Cantor Herskovits and Schara Tzedeck Choir, Vancouver, 1955. (JWB fonds, JMABC L.14274)
If you know someone in this photo, 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].
Morgan Carrier and Shira Laye are LACAR. (photo from Morgan Carrier)
Nearly a decade ago, Shira Laye set out to explore the world of jewelry design. In 2013, she and her partner Morgan Carrier established LACAR – a combination of their surnames – a line of beautiful, wearable art, with influences ranging from “the dark side of Victorian mourning jewelry, to the architectural shapes of art deco and the great jewelry eras of the past.” I am the proud owner of several LACAR pieces.
Growing up in a large family, each child has to intentionally carve out her individuality. In our household of five siblings, this was no less true. From a young age, Shira, one of my younger sisters, had a particular talent for assembling stylish and unique outfits, with a remarkable flair for accessories. It was her childhood love of ancient artifacts and art, however, that originally sparked her love of jewelry.
Shira’s first brushes with the ancient world happened on a 1993 family trip to the Holy Land. “My first big trip as a kid to a faraway destination was our family trip to Israel, where I spent time in museums looking at ancient artifacts and pieces of jewelry from a long time ago, imagining that I was somewhere where someone might have worn that,” she recalled in chat over a coffee and sandwich at a café on Main Street. In fact, while I was spending much of my summer in a decidedly less artistic environment, in a microbiology lab at the Technion, most of the rest of the family was heading out to explore the ruins of Katzrin and the Old City, the springs at Ein Gedi or the collection at the Israel Museum.
In Israel, Shira got her first inklings of what she might like to be when she grew up. “I spent a lot of time illustrating what I saw and I decided that I wanted to become an archeologist. Not because I wanted to discover an ancient civilization, but rather I was sure I would unearth a treasure. A couple of years later, as a teenager, I went on another trip to Israel and spent the day on a dig with our older cousin, which was fun but a little bit disappointing. I decided I didn’t want to be an archeologist anymore – we didn’t find anything remotely shiny, it was just a hot day in the sun. I realized the only way to find treasure was by buying it at the store or learning to make it myself. And so, my fascination with ancient art and artifacts and jewelry of all kinds remained.”
After studying art history, Shira signed up “on a whim” for a course in jewelry making at Vancouver Community College. “I made just a simple silver band and a hammered cuff that I gave away as a gift,” she recalled. “And then I didn’t do anything for a little while, until I met a friend that had a home studio and traded me in exchange for doing some simple tasks like filing and sanding. She showed me some techniques … I really liked it, so I signed up for a program in New York, at Studio Jewelers in Midtown.”
At the time, I was living in Manhattan and Shira joined me there to study jewelry design and experience what the city has to offer. “It was a really great time,” she said. “I was equally as inspired by being in New York, living there, as I was by the techniques I was learning in school…. I ended up extending my stay to apprentice with a jeweler, a pretty unique guy, a little bit out there. It was a lot of running around. I knew where to buy pearls in one area in the jewelry district or where to get this from that person. It wasn’t as much technique as I would’ve liked. After I came home, I continued to learn more technique, as I still do to this day.”
Shira established her own line soon after and began taking on custom work, “which was a way to learn to expand my techniques,” she said. “And just by necessity, I would take on a project and I’d be like, OK, I get to learn how to do this! It was a great way to learn. And then, as time went on, Morgan was spending more and more time with me in the studio, and I’d show him how to do different finishing techniques or he’d help throughout the whole process of making a piece. He’s really natural with anything that’s hands-on and design oriented and, in no time at all, he was contributing to the design process as well. So, it just made sense to team up officially since that’s what we were doing unofficially.” The two came out with their first collection, Oculus, in 2013.
Of their work together and his background, Morgan shared, “I’m a handy guy with a background in the arts and construction. I studied theatre at UBC and then went on to a brief film career after studying documentary film studies in Paris for two years. I am always building or sculpting something, so it wasn’t a stretch in skills for me to pitch in. Shira would bribe me into date nights at the studio and we would listen to an episode of This American Life while slowly depleting a glass of red wine. It was romantic, but it also involved a lot of sanding, filing and polishing between sips of wine and, before I knew it, we were collaborating on designs. In our case, life partners make great business partners. This is my third or fourth career in life, and I’m loving it. It combines all the skills I’ve been mastering in other jobs over the past 20 years.”
Morgan said they both love “creating objects of beauty that appear simple but require problem solving in making them. We love that the possibilities are endless.”
