Katie Delay, left, and Sunny Enkin Lewis are co-presidents of Grant Park High School’s Students for Social Justice. (photo from Sunny Enkin Lewis)
Earlier this year, Winnipeg Grade 12 student Sunny Enkin Lewis won first prize for her age group in A&E network’s contest Lives That Make a Difference. The contest receives hundreds of submissions from all over Canada.
“The prompt [for the contest] is along the lines of, ‘Write an essay about someone who has made a significant contribution to Canada in 2018,’” Enkin Lewis told the Independent. “So, I wrote about Autumn Peltier, who – I believe she’s 15 now, around there – is an indigenous water keeper. She’s an activist for clean water in indigenous communities in Canada. She’s spoken at the UN, she’s spoken to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. So, she’s done a lot of amazing activism.”
Peltier is Anishinaabe and is from the Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island in northern Ontario.
“I chose her for a couple reasons,” said Enkin Lewis, who was born in Toronto, but has lived in Winnipeg for the past 10 years. “First of all, I think her cause is really important in Canada. I’ve always been really upset with Canadian society and government, because we tend to look at ourselves as pretty flawless in terms of human rights. And, it is true that the quality of life for Canadians, overall, is really good. Yet, there are people, a lot of people, who don’t have the most basic of their needs met – water and shelter … and I think she has brought more awareness to that.”
In her essay, Enkin Lewis points out that Peltier not only stands up fearlessly for this cause, but that she does so from a unique worldview as an Anishinaabe person.
“She thinks of water as deserving of rights,” said Enkin Lewis. “That’s not something we would generally think of and I think it’s a really strong statement – that someone can stand up and speak of things in a way that contrasts the common logic of general Western ideas. I think that helps validate indigenous worldviews in a Western context a little more. Also, I was just inspired by her, as a young woman. I think it’s so important that young people’s voices are heard and that’s how I believe change will happen the fastest – if young people are given a platform and are accepted and respected – and she really embodies that.”
As for as why Enkin Lewis’s essay may have been chosen, she said, “I think my choice of person was really relevant in Canada today, especially since, now, I think, there’s a big focus on indigenous rights, and I think it was maybe a bit refreshing to see someone like that. I haven’t read the other people’s essays, and they didn’t tell me why mine was specifically chosen … just that they thought it stood out.”
Growing up, Enkin Lewis learned that “a big thing in Judaism is valuing life over everything, and knowing the value of human life. And, I think a big part of Judaism is also just respect for people and … everyone should have a good quality of life.
“The fact that, here, in Canada, there are people who don’t have their basic needs met, I think that’s not OK in Judaism. I think it’s important for other cultures to listen to each other, just as I think it’s important for Christian people to listen to Jewish people. And, I think it’s important for Jewish people to listen to indigenous perspectives. As a European Jew, I’m not native to this land … and it’s important to respect the people who are the caretakers of this land and who have been for thousands of years.”
Last year, Enkin Lewis led the organizing of a social justice conference at Grant Park High School, which, in turn, led to the development of a student social justice club at Grant Park. Enkin Lewis and co-president Katie Delay created the club and, because they and the teacher involved in helping to form the group will have left the school by the start of the next school year, Enkin Lewis hopes the younger members will pick up the ball.
“I think our club is very student-centred, very much about what we care about right now, and it gives me and other people an opportunity to get involved in a safe and constructive way,” she said.
As Grant Park has many newcomer Yazidi students, events organized by the club have been focused on building community awareness of the Yazidi situation.
“We did a drive for school supplies for underprivileged students in Winnipeg, and the biggest thing we’ve done is organize a coffeehouse and a couple other events for Yazidis with the help of a local organization called Operation Ezra. We had a bake sale where we sold traditional Yazidi foods, a Yazidi dance class to educate people about the culture, etc. I find that people are not really aware of what’s happening to the Yazidi people.
“We had a coffeehouse in the evening and invited community members, students, parents, anyone to come. There were student performers and a speaker talking about what’s happening, and a Yazidi performer.”
Enkin Lewis’s essay win comes with a $3,000 cheque for her and a $1,000 cheque for her school. She plans to follow her family’s Jewish custom of donating a portion of everything they earn. “I haven’t narrowed it down to a specific organization yet,” she said, “but I’m going to donate it basically to her [Peltier’s] cause – water in indigenous communities. Other than that, I will probably put it toward my education.”
