Canada’s Israeli embassy and the Jewish Federation of Ottawa say that an art exhibit on display at Ottawa City Hall’s Karsh-Masson Gallery glorifies Palestinian terrorism and have urged the city to review its policy on how exhibits are approved.
The exhibit, Invisible, by Palestinian-born, Toronto-based artist Rehab Nazzal, includes photographs of some of the most notorious Palestinian terrorists, including Abu Iyad, who was responsible for the 1972 Munich Games massacre, and Khalid Nazzal, the artist’s brother-in-law, who was the mastermind behind the Ma’alot school massacre that killed 22 children and three adults 40 years ago.
Eitan Weiss, spokesperson and head of public diplomacy for the Israeli embassy in Canada, said the embassy was moved to contact Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson when it learned that the city was “endorsing it and, not only that, but paying for it. They are funding a lot of this with taxpayers’ money.”
Artists are paid about $1,800 to have their work displayed at the gallery.
“The artist is portraying these people as innocent Palestinians, authors, writers, cartoonists, politicians who were assassinated by Israel,” Weiss said. “We’re talking about terrorists with blood on their hands.”
Ottawa Federation president and chief executive officer Andrea Freedman said, “It’s a hurtful exhibit in the fact that it glorifies Palestinian terrorists, so it’s highly problematic that it is funded by taxpayers’ dollars and it has no place in City Hall.”
She said Federation has called on the city to shut down the exhibit, which is scheduled to run until June 22.
In an email statement to the CJN, deputy city manager Steve Kanellakos explained that the exhibit is in line with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that it won’t be taken down prematurely.
All exhibits at the gallery are selected by an independent jury and the themes of each exhibit do not represent the views of the City of Ottawa, he said.
“To exhibit a work of art is not to endorse the work or the vision, ideas and opinions of the artist. It is to uphold the right of all to experience diverse visions and views.”
However, following meetings with Ottawa Federation and Israeli Ambassador Rafael Barak, the mayor agreed to review the policy governing the selection process of the gallery’s artwork, which has been in place since 1993.
Nazzal told the Ottawa Citizen that the decision by the city to review the policy has her “concerned about the future of artists showing work of significance.”
Although Freedman said she’s disappointed the exhibit remains open, “the main thing from our perspective is that the city … will be reviewing and revising their policies so that in the future, no other community will have to experience this.”
Weiss said the purpose of the meeting between the ambassador and the mayor was not to shut down the exhibit.
“We understand their constraints because, at the end of the day, they are aware of the fact that this is a problematic exhibition, and they claim that their hands are tied due to legal constraints in terms of taking it down,” he said.
“We’re just trying to expose reality and expose the truth and use this moment as a teaching moment and tell the Canadian audience that if you want to know why Israelis and Palestinians haven’t reached a peace agreement, this is the reason why. Palestinians enshrine terrorists, they commemorate and glorify them, and this is something that is unacceptable. Imagine what people would have said if the pictures of the 9/11 terrorists would have been there,” Weiss said. “It’s a good opportunity for us to showcase the Palestinian propaganda and how they tend to twist the reality and change the truth to suit their narrative, which is completely false in this case. This is our objective in this.”
– For more national Jewish news, visit cjnews.com.
Winnipeg lawyer David Matas received a distinguished alumni award from the University of Manitoba (U of M) at a gala on the evening of May 1. Matas joined four others – Chau Pham (young alumni), Scott Cairns (professional achievement), John Bockstael (service to U of M) and Bruce Miller (community leadership) – in receiving the award. The event featured performances by U of M alumni, including Juno-nominated performers Erin Propp, Larry Roy and Desiree Dorion.
On stage, Matas told attendees he is currently working on an autobiography, with the working title Why Did You Do That? He said, “The book seeks to justify my human rights activism. Writing the manuscript has made me introspective, attempting to justify my behavior to myself.”
There are pluses and minuses to receiving this award, said Matas, with a smile. “To be sure, it’s a boost to my self-esteem … [though the] downside is the increased expectations.”
