A still from the Netflix show Living With Yourself, co-starring Paul Rudd.
As the secular New Year approaches, many people make resolutions, in an effort to become a better person. What if there were a shortcut? What if, for a tidy sum, you could be transformed, virtually overnight, into the person you’ve dreamed of being?
This the conundrum posed by the Netflix show Living With Yourself, an eight-part series released in late October, starring Paul Rudd and Aisling Bea, who play spouses Miles and Kate Elliot. Rudd is also one of the executive producers.
The premise is this: Miles, a shlub discontent with and disconnected from his wife, and suffering career ennui, discovers a “spa” that offers a treatment to improve his charm and confidence. For a small fortune, they promise, a “new you.” And so, a shlemiel enters and a gentleman exits. Just one problem: [spoiler] it’s actually a cloning lab and, unbeknownst to Miles and Clone Miles, the two men exist and, later, each must contend with the other in his life.
Rudd’s 25 years of movie experience includes Ant Man, Anchorman, Knocked Up, 40-Year-Old Virgin and Clueless. On television, he played Mike Hannigan in Friends and appeared in Reno 911, among other things.
The New Jersey-born actor hasn’t been shy in publicly discussing his Jewish identity. He kibitzed a bit about his Jewishness in an interview segment of Between Two Ferns. In an episode of Finding Your Roots, he found out that his grandfather, Davis Rudnitsky, fought the Nazis, only to return home to England to face antisemitism. In 2017, Rudd played his first (overtly) Jewish character, Moe Berg, in the biopic The Catcher Was a Spy, about a baseball player who joins the Second World War effort as an undercover agent.
In Living With Yourself, there is one explicit Jewish moment, when a Holocaust survivor tells Miles an off-colour anecdote about the Shoah, involving pork. But there are also hidden Jewish themes. For example, envious of a colleague’s extraordinary success in the office, Miles is spurred by the prospect that his technological makeover could help him outperform this coworker. Though Judaism has no problem with someone being motivated to accomplish because of another’s success, the Torah warns against jealousy. The ninth commandment is one obvious caution against such sentiment: “Thou shalt not covet.” Another is Joseph’s brothers (Genesis 36), who, enraged with jealousy, sell Joseph into slavery. In a sense, Miles and Clone Miles are like brothers, and they develop petty and spiteful jealousies, wanting the best of both worlds, but not able to have it.
If only Miles initially had derived fulfilment and was grateful for what he had, he wouldn’t be in this much trouble. Ethics of Our Fathers (Pirkei Avot) (4:1) advises just that: “Who has wealth? The one who is pleased with his lot.” The meaning isn’t limited to “wealth” of materials, of course, but the wealth of blessings that are bestowed upon us, including, for most of us, our loved ones, our safety, our employment and access to the necessities of life.
Notably, though, Miles versus Clone Miles is illustrative of the yetzer hara (good inclination) and the yetzer hatov (bad inclination) at battle with each other. Interestingly, neither character is completely good nor bad, but a combination, reflecting the real, complicated, human condition, where we have both inclinations competing inside us.
Often, we are able to convince ourselves of the nobility of our decisions – that is, find a good reason for our perhaps less-than-good action; explain away the importance of a choice’s potential harm. Paradoxically, the yetzer hatov has a sneaky side. To explain this, author and radio host Dennis Prager often cites the late Rabbi Wolfe Kelman, former head of the Conservative rabbinate. He once told Prager that he had his yetzer hara under control, but his yetzer hatov “always got him into trouble.”
Rarely do ordinary people wake up each morning and strive to make another human miserable. Still, we must wrestle with our “other” selves, overcome our justifications and egos, to make principled choices. Every day is a lesson in living with ourselves.
Dave Gordonis a Toronto-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in more than 100 publications around the world.
Hanging out around a campfire with friends is one of the things many kids love about summer camp. (image from pxhere.com)
Every year when I was a child, the first day back at school after the summer break, we’d be expected to write an essay on “What I did during my summer holidays.” Back then, my family were so poor I rarely did anything much, but I was blessed with a fertile imagination so I concocted an amazing list of activities. After all, the first rule for a writer, which was my ambition even then, is never to let the truth interfere with a good story. Oh, how I would have loved to go to a summer sleepaway camp.
Fortunately, times have changed and my kids and various grandchildren have had that opportunity. So, I’ve rounded up relatives, kids, their friends and my friends, to ask what they loved and hated about summer camp.
These are some of the reactions I got in the “hate” department. “The toilets and showers – ugh!” “The mosquitoes, which feasted on my blood every day.” “My girlfriend, who was prettier than I was, got all the boys interested in her, especially the one I liked.” “The others were better at sports than I was, and I couldn’t swim. They laughed at me.”
None of those I quizzed however, failed to have lots of reasons to list under “things I loved.” “We put on a musical at the end of camp, and we did everything, including painting the scenery. It was great!” “Parents Day, when they would visit the camp and bring us wonderful things to eat, that they rarely bought for us at home. The chocolates were divine.” “I learnt all kinds of crafts, that I still do sometimes. We were taught basketry, jewelry-making, ceramics and how to press flowers.” “One day, we had a Backwards Day – it was terrific fun. We even wore our clothes inside out.” “I loved the campfires, under the stars. We’d sing together, roast potatoes and onions, it was heaven. I can still remember the feeling of being among friends under a sky filled with stars, and the wind in the treetops. I think that was true happiness.”
Whether or not a camp will be a positive experience for a child largely depends on the parents’ preparation. Don’t send them to a camp you once attended and enjoyed without considering how the camp may have changed or the difference between your needs and desires and those of your child.
Think about what your child needs – to learn new skills, develop more self-confidence and independence, maybe to improve proficiency in certain areas. For the latter, there are lots of specialty camps such as tennis, horse-riding, hiking, adventure, backpacking or gymnastics.
