ChaiFlicks ‘One-Stop’ Shopping for Jewish, Israeli Programming

By SHLOMO SCHWARTZBERG

One of the most notable cultural results of the COVID pandemic has been the increased importance of TV and streaming services, as people adjusted to staying at home.

So it made perfect sense for ChaiFlicks, an exclusively Jewish and Israeli content streaming service, to arrive on the scene. ChaiFlicks, which launched Aug. 20, has a very specific demographic in mind, said its co-founder, veteran film distributor Neil Friedman.

Neil Friedman ChaiFlicks
Neil Friedman, ChaiFlicks

“Our audience prefers to view Jewish and Israeli programming as a priority over other programming,” Friedman told the CJR. “We have always prided ourselves on our curatorial abilities. We like what we like, and audiences, critics and subscribers have followed.”

He described the service as a “repository for the best of Jewish and Israeli programming, all on one channel. One-stop shopping.”

ChaiFlicks’ co-founders are Heidi Bogin Oshin, also of Menemsha Films, and Bill Weiner, a former executive with New Regency Productions, whose films include The Revenant and 12 Years a Slave.

Friedman has some idea of what audiences want, as he has been offering them premium art house content since 1998 through his company Menemsha Films, distributor of such popular films such as Gloomy Sunday and The Rape of Europa. Since 2012, Menemsha has focused on releasing only Jewish and Israeli films.

The distributor acquires 10-15 films a year. Six to eight of those are released theatrically. In two-and-half years, three films met the $1 million benchmark for a successful foreign movie at the American box office: Dough, a British comedy starring Jonathan Pryce; an Israeli film, The Women’s Balcony; and 1945, a black-and-white Hungarian film.

Netlifix bought the first two, but not the excellent 1945. That galvanized Friedman and his partners to spring into action with a new business plan.

“We knew right then and there that we had to initiate our own SVOD (Streaming Video on Demand) channel to have a platform for our films if the other services were buying less and less art house fair,” he explained.

ChaiFlicks launched with a slate of 150 films, documentaries, shorts and television programs. Its first episodic show is the comedy Soon By You.

It has entered into multi-picture deals with the Israeli world sales company, Go2Films, the Los Angeles based Jewish Women’s Theatre, and the American Sephardi Federation, whose programming, as its name suggests, centres on the Sephardic experience.

The service won’t compete with Netflix or HBO Max, preferring to brand itself as amedium-sized niche channel. Neither will it limit itself to what qualifies as standard programming.

“We already have theatre on the channel and we expect to have comedy shows, cooking shows, and musical and dance performances, both classical and modern,” Friedman said. “There are no boundaries at all in what we could add to the channel from a programming perspective.”

But ChaiFlicks will still have an art house bent, he added.

“Our taste has always been more the intellectual type of programming. The films that excite us are [those] that cover new ground. If it is new and exciting for us, we believe it will be new and exciting for our subscribers.”

Friedman is confident that ChaiFlicks can build an audience quickly.

With cinemas generally closed, audiences are “slowly becoming skilled and comfortable accessing films at home,” he said. “Everybody has a grandchild or two that can teach the older audience this new conception of streaming films.”

And with no limits, Friedman compares ChaiFlicks with “going for a PhD in Jewish Studies, and that is the same path we hope our subscribers are on with the programming we provide. We hope.”

Learn more at https://www.chaiflicks.com/


Shlomo Schwartzberg

Shlomo Schwartzberg is a film critic, teacher and arts journalist based in Toronto. He teaches film at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, the Prosserman Jewish Community Centre Ryerson University’s LIFE Institute, the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies and the London JCC, among other venues. He is also the co-founder of the noted Critics at Large cultural web site. (ww.criticsatlarge.ca)

Inaugural Hamilton Jewish Film Fest Goes Virtual

Aug. 25, 2020 – By RUTH SCHWEITZER

The inaugural edition of the Hamilton Jewish Film Festival (HJFF), originally scheduled for March, was almost a casualty of the COVID pandemic.

That is until Wendy Schneider, editor of the Hamilton Jewish News, watched movies online during the Toronto Jewish Film Festival in June.

“I found the experience to be very positive,” Schneider said. As a result, she and Gustavo Rymberg, CEO of the Hamilton Jewish Federation, agreed to produce a virtual festival locally.

The HJFF, presented by the Hamilton Jewish Federation and the Westdale Theatre, a Hamilton cultural hub, runs from Aug. 29 to Sept. 3. The fledgling festival will screen three movies: two feature films, The Other Story (2018) and Leona (2018), and a documentary, Picture of His Life (2019).

In The Other Story, directed and co-written by Israeli Avi Nesher, the newly religiously observant Anat (Joy Rieger) wakes up in the women’s dormitory of a yeshiva she attends. She’s about to marry another baal teshuvah (newly observant) Israeli rock star, played by Israeli singer-songwriter Nathan Goshen.

A scene from the film The Other Story

Anat’s secular mother, Tali (Maya Dagan), is furious about her daughter’s decision to choose a religious path. In another storyline, one of several in this complex movie, Sari, a young woman who has rejected her religious upbringing, meets up with Anat.

Nesher won the Israel Film Critics Association’s 2018 Best Director award for the movie.

In her review of The Other Story, Nell Minow wrote at RogerEbert.com that “Nesher skillfully balances a lot of characters and storylines, each illustrating a different kind of Israeli and a different connection to Jewish life, culture and practice, but he never lets any of them become symbolic rather than real.”

Leona, directed and co-written by Mexican director Isaac Cherem, is the story of a young woman, Ariela (Naian Gonzalez Norvind), a member of Mexico’s Syrian Jewish community, who has a love affair with a non-Jew. Once Ariela’s mother finds out about the relationship, she enlists various members of the community who try to persuade Ariela to end the affair. Leonora took the Excellence in Film Award at the Santa Barbara Jewish Film Festival.

A scene from the movie Leona

Cherem is part of Mexico’s Syrian-Jewish community. His great-grandparents were immigrants from the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Damascus.

“I think the Mexican culture is particularly strong, the same way as the Syrian-Jewish culture,” Cherem told the Jerusalem Post. “And that might be one of the reasons why it’s been so difficult for both to coexist and integrate with one another.”

Picture of His Life, co-directed by Jonatan Nir and Dani Menkin, is about the world-renowned underwater wildlife photographer Amos Nachoum. For his photo shoots, Nachoum has swam with crocodiles, killer whales, anacondas and great white sharks, but the polar bear always eluded him. This award-winning film follows Nachoum in the Canadian Arctic as he prepares for his ultimate challenge: to photograph a polar bear underwater while he’s swimming alongside it.

A poster from the documentary Picture of His Life

One-hour Zoom Q&As with filmmakers, moderated by Fred Fuchs, follow the screenings. Fuchs is the former president of American Zoetrope, Francis Ford Coppola’s film production company. After moving to Canada in 2001, Fuchs worked at CBC, where he was involved with the production of the TV shows The Tudors, Little Mosque on the Prairie and Heartland.

Fuchs said Q&As add a lot of extra value when, after the film, the audience can speak to the filmmaker.

Now retired and living in Hamilton, he’s chair of a charitable organization that purchased and restored the city’s 1935 heritage Westdale Theatre.

While Fuchs wishes the HJFF could be held at the Westdale, he realizes a virtual festival has some advantages.

“I look at it positively because maybe we could have had 200-250 people at the theatre,” he said. “Here there’s an opportunity for many more people to participate and people who don’t live in Hamilton.” 

For more information about the festival, visit hamiltonjewishfederation.ticketspice.com/film-festival

On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Zara Nelsova – (Dec. 24, 1917 – Oct. 10, 2002): Cellist, Teacher

Aug. 24, 2020 – By DAVID EISENSTADT

World-renowned cellist Zara Nelsova was born Sara Katznelson. Her Jewish parents and two older sisters emigrated from Russia to Winnipeg, lured by the offer of free land in Canada. Classified as a farmer, her professionally-trained flautist father, Gregor Katznelson, (later changed to Nelsov) recognized Sara’s potential at age four, converted a viola into a miniature cello, and as her teacher, helped Sara become an accomplished soloist.

Her father also arranged for young Sara to take lessons from Hungarian-born cellist (also a child prodigy) Dezso Mahalek, who played with a Winnipeg theatre orchestra.

The three Nelsova sisters (Sara was 10 at the time) founded the Canadian Trio in 1927, as The Telegraph reported, “touring the Dominion” and winning first prize at a Manitoba music competition.

One of the judges, Sir Hugh Robertson, conductor of the Glasgow Orpheus Choir, urged the family to move to London with the help of a grant from the province’s Ministry of Education. The clan was poor and needed subsidies.

Sara ultimately enrolled at the London Violoncello School, directed by Herbert Walenn. One of his previous students was John Barbirolli, from whom she claimed to learn her sound and who arranged for her to perform for renowned cellist Pablo Casals.