Matas, who is a human rights lawyer in Winnipeg and senior legal counsel for B’nai Brith Canada, said that after having received the Order of Canada, “it didn’t become any easier. To the contrary, afterwards, my court opponents continued as before – disagreeing with everything I had said and adding that my arguments weren’t worthy of the Order of Canada. I hate to think what lies in store for me in court now that I’ve won the distinguished alumni award,” he joked, receiving warm applause.
Outside the courtroom, Matas more seriously added that the award might add welcomed weight to his positions and opinions. “I draw your attention to one particular position of mine: that the University of Manitoba should not be hosting Israel Apartheid Week.
“The decision this year to allow Israel Apartheid Week to go forward was particularly troubling in light of the fact that the University Student Union had stripped the sponsoring group of its student status and funding.”
Next year, as in past years, Matas said, he will be telling the university, “Don’t give this week a university forum.”
Later, he added, “Human rights advocacy, I realize, is often not one-dimensional – opposing rights against wrongs – but, rather, rights and against rights, and determining where the balance lies.”
Thanking the Alumni Association, Matas said, “It gives me the incentive and reinforcement to engage in this debate in years to come. The debate about where the balance lies is one in which we must all take part.
“I never drop a human rights cause until it’s resolved. I’ll be at it until the problem disappears – or I disappear.”
Shauna Leeson and Dr. Richard Boroditsky. (photo by Rebeca Kuropatwa)
According to Dr. Richard Boroditsky, medical director of Winnipeg’s Mature Women’s Centre, hysterectomies are procedures that happen too frequently and are often unnecessary. Boroditsky has spearheaded a new program to give women effective alternatives to hysterectomies.
The program, called HAlt (Hysterectomies Alternatives), is managed by Kerry Antonio, and previously by Shauna Leeson, both nurse clinicians who have been working at Mature Women’s Centre since 2004. In 2006, the centre moved to Victoria Hospital.
There are currently three physicians working with HAlt – Boroditsky, his son Dr. Michael Boroditsky and Dr. Deb Evaniuk.
Patients are often referred by their family physician. The majority are in the age range of 30-55, with heavy or painful periods, and all want to improve their quality of life. Women in the post-menopausal stage are also seen at HAlt. “The majority of the patients we see here have benign ‘disease,’” Leeson told the Jewish Independent.
“Too many women are being told they have only two choices: do nothing or get their uterus taken out. We see about 20 new patients per month. We’re here to give them other options to hysterectomy and we do this because we understand the consequences of having one.”
Leeson added, “If a women in her 40s or 50s is going to have a hysterectomy, she may need to take six to eight weeks or up to three or four months off work and her regular duties, where often her problem can be treated with medication or other alternatives.”
According to Boroditsky, “Manitoba probably has one of the highest hysterectomy rates in Canada, with some 2,300 hysterectomies per year in the province.
“Traditionally, the main reason for doing about 70 percent of hysterectomies has been abnormal bleeding. And, before we had some of the newer alternative hysterectomy technologies, there wasn’t much we could offer women.”
The doctor said one of the most common issues they see is a condition called uterine fibroid (benign lumps in the uterus). “We used to believe this meant women in this situation automatically needed a hysterectomy,” he explained.
“Hysterectomy is a major operation with major complications – including risks of general or spinal anesthesia, hemorrhaging, infection and damage of organs around the uterus,” like the bowel, bladder, ureter, etc. “With these serious, major complications that can occur, we shouldn’t be taking hysterectomies lightly,” he said. “We can’t look at hysterectomy as the ultimate treatment for uterine bleeding – it shouldn’t be the first choice. It should only enter into the picture after you’ve tried or considered all other available alternatives.”
In the past, Boroditsky said that he has done at least as many, if not more, hysterectomies than other physicians, but that has changed in recent years. “I’ve gone the other way. I now believe hysterectomies should be only a last resort.”
He added, “One particular study was done about eight or nine years ago in the States, where they looked at several thousand hysterectomies and found that some 70 percent of them could have been treated or managed with other alternatives.”
In Europe, alternatives to hysterectomies are more accepted due to the attitudes of both the doctors and the patients, said Boroditsky. “In Canada, many women, and even doctors, don’t know about or will not consider alternative options.
