Simone Osborne, left, Tiffany Rivera and Matthew Rossoff are just three of the alumni who will help Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance! celebrate on Nov. 10 at the Rothstein Theatre. (photos from the artists)
“I never thought that Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance! would be so popular and I certainly didn’t think that I would still be involved 25 years later. I love these kids and being involved!” Perry Ehrlich told the Independent.
Ehrlich created the musical theatre summer camp at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver in 1995. Its first quarter-century will be celebrated at the Rothstein Theatre Nov. 10, with 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. shows, as part of this year’s Chutzpah! Festival.
“The two shows,” said Ehrlich, “feature opera sensation Simone Osborne, currently living in Germany, who was the youngest winner of the Metropolitan Opera theatre auditions; Matthew Rossoff, from New York and Toronto, who was dance captain for Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway; Tiffany Rivera, a pop, jazz and soul singer; faculty members Advah Soudack, who just toured Canada in the hit play Glory, and Meghan Anderssen, star of Annie Get Your Gun and Thoroughly Modern Millie at Theatre Under the Stars); my daughter, Lisa Ehrlich Kesselman, winner of the PNE Star Discovery and National Youth Talent Search; Erik Ioannidis, star of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat [at Theatre Under the Stars]; vocalist Andrew Robb; singer and bassist Benjamin Millman; and, of course, my ShowStoppers troupe, who performed with Eric Church and Barry Manilow at Rogers Arena, with the legendary troupe Foreigner at Hard Rock Casino Theatre, [on] Canada Day at Canada Place, [and] singing the anthems for the Canucks and at the PNE.
“Everyone – and I mean everyone, including the kids who will narrate the shows – participated in Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance! in the past. And Wendy Bross Stuart will be on stage with them!”
Since Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance! began, Erhlich said “four things have changed.
“One, the kids are now older. In year one, we accepted 6-year-olds. Now, the youngest are 9 or 10 and over 70% are in high school.
“Two, the curriculum for Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance! has become more intensive each year; the levels of singing, dancing and acting is at an all-time high.
“Three, there has been a great social dynamic among the kids that has increased over the years. I hear over and over again that kids have met lifelong friends at Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance!
“And, four, I am thrilled by the number of non-Jewish kids who participate in the program and love being at the JCC. In early years, I had to explain security and what it means to be Jewish. No more.”
Judi Majewski can help you express what you’d like to say in writing. (photo by Pat Johnson)
Want to write your thoughts down but you’re not so good with words? Need to write a difficult letter? Want to record some memories? If you need a ghostwriter to help you express what you need to say – no matter what it is – a volunteer is ready and willing.
Judi Majewski has been offering the free service at the Isaac Waldman Jewish Public Library since the summer. She hopes readers of the Independent might know someone who can use her help.
“I thought, I know people struggle with this, so I would love to help people,” said the former public school teacher. Writing comes easy for her, she said, something she knows is not the case for everyone.
People for whom English is not a first language might benefit from her help, Majewski said, but she’s excited to help anyone.
“I think anybody, really, who wants to tell a story, who wants to record a memory, record their family history, write a eulogy. And anybody who struggles with putting things down on paper – I think there are a lot of people like that,” she said.
Publishing has never been a desire for her, she said, she just enjoys writing as a way of communicating feelings and thoughts.
“I have written the occasional difficult letter,” she said. “Sometimes your emotions are so involved and sometimes I think people can use help.”
She knows her challenge is to capture the voice of the person for whom she is writing.
“I want it to be in their voice. I think that’s going to be the interesting challenge for me, to see if I can do that, to see if it speaks for them,” she said. “That’s very important.”
Her husband told her she could make a business out of it, but she doesn’t want to go into business. She’s just happy to help, she said.
He offered some other advice, too.
“My husband says I express myself much better in the written word,” she said laughing. “Sometimes we think maybe we should just write to each other.”
To contact Majewski, visit her at the Waldman Library, in the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, until Dec. 11, where she will be every other Wednesday, at 1:30 p.m., or email her directly at [email protected].
Want to make a difference in the lives of Israeli teens? Consider joining Israel Connect, a program where local volunteers connect online, one-on-one, via Zoom (a video conferencing app), with Israeli high school students who want to improve their English conversation and reading skills. The program starts at the end of October and is sponsored by Chabad Richmond. It entails a half-hour per week commitment.
“We’re looking for volunteer retirees, seniors or adults with flexible schedules. No previous tutoring experience is necessary and the curriculum is provided,” said Shelley Civkin, local coordinator of the program.
