Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor speaks in Vancouver on Feb. 3 and in Victoria on Feb. 4. (photo from Ron Prosor via Jewish National Fund Vancouver)
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations says Canada’s foreign policy is at the “heart of the world’s moral compass.”
In an email interview with the Jewish Independent, Ambassador Ron Prosor credited Canada as being a voice of reason and justice.
“Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper and Foreign Minister John Baird have proven time and again to be true friends to Israel,” Prosor said. “They are at the heart of the world’s moral compass.… Canada is standing with Israel as we stand on the frontline in the battle against terror. They are often the first to denounce the anti-Israel bias and stand up as the voice of justice and reason. There are many examples of this bond: Canada was a strong proponent of the effort to make Yom Kippur an official UN holiday; it partnered with us to organize the upcoming special session in the General Assembly on antisemitism; and was one of the few countries to condemn the Syrian delegate … for comparing Israel’s policy to that of the Nazis.”
Prosor spoke to the paper in advance of his visit here in early February, hosted by Jewish National Fund of Canada, British Columbia. He will speak Feb. 3 in Vancouver at Congregation Beth Israel, at 7:30 p.m., and in Victoria the following day, at 7:30 p.m., at Congregation Emanu-El.
Prosor criticized efforts by the Palestinian Authority to gain recognition at the UN and at the International Criminal Court, saying it is an effort to avoid a negotiated resolution to the conflict.
“The Palestinians have found every possible opportunity to avoid direct negotiations with Israel,” he said. “They have engaged in a never-ending string of political games, literally shooting in all directions and missing the real target. The fact of the matter is that their habit of bypassing negotiations by taking unilateral action and blaming everyone but themselves will only move us further from peace. It’s time for the Palestinians to aim higher and find constructive solutions – beginning by engaging in meaningful dialogue.”
The United Nations is the body that, in 1947, passed the Partition Resolution intended to create a Jewish and an Arab state in Palestine. Israel’s critics routinely note that the very agency that is responsible for its existence is repeatedly on record condemning Israeli policies. Prosor responds that the UN is not the same body it was nearly 70 years ago.
“The landscape of the UN has changed dramatically since its founding,” Prosor said. “Today, fewer than half of its member states are democracies. The halls of the UN used to ring with calls for human rights and human dignity; today, they ring with voices demonizing and delegitimizing the Jewish state. This year, the UN passed 20 resolutions condemning Israel. In comparison, the world’s worst human rights abusers – Iran, Syria, and North Korea – each received one condemnation. This anti-Israel bias pervades the UN system.”
Many of the UN’s most vociferous condemnations of Israel emanate from the UN Human Right Council (UNHRC).
“For years, the Human Rights Council has singled out Israel for condemnation,” Prosor said. “I have to note that some of the world’s most repressive regimes, including Saudi Arabia and Cuba, are members of the Human Rights Council.”
Saudi Arabia is currently in the international spotlight for carrying out the first of 20 court-ordered floggings of democracy blogger Raif Badawi. After Friday prayers a week ago, Badawi, who created the blog Free Saudi Liberals, was lashed 50 times over the course of 15 minutes in a public square in front of a mosque in Jeddah. He is scheduled to receive the same punishment for a total of 20 successive Fridays, or 1,000 lashes. This is in addition to his sentence of 10 years in prison.
Despite this immediate example and other atrocities perpetrated by elected members of UNHRC, the body’s attentions are overwhelmingly focused on the Jewish state, Prosor said.
“To date, there have been 22 emergency meetings of the HRC to deal with situations around the world – 33 percent of them dealt with Israel,” Prosor said. “Additionally, Israel is singled out during regular sessions. Article 4 of the Council’s agenda examines the abuses of every single country in the world, except one. Israel – and Israel alone – has its own permanent place on the agenda: Article 7. This isn’t just a double standard, it’s a triple standard. One standard for democracies, one standard for dictators and a whole other impossible standard for Israel.”
“Another example is the UN’s UNISPAL [UN Information System on the Question of Palestine] website,” Prosor said. “It has advertised ‘apartheid tours’ in Israel and promoted a petition calling for the Canadian prime minister to cancel a visit to Israel.
“The UN could be playing a more constructive role by investing less time targeting Israel and more time advancing peace and security, economic growth, women’s rights, minority rights and so on,” he said. “None of this will be possible so long as the institution is held hostage by the world’s most repressive regimes.”
Though he is the lead representative of Israel at an organization that sometimes seems to have condemnation of the Jewish state as its primary mission, Prosor insists he is not intimidated.
“I walk the halls of this organization tall and proud of my extraordinary nation, one of the freest and more democratic countries on earth,” he said. “At the UN, I feel it is important to show the world what Israel is about beyond our conflict. We have so much innovation and ingenuity to share in agriculture, medicine, high-tech, education and more. We are a nation of just eight million that has produced 12 Nobel prizes, that sends satellites into space, puts electric cars on the road and develops the technology to power everything from cellphones to solar panels to medical devices. I feel privileged to represent Israel and the Jewish people.”
Prosor said he is bringing a message to Canada that emphasizes the parallels between the two countries.
“Israel and Canada share the same value system – we believe in democracy, justice, human rights and peace,” he said. “Together, we are standing firm amidst the stormy seas of global diplomacy to make the world a more peaceful place. The UN needs more countries like Canada – countries that are willing to take a stand and defend our common values.”
The consecration of Schara Tzedeck Cemetery in New Westminster in 1929. Eliya Ahroni, left, shammas of the synagogue, with shul president Chaim Leib Freedman, who was also founder of the Vancouver Chevra Kadisha in 1910. (photo from Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia L.00306)
The organization that oversees three of Metro Vancouver’s Jewish cemeteries does not want to discourage anyone from planning ahead and purchasing plots right now. They do, however, want to dispel rumors that the cemeteries are running out of space.
“I’m not trying to discourage people from buying plots,” said Howard Jampolsky, executive director of the Schara Tzedeck Cemetery Board, “but we do have adequate land in New Westminster [for now]. We feel that we have probably between 25 and 40 years left in New Westminster of burial land available, based on projections and current rates.”
The Schara Tzedeck Cemetery Board operates Schara Tzedeck Cemetery in New Westminster and a newer one in Surrey. It also is involved with the City of Vancouver in overseeing the Jewish area at Mountain View, the city-owned cemetery on Fraser Street.
Other Jewish cemeteries in the area are run by Temple Sholom, the Reform synagogue in Vancouver; Har-El, the Conservative congregation on the North Shore; Beth Israel, the Conservative congregation in Vancouver; and Beth Tikvah, the Conservative congregation in Richmond.
