J Street president and founder Jeremy Ben-Ami. (photo from J Street Facebook page)
In what many observers will see as the de facto expression of mainstream U.S. Jewry’s outlook on J Street, members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on April 30 voted 22-17 (with three abstentions) to reject the membership application of the self-labeled “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby. J Street secured the votes of only about a third of the Conference’s 50 members.
The 42 Conference members in attendance in New York exceeded the 75-percent quorum needed to hold the vote, but J Street fell significantly short of the required threshold of a two-thirds affirmative vote from the Conference’s full membership. The result that 25 organizations either voted against J Street or abstained meant that half of the Conference’s members declined to support J Street’s application.
“The Conference meticulously followed its long-established Process and Procedures Guidelines in considering J Street’s application…. The present membership of the Conference includes organizations which represent and articulate the views of broad segments of the American Jewish community and we are confident that the Conference will continue to present the consensus of the community on important national and international issues as it has for the last 50 years,” said Conference of Presidents chairman Robert G. Sugarman and executive vice-chairman/chief executive officer Malcolm Hoenlein.
Honoring one’s parents is one of the Ten Commandments. In Judaism, respecting and deferring to our elders is not just a value, it’s the law. That said, the opportunity to honor our elders in front of the entire community doesn’t come around very often. Which is just one of the reasons Louis Brier Jewish Aged Foundation’s Eight Over Eighty is so unique.
On May 25, noon, in the Great Hall at the Vancouver Law Courts, LBJAF will honor eight individuals/couples in their eighties who all have one thing in common: “They have each led by example.”
Four of the honorees are featured in this article: Dr. Marvin and Rita Weintraub, Rita Akselrod, Dr. Jimmy White and Chaim Kornfeld. Next week’s Jewish Independent will feature profiles of honorees Dr. Arthur and Arlene Hayes, Stan and Seda Korsch, Samuel and Frances Belzberg, and Serge Haber.
“I know the eight and they are wonderful,” event chair Mel Moss told the Independent, noting about the planned celebration, “Eight over Eighty is modern, yet staged in a traditional way. It is a tribute. It is light and bright yet respectful, it is a vibrant, swinging and ‘with it’ event.”
Dvori Balshine, LBJAF director of development, said, “This will be an event that the community has not seen before. People have been saying, ‘What a brilliant idea!’…. We came up with something fresh, in a new place and at a new time of day.” Even the nomination process, she added, was incredibly well received by the community
RITA AND MARVIN WEINTRAUB Books and education
Marvin Weintraub was born in Poland and came as a child to Ontario, where he ultimately received a PhD in plant physiology. Rita (Enushevsky) was raised in southwestern Ontario, near Niagara Falls, and graduated in sociology and philosophy. Both studied at the University of Toronto, where they met. They married soon after.
Settling for a decade in St. Catharines, which at the time had a Jewish population of about 500, together they started an adult education series and Rita launched a Jewish library in the synagogue that doubled as a community centre. Some of the librarians still working at the desk were originally trained by Rita.
“I have great faith in the value of education of all kinds, but particularly for Jewish adults and for youngsters,” said Marvin, who taught in the synagogue’s afternoon school. They both became active in Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) and she in National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW).
Marvin took a job at the University of British Columbia in 1959 and the young family moved west, immersing themselves in synagogue and community life. Rita became vice-president of Beth Israel Sisterhood and NCJW, taking special interest in global concerns like Vietnamese boat people and Soviet Jewry. She also brought her dedication to adult education, which she championed in Vancouver as she had in Ontario.
Marvin was elected president of Beth Israel and, later, Pacific Region chair of CJC, during which time he focused on addressing challenges of Jewish schools and helping teachers upgrade their skills.
Invited to the USSR in 1968 by the Soviet Academy of Science to lecture on plant virology, Marvin took the opportunity to smuggle in a suitcase filled with tefillin, tzitzit, siddurs and machzors. He attended shul morning and night for a month, using his serviceable Yiddish to identify daveners who could use the items.
In 1973, with Dr. Sid Zbarsky and Dr. Robert Krell, Marvin began the process that would lead to the first professor and program of Judaic studies at UBC, which now has three full-time and one part-time faculty.
In 1978, he was awarded a Queen’s Medal for service to Canadian science.
When the Jewish community centre at Oak and 41st was being designed, Rita convinced planners to set aside space for a Jewish library. Then Marvin set up a lunch between Rita and Sophie Waldman, during which Rita convinced Waldman to memorialize Waldman’s recently deceased husband, Isaac, with a library. Rita remains chair of the Friends of the Waldman Library and the annual fundraising telethon, which she began 20 years ago. She also has been a volunteer with Shalom BC, welcoming newcomers to the local Jewish community.
Of all her achievements, the library holds a special place for Rita. “It’s the focal point of the JCC,” she said.
RITA AKSELROD From tragedy to action
Rita Akselrod’s early experiences were forged by life in Romania, first under the Nazis, then under communism. At seven, she was barred from attending public school because she was Jewish, so a makeshift Jewish school was formed. She and the other Jews in Bacau were forced to wear the yellow star, were subject to curfews and forbidden from assembling in groups. The men in her family were conscripted into forced labor.
By the time Rita was ready for high school, the Russians had taken over and she was taken by her uncles to high school in Bucharest. Her brother wanted to go to university, but the communist regime wanted him in the army, so he fled the country. The rest of the family soon fled also, making their way to Budapest, then trekking through cornfields to an American-controlled zone before landing in a displaced persons camp in Austria.