It’s the shared love for objects of beauty that is key to making a successful collaboration, Shira said. “Every piece is a collaboration because even if it starts out as one person’s idea, it kind of morphs as we discuss it together, the idea comes to fruition. It ends up having little bits of both of us. We’re really lucky because we definitely have our own ideas, but we really share a similar esthetic. Our design processes are a little different but we really work well together; we’re good team. One of us might have an idea for a motif and then bring it to the other person. It may change slightly or be applied to a different piece or shape.”
LACAR make their home at Main and Broadway, a new studio space they share with fellow jeweler Anita Sikma. “I’ve spent years building up a studio and the repertoire of tools that I have on hand,” Shira said. “Now, I have a nice new bench that Morgan built for me since the move. I have on it all kinds of hand tools, files, hammers, measuring tools, steel blocks, a Fordham, safety goggles, and then we also have a lot of big tools.”
The move means that LACAR can expand their repertoire, Shira said. “We work in silver and bronze primarily for our collections, but our work is available in gold on a make-to-order basis. We can work in any metal – platinum, white gold – anything. We’d love to experiment with other mediums in the future. Now that we have a big studio space, we’ve got big plans.”
Their debut collection “was an expression of the beauty of eroded sanctuary,” the two told me in a follow-up email. “We wanted our pieces to be monumental, worthy of worship, but we wanted them to be light and wearable. So, we came up with the esthetic of the Gothic archway. The arches create a heavy vaulted lacework, drawing inspiration from sacred architectures.”
Soon after it debuted, they started making rings for Morgan to wear. “Until then, our line was mostly geared towards women,” Shira said, “and Morgan felt like he should be wearing more LACAR to promote our brand. Before we knew it, men were taking notice of our small ring collection. We decided to launch a men’s line, one that would have androgynous appeal. The pieces are heavy and solid; we tried to keep it a little more streamlined – lots of clean lines, flat surfaces.”
Though it’s hard to pick favorites, Morgan said he really loves the Obelisk ear cuff. “We wanted to make a cuff that complimented the form of the ear,” he said. “And the Signet ring, which we created as part of our new line, but that we’ve already customized for clients using family crests and other motifs.”
“Nothing passes through the studio door if we are not happy with it,” added Shira. “I really like all of the pieces that we have made. Morgan only wears some of them, but I get to wear them all. I would say that right now I’ve been wearing our gold Helm earrings with black diamonds pretty much every day, which we also have available without the diamonds and in silver and bronze, different price points, as well as the Vault bracelet with black jade inlay. Those pieces I wear every day and the other pieces kind of rotate. I’ve also been wearing our Siamese collar quite a bit. A bit more of a statement piece, but it looks really nice with a dress or even a casual pair of pants – it adds a nice detail.”
Favorites that they don’t get to wear “are some of the custom pieces that we’ve created. These come out of a nice collaborative process with the client’s ideas and our designs and technique. I’ve been really sad to see some of those pieces go! I specifically love working on engagement rings – that’s the favorite for me. Right now, we’re working on a beautiful ring, kind of a deco-inspired piece where the client brought in his girlfriend’s grandmother’s ring, which had a beautiful centre diamond and yellow gold, but he wanted something in white gold and with a different feel. We are using the diamond and creating a whole new piece that better fits her style and her esthetic.
“We do wedding rings, as well, and we’re right now working on a whole bunch of bridesmaids gifts, so that’s exciting…. One of the custom pieces that stands out was another art deco-inspired engagement ring that was inspired by the skyline.”
LACAR has been a mainstay at some of Vancouver’s pop-up shops, including at the Chinatown Experiment earlier this month. “It was with the Dreamlover Collective, which is friends of ours: Andrea Rokosz of Army of Rokosz and Karen La of Broken Promises and Marie Foxall of Wasted Effort…. They’re hosting so many great local vendors and designers, everything from hot sauce to jewelry, ceramic works, stockings. Our studio mate, Anita Sikma, is one of my favorite jewelers in the city … she was part of it, too. It’s great to be part of that, and a lot of fun.”
Aside from more retailers, Shira said they would love to work on a fine collection. “That would be really satisfying. We’re slowly building up, just continuing to work. Sometimes it’s hard to hone in on doing one collection because you’re constantly having so many ideas…. We just want to continue to create new things all the time!
In 2003, the Jewish Independent reviewed Jennifer Gasoi’s debut children’s album, Songs for You, describing it as “intelligent, energetic, philosophical, educational, at times silly and, most importantly, it’s high-quality music.” Since then, Gasoi has garnered numerous awards and nominations for her music. The latest – her second CD, Throw a Penny in the Wishing Well, took home the 2014 Grammy Award for best children’s album.
