Break Fast Will Be A Tasty But Small Gathering This Year

Sept. 25, 2020 – By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

Shabbat Shalom and welcome to “Kitchen Talk,” the weekly food blog of the CJR. The pandemic has certainly changed the way we observe the High Holy Days. While many synagogues were nearly empty, several congregations attempted to bring the service to the people by blowing shofars in parks and parking lots across the GTA.

I ended up hosting an impromptu Rosh Hashanah dinner, al fresco, because at the last minute, my sister and I decided our numbers were too high for the whole family to celebrate safely together.

She gave me her extra brisket and I brought her challahs from the iconic Harbord Bakery, which has been supplying challahs, rye bread and other traditional fare since 1928.

Harbord Bakery is the focus of this week’s Community Spotlight, an occasional “Kitchen Talk” feature on how Canadian Jewish food entrepreneurs and chefs are faring during COVID.

My sister will not be hosting her annual big, break fast gathering this year, so I’ll be preparing a dairy meal for my immediate family. I’m planning to make Stuck-Pot Rice with Lentils and Yogurt, a delicious vegan recipe from Smitten Kitchen: https://smittenkitchen.com/2014/02/stuck-pot-rice-with-lentils-and-yogurt/

I’ll also serve my sister’s signature break-fast dish – blintz soufflé. The recipe I use is from the 1993 edition of Kinnereth Cookbook published by Toronto Hadassah-WIZO. 

I found a recipe for Apple Charlotte, in Second Helpings, Please!, the storied community cookbook edited by the late Norene Gilletz and published by B’nai Brith Canada.

Apple Charlotte is comprised of a buttered baked bread shell filled with spiced sautéed apples. The recipe was probably devised in an era when every scrap of food, including stale bread, was utilized. The Second Helpings recipe calls for sliced white bread, but I made mine with leftover challah. I also increased the amount of sugar and added cinnamon and lemon juice.

Yom Kippur observance may be different from years past, but adaptability has always been the strength of the Jewish people. G’mar Tov and may you have an easy fast.

STUCK-POT RICE WITH LENTILS AND YOGURT

Stuck-Pot Rice with Lentils. Photo Barbara Silverstein

Salt
1 cup (250 ml) lentils washed and picked over
1½ cups (375 ml) basmati rice, rinsed well
¼ cup (60 ml) olive oil, divided
1 large onion, thinly sliced
¼ cup (60 ml) yogurt or kefir
2 tbsp (30 ml) lemon juice, plus additional wedges for serving
1/3 (90 ml) cup water
2 tsp (10 ml) cumin
1 bay leaf
Freshly ground black pepper or pepper flakes
Chopped flat leaf parsley, cilantro or mint for garnish

Using one pot for the full process, boil the lentils in salted water for five minutes. Then add the rice and boil the mixture for another five minutes without stirring. Drain the mixture and place it in a large bowl.

Reheat the same pot with 2 tbsp (30 ml) oil. Once it is hot, add the onions and salt, stirring until they are caramelized, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Add the onions to the bowl with rice and lentils. Stir in the kefir or yogurt, lemon juice, water, cumin, pepper, bay leaf, plus additional salt to taste.

Heat the pot over medium heat. Once fully hot, add the remaining 2 tbsp (30 ml) oil and pour in the rice-lentil mixture. Wrap a clean kitchen towel over the inside of the pot lid, so it is closed firmly. (Gather the corners of the cloth, so it doesn’t reach the fire!) Place the lid on the pot, sealing it tightly.

Reduce the heat to very low. Cook the rice mixture undisturbed for 30 minutes. Check it maybe once, to ensure the rice is not burning. 

Remove the pot from the heat, and let it rest for 5 minutes, before eating. Makes 4 – 6 servings

BLINTZ SOUFFLE

18 assorted frozen blintzes – cherry, blueberry, cheese
5 tbsp (75 ml) butter
6 eggs
2¼ cups (550 ml) sour cream
1½ tsp (7 ml) vanilla
1½ tbsp (25 ml) orange juice
1/3 cup (90 ml) granulated sugar
½ tsp (2 ml) salt
½ tsp (2 ml) cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180 °C)

Melt the butter in a 9 x 13-inch ( 3.5 L) baking dish. Lay the frozen blintzes in the pan.

In a large bowl combine the eggs, sour cream, vanilla, juice, sugar, and salt using a stand mixer, hand beater or immersion blender. Pour the egg and cream mixture over the blintzes. Sprinkle with cinnamon. 

Bake 1 hour in the preheated oven. Serve hot. Makes 9 – 10 servings

APPLE CHARLOTTE

6 slices of white bread or challah
½ lb (225 g) butter, divided
6 tart apples, peeled, pared & quartered
1 tbsp (15 ml) vanilla
½ cup (125 ml) sugar
½ tsp (3 ml) cinnamon
1 tbsp (15 ml) lemon

Whipped Cream Garnish (Optional) 

1 cups (250 ml) heavy cream
1 tbsp (15 ml) sugar 
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla
Fry the bread in ¼ lb (110 g) butter until it becomes toasted. Set aside

In a large saucepan on medium heat cook the apples in the remaining butter until tender. Add the vanilla, sugar, cinnamon and lemon. Cover the pot,

Line a 1½ quart (1½ litre) casserole dish with the toast on the bottom and sides. Fill the casserole with the apples and cover the apples with the remaining toast. Bake at 325°F (165°C) for ½ an hour.

Whipped Cream: In a large bowl, whip the cream until stiff peaks are just about to form. Beat in the vanilla and sugar until peaks form. Make sure not to over-beat, otherwise cream may become lumpy and butter-like.

To serve: Place a large serving plate on top of the baking dish and invert the charlotte onto the plate so that the bottom of the charlotte is now the top. Cut into slices and serve warm or at room temperature. Optional: add a generous dollop of whipped cream. Makes 8 –12 servings.

COMMUNITY SPOTLIGHT

An occasional “Kitchen Talk” series on how Jewish-owned restaurants and food operations in Canada are faring during the pandemic

The Kosower family has run Harbord Bakery (115 Harbord St.) for 75 years. On the morning of Erev Rosh Hashanah I was in line for the yearly ritual of buying crown challahs. The line stretched around the corner as it does on every new year, when people, mainly in and around the downtown core, wait patiently to purchase the bakery’s famed crown or round sweet holiday challahs.

I have often run into people I know, but with everyone in line wearing masks this year, I didn’t recognize anybody. I did, however, schmooze with some people in line with me. I met Karen Goos, a transplanted New Yorker, and Mel Korn, a landsman from Montreal. Of course, we played Jewish geography.

It took about 45 minutes before I left the bakery with nine very heavy sweet challahs – six plain and three raisin – in tow.

Susan Wisniewski, co-owner of the bakery, invited me for tour of the place on a quiet midday afternoon following Rosh Hashanah. For the holidays, the bakery produces more than 2,000 crown challahs.

Albert Kosower, her father, had apprenticed at a bakery in Poland before immigrating to Canada around 1915, Wisniewski recounted. He worked for several Toronto bakeries before landing a job at Harbord.

Kosower purchased the bakery from his boss in 1945 and in the mid ‘50s, expanded and renovated the premises. He and his wife, Goldie, ran the business and lived upstairs with their three children.

Wisniewski said her father always hired unionized bakers. “He wanted his workers to have rights. He had also been a member of a union.” Today all 10 Harbord bakers are unionized, she added.

Wisniewski and her siblings, Roz Katz and the late Rafi Kosower, joined the family business, and now her son, Ben, is the third generation to run the bakery.

In addition to a wide selection breads and buns, the bakery produces gourmet cakes, pies, pastries and cookies, and it offers quiches, salads, soups and other savoury options.

Traditional Jewish dishes like gefilte fish, kugel and tzimmes are prepared every Friday. This kosher-style fare usually very much in demand at holiday time.

However, with the persistence of COVID, there were fewer orders this year, Wisniewski said. People had smaller gatherings.

“I have a big staff to support,” she noted, “but when I look at the restaurants and how they’re suffering [due to COVID], I can’t complain.”

Quebec Cuts Synagogue Attendance to 25 Due to COVID Surge

Sept. 24, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL – Attendance at Kol Nidrei and Yom Kippur services will be much smaller than even the reduced level planned by synagogues after the Quebec government raised the COVID alert level for the city.

Hours before Rosh Hashanah ended on Sept. 20, Health Minister Christian Dubé announced that the island of Montreal would be designated “orange,” the second-highest precaution under the province’s colour-coded system.

For houses of worship, that means a maximum of 25 people indoors and outdoors, slashed from the previous socially-distanced 250.

The great majority of Montreal congregations are Orthodox, and do not have the option of using digital technology during the holidays.

Mainstream Orthodox synagogues had already kept the number of worshipers at any one time to below the limit by holding Rosh Hashanah services both indoors and outside, often multiple times and for shorter durations. Children were even barred at some synagogues.

Rabbi Reuben Poupko

Rabbi Reuben Poupko of Beth Israel Beth Aaron Congregation in Cote Saint-Luc told the CJR that Yom Kippur services there will be further dispersed to comply with the new cutoff of 25.

However, he finds it “deeply disturbing” that houses of worship are subject to the same restrictions as any public gathering when movie theatres can still admit up to 250 people and bars remain open with only slightly reduced hours.

“The synagogues have gone above and beyond the regulations to ensure a safe environment, which took many hours of planning. We have doubled and even tripled the prescribed measures, done everything possible, with the advice of medical experts,’’ said Poupko, co-chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs-Quebec.

“I’m not saying this is an infringement on freedom of religion, but its exercise is protected, whereas going to a bar or a movie is not a right.”

At his shul, only 120 people were permitted in the 750-seat sanctuary and 150 in a tent outdoors that has a capacity of 800.

Similarly, at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Westmount, Montreal’s largest synagogue, only a tenth of the nearly 2,000-seat sanctuary was occupied.

And though it is not mandatory once people are seated, the synagogues require masks to be worn at all times – indoors and out.

Stricter measures were not a complete surprise. Since late August, the daily increase in confirmed COVID cases in the province has risen to levels not seen since May.

Houses of worship, which were closed in March, were allowed on June 22 to reopen with a maximum of 50 people, which was increased to 250 on Aug. 3.

