The Vancouver Art Gallery’s Art Rental and Sales space is not yet a well-known feature, but the nonprofit program has been quietly promoting emerging and mid-career Canadian artists on the gallery’s main floor. According to the website, “Whether you are you staging a home for sale, have an empty wall in your board room or love contemporary art but can’t decide what to purchase, you’ll find what you’re looking for in the Vancouver Art Gallery’s Art Rental and Sales Showroom. With more than 1,000 works by 200 Canadian artists, Art Rental and Sales has the largest selection of copyright-cleared, original art for rent in British Columbia…. All the artwork in the rental program is consigned by the artists, who receive the majority of the fees collected. The remaining proceeds are donated to the Vancouver Art Gallery.”
Darcy Mann is the next artist to have a feature exhibit in the space. Her charcoal drawings of British Columbia forests have been so successful with both the rental and sales part of the program that VAG offered to feature her work for three months.
Mann hasn’t always focused on forest drawings. She started her artistic life with figurative compositions. In an interview with the Independent, she talked about her life and the evolution of her themes.
“I always liked art. When I turned 10, I got a birthday gift from my mother – a pencil and some drawing paper. It was the best birthday gift of my childhood, the only one I remember,” she said.
After high school, she continued her art education in British Columbia and Nova Scotia, and later received an MFA in Texas. In 1987, in the course of her graduate studies, she had to spend a term abroad and she chose Israel, an experience that made a huge impression on the young artist. She and her husband, who is also a professional artist, then went to New York, where they lived for 14 years. “That’s where we really understood what art was,” she said. “But, of course, we couldn’t make a living as artists. We both had daytime jobs. I worked for an advertising agency. We kept practising our art and participated in several group shows. There is a wonderful place there for Jewish artists – Synagogue for the Arts.”
When their firstborn son was three, they returned to Vancouver, but Mann didn’t return to work. With the support of her husband and his family, she became a stay-at-home mom and a full-time artist. “Many artists experience financial challenges. We are willing to sacrifice material things, to live simply, for the sake of our art and our kids,” she said.
“I stopped painting and began drawing when my son was born – [I] didn’t want the chemicals in the paints to interfere with nursing the baby,” she said. “I also switched to forest scenes from figurative. You need to do much less talking when you paint forest. I don’t like talking and I don’t like discussing my art or explaining anything.”
Even when her son was older and she resumed painting with oils, she concentrated on the large forest landscapes. But she never gave up on drawing.
“Paintings and drawings are both satisfying in different ways,” she explained. “They complement each other. Painting is fluid. You can move paint around, remove some, add some, use different brushes, layers. A painting can change. It is chaos. While drawings stick to order, drawings are solid. When you use pressed charcoal, it’s there, on paper. You can’t erase it. But I need both. When I paint, I miss drawing. When I work on a drawing, I need to paint.”
Mann paints in her Marpole studio. “I paint and draw from photographs. I love going out with my camera during summer and fall, when it’s warm outside. Especially fall – it’s when I take the most interesting pictures. Not in winter though – too cold.”
After printing her photos, she starts the next phase of the process – assembling collages. Once she has the photographs, “… to get an image I want, I have to separate the background from the foreground” of each image. “I go through dozens of pictures. It’s like solving a puzzle, selecting which pieces fit where. I cut the pieces and glue or tape them together. I do it all by hand – I don’t trust computers. The whole thing is like taking a ball of mixed-up necklaces and untangling them, before creating a new image.”
Mann’s paintings and drawings are straightforward on the surface, but the underlying mystery shimmers in most of her compositions, a hint of a story, a token of a concept, as if the artist didn’t really abandon the figurative but just concealed it behind a bush or in the midst of this thicket.
“For me, esthetics is the most important,” she said. “The best of my works happen when I allow myself to lose conscious control, when my hand and my intuition take over. The idea is still there, but not controlled by me.” That’s why she often listens to audio books when she is at her easel. “With an audio book engaging my thoughts, it’s easier to let the intuition fly.”
Several years ago, she answered the VAG Art Rental and Sales call for artists and sent them some of her forest drawings, thus beginning a long association. Mann is the featured artist at the VAG Art Rental and Sales Showroom from Feb. 3 to May 2. Her artist talk, on March 4, 7 p.m., is free and open to the public.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Yiddish erotic poetry. It’s not a phrase that trips off the tongue, perhaps because Celia Dropkin may have been its only practitioner. There were Yiddish poets and writers in Eastern Europe and America who addressed risqué topics, but few, if any, in ways as explicit as Dropkin.
Faith Jones, a Vancouverite who teaches library science and who was previously a Yiddish bibliographer in the New York Public Library’s Jewish division, will discuss Dropkin and the craft of translating Yiddish erotic poetry at the first-ever Limmud Vancouver Feb. 9, one of 42 presentations on a hugely diverse array of topics over a full day. With two other scholars, Jones translates Dropkin’s work into English.
Dropkin (1887-1956) came to New York from Belarus in 1912, and immersed herself in the Bohemian life that was thriving there. It was at this time, as well, that she shifted from writing in Russian and began a career as a noted Yiddish poet and writer. This switch in vernacular appears to have been for practical reasons, not cultural or political ones, Jones explained.
“She wrote in Russian because she was educated in the gymnasium, in the Russian education system, and her literary influences were largely Russian,” said Jones. “To her – she came from a very poor family – being able to go to gymnasium was really quite an accomplishment and the Russian language was itself a status symbol. Her ability to use it artistically was something that she would have been very proud of.”
Once in New York, though, her audience would have been overwhelmingly Yiddish-speaking, and so it was probably a practical decision to switch. “I don’t think Yiddish to her was the beginning and end of being Jewish,” said Jones.