With the big January win still fresh, Gasoi – the first Canadian to ever receive this Grammy honor – returns to Vancouver next month. Living in Montreal since 2002, she is not only coming back to see family, but to perform two concerts on April 12 to benefit the Children’s Hearing and Speech Centre of British Columbia.
Gasoi, who also won the 2013 Sirius XM Canadian Indie Awards for children’s artist of the year, the Parent Choice Award and the Canadian Book Centre’s selection for best children’s music, and was a semi-finalist in the International Songwriting Competition and a Juno nominee for children’s album of the year, took time to speak with the Jewish Independent before her upcoming visit.
JI: You’ve won other honors and nominations in your career. In what ways, if any, is the Grammy different, and in what ways has it already affected your work/schedule?
JG: The other awards and nominations were wonderful accolades, but winning a Grammy has taken my career into a whole new realm. I’m being asked to speak and represent many different organizations. I’ve had quite a few requests internationally – to play shows (U.S.), to submit my music to radio stations (Australia), to sell my CDs (a theatre company in Oklahoma) and I’ve even had interest to play a show in China. There’s a certain status associated with being a Grammy winner that I’m still getting used to! It’s been quite a challenge keeping up with all the requests and opportunities arising. There’s no question that new doors are opening and my horizons are broadening.
JI: You have consistently put out quality recordings. From where do you find your inspiration? How do you keep the work fresh and interesting for yourself?
JG: I am inspired by life. By people, experiences, nature, music, small moments, unexpected interactions, synchronicities. Sometimes, it’s just a simple two-minute interaction that can inspire a song. Or a memory can be the catalyst. “The Little Things” started off with the image of jelly tots– little candies that I used to love as a child – and it spun into a whole song about all the joyful moments from my childhood. “The Pizza Man” was inspired by a real-life pizza man at a iconic pizzeria in Montreal. Inspiration can hit anytime, anywhere. To keep the creative energy flowing, I see live shows, listen to music, practise yoga and meditation, go for walks on the mountain, take improv comedy classes, watch inspiring videos, dance, and spend time with creative and inspiring people. Children are one of my main sources of inspiration. They continually amaze me. They are so full of life, connected, brilliant, openhearted, pure and so much fun to be with. They remind me of what is really important in life.”
JI: You’ve been very involved in the Jewish communities of both Vancouver and Montreal. In what ways, if at all, has your Jewish heritage/upbringing/communal ties influenced your life/work?
JG: There is something very special about being part of such a close-knit community in both Vancouver and Montreal. It has provided me with a real sense of belonging and groundedness. When I was a child and attended synagogue at Temple Sholom, I was deeply moved by the music played during the services. I love Jewish music. It touches my soul. My Jewish heritage has definitely influenced my songwriting. In my first album, Songs for You, I have a klezmer tune called “The Animal Party,” and, in my latest CD, Throw a Penny in the Wishing Well, the hora features prominently at the end of “The Purple Man.”
I have the privilege of playing music for seniors and patients in several hospitals in Montreal. There is a significant Jewish population, so I often play classic Jewish songs such as “Hinei Ma Tov,” “Heveinu Shalom Aleichem” and “B’shana Ha’ba’a.” I once played Hatikvah during one of my gigs at a Jewish seniors group held in a synagogue, and everyone in the room stood up and sang along. It was so powerful, it brought me to tears.
JI: Are there any projects on which you’re currently working/collaborating?
JG: I have some projects in the works. That’s all I’ll say for now. My priority is to get all my business in order so that I can continue to create music, perform and reach a wider audience.
JI: Is there is anything else you’d like to share?
JG: I am so grateful to be living the life of my dreams. I hope that I can inspire others – big and small – to take chances in their lives, to live from the heart and know that anything is possible.
Jennifer Gasoi will perform twice at the Children’s Hearing and Speech Centre of British Columbia’s annual Family Concert on April 12, at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. The event at the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre – which raises funds to support CHSC’s audiology program – will also feature clowns, games, auction items and face painting. Tickets are $15.50 per child and youth under 17, $18.50 per adult 18 and over, and $60 for a family of four (two adults and two children under 17); they are available from childrenshearing.ca.
Former Sephardi chief rabbi Shlomo Amar (at head of table) joins David Meidan, to Amar’s right, to inform Iranian Jewish families of the fate of their family members. (photo by Ashernet/IGPO)
For the past 20 years, the fate of eight Iranian Jews who were attempting to escape to Israel has been unknown. On Thursday, March 20, former Mossad official David Meidan, who was charged with the inquiry into the disappearance of the eight Jews (plus three other Jews who were last heard from in 1997), told the families in Jerusalem that there is enough reliable information to conclude that all eight of the original Jews were captured and murdered while making their escape.