In an interview with the Independent, Jampolsky clarified the administrative structure of Jewish funerals and burials in the Vancouver area. Although other congregations have cemeteries, the Schara Tzedeck Cemetery Board is solely responsible for everything that happens in the preparation for Jewish funerals, regardless of affiliation or denomination.
The Chevra Kadisha, the Jewish Burial Society, effectively operates as an adjunct to the cemetery board, which is an independent organization originally created in 1929 under the auspices of Congregation Schara Tzedeck, the oldest and largest Orthodox synagogue in Vancouver. The Chevra Kadisha, which literally means the “holy society,” consists of volunteers who prepare the deceased for burial. More than three millennia of Jewish rites are embodied in the rituals performed by the Chevra Kadisha.
Beyond this most intimate act, the cemetery board also oversees the entire process before the service at the cemetery.
“We provide all the funeral services,” Jampolsky said. “[These include] the registration of the deceased, the picking up at the hospital or the home, taking them out to our funeral home, which is attached to the cemetery in New Westminster, providing the ritual preparation for burial, services of the Chevra Kadisha, which include sitting with the deceased from the time they come to us until the burial, and everything to do with the conducting of a funeral.” Rev. Joseph Marciano is Schara Tzedeck’s funeral director.
If the funeral is at one of the Schara Tzedeck cemeteries, the entire process remains under the board’s purview. If the deceased is to be buried in another cemetery, the cemetery board is responsible for everything up until they transport the person to the cemetery, where the rabbi and congregation take over. As a result, regardless of denomination, all Jewish deceased in Metro Vancouver receive full Orthodox preparation for burial.
Jampolsky stressed that one does not need to be a member of Schara Tzedeck to be buried in one of their cemeteries, one need only be Jewish.
The board, which is made up of eminent community members, is co-chaired by Jack Kowarsky and Charles Diamond. Diamond’s father, Jack Diamond, z”l, initiated the board’s current structure decades ago.
The Mountain View Jewish Cemetery has been undergoing a restoration this year, after decades of limited attention. J.B. Newall, the monument company located across from the cemetery, has renovated many of the oldest headstones.
“The headstones that are 100 years old look like they’re brand-new,” Jampolsky said. “It’s going to be a really remarkable place to walk through.”
In addition to the physical restoration taking place under the leadership of Shirley Barnett and a committee of volunteers, a campaign aims to raise funds for perpetual care to maintain the cemetery as it should be.
The oldest Jewish cemetery in the metro area – and the only one inside Vancouver city limits – still sees one or two funerals a year, Jampolsky said, despite the widespread belief that it is full.
Unlike the cemeteries in New Westminster and Surrey, which are fully operated and maintained by the cemetery board, the Jewish section of Mountain View remains under the ownership and operation of the city, like the larger cemetery from which it is separated by a hedge.
Jampolsky said a leading cemetery architect told him that the New Westminster cemetery is among the nicest in North America, in terms of natural beauty, upkeep and maintenance. Hollywood North has noticed, too.
“We’ve had movie companies come and want to film there and we’ve turned them away,” Jampolsky said. “We don’t need the revenue from that. We don’t think it’s respectful to the deceased.”
The board is a nonprofit organization and costs are covered by funeral expenses – $11,000 includes every aspect of preparation and the funeral if the deceased is being buried in a Schara Tzedeck cemetery; $5,575 if they are to be buried in one of the other Jewish cemeteries. The cost of the plot is also currently $11,000 at the Schara Tzedeck Cemetery in New Westminster. Twenty percent of all plot fees are set aside in trust for perpetual maintenance.
Families with financial constraints are offered discreet, compassionate assistance, said Jampolsky. “We believe that every Jewish person has a right to a Jewish burial, a full halachic Jewish burial that is like any other, and we’ll never turn back from that.”
Jewish tradition makes funerals not only plain in style and appearance, but comparatively simple in terms of planning, Jampolsky noted. Every Jewish person is buried in identical caskets, made of plain unadorned wood and no metal, with holes in the base to hasten decomposition and return of the body to the earth. There is none of the competitive materialism typical of the funeral industry, where anecdotes abound of families being upsold on higher-end caskets and elaborate ceremonies.
Jewish funerals are almost identical, he said, regardless of the individual’s position in life. The same care is given to respect the individual throughout the preparation.
“I really believe that we do an important, invaluable job for the community and that we do good and holy work, we do it well, every single person is treated with the utmost care, respect, whether they’re living or they’re deceased.”
In the dystopia of the Holocaust, pregnancy and childbirth were life-threatening situations – for the mother and the child. In Auschwitz, if a woman were able to conceal her pregnancy long enough to come to term, despite malnutrition and epidemics, the women who helped deliver the baby would sometimes kill the child and dispose of the body in order to save the mother from the Nazi overseers.
Ending Jewish civilization, which was the goal of the Nazi Holocaust, focused particular attention on children and pregnant women, according to Prof. Sara R. Horowitz, who delivered the annual Kristallnacht memorial lecture Sunday night at Congregation Beth Israel.
Jewish men, women and children were all targeted by the Nazis, but their experiences were different, said Horowitz. While female victims of the Nazis may have been doctors, businesspeople, farmers or had other roles, they were particularly under assault as mothers. Horowitz based her lecture, Mothers and Daughters in the Holocaust, on many recorded narratives from mothers and daughters affected by the Holocaust. The harrowing stories involved both unthinkable choices during the Shoah and strained relationships thereafter.
For Jews in hiding, babies could be particularly dangerous. A baby’s cry could betray entire families hiding in attics or under floorboards. In one case, Horowitz recounts a mother pulling her hair out in silence while an uncle smothered her baby as Nazis searched the house in which they were hiding.
Women were routinely forced to make impossible choices between their own welfare and that of their children. In many cases, she said, women given a choice opted to die so that their child would not die alone. In others, mothers knew they could do nothing to forestall the inevitable and saved themselves.
In the concentration camps, pregnant women and young children were automatically selected for death. Horowitz quoted Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous Auschwitz doctor, as saying that the mothers could have been spared but that it would “not be humanitarian” to send a child to death without its mother.
Secret abortions were performed and pregnancies hidden. In one case, Horowitz said, a woman survived to deliver her child by positioning herself among beautiful young women during naked inspections by Nazi guards, hoping, successfully, that the guards’ attentions would be distracted from her condition.
One of the experiments Mengele undertook was to see how long a newborn could survive without nourishment. A woman delivered a baby under his direct supervision and then had her breasts bound so she was unable to feed the baby. Mengele came daily to inspect the situation and take notes.
Experiences during the Shoah had indelible impacts on its victims, their children and grandchildren.
Horowitz reflected on Motherland, a memoir by the writer Fern Schumer Chapman, whose mother was sent from her home on the Kindertransport, which took Jewish children from their homes in Europe to safety in England and elsewhere. Her mother, Edith, never forgave her parents for “abandoning” her, even though she understood that she would have perished along with them had she remained behind.