While nobody appears to have become rich writing poetry in Yiddish, Dropkin was comparatively a “commercial” success in terms of being widely read. She made some cash, particularly during the Depression, writing relatively mainstream short stories. Nevertheless, said Jones, “Her poetry was her real art, but you could not make a living on Yiddish poetry.”
Why, though, was this traditionally educated woman so apparently ahead of her time on sexual matters?
“She was educated in this different way – she was educated in a Russian way, not in a Jewish way,” Jones noted. “She also had a fair bit of freedom.” Dropkin’s father died when Celia was a child, and her mother was not particularly religious. The household appears to have been fairly open-minded and attuned to modernity. Her writing was different as well, Jones speculates, because she was a woman and also because she did not have the traditional Hebrew education that male poets of her time did.
“She was kind of freed because of being a woman,” said Jones. “She didn’t have a classical Hebrew education and so she was able to make up a different way of being a writer and wasn’t as constrained by expectations that, if you are a Jewish writer, your writing would be laced with references to the Bible and things like that.”
There were other poets writing about sexual matters, but in a much more veiled manner. A female Orthodox poet, for example, expressed her sensual ideas through depictions of hair, which would have resonance from an Orthodox female perspective. Dropkin was not so subtle.
“Dropkin had a poem, for example, in which it certainly seems to me that what she is describing is sadomasochistic sex. I don’t think she’s at all attempting to cover that up,” Jones said. “Other poets would just refer to the bed and some longing and maybe there is a stroke.”
Dropkin was published in the Yiddish journals of the day, despite the sometimes-scandalous nature of her work. “A scandal is always good for circulation,” Jones laughed. “So they were happy to have it. They were Bohemians, so they were going to publish that sort of thing.” There was a sense, among male critics and other poets, Jones said, that Dropkin’s work might bring disrepute to the Jews – even though, because it was written in Yiddish, only Jews could have read it. But criticism of Dropkin from other Jews, mostly male, was probably due to more straightforward reactions.
“It was shocking, a woman speaking about her physical body, her desires, her lust,” Jones said. “That was too much for them.”
Dropkin’s art, it seems, imitated her life. “She was really, really a Bohemian,” Jones said. “She really lived that life pretty fully, notwithstanding being married, which did not appear to have been any kind of difficulty. So, for example, I was able to meet with [Dropkin’s now deceased oldest son] many times and interview him, and I asked at one point, ‘Was your father at all upset by your mother’s sort of freewheeling life, having lovers, having a social life that was sort of separate from his?’ He said, ‘No it didn’t really bother him,’ and I had the impression that, you know, it went both ways.”
Jones warns attendees at next month’s Limmud conference that her session will not be appropriate for those who blanch at strong language and sexual imagery. But while the topic is erotic poetry and the craft of translating it, Jones said she has a broader ambition in presenting the topic.
“I would like people to think about re-envisioning our forbearers as people who were more like us. We need to really explore the people in our past and, as a historian, this is what I hope for most: that people will explore the past, understanding that these people were not like us, but in other ways were very much like us.”
About the same time that Dropkin was writing steamy poems in New York, the klezmer scene was heating up Montreal. Emily Lam, an independent researcher dedicated to the history of Jewish music in Montreal, will present on the subject at the Limmud conference – and some of her findings will surprise.
One of the first things to understand about klezmer music is that those who traditionally played it didn’t call it klezmer, Lam said. The word klezmer simply means musician. So when musicians were performing a tune, they called it by the kind of tune it was – a freylech, a doyna, a hora. For present-day practitioners of the traditional Jewish tunes, however, as for the rest of us, klezmer is a handy shorthand.
“It’s what they call it because everybody calls it that these days,” said Lam, who has interviewed as many Montreal musicians from the early part of the 20th century as she has been able to track down. Among these artists, mostly now in their 80s and 90s, the “true” klezmorim were those from Eastern Europe and the musicians who learned directly from those masters. What we call klezmer, according to Lam, is a music that represents “homeland and folk … synonymous with a particular place and time that was physically left behind, yet … instantly accessible through the music’s soundscapes, which connected the Jewish immigrant to their shtetl and the Yiddishkeit of their ancestral past.”
As klezmer has seen a dramatic revival in recent decades, Lam said her interviewees are pleased that the music is being performed and heard again, but they invariably say something is missing.
“Everybody is very happy that more people know about this kind of music, more people know about the history of it,” Lam said. “My interview subjects are happy that they still get to hear it if they choose to. They can go to concerts, they can go to festivals and events. They’re really happy about that. However, they feel that when they hear it, something about it isn’t the same. They always express that there is a lack of a certain feeling, a feeling within the music that they can’t hear, that they did hear with other musicians – their predecessors, their mentors. So when they hear things from the so-called revival, while they enjoy it, something about it is lacking and they always express … there’s just this feeling that’s missing.”
The progression of klezmer involved the original immigrants teaching it to their children, with a predictable downturn as the decades passed. “New immigrants want to carry on those traditions because that’s what they know,” Lam said. “There was a tradition that you learn this music and how to play it from your father and your uncles, relatives. The people that I interviewed were the children of the true klezmorim [the immigrants who brought the music from Eastern Europe]. They carried out the tradition but, obviously, as times change, people’s interests, especially children of new immigrants, what they wanted, how they see their lives, was different from Eastern Europe.”
Second-generation Canadians might have wanted the traditional tunes at their weddings, perhaps because their parents wanted it, but they also wanted more contemporary, popular music.
“As time progressed, there were less traditional tunes and more contemporary tunes,” said Lam. “It’s part of being an immigrant and having children in a new country. You try to instil these traditions. They’re going to choose their own path.”