Most, however, either held services outdoors or with very limited numbers indoors, up to Rosh Hashanah.

Montreal public health director Dr. Mylène Drouin said last week that she had met with Jewish community leaders to urge adherence to the protocols over the holidays.

On Sept.17, a day before erev Rosh Hashanah, Federation CJA sent out an “Update for the High Holidays” outlining “recommendations’’ to the community from public health authorities. These included limiting indoor events to 50, whether in synagogues or community or rented halls, and requesting that people over 70 not attend.

“Although implementing these recommendations requires an adjustment in our plans, we must acknowledge that the virus is still among us, and that we must do everything we can to protect the health and well-being of our neighbours, family and friends, as well as ourselves,” stated Federation president Gail Adelson-Marcovitz.

One synagogue did cancel its Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services for the first time in its 56-year history. Congregation Beth Tikvah, a large Orthodox synagogue in Dollard-des-Ormeaux on the West Island, had planned to have indoor and outdoor services.

But Rabbi Mark Fishman decided even this was too risky. He posted on Beth Tikvah’s Facebook page: “The upswing is empirically significant and growing in the Jewish community necessitating the closure of a major Jewish school and creating an atmosphere of anxiety and fear amongst parents in all the other schools, including HFS (its affiliated Hebrew Foundation School).

“The upswing in cases in the Jewish community once again has become the focus of the media and is putting the reputation of our community at risk.”

Herzliah High School was closed on Sept. 17 for two weeks at the behest of the public health department. At least 15 students and one staff member tested positive for COVID, an outbreak attributed to community transmission, likely a bar mitzvah.

In making the decision, authorities also noted an uptick of less than five to 11 cases the previous week in Cote Saint-Luc, where many from the school live or have contacts.

The suburb, which is majority Jewish, is making municipal property such as parks and parking lots available to congregations or groups of individuals for outdoor holiday services.

Herzliah was the first school in Quebec to close, but a second in Quebec City has since been shuttered.

Ultra-Orthodox leaders are also imploring members to adhere strictly to government rules. The Jewish Community Council of Montreal (Vaad Ha’ir) has sent out advisories.

Rabbi Yisroel Bernath, director of the NDG Chabad Centre, is pointing to his own example to drive the message home. He contracted COVID and, although relatively young, was “out of commission for six weeks.”

Pandemic Delays Plans for New Montreal Holocaust Museum

Sept. 22, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—The COVID pandemic has forced the Montreal Holocaust Museum (MHM) to abandon plans for a new multimillion-dollar premises, but says the project is still going forward.

In her annual report, outgoing president Dorothy Zalcman Howard said the MHM had found “an ideal location” to build a much larger museum and “achieved unprecedented success in obtaining funding commitments…The dream was about to be transformed into reality when COVID struck, and our board faced the difficult decision of stepping back from the brink and reshaping the vision.”



Holocaust survivor Mila Messner is captured in a photographic triptych for the Montreal Holocaust Museum’s new virtual exhibit, Witnesses to History, Keepers of Memory. (Photo courtesy MHM/Stéphanie Cousineau)

But she stressed that a new museum remains a top priority. “I invite you to stay tuned for good news in the future,” Zalcman Howard stated.

In 2018, the MHM announced plans to relocate and expand, leaving the Federation CJA building that was its home since it was founded in 1979.

The Azrieli Foundation pledged to underwrite a third of the cost, up to $15 million.

Zalcman Howard did not specify where that ideal location was, but the museum had said it wanted to move downtown in order to reach a wider audience.

The only one of its kind in Canada, the museum was receiving an ever-increasing number of visitors and demand for its educational services, necessitating the ambitious expansion.

A study by an independent consulting firm supported the project’s feasibility.

The work of the MHM remains more important than ever, as “Holocaust diminishment has taken root and awareness is declining,” Zalcman Howard told the MHM’s annual general meeting, held virtually Sept. 14.

Completing her two-year term as president, she assured: “Our future is vibrant and secure.”

MHM communications director Sarah Fogg later told CJR, “We are actively looking for a new location and have explored three excellent possibilities since April. We are definitely confident we will find a great site.”

The pandemic forced the MHM to close from mid-March until its reopening, with restrictions, on July 6. Despite this curtailment, Zalcman Howard reported that the facility reached hundreds of thousands of people over the previous 12 months, including 20,000 visitors, 9,750 of those students. More than 8,700 attended some 55 events organized by the MHM and 19 Holocaust survivors told their stories to some 12,500 people before the shutdown.

The MHM now has 13,405 items in its collection, the majority donated by local survivors or their descendants, as well as 858 videotaped survivor testimonies.

Following the shutdown, the museum’s already multi-faceted online and digital presence was further enhanced and attracted even more users, Zalcman Howard related.

Executive director Daniel Amar said the website and virtual exhibits had 116,000 visitors, while videos on YouTube of survivors’ testimonies were viewed 198,000 times, a 25 percent increase over the previous year.

The MHM produces pedagogical materials and runs teacher training programs. Over 35,000 visits to the educational pages on its site were recorded, traffic that did not stop while the schools were closed.

Zalcman Howard hailed the fact that her successor, Richard Schnurbach, is the first grandchild of survivors to serve as president of the MHM.

Three new members named to the board of directors reflect the MHM’s aim of attracting a more diverse public. Yasmine Abdelfadel is a founding member of Mémoires & Dialogue, a group fostering rapprochement among Jews and Arabs of North African origin; Widia Larivière is an Indigenous rights activist; while Denis Marion, a former senior political aide to Bloc Québécois and Parti Québécois members, is mayor of Massueville, a town near Sorel-Tracy. He lived in Israel in the late 1980s, earning a master’s degree in political science at Hebrew University.

Jennifer Carter, chair of the museum committee and University of Quebec at Montreal museology professor, is vice-president.

The latest virtual exhibit produced by the MHM is “Witnesses to History, Keepers of Memory,” portraits by Marie-Blanche Fourcade and Eszter Andor of 30 Montreal survivors who were photographed at home with objects that hold precious memories.

The annual meeting began with a memorial to the 60 survivors who died in the past year, conducted by Cantor Hank Topas and Rabbi Mark Fishman of Congregation Beth Tikvah.

Have a Happy, Healthy and Delicious New Year

Sept. 18, 2020 – By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Samayach. Welcome to “Kitchen Talk,” the weekly food blog of the CJR. Rosh Hashanah begins this evening and I would imagine that many readers have already prepared most of the special dishes they’ll be serving this weekend.

With COVID looming large throughout the country, preparing and serving holiday meals will entail safety logistics. I’ll still be celebrating the holiday with my siblings and their children, as we do every year, but we’ll be eating outdoors.

There will be no chicken soup this year but we’ll still be eating brisket, as is customary. In this issue, I’ll be sharing American celebrity chef Michael Solomonov’s recipe for Coffee Braised Brisket, which people may want to try on Sukkot.

Chef Solomonov, author of the award-winning cookbook Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, did a Rosh Hashanah food demo for Israel Bonds’ Chef’s Table last week.

I attended three virtual Jewish communal events with Solomonov this summer. Despite winning seven prestigious James Beard Foundation Awards, the culinary equivalent of the Academy Awards, Solomonov is very gracious and humble about his success.

Mangoes have been very plentiful this summer so I am including, cookbook author Daniella Silver’s recipe for Fresh Mango Salad. It’s a quick and simple recipe and a perfect side dish for a holiday supper or lunch. The recipe comes from Silver’s first book, The Silver Platter: Simple to Spectacular Wholesome Family Recipes, co-written with the late, great food maven, Norene Gilletz.

It’s not too early to think about Break Fast dishes for Yom Kippur. Award-winning food author Amy Stopnicki of Kosher-Taste fame has generously shared her recipe for Spinach Feta Quiche. Follow Stopnicki @amyskoshertaste on Instagram.

MY MOM’S COFFEE BRAISED BRISKET Michael Solomonov

2 tbsp (30 ml) finely ground coffee
1½ tbsp (20 ml) ground cardamom
1½ tbsp (20 ml) ground black cardamom
1 tbsp (15 ml) plus 1 tsp (5 ml) kosher salt
1 brisket (first cut, about 4 pounds (2 K)
¼ cup (60 ml) canola oil
2 large onions, sliced
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
10 garlic cloves, sliced
1/3 cup (90 ml) tomato paste 
1½ cups (375 ml) dried apricots
2 cups (500 ml) brewed coffee
8 large eggs in their shells
Grated fresh horseradish

Two days before serving: Mix the ground coffee, cardamom, black cardamom, and salt in a small bowl and rub into the brisket. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

One day before serving: Preheat the oven to 475°F (245°C). Set a rack inside a roasting pan. Put the brisket on the rack and roast until the exterior has browned, about 20 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 300°F (150°C).

Warm the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the onions, carrots, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook until it reduces slightly, about 2 more minutes. Transfer the vegetables to the roasting pan with the rack removed. Add the brisket, dried apricots, brewed coffee, and eggs in their shells. 

Add enough water to bring the liquid halfway up the side of the brisket. Cover the pan tightly with two layers of foil, return to the oven, and braise for 1 hour.

Remove the eggs, gently tap them all over to make a network of small cracks, and return them to the braise. Continue cooking until the brisket shreds easily with a fork, about 3 more hours.

Let the brisket cool in its braising liquid, then refrigerate overnight.

To serve: Preheat the oven to 350°F (189°C). Slice the cold brisket, return to the braising liquid, and bake until warmed through, about 30 minutes. Spoon the broth over the meat. 

Serve with the peeled eggs and grated fresh horseradish. Makes 8 servings

FRESH MANGO SALAD Daniella Silver

5 ripe mangoes, peeled and cut into long narrow strips
½ cup (125 ml) thinly sliced red onion
½ cup (125 ml) chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp (30 g) chopped fresh basil

Dressing

¼ cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup (60 ml) lemon juice (preferably fresh)
1 tbsp (15 ml) brown sugar or honey
½ tsp (3 ml) kosher salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

In a large bowl, combine mangoes with the red onion, parsley, and basil. 

Dressing: combine dressing ingredients in a glass jar; seal tightly and shake well.