Wrote Sara Margolis in Strings Magazine, “At 12, she was already a great cellist. But seeking improvement long past the beginning of her professional career, she went on to study with the three great cellists of the day: Gregor Piatigorsky, Emmanuel Feuermann, and Pablo Casals. Nelsova’s humility in seeking out further guidance was coupled with confidence and assertiveness, qualities that stood her in good stead both musically and professionally.

“She gained the opportunity to study with Piatigorsky by showing up unannounced to play prior to an early morning departure at his hotel. She caught conductor William Steinberg’s attention by planting her cello directly in front of him after a rehearsal and just started playing. All that plus a name change, and before long, Zara Nelsova had been crowned cello royalty.” 

At 13, she was a guest soloist with the London Symphony Orchestra, appearing with Sir Malcolm Sargent.

Over the next 10 years, Zara Nelsova played as a soloist and with her sisters Ida, a violinist and Anna on piano, travelling throughout Australia, North Africa and South Africa.

Returning to Canada in 1939, Nelsova became principal cellist of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from 1940-43. She also formed a new Canadian trio with Ernest MacMillan and Kathleen Parlow.

After the Second World War, The Guardian reported, “Zara was left the use of a Stradivarius cello that belonged to [Portuguese cellist Guilhermina] Suggia. Though perhaps a little small for her very swollen fingers later on, it was a lovely instrument, and the sound she drew from it was exceedingly special.” Her 1726 Stradivarius cello was known as the Marquis de Corberon.

“Further studies with Emanuel Feuermann and Gregor Piatigorsky, and after 1946, with Pablo Casals, opened up solo and concerto engagements for Nelsova,” noted The Canadian Encyclopedia. “She made recordings with Samuel Barber and the cello music of Ernest Bloch, who said ‘Zara Nelsova is my music.’”

She became an American citizen in 1955, performing with many global orchestras as a soloist, including the New York Philharmonic and orchestras in Montreal, Winnipeg and Boston and overseas in Berlin, Amsterdam and Warsaw. She married American pianist Grant Johnannsen with whom she often performed and recorded.

As a soloist, she performed with conductors who became household names: Leonard Bernstein, Daniel Barenboim, and Zubin Mehta. She was the first American cellist to tour the Soviet Union in 1966, and taught at New York’s famed Juilliard School of Music from 1962 through 2002.

“For me, playing music is about sharing, sharing my love for music and sharing my love for what we are as human beings,” she told cello.org in 2000. “The minute I start to play, I’m in a different world, and I’m so caught up in the music and in my desire to share it with the audience that all else fades away. The overwhelming feeling I get is a sense of connection with each person in the audience; I want the audience members to know how much I love what I am doing and how much I love them. And how do I do it? I do it by trying to communicate my love through beautiful music.”


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

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

Book Review: The Two-State Dilemma

The Two-State Dilemma: A Game Theory Perspective on the Israeli Palestinian Conflict (Barlow Publishing), By Michael Dan

By RAJA G. KHOURI and JEFFREY J. WILKINSON.

Michael Dan’s new book, The Two-State Dilemma: A Game Theory Perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, makes three bold and provocative statements within its opening pages: One: “The two-state game has ended; a new game is now underway.” Two: “What’s happening today in the Palestinian Territories isn’t occupation – it’s colonization.” Finally, “What further use do we have for Zionism? Why bother clinging to an ideological relic from the nineteenth century?”

Dan writes dispassionately about issues that have inflamed passions on all side for decades, and in these three statements, he implodes the principal arguments held so dearly by progressive Zionists: That the two-state solution is dead, that we can no longer call for an end to the occupation because it is de facto colonization; and that Zionism is an anachronistic notion that has served its purpose and is no longer worth holding onto.

Dan pushes this even further by declaring that Israel is not a liberal democracy, but an ethnocracy, meaning that “according to its own constitution, Israel is not a ‘state of all its citizens.’ The legal sovereign of the state of Israel is the Jewish people – regardless of their citizenship status or place of residence in the world.”

Michael Dan
Michael Dan

The author makes clear his book is not prescriptive, but “it might help us to think about [the conflict] in original and counter-intuitive ways.” After setting the table with the above proactive statements, he gives a primer on game theory for conflict resolution, beginning with the well-known “prisoner’s dilemma,” in which two individuals, acting in their own self-interest, will never produce the optimal outcome, but if they cooperate, can both do better.

Game theory, as outlined by Dan, relies on non-zero sum (non-binary) solutions to difficult situations. He states: “Since biblical times, every major conflict in the Middle East has been framed as an ‘us versus them’ trade-off: a zero-sum game in which one side’s gains represent the other side’s losses. Game theory on the other hand provides “an opportunity for rational co-operation between two opponents.”

In the prisoner’s dilemma, where two prisoners have an option of snitching on each other to the police or remaining silent, the best possible collective outcome for both is realized when the prisoners cooperate and remain silent. Betrayal of the other by both would produce the worst possible collective outcome. The key ingredient to cooperation is a high level of trust. Will the other party cooperate if I did, and what is the risk to me if they don’t?

When applied to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Dan feels the best collective outcome is achieved by a one-state solution in which everyone will have equal rights and access to the entire land of Historic Palestine. Such a “utopian scenario” will require a great deal of trust between the two parties.

The two-state option is second best, given that while it produces, for each party, independence from the other, each side will have access to only their part of a divided land.

The author believes there are no desirable remaining options, which are a non-democratic Zionist state where a Jewish minority governs over a Palestinian majority (because of demographics); or a democratic Arab state where an Arab majority rules over a Jewish minority.

Dan’s focuses on the “Nash Equilibrium” and the “Pareto Principle,” and applies those to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Nash Equilibrium is when suspicion of the other leads you to try to undermine the other party before they do the same to you. It very much describes the behavior of Palestinians and Israelis throughout the Oslo peace process. The Pareto Principle is the opposite: Optimality is achieved by arriving at the best possible collective outcome. Dan writes:

From a game theory perspective, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be reduced to a dilemma between co-operating with the other side (be it Israeli or Palestinian) in the hope that they will co-operate with you, or betraying the other side because you’re almost certain that they will betray you. It all comes down to trust. 

Dan brings a cool, surgical approach to his analysis. Those traits come honestly: He’s a trained neurosurgeon and a PhD in medicine, with an MBA to boot. A social entrepreneur, he’s donated millions to First Nations, universities, St. John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital, and various charities.

He’s uncompromising, both in his analysis of how we got here, and his conclusions in how to move forward. He lays out a strong case in support of his three opening statements, charting how the notion of two states failed 80 years ago with the Peel Commission and has “been on life support ever since.”

He unflinchingly makes his case that Zionism is a colonial project whose usefulness has run its course, while the occupation is a colonization by a military power. He supports these arguments by painting a detailed historical account of what has happened from the inception of the Zionist vision to today.

Dan denotes three Zionist dilemmas: Demographics (which do not favour Jews), Palestinian national legitimacy (recognized by former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as part of the Oslo Accords), and the partitioning of Historic Palestine (that has continuously failed). Using game theory, he shows how each of these dilemmas feed into the other and renders the status quo an impossible zero-sum exercise.

The author’s scientific approach may defuse some of the natural emotions the reader will certainly bring to the subject. This dispassion also creates a feeling of neutrality that some might view as insensitivity to the plight of Palestinians. We would argue that Dan’s pragmatic approach is especially valuable in these times, in which rhetoric from both sides rarely allows room for objective reasoning.

Applying game theory to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a bold new approach and this is a very worthwhile read. Dan’s precision in his examination of history and deployment of science in order to rethink this age-old conflict is refreshing. The integrity of his analysis is hard to come by, as is the courage of his convictions.


Raja Khoury
Raja Khoury

Raja Khouri is founder and CEO of  Khouri Conversations, was founding president of the Canadian Arab Institute, a former Ontario Human Rights Commissioner, is Canada Committee member of Human Rights Watch, and co-founder of the Canadian Arab/Jewish Leadership Dialogue Group.


Jeff Wilkinson
Jeffrey J. Wilkinson, PhD

Jeffrey J. Wilkinson, PhD, is an educator, facilitator and researcher focused on the psycho-social causes of intractable conflicts, researching not only how these conflicts are formed, but also how they may be undone over time.



Raja and Jeffrey are the co-authors of an upcoming book addressing the current polarization in the Jewish-Palestinian discourse within the two Diasporas.

On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Zal Yanovsky (Dec. 19, 1944 – Dec. 13, 2002): Guitarist, Co-Founder, Lovin’ Spoonful, Chef, Restaurateur, Cookbook Author

Aug. 14, 2020 – By DAVID EISENSTADT

Just ahead of the COVID onslaught, three of the four remaining members of the Lovin’ Spoonful reunited on a Glendale, California stage for the first time in two decades. The original quartet last appeared together at their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.

Missing on stage that evening was their Canadian Jewish co-founder, Zalman (Zal) Yanovsky, who’d died 18 years earlier.

Zalman (Zal) Yanovsky

During my university years, this 1960s band got lots of airplay and regularly topped the charts with memorable tunes like Daydream, Do You Believe In Magic?, Nashville Cats, Rain On The Roof, Summer In The City and You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice. 