“At least we would have been together,” Horowitz quoted Edith, noting that the author-daughter’s conclusion was that her mother’s understanding of those early events was “stuck in a 12-year-old’s heart.”
Horowitz also discussed Sarah Kofman, who would go on to become a leading French philosopher. She survived as a hidden child in Paris, with her mother, but the woman who provided them shelter worked to detach Sarah from her mother and from Judaism, which led to difficult relations between all three women after liberation. Kofman never wrote about her experiences during the war until her 60th year, when she penned a memoir of the time and shortly thereafter committed suicide.
Relationships between parents and children after the Holocaust were often difficult. Adults understood both the “preciousness and precariousness” of children. For children born after 1945, many of whom bear the names of victims of Nazism, their relationships with the past and with their parents can bear varieties of scars.
Many parents, having missed normal upbringings, did not intuit how to parent. In one case Horowitz mentioned, a woman who had never witnessed a normal pregnancy and whose mother died in the Holocaust lamented that no one told her what to expect or how to prepare. When labor began while her husband was at work, the woman rode a bicycle to the hospital.
A woman who was forced to murder her own baby during the Holocaust went on to have two sons after liberation. In an Israeli hospital, when a nurse momentarily took her baby away, the woman became hysterical.
“Nobody knew and nobody cared about people from the concentration camps,” Horowitz quoted the woman. “They thought we were mad.”
Mothers who were unable to protect their children during the Holocaust carried concealed memories that sometimes prevented them from normal mothering after liberation.
In many cases, though, the mother-daughter relationship was credited with saving one or both parties. Mothers provided inner strength, a moral anchor and often ingenuity, said Horowitz.
One mother, a seamstress, ingratiated herself with the town mayor by making dresses for the mayor’s wife and daughters, thereby delaying her family’s selection for successive roundups. When at last her family was lined up for the trains, the mayor’s wife insisted the woman be removed so she could finish the dresses she was working on. When the seamstress insisted she could not possibly do good dressmaking while worrying about her family, the mayor’s wife insisted the rest of the family also be removed from the transport.
In last words between mothers and daughters, strength and continuity prevailed, said Horowitz. In face-to-face goodbyes, and in letters and postcards received after a death, mothers granted children “permission to survive” without guilt, urged survivors to tell the world what happened and instructed them not to internalize the perceptions the Nazis had of them.
In one instance, where a young woman was spared while her mother and two young sisters were selected for death, the mother implored her daughter not to become bitter and hateful.
“Don’t let them destroy you,” the mother said.
Horowitz is the director of the Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies at York University, and a professor of comparative literature. Her diverse areas of research and writing include cultural responses to the Holocaust. She is a member of the academic advisory board of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and a former president of the Association for Jewish Studies.
At the start of the evening, Prof. Chris Friedrichs, representing the Kristallnacht committee, reflected on the symbolism of coming together in the recently completed new Beth Israel synagogue to commemorate an historical event in which “hundreds of synagogues like this were put to the torch and destroyed.”
Cantor Lawrence Szenes-Strauss recited El Moleh Rachamim, the memorial prayer. Holocaust survivors participated in a candlelighting procession. Barry Dunner reflected on being a child of Holocaust survivors. Prof. Richard Menkis introduced the keynote speaker and Rabbi Jonathan Infeld thanked her. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson read a proclamation from the city.
The annual Kristallnacht commemorative event is a partnership between the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, Congregation Beth Israel and Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver.
In a recently published memoir, A Childhood on the Move: Memoirs of a Child Survivor of the Holocaust, René Goldman, professor emeritus of Chinese history at the University of British Columbia, pieces together a fragmented and tragic childhood and adolescence.
Having migrated to Luxembourg from Poland, Goldman’s parents then fled the advance of the Nazis into the Benelux countries. The family made their way through occupied France hoping to sail from a Mediterranean port to South America. While their passage was interrupted, the family at least found themselves in France’s “free zone,” the southern area governed by the German-puppet Vichy regime, but not directly administered by the Nazis. While granted a period of comparative normalcy – unlike, Goldman notes, Jews in the north like Anne Frank and her family – eventually there was a roundup.
Goldman was awakened by his mother and told that police were demanding they go to the train station. Why his father was not with them at that time Goldman does not know. Nor does he know why he was spared the fate of his mother.
“The entire station was a scene of bedlam, with men, women and children being pulled, shoved and hurled into the train,” writes Goldman. “Just as the commissar was about to throw me into the train as well, two gendarmes in khaki uniforms appeared in the nick of time to stop him. Without a word he let go of me…. That was the last time I saw my Mama.”
An aunt arranged for Goldman to be hidden in a rural village, which would become the first of countless temporary shelters for him. In an excruciating series of hasty moves, Goldman was transferred from the protection of one adult or institution to another. In some instances, the adults and his fellow children were amiable, in others far less so. Despite the instability and constant uprooting, he usually managed to attain some education in almost every one of his hiding places. At a Catholic institution, he and other Jewish children were assigned new identities and warned never to let anyone see their private parts, “since in France only Jews were circumcised.”
When finally the allies reached the village where Goldman was hidden, and he reconnected with his aunt, she told him that his father had joined the Free French forces and would return after the war. It’s not clear if she believed this. “Alas, even as Paris was about to be liberated, [Klaus] Barbie [the Nazi known as the ‘Butcher of Lyon’] hurriedly filled up one last train with victims destined for the death camps, a train which the Resistance vainly sought to derail, or otherwise prevent from reaching Germany,” writes Goldman. “Decades later I learned that my beloved Papa was among them.”
Though now liberated, things did not, of course, return to normal for Goldman. The winter of 1944-45 was a harsh one and food was scarce. Meanwhile, the war continued and the allies suffered setbacks in the Battle of the Bulge. “That unanticipated delay caused the Allies heavy losses, while thousands more victims, among them my father, perished in the Nazi death camps,” he writes.
Moreover, Goldman’s surviving aunt and uncle in France, with three children of their own, found they could not care for him. They sent him to a colony run by a Zionist organization, where he received a Zionist education, including a bit of Hebrew, to prepare the young people for aliyah. When the war finally ended, the children at the colony waited for news of their parents. “Daily I hung around the little railway station after school hours, sometimes alone, sometimes with others, scrutinizing the passengers who came off the afternoon train from Grenoble in the vain hope that Papa might turn up among them,” he writes.
The Jewish community in Grenoble hosted a photographic exhibition of the Shoah. “I felt my head spinning with shock and disbelief as I stared at the photos of emaciated, skeletal looking ‘déportés’ in striped uniforms; of heaps of corpses stacked like cord wood; and of the gas chambers and crematoria, in which millions were burnt to ashes.”