“We’re looking for Jewish adults who are fluent English speakers, have basic computer skills and own a computer with a camera,” said Civkin. Volunteers can do this from home and technical support is available if needed. Time preferences of volunteers will be coordinated beforehand and sessions take place in the morning between 7 and 11 a.m. any day from Sunday to Thursday. Volunteers will be trained in how to download and use Zoom.
“It’s a very meaningful, practical way for community members to support Israel,” said Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman of Chabad Richmond. “You’ll be doing a mitzvah, while investing in Israel and its young people. Plus, good English skills will give them an advantage in accessing post-secondary education and getting better jobs.
“English proficiency is crucial to Israeli students, since it accounts for a third of their entrance exam marks for university,” he added. “Partnering with the Israeli Ministry of Education, the Israel Connect program targets teens from disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Israel. The tutoring sessions are vital to students’ upward mobility in terms of education and jobs, which is why this program is so vital.”
“Most volunteers really enjoy helping their Israeli students and make great connections with them. It often goes beyond simply tutoring the curriculum and turns into friendship and mentorship,” said Civkin. “This kind of one-on-one tutoring makes a significant difference in their lives, both educationally and personally. It’s hard to estimate the impact of this tutoring on Israeli youth, but we know it’s significant. And it’s incredibly satisfying to know that you’re doing something concrete to help Israeli students improve their lives. Several tutors have visited their students on trips to Israel, and keep in touch beyond just the school year. Building relationships is an integral and highly satisfying part of this program.”
On the Jewish Independent’s bookshelf are four books recently published by Second Story Press. All are inspired by real women and girls, and all share lessons of bravery, solidarity and compassion, as well as of the Holocaust.
Fania’s Heart by Anne Renaud and illustrated by Richard Rudnicki, The Promise by Pnina Bat Zvi and Margie Wolfe and illustrated by Isabelle Cardinal, and The Brave Princess and Me by Kathy Kacer and illustrated by Juliana Kolesova are hard-covered picture books for readers ages 7-11. All About Anne, by Anne Frank House and illustrated by Huck Scarry (son of children’s authors Patricia Scarry and Richard Scarry), is a soft-cover encyclopedia of sorts for readers ages 9-13.
Fania’s Heart is based on the story of Fania Landau Fainer, from Bialystok, Poland, who survived Auschwitz. In the book, her daughter, Sorale (Sandy), who is “almost 10,” finds a heart-shaped book in her mother’s dresser, where she “was not supposed to rummage.” She takes it to her mom, who tells Sorale about the book’s origin – a 20th birthday present of unimaginable meaning, made by fellow prisoners, at great risk, with breadcrumbs and stolen or bartered thread, pencil, paper and other materials. It is a story told with minimal sentimentality and with illustrations in the 1950s-style of the time in which it would have taken place in real life. An author’s note explains the Holocaust very briefly and how the card, which unfolds “like an origami flower,” ended up at the Montreal Holocaust Museum.
In The Promise, cousins Bat Zvi and Wolfe tell the story of their mothers, Rachel and Toby, who survived Auschwitz. It starts two years after the sisters were separated forever from their parents, who gave Toby three gold coins to use “only if you have to” and advised, “above all, stay together.” When Rachel becomes ill and is taken from the barracks, the coins play a crucial part in Toby’s rescue attempt. In a four-sentence epilogue are photos of the real sisters, but no context other than that in the story itself, which mentions Nazis and Auschwitz but not the Holocaust. The artwork for the book is somewhat creepy – the disproportionally large heads are photo-like, and placed on more traditionally illustrated bodies.
Less emotionally powerful – in part because there is too much text – is The Brave Princess and Me, which relates how Princess Alice hid Jewish mother and daughter Rachel and Alice Cohen in her home. The Nazis invaded Greece in 1941, and The Brave Princess and Me starts in 1943. Princess Alice, the mother of Prince Philip, was born deaf and she uses her impairment to protect the Cohens. More about the princess, who was honoured as one of the Righteous Among Nations, is included after the story.
Rounding out the publications is All About Anne, a relatively comprehensive telling of Anne Frank’s story, which uses drawings, photographs and text from the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam. Its content is based on the questions most frequently asked by visitors to the museum. While it centres around Anne, her life and her diary, it includes broader information about the Second World War and the Holocaust. It is an excellent resource.
For more information on these and other books from Second Story Press, visit secondstorypress.ca.
Dr. Daniel Matt will speak in Vancouver at Or Shalom over Selichot, Sept. 20-21. (photo from Or Shalom)
Even one of the world’s leading authorities on kabbalah has felt lost in the study of Jewish mysticism.
Dr. Daniel Matt began studying the Zohar, the central text of kabbalah, on a one-year exchange at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “Knowing that I had just one year there, I decided to take both Beginning Zohar and Advanced Zohar simultaneously,” he recalled. “I felt somewhat lost in Advanced Zohar, but that didn’t really matter, because I also felt somewhat lost in Beginning Zohar!”