But traditions can morph in unexpected ways. Weddings and bar mitzvahs may be a showcase for klezmer, but making a living in early- to mid-20th century Montreal as a musician meant being ready to take any gig that came along. Fortunately, klezmer can be a heavily improvisational musical form, similar to the vibrant jazz scene that was emerging in Montreal.
“If you were a klezmer, you were a versatile musician,” Lam said. “So [for] lots of Jewish musicians, especially going into the ’30s and onward, there’s lots of crossing over with jazz music in Montreal.”
Lam started her research during her undergraduate studies at the University of Ottawa, mentored by Prof. Rebecca Margolis, who specializes in Yiddish culture in Canada, among other topics. Lam, who grew up in Peterborough, Ont., is the daughter of immigrants who fled Vietnam during the war there. She does not directly attribute her interest in this subject to her family’s experience, but she sees a parallel. “I certainly can understand this sort of looking for something that reminds you of your homeland,” Lam said.
Many people can name the most famous Jewish baseball players – precisely because there have been so few of them. Despite this, there are striking parallels between the practice of Judaism and the practice of baseball, according to Vancouver rabbi and University of British Columbia faculty member Hillel Goelman, who will present at the Limmud conference.
“I’m not going to just talk about Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg,” he said. “That’s not what the discussion is about. The discussion is that there are aspects of Jewish spiritual understandings, about deeper meanings of Judaism and some of the deeper meanings of baseball and that we can learn about one from the other.”
There is a teaching in Jewish spirituality that views everything as being at an intersection of time and space and a journey of the soul, said Goelman. “Our whole history is about a journey through space, whether it’s Abraham to Egypt, or the Jewish people coming out of Egypt, or making aliyah to the Land of Israel,” he said. “In Jewish spirituality, in kabbalah, we believe that there are different realms of reality and that each of those can correspond to another level of reality that you can get higher and higher and higher until you end up at the highest, which is getting back home, and home is in the wholeness and the holiness of the home space.”
Baseball is also about an individual’s odyssey, he said. “Baseball is really about the individual, where it’s the individual who scores the points, scores the runs. The ball doesn’t have to go into a hoop or a net or anything like that. It’s the individual who goes through a journey through space,” he said.
There’s also an intergenerational aspect, he added, in that Judaism is passed down from parents to children. The love of baseball is also conveyed transgenerationally. In addition, Judaism and baseball both have “two aspects of gaining knowledge,” Goelman said. One aspect focuses on the legalistic proscriptions – “what you’re commanded to do, commanded not to do, the appropriate behaviors” – the other is a very rich mythological lore.
“There is a mythology in Judaism, there is a mythology in baseball, that goes beyond the literal meaning of what’s happening,” he said. “Judaism gives us some very powerful metaphors and images and practices, which really resonate very deeply with us in terms of what is the Sabbath and why is that important and what are the High Holidays and why are they important, what is a bar mitzvah and why is that important, why is a wedding ceremony important. There is a lot of symbol and symbolism and mythology. And in baseball, as well, there’s a lot of symbol and symbolism and mythology. I think that’s why many of us find it so riveting.”
The recent news of New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez’s use of performance-enhancing drugs offers a vignette into another aspect of mythology.
“Here’s another giant among us who has fallen, who has succumbed to whatever kind of temptation it was, of ego, of achievement, of seeing himself above and beyond the rules,” Goelman said. “And this is sort of the karmic consequences of someone who exceeds the boundaries and doesn’t really understand the beauty and the mythology of the game.”
LimmudVan ’14 is the first annual Limmud event here. The phenomenon, which began in London, has spread to dozens of cities worldwide. The Vancouver conference, which sold out weeks in advance, will feature more than 40 separate presentations on a huge array of topics. See next week’s issue for more on Limmud. Full details at limmudvancouver.ca.
Imagine not being able to hear. The silence. The isolation. Now imagine the sounds of kids singing, playing, asking questions at story time – even though they are deaf or hard of hearing. These and other happy sounds filled the halls and classrooms of the Children’s Hearing and Speech Centre of British Columbia when the Jewish Independent recently toured the centre, which just celebrated its 50th year.
Founded in 1963 as the Vancouver Oral Centre for Deaf Children by a group of parents with educator Hilda Gregory, CHSC’s mission statement describes the facility as “a family-focused clinical and educational centre that teaches deaf and hard-of-hearing children to listen and talk, giving them the skills and confidence they need to achieve their fullest potential.”
According to the centre’s website, “Gregory was one of a handful of deaf educators who believed that even children with profound hearing losses, wearing hearing aids, had enough residual hearing that they could learn to listen and talk. The model of small classes and individual sessions … is the one we still use today.”
When the centre was started by Gregory, explained Janet Weil, executive director/principal of the CHSC, “There were no services for children under the age of 5. Hilda opened the first preschool for deaf children in Western Canada. What she did wasn’t radical. There were programs throughout the world teaching deaf children how to speak. What she did do was create a place where deaf children, with the very best amplification (hearing aids) available and focused educational strategies, could learn to listen and talk. Parents were key, and so parent education was a requirement. Parents were very involved. They knew [it was] something special, and they did everything they could to support the well-being and sustainability of the centre.
“Things have changed,” she said about developments over the last 50 years. “Children with profound hearing losses weren’t being identified as DHH [deaf or hard of hearing] until they were sometimes 3 or 4 years old; and, with a more moderate loss, until they were in school and it was obvious they were missing things.” Technological changes since the centre was started, however, “include newborn screening, which identifies a hearing loss at birth, [and has been] mandated in B.C. for all newborns as of 2009. There is a small window of learning when the child is very young. Neural plasticity means a child can access auditory information with prescriptive hearing aids and cochlear implants. The first three years are critical to get information to the brain that can be processed with relative ease. It makes all the difference for typical language and speech development – [it] impacts everything, especially reading.”