The camp you choose will depend on the age and level of independence of the child. The first sleepaway camp can be very frightening for a young child and sometimes the best way to prepare them is to take them beforehand to the campsite and explain all the activities that will take place there.
Teenagers usually welcome escaping home and discipline for awhile and spreading their wings. No matter what the age, you need to consider and investigate the accessibility of the camp, its medical facilities and security arrangements. You also need to consider any fears your child might have, such as if a below-average athlete will feel comfortable trying new skills and be allowed to work on them at their own pace. Often it helps if they have a friend or two among the campers and, of course, try to meet the counselors to assess that they are competent and sympathetic.
A camp has the potential to offer a child many positive and rewarding experiences. They can be fun, healthy and relaxing. Many of the programs provide an opportunity to develop new skills, and become more responsible and independent. The main reaction I got from kids who’d been to a good camp was: “Wow! It was great. I want to go again this year!”
Dvora Waysmanis a Jerusalem-based author. She has written 14 books, including The Pomegranate Pendant, which was made into a movie, and her latest novella, Searching for Sarah. She can be contacted at [email protected] or through her blog dvorawaysman.com.
No matter your observance level, prioritizing a Jewish camp will boost your kids’ enrichment and ownership in the Jewish community. (photo by Joe Goldberg / flickr)
Day camp or sleepaway camp? Single sex or co-ed? Traditionally Jewish or liberal? Shabbat observant? Kosher? STEM or sports camp? The choices are endless. No matter your observance level, prioritizing a Jewish camp will boost your kids’ enrichment and ownership in the Jewish community.
As a parent, I often feel overwhelmed by the options available. Many say, “You’re the expert!” when it comes to your own kids. Yet, it can be hard to get inside kids’ brains to know what is right for them – and summer camp is one of those big decisions. It’s a time for childcare, enrichment and fun. But it must be decided in advance, it’s sometimes expensive and it can feel like a risky guess. Here are some tips to get started.
What do you need?
If you must get kids to camp before work, let’s be honest. Camp serves as childcare. It needs to be something you can pull off each morning. Make a list of what you need to make it through the summer. Early morning or afternoon care, a way to purchase healthy snacks and lunches, or a bus that picks the kids up? These may be essentials for some parents.
Some need much more. Kosher food? Stricter Sabbath observance? These may limit your choices. If your kid has special needs, your work schedule is unpredictable or you live far from Jewish camping options, things become complicated. Some parents start with geography. For many, it’s unrealistic to try to drive an hour to camp each morning with small kids before getting to work.
If your list of possible Jewish camping options is short, find out when sign-up opens and get your kids’ names on the list. Sign-up often happens in January or February – long before we’re ready!
What do your kids want?
I started my research by asking my twins what they liked to do most in the summer. To my surprise, playing outdoors with Mommy and the dogs ranked top on their list. When I prioritized the other “wants,” it became clear that taking swim lessons at a lake (with a half-hour drive on each end) and just getting a chance for free play in the sunshine were key elements of their summer. For that summer, we had only a month of camp and a long but inexpensive “staycation,” with trips to a lake with a parent. We fit in making challah, doing Jewish art projects and reading PJ Library books, too.
Other requests might include attending camp with a close friend or trying out a new skill (music, acting, soccer, coding) – and these could all happen at a Jewish camp.
Maybe your kids know what they want, but, sometimes, they don’t. That’s OK. A general day camp, with lots of activities and choices every day, may be just the ticket.
One summer, I was sent to a co-ed sleepaway camp far from home for a month. I didn’t know anyone. The daily activities included a large dose of sports, which I hated. Worse yet, there was an outbreak of head lice. It was awful. By contrast, I also spent two years attending an overnight girls’ camp for two weeks each summer with a friend. I loved the library and the arts and crafts stations and have vague but good memories.
A kid’s maturity level matters, too. I was an independent oldest sibling, ready for overnight camps at 8, but, at that age, it was clear my twins were not ready to go anywhere overnight. I did ask them though. Did they want to go to sleepaway camp with some of their friends? I got a resounding no. Your kids often know what they’re ready for and what they wouldn’t enjoy. Give them a choice.
Feel confident in safety
Camp is a lot more flexible than life during the school year. There’s swimming, group sports and many other ways to have fun – and get hurt. Many camps are staffed by well-meaning teenagers and university students, with only a few adults supervising. Be sure things are safe and the activities are a right fit for your kids. Even one bad interaction with a bully or an unsafe situation could make camp hard for your kid.
There’s also a feeling of confidence when you know that the people in charge are knowledgeable and making good decisions that you can trust.
Make sure the camp gives parents and campers lots of information from the beginning about what they will be doing each day, what they need to bring and how to have a successful experience. A camp that doesn’t remind you to bring towels or bag lunches may also be disorganized in other ways, too. See if the counselors offer you information when you drop off or pick up your kid so you can know more about what goes on. Tell those in charge that you expect to know about any injuries or tussles during the day.
Compromise is key
Sometimes, when you’ve gotten through your list of Jewish camps and kids’ desires, you find that the best camp for one kid might not work for the other. Or, the only horseback riding camp is single sex, and the kid’s best friend is not the same gender.
Sometimes, we need to choose out of our comfort zones to make things work. My kids attended a Chabad travel camp for years. It didn’t jive with my egalitarian sensibilities. Some of the theology concerned me. However, they definitely learned about Judaism and had fun. I trusted one of the directors, my kids’ former preschool teacher, completely.
It’s important to optimize things as best you can, and then compromise, too. There are a limited number of Jewish camps out there. Your kids have only a few summers to have fun outdoors with friends. Put aside some of the details you can’t change so you can make the most of their fun – and Jewish – times in the sun. They may remember their camp experience forever.
Joanne Seiff has written regularly for CBC Manitoba and various Jewish publications. She is the author of three books, including From the Outside In: Jewish Post Columns 2015-2016, a collection of essays available for digital download or as a paperback from Amazon. Check her out on Instagram @yrnspinner or at joanneseiff.blogspot.com.