“There is a lot more cost involved in having a hysterectomy than there is for the alternatives: cost to the system, physical and psychological cost to the woman and to her family. The only way we can make an accurate diagnosis of abnormal uterine bleeding is to look inside the uterus (hysteroscopy). Once you make the diagnosis, there are many alternatives for treatment, depending on each individual case, whether that’s with pills, a device or otherwise.”
The HAlt website offers basic information and some of the benefits of the alternatives to hysterectomy. “Due to the risks associated with major surgery, as well as the negative effects hysterectomy can have on a woman’s self-esteem, their sexual experience and perceived desirability, women are seeking alternative treatments to fibroids and uterine bleeding. The HAlt program aims to provide women with information and awareness of options, including the use of medical alternatives to control bleeding, minimally invasive surgery, and other less invasive techniques.”
Some of the medical alternatives available today include the use of an intrauterine progestin device, which prevents pregnancy but significantly reduces menstrual flow; pituitary gonadotropin inhibitors, which lock estrogen receptors in the uterus to suppress hormone levels and thin the lining of the uterus; oral contraceptives to minimize and regulate menstrual bleeding; gonadotropin-releasing hormone, which produces a menopause-like state, indirectly lowering estrogen levels and shrinking fibroids; and selective progesterone receptor modulators, which act directly on the fibroids and the lining of the uterus, leading to fibroid shrinkage and decreased bleeding.
As noted on the website, patients can consider adding procedures in consultation with their doctors, such as endometrial ablation, hysteroscopic resection of polyps and fibroids, as well as uterine fibroid embolization.
The Mall Medical Clinic building is now owned by the Winnipeg Art Gallery. (photo from wag100.ca)
The Mall Medical Clinic goes as far back as the final days of the Second World War, when two Manitoba doctors at an overseas army hospital (one ill and recovering, while the other was treating him) discussed what they would do after the war. They decided to create a joint medical practice for returning physicians.
The original group of doctors involved with establishing Winnipeg’s Mall Medical included Alan Klass, Charles Bermack, Laurie Rabson, Sam Easton, David Bruser, Ruvin Lyons, Manly Finklestein and Norman Book. Early in 1947, the Mall Medical Group purchased a piece of land at the northwest corner of The Mall (at 280 Memorial Blvd.) and hired architects Green Blankstein Russell to design their clinic. Construction started on the two-storey building with a full basement on March 4, 1947. The facility was open by January 1948.
Aside from doctor and dentist offices, the building housed a pharmacy, lab and diagnostic equipment rooms. By 1990, the Mall Medical Group also ran additional clinics at 1194 Jefferson Ave., 1717 Main St., and 1868 Portage Ave.
Dr. Norman Goldberg, 64, a pediatrician who was born and raised in Winnipeg, began working at the clinic in 1976.
“I looked around and saw that Mall Medical was a well-established group and was willing to take in a new colleague,” he said. “Not every group was able or willing to do this. I knew some of the Mall Medical doctors and there was a strong Jewish representation of doctors. They were accepting of Jewish physicians, whereas some were less welcoming.
“The Mall Medical Group all started when a group of Jewish doctors decided to start up a combination of family practice and specialists – to have a little more marketing power and to be able to help each other out,” to refer within the group to each other.
“There was certainly a Jewish influence there, and it was to counter some of the exclusionary practices at some of the other clinics.
“Over the years,” he added, “people joined us from various specialties, as well as general medicine. It [retained] less of a Jewish identity over time, because there were no longer exclusionary policies.” Even later, however, “there were still very few Jewish physicians at the Winnipeg or Manitoba Clinic. That has since improved.”
The Mall Medical Group dissolved around 1996. “We were finding it harder to recruit physicians,” Goldberg explained. “We were no longer able to compete in the market space as it was, in the space we were in. It was becoming too expensive to maintain the building and there were other reasons, too.
“We were all doing well and were busy, but we needed another eight or 10 physicians to make it really function well and we couldn’t recruit that number.”
At that point, Goldberg moved to the Manitoba Clinic. By then, he said, things had changed for Jewish physicians. At the Manitoba Clinic, for example, “They were very welcoming. I was pleased to be there and they were pleased to have me. I never felt any exclusion from the rest of the group. We all got along very well.”