Weil’s uncle, born in the early part of the 20th century, was deaf. There was “no access to amplification, but my grandmother worked diligently with him to learn to talk,” said Weil. “He went to Stanford, graduated with a degree in English literature and became an editor of college textbooks. [He] never learned to sign, was a lip-reader and talker; very active in the San Francisco Jewish community. My mother was also a teacher of the deaf, so it’s really the family business.”
About how she landed in Vancouver, Weil said, “I was recruited to the centre in 2010. I had been a teacher of the deaf in the SF [San Francisco] Bay area for many years, a consultant to schools for the deaf in the U.S., and was the early childhood education director at the Brotherhood Way JCC in San Francisco for six years.”
The Children’s Hearing and Speech Centre of British Columbia offers programs that are not offered anywhere else in Western Canada, she said. “We see children from birth through Grade 12,” she said about what makes CHSC unique. She explained that its “various programs address individual needs,” and the goal “is to integrate the children into the mainstream of school and society with learning readiness skills and confidence.”
“What we know about the brain and sensory learning underscores our commitment to a team approach that includes occupational therapy; weekly sessions for identified children to address processing, balance, motor skills, learning differences. On-site audiology services make sure children have ongoing access to sound.”
The centre has a “cognitively based curriculum that fosters critical thinking and independence,” she added. As well, it recognizes that many of the deaf or hard-of-hearing children at the centre – more than 40 percent, she said – have additional learning needs. “What we know about the brain and sensory learning underscores our commitment to a team approach that includes occupational therapy; weekly sessions for identified children to address processing, balance, motor skills, learning differences. On-site audiology services make sure children have ongoing access to sound.”
Weil sent the Independent a document she had written about CHSC’s work with sensory integration. About the children who have additional learning needs, she wrote, “In addition to having a hearing loss, they also have vestibular dysfunction. The vestibular system, which sits insides the cochlea or inner ear, can be compromised when there is a hearing loss. The vestibular system influences nearly everything we do. That is why it is often referred to as ‘sensory motor integration.’
“For deaf and hard-of-hearing children, it impacts auditory language processing so that children have difficulty discriminating likenesses and differences in what they hear, as well as an inability to comprehend what is being said in a noisy environment, follow directions and express themselves with ease.
“Occupational therapists work with children to strengthen their vestibular systems, which improves their ability to play and learn,” she wrote.
In addition to occupational therapy, CHSC offers “speech and language therapy, parent education and support, before- and after-school care, music education and summer camp,” according to its website. First Words is CHSC’s program for children from birth to age 3; preschool and “language acceleration programs provide group and one-to-one sessions addressing each child’s specific learning needs. Small, individually focused, on-site classes begin at age 3 and continue, if recommended, through the primary grades.”
To help with children’s transition out of the centre, into public school or post-Grade 12, Weil explained that there are social groups for the kids, there are workshops for the high school to post-secondary jump, and the centre provides itinerant teaching services to children in independent schools. Some graduates participate in fundraising activities, she added.
One of CHSC’s itinerant students is Rina Pinsky, 15, who is in Grade 10 at King David High School. The youngest of four children, Pinksy told the Independent that she was diagnosed when she was 2 years old. “The type of hearing I have is called bilateral profound hearing loss, which means I am completely deaf in both ears,” she said. “On my left ear, I have a cochlear implant and I use an FM system at school, which helps me hear teachers better.”
She started going to the Children’s Hearing and Speech Centre when she was 3 years old, and left after Grade 1. “Since then,” she said, “I’ve had a hearing resource teacher from there. I still go back to the school to visit or volunteer for events.”
“I went to CHSC to learn how to talk, listen, and how to interact with other people. Now, with all of that support, I am doing well in school and I’m able to be independent. I read from the Torah at my bat mitzvah in 2011, I am part of United Synagogue Youth (USY) and I have been to two Jewish summer camps (Camp Solomon Schechter, 2007-2012, and Camp Miriam, 2012-present). All of this would never have happened if it weren’t for the staff at CHSC.”
About how the CHSC has impacted her life, Pinsky said, “I went to CHSC to learn how to talk, listen, and how to interact with other people. Now, with all of that support, I am doing well in school and I’m able to be independent. I read from the Torah at my bat mitzvah in 2011, I am part of United Synagogue Youth (USY) and I have been to two Jewish summer camps (Camp Solomon Schechter, 2007-2012, and Camp Miriam, 2012-present). All of this would never have happened if it weren’t for the staff at CHSC. I see Tricia [Eckels] twice a week at my school. We work on homework, editing papers, talking about my cochlear implant and FM system. Sometimes, we talk about current events.”
When asked to share something about her interests and/or extracurricular activities, Pinsky told the Independent, “I love to cook and bake, which makes me want to go to culinary school after high school. Once a week, I do hip-hop at the Jewish Community Centre [of Greater Vancouver]. Traveling is one of my favorite things to do.”
Pinsky is one of the hundreds of students that CHSC has taught since it opened. Among Weil’s “blue sky” plans for the centre is reaching out to more children, with more training programs for new teachers and satellite programs (classes outside of Metro Vancouver). This would be in conjunction, of course, with maintaining the services currently being offered. The third annual Family Concert, for example, will raise funds to support CHSC’s audiology program. “We do not receive government funding for this critical service,” explained Weil, “so we must fundraise to be able to provide this vital service that ensures our children are always able to hear.”
The family event has grown from one to two performances, both of which this year will feature children’s entertainer Jennifer Gasoi, a two-time Juno nominee whose Throw a Penny in the Wishing Well was nominated for a 2014 Grammy for best children’s album. (For interested readers, the Grammy ceremony takes place this Sunday, Jan. 26, 8 p.m., and will be televised.)