His first book, his PhD dissertation, was a scholarly edition of the first translation of the Zohar: The Book of Mirrors by Rabbi David ben Yehudah he-Hasid, composed in the 14th century. He then taught at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., for two decades and spent as many years translating the most authoritative English translation of the Zohar. Matt, who will be in Vancouver Sept. 19-21, has become a preeminent scholar of the text.
In the mid-1990s, Matt was approached by Margot Pritzker – of the family who owns the Hyatt hotel chain – to produce a comprehensive English translation of the 700-year-old Zohar from the original Aramaic manuscripts.
Knowing the importance of the project, Matt agreed. “The Zohar was the only Jewish classic that had never been adequately translated,” he said.
The Zohar: Pritzker Edition was published in its completion in 2018. The 12-volume set, of which Matt translated and annotated the first nine, took 18 years to complete. For the feat, he received the National Jewish Book Award and the Koret Jewish Book Award, the latter calling his translation “a monumental contribution to the history of Jewish thought.”
The honour “was thrilling,” Matt said. The actual process of completing the translation, however, was at times grueling. “I basically restructured my life so that I could stay focused on this immense project without burning out,” he explained. “I started each day with a walk in the Berkeley Hills, then worked for five hours, then went for a swim, then rested and did some prep for the next day’s adventure.”
A major challenge was that, over the centuries, scribes who copied out Zohar manuscripts made changes to the text, meaning that an accurate version of the original was hard to find. “They added explanations, simplified the unruly Aramaic, deleted erotic descriptions or difficult – or invented – words and phrases,” Matt said.
Previous English translations of the Zohar were based on printed versions that, in Matt’s view, did not reflect the original writings. But, early in his process, he came upon manuscripts from the 14th to 16th centuries that he considered superior to the printed ones. To produce a “more authentic and poetic version,” he first reconstructed an Aramaic text from those manuscripts so he could build his English translation with it and, ultimately, share that artistry with a new audience.
“It is a treasure not just of Jewish literature, but of world literature, hidden away in an Aramaic vault for 700 years,” he said.
For the past year, Matt has taught an online Zohar course and has had more than 500 students, both Jewish and otherwise, from all over the world. He has found it gratifying to see “how eager people are to find personal meaning within Judaism, to explore and challenge the traditional understanding of God and Torah.
“I find that many folks are amazed to see that what they believe most deeply has been expressed by the mystics hundreds of years ago, or what they have stumbled across in Buddhism or other spiritual teachings is right there in our own tradition, hidden for too long.”
What Matt impresses on his students, both beginner and advanced, about the Zohar is how it goes beyond the literal meaning of the Torah. “It challenges our normal ways of making sense and reveals a radically new conception of God,” he said. “God is not a bearded man up in heaven who runs the show. God is infinity. At the same time, God is equally female and male, and the feminine half of God (Shekhinah) is perhaps the greatest contribution of the Zohar.
“All of Western religion is dominated by the masculine description of God, which has influenced our culture tremendously and left us with an imbalanced view of our own human nature.” Shekhinah, he said, “helps us realize that God embraces both the feminine and the masculine realms, though ultimately God is beyond gender.”
Matt’s Vancouver visit will include a vegetarian potluck at Or Shalom on Sept. 20, after which he will talk on Shekhinah. On Sept. 21, he will present the talk How Kabbalah Can Stimulate Us to Renew Our Lives, which will include songs on the theme of yearning to join with the One and meditation led by the synagogue’s Rabbi Hannah Dresner. Program details and registration are available via orshalom.ca/selichot.
Shelley Stein-Wotten is a freelance journalist and comedy writer. She has won awards for her creative non-fiction and screenwriting and enjoys writing about the arts and environmental issues. She is based on Vancouver Island.
The Arnold and Anita Silber Theatre at Tel-Hai College officially opened last month. (photo from Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver)
Last month, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver chief executive officer Ezra Shanken, as well as board members Karen James, Alex Cristall and Candace Kwinter, and Jewish Community Foundation executive director Marcie Flom were in Israel for the official opening of the Arnold and Anita Silber Theatre at Tel-Hai College. This new 1,200-seat outdoor theatre will be a hub of activity for the university and surrounding area. The theatre is located at the centre of the Tel-Hai campus, and is a key component in the college’s long-term development plan.
The Silbers have long supported Federation’s partnership region of the Galilee Panhandle, and its work there. They have supported a number of projects and established the Friends of Beit Vancouver, a donor-recognition program for supporters of Beit Vancouver. Anita Silber serves on Federation’s Israel and overseas affairs committee, and has for several years. Recognizing that Tel-Hai is a significant economic driver in the region led the Silbers to fund this legacy project and lend their name to it.