A rock music icon and fashion trendsetter, Yanovsky was the group’s conspicuous showman who wore cowboy hats and fringed jackets, a style emulated by Sonny Bono, David Crosby and Johnny Rivers.

The Toronto-born son of political cartoonist Avrom Yanovsky (his mother died while he was still a child), Zal was a self-taught guitarist and folk singer. He was taught to play the banjo at Camp Naivelt by Jerry Gray, who founded the Travellers.

A high school dropout who played the Toronto coffee house scene starting at age 16, Yanovsky moved to Israel, where he worked on a kibbutz and later as a Tel Aviv street busker.

He returned to Toronto and hooked up with Denny Doherty who invited him to join his folk-blues combo, the Halifax Three. Doherty, later a member of the Mamas and the Papas, invited Yanovsky to play with that group and the future “Mama” Cass Elliot in the Mugwumps, as reported in Rolling Stone.

Yanovsky moved to Greenwich Village and teamed with another talented guitarist, John Sebastian, who told Rolling Stone, “He could play like Elmore James, he could play like Floyd Cramer, he could play like Chuck Berry. He could play like all these people, yet he still had his overpowering personality. Out of this we could, I thought, craft something with real flexibility.”

Then came bassist Steve Boone and drummer Joe Butler, and the Lovin’ Spoonful, with Sebastian as lead singer, was launched.

So how did they choose their name? According to rocknrollmusichistory.com, it came from a line in a Mississippi John Hurt song, Coffee Blues, in which Hurt paid tribute to Maxwell House coffee, “which is so good, he only needs one spoonful, which he refers to as ‘my lovin’ spoonful.’”

The group’s first single was Do You Believe In Magic, a Top 10 hit in 1965. As a string of catchy tunes followed, the Spoonful challenged the Beatles and other British Invasion groups’ chart dominance.

But trouble was brewing in the band when, in 1966, Boone and Yanovsky were booked on pot charges in San Francisco, but escaped prosecution by turning in their dealer. In mid-1967, Yanovsky was deported back to Canada but was ostracized and quit the foursome.

He played guitar with Kris Kristofferson and in 1969, co-produced an album, Happy Sad, with his Lovin’ Spoonful replacement Jerry Yester. He recorded a solo album, Alive And Well In Argentina in 1971.

Fed up with music business politics in the early ‘70s, he took a shot a TV production, but ultimately found new career success as a chef and restaurateur. In 1979 he renovated a late 19th century livery stable, named it Chez Piggy, and opened a second restaurant, Pan Chancho Bakery, in 1994. Both would be hotspots in Kingston, Ont. Yanovsky’s business partner was his second wife, Rose Richardson. He also wrote the Chez Piggy Cookbook in 1998 which became a favourite for music and culinary fans.

Just six days before his 58th birthday, Yanovsky died of a heart attack. His daughter, Zoe, whose mother is actress Jackie Burroughs, has owned and operated both restaurants since 2005.

In memoriam, John Sebastian told Rolling Stone that “Spoonful reunions without Zal Yanovsky are more like get-togethers. (Whenever we do them), it will be a blast, but a reunion would be a misnomer.”


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

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

An American Pickle: A Bland Concoction

By SHLOMO SCHWARTZBERG

An American Pickle, the first feature film offered by HBO Max, (showing on Crave TV in Canada), doesn’t really move much beyond its basic idea.

Seth Rogen plays Herschel Greenbaum, an immigrant to the U.S. who works in a pickle factory, circa 1919. When he accidentally falls into a pickle barrel, the brine preserves him, until he is discovered a century later. When he emerges into our world, he has to adjust to its myriad changes while also trying to bond with his great-grandson Ben (Rogen, in a dual role).

In many ways, the movie, written by Simon Rich, and adapted from his serialized 2013 New Yorker short story Sellout, never allows its viewers to suspend their disbelief as, for example, the fish out of water (literally) movie Splash did so well. Would the pickle factory, condemned right after Herschel’s accident, actually survive as untouched real estate for that long? Do they expect us to accept that that the scientists who get hold of the revived Herschel would not prepare him for his new world by showing him what has transpired since he was pickled? Yes, An American Pickle is a fantasy, but even that genre has to function logically.

Mind you, with its flat depiction of Herschel’s Eastern European birthplace (called Shlupsk – not as funny a name as Rich thinks it is), it’s apparent that the movie lacks imagination, resorting to lame Cossack jokes and quaint societal portraits. This isn’t Fiddler on the Roof, not by a long shot.

An American Pickle is pretty thin, as Herschel, after fighting with Ben, sets out on his own to make a success of himself. He undergoes a series of adverse events before finally connecting with his relative over their shared loss of family. That’s the whole basic, banal, plot.

What we’re left with are some jokes about Herschel’s perceived “authenticity” – his pickle business goes viral after a blogger raves about him – and how his backwards, prejudiced, early 20th century views are a perfect fit for our current age of ignorant Twitter utterances and internet trolls.

The movie does try to have it both ways, however, suggesting an innate genius for business on Herschel’s part, but also positing that he is not smart enough to keep his retrograde views to himself. Those include opinions on Christianity that no Jew, much less a put-upon one from the shtetl, would ever utter in mixed, non-Jewish, company. Yet, there’s also a commensurate and curious lack of antisemitism manifest in this world, where Herschel riles up so many Americans.

An American Pickle, directed indifferently by Brandon Frost, is also not that Jewish. Yes, Ben is very assimilated, which shocks Herschel. And Herschel is angered when he sees a billboard ad for vodka hovering over the neglected Jewish cemetery where the Greenbaums are buried, associating that drink with the dreaded Cossacks of old. But this is comparatively weak stuff. The movie never matches the scene in Knocked Up, in which Rogen’s Jewish character kvells with his Jewish pals over Steven Spielberg’s Munich. Finally, they can relate to a movie in which Jews kick butt and take names, instead of – as usual in films – having their butts kicked. And there’s nothing in the movie that’s as brilliant as the concept of Woody Allen’s Zelig, with that character symbolizing the Jewish affinity for melding into whatever milieu he finds himself in.

Rogen’s performances are also problematic. Herschel has some character shadings, though he barely seems to register that he’s in an entirely different world than the one from his past. But Ben’s persona is so pallid, that he fails utterly to register emotionally. And what were Rogen (who co-produced the movie) and company thinking in wasting the talents of Sarah Snook, who plays Herschel’s wife Sarah and was so great as the scheming Siobhan Roy in HBO’s superb TV series Succession? At least Simon Rich’s short story proffered a female love interest for Ben’s character, which would have made for a perfect opportunity for the filmmakers to utilize Snook in a deeper, present day dual role, rather than the blink-and-you-miss-her near walk-on part as Sarah Greenbaum.

And if you’re wondering if this film will offend you in light of Rogen’s recent intemperate comments about Judaism and Israel he made on Marc Maron’s podcast, don’t worry. It’s too tame and innocuous to raise anyone’s hackles, except for those who actually expect comedies to be funny.


Shlomo Schwartzberg
Shlomo Schwartzberg

Shlomo Schwartzberg is a film critic, teacher and arts journalist based in Toronto. He teaches film at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, the Prosserman Jewish Community Centre, Ryerson University’s LIFE Institute, the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies and the London JCC, among other venues. He is also the co-founder of the noted Critics at Large cultural web site. (www.criticsatlarge.ca)

KlezKanada Goes Online for 25th Anniversary Edition

Aug. 11, 2020 – By RUTH SCHWEITZER

KlezKanada is taking its annual summer festival of Yiddish music and culture – its 25th anniversary edition – online this year.

KlezKanada festival 2019. Photo Avia Moore

More than 60 virtual workshops and classes, and several concerts are scheduled for the five-day KlezKanada festival, scheduled for Aug. 24-28.

The organization’s executive director, Sebastian Schulman, said cancelling this year’s festival due to restrictions imposed by the COVID pandemic was out of the question, adding that the culture of eastern European Jewish life teaches about how to persist in difficult times. 

Asya Vaisman Schulman and KlezKanada executive director Sebastian Schulman. Photo Avia Moore

“There’s so many examples of Jews, and Ashkenazi Jews specifically, being able to create in the most dire of circumstances,” he said. 

“Our minds might go most immediately to the war and to the Holocaust. I think there’s (also) a really rich history for centuries of being able to look in the face of fear or catastrophe and to sing, to laugh, to dance.

“And that is a very Jewish way of facing a crisis. The world is in the middle of a crisis right now and our community says, ‘well, let’s put on a festival. Let’s celebrate life as best as we can.’”

Naoki Hishinuma, left, Adam Matlock and Aaron Blacksberg. Photo Avia Moore

While a virtual festival can’t replace KlezKanada’s camp, which has been held at Camp B’nai Brith in Lantier, Que., in the Laurentian mountains for 24 years, the online festival has its advantages.

KlezKanada festival 2019. Photo Avia Moore

For one thing, KlezKanada is expecting registration to be higher than usual this year, with hundreds of attendees from around the world, including many people who have been unable to attend past festivals, Schulman said.