Goldman was entrusted to the Commission Centrale de l’Enfance (CCE), a product of the underground groups that had hidden Jewish children and that was now attempting to reunite them with surviving relatives or adopt them if they were orphaned. At the CCE homes, the children were indoctrinated with communist ideals. Some did not take to them, but Goldman emphatically did. He was enraptured with the idea of the socialist experiment taking place in Poland, the land of his parents’ ancestry. He opted against joining his maternal aunt and uncle in migrating to Canada, instead moving to Poland, where his huge extended family on both sides, save one paternal uncle, had all been killed in the Shoah.
He worked at the Polish national radio station, reading news and commentary and translating material for broadcast to France and Belgium, while struggling to master the notoriously complex Polish language. Disenchantment with communism began when he was chosen to participate in a summer program for boys at a beautiful resort town at the southern end of Poland in the Karkonosze mountains. The program was primarily aimed at the children of Polish émigrés in the West. While Goldman was excited to speak French again with some of the campers, the “counselors” were warned not to let on that they understood the languages the youngsters spoke. The director of the colony demanded of the boys who knew French to translate into Polish the letters the children were writing home to ensure the news from the old country met the standards of propaganda. Goldman refused to be a spy, however, and the other French-speakers followed suit. The protest was effective, and the boys could again enjoy the camaraderie of their guests.
Goldman was also aware of the antisemitic purges in Czechoslovakia and Moscow at the time, in which Jewish party activists were convicted as “agents of American imperialism and Zionism.”
In 1953, a delegation visited Goldman’s school, inviting students to apply to study abroad, primarily in the Soviet Union. Being an excellent student, he applied and was accepted to a program to study in China, where he would spend five years, during which time his enchantment with communism would come to an end. He was there during the period when Mao Zedong declared that China would “let 100 flowers bloom, let 100 schools of thought contend.” This was a trap, luring people into expressing their true beliefs and then dragging them into “struggle meetings” in which they were denounced, beaten, humiliated and forced to incriminate others. Then, in 1958 began the Great Leap Forward, the collectivization and forced industrialization of rural Chinese society, which resulted in a famine that claimed between 30 and 40 million lives.
Abandoning China, Poland and communism, Goldman received a scholarship to Columbia University, and reconnected with what was left of his family, in Canada, and eventually spent a long career as a professor of Chinese history at UBC. “The wonderful port city of Vancouver became the end destination of a life of wandering from country to country,” Goldman writes.
While his life on the move finally ended, he would never find solace. It would take decades for Goldman to piece together what he could of his parents’ fates. In 1965, he met a man in whose arms his father had died during a death march from Auschwitz in 1945. He never found any witnesses to his mother’s death, but he found a record of the convoy she had been on to Auschwitz-Birkenau: “Of the 407 women who arrived at Birkanau on that train, only 147 were registered and had a number tattooed on their forearm; the others were sent directly to the gas chambers,” he writes. “I can only assume that my mother, being small and frail, was among the latter, unless she died because of the atrocious conditions in which the doomed passengers of that train traveled. I never learned for certain what happened to her; there will never be closure for me.”
The tuna salad recipe is one of Lynn Kirsche Shapiro’s mother’s most popular recipes. (photo by Nick Ulivieri Photography)
The first section of Food, Family and Tradition: Hungarian Kosher Family Recipes and Remembrances (Cherry Press, 2013) is a family album, which Lynn Kirsche Shapiro says is her way of completing two unfinished legacies: “my mother’s recipes and my father’s autobiography.”
Her mother went blind at age 75 and Shapiro viewed the project of compiling her recipes as a tangible tribute to her mother’s contribution to the lives of her family and others. Her father was in the process of writing his life story when he died at the age of 81.
“After beginning the book, I understood that my family’s recipes and history were part of a larger world: the traditional Jewish life in Czechoslovakia and Hungary before the Holocaust,” Shapiro writes. “Many books have been written to educate others, to bear witness to the events and atrocities of the Holocaust. My book also attempts to get the picture of the richness of Jewish life in Eastern Europe prior to the Holocaust. Strong family traditions were the bedrock on which our parents, and so many of the Holocaust survivors, were raised. It is because of this strong family bond, deep tradition and unwavering faith that our parents were able to live again, to build a family and to contribute to the future.”
Shapiro’s father, Sandor Kirsche (Shalom Kirschenbaum) was born in a village in Carpathian Czechoslovakia. His family ran a small grocery store in their home. Barely surviving Buchenwald, he returned to his hometown of Hlyuboka, where he found his remaining two sisters who, along with Sandor and an aunt and uncle, were the only five remaining from 38 family members. A ship he had planned to take to Palestine was canceled and he soon after met Margit Weisz. They married in 1947 and moved to Chicago. There, Sandor worked in retail foods and, in 1973, opened an all-kosher supermarket that thrives today.
Margit was born in Gergely, Hungary. In 1944, on the last day of Passover, word came that the Nazis were to evacuate the Jews the next day. Her family hired non-Jews to drive them in wagons away in the night, but they were caught. They were sent first to a ghetto and then most of the family was killed in Auschwitz. Shapiro’s mother was sent to a subcamp of Buchenwald, where she worked with 250 other women preparing wooden crates and making ammunition. After liberation, she discovered that a brother had survived, alone among their large family. Meeting Sandor shortly after liberation, the family story takes an uplifting turn as their American dream becomes real.
The recipes in the book are not really innovative. Many of them, like the ones included here, which have been proven in one of the Jewish Independent “test kitchens,” are superb in part because of their simplicity. While East European cuisine generally, and its Jewish form specifically, certainly have dishes that are set apart from others as emblematic of major celebrations, they emphatically avoid fancy-schmancy trends so common today. This is probably why recipes like these last generations.
The book, in fact, has a litany of the classics of Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine: chopped chicken liver, gefilte fish, chopped herring, stuffed cabbage, borscht, potato soup, chicken soup, of course, blintzes, kugel, boiled fish, schmaltz, cholent, goulash, brisket, tzimmes, beet salad, latkes, kasha, and a litany of baking from challah to dumplings and honey cake.
While these recipes are fitting for the High Holidays, you might want to put them aside (the ones with oil, at least) for Chanukah as well.
SWEET AND SOUR CABBAGE SOUP WITH MEAT Traditional Hungarians cooked cabbage in a variety of ways. Here is a rich and tasty sweet and sour cabbage soup, with the deep flavor of meat. I like to cook it for a few hours to develop a flavor. For a sweeter taste, add raisins. I always do.