‘My Jewish identity has always been associated with the struggle for basic human values and rights and freedoms,” said Gary Cristall, co-founder of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, in conversation with the Jewish Independent. “I thought that was the centre, was the core of being Jewish. That was the way I was raised and the stories that were told. I had two identifications with being Jewish – one was social justice, and the other was culinary. I worshipped at Schwartz’s Deli in Montreal.”
A longtime advocate for both the arts and progressive politics, whose passion was forged in the Canadian left of the 1950s and ’60s, Cristall is a cultural pioneer. He co-founded the Vancouver Folk Music Festival in 1978, later serving as its coordinator and artistic director until 1994.
As well as being an educator, activist and promoter, Cristall has fought for artists, struggling to win them professional respect while also defending their rights to fair fees and copyright ownership. For his range of work, he was awarded an honourary doctorate by the University of British Columbia in 2015 and was recognized as an outstanding alumnus of Simon Fraser University in 2017.
Cristall sees his involvement in activism and folk music as natural outgrowths of the culture in which he was raised. “Jews played a major role in folk music in this country, and in the States,” he said. “There were around 50 Jews who invented folk music. It was a conspiracy that was so successful no one understood what had happened.”
Cristall estimates that about 10,000 people attended the first Vancouver Folk Music Festival in 1978. This year’s festival, which takes place July 13-15, is expected to draw more than 35,000 people to Jericho Beach, where the event has been located since 1979. Seven stages are set up in the park and every available inch of parking space in the neighbourhood disappears. This year’s festival will present more than 50 concerts or workshops by artists from around the world, as well as an artisan market and a range of food vendors.
Beyond the festival, Cristall has served in the Canada Council for the Arts and was the founding president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
“When the CCA hired me, I was getting tired, getting ready to leave the festival, wondering what I would do next,” Cristall said. “When I saw the job ad, I thought, they’ll never hire me, but they’ll interview me and I’ll get a free trip to see my mother in Toronto. But they were looking to make a change, and they were interested in me because I was a shit-disturber and a rabble-rouser. They called my bluff, and said, ‘OK, you want to change things, come work for us.’”
Today, Cristall is at both Douglas College and Capilano University, where he teaches Canadian cultural policy and arts administration. He has spent 18 years working on a history of folk music in English-speaking Canada, which, he joked, is “1,200 pages written so far, a few hundred pages left to go.”
Asked about what he’s looking forward to at the festival year, Cristall reeled off a list of a dozen performers and what’s special about them. Among them, he mentioned Rodney Crowell, “a brilliant songwriter”; Guy Davis, a “great blues player, son of Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, left-wing Harlem artists going way back”; Les Poules à Colin, “young people who are the children of that first revival generation of Quebecois folk music”; the Dead South, “Saskatchewan bluegrass”; Dálava, “a Moravian group doing avant-garde classical and folk and jazz music”; Dori Freeman, whose hometown, Galax, Va., “was a centre of old-timey music”; Vancouver’s Gord Grdina, who “plays the oud and is a brilliant guitar player, got a Juno, plays with a 10-piece band”; A Familia Machado, a “great guitar player playing with two members of his family from Brazil”; and Archie Roach “from Australia, a senior aboriginal songwriter.”
As he spoke, the enthusiasm poured off of him. Cristall is clearly still a man who loves music. “They’re the real thing,” he said. “That’s what I like about the folk festival, it’s the real thing.”
In his list of highlights, Cristall notably passed over most of the more well-known acts playing at the festival, names like Art Bergmann, Ry Cooder, the Mariel Buckley Band, Neko Case and indigenous artist and 2018 Juno nominee Iskwé. “What I love about the folk festival is not just seeing the big names, but seeing someone I never heard of before and come home loving,” said Cristall.
How does the world look to a longtime activist like Cristall? What’s his advice to the next generation?