The official opening of the theatre began with a welcome reception with Tel-Hai’s board of trustees, followed by a ribbon cutting. The Silbers were joined by their granddaughter, Samantha Addison, and family members from Israel. In reply to the address honouring them that was delivered by Tel-Hai’s president, Prof. Yossi Mekori, Arnold Silber stressed that the students were the primary motivation for this investment. They are the ones to whom the future of the region is entrusted, and it is they who will take it to the next level.
A number of families and individuals from our community agree, and they are funding scholarships, which were awarded to students at the ceremony by James and Cristall: the Coleman Family Scholarships, the Krell Family Scholarships, the Evelynne Loomer z”l Scholarships, the Bernard Lotzkar Scholarships and the Zalkow Family Scholarships.
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Over the course of the 2018/2019 school year, the Student Council Committee of Richmond Jewish Day School took it upon themselves to raise money for the Shalva Centre Hydrotherapy Program in Israel.
With the support of families, the school raised $1,000, which was generously matched by Lola Pawer. Pawer and Leslie Diamond, who is a board member of the Shalva Centre, came to RJDS to teach students about the work Shalva provides for children with disabilities.
The students presented a cheque to Diamond in the amount of $2,000. For anyone wanting to learn more about Shalva or make a donation, visit shalva.org.
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Brett and Caro Rudolph have fun at their wedding in Syracuse, Sicily. Brett is the son of Les and Anita Rudolph of Vancouver (previously from South Africa) and Caro is the daughter of André and Svetli Wanne of Vienna. The wedding was officiated by Rabbi Paul Chaim Eisenberg of Vienna and was thoroughly enjoyed by family and friends. Brett and Caro live in Israel.
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On May 25, 2019, Samantha Pawer was conferred the degree of bachelor of science honours in integrated sciences with distinction from the University of British Columbia. Samantha is an alumna of Richmond Jewish Day School and Hugh Boyd Secondary School. Proud are parents Jeff Pawer and Beverly Pawer and big brother Brayden Pawer.
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Moshe Baitelman decided to become a doctor when he took his first biology class in high school. On May 26, 2019, the Vancouverite graduated as valedictorian at Touro’s Lander College of Arts and Sciences in Flatbush, Brooklyn, N.Y. He will begin medical school in the fall.
Baitelman chose Touro because it offered a strong Jewish environment as well as academic rigour. He majored in honours biology and minored in computer science. Along the way, he built strong relationships with his professors. “They all pushed me to be my best,” he said.
Living in Brooklyn, Baitelman found support for his career goals via the Gedaliah Society, a local network of Chabad men and women in the healthcare profession who offered advice and shared their own experiences in preparing for medical school. He also served as executive editor of Touro’s science journal and president of the Touro Science Society.
“Moshe has distinguished himself as a gifted, multitalented student with outstanding leadership skills. We are confident that he will become a respected physician, who will create a Kiddush Hashem in all his patient and professional interactions,” said Dr. Robert Goldschmidt, vice-president and executive dean of the Lander College.
Prior to Touro, Baitelman attended Vancouver Hebrew Academy for elementary and then the Pacific Torah Institute. Both schools imparted a strong Torah education with Jewish morals and values, and a first-class education. Baitelman’s education in Vancouver was the solid foundation for a life of strong Jewish identity and commitment to Jewish observance and learning, as well as enabling him to pursue further career education.
Baitelman credits his parents for his drive; they instilled a strong work ethic and have continued to encourage him. He offers similar advice to students getting ready to start college: “Be proactive. It will be the difference between just passing through and actually gaining from college. Find activities that will be conducive to your professional and educational growth – use your network of professors, advisors and other students.”
Architects Acton Ostry, who designed the original building of King David High School, are back for the expansion. (image from KDHS)
Bucking a trend that is seeing Jewish day schools across North America struggling to maintain enrolment, Vancouver’s King David High School is about to launch an expansion that will grow the space by 40% to accommodate increasing demand from students.
The Diamond Foundation, which purchased the land on which the school sits and funded construction of the school, which opened in 2005, has committed $6.5 million for the expansion project. Building is expected to begin in spring 2020, with completion in time for the opening of school in September 2021.
The school was built for 10 classes – two cohorts in each of grades 8 to 12.
“The challenge is, unfortunately, they don’t come in even numbers,” said Russ Klein, King David’s head of school. “You have some years where you have huge groups and then you have years where you have lesser groups. The challenge of dealing with a third cohort in a grade is really, really challenging. It was really built for two classes per grade and, as soon as you add a third class in a grade, it changes the whole structure.