Add the dressing to the sliced mangoes and onions and mix well. Cover and refrigerate until serving time. Makes 6–8 servings

SPINACH FETA QUICHE Amy Stopnicki

6 eggs
½ cup (125 ml) milk
1 cup (250 ml) grated mozzarella cheese
3 cups (750 ml) baby spinach, cleaned and checked, chopped 
1/3 cup (90 ml) feta cheese
1/3 cup (90 ml) pine nuts
salt and pepper to taste
1 ready-to-bake frozen deep dish pie shell

Preheat oven to 350°F (150°C).

In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, milk, cheese, spinach, feta cheese, pine nuts, salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into the frozen pie shell.

Bake for 35– 45 minutes or until set. Makes 6–8 servings

COMMUNITY SPOTLIGHT 

An occasional series on how Jewish-owned restaurant and food operations in Canada are faring during the pandemic. 

Community Spotlight is an occasional “Kitchen Talk” feature on how Canadian Jewish food entrepreneurs and chefs are faring during COVID. The pandemic has hit many restaurants and other food businesses very hard.

This week, we shine a light on Lev Levine, 30, owner of the popular restaurant, Lox + Schmear at 1030 St. Clair Ave. W. in Toronto, which is offering its in-house smoked fish despite COVID.

You could call the St. Clair West-Oakwood Ave. area in Toronto “Bagel Central,” as there are three bagel businesses located near each other: Lox + Schmear (1030 St. Clair Ave. W.); What a Bagel! (827 St. Clair Ave. W.) and the Primrose Bagel Company (317a Oakwood Ave.)

Lev Levine, 30, owner of Lox + Schmear, set up the first of the three bagel shops in this mid-town Toronto neighbourhood, now home to a large number of young Jewish families.

Lev Levine

It was three years in June that they opened their shop, Levine said in a recent telephone interview.

Asked about the close proximity of their competitors, Levine replied with a laugh, “As long as people are eating bagels lox and cream cheese, I’m happy. Of course, I’m happiest when they choose my product.”

Lox + Schmear specializes in small batch fish smoking, they said.

“All the fish is smoked in house. It’s the freshest smoked salmon you’ll ever have. It’s really our specialty. We do the whole process. It’s all hand-sliced. There are no additives or preservatives, no artificial flavouring or colourings.”

Before the pandemic, Lox + Schmear was a popular neighbourhood hub known for its loaded cream cheese and lox sandwiches, served on Montreal-style bagels. Levine also offered soups and salad, but the smoked salmon was “king,” they said.

However, in March, Levine closed the restaurant and pivoted to online sales: https://loxandschmear.square.site

While Levine is no longer preparing their famous bagel sandwiches, they’re selling all the ingredients so their customers can make their own.

Along with bagels and cream cheeses, there’s an impressive selection of hot smoked salmon and trout options, as well as Levine’s ever popular house-smoked lox and pastrami-cured smoked lox.

Levine takes orders during the week and the clientele pick up their food on Sunday mornings.

“It’s been going quite well,” they said. “It gave people a sense of comfort when the pandemic started that we were doing all the [food] prep in a safe and thoughtful way.”

Levine grew up eating bagels, lox and cream cheese and this was their preferred dish for breaking the Yom Kippur fast.

CULINARY CALENDAR:

Sept. 22, 2 p.m.: On Lox and Life: The Forward is sponsoring a conversation about all-things-appetizing with Len Berk, the last Jewish lox slicer at Zabar’s, and Melissa Clark, the New York Times food writer and cookbook author. This talk will be moderated by Jodi Rudoren, editor-in-chief of the Forward https://forward.com/culture/452758/september-22-on-lox-and-life/

Sept. 23, 11 a.m. Bernard Betel Cooking Club: Prepare healthy make-ahead breakfasts and snacks with Maria Lindgren https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYocuyupjgtHdH4SkYK9XS69aolga5nsjd_

Trudeau visits Ottawa Kosher Food Bank in advance of High Holidays

Sept. 17, 2020 – By SHAKED KARABELNICOFF

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commended the Jewish community for its strength and unity as he joined volunteers in preparing Rosh Hashanah bundles at the Ottawa Kosher Food Bank on Thursday morning (Sept. 17).

Prime Minister Trudeau, Minister McKenna and MP Anita Vandenbeld package honey and apples ahead of Rosh Hashanah at the Ottawa Kosher Food Bank. September 17, 2020.

“There is nothing if not adaptability and resilience from the Jewish community over the centuries and millennia,” Trudeau said to the mask-wearing group of community members who gathered at Ottawa’s Kehillat Beit Israel Congregation before heading to the food bank in the same building.

“As we approach Rosh Hashanah, the spirit of helping each other out and being there for one another is more important than ever before,” added Trudeau. “In the midst of a global pandemic, I can’t think of a better moment to talk about tikkun olam and the need to really reflect on what each of us can do to contribute to a better tomorrow.”

Trudeau was joined by Ottawa-area Liberal MPs including Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Catherine McKenna (Ottawa Centre) and Anita Vandenbeld (Ottawa West-Nepean) as they packaged apples and honey with a group of six volunteers.

The food bank, which serves around 100 families each month, has seen increased demand due to the impact of COVID, explained manager Dahlia Milech. That’s why volunteers are more important now than ever, she said.

(L-R) Prime Minister Trudeau, Rabbi Eytan Kenter, president Judah Silverman, KBI Executive Director Rena Garshowitz at the Kehillat Beit Israel. September 17, 2020.

The increased need matched with the new reality of COVID has meant the food bank had to provide an array of new services, such as home-delivery to those without a vehicle.

“We have about 30 to 40 deliveries every month and it’s all volunteers doing that,” Milech told Trudeau, Vandenbeld, and McKenna as they toured the facility.

It’s the people who were suffering before the pandemic who are hurting even more now, explained Vandenbeld.

“The way the community is coming together to meet the needs [of the food bank] and help those that are suffering more is incredibly important,” said Vandenbeld. “The Jewish community has always had a strong tradition of giving and charity… It’s an example to the rest of the community.”

As synagogues across the province await Premier Doug Ford’s announcement about the potential rollback of social gathering limits, which will affect High Holiday services, Trudeau had an uplifting message for the Jewish community.

“How things are going to happen this weekend is still up in the air,” he said. “But we will adapt and be together. What I see here, and what you have demonstrated throughout these past months, is extraordinarily important to Ottawa and to the rest of the country and the world.”

The underlying slogan of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s Emergency Campaign, Michael Polowin, Chair of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, told Trudeau, was that “the choices we make individually in our community today, will define the community that we will have tomorrow.”

In response, Trudeau light-heartedly referred to next week’s much anticipated Speech from the Throne.

“Well it sounds like you guys have seen a draft of the Throne Speech!” Trudeau exclaimed. “We’ll be talking about a lot of those messages.”


Shaked Karabelnicoff reports on a range of subjects including religious affairs, politics, diaspora Jewry, and Israeli life and culture. Born in Jerusalem, and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, she studied Journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Montréal Sait Faire: Cool Ways to Mark High Holidays

Sept. 15, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL — Six months into the COVID pandemic, Montreal Jewish organizations have come up with creative ways to observe the High Holidays outside the synagogue, while adhering to health regulations and making the best use of technology.

Chabad of Westmount got an early start with “To Life! An Epic Celebration of 5781” at a drive-in theatre held Sept. 14.

The sprawling Royalmount Drive-In Event Theatre opened this summer at the heavily-trafficked intersection of Décarie Boulevard and Highway 40, providing a venue for socially-distanced, open-air live entertainment.

The aim was “to life our spirits and celebrate the coming new year and the new hope it brings,” said Chabad director Rabbi Yossi Shanowitz.

Participants could stay in their car or sit beside it in chairs they brought, maintaining two-metre distancing for movements beyond that.

“To Life!” featured the eight-piece band Shtreiml and a performance by acrobats from Cirque du Soleil, which has been grounded since the start of the pandemic, and a pre-packaged dinner. There was also blowing of the shofar and song.

Jewish National Fund Montreal is also encouraging its supporters to prepare for the new year in a freilich way. It’s presenting a virtual wine tasting and live tour of the Golan Heights Winery in Israel on Sept. 16.

Participants can purchase packages of three, four or seven bottles of its Mount Hermon label vintages in advance to enjoy the tasting for real, and get a partial tax receipt.

Zoomed yoga and mindfulness are part of observance for Montreal Open Shul, a “post-denominational” pop-up project started by Rabbis Sherril Gilbert and Schachar Orenstein and Cantor Heather Batchelor that has been bringing inclusive, participatory Judaism to “unexpected places” like cafés, community centres and yoga studios since 2018.

Its High Holiday services and programs, all online, promise “more joy, less oy.”

The first-day Rosh Hashanah service is accompanied by live music with Fran Avni. On the second day, Orenstein, a certified instructor, leads a hatha yoga practice “through the lens of teshuvah” and a chanting service. Gilbert continues the theme of deep repentence during the Days of Awe through “centring practice.”

The sole in-person component is tashlich and shofar blowing at Beaver Lake on Mount Royal.

Following a Yom Kippur service, American musician, actor and Jewish studies instructor Anita Silvert present a “Bibliodrama” based on the Book of Jonah.

Two American rabbis, Jan Salzman and Mark Novak of the Jewish Renewal movement, join Gilbert and Orenstein for the concluding Yizkor and Neilah observances.

The Mile End Chavurah is also going almost entirely virtual. Founded 11 years ago, the grassroots, multi-generational community describes itself as “irreverently pious,” while seeking to re-imagine religious practice.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services are conducted by ritual leaders, singers and musicians, and aim to be as participatory as is possible with everyone at home.

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, four options are offered: a one-day out-of-town retreat for contemplation and study that may involve yoga and nature walks; an apple-picking outing; an outdoor gathering in the city; or the online “Songs of Social Action,” when participants can sing songs on themes ranging from anti-racism to LGBTQ issues to Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The Museum of Jewish Montreal reports that the virtual cooking workshop on Moroccan Rosh Hashanah cuisine held on Sept. 13, hosted by its partner Wandering Chew, went well.

Ron Arazi of New York Shuk, an artisanal food purveyor specializing in Sephardic and Middle Eastern Jewish cuisine, showed viewers how to make such traditional holiday dishes as tanzeya, a stew of dried fruits, nuts and carmelized onions, and pain petri, an anise-flavoured challah.