Still, Goldberg remarked, “Today, you’re expected to forget past history, which isn’t always that comfortable. I think you still need to be a little aware of what past history was, although right now things are good.”
One of the other doctors in the Mall Medical clinic was Dr. Nassif Moharib. He was born in Egypt, where he became a doctor, and moved to Canada in 1967. “I’m a Christian and was hated because of that by extremist Muslims in Egypt,” said Moharib of his decision to move overseas.
After arriving in Winnipeg in 1967, the doctor did emergency work at Misericordia Hospital for six months, and then did over a year of training/residency in neurology.
“My wife was working as an operating room nurse at Children’s Hospital, when one of the doctors from Mall Medical was saying that the neurologist at Mall Medical was leaving the group, so they were looking for a new neurologist,” he recalled.
He went for an interview at the Mall and was accepted in 1970. “When I joined, there were only about three non-Jewish doctors of about 26 or 29 doctors there,” Moharib said. “The majority of doctors in the Mall Medical Group would refer their patients to me. We were all very friendly with each other. Dr. Phil Barnes delivered two of my children. It was a very good, friendly atmosphere.”
Today, Moharib is retired and is unimpressed with current wait times to see a doctor. “I think it’s gotten a lot worse – longer – than it used to be. When I was working, I didn’t let patients wait for more than five minutes but, in some doctor’s offices, people have to wait for two hours. It’s not right. I think it’s because doctors are booking too many patients.”
In 1992, the Mall Medical group vacated its original location on Memorial Boulevard. The following year, the Winnipeg Art Gallery purchased the lot and a $750,000 infrastructure grant helped convert it into the WAG Studio.
Bitstrips creator Jacob “BA” Blackstock. (photo from Bitstrips)
One of the most popular apps ruling the Internet today is Bitstrips, digital comic strips made from computer bits. The app achieved virtual global fame in no small part due to it creator, Jewish cartoonist – now Bitstrips chief executive officer and creative director – Jacob “BA” Blackstock.
A Canadian venture, Bitstrips allows users to create avatars of themselves and others to produce a comic based on various customizable scenarios. New ones are provided nearly every day. The users can make adjustments to their facial expressions or gestures, choose who to include in the scene and add dialogue or thought bubbles to create a cartoon to encapsulate a moment, a holiday sentiment or a mood. And for those who are cartoon fans, Bitstrips has proven a popular vehicle from which to demonstrate one’s wit and talent – or lack thereof.
Born and raised in Toronto where Bitstrips was founded in 2007 and where its headquarters remains, BA – Blackstock’s nickname since childhood – has enjoyed a lifelong passion for comics.
“I’ve been drawing and creating comics since I was a little kid. Our team has been friends for decades and a love of comics has always been central to our friendship. We’ve always enjoyed making comics for each other, whether in the classroom in high school or later on in life,” said Blackstock in an interview.
Bitstrips’ executive team is comprised of Blackstock, David Kennedy (vice-president, technology), Shahan Panth (vice-president, marketing) and Dorian Baldwin (lead interactive developer), who were all co-founders.
Bitstrips essentially came about while Blackstock was developing a quicker way to make his own comics. He “realized that this technology could be used to make comics accessible to everyone – and enable them to have the fun of social comic creating and sharing that my friends and I had already been experiencing for years.”
While the company started up in 2007, bitstrips.com was formally launched in March 2008 at SXSW (South by Southwest), which sponsors festivals and conferences for film, interactive media and music in Austin, Tex. However, though its Facebook app had been around since December 2012, Bitstrips’ popularity took off almost overnight when Bitstrips iOS mobile app launched for the iPhone in October 2013.
The sudden fame exceeded Blackstock’s expectations. “We launched in stealth mode with no PR or marketing with the sole purpose of testing out the app and letting it grow organically. We never expected the explosion in users once the mobile app launched so we definitely weren’t initially prepared.”
After the iPhone release, use of Bitstrips grew almost exponentially. “Within two months of the apps launch,” Blackstock said, “we saw over 30 million avatars created through the app (iOS & Android). It quickly became the #1 free app in over 40 countries,” including the United States, “and the #1 entertainment app in over 90 countries. Many of the world’s biggest cities, including New York, Chicago, London, Hong Kong and Mexico City, now have hundreds of thousands of citizens with Bitstrips avatars.”
