Historical ignorance has been in the news recently, with polls indicating widespread lack of awareness of the Holocaust, especially among young people in North America and Europe. (See jewishindependent.ca/much-work-left-to-do.) Some media reports got the story wrong, however, claiming that many people “don’t believe” six million Jews died in the Holocaust. The reality is that many people “don’t know” this fact, and there is a big difference between not knowing and not believing. Then there is a different phenomenon altogether: denial.
Plenty of well-informed but ill-intentioned people know the truth of the Holocaust but, for various reasons, take a position that the facts are falsified. The notorious Holocaust denier David Irving is reportedly again making the rounds in Britain, promoting his ahistorical ideology. In a nice contrast, Irving’s nemesis, Prof. Deborah Lipstadt, is back in the news promoting her new book, Antisemitism: Here and Now.
Lipstadt went from respected Emory University professor to a sort of global superstar when Irving sued her for libel in a British court in 1996 for correctly characterizing him as a Holocaust denier. Although Lipstadt is an American, she and the book’s U.K. publisher were targeted because Irving apparently thought that country’s libel laws might serve his cause. In the United Kingdom, libel law places the burden of proof on the defendant instead of the plaintiff. As a result, the trial played out as a public history lesson, with Lipstadt’s legal team forced to prove the historical truths of the Holocaust. They did, of course, and won the case. Nonetheless, Irving’s career as a provocateur and historical revisionist continues.
More serious than a nasty British gadfly is the Holocaust denial taking place in Poland right now, a phenomenon that has led to a collapse in Israeli-Polish relations.
Until recently, Poland was one of Israel’s closest allies on the world stage. While Polish society has never undergone the self-reflection that Germany did after the Holocaust, Polish governments developed excellent relations with the Jewish state. After the fall of the communist regime, relations between the two countries grew quite warm. Trade and diplomatic relations at the highest levels flourished.
With the election of the right-wing nationalist Law and Justice party, in 2015, things began to change. Last year, the Polish government passed a law criminalizing speech that references Polish collaboration with the Nazis during the Holocaust.
Canadian Prof. Jan Grabowski, who spoke in Vancouver last fall, heads a team of researchers, most of them in Poland, who are scouring archives throughout that country amassing what is probably the most comprehensive assessment ever compiled on the subject of Poles’ complicity in the Holocaust. Without Polish collaboration – frequently offered willingly and without compulsion, the research indicates – the Nazis could not have succeeded nearly so completely at their murderous destruction of Polish Jewry, Grabowski insists.
Politicizing this history – that is, criminalizing the truth – has put the Polish government on a trajectory of institutionalized denial. Unlike masses of young North Americans and Europeans, the Polish leaders know very well what transpired in their country during the war. As Grabowski notes, it is not the collaborators and their descendants who are today ostracized in small communities across Poland but rather those families whose members helped their Jewish neighbours.
It was inevitable that Poland’s approach would have repercussions in the Polish-Israeli relationship. It happened dramatically in recent days. The Visegrád Group, which is a cultural and political alliance of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, was slated to meet with Israeli leaders at an extraordinary summit in Israel this week.
A week ago Friday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was visiting the Museum of Polish Jews, in Warsaw, when he stated, in a meeting with Israeli reporters where recording devices were not permitted, that Poles had aided the Nazis. A flurry of confusion followed as the prime minister’s office clarified that he had said “Poles,” and not, as some media had reported, “the Poles” or “the Polish nation.”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki decided to snub Netanyahu by withdrawing from the summit and sending his foreign minister instead.
Yisrael Katz, on his second day on the job as Israel’s foreign minister, dumped fuel on the simmering conflict in a TV interview. Ostensibly sent to smooth over the matter, Katz used the opportunity to quote the late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir to the effect that “the Poles imbibe antisemitism from their mothers’ milk.”
Suffice to say the summit is off. The leaders of the three other countries are still slated to travel to Israel for bilateral meetings but Polish-Israeli relations are on the rocks.
The conflict illuminates a strange dichotomy. The government of one of the countries most affected by the Holocaust tries to blot out what they certainly know to be the truth. Meanwhile, a generation of young people look on, unaware of even the barest details of what is at the root of the uproar.
Dave and Rose Nemetz with an unidentified group, undated. (photo from JWB fonds, JMABC L.16225)
If you know someone in this photo, please help the JI fill the gaps of its predecessor’s (the Jewish Western Bulletin’s) collection at the Jewish Museum and Archives of B.C. by contacting [email protected] or 604-257-5199. To find out who has been identified in the photos, visit jewishmuseum.ca/blog.
