Photographs from an unidentified event in 1985, possibly a University of British Columbia event, likely in honour of Harry Adaskin, who is pictured centre-right in the above photo. (JWB fonds, JMABC L.13769)
If you know someone in these photos, please help the JI fill the gaps of its predecessor’s (the Jewish Western Bulletin’s) collection at the Jewish Museum and Archives of B.C. by contacting [email protected] or 604-257-5199. To find out who has been identified in the photos, visit jewishmuseum.ca/blog.
Hanging out around a campfire with friends is one of the things many kids love about summer camp. (image from pxhere.com)
Every year when I was a child, the first day back at school after the summer break, we’d be expected to write an essay on “What I did during my summer holidays.” Back then, my family were so poor I rarely did anything much, but I was blessed with a fertile imagination so I concocted an amazing list of activities. After all, the first rule for a writer, which was my ambition even then, is never to let the truth interfere with a good story. Oh, how I would have loved to go to a summer sleepaway camp.
Fortunately, times have changed and my kids and various grandchildren have had that opportunity. So, I’ve rounded up relatives, kids, their friends and my friends, to ask what they loved and hated about summer camp.
These are some of the reactions I got in the “hate” department. “The toilets and showers – ugh!” “The mosquitoes, which feasted on my blood every day.” “My girlfriend, who was prettier than I was, got all the boys interested in her, especially the one I liked.” “The others were better at sports than I was, and I couldn’t swim. They laughed at me.”
None of those I quizzed however, failed to have lots of reasons to list under “things I loved.” “We put on a musical at the end of camp, and we did everything, including painting the scenery. It was great!” “Parents Day, when they would visit the camp and bring us wonderful things to eat, that they rarely bought for us at home. The chocolates were divine.” “I learnt all kinds of crafts, that I still do sometimes. We were taught basketry, jewelry-making, ceramics and how to press flowers.” “One day, we had a Backwards Day – it was terrific fun. We even wore our clothes inside out.” “I loved the campfires, under the stars. We’d sing together, roast potatoes and onions, it was heaven. I can still remember the feeling of being among friends under a sky filled with stars, and the wind in the treetops. I think that was true happiness.”
Whether or not a camp will be a positive experience for a child largely depends on the parents’ preparation. Don’t send them to a camp you once attended and enjoyed without considering how the camp may have changed or the difference between your needs and desires and those of your child.
Think about what your child needs – to learn new skills, develop more self-confidence and independence, maybe to improve proficiency in certain areas. For the latter, there are lots of specialty camps such as tennis, horse-riding, hiking, adventure, backpacking or gymnastics.
The camp you choose will depend on the age and level of independence of the child. The first sleepaway camp can be very frightening for a young child and sometimes the best way to prepare them is to take them beforehand to the campsite and explain all the activities that will take place there.
Teenagers usually welcome escaping home and discipline for awhile and spreading their wings. No matter what the age, you need to consider and investigate the accessibility of the camp, its medical facilities and security arrangements. You also need to consider any fears your child might have, such as if a below-average athlete will feel comfortable trying new skills and be allowed to work on them at their own pace. Often it helps if they have a friend or two among the campers and, of course, try to meet the counselors to assess that they are competent and sympathetic.
A camp has the potential to offer a child many positive and rewarding experiences. They can be fun, healthy and relaxing. Many of the programs provide an opportunity to develop new skills, and become more responsible and independent. The main reaction I got from kids who’d been to a good camp was: “Wow! It was great. I want to go again this year!”
Dvora Waysmanis a Jerusalem-based author. She has written 14 books, including The Pomegranate Pendant, which was made into a movie, and her latest novella, Searching for Sarah. She can be contacted at [email protected] or through her blog dvorawaysman.com.
No matter your observance level, prioritizing a Jewish camp will boost your kids’ enrichment and ownership in the Jewish community. (photo by Joe Goldberg / flickr)
Day camp or sleepaway camp? Single sex or co-ed? Traditionally Jewish or liberal? Shabbat observant? Kosher? STEM or sports camp? The choices are endless. No matter your observance level, prioritizing a Jewish camp will boost your kids’ enrichment and ownership in the Jewish community.
As a parent, I often feel overwhelmed by the options available. Many say, “You’re the expert!” when it comes to your own kids. Yet, it can be hard to get inside kids’ brains to know what is right for them – and summer camp is one of those big decisions. It’s a time for childcare, enrichment and fun. But it must be decided in advance, it’s sometimes expensive and it can feel like a risky guess. Here are some tips to get started.
What do you need?
If you must get kids to camp before work, let’s be honest. Camp serves as childcare. It needs to be something you can pull off each morning. Make a list of what you need to make it through the summer. Early morning or afternoon care, a way to purchase healthy snacks and lunches, or a bus that picks the kids up? These may be essentials for some parents.
Some need much more. Kosher food? Stricter Sabbath observance? These may limit your choices. If your kid has special needs, your work schedule is unpredictable or you live far from Jewish camping options, things become complicated. Some parents start with geography. For many, it’s unrealistic to try to drive an hour to camp each morning with small kids before getting to work.
If your list of possible Jewish camping options is short, find out when sign-up opens and get your kids’ names on the list. Sign-up often happens in January or February – long before we’re ready!
What do your kids want?