Standing on the Haas Promenade in southern Jerusalem overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, the Ethiopian priests wore traditional clothing and carried parasols. (photo by Gil Zohar)
Approximately one-third of Israel’s 125,000-strong Ethiopian Jewish community came from across the country on Nov. 27, the 29th of Cheshvan in Judaism’s lunar calendar, for the festival Sigd. The mass clan gathering takes place 50 days after Yom Kippur, just as the holiday of Shavuot is celebrated 50 days after Passover.
Sigd, derived from the Hebrew word for prostration sgida, celebrates the renewal of the covenant between God and the Jewish people that followed the return of the Jews to the Land of Israel from the Babylonian exile 2,600 years ago, as described in the biblical book Nehemiah.
Symbolizing the Ethiopians’ rapid acculturation from rural Ethiopia to Israel’s high-tech start-up nation, many elders wore traditional clothing while teenagers preferred skin-tight jeans and Israel Defence Forces (IDF) khaki. Many celebrants were chatting on their cellphones.
The central event of the Sigd celebration was the priestly blessing by the kessim (spiritual leaders) in Geez, the sacred language used by Ethiopian Jews in their liturgy. Amharic, their traditional language today, has been widely displaced by Hebrew. Standing on the Haas Promenade in southern Jerusalem overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, the priests wore traditional clothing and carried parasols.
Prior to being rescued from persecution and poverty in Africa in a series of military and espionage operations, including Operation Solomon in 1991 and continuing until today, Ethiopian Jews would ascend mountain tops above their villages in Gondar province for a mass Sigd prayer expressing their yearning for Zion. In Israel, the holiday has morphed into a day of thanksgiving for their rescue, as well their gratitude for the Torah and their cultural heritage, and most Ethiopian Jews under the age of 40 living in Israel only know those stories from their parents’ recounting. Children were not included in the Sigd observances in Ethiopia, both because of the difficulties of making a three-day trek up a mountain and to preserve the solemnity of the day.
Mingling with the colourful costumes and umbrellas of the older generation are the uniforms of the hundreds of Ethiopian men and women serving in the IDF. With the autumn temperature still summer-like, many youth are wearing skin-tight clothing that would have scandalized their elders in Ethiopia.
Among the elders is Rabbi David Yosef, a silver-bearded kes wearing a crocheted kippah, who explained how Sigd fits into the life of Ethiopian Jews.
The ancient community, which may date back to King Solomon and his dalliance with the Queen of Sheba 3,000 years ago, became cut off from mainstream Jewry, he says. More historically, Jews lived in Ethiopia from before the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE when the Babylonian conquerors of the Holy Land arrived. Driven into exile, these Jews considered themselves to stem from the tribe of Dan, one of the 10 lost tribes. Many were compelled to convert to Christianity in the 19th and 20th centuries but the community continued to dream and pray for a return to Jerusalem.
Starting in 1973, Ethiopian Jews suffered terribly under the dictator Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam. When Israel became aware of their plight, significant investigation and research was done, leading to a rabbinic ruling that accepts the Ethiopian Jews as part of the Jewish nation, entitling them to immigrate to Israel under the Jewish state’s Law of Return. That paved the way for 8,000 Ethiopian Jews to move to Israel. But then Mengistu forbade Jews to leave the country, and that led to the decision to covertly bring them to Israel. The 2019 Netflix movie The Red Sea Diving Resort recounts one of the Mossad’s rescue operations.
Nevertheless, some Israelis disputed the Ethiopians’ status as Jews. Rav Yosef carefully explained the Ethiopian Jewish engagement and wedding ceremonies and asserts that their practice conforms to the mishnaic description in Tractate Kiddushin (part of the Oral Law) of what constitutes proper Jewish betrothal. The community has always preserved its ritual status as Jews, he insisted.
“We missed Jerusalem for thousands of years,” he said. “Today, in Jerusalem, we celebrate … but, just as we say ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ at the Passover seder, so, too, at Sigd, we pray for a rebuilt Jerusalem.”
For Ziva, a 20-year-old from Ashkelon with braided hair, the Sigd celebration is a significant milestone. “I feel like it’s a day of unity for us,” she said.
For the young woman, who arrived in Israel with her parents 12 years ago, the observance of the ancient holiday reminds her that “there’s so much to remember.”
Giving the celebration the government’s seal of approval, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev both spoke, while President Reuven Rivlin delivered a video message.
The Ethiopian chief rabbi in Israel, Reuven Wabshat, said that, after the mass immigration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, the decision had been taken by the community to continue celebrating the holiday, even though its essence is about the yearning to return to Jerusalem. He said the decision was made so that the community would not forget the “powerful heritage of Ethiopian Jewry,” and to help Israeli society understand the travails experienced by the Ethiopian Jewish community throughout their history.
The rabbi asserted that it was crucial for broader Israeli society to understand the Ethiopian Jewish community’s heritage and that it is an integral part of the Jewish people because of the “difficulties” the community has experienced in Israel.
The Ethiopian community has frequently complained of discrimination and racism against it and, in particular, has suffered from over-policing and a disproportionate number of arrests and indictments relative to its size. The recent death of Solomon Tekah, killed by a ricochet following an altercation between a group of youths and a police officer, led to renewed claims of police brutality, as well as protests and riots by members of the Ethiopian community. A previous bout of protests was sparked when video footage emerged of police officers beating an IDF soldier from the Ethiopian Jewish community.
“As you know, in recent years, the Ethiopian Jewish community has had difficult experiences, because people do not know and do not appreciate what Ethiopian Jews went through, and looked at things which are not relevant, such as differences in place of origin, but not the internal aspects of Ethiopian Jewry,” said Wabshat. “The Sigd holiday can bring people to the understanding and recognition that Ethiopian Jews are of the same flesh as all Jews around the world and, when the state recognizes Sigd, as it has, it means that we can all be one people.”
