New Jewish TV Show to ‘Cut its Own Path’

Oct. 21, 2020


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

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

Canadian Jewish TV host leden Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how Jewish will CJTV actually be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Website Marks Decade of Publishing Jewish Fiction

Sept. 11, 2020 – By RUTH SCHWEITZER

The online Jewish literary journal Jewish is marking a milestone at an auspicious time: It celebrates its 10th anniversary this Rosh Hashanah.

The website is the only English-language journal in the world, either print or online, devoted exclusively to publishing Jewish fiction.

Founded and edited in Toronto by the award-winning author Nora Gold, the site has published more than 400 works of fiction, both short stories and excerpts from novels, over the past decade.

Nora Gold
Nora Gold

The current issue includes 16 contributions, among them five translations from Hebrew and one from Hungarian. There’s also an excerpt from Nessa Rapopart’s latest novel, Evening, which unfolds while the protagonist, Eve, and her family sit shivah for her sister.

Also in the current issue is “The House of Cards,” a comic story by Leonid Newhouse about a young Jewish couple sharing a room in a former palazzo in Leningrad at the end of 1940s.

A crisis created by the advent of digital publishing a decade ago gave Gold the impetus to launch Jewish Fiction.Net. At the time, she recalled, many writers told her, “look, I have a novel in my drawer and the publishers have been telling me it’s really good, but hold on to it for 10 years, until the digital crisis is over.”

Jewish fiction, Gold noted, is seen as a niche market by publishers, who, when facing difficult times, tend to avoid anything seen as niche.

Gold said she’s been lucky as a writer to find publishers for her three books. Her collection of short stories, Marrow and Other Stories, won a Canadian Jewish Book Award, and one of her two novels, Fields of Exile, won a Canadian Jewish Literary Award.

Concerned that some amazing Jewish-themed fiction would be lost during the digital crisis, Gold got into publishing. Her professional background, in addition to being a writer, is in social work. “What happens for someone like me is, I thought in this case there’s a need, (so) I’ll fill the need,” she said.

With the help of an advisory council, she launched the Toronto-based journal, which publishes Jewish fiction from around the world and has readers in 140 countries.

Contributors have included such eminent authors as Elie Wiesel, Aharon Appelfeld, A.B. Yehoshua, Savyon Liebrecht, and Aharon Megged, and some well-known Canadians, like George Jonas, Morley Torgov, and Chava Rosenfarb.

A rigorous editorial process ensures that the quality of the writing, whether by famous or lesser-known authors, remains high. Submissions are blind-reviewed by an editorial team of three, located in Toronto, Houston and Jerusalem. “I was able to get people with very strong backgrounds in literature, Judaism and/or Jewish literature,” Gold said.

Contributors are unpaid, and fewer than one out of 20 submissions is published, she said.

In the early days of the journal and today, Gold continues to be concerned about the divisiveness, hostility and polarization within the Jewish community. An activist and co-founder of the New Israel Fund of Canada, Canadian Friends of Givat Haviva, and JSpaceCanada, Gold created the journal with the hope that it would build bridges.

“There would be a place where writers and readers of all different perspectives and backgrounds could meet and be exposed to each other, because fiction is very powerful,” she said. “When you read fiction, your defences drop and you enter the inner world of the other person. And it changes you. It broadens the way you think about things.”

She also tries to build a bridge between Israel and the Diaspora by publishing Israeli writers in translation.

“The younger generation in the Diaspora is so estranged from Israel,” she said, adding she hopes exposure to fiction translated from Hebrew might give young people pause or some opening to experience Israel.

Gold decided to forgo a paywall for the site and make the stories accessible. While she was developing the idea for the journal, she remembers passing a group of Jewish kids at a bus stop near Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto.

“I just had this whole fantasy about high school kids being able to read great works of fiction on the bus on the way home instead of playing computer games,” she said.

“I didn’t want even to be charging $5 per issue because there are people for whom that’s a barrier, either economic or psychological. I just wanted anyone to be able to read this journal. And not only Jews, of course. We have lots of non-Jewish readers.”

