texts found in the Leo Levi recordings, virtually always recited by men,” he explained.

Haber is an associate professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory.

Yitzhak Yedid, winner of the Azrieli Prize for Jewish Music, wrote KadoshKadosh and Cursed, which consist of 20 tableaux, or musical scenes, that bridge very different musical traditions.

“My attempt in this composition, and my endeavour for over a decade, has been to broaden the esthetic resources of Western art music through the incorporation of musical elements of Sephardic Jewish music,” explained Yedid, whose ancestry is Syrian and Iraqi. The result is “a strange, surreal atmosphere.”

He is currently a lecturer in composition and piano at the Queensland Conservatorium of Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia.

In addition, Canadian composer Jonathan Monro has created a new arrangement for NEM and soloist Azrieli of Pierre Mercure’s classic song cycle Dissidence, which expresses modern humanity’s search for happiness through faith, which is also on the program.

Established in 2014 by the Azrieli Foundation, the biennial AMP accepts nominations for original works from individuals and institutions of all nationalities, faiths, backgrounds, and affiliations, which are then submitted to its two expert juries.

“The three AMP prize packages, valued at $200,000 per laureate, currently makes it the largest music competition for music composition in Canada and one of the largest in the world,” said Azrieli.

Theodor Herzl: Gentleman Leader

Oct. 8, 2020


I own the world’s largest private collection of Theodor Herzl memorabilia. It reflects my fascination with the birth of the State of Israel. On May 13, 1948, Israel did not exist. On May 14, 1948, it did. How did this happen?

Ad for a penknife and the knife

It is an amazing story. Although the Jewish people have prayed to return to our ancestral homeland since we were expelled from it 2,000 years ago (thus the holiday-time plea of “Next Year in Jerusalem”), it was only in the 1800s that tangible steps were taken to make this happen. Herzl did not come up with the idea of Zionism, although he thought he did. However, unlike his predecessors who had a similar idea, he set out to actually make it happen.

In 1896, he wrote Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State). The next year, he convened the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, at which the World Zionist Organization was created. In 1899, he formed the Jewish Colonial Trust. In 1901, he inspired the creation of the Jewish National Fund. In 1902, he wrote Altneuland (Old New Land). In 1903, he received an offer from the British government for a Jewish territory in Africa. And in 1904, he died at age 44, having dedicated the last eight years of his life to the cause of the Jewish people.

Herzl understood that he had to rally the Jewish people around a new idea: that we could live in our own country, make decisions for ourselves, and keep each other safe. He needed a symbol to represent that dream. He became that symbol, and after he died, his successors maintained him as that symbol to keep his dream alive.

Cufflink celebrating the 1917 Balfour Declaration

This is why there are so many Herzl related items to collect. I own more than 5,000 of them, items ranging from ice tongs to medals, pen knives to portraits, postcards, pencils, busts, handkerchiefs, and much more.

It’s all been assembled piece by piece through auctions, hunting at flea markets, and the purchase of entire collections from veteran collectors who wanted to entrust their life’s passion to someone who would cherish it.  As well, at least once a month, I receive in the mail a Herzl item that someone found and for which they want a good home.

My collection is a national treasure of the Jewish people, and in case anyone wonders what it might be worth, I believe it’s priceless.

Portrait of Herzl for the 19th Zionist Congress in Prague, 1933

I have chosen to use my collection as a tool to help people learn about Herzl and be inspired by his work. I am hopeful that by learning about Herzl, people will know a little more about where Israel came from, why it was needed as a safeguard against antisemitism, and why it continues to be needed.

Herzl’s motto was, “if you will it, it is no dream,” and I believe that by learning how Herzl pursued his impossible dream (which, as we all know, came true), we can be inspired to make our own dreams come true.

“The Herzl Project” is my initiative to achieve these goals. To that end, I have created a website with resources about Herzl and my collection (www.herzlcollection.com) and published a book, Collecting the Dream, available free of charge as a PDF on the website, or as an ebook on Amazon.

During the pandemic, I have done over 25 videos, webinars and other online presentations on the subject of Herzl. This is not only because for many months I was sheltering at home with my entire collection. It is also because Herzl provides us with an important lesson for this time. He teaches us that the situation in which we find ourselves today can change and improve, and that tomorrow will be better.

Herzl also taught us by example how to be a leader in difficult times. He used his skills and talents as a lawyer, playwright and journalist to create something that would benefit others. Knowing that he was very sick, he focused on the future of the Jewish people, understanding that he was not likely to live to witness the birth of the state he envisioned.

Herzl pencil and pencil stand

Herzl also believed that we cannot do things that benefit only ourselves, and that because of our history, Jews are uniquely able to have a broader perspective. He understood that as citizens of this planet we all share, we must also act to help others. This is best illustrated in this reference from his book Altneuland, in which one of his characters expresses the following:

“There is still one other question arising out of the disaster of nations which remains unsolved to this day, and whose profound tragedy, only a Jew can comprehend. This is the African question. Just call to mind all those terrible episodes of the slave trade, of human beings who, merely because they were black, were stolen like cattle, taken prisoner, captured and sold. Their children grew up in strange lands, the objects of contempt and hostility because their complexions were different. I am not ashamed to say, though I may expose myself to ridicule for saying so, that once I have witnessed the redemption of the Jews, my people, I wish also to assist in the redemption of the Africans.” 