I started my research by asking my twins what they liked to do most in the summer. To my surprise, playing outdoors with Mommy and the dogs ranked top on their list. When I prioritized the other “wants,” it became clear that taking swim lessons at a lake (with a half-hour drive on each end) and just getting a chance for free play in the sunshine were key elements of their summer. For that summer, we had only a month of camp and a long but inexpensive “staycation,” with trips to a lake with a parent. We fit in making challah, doing Jewish art projects and reading PJ Library books, too.
Other requests might include attending camp with a close friend or trying out a new skill (music, acting, soccer, coding) – and these could all happen at a Jewish camp.
Maybe your kids know what they want, but, sometimes, they don’t. That’s OK. A general day camp, with lots of activities and choices every day, may be just the ticket.
One summer, I was sent to a co-ed sleepaway camp far from home for a month. I didn’t know anyone. The daily activities included a large dose of sports, which I hated. Worse yet, there was an outbreak of head lice. It was awful. By contrast, I also spent two years attending an overnight girls’ camp for two weeks each summer with a friend. I loved the library and the arts and crafts stations and have vague but good memories.
A kid’s maturity level matters, too. I was an independent oldest sibling, ready for overnight camps at 8, but, at that age, it was clear my twins were not ready to go anywhere overnight. I did ask them though. Did they want to go to sleepaway camp with some of their friends? I got a resounding no. Your kids often know what they’re ready for and what they wouldn’t enjoy. Give them a choice.
Feel confident in safety
Camp is a lot more flexible than life during the school year. There’s swimming, group sports and many other ways to have fun – and get hurt. Many camps are staffed by well-meaning teenagers and university students, with only a few adults supervising. Be sure things are safe and the activities are a right fit for your kids. Even one bad interaction with a bully or an unsafe situation could make camp hard for your kid.
There’s also a feeling of confidence when you know that the people in charge are knowledgeable and making good decisions that you can trust.
Make sure the camp gives parents and campers lots of information from the beginning about what they will be doing each day, what they need to bring and how to have a successful experience. A camp that doesn’t remind you to bring towels or bag lunches may also be disorganized in other ways, too. See if the counselors offer you information when you drop off or pick up your kid so you can know more about what goes on. Tell those in charge that you expect to know about any injuries or tussles during the day.
Compromise is key
Sometimes, when you’ve gotten through your list of Jewish camps and kids’ desires, you find that the best camp for one kid might not work for the other. Or, the only horseback riding camp is single sex, and the kid’s best friend is not the same gender.
Sometimes, we need to choose out of our comfort zones to make things work. My kids attended a Chabad travel camp for years. It didn’t jive with my egalitarian sensibilities. Some of the theology concerned me. However, they definitely learned about Judaism and had fun. I trusted one of the directors, my kids’ former preschool teacher, completely.
It’s important to optimize things as best you can, and then compromise, too. There are a limited number of Jewish camps out there. Your kids have only a few summers to have fun outdoors with friends. Put aside some of the details you can’t change so you can make the most of their fun – and Jewish – times in the sun. They may remember their camp experience forever.
Joanne Seiff has written regularly for CBC Manitoba and various Jewish publications. She is the author of three books, including From the Outside In: Jewish Post Columns 2015-2016, a collection of essays available for digital download or as a paperback from Amazon. Check her out on Instagram @yrnspinner or at joanneseiff.blogspot.com.
Benji Goldstein, who lives in Sioux Lookout with his family, is a full-time doctor working in indigenous communities in northern of Ontario. He has created for Chanukah an almost six-foot chanukiyah out of ice, improving his 1.0 version from two years ago to this 2.0 model, which stands on a big block of ice. The bricks were frozen in milk cartons, which he collected over time, and the structure weighs 400 kilograms. It will be lit every night of the holiday from his mobile phone.
The Jewish Independent found out about Goldstein’s creation from local community member Tamara Heitner, who shared with us the Facebook post of Goldstein’s sister-in-law, Liat Goldstein.
Kermit Soup, ready to serve. (photo by Shelley Civkin)
Treat your friends to one little taste of my Kermit Soup (aka kale-and-potato soup) and I guarantee they’ll be green with envy. Granted, it’s an unholy colour, which could be off-putting to some, but don’t dismiss it out of spoon. Even those who vigorously eschew kale (and aren’t partial to green) will be begging for seconds.
During these seemingly endless, dark days of fall and winter, there’s nothing more comforting than a thick, hearty soup. (Unless of course it’s a healthy serving of 15-year-old Balvenie, but that’s just wasted calories.) To me, soups are the bait-and-switch of mealtimes. If you haven’t been shopping in awhile, and all you’re planning for dinner is tuna sandwiches, then a good, substantial soup can easily step up to the plate and take on the starring role. After all, soup has got so much going for it: it’s filling, scrumptious and everything else pales by comparison. Especially if it’s Kermit Soup (you’ll see what I’m talking about soon enough). Don’t feel you need to apologize for its aberrant tint. I mean, just take a look around at the freakish hair colours you see on the streets. Kermit Soup has absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about. Nor do you.
It does help if you have a really good blender to make this soup. In fact, it’s rather essential. I’ve got a Breville at home and that sucker could crush rocks. (I’m pretty sure my blender has a bigger engine than my car.) Yams? No problem. Acorn squash? A joke. Carrots? In its sleep. Not that my recipe calls for any of those. Just saying. So, without further ado – meet the star of the dinner show.