Between 1948 and 1951, more than 121,000 Jews were smuggled out of Iraq in operations Ezra and Nehemia. Many of those who came to Israel settled in the town of Or Yehuda, some 10 kilometres southeast of Tel Aviv. In 1988, Or Yehuda’s mayor, Mordechai Ben-Porat, who was himself born in Iraq, was instrumental in creating in the town the Museum of Babylonian Jewry. Together with six other founding members, the museum was built to tell the story of the Jews in Iraq, up until the aliyah following the establishment of the state of Israel. The museum has become the largest centre in the world for documenting, researching, collecting and preserving the spiritual treasures of Babylonian Jewry. (photo by Ashernet)
Janet Wees at a book signing for her
novel When We Were Shadows, which
she’ll be bringing to the Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival on Feb. 10. (photo
by Jack Cohen)
Ze’ev Bar was 5 years old in 1937, when his
family fled Germany to the Netherlands, where they lived in safety for a few
years. But, in 1940, as the Nazis extended their hold on Europe, the family had
to go into hiding, managing to survive the Holocaust with the help of members
of the Dutch Resistance.
Calgary-based educator and writer Janet Wees
tells Bar’s story of survival in the book When We Were Shadows. She will
present the novel for younger readers (ages 9-13) on Feb. 10, 10 a.m., at the
Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver as part of the Cherie Smith JCC
Jewish Book Festival, which runs Feb. 9-14. Wees and five other authors – Leo
Burstyn, Miriam Clavir, Arnold Grossman, David Kirkpatrick and Helen Wilkes –
will briefly introduce their works at the event A Literary Quickie.
“My reasons for writing this book were
twofold,” Wees told the Independent. “One, to help relieve Ze’ev from
having to repeat his story over and over to schoolchildren because it was so
upsetting for him, yet he felt it needed to be told so they would know what
happened during the Second World War in their country. Hopefully, having had
the book translated into Dutch in Holland, that might be happening. I have had
letters from mothers of children who are reading the book in Dutch for book
“My other reason was to expose North American
children to the plight of children during war, to the bravery of the people who
helped save lives at risks to their own.”
Among the real-life members of the resistance featured in the novel are Opa Bakker, Tante Cor, and Edouard and Jacoba von Baumhauer, all of whom have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. Wees said, “I made a promise to von Baumhauer’s son that I would honour the people who risked their lives helping to build the Hidden Village [near Vierhouten] and hide, assist and feed the people who were fleeing the Nazis.”
Wees visited the memorial site of the Hidden
Village in 2005, and again in 2007. She interviewed Bar in Amsterdam in 2008.
“We spent three to four days in his dining
room, talking, crying, laughing; I taped and wrote,” she said. “Once home, I
poured it all out on computer and began to sort and edit and change, and
watched it take shape. Of course, life interfered, and sometimes it was so
intense, hearing his wavering voice on tape, that I would have to take a break.
By 2011, it felt ready for an editor. After that, I submitted it, naively
giving myself 12 rejections – apparently J.K. Rowling had 12 rejections before
Harry Potter was accepted – before I reconsidered my direction.”
A change in direction did occur. In 2014, Wees
was accepted into a mentorship program and, with that guidance, realized that
the novel “needed a boy’s voice and an empathetic setting, where children could
identify with the protagonist.”
Over some four months, Wees said, “I
essentially rewrote the book using a different format and incorporating a boy’s
voice. At the end, there was a reading and the book was so enthusiastically
received that I knew I was on the right track.
“It felt like I had kind of lost perspective,
as I was so close to the story and, even though I would have times of ‘Wow! Did
I write that?’ seeing it through others’ eyes really gave me a boost. I began
submitting again and, this time, the 11th publisher contacted was the one!”
The book was accepted by Second Story Press in
“I always wanted Second Story Press to be my
publisher because of their Holocaust Remembrance Series for Young Readers. I
read other books in that series and felt this was a good fit,” said Wees.
While When We Were Shadows is Wees’
first book, she has published articles in educational journals and in news
magazines. In addition to other literary projects, she has written drafts for
two children’s books, she said, “based on something I did growing up in
Saskatchewan, and one based on my pen pal’s granddaughter’s activity with her
Oma in Holland.”
The 60-something Wees first started writing her
pen pal when she was 12 years old.
“My pen pal Henk had to find a pen pal in an
English-speaking country for his English class in school. He put an ad for a
pen pal in the Regina Leader-Post and I saw it and responded,” she
explained. “He told me, on my first visit, as we were looking over all my
letters he’d saved, that my letter was the funniest so he chose me as his pen
“We wrote constantly but lost contact for a few
years during which we both got married and started families. I reconnected, in
1972 or thereabouts, and, knowing how families in Europe usually stay in their
family homes, I wrote to the old address. Lo and behold! There they were! After
that, it was letters with Henk’s wife because she was better at that point with
written English, but we telephoned and, upon the onset of computers, we emailed
and then FaceTimed.
“I went to visit them for the first time in
1991, and have been back 10 times since…. On one of the trips where I stayed
one month on the island (Terschelling), Hennie (Henk’s nickname) and Loes took
me to see the memorial site of the Hidden Village and the urge to learn more
about this site was palpable.
“Two years later,” said Wees, “we went again,
and I sat for longer in the replica huts and tried to imagine what went on. It
smelled like our dirt basement in Togo, Sask., and just thinking about living
in that basement for 18 months gave me a bit of an idea of the sense of being
confined; the smells, the dark, the cold. And I decided that I had to write a
book, if not for my former students who were now in university, for their
children. Sadly, Hennie passed away this past April without seeing the
published book, but I used his name (with his permission) for one of my
characters, so he lives on through the book. If not for him, this book may
never have existed.”