“For the last three years, we’ve been squeezing in,” he continued. The expansion will permit 13 or 14 classes, with the flexibility to accommodate bulges, like the large cohorts in the current Grade 8 and Grade 11 classes.
Originally envisioned for about 200 students, the school’s enrolment is now 236.
“Thankfully, when we talked to the Diamonds, they were totally on board with helping us get to where we want to be, to be the best school we can be for our community,” he said.
The project will add an additional 13,000 square feet to the school’s current 33,000 square feet. Architects Acton Ostry, who designed the original building, are back for the expansion.
The two-storey existing building is the maximum height allowed by the city, so the increased space will be accommodated by digging down. There is already an underground level featuring a parkade. That will be extended and an additional sub-basement dug beneath it. The land around the school will be excavated to allow natural light into the new sub-level spaces, with stairs and an accessible ramp leading to the outdoor activity area.
The lowest sub-basement level will include changing rooms for students, additional gender-neutral bathrooms, a computer technology room and storage, which is lacking in the existing school.
The basement level will feature a state-of-the-art music room with three rehearsal areas and a control room so that students can record music. Also on that level will be an office for the physical education staff.
Added to the existing main floor will be a drama space and film studio with a green screen, where students can work on movie-making, film-editing and drama programs. Also in the works is an “innovation lab,” still in the planning stage, which could include 3-D printers and other hands-on learning tools where students can co-create a range of projects and explore individual interests. The existing drama and music spaces will be converted into general classrooms, Klein said, “so we get the extra bang there as well.”
The top floor will accommodate more new classrooms and a teachers’ workroom. A number of small offices will also be integrated into the new design.
When completed, the school’s existing space and new areas will merge seamlessly, Klein said, as if part of the original structure.
Notably, despite the expansion to the east of the existing building, useable outdoor space will increase with the removal of a hill at the edge of the property and a reorganization of the playing courts.
The entire project will involve minimal disruption to students because most of the work will take place outside of the existing school. One area that will be affected is the loss of outdoor space for a school year. Aside from that, the most disruptive impacts should be some construction noise, said Klein.
The $6.5 million commitment from the Diamond Foundation covers all the brick-and-mortar components. As part of the commitment, the King David community is to raise an additional $765,000 for furnishings, technology and other “soft costs,” Klein said. Also part of the agreement is that the school increase its existing endowment, which stands at about $1 million, to $5 million over the next five years. The revenue from the endowment is intended to create a fund that ensures tuition affordability and accessibility regardless of family capacity.
Klein lauded the Diamonds’ visionary commitment to continuity.
“They are the greatest supporters of Jewish education in the city,” said the principal. “We are so in awe of what they’re doing and their willingness to do it and just step up and support the growth of the school, to demonstrate how proud they are of what the school has done and not just with their talk but with their actions and their leadership.”
The co-presidents of the King David board of directors, Jackie Cristall Morris and Neville Israel, noted that school enrolment has increased 70% in 10 years.
“The expansion will allow us to grow and to keep striving towards meeting our school vision of being a dynamic leader in empowering Jewish minds and engaging Jewish hearts for the modern world,” they wrote in a statement to the Independent. “We are incredibly grateful for the Diamond family’s support of King David since the school’s early days. Simply put, King David would not have existed without the support of the Diamonds both in building the school, providing us free use of the building and in supporting our Judaic studies program, which is now well regarded under the leadership of Rabbi Stephen Berger.”
The Diamond Foundation has been run by Gordon and Leslie Diamond and their daughters Jill Diamond and Lauri Glotman. Recently, Leslie Diamond said, the next generation of family – Glotman’s children Bram Glotman, Sadye Dixon and Carly Glotman – has joined the foundation.
Leslie Diamond acknowledges that she has been King David’s most avid proponent within the family foundation. “To me, it was very important there be a high school to carry on those traditions and to instil the purpose of keeping those traditions,” she said. “I think that kids going to King David will have a better chance of feeling their roots and not leaving them.”
The need for more space is a sign of the excellent health and strength of the community, she said.
“Even though we think that we’re small compared to Toronto and the east, we really are a strong community,” Diamond said. “The success of the school proves that. The fact that they’re growing by leaps and bounds means there is a need for a Jewish high school, which goes back to my thoughts in the very beginning.”
In addition to excellence in Judaic and general education and the range of additional curricular and extracurricular options, there is something that Diamond said King David offers that she sees as vitally important for young people. “There is this need of belonging, which you don’t get in a public school,” she said.
Rabbi Uri Kroizer from the Ashkenazi track with his students. (photo by Itai Nadav)
Some 50 prayer leaders recently completed the first session of the inaugural Ashira program. The program’s goal is to train prayer leaders (schlichei tzibur) from across Israel to direct creative prayers in one of the following three tracks: Ashkenazi, Sephardi and contemporary liturgy.