The Seth Rogen Drama: We Need Honest Talk About Israel

Aug. 3, 2020 – By ZACK BABINS

Last week, Canadian Jewish actor and filmmaker Seth Rogen, while promoting his new movie, An American Pickle, the saga of a poor Yiddish immigrant to New York City who is preserved in pickle brine for 100 years (based on a quirky story by Simon Rich, available here), discussed his Jewish identity and feelings about Israel.

You may have read about it: Rogen rejected an inherent link between Jewish identity and Zionism, called the idea of Jewish statehood the product of “an antiquated thought process,” and expressed dissatisfaction with the ways he – the son of two kibbutzniks and Jewish summer camp alumnus– was educated when it came to Israel. 

I may disagree with Seth on a few points – I happen to think that as long as everyone else has a state, we should probably have one too – but this much is true: The way that our community teaches young Jews about Israel, Palestine – and the conflict just doesn’t square with historical records – and there is an instinct to exile and dismiss the Jews who ask frank and difficult questions about Israel.

The realities of the Aliyah movements, the British Mandate, the War of Independence, the wars of 1967 and 1973, intifadas, settlements, and countless failed peace processes, are too messy for one op-ed and one day. But in our day schools and summer camps, and our primary educational programs, they are simplified to create a vision of Israel that is blameless, perfect and miraculous – a vision far more naïve and utopian than even Herzl’s. 

“We took a deserted land and made the desert bloom.” “We (out of the goodness of our own hearts) withdrew from Gaza and just look at what they did there.” “We accepted the Partition plan and they didn’t.”  

It wasn’t until my final year of university, and my decision to write a thesis on the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, that I – who had attended Hebrew school for nine years, was active in the local Jewish fraternity, president of Hillel, and had just participated in a Birthright Israel trip – learned, for instance, that the Israeli acceptance of the 1947 partition plan was far from unanimous, with Menachem Begin and the Revisionist Zionist camp calling it “illegitimate.” 

During that year of research and writing, I encountered many pieces of information that directly and forcefully disproved many of the ideas that I had been raised with. I confronted the reality of a real country making political decisions and strategic military calculations.

I felt lied to. On many occasions, I was mere sentences away from abandoning my emotional stake in Israel altogether. On some days, the only thing stopping me from washing my hands of the whole messy falafel was a mentor who encouraged me to embrace the nuances and test my values against them.

Any conversation about the Jewish future has to include a frank, reasonable discussion about the role of Israel and its ability to represent Jews around the world. It is unsustainable for us, as a people, to continue mythologizing a real, complex place and exiling those of us who express dissatisfaction with realities once we learn them. 

After all of that, after the threat of annexation, the continued attack of the rabbinate on progressive values, and much more, I remain a Zionist for this reason: 

I am a Jew, and a Jew in a world that is dangerous and hostile to Jews: Israel, for all its faults, remains a place where Jews can be safe as Jews, an increasing rarity in 2020. While I am relatively safe as a Canadian Jew, I know far too much Jewish history to think that this safety is forever guaranteed.

But a small part of me, in the back of my head, knows that there is a second reason. I remain a Zionist because anything else risks alienation and condemnation. From my friends, my family, the community I grew up and worked in. From the Jewish Twittersphere. 

I’ve been to Israel three times and I’d like to visit again in the future. In pre-coronavirus times, Israel has barred entry to, among others, Diaspora Jewish BDS activists. I’m not interested in taking a 12-hour flight only to get deported from a country that claims to be my homeland. 

My Zionism is nuanced. It is critical, it is measured, and I do my best to keep it in line with history and the values with which I judge every other political issue in my life. But it is not the only thing that makes me a Jew. Far from it. 

I’ve long been party to conversations – and handwringing – about the Jewish future. For a long time, assimilation and intermarriage were the boogeyman. Now, it’s insufficient (right-wing, reactionary, unquestioning) Zionism that gets one labeled as a traitor to the Jews. 

The truth is, when we lie to our kids, they resent the lie as much as they resent us. The truth is, to ensure a Jewish future, we have to tell the truth about the Jewish past. And that means a conversation about Israel that’s rooted in reality and history, not myths and utopias. These questions are not going away, and will only get louder. The truth is, we ignore them – and dismiss young Jews with serious concerns – at our own risk.

Zack Babins is a Professional Jew and Recovering Jewish Professional™, an occasional political communicator and a constant seeker of attention.

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.