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

Oct. 29, 2020

By DUSTIN ATLAS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dustin Atlas

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

E-Petition Call for Expanded Holocaust Education, Awareness in Fight Against Antisemitism

Aug. 24, 2020 – By SHEILA HURTIG ROBERTSON

Dr. Art Leader, the son of Holocaust survivors and a long-time member of the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship (CHES) in Ottawa, was alarmed. In 2019, statistics reported by B’nai Brith Canada revealed that for the fourth year in a row, antisemitic incidents in Canada rose to more than 2,000 annually. And in 2020, the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa was vandalized only two days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Also of concern to him was that because of the COVID pandemic, many Holocaust remembrance events were virtual and, with schools closed across the country, Holocaust educational activities were halted. He further noted that for working youth, Holocaust education is non-existent.

And with the passing of time, ever fewer eyewitnesses to the Holocaust are able to share their knowledge and relate their experiences, resulting in minimal awareness of the atrocities they witnessed and endured.

“Canada has demonstrated a commitment to remembrance and Holocaust education and to fighting the antisemitism and racism that threaten and erode the multicultural and pluralistic nature of our society,” Leader says. “Holocaust education sensitizes Canadians to the role racist ideology and government propaganda played in the systematic murder of millions of Jews and other persecuted groups and helps youth to understand the dangers of indifference to the oppression of others.”

Convinced that the time was right to develop a comprehensive inventory of best practices in Holocaust education and teachings and relevant resources offered in Canadian schools and communities, Leader, working with CHES and author and lawyer Maureen McTeer, created a House of Commons petition (e-2740) urging Parliament to address the pressing challenges presented by growing antisemitism, Holocaust deniers, and those who distort the true nature of the Holocaust.

Anita Vandenbeld, Liberal MP for Ottawa West-Nepean, enthusiastically supported the petition and is its sponsor in Parliament.

The petition urges the government to build upon its previous investments in Holocaust education, research, and remembrance initiatives; determine the current availability of Holocaust education across Canada; identify new strategies to reach those who are targeted by racist and hate propaganda online; and urgently fund community organizations to preserve the testimonies of Holocaust survivors, thereby educating Canadians about the destructive impact of hate and intolerance on our Charter freedoms, to the detriment of current and future generations.

Signatories include former Prime Ministers Paul Martin and Joe Clark; members of the Carleton University community, including President Benoit-Antoine Bacon; Rabbi Reuven Bulka and Rabbi Idan Scher of Ottawa; Holocaust survivors; prominent Ottawa lawyer Lawrence Greenspan; and local members of Parliament,

CHES, which is affiliated with Carleton University in Ottawa, and the Zelikovitz Centre for Jewish Studies at Carleton, support this initiative and urge readers to read the petition (see below), sign it, and share the link with family and friends. The petition is open for signatures until Nov. 19, 2020. Supporters’ identities are protected by Canada’s privacy laws.

To sign House of Commons Petition e-2740, click here:

House of Commons Petition e-2740

The number of anti-Semitic incidents in Canada rose in 2019 to more than six incidents each day.

Canada has demonstrated a commitment to remembrance and Holocaust education through bilateral relationships and engagement in international organizations.

Holocaust education sensitizes Canadians to the role racist ideology and government propaganda played in the systematic murder of millions of Jews, and other persecuted groups.

Holocaust education will help young Canadians to understand the dangers of indifference to the oppression of others and to those sowing destructive messages of hate and racism.

Holocaust deniers and those who distort the true nature of the Holocaust use the Internet and online forums to spread hate and to dishonour those who were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis.

Fewer Holocaust survivors are able to share their knowledge and individual experience, while fewer youth are aware of the atrocities survivors witnessed and endured;

We, the undersigned citizens of Canada, call upon the Parliament of Canada to address this national challenge that threatens and erodes the multicultural and pluralistic nature of Canadian society, and to:

  1. Build upon its previous investments in Holocaust education, research, and remembrance initiatives;
  2. Determine the current availability of Holocaust education, including content and best pedagogical practices as identified by Holocaust educators across Canada.
  3. Identify strategies to reach youth, especially those not in the education system, who are targeted by racist and hate propaganda online.
  4. Urgently provide funds to Canadian community organizations to preserve the testimonies of Holocaust survivors thereby educating Canadians about the destructive impact of hate and intolerance on the Charter freedoms to the detriment of current and future generations.

Sheila Hurtig Robertson is a committee member of the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship and the founding editor of several sport-related magazines, including the Canadian Journal for Women in Coaching. She is the author of Shattered Hopes: Canada’s Boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games. Sheila worked in communications for Team Canada at three Olympic Games. Her grandfather, who left Romania in 1903 to escape the military draft, brought survivors to Canada after 1945, which kindled her lifelong interest in the Holocaust.

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