“My hope is very much alive,” he said. “My Zaida was imprisoned for political activism, and he escaped and came to Canada. I’ve been active since 1965. We have to keep on fighting, nothing says we’re going to win quickly. I’m not pessimistic. Every movement has its ups and downs and nobody said that we were going to win fast and easy. My advice to younger people is get involved, educate yourself, learn and fight. That also connects to the kind of music [at the festival], both implicitly and explicitly – the music is a struggle to survive against the behemoth of capitalism and the fact that those artists have survived is a cultural victory. Hey, it’s too late to be pessimistic.”
Matthew Gindinis a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He is Pacific correspondent for the CJN, writes regularly for the Forward, Tricycle and the Wisdom Daily, and has been published in Sojourners, Religion Dispatches and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.
The Centre for Judaism of the Lower Fraser Valley is looking for nominations for its annual Lamplighter Award, which honours a young person who has performed an outstanding act of community service.
Candidates must be between the ages of 6 and 18 and submission of potential recipients must include two references describing the child’s community service. The chosen lamplighter will receive the award during Chanukah at an evening ceremony at Semiahmoo Shopping Centre.
“Chanukah celebrates the victory of light over darkness and goodness over evil,” said Simie Schtroks. “This is a most appropriate opportunity to motivate and inspire young people to make this world a brighter and better place. By filling the world with goodness and kindness, that light can dispel all sorts of darkness.”
To nominate a candidate for the award, contact Schtroks as soon as possible at [email protected].
* * *
This summer, David Granirer received a Meritorious Service Medal from the Governor General of Canada. The award recognizes a deed or activity that has been performed in a highly professional manner, or according to a very high standard: often innovative, this deed or activity sets an example for others to follow, improves the quality of life of a community and brings benefit or honour to Canada.
Granirer is a counselor, stand-up comic and mental health keynote speaker. Granirer, who himself has depression, has taught stand-up comedy to recovering addicts and cancer patients, and founded Stand Up for Mental Health, a program teaching comedy to people with mental health issues, in 2004. He has trained Stand Up for Mental Health groups in partnership with various mental health organizations in more than 50 cities in Canada, the United States and Australia. His work on mental health is featured by media worldwide and has garnered several awards.
Granirer also teaches Stand-Up Comedy Clinic at Langara College, and many of his students have gone on to become professional comics.
* * *
This year’s Mayor’s Arts Award for Community Engaged Arts went to Earle Peach. A singer, songwriter, composer, conductor, arranger, teacher and performer, Peach leads four choirs in the city and hosts a monthly community coffee house in Mount Pleasant. He teaches privately, and records musicians for demos and albums. He performs with Barbara Jackson as a duo called Songtree and also has a band called Illiteratty.
The emerging artist honour went to Ariel Martz-Oberlander, a theatre artist, writer and teacher. As a Jewish settler on Coast Salish territories with diasporic and refugee ancestry, her practice is rooted in a commitment to place-based accountability through decolonizing and solidarity work. She divides her time between theatre and community organizing, and specializing in creative protest tactics on land and water.
Martz-Oberlander is a facilitator with the True Voice Theatre Project, producing new shows by residents of the Downtown Eastside and vulnerably housed youth, in collaboration with the Gathering Place and Covenant House. Her most recent work, created with support from the LEAP program, won a research and development prize from the Arts Club. Martz-Oberlander is also the associate producer for Vines Festival, presenting accessible, free eco-art in Vancouver parks. Good art is accountable to the community, raises up voices rarely heard and is vital to repairing our world.
* * *
On Oct. 3, the Koffler Centre of the Arts announced the four winners of the 2017 Vine Awards for Canadian Jewish Literature, all of whom were on hand at the award luncheon at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Toronto.
Winners in two of the categories are based in Vancouver. Miriam Libicki won the non-fiction award for Toward a Hot Jew (Fantagraphics Books Inc.), which the jury described as, “An admirably complicated response to being a woman and a Jew in our time, a thrilling combination of memoir, journalism and art.” And Irene N. Watts and Kathryn E. Shoemaker took the prize in the children’s/young adult category for Seeking Refuge (Tradewind Books), which the jury described as, “A superb graphic novel dramatizing the Kindertransport, a powerful story enhanced by firsthand experience and beautiful black-and-white illustrations.”
The other winners were Peter Behrens’ Carry Me (House of Anansi Press) for fiction and Matti Friedman’s Pumpkinflowers (McClelland & Stewart) for history.