Among the kessim who participated in the prayers was Kes Mentasnut Govze from Beersheba. He explained how, in Ethiopia on Sigd, the Jewish community would travel to and ascend a mountain to “pray to God as one people with one heart that we would reach Jerusalem the next year and that the Temple would be rebuilt.”
Govze noted that, although the community has now reached Israel and Jerusalem, the Jewish people’s mission is not yet finished. “We still have not built the Temple and we must be clean,” he said. “If we go on the correct path, the path of the Torah, God will help us, we will build the Temple and bring the sacrifices.”
Member of Knesset Pnina Tamano-Shata described the holiday as “a big gift for Israeli society” since, she said, it could help unite the Jewish people. “It is so wonderful to see so many people here who are not from the Ethiopian community, and this holiday has become a holiday for all the Jewish people,” she said. “It is celebrated in kindergartens, schools, in the army, in local authorities, and the message is that this story is your story, it’s my story, and the story of all Jews, whether from Europe or from Arab countries.”
The MK said the identity of the Ethiopian Jewish community was strong, but noted the problems it has faced, including “difficulties which are connected to Israeli society, such as police violence, discrimination and racism,” but said the community has remained positive.
“We are positive and fully open to Israeli society, we are not in a place of antagonism, even though we have had a very hard, challenging and intensive year, and we are far from getting justice; nevertheless, everything has its time and period,” she said.
Michal Avera Samuel, director of the nongovernmental organization Fidel (Association for Education and Social Integration of Ethiopian Jews in Israel), said the thousands of people who came to the celebrations in Jerusalem came “to learn and understand the heritage of Ethiopian Jews, which is an ancient heritage, which every child should be proud of and pass on to the next generation.”
She added, “The goal is that, through studying in school and youth groups, we can teach the heritage of Ethiopian Jews, and build a courageous identity together with a sense of belonging within Israeli society.”
Gil Zohar is a writer and tour guide in Jerusalem, Israel.
Actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen delivered the keynote address last month at an Anti-Defamation League conference. His words quickly went viral because he pinpointed fears and challenges shared by millions about the power of social media. He hit many nails on the head.
“Democracy, which depends on shared truths, is in retreat, and autocracy, which depends on shared lies, is on the march,” he said. “Hate crimes are surging, as are murderous attacks on religious and ethnic minorities. All this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history.”
He was referring to social media like Facebook and Twitter and platforms like YouTube and Google, whose algorithms, he said, “deliberately amplify the type of content that keeps users engaged – stories that appeal to our baser instincts and that trigger outrage and fear.”
Had Facebook existed in the 1930s, he went on, it would have run 30-second ads for Hitler’s “solution” to the “Jewish problem.”
Baron Cohen acknowledged that social media companies have taken some steps to reduce hate and conspiracies on their platforms, “but these steps have been mostly superficial.”
“These are the richest companies in the world, and they have the best engineers in the world,” he said. “They could fix these problems if they wanted to.” The companies could do more to police the messages being circulated on their sites, he suggested.
He’s correct about the problems. But the first problem with his solution is that he is asking a couple of corporations to judge billions of interactions, making them not only powerful media conglomerates, which they already are, but also the world’s most prolific censors and arbiters of expression. Of course, by abdication, they are already erring on the side of hate speech, but is the alternative preferable? If we think Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg has too much power now, do we really want to make him the planet’s censor-in-chief?
Yes, the platforms benefit from and, therefore, promote, the most extreme viewpoints. But, even if we could, would forcing those voices off the platforms make the world a safer place? There are already countless alternative spaces for people whose extremism has been pushed off the mainstream sites. Just because we can’t hear them doesn’t mean they’ve gone away.
Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian philosopher who declared “the medium is the message” died four years before Zuckerberg was born. He could have predicted that social media would change the way we interact and communicate. But has it fundamentally changed who we are? Or has it merely allowed our true selves fuller voice? Perhaps a little of both. Facebook, Twitter and the others are not agnostic forces; they influence us as we engage with them. But, in the end, they are mere computer platforms, human-created applications that have taken on outsized force in our lives. And all the input is human-created. Since the dawn of the industrial age, we have imagined our own inventions taking over and controling us, from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to 2001: A Space Odyssey’s Hal to Zuckerberg’s Facebook.
In all these cases, fictional or not, the truth is that the power remains in human hands. This is no less true today. We could, if the political will existed, shut down these platforms or apply restraints along the lines Baron Cohen suggests. But this would be to miss the larger point.
We live in a world filled with too much bigotry, chauvinism, hatred and violence. This is the problem. Dr. Martin Luther King said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” And there are plenty of sites on social media that advance mutual understanding and love over hate. Are their messages as likely to go viral? Probably not. But that, ultimately, is determined by billions of individual human choices. A small but illuminating counterrevolution seems to be happening right now with a renaissance of the ideas of Mister (Fred) Rogers and his message of simple kindness. While much of the world seems alight in hatred and intolerance, a countermovement has always existed to advance love and inclusiveness. This needs to be nurtured in any and every way possible.
If Facebook were a country, its “population” would be larger than China’s. Bad example when we are discussing issues of free speech and the accountability of the powerful, perhaps, but illuminating – because an entity of that size and impact should be accountable. As a corporate body, it has few fetters other than governmental controls, which are problematic themselves. Concerned citizens (and platform users) should demand of these companies the safeguards we expect. We are the consumers, after all, and we should not ignore that power.
But neither should we abstain from taking responsibility ourselves. Social media influences us, yes. But, to an exponentially greater degree, it is merely a reflection of who we are. It is less distorted than the funhouse mirror we like to imagine it being. If what we see when we look at social media is a depiction of the world we find repugnant, it is not so much social media that needs to change, it is us.
Tale of the Eastside Lantern’s Shon Wong and Rosa Cheng. (photo by David Cooper)
Among the many artists participating in this year’s Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival is Jewish community member Elliot Polsky. The multi-percussionist joins the Son of James Band in Tale of the Eastside Lantern, a workshop presentation of a new hybrid Chinese rock opera.
