Amid calls for boycotts of Israeli products, institutions and the many minds behind them, and with increasing instances of American academics and writers being muzzled, a new initiative seeks to introduce some intellectual and moral clarity.
As reported by the JTA and other outlets, and sponsored by the progressive Zionist group Ameinu, 50 North American academics have signed on to form the Academic Advisory Council, opposing academic boycotts and promoting efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution. The council will advise the Third Narrative project, an already-launched web-based forum to discuss a progressive approach to Israel/Palestine.
I am one of the 50 academics on the advisory council. (Disclosure: I also sit on the board of Ameinu.) I am aware that the link between opposing academic boycotts and pushing for a two-state solution is no longer universally self-evident. In examining the space between the two positions, though, some deeper insights about this tragic conflict are revealed.
In short, the council’s mandate spans a principled view over both scholarly process and political outcome. How do we, as scholars, think it appropriate to ply our public trade? And which policy outcomes to the Israel/Palestinian conundrum do we think are best?
The self-aggrandizingly and inelegantly named Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations last week voted to bar J Street from membership in the umbrella organization.
There are 50 full-fledged members of the Conference and four adjunct members, representing a wide swath of ideology, from American Friends of Likud to Workmen’s Circle and American Friends of Peace Now. But no J Street. One might think that the criteria for membership in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations might simply be that the organization is American, Jewish, major and has a president. Not so.
In an oblique statement after the vote, the Conference said it would continue to represent the “consensus” viewpoint of American Jewry. But that consensus may be crumbling. Opinion polls suggest half of American Jews do not believe Israel is doing enough to hasten peace. And more significant are the congealing of attitudes of younger American Jews.
Formed just six years ago, J Street has leapt into the conversation about Israel, seeking an alternative position to the longstanding AIPAC. J Street has often been critical of Israeli policies and sympathetic to Palestinian initiatives. Generally perceived to be a left-leaning entity, J Street has flourished especially among young American Jews, with 60 campus-based chapters now in existence.
Jewish young people in North America do not subscribe to the circle-the-wagons and don’t-make-trouble strategies of their parents and grandparents. As indicated by the Open Hillel movement, among other recent developments, young Jews demand less fettered discussion on topics of importance to them and to Israel.
The Conference may have made a very short-sighted decision that risks alienating more than just the swath of Jews (however large they may be) who subscribe to J Street’s ideology. They risk alienating Jews who subscribe to a more basic and profoundly Jewish precept: free-flowing debate. This is arguably a far larger demographic.
For some Jews, there is plenty to disagree with in J Street’s platform, as there is in the philosophy of many of the member organizations. Yet J Street, despite the wide spectrum of religious and political voices included under the Conference umbrella, is uniquely set apart for exclusion.
The vote reinforces the stereotype that the (North) American Jewish community is insular in its ideology and unquestioning in its allegiance to the policies of the government of Israel. This is a stereotype that is belied, on the one hand, by the range of ideologies already reflected in the Conference and by the diversity of debate nurtured in these pages and forums like it. Yet it is a statement of intolerance and narrow-mindedness, perhaps also of fear and parochialism, that the diverse voices under the Conference umbrella could not tolerate the voice of J Street.
The vote also negates the wholly pragmatic possibility that engaging with J Street could draw them closer to what the Conference claims are the mainstream Jewish American values. After all, J Street wants to be a part of the organization that claims to be the voice of the Jewish consensus.
Just as the uproar was reaching its crescendo, an utterly bizarre thing happened. On Monday, the Conference ran full-page ads in the New York Times and USA Today marking Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s 66th birthday as a state. The costly ads were funded by the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. Far be it for us to speak ill of the dead, but under the circumstances there was something delicious about the funding for this print media extravaganza. Leona Helmsley, who passed away in 2007, was a notorious and widely reviled New York hotelier dubbed by tabloids “The Queen of Mean.” In the 1980s, she was sentenced to 16 years in prison for more than 30 counts of tax fraud, mail fraud and other corruption offences. (She served 18 months.) During the trial, a former housekeeper reported that Helmsley had said, “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”
On her death, Helmsley left a $12 million trust fund to her Maltese dog, Trouble. The Helmsley Charitable Trust, which paid for Monday’s newspaper spreads, was estimated at her death to be worth between $5 and $8 billion and was to be allocated largely to the care of dogs.
It may seem a diversion to draw the dead hotelier into this debate, no matter how Cruella de Vil-lian she may have been. Yet under the circumstances, it speaks to the judgment of the Conference.
At the very moment when they are at the centre of a firestorm over their capricious determination of who and what constitutes “mainstream” American Jewish values, they make one of their most visible public pronouncements ever, in the process demonstrating their willingness to be associated in the broadest American public mind with the corrupt, notorious Leona Helmsley, but not with the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” J Street.
David Chilton, second from the right, with Josh, Michelle and Dr. Neil Pollock. (photo by Robert Albanese Photography)
More than 650 people attended the Jewish Family Service Agency’s 10th annual Innovators Lunch on May 1. This year’s keynote speaker was Wealthy Barber author and Dragons’ Den investor David Chilton.
JFSA board chair Joel Steinberg welcomed attendees to the event, which took place at the Hyatt Regency Vancouver, and introduced Beth Israel Rabbi Jonathan Infeld to make the HaMotzi. The rabbi explained the blessing and connected it to JFSA, describing the agency as “God’s partner in sustaining the most needy in our community, working together and bringing God’s blessing down from heaven and providing it in a real way.”
In his thanks and remarks, Steinberg noted how the Innovators Lunch had grown over the years, generating “significant funds for many important programs and services provided by JFSA.” Through corporate sponsorships, ticket sales and donations, this year’s lunch raised a record amount – more than $315,000, JFSA director of development and communications Audrey Moss told the Independent Monday.
The annual video, introduced by JFSA executive director Charlotte Katzen, not only highlighted the services offered by JFSA – this year focusing on mental health counseling and outreach – but celebrated the driving force behind the Innovators event, Naomi Gropper Steiner z”l, whose “dream, vision and tireless efforts” helped launch it. As the program noted, “Naomi was a remarkable person who dedicated her exceptional talents to helping others.”