Today, Bitstrips are visible everywhere and are shared via email, SMS and on all the major social media channels. Additionally, Bitstrips for Schools, which hit the education market in fall 2009 to teach children with the aid of comics, is another division that continues to thrive.
Even before it became popular, Bitstrips had already attracted the attention of investors with a $3 million infusion by Horizon Ventures, a global investment firm headquartered in Hong Kong. “They discovered us last summer, before we’d finished the mobile app, as Bitstrips were already popping up all over Facebook,” said Blackstock.
This infusion of capital has enabled the Canadian-based company to expand. “We will use this round of funding to add to the engineering team, hire more artists, enhance the product and, of course, increase the number of servers to help us handle the dramatic growth in users we have been experiencing,” he explained.
But what attracts so many social media users to Bitstrips?
“Everyone needs to express themselves, however they can – and comics are an incredibly powerful way to communicate. Bitstrips is giving people a genuinely new way to communicate, one that is more visual and relevant than simple text, photos and emoticons,” said Blackstock.
“It’s a visual language that everyone understands. But, even more importantly, it’s you – your Bitstrips look like you, and reflect your personality. And not only is it a new form of self-expression, it’s a new way to interact with your friends. Combine all those things and you have something that people all over the world will enjoy.”
Dialogue is still only available in English, though other languages are in the company’s future.
“The amazing thing about Bitstrips is that people in many different countries and different cultures have been adapting the same comics, adding their own text, to make their own personal creations,” noted Blackstock. “It’s been the #1 entertainment app in 100 countries.”
Inevitably, with such popularity also comes a measure of disdain.
Blackstock acknowledged this development. “While Bitstrips is extremely popular, which is great, some enthusiastic users were oversharing on their Facebook feeds and some people who don’t love Bitstrips were getting quite upset. In terms of a solution, Facebook sharing can be turned off. Also, we rolled out an update that makes in-app sharing the default with Facebook sharing an option users need to select.”
The scenarios for Bitstrips cartoons come primarily from the creative minds of a team of four, including Blackstock, co-founder Panth, T.J. Garcia and James Spencer. The rest of the company team is also invited to contribute ideas on a regular basis.
These days, said Blackstock, the company is “entirely focused on making Bitstrips a seamless and awesome experience.” From a business perspective, he added, “We have lots of ideas for monetization down the road, potentially including in-app purchases – but whatever we do to monetize, we will make sure it is done in a way that enhances the user experience and remains true to our brand.”
Blackstock is confident that the future of Bitstrips remains bright. “We’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to Bitstrips’ popularity,” he said.
Asked about his own background and attraction to the comic medium, Blackstock said it began “through mass consumption of comics.” He realized early on that he enjoyed making comics himself.
“I’ve been making comics, animation and games since I was a kid. Before creating Bitstrips, I spent 10 years developing another epic cartoon project called Griddleville, which I partially funded by running animation workshops in schools.”
Blackstock himself spent considerable time in school drawing instead of studying. Following high school he studied film at York University in Toronto only to drop out, he explained, “when I became too busy with other projects that were much more exciting than what was happening in my classes.”
Jews have played an influential role in the history of the cartoon genre and some of those involved had a profound influence on Blackstock. His primary inspirations were “the amazing old cartoons by the Fleischer Brothers,” Max and Dave Fleischer whose New York-based Fleischer Studios produced theatrical shorts and feature films until the animation company was acquired by Paramount Pictures. Other significant influences were Mad Magazine’s founder, William Gaines, and Stan Lee’s Marvel Comics. One of Blackstock’s favorite modern cartoonists is Daniel Clowes, known for graphic novels such as Ghost World.
But the work of a cartoonist is neither easy nor fast, which Blackstock fully realized while working on Griddleville, a cartoon from his own imagination.
“To create it,” Blackstock related, “I locked myself in a small room and taught myself classical animation along with all kinds of software. In the end, it took three years to produce 11 minutes of animation. The resulting impatience was a contributing factor to the creation of Bitstrips.”
The burgeoning popularity of social media was also a strong influence. “The concept of Bitstrips from the beginning was to connect comics to social media – that comics could one day be one of the main forms of social media, just like photos or videos.”