In their first discussions about the novel,
Wees said she and Bar had “talked about making it an ‘adventure’ of a boy
during wartime.” The original title was Boy of the Forest. “But,” she
said, “as I was writing, I realized this was not an ‘adventure’ as we perceive
adventure, and he concurred, so I changed my title to Whatever It Takes.
My publisher chose the final title, When We Were Shadows, and I love
it because it personifies the whole concept of living in the shadows – unseen,
and unable to see.”
In revising the original manuscript to be from
a young boy’s perspective, she said her focus was on “the emotional being of
Walter [Ze’ev changed his name as an adult] and how he perceived what was
happening, being sheltered and wanting desperately to know and to do something,
and about the selflessness of others. I wanted it to be about the people in his
world, what was happening inside his head and heart, more than what was
Wees said the character of Walter took over
“and his voice flowed through so eloquently and so quickly that there were many
days I never budged from my computer for hours, missing lunch and working until
dark. I ‘heard’ him in my head. I could ‘see’ what was happening. Until I
actually was writing, I always thought that was bunk when I heard other authors
say that their characters take them on their own journey. But now I know it
“I also discovered that what I’d taught my
students about editing, I had to follow as well, so I did most of my editing by
reading the book aloud. I found errors that way in facts, such as tents not
having zippers in the 1940s but pegs instead. I was able to find correct
weather for dates in the letters by searching online.”
This diligence no doubt contributed to When
We Were Shadows being nominated for the Forest of Reading Red Maple
non-fiction award of the Ontario Library Association, which describes the award
program’s aim as getting young readers (ages 12 to 13) to engage “in
conversation around the books and … to use critical thinking while reading.”
The awards will be presented in May.
In the writing of When We Were Shadows,
Wees said, “I have become friends with von Baumhauer’s grandson and wife. While
writing this book, I also found out that my grandmother lost sisters-in-law to
the death camps and her brother was killed on the Russian front. Until then, I
had no idea how our family was affected by the Holocaust, as I was unaware of
family still living overseas. I am now in touch with the great-granddaughter of
one of those women.”
The Princess Dolls by Ellen Schwartz,
with illustrations by Mariko Ando, takes place in Vancouver in 1942. Esther and
Michiko are best friends. They dream that one day they will be princesses
together; in games, Esther is Princess Elizabeth and Michi is Princess
Margaret. When they spy dolls fashioned after the real-life princesses in the
toy store window, the girls dare to hope that they’ll each get their favourite for
their birthday, something else they shared, both having been born on the same
However, when Esther gets her royal doll as a
gift, but Michi doesn’t, the girls’ friendship is strained. Before they have a
chance to patch it up, Michi and her family – ultimately along with more than
21,000 other Japanese-Canadians – are forced to leave the West Coast, losing
their home, business and possessions. Michi ends up in Kaslo, B.C.
A story thread throughout The Princess Dolls
is Esther’s family’s worry over family members in Europe, as the Nazis round up
Jews and send them to transit camps, about which Esther’s parents and
grandmother know little.
The Princess Dolls is kind of a companion novel to Schwartz’s Heart of a Champion, in which 10-year-old Kenny Sakamoto dreams of being as good at baseball as his older brother, who is the Asahi team’s star player. Also set in Vancouver in 1942, the Sakamoto family’s neighbours and good friends, the Bernsteins, are Jewish. As she told the Independent when that book was released, “I wanted to point out that the treatment of Japanese-Canadians, although obviously not nearly as lethal or horrific, was comparable to that of Jews in Europe,” said Schwartz. “In both cases, a minority was being persecuted simply because of their religion or nationality. Giving Kenny a Jewish best friend would make both characters sympathetic about this issue.” (See jewishindependent.ca/uniquely-b-c-baseball-story.)
Schwartz will talk about The Princess Dolls on Feb. 10, 11 a.m., at Richmond Public Library, as well as at Vancouver Talmud Torah later that week as part of the Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival. For the festival schedule and tickets, visit jewishbookfestival.ca.
The author’s maternal aunt, Sara Basson (at age 23). (photo from Libby Simon)
It was the long, cold winter nights in Winnipeg
that made me do it. With my husband working late and a preschooler asleep in
her room keeping me housebound, what else could I do? I finally tackled the
onerous task of sorting seemingly hundreds of musty, dusty family photos that
lay scattered inside battered cardboard boxes saved by my parents, their lives
obviously too busy living the moments.
Who were these people in these tattered and
torn brown photos? Some, I had been told, were Aunt Lorna or Cousin Sylvia.
Others were total strangers. The clothing and hairstyles against an unfamiliar
backdrop told of another time and place in history. Places I had never seen nor
been, yet vague memories from childhood floated in my mind. Some pictures had
writing on the back in a foreign language I could not read or understand.
Nonetheless, I carted these decaying remnants along with all the important
household belongings wherever we moved. Why had I not discarded them?