A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that the Mossad had been tracking the 11 Jews who had fled Iran in four separate groups, eight in 1994 and the remaining three in 1997. The Iranian Jews vanished without a trace during their clandestine attempts to reach Israel. Families were left clinging to the hope that they had been kidnapped, or perhaps held in captivity by foreign governments. The Mossad did not provide detail into when or where the eight were killed, or by whom.
The Prime Minister’s Office said that the Mossad had relied on a “reliable source” for the information. An inquiry into the fate of the additional three Iranian Jews, who were last heard from in 1997, is ongoing.
The original eight Jews included Babak Shaoulian-Tehrani, 17, of Tehran; Shahin Nik-Khoo, 19, of Tehran; Salari Behzad, 21, of Kermanshah; Farad Ezati-Mahmoudi, 22, of Kermanshah; Homayoun Bala-Zade, 41, of Shiraz; Omid Solouki, 17, of Tehran; Rubin Kohan-Mosleh, 17, of Shiraz; and Ibrahim Kohan-Mosleh, 16, of Shiraz.
The three Jews whose fates remain currently unknown are Syrous Ghahremani, 32 at time of disappearance, of Kermanshah; Ibrahim Ghahremani, 61, of Kermanshah; and Nourollah Rabi-Zade, 52, of Shiraz.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sent his condolences to the families and pledged to continue the investigation into the disappearance of the remaining three Iranians.
Meidan, the veteran Mossad official overseeing the investigation, was also involved in the negotiations for the release of soldier Gilad Shalit. After retiring two years ago, Meidan was approached by Netanyahu to continue to investigate the two cases.
Before the findings were presented to the families, the report was sent to former Sephardi chief rabbi Shlomo Amar, who ruled that the information was reliable according to halachah, Jewish law, a ruling that would allow the wives of the victims to remarry if they wish.
Baring one’s soul is always difficult. Imagine how it would be to share your angst and pain with a room full of strangers. This is exactly what four brave actors undertake in the world première of This Stays in the Room.
Horseshoes and Hand Grenades Theatre has partnered with PTC and Radix Theatre to bring this innovative mix of text, song, photography, video projections and choreography to the Downtown Eastside’s Gallery Gachet.
The company, as its press material states, “is a provocative and political group who are not content with holding a mirror up to society – they would rather conduct an autopsy on it.” This is the company’s first site-specific production and, by using a gallery venue, the audience is invited into a non-theatre space, removing the main barrier between the audience and the performers. To allow this intersection of theatre and visual art, the production set will remain as an installation during the run of the play for the general public to explore. The gallery is a collectively run space whose mandate is to encourage dialogue and promote social and economic justice.
The setting is intimate, rows of chairs on either side of a corridor with four decorated ones within the audience for the cast. The actors appear, two men, two women, each carrying a basket full of props. They sit among the viewers – you can reach out and touch them – and, one at a time, tell all. Four stories, four people, all very different and yet, in some strange way, hauntingly similar. An intense one hour takes you through the actors’ personal journeys, from trauma to the triumph of acceptance and forgiveness.
Part of the experience is the actors’ self-description as they draw themselves on a blackboard. Something visceral happens watching these four draw images of themselves on the board. They start off with simple stick people and then add layer upon layer of shape, form and color as they pictorially lay out their self-perceptions. The sound of the chalk scratching against the board picks up speed as they reach their finished images.
We meet Allan Morgan, 59 years old, gay, grappling with his sexuality and society’s homophobia, who puts a pink triangle over his face – he tells of his shame as a “chubby little boy” and his first homosexual experience. Then there is 30ish Robert Salvador, alcoholic, full of guilt over cheating on his wife and small daughter: he shares the story about a sex-free summer game he and his pals played in his teens, where falling off the wagon brought the punishment of being pelted with raw eggs. Next up, petite Manami Hara watching her elderly father deteriorate mentally and physically, feeling she abandoned him in his time of need, and, finally, pregnant Alexa Devine, harried mother of two, abused as a child.
Added to the mix are three stories of members of the creative team, whose talking heads are projected onto white lanterns hanging from the ceiling and the blackboards on either side of the audience. The poignancy and emotion of the disclosures are almost overwhelming at times. This is raw, in your face, reality theatre. It resonates with the audience because we have all been there, done that, and understand the feelings so openly expressed by this talented cast. At the end of the show, the faces of all of the audience members are projected onto the walls of the tiny room, each in a little circle – a reminder that we are all one.