There, she met “my Ben,” who she recently lost after more than a half-century of marriage. The couple made their way to Israel. But life was difficult in the state’s earliest years, and more so when Rita lost a baby three days after birth. They chose to move and were helped by Leon Kahn, a friend of Ben’s who had settled in Vancouver.
“Leon Kahn sent us papers and we came to Canada,” she said, acknowledging that when she first looked at an atlas, she was alarmed. “I couldn’t believe that we would come to Vancouver when I saw Alaska close by. When I was in Israel and we were corresponding, I said, ‘What’s Vancouver? It’s cold. It’s near Alaska.’ But we did come.”
Kahn set them up in a room in a shared house that had seen many Holocaust survivors and Ben began collecting junk with a horse and buggy, which he would then sell to used-goods dealers. “My husband wasn’t a businessman,” Rita said. “He came from camps and ghettos, he didn’t know the city, he didn’t know the business.”
But the family succeeded, and later sponsored Rita’s parents, brother and his family from Israel.
In 1979, tragedy struck, when the Akselrods’ daughter, Sherry, was killed by a drunk driver. She was a parole officer who had offered to trade shifts on Dec. 26 so a colleague could spend Christmas with family. The loss spurred Rita to bring the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving to British Columbia. She also became involved in grief support, which was taking place in a church.
“I was speaking to a rabbi and said, ‘Can we have it in the Jewish community? Do I have to go to a church?’” Jewish Family Service Agency started a grief support group and Rita attended. Eventually, they asked her to take it over, which she did for many years as a volunteer. As well, she has been actively involved in substance abuse education programs.
She and Ben were founding members of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre and, for more than 20 years, Rita coordinated the speakers program, which has allowed tens of thousands of young British Columbians to learn about the Shoah directly from survivors. She is a past president and a life governor of the centre.
She also spent nearly three decades on the board of the Louis Brier, stopping only because she needed to devote more time to Ben when he developed Alzheimer’s. She is immensely proud of her work on denominational health, which ensured that faith-based agencies like the Louis Brier were treated appropriately when the province devolved health delivery to regional boards. A master agreement was signed between the province and the boards, and Rita noted that it “was signed in the Louis Brier, in front of the synagogue, with a priest there and other members of the denominations.”
She is a recipient of the YWCA Women of Distinction Award for community and humanitarian service and, on the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, she was awarded with honorary Canadian citizenship in Ottawa as a Holocaust survivor who has contributed to Canadian life through remembrance and education.
JIMMY WHITE Make friends with change
Change has been a constant for Jimmy White. He was born in Ohio but the family moved to Saskatchewan during the Depression. His father ran a store before thinking better of it and moving the family to the coast. Jimmy studied at UBC but, since there was no medical school here at the time, he headed to Toronto to become a doctor. While there, he met Beulah and they returned to British Columbia as a married couple.
Jimmy saw even more of Canada through assignments at military hospitals during the war. When peace came, he took up practice downtown and became an institution in the community.
Beulah passed away young, leaving Jimmy and two daughters. He would later marry Miriam Brook, who was widowed with three girls of her own. Sadly, Miriam, too, has since passed away, but Jimmy said he is thrilled to have five daughters.
In addition to his work and family obligations, Jimmy has been a leading voice for Zionism, as an activist in Young Judaea, then the Vancouver Zionist Organization. He was president of the Jewish Community Council (precursor to the Federation) and of the Richmond Country Club. He was a key fundraiser who helped obtain the land for and construct the JCC at Oak and 41st.
These days, he is the head of the residents council at the Weinberg Residence and enjoys yoga, concerts, bridge, art classes, detective novels and debates on politics and language.
The guiding advice of his life came from his mother, he explained. “She said, ‘Make friends with change.’ In her day, there was a horse and buggy. Then the automobile came in. What a big change that automobile made. And now computers and everything! If you don’t make friends with that, you’re left behind. You don’t have to like it, but you have to make friends with it.”
He was amused by a young visitor recently who came to the Weinberg Residence from a Jewish day school. “One of the kids said to me, ‘You’ve had so much change in your lifetime, now there’s no more change left, there’s no more to discover … iPads and iPods,’” Jimmy recalled. “I said, ‘It’s just beginning.’ He said, ‘What else is there to discover?’ I said, ‘That’s exactly what they said when the automobile was invented and when the computer came along. Somebody’s going to invent an antigravity pair of shoes.’”
CHAIM KORNFELD Never give up
Chaim Kornfeld was born in 1926 in a small town in northeastern Hungary, the youngest of eight children. While his father ran a grocery store and his mother managed the large, observant family, Chaim studied at cheder and yeshivah – until 1944. It was at that comparatively late period in the war when the Jews of his town, and of much of Hungary, were placed in ghettoes before being transported to camps.
In May 1944, Chaim was separated from his parents, sisters and grandmother on the platform at Auschwitz. Dr. Josef Mengele sent Chaim to the right and the rest of his family to the left. His father’s last words to Chaim, before he and the others were sent to the gas chambers, were “Never forget that you are a Jew.”