I now painstakingly placed these memories of
bits and bytes under protective sheets in photo albums, one by one. Organizing
them in some fashion was just too daunting a task. For the moment, preserving
them was the goal – for whom I did not know. That question wouldn’t be answered
until many years later, when I received a letter that launched an unexpected
Bold, black type on unfamiliar letterhead
demanded my attention – Lois Feinberg, Financial Consultant, Hollywood,
Florida. I was about to toss out what I thought was spam sent by snail mail
when one short sentence leaped out at me: “I’m your second cousin on your
mother’s side,” it read. “My grandmother and your grandfather were siblings.”
Maybe it was more scam than spam but I had to
pay attention. What did she want? Credit card numbers? Bank account numbers?
Transfer a million dollars out of some remote African country? I read further
with guarded skepticism.
“In the process of my genealogical research,”
she wrote, “I found our mutual cousin, Sylvia, who gave me your contact
information. I would like the names and birth dates of your family in order to
register this information with the Yad Vashem in Israel.”
Yad Vashem. I knew it as the memorial centre
for the murdered six million Jews and a symbol of the ongoing confrontation
with the rupture of families engendered by the Holocaust. My doubts began to
dissipate as the letter took on a flavour of authenticity. After confirming its
legitimacy with Sylvia, I provided Lois with the information she requested. I
did not pursue further personal contact, however, because, frankly, I have not
been blessed, or cursed, with the need to search out relatives who could be
more of a blemish than a blossom on my family tree.
But things were about to change.
Circumstances arose the next winter that would
take my husband and me to Florida. I contacted Lois and invited her for lunch.
When I greeted this pretty, dark-eyed, dark-haired lady, we hugged each other
warmly. She appeared similar in age, slim, well-dressed and refined in manner.
Lois had been a teacher turned financial consultant, divorced from her doctor
husband, with two grown children.
“I discovered two other cousins who live in
Florida whose grandparents are also siblings of our grandparents,” she said. I
was stunned. Two more family members – right here!
“I’ll arrange a brunch at my home so you can
meet them,” she promised with a smile. And, true to her word, the cousins all
gathered at her home the following week.
A strange mix of emotions coursed through me as
the past and present began to meld. Until recently, we were totally unaware of
one another’s existence. Suddenly, we had a common thread tying us together –
Lois told me that the grandparent siblings,
including my maternal grandfather, had all come to the United States in the
1930s to escape Hitler’s rise to power, but he was the only one sent back,
because of a leg deformity. Not from disease, mind you, but the result of an
accident. In the course of operating his paper company business, a heavy object
had fallen on his leg yet he continued to run a successful business. I was told
he and several other relatives were among the six million Jews murdered in the
Like a seismic jolt of lightning, the brown
pictures flashed across my mind. For the first time, my grandfather became more
than a lifeless face on a faded old photo. Sadness and anger pulsed through me.
He was my mother’s father – a living, breathing person whose life had been cut
short. Not by a natural disaster like a tsunami, a flood or earthquake, but by
a human-made catastrophe, the Holocaust. Nature’s cataclysmic events kill
randomly but humans ravaged and murdered with deliberation and purpose. While
we had been spared the agony of their deaths, history had changed the lives of
those who lived, splintering family shards across the globe, many of which will
never be repaired.
Yet it was heart-warming to meet Marty, the
supervisor IRS lawyer in south Florida; Arnie, a retired businessman; and their
wives. After a four-hour brunch came to a pleasant end, plans were discussed
for “The Brunch” next winter, ensuring a future for this fractured family.
These images gradually transcended time and
geography and were now transplanted into my world in the 21st century. They
were channeled from a dismal and distant past to live again in the present. In
fact, in April 2012, I learned the names of six of my maternal relatives who
were murdered in the Holocaust. My Israeli family had listed their names at Yad
Vashem in Israel. I have now added them to Winnipeg’s Holocaust memorial on the
grounds of the Manitoba Legislature to further ensure they will never be
The exciting promise of a journey of discovery
still lies ahead, as traces of life continue to sprout new branches on this
family tree – blemish or blossom. I knew now for whom these pictures were
preserved. I preserved them for me and for future generations of Jewish
history. L’dor v’dor.
Libby Simon, MSW, worked in child welfare services prior
to joining the Child Guidance Clinic in Winnipeg as a school social worker and
parent educator for 20 years. Also a freelance writer, her writing has appeared
in Canada, the United States, and internationally, in such outlets as Canadian Living,
CBC, Winnipeg Free Press, PsychCentral and Cardus, a
Canadian research and educational public policy think tank. She wrote this
piece with International Holocaust Remembrance Day (Jan. 27) in mind.
The landmark synagogue before being
dynamited by Jordan’s Arab Legion in 1948. (photo from Wikipedia)
A cornerstone laying ceremony was held May 29,
2014, for the rebuilding of the Old City of Jerusalem’s Tiferet Yisrael
Synagogue, which was dedicated in 1872 and dynamited by Jordan’s Arab Legion in
Speaking nearly five years ago, then-Jerusalem
mayor Nir Barkat declared, “Today we lay the cornerstone of one of the
important symbols of the Jewish community in Jerusalem. The municipality
attaches great importance to the preservation and restoration of heritage sites
in Jerusalem, and we will continue to maintain the heritage of Israel in this
Citing Lamentations 5:21, Uri Ariel, housing
minister at the time, added, “We have triumphed in the laying of yet another
building block in the development of Jerusalem, a symbolic point in the vision
that continues to come true before our eyes: ‘Renew our days as of old.’”