This is remarkable. While dedicating his life to the Jewish people, Herzl also had the goal to help end Black suffering. He understood that issues of prejudice and discrimination are related, and that we are free only if we are all free. He knew that we cannot only look after ourselves; that we must care for the plight of others.

Bulletin announcing Herzl’s death

We have all seen pictures of Herzl in his top hat and tuxedo. He also often wore white gloves to formal events. He was a gentleman.

But being a gentleman is not limited to how you dress. It is how you behave, what you say, what you think, and what you do. It is also about the care you show for others.

I have come to know Herzl through my collection. He was a gentleman leader. We all benefit from his work, and we should all be proud of the way he did it.

David Matlow
David Matlow

David Matlow is a lawyer and partner at Goodmans LLP in Toronto. He is a member of the board of directors of the iCenter for Israel Education and the Ontario Jewish Archives. He is featured on a six-part series about Herzl called “Herzl Explained,” produced by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

A Soccer Mom’s Memoir (Sort Of)

Oct. 6, 2020


The Good Stripper: A Soccer Mom’s Memoir of Lies, Loss And Lapdances (Sutherland House Books) offers readers a poignant and salacious story rife with lessons of trauma, resilience, strength and hope.

The Good Stripper

This is no ordinary Jewish suburban soccer mom’s story.

At the outset, we meet author Marci Warhaft as a doting mother of two young sons who finds herself taking it all off in front of paying customers.

Warhaft swiftly introduces readers to Cassidy, her stripper persona.

 “‘Gentlemen! Put your hands together and welcome Cassidy to the stage!’” she writes. “I move to the front of the stage and swing my hips from side to side while scanning the roomful of strangers looking up at me. First song, clothes stay on. Second song, top comes off. By the middle of the third song…naked.”

Conceded Warhaft in a CJR interview, “This wasn’t the life I envisioned for myself.”

The Good Stripper reveals the punishing circumstances and self-destructive behaviours that shaped Warhaft’s early adulthood, including a bank-robbing stepfather, eating disorders, sexual misadventures with a manipulative husband, and the loss of her beloved mother.

At 50, Warhaft is a survivor of deep-seated trauma and shame.

Marci Warhaft
Marci Warhaft

Jewish-born in Montreal, she describes her younger self as “confident and outspoken,” and very close with her family. A good student and dance lover, Warhaft was accepted into Dawson College’s prestigious Dome Theatre school.

She was 17 when she lost her brother. His death shaped her life forever.

“I was not emotionally equipped for life without Billy,” she recalled. “When Billy passed away, the only thing that gave me solace was the book by Rabbi Harold Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. I carried that book with me like a bible for a year.”

Following her brother’s death, Warhaft developed an eating disorder that lasted through her 40s. To help her survive, she decided to perform random acts of kindness. Instead of mourning her brother’s death, she would celebrate his life.

“I’d visit a coffee shop and purchase maybe 20 cups of coffee so the next 20 people who come in to the shop would get their coffee for free,” Warhaft recounted. “I’ve brought flowers to seniors’ home and toys to children’s hospitals.”

By the year 2000, a rare adverse reaction to an antibiotic put Warhaft in the hospital fighting for her life. She was five months pregnant with a 16-month-old son at home.

The experience left her with post-traumatic stress syndrome.

“I was given a 25 percent chance to live, spending two months in the hospital and 17 days in the ICU with kidney and respiratory failure,” Warhaft said.

Warhaft explained that her many surgery scars represent fear, loss and pain, while her tattoos speak to hope, love and survival.

She proudly boasts 18 chai tattoos on her body, all reflecting qualities she believes she has come to embody: “Courage”, “Endure, Persist, Prevail” and “Strength” are just a few of her personal mantras.

An especially poignant tattoo on her inner forearm reads, “You Are Loved.” It refers to the end of her marriage.

“The tattoo artist traced the words ‘You’ and ‘Are’ from handwritten letters from my mother and brother. It is their handwriting on my arm and serves as a reminder that no matter what happens, I will always be loved by them.”

Now vibrant and healthy, Warhaft lives in Toronto with her young-adult sons. As a recognized expert on body image and self-esteem, she is the author of The Body Image Survival Guide For Parents: Helping Toddlers, Tweens and Teens Thrive, and speaks to schoolchildren across Ontario in her “Fit vs. Fiction” body image workshops.

She dedicates her latest book to anyone “struggling to forgive themselves for the mistakes they made when they were just trying to survive.”

The Good Stripper was released Sept. 22 is available on Amazon, Kindle and in bookstores.