2 cloves garlic 3 small/medium Yukon gold potatoes, diced half a large yellow onion 6 cups baby kale, chopped and lightly packed (the store wouldn’t let me take it without parental permission, so I used adult kale instead) 4 tbsp unsalted butter 1 quart (4 cups) chicken (or mushroom) broth Salt and pepper to taste
Mince the garlic.
Peel and chop the onion.
Peel and cube the potatoes.
Rinse kale and drain it well. Remove the thick stems then chop it up.
Melt butter over medium heat in a heavy soup pan.
Add garlic, onion, potatoes, and salt and pepper to taste.
Stir and cook for several minutes over medium heat.
Add the broth and bring it to a boil. Skim off fat from the top.
Gently simmer with the lid on for about 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
Add the kale and cook without the lid for about three to five minutes or until tender.
Transfer the soup to a blender a few cups at a time and puree. You might want to remove the little circle part of the blender lid to let some of the steam escape (but not while the blender is running). As each pureed batch is ready, pour it into another saucepan.
Ready to serve! It’s even better reheated the next day, and it’s good cold, too. If you’re not too hungry, have some bread with it and you’ve got yourself a light, yet filling fall meal. You’re welcome.
So, by now you’ve devoured your Kermit Soup and tuna sandwiches. To great acclaim. The soup, that is. An hour-and-a-half goes by and you’re jonesing for something sweet. Now what? You could get in your car and drive to some overpriced, hipster dessert restaurant that charges $12.95 for a two-inch purple yam, all-vegan crème brulée. Or, you could rock it old school. In the comfort of your own home. With Weetabix Chocolate Chip Cookies.
Yes, Virginia, Weetabix is more than just a breakfast cereal. Plus, it adds a nice crunchy texture to your cookies that you won’t soon forget (unless you overdo it with that 15-year-old Balvenie I referenced earlier. But that’s on you, not me). I always keep a box of Weetabix around, just in case of a cookie emergency. Which seems to happen with increasing frequency. And there are always chocolate chips hidden in my freezer (as if I don’t know where they are). So, go ahead, don your apron, pretend you’re Suzie Homemaker or Donna Reed and bake your family some irresistible cookies.
WEETABIX CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
4 Weetabix, crushed 1 cup all-purpose flour 1/2 tsp baking soda 1/2 tsp salt 3/4 cup soft butter or margarine 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar 1/4 cup granulated white sugar 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract 1 egg 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Mix together crushed Weetabix, flour, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Set aside.
In a large bowl, using a hand mixer, cream together butter/margarine and sugars. Beat in vanilla and egg.
Add dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in chocolate chips.
Drop dough by tablespoonsful onto an ungreased baking sheet (or line with parchment paper).
Bake at 350°F for 12 minutes (or slightly longer for a crispier cookie).
Eat and repeat. Or eat ’em and weep. I’ll leave that to your discretion. These are so popular that you might want to make two batches at once. Just to be on the safe side. One batch never lasts more than half a day in my home, and there are only two of us. Again, you’re welcome.
These aren’t exactly balabatish recipes. More like nouveau accidental balabusta. But I do stand behind them. You see, I’m channeling my inner balabusta while I make them, and that’s good enough for me. I’ll leave the rugelach, kichele and komish broit to some other ambitious balabusta. On some other day. It just goes to show that food doesn’t need some fancy Yiddish name to taste geshmak. One bite of these Weetabix cookies and one spoonful of this Kermit Soup and you’ll be kvelling all over the place. Just clean up after all that kvelling, OK? Bottom line: it’s all about the heart and soul of the cook.
So, stop kvetching and get thee into the kitchen. Those cookies and soup aren’t going to make themselves. Just promise me one thing – you won’t ask for a refund if you don’t love the Kermit Soup.
Shelley Civkin, aka the Accidental Balabusta, is a happily retired librarian and communications officer. For 17 years, she wrote a weekly book review column for the Richmond Review. She’s currently a freelance writer and volunteer.
Standing on the Haas Promenade in southern Jerusalem overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, the Ethiopian priests wore traditional clothing and carried parasols. (photo by Gil Zohar)
Approximately one-third of Israel’s 125,000-strong Ethiopian Jewish community came from across the country on Nov. 27, the 29th of Cheshvan in Judaism’s lunar calendar, for the festival Sigd. The mass clan gathering takes place 50 days after Yom Kippur, just as the holiday of Shavuot is celebrated 50 days after Passover.
Sigd, derived from the Hebrew word for prostration sgida, celebrates the renewal of the covenant between God and the Jewish people that followed the return of the Jews to the Land of Israel from the Babylonian exile 2,600 years ago, as described in the biblical book Nehemiah.
Symbolizing the Ethiopians’ rapid acculturation from rural Ethiopia to Israel’s high-tech start-up nation, many elders wore traditional clothing while teenagers preferred skin-tight jeans and Israel Defence Forces (IDF) khaki. Many celebrants were chatting on their cellphones.
The central event of the Sigd celebration was the priestly blessing by the kessim (spiritual leaders) in Geez, the sacred language used by Ethiopian Jews in their liturgy. Amharic, their traditional language today, has been widely displaced by Hebrew. Standing on the Haas Promenade in southern Jerusalem overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, the priests wore traditional clothing and carried parasols.