The two politicians symbolically placed a stone
salvaged from the ruined building, and construction was supposed to take three
years, according to the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the
Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem Ltd. (JQDC), a public company under
the auspices of the Ministry of Construction and Housing.
Fast forward to Dec. 31, 2018, and the exercise
was repeated, this time with the participation of Jerusalem minister Zeev
Elkin, construction minister Yoav Galant, deputy health minister Yaakov Litzman
and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon. But, this time, according to the JQDC, much of
the project’s NIS 50 million (approximately $18 million Cdn) budget has been
secured, in part thanks to anonymous overseas donors. With the Israel
Antiquities Authority’s salvage dig of the Second Temple period site headed by
Oren Gutfeld completed, work can now begin in earnest.
Fundraising to purchase the land for the
Tiferet Yisrael, also known as the Nisan Bak shul, was initiated in 1839 by
Rabbi Israel Friedman of Ruzhyn, Ukraine, (1797-1850) and his disciple Rabbi
Nisan Bak, also spelled Beck (1815-1889). While der Heiliger Ruzhiner
(Holy Ruzhyner), as his Chassidim called him, purchased the hilltop in 1843,
the mystic didn’t live to see construction begin.
His ambitious plans in Jerusalem reflected his
grandiose lifestyle in Sadhora, Bukovina, in Galicia’s Carpathian Mountains,
pronounced Sadagóra in Yiddish. There, he lived in a palace with splendid
furnishings, rode in a silver-handled carriage drawn by four white horses and,
with an entourage, dressed like a nobleman, wore a golden skullcap and clothing
with solid gold buttons, and was attended by servants in livery. This unusual
manner was accepted and even praised by many of his contemporaries, who
believed the Ruzhiner was elevating God’s glory through himself, the tzadik
(righteous one), and that the splendour was intended to express the derekh
hamalkhut (way of kingship) in the worship of God.
In one incident, described in David Assaf’s The
Regal Way: The Life and Times of Rabbi Israel of Ruzhin (Stanford
University Press, 2002), the Ruzhiner’s Chassidim noticed that, notwithstanding
that their rebbe was wearing golden boots, he was leaving bloody footprints in
the snow. Only then did they realize that the gold was only a show and his
shoes had no soles. Indeed, he was walking barefoot in the snow.
Rabbis Friedman and Bak were motivated by a
desire to foil Czar Nicholas I’s ambitions to build a Russian Orthodox
monastery on the strategic site overlooking Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. Bak
consulted with architect Martin Ivanovich Eppinger. (Eppinger also planned the
Russian Compound, the 68,000-square-metre fortress-like complex erected by the
Imperial Russian Orthodox Palestine Society west of the Jaffa Gate and outside
the Old City, after the czar was outmanoeuvred by the Chassidim.)
Bak, who both designed the massive synagogue
and served as its contractor, spent more than a decade fundraising and six
years building it. Inaugurated on Aug. 19, 1872, he named the three-storey
landmark in honour of his deceased rebbe.
According to a perhaps apocryphal story, the
quick-witted Bak was able to complete the ornate synagogue thanks to a donation
from Kaiser Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary. In 1869, while visiting Jerusalem
en route to dedicate the Suez Canal, the emperor asked his subjects who came
from Sadhora in the remote Austrian province of Bukovina why their synagogue
had no roof. (In 1842, having spent two years in Russian prisons on charges of
complicity in the murder of two Jewish informers, Rabbi Friedman fled to
Sadhora and reestablished his resplendent court.)
Seizing the moment, Bak replied, “Your majesty,
the synagogue has doffed its hat in your honour.” The kaiser, understanding the
royal fundraising pitch, responded, “How much will it cost me to have the
synagogue replace its hat?” and donated 1,000 francs to complete Tiferet
Yisrael’s dome, which was thereafter referred to by locals as “Franz Joseph’s
Tamar Hayardeni, in “The Kaiser’s Cap”
(published in Segula magazine last year), wrote that, while the kaiser
made a donation, the dome was in fact completed with funds provided by Rabbi
Israel of Ruzhyn’s son, Rabbi Avrohom Yaakov of Sadhora (1820-1883).
In the winter and spring of 1948, the dome
served as a key Haganah military position and lookout point for the Jewish
Quarter’s outgunned defenders.
Children were recruited for the battle for
Tiferet Yisrael. Some as young as 9 built defence positions. The “older” ones –
12 or so – carried messages, food, weapons and ammunition. Some were killed,
including Grazia (Yaffa) Haroush, 16, and Nissim Gini, 9, who was the youngest
fallen fighter in the War of Independence. Like the others who fell in the
defence of the Jewish Quarter and were buried there, his remains were exhumed
after 1967 and reinterred on the Mount of Olives.