“What an idea,” said Weil about the fundraiser, “having a music concert to support children who are deaf and hard of hearing because they can listen and sing and make music. A great way to highlight what is possible…. A great way to reach out to families in the community for a fun day and to let them know something about what we do.” The event at the JCCGV’s Rothstein Theatre will also feature clowns, games, auction items and face painting.
Weil said the suggestion to invite Gasoi came from committee member Marla Groberman.
“Marla worked with Jennifer’s parents, Dr. Ivan and Laurie Gasoi, and it was agreed upon,” said Weil. Given the local connection and the fact that many of the production committee members are involved in the Jewish community, Weil said that the JCCGV “seemed like the perfect place to have the concert.”
The concerts will take place on April 12, at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Early-bird tickets (until Feb. 28) are $13.50/$16.50, or $50 for a family of four (two adults and two children under 17). For tickets and information, visit childrenshearing.ca.
Left to right: Laureen Harper looks on as her husband receives a ceremonial souvenir key from the Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein in the Knesset’s Chagall Room. (photo by Ashernet)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu welcomed Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife, Laureen, to Israel earlier this week, acclaiming him as “a great friend of the Jewish state.” During his official four-day visit to Israel, Harper addressed the Knesset and also held a meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. This was Harper’s first visit to Israel.
During his speech to the Knesset, Harper spoke out strongly in defence of Israel. “People who would never say they hate and blame the Jews for their own failings or the problems of the world, instead declare their hatred of Israel and blame the only Jewish state for the problems of the Middle East,” he said. “This is twisted logic and outright malice. Some civil-society leaders today call for a boycott of Israel – most disgracefully of all, some openly call Israel an apartheid state. Think about that. Think about the twisted logic and outright malice behind that. A state, based on freedom, democracy and the rule of law, that was founded so Jews can flourish as Jews and seek shelter from the shadow of the worst racist experiment in history,” he said.
“But what else can we call criticism that selectively condemns only the Jewish state and effectively denies its right to defend itself while systematically ignoring – or excusing – the violence and oppression all around it? This is the face of the new antisemitism. It targets the Jewish people by targeting Israel and attempts to make the old bigotry acceptable for a new generation.”
He continued, “Canada will defend Israel’s right to exist, because Jewish people deserve their own homeland after generations of persecution. Jewish people deserve to live safely and peacefully in that homeland. And, just as Canada supports Israel’s right to self-defence, Canada supports a just and secure future for the Palestinian people.” Earlier that day, Harper announced a $66 million aid package for the Palestinians.
Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood in Israel’s Knesset Monday and delivered a speech that was, predictably, a summation of his government’s unconditional defence of Israel’s right to exist in peace.
While Harper received thunderous applause, his speech was significantly disrupted by a couple of members of the Knesset. At home, while Harper’s position is deeply pleasing to Zionists, it has been condemned as a betrayal of Canada’s traditional “honest broker” role, our middle-of-the-road approach to this issue and many others.
There is no doubt that Harper’s government has moved the country’s foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction, but seeing this as an abandonment of a balanced approach requires selective hindsight. Was Canada’s position “balanced” when we maintained our “go along to get along” approach that saw us vote in support of endless rounds of anti-Israel resolutions, year after year, at the UN? No.
Since the formation of Israel, the Liberal party has governed Canada for some 20 more years than have the Conservatives, including Harper’s seven-plus years as prime minister. Looking at the three main parties, from left to right, it’s the NDP, Liberals and Conservatives. The Liberals are in the middle. It should not be surprising that the party’s position on any topic should, on average, be closer to the middle, or more “balanced” than a position taken on the same topic by the NDP or Conservatives.
In other words, our vaunted Canadian neutrality is a figment of the ideological imagination. It is a chicken-and-egg scenario to determine whether Canadians’ overall middle-of-the-roadness caused so many Liberal federal governments or whether our middle-of-the-roadness is the product of many years of Liberal governments. The question of identity is a complex one, but Canadians are perceived as polite, apologetic, and meek rather than aggressive. This is a perception that, most likely, has allowed us to act as peacemakers in the international arena where others have failed. (It also helps, no doubt, that Canada has never been strong enough militarily on its own to pose a threat to any government with which it may be working to resolve a conflict.)
On many fronts, Harper and his Conservative government have thrown into question what it has meant to be Canadian thus far, from social policy to arts funding to foreign affairs. But, as Canadian voters have given him a majority government, he and his party are obviously not the only ones interested in reshaping the Canadian identity and changing its role in the world.
Harper’s political opponents – and those activists who tend to side against Israel – insist that Canada is losing face internationally, that our long-husbanded reputation for not making waves is hurting us on the global stage. Keeping in mind that Canada remains a small power whose influence, such as it is, has always come through the world’s respect for our principled stands, not because we have the biggest army or the largest population, this may be true as regards our role as a peacemaker. However, the jury is still out on how it will affect our international standing to be a country that speaks out strongly and unequivocally in support of our friends.
The argument that “true” friends are unafraid to criticize and, therefore, Canada is not being a true friend of Israel in its supposedly unquestioning support (we are not privy to what happens behind closed doors) holds some sway, but, at this point, there is no shortage of people letting Israel know what it is ostensibly doing wrong. The international discourse is so lopsided and biased against Israel that, despite any disagreements with Harper we as Canadian Jews might have on any number of his domestic or foreign policies, it is hard not to be proud – both as Canadians and as Jews – that he is so publicly and steadfastly supportive of Israel, rather being a bit player in the European and American chorus of ambiguity.