Some workshops, like Transcription Corner, where students will learn how to create sheet music from recordings, will be even more effective online, he said.

Having sheet music helps learning how to play klezmer and Yiddish music, as their sources are old recordings. The instructors will go through the different technologies for transcribing music.

“You could do it in person, but it would be a very dry class in person. If you do it online, you can really get into the nitty-gritty of the technology,” Schulman said.

The festival offers klezmer music instruction ranging from “Klezmer 101” for new players, to a variety of workshops for intermediate and advanced students. The ambitious program also includes Yiddish language courses, lessons in visual arts and Jewish cooking, film screenings, dance classes and children’s activities.

Performers on KlezKanada’s virtual main stage will include the Grammy award-winning band The Klezmatics, and Josh “Socalled” Dolgin, a genre-defying artist who’s known for fusing Jewish music with hip hop. In concert, Socalled will be singing Yiddish songs backed by a string quartet.

Concert Highlights

“Where Have You Been?: 25 Years of KlezKanada in Lantier, Quebec,” based on research into KlezKanada’s camp location in Lantier, combines theatre and music. The piece was created in collaboration with indigenous historians, musician and writer Geoff Berner, and puppeteer Jenny Romaine.

Klezmer trombonist Rachel Lemisch and Jason Rosenblatt perform from their home in Montreal. She comes from a family of klezmorim that goes back generations, and he is one of the world’s leading performers of klezmer on diatonic harmonica.

East Meets West Revisited looks back to the 1980s, a time in contemporary Yiddish culture when artists from eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union reconnected with their counterparts in North America and western Europe. The concert features Michael Alpert (USA/Scotland), Efim Chorny and Suzanna Ghergus (Moldova), Sasha Lurje (Germany/Latvia), and the Strauss Warschauer Duo (USA).

Workshop and Class Highlights

Klezmer 101 Yoni Kaston and Ariane Morin teach the basic klezmer genres and explain modes and harmonies, and students will learn tunes in a play-along session.

Klezmexperimental Ensemble In this experimental music workshop, led by Dan Blacksberg and Frank London, for intermediate and advanced students, participants will explore creating pieces with no set tempo and try out different kinds of musical layerings, while they push the limits of what kind of music they can make live. 

Alternative Voice Techniques for Folk Singing Yiddish singer extraordinaire Sasha Lurje will help vocalists learn how to control their voices and use them as instruments. The class is open to both experienced singers and people searching for their voices.

The Beauty in Ugly Stuffed Vegetables – One thing that nearly every Jewish community – from Romania and Poland to Syria, Morocco and India – has in common is an affection for stuffed vegetables, the culinary technique that transforms a bit of meat or starch into a soulful and seductive centrepiece. Leah Koenig, the author of The Jewish Cookbook and Modern Jewish Cooking, explores the cultural particularities of this universal Jewish food. Recipes will be provided in advance of the class for anyone wanting to cook along.Dancing

Together Apart Avia Moore and Magdalena Hutter will lead participants in exploring Yiddish dance in relationship with the screens that are currently so central to our lives. They will explore concepts such as space, tempo, shape and gesture through Yiddish dance and ScreenDance. They will then send participants out into the world to record their own movement explorations, starting with a zhok (Yiddish dance) step.


For more information, visit http://klezkanada.org

On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Louis Applebaum: April 3, 1918 – April 20, 2000. Film Score and Theatre Composer, Conductor, Theatre Administrator

Aug. 6, 2020 – By DAVID EISENSTADT

While looking for a full-time gig after graduating from Carleton University’s School of Journalism, I thought the National Film Board (NFB) might be an interesting place to work, but received an unexpected offer from the Canadian Film Institute (CFI), a non-profit, non-government film repository in Ottawa. That’s where I spent many a day, over a year and-a-half, in a darkened screening room writing short descriptors for film catalogues.

As it turned out, CFI managed the distribution of NFB productions that were available for rent or sale to universities, community colleges, schools, churches/synagogues, and community service and business organizations across the country.

Many of those NFB films I screened were scored by Toronto-born Louis Applebaum, and I have never forgotten his name.

Louis Applebaum

Records show that over 18 years, Applebaum composed the music for about 250 NFB productions. Three notable credits, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia, include Royal Journey in 1951, The Stratford Adventure in 1954 and Paddle To The Sea in 1966.

Applebaum received a 1947 Academy Award nomination with a co-composer for The Story of G.I. Joe film score, and, as listed in Canada’s Awards Database, he received a 1968 Canadian Film Award for his non-feature music score of Athabaska and a 1989 Gemini Award for the Best Original Music Score for a Program or Mini-Series for Glory Enough For All.”

Applebaum began writing music when he was 15 and honed his skills at the University of Toronto with such luminaries as Boris Berlin and Sir Ernest MacMillan, and with Toronto Conservatory of Music’s Leo Smith. He also studied in New York with Roy Harris and Bernard Wagenaar. The multi-skilled Applebaum also wrote ballet music, and symphonic, chamber and choral works.

He served the NFB as music director and as a consultant from 1942-53, but his most stellar achievement, according to Playbill, was that he was considered “the dean of Canadian theatre composers” and as first director of the Stratford Festival’s music department, a position he held under founding director Tyrone Guthrie beginning in 1953.

Over 43 seasons, he wrote and conducted music for over 75 productions, working with eight Stratford Festival artistic directors. His fanfare composition marking the beginning of each Festival performance is well-recognized by theatregoers.

There was a confluence of the compositional and administrative aspects of Applebaum’s career; divergent to some, but not to him.

He moved to the private sector in 1960, becoming president of a TV production company, Group Four Productions, while serving as a music consultant for CBC-TV. He chaired an Advisory Committee for the National Arts Centre in Ottawa from 1963 to 1966 and wrote a federal government commissioned report leading to the creation of the National Arts Centre Orchestra, which included a first-time music department at the University of Ottawa.

During the 1960s and 70s, Applebaum held senior leadership positions with the Composers, Authors and Publishers Association of Canada, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, the Canada Council, the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, the Canadian Music Centre, and the Canadian League of Composers. 

From 1971 to 1980, he headed the Ontario Arts Council and, as chair of the Federal Cultural Policy Review Committee, co-authored the important Applebaum-Hebert Report – “the first review of Canadian cultural institutions and federal cultural policy since 1951,” reported the Canadian Encyclopedia.

“Essentially I’m working to improve the lot of my colleagues and I have been doing that for many years – at the same time staying on as a functioning artist,” he told Canadian Composer in 1974.

Known and respected as a strong supporter of young Canadian composers, Applebaum received many awards and commendations including the Order of Canada in 1976 (he was promoted to Companion in 1995) and the Order of Ontario in 1989.

The Ontario Arts Foundation established the Louis Applebaum Composers Award in 1998, and the University of Toronto created The Louis Applebaum Distinguished Visitor in Composition in his honour.

A public funeral for this larger-than-life personality took place on April 23, 2000 at Toronto’s Temple Sinai. I wish I had been there.


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

Book Review: The A-Z of Intermarriage, By Rabbi Denise Handlarski

The A-Z of Intermarriage, By Rabbi Denise Handlarski (New Jewish Press, 2020)

By DAVID ROYTENBERG

This new volume tackles the fraught subject of Jewish intermarriage in a hopeful, good-humoured, occasionally pugnacious and humane fashion. The core idea is that intermarriage is not nearly as much of a threat to Jewish continuity as are unwelcoming Jewish communities who treat those who are different with fear and suspicion.

The A-Z of Intermarriage

In response to this characterization, the author is uncompromising in her advocacy of courage, compassion and kindness, both on the part of intermarried couples and of the families and communities that nurture them. She also expresses a deep-seated optimism that conditions are changing for the better, which augurs well, she believes, both for intermarried couples and for the Jewish future.

The book offers advice to already intermarried couples on how to make the most of their marriages, as well as to parents and family members on how to take a loving and supportive approach to the choices made by their loved ones.

It also expounds a robustly optimistic faith in individual freedom and the importance and possibility of finding personal fulfillment in all the activities of life.

Until last month, Denise Handlarski was rabbi at Toronto’s Oraynu Congregation for Humanistic Judaism. In an article for Kveller in which she announced her departure, she confessed that she “found it impossible to juggle the responsibilities of my job alongside caring for my children during COVID – the strain had become untenable.”

Rabbi Denise Handlarski
Rabbi Denise Handlarski

Her former congregants are adherents of secular Humanist Judaism, a movement of those who value their identity as Jews but don’t hold to traditional Jewish religious beliefs. Rabbi Handlarski herself is intermarried and she writes freely about creating a Jewish home and raising Jewish children in an intermarried family. Everywhere in the book she makes the argument for seeing intermarriage as an opportunity rather than a problem – for the couple, but also for their families and communities.