Chaim survived Mauthausen and Gusen, where he worked in an airplane factory. He survived a death march just four days before liberation in May 1945. Of his large family, only Chaim, a sister and two brothers survived. He finished his secondary education in Budapest and was preparing to enter rabbinical school when the Jewish Agency offered him the chance to go to Israel. He leapt at the opportunity, joined the Israeli air force, and was a founding member of Kibbutz Ma’agan. But educational and professional advancement was limited in Israel’s early years and Chaim took his brother up on a sponsorship to Canada.
In Saskatoon, Chaim taught Hebrew school in the afternoons and evenings, while attending university. During this time, he corresponded with a young woman he had met in the Israeli military, Aliza Hershkowitz, and convinced her to join him on the Prairies. Chaim and Aliza would raise four children (a fifth passed away in infancy).
While at the University of Saskatchewan law school, he served as camp director for Camp B’nai B’rith in Pine Lake, Alta. Practising law continuously since 1960, he is proud to be one of the oldest in his profession.
Chaim is a board member, past president and life governor of the Louis Brier Home. He shares his story of survival and accomplishment with students at the annual high school Holocaust symposium and he swims six days a week at the JCC, where he has been a member for 40 years.
For years, he has served as a Torah reader at the Louis Brier synagogue. Responding to the honor of being recognized for his dedication to community, Chaim said he is embarrassed by the fuss. “I don’t look for honor,” he said. “I never looked for kavods.”
His advice for others? “I would advise people – and I still do in my office sometimes – to never give up. That is my motto in life. Whatever comes up, I won’t just lie down and take it.”
He emphasized his enduring love for his wife Aliza and added, “I always come home for dinner.”
Shiloh Winery overlooks the Shiloh River and the Judean Hills. (photo from shilohwinery.com)
The second in a short series featuring nine Israeli wine producers features Mayer Chomer of Shiloh Winery, situated above the Shiloh River overlooking the Judean Hills.
Mayer Chomer: Shiloh Winery was opened in 2005. That’s when we started running operations. We started in a very small garage, making boutique, very selected wines. I think that we’ve been making good product, good wines. Now the winery has built up to 10,000 cases and we’re growing.
Yossie Horwitz: Can you tell a little about the winemaker, the philosophy of the winery, what types of wines you’re trying to make?
MC: So, we started wanting to make just quality wines. We’re not interested in the volume business. We wanted to make very, very unique wines, quality wines, and obviously we wanted to distinguish ourselves from the rest of our colleagues and competitors. So, our philosophy is really making no compromises in our process: making and investing as much as we can in our equipment and, obviously, trying to be and to make always the best wines possible based on our grapes, our varieties that we have available and, you know, we invest a lot of money planting our vineyards so we can really control our quality. We’ve been just – thank God, you know – selecting good grapes based on a lot of research and making the wines that you see in the market. Thank God, people are acknowledging it by its quality.
YH: What types of wines do you make? Do you make single varietals or blends?
MC: We do have several series. We have the Mosaic, which is our flagship, a blend of five different grapes. We have a series that we call Secret Reserve. We have a merlot, a shiraz and a cab – straight cab. We also have the Shor series. Shor means bull in Hebrew, and the reason why we call it the Shor is because we inherited the lands of Joseph. It recognizes the bull that he slaughtered in the Bible. We also have barbera, merlot and a cab. And we have a lower blend; we call it Mor. We have a white wine, we have a dessert wine – we have all kinds of range!
YH: What’s special about the terroir where your grapes come from?
MC: I can tell you all the things about my terroir, but I’m going to answer you with a quote from the Bible…. The Bible says that Joseph got an extra blessing from the patriarch Jacob…. You know, many people … comment [o]n the Bible, one of them was Rashi, who was very famous, he asked: “What is so special about this blessing? Why did he [get] this land? [Does] Shiloh ha[ve] an extra blessing?” And, on this spot, Rashi answers, “Because the fruits are sweeter.” So, we have a gorgeous, gorgeous place to grow and plant our vineyards. As a matter of fact, many of the wineries are planting vineyards in Shiloh because of this quality. Outstanding quality!
YH: What are the plans for the future?
MC: Well, continue to do good wine, keeping the quality at all costs. And we want to grow, obviously, but we want to grow as per the request of our customers. If our demand will grow, because people will continue acknowledging our quality, then we’ll grow. Otherwise, we will stay where we are, always doing different things and new important things that can be attractive to our customers and clients. But always keeping proportions, meaning we want to be always a quality winery, as opposed to a mass winery.
YH: Can you tell us a little about how you got started in the wine business?
MC: To make this very long story short, I lived in Spain for several years. I was working and doing my PhD. I’m a lawyer by defect!… So I was there and, obviously, Spain is a very important wine region. And every time I would have people over to my house for holidays or for the Sabbath, I was very frustrated that I couldn’t get a good kosher wine. So, back in the [United] States, I was a little bit naïve and I thought, “I’m going to change the world! And I’m going to have just good quality wines, and I’m going to go to Israel and make a good winery.” And that was the beginning of it.
YH: When was this?
MC: This was in 1997. I was in Spain until 2001. So then, when I moved to Israel, I was working for a couple of years and then I decided, “OK, let’s make the dream come true!”
YH: What other regions inform your style of winemaking?