Prior to being rescued from persecution and poverty in Africa in a series of military and espionage operations, including Operation Solomon in 1991 and continuing until today, Ethiopian Jews would ascend mountain tops above their villages in Gondar province for a mass Sigd prayer expressing their yearning for Zion. In Israel, the holiday has morphed into a day of thanksgiving for their rescue, as well their gratitude for the Torah and their cultural heritage, and most Ethiopian Jews under the age of 40 living in Israel only know those stories from their parents’ recounting. Children were not included in the Sigd observances in Ethiopia, both because of the difficulties of making a three-day trek up a mountain and to preserve the solemnity of the day.
Mingling with the colourful costumes and umbrellas of the older generation are the uniforms of the hundreds of Ethiopian men and women serving in the IDF. With the autumn temperature still summer-like, many youth are wearing skin-tight clothing that would have scandalized their elders in Ethiopia.
Among the elders is Rabbi David Yosef, a silver-bearded kes wearing a crocheted kippah, who explained how Sigd fits into the life of Ethiopian Jews.
The ancient community, which may date back to King Solomon and his dalliance with the Queen of Sheba 3,000 years ago, became cut off from mainstream Jewry, he says. More historically, Jews lived in Ethiopia from before the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE when the Babylonian conquerors of the Holy Land arrived. Driven into exile, these Jews considered themselves to stem from the tribe of Dan, one of the 10 lost tribes. Many were compelled to convert to Christianity in the 19th and 20th centuries but the community continued to dream and pray for a return to Jerusalem.
Starting in 1973, Ethiopian Jews suffered terribly under the dictator Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam. When Israel became aware of their plight, significant investigation and research was done, leading to a rabbinic ruling that accepts the Ethiopian Jews as part of the Jewish nation, entitling them to immigrate to Israel under the Jewish state’s Law of Return. That paved the way for 8,000 Ethiopian Jews to move to Israel. But then Mengistu forbade Jews to leave the country, and that led to the decision to covertly bring them to Israel. The 2019 Netflix movie The Red Sea Diving Resort recounts one of the Mossad’s rescue operations.
Nevertheless, some Israelis disputed the Ethiopians’ status as Jews. Rav Yosef carefully explained the Ethiopian Jewish engagement and wedding ceremonies and asserts that their practice conforms to the mishnaic description in Tractate Kiddushin (part of the Oral Law) of what constitutes proper Jewish betrothal. The community has always preserved its ritual status as Jews, he insisted.
“We missed Jerusalem for thousands of years,” he said. “Today, in Jerusalem, we celebrate … but, just as we say ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ at the Passover seder, so, too, at Sigd, we pray for a rebuilt Jerusalem.”
For Ziva, a 20-year-old from Ashkelon with braided hair, the Sigd celebration is a significant milestone. “I feel like it’s a day of unity for us,” she said.
For the young woman, who arrived in Israel with her parents 12 years ago, the observance of the ancient holiday reminds her that “there’s so much to remember.”
Giving the celebration the government’s seal of approval, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev both spoke, while President Reuven Rivlin delivered a video message.
The Ethiopian chief rabbi in Israel, Reuven Wabshat, said that, after the mass immigration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, the decision had been taken by the community to continue celebrating the holiday, even though its essence is about the yearning to return to Jerusalem. He said the decision was made so that the community would not forget the “powerful heritage of Ethiopian Jewry,” and to help Israeli society understand the travails experienced by the Ethiopian Jewish community throughout their history.
The rabbi asserted that it was crucial for broader Israeli society to understand the Ethiopian Jewish community’s heritage and that it is an integral part of the Jewish people because of the “difficulties” the community has experienced in Israel.
The Ethiopian community has frequently complained of discrimination and racism against it and, in particular, has suffered from over-policing and a disproportionate number of arrests and indictments relative to its size. The recent death of Solomon Tekah, killed by a ricochet following an altercation between a group of youths and a police officer, led to renewed claims of police brutality, as well as protests and riots by members of the Ethiopian community. A previous bout of protests was sparked when video footage emerged of police officers beating an IDF soldier from the Ethiopian Jewish community.
“As you know, in recent years, the Ethiopian Jewish community has had difficult experiences, because people do not know and do not appreciate what Ethiopian Jews went through, and looked at things which are not relevant, such as differences in place of origin, but not the internal aspects of Ethiopian Jewry,” said Wabshat. “The Sigd holiday can bring people to the understanding and recognition that Ethiopian Jews are of the same flesh as all Jews around the world and, when the state recognizes Sigd, as it has, it means that we can all be one people.”
Among the kessim who participated in the prayers was Kes Mentasnut Govze from Beersheba. He explained how, in Ethiopia on Sigd, the Jewish community would travel to and ascend a mountain to “pray to God as one people with one heart that we would reach Jerusalem the next year and that the Temple would be rebuilt.”
Govze noted that, although the community has now reached Israel and Jerusalem, the Jewish people’s mission is not yet finished. “We still have not built the Temple and we must be clean,” he said. “If we go on the correct path, the path of the Torah, God will help us, we will build the Temple and bring the sacrifices.”
Member of Knesset Pnina Tamano-Shata described the holiday as “a big gift for Israeli society” since, she said, it could help unite the Jewish people. “It is so wonderful to see so many people here who are not from the Ethiopian community, and this holiday has become a holiday for all the Jewish people,” she said. “It is celebrated in kindergartens, schools, in the army, in local authorities, and the message is that this story is your story, it’s my story, and the story of all Jews, whether from Europe or from Arab countries.”