The history shortlist included Max Eisen’s By Chance Alone (Harper Collins Publishers) and Ester Reiter’s A Future Without Hate or Need: The Promise of the Jewish Left in Canada (Between the Lines). Runners-up in the fiction category were Eric Beck Rubin’s School of Velocity (Doubleday Canada) and Danila Botha’s For All the Men (and Some of the Women) I’ve Known (Tightrope Books). In non-fiction, Sarah Barmak’s Closer: Notes from the Orgasmic Frontier of Female Sexuality (Coach House Books), Judy Batalion’s White Walls (Berkley/Penguin Random House) and David Leach’s Chasing Utopia (ECW Press) were runners-up, while Deborah Kerbel’s Feathered (Kids Can Press) and Tilar Mazzeo and Mary Farrell’s Irena’s Children (Margaret K. McElderry Books) were on the children’s/young adult short list.
* * *
In September 2017, local community member Dr. Arthur Wolak was elected for a three-year term to the board of governors of Gratz College, a private liberal arts college in suburban Philadelphia. Founded in 1895, Gratz is the oldest independent and pluralistic college for Jewish studies in North America. Accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Gratz is also recognized by Israel’s Ministry of Education and Culture. Through its undergraduate and graduate programs, Gratz educates students to become effective educators, administrators and community leaders.
In the very talented ensemble of The Road Forward by Marie Clements are Michelle St. John, left, and Jennifer Kreisberg. (photos from National Film Board of Canada)
This year’s DOXA Documentary Film Festival features several films with Jewish community connections. They explore a wide range of topics: First Nations activism, Fort McMurray and the oil sands, real-life mermaids, bigotry against larger people, and being a freelance journalist in the Middle East. They will make you question your assumptions, ponder the various ways in which humans find connection, and introduce you to ideas, people and places you probably didn’t know existed.
Opening the festival, which runs May 4-14, is The Road Forward. In the very talented ensemble of this musical documentary by Marie Clements are Michelle St. John and Jennifer Kreisberg. As many of us do, St. John and Kreisberg have multiple cultural heritages that form their identity; in their instances, First Nations and Jewish are among them. In addition to performing, Kreisberg also composed and/or arranged many of the songs; the main composer is Wayne Lavallee.
The Road Forward began as a 10-minute performance piece commissioned for the Aboriginal Pavilion at the 2010 Olympics, and premièred as a full-length theatre show at the 2015 PuSh Festival. The documentary has mostly traditional components – interviews, archival footage, news clips – but these are broken up by a number of songs, which add energy and emotion to the film.
The documentary uses as its starting point the Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood, which were established in the 1930s, when First Nations people were not permitted to meet and organize. The groups’ “official organ,” the Native Voice, was the first indigenous-run newspaper in Canada.
“The idea was to honour B.C.’s history, so I started researching and reading online and came across the archives of the Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood, the oldest Native organization in the country. Their parent organization, the Native Fishing Association, is located in West Vancouver, close to me,” explains Clements in the press material.
The Road Forward touches on many issues along its journey to current-day First Nation activists, who carry on in their ancestors’ paths. Though their goals are varied – some fight for particular legal or policy changes, others for restitution and reconciliation, yet others for their own voice and place in the world – they are all seeking justice, equality, understanding.
The songs highlight the immense struggles. As but two examples, “1965” is about the decades upon decades that First Nations have been denied the basic rights that most other Canadians have long enjoyed, and “My Girl” is a heartbreaking tribute to the aboriginal women who have been murdered along British Columbia’s Highway 16, the “Highway of Tears.” The Indian Constitution Express, a movement organized by George Manuel in 1980-81 to protest the lack of aboriginal rights in then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s plans to patriate the Canadian Constitution, receives somewhat more attention than other activist achievements, and the song “If You Really Believe,” based on a speech by Manuel, is quite powerful.
The May 4 gala screening of The Road Forward is the official launch of Aabiziingwashi (#WideAwake), National Film Board of Canada’s Indigenous Cinema on Tour. For the length of 2017, NFB is offering films from its 250-plus collection to all Canadians via [email protected]. The film also runs on May 10 and Clements will participate in a Q&A following both screenings.