Even the annual POP Montreal International Music Festival, which opens Sept. 23 in a hybrid in-person and virtual edition showcasing indie and alternative acts, is getting into the spirit of the season.

It closes Sept. 27 with “Alphabet of Wrongdoing: A Jewish Liturgical Redux,” a live-streamed performance by Daniela Gesundheit from Los Angeles. She sings her composition inspired by the High Holidays liturgy, adapted “for secular audiences and secular spaces.”

Gesundheit, who divides her time between Los Angeles and Toronto, is a cantor and serves Toronto’s LGBTQ-inclusive Congregation Shir Libeynu as musical director. She is also founder and lead vocalist of the indie-pop band Snowblink. 

“Alphabet of Wrongdoing,” which she created a few years ago, is derived from the Yom Kippur prayer Ashamnu during which one confesses sins of the past year – alphabetically.

Her composition draws on its “themes of reckoning, forgiveness, mortality, striving and atonement,” she says, which should resonate with everyone.

High Holy Days Greetings from the Presidents of GTA Conservative Synagogues

Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, presidents of Greater Toronto Area Conservative synagogues noted below have been meeting by Zoom on a weekly basis to discuss concerns, share ideas and brainstorm solutions. We’ve talked about the challenges of managing our shuls, large and small, through this crisis and the impact on our day-to-day operations. And we’ve discussed how we’ve responded with online services and programs, our respective plans for the High Holy Days, and much more.

Most of us did not know one another before we began our weekly calls, which we all look forward to and which we hope will continue in the future. We have all thoroughly enjoyed the experience and have developed a profound respect for one another and for the outstanding work of our clergy, executive directors and staff, lay leadership and volunteers. Most of all, we have developed, through regular communications, a deeper appreciation of the remarkable power of community.

All synagogues, regardless of denomination, offer a vital service, particularly during a crisis, and we are all here to support our members and communities in times of joy and sorrow. We thank you, our members, for your commitment, support and contributions in helping to sustain a vibrant and relevant Jewish community through your synagogue affiliation.

As we approach a High Holy Day season unlike anything that many of us have ever experienced, we extend our best wishes to you, your families and loved ones for a safe, healthy and happy New Year.

David Urbach – Adath Israel Congregation 
Larry Miller – Beit Rayim Synagogue and School
Andy Pascoe – Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am
Malcolm Weinstein – Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue
Mark Vernon – Beth Radom Congregation
Abe Glowinsky – Beth Sholom Synagogue
Doug Millstone – Beth Tikvah Synagogue
David Lewis – Beth Torah Congregation
Debbie Rothstein – Beth Tzedec Congregation
Jeff Shabes – Lodzer Centre Congregation
Steve Bloom – Pride of Israel Synagogue 

September 14, 2020
Elul 25, 5780

COVID Cases Confirmed at Montreal Jewish School

Sept. 14, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL – Less than two weeks after opening, Talmud Torah and Herzliah High School are contending with three confirmed cases of COVID, the first Montreal Jewish day schools known to be affected by the virus.

Two positive cases at Herzliah were listed on the privately run website covidecolesquebec.com on Sept. 7, and one case at its elementary Talmud Torah on Sept. 10.

The school issued the following statement to CJR: “As one of the many schools in Quebec with COVID-19 cases, Azrieli Schools Talmud Torah/Herzliah is working in close collaboration with Quebec Public Health and following their directives to manage the situation.

“We are in constant communication with all our stakeholders and continue to stress the critical importance of appropriate health and safety measures to contain the spread of the virus, including hand hygiene, physical distancing and mask wearing,” the statement continued.

“We remain committed to delivering high quality education while ensuring the health and safety of our students, teachers, staff and families.”

Brigitte Fortin, the school’s director of strategic marketing and communication, did not respond to further questions from CJR.

It is not known whether the three cases are students or staff, or whether anyone other than those who have tested positive has had to go into isolation.

Talmud Torah has about 200 students and Herzliah 450. Both began the school year on Aug. 27.

Herzliah, which is located in a new building opened two years ago, is on the Jewish Community Campus, the seat of Federation CJA and its affiliates. The high school is the campus’s southern anchor and is physically connected to the Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA by an enclosed passageway.

The Y has been closed since March and its projected reopening is Sept. 30.

Talmud Torah remains in the building vacated by Herzliah, a block away.

The Quebec government plan requires all students in grades 5 and up to wear face coverings while in common areas of the school, but masks in the classroom or for younger children is optional.

Schools can recommend mask wearing beyond the government requirements, as  Jewish schools are doing, but they do not have the legal authority to impose it, Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge has said.

According to information on the Santé Québec website, when a case is confirmed at a school, all staff, students and parents are to be notified. Public health authorities will determine, with the administration, what “close contacts” the affected person has had at the school. If the risk to others is deemed to be high enough, those contacts will have to go into isolation for 14 days as well.

Covid Écoles Québec was created by Montreal IT specialist and parent Olivier Drouin after the government initially refused to make publicly available data on COVID cases in schools.

The government subsequently did make such information available on the Santé Québec site, but its running tally of affected schools lagged well behind Drouin’s and, on Sept. 10, the government  took down the web page – temporarily, it’s been stated – to make adjustments to the data collection system.

(Talmud Torah and Herzliah never appeared on the official list, which was far shorter than the unofficial one and, for reasons unexplained, from which English schools were mostly missing.)

As of Sept. 11, covidecolesquebec.com had compiled 226 schools with at least one confirmed case of COVID since Sept. 1 based on verified reports from parents or staff. There are approximately 3,100 schools in the province from pre-schools to adult training centres that qualify for the count.

$100 Million Campaign Aims to Soften Blow from COVID

Sept. 14, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL – The co-chairs of the extraordinary $100-million campaign underway to save the Montreal Jewish community from the ravages of COVID are vested in industries among the hardest hit: Commercial real estate and live entertainment.

But Jonathan Wener, chairman of the Canderel Group, and Mitch Garber, chairman of Cirque du Soleil, consider themselves very fortunate to have the financial resources that will allow them to weather the crisis.

They are pleading with those in a similar position to think of the many in the community who are experiencing real economic hardship.

Wener and Garber head up Federation CJA’s two-year “Community Recovery and Resilience Campaign,” launched in July to replace the usual annual Combined Jewish Appeal held in the fall.

In a Sept. 8 videoconference, the co-chairs described the “suffering” in the community, particularly among small business owners, such as those in the retail, manufacturing, import/export and restaurant sectors.

Companies, sometimes built up over decades, are closing or on the verge of doing so, they said. Montreal Jews are also not being spared from the widespread job losses.

If the $100-million goal is reached, $40 million will go directly to seeing those worst hit through the next 12 to 18 months, enough time, it is hoped, for them to get back on their feet.

The virtual event was organized by The Network, the CJA division for business and professional people over age 40.

“The reality is 99.9 per cent of people are gravely affected,” said Garber. “It’s very sad. It causes me great pain.”

He is witnessing devastation in his own world. In March, Cirque du Soleil suspended all shows, putting all but a couple of hundred of its 6,000 employees out of work and reducing annual revenue, which had been between $1 and $2 billion, to zero.

Mitch Garber
Mitch Garber

Garber is also chairman of Invest in Canada, a federal agency trying to attract foreign investment.

“This is a most difficult year to ask for money,” he said. “We are asking those who can to make up for those can’t give this year. We are asking you to hurt a little bit,” he said.

Wener, who is chancellor of Concordia University, was blunt.

“Many people have lost businesses and life savings, businesses they created themselves from nothing. It’s truly sad.”

Jonathan Wener
Jonathan Wener

He knows of families in the community who have “zero income” because both partners have lost their jobs.

“This is probably the worst year since the Depression. People are suddenly below the poverty line. They are bleeding to death,” he said.

“If you lost cash flow this year, think of those who are in a much worse situation. Take a little piece of your wealth (and give to the campaign).”

Wener said he believes businesses will gradually bring employees now working at home back to the office, at least for part of the week.

“Socially, people need to congregate. You can operate a company on Zoom, but you can’t build a company on it…People need to be able to walk down a hall and ask (a colleague), ‘What do you think of this?’ That’s how you build a community.”

He’s less optimistic about in-store shopping. The growth of e-commerce, he said, has only accelerated. Across Canada, “we are over-stored.”

Wener foresees underperforming shopping centres, with their large lots, being transformed into residential units or medical offices, which would bring traffic to the remaining retail tenants.

As for the future of live entertainment, Garber believes pent-up demand will fuel an eventual return to pre-pandemic times, when the crisis eases.

“People are hungry to get back out to live events, but it will take a long time.”

Program Explores War-Era Yiddish Songs About Sickness, Grief

Sept. 10, 2020 – By RUTH SCHWEITZER

Who knew that pandemics could occasion music? Songs written while typhus epidemics raged in ghettos and concentration camps during the Holocaust will be aired on Zoom from noon to 2 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 13.

The program, Pandemics, Hunger, Bribes and Music: Yiddish Songs of the Holocaust in Ukraine, is a lecture/concert featuring Psoy Korolenko on vocals, with guest performances by singer Isaac Rosenberg and the Payadora Tango Ensemble. University of Toronto Prof. Anna Shternshis will discuss the songs and their origins.

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One of the songs to be premiered at the free event is I Am a Typhus Louse, written in 1942 in Transnistria (now part of Moldova and Ukraine) by L. Vinakur. It’s a comic song from the perspective of a typhus louse, whose greater numbers ravaged the Transnistria Ghetto, and now wants to turn its attention to the Nazi soldiers.

Spread by lice, typhus was rampant during the Second World War, as Jews and other prisoners in the concentration camps were victims of forced starvation and horrific living conditions. It killed hundreds of thousands of people. 

Remembering the typhus epidemic is all the more timely amid the worldwide COVID pandemic. When the lockdown started in Toronto last March, Shternshis began researching Yiddish songs about epidemics to see how past generations dealt with them.

I Am a Typhus Louse is one of the songs Shternshis discovered in 2005, in an archive at the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine. From the library’s basement, she retrieved thousands of Yiddish song lyrics, stories and letters.