Those who follow Bitstrips daily, weekly or close to holidays might notice themes. While Blackstock is Jewish, he doesn’t limit Bitstrips to any one audience.
“Bitstrips are enjoyed by all cultures across the world – we try to make them as universal as possible, so that anyone anywhere can find a comic to express themselves through.”
Yet Blackstock gives a nod to members of his tribe. “We do have some scenes in the app based on Jewish holidays, which I think are pretty funny.”
Arthur Wolak is a freelance writer based in Vancouver. A version of this article was originally published in theTimes of Israel.
There is a sense in the Montreal Jewish community that Quebec has entered a new era with the election of a majority Liberal government on April 7. Whether the defeat of the Parti Quebecois after 18 months in office was a rejection of its proposed Charter of Values or the possibility of another sovereignty referendum or, in fact, a show of support for Philippe Couillard’s offer of a more stable, focused government, Quebec has emerged from under the cloud of partisan strife.
Public opinions polls in the latter half of the 33-day campaign showed the Liberals were steadily gaining in popularity, yet few federalists dared count on the party’s capturing 70 of the 125 seats in the National Assembly and more than 41 percent of the popular vote.
Immediately following the election, community leaders were already speaking of a more positive climate, in which Jews “view themselves as part and parcel of Quebec and see their future here,” said Luciano Del Negro, Quebec vice-president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. “The charter had broken a modus vivendi in Quebec in which we had acknowledged the French fact…. But all of a sudden, you not only had to speak French, but kowtow to the government in how you express your religious beliefs.”
The new government, Del Negro added, must move swiftly to repair the damage caused by the “toxic” debate over the launching of the charter last August by the PQ. Bill 60 was tabled in November.
The charter, said Del Negro, was not the major election issue. Rather, the result of the election was a clear rejection of what he saw as the PQ’s cynical ploy to stir up anxiety over the growth of religious minorities in order to get a majority and then create favorable conditions for a third referendum on sovereignty. “This is a resounding vote of confidence that we are all Quebecers, it’s the defeat of a divisive vision…. It’s not so much the end of the independence movement, but that the PQ is no longer seen as representing a force for progress, especially among the young.”
The strength of the third-party Coalition Avenir Québec, which gained four seats, is also indicative of the desire for a new way, he continued. “The PQ was the architect of its own demise. It threw away its principles. It sold its soul…. It’s a bit ironic that the party that was musing about firing workers [who might defy the charter’s ban on religious symbols among public employees] got fired themselves.”
The Jewish community’s tepid relations with Premier Pauline Marois soured during the campaign when she refused to repudiate comments by PQ candidate Louise Mailloux, who was accused of antisemitism for alleging that kashrut certification is, essentially, a religious racket in which Quebecers are victims. Mailloux, a college philosophy teacher, finished second, but almost 10,000 votes behind the incumbent, François David of Québec solidaire.
Del Negro said there is some history between the Liberal leader and the community from Couillard’s stint as health minister in Jean Charest’s government and since he became leader last year. “He has always been available to the community to discuss the charter and other matters,” Del Negro said. “We look forward to his being the premier of all Quebecers.”
Nevertheless, the possibility of some kind of new legislation reinforcing the principles of state neutrality and providing a framework for dealing with reasonable accommodation requests from religious groups can’t be ruled out. In January, the Liberal party issued its policy on the issue, which emphasized the necessity of public employees who represent state authority, such as police officers and prison guards, being permitted to wear religious symbols only after they have made the effort to “integrate.”
Couillard, a neurosurgeon who once practised in Saudi Arabia, stated at the time: “Our position hinges on respect for what we are and for what defines us collectively, historically and culturally. I understand and share concerns expressed by Quebecers regarding the rise of religious fundamentalism.”
The Liberal position is that the primacy of state religious neutrality be included in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms (as Bill 60 proposed) and that any accommodation made for a person’s religious beliefs be in keeping with that tenet, as well as respect for gender equality. It was a Liberal government under Charest that a few years ago tabled Bill 94, which would have banned face coverings in the delivery or receipt of public services. It died on the order paper. Contrary to assumptions about the popularity of the charter, most recent polls found 63 percent in favor in Montreal and about 53 percent overall.