* * *
Limit is the Sky follows a handful of 20-somethings who have moved to Fort McMurray to follow their dreams. A few years before the price of oil plummeted in 2015 and the 2016 wildfire decimated the northern Alberta city, the average family income in “Fort Mac,” was $190,000 a year, according to the film. Working on the oil sands was where the real money lay, but others were drawn to the college or to places that serve the oil workers (and others), such as hairdressing salons and restaurants.
Most striking about the population we meet in Limit is the Sky is their diversity: they not only come from other Canadian provinces and the United States but from much further afield. The seven young dreamers featured include Max, from Lebanon; Mucharata, from the Philippines, who had to leave her 2-year-old son behind initially (for fours years); and KingDeng, a former child soldier from South Sudan, who had to help support his wife and children (in Edmonton) while at school in Fort McMurray.
“I was looking for young people who’d just recently arrived in Fort Mac, full of hopes, dreams and naïveté,” says filmmaker Julia Ivanova in the press material. “I wanted to walk the viewer through their ups and downs in a place where the men seem tough and the women even tougher. I wasn’t looking for tough characters, though: sensitivity and beauty – both inner and physical beauty – were important to me.”
Ivanova, who has Jewish roots, migrated to Canada from Russia many years ago.
“Being an immigrant myself,” she notes, “I could feel what was at stake for these young people and the challenges they face on a very intimate level.”
The main filming ran from fall 2012 to spring 2015. She felt welcomed by the people in the city, though not by the industry. “That was a brick wall I hit over and over again,” she says. “There was no filming of anyone allowed, anywhere, period.”
By the end of the film, most of the millennials featured had left the city, along with many others. “The town felt almost deserted, compared to how I had seen it in 2012 and 2013,” says Ivanova. “So many people were leaving. There was so much anxiety. I went to all the places I loved – and they’d all changed.”
Ivanova’s film shows the hope, the drive, the challenges, the loneliness of her interviewees. The dynamics are much more complex than one might assume of a city that relied on the oil sands for its prosperity. The environment is of crucial importance, obviously, but people matter, too, and this documentary shines a necessary light on that fact.
Limit is the Sky screens May 5.
* * *
Falling into the who-ever-would-have-thought category, Ali Weinstein’s Mermaids introduces viewers to real-life mermaids, of a sort.
Rachel’s underwater job at the Dive Bar in Sacramento, Calif., helps her deal with a family tragedy. Vicki and a group of former Weeki Wachee Resort (in Florida) swimmers recall their mermaid days, including a show for Elvis and a 50th anniversary performance. Being a mermaid helps Cookie, who was abused as a child and has mental health issues, manage life, and she and her soulmate, Eric, who makes her mermaid tails, are married in a mermaid wedding, after being together for some 30 years. Last but not least, Julz, a transgender woman who was bullied as a child and disowned by her father, discovers acceptance and love in a Huntington Beach, Calif., mermaid group.
Weinstein intersperses these stories with brief summaries of long-told mermaid tales, “from the 3,000-year-old Assyrian figure of Atargatis to the Mami Wata water spirits of West Africa.”
It really is a fascinating documentary, showing just how resilient and resourceful the human spirit is.
Mermaids plays twice during DOXA, on May 6 and 13, and Weinstein will be in attendance at both screenings.
* * *
Think of the cartoon villains and the hapless sidekicks. How are they often portrayed? As fat, dumb and/or oversexed? If those weren’t your first thoughts, think again. The documentary Fattitude convincingly shows how widespread bigotry against larger people is – so much so that it can be overlooked, until pointed out. Then, you wonder how you ever missed it.
From the old woman in the candy house that eats Hansel and Gretel, to Star Wars’ Jabba the Hut, to the evil squid in The Little Mermaid, these are just a few of the villains. Then there is the heavyset and dumb Hardy, sidekick to thin, smart Laurel; the stereotypical chubby best friend in so many movies; and the archetypal black nanny, forever cast in the caring, subservient role. Miss Piggy is a more complex character, both strong and confident in herself, but also sex-crazy over Kermit. And, in the entire Star Trek franchise – where have the larger people gone?