Harper’s seemingly uncharacteristic Canadian lack of balance on this matter of international affairs appeals to us. Whether or not his lonely voice is having any impact – positive or negative – in re-balancing a wildly unbalanced discourse doesn’t even matter. It just feels good to hear it.
Profeti della Quinta is at Vancouver Playhouse on Feb. 2. (photo by Susanna Drescher)
The documentary Hebreo: The Search for Salomone Rossi (Joseph Rochlitz, 2012) introduced last year’s Vancouver International Film Festival audiences to Profeti della Quinta, a Switzerland-based Renaissance and early Baroque vocal ensemble, primarily composed of Israelis. It followed the quintet to the Italian town of Mantua, the birthplace of Salomone Rossi, the first-known – and elusive – early-17th-century composer of Jewish music, who also was “one of the most renowned composers and performers at the court of the Gonzaga dukes.” The film’s audiences were treated to the ensemble’s musical preparations ahead of their concert of Rossi’s works at the Palazzo Te, where his music might have originally been performed, as well as by illuminating commentary from historians and musicologists on Rossi’s music and its impact.
On a North American tour to support their latest recording, Il Mantovano Hebreo, featuring Italian madrigals and Hebrew prayers by Rossi, Profeti della Quinta is in Vancouver Feb. 2, presented by Early Music Vancouver at Vancouver Playhouse. The first half of the program includes a screening of the 45-minute 2012 documentary; the program continues with the live performance of Rossi’s music. Members of the ensemble appearing in the Vancouver recital include Doron Schleifer and David Feldman, cantus; Lior Leibovici and Dan Dunkelblum, tenor; Elam Roten, bass and musical direction; and Orí Harmelin, chitarrone (a large bass lute).
Rotem, the ensemble’s music director, who also composes and plays the harpsichord in addition to the bass, spoke with the Independent about the quintet’s newest release, the experience of making the film, and their upcoming recording Rappresentatione Di Giuseppe E I Suoi Fratelli(Joseph and His Brethren), a “musical drama in three acts sung in biblical Hebrew,” Rotem’s composition for the ensemble set to be released in March.
Jewish Independent: When and how was Profeti della Quinta established?
Elam Rotem: Profeti della Quinta started while I was still in high school. Around the age of 17, I fell in love with vocal music, and especially the music of the 16th and 17th centuries. It was shortly after that I collected some of my friends and started singing Latin motets in the corridors of the school. The early sacred music that we were singing was a very odd element in an Israeli kibbutz school, but I think that our fellow students liked it.
Later, we were lucky to add Doron Schleifer, who can sing perfectly the soprano lines of 16th-century music and has a most beautiful and unique voice color, different from any other countertenor I know. After a pause, when I was in the army, I studied music in Jerusalem and then joined Doron in Basel in the schola cantorum – one of the best schools specializing in early music. There, we found new colleagues. Not so surprisingly, most of them are from Israel, too. (In this particular tour, we are all Israelis, but in others, it’s not always the case.)
JI: Can you talk about the experience of making that film about Salomone Rossi and what it was like, ultimately, to play his music at the palazzo?
ER: It should be noted that we are definitely not the first to sing and play Rossi’s music – not at all. His Hebrew sacred music is quite common in Israeli choirs’ repertoire, and was also performed and recorded in America. Rossi’s instrumental music is played in many concerts of 17th-century music. However, with our historically informed performance approach, we try to get closer as much as possible (and this is not simple) to the way Rossi’s music may have been performed in his time. Our special combination of knowledge in early music and in Hebrew allows us to read Rossi’s Hebrew music in its original notation (this is something worth seeing and we welcome people after the concert to have a look in the scores).
Moreover, in our new album, Il Mantovano Hebreo, we shed light on Rossi’s most neglected repertoire – his beautiful Italian madrigals. Singing in the palaces of Mantova [Mantua] where Rossi worked 400 years ago was an amazing experience for us. We look forward to further experiences like that in Italy!
JI: Can you speak to what role, if any, music plays in “illustrating” Jewish history?
ER: As far as I understand, the Hebrew music of Rossi is a very local phenomenon that probably stopped not much after its creation, probably around Rossi’s death (circa 1630). Other compositions in Hebrew came up only much later in music history, and not in Italy. However, this was a very interesting point in history – a Jewish musician succeeds in breaking the barriers of society, becomes successful and accepted, and then goes back to his own community and tries to revolutionize the music of the synagogue. In Rossi’s own words, to share with God the talents that were given to him.
JI: There seems to be a movement to work to “uncover history” through performing the work of composers who were (or nearly were) “erased” by history. Can you comment on the experience and responsibility of performing “neglected” music? How does Profeti della Quinta approach this enterprise? How do you make this music accessible to contemporary audiences?
ER: Profeti della Quinta are privileged to be (at least) the third generation of the “early music movement.” However, we believe that if music is “only” forgotten, that alone is not a good enough reason to bring it to life. We believe in good music, and when we find such good music, we want to share it with others. This was exactly the case with Rossi’s Italian madrigals. The purpose of music in the early 17th century was to move the listeners, and this is exactly our aim, as well.
JI: Profeti della Quinta achieves “vivid and expressive” performances by “addressing the performance practices of the time.” Can you explain a little bit more about that approach? Do you try to recreate an experience or to create something entirely new?
ER: This is an important point – it is not possible to recreate early music exactly the way it was done. This is simply because we cannot know fully how it was done. However, there are many things we can do. We strive to understand the compositions better (historical counterpoint and composition techniques), to understand the way music was performed (historical notation, ornamentation practices) and, as much as we can, also the social context and the meaning the music had in the time of its use. Nevertheless, we are aware that what we are doing is a new creation, mainly inspired by the past.