The MK said the identity of the Ethiopian Jewish community was strong, but noted the problems it has faced, including “difficulties which are connected to Israeli society, such as police violence, discrimination and racism,” but said the community has remained positive.
“We are positive and fully open to Israeli society, we are not in a place of antagonism, even though we have had a very hard, challenging and intensive year, and we are far from getting justice; nevertheless, everything has its time and period,” she said.
Michal Avera Samuel, director of the nongovernmental organization Fidel (Association for Education and Social Integration of Ethiopian Jews in Israel), said the thousands of people who came to the celebrations in Jerusalem came “to learn and understand the heritage of Ethiopian Jews, which is an ancient heritage, which every child should be proud of and pass on to the next generation.”
She added, “The goal is that, through studying in school and youth groups, we can teach the heritage of Ethiopian Jews, and build a courageous identity together with a sense of belonging within Israeli society.”
Gil Zohar is a writer and tour guide in Jerusalem, Israel.
The writer and her husband at the synagogue Slat-Al Azama, in Marrakesh, which was built in 1492 by Jews expelled from Spain. (photo from Miri Garaway)
There are so many adjectives to describe Morocco, but, after being immersed in the country for three weeks and observing the people, the cities, the villages, the markets, the customs, the gardens, the arts and crafts, the architecture, and the potpourri of cultures that weave through this land, one can only conclude that Morocco is a fascinating, diverse country.
Morocco has an air of intrigue that enchants the soul and entices the curious traveler to explore beyond the realm of the imagination. The country has a way of drawing one in. It is the muse and inspiration for writers, poets, artists and craftspeople.
From scenes of everyday life and the feeling of stepping back in time, while navigating the uneven cobblestone streets of the medinas (old cities), to the overwhelming beauty of the landscape, one is transported into another world. Morocco is a land of mazes of narrow alleyways in the enchanting Medina; ochre-coloured earth; women grinding almonds to make argon oil; roadside markets; royal blue doors; rug weavers; tasty, elaborate tagines and mint tea; mounds of olives and spices; dramatic gorges; and captivating Berber villages. I could go on; the list would be long.
Through an extremely knowledgeable private driver, arranged by the company Journey Beyond Travel, we set about to include the Jewish sites of a once-vibrant community, which stretched back more than 2,000 years.
Landing in Casablanca, it felt like an oversize version of Tel Aviv, especially the drive along the beaches and the White City architecture.
During our tour of Casablanca, we visited the Moroccan Jewish Museum, which was once a Jewish orphanage (until the mid-1990s). How wonderful to see our history and culture displayed, with Torah scrolls, traditional clothing, daily life objects, paintings, sculpture and a library containing photographs, documents and videos of Jewish life in Morocco.
Walking through the enchanting, stunning and unique blue city of Chefchaouen, we happened upon the only remaining Jewish fabric merchant. We felt an instant bond, and he welcomed us into his small shop.
As we explored this vast country, we found traces of our ancient history in the archeological Roman ruins at Volubilis (near Moulay Idriss and Meknes); the epitaph of the synagogue rabbi in Greek, for example. The town of Ait-Ben-Haddou, now a centre for filmmaking, was once a significant Jewish community.
Traveling down a country road in Zaouit El Bir Dades, in the Valley of the Kasbahs, we stopped at a Jewish cemetery (all locked up) that was dated 1492.
When I had my first glimpse of the majestic imperial city of Fez, from atop a large hillside, I immediately thought of Jerusalem. The Medina of Fez is a huge maze of tiny alleyways, with colourful visual delights around every corner.
The Orthodox synagogue Ibn Danan was filled with Israeli tourists. Its predominant blue colouring reminded me of the ancient synagogues in Tzfat. The exquisite woodcarving and blue-and-white mosaics make it especially beautiful. It was built in the 17th century in the Jewish Quarter, known as the Mellah. In the mid-1990s, it was restored, and it reopened in 1999. It contains such elements as arches, wooden benches, tapestries and oil lamps.
Moses Maimonides, the Jewish scholar, philosopher and physician, escaped persecution by a fanatical Muslim sect in his native Cordoba, Spain, and lived in Fez from about 1159 to 1165, before moving to Palestine and then Cairo, where he could openly practise Judaism. In the Fez Medina, there is Maimonides’ House, which is a store containing an incredible selection of Jewish antiques and art.
When talking with the cultural director who organized our art and culture tour of Fez, she mentioned that, before 1956, Jewish women lived in Fez and were known for sewing the silk buttons on to men’s jellabas (Moroccan caftans).
In Marrakesh, in the Mellah, we visited the synagogue Slat-Al Azama, built in 1492 by Jews expelled from Spain. Off the courtyard, there is a series of rooms, acting as a museum, depicting Moroccan Jewish history. The Chefchaouen blue (a deep royal blue) doors and blue-and-white mosaics were particularly striking, as was the lovely synagogue. I could visualize it once teeming with life.
The charming coastal fishing town of Essaouira was once home to 70,000 Jews and 48 synagogues. Only three synagogues remain and we visited them all: Slat Lkahal, Haim Pinto and Simon Attia. At Slat Lkahal, we were given an informal tour by a Muslim woman; there were some fascinating historical photographs, which made the old community come alive. Nearby Haim Pinto, a small, wooden 212-year-old synagogue containing two Torahs – one original, one new – is painted a vibrant Chefchaouen blue.