From Oct. 30 to Nov. 10, the annual Heart of the City offers 12 days of music, stories, theatre, poetry, cultural celebrations, films, dance, readings, forums, workshops, discussions, gallery exhibits, mixed media, art talks, history talks and history walks. More than 100 events are scheduled to take place at more than 40 locations throughout the Downtown Eastside. This year’s theme – “Holding the Light” – has emerged from the need of Downtown Eastside-involved artists and residents to illuminate the vitality and relevance of the Downtown Eastside community and its diverse traditions, knowledge systems, ancestral languages, cultural roots and stories.
Tale of the Eastside Lantern is one of the top festival picks: “In the streets and shops of Vancouver’s Chinatown, Jimmy wrestles with his personal demons and sets out to solve a mystery that is guarded by Chinese opera spirits of the underworld. Jimmy is led by the sounds of rock music and motivated by the oldest feeling in the world … love.” Written and composed by Shon Wong and directed by Andy Toth, the rock opera is produced by Vancouver Cantonese Opera and Son of James Band in partnership with Vancouver Moving Theatre. Performed in English and Cantonese, the workshop presentation takes place Oct. 31, 8 p.m., at CBC Studio 700. Tickets ($15) are available at the door or in advance from eastsidelantern2.eventbrite.ca.
Another top pick is Sis Ne’ Bi -Yïz: Mother Bear Speaks, written and performed by Taninli Wright (Wet’suwet’en) about her Messenger of Hope Walk – she walked 1,600 kilometres across British Columbia to give voice to First Nations children and other marginalized youth. Developed in collaboration with Laura Barron, Jason Clift, Julie McIsaac and Jessica Schacht, the play is produced by Instruments of Change. There are several performances Oct. 30-Nov. 3 at Firehall Arts Centre. For advance tickets ($20/$15), call 604-689-0926 or visit [email protected].
Written and performed by Yvonne Wallace (Lilwat) and directed by Jefferson Guzman, ūtszan (to make things better) follows the journey of a woman to reclaim her language; in the process, she uncovers indigenous knowledge, humour, strength and resilience. The play has three shows at the Firehall Oct. 31-Nov. 2, with tickets ($20/$15) available at the door and in advance.
Of special interest to the Jewish community, whose oral histories form part of Daphne Marlatt and Carole Itter’s Opening Doors: Vancouver’s East End, is the dramatization of that book, which was first published in 1979. Directed by Donna Spencer and co-produced by the Firehall and Vancouver Moving Theatre, Opening Doors has several performances Nov. 6-9 at the Firehall, with tickets $20/$15.
While there are these and other ticketed shows, most of the festival events are free to attend. For example, on Nov. 2, 11 a.m., at CRAB Park, there is a mini-landing of canoes, featuring a welcome ceremony, after which paddlers and guests journey on land to the Police Museum and the exhibition Healing Waters, an exploration of how communities heal through connecting to cultural practice. This landing, in honour of the inaugural Pulling Together canoe journey in 2001, launches a year of story gathering and history sharing in preparation for the 20th anniversary celebration of the Pulling Together Society at next year’s Heart of the City.
In Speaking in Tongues, guests Woody Morrison, David Ng, Grace Eiko Thomson and Dalannah Gail Bowen discuss mother tongues and how their interactions can give birth to hybrid languages such as Japanese Pidgin, which is unique to the West Coast of Canada. This conversation is part of Homing Pidgin, an interactive installation by Haruko Okano, and takes place on Nov. 2, 1 p.m., at Centre A (205-268 Keefer).
Meanwhile, Irreparable Harm? is by Sinister Sisters Ensemble – activists and theatre folk, young and old, First Nations and settlers, many of whom were arrested in the protests against the twinning of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. It uses videos, transcripts of the court proceedings and statements that were read in the courtroom to shine a light on the justice system. It is at Carnegie Theatre on Nov. 8, 3 p.m.
At a Sephardi Rosh Hashanah seder, one of blessings, over leeks (or cabbage) is the request, may “our enemies be destroyed.” (photo from Wikimedia)
Food customs differ among Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews. For example, whereas Ashkenazim dip apple in honey at Rosh Hashanah, some Sephardim traditionally serve mansanada, an apple compote, as an appetizer or dessert, according to The World of Jewish Desserts by Gil Marks, z”l.
Just as gefilte fish became a classic dish for Ashkenazi Jews, baked sheep’s head became a Rosh Hashanah symbol for many Sephardi Jews, dating back to the Middle Ages. Some groups serve sheep brains or tongue or a fish with head, probably for the same reasons, for fruitfulness and prosperity and wishes for the New Year of knowledge or leadership.
The Talmud mentions the foods to be eaten on Rosh Hashanah as fenugreek, leeks, beets, dates and gourds, although various Jewish communities interpret these differently.
According to Rabbi Robert Sternberg, in The Sephardic Kitchen, Sephardi Jews have a special ceremony called the Yehi Ratsones (Hebrew for “May it be Thy will”), where each food is blessed. There are foods that symbolically recognize God’s sovereignty and our hope He will hear our pleas for a good and prosperous year.
The Hebrew word for gourds is kara, which sounds like both the word for “read/proclaim” and the word for “tear.” When we eat the gourd or pumpkin, there are two possible Yehi Ratzons that can be said. The first one goes: “May it be your will, Hashem, that our merits be read/proclaimed before you.” The other is that the decree of our sentence should be torn up.
The second food mentioned is fenugreek, or rubia, which sounds like yirbu, the Hebrew word for “increase.” Therefore, we say a Yehi Ratzon that contains the request, may “our merits increase.”
The word for the third food, leeks or cabbage, is karsi, krusha or kruv, which sounds like kares, or the Aramaic word karti, to cut off or destroy. The Yehi Ratzon asks, may “our enemies be destroyed.”