Event chair Jackie Cristall Morris echoed those sentiments in her comments and offered thanks to all those who contributed to the lunch as she invited Dr. Neil Pollock to the podium. He and his wife Michelle were this year’s event angel donors, matching dollar for dollar any new gifts or portion of increased gifts, up to $20,000. “I can see that every additional dollar that I give helps to make the life of someone in need, in our local community, a little bit better. That is why we decided to offer the matching gift opportunity for the JFSA this year,” he said. Pollock praised JFSA as “a lifeline” for many, and encouraged everyone to give outside of their comfort zone, reassuring them that it would not change their circumstances, but would help change the lives of JFSA clients.
Shay Keil of Keil Investment Group at ScotiaMcLeod, which co-sponsored the lunch with Austeville Properties, introduced Chilton, who proceeded to entertain the audience with several jokes and stories, all of which had a humorous element. He started off bemoaning Fifty Shades of Grey’s unseating of The Wealthy Barber as Canada’s all-time bestselling book. He then recounted what happened when he first returned to public speaking after a brief retirement, during which he was engaged in various projects, including homeschooling his kids for a few years.
His first tour was for CIBC, he said, speaking to the company’s high-end wealth-management clients, and it started in Victoria. It was an elderly crowd. He joked, “The average age was deceased…. I normally talk about save 10 percent and max your RRSP; these people were too old for RIFs. I didn’t know what to say.” When he finished his speech, two elderly women asked his advice on their portfolio. “‘Well,’ he said, ‘I can’t answer that here. I don’t know your risk tolerance level, your pension involved, your income needs, your age, your health, I’d have to ascertain all that before I can give you any advice.’ And the second lady cut in and said, ‘Please just give us a broad general counsel.’ And I said, ‘Well, do you mind me asking how old are you two?’ She said, ‘We’re twins … we’re 93.’ I said, ‘Oh my, I’d spend it.’”
When the laughter subsided, Chilton shared a couple of funny stories about the beginning of his career. One happened at the start of his tour for The Wealthy Barber. He was waiting at the Calgary airport for a flight and visited the bookstore. Seeing his book on display, he offered to sign some copies, only to have the clerk want to know why he would want to do that, not believing that the 25-year-old in front of her could have written it.
The entire season of Dragons Den is filmed in 21 days and, for these 21 days, the dragons must always wear the same clothing because the decision as to which pitches form each individual show are made only after all the filming is complete.
Chilton spoke of how he became involved in Dragons’ Den (“I’ve had so much fun doing the show”), how it has changed his life (he’s no longer always asked whether it’s best to pay off one’s mortgage or max one’s RRSP, but rather whether his fellow dragon, Kevin O’Leary, is really a jerk), how it attracts very passionate fans, some of whom are inspired to go into business, and a few of his favorite entrepreneurs and most profitable or surprising investments. He also shared other tidbits. He explained, for example, that the entire season is filmed in 21 days, over which they see 230 pitches. For these 21 days, the dragons must always wear the same clothing because the decision as to which pitches form each individual show are made only after all the filming is complete, and there needs to be continuity within each show.
Outside of Dragons’ Den, Chilton has invested in other businesses. Notably, he helped cookbook authors Janet and Greta Podleski – after about a year of them wooing him. He spoke with obvious fondness and admiration for the sisters, who almost went bankrupt (paying their mortgage with credit cards!) before they saw success. Their first book, Looneyspoons, spent almost two years on the national bestseller list and sold 850,000 copies in Canada alone. They have since published more cookbooks and expanded into other food-related ventures.
Chilton ended his speech with a call for perspective. Describing himself as always being in a good mood, he noted that this isn’t the case with many others. “People say that Canada’s national pastime is hockey, but I’d argue, after 25 years on the road, it’s complaining. Everywhere you go,” he said, “people whine about absolutely nothing. It is amazing to me how many people voluntarily decide to be in a bad mood about a trivial matter.”
An economist by training, Chilton said, “I believe the number one thing holding back productivity in many people’s lives is their whining and complaining, they’re always focused on something negative and it’s usually something trivial. People have lost perspective. In Canada, we have lost the ability to discern the difference between a minor inconvenience and a major problem. A long lineup at Tim Horton’s is not a major problem, but it spins people into bad moods for hours. It’s crazy. Look around the world right now and what’s happening in so many places, Ukraine obviously, but think about Syria. We’re talking about a relatively wealthy developed country disintegrating right in front of our eyes, and it’s happening everywhere in the world.”
“I’m telling you right now, if you are healthy and you live in Canada, especially if you live here [in Vancouver], it doesn’t get any better than right here and right now. You’ve got to step back and see how fortunate we are. It’s that perspective, I think, that leads to more generosity, more community involvement, all of that.”
Not only are Canadians better off relative to most other countries, but to previous centuries. “We are living such better lives than at any point in history. It’s crazy that people don’t notice that. And I’m not talking back to medieval times, I’m talking 20 and 40 years ago, one or two generations. Everything, and I repeat, everything is way better now than it was then, everything.” He gave many examples – cars, phones (which now have “more computing power than the entire Apollo 11 mission”), air travel, television, wages, home sizes and building materials, health care. “I’m telling you right now, if you are healthy and you live in Canada, especially if you live here [in Vancouver], it doesn’t get any better than right here and right now. You’ve got to step back and see how fortunate we are. It’s that perspective, I think, that leads to more generosity, more community involvement, all of that. That’s what days like this are all about.”
For more information about JFSA, call 604-257-5151 or visit jfsa.ca.
From left, David Karp, Dr. Romayne Gallagher, Katherine Hammond, Rabbi Dan Moskovitz, Stephen Quinn and Dr. David Silver. (photo by Shawn Gold)
In a night of many interesting and challenging ideas, one of the most interesting came late in the question period. Determining when a person has died is not just a matter of biology, but of choice. According to Dr. David Silver, the question to ask is, When is the person who is valuable and valued gone, even if the body remains alive?