The volume is structured as a reference book, organized alphabetically by topic, from A for “Acceptance” to Z for “Zygote.” But it can be comfortably read in order from cover to cover. Rabbi Handlarski’s idea of what constitutes Judaism differs from that of this reviewer and will differ from that of many readers, but her attachment and commitment to Jewish community and Jewish identity radiates from every page.

The key ideas are worked out in longer sections, such as the one on Assimilation, in which she argues that an exclusionary attitude to intermarriage has backfired. Rather than preserving Jewish continuity, she claims, community restrictions on intermarriage have driven away people who might otherwise have remained engaged and raised their children in a Jewish community.

Rabbi Handlarski argues for a glass-half-full reading of statistics on intermarriage, which show that most intermarried couples raise their children with some form of Jewish identity. She sees this as a direct result of many Jewish communities becoming more accepting of intermarriage.

In the section on Marriage, she begins by asserting that all marriages are intermarriages, in that for all people have in common, there are always differences to be negotiated. She sees differences over values as potentially more challenging than those over religious beliefs and traditions. Every marriage must manage and resolve such differences if it is to be successful. She argues that a successful marriage requires “struggle, grit and perseverance,” whether the partners come from the same religious or ethnic background or not.

In the section on Parents, the author makes a passionate case for respecting the choices of your children. After first acknowledging that parenting is difficult, she goes on to cite all the reasons the children that you love deserve your support.

“Your kid is in love, is independent enough to make their own choices and is choosing to include you in their lives. Celebrate!” Rabbi Handlarski advises. “Your kid made a choice you wouldn’t have made and that’s hard for you? It’s their job to decide who they are and what they believe. If they are able to do that, you did a good job of parenting.”

In the section on Tradition, she explains that in her branch of Judaism, tradition gets a vote but not a veto. She remains attached to traditions that bring meaning to her life. Shabbat is an example. She is a strong advocate for bringing joy and celebration to as much of life as possible. Jewish tradition is a way of doing this for her, but working hard for joy and meaning is the core value. She discusses various traditions (thanking God that you are not a woman) that don’t, in her view, bring joy, and these she abandons. Tradition is only meaningful if it is congruent with contemporary values.

If you are intermarried, have a family member or friend who is, or are interested in how intermarriage affects Jewish communities, this book has something to offer to you. The author’s optimism, good humour and belief in each person’s capacity to find fulfillment will charm any reader willing to approach its important subject with an open mind.


David Roytenberg
David Roytenberg

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

On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Oscar Brand (Feb. 7, 1920 – Sept. 30, 2016): Folk Singer, Songwriter, Radio Host, Short Story Writer

July 31, 2020 – By DAVID EISENSTADT

Does the tune Something to Sing About ring a bell?

The Canadian song propelled advocates to lobby Prime Minister Lester Pearson’s Liberal government and Parliament in 1965 for the composition to become Canada’s national anthem. It didn’t happen.

Composed by Oscar Brand, Something to Sing About extolled Canada and became the premise for Let’s Sing Out, a weekly TV show hosted by Brand which launched on CTV in1963 and was broadcast later on CBC. It was the Canadian pavilion’s popular theme at Expo ’67.

Brand composed around 300 songs and released some 100 albums, many with Canadian and American patriotic lyrics, but was best known as a radio show host for an amazing 70 years.

The Guinness Book of World Records confirms he holds the radio show host longevity record, beginning on Dec. 10, 1945 and ending Sept. 24, 2016. His 10 p.m. Saturday fixture, Oscar Brand’s Folksong Festival, ruled that slot for seven decades on New York City’s WNYC-AM 820. He never had a contract and wasn’t paid.

Of Romanian-Jewish heritage, Oscar was born in Winnipeg to Isadore and Beatrice Brand, and the clan lived on a wheat farm near the Manitoba city. His father was an Indigenous interpreter for the Hudson’s Bay Co., ran a theatre supply company, then a pawnshop.

The clan moved to the U.S. in 1927, living in Minneapolis, Chicago and New York City. Residing in Brooklyn’s Borough Park, his parents sought medical treatment for Oscar, who was born with a missing calf muscle, according to Brand’s obituary in the New York Times.

After graduating from high school, he barnstormed the United States with his banjo, working on farms to pay his way. Returning home, he graduated with a psychology degree from Brooklyn College.

He joined the U.S. Army in 1942 as an induction centre psychologist and edited a newspaper for psychiatric patients. Following his discharge, he moved to the Greenwich Village music scene and wrote a book, How To Play the Guitar Better Than Me.

The music bug had bitten Brand at age seven because he loved listening to player-piano rolls. He was a creative sort who, growing up, wanted to be “on the radio.” He was hired by WYNC, a New York city-owned AM station, and never left. 

His show was a coveted appearance for talented musicians like Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, Lead Belly, Harry Chapin, Arlo Guthrie, Emmylou Harris, B.B. King, Phil Ochs, and Pete Seeger.

As a radio and stage performer, Brand’s gritty and sometimes off-key voice had believability.

He applied the voice “to old, new and sometimes deliberately mangled songs, both on and off the air,” the Times pronounced. “He was also an accomplished songwriter: Doris Day’s version of his song, A Guy Is A Guy reached No. 1 on the Billboard chart in 1952.”

In 1959, Brand was one of the original organizers of the Newport Folk Festival. During the ‘60s he was on the Children’s Television Workshop Board advisory panel, helping to develop Sesame Street. A somewhat prickly advisor, it was rumoured that the Oscar the Grouch character was named after Brand.

Still in the ‘60s, he was a Mariposa Folk Festival mainstay, later in 1987 and at the Festival’s 50th Anniversary in 2010.

According to one profile, he scored ballets for Agnes de Mille and commercials for Log Cabin Syrup and Cheerios; wrote music for documentary films, published songbooks, short stories; and hosted the children’s television shows The First Look and Spirit of ’76.

As a budding radio jock at the University of Alberta’s radio station UACR in Calgary, I was taken with these performances. Brand’s Canadiana love-initiative revived the careers of folk music pioneers like the Womenfolk and the Weavers, and helped kick-start then little known musicians like Gordon Lightfoot and Joni Mitchell.

Brand was a civil rights activist who participated in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches. The House Committee on Un-American Activities branded his show a “pipeline of Communism because of his support for First Amendment rights for blacklisted artists to be allowed to have a platform to reach the public,” reported the New York Daily News. Even so, Brand, reportedly was anti-Stalinist and not a Communist Party member.

“Few have sung and strummed more prolifically,” his New York Times obit lauded. “The hundreds of songs he recorded include election songs, children’s songs, vaudeville songs, sports car songs, drinking songs, outlaw songs and lascivious ditties about Nellie the Barmaid.”

Sadly, much of his and hundreds of other artists’ original masters and recordings were lost in a fire at Universal Studios Hollywood in 2008.

His numerous awards and honours included a 1995 Peabody Award for “more than 50 years in service to the music and messages of folk performers and fans around the world.”

Brand died at age 96, survived by his wife Karen, four children, and nine grandchildren.


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

‘Engaging’ Look Back on a Vanished Jewish Community

By RUTH SCHWEITZER

Janice Masur grew up in the Ugandan capital of Kampala’s tiny Ashkenazi Jewish community in the 1950s, at a time Uganda was part of British East Africa and African independence movements were close to ending British colonial rule.

At its largest – in 1957 – Kampala’s Ashkenazi Jewish community numbered 23 families, about 60 people in all, Masur writes in Shalom Uganda: A Jewish Community on the Equator (Behind the Book, 2020), a community history and memoir. Unsurprisingly, they found it difficult to form a minyan.

Masur was born in Asmara, now in Eritrea, in 1944, to Lily Janes, a Londoner who had immigrated to Palestine in 1935, and Helmut Masur, who escaped from Germany to Palestine before the Nazis rose to power. Masur’s parents met in Haifa and married in 1936. 

In 1942, they left Haifa for Asmara for better job opportunities, Masur writes. “Also causing my parents angst were the German troops in the Caucasus and Rommel with his fast-advancing Afrika Korps moving eastward through Egypt and toward the Suez Canal and Palestine.”

Janice Masur

Her father left Eritrea in 1949 to look for work in Kenya, a popular destination for Jewish immigrants, but he was unable to afford the 50-Pound tariff required for a would-be settler. A Jewish businessman from Nairobi hired Masur’s father to manage the isolated Kampala Tile and Brickwork outside Kampala Township, in a tropical forest.

At the brickwork, Masur’s mother found rats bouncing and cavorting in the ceiling of their home, a tin-roofed shack. “Nor was she pleased to find a snake curled up at the base of the toilet one day and later one curled up in her sewing basket,” Masur writes. On top of that, “there were malarial mosquitoes aplenty and jiggers (parasitic insects) to burrow into unsuspecting toes if one ran barefoot.”

By 1952, her family’s circumstances had improved – her father had become a car salesman – and they moved to a rented house in Kampala. Their home, on an acre of land, was a tropical paradise, with blooming trees and bushes, and a tall palm that sheltered colourful weaver birds.