1 to 2 tbsp vegetable oil 1 1/2 to 2 lbs short ribs, cut into large chunks 1 medium onion, diced 1 medium head cabbage, cored, cut into small squares or shredded 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes quartered or one (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes 1 cup tomato sauce 1/2 tbsp lemon juice 1/3 cup sugar 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper 1 tsp salt 1/3 cup dark or golden raisins, optional
In an eight-quart pot over medium-high heat, heat oil. Brown short ribs with onions, turning so ribs brown on all sides. Decrease heat to low, cover tightly and steam until meat is tender, about 30 minutes to one hour.
Add the cabbage, the tomatoes together with their juice, and the remainder of ingredients to the meat, including raisins if using. Add six cups of water. Bring to a boil, decrease heat to low and simmer, covered, until the cabbage and the meat are both tender, about one hour. Taste and adjust seasonings. For a richer flavor, cook an additional 30 minutes to one hour.
Serve ladled into heated bowls. Makes eight to 10 (eight-ounce) servings.
TUNA SALAD This tuna salad is one of my mother’s most popular recipes, and we have been told that nobody’s tuna salad is as tasty. It is simple but it has its secrets. One is the grated egg; another is the oil-packed tuna. You can substitute water-packed tuna if you want a lighter salad, but the depth of flavor will not be quite the same.
1 (12-ounce) can or 2 (5-ounce) cans oil packed tuna, well-drained 3 hard-boiled eggs, shelled 1/4 cup minced onion 1 stalk celery, very finely chopped 1/3 to 1/2 cup mayonnaise
Place tuna in a medium bowl and mash with a fork. Grate the egg and add to the tuna, stirring to mix. Add the onion and celery, and mix well with the mayonnaise. Cover and refrigerate for up to three days. Makes four servings.
CHICKEN SCHNITZEL Schnitzel is authentically European, whether veal or chicken. My mother’s chicken schnitzel is special. She debones her own white meat from the chicken, then slices it thin and pounds it to about 1/4-inch uniform thickness. Also, she uses fresh breadcrumbs for the breading. Pounding the chicken breasts uniformly thin allows them to cook faster and more evenly. For added flavor, I often mix breadcrumbs with cornflake crumbs, half and half.
6 to 8 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, about 2 pounds 1 cup flour 1 tsp seasoned salt 1/2 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika 1/4 tsp garlic powder 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper 2 eggs, beaten, mixed with 1 tbsp water 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs, or 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs and 1/2 cup cornflake crumbs vegetable oil for frying, as needed
Slice each chicken breast in half horizontally. Cover each piece with plastic wrap. Using a meat mallet or rolling pin, pound chicken breasts to an even thickness of 1/4 inch. Some tears are OK; even thickness is the most important step.
Place flour and seasonings in one shallow bowl; stir to mix. Place egg and crumbs into additional separate shallow bowls.
Dip each chicken piece first in flour, then egg and then the crumb mixture. Transfer to a tray or plate and repeat until all chicken is breaded.
In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil as needed. Fry schnitzel on each side, in batches, turning once, until golden brown and cooked through, about five minutes for each side.
Serve immediately or transfer to a parchment-lined baking pan and keep warm in a 250°F oven. Serve on individual plates with vegetables and potatoes or rice of choice. Makes eight servings.
FRIED CAULIFLOWER This is crispy and best prepared in a deep fryer. For a lighter, healthier choice, oven bake it on a cookie sheet.
oil, as needed, for deep frying 1 cup bread crumbs, preferably from challah, or 1 cup cornflake crumbs [the Independent used Panko, with great results] 1/4 tsp salt 1/4 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper 1 cup flour 2 eggs, beaten 1 large head cauliflower, separated into florets
If frying, preheat the oil to 350°F in a deep fryer or deep pot. Season breadcrumbs or cornflake crumbs with the salt, paprika and pepper.
In three separate shallow dishes, place flour, eggs and crumbs.
Dip the cauliflower florets first in the flour, next the eggs, and then the breadcrumbs. Fry in batches in the deep fryer, drain on paper towels.
Alternatively, preheat oven to 400°F. Place breaded cauliflower florets on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, and bake until crisp and brown, about 20 minutes, turning the pan once in oven.
Makes eight servings.
CUCUMBER SALAD, UKORKASALATA
Cucumbers were readily available in Hungary and Czechoslovakia from spring through summer, making ukorkasaláta a classic salad during the season, light and refreshing, perfect for a summer meal. My husband, Irv, likes to serve it as an accompaniment to grilled steak; it balances the richness of the beef. The vinegar and the salt are preservatives, allowing the salad to keep, refrigerated, for a week. Of course, as my mother says, “At home, we never worried about the refrigeration because it never lasted too long – it was all eaten up quickly.” It is best prepared in advance, so the cucumbers have a slightly pickled flavored.
2 large seedless cucumbers (about 1 1/2 pounds), skin on, sliced paper thin one medium onion, sliced paper thin 1 heaping tbsp salt 1/3 cup water 1/3 cup sugar 1/3 cup white vinegar
Place the cucumbers and the onions in a medium bowl and toss with the salt. Let stand for one hour. Transfer to a colander and drain. Place plastic wrap on top and press down to extract the maximum liquid. Transfer drained cucumber onion mixture to a nonreactive bowl. Reserve.
In a small bowl, place water, sugar and vinegar, and whisk to dissolve sugar. Pour this marinade over the cucumber and onions. Cover and refrigerate, for up to one week.
The Catholic Church did not initiate diplomatic relations with the state of Israel until 1993 and, according to the Italian writer Giulio Meotti, things haven’t been all rainbows since then either.
The creation of a thriving Jewish state creates a theological conundrum for the Catholic Church, Meotti writes in The Vatican Against Israel: J’Accuse (Mantua Books, 2013), because it is a refutation of the theological view that Judaism should wither and die in the shadow of a successor religion, Christianity. The theological imperative of Jewish disappearance is now accompanied, he writes, by a geopolitical imperative that Israel should vanish.
“Replacement theology stated that Christians had inherited the covenant and replaced the Jews as the Chosen People. The concept of replacement geography similarly replaces the historical connection of one people to the land with a connection between another people and the land,” Meotti writes. “The existence of a restored Israel in the land of the Bible, proof that the Jewish people is not annihilated, assimilated and withering away, is the living refutation of the Christian myth about the Jewish end in the historical process.”
The necessity of rejecting Zionism and, in its time, Israel, bested even the liberalizing influence of the Second Vatican Council, the near-revolutionary reconsideration that took place within Catholicism in the early 1960s. This period, which saw the Church recognize Judaism and Christianity as familial theologies and renounce the millennia-old deicide charge against the Jews, nevertheless has a stream that abhors Zionism. Meotti writes that two conflicting Vatican tendencies developed at that time and still dominate: “theological dialogue with Judaism, and political support for the Arabs.” (The gushing lamentation offered by the Vatican on the death of Yasser Arafat is particularly striking.)