JI: What are some of the challenges of your dual role as music director of the quintet, as well as being one of the musicians?
ER: This is, in fact, quite simple: Before the concert I’m the musical director, but during the concerts I’m one of the performers. The concerts are the easy and fun part!
JI: I’m curious about your composition about Joseph and his brothers. Can you describe what it’s like to compose in Hebrew, while “using the musical language and context” of Italian Renaissance composers? Mazal tov on the recording’s upcoming release!
ER: Thanks, we are all very excited about the coming release of Rappresentatione Di Giuseppe E I Suoi Fratelli (Joseph and His Brethren). Concerning the language, I merely followed Rossi’s footsteps. He was the first to use the Hebrew language within the Christian musical language of his day. For Joseph and His Brethren, I also used the musical language of the early 17th century but with a focus on the newly invented dramatic genre – the opera. It’s a Hebrew Orfeo, if you like! (I intentionally don’t say “Jewish”; the Old Testament’s stories belong to whole of the Western culture. Luckily for me, it’s my mother tongue in which it was originally written, and I’m excited to share it.)
JI: Many leading Israeli classical musicians leave Israel for Europe. How difficult is it to achieve an international reputation while based in Israel? Do any of you participate in the Israeli expat community in Europe?
ER: This is a difficult question. Being in the middle of Europe makes … traveling around relatively easy, and this economical aspect is crucial today. For example, we performed in the U.K. only once, after … winning in the York competitions. We got several calls, but none of the organizers were able to pay the travel [costs]. The situation would have been much more difficult if we were coming every time from Israel.
JI: Your February concert with Early Music Vancouver will be paired with a screening of the documentary film. What’s it like to perform alongside yourselves, as it were?
ER: We love performing next to the screening of the film. The audience actually knows what [they are listening to] and, therefore, enjoys and is moved much more from our performance. It is related to what “early music” is – the more you understand the context, the stronger your experience is. We are looking forward very much to this tour!
Profeti della Quinta is in Vancouver, Feb. 2, 3 p.m., at the Playhouse; there is a pre-show chat at 2:15 p.m. Early Music Vancouver has recently introduced half-price tickets for concert-goers 35 years of age or younger, and rush seats for students with valid ID are $10 at the door. For information and tickets, visit earlymusic.bc.ca.
Left to right: Melanie Preston, Drew Taylor, James Behenna, Don Briard and Deborah Tom, in Deathtrap at Metro Theatre. (photo by Tracy Lynn-Chernaske)
If you like rollercoaster rides, then Metro Theatre’s staging of Ira Levin’s Deathtrap as part of its 51st season is for you. This satirical thriller winds its way through more twists and turns than any ride at the PNE. Levin, who has penned such classics as Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives and The Boys from Brazil, steps it up a notch with this macabre mix of Monty Python meets Sleuth, with a twist of Macbeth thrown in for good measure. Stephen King called Levin, “the Swiss watchmaker of suspense novels.”
Deathtrap ran on Broadway for 1,800 performances over four years and garnered a Tony nomination for best play. In 1982, it was made into a film starring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve.
The play-within-a-play format is based on the premise of an aging Broadway playwright, Sidney Bruhl, whose repertoire consists of one set, five-character thrillers, such as The Murder Game and Blind Justice. However, writer’s block has landed him in a dry spell and he has not had a hit for 18 years. He is reduced to teaching college seminars to aspiring writers – or “twerps,” as he calls them, while living off his wife’s fortune. A young student, Clifford Anderson, shows him a script that looks like it could be a smash hit. It’s called Deathtrap, and guess what? It is a one-set, five-character thriller. Only Bruhl has seen the manuscript. When Anderson wants to discuss his work with his teacher, Bruhl sees a light at the end of his tunnel and tells his wife, Myra, of a killer idea to get his hands on the manuscript. He invites the young man to his remote New England retreat and tells him to bring all the copies of his play with him. Anderson has no family and has not told anyone where he is going. Need I say more? As in an Agatha Christie play, A Murder is Announced – but is it really?
Houdini handcuffs, a garroting, a body dragged out to be buried, a resurrection, a heart attack, a double murder and a clairvoyant who has a premonition about it all, are all part of the thickening plot. The audience cannot be sure that this is going to end well for anyone as it grapples with hidden meanings, plot reversals and deceit until the final coup de theatre.
The set is very simple – a quaint old colonial farmhouse with the attached stable converted into a beamed study for Bruhl’s writing, replete with a crackling fireplace. A desk with a manual typewriter sits front and centre. The walls are covered with posters from Bruhl’s Broadway hits and an assortment of antique weaponry from those plays, including maces, swords, daggers and a cross-bow, visual spoilers, perhaps?
Community members Melanie Preston (who was profiled in the Jewish Independent, Sept. 10, 2010), playing Myra, Bruhl’s nervous wife, and Deborah Tom, as the Bruhls’ nosey Dutch psychic neighbor, carry the female roles. In an e-mail interview, Preston noted that, “The character of Myra is a wonderful challenge. When I first read the script, she surprised me, so I am trying to do the same for the audience, but it is always challenging to make someone real while honoring the script. I have worked hard to study my internal motivations with the other characters and to bring what Myra struggles with to life.” Added to that motivation is the fact that Preston’s true-life significant other, James Behenna, plays naïve Anderson. “I have always wanted to work on stage with James again,” she said. “He is a very good actor, and it’s nice to have both a hubby and a boyfriend in the play.”
Tom said she has fond memories of her early acting days at Vancouver’s Peretz School under the tutelage of Lerner Bossman and Claire Klein Osipov, where she developed her passion for theatre. By e-mail she said she “fondly remembers the elaborate productions with beautiful sets and costumes performed in the auditorium of the old, one-storey building, with the aromas of all the goodies the babas were making in the adjacent kitchen. Everyone contributed and it is this sense of community that [I have] found here in our local nonprofit theatre organizations such as Metro.”