The fourth food, beets or beet greens, silka or selek, sounds like siluk, meaning removal, or she’yistalqu, to be removed, or the Aramaic word silki. The Yehi Ratzon requests that “our adversaries be removed.”
The last food is dates, tamri or tamar, which sounds like the Hebrew word sheyitamu and the Aramaic word tamri, to consume. Hence, we say a Yehi Ratzon that asks, may “our enemies be consumed.”
All of these foods, which grow rapidly, are also symbols of fertility, abundance and prosperity. Among other items that might be on a Sephardi table at Rosh Hashanah, Sternberg includes baked apples dipped in honey or baked as a compote with a special syrup; dates, which were among the seven species found in Israel; pomegranates, which have many seeds, or black-eyed peas, to represent our hoped-for merits; rodanchas, a pastry filled with pumpkin whose spiral shape symbolizes the unending cycle of life; and a fish head, symbolizing a wish to be the head in life, a leader, and not the tail. The main course might feature stuffed vegetables, symbolizing a year full of blessings and prosperity.
Some communities ban sharp, bitter or black foods for Rosh Hashanah, such as black olives, eggplant, chocolate or coffee.
In The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews, Edda Servi Machlin, z”l, who grew up in Pitigliano, Tuscany, explains that her father held a seder for Rosh Hashanah around the theme of growth, prosperity and sweetness. On the seder plate were a round challah, a boiled rooster’s head, fish such as anchovies, boiled beets, figs and pomegranates. In the centre was a dried, round, sourdough cake with an impression of her father’s right palm and fingers, and fennel weed growing on each side.
The foods were then blessed – “May we grow and multiply like fish in the ocean, like the seeds of a pomegranate, like the leavening, grain and fennel of the bread. May the year be sweet like beets and figs.”
The meal consisted of soup, fish, salad, chicken and fruit. Italian Jews also often serve at Rosh Hashanah desserts made with honey and nuts; stick or diamond-shaped cookies; strufali, cookies made of fried dough balls in honey; or ceciarchiata, cookies that resemble chickpeas and are made from bits of dough like the Ashkenazi teiglach.
A Greek cookbook writer from Ioannina (Yahnina) wrote that the people of her area made koliva, a thick porridge of wheat berries flavoured with cloves, cinnamon, walnuts and honey for eating on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. According to Marks in The World of Jewish Desserts, wheat berries are unprocessed whole wheat with the outer husk removed, leaving a nutty flavour and chewy texture. Jews of Yahnina also ate kaltsoounakia, a half-moon-shaped cake stuffed with ground walnuts, honey, cinnamon and cloves. For the main course, dishes in Yahnina were influenced by the Turkish occupation and included stuffed tomatoes, stuffed squash and stuffed vine leaves – filled with lamb, rice and parsley, as well as okra stewed with chicken.
Other Jews of Greece have different customs. Nicholas Stavroulakis, author of Cookbook of the Jews of Greece, writes that some people soak apples in honey or eat quince or rose petals cooked in syrup as the New Year sweet. Fish is often the main course and, in place of honey cake for dessert, Greek Jews use almonds or pumpkin in making turnovers, as a symbol of abundance. Other desserts include semolina cake in syrup, pastry triangles filled with nuts or dried fruit, or baklava.
Among Jews of Syria, sugar or honey is substituted for salt at the table, and many families do not serve any dishes that are sour. For the second night Shehechiyanu blessing, the fruit used may be quince, prickly pear, star fruit or figs. Instead of, or in addition to, dipping apples in honey, Jews of Syria often dip dates in honey.
Many Jews from Muslim countries also eat autumn foods cooked with sugar and cinnamon; the food names contain a symbolic allusion to prayers in Aramaic and, through alliteration, are recited over the vegetables and fruits. Syrian Jews use the same prayers but over different vegetables: leek, Swiss chard, squash, black-eyed peas, pomegranate and the head of an animal. This idea of wanting people to be smart, as symbolized by the head or brain, is observed by Jews of Tunisia in their serving of a cake made with chicken and calves brains.
Moroccan Jews take sesame seeds, warm them in the oven and eat them with apple dipped in honey to symbolize that Jews should be fruitful and multiply like the seeds and have the sweet year. They also eat the pomegranate because of its alleged 613 seeds, which symbolize the 613 mitzvot. Moroccan Jews identify the seven autumnal foods as pumpkin, zucchini, turnip, leek, onion, quince and Chinese celery, and sprinkle these with sugar and cinnamon to eat at the beginning of the meal.
Some Moroccan Jews also serve cooked lamb head as an appetizer for Rosh Hashanah. Other lamb dishes served might be lamb with prunes and almonds or lamb intestines filled with rice, meat and tomato, seasoned with cinnamon and cardamom.
Another popular dish served by Moroccans for Rosh Hashanah is couscous, the traditional North African grain, or farina. It is steamed above a stew made with meat or chicken, chickpeas, pumpkin, carrots, cinnamon and raisins. Baked fish with the head, made with tomatoes and garlic, tongue with olives, or meat and rice rolled in Swiss chard are other Moroccan New Year’s dishes. Two soups that may be served are vegetable soup with pastels, a meat-filled turnover similar to kreplach, and potakhe de potiron, a yellow, split-pea and pumpkin soup. The evening may be completed with honey-dipped “cigars,” filled with ground almonds and traditional hot mint tea.
“Cigars” are traditional for Moroccan events and can be made sweet or savoury. The sweet version is a slim roll of Phyllo pastry filled with almonds, pistachio nuts or walnuts, baked or deep fried and sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar. Savoury cigars may be filled with cheese, chicken, meat, potatoes or tuna.
For Rosh Hashanah, Jews of Egypt make loubia, a black-eyed pea stew with lamb or veal, to symbolize fertility.