From the age of 3, the film notes, we are already programmed with negative stereotypes. When all put together, it’s quite depressing. However, Fattitude is a rather upbeat documentary, as its interviewees are spirited, determined and intelligent enough to effect some change, mainly via social media.
Filmmakers Lindsey Averill and Viridiana Lieberman speak to almost 50 people and, to a person, they provide an interesting perspective, connecting the body images depicted in films, television shows, cartoons, magazines and advertisements with their effects on viewers and on our perceptions of ourselves and others. The film discusses the links between race, socioeconomic status and weight, as well as the reasons why Michelle Obama’s campaign to end childhood obesity was misguided.
Fattitude screens May 9.
* * *
Being a journalist in a war zone seems dangerous and frightening, and it is. But it is also tedious and lonely. At least this is what it seems from watching Santiago Bertolino’s Freelancer on the Front Lines.
Bertolino follows Toronto-born, Beirut-based freelance journalist Jesse Rosenfeld as Rosenfeld hustles to get story ideas and budgets approved, waits in sparse hotel rooms for fixers to connect him with interviewees, and ventures into Egypt during its post-Arab Spring elections, the West Bank during an Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey and to Iraq, where they witness the fight against ISIS from the front lines.
Some of the more disturbing images are of the bodies of Palestinians gunned down in a home by undetermined executioners and the corpses of dead ISIS fighters dumped in the back of a truck, as well as tied to its back bumper. In another memorable part, Rosenfeld yells questions to a caged Mohamed Fahmy, when Fahmy and two fellow Al Jazeera journalists were on trial in Cairo. (Fahmy, who holds both Canadian and Egytian citizenship, spent almost two years in jail of a three-year sentence.)
Rosenfeld has strong views and isn’t afraid to share them, though he struggles to make eye contact with the camera when he makes his pronouncements. Some of the best exchanges in the film are between him and Canadian-Israeli journalist Lia Tarachansky, who hold different opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Freelancer on the Front Lines screens May 13 at Vancity and will include a post-film discussion.
For tickets and the full DOXA Documentary Film Festival schedule, visit doxafestival.ca.
CJPAC is a national, independent, multi-partisan organization with a mandate to engage Jewish and pro-Israel Canadians in the democratic process and to foster active political participation. Among its programs are two aimed at younger community members, for which it is now accepting applications.
The CJPAC Fellowship is an intensive, yearlong program that provides university students with the tools to engage further in Canada’s democracy. It trains 45 of the top pro-Israel, politically engaged university students to become part of the country’s next generation of leaders, and provides the opportunity for fellows to enhance their understanding of all levels of government in the Canadian political system.
The program includes an exclusive national conference in Ottawa, where fellows meet with members of Parliament, senior political strategists and receive advanced campaign training. The conference will take place this year from Nov. 16 to Nov. 20, and attendance is required.
CJPAC welcomes applicants from Jewish and non-Jewish communities, all political parties and every region of Canada. All fellows must be pro-Israel and demonstrate a strong interest and experience in Canadian politics. Applicants must meet the following criteria:
Be enrolled full time in an undergraduate or graduate program at a post-secondary institution for both semesters of the 2015-2016 academic year.
Be Canadian citizen or permanent resident; unfortunately, CJPAC cannot accept exchange students.
Be available to attend all five days of the national conference in Ottawa; no exceptions.
Applicants cannot be employed in a political position at the federal or provincial level for more than four hours per week; unpaid volunteers in these offices will be considered.
The CJPAC Generation program is designed to provide a select group of young, motivated and passionate high school students with the opportunity to become more politically involved.
Participants will gather with other students throughout the school year and meet with a variety of speakers. They will engage in discussions that will enhance their political knowledge and help cultivate their political opinions. They will make connections and expand their peer and professional networks – in turn, bolstering the voice of the Jewish community in Canada. The program culminates with a trip to Ottawa, where they will continue their engagement in the political process by meeting with elected officials and political staff.
Applicants must be Jewish high school students in grades 10-12, have an interest in politics and the Canadian political process and a commitment to attending monthly sessions, beginning in November 2016, and a trip to Ottawa in May 2017. Applications for the Generation program are due to cjpac.ca/cjpac-generation-student-leaders-program-application-2016-2017by Oct. 14, 2016.