This unique program, which is held at the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem, is a joint initiative of Rabbi Avi Novis Deutsch, dean of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary, and Yair Kochav, one of the founders of the Tahrir cultural platform. Both are graduates of the New York Federation’s social leadership Cohesion Lab.
At one of the meetings at the Schechter campus in Jerusalem, Novis Deutsch explained, “Musical prayer is at the crux of the soul – it is clear that enabling people to study prayer touches their souls. We can discern true happiness in the classes. As the director of many programs at the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary, I can sincerely say that when you teach Torah you sometimes see happiness, but when you teach prayer you constantly see happiness on the students’ faces.”
The Ashira program is comprised of 15 weekly five-hour meetings, where students study both theoretical and practical aspects of prayers and it is sponsored by donors from Vancouver and various parts of Israel.
From December 2018 to just after Passover 2019, when you walked down the hallways of the building, you would hear different styles of music from the classrooms.
“The students represent a broad variety of Israeli communities – some are studying in rabbinical programs, some are prayer leaders, and all have a love for Jewish liturgical music,” said Novis Deutsch. “The Ashira program furthers social cohesion; it is a collaborative project with the leaders of prayer renewal in Israel. Many of those who participate in the program never thought that they could be prayer leaders. Ashira allows them to imagine this possibility – it reduces their anxiety about leading prayers and gives them a voice.
The program’s premise is that, to find your voice as a prayer leader, you must acquire an in-depth knowledge of the tools, styles and procedures in this field.
“Before we embarked on the program, we assembled 12 leaders in the field of Israeli music and started a process, which gave birth to Ashira,” explained Yair Kochav. Of the three tracks, he said the Ashkenazi and Sephardi work with the existing liturgy, teaching it to the new prayer leaders, while the “contemporary liturgy track fuses the first two tracks with modern Israeli reality.”
According to Kochav, each track is divided into three sections: theoretical, musical and practical.
“This gives students a multifaceted experience of the essence of prayer and what motivates people to pray,” said Kochav. “Each identity and motivation must receive its own space. There is a certain apprehension that the traditional liturgy will disappear due to the growth of a popular modern Israeli liturgy. Therefore, students in all three tracks meet to discuss the similarities and differences of each liturgy.”
Rabbi Rani Yager, from the Shalom Hartman Institute, who heads the contemporary liturgy track together with Yair Harel, said, “The most important lesson that I learned in this program is that prayer is a need felt by people in all communities: it is not connected to one’s religious or ethnic background, nor to one’s gender. People are willing to discuss this need, to learn and to share their feelings. Singing together requires courage, and the enormous need for prayer engendered this courage.”
Rabbi Uri Kroizer and Dr. Naomi Cohn Zentner direct the Ashkenazi track and Hacham David Menachem and Drori Yehoshua direct the Sephardi track.
Students study the musical scales of each liturgical style; each student plays an instrument and/or sings during the classes. During the breaks, students meet in the hallway and eat dinner together (organized by different students each week) and discuss current events.
“Those of us in the Ashkenazic track, who come from different backgrounds, meet weekly and make space for the voices that we bring from our homes,” said Shira Levine, who received her master’s from the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies and is now a rabbinical student of the Hartman/Oranim program. “I have learned much from Rabbi Kroizer, who is an expert in Ashkenazic liturgy and a real mensch. I hope to study Sephardic liturgy in the next session.”
Osnat Ben Shoshan Pruz, a participant in the Sephardi track, said, “The program opened a door to a significant and immense world in which I have participated for many years. Ashira provided me with an opportunity to study, in depth, areas that I had not previously had a chance to examine. I have acquired numerous tools and knowledge in liturgy, Talmud and Jewish philosophy.”
“The program changed the manner in which I sing prayers, which goes beyond the pages of the siddur,” said David Arias, a Schechter Rabbinical Seminary student who participates in the contemporary liturgy track.
Rabbis Noam Abramchik, left, and Aaron Kamin. (photo from Pacific Torah Institute)
After 16 years in Vancouver, the Pacific Torah Institute yeshivah is closing. The school, which operates out of the Lubavitch Centre at Oak and 41st Avenue, was established by Rabbi Noam Abramchik and Rabbi Dovid Davidowitz in 2003.
Over the years, the program – which offers an education based on the Chofetz Chaim Yeshivah in Queens, N.Y. – has graduated more than 100 students from the high school and more than 200 in the beis midrash program. It is currently led by Abramchik, who is originally from Chicago, and Rabbi Aaron Kamin, who joined the yeshivah from New York in 2005.