With sound design by Noah Drew (whose Tiny Music was part of this year’s Chutzpah! Festival), lighting design by Andreas Kahre, video projection design by Cande Andrade and choreography by Amber Funk Barton, this multi-media mix comes together under the steady hand of director Mindy Parfitt.
This show is not for all: it is not a feel good, laugh-out-loud production but, as Parfitt notes, “It’s really about how we as individuals face the challenges in our lives, how we move forward and find some kind of forgiveness with ourselves and others.”
This Stays in the Room runs to March 30. Due to the adult content and language, it is not suitable for anyone under 18.
Gallery Gachet is located at 88 East Cordova St. Seating is limited. More information can be found at 604-729-5395 and horseshoesandhandgrenades.ca.
Tova Kornfeld is a Vancouver freelance writer and lawyer.
Dr. Carl Rothschild has always had artistic inclinations but he could never choose one creative medium over the others. In the end, like a Renaissance man, he chose them all. He plays violin and viola. He’s made sculptures and wood carvings. He studied theatre. He has been writing poetry since high school, and painting and drawing even longer. He’s an artist through and through, unable to exist without making art in one form or another, even though his chosen profession is child psychiatry.
“I always drew pictures,” he said about his early years. “When I told my mom I wanted to be an artist, I was six at the time, she said: ‘Doctors paint.’ When I mentioned that I liked playing music, she replied: ‘There’re doctors’ orchestras.’”
She wanted him to be a doctor, and he followed her advice. He doesn’t regret his choice. “At least I’m not starving,” he said with a smile. But he continued his involvement with the arts as a hobby, albeit a serious one. His first solo show of paintings, Stained Glass in Watercolor, opened on March 20 at the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery.
Every painting in the show resembles a stained-glass panel; every shape is delineated by a dark outline. Inside the outlines, color rules. Yellow torches of the autumn trees stand along a street like soldiers on parade. Red tulips glow like candles above the grey flagstones of a backyard. Bluish sky melts into the pearly sea at the horizon, while the dramatic black borders cut across nature’s immensity, bringing it closer to humans and to the boulders on the beach.
Stained-glass technique is Rothschild’s latest creative mode. He is exploring its possibilities and shares his discoveries with viewers. “When our eye looks at two objects side by side,” he explained, “it sees a black separation line between them. When I insert the black lines myself, I can contain the shapes. I have control over them, and each object is discrete. I place them wherever I want in the picture.”
His images are never photographic. Whether the inspiration for a painting comes from a photo or a scene he has witnessed, or from his own poems, the end result is invariably his impressions of the objects that attracted his interest. “I saw those red trees and I wanted to paint them. I placed them in the painting, but they couldn’t be alone, they needed a street, a house, so I painted them, too.”
Besides shapes and lines, the stained-glass technique also fascinates Rothschild because of the texture and color variations in every glass fragment, he said. He tries to replicate the effect in his paintings, so his colors are muted, fluctuating inside the shapes he has imposed. “I like rounded lines; they’re easier on the eye,” he admitted. “It’s like the lines are dancing.”
His creative process implies a deep knowledge of the subject, but he is mostly self-taught. “I only started taking regular art lessons three years ago,” he said. “I was unsure whether I should continue painting. I visited a friend and talked to him about it. He had some watercolors by Susan Pearson on his walls. I liked them, and he said he knows the artist, why don’t I talk to her. So I did. I took my sketchbooks to this [artist] and I said I wanted to know where I was in my art. Am I an artist? Should I continue? She said: ‘Yes, of course, you’re an artist.’ Since then, I’ve been taking lessons with her every week.”
Those lessons contributed to another of his recent creative endeavors: in 2013, he published a book of drawings and poems, Almost Missed, on sale alongside his paintings at the gallery. “Only one painting in the book is done in the stained-glass technique, the first one I ever tried,” he said. “It was for my poem ‘In Memory of My Father’s Death.’ I liked it and started painting other pictures the same way.”
Most other illustrations in the book originated from one or another of Pearson’s lessons. They are either classic watercolor landscapes, airy and light, almost transparent, still-life pictures and abstracts based on the ideas and images of still life.