Finally, Simon Attia Synagogue, located outside the Mellah, but within the Medina, is still in use today for the small community in Essaouira. It has a huge wooden door in the shape of a Gothic arch. After several attempts to gain entry during the week, when it was locked, we returned on a Saturday, around noon, and were lucky enough to go inside, as services were finishing. I was expecting a grand interior, but that was not the case. It was lovely, though, and we felt welcome and were glad for the opportunity to visit. One of the anterooms contained a small museum.
The hamsa, or Hand of Fatima, as it is known in Muslim countries, is everywhere in Morocco. One off-the-beaten-track place I would have loved to visit, about 28 kilometres from Fez, is the town of Sefrou, once inhabited by Spanish exiles and Jews from southern Algeria.
Did we feel safe traveling around the country? This is a question many people asked. Absolutely. There was a sense of unity among all religions. Perhaps a sign of hope for future generations.
Morocco is a country that must be seen. I am still in constant awe.
The Museum of Jewish History in Sosua is located right next to the city’s synagogue. (photo by Dave Gordon)
Famous for its rum, cigars, resorts, beaches and rich history, the all-season holiday destination of the Dominican Republic attracts 800,000 Canadians each year. Moreover, the country has a relatively unknown past – few people realize, or know, that the country opened its doors wide to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution.
This era is chronicled at the Museum of Jewish History, in Sosua, which is in the northern section of the country. Located right next to the city’s synagogue, the museum preserves the memory of those Jewish refugees who sought a safe haven on Dominican soil, and left their mark on the region. It houses photographs of early-to-mid-20th-century Jewish immigrants, along with diary entries, ritual items and copies of letters from Jewish agencies during the war.
Before the Second World War, in 1938, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt summoned the Allies to Evian, France, for a conference about how to handle the massive exodus of Jews who desperately sought to flee Nazi persecution. Though most of the participants at the conference expressed their sympathy, no resolution was formulated. Paraphrasing Chaim Weizmann (who would later become the first president of Israel), Central and Eastern European Jews perceived the world as consisting of just two camps: one that hounded and hunted them, and another that closed its gates.
There was, however, one notable exception.
Of the 32 countries that sent delegations to the conference, only the Dominican Republic, led by President Rafael Trujillo, agreed to receive 100,000 refugees, offering land resettlement under generous conditions. A group of experts on refugee affairs, under the leadership of James Rosenberg, was mobilized by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to capitalize on the offer. This was the birth of the Dominican Republican Settlement Association (DORSA).
Between 1940 and 1945, the Dominican Republic government issued 5,000 visas for displaced Jewish refugees. Tragically, however, the actual number of immigrant arrivals never reached anywhere near this figure, due to the escalation of the war, and also to what some believe to be mishandling by the Jewish Agency, which resulted in delays. Of the nearly 1,000 Jews who settled in the Dominican Republic, most were from Austria and Germany, although some came from as far away as China, and some from as close as the Caribbean islands.
Little by little, the jungle-like territory was divided into residential lots and communal barracks for arriving refugees. Each refugee was furnished with, as a repayable loan, 80 acres of land, 10 cows, one mule, one horse, and a living wage for a month. They were assisted with training in agriculture and farming techniques, of which most had little previous knowledge.
Jews took to food manufacturing, becoming successful in the production and sale of sausage, milk, cheese, tomato sauce, mashed carrots, stuffed peppers and mashed spinach. Many of these industries continue to this day. The refugees’ earnings enabled them to pay their debts and establish other small industries.
By the 1990s, however, just 36 Jewish families remained in Sosua, as most of the population either died, intermarried or moved to larger Jewish communities.
Interestingly enough, well before the arrival of these refugees, in 1916, the Dominican Republic briefly had a Jewish head of state, President Francisco Henríquez y Carvajal.
Visiting the country
Virtually every major supermarket has plenty of items with kosher certification, including imported canned goods, breads, fish and spreads. A Puerto Plata resort named Lifestyle has an on-site kosher restaurant, though only for guests staying there. Alternately, in Punta Cana, the local Chabad offers à la carte food orders upon request.
If this trip is a do-it-yourself getaway, as opposed to an all-inclusive, here are two suggestions for luxury stays that will offer the feel of home:
Villas Agua Dulce is a jaw-droppingly elegant and spacious facility. Each villa has a fully furnished living room, dining room and a washer/dryer. Three-bedroom villas are available to accommodate a family of seven. Toss in for good measure an outdoor patio, outdoor private pool, a spa centre, tennis and basketball courts, and Bauhaus interior design.
With the beach just a few hundred feet away, Cabarete Palm Beach Condos is centrally located in the Cabarete area. Each condo has a fully equipped kitchen, living room (with big TV), dining area and outdoor patio.
As for suggested adventures in the Puerto Plata area, I have several.
Monkey Jungle: After enjoying the 4,500-foot, seven-station zip lines overlooking the trees, visit the adjacent capuchin monkey reserve. Scores of these adorable creatures bounce around from tree to tree, hopping on your shoulders and nibbling straight from the fruit plate in your hand.
Ocean World: This is where you can swim with sharks and dolphins and kiss the sea lions.