The songs were written in the Soviet Union by men, women and children – Holocaust victims and survivors, and Jewish Red Army soldiers. They were collected from 1943 to 1947 by a team of Soviet ethnomusicologists from the Kiev Cabinet for Jewish Culture, led by Moisei Beregovsky. The subjects of the songs include accounts of Nazi genocide of Jews in Ukraine. The songs often express the desire for revenge against Adolf Hitler.

“Some of the most striking findings from this archive were songs written in small camps and ghettos in Nazi-occupied areas of Ukraine from where there remain no photographs,” Shternshis said in a YouTube video. 

“Songs were written by amateur authors, often children, sometimes women, and none of them were professional poets or songwriters,” she said. “All of these songs document what mattered to people then – issues of daily life, pandemics, starvation, and violence in ghettos.”

Beregovsky had hoped to publish an anthology of the songs but the project was never completed, as he and his colleagues were arrested in 1949, at the height of Stalin’s anti-Jewish purge. The archive was seized and remained in unlabelled boxes in the library until the 1990s, when a librarian catalogued the contents.

Anna Shternshis, Psoy Korolenko
Anna Shternshis and Psoy Korolenko

In 2014, Shternshis worked with Korolenko, who paired lyrics from the archive with melodies he adapted from popular Yiddish and Soviet Second World War-era songs. Since then, they’ve been performed in venues around the world, including at Toronto’s Koerner Hall. A collection of the songs, Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II, was nominated for a Grammy in 2019 in the Best World Music Album category.

Among the songs featured in the Zoom program will be My Mother’s Grave, written by a 10-year-old who was a prisoner in the Pechora concentration camp, operated by Romania during the Second World War in the village of Pechora, now in Ukraine. In the song, the child details his grieving after losing his mother, and vows that the enemy will be defeated. 

Information on how to access Pandemics, Hunger, Bribes and Music: Yiddish Songs of the Holocaust in Ukraine, co-presented by Klez Kanada, the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies at U of T and the Canada Council of the Arts, is provided on the poster that accompanies this article.

To watch the video I Am a Typhus Louse, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=OK8ERL5SSic

Israeli Experts on Back to School in the COVID Era

Sept. 9, 2020 – By SHARON GELBACH

As schools slowly open on different dates and in different forms, the CJR consulted a panel of experts from the Sheba Medical Center’s Safra Children’s Hospital in Tel HaShomer, near Tel Aviv, on commonly asked questions: Dr. Itai Pessach, director of the Safra Children’s Hospital at Sheba Medical Center; Dr. Galia Barkai, director of the department of Infectious Diseases in Children at Sheba Medical Center; and Prof. Doron Gothelf, director of the Department of Child and Teen Psychiatry.

Now that the children are going back to school, how can we prevent them from bringing home the coronavirus?

Dr. Galia Barkai

Dr. Barkai: The good news is that children, especially those under 10, have a significantly less chance of catching the virus and of becoming ill with it. Overall, the number of cases of children with COVID worldwide has been very low. At Sheba, the majority of the children were hospitalized for a different reason entirely and a routine test showed that they were COVID-positive.

Nevertheless, they certainly can be carriers as we’ve seen numerous times. What we need is collective responsibility, which implies, among other things, following the safety rules: Wearing masks, maintaining distancing (I don’t like to say “social distancing” because school is a social experience; but rather, physical distancing), and hand hygiene, which I think is the most important thing. Habituate children to hand-washing with soap or sanitizing with gel. Once we do this, we greatly reduce the chance of infection.

Dr. Itai Pessach

Dr. Pessach: Another important regulation that applies to older children is keeping them in capsules, and we’ve seen that this can significantly reduce the rate of infection.

In the coming few weeks, as summer turns to fall and we enter the flu and cold season, we have to be much more vigilant. It’s never a good idea to send a child with a runny nose, cough or fever to school. I know of many parents who would give a mildly ill child a Tylenol and send him to school; this is not an option these days. If a child exhibits any symptom that could be COVID, he must be kept at home as long as those symptoms persist.

Prof. Doron Gothelf

Dr. Barkai: The school bus can also be a source of infection. Try to make sure that the bus is not crowded. Children should have their masks on in the bus and sit as far away as possible from one another. If possible, the windows should be kept open.

What do you recommend for a child with asthma or a child with a weakened or suppressed immune system?

Dr. Pessach: Children with chronic illnesses or who have weakened immune systems due to special medications or chemotherapy are at higher risk of developing a severe case of coronavirus, but overall, the chances are still slight. That said, parents must consult with their health provider to receive specific advice and guidelines related to their individual issues.

How do you recommend that teachers keep themselves safe?

Dr. Barkai: First of all, teachers should know that if they wear a mask and the children also wear a mask, they are very well protected. We found that in the hospital, whenever infections did occur, they could be traced not to the clinical areas, but to the common rooms, where the staff took breaks. So, it’s the same thing at school. Teachers should adhere to safety rules in the classroom, but also in the teacher’s room. Teachers of children who are not of the age required to wear a mask can gain additional protection with a plastic shield. Nothing is 100 percent but I really think that is sufficient.

Dr. Pessach: I want to stress that masks do work. In the Safra children’s hospital, the medical staff was extremely strict about wearing masks and not one clinician caught COVID or even had to go into quarantine. If you wear a mask and a plastic shield, know that you are protected. This is how we protect high-risk patients.

How often should we change masks?

Dr. Pessach: The recommendation for disposable surgical masks is to change them twice or three times a day. At the hospital, we are required to switch every shift, which is every eight hours.

How can I keep my child safe while taking part in sports?

Dr. Barkai: It’s impossible to do sports with a mask because of the increased output of carbon dioxide. For this reason, sports are best done outside to reduce the chance of infection. Alternately, they can be done inside a large auditorium, where it is possible to keep a distance between students. If the only place for physical activity is inside the classroom, it’s better to forgo it.

How can I help my child who has to be in quarantine?

Prof. Gothelf: Quarantine is not a normal situation and it is never pleasant. The following are a few important steps to take:

1. First, explain to the child, in an age-appropriate manner, the reason for quarantine and its importance. When we grasp the significance of what we do, it gives us the strength to do it. Lacking a full explanation, the child is liable to imagine all kinds of scenarios. It’s also important to clarify to the child that he did nothing wrong, so that he shouldn’t feel guilty.

2. Try to keep up a regular routine that is as close to the child’s regular routine, including normal sleep/wake times.

3. Limit the child’s exposure to media. Children who read the news may become unduly anxious; it’s better for them to hear the news through the filter of their parents.

4. In the event there the school offers Zoom classes, try to encourage the child to participate so that he will continue to feel involved in the class and won’t fall behind with his schoolwork.

How can I prepare my child for the transition from preschool to first grade?

Prof. Gothelf: Children become anxious mainly when they don’t know what to expect. It’s Important to prepare a child for any transition, especially one in which there are COVID regulations added to the mix. Hang the school schedule on the fridge, tell him about the new rules at school and explain their importance. Personal example here is of utmost importance. You can’t expect your child to adhere to the rules if you don’t. 

Small children often have trouble managing with their masks. Make sure they fit well, that the elastic isn’t too loose or too tight, that the material doesn’t irritate the child’s skin. Allowing the child to choose a fabric mask in the color or design of their choice can help.

Preschoolers should have at least one visit to school before the start of the year to help them make the transition from kindergarten to school — to meet the teacher, learn where the washrooms are, etc. In the COVID era, schools have skipped this stage. Remember that and try to fill in those gaps by taking the child to school in the first days.

How can I help my child get the most out of distance learning?

Prof. Gothelf: Let me begin by saying that distance learning is challenging for both parents and children. Relax. Now is not the time to insist on children getting straight A’s. Let’s lower our expectations; our children will have plenty of time to catch up.

Unlike in a classroom situation, teachers cannot see when the children are experiencing difficulty. You as the parent must try to keep in touch with the teacher to keep her in the loop. Often, children need more help with distance learning, and this can be challenging for working parents. Try to get the help of an older sibling, or a neighbor. And again, keep in touch with the teacher. 


Sharon Gelback
Sharon Gelback

Sharon Gelbach grew up in Toronto, studied journalism at Carleton University, and moved to Israel in 1982. She lives in the Jerusalem area with her family. A writer, editor and translator, among her many projects are writing PR content for the Sheba Medical Center.

Synagogues Reinvent High Holiday Services Amid COVID

Sept. 8, 2020 – By LILA SARICK

When Rabbi Lisa Grushcow ascends the bimah on Rosh Hashanah at the Montreal synagogue she leads, it will be in a silent and nearly empty building.

Like many synagogues, Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom has decided it is not safe to gather together, and so all the High Holiday services will be virtual this year.

While some rabbis may be negative about “three-day-a-year Jews,” Rabbi Grushcow said she is not one of them.

“I love that feeling of a full sanctuary, of people being there with each other and for each other,” she told the CJR. “There’s no question I’ll miss that.”

While Jews may have participated in Zoom seders over Passover, few thought that Jewish life would be still be online by the High Holidays. But COVID has forced synagogues of all denominations to radically change how and where they will worship this fall.

For some institutions it will mean moving to technology in a way they never envisioned. For others, it means shortened services, outdoors if possible, to reduce congregants’ exposure to each other.

For many synagogues, the priority has been connecting with members in a time of isolation. Rabbi Grushcow’s temple distributed 600 High Holiday kits with a honey cake, a yahrzeit candle and a mizrach – decorative art used to indicate the direction of prayer – to help people transform their homes into sacred spaces.

“We’re trying to create that feeling of connection. That’s what’s at the heart of what people are looking for,” Rabbi Grushcow said.

While Jewish history is long enough to demonstrate that the current situation is not entirely unprecedented, technology is certainly changing the landscape for synagogues, Rabbi Grushcow pointed out.

“We are all working not to reinvent our mission, but the way we deliver it,” she said. “The fact we can use technology is a huge help and there’s a certain openness to doing things new ways that is helpful.”

Rabbi Adam Cutler will be conscious of new technology when he begins Rosh Hashanah services at Adath Israel Congregation, a Conservative synagogue in Toronto.

Only about 170 of the synagogue’s 1,100 seats will be filled, to comply with social distancing rules, but the service will be livestreamed to members who do not feel comfortable attending this year.

The Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards had been considering the halachic implications of livestream technology in synagogues before the pandemic started, but hastened to issue a ruling in May that approved the use of cameras on Shabbat and holy days.

Individual synagogues can decide whether to adopt the ruling, and after studying the decision and speaking with colleagues, Rabbi Cutler felt it was the right thing for Adath Israel.

“It’s not something we plan on keeping permanently, but it’s there until everyone feels comfortable being present in the shul.”

When leading services, Rabbi Cutler said, “I make a point of noticing the additional people (watching) at home. It means looking at the camera, which is new for me.”

Adath Israel’s services will be shorter in order to limit exposure, and require pre-registration for contact tracing.

Recognizing that people may need more preparation for the High Holidays this year, the synagogue prepared a month-long program of daily videos highlighting different character traits as well as booklets with texts and essays for discussion.

The synagogue parking lot will also be the site of a drive-through holiday experience before Rosh Hashanah to allow children to hear the shofar, eat apples and honey, and symbolically cast away their sins (into an inflatable pool), all while remaining safely in their family’s car.

Like most synagogues that have re-opened, Adath Israel has not restricted people from attending, but suggests that those who are older consider whether they should come to services in person.

“I fundamentally believe that people have the right to their own agency, you can decide what’s right for you,” Rabbi Cutler said.

Still, it will be an unusual experience when Rabbi Cutler enters a sanctuary where only a fraction of the congregants will be in the pews.

“You have to gear yourself up, and realize there are empty seats for appropriate reasons,” he said.

Not every synagogue in Canada is facing the same restrictions. In Halifax, where COVID cases have been low, current health regulations allow groups to occupy 50 percent of a building’s capacity.

Rabbi Gary Karlin, spiritual leader of Halifax’s Shaar Shalom Congregation, estimates his sanctuary will hold up to 150 people, accounting for social distancing, with more accommodated in a tent. The service will also be livestreamed.

Halifax Synagogue
Halifax Synagogue

Rabbi Karlin will also blow the shofar at the Conservative synagogue’s tashlich ceremony, which is held on the city’s boardwalk, facing the Atlantic Ocean.

While it will be a different High Holiday season, with restrictions and masks, Rabbi Karlin who is celebrating his second Rosh Hashanah in Halifax, hears from colleagues about synagogues that will not be able to open at all.

“I feel very fortunate that things are good deal safer in Nova Scotia. I thank God I’m in a relatively safe place.”

Not opening for the High Holidays was not an option for Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, a Montreal Orthodox synagogue that has taken its classes and programs online, but eschews livestreaming on Shabbat and holidays.

Instead, the synagogue will be offering multiple shortened services, indoors and outside, as well as a pre-recorded service featuring the choir and cantor that was produced over the summer.

Rabba Rachel Kohl Finegold, a member of Shaar Hashomayim’s clergy and president of the Montreal Board of Rabbis, will be leading a family service in a tent this year.

“None of us are having children in the building, which is counter to every instinct we have,” she said.

Instead, the synagogue has sent out a High Holiday box with at-home activities for its youngest members, and volunteers have made calls to older members. “There’s a lot of isolation,” said Rabba Finegold. “We want people to know we’re there for them.”

The pandemic has also thrown new light on Jewish home life, she said. “We’ve all spent so much time at home, that’s reinvigorated that home base for many families.”

The synagogue, for instance, made a challah kit for families, who could then participate by Zoom with Rabba Finegold as she and her daughter braided challah and sang Shabbat songs.

“They’re in my kitchen and I’m in their kitchens. That’s a new way of Jewish engagement.”

Rabba Finegold has also been working with families to craft bar mitzvahs and baby-namings that were completely different from what they had envisioned.

“It’s an amazing time of innovation. There’s the silver lining and we have to harness that too.”

While she could never have imagined the restrictions that COVID has placed on people, she said it may also open new avenues.

“To be outdoors in a tent greeting the New Year, maybe there are possibilities there. We’ve invented some pretty engaging things.”

CJR Q&A: Marra Messinger, Executive Director, Jewish Free Loan Toronto

Aug. 31, 2020 – By DAVID WINTRE

Jewish Free Loan Toronto (JFLT) assists needy members of the Toronto-area Jewish community by providing interest-free loans. JFLT follows the biblical dictate (repeated four times in the Torah): “When you lend money to my people, to the poor man among you, do not press him for repayment. Also do not take interest from him.”

JFLT offers zero percent interest loans for emergencies, living expenses, medical and dental care, Jewish life-cycle events, education and new businesses.

You have been the executive director at JFLT since 2014. Previously, you lived in Israel and had interesting jobs.

I was the Cultural and Public Affairs Officer at the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv for 15 years, and then the director of circulation at the Jerusalem Post. This was when the paper was owned by Conrad Black.

Marra Messinger, Executive Director, Jewish Free Loan

How was the JFLT created?

In 1922, Rabbi Barnett Brickner recommended that a new Free Loan Society be created under the auspices and [with the] financial backing of B’nai Brith and private donors. With $3,800 from B’nai Brith and $1,350 from donors, the first meeting of the Hebrew Free Loan Association took place on Dec. 7, 1922 at the Zionist Institute at the corner of Beverly and Dundas streets in Toronto. These two organizations were amalgamated in 1924.

How does the JFLT work? Where does the money come from?

From a variety of sources. The United Jewish Appeal gives us an annual operating grant and the rest is from private donations. We have a named fund donation program, where the donor can name the fund and designate what type of loans the fund should support. Individual donors, family foundations, estate trusts – not all of them Jewish – and just recently, two Sephardic synagogues have set up named funds at JFLT.

Synagogues can also use our services on behalf of their congregants. If a synagogue gives us a security deposit, we lend out four times the amount of the deposit. This enables synagogue members to take out loans without guarantors. The security deposit is returned to the synagogue when all the loans are repaid.

Who are your clients?

Our borrowers are Jewish residents of Ontario who are over 18 years of age. They come from diverse ethnic backgrounds, family configurations, and religious affiliations. Our clients come from more than 40 countries of birth with varying levels of education and ability.

How much money is available for loans?

We currently have approximately 850 active loans circulating in the community worth close to $4 million.

Where does the money go?

The most popular loan is the personal loan, which is usually used for debts, rent arrears, Jewish life cycle events, and dental needs.

Then there are $1,000 loans without guarantors for people who cannot secure co-signers. We also offer business loans, loans for fertility and adoption, and educational loans. Our newest loan program is for Jewish education to defray the cost of attending a Jewish school. And finally, our COVID emergency loan to help with the financial fallout from the pandemic.

We put the COVID program together in only two weeks. This was an accomplishment, as up until that point, we had been an organization based on in-person contact. With telephone interviews, zoom loan committee meetings, and direct deposit into client’s bank accounts, we quickly converted to “virtual” service delivery.

I also want to mention that JFLT has created partnerships with other Jewish non-profit organizations, such as March of the Living. These partnerships reduce the partner agencies costs and save valuable community dollars. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Does JFLT ever turn anyone down or has anyone not repaid a loan?

Hardly ever on both accounts. JFLT’s loans are given out on the basis of need. When there is a difficult judgment call, we try to err on the side of compassion. JFLT is here to help anyone in need…to allow members of the Jewish community to both survive and keep their dignity and self-respect intact.

What initiatives does JFLT have for the future?

We would like to expand our profile and capacity within the community. Specifically, we would like to create more partnerships with other Jewish agencies. These partnerships help the partner organizations and, most importantly, expand JFLT’s capacity to help a new cadre of people.


The above corrects a number of inaccuracies that appeared in the original version of this article.

Canadians Sign Up for Global Jewish Pen Pal Program

Aug. 28, 2020 –

By SUSAN MINUK

By early April, the coronavirus pandemic had the world hunkered down in self-quarantine. As people were isolating, Pennsylvania-born Madison Jackson knew the timing was right to launch her passion project: The Global Jewish Pen Pal Program.

Madison Jackson

“The best way to dispel myths about what it means to be Jewish in other countries is to create one-on-one friendships and international Jewish connections where you actually get the chance to learn about Jewish life from someone who lives in a different country than yourself,” Jackson, 22, told the CJR.

To date, 450 people have signed up for the program and 400 matches have been made. Thirty Canadians from Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Saskatoon have been paired with Jewish pen pals in Ukraine, Poland, Australia, Mexico, Switzerland, England, Hong Kong, Georgia, the Netherlands, India, and the United States. The youngest pen pal is seven, the oldest, 83.

The idea for the initiative came about in the summer of 2018, when Jackson worked as an intern at the American Jewish Committee’s Central Europe office in Warsaw, after receiving a Goldman Fellowship.

She researched and wrote reports aboutJewish communities in seven Central European countries, and researched and edited content for a book about Polish-Jewish dialogue. After that, she traveled in the region.

“I realized there are Jews living all over the world with so much in common,” she said.

There’s a vetting process in which applicants must state how they learned about the program – whether through their synagogue or a Facebook group.It’s all free and open to Jews of any age who can speak, read and write in English.

The criteria for a match require that people come from two different countries and be no more than two years apart in age, Jackson explained.They also have to sign up for the same form of communication, whether handwritten letters, emails, or video calls.

“We just had our first person sign up from Croatia!” Jackson exclaimed.

The program has garnered attention from synagogues and Jewish youth groups, such as B’nai Brith Youth Organization (BBYO) International and Hillel International.

Jackson was raised in a Conservative Jewish home in Cleveland, Ohio, and spent summers at Camp Ramah inMuskoka, Ont. as a camper and later, as staff.

In the summer of 2014, she travelled to Hungary to attend Szarvas International Jewish Youth Camp, where she met Jewish peers from countries outsideNorth America and Israel. She quickly grew passionate about Jewish life in Europe and India, especially about individuals who were “ecstatic to learn about Jewish traditions and customs they learned from camp…and bring it back to their parents and their local communities.”

This experience led her to pursue her education in contemporary studies in Jewish life. She graduated from Binghamton University in May 2019 with a double BA in Judaic Studies and English.

The Global Jewish Pen Pal Program engages its participants by sending out monthly conversation starters. It highlights a pen pal “Pair of the Month,”and shares Jewish recipes and fun facts from other countries via Facebook and Instagram.