MC: I don’t know if I can answer that. I love French wines as well as Italian wines, which are very different, although they are the Old World. I really respect the New World wines: New Zealand, California. I think it’s important to have a combination of New and Old, just not be limited, but actually just making the best wine possible. We like to make wines that we know customers will appreciate, because customers nowadays start looking for something new, something interesting and attractive. At the same time, you always have that romanticism of good quality, classic wines.
– This article is reprinted courtesy of the Grape Collective, an online publication for all things wine. For more information, visit grapecollective.com.
Wine has been made in Israel since biblical times. The Book of Deuteronomy lists seven blessed species of fruit, including “the fruit of the vine.” Israel’s Mediterranean climate boasts many microclimates, which foster a diversity of wine styles.
The modern Israeli wine industry was greatly influenced by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild, owner France’s Château Lafite Rothschild. He started making wine in Israel in the late 19th century, importing French vine varieties and winemaking knowledge, and founding Carmel Winery, today the largest wine estate in Israel.
By the late 1980s, most Israeli wine was low quality, used for sacramental purposes. But the 1990s saw a huge boom in the establishment of quality-focused boutique wineries that were taking an artisanal approach. Today there are hundreds of wineries producing in aggregate more than 10 million bottles per year. Three producers are responsible for 80 percent of the production: Carmel, Barkan and Golan Heights Winery.
This short series features nine Israeli producers about the wines they make, their individual path into winemaking and their terroir. The first in the series profiles Irit Boxer-Shank of Barkan Winery, the second-largest winery in Israel.
Christopher Barnes: How did you get involvd in wine?
Irit Boxer-Shank: Well, it’s from the family. My father used to own the winery, Barkan. Now, he’s just the CEO.
CB: How did that change?
IBS: I started out as the owner’s daughter. I grew up there since I was 10, so I did everything in the winery, from putting on the labels all the way to the vineyards, walking with the workers, and then the winery was sold to a bigger company. My father is the CEO. I’m the winemaker. We’re still there doing our stuff, and we love it, but it’s not family-owned now.
CB: Tell us a little bit about the terroir where your wines are made.
IBS: Well, because we’re a big winery, we do wines from all over the country, from the northe[rnmost] part to the south, including in the desert. We have all kinds of terroir. We have all the varieties. We do a lot of experiments. That’s what’s fun about being a winemaker in Barkan. I love it because I have fruit from all over the country. I have all kinds of varieties, and I can play all the time.
CB: How many different varieties are you making right now?
IBS: A lot of them, and we do a lot of experiments. We bring a lot of new varieties. There is now a malbec that is brand new. We’re going to bring it to the [United] States. Pinotage was the first different variety that we started growing in Israel, then we have marselan and caladoc from south of France. Well, we’re playing a lot with it. Some of them that are not as good, we’ll go back, and we’ll do something else, but we have a lot. Of course, the cabernet sauvignon is the king, it will always be the king, but we do a lot of varieties.
CB: I interviewed a winemaker in Australia who is using 60 different varieties in his wines. I said to him, “How do you keep track of it? How do you know what’s working and what’s not when you have that many?” Is it more of a challenge to make wine with a lot of different types of grapes?
IBS: I don’t think so. It’s like asking a person who has a lot of children, “How do you keep up with them?” It’s like you grow them from the beginning to the end, so you know each of the wines just like you know a person, all the way, very intimately.
CB: You mentioned malbec. How do you decide if you’re going to try a new variety?
IBS: It’s a long process. We go and try it in different countries. We see the soil and the climate that they’re growing it in, and the best versions of them – like malbec in Argentina, in the south of France. And then we go back home and see if there are very similar [conditions], as similar as we can in Israel, and then we plant just a small plot. If it’s good, we’ll plant more, and then there are trials in the winery to see how to ferment it and what kind of barrels to put it in. It takes us at least eight years to start an experiment on a variety and maybe take it to the market.
CB: Do you buy a lot of fruit?
IBS: No. One of the more interesting things about Barkan Wineries is that we grow everything ourselves. We are also the biggest grower in Israel because all of the grapes are ours, which gives us full, complete control in the winemaking.
CB: Do you have a philosophy of winemaking? Is there something that you feel is your stamp in terms of the process and the styles of wines that you make?
IBS: Well, I discovered that we like using technology to do more of the Old World style. We’re trying to have all the fun from all the different worlds, the New and the Old! That’s something that really characterizes Israelis. We do fusions – that’s what you call the Israeli kitchen cuisine: “the fusion.” We take something from the new and something from the old, and do something from Israel. I guess, in winemaking, it’s also like that.
– This article is reprinted courtesy of the Grape Collective, an online publication for all things wine. For more information, visit grapecollective.com.
Dancing in Jaffa follows dance instructor Pierre Dulaine as he teaches 11-year-old Israelis and Palestinians. (photo from Tiara Blu Films)
Going back at least as far as 2001’s Promises, most recent documentaries that have opted for an optimistic slant on the Israeli-Palestinian situation have centred on children. The next generation, to be sure, is the universal embodiment of hope. But betting on today’s children to solve a problem down the road is tacit acknowledgement that today’s adults aren’t up to the task – or so those who see the Mideast glass as half-empty might say.
Both perspectives are skillfully interwoven in Dancing in Jaffa, a nuanced, feel-good study of cross-cultural fence-hopping in which the best traits in human nature vie with street-level realities.