Silver, chair in business and professional ethics and director of the W. Maurice Young Centre in Applied Ethics at the University of British Columbia, was one of five panelists participating in A Community Conversation about Death and Dying, hosted by Sisterhood of Temple Sholom, Women of Reform Judaism, at the synagogue. Organized by Sisterhood’s Brenda Karp, the event was hosted by CBC broadcaster Stephen Quinn and also featured Dr. Romayne Gallagher, head of the palliative care division of the department of community and family medicine at Providence Health Care; Rabbi Dan Moskovitz, senior rabbi at Temple Sholom; lawyer David Karp, partner at Myers, McMurdo and Karp; and Katherine Hammond, a registered nurse, whose family is fighting for their mother’s right to die. Some 350 people came to hear the conversation.
Taming our inner monsters
Noting that his eldest daughter’s introduction to death began with a pet snail, Silver said that he and his wife have explained death to their children. They understand that Mom and Dad will die and that they, too, will die one day, but they have much more to learn, he said, admitting that he, and most of us, “have not advanced far beyond this child’s relationship with death.”
But, he argued, we have an obligation to reach a more mature relationship with death, as well as with sex and spirituality, all of which inhabit “the wild places of our minds.” As Max, the protagonist in Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, tamed the wild things, we must try and tame our own monsters, such as loneliness, physical decline, loss of loved ones, and other such concerns, he said. “Each of these is a real and legitimate source of fear, but a trick to avoid terror is to name these fears, to separate them so that they do not confront us all at once.”
Silver’s core terror in facing death, he said, is saying goodbye to himself, “the person he has known the longest.” He has been searching for an answer to this fear by looking for role models. In this regard, he quoted from an interview Sendak did in 2012, the year he died, with NPR’s Terry Gross: “I have nothing now but praise for my life. I’m not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop them. They leave me and I love them more…. There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.”
Palliative care is about quality of life
Preparation for death is important, agreed Gallagher. Avoidance is one way of dealing with the fear, she said, but most people seek a way of coping, trying to control as much as possible this part of their life. Palliative care, she stressed, is not “just for the dying,” it’s about living well as long you can. In palliative care, death is a part of life.
Gallagher referenced Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ research on death, in particular the book Death: The Final Stage of Growth. She remarked how people near the end of life continue to grow spiritually and emotionally, despite the physical breakdown of their bodies. This growth, of course, is hard if you’re in pain, and one of palliative care’s aims is to relieve the suffering as much as possible, and help people deal with the pain that cannot be relieved.
People nearing the end of life are vulnerable, she continued – physically frail, worried about their loved ones, perhaps they have financial pressures – so when someone in this situation expresses a desire for the dying process to go faster, you need to ask them what it is that they are feeling. In most cases, she said, there is something that can be done to help with the acceptance of the changes that are occurring.
Unfortunately, palliative care is currently a patchwork of services, she said. More funding is needed and, Gallagher suggested, we’re perhaps spending too much on technology and finding cures and too little on figuring out how to live well with a chronic illness.
She advised that people help family members by making a plan, letting your family know how you would like things to progress. It won’t guarantee a good or easy death, she said, but it can ease the suffering and help you live as long as possible as well as possible.
Judaism wants us to know death
“The most important thing we learn in life is that life is finite,” said Moskovitz when he took the mic. This is one of the lessons of Adam and Eve, who eat from the Tree of Knowledge and learn that they are mortal. God casts them out of the garden, telling them they should go and live their life. In this way, God does them a favor because the clock is now ticking for them. Not surprisingly, the first thing they do is have a child, “because the way that we try to instil our immortality is through our progeny … and so that knowledge, that moment, is so critically embedded in our spiritual understanding and religious life and it’s a story that’s shared in many different forms amongst all the religious traditions.”
Knowing that we’re going to die helps us prioritize our choices, our purpose, said Moskovitz. There are many Jewish rituals connected with death, sitting shivah, the lighting of yahrzeit candles, Yom Kippur, for example – “all of this is so that death is not a stranger to us, but death is as much a part of life … as birth is.”
Moskovitz referred to Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death as one of the most important books he has ever read. Becker posited that, even though we know we are going to die, we don’t believe it: we deny death so that we don’t become paralyzed by fear. One of Becker’s astute observations, said Moskovitz, is that our obsession with not dying gets in the way of our fully living.
We don’t talk about death, or we whisper “cancer,” out of a superstition that it will bring death about. However, Judaism wants us to do the opposite, to do teshuvah (repentance) every day, for any day may be our last.
Martin Heidegger, in Being and Time, taught that, in order to live authentically, we need to confront death head on. The rabbi translated from the German, “If I take death into my life, acknowledge it and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death, the pettiness of life and only then will I truly be free to become myself.”
One of the Jewish customs that embraces the reality that no one lives forever is that of ethical wills, said Moskovitz. They used to be part and parcel of life. Parents would write a letter to pass on values to their children and grandchildren, summing up what they had learned and what they wanted their children/grandchildren to know/live in their own lives. Ethical wills are not easy to write, he acknowledged – it is not easy to determine what is worth noting from one’s entire life – nor are they easy to read or to receive. He suggested that people imagine, if you had just one letter to write, to whom would it be addressed, and what would you like them to know?
About such things as ethical wills and personal directives, Karp pointed out in the Q&A that they are not legally binding. However, Gallagher noted, they are helpful to family, friends and caregivers, advising people to restrict the content to value matters rather than types of treatment, which may put caregivers in a difficult position.
Courts consider whether a person has the right to die
In his talk, Karp spoke about some of the legal issues relevant to assisted suicide (suicide committed with the help of others) and euthanasia (the killing of another to relieve dire suffering). The latter is only legal in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, he said, and assisted suicide only in Switzerland; there are assisted dying laws in Oregon, Washington and Vermont.
In Canada, he said, while suicide is no longer illegal, assisting a suicide is, and it carries a maximum jail sentence of 14 years. Parliament’s rationale, he explained, was a desire to “prevent people from assisting suicide [of] those that are not mentally capable of … making their own decisions and, because of the values that Canadian people had, that society places on human life, which might easily be eroded … if assistance in committing suicide were decriminalized.”