“I think the government should exercise extreme caution in re-opening the charter of rights,” said Del Negro. “There is a consensus in Quebec on state secularism, the need for a framework to resolve reasonable accommodation requests, and on the equality of men and women, but the charter of rights is there fundamentally to protect minorities…. The Jewish community has always been incredibly cautious in dealing with the charter of rights. It believes it is adequate. There is de facto recognition of state secularism and the human rights commission has jurisdiction to deal with reasonable accommodation.”
The sole Jewish MNA, Liberal David Birnbaum, took 92 percent of the vote in Montreal’s D’Arcy McGee, the only riding with a Jewish majority. There is speculation that the newcomer could be named to the cabinet, possibly to the education portfolio.
Birnbaum, 58, was director general of the Quebec English School Boards Association and is a past executive director of Canadian Jewish Congress, Quebec Region. He replaces Lawrence Bergman, who resigned at the start of the campaign after 20 years in office.
Elsewhere, the fourth-party Québec solidaire (QS) elected a third member for the first time in its short history, Manon Massé in Ste. Marie-St. Jacques by a narrow 91 votes.
Massé, who has been a social justice activist for 30 years, was aboard the Canadian boat that was part of an international flotilla that attempted to reach Gaza in 2011. QS supported that unsuccessful effort to break the Israeli blockade and the left-wing sovereigntist party officially endorses the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel. Ste. Marie-St. Jacques is in the Plateau Mont-Royal, and encompasses the block on St. Denis Street where the Le Marcheur and Naot shoe stores are located, which have been targets of BDS demonstrators in the last few years. As well, QS MNA Amir Khadir, an outspoken critic of Israel, was reelected for a third term in the neighboring Mercier riding.
Nevertheless, CIJA said they want to keep the channels of communication open with all parties. “We have a fundamental disagreement with the QS … but as long as it is kept civil and honest, we can agree to disagree,” Del Negro said.
B’nai Brith Canada also believes this is a time to “mend fences” and hopes Couillard will reach out to all Quebecers to allow them to “feel at home in the province once more.”
Moise Moghrabi, Quebec chair of the organization’s League for Human Rights, said the new government has to begin to heal the rifts caused by “one of the most divisive campaigns in Quebec history.”
– For more national Jewish news, visit cjnews.com.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs is alerting Holocaust survivors and their families not to be taken in by an “odious” scam that promises to unlock Swiss bank accounts in exchange for personal information.
CIJA became aware of a campaign that appears to be targeting the Jewish community and which in one case advised a Calgary resident that one of their relatives killed during the Holocaust had left $75 million in a Swiss bank account. The letter bears the name of a consulting firm, a New York address and phone number. Sara Saber-Freedman, CIJA executive vice-president, said she contacted the letter writer by phone, but when she refused to give him her cell number, he hung up on her.
In the letter, copies of which were sent to others in Canada, the writer claims he is able to access the funds if the recipient of the letter provides extensive personal information. Saber-Freedman said, “It’s exactly like every other one of those scams that you read about and you get by email all the time.”
While frauds of this type prey on people’s trusting nature, this particular fraud “is revolting,” she said. “To use the Holocaust in this context is just vile.” Survivors are elderly and can be vulnerable to this sort of pitch, she added.
Sidney Zoltak, co-president of the Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants, said similar “sick kinds of operations” have come up before, promising survivors they could recover funds on insurance policies and properties in Poland. He advised survivors and their families to pursue claims through reputable organizations. While the current campaign did not ask for money up front, Zoltak said, “this is the beginning. Once you get to speak to someone who is really smooth, they can talk you into a lot of things.” They prey on the vulnerable and they’re ready “to take away their last savings and leave them penniless. They don’t care as long as they score,” he added.
Saber-Freedman said she has informed U.S. law enforcement and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre about the letters.
At the age of 80, after 40 years of researching and collecting material on the Jewish farming colonies of Saskatchewan, scholar Anna Feldman donated the entire body of research to the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que. Among the materials are audiocassettes with songs, interviews and oral narratives, personal memoirs and other textual documents. It’s a rich contribution that sheds light on those small colonies and the hopes and dreams of their Jewish inhabitants, said Judith Klassen, music curator at the museum.