The movie’s motor is world-champion ballroom dancer and teacher Pierre Dulaine, who returns to his hometown after many years with the self-proclaimed goal of giving something back. Perennially dressed in a starched shirt and tie, and fluent in Arabic, English and French, the grey-haired Dulaine is a cosmopolitan alien in a working-class town.
The indefatigable Dulaine is a lifelong proponent of partnered dancing as a way to develop social skills and self-confidence but, in Jaffa, he’s determined to apply his pedagogy to an even greater good. His plan is to teach merengue, rhumba and tango to 11-year-olds at various schools, culminating with young Jewish and Palestinian Israelis dancing together in a public ballroom dance competition.
“This is how you learn to work with another person,” Dulaine offhandedly remarks to one child while correcting his form. It’s a lovely sentiment, one that will gradually sink in after the student has become comfortable with the steps and can actually look at and interact with his or her partner.
There’s an unpredictability and bumpiness to Dulaine’s mission, at least initially, that negates the comforting formula that some viewers will expect. Most of the kids are shy, embarrassed and downright resistant to engaging with the opposite sex, even without the Islamic prohibition on touching someone of the opposite sex. (None of the Jewish kids are Orthodox.)
While boys will be boys and girls will be girls, Dulaine perseveres with firmness, as well as affection. Progress in the classroom can be hard to discern, however, so the film provides glimpses of the home lives of three children to suggest their individual blossoming.
Hilla Medalia, the prolific Israeli-born producer and/or director of such documentaries as To Die in Jerusalem and Numbered, again displays her talent for gaining access, winning trust and crafting small, revealing moments. The most memorable are political rather than interpersonal, and occur on the street rather than in someone’s home. The arrival in town of an intentionally intimidating group of right-wing Israelis chanting some variation of “Jaffa for the Jews” provides buzz-killing evidence that conciliation is not everyone’s goal.
An illuminating sequence contrasting the observance of Independence Day at a Jewish school with its description as the Nakba (Catastrophe) at a Palestinian Israeli school likewise underscores Medalia’s preference for presenting reality rather than peddling fantasy.
In this regard, she and Dulaine are perfectly in step. He was four years old when he left Jaffa with his Palestinian mother and Irish father during the War of Independence, and he’s chagrined but not surprised when his request to re-enter his family’s old home is summarily rejected by the Jewish owners.
Consistent with the theme that the future is more important than the past, Dulaine’s presence in the film steadily diminishes. We, and he, are left with the satisfaction that individual children have grown and glimpsed possibilities they couldn’t have imagined. A small victory, perhaps, compared to a lasting resolution to the ongoing conflict? Even a pessimist wouldn’t have the chutzpah to call a child’s transformation a “small victory.”
Dancing in Jaffa, in Hebrew, Arabic and English with English subtitles, played at the Vancouver Jewish Film Festival in November 2013 and has yet to have a Canadian release date scheduled. It’s on a limited release in the United States. The film currently has a rating of 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
Michael Fox is a writer and film critic living in San Francisco.
In 1963, landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander was appalled when she saw park workers at Jericho Beach burning logs that had broken away from booms. She called up Bill Livingston, the Vancouver Park Board superintendent, and suggested placing the logs along the sandy beaches for people to sit on. Livingston thought it was a good idea.
Fifty years later, it’s often hard during the summer months to find a vacant spot along one of the logs lining Vancouver’s beaches. Changing the landscape of the city’s beaches is one of many ways in which Oberlander has contributed to making Vancouver one of the world’s most livable cities. However, despite being Canada’s preeminent landscape architect, Oberlander remains unknown to most of the people who enjoy the benefits of her work, and Susan Herrington, professor of architecture and landscape architecture at the University of British Columbia, sets out to raise Oberlander’s profile with the recently released biography Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, Making the Modern Landscape.
The book comes after several public tributes and publications about Oberlander’s achievements, including an extensive oral history available online at the Cultural Landscape Foundation (tclf.org) and a biography for teens called Live Every Leaf: The Life of Landscape Architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander (2008). Oberlander has also co-authored two books: Trees in the City (1977) and Green Roof: A Design Guide and Review of Relevant Technologies (2002).
Herrington’s fascinating book goes one step further, unraveling the numerous influences throughout Oberlander’s life that shaped her professional development. Herrington places her innovative urban designs, her use of plants and her commitment to sustainability in the context of trends in landscape architecture over the past six decades. The biography is, as Herrington asserts, as much a history of modern landscape as a portrait of Oberlander’s life.
An impressive collection of photos and landscape sketches are sprinkled throughout the book to flesh out the scholarly account. The list of stunning accomplishments in a stellar career is balanced with references to some of her grand ideas that did not work out.
But the book will disappoint those looking for a popular biography with a window into her personal life; Herrington has taken an academic approach to Oberlander’s life. We become well acquainted with what the landscape architect accomplished. We are told a few delightful anecdotes about her life. But we do not learn much about her feelings or her personal relationships. If you want to get to know her in a more personal way, check out the oral history at the Cultural Landscape Foundation.
Also, the book does not pay much attention to Oberlander’s commitment to Israel and her work within the Jewish community. One of the founding members of Temple Sholom, she held a place of honor at High Holiday services for many years, reading the story of Jonah with her late husband, architect and urban planner Peter Oberlander. She designed the synagogue’s garden as well as the biblical garden at King David High School with its plants reflecting the various species and geographic regions of the Land of Israel, as described in the Torah.