Meotti contends that this process has involved the Catholic Church differentiating between “good” and “docile” Jews of the Diaspora and the “bad” and “arrogant” Jews of Israel.
The book is a litany of indictments. The Church had relations with the PLO before it had relations with Israel. Top Church leaders have repeatedly accused Israel of behaving like Nazis. They routinely use crucifixion motifs in the Israeli-Palestinian context, with Jews playing the Romans and Palestinians, of course, playing the beatific victim. Israel, said one archbishop, was imposing “the sufferings of the passion of Jesus on the Arab Christians.” Another, at the time of the Palestinians’ seizure of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, declared: “Our Palestinian people in Bethlehem died like a crucified martyr.” Arafat himself jumped on the bandwagon, declaring: “Jesus Christ was the first Palestinian fedayeen who carried his sword along the road on which today the Palestinians carry their cross.”
The first translation into Arabic of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was courtesy of the Catholic Church. One archbishop was convicted of using his immunity to smuggle explosives to Palestinian terrorists and served just four years of his 12-year term after intervention by the Pope and a promise to make no more trouble. (He turned up again in 2010 on the fatal “Freedom Flotilla” that sought to bring aid to Hamas terrorists and has goaded Palestinian Christians to violence, insisting it is the only thing that will move Israelis.) Today, Catholic-affiliated nongovernmental organizations are among the leaders in the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
The Vatican’s relationship to the Holocaust is particularly dissolute. Pope John Paul II, in 1979, spoke at Auschwitz, noting that “six million Poles lost their lives during the Second World War, one-fifth of the nation,” failing to note that these were almost all Jews. Instead, he called Auschwitz “the Golgotha of the contemporary world,” Golgotha being the place in Jerusalem where Jesus is said to have been crucified.
More perversely, after visiting Mauthausen, the Pope said that the Jews “enriched the world by their suffering,” He seemed to be echoing the thoughts of John Cardinal O’Connor, then archbishop of New York, who a year earlier had visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, and asserted that “the Holocaust is an enormous gift that Judaism has given to the world.”
John Paul also infuriated Jews, among others, by conferring a papal knighthood on Kurt Waldheim, the former Austrian president, United Nations secretary-general and Nazi war criminal.
When Jews objected to a proposal to build a Carmelite convent at Auschwitz, the mother superior of the order asked: “Why do the Jews want special treatment in Auschwitz only for themselves? Do they still consider themselves the Chosen People?”
The “J’Accuse” part, which channels the moral outrage of Emile Zola, is fair enough, but this book is only partly about the Vatican. Meotti dredges up equally egregious affronts perpetrated by countless other Christian denominations.
The book is a searing indictment of the Catholic Church, but it is also deeply flawed. At the least, the title is deceptive. The “J’Accuse” part, which channels the moral outrage of Emile Zola, is fair enough, but this book is only partly about the Vatican. Meotti dredges up equally egregious affronts perpetrated by countless other Christian denominations. By no means is Meotti’s condemnation limited to the Vatican, and it is difficult to discern why the title should suggest it is.
Meotti frequently puts uncited statements in quotations. For example, during the 1967 war, when Israel faced annihilation from the Arab states, Meotti claims the Vatican gave the order: “Cheer for the other side.” The quote marks suggest someone literally said this, but whom? On another occasion, he attributes, in quotes, the statement “Jerusalem must be Judenrein.” But who is alleged to have said it? One can also frequently sense comments being stretched out of context to fit the thesis.
Too many times to count, Meotti declares one Christian assertion or another “a blood libel.” The term’s over-usage diminishes whatever power the accusation carries. And nowhere is his over-usage more disturbing than in his casual, often flippant invocation of Nazism.
He writes, “Like Hitlerism, Palestinianism is not a national identity, but a criminal ideological construct…. Worse, the Netanya Passover bombing that killed 30 is a “mini Holocaust.” And, “The dark irony is that the Europeans who are supporting the Palestinians’ ‘right of return’ are living in homes stolen from Jews they helped to gas.”
Meotti’s book has the potential to make an important case against Christian antisemitism and anti-Zionism. While it doesn’t fail completely – the evidence being compendious – the charge to the jury is so overwrought that one feels resentful at being manipulated. The facts would speak for themselves if the author would step back a bit.
Teens on this year’s March of the Living helped Lillian Boraks-Nemetz face down haunting memories. (photo by Adele Lewin Photography)
Lillian Boraks-Nemetz, a Vancouver poet and author who was a child survivor of the Holocaust, initially declined the offer of a trip to her Polish homeland. She had been there, and written books and poems about her experiences as a child and as a returning adult. She didn’t know that an invitation to go again would lead to an emotional and psychological closure for which she had waited seven decades.
When first invited to participate in last spring’s Canadian contingent of March of the Living, Boraks-Nemetz demurred. March of the Living is a program that brings Jewish young people from around the world to the sites of Nazi atrocities in Europe and then to the Jewish homeland of Israel, marching from Auschwitz to Birkenau on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust memorial day, and traveling to Israel in time for Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s remembrance day for fallen soldiers, and Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli independence day. March of the Living’s teenage participants are accompanied by Holocaust survivors.
“I thought, how am I going to keep up with a bunch of 16-, 17-year-olds?” Boraks-Nemetz said in a recent interview. But she was assured that survivors are well taken care of on the trips and she was convinced to go.
“There were difficulties, but I rose to the occasion,” she said, laughing. On the extremely long day traveling from Canada to Poland, which then continued immediately with more travel and programming, Boraks-Nemetz was aided by one of the young participants. “One of the girls had chocolate that had extra caffeine in it, so she gave it to me,” she explained.
Boraks-Nemetz was accompanied by another survivor, chaperones and young people from Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and Ottawa, as well as eight Jewish teens from Vancouver. In all, there were 78 people on the trip. (Young people from Ontario and Quebec made up their own contingents and traveled on different buses.)
The program was intensive. The week in Poland involved stays in Krakow and Warsaw, where they visited the Museum of Polish Jews, and they went to the extermination camps Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek.
“The young people who came with us are so beautiful and so good and so well behaved and so moved by everything. You could just see how they took it all in. For them, it was a life-changing experience.”
“The young people who came with us are so beautiful and so good and so well behaved and so moved by everything,” she said. “You could just see how they took it all in. For them, it was a life-changing experience.”
In Warsaw, they also went to the orphanage that had been run by Janusz Korczak. A Polish Jew who was a respected published author, Korczak was offered multiple opportunities to save himself from the advancing Final Solution. When the Warsaw Ghetto was created, Korczak’s orphanage, its staff and nearly 200 young charges were forced to move into the ghetto. When the ghetto was liquidated, in 1942, Korczak was again offered immunity, but instead stayed with his orphaned children as they were deported to Treblinka.