The connections between the poetry and pictures are intimate and allusive, and are woven together throughout the book. “Art is a synthetic process,” he said. “It comes out in whatever you do: poetry, visual art, furniture making. I always made art. Once, my family moved into a new home, and the previous owners left a stack of wooden kitchen cabinet doors in the basement. I started carving those doors. I don’t know what happened to them when we moved again. I also tried sculpture. When I was at university, my friend needed help in making dental samples. I helped him, and then used the same material for small sculptures. I also made a chess set for a friend.”
The modest Rothschild said he regards his constant creative output as relatively insignificant, but his sensitivity and artistry is unmistakable. Despite a medical degree and a psychiatric practice, in his heart, Rothschild is definitely an artist.
Stained Glass in Watercolor is on exhibit at Zack Gallery until April 27.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Last week, one of the largest and most influential social service agencies in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside became a centre of turmoil. The government moved in and fired much of the leadership of PHS (Portland Hotel Society) Community Services Society after an audit – in which the agency provided tepid cooperation – found the agency to have squandered vast sums on travel and luxuries for staff.
A routine audit by B.C. Housing late last year raised enough red flags to bring in an independent auditor. In 2013, the society received $18.7 million from the provincial government and $2.27 million from the federal government. Overall, PHS is a $28 million a year operation, which runs hundreds of provincially owned housing units in the city’s poorest area, intended to provide stable housing for individuals who had been left to the rapacious slumlords who once ruled the area.
In addition to the constellation of renovated hotels in the area, the society operates Insite, Vancouver’s (in)famous safe injection site, where people with addictions can find a safe place and sanitary equipment to use, and help in the event of an overdose. Insite is also an entry point for people to access primary care medical treatment and a range of treatment, housing and community supports.
According to the organization, during its 23 years of operating in the Downtown Eastside, deaths by drug overdose have fallen dramatically, as have HIV infection rates, while life expectance has increased by 10 years. These are extraordinary outcomes and one of the saddest results of this scandal is that the important work of this organization has been tarnished by the actions of its leadership.
The four top managers – who oversaw more than 300 staff – and all eight members of the organization’s board of directors left their positions last week. The four managers were earning between $120,000 and $160,000 a year, and received an additional 30 to 40 percent in remuneration for vacation pay and statutory holiday pay. This is not necessarily out of line – what rankles most are the expenses the audit uncovered, and which the senior staff felt no need to justify, including providing receipts to the auditors.
Mark Townsend, who, with his wife Liz Evans, was co-executive director of PHS, reportedly racked up high meal and travel expenditures. The auditors, KPMG, in a more-than-100-page report, noted: “The PHS declined to provide the associated credit card receipts … PHS also reiterated, among other things, their view that provision of these receipts was unnecessary to complete a proper review of these charges. We respectfully disagree.”
KPMG cited dozens of suspicious expenses, including a trip to New York City by Townsend and Evans, who stayed at the Plaza Hotel, accumulating a $9,266 bill. The purpose of trip, according to KPMG, was entirely summed up as: “Activities related to other PHS social initiatives.”
Another PHS senior staffer enjoyed a $5,832 Danube River cruise. Over three years, staff restaurant bills averaged $1,927 per month, to a total of about $69,000. An expense that resonated immediately was a trip to Disneyland for (now-former) PHS manager Dan Small, his (now-estranged) wife Jenny Kwan and their children. Kwan is the member of the B.C. legislature for the riding that encompasses the Downtown Eastside and, despite the potential for conflict of interest or misallocation, Kwan said in a teary news conference on the weekend that she had no idea that the Disneyland, and another, vacation were at least partly funded by PHS.
These incidents are doubly troubling, not just because the misallocations of funds have hurt the people they were intended to help, but because they have the potential to harm these individuals further by reinforcing the perception that money put into the Downtown Eastside is going down a hole without commensurate results. In fact, PHS has done and will continue to provide vital services that improve life for many of our city’s most disadvantaged. Our hope is that this sad situation will result in improved oversight and more scrupulous management not only of this important organization, but of all the agencies serving this area – and, frankly, all nonprofits, especially those receiving government funding.
We should also remind ourselves that these events do not grant us the right to wash our hands of events in that troubled neighborhood. The concept of anei ircha kodmin means it is a primary obligation of our tzedakah to do what we can to ameliorate suffering of the poorest in our local community. May this incident and the probable further investigations serve to rebuild our confidence in how public and private funds are spent in the Downtown Eastside so that these agencies will continue to make the changes needed for the people there.