Oberlander has been involved in more than 500 projects, including the design of more than 70 playgrounds. Her mother Beate Hahn was a professional horticulturalist and author of several books about gardening with children. Oberlander from an early age did drawings for her mother’s books. She has said she decided at the age of 11 that she wanted to design gardens.
Herrington includes a design of a wooded-parkland that Oberlander completed when she was 15 years old. Already at that time, Oberlander was busy in the garden, learning from firsthand experiences about the benefits of organic gardening, companion plants and attracting birds and insects to mitigate pests.
Oberlander was born in 1921 in Mulheim, Germany, a small city along the Rhine River. Herrington’s book ignores the prominence of her grandfather in Germany (a politician and professor and the University of Berlin) and the hurdles the family faced before leaving Germany in the late 1930s. The family emigrated to the United States and Oberlander in 1940 went to Smith College, a women’s college in western Massachusetts, to study architecture and landscape architecture. By coincidence, she stayed in a room across the hall from Betty Friedan, who went on to write The Feminine Mystique. However Oberlander’s contact with strong feminists did not turn her into an outspoken crusader for women’s rights.
Herrington emphasizes the significance of Oberlander as one of the first women in a male-dominated profession, but Oberlander never claimed to be a feminist. She told Herrington she never questioned whether a woman could pursue a professional career outside the home while raising her children, she just did it.
Herrington emphasizes the significance of Oberlander as one of the first women in a male-dominated profession, but Oberlander never claimed to be a feminist. She told Herrington she never questioned whether a woman could pursue a professional career outside the home while raising her children, she just did it.
Oberlander went on to Harvard in 1943. A year later, her mother, without Oberlander’s knowledge, asked the university to allow her to take a year off to work in an architectural office. Her mother thought her drafting skills were inadequate. Together, they decided she would take a year off. (The book does not tell us how that intervention affected her relationship with her mother.) Oberlander found a drafting job but was fired three months later and returned to complete her studies. She moved to Vancouver in 1953 after marrying Peter Oberlander.
Bringing together much that has been written with original research, Herrington shows how the landscape of some of Vancouver’s most familiar places (Robson Square and the Museum of Anthropology), as well as prominent national and international landmarks (the New York Times building, National Gallery in Ottawa and chanceries for embassies in Washington and Berlin) came out of Oberlander’s experiences as a child in the Weimer Republic, her exposure to seminal thinkers in school and her contact with leading figures in the profession.
Oberlander’s commitment to exhaustive research, modern design with abstract shapes and unadorned lines, and community involvement in planning were evident from the start of her career in Philadelphia. In design work for public housing, private residents and playgrounds, she saw the role of landscape architects as working for the community, not the wealthy. She shaped spaces to spark the imagination and creativity of their users. Her innovative work on playgrounds, with informal play areas and separated spaces for different age groups and activities, became a standard for progressive play areas across North America.
Even in the early 1950s, her plans reflected strong ecological values, attributes that would become her trademark in later years. Her designs integrated current strands of trees and plants as much as possible and followed the contours of the land. Years later, she set standards of excellence with her work on green roofs and green buildings.
Oberlander paid close attention to how people reacted to landscape design, what feelings were stirred by design and color, to understand how they used the space. She created areas intended to foster creativity and imagination while relating to the local context.
Herrington tracks Oberlander’s professional development as she shapes design to incorporate ideas from psychology, art and ecology. Oberlander paid close attention to how people reacted to landscape design, what feelings were stirred by design and color, to understand how they used the space. She created areas intended to foster creativity and imagination while relating to the local context.
By the mid-1970s, she had moved from playgrounds to urban landscapes that became havens for adults in densely populated areas. Herrington writes about Oberlander’s 30-year collaboration with Arthur Erickson and influences that had an impact on her high-profile projects.
Throughout it all, Herrington writes that Oberlander never lost her commitment to serve all of society. She continued to work on modest gardens for private homes, public-housing projects, playgrounds and landscapes for people with special needs. And, Oberlander has never forgotten her past. “Why would I disregard the very reasons why I joined this profession in the first place?” she told Herrington.
Media consultant Robert Matas, a former Globe and Mail journalist, still reads books. Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, Making the Modern Landscape is available at the Isaac Waldman Jewish Public Library. To reserve this book, or any other, call 604-257-5181 or email [email protected]. To view the catalogue, visit jccgv.com and click on Isaac Waldman Library.
An aerial view of the acropolis of Herodium. (photo from commons.wikimedia.org)
In Israel, water scarcity has long been an issue. Even the Old Testament narrates that the Hebrews complained to Moses about the lack of fresh drinking water (Exodus 17:1-7, Numbers 20:2-13) in the arid Zin Wilderness.
Whether the answer to that particular water problem came from Divine intervention or from human ingenuity or both, the fact remains that the people who populated the ancient Land of Israel figured out sustainable solutions to their water shortages. This article focuses on three historical examples of sustainable water practice.
The first of the sustainable water system to be examined takes you forward in ancient history and north of the Zin Wilderness or Desert (Midbar Tzin, in Hebrew) to Herodium, a hilltop palace and fortress built by King Herod that stood securely at the highest peak in the Judean Desert.
