COVID Slams Hamilton’s Shalom Village

Dec. 18, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

Hamilton’s Jewish retirement home kept COVID infections at bay for nine months, but now, Shalom Village is being hammered by the deadly infection.

By Wednesday of this week, Shalom Village’s interim CEO, Larry Levin, reported that four people died from the virus and another 81 were infected throughout the campus.

Dr Larry Levin
Dr Larry Levin

“I appreciate that this is a time of tremendous stress, fear and sadness,” Levin said in a note to residents. “Indeed all of us at Shalom Village  (myself included) are devastated to know that so many of the Shalom Village family are impacted by the COVID virus, and saddened to have lost four of our residents to this pervasive, and deadly virus.”

Levin said that as of Dec. 16, 40 staff had tested positive for the virus, and with those people required to stay home, staffing at the facility was maintained with the help of workers hired through a private contractor recommended by St. Joseph’s Healthcare.

“This has had a dramatic effect on our ability to staff the home,” he said. “We are in close contact with public health every day and we are making progress on this.

The staffing problem was so severe that the Hamilton Jewish Federation issued a call for volunteers to help with food delivery to residents confined to their rooms. Levin said on Wednesday, however, that those volunteers will not be used until the outbreak has been defeated. Any shortage of staff will be made up with workers from a private contractor suggested by St. Joseph’s Healthcare.

“This should meet our need until the outbreak has been cleared,” Levin said in an email exchange. “Any community volunteers will not be deployed until the outbreak has been declared over.”

“Right now we are managing with our existing model,” he added.

Levin reported six of the infected residents are in the facility’s apartment complex while 35 are in its long-term care facility.

Shalom Village has been ordered by the public health department to allow St. Joseph’s Healthcare to monitor, investigate and respond to the outbreak.

“St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton will be working in partnership with Shalom Village to monitor, investigate and respond to the infection prevention and control matters needed to prevent further spread of COVID. We welcome this partnership, which will assist us with additional education and training support, and expertise,” Levin said in his letter to the community. “Here in Hamilton, St. Joe’s has been working with a number of long-term care homes, retirement homes and congregate settings to support them through the COVID pandemic .

“The entire team is working together to minimize any additional spread of the virus, as well as its impact on those already infected,” he added. “Please be assured that Shalom Village is working closely with Public Health and with St. Joseph’s Healthcare to ensure that everything that can be done to deal with this outbreak is being done and we pray that the outbreak will be speedily resolved.”

Shalom Village is the sixth long term care home in Hamilton to have infection control orders issued by the health department. Five of those homes were still in outbreak Wednesday, accounting for 444 of the city’s 779 cases.

From March until this week Shalom Village managed to stay COVID-free through a combination of regular testing of staff and residents in its 127-bed long-term care unit with 81 apartments and a ban on visitors.

On Thursday, Hamilton’s congregational rabbis called for a community-wide prayer service for the residents and staff of Shalom Village.

The online event is set for Saturday at 7 pm on Zoom.

“As the rabbis of Hamilton’s Jewish community we watch with sadness and trepidation as the numbers of those infected with COVID-19, as well as the numbers of those dying from it, continue to rise. We fear for all residents of our beloved city, Hamilton. And we are especially distressed by the outbreaks at Shalom Village, which, with constant dedication and tirelessness, cares for the beloved, treasured elderly members of our community. We are concerned for the vulnerable residents, and we are equally concerned for those who care for them” Rabbis Jordan Cohen, Hillel Lavery-Yisraeli, Daniel Green and Aaron Selevan wrote.

The rabbis added: “Our prayers are only as good as the actions which accompany them. We would like to use this opportunity to remind everyone of the religious obligation to meticulously follow all current health regulations and recommendations: Stay home whenever possible, do not gather in groups, stay two metres away from others, wash your hands frequently, and wear masks.”

Hamilton Jewish Book Fair, Holocaust Education Week Combine

Oct. 30, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inaugural Hamilton Jewish Film Fest Goes Virtual

Aug. 25, 2020 – By RUTH SCHWEITZER

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

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

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

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

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

A scene from the film The Other Story

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

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

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

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

A scene from the movie Leona

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

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

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

A poster from the documentary Picture of His Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-COVID, Jews Must Rely on Building Skills, Weiss Says

July 28, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

HAMILTON – Jewish communities know how to build, and that’s a skill journalist and author Bari Weiss says will be critical in shaping a post-COVID reality.

In presentations to Jewish Federation campaign launches in Hamilton and Montreal last week, the former New York Times editor and op-ed writer said there’s almost no chance of a return to “normal” when the current pandemic dies out. For the Jewish world, that’s going to challenge some long-held beliefs.

Bari Weiss

“We are part of a people that knows how to build,” she told her Zoom audience in Hamilton. “We are a people who have renewed and rebuilt out of the embers more than any other people in history.”

Building that new world, she told her audiences, will require hard decisions about what is essential in Jewish communities.

“We must decide what will be essential for healthy Jewish communities,” she said. “Is it money for schools, for community hunger, for camps?

“Fancy galas, as fun as they are, don’t make the list because they don’t secure the future of a healthy Jewish community,” she added.

Weiss surprised the world July 14 when she suddenly resigned from the New York Times, citing persistent harassment and antisemitism from colleagues.

In her resignation letter, posted online at https://www.bariweiss.com/resignation-letter, she wrote “lessons about the importance of understanding other Americans, the necessity of resisting tribalism, and the centrality of the free exchange of ideas to a democratic society—have not been learned. Instead, a new consensus has emerged in the press, but perhaps especially at this paper: that truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else.

“My own forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views.”

Much of that harassment, she wrote, was antisemitic, something she said can be combatted not by becoming more insular, but by reconnecting with what it is to be Jewish.

Weiss has studied anti-Semitism closely. She won the 2019 Jewish Book of the Year prize for her volume How to Fight Anti-Semitism.

“The true response to antisemitism is to affirm our Judaism, it’s about digging deeper into our Jewish identity,” she added.

“Some communities have lost sight of what being Jewish is all about,” Weiss said. “Blind support for Israel is not being Jewish. Being Jewish is about more than our complex tribal politics.”

She was quick to add she remains a strong supporter of Israel and Zionism, which she called “the idea that has saved more Jewish lives than any other in history. She is not, however, a fan of current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We are not famous for our magnificent cathedrals, we don’t build grand monuments,” she said. “Our monuments are our schools, our camps, our youth movements and our institutions of learning. Our monuments are our families and our children.”

To rebuild and maintain those monuments the Hamilton Jewish Federation (HJF) will trying to raise $1.3 million in its new community campaign. That’s the same as last year’s goal, but a separate emergency campaign seeks to raise another $150,000 to support agencies in danger of being overwhelmed by COVID-related demands.

The previous campaign collected 98 percent of its goal.

Gustavo Rymberg, CEO of the HJF, said special demand is being felt by the kosher food bank, in general areas of food security, and by the loss of community participation as employment and incomes dip, which affects Jewish institutions and parents’ ability to pay tuition at Jewish schools.

“More organizations are going to be on financially fragile ground now and that will further a previous trend toward mergers and consolidation,” Rymberg said. “Our response to this crisis will be remembered as one of our finest moments.”