Jews of Iraq cook apples with water and sugar like applesauce, as a symbol of a sweet New Year. Some also prepare a special, pale-green bottle-shaped squash, which they eat with whole apple jam and sugar. They also make the blessings over leek, squash, dates, pomegranate and peas and place the head of a lamb on their Rosh Hashanah table.
Yemenite Jews, who do not consider themselves Ashkenazi or Sephardi, dip dates in honey instead of apples; others mix sesame seeds and anise seeds with powdered sugar and dip dates in this mixture. They also eat the beet, leek, pomegranate and pumpkin, as well as a salted fish head. The main meal for Yemenites would be a soup made of chicken or meat, carrots, potatoes and the spice hawaj (a combination of black pepper, cumin, coriander and turmeric). Meat stew, cooked chicken, rice, dried fruit and nuts complete the meal.
Whatever your family’s origins, why not try something from another Jewish culture this Rosh Hashanah?
Sybil Kaplan is a journalist, lecturer, book reviewer and food writer in Jerusalem. She created and leads the weekly English-language Shuk Walks in Machane Yehuda, she has compiled and edited nine kosher cookbooks, and is the author of Witness to History: Ten Years as a Woman Journalist in Israel.
A recent study indicates that Americans are increasingly tolerant of the idea that businesses should be able to refuse service to customers based on the customer’s identity.
Of those polled, 19% said that a business should be able to refuse to serve Jews, an increase from 12% the last time the question was asked five years earlier. Twenty-two percent believe that Muslims could be legally denied services, 24% said atheists should be able to be turned away and slightly fewer than one in three believe that gay, lesbian or transgender people could be denied service. Fifteen percent of respondents said that a business should have the right to refuse to serve African-Americans, an increase from 10% in 2014. Most notable is that these numbers have increased over the past five years. For example, the number of people who said gays or lesbians could be denied service almost doubled, to 30% from 16%. (The question did not include Muslims five years ago.)
The issue has come to a head on a couple of occasions, such as when bakeries have refused to provide cakes for same-sex weddings. But it is the increase in the feelings of exclusion that have grown over the past half-decade that indicate we are not in a period of unfettered progress in our acceptance of diversity.
Some economists would suggest that the market should decide the matter – a business that turns away customers may have more trouble surviving, or it may benefit from an increase in like-minded clients, but that is of concern only to its owner. Others would say, if a baker doesn’t want to bake your wedding cake because they are prejudiced against your sexual orientation, why on earth would you want to patronize them? Of course, the principle of equality goes beyond economics. Court decisions in Canada and the United States have indicated that the law will not tolerate the refusal of service to identifiable groups by a business or service that otherwise is available to the general public.
There are nuances to the discussion, though.
This year, the White Rock Pride Society claimed discrimination after the Star of the Sea Catholic church refused to rent a venue to the LGBTQ organization. Here is where things get a little more complicated. A Catholic individual – or a Muslim, or a Jew or anyone – operating a business aimed at the general public does not have the right to discriminate based on a customer’s identity. But a church – or a synagogue or a mosque – is not on par with a business that is open to the public. One has to wonder about the motivation of a gay organization approaching a Catholic church to rent space, which seems like a bit of a set-up for a discrimination complaint. But the larger issue here is that religious organizations should certainly have the right to determine who can use its facilities. Imagine, for example, an overtly antisemitic organization asking to rent space in a Jewish community centre. There is a substantial difference, of course, between one’s beliefs (being anti-Zionist or even antisemitic is a choice) as opposed to an immutable characteristic of one’s personality, such as sexual orientation.
The issue is at once simple and complex. Businesses are not individuals with human rights. They are entities created under laws and they must adhere to the laws and norms of the jurisdiction in which they operate. We might be thankful to know that, if a particular pizza maker or café owner holds antisemitic views, we can choose not to patronize them. This is an entirely different scenario than the flip side of that coin, in which a business refuses to serve Jews.
There has been a lot of commentary in recent years that the American president and others in high-profile positions have given permission to people to air their prejudices openly. A study like this is welcome because it puts quantifiable numbers to the perception of growing intolerance. This is a wake-up call to those who would ignore the warning signs of our current era of discontent. The evidence has arrived. Now, what are we going to do about it?
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, in Jerusalem in May 2018. (photo from Ashernet)
Nechama Rivlin died June 4 at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva, at the age of 73. She had undergone a lung transplant operation three months ago because of pulmonary fibrosis. She received a lung from Yair Yehezkel Halabli, 19, of Ramat Gan, who drowned in Eilat. President Rivlin extended his family’s thanks to the Halabli family, “who donated their late son Yair’s lung, for their inspiring nobility and wonderful deed.”
Nechama Rivlin was born in 1945 in Moshav Herut in the Sharon region. She completed high school at the Emek Hefer Ruppin Regional School. In 1964, she began studying natural sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. After graduating, she worked at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as a researcher in the department of zoology, and other departments. In addition, she studied modern, classical and ancient art. In 1971, she married Reuven (Rubi) Rivlin and settled in Jerusalem. They have three children and many grandchildren; she was sister to Varda.
Rivlin’s fondness for Hebrew literature and art led her to write from time to time about writers and artists, who particularly appreciated the posts she published on the official Facebook page of the president. She generally began her posts with the words, “Hello everyone, Nechama here,” and signed them “Yours, Nechama.” In 2018, she established the President’s Award for Hebrew Poetry.
What food eaten during Pesach causes the most debates? If you guessed matzah balls, you’re right. Should they be hard or light? Big or small? What secret ingredient should be added to them?
From where did matzah balls, or kneidlach, originate? German Jews had a dumpling that they put into their soup called knodel. From this came the Yiddish term kneydl, singular, or kneydlach, in the plural. In Czech, it is known as knedliky. Dumplings have been in Central European cookery since the Middle Ages and then they came to Germany and Eastern Europe later.
So, just how many ways are there to make matzah balls?