Several athletes have recently been condemned for employing “the quenelle,” a one-armed salute critics say is a neo-Nazi gesture. Originated by a notorious French antisemitic comedian, the gesture, named for a French fish croquette, sees the perpetrators folding an arm across their chest with the other arm extended downward. Defenders say it is does not have racist connotations but is merely, depending on the telling, an “anti-establishment” gesture or an offensive move roughly equivalent to the middle finger. It has apparently been popular for years among French young people, but has risen to prominence after numerous incidents on the playing fields of Europe. American basketball star Tony Parker, who is from France, may have brought the quenelle to North American attention. He apologized, claiming he did not understand the gesture’s political or racial implications. What the quenelle means, according to a French Jewish communal leader, is clear and threatening.
“The gesture has gained popularity amongst young people, and reunites extremists from the Islamist camp, the extreme right and left, as well as revolutionaries with one common objective: the fight against the ‘Tel Aviv-Washington axis’ as well as Jewish power and Zionism,” Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, director of the Paris office of the American Jewish Committee, told JNS.org.
The act of folding an arm across the chest is an oblique move that, to the untrained eye, seems innocuous enough. This has allowed many, if not most, of the public figures caught performing the gesture to claim they did not know what they were doing. On the other hand, those who post to social media pictures of themselves doing the quenelle in front of synagogues, Holocaust memorials and the Jewish school in Toulouse, France, where a rabbi and three children were murdered in 2012, know precisely the significance of the salute.
French government officials are flummoxed about what to do. The country has extensive legal proscriptions against the promotion of racial hatred and the expression of hate speech, but the silent simplicity of the quenelle may, in some ways, endow it with its power while making it especially challenging to outlaw. The French government is pursuing means to ban the comedian who created the quenelle, Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, from performing or speaking in public. Of course, “outlawing” racism is rarely effective, and the apparent spread of the quenelle is a reminder that France and other European countries have a lot of work to do in confronting hatred.
If those who perform the quenelle gesture are sometimes able to hide behind ignorance and ambiguity over its meaning, another troubling sports-related incident is unambiguous.
A Dutch football (i.e., soccer) team jetted off to Abu Dhabi for a match, leaving one of its players behind in the Netherlands. Dan Mori, a defender for the Arnhem-based team Vitesse, is an Israeli Jew – and Emirates officials told the team Mori would not be permitted to enter the country. The team went anyway, asking Mori to stay behind.
In the team’s defence, the communications director claims the team “stays away from politics and religion. We have always done this. We are a soccer club.”
There may well be a damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t aspect to situations where external forces demand that people take a stand, or don’t. In sending the team to the game without its Israeli player, the team in no way stayed away from politics; they implicitly endorsed the racist policies of the United Arab Emirates.
Just as some quenelle perpetrators say they didn’t understand the meaning behind their actions, the Dutch soccer team may view the Emirati diktat as a position based on regional geopolitics of which Arnhem footballers know little. In fact, the exclusion of Israelis from Arab countries has always had the distinctive aroma of something more invidious than mere politics. It smells of the same effluence that has seen almost every Jewish community chased out of the Arab world in the past several decades.
People can say they do not understand the implications of their actions, plead innocence and insist they do not get involved in political disputes. But actions have consequences, and we each have an obligation to educate ourselves about the bad company we may join with our own seemingly innocent actions.
There is a saying in politics that when you’re explaining, you’re losing. So it should be an extraordinarily bad omen for Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, in the early days of her election campaign, to be forced to declare: “The Parti Québécois is not an antisemitic party.”
The defence was necessary after the clearly written views of one of Marois’ candidates became widely known last week. Louise Mailloux, a college philosophy instructor and Montreal-area Parti Québécois candidate in the April 7 Quebec election, is a staunch supporter of the PQ’s secularism policy. The party is proposing a Charter of Values that would prevent displays of religious affiliation – kippahs, turbans, hijabs, for example – by civil servants. The crucifix that stands at the front of the Quebec National Assembly would remain, interpreted by the PQ not as a religious statement but as a symbol of the province’s cultural heritage. Likewise, presumably, the enormous illuminated cross that bears down over Montreal from atop Mount Royal.
Mailloux, however, goes somewhat further than most secularists. One might call her a secular fundamentalist. She has written that circumcision is equivalent to rape. (In fairness, she said the same thing about baptism.) A particular interest of hers is kashrut, which she has called “robbery,” a “rip-off” and a “tax” paid “directly … to the synagogue.” (She says the same about halal certification.) She has demanded that kosher and halal products be banned because, she believes, they artificially inflate prices and the revenue from certification goes to fund “religious wars.”