Badly damaged by heavy shelling, the synagogue
was blown up by Jordanian sappers on May 21, 1948. A few days later, following
the neighbourhood’s surrender on May 25, the nearby Hurva Synagogue – the main
sanctuary of Jerusalem’s mitnagdim (anti-Chassidic Ashkenazi followers
of the Vilna Gaon) – met the same fate.
With the rebuilding of the Hurva completed by
the JQDC in 2010, Tiferet Yisrael became the last major Old City synagogue
destroyed in 1948 not rebuilt.
Hurva is a stone-clad, concrete and steel
facsimile of its original structure, updated to today’s building code and
equipped with an elevator. The same is planned for Tiferet Yisrael.
The reconstruction of faux historic synagogues
has not been without critics. Writing in the Forward in 2007 as the
Hurva was rising, historian Gavriel Rosenfeld, co-editor of Beyond Berlin:
Twelve German Cities Confront the Nazi Past (University of Michigan Press,
2008), noted the manifold links between architecture, politics and memory.
“The reconstruction of the Hurva seems to
reflect an emotional longing to undo the past. It has long been recognized that
efforts to restore ruins reflect a desire to forget the painful memories that
they elicit. Calls to rebuild the World Trade Centre towers as they were before
the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks represent a clear (if unrealized) instance of this
yearning. And the recently completed reconstruction of Dresden’s famous
Frauenkirche – long a heap of rubble after being flattened by Allied bombers in
February 1945 – represents a notable example of translating this impulse into reality.
“And yet, the reconstruction project is
problematic, for in seeking to undo the verdict of the past, the project will
end up denying it. Denial is inherent in the restoration of ruins, as is
frequently shown by the arguments used to justify such projects. In Dresden,
for example, many supporters of the Frauenkirche’s restoration portrayed
themselves as the innocent inhabitants of a city that was unjustly bombed in
1945, thereby obscuring the city’s longtime support for the Nazi regime and its
war of aggression during the years of the Third Reich. Similarly, the physical
appearance of the restored Frauenkirche – despite its incorporation of some of
the original church’s visibly scorched stones – has effectively eliminated the
signs of the war that its ruin once vividly evoked.
“In the case of the Hurva,” writes Rosenfeld,
“the situation is somewhat different. If many Germans in Dresden emphasized
their status as victims to justify rebuilding their ruined church, the Israeli
campaign to reconstruct the Hurva will do precisely the opposite – namely,
obscure traces of their victimization. As long as the Hurva stood as a hulking
ruin, after all, it served as a reminder of Israeli suffering at the hands of
the Jordanians. [Mayor Teddy] Kollek said as much in 1991, when he noted: ‘It
is difficult to impress upon the world the degree of destruction the Jordanian
authorities visited upon synagogues in the Old City…. The Hurva remnants are
the clearest evidence we have today of that.’ Indeed, as a ruin, the Hurva served
the same kind of function as sites such as Masada and Yad Vashem – which, by
highlighting the tragedies of the Jewish past, helped to confirm the Israeli
state as the chief guarantor of the Jewish people’s future.
“At the same time, however, it seems the
Hurva’s existence as a ruin conflicted with the state of Israel’s Zionist
master narrative: the idea that, ultimately, heroic achievement triumphs over
helplessness. In fact, in the end, it may be the project’s ability to confirm
the national desire to control its own destiny that best explains its appeal.
Israel faces many intractable problems that make present-day life uncertain.
But, in the realm of architecture, Israelis can indulge in the illusion that
they can at least control and manipulate the past. In this sense, the Hurva’s
reconstruction may express deeper escapist fantasies in an unpredictable
Rosenfeld’s theorizing about architectural
authenticity made little impression on the JQDC chair, Moti Rinkov. Indeed the
JQDC, together with the Ben-Zvi Institute, recently published High Upon High,
in which 12 historians trace Tiferet Yisrael’s history. Rinkov noted at the
second cornerstone ceremony: “The renovation and restoration of the Tiferet
Yisrael Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter is one of the most important and
exciting projects I’ve taken part in. Rebuilding the synagogue is, in fact,
raising the Israeli flag in the Jewish Quarter. It’s truly a work where they’re
restoring the crown to its former glory and restoring glory to the Jewish
The rebuilt Tiferet Yisrael, together with the
Hurva, will engage Jerusalem’s skyline not as authentic landmarks but, as
Rosenfeld noted, “postmodern simulacrum.”
The other Tiferes Yisroel
In 1953, Rabbi Mordechai Shlomo Friedman, the
Boyaner Rebbe of New York, laid foundations for a new Ruzhiner Torah centre in
west Jerusalem to replace the destroyed Tiferet Yisrael. Located on the western
end of Malkhei Yisrael Street between the current Central Bus Station and
Geula, the downtown of the Charedi city, the Ruzhiner yeshivah, Mesivta Tiferes
Yisroel, was inaugurated in 1957 with the support of all of the Chassidic
rebbes descended from Friedman, who was the first and only Ruzhiner Rebbe.