Tip Top Catamaran: Take a ride on the 75-feet-long and 33-feet-wide catamaran. Tourists are offered the chance to experience the vibrant underwater world through snorkeling Sosua Bay (equipment is provided). Immerse yourself in schools of fish, peer at the coral, get face-time with a puffer fish and play with the sea urchins.
Twenty-seven waterfalls of Rio Damajagua are tucked away in the hills of the Northern Corridor mountain range, behind tall stalks of sugar cane. In addition to the mélange of outdoor activities – such as cliff jumping into natural waters and climbing through caves – you are surrounded by forest. And, depending on the season, fruit will be growing from coconut, avocado, coffee bean and mango trees.
Kiteboarding: Think of yourself hovering over the ocean on a surfboard, propelled by a giant inflatable kite, and you have kiteboarding. Dare2Fly provides kiteboarding packages, lessons and rentals.
Rancho Luisa y Tommy: Try a morning horseback ride. Run by 30-year-old Tommy Bernard, a Quebec expat, he’s an affable fellow who’ll treat you to engaging conversation on topics including animals, his adopted country, and most anything in life.
Dave Gordonis a Toronto-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in more than 100 publications around the world.
Did you notice what a great day it was today? Rain or shine, there are lots of people out there who are so happy you are alive. Besides yourself, I mean. I bet you did some things today that added to that number.
I’m feeling pretty good myself, remembering stuff from my youth. In December, we light the candles marking Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, as it is called. I always liked this holiday as a kid, along with Rosh Hashanah, because there were good things to eat at the party we always had. And older people in the family gave you money, Chanukah gelt. I hope they still do that, although I haven’t heard much about it since the kids got big and left home to form their own households.
Many people – unless they have Jewish neighbours or notice the lights around Christmas time – don’t know about Chanukah because it is not in the Bible, and because the events surrounding it happened later. After the empire forged by Alexander the Great broke up, the piece in which Israel was included was under the rule of kings named Antiochus.
These kings liked to fancy themselves gods. One of them put a statue of himself in the Jewish Temple. This was just too much for the Israelites and they rose up under the leadership of the Maccabees – Mattathias and his five sons – and drove out their Greek rulers.
Chanukah is about renewal, because that’s what the holiday celebrates, the renewal of the Temple in Jerusalem after the land was freed. Current Israel is part of that same story, as the ingathered exiles renewed national life on their land. Our national renewal is an assertion that our past is merely prologue, with the full story yet to be written.
Jewish history of the recent two millennia may not illustrate it, but Jews can be fighters when roused. The self-rule reestablished back then was ultimately surrendered to Roman rule, when they lost their unity. But Jews kept on fighting to achieve independence until, finally, the Romans used their power to exile Jews from their land. We must remember that the Romans executed Jesus because they feared that he would lead such a revolt, but the Jews continued their opposition after his death.
It took 12 legions to pacify the Jews – Rome conquered the Britons with only two legions. The Romans exiled the survivors to secure their rule, but the power of the religious ideas spawned in Israel conquered Rome itself a hundred years later. Those ideas were borne into exile by Jews who proved to be among the first martyrs.
More recent Jewish military history, in Israel – leaving aside the resistance without weapons in the Warsaw Ghetto, holding off the Nazi soldiers for weeks – proves that Jews can be fierce fighters.
The whole idea of renewal excites the blood. Renewal can make you feel like you can cancel out all the ills of the past, as if they never really happened. One can turn a corner and start out fresh. It is an idea around which one can rally believers, as has been done in so many places at so many different times.
Many people have fought and died in defence of renewal. It is at the heart of every movement that seeks to channel people’s efforts for change. It can be local, regional, national or global. It can have a religious or patriotic motivation. Its beauty is that it can have its origin in the lives of each and every one of us.
Change is not easy. We may be very unhappy with important elements of our lives, but taking drastic action to materially transform our lives takes courage and, often, an acceptance of the risk of substantial loss. Some of us may have done this at some time in our lives and not even appreciated that we were risking all for renewal.
It may not have been on a battlefield, but I consciously sought to renew my life when I reached out at the age of 70. I reached out to seek a relationship with a person I had known only superficially more than 50 years earlier as a teenager. The object of my continued memory and attention, my future bride, mustered up the courage to take me on as an unknown quantity, and her courage has enriched both our lives.
Truth be told, the times that haunt us most in our lives are those when we did not “seize the bull by the horns” and do the thing we really wanted to do. But, in the end, failing to act for lack of courage, or for some other reason, we settled for less than we ached to reach for. We can count every one of those times in our mind’s eye. Don’t we agonize sometimes about those steps not taken? We can never know for sure what the ultimate outcome would have been.
Looking out through the windows of my eyes, seeing the young and not so young, I am filled with enthusiasm for the future. I see the possibilities we all face in our lives to reengineer what the future holds for us.
There is so much happening out there of which I may have no understanding. What I do know is, if we really put our minds to it and concentrate on this renewal business, we can be sure to make our tomorrows fantastic.
Happy renewal in whatever calendar you follow, wherever in the world you are!
Max Roytenbergis a Vancouver-based poet, writer and blogger. His book Hero in My Own Eyes: Tripping a Life Fantastic is available from Amazon and other online booksellers.
In recent years, sufganiyot have easily become the unsung heroines of new Chanukah traditions. (photo from piqsels.com)
Full disclosure, Chanukah has always been my favourite holiday. It has all the things a good holiday needs: dark wintery nights, deep-fried oily foods, magical lights, melancholy songs and cozy family time.