Abramchik spoke of the dwindling number of students. “The high cost of living has driven most of the shomer Shabbos community out of Vancouver to other cities,” he said, estimating that 45 Orthodox families have left Vancouver in the last three years. Schara Tzedeck’s Rabbi Andrew Rosenblatt calls it, “the frum flight,” he said.
Families from all over North America have sought out PTI for their sons, he said, “But now, the community essentially felt that we were a luxury that could no longer be afforded, since the actual number of local ‘customers’ was slim to none.”
Abramchik spoke of the yeshivah students as “the most visible sign of Orthodox life in Vancouver.” PTI’s biggest contribution to Jewish life in Vancouver, he said, was “its adherence to Torah, studied at the highest level.”
The impact on religious Jewish life will be “immeasurable,” he said. “We offer university-level Judaic studies.” Few communities offer a post-high school program, he said, so the closure of PTI will mark a dramatic change for Jewish life in Vancouver.
Michael Sachs joined the board of PTI a year ago, when a secondary board was established by local professionals, with the purpose of keeping the yeshivah in Vancouver. Sachs, who is president of the board of the Bayit shul in Richmond, began his connection to PTI in its early years, with a stint as the coach of the school’s basketball team.
Sachs said there was a need for a yeshivah in Vancouver, even if most of the students came from elsewhere. “There’s a lack of understanding in the community about the extent of the yeshivah’s contribution to local Orthodox families,” he said, adding, “PTI is not the only institution affected by the yeshivah’s closure.” Other schools – Shalhevet Girls High School and Vancouver Hebrew Academy – shared resources with PTI, he said, “which allowed them to benefit from more staff and lower expenses.”
Sachs said he is heartbroken about the closure. “This is a loss that ripples across the whole Jewish community,” he said. “Any loss to a Jewish community is a big loss. The impact will be economic, social, educational and personal. People are losing their friends to other cities.”
He said, “The students ate at Café FortyOne, at Omnitsky; the yeshivah rented space at Lubavitch Centre; these students volunteered in our community.” He described the “impossible task” of saving the yeshivah, despite the rabbis and staff having made personal sacrifices to try and keep it afloat.
July 18 will be the last day of classes for PTI students. After that, the school will be packed up and moved to Las Vegas, where it will merge with another yeshivah there. The boys will continue with their program while living in dormitories. While yeshivot have moved in the past – especially after the Second World War – the merger is a new concept.
The future is still uncertain for some PTI students, who have been interviewed for yeshivot in Toronto, Milwaukee and Denver, among other places. Some families are considering yeshivot in Israel. The PTI program is highly regarded, Abramchik explained, “cities have been vying for the boys. Fifteen cities have asked PTI students to move to them, and 10 boys are coming this week to be interviewed for the new [merged] program in Las Vegas.”
Abramchik and Kamin spoke with regret of the move.
“We feel very rooted in this community,” said Kamin. “Three of our kids were born here, we’ve made brises, bar mitzvahs here. My married kids are very emotional, they feel as though their home is being uprooted.”
Abramchik agreed. “Kids are part of the mission,” he said. “They’re invested in the yeshivah and it’s been an anchor in their childhood. It’s very painful.” However, he said, “You have to be adaptable as educators, trends are changing all the time.”
Shula Klinger is an author and journalist living in North Vancouver. Find out more at shulaklinger.com.
Dr. Robert Krell with Grade 12 King David High School students Gali Goldman, left, and Edden Av-Gay. (photo by Shula Klinger)
On May 2, King David High School marked Yom Hashoah at its annual assembly commemorating those lost in the Holocaust. This year, for the first time, the school hosted Grade 10 students from Alpha Secondary School in Burnaby.
The morning began with prayers for the victims of the recent Poway shooting in San Diego. After a minute’s silence, the assembly commenced with a procession led by child Holocaust survivor Dr. Robert Krell. Each of the five KHDS students in the procession carried a candle.
Originally from The Hague, Krell is founding president of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre and an educator and advocate for the centre’s programs. He is also professor emeritus, department of psychiatry, University of British Columbia, and distinguished life fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He was introduced by KDHS students Estie Kallner and Mattea Lewis, his granddaughters. They spoke of their grandfather, thanking him for the “privilege” of hearing firsthand stories of the Holocaust.
Krell began his talk holding up a black and white photograph of himself as a baby. “Who was the enemy of the Third Reich?” he asked the audience. “This,” he said.
Krell was born when Holland was already occupied by Nazi forces. Indeed, the hospital he was born in was already partially confiscated by the Gestapo. He described how restrictions were imposed rapidly, every mundane aspect of Jewish life being placed under more and more stringent rules. Deportations began in 1942. Speaking of the local Jewish population being assembled for the euphemistically named “resettlement in the east,” he said, “No one panicked sufficiently.”