However, his six sons and grandsons founded their own dynasties, collectively
known as the “House of Ruzhin.” These dynasties, which follow many of the
traditions of the Ruzhiner Rebbe, are Bohush, Boyan, Chortkov, Husiatyn,
Sadigura and Shtefanest. The founders of the Vizhnitz, Skver and Vasloi
Chassidic dynasties were related to the Ruzhiner Rebbe through his daughters.
A grand synagogue built adjacent to the new
Ruzhiner yeshivah also bears the name Tiferes Yisroel. The current Boyaner
Rebbe, Nachum Dov Brayer, leads his disciples from there. The design of the
synagogue includes a large white dome, reminiscent of the original Tiferet
Yisrael destroyed in 1948 and now being rebuilt.
Left to right are Sam Sullivan, Glen
Hodges, Cynthia Ramsay, Margaret Sutherland and Shirley Barnett with one of the
Mountain View Cemetery ledgers. (photo by Lynn Zanatta)
“When we were restoring the Jewish cemetery at
Mountain View, we spent two years going through City of Vancouver material
trying to determine if the city actually had something in writing to prove the legitimacy
of this Jewish section since 1892,” Shirley Barnett, who led the Jewish
cemetery restoration project, told the Jewish Independent in an email.
The committee couldn’t find anything in the city records.
While this lack of documented history lengthened
the restoration agreement process significantly, it did not halt it. Barnett,
as chair, opened the first meeting of the restoration advisory committee on
Feb. 13, 2013, and the Jewish cemetery at Mountain View was officially
rededicated on May 3, 2015. However, if the committee were to have started its
work today, the information it sought would have been found, and the process
would have moved much more quickly.
Sam Sullivan, member of the Legislative
Assembly (Vancouver-False Creek) and former mayor of Vancouver, founded the
Global Civic Society in 2010. As part of its mission to encourage “a
knowledgeable and cosmopolitan citizenry to make strong connections to their
community,” the society leads several initiatives, including Transcribimus, “a
network of volunteers that is transcribing early city council minutes and other
handwritten documents from early Vancouver, and making them freely available to
students, researchers and the general public.”
Transcribimus project coordinator Margaret
Sutherland has transcribed at least 155 sets of Vancouver City Council minutes.
It was she who found what Barnett and her committee were looking for – in the
council minutes of June 6, 1892. On page 32 of the minute book, it is recorded
that correspondence had been received, “From D. Goldberg asking the council to
set aside a portion of the public cemetery for the Jewish congregation,” and
was “Referred to the Board of Health.”
Two weeks later, the minutes of June 20, 1892,
note that the health committee had resolved, among other items, “[t]hat the
piece of land selected by the Jewish people in the public cemetery be set aside
for their purposes.”
The cemetery first appears to have come up a
few years earlier. In the July 29, 1889, council minutes, there is reference to
a letter: “From L. Davies on behalf of the Jewish congregation of the city of
Vancouver requesting council to set apart about one acre and a half in the
public cemetery for members of the Hebrew confession. Referred to the Board of
In an email to Barnett, Sutherland wrote,
“There doesn’t seem to be any indication from city council minutes that the
Board of Works ever followed up on the above request. Although [Jewish
community member and then-mayor] David Oppenheimer was on the Board of Works
for that year, so was his opponent, Samuel Brighouse.”
On Dec. 7, 2018, the Jewish Independent
met with Barnett, Sullivan, Sutherland, Lynn Zanatta (Global Civic Policy
Society program manager) and Glen Hodges (Mountain View Cemetery manager) at
Mountain View. In documents she brought to that meeting, Sutherland explains
that Oppenheimer “declined to serve as mayor again at the end of 1891, citing
poor health as his reason for retiring. Fred Cope was elected mayor in 1892 and
served till the end of 1893.” So it was Cope who was mayor when the Jewish
cemetery was established; Oppenheimer was Vancouver’s second mayor (1888-1891)
and Malcolm Maclean its first (1886-1887).
The first interment at Mountain View Cemetery
was Caradoc Evans, who died at nine months, 24 days, on Feb. 26, 1887. The
first Jew interred in the cemetery is thought to be Simon Hirschberg, who “died
of his own hand” on Jan. 29, 1887, and was, according the plaque erected by the
cemetery in 2011 (the cemetery’s 125th year), “intended to be the first
interment,” however, “rain, a broken carriage wheel on a bad road and his large
size all contributed to him being buried just outside the cemetery property,”
where he was “long thought to have been left near the intersection of 33rd and
Fraser” until his body was moved into a grave on cemetery property. Oddly
enough, the first Jew to be buried in the Jewish section was Otto Bond (Dec.
19, 1892), who also took his own life.
So far, since its inception in 2012,
Transcribimus has seen more than 300 transcripts produced by almost 40
volunteers, although a handful of them are responsible for the lion’s share to
date. Many people have donated their time, technical advice and, of course,
funds to the project. Barnett sponsored the transcribing of the city council
minutes for 1891, and fellow Jewish community member Arnold Silber sponsored
the transcription of the 1890 minutes. A few other years have also been
sponsored, including 1888, by the Oppenheimer Group.
