Canadian Jewish Literary Awards Celebrate 2020 Winners in Online Ceremony Oct. 25

Oct. 22, 2020

The Canadian Jewish Literary Awards is honouring nine outstanding books for 2020.

Now in its sixth year, the Awards recognize and reward the finest Canadian writing on Jewish themes and subjects.

“Even during this year of isolation, choosing only nine Award winners from the depth and breadth and quality of the submissions was a challenge,” said jury chair Edward Trapunski.

Winners have been declared in the following categories: Fiction, biography, Jewish thought and culture, poetry, history, books for children and youth, Yiddish, scholarship, and Holocaust.

The awards ceremony will be presented on the Canadian Jewish Literary Awards and the Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies YouTube channels on Oct. 25, 2020, at 2:00 p.m. It will be available for later viewing on these channels.

The Honorees

Fiction:

Through Shadows Slow by Abraham Boyarsky (8th House Publishing) is a love story about memory and forgiveness. Daniel, a Holocaust refugee, is diagnosed with tuberculosis and sent to a renowned sanatorium in the Laurentian mountains. He meets and falls in love with a more assimilated woman who grew up in Canada. He marries her but he is haunted by doubts about her fidelity because of her worldly nature. In the twilight of his life, he finds salvation and redemption on the Israeli fortress at Masada.

Biography:

Mahler’s Forgotten Conductor: Heinz Unger and His Search for Jewish Meaning, 1895–1965 by Hernan Tesler-Mabé (University of Toronto Press). The Berlin-born orchestral conductor Heinz Unger devoted his life to the music of Gustav Mahler. In 1948, Unger settled in Canada and was celebrated for his Mahler interpretations with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Promenade Symphony Orchestra and, most significantly, the CBC Symphony Orchestra. The book explores the way a German Jewish musician understood and expressed his dual identity by way of his allegiance to music and how Jewish cultural values from Europe manifested themselves in Canada.

Jewish Thought and Culture:

Waste Not: A Jewish Environmental Ethic by Tanhum Yoreh (SUNY Press). The Jewish prohibition against wastefulness and destruction is an ecological ethical principle by contemporary Jewish environmentalists. Waste Not is an intellectual history of this concept, offering a detailed and studious analysis of the Jewish prohibition against wastefulness and destruction (bal tashhit), blending close readings from traditional texts, beginning with the Bible, and moving through rabbinic, medieval, and contemporary Jewish environmentalist commentaries. Tanhum Yoreh, Assistant Professor in the School of Environment at the University of Toronto, draws on the study of religion, ethics, and ecological thinking for a timely meditation on a subject deserving the world’s attention. The connection between contemporary environmental thought and Jewish principles creates a foundation for an environmental ethic for today.

Poetry:

Swoon by Elana Wolff (Guernica Editions). This collection of poems explores a variety of subjects but returns again and again to our longing for transcendence. Informed by Jewish texts and contexts, with a sure-handed control of language and image, the poems are passionate but mature, precise and curious, willing to risk everything for a chance to slip behind the curtain of the familiar to get a glimpse at the divine. The poems in Swoon are philosophical considerations, meditations on the sacred and profane with a subtle understanding of one’s own connection to the world. It is a subtle, sensual book of observances pleasing to the ear.

History:

Theodor Herzl: The Charismatic Leader by Derek Penslar (Yale University Press). This work by an eminent Canadian-American historian masterfully blends a richly textured biography about the father of Zionism with an insightful analysis of the ways that Herzl fits into and struggled with both European social and intellectual currents and the Jewish publics with whom he was both connected and disconnected. Prof. Penslar has written an accessible, deeply thoughtful, carefully crafted, and thoroughly enjoyable book about one of the giants of modern Jewish history.

Children and Youth:

A Boy is Not a Bird by Edeet Ravel (Groundwood Books) is a fictionalized story based on what the author’s fifth grade teacher, Mr. Halpern, used to tell her class about his childhood in Soviet occupied Zastavna, Romania. The compelling story recounts the events that marked the life of 11-year-old Natt Silver, his family, friends and neighbours, just before and during their deportation to Siberia in 1941. Natt is a sweet kid who just wants to belong and yet he must endure the horror of living under the influence of Stalin and Hitler. While the book is recommended for readers age 9 and up, it is a memoir a reader of any age could enjoy.