In Lodz, the group visited the cemetery and the place where the second-largest Nazi-enforced Jewish ghetto had been. (More than 200,000 Jews were held in Lodz Ghetto during its existence. About 10,000 of those were alive in 1945.) There, the Canadians boarded one of the rail cars that had transported Jews to the camps.
“It was dark and there were many of us,” said Boraks-Nemetz. “It was tight. It was scary. We got the feel of it. Of course, the fear wasn’t there, but there was something foreboding about it.”
At the camps, the participants said prayers and sang mournful songs.
“There was a lot of poetry,” she said. “I brought my book Ghost Children, which was written after one of my trips there. And, whenever we went to a certain place, I would read a poem and it really got to them.”
An unexpected insight came during conversations with young Polish Jews during an arranged dinner at the hotel in Warsaw.
“They sat down, one at each table of students, so they were able to talk,” said Boraks-Nemetz. “At the end of the dinner, I saw the five or six of them standing in the lobby of the hotel, the Polish Jews, and so I went to talk to them. We went to the side and it was really interesting what they told me. They’re quite modern. They’re a little bit shy. They’re a big change from the Israeli youth,” she said, laughing.
The young Polish Jews told her that things were pretty good for them. Some go abroad – to France or elsewhere – to study, but jobs are hard to find and the standard of living isn’t great. They had a question about March of the Living.
“They said, ‘Why do you always come here looking for what’s dead?’ And I explained to them that this is an educational trip,” said Boraks-Nemetz. “But they said, ‘You know, there are some of us here, there is beauty here too, we are alive and there is a Jewish community – small, but there is a Jewish community. And I could see that that was maybe something to address.”
From Poland, the group flew El-Al to Israel.
“It’s like walking in from the shadow into light,” she said. “The Jerusalem of Gold! And we went straight to Masada off the plane.”
There, the other survivor on the trip, Max Iland, an octogenarian from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., celebrated his bar mitzvah, a few decades late.
“The students were singing and he and I were dancing, it was really fantastic,” said Boraks-Nemetz.
The entire experience, she said, was life-altering for the participants.
“They felt that their Jewishness was strengthened, that they are a part of history,” she said. “They cherish their homes and their families after finding out what happened to Jews over there. And, above all … they were becoming witnesses to my story. That’s what one of them said. She felt she was a witness to it. I did speak to them about the legacy that we, survivors who were on our way out, are leaving them.”
Boraks-Nemetz found especially notable the connection of young Canadian Jews to those who had given their lives in defence of the Jewish state.
“What I didn’t realize was how strongly they feel about the fallen soldiers who fought for Israel,” she said. “They read poetry again to the fallen soldiers.”
When the national moment of silence came, the experience was transfixing.
“We’re standing on [Tel Aviv’s central street] Ben Yehuda and the sirens sounded and, all of a sudden, it was like everyone was made of wax figures. That was an incredible thing.”
For Boraks-Nemetz, the trip provided an unexpected closure to the darkest chapter of her life.
For her, the climactic moments of the March of the Living took place in the small Polish village of Zalesie. It was here that young Lillian survived the Holocaust in hiding. After spending two years in the Warsaw Ghetto, she was smuggled out by her father before the ghetto was liquidated and its residents – more than a quarter million Jews – were sent to Treblinka and other death camps. Outside the ghetto, she was met by a Christian woman who transported her to a little white home in Zalesie, where her grandmother was in hiding, posing as the wife of the Polish man who lived there.
Boraks-Nemetz has written about that time in her poetry and in her book for young adults, The Old Brown Suitcase. As an adult, she has returned to the little house at Spokojna Street, Number 16. But this visit was different.
“These two buses went down this dusty road, and there were all these [people in] houses wondering what was going on,” she said. “Nobody bothered us. We filed out and we went into the garden. We all stood in the garden and I told them the story of hiding.”
There was one part of the story she hadn’t intended to tell, but she had developed closeness and trust with the participants accompanying her. She felt confident and compelled to share more than she ever had before, which led to an unprecedented emotional catharsis after almost seven decades.
“I told them something about the man with whom we were in hiding. He was both good and bad,” Boraks-Nemetz said. “How does a child of eight take that? That, on the one hand, he saved us, our lives, and, on the other hand, he was a drunk who could have given us away and didn’t, and, thirdly, he abused me when my grandmother wasn’t there. This is life and that’s how it was.”
In small groups of six or eight, the young people accompanied Boraks-Nemetz into the home.
“When we went into the house, I explained where I slept and where I stood by the window and watched for my parents to come, the road, the garden, the whole thing,” she said. “They were very moved, and a funny thing happened. Each time a group would come out, I would come out with them onto the little porch and they would all hug me. Every one of them. And I think what happened to me was probably, for the first time in my life, I was able to face what happened there. That was an awesome experience for me. I had been there before many times but I always blocked it out. I never faced it properly. And, this time, because of the kids … I just couldn’t believe how it opened me up, this experience with the kids.”
Daniel Meron co-stars in The Normal Heart, which runs July 18-Aug. 16. (photo by Javier R. Sotres)
Larry Kramer is an incendiary activist who was among the first – and most irate – to raise alarms about a new disease that began killing gay men three decades ago. Kramer was at the forefront of the movement to direct public – and, notably, government – attention to what would become known as AIDS.
Kramer’s play, The Normal Heart, is a polemical cri de coeur written at the North American height of an epidemic that has become the world’s leading infectious killer and the cause of 36 million deaths to date. That is a number almost equivalent to the number of people currently living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. And, while extraordinary scientific advances have been made in controlling the symptoms of the disease, most of those treatments remain out of reach for the vast majority now fighting the virus, who are in the developing world.
While the severity of the health crisis has now become clear to most people, Kramer was writing in a time when almost no government resources were allocated to the virus and few in the power structure – from media and medicine to the president of the United States – seemed to care or even acknowledge that gay men were dying in exponentially increasing numbers.
A Jewish playwright, Kramer drew parallels to the world’s reaction to the first reports of the Holocaust. A later book by Kramer, in 1989, would be titled Reports from the Holocaust: The Story of an AIDS Activist.
The Normal Heart opened on Broadway in 1985. Its power remains, with an HBO drama broadcast in May of this year, starring Mark Ruffalo, indicating that social sensitivities to the issue have progressed perhaps as much as the retroviral medical advancements that have made the virus something closer to a manageable disease than the certain death sentence it meant as recently as a decade ago.
The play is now being staged in Vancouver. In it, Daniel Meron, who received a bachelor of fine arts degree in acting from the University of British Columbia, plays Felix Turner, the closeted lover of the main character, Ned Weeks, a stand-in for the playwright Kramer in this barely concealed autobiographical play.