Janice Masur (first row, left) with family, in Entebbe Botanical Gardens, 1953

At her new home, Masur recalls her mother screaming at Odera, the family’s houseboy, in frustration at his inability to follow instructions, which, Masur later learned, was a passive show of rebellion against British rule.

Her father was part of a volunteer European auxiliary police force, organized because the community feared political unrest. “Armed only with a truncheon, he was to help keep the white population safe in case of African agitation for better work conditions or a potential political motive,” she writes.

Once, during a family holiday in Kenya, the men at their hotel were asked to join a special police corps to patrol the area. No incident occurred, “but the writing was on the wall, a warning about the future,” Masur says in the book. “My family began to discuss where to go when we were able to leave Uganda.” Masur’s family left for New Zealand in 1961.

While Masur does touch on the white population’s relationship with the Black majority in 1950s Uganda, the book’s focus is her little-known Ashkenazi Jewish community.

Meticulously footnoted, it’s an engaging read about a Jewish community that exists mostly in the memories of the people who were once part of it.

Some antisemitism did exist in 1950s Uganda, affecting admission to certain schools, housing choices and job opportunities. But the Kampala Jewish community was widely accepted by the white population and faced no open religious discrimination, Masur writes.

While there was no religious discrimination, religious observance in such a small community, without a synagogue, a rabbi, a Torah or a burial society was a challenge. Masur’s parents preserved Jewish traditions “as best they could,” she writes, offering their house for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services.

In 1953, a rare Yom Kippur service led by a rabbi from South Africa was held at her family’s home. “I was nine years old at the time, and I recall having been told by my parents to eat breakfast in the bathroom so that the rabbi would not know that I was not observing the traditional fast,” Masur writes.

“Many years later I learned that children under the age of 12 were permitted to eat on the fast day of Yom Kippur, so it seems that Jewish law was not fully understood. Still, my parents did their best with whatever they remembered.”

Without an organized Jewish community in Kampala, children missed out on a formal Jewish education. Holidays were usually observed without services.

“When somebody died, there were people who could lead a service. Somehow I knew that I was Jewish and my parents made sure that I knew I was Jewish,” Masur told the CJR in an interview from her home in Vancouver.

Masur’s Ashkenazi Jewish community has disappeared without a trace. Even the small cemetery has vanished, overgrown with tropical vegetation, and its headstones destroyed, perhaps during periods of civil unrest in the country, she writes.

Today, a Black Jewish community of 2,000-3,000, the Abayudaya (“People of Judah” in the Luganda tongue), with roots in the 19th century, thrives in Uganda. Kampala friends of Masur’s family, Phil Levitan and Victor Franco, gave the Abayudaya religious instruction in the 1950s.

“These two men might have offered clandestine financial and philanthropic support to this Black community and liaised with the government of Israel to alert it to the existence of the community,” Masur writes.

“In that era, the concept of Black Jews existing anywhere was almost unheard of and incomprehensible,” she goes on. “Their efforts initiated a process that has resulted in the present recognition of these Black Jews by North American Reform and Conservative congregations.”

Shalom Uganda: A Jewish Community on the Equator is available on amazon.ca.

On the Record – Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

SAMY ELMAGHRIBI/SALOMON AMZALLAG (April 19, 1922 – March 9, 2008) Singer-Songwriter, Cantor, Poet, Oud Player

July 22, 2020 – By DAVID EISENSTADT

By night, Samy Elmaghribi was dubbed the Moroccan Charles Aznavour – with a pop singer’s global reputation.

By day, he was Salomon Amzallag, the first Moroccan cantor at Montreal’s famed Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue. Known as Shearith Israel, on St. Kevin Street in Montreal since 1960, it’s Canada’s oldest Jewish congregation, established in 1768. Cantor Amzallag served there from 1967 to 1984.

Cantor Salomon Amzallag

Two cantors have since sung from the Spanish & Portuguese bimah, including Yehuda Abittan and present-day chazzan Daniel Benlolo, who was one of Amzallag’s students.

Amzallag was Benlolo’s mother’s cousin, and so the Montreal synagogue became their family’s new home.

“He’s the inspirational reason I became a chazzan and his shul was where I received my training,” Cantor Benlolo said. “He was a wonderful mentor. Over the years, I have been privileged to serve Sephardic and Ashkenazi congregations in Ottawa, New York, Atlanta and Caracas, to name a few. Two and-a-half years ago, I was pleased to return home to Shearith Israel to work and live in Montréal.”

Amzallag was born in Safi, a city in western Morocco. His family moved to Rabat in 1926. Growing up, he taught himself to play the oud, a short-neck, lute-type pear-shaped string instrument that dates to Assyria.

Early on, young Samy familiarized himself with Arab-Andalusian music, attending the Conservatoire de Music de Casablanca. Starting at age 20, he studied with many of the great Andalusian masters of his time.

Christopher Silver, an assistant professor of Jewish History and Culture at McGill University, has called him “a mid-twentieth century Moroccan superstar.”

“From his debut in 1948 through his professional zenith in 1956, he was a ubiquitous presence on radio and in concert,” Silver wrote in a recent issue of the International Journal of Middle East Studies.

Samy El Maghribi - Cantor Salomon Amzallag

As radio spread across Morocco, Elmaghribi’s live performances on radio and constant playing of his records on air “helped cement his status as the nation’s voice during a formative political moment.”

His popularity spilled over to commercial advertising: Elmaghribi  became an official spokesperson for Coca-Cola in Morocco. “His spoken dialogues and musical hooks for the soft drink company were played in heavy rotation on Radio Tangier International over the next several years,” wrote Silver. During this period, he became the sound of brands like Gillette, Palmolive, Canada Dry and Shell Oil.

A popular entertainer, Elmaghribi built a world-wide fan base and reinforced his Arab-Andalusian musical heritage with performances in Caracas, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, Montreal and New York, as well as playing for Moroccan fans in Oujda and Rabat. Listen to his music here.

Yet, he was committed to his cultural roots and to the sacred liturgical genre, said his daughter, Yolande Amzallag, who helped create Fondation Samy Elmaghribi.

Samy Elmaghribi and Cantor Salomon Amzallag “were one and the same person,” Yolande Amzallag told the Morocco World News at the foundation’s 2015 launch, “despite the fact they performed in different settings whose integrity was never challenged by the apparent dichotomy between the sacred and the secular.”

Her father’s allegiance to God was matched by his allegiance to art, she went on, “and he aspired to spiritual elevation both as an artist and as a practicing Jew.”

After he retired, Amzallag moved to Israel and founded Merkaz Piyyut Veshira, a centre for Sephardic music from where, from 1988 to 1994, he was pedagogical director, according to his biography.

He also co-founded and performed with the Israeli Andalusian Orchestra. In 2006, the orchestra won the country’s highest honour, the Israel Prize.

In November 2008, a few months after his death, Elmaghribi was posthumously recognized by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, who awarded him the Commander of the Order of Ouissam Alaouite medal for Meritorious Service to Morocco.

His wife, Messody Cohen-Amzallag, died in Ashdod on April 5, 2015. The couple’s children created the foundation “to perpetuate their teachings of respect for tradition, openness to others and generosity through the love of music.”


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

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

On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

PERCY FAITH (Apr. 7, 1908 – Feb. 9, 1976) – Bandleader, Composer, Arranger, Conductor

By DAVID EISENSTADT, July 16, 2020 – I heard the tune Theme from A Summer Place the other day and it brought back a flood of happy summertime teenage memories.

That instrumental hit single exemplified the easy-listening or “mood music” format of the 1950s and ‘60s. I knew it was performed by Percy Faith and his orchestra. I didn’t know he was Jewish and born in Toronto.

Percy Faith
Percy Faith

One of eight children born to Abraham and Minnie (née Rottenberg), young Percy studied violin, then piano, and was destined to become a concert pianist while studying at the Toronto Conservatory of Music.

But that career objective ended when he suffered serious burns to his hands while saving his younger sister’s life after her clothing caught fire. He couldn’t play the piano for nine months but during that time, became interested in arranging and composing. He quit the Conservatory without completing his degree. Soon thereafter, he married the former Mary Palanage, a union that lasted until he died in 1976. They had two sons.

In the 1930s, his experience as a theatre and hotel orchestra conductor helped land conducting and arranging radio gigs at the CBC, until he moved to Chicago in 1940 as orchestra leader for the NBC-produced Carnation Contented program. In the late ‘40s, he was the orchestra leader on the CBS network program The Coca-Cola Hour, collaborating with orchestral accordionist John Serry Sr.

As a naturalized U.S. citizen, he joined Decca Records, then moved to Columbia Records where, under the iconic Mitch Miller during the 1950s, he produced many of the albums for such talents as Tony Bennett, Doris Day, Johnny Mathis and Sarah Vaughan.

In 1960, Billboard’s Year-End Hot 100 single was his Theme From A Summer Place, which won a 1961 Grammy Award as Record of the Year. Other Faith trademark recordings are Delicado (1952) and The Song From Moulin Rouge (1953).