Jackson is also hosting pen pals as guests on her own show, “The Pen Pal Perspective,” aired on Radio Melitz, an online operation that aims to connect Jewish communities, schools, institutions, and projects around the world.

“In addition to matching individuals, I am now matching school classes with Jewish pen pals in another country,” she said.

Jackson is devoting all her time to theprogram, as she was laid off from her job as a program associate at the Cleveland JCC amid COVID.

To learn more, visit the Global Jewish Pen Pal Program on Facebook or @global_jewish_pen_pals on Instagram.

Kitchen Talk: Virtual Cooking Classes Abound in COVID Times

Aug. 28, 2020 – By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

Shabbat Shalom and welcome to “Kitchen Talk,” the weekly food blog of the CJR.

As I settle into the sixth month of social distancing, there are certain aspects of COVID pandemic that I have come to enjoy. In particular, I am taking advantage of the many virtual educational opportunities, especially online cooking classes.

Yesterday I watched three food demos: How to make blintzes, chopped liver, and sweet noodle kugel. They were presented by Liz Alpern and Jeffrey Yoskowitz, co-authors of The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Food.

Their classes are part of “A Seat at the Table, a Journey into Jewish Food,” a free series offered until December by YIVO, the Institute for Jewish Research. To register go to https://yivo.org/food

Today, I’ll be going on a virtual tour of St. Petersburg (the one in Russia) from a Jewish perspective, and then at 3 p.m. I’m signed up for a cooking class with cookbook author and national columnist Bonnie Stern. She’ll be teaching participants how to use fresh herbs and phyllo dough.

Carolyn Tanner-Cohen is another Toronto-based culinary expert offering online cooking classes. She has been running the Delicious Dish Cooking School from her home since 2002. She’s been kind enough to share two terrific recipes (below), which would work very well for Rosh Hashanah: Honey Za’atar Chicken Drumsticks and Braised Stuffed Peppers with Quinoa, Zucchini, Tomatoes and Pine Nuts.

Tanner-Cohen said that with COVID, she’s had to reimagine her school. “I had been wanting to refigure my business and change it, but there wasn’t a real need,” she said. “People still wanted engagement in person. Now people are comfortable being at home. This is the new normal.”

Tanner-Cohen has had a following on Instagram (@deliciousdishcooking) for several years. When the pandemic started, she would let her followers know what she was cooking for dinner and list the ingredients. “I was giving out the menu a week in advance with a grocery list.”

People would tune into Instagram Live to watch or cook along with her, she explained. “Every time I made dinner I would be doing it live.”

Tanner-Cohen said she has now increased her Instagram followers from 2,500 to 5,800, and she’s developed a new platform for E-commerce on her Web site, https://deliciousdish.ca/

She began offering cooking classes on weeknights. “I’m doing Zoom classes four nights a week. At 5 p.m., we all cook dinner together.” Her main page has the class schedule for the upcoming month, along with grocery lists. She said there’s a regular group of participants to her classes who have become a community.

On Sept. 14 and 15, Tanner-Cohen will be running a longer, two-part baking class for Rosh Hashanah, and on the following two days (Sept. 16 and 17), she will be preparing the holiday dinner. “If you log in you can make your entire Rosh Hashanah meal with me. We’re going to cook it together and people can freeze it.”

HONEY ZA’ATAR CHICKEN DRUMSTICKS 

Honey Zatar Chicken Drumsticks. Photo credit: Carolyn Tanner Cohen

12 chicken drumsticks
2½ tbsp (40 ml) za’atar, divided
4 tbsp (60 ml) sesame seeds, divided
2 tsp (10 ml) kosher salt, plus more for seasoning the chicken 
2 tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
¼ cup (60 ml) honey

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C) convection. Line a sheet with parchment or foil. Season the chicken with a little salt and pepper.

Combine 1½ tbsp of the za’atar, 2 tbsp of the sesame seeds, salt and oil in a bowl. 

Rub the oil and za’atar mixture all over the chicken and place the chicken on the lined cookie sheet.

Drizzle the honey all over the chicken pieces. Sprinkle the chicken with the remainder of the za’atar and sesame seeds.

Bake for about 45 minutes. Makes 4 – 6 servings

BRAISED STUFFED PEPPERS WITH QUINOA, ZUCCHINI, TOMATOES AND PINE NUTS

Braised Stuffed Peppers
Braised Stuffed Peppers. Photo credit: Carolyn Tanner Cohen

6 –10 red and yellow bell peppers uniform in size

Filling:

2-3 tbsp (30- 45 ml) olive oil
3 onions, finely chopped
2 zucchini ends removed, grated on a large hole box grater
2 tsp (10 ml) kosher salt
1 tsp (5 ml) sweet paprika
½ tsp (3 ml) pepper
2 large tomatoes grated
1½ cup (375 ml) uncooked quinoa
⅓ cup (90 ml) pine nuts toasted
½ cup (125 ml) chopped parsley

For the Sauce

2 tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
4 cloves garlic minced
¼ cup (125 ml) tomato paste
1½ cups (375 ml) vegetable or chicken stock
1 tsp (5 ml) sugar
½ tsp (3 ml) kosher salt
¼ tsp (2 ml) pepper
2-3 whole onions, peeled

Cut the tops off the peppers. With your fingers remove the seeds and membranes and set the peppers aside.

Filling: In a large sauté pan, heat the oil, add the chopped onion and cook on medium heat until golden brown and caramelized, about 10 minutes. 

Add the grated zucchini, toss and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Add the salt, pepper, paprika and grated tomato. Toss to combine the ingredients and let them cook for 1–2 minutes. Add the quinoa and cook another 1–2 minutes. 

Add the pine nuts and parsley and toss. Turn the heat off while preparing the sauce.

Sauce: In a large braising pot with a lid heat the oil on low heat. Choose a pot that will fit the peppers in snugly. 

Add the garlic and sauté for less than 10 seconds. Add the tomato paste, carefully to avoid splattering. Add the stock, whisk to combine the tomato paste with the stock. Add the sugar, salt and pepper. Bring the sauce to a boil and let it simmer for a few minutes. Set aside about ¾ cup (220 ml) of sauce. 

In the meantime, stuff the peppers with the filling, about ⅔ cup (180 ml) per pepper. 

Place the peppers in the sauce (cut side up), squeezing the peppers in. The less space the better. If you have any space in between the peppers, fill it with the extra whole (or half) peeled onions (They will flavour the sauce). 

Pour the reserved ¾ cup (200 ml) sauce over the filled peppers. Put the lid on the pot, turn the heat to low and let the peppers simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Makes 6 –10 servings.

CULINARY CALENDAR

Sept. 1, 3:30 p.m. ET: “Braid Along” Challah Workshop led by Bonnie Stern and Rabbi Elyse Goldstein. Presented by City Shul. To register go to https://www.cityshul.com/form/challah.html

Sept. 9, 2 p.m. ET: Ashkenazi Cuisine: Identity, Memory, and Culture: Jeffrey Yoskowitz will be in conversation about Eastern European Jewish cuisine with award-winning author Michael Twitty, and acclaimed cookbook author Leah Koenig. Register for Free at https://zoom.us/webinar/register/9615983422166/WN_THYxFfgSSPmwSuDqAKMPvA


Barbara Silverstein
Barbara Silverstein

Barbara Silverstein is a Toronto-area journalist and an award-winning food writer. She was a long-time contributor to The Canadian Jewish News. Her articles have also appeared in Homemaker’s Magazine, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, and Tablet Magazine.

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)

Editorial: Let’s Continue to Save Lives

Aug. 27, 2020

In the Jewish tradition, we are taught that“whosoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved the entire world” – surely a beautiful sentiment embraced by other faith traditions.

And yet, we see very much the opposite today, especially in the reaction of a significant minority both here and in the United States to dangerous fiction that “trumps” truth when it comes to Covid-19.

Alarmingly, more than a few people are either ignorant or think they are invincible,or worse, believe religiously-tinged fairy tales from numbskulls in leadership positions.

Take Ohio state representative Nino Vitale, for example. The Republican has urged his fellow Ohioans to refuse to wear face masks. As he rambled to Newsweekrecently, “When we think about the image and likeness of God, that we’re created in the image and likeness of God, when we think of image, do we think of a chest or our legs or our arms? We think of their face. I don’t want to cover people’s faces. That’s the image of God right there. I want to see it in my brothers and sisters.”

Ordinary Americans have also invoked God, claiming masks interfere with His divinely-designed human breathing apparatus. A study released in late June suggested that White American evangelicals’ attitudes toward the coronavirus pandemic are considerably more relaxed than those of other religious groups.

This might go some way to explaining the fact that the United States has the highest number (per 100,000 people) of Covid cases and deaths in the world.

To date, nearly 180,000 Americans have died in the pandemic, a number that scientists and epidemiologists tell us wasavoidable had people followed the simple hygienic rules by now burned into our brains: keep your distance, wash your hands, and wear a mask – simple rules that Donald Trump was reluctant to mandate.

Worse, Trump seems to treat unnecessary deaths with a shrugging normalcy. Asked a couple of weeks ago about the staggering death rate in his country, he responded, “it is what it is.”

One might assume that members of his own party would be horrified at such a reply. Not so much. A recent CBS poll found 57percent of Republicans felt that a death toll of 176,000 Americans (at the time) was “acceptable.” The same survey found that 73 percent of Republicans believe Trump is handling the Coronavirus pandemic well.

Thankfully, saner heads prevail when the same question is asked across the United States, where 62 percent of voters believe the response is “going badly.” Incredibly,however, that means close to 40 percent of Americans (almost 150 million people) are just fine with Trump’s handling of the pandemic.

In Canada, we are faring much better, even though we have our own “Covoidiots.” Take the recent example of 600 patrons packedshoulder-to-shoulder into a downtown Toronto strip club. Naturally, an employee tested positive for the virus. Now all attendees and employees have to isolate and monitor. Consider also pandemic house parties held across the country, just begging for infection?

The good news, however, is that for the most part, our political leaders, no matter where they stand on the spectrum andunlike their American counterparts, have saved lives by listening to science and taking the best possible advice from those in public health charged with looking after our welfare.