It is a script trembling with rage and Meron sees the topic in a continuum of Jewish activism.
“There is definitely a strong sense of social justice in the Jewish tradition and, like Kramer, I find myself fighting for those who can’t stand up for themselves,” said Meron, who was active in Hillel and the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi during his time at UBC.
“The thing that stands out to me from doing this show was how the U.S. government, the gay community, and the entire world wanted to turn a blind eye to the entire situation,” he said. “As Ned [Kramer’s character] mentions numerous times in the play, the events that took place are eerily similar to the Holocaust.”
Meron, who was born in 1987, said he was struck by the impact The Normal Heart had among gay men who lived through that period.
“Before starting the journey of this play, I wasn’t aware how important The Normal Heart was to so many people,” he said. “It reminds me of speaking to Holocaust survivors. I feel so fortunate to play such an integral part of this story. The greatest thing for me would be to do justice to the story of all the men and women who fought and continue to fight for LGBTQ rights.”
The Normal Heart previews July 14, opens July 18 and runs in repertory until Aug. 16 at Jericho Arts Centre with two other plays as part of the Ensemble Theatre Company Summer Festival. Details and tickets are available at ensembletheatrecompany.ca.
Standing, from left to right, are panel facilitator Michael Levy, CFHU board member Stav Adler, Rabbi Andrew Rosenblatt, Prof. Raphael Mechoulam and Dr. Kathryn Selby. (photo by Michelle Dodek)
It may be a common occurrence in many parts of the city, but it is still a rare thing to pass through marijuana smoke while entering an Orthodox synagogue. But that was the case on June 24, when a panel discussion took place at Schara Tzedeck on the topic Should I Change My Mind About Weed? A small number of attendees, unsatisfied with a merely academic consideration of the topic, opted for a more psychoactive engagement.
The director of the local Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University, Dina Wachtel, was inspired to convene a panel on marijuana after watching Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s CNN documentary on the topic.
Prof. Raphael Mechoulam, a Hebrew University chemist and a leading expert on the subject, said that marijuana has been used in societies from India and China to the Middle East “forever.” Queen Victoria’s doctor, J. Russell Reynolds, used it to treat the queen’s migraines.
Mechoulam said that cannabidiol (CBD), a component in marijuana, may have medical uses “in almost all diseases affecting humans.” Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the component that causes a high, CBD does not deliver a high and has no known side effects. However, there have been almost no clinical trials on humans, probably because pharmaceutical corporations would not be able to patent it and governments, for various reasons, have avoided the matter.
Cannabinoid receptors are abundant in multiple brain regions, he said, including those affecting movement control, learning and memory, stress, cognitive function and links between cerebral hemispheres. Marijuana can impact appetite, blood pressure, cerebral blood flow, the immune system and inflammation.
In tests on mammals, such as mice, marijuana reduced brain trauma and reduced or eliminated cancerous tumors. There was a clinical trial on its use around epilepsy and its effect on patients experiencing 10 to 30 seizures per day. Cannabinoids were tested on people for whom existing drugs do not work and resulted in positive outcomes in large numbers of adult patients. “This is the only clinical trial that has ever been reported – 35 years ago,” he said.
Infants undergoing cancer treatment that causes vomiting were given small amounts of THC. “We saw a complete stop of all vomiting and nausea,” with no side effects, he said.
In treatment of schizophrenia, current drugs have some extremely unpleasant side effects, he noted, while CBD has none. Even so, in most jurisdictions, marijuana is in the same legal category as heroin.
Dr. Kathryn Selby, a clinical professor in the University of British Columbia’s pediatrics department specializing in developmental neurosciences, spoke on marijuana’s effect on the adolescent brain. She spoke of the “enormous plasticity of the teen brain” and said that THC can alter the brain’s structure and function, and that the neurotoxic effects can be lifelong. Maturing of the human brain continues into the 20s, she explained, and the prefrontal cortex, which involves judgment and executive functions, develops last. There are two peaks in brain maturation and cerebral volume, happening in early childhood and then, for boys, at age 14-and-a-half and, for girls, at 11-and-a-half. Trauma, stress, substance abuse and sedentary habits can negatively affect development.
The effects of marijuana use in the short term can be loss of motivation, fatigue and, in about 10 percent of users, addiction. Neuroimaging indicates that the longer-term impact of marijuana use by adolescents is strongly associated with psychoses such as schizophrenia later in life. Selby said there is a 40 percent increase in prevalence of psychosis among users, with a 50 to 200 percent increase in psychoses among heavy users and, among those who use marijuana daily during high school, there is a 600 percent increase in depression and anxiety later in life. Correlations also include lowered IQ, intellectual and emotional issues.
The frontal lobe, which is not completely formed by adolescence, is also the most affected by alcohol and drugs and leaves users vulnerable to the “adverse developmental, cognitive, psychiatric and addictive effects of marijuana.” Selby recommended that, if marijuana is used at all, that it be “as late and as little as possible.”
Rabbi Andrew Rosenblatt, Schara Tzedeck Synagogue’s spiritual leader, also has a biochemistry degree. Although the Torah does not say anything specifically about marijuana, Rosenblatt made the comparison to what the Torah and Talmud say about other forms of altered states, particularly drunkenness. If there were any questions about the severity of potential outcomes from inebriation, Rosenblatt said, the drunkenness and castration of Noah is a cautionary tale.
Rosenblatt also mentioned the story of Lot, whose daughters got him drunk and seduced him, resulting in Amnon and Moab, who were both Lot’s sons and grandsons. Rosenblatt cited it as an indication that drunkenness and disinhibition is to be avoided.
The holiday of Purim is of particular interest in this discussion and Rosenblatt said there is a modern interpretation of the old dictum that Jews should become so drunk on Purim that they cannot tell the difference between the names of the villain Haman and the hero Mordechai. The modern view, the rabbi said, is to drink a little, get tired, fall asleep and, when asked who is Haman and who is Mordechai, to roll over and snore.
Rabbis in recent years have overwhelmingly concurred that use of, say, morphine for terminal patients is justified, but the use of untested alternative measures is not.
“Anecdotal evidence is anecdotal evidence,” said Rosenblatt. If studies indicate that marijuana were clinically proven to assist in recovery or treatment for various diseases, he said, it would almost certainly become acceptable.
The panel was moderated by Michael Levy, CKNW radio and Global TV personality. Stav Adler, president of CFHU Vancouver chapter, introduced the evening. Hodie Kahn, president of Schara Tzedeck, invited the audience to stay around for munchies after the event.
Were minds changed? After Mechoulam’s presentation, he received an enthusiastic standing ovation from about half the audience of 200 or so. After her presentation, Selby was greeted with polite applause, while one man jumped to his feet.
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.”