Herodium was constructed more than 2,000 years ago in 23-20 BCE. Needless to say, it was crucial to have access to drinking water in this semi-arid and elevated location, and four vast underground cisterns for rainwater and spring water were carved deep into the mountain. Three of the cisterns were built in close proximity, about 80 feet below the summit. The fourth was hewn slightly above, about 16 feet from the summit. The largest cistern could hold up to 400,000 gallons of water. Access to the three lower cisterns was via the northeast side of the mountain, close to Herodium’s only flight of steps.
Water traveled a few miles from the Spring of Artas to drain into the large pool of Lower Herodium. It was carried uphill on donkeys and emptied into the lower cisterns. There were two ways to obtain water from these cisterns. One, exiting the palace-fortress with empty water skins or jars via the stairs until reaching the opening to the three lower cisterns. Water would then either be carried all the way back or, two, be transported to the opening of the higher cistern, at which point water was (ingeniously) funneled into the reservoir. A bucket attached to a man-made vertical shaft then brought this water up to the palace courtyard. This method was less labor intensive and insured the privacy of the “royals.”
As the nursery rhyme states, “some like it hot and some like it cold.” At Herodium, you had both hot and cold – and more. The Roman-style bathhouse featured a below-floor heating system in both the tepidarium (warm) and the caldarium (perhaps the precursor of the hot tub?), as well as a cold bath (frigidarium), or some kind of Roman bath/Hasmonean ritual bath hybrid, according to a Stanford professor of history.
According to David Mevorah, a curator of a Herod exhibit at the Israel Museum, by installing Roman baths, the king helped spread the importance of washing to the indigenous people of ancient Israel. Moreover, at what is called Lower Herodium (apparently the high-rent district of the day), the enormous pool (referred to by local residents today as El Hammam and measuring 70×45 metres or 230 feet) functioned as a swimming pool, a water reservoir and a small lake for boating, according to historians.
Today, Herodium is no longer a hilltop palace-fortress, but an amazing national park located just south and east of Jerusalem. For directions and hours, call the Herodian National Park at 057-776-1143 or visit parks.org.il.
Another (though more modern) solution to water scarcity is located just across the street from the Jerusalem Theatre at 17 Marcus St. Five large cisterns once serviced the Jesus Hilfe Asyl (what later became known as the Hansen Hospital). The Herrnhut Brothers, German Christians affiliated with the Moravian Church, donated the money to build the hospital in the late 1800s. It housed and treated people who were suffering from Hansen’s disease, a bacterial disease that was misdiagnosed as leprosy.
With the water collected, the 70 hospital patients (plus, in some cases, their healthy children) and the German Sisters of Mercy met all their water requirements, including medical needs, personal sanitation, in the kitchen and laundries, and for garden and farm maintenance.
Under the supervision of Jesus Hilfe builders, local workers constructed the cisterns, the largest of which was probably built in 1898. When full, it held 15×15 metres of water. In late December 1902, it even overflowed.
The other four cisterns were fed from rain gutters, which began on the hospital roof complex. Rain was collected from the staircase, the cistern roof and even from the road outside the compound’s high stone wall. Two cisterns were built near the laundry; one cistern was built near the southern garden while the others were situated within the main building, in the central courtyard or kitchen area.
With the advent of medicines to effectively treat Hansen’s disease, the in-patient hospital closed. Over the years, it has been an Israeli Ministry of Health outpatient facility and an early-childhood development centre. At present, it is being used as a Jerusalem municipal cultural centre. Inside the facility, you can visit an informative exhibit dealing with the history of the hospital and health care in Jerusalem. For visiting hours and tour arrangements, email [email protected] or call 054-744-6123.
Another ingenious water system is today located in a Ramla (or Ramle) city park. During the early Muslim period, in the early eighth century, Ramla was a strategically significant town, and served as the administrative centre of Palestine. Ramla was close to the road serving the holy city of Jerusalem and the port of Jaffa. Obviously, maintaining control of such an important location meant it had to be populated. This included providing inhabitants with a viable source of water.
Entering the city park, you’ll catch a glimpse of some long, rounded structures peeking up from the ground. When you descend the steep, narrow metal staircase (that now covers the original stone) leading to the pool, you take a step back in time, into the early Muslim period. This building, however, was not just any old storage unit. This elaborate reservoir, built in 789, is decorated with heavy brick, stone arches and a domed roof. Down below, you’ll find yourself facing an underground dock. It could pass for a medieval fort or a house, except that the floor is missing. In its place, the different chambers are filled with water deep enough for row boating! Altogether, the place gives you a mini-taste of Venice, Italy, except that at Ramla’s Pool of Arches, you never see the sky.
Today, we know arches make the sturdiest of structures, but this was still a novel idea back in the eighth century. Indeed, this construction proved so successful that the 400-plus-metre Pool of Arches withstood the devastation of the 1068 CE earthquake. You can see five of the original six vaults that covered the pool. Fifteen square pillars and 16 cross-shaped pillars support the vaults. Pointed arches exist between each pair of pillars. To compliment the arches, the architect designed small windows above them. These windows were likewise shaped as pointed arches. Locals drew water from 24 square openings in the ceiling.
There are various theories about the reservoir’s original source of water. Some claim it was filled only with rainwater. A more compelling assertion is that water flowed 10 kilometres from Tel Gezer via Caliph Sulayman ibn Adb al-Malik’s water conduit (in Hebrew referred to as an amah). Two points are clear: (1) it wasn’t water from any adjacent spring and (2) we are talking about a part of the world that is hot and dry for months at a time. The engineering and maintenance of this cistern was so successful that archeologists believe it was actively used for 150 years.