It’s useful to be reminded of the kind of ideas that emerge from those with animus toward identifiable groups. A moment on the darker reaches of the internet reminds us that the nature of bigotry quickly twists into convoluted, bizarre and arcane conspiracies. There is an increasingly small market for ideas that express outright hate. That may have worked in past eras, but people and society have changed. To gain traction, such expressions now require some imagination. The “kosher tax” conspiracy theory is an ideal example. Take an issue about which the general public has only the vaguest awareness and build a dramatic and devious story around it. But this story is not new. It’s been most prominently pedaled by the Ku Klux Klan. Yet it is not as fringe an idea in Quebec as we might like to believe. When a provincial commission looking into “reasonable accommodation” of minority rights in Quebec, the Bouchard-Taylor commission, delivered its report in 2008, it explicitly mentioned the “most fanciful information … circulating among Quebecers” about kosher food. (In fairness, the Bouchard-Taylor hearings showcased an encyclopedic array of bad ideas held by Quebecers about a whole range of minority groups.)
When Jewish organizations heard of Mailloux’s views, they reacted with predictable outrage. In a party press release, Mailloux apologized – just not for her ideas.
“I never wanted to offend or hurt anyone,” Mailloux said. “If that has happened, I very sincerely apologize.”
Hours earlier, the PQ rescinded the nomination of one of its other candidates for online comments against Islam and supportive of the French far-right leader Marine Le Pen. But when Mailloux’s views became a top story, Marois stood firmly with her.
“She supports our secular charter and I appreciate her support,” Marois said, not hesitating to add that Mailloux “is an eloquent writer” and “I respect her point of view.”
It is always better to shine light on rancid ideas than to allow them to fester in hiding. Never more is this true than in the midst of a democratic election campaign. Given that this election campaign is shaping up to be largely about two issues – the future of Quebec in Canada and the future of minority rights in Quebec – Mailloux’s ideas could hardly have come to light at a better time. The voters of Quebec will make their opinions known on April 7.
Of course, even the democratic voice of a free people does not always reflect the best of human nature. Given the tenor of Quebec attitudes toward minorities and the fact that we are discussing the preparation of meat, a dictum comes to mind not from the Talmud, but from the sage of Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin, who said that democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for lunch.
Earlier this month, Kaplan’s Deli & Catering at 5775 Oak St. closed. On March 6, there were three signs on the door, one noting that the locks had been changed, and two concerning monies that had to be paid within five days. On March 18, the signs were still there. The doors were still locked. The property management company was continuing its search for new tenants.
Whether or not one frequented the deli, it is sad to see it go. Opened by Ida and Abrasha Kaplan in October 1967, Kaplan’s (with variations on what descriptors followed the name) was a veritable institution in the community. Its opening was heralded with a two-page spread in the Jewish Independent’s predecessor, the Jewish Western Bulletin.
Owners of two Pheasant Delicatessen locations at the time, the Kaplans kept Pheasant’s longstanding 4030 Cambie St. location until, it seems, from the pages of the JWB, April 1969, when it was taken over by Sigy and Molly Robbins. It looks like Pheasant lasted until 1972, when the Pyrogy House starts being advertised in the Bulletin at 4030 Cambie St.
The Kaplans bought Pheasant from Helen and Jack Finkelstein in 1962. The Finkelsteins had owned it since 1952. The for-sale notice the year prior noted the deli’s “good turnover” and “illness reason for selling” – the Finkelsteins bought it from Mrs. Sarah Nager, who seems to have been the first Jewish proprietor of the deli that first appears in the B.C. city directories in 1947.
The Kaplans opened Kaplan’s Delicatessen & Restaurant, “[j]ust a couple of stores over from their former Oak and 41st location (their popular Pheasant Sandwich Bar and Delicatessen),” reads the Oct. 20, 1967, article on the opening. With a seating capacity of 58, the restaurant’s modernity and beauty was lauded, as was its family atmosphere.
In the March 19, 1981, JWB, Mr. and Mrs. Serge Haber ran an ad announcing Kaplan’s new management, and “the introduction of new delicacies from Montreal and Toronto to the already large list available.” As did the Kaplans, Serge and Elinor Haber would run holiday greetings and advertise regularly in the JWB.
In 2000, Haber sold Kaplan’s to Marshall Cramer, in part, Haber told the JWB at the time, because Cramer agreed to keep the staff and run the business as it had been in the past.
Cramer had the store at 5775 Oak St. until 2012, when Howie English took it over. Full of optimism when interviewed by Menschenings’ Alex Kliner, English would not succeed in his hope to “make Kaplan’s the most famous deli in North America.” Unless someone in the community buys the name and reinvents the restaurant, he’ll have been its final owner.