Karp said the seminal case in this matter was the 1993 Rodriguez v. British Columbia (Attorney General). In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada voted against terminally ill Sue Rodriguez’s right to assisted suicide.
Another important decision came from the B.C. Supreme Court in 2012, which “struck down the prohibition against physician-assisted suicide, calling the law discriminatory, disproportionate and over-broad.” Justice Lynn Smith suspended her ruling to give Parliament time to redraft the legislation, said Karp.
Within a month, however, the federal government appealed, arguing “that the current legislation is in place to protect the vulnerable who might be induced in moments of weakness to commit suicide and that the B.C. Supreme Court had no right to overrule Rodriguez….” (The case is called Lee Carter, et al., v. Attorney General of Canada, et al.)
The federal government won the appeal but the decision noted, “Should the Supreme Court of Canada revisit this issue … consideration should be given to … ‘constitutional exemption,’ … essentially to say, we don’t agree with the law either but our hands are tied…. So, what that’s done in practical effect now is it’s re-opened the debate and left the door open to re-argue Rodriguez at the Supreme Court of Canada but, until then, physician-assisted suicide remains illegal in Canada.”
The Supreme Court of Canada agreed in January of this year to an appeal of the appeal, and so will be considering this issue again. Karp predicted that the court will rule against the government, given how Canadians’ views have changed and the experience of physician-assisted suicide where it is legal – there is no evidence of increased deaths among women, lower-income, uninsured and members of other vulnerable populations.
Family tries to have mother’s wishes honored
Hammond and her family have been fighting their own legal battle for her mother Margot Bentley’s right to die.
Hammond shared a bit about her mother’s life before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1999. Eight years prior, Bentley wrote a one-page living will. In it, said Hammond, she wrote, “If there is no reasonable expectation of my recovery from extreme physical or mental disability, I direct that I be allowed to die.” Her mother also indicated that she “wanted no nourishment or liquids” in this situation. “My mom did not fear death, she was a very spiritual person,” said Hammond. “What she did fear though was a long, slow, lingering, gradual degradation and, as she saw it, her loss of dignity, and she talked about this a lot with us, her family.”
Hammond described the mental and physical decline of her mother. In a care home for years now, her mother can’t walk, stand, she is unresponsive, kept alive with spoon-feeding. In 2011, said Hammond, the family showed the living will to the care home and, initially, they agreed to follow it, but Fraser Health (the regional authority) intervened and legal proceedings ensued, with the decision that her mother will be cared for despite her expressed wishes.
It’s a human rights issue, said Hammond, according to lawyer Kieren Bridge, who offered to represent her family on a pro bono basis. The family continues to fight – Hammond said she is sure they are doing the right thing.
As advice to others, she recommended that people fill out a representation agreement. If your doctor won’t honor your wishes, she said, find another one. She also recommended that people join the group Dying with Dignity.
After the Q&A, Sisterhood president Reesa Devlin closed the event, thanking the panel, Brenda Karp and other volunteers.
Marie Doduck, third from the left, with her family. (photo by Cynthia Ramsay)
“Although the sheer number of Jews who perished in the Holocaust, six million, is seemingly beyond human comprehension, we must remember that each life snuffed out belonged to a person, an individual with a past, present and a promise of the future, a human being endowed with feelings, thoughts and dreams. Tonight, we light candles in memory of the six million Jews, one and a half million of whom were children … and in memory of the millions of other victims – we commemorate them as persons, as individuals.”
Ian Penn of the Second Generation set the tone, as master of ceremonies, for Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre’s Yom Hashoah commemoration on Monday, April 28. A standing-room-only crowd at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver’s Wosk Auditorium attended.
Survivors from the local community lit candles in memory of all those who died. Chazzan Yaacov Orzech (Second Generation) chanted El Maleh Rachamim and survivor Chaim Kornfeld, the Kaddish. Dr. Moira Stilwell, MLA, spoke on behalf of the province.
“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” she reminded the audience. “Yom Hashoah is not just about learning from history, but about passing those lessons on to the next generation. Today, we honor the six million voices that were silenced during the Holocaust, we mourn them, we remember them, and by remembering them, we pledge to never let genocide happen again. Today, we join together and speak for them.”
Penn spoke briefly, but movingly, of his mother, Lola, who died in January, just shy of her 92nd birthday. She survived the Holocaust but, as with most, not without sustaining great losses and witnessing much horror. Addressing his peers, he said, “We grew up with physical comforts but some strangeness and confusion, with marginal understanding and appreciation of the difficulty of becoming normal. Our parents, like Lola, clung to their traditions, confronted the modern, the world they were jettisoned into, their escape route, as best they could, and drove us forward to fulfil their stolen dreams…. Our parents, your parents, were, perhaps, no less complicated than Lola, at times positive and resilient, loving and strategic. And, just as likely, suspicious and threatening, ever vigilant and occasionally hyper-vigilant…. They had to create and re-create themselves, their fears, their terrors, opaque to us, whilst we, their prized possessions, were shepherded with passion … they were survivors in every sense of that word.”
Survivor Mariette Doduck spoke. “The person you see before you is Marie Doduck, a mother, a grandmother and a community volunteer. But there’s another me, Mariette Rozen. A frightened little girl, a tough kid, an enfant sauvage who lived through a lost childhood.” She was only three and a half years old, living in Brussels, when her “life was suddenly ripped apart and irrevocably changed by Nazis.”
In 1939, her family – she was the youngest of 11 – was separated. “We were put into peril by the fact of our Jewishness, a crime under the rule of Nazis’ Europe…. My mother had made a fatal mistake of following orders and registering us at the police station as of Jewish descent. She was told that, if she did, she would not be [taken] … nor would any of us. We had to run and vanish in order to survive. We children were separated and put into different homes. We became the children of silence, like robots, no talking, no crying, no disturbance, a blank mind, with no feelings and really no future. We lived in the moment, we felt nothing except hunger, feelings like loneliness were a luxury.”