In this production, Tom plays Helga Van Torp, a renowned psychic. With her ersatz accent, she provides much of the comic relief. Drew Taylor is convincing as the suave but cunning Bruhl. His one-line witticisms are barbed with delicious bitterness as he complains that “nothing recedes like success.” Behenna’s Anderson is the perfect counterpoint to Bruhl’s sophistication. Director Don Briard does quadruple duty, not only showing his thespian talents in a smaller role as Bruhl’s lawyer, Milgrim, but also as set, lighting and sound designer for the play.
On preview night, some of the actors had trouble with their timing and Tom’s accent needs some work, but all of this should improve over the course of the run. Some critics have labeled the play dated and a genre past its sell-by date. This reviewer does not agree – there is nothing like a good bout of murder and mayhem for one’s entertainment pleasure. Deathtrap runs until Feb. 8. Tickets are available at 604-266-7191 or metrotheatre.org.
Tova Kornfeld is a Vancouver freelance writer and lawyer.
Michael Abelman’s show runs at the Zack until Feb. 16. (photo by Olga Livshin)
A day before Michael Abelman’s art show opened, someone wandered into the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery, looked around, and exclaimed: “How nice. Spring has arrived!” This random comment could serve as a description of the entire show. Bright optimistic flowers bloom on the gallery walls, defying the winter rain outside, encompassing all seasons. It’s hard to believe that the artist only started painting 10 years ago.
“I always loved art,” Abelman told the Independent about his start, “loved visiting museums and galleries. There are wonderful paintings in galleries along Granville Street, but I could never afford them, so I thought I would paint what I like myself.”
His vague wish to create beauty resulted in the birth of an artist, although from his background, one might never guess the exuberance of his floral canvases. By education, Abelman is an accountant; by profession, a salesperson. He grew up in South Africa and immigrated to Canada 20 years ago, together with his partner. He never painted in his native country, but Canada inspired him to start.
“In the beginning, I was really bad for a long time,” he admitted with a smile. “But I never gave up. I learned: studied with Lori Goldberg, took classes at Emily Carr, read textbooks and went to galleries.” And, of course, he painted.
“Studying art was a long, slow progression for me,” he recalled. “Each year, I would get better – maybe one percent. Then, three years ago, I had a big jump in quality. I joined Artists in Our Midst that spring and opened my house to the public.”
He sold several paintings that first year, which seemed like an acknowledgement of his skill, although sales don’t really matter to him. “I enjoy painting. That’s why I do it. If my paintings sell, all the better, but I would do it anyway. I don’t think I’ll ever stop.”
Abelman finds inspiration in the gardens around Vancouver. “I like painting what I see close to home. It’s beautiful here,” he said. “I’ve traveled to Europe, South America and Australia, but I don’t want to paint what I see there. I don’t want to paint Mexico. I want to paint local gardens. My partner, Leon, is a gardener. His garden is wonderful. I painted it one whole year. It motivated me. Leon grows some interesting tropical trees, plants from South Africa. He has a banana tree.”
Several paintings in the exhibition reflect the artist’s vision of his partner’s garden. One of them he even named after the gardener: “Leon’s Garden.”
Verdant greenery and the profusion of flowers of all varieties dominate Abelman’s pictures. Pink roses and red poppies, gorgeous dahlias and coquettish impatiens, slender blush-tinged mallows and exotic orange pokers beckon the viewers to enter the paintings, smell the fragrance, hear the leaves whisper.
All this multicolored magnificence has been painted indoors, in the artist’s basement turned studio, from photographs and picture books. “It’s often cold and rainy outside,” he lamented. “And I try to paint every day, at least one hour a day.”
He uses his own photographs and those of others as a motif, a starting point for his unique compositions, which are imbued with polychromatic light. He never copies a photo. To breathe life into his paintings, he changes the layout, applies his own impressions to the image or introduces a little mystery.
One of the paintings in the show, “Reflections Through My Window,” resonates with enigmatic undertones. Furniture and living stems, glass panes and a bouquet in a glass vase intertwine in the image, creating something new, discordant and harmonious simultaneously. It’s hard to discern what is reflection and what is reality, what is inside the glass and what is outside. “Mystery is good,” Abelman said with satisfaction when he talked about this painting.
“When I look at photos to find a new idea for a painting, color is more important to me than content,” he explained about his creative process. He constantly searches for that elusive quality that only reveals itself to true artists. “I’m always pushing the limits of beauty, but my esthetics change with years, evolve…. It’s all about that final lost layer of paint that makes all the difference.”
Sometimes, that final touch is a shadow or a few stray wavelets in a pond, or a lone petal falling into a stream. Water – be it a tiny rivulet in a garden, a pond in Giverny or the somnolent Burrard Inlet – features prominently in many of his paintings. “I love painting water,” he said.
Always on the lookout for new imagery, Abelman visited the library of Van Dusen Botanical Garden a few months ago for some flower books. When the librarian saw his paintings, she offered him a show at the library, and that show was mounted in the fall of 2013. His impressionistic flowers did very well alongside the real thing. “I was invited to speak to the Richmond Art Guild later this spring, because they saw my paintings at the Van Dusen. They have 60 members.”
He sounded amazed at his own luck, despite his rapidly improving skills and the attending commercial success, as if he can’t take himself too seriously. Even when he disclosed his secret ambition, he laughed, as if sharing a joke: “I want my paintings to be so good that it would hurt you to walk out of the galley without them.”
In Full Bloom is at the Zack Gallery until Feb. 16.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].