Oct. 21, 2020
By SHLOMO SCHWARTZBERG
Move over, Jimmy Kimmel. There’s a new talk show host in town and not only is he Jewish, so is the show.
Canadian Jewish TV (CJTV) debuted on Oct. 1, and its host, the poet leden Wall, promises an exciting and provocative line-up of guests on the half-hour program, which airs Thursdays at 11:30 pm on Toronto’s OMNI Television. (It currently airs in Ontario, British Columbia and the Atlantic provinces).
Wall may not be a household name, but he’s been imagining hosting a show like this for a long time.
“I have been chasing my dream of being a late-night talk show host since I was just 15 years-old,” he told the CJR. “I hosted my own live after-school talk show at Northern Secondary in grade 10. I’ve been pitching talk shows ever since.”
He started pitching a Jewish-themed program about 17 years ago, “feeling very strongly that there was a need for a Jewish talk-show that offered cherished values and the much-needed message of progress.”
Reverence for Jewish history and Judaism’s rituals and practices “do not have to be lost in the quest for progress. That has always been my feeling.”
It’s a bare-bone set, seemingly broadcasting from Wall’s basement, though it’s actually filmed in CJTV’s “quaint” studio, as Wall describes it, in downtown Toronto.
In one recent episode, Wall interviewed sports broadcaster Dan Shulman, going through his path to sportscaster fame, but touching only glancingly on Shulman’s religion, with the subject offering up some tidbits on his time studying at Bialik Hebrew Day School in Toronto and Wall’s mention of Shulman’s involvement in Jewish causes.
More interesting and original was Stay, a spoken word film poem, introduced by broadcaster Valerie Pringle, and written by Wall. It’s a personal, highly emotional plea against suicide, with Wall, speaking over images of a lost man wandering the streets of an anonymous city, urging the listener to opt to live and not be afraid to speak to God, who can and will help you through your despair.
This isn’t your regular talk show, but in many ways, it’s the essence of who leden (yes, the “l” is lower-case) Wall is.
“Rogers Media and OMNI TV have informed me that what impressed them about my vision for a Jewish show was the way I incorporated my spoken-word poetry into the format,” he says.
Rogers executives seemed taken with the idea of a talk show hosted by a socially conscious poet.
“And that made me think that both my broadcaster and I were truly on the same page – always the desired arrangement for a collaborative media project,” Wall mused.
CJTV will feature a series of spoken-word films “that reinforce a distinctly progressive Jewish voice, one of tolerance, diversity and gender equality.”
Not surprisingly, the Jewish precept of tikkun olam (repair of the world) figures prominently in Wall’s vision.
“CJTV will have a special focus on tikkun olam and the charitable and philanthropic efforts of Jews across Canada,” he promises
While the show is still young, it’s Wall’s hope that it creates a platform “to celebrate the unique contributions Jews have made to art, history and culture in Canada and abroad.
“In doing so, I am hoping to draw attention to the deepest Jewish values that were instilled in so many of us, such as family, respect for our elders, conquering ridiculous odds, giving to charity and reaching out to those less fortunate.”
So how Jewish will CJTV actually be?
“I would say the emphasis with the guests is on both their Jewishness and their accomplishments,” he explains. “The focus will vary depending on the guest and their comfort level with Jewish topics.”
And some of it is just obvious and jokey, as when Wall calls his interviews “Jooom,” a Hebraic takeoff on Zoom.
Guests will include influential and high-profile members of the Jewish community, including Robert Lantos, Paul Godfrey, Mark Breslin, Libby Znaimer and Heather Reisman, and sometimes non-Jewish guests.
“I am open to non-Jewish guests who have a worthwhile and compelling connection to the Jewish community,” Wall says.
Wall does, however, want to tread carefully when it comes to politics, especially surrounding the often contentious issues regarding Israel (though an Israeli flag features in the show’s opening credits.)
“I will be making a concerted effort to stay away from divisive politics. It’s just not that type of show. This show will be steadfast in its intent to focus on the unique contribution of Jewish art, history and culture in Canada and abroad. The show will look to highlight the universal Jewish values that travel through every sect and denomination in the Jewish world,” he says.
Wall’s other credits include a self-published poetry book, The Wisdom of Wall (2016), which sold some 30,000 copies, with a sequel, Wisdom of the Wall 2, on the way. There have also been medical marketing videos and documentaries he produces though his own production company.
And he’s bullish about the show’s prospects.
“I hope the show gives viewers a better appreciation for the immense contribution Jews have made to the world of art, history and culture in Canada and abroad,” says Wall, “And I hope it lets gentile viewers see how tikkun olam shapes the collective psyche of Jews all around the world, and how important it is for Jewish folks to help those less fortunate – in our own community (and) in all communities around us. Any way you slice it, CJTV will cut its own path.”