Her mother and her brother Albert were murdered in Auschwitz. Doduck saw them being loaded into the trucks. “I had come out of hiding to celebrate my seventh birthday. I hadn’t seen my mother since I was three and a half years old. That was the last time I saw my mother and my brother alive.” Her brother Jean, part of the French Resistance, was hanged by the Gestapo; her brother Simon died three weeks after liberation – “after eating, from the mistaken kindness of the American and Canadian soldiers who liberated the concentration camps and fed the fragile, thin and starving prisoners food that they could no longer digest.”
To survive, Doduck hid with non-Jewish families and in orphanages, took refuge in storm sewers, cellars, as well as in a hayloft, from which she bears a scar from a pitchfork wielded by a Nazi soldier looking for Jews. “I lived mostly in darkness, literally.” When she returned to Brussels years later, she said, she couldn’t recognize it in the light.
“I became tough and streetwise and, because of my young age and my unusual photographic memory, I was used as a messenger in the French Underground. I was even smuggled into a prison to pass a message into my sister Sarah…. Like a fugitive, I lived in fear and confusion in more than one country…. The people I lived with often beat me, and often treated me like a slave … even though they were paid by my family to keep me in hiding. There were also those that risked their lives to save me.” Among them, a convent’s mother superior and a German friend of Doduck’s brother.
Doduck recalled a friend’s death. Savagely beaten, the girl died in her arms. “If I had not forgotten to make my bed and, therefore, been forbidden to go outside [the convent],” said Doduck, she, too, would have been killed.
Doduck also experienced illness, one in which pustules covered her whole body; her skin had to be scrubbed with sulfur. “Despite this sickness and all of the physical and mental anguish, I, like millions of others, did survive, not unscarred, and, in a sense, wise for it. In a perverse way, perhaps, one could even say that I was fortunate because I have seen both sides of humanity.”
“It was only with great pressure from the Jewish community … [that, eventually] 1,123 Jewish orphan children and young adults were brought out of wartorn Europe to make a new life in Canada.”
Reading the book None Is Too Many, Doduck said she had to put it down often, so angered was she that such attitudes existed in Canada as well, “attitudes that nearly kept me, my brothers and sisters out of Canada. People like Prime Minister Mackenzie King and his sidekick Mr. [Frederick] Blair, then director of immigration, did everything in their power at that time to keep Jews out of Canada, even orphan refugee children. It was only with great pressure from the Jewish community,” she said, that, eventually, “1,123 Jewish orphan children and young adults were brought out of wartorn Europe to make a new life in Canada.”
Doduck was one of those children. “When I first started to tell people what had happened to me, they said, ‘Forget about the past.’ But I say to you, I learned from my experiences, both good and bad. Whatever we experience in life contains a message. God provides these vehicles, however painful. It is up to us to interpret and accept them. This we can choose to do either positively or negatively. Without sounding immodest, I had the courage, even as a child, to go on despite the feeling of mistrust, fear, pain and loathing. These lessons are in a significant way responsible for who I am today.”
Doduck arrived here in 1947, 12 years old and, once again, “plunged into a world of strangers.” Here, she said, “I saw goodness in people that I shall never forget, and that’s my adoptive family, Joe and Minnie Satanov and many other wonderful families that took in children of the Holocaust across Canada.”
The Satanovs raised Doduck as their daughter. They bought her first bike, her first pair of skates and many other such things. “You’ve got to understand, we survivors had no toys to play with, we had no blanket to hold on to, we had nothing…. Through their patience and love and understanding, they brought me back to my Jewishness and gave me back my humanity.” But it wasn’t easy, and she ran away from home many times in the first year. “How can you understand how angry, hurt, lonely I was, missing my own mother, brothers, sisters?”
With the Satanovs’ love and support, Doduck graduated high school. “I entered the business working world and eventually met my husband, whom they liked and, as good parents would do, they paid for our wedding. They are both at rest now, but the memory of them is forever ingrained in my heart and in my daughters’, who loved them as grandparents.”
Although encouraged to hide her Jewish identity during the war, between her brother’s reminders that she must remain Jewish and memories of her mother, for example, lighting Shabbat candles (her father died when she was a toddler), Doduck said, “My Jewishness was always part of me…. Now, I take pride in passing this on to my children and grandchildren, unafraid and unabashed, to show and teach them what it is to be … proud of their heritage. Yet, the future is not assured for them. What happened to me and to millions of innocents could happen again … we have the obligation to tell the world the horror of the Holocaust, to teach our children, and they to theirs, so that the past will not repeat itself.”
The hurt will never go away, but life for her has been “a step-by-step process, not something to take for granted, but to fight for. We turned out, survivors, we turned out [to be] decent people that help other people. We are involved in whatever is good: fighting hatred, fanaticism and racism. Although our childhood has been robbed from us – look what we have achieved.”
“I read that the truth is not only violated by falsehood, it may be equally outraged by silence. And I refuse to be silent. Future generations must know and learn. This must be done, however painful. It is our sacred duty – prejudice, hatred, racism, antisemitism have no place in our society.”
She warned, however, that there “are many who are now denying the Holocaust and so we must bear witness…. Because we survived, we have a duty, an obligation, to see to it that these truths are not forgotten…. I read that the truth is not only violated by falsehood, it may be equally outraged by silence. And I refuse to be silent. Future generations must know and learn. This must be done, however painful. It is our sacred duty – prejudice, hatred, racism, antisemitism have no place in our society.
“Tonight, we meet to mark Yom Hashoah, presented by Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, of which I’m a founding member. I have spoken to countless groups of students about my experiences as a Holocaust survivor. Not everyone can understand how extremely painful it is for me, for us, to remember things I would rather forget. But we do it, I do it, regardless of the sleepless nights that follow. I do it because I know that education is the only key to prevention.”
Doduck concluded, “When I speak to young people, I speak as a child, Mariette; tonight, to you, as a peer, Marie. Yet, standing here before you, I find that I cannot separate the two so easily. But maybe these two different people, one that witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust and the other an active citizen in our community, are essential in the present day: essential to the remembrance of the Shoah and essential to working to ensure that it will never happen again.”