The site has a somewhat obscure history and goes by a variety of names, including the Pool of St. Helena and the Pool of Al-Anziya. In the early 20th cenutry, the British repaired the pool, but it was the (post-statehood) Ramla Municipality that converted it for boating.
After you visit the Pool of Arches, make note of the continuation of the city’s old subterranean water system. Ancient water cisterns are located in the White Tower’s large courtyard.
Visitors aged 2 and up can take a boat ride; life jackets are provided. For hours and directions, call 08-977-1595, 08-920-7586 or 052-851-0715. A helpful map can be found at ramla.muni.il/eng.
Deborah Rubin Fields is an Israel-based features writer. She is also the author of Take a Peek Inside: a Child’s Guide to Radiology Exams published in English, Hebrew and Arabic (take-a-peek-inside.com).
The recent deadly shooting in the parking lots of two Jewish facilities in Overland Park, Kan., exposed “glitches” in the Kansas City Jewish community’s security plan, according to the head of the local Jewish federation.
Todd Stettner, president and chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, said he was glad to see how competently both facilities handled the situation, quickly going on lockdown in accordance with previous training they had received.
But the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Kansas City and Village Shalom senior living centre were unable to quickly relay an emergency warning to everyone in their communities – similar to the emergency text-message and email systems used on school campuses throughout the United States.
More troubling in hindsight was the lack of a planned response for the specific attack Frazier Glenn Miller allegedly carried out on April 13 – a shooting in the two facilities’ parking lots.
“We practised for one eventuality, which was a shooter coming into the building,” said Stettner, “but this shooter didn’t come into the building. It’s always hard to plan for random kind of things, and we have to take a look and see what we can do better.”
The community will undergo an audit by U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) personnel and receive input on changes they should make in security procedures. They will also receive help in developing and training to handle a wider range of emergency scenarios.
Paul Goldenberg – director of the Secure Community Network, a Jewish Federations of North America affiliate responsible for addressing security concerns in Jewish communities nationally – took part in a series of meetings between local leaders and agencies such as the FBI and Homeland Security to help answer the community’s concerns about safety and to advise on security improvements.
The 74-year-old Miller allegedly shot to death William Lewis Corporan, 69, and his 14-year-old grandson, Reat Griffin Underwood, outside the JCC. He then proceeded to nearby Village Shalom, where he allegedly killed Teresa Rose Lamanno, 53, before being arrested by police.
A fundraiser for the Louis Brier Home and Hospital is urging community members to make a two-year commitment so the facility can rely on sustainable funding to plan for the future.
“We are asking for people to consider making a commitment for two years so that we can tell the Louis Brier ‘we have raised this much money, we will know that it’s there for two years, you go ahead and make the plan you need to make that will take maybe two years to come to fruition and to give the maximum benefits to your residents,’” said Bernard Pinsky, co-chair of the Sustain, Maintain and Enhance campaign.
The last campaign raised $600,000 in each of three years, Pinsky said, and organizers hope this effort will be at least as successful, if not more. The campaign has been underway for several weeks and culminates at the end of this month. A major celebration – Eight Over Eighty – takes place May 25, when eight individuals and couples will be recognized for lifetimes of dedication to building community.
The campaign is important to the facility, Pinsky said, because the calibre of the home and hospital depends on the support of donors. The Louis Brier does not receive funding from the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver allocations or from United Way, Pinsky said, and the Jewish-specific components of the home’s character are not funded by government allocations.
“In order to make sure that we have the best facilities for seniors in our community the Louis Brier Aged Foundation needs to raise the money to distinguish it from other seniors facilities – many of which are very good, but they do not have the Jewish component,” he said.
Pinsky identified programs and activities such as kosher food, daily services, Shabbat services on Fridays and Saturdays, Yiddish and Hebrew classes, Jewish-themed discussion groups, films, lectures and performances as examples of the type of “extras” the fundraising supports. Louis Brier also has top-notch physiotherapy, art therapy and music therapy programs, he said. The differences made by these services are significant, he added.
“Most people in the Jewish community have had someone connected to them who has been in the Louis Brier and we also know from people who have loved ones, relatives or acquaintances in other facilities that the Louis Brier is a step above in many respects,” said Pinsky. “And we owe it to the people who established this community to give them the kind of dignity and the kind of retirement and life that they would want at this stage of their lives and it’s only us who can help because nobody else will pay for that.”
Harry Lipetz, co-chair of the campaign with Pinsky, emphasized the Louis Brier’s dependence on the generosity of the community. “The Louis Brier Home and Hospital doesn’t have memberships such as synagogues [do] to draw upon,” said Lipetz, who is also president of the Louis Brier Jewish Aged Foundation. “We simply rely on the entire Jewish community.”
Lipetz said the Louis Brier’s reputation is due to the resources provided by community support. “The level of care that’s provided is probably rated the highest in British Columbia due to the additional funding that the foundation provides annually,” he said. “I am satisfied that our efforts really do bring quality of life to people, as we say, ‘adding life to years and years to life’ is something we are accomplishing.”
Lipetz asks people to take the initiative to support the campaign. “We have a limited ability to reach out to individuals,” he said. “It is a relatively large Jewish community. We would hope that individuals would come forward whether they are contacted or not to support this campaign.”