Yiddish:

How Yiddish Changed America and How America Changed Yiddish, edited by Ilan Stavans and Josh Lambert (Restless Books), considers the complex encounter between Yiddish and America through several different lenses. Essays, memoirs, songs, letters, poems, recipes, cartoons, and interviews represent a diverse selection of perspectives on Yiddish language and culture. The book features work by Isaac Bashevis Singer, Cynthia Ozick, Chaim Grade, Art Spiegelman, and many other lesser known cultural figures. It places them in a dynamic conversation around the interaction between Yiddish and American. The anthology also refreshingly expands the definition of “America” to include voices from Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, Colombia, and Canada, reflecting the unbounded history of modern Yiddish. Josh Lambert’s roots are in Canada. Arriving at a moment when Yiddish has entered a new phase in its long history, this book celebrates the complicated, tense, and delightful ways languages and cultures transform one another.

Scholarship:

Athens and Jerusalem: God, Humans, and Nature by David Novak (University of Toronto Press). This book by a distinguished professor of religion and philosophy at the University of Toronto examines the intersection of Greek philosophy and Jewish theology. The subject has long been controversial because of the conflict between monotheism on one side and pluralism on the other. But the Greek philosophers and the Jewish Talmudists were contemporaneous if not contemporary and Athens and Jerusalem addresses how the influences must have spread through the region. As a theologian, ethicist, and rabbi, David Novak is well equipped to expound on the subject. He has written 16 books and hundreds of articles about how Jewish theology and Greek philosophy engage and he could have distilled existing knowledge. But academics and scholars will find that Athens and Jerusalem presents fresh ideas and insights.

Holocaust:

Le Temps des orphelins by Laurent Sagalovitsch (Buchet/Chastel). A young American rabbi, Daniel Shapiro, joins the Allied forces in April 1945 to liberate Europe. In Germany, he is one of the first to enter the Buchenwald concentration camp and experience the horror there. His descent into hell would have been without return if he had not met the gaze of a five-year-old child who is waiting for someone to help him find his parents. The novel, in French, by Vancouver-based author, Laurent Sagalovitsch, depicts with poignancy the atrocity of the camps and the disbelief of those who were the first to discover them. The child with oversized eyes who, without a word, convinces Daniel that life is stronger than horror. Towards the end of his life, Holocaust chronicler Elie Wiesel said: “From now on, art and literature will be the true way to express the Holocaust.” This moving novel based on fact offers a meaningful path to understanding the Holocaust.

The Canadian Jewish Literary Awards Jury for 2020:

Edward Trapunski: Chair, author of three books and winner of an ACTRA Award as best writer.

Rona Arato: Award-winning children’s book writer and author of 15 books.

Miriam Borden: Doctoral student in Yiddish at the University of Toronto and researcher of twentieth century Jewish Torontonian culture in the Canadian Yiddish press. She has curated exhibitions about Yiddish language and culture at the Robarts Library and the Canadian Language Museum.

Alain Goldschläger: Director of the Holocaust Literature Research Institute and Professor of French at Western University, and former Chair of the National Task Force for Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research.

David Koffman: J. Richard Shiff Chair for the Study of Canadian Jewry at the Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies at York University.

Michael Posner: Award-winning author and playwright and former reporter for the Globe and Mail.

Adam Sol: Author of four books of poetry and one book of essays, How a Poem Moves. He teaches at Victoria College, University of Toronto.

For more information, visit www.cjlawards.ca.

Theodor Herzl: Gentleman Leader

Oct. 8, 2020

BY DAVID MATLOW

I own the world’s largest private collection of Theodor Herzl memorabilia. It reflects my fascination with the birth of the State of Israel. On May 13, 1948, Israel did not exist. On May 14, 1948, it did. How did this happen?

Ad for a penknife and the knife

It is an amazing story. Although the Jewish people have prayed to return to our ancestral homeland since we were expelled from it 2,000 years ago (thus the holiday-time plea of “Next Year in Jerusalem”), it was only in the 1800s that tangible steps were taken to make this happen. Herzl did not come up with the idea of Zionism, although he thought he did. However, unlike his predecessors who had a similar idea, he set out to actually make it happen.