Some music critics and others disparaged Faith for the dreamy excesses of the easy-listening genre. In the movie Good Morning Vietnam, the Army radio DJ character Robin Williams played was given a list of “acceptable” music he was allowed to broadcast: “Lawrence Welk, Jim Nabors…” at which point the irreverent Williams slips in, “Percy Faith.”

He remains the only artist to net Bestselling Single of the Year for Song From Moulin Rouge in 1953 during the pop era, and for Theme From A Summer Place in 1960 during the rock era.

Faith mined Broadway, Hollywood and Latin music for many of his hits and also scored motion pictures, receiving an Academy Award nomination for his adaptation of the Doris Day musical feature Love Me or Leave Me. Other film scores included romantic comedies and dramas and the theme for the NBC series, The Virginian.

The Billboard Hot 200 best sellers chart through 1972 lists 21 Percy Faith easy-listening albums. But with rock’n’roll taking centre stage in the 1970s, Faith saw his trademark arrangements wane, although he produced two significant albums, Black Magic Woman and Jesus Christ Superstar. He ventured into country music and completed a disco-style reworking of his Theme From A Summer Place, titled Summer Place ‘76, which became a hit after he died.


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

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

Will the Second Generation Rise to the Occasion?

July 15, 2020 – By RUTH SCHWEITZER

Montreal filmmakers Max Beer and Deena Dlusy-Apel have noticed that as the years pass, fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors attend Yom HaShoah commemorations.

Deena Dlusy-Apel
Deena Dlusy-Apel

When the children of survivors are asked to rise at commemorations, their numbers are far greater than those of their parents.

At one commemoration, Paul Herczeg, who survived Auschwitz, asked the second generation to help keep the memory of the Holocaust alive. 

Beer and Dlusy-Apel responded to Herczeg’s appeal by interviewing children of survivors, the subject of their latest documentary, Will the Second Generation Please Rise: Children of Holocaust Survivors. 

The filmmakers interviewed 32 children of survivors, in small groups, during six sessions. Several participants are artists or writers, and one is a filmmaker. The documentary includes visits to their studios, prose and poetry readings, and a film clip. 

Max Beer
Max Beer

Members of the second generation are shown remembering their psychologically scarred parents: A father who wakes the household screaming; having nightmares about being back in the camps; and families at emotional holiday gatherings, wailing because their murdered sisters and brothers are absent.

Participants spoke about their lack of extended family – grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins – or even photographs of family members who perished.

Ruth Dunsky said she was the envy of her friends – mostly other children of Holocaust survivors – because one of her grandmothers had survived. She remembers a lot of tension at home, and attributes some of it to the pain adults in her household were dealing with.

Some of the documentary’s participants said their parents never or rarely talked about the Holocaust, but Dunsky’s father was voluble. “My father spoke a lot about the past. He basically lived in the past,” she says in the documentary.

Zosia Romisher Rosenberg, who was born in Germany and lived there for 23 years, says her friends were other children of Holocaust survivors. Her parents forbade her from bringing home children with German surnames.

Asked to comment on their feelings about modern-day Germany, the consensus among participants seems to be that although they’re satisfied with how it has tried to come to terms with its past, they have a visceral response to the country.

Traumatized survivors sometimes asked their young children to be intermediaries to the outside world for them. Some parents dreaded answering the phone and asked their children to do it for them. 

Michael Rosenberg remembers his father once wanted him to phone someone for him to relay his condolences on a death. After much persuasion, his Dad made the call, but with great reluctance, Rosenberg says in the documentary.

Will the Second Generation Please Rise includes a segment about the work of Rachel Yehuda, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience who has studied children of Holocaust survivors. Yehuda is director of the traumatic stress studies division at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. 

The Guardian described her work as the “clearest example in humans of the transmission to a child via what is called epi-genetic inheritance – the idea that environmental influences such as stress can affect the genes of your children and possibly even your grandchildren.”

In the documentary, Sophia Wolkowicz says she believes the experiences of our parents are carried in some parts of our bodies, and we remember them in ways we’re not aware.

One of Wolkowicz’s paintings, based on her first memory, depicts a night-time forest scene. A man hides behind a tree and in the foreground there’s another man with a rifle. His stance is casual, which Wolkowicz says is a comment on the casual stance taken by people who were murdering civilians during the Holocaust.

Dlusy-Apel said that after the interviews for the film were done, it became apparent that many of the participants had addressed what had happened to their parents through their literature, artwork and filmmaking. And it seemed to be an obvious focus for the film, she added.

A sculpture in Mark Prent’s studio, “Sleep of the Phoenix,” of a decayed figure that’s half-human, half-bird, is a reference to a mythological bird that can regenerate itself, as Jews did after the Holocaust, through their children and grandchildren, Prent says in the documentary.

In her studio, Cynthia van Frank shows a mixed media creation depicting herself and family members standing, while underneath them are the bodies of Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

Will the Second Generation Please Rise includes footage from Gina Roitman’s documentary My Mother, the Nazi Midwife and Me, in which she returns to her birthplace, Pocking, Germany, the site of a displaced persons camp after the Second World War. 

Roitman set out to investigate her mother’s claim that after the war, a midwife from the Pocking hospital murdered Jewish babies. She discovered her mother had told her the truth and, chillingly, was led to the graves of 52 Jewish babies.

Will the Second Generation Please Rise is a follow-up to Beer’s and Dlusy-Apel’s 2015 documentary, Nobody Was Interested, Nobody Asked, about the lack of interest in Montreal in Europe during the war years and in the Holocaust in the immediate years after.

Beer, a Montrealer who was born to Holocaust survivors in the Pocking displaced persons camp, devotes a segment in the documentary to how unwelcome survivors felt in Montreal.

Max Beer and his mother at Pocking Displaced Persons camp

“There was no talk about what was going on in Europe during the war, and I realized there was no talk after the war, when the immigrants started to come in. Nobody talked to them about what they had been through,” he said in an interview.

Belsen displaced persons’ camp

Dlusy-Apel’s father, who immigrated to the city in 1930, never spoke to her about the Holocaust. “They left behind brothers and sisters and didn’t talk about it,” she said. 

Some 10 years after the war ended, survivors began holding Holocaust commemorations in Montreal in Yiddish, but no English speakers were involved, Beer said.

As one participant in the film put it, “No one asked us why we were mourning.”

You can watch Will the Second Generation Please Rise here. The password is Deena2.

Qu’est-ce qu’être Sépharade dans l’Israël d’aujourd’hui?

Par ELIAS LEVY

En 2017, la présentation du documentaire The Ancestral Sin — Le péché ancestral —, réalisé par David Deri, à la télévision israélienne avait suscité un immense tollé. 

En 2019, un autre documentaire sulfureux, Ma’abarot — Camps de transit —, œuvre de la réalisatrice Dina Ziv-Riklis, présenté aussi en début de soirée par une chaîne de télévision israélienne à une heure de forte cote d’écoute, a relancé la polémique houleuse, qui s’était atténuée au fil des années, sur la condition des Sépharades dans l’Israël naissant des années 50 et 60.

Ces deux documentaires-chocs, présentés respectivement dans le cadre des éditions 2019 et 2020 du Festival du cinéma israélien de Montréal (FCIM), évoquent les déboires des immigrants sépharades, majoritairement originaires du Maroc, arrivés en Israël à partir de la fin des années 50. Ces derniers furent victimes d’une discrimination éhontée de la part des bureaucrates de l’Agence juive.

Ce chapitre sombre de l’histoire d’Israël a exhumé des réminiscences que beaucoup de Sépharades avaient enfouies. Les deux documentaires les ont fait rejaillir avec force.

Quel est l’état réel du séphardisme dans la société israélienne d’aujourd’hui ? Y a-t-il toujours une « Question sépharade » dans l’Israël de 2020?

Quatre fins connaisseurs de l’histoire mouvementée des Mizrahim d’Israël nous ont livré leurs vues sur cette question épineuse.

Pour le journaliste israélien Daniel Bensimon, soixante-douze ans après la création de l’État d’Israël, force est de constater que la « Question sépharade », que certains pensaient révolue, est toujours vivace.

Ex-éditorialiste au quotidien de gauche, Haaretz, et ancien député du Parti travailliste à la Knesset, Daniel Bensimon est l’auteur de plusieurs livres remarqués sur la société israélienne et les villes de développement du sud d’Israël. Il est le récipiendaire du plus prestigieux prix de journalisme décerné en Israël, le Sokolov Prize, l’équivalent du prix Pulitzer américain.

« Des documentaires tels que The Ancestral Sin et Ma’abarot sont des œuvres décapantes réalisées par des Sépharades de la troisième génération qui s’escriment à réhabiliter l’honneur bafoué de leurs grands-parents et parents par un establishment ashkénaze arrogant qui les méprisait profondément. Ces derniers étaient considérés comme des êtres illettrés provenant d’un monde arabe moyenâgeux. Ces Mizrahim de la troisième génération sont en colère. Ils se battent pour que la cruelle vérité ayant trait à la condition de leurs aînés dans l’Israël des années 50, 60 et 70 soit enfin dévoilée à la nouvelle génération de Sabras. Au Québec, votre devise est « Je me souviens ». Les Sépharades d’Israël ont fait aussi leur aussi cet a », nous a dit Daniel Bensimon au cours d’une conversation à bâtons rompus sur l’identité sépharade dans l’Israël de la deuxième décade du XXIe siècle.