As a child, I looked forward to latkes and gatherings round the stove at my grandparents’ house, homemade sufganiyot – the jam-filled deep-fried doughnuts, consumed exclusively and excessively on this holiday – and the week-long vacation from school. Needless to say, my romantic view of Chanukah was somewhat tarnished as I reached adulthood only to realize that Chanukah is considered a vacation for schoolchildren; for university students and working normal folk, it’s business as usual, plus sufganiyot, plus kids. Living in Israel, a country that demands a lot of sobering up as you reach adulthood, I still count this as one of my top three.
The origin story of Chanukah frames it as a holiday of miraculous intervention. Chanukah songs and school teach us that this holiday is all about chasing away the darkness – most appropriate, given its wintery timing – and the Maccabees and their ferocious war of rebellion against the Greek-Hellenistic Seleucid Empire. We have the admirable protagonist of Judah Maccabee, waging his David vs. Goliath-like war against the archvillain of tyrant Antiochus IV Epiphanes, famous in Jewish lore for his relentless persecution of the Jews. And, of course, there’s the miracle of the oil: as the victorious Jews returned to purify the recaptured Temple, the tiny amount of oil they had miraculously lasted for the eight days it took to do so. This talmudic tale is the source of the modern eight-day celebration of Chanukah centred on the ritual of lighting the chanukiyah, adding a candle with each day.
These mythical tales reinforce the traditional Jewish narrative of a war of independence, and the few fighting and winning against the many, with the aid of a heavenly power. As a Jewish holiday, Chanukah joins the lore of religious and cultural oppression, a fierce tale of valour with a great hero in Judah Maccabee, and a grand finale celebrated in the Temple. Its roots also lent themselves perfectly to creating the holiday’s traditions; the oil from the lamp becoming a staple in both foods and in lighting the chanukiyot, when those were still oil-based, as well as holiday songs equating this religious war with chasing away the darkness.
With time and as with many holiday traditions, the modern celebrations of Chanukah grew to outshine these origin stories. This is partly helped by the holiday’s lack of family traction – no vacation time for grownups, no prescribed big family meals like on Rosh Hashanah or Passover – leaving more room for personal traditions to form and for purchasable items or foods to take centre stage. Our traditions become lighting the candles with our roommates or sharing fancy doughnuts with our work colleagues.
For me, the loose nature of Chanukah tradition also represents the growing pains of adulthood, as we’re freed to make, or burdened with constructing, our own traditions with our own families and friends. A lot of this comprises practical choices, like who to celebrate with and where, but, in the broader perspective, this is our way of connecting, or disengaging, from our community. A way of choosing our group of peers, perhaps redefining some set-in-concrete values we never considered were malleable along the way.
Chanukah provides us with an opportunity to redefine some of those traditions along with their meaning, reshaping them according to our personal beliefs and faith. Take the Chanukah narrative, for example. Do we continue to raise our children on tales of Jewish plight and persecution, of wars as heroic, of the Temple as an utmost goal worth sacrificing our lives for? Are stories of male combative heroism the most important lesson we want to teach the next generation? Is religious separatism still an essential value, or how do we tell this tale while encouraging pluralism and tolerance? And where are all the women in these stories? (There is the tale of Judith and her beheading of opposing military leader Holofernes, which is a rare account of female heroism in a terribly masculine world.) Essentially, how do we create a more challenging version of the holidays and still allow our children, and ourselves, to enjoy these traditions, not losing our sense of community as we go?
In a way, it’s fitting that the main paraphernalia of Chanukah – the chanukiyah, has also historically been a vessel for establishing Jewish identity in the Diaspora. As one of the few items used in Jewish ritual that doesn’t have a Christian parallel (like a censor or chalice, for example), the artists making these objects were free to use any type of decoration, as there was no risk the object would be mistaken for a non-Jewish item. Thus we find chanukiyot with the eagle of the local Austro-Hungarian emperor, architectural flourishes resembling renowned local structures – be they churches or mosques – or even the Chanukah tale of Judith beheading Holofernes. There are Moroccan chanukiyot made of reused sardine cans, as this was a predominantly Jewish industry, Italian chanukiyot featuring animal hybrids and putti (baby angels common in Italian
Renaissance and Baroque art) and Israeli chanukiyot with the Israeli flag. (The Israel Museum has an impressive collection of Chanukah lamps, museum.imj.org.il/stieglitz.)
As the questions of reestablishing our communal and individual identity remain, the grounding of Chanukah in our everyday world is often found in much more earthly places. In recent years, sufganiyot have easily become the unsung heroines of new Chanukah traditions. Bakeries and cafés are finding ways to make their doughnuts progressively outrageous with each passing year, adapting them to the millennial taste for opulence, decadence and quick satisfaction, since who knows what tomorrow might bring. It might not be a perfect solution, but it is undeniable that existential quandaries are best answered while consuming vast amounts of deep-fried, sugary foods while singing songs in the candlelight.
Avia Shemeshis an art history PhD student, studying medieval Spanish art, and living in central Israel. She is passionate about anything to do with art and culture, and loves to write about the ways we interact with the visual world around us and with one another. When not working or writing, she likes to travel, bake and go to yoga classes, like the borderline millennial she is.