Throughout the evening, musical selections were performed by Claire Klein Osipov or members of an ensemble that included Gil Ashkenazy, Megan Emanuel, Samantha Gomberoff (Fourth Generation), Maya Kallner, Sasha Kaye, Jared Khalifa; Kathryn Rose Palmer, Brian Riback, Talya Kaplan Rozenberg, Ayla Tesler-Mabe and Lorenzo Tesler-Mabe, all of the Third Generation. Wendy Bross Stuart, who produced the evening with husband Ron Stuart, was on piano, Eric Wilson on cello. The organizing committee was Cathy Golden, Ethel Kofsky and Rome Fox, all of the Second Generation.
Despite the frequency with which students from high schools and colleges worldwide visit Holocaust death camps, it was no simple matter for Issa Jameel when he was asked whether he wanted to visit Auschwitz. For Jameel, a Palestinian master’s student from Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, the opportunity was laced with political and nationalistic issues his peers don’t often consider. According to Jameel, it was only when he realized it would be an important educational experience to learn about the Jews in the Holocaust during the Second World War that he was convinced and signed on as student coordinator for the trip.
“Until when will we keep hearing the Israeli narrative of what happened?” Jameel asked this reporter in the library of the American studies department on the Al-Quds campus in the Abu Dis neighborhood of Jerusalem. “Why don’t we find out for ourselves?” he asked.
The result was the first delegation of its kind: a March trip by 27 students to Auschwitz and Birkenau camps in Poland led by Prof. Mohammad Dajani Daoudi, dean of the American studies program.
“I was not shy to admit that I was going, and I was not afraid to say so because I was going to learn. As a Palestinian, I feel for others because we are suffering,” Jameel said.
“The idea is to study empathy in order to affect feelings of reconciliation,” Dajani explained. “We are exposing Palestinian students to what happened during World War II – in particular, the Holocaust concentration camps. At the same time, we are taking 30 Israeli students to visit Palestinians who suffered as a result of the 1948 Nakba.”
J Street president and founder Jeremy Ben-Ami. (photo from J Street Facebook page)
In what many observers will see as the de facto expression of mainstream U.S. Jewry’s outlook on J Street, members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on April 30 voted 22-17 (with three abstentions) to reject the membership application of the self-labeled “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby. J Street secured the votes of only about a third of the Conference’s 50 members.
The 42 Conference members in attendance in New York exceeded the 75-percent quorum needed to hold the vote, but J Street fell significantly short of the required threshold of a two-thirds affirmative vote from the Conference’s full membership. The result that 25 organizations either voted against J Street or abstained meant that half of the Conference’s members declined to support J Street’s application.
“The Conference meticulously followed its long-established Process and Procedures Guidelines in considering J Street’s application…. The present membership of the Conference includes organizations which represent and articulate the views of broad segments of the American Jewish community and we are confident that the Conference will continue to present the consensus of the community on important national and international issues as it has for the last 50 years,” said Conference of Presidents chairman Robert G. Sugarman and executive vice-chairman/chief executive officer Malcolm Hoenlein.
Honoring one’s parents is one of the Ten Commandments. In Judaism, respecting and deferring to our elders is not just a value, it’s the law. That said, the opportunity to honor our elders in front of the entire community doesn’t come around very often. Which is just one of the reasons Louis Brier Jewish Aged Foundation’s Eight Over Eighty is so unique.
On May 25, noon, in the Great Hall at the Vancouver Law Courts, LBJAF will honor eight individuals/couples in their eighties who all have one thing in common: “They have each led by example.”
Four of the honorees are featured in this article: Dr. Marvin and Rita Weintraub, Rita Akselrod, Dr. Jimmy White and Chaim Kornfeld. Next week’s Jewish Independent will feature profiles of honorees Dr. Arthur and Arlene Hayes, Stan and Seda Korsch, Samuel and Frances Belzberg, and Serge Haber.
“I know the eight and they are wonderful,” event chair Mel Moss told the Independent, noting about the planned celebration, “Eight over Eighty is modern, yet staged in a traditional way. It is a tribute. It is light and bright yet respectful, it is a vibrant, swinging and ‘with it’ event.”
Dvori Balshine, LBJAF director of development, said, “This will be an event that the community has not seen before. People have been saying, ‘What a brilliant idea!’…. We came up with something fresh, in a new place and at a new time of day.” Even the nomination process, she added, was incredibly well received by the community
RITA AND MARVIN WEINTRAUB Books and education
Marvin Weintraub was born in Poland and came as a child to Ontario, where he ultimately received a PhD in plant physiology. Rita (Enushevsky) was raised in southwestern Ontario, near Niagara Falls, and graduated in sociology and philosophy. Both studied at the University of Toronto, where they met. They married soon after.
Settling for a decade in St. Catharines, which at the time had a Jewish population of about 500, together they started an adult education series and Rita launched a Jewish library in the synagogue that doubled as a community centre. Some of the librarians still working at the desk were originally trained by Rita.
“I have great faith in the value of education of all kinds, but particularly for Jewish adults and for youngsters,” said Marvin, who taught in the synagogue’s afternoon school. They both became active in Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) and she in National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW).
Marvin took a job at the University of British Columbia in 1959 and the young family moved west, immersing themselves in synagogue and community life. Rita became vice-president of Beth Israel Sisterhood and NCJW, taking special interest in global concerns like Vietnamese boat people and Soviet Jewry. She also brought her dedication to adult education, which she championed in Vancouver as she had in Ontario.
Marvin was elected president of Beth Israel and, later, Pacific Region chair of CJC, during which time he focused on addressing challenges of Jewish schools and helping teachers upgrade their skills.
Invited to the USSR in 1968 by the Soviet Academy of Science to lecture on plant virology, Marvin took the opportunity to smuggle in a suitcase filled with tefillin, tzitzit, siddurs and machzors. He attended shul morning and night for a month, using his serviceable Yiddish to identify daveners who could use the items.
In 1973, with Dr. Sid Zbarsky and Dr. Robert Krell, Marvin began the process that would lead to the first professor and program of Judaic studies at UBC, which now has three full-time and one part-time faculty.