This is not to say problems don’t exist. Finding the right balance between opening our schools and preventing huge spikes in the virus remains a real challenge.

So far, with the customary Canadian sense of following established rules (and a little luck), our pandemic numbers have been trending downward. We need to continue down this path with care and thoughtfulness. We need to continue saving entire generations.

Montreal Jewish Schools Say They’re Ready

Aug. 27, 2020 – By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—Jewish day school officials here say they have put in place all of the measures required under Quebec’s COVID back-to-school plan, and even exceeded them – but only within the limits of the law.

In an online discussion Aug. 25 organized by the Communaute Sepharade Unifiee du Quebec as part of the annual Festival Sefarad de Montreal, officials offered assurances that their schools are ready to provide a safe environment for students and staff when they open after being closed since mid-March.

The schools are members of the Association of Jewish Day Schools (AJDS), an independent body funded by member schools.

A key point of divergence between some of the Jewish schools and the government’s plan, unveiled on Aug. 10, was the wearing of masks. The plan stipulates that masks must be worn by students in grade 5 and up at all times in the school’s common areas, such as corridors. Wearing them in the classroom, however, is optional.

Some schools had wanted to make masks obligatory in the classroom or for younger children as well, as a few non-Jewish private schools in Montreal said they would. In reaction, the government was firm: That neither private nor public schools have the legal authority to impose measures beyond the public health directives.

The AJDS-affiliated schools, which open as early as Aug. 27, are now “strongly recommending” that students cover their faces while in class.

The discussion, moderated by journalist Elias Levy and conducted in French, heard that some schools have also implemented such extra precautions as Plexiglas shields between desks and air purifiers in classrooms. At least one school will be doing temperature checks.

The Quebec plan does not require social distancing in the classroom. Students in each class are expected to be a “bubble”’ that stays together, with teachers moving between classrooms.

Connecting to the Zoom conference were: AJDS executive director Sidney Benudiz; Lucienne Azoulay, director of Academie Yechiva Yavne; Laura Segall, Hebrew Academy’s head of school; Jennifer Benoualid, principal of Solomon Schechter Academy; Alexandra Obadia, president of Talmud Torah/Herzliah High School; and Esther Krauze, president of Ecole Maimonide.

Another AJDS affiliate, Jewish People’s and Peretz Schools/Bialik High School, which did not take part in the panel, had to retract a message it sent to parents that all students from kindergarten and up would be required to wear masks in class after the government made clear that no school could make such a decision.

Under the province’s plan, all students must go to school fulltime this fall, at least up to grade 9. For the two senior years, schools may opt for a combination of in-school and distance learning, as long as students are in class at least 50 per cent of the time.

The sole exemption is for medical reasons, either the child’s or a member of their household, and that must be certified by a doctor according to strict criteria the government has defined. A group of Quebec parents who want the choice of online learning extended to all students has launched a legal challenge to the government, led by constitutional lawyer Julius Grey.

About 150 doctors and scientists with school-aged kids have also issued an open letter to Premier Francois Legault criticizing the plan as inadequate to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, and urging masks and social distancing in class.

The government has not yielded to this criticism, insisting its plan meets the current advice of health and educational experts, but is open to modification if the situation changes. On Aug. 25, Health Minister Christian Dube described COVID as under control in the province, which now has an average of 80 new cases confirmed daily.

The panelists acknowledged considerable concern exists among their schools’ parents, but the number that have secured exemptions for their children is relatively small.

Benoualid said Solomon Schechter, which is has elementary grades only, has 10 out of an enrolment of 450, while Obadia said Talmud Torah/Herzliah, which has 650 students, has 20 that are exempted.

All of the officials affirmed that their schools are well prepared to provide a full education online to these students, as well as any others who may have to stay home for an extended period, citing the experience they gained this spring.

Benudiz noted that the member schools, under AJDS’s guidance, rallied when they were ordered to close in March to develop distance learning platforms, and quickly put them in place. This combination of real-time instruction by teachers and online materials available proved to be successful, said Benudiz, who applauded the co-operation that continues among the schools.

The schools have now installed cameras in classrooms that will enable students at home to follow along with their peers and even interact.

The schools have closed their cafeterias, and lunches will be eaten in the classroom. The Orthodox schools are using the cafeterias and other repurposed spaces for socially-distanced prayers.

The panelists were definite that their schools would be able to cope well should they have to shut down again due to a second wave of COVID, saying they could pivot within 24 hours to remote instruction.

The other AJDS members are: Akiva School and Hebrew Foundation School, both elementary; and Beth Jacob School, which has elementary and secondary levels.

* A previous version of this story stated that the Association of Jewish Day Schools (AJDS) is a Federation CJA agency. In fact, it is an independent body funded by member schools. The CJR regrets the error.

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.

Menu Planning for Safe Holiday Gatherings

Aug. 21, 2020 – By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

Shabbat Shalom and welcome to Kitchen Talk, the CJR’s weekly food blog. It’s hard to believe that Rosh Hashanah is less than one month away. Erev Rosh Hashanah falls on September 18.

It may be time to try out some new dishes for the High Holidays, but the pandemic may determine how we serve the meal and the type of dishes we prepare. We still have to be extra mindful of health and safety for any family get-togethers.

COVID certainly affected our Passover seders back in April. There were no dinner guests. In fact, the first seder was my introduction to Zoom.

At the time, social distancing was a relatively new experience. Now it’s a way of life, but at our home, we have eased up. My kids usually visit on Sunday and we eat dinner on the backyard deck.

We have had a few larger family get-togethers – all outdoors – for special occasions. I actually hosted a small wedding in my backyard.

We were very COVID-conscious for the simchah. The bride wore a beautiful white dress with a matching mask. We all wore masks and the intermingling of families was kept to a minimum.

We also served the food very carefully. Everyone got an individually boxed meal. It was beautifully presented, but simple.

I also recently attended a backyard birthday party. People arrived in shifts and every person received a box of party tidbits. It worked out well.

Now my siblings and I are hoping to celebrate Rosh Hashanah together with our children and grandchildren. We’ll all be outdoors and wearing masks. We’ll probably group in nuclear family units. For past celebrations, we set out the various mains and side-dishes on a table, and people served themselves. There will be no buffet this year. My sister and I will be plating or boxing the meal, which has yet to be planned.

I’m starting to experiment with dishes that might work for a holiday boxed meal. I’m thinking that a grain dish can easily be served in individual reusable containers. It can also look festive.

This weekend, I’m going to make Amy Rosen’s Kasha Pilaf, a modern take on the traditional dish. The recipe comes from her book, Kosher Style: Over 100 Jewish Recipes for the Modern Cook.

I’m also going to prepare Balsamic Mushroom Salad, a recipe from another Amy. It’s from Kosher Taste: Plan Prepare Plate, by Amy Stopnicki @amyskoshertaste. The mushrooms can be served warm or at room temperature.

Of course I’ll have to try a dessert. The recipe for Chocolate Tahini Cookies looks really yummy. The recipe can be found in Tamara Green and Sarah Grossman’s book, The Living Kitchen: Healing Recipes to Support Your Body During Cancer Treatment and Recovery.

Cookies can easily be packaged and included in a boxed holiday meal. I can’t say the same for brisket.

KASHA PILAF – Amy Rosen

4 cups (1 L) vegetable stock
2 cups (500 ml) kasha
1 small bunch of kale, fibrous veins removed
1 cup (250 ml) walnut pieces
1 tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
4 cups (1 L) button mushrooms, stemmed and quartered
¼ cup (60 ml) chopped dill
Juice of one lemon
Sea salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp honey

In a medium pot, bring the vegetable stock to a boil, then add the kasha. Bring the kasha back to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer for 10 minutes or until it is cooked. Fluff the kasha with a fork, then tip it into a large bowl to cool.

Rinse the pot and add about 1 cup of water. Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and add the kale. Cover the pot with a lid and steam for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the kale is tender. Drain and chop the kale and add it to the big kasha bowl.

Wipe out the pot and toast the walnut pieces over medium heat for 3– 4 minutes, or until slightly browned. Add the nuts to the kasha. Drizzle the olive oil into the pot and sauté the red onions over medium heat for 5 minutes, then add the quartered mushrooms and cook for about 15 minutes more. Add the onion and mushrooms to the kasha, along with the chopped dill, lemon juice, salt, pepper and honey. Serve warm. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

BALSAMIC MUSHROOM SALAD – Amy Stopnicki

5 large Portobello mushroom caps, cleaned, checked and finely diced
½ pound (250 g) white mushrooms, cleaned, checked and finely diced
5 cloves of garlic finely chopped
2 shallots, finely diced
¼ cup (60) ml olive oil
½ cup (125 ml) balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C)

Combine the mushrooms, garlic, shallots, oil, and vinegar in a roasting pan. Season with salt and pepper. Bake for 25–30 minutes or until the mushrooms have shrunk to half their size. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool. The mushrooms can be served warm or at room temperature. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

CHOCOLATE TAHINI COOKIES – Tamara Green & Sarah Grossman

1 large egg
1½ cup (125 ml) tahini
½ cup (125 ml) blanched almond flour
½ cup (125 ml) coconut sugar
½ tsp (2½ ml) baking powder
One 3.5 oz (100 g) dark chocolate bar – 70% or higher – coarsely chopped
¼ tsp (1 ml) coarse sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the egg, tahini, almond flour, coconut sugar, and baking powder. It will make a thick, sticky mixture. Fold in the chopped chocolate.

Scoop about 1 tbsp (15 ml) of batter and place it on the baking sheet. Continue to do this, spacing each cookie about 2½ inches (10 cm) apart, until you have used all of the dough. If you prefer a larger cookie, scoop 2 tbsp 30 ml) per cookie.

Sprinkle cookies with the coarse salt. Bake in the oven for 8–9 minutes, watching carefully because they can burn easily. They should be just lightly browned on top. Let cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheet. Then transfer to a plate or container for storage. Makes 14 cookies

The cookies can be stored in a cool place in the pantry for two days or in the fridge for one week.


Barbara Silverstein
Barbara Silverstein

Barbara Silverstein is a Toronto-area journalist and an award-winning food writer. She was a long-time contributor to The Canadian Jewish News. Her articles have also appeared in Homemaker’s Magazine, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, and Tablet Magazine.