Joan Nathan, a friend of mine, who has written a number of cookbooks and is considered a maven of American Jewish cooking, proposes adding chicken fat or vegetable oil plus seltzer, club soda or chicken broth, to make them light and airy. In Jewish Cooking in America, she also relates that some matzah balls, originating in Lithuania, use chicken fat or vegetable shortening and contain a filling made of onion, oil or chicken fat, matzah meal, egg yolk, salt, pepper and cinnamon. The filling is then placed in the middle of the matzah ball before they are cooked in salt water. After cooking in salt water, they are baked 30 minutes then placed in the soup for serving. Joan also has a recipe for matzah balls made in the southern United States, using pecans. In my research, I discovered that some Louisiana Jews add green onions and cayenne pepper.
In her cookbook Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France, Joan explains that, in France, matzah balls are called boulettes de paque, krepfle or kneipflich. They are the size of walnuts and not fluffy. They are made from stale bread or matzah soaked in water and dried, and they contain rendered goose fat, vegetable oil or beef marrow, eggs, water or chicken broth, matzah meal, salt, pepper, ginger and nutmeg.
In The New York Times Passover Cookbook, edited by Linda Amster, among the recipes for matzah balls is one by Mimi Sheraton, Times food critic at the time, who used chicken fat and cold water. Another is from Joan’s cookbook Jewish Holiday Kitchen, and she uses ginger and nutmeg. The winning recipe for the first Matzah Bowl contest in New York at the time the Times cookbook was published used vodka and club soda. A low-fat, low-salt version is made with egg whites and vegetable oil. Another style, which is airy, is made with beef marrow, instead of chicken fat, plus nutmeg.
Refrigeration and the temperature of the liquid seem to be key common denominators in many recipes.
Nina Rousso, an Israeli, in her book The Passover Gourmet, uses beaten egg yolks, lukewarm water, melted margarine, salt, parsley, matzah meal and stiffly beaten egg whites folded in. The mixture is refrigerated two hours before making.
In Passover Lite, Gail Ashkenazi-Hankin, an American, combines egg yolks, onion powder, salt, pepper, matzah meal, water and beaten egg whites and chills the mixture 30 minutes.
Zell Schulman, the American author of Let My People Eat, says the key to making light, melt-in-your-mouth, floating matzah balls is to beat egg whites until stiff then fold into the yolks with salt, pepper, cinnamon, matzah meal and optional parsley and refrigerate 15 minutes. A second version combines matzah meal with only the beaten egg whites until they hold peaks, plus parsley, cinnamon, grated carrot and oil, but no egg yolks.
Susan Friedland, the American author of The Passover Table, combines whole eggs with seltzer, salt, pepper, matzah meal and schmaltz, which she refrigerates for one hour. The schmaltz adds the flavour.
Marlene Sorosky, American author of Fast and Festive Meals for the Jewish Holidays, provides a recipe using ground almonds, ginger and chopped parsley. She chills the matzah balls for one hour.
Edda Servi Machlin, whose family has 2,000-year-old roots in Italy, says her family serves a mix between Italian Passover soup and Ashkenazi chicken soup. Her matzah balls are made of chopped chicken, egg, broth, olive oil, salt, pepper, nutmeg and matzah meal. The batter is refrigerated one hour before making.
Other Italian Jews, who call the matzah balls gnocchi di azzaima, add onions or mashed potatoes to the dough or grated lemon rind.
An aside: In 2001, Ariel Toaff, a professor at Bar-Ilan University, who is the son of Rome’s chief rabbi, came out with a book called Mangiare alla Giudia (Eating the Jewish Way). He devotes a chapter to Passover traditions, and writes that matzah was so popular that the Catholic authorities banned Jews from selling matzah to non-Jews and banned Christians from eating it.
Italian bakers also baked different kinds of matzah: plain for intermediate days, shmurah matzah for the sederim, and matzah made with white wine, eggs, sugar, anise and goose fat for those with more rich tastes.
Jews of Italy even developed sfoglietti or foglietti, a kosher-for-Passover pasta made with flour and eggs, which was then quickly dried and baked in a hot oven and served in soup or with a sauce.
Joyce Goldstein, an American fascinated by Italian Jewish cuisine, describes, in Cucina Ebraica, a combination of ground chicken, egg, matzah meal, salt, pepper and cinnamon, which she refrigerates before cooking in soup, but she does not say for how long.
Sonia Levy, a native of Zimbabwe, wrote a cookbook of her community, called Traditions. She describes luft kneidlach, light matzah balls, made with matzah meal, water, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon or ginger, eggs and oil. These must be refrigerated at least half a day. She adds that you can also make a pit with a finger and insert chopped meat that has been mixed with fried onions and spices. Another Zimbabwe version uses egg, cold water, chicken fat, salt, pepper, ginger and matzah meal.
Ruth Sirkis, an Israeli, in A Taste of Tradition, says “air” matzah balls have eggs, matzah meal, salt, chicken soup and chicken fat and are refrigerated two hours.
Another version, by Anya von Bemzen and John Welchman in Please to the Table: A Russian Cookbook, has walnut balls for soup, which are made by the Georgian Jews using ground walnuts, onion, egg, matzah meal, oregano, salt, pepper and a froth egg white.
A couple of last pieces of matzah ball trivia. In 2008, a New York kosher delicatessen held its annual matzah ball-eating competition to raise money for a shelter for the homeless. The winner ate 78 matzah balls in eight minutes. Although not in the Guinness Book of World Records, a few years ago, the largest matzah ball was measured at 17.75 inches across and weighed more than 33 pounds.
And, lastly, among some ultra-Orthodox Jews, matzah balls are not eaten because they expand when they cook, and they consider this reaction a form of leavening.
Regardless of the style of matzah balls you prefer, just make plenty for your guests!
Sybil Kaplanis a journalist, lecturer, book reviewer and food writer in Jerusalem. She created and leads the weekly English-language Shuk Walks in Machane Yehuda, she has compiled and edited nine kosher cookbooks, and is the author of Witness to History: Ten Years as a Woman Journalist in Israel.