In 1978, he was awarded a Queen’s Medal for service to Canadian science.
When the Jewish community centre at Oak and 41st was being designed, Rita convinced planners to set aside space for a Jewish library. Then Marvin set up a lunch between Rita and Sophie Waldman, during which Rita convinced Waldman to memorialize Waldman’s recently deceased husband, Isaac, with a library. Rita remains chair of the Friends of the Waldman Library and the annual fundraising telethon, which she began 20 years ago. She also has been a volunteer with Shalom BC, welcoming newcomers to the local Jewish community.
Of all her achievements, the library holds a special place for Rita. “It’s the focal point of the JCC,” she said.
RITA AKSELROD From tragedy to action
Rita Akselrod’s early experiences were forged by life in Romania, first under the Nazis, then under communism. At seven, she was barred from attending public school because she was Jewish, so a makeshift Jewish school was formed. She and the other Jews in Bacau were forced to wear the yellow star, were subject to curfews and forbidden from assembling in groups. The men in her family were conscripted into forced labor.
By the time Rita was ready for high school, the Russians had taken over and she was taken by her uncles to high school in Bucharest. Her brother wanted to go to university, but the communist regime wanted him in the army, so he fled the country. The rest of the family soon fled also, making their way to Budapest, then trekking through cornfields to an American-controlled zone before landing in a displaced persons camp in Austria.
There, she met “my Ben,” who she recently lost after more than a half-century of marriage. The couple made their way to Israel. But life was difficult in the state’s earliest years, and more so when Rita lost a baby three days after birth. They chose to move and were helped by Leon Kahn, a friend of Ben’s who had settled in Vancouver.
“Leon Kahn sent us papers and we came to Canada,” she said, acknowledging that when she first looked at an atlas, she was alarmed. “I couldn’t believe that we would come to Vancouver when I saw Alaska close by. When I was in Israel and we were corresponding, I said, ‘What’s Vancouver? It’s cold. It’s near Alaska.’ But we did come.”
Kahn set them up in a room in a shared house that had seen many Holocaust survivors and Ben began collecting junk with a horse and buggy, which he would then sell to used-goods dealers. “My husband wasn’t a businessman,” Rita said. “He came from camps and ghettos, he didn’t know the city, he didn’t know the business.”
But the family succeeded, and later sponsored Rita’s parents, brother and his family from Israel.
In 1979, tragedy struck, when the Akselrods’ daughter, Sherry, was killed by a drunk driver. She was a parole officer who had offered to trade shifts on Dec. 26 so a colleague could spend Christmas with family. The loss spurred Rita to bring the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving to British Columbia. She also became involved in grief support, which was taking place in a church.
“I was speaking to a rabbi and said, ‘Can we have it in the Jewish community? Do I have to go to a church?’” Jewish Family Service Agency started a grief support group and Rita attended. Eventually, they asked her to take it over, which she did for many years as a volunteer. As well, she has been actively involved in substance abuse education programs.
She and Ben were founding members of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre and, for more than 20 years, Rita coordinated the speakers program, which has allowed tens of thousands of young British Columbians to learn about the Shoah directly from survivors. She is a past president and a life governor of the centre.
She also spent nearly three decades on the board of the Louis Brier, stopping only because she needed to devote more time to Ben when he developed Alzheimer’s. She is immensely proud of her work on denominational health, which ensured that faith-based agencies like the Louis Brier were treated appropriately when the province devolved health delivery to regional boards. A master agreement was signed between the province and the boards, and Rita noted that it “was signed in the Louis Brier, in front of the synagogue, with a priest there and other members of the denominations.”
She is a recipient of the YWCA Women of Distinction Award for community and humanitarian service and, on the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, she was awarded with honorary Canadian citizenship in Ottawa as a Holocaust survivor who has contributed to Canadian life through remembrance and education.
JIMMY WHITE Make friends with change
Change has been a constant for Jimmy White. He was born in Ohio but the family moved to Saskatchewan during the Depression. His father ran a store before thinking better of it and moving the family to the coast. Jimmy studied at UBC but, since there was no medical school here at the time, he headed to Toronto to become a doctor. While there, he met Beulah and they returned to British Columbia as a married couple.
Jimmy saw even more of Canada through assignments at military hospitals during the war. When peace came, he took up practice downtown and became an institution in the community.
Beulah passed away young, leaving Jimmy and two daughters. He would later marry Miriam Brook, who was widowed with three girls of her own. Sadly, Miriam, too, has since passed away, but Jimmy said he is thrilled to have five daughters.
In addition to his work and family obligations, Jimmy has been a leading voice for Zionism, as an activist in Young Judaea, then the Vancouver Zionist Organization. He was president of the Jewish Community Council (precursor to the Federation) and of the Richmond Country Club. He was a key fundraiser who helped obtain the land for and construct the JCC at Oak and 41st.
These days, he is the head of the residents council at the Weinberg Residence and enjoys yoga, concerts, bridge, art classes, detective novels and debates on politics and language.
The guiding advice of his life came from his mother, he explained. “She said, ‘Make friends with change.’ In her day, there was a horse and buggy. Then the automobile came in. What a big change that automobile made. And now computers and everything! If you don’t make friends with that, you’re left behind. You don’t have to like it, but you have to make friends with it.”
He was amused by a young visitor recently who came to the Weinberg Residence from a Jewish day school. “One of the kids said to me, ‘You’ve had so much change in your lifetime, now there’s no more change left, there’s no more to discover … iPads and iPods,’” Jimmy recalled. “I said, ‘It’s just beginning.’ He said, ‘What else is there to discover?’ I said, ‘That’s exactly what they said when the automobile was invented and when the computer came along. Somebody’s going to invent an antigravity pair of shoes.’”
CHAIM KORNFELD Never give up
Chaim Kornfeld was born in 1926 in a small town in northeastern Hungary, the youngest of eight children. While his father ran a grocery store and his mother managed the large, observant family, Chaim studied at cheder and yeshivah – until 1944. It was at that comparatively late period in the war when the Jews of his town, and of much of Hungary, were placed in ghettoes before being transported to camps.