“It really makes sense for it to be here,” Klassen said. “The breadth of Anna’s work is really exciting. For example, she didn’t record only one particular genre of song as she looked at Yiddish song and culture. Rather, she recorded different types of music from a broad spectrum of people, including cantorial training, ornamentation, traditional song and storytelling.”
How Jews ended up in Saskatchewan
Jews arrived in Saskatchewan in the 1880s, many fleeing from persecution in Europe. They established farming colonies with names like New Jerusalem, Sonnenfeld and Edenbridge and, by 1930, those colonies were populated by thousands of Jewish farmers and their families. The Jewish colonies’ decline started in the 1930s with the Depression and drought. By the 1960s, most of the farm colonists had left the land for larger cities. Today, all that remains is open prairie where homes and settlements once were, small cemeteries marking the graves of the original settlers. In Edenbridge, the Beth Israel Synagogue, constructed in Carpenter Gothic style in 1906 and used until the 1960s, is now a municipal heritage site. But for any kind of context about the lives lived here, you have to go to the museum.
Fortunately, material like Feldman’s, which is being processed for the public archives, is accessible. To immerse yourself in the collection you have to travel to Gatineau, but for those who are looking for specific documents, those can be ordered, copied, scanned or mailed. “We’ve already had inquiries from people interested in this collection, even from outside of Canada, which shows it’s of interest beyond our borders,” Klassen said.
The origins of the research
Feldman’s interest in the Jewish pioneers was sparked when she married the son of a pioneer family from the Sonnenfeld homestead. Her late spouse was attached to Sonnenfeld all his life and Feldman’s first interview was in 1978, with his mother.
An accomplished scholar, Feldman returned to university as a mature student and obtained an ARCT in singing, a bachelor of music and a master’s degree in Canadian studies from Carleton University. In 1983, she received the Norman Pollock Award in Canadian Jewish Studies. Today, she lives in a seniors residence in Toronto.
Feldman began donating her collection of music to the Museum of History’s Centre for Folk Culture Studies in early 2000. The first 188 audio cassettes containing interviews with Jewish musicians, homesteaders, merchants and professionals who were part of the rural farming communities in Saskatchewan have been processed and are available in the catalogue. Part two of her collection is still being processed.
“In terms of Jewish cultural expression and settlement in Saskatchewan, this collection is foundational,” Klassen noted. Partly, that’s due to Feldman’s skill as an interviewer. “She’s very pointed in her questioning and very thoughtful in how she asks questions. She allows her subjects to talk about their background and interests, but guides them so she covers the key areas she is interested in. In the breadth of her fieldwork and interviews, you get a nuanced perspective on the experiences people had; for example, on antisemitism, but also on mutual respect. You see there’s a broad spectrum of opinions even within the particular settlement. That’s one of the really unique things about this collection.”
The importance of Feldman’s work
“I don’t want the people of Canada, especially the Jews, to be unaware that we had pioneers in Canada who came here when there was no one else in the land. Jews don’t know about this and neither does the general public, and I think people should know about it,” Feldman has reflected.
After her first interview, she traversed Canada twice looking for Jewish pioneers and their children. “I remember visiting one family in Winnipeg whose elderly mother was a descendent of a Jewish pioneer family,” she recalled. “She was blind and unwell, but when she heard about my interest she met me and we had a wonderful time. She was reminiscing and we sang songs together until 2 a.m.!”
What she learned from those interviews is that the early Jewish pioneers in Canada suffered a great deal. “They had the economic depression, problems with weather, land and soil, and all sorts of plagues, but they had the strength to survive,” Feldman said. “They weren’t farmers when they came, and Canada didn’t want Jews, but the Canadian government was afraid the Americans would take over the Prairie provinces, so because of that they allowed the Jews to come.”
She continued, “I think people should have pride in all [that] those Jewish pioneers accomplished. They survived in spite of all the difficulties they had and they made a tremendous contribution to Canada – them, their children and their children’s children.”
A list of the material catalogued thus far is available on the museum’s website at historymuseum.ca. Search the archives by author Anna Feldman to find a description of the material in each box.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond, B.C. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.