Pour l’écrivain et éducateur Ami Bouganim, le séphardisme israélien a été instrumentalisé à des fins politiques par des politiciens sépharades et ashkénazes en quête de visibilité ou de légitimité. 

Né dans la ville portuaire marocaine d’Essaouira (Mogador), cet essayiste, romancier et philosophe, qui vit à Netanya depuis 1970, est l’intellectuel sépharade israélien qui a le mieux retracé le déracinement de la communauté juive marocaine d’Israël qui a fait son Aliya dans les années 50 et 60.

« En Israël, le séphardisme ne sait plus ce qu’il est. Il s’est empêtré dans la controverse orientale, où il a gagné en pugnacité politique ce qu’il a perdu en charme littéraire. Je ne connais pas de définition du séphardisme. Les documentaires The Ancestral Sin et Ma’abarot ont secoué les consciences dans la société israélienne. Mais, en réalité, ces deux documentaires ne nous apprennent rien de nouveau. On a gratté de nouveau les blessures, mais sans éclairer lez zones d’ombre qui perdurent. Toutes les archives sur cette question ont déjà été épluchées par des chercheurs. Regrettablement, ces documentaires ont été exploités par des journalistes et des politiciens à des fins politiques ou idéologiques. »

D’après l’historien israélien Michel Abitbol, en Israël, la « Question sépharade » s’est muée au fil des ans en une « Question sociale ».

Professeur émérite de l’Université hébraïque de Jérusalem (UHJ), ex-directeur de l’Institut Ben-Zvi, affilié à l’UHJ — institution de recherche spécialisée dans l’étude de l’histoire des communautés sépharades et orientales — et ancien directeur pédagogique auprès du ministère de l’Éducation d’Israël, Michel Abitbol est un spécialiste reconnu de l’histoire du judaïsme marocain, des Juifs du monde arabe et du conflit israélo-arabe.

« En Israël, les Sépharades reviennent de très loin. Depuis les années 50, ils ont accompli des progrès énormes sur les plans social et politique. Ils se sont frayés une place des plus honorables dans les principaux secteurs de la société israélienne: la politique —un bon nombre de députés de la Knesset sont Sépharades—, les affaires, l’armée — de nombreux hauts gradés de Tsahal, dont plusieurs chefs d’État-major, sont d’origine sépharade —, la culture, les arts, la musique, la gastronomie… Aujourd’hui, l’enjeu majeur n’est plus la séphardité mais les inégalités sociales de plus en plus criantes dans l’Israël de 2020, souligne-t-il. Ces écarts sociaux accentuent la pauvreté et la paupérisation des couches sociales les plus vulnérables, particulièrement dans les villes de développement du Sud d’Israël peuplées majoritairement de Sépharades originaires du Maroc. Il est vrai par contre que des écarts entre Sépharades et Ashkénazes perdurent aux niveaux scolaire et universitaire, par exemple en ce qui a trait au nombre de bacheliers et de diplômés universitaires de deuxième et troisième cycles. Mais, on ne peut plus parler, comme c’était le cas dans les années 50 et 60, d’un racisme systémique institutionnalisé à l’encontre des communautés sépharades. »

Le tiers du nouveau gouvernement d’union nationale dirigé par Benyamin Netanyahou, soit dix ministres, est composé de Sépharades d’origine marocaine.

Selon le célèbre historien israélien Tom Segev, qui consacre dans son dernier livre — A State at Any Cost. The Life of David Ben-Gurion (Farar, Straus and Giroux Publisher, New York, 2019) — des pages passionnantes aux relations tendues qui ont toujours prévalu entre le père fondateur de l’État d’Israël, David Ben Gourion, et les communautés orientales, bien qu’elle soit moins aiguë que dans les années 60, 70 et 80, la « Question sépharade » subsiste toujours en Israël.

« Soixante-douze ans après la fondation d’Israël, la « Question sépharade » n’a pas encore été résolue. Nous le constatons aujourd’hui dans l’attitude raciste adoptée par beaucoup d’Israéliens à l’égard des Juifs éthiopiens, qui sont confrontés à des épreuves aussi ignominieuses, et même pires, que celles que les Juifs originaires du Maroc ont subies lors de leur Aliya dans les années 50, 60. Chose certaine: ce problème, qui date de l’époque de Ben Gourion, n’est pas à la veille d’être dénoué. »


Elias Levy
Elias Levy

On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

IDA HAENDEL: Dec. 15, 1928 – July 1, 2020. Violinist, Child Prodigy, Teacher

By DAVID EISENSTADT

Polish-born child prodigy violinist Ida (pronounced Ee-dah) Haendel, who lived in Montreal from 1952 to 1989, died in Miami, Florida on July 1. She was 96.

She was three-and-a-half when she reproduced a song on her sister’s violin. Her portrait painter father, Nathan Hendel, had aspired to become a violinist but was thwarted by his father, a rabbi, and ultimately championed his daughter’s career. The family, originally from Chelm, moved to London, England in 1936 and Ida became a British citizen.

Ida Haendel
Ida Haendel

At the age of seven, she admitted that she could not read music, yet performed the Beethoven Violin Concerto and garnered the Warsaw Conservatory Gold Medal. Two years earlier, she had won the first Huberman Prize in the International Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition.

Hendael’s exact age was an ongoing question in music circles, one that was never really resolved. Following a Queen’s Hall debut concert in December 1936, the Guardian reported that “to satisfy the London County council that she would be 14 for a Sunday performance of the Brahms concerto with wood in January 1937, her father came up with a certificate showing a birth date of 1923.”

An astounding prodigy whose career spanned seven decades, she was known for her intense lyricism and classical rigour. One feature of her highly characteristic sound was her perfectly judged use of the expressive slide from one note to another (the portamento). She studied with her musical mentors George Enescu in Paris and Carl Flesch in London.

In 1937, she became a frequent soloist at the famous Promenade concerts in London, playing works of Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Shostakovich, Saint-Saens, and Stravinsky, among others. The last of her 68 Prom performances was in 1994 with a concerto written by Benjamin Britten. 

Before the Second World War, she toured France, Holland and the United States with successful post-war tours in the Soviet Union and other countries. During the war, she entertained those serving in the conflict, from factory workers to frontline and returning troops.

From 1940 to 1947, she recorded a range of compositions for Decca, with some reissued in 2000 as a companion to a new recording of works by Bartok, her teacher Enescu, and Karol Szymanowski, the celebrated Polish pianist and composer. She had a passion for German and 20th century music, best exemplified by a tribute to Enescu on a Decca recording of his Violin Sonata with Vladimir Ashkenazy, which earned Haendel a Diapason d’Or in 2000.

Haendel accompanied the London Philharmonic to the first Hong Kong Arts Festival in 1973 and the BBC Symphony Orchestra to China in 1981 as the first Western violin soloist to perform after the Cultural Revolution. She even returned to Chelm in 2006 for a CD-recorded concert.

An admirer of movie stars, “she emulated many of them in trimming a few years off her age in her autobiography (Woman With Violin – 1970), but even with a birth year of 1923 rather than 1928, her early achievement was astonishing,” reported the Guardian. “Any later mention of her age saw an affronted Haendel berating enquirers with a certificate giving 1928 as the year of her birth. In much the same spirit, she embellished her family name so that it shared a spelling with that of the Saxon composer born Georg Friedrich Haendel. As she was quick to point out, they could have been related.”

She moved to Montreal in 1952 and remained a resident to 1989. She also resided in Miami from 1979 on, although London, England was her home base.

Haendel’s violin was a Stradivarius from 1699.

The one thing her career lacked, added the Guardian, “was a sustained series of new recordings in the 1960s and 70s, leaving her feeling that she never had the recognition she deserved.”

Yet, her emotive performances inspired a new generation of violinists, including David Garrett, Anne-Sophie Mutter, and Maxim Vengerov – all testament to her enthralling audiences around the globe with a combination of romantic warmth and classical precision.


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

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

ON THE RECORD: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

By DAVID EISENSTADT

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

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

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

Ethel Stark
Ethel Stark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

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

Diverse, Complex Characters Populate Stories Set in Thornhill

By RUTH SCHWEITZER

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

YOU ARE NOT WHAT WE EXPECTED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sidura Ludwig
Sidura Ludwig

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

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

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

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

Jewish pre-schoolers stage The Wizard of Oz via Zoom

By SUSAN MINUK

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

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

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

Hillcrest Progressive School
Hillcrest Progressive School senior kindergarten students

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

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

How did Hillcrest execute a virtual theatre production?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Susan Minuk
Susan Minuk

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

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

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

Reviewed by MIRA SUCHAROV

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

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

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

Kenneth Stern
Kenneth Stern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mira Sucharov

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