In 1896, he wrote Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State). The next year, he convened the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, at which the World Zionist Organization was created. In 1899, he formed the Jewish Colonial Trust. In 1901, he inspired the creation of the Jewish National Fund. In 1902, he wrote Altneuland (Old New Land). In 1903, he received an offer from the British government for a Jewish territory in Africa. And in 1904, he died at age 44, having dedicated the last eight years of his life to the cause of the Jewish people.

Herzl understood that he had to rally the Jewish people around a new idea: that we could live in our own country, make decisions for ourselves, and keep each other safe. He needed a symbol to represent that dream. He became that symbol, and after he died, his successors maintained him as that symbol to keep his dream alive.

Cufflink celebrating the 1917 Balfour Declaration

This is why there are so many Herzl related items to collect. I own more than 5,000 of them, items ranging from ice tongs to medals, pen knives to portraits, postcards, pencils, busts, handkerchiefs, and much more.

It’s all been assembled piece by piece through auctions, hunting at flea markets, and the purchase of entire collections from veteran collectors who wanted to entrust their life’s passion to someone who would cherish it.  As well, at least once a month, I receive in the mail a Herzl item that someone found and for which they want a good home.

My collection is a national treasure of the Jewish people, and in case anyone wonders what it might be worth, I believe it’s priceless.

Portrait of Herzl for the 19th Zionist Congress in Prague, 1933

I have chosen to use my collection as a tool to help people learn about Herzl and be inspired by his work. I am hopeful that by learning about Herzl, people will know a little more about where Israel came from, why it was needed as a safeguard against antisemitism, and why it continues to be needed.

Herzl’s motto was, “if you will it, it is no dream,” and I believe that by learning how Herzl pursued his impossible dream (which, as we all know, came true), we can be inspired to make our own dreams come true.

“The Herzl Project” is my initiative to achieve these goals. To that end, I have created a website with resources about Herzl and my collection (www.herzlcollection.com) and published a book, Collecting the Dream, available free of charge as a PDF on the website, or as an ebook on Amazon.

During the pandemic, I have done over 25 videos, webinars and other online presentations on the subject of Herzl. This is not only because for many months I was sheltering at home with my entire collection. It is also because Herzl provides us with an important lesson for this time. He teaches us that the situation in which we find ourselves today can change and improve, and that tomorrow will be better.

Herzl also taught us by example how to be a leader in difficult times. He used his skills and talents as a lawyer, playwright and journalist to create something that would benefit others. Knowing that he was very sick, he focused on the future of the Jewish people, understanding that he was not likely to live to witness the birth of the state he envisioned.

Herzl pencil and pencil stand

Herzl also believed that we cannot do things that benefit only ourselves, and that because of our history, Jews are uniquely able to have a broader perspective. He understood that as citizens of this planet we all share, we must also act to help others. This is best illustrated in this reference from his book Altneuland, in which one of his characters expresses the following:

“There is still one other question arising out of the disaster of nations which remains unsolved to this day, and whose profound tragedy, only a Jew can comprehend. This is the African question. Just call to mind all those terrible episodes of the slave trade, of human beings who, merely because they were black, were stolen like cattle, taken prisoner, captured and sold. Their children grew up in strange lands, the objects of contempt and hostility because their complexions were different. I am not ashamed to say, though I may expose myself to ridicule for saying so, that once I have witnessed the redemption of the Jews, my people, I wish also to assist in the redemption of the Africans.” 

This is remarkable. While dedicating his life to the Jewish people, Herzl also had the goal to help end Black suffering. He understood that issues of prejudice and discrimination are related, and that we are free only if we are all free. He knew that we cannot only look after ourselves; that we must care for the plight of others.

Bulletin announcing Herzl’s death

We have all seen pictures of Herzl in his top hat and tuxedo. He also often wore white gloves to formal events. He was a gentleman.

But being a gentleman is not limited to how you dress. It is how you behave, what you say, what you think, and what you do. It is also about the care you show for others.

I have come to know Herzl through my collection. He was a gentleman leader. We all benefit from his work, and we should all be proud of the way he did it.


David Matlow
David Matlow

David Matlow is a lawyer and partner at Goodmans LLP in Toronto. He is a member of the board of directors of the iCenter for Israel Education and the Ontario Jewish Archives. He is featured on a six-part series about Herzl called “Herzl Explained,” produced by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.