In May 1944, Chaim was separated from his parents, sisters and grandmother on the platform at Auschwitz. Dr. Josef Mengele sent Chaim to the right and the rest of his family to the left. His father’s last words to Chaim, before he and the others were sent to the gas chambers, were “Never forget that you are a Jew.”
Chaim survived Mauthausen and Gusen, where he worked in an airplane factory. He survived a death march just four days before liberation in May 1945. Of his large family, only Chaim, a sister and two brothers survived. He finished his secondary education in Budapest and was preparing to enter rabbinical school when the Jewish Agency offered him the chance to go to Israel. He leapt at the opportunity, joined the Israeli air force, and was a founding member of Kibbutz Ma’agan. But educational and professional advancement was limited in Israel’s early years and Chaim took his brother up on a sponsorship to Canada.
In Saskatoon, Chaim taught Hebrew school in the afternoons and evenings, while attending university. During this time, he corresponded with a young woman he had met in the Israeli military, Aliza Hershkowitz, and convinced her to join him on the Prairies. Chaim and Aliza would raise four children (a fifth passed away in infancy).
While at the University of Saskatchewan law school, he served as camp director for Camp B’nai B’rith in Pine Lake, Alta. Practising law continuously since 1960, he is proud to be one of the oldest in his profession.
Chaim is a board member, past president and life governor of the Louis Brier Home. He shares his story of survival and accomplishment with students at the annual high school Holocaust symposium and he swims six days a week at the JCC, where he has been a member for 40 years.
For years, he has served as a Torah reader at the Louis Brier synagogue. Responding to the honor of being recognized for his dedication to community, Chaim said he is embarrassed by the fuss. “I don’t look for honor,” he said. “I never looked for kavods.”
His advice for others? “I would advise people – and I still do in my office sometimes – to never give up. That is my motto in life. Whatever comes up, I won’t just lie down and take it.”
He emphasized his enduring love for his wife Aliza and added, “I always come home for dinner.”
Shiloh Winery overlooks the Shiloh River and the Judean Hills. (photo from shilohwinery.com)
The second in a short series featuring nine Israeli wine producers features Mayer Chomer of Shiloh Winery, situated above the Shiloh River overlooking the Judean Hills.
Mayer Chomer: Shiloh Winery was opened in 2005. That’s when we started running operations. We started in a very small garage, making boutique, very selected wines. I think that we’ve been making good product, good wines. Now the winery has built up to 10,000 cases and we’re growing.
Yossie Horwitz: Can you tell a little about the winemaker, the philosophy of the winery, what types of wines you’re trying to make?
MC: So, we started wanting to make just quality wines. We’re not interested in the volume business. We wanted to make very, very unique wines, quality wines, and obviously we wanted to distinguish ourselves from the rest of our colleagues and competitors. So, our philosophy is really making no compromises in our process: making and investing as much as we can in our equipment and, obviously, trying to be and to make always the best wines possible based on our grapes, our varieties that we have available and, you know, we invest a lot of money planting our vineyards so we can really control our quality. We’ve been just – thank God, you know – selecting good grapes based on a lot of research and making the wines that you see in the market. Thank God, people are acknowledging it by its quality.
YH: What types of wines do you make? Do you make single varietals or blends?
MC: We do have several series. We have the Mosaic, which is our flagship, a blend of five different grapes. We have a series that we call Secret Reserve. We have a merlot, a shiraz and a cab – straight cab. We also have the Shor series. Shor means bull in Hebrew, and the reason why we call it the Shor is because we inherited the lands of Joseph. It recognizes the bull that he slaughtered in the Bible. We also have barbera, merlot and a cab. And we have a lower blend; we call it Mor. We have a white wine, we have a dessert wine – we have all kinds of range!
YH: What’s special about the terroir where your grapes come from?
MC: I can tell you all the things about my terroir, but I’m going to answer you with a quote from the Bible…. The Bible says that Joseph got an extra blessing from the patriarch Jacob…. You know, many people … comment [o]n the Bible, one of them was Rashi, who was very famous, he asked: “What is so special about this blessing? Why did he [get] this land? [Does] Shiloh ha[ve] an extra blessing?” And, on this spot, Rashi answers, “Because the fruits are sweeter.” So, we have a gorgeous, gorgeous place to grow and plant our vineyards. As a matter of fact, many of the wineries are planting vineyards in Shiloh because of this quality. Outstanding quality!
YH: What are the plans for the future?
MC: Well, continue to do good wine, keeping the quality at all costs. And we want to grow, obviously, but we want to grow as per the request of our customers. If our demand will grow, because people will continue acknowledging our quality, then we’ll grow. Otherwise, we will stay where we are, always doing different things and new important things that can be attractive to our customers and clients. But always keeping proportions, meaning we want to be always a quality winery, as opposed to a mass winery.
YH: Can you tell us a little about how you got started in the wine business?
MC: To make this very long story short, I lived in Spain for several years. I was working and doing my PhD. I’m a lawyer by defect!… So I was there and, obviously, Spain is a very important wine region. And every time I would have people over to my house for holidays or for the Sabbath, I was very frustrated that I couldn’t get a good kosher wine. So, back in the [United] States, I was a little bit naïve and I thought, “I’m going to change the world! And I’m going to have just good quality wines, and I’m going to go to Israel and make a good winery.” And that was the beginning of it.
YH: When was this?
MC: This was in 1997. I was in Spain until 2001. So then, when I moved to Israel, I was working for a couple of years and then I decided, “OK, let’s make the dream come true!”
YH: What other regions inform your style of winemaking?
MC: I don’t know if I can answer that. I love French wines as well as Italian wines, which are very different, although they are the Old World. I really respect the New World wines: New Zealand, California. I think it’s important to have a combination of New and Old, just not be limited, but actually just making the best wine possible. We like to make wines that we know customers will appreciate, because customers nowadays start looking for something new, something interesting and attractive. At the same time, you always have that romanticism of good quality, classic wines.
– This article is reprinted courtesy of the Grape Collective, an online publication for all things wine. For more information, visit grapecollective.com.