Krell went on to describe how, as family friends began to disappear, his “rather astute” parents fled their home, taking few possessions. “What would you grab?” he asked. His parents abandoned their photo albums because, in enemy hands, they would give away too much personal information.
Placed in the care of a local Dutch Christian family, Krell learned to call the parents Mother and Father. He described them as “the most wonderful people on earth.” With them, he said, his life was “comparatively normal.” That said, with the ever-present risk of betrayal, as a dark-haired child in a sea of blond heads, he was very noticeable. He was not allowed to look out of the apartment windows; there were Dutch Nazi sympathisers living within sight of his adoptive home.
One of the most powerful aspects of the lecture were Krell’s insights on human memory and identity under conditions of extreme stress. He described his recollections as “fragmented, not fully formed” and, while his young mind didn’t appreciate the extent of the horrors being committed outside, he said, “I knew something was wrong because I was part of another family.” His mother, he explained, remembered nothing of that period. Having given her young son over to a Dutch Christian, he said, “She was in shock for three months.” He spoke in the present tense of how his real identity vanished in hiding. “I melt into the family.”
As an adult, his adoptive sister, Nora, also buried some memories, which led to a conflict with Krell. He recalled being taken to visit his mother by Nora but Nora said she had never done that. This was a way of “denying me my memory,” he said, adding that this denial causes grievous harm to the psyche. Even though we have fragmented memories, he said, “we don’t want to give them up because they are part of who we are.”
In the end, the disagreement was resolved. Nora had indeed taken Krell to see his mother. Twice, he was nearly discovered and twice he narrowly escaped, first by covering his head with a blanket and, the second time, by hiding under a bed.
His years in hiding were characterized by unease, a looming sense of fear and constant hyper-vigilance. After the war, his family moved to Vancouver, leaving behind Holland, which he said he viewed as “a place of death.” He described himself as “the most eager immigrant-in-waiting that ever existed.”
Once in Canada, Krell reinvented himself, hiding his shyness behind outward charm and sociability. He said he became resilient, ignoring illness and pain, striving to forge a new life, a family and career for himself.
He spoke of the medical advice he received when dealing with overwhelming feelings – “You should get rid of your obsession with the Holocaust.” Instead, he helped found the Holocaust Symposium for high school students and facilitated the recording of 140 testimonies from survivors.
Following the lecture at KDHS, Krell answered questions from students, concerning Holocaust education today, as well as why it is that some people hid Jews and put their own lives at risk. Krell referred to “common decency,” adding that his own rescuers “didn’t know the precise nature of the unfolding danger, but once they had me, they were committed.” He told the students that, in spite of the “showcase” of the Nuremberg trials, “there is no justice.” And, are we at risk today? “Massively.”
In his closing comments, Krell shifted from storyteller to teacher, using the narrative of his life to guide the students in theirs. “Learn your history,” he said. “In it lies everything to secure the safety of your children and grandchildren.”
He said, “Without engaging with the Holocaust, you are at great risk of becoming an under-educated person, and that makes you vulnerable. This mass murder took doctors, lawyers. Physicians were killing children in 1938. It was the doctors, engineers, architects. Each of the professions we trust for our safety. They all worked in the service of mass murder. Safeguard your professions from sliding into the abyss. It happens so quickly.”
Grade 12 students Edden Av-Gay and Gali Goldman spoke with Krell after his talk. Av-Gay was struck by how “one person could experience so many miracles in his life, especially someone born into such hardship” and said, “His story is truly amazing.”
Goldman, who had recently given a class presentation on youth movements during the Holocaust, had heard Krell tell his story before. She said she was still touched by how “he lost so much but he has devoted his life to teaching about what he went through, even though it was horrific. He can still find parts of his story that were miracles.”
Asked about Krell’s decision to speak about his past, Av-Gay said, “I think it’s not a matter of him being comfortable telling his story, I think he feels obligated to do it, to share his past, to show what happened to six million Jewish people.”
Alpha Secondary Grade 10 student Amy Ricker said she found Krell “motivating and inspiring.” Ricker, who hopes to become a humanitarian lawyer, said she “teared up because he showed me how in the dark I have been, and how much I want to help people.”
One perhaps surprising message in his talk was a warning about tolerance.
“If Jews were ‘tolerated’ in Holland, and the result was the deaths of over 80% of the Jewish population,” he said, “then we have to do much better than just tolerance.”
As he finished his lecture, he said, “Realize what you have. Thank your parents and tell your irritating siblings that you love them. I urge you – be kind.”
Shula Klingeris an author and journalist living in North Vancouver. Find out more at shulaklinger.com.