About nine years’ worth of minutes have been transcribed
(1886-1893 and 1900), leaving much more work to be done, as the city kept
handwritten minutes until mid-1911. After that, minutes were typewritten and
these documents can be scanned and read with OCR (optical character
recognition), said Sutherland.
The Transcribimus website (transcribimus.ca) is one of the best-designed sites the Independent has come across. It is both visually appealing and incredibly easy to use. In addition to the transcribed council minutes, it includes photos of the minute book pages. As well, it features letters from Vancouver’s early years, historical photographs and a few videos, including a film by William Harbeck of a trolley ride through Victoria and Vancouver in 1907, which has had speed corrections and sound added by YouTuber Guy Jones. (Astute viewers will see that the trolley is driving on the lefthand side of the road. British Columbia didn’t switch to the right until 1921-22.)
In the material Sutherland brought to the
December meeting at the cemetery office, she included the transcription of the
short letter that city clerk Thomas McGuigan wrote on June 23, 1892, in
response to Goldberg’s letter that was mentioned in the council minutes. In it,
McGuigan confirms “the grant made by council to the people of the Jewish faith
of a piece of land in the public cemetery,” but adds that “they will be unable
to give you title for the same, as the land was set apart by an Order in
Council of the provincial government for burial purposes and they refuse to
give any other title.”
Sutherland hadn’t come across Goldberg’s
letter, that of Davies or any response to Davies. It’s likely that these
letters have been lost or destroyed, but they might turn up in another file,
However, Sutherland did find a brief letter to
the editor of the Vancouver Daily World newspaper, dated Nov. 1, 1898,
from L. Rubinowitz, which she emailed to the Independent. Rubinowitz
wanted the application for the Jewish cemetery by “a certain number of Jews of
this city” to be refused. In his view, “all the Hebrews of this city are not
combined as one body” and “To avoid trouble between them and for the sake of
peace, as one party will claim that they have the sole right to it, the other
party will claim that they have the sole right to it, therefore, as it is now
under the control of the city, we are well satisfied to let it remain so, as in
my opinion the city will have no objections for us to make any improvements if
The old joke comes to mind of the Jewish man
who, when stranded on a deserted island by himself, builds two synagogues – the
one he’ll attend and the one he won’t set foot in. Community cohesiveness is a
heady task; always has been, and definitely not just for the Jewish community.
As more council minutes, letters, photographs and other documents are found, transcribed and shared, the holes in our understanding of the past and how it has formed the present will be filled. To support or participate in Transcribimus or other Global Civic Society projects, visit globalcivic.org.
Marty Ginsburg (Armie Hammer) and Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) arrive at court in On the Basis of Sex. (photo from Focus Features)
A news flash for members of the tribe who’ve
been kvelling over a Jewish woman on the U.S. Supreme Court for fully a quarter
of a century: Ruth Bader Ginsburg long ago matriculated beyond a symbol of
Last year’s hit documentary, RBG, noted
that Justice Ginsburg is an enormously popular role model for women in their
teens and 20s, and she has achieved pop culture celebrity to boot. The latest
film – released recently in Canada and, as of press time, still playing in
Metro Vancouver – is On the Basis of Sex, which applies the Hollywood
treatment to Ginsburg’s beginnings as a smart but struggling lawyer and
situates her smack in the mainstream. To coin a Lincolnesque testimonial, now
she belongs to the masses.
Director Mimi Leder and screenwriter Daniel
Stiepleman (who happens to be Ruth and Marty Ginsburg’s nephew) frame On the
Basis of Sex as an underdog saga. And, like a lot of underdogs in Hollywood
movies, our heroine has a superpower that she only discovers – and masters – on
The movie is effective, and ultimately
inspiring, in a way that doesn’t remotely challenge viewers other than to ask
them to follow clever legal strategies.
The film opens with Ginsburg’s first days at
Harvard Law School, where her husband Marty is in his second year. Immediately
and repeatedly, she (and the viewer) is reminded of her second-class status as
a woman in a man’s world.
It takes awhile to reconcile the confident
Justice Ginsburg of public record with the somewhat skittish character that
British actress Felicity Jones creates. On the one hand, as a wife and a mother
who – like every other aspiring woman professional of the time – never wears
pants, Ginsburg is plainly a grownup. But she’s patronized by everyone from the
law school’s WASPy dean (a villainous Sam Waterston) to her husband (a stalwart
Armie Hammer), and she risks being seen as a rabble-rouser (it’s the late
1950s) simply by standing up for herself.
Although the film does not conceal or finesse
the Ginsburgs’ Jewishness, it presents casual misogyny and the entrenched old
boys’ network, not antisemitism, as the obstacles Ruth needs to navigate.
Consequently, she has to devise ways – both direct and elliptical – to raise
the consciousness of every ally, including her devoted husband, before she can
even challenge potential adversaries. While Marty certainly recognizes his
wife’s brilliance, he’s a product of his upbringing and the times.
On the Basis of Sex or, as it’s
referred to at your favourite corned beef dispensary, “RBG: The Early Years,”
devotes considerable screen time to the couple’s relationship and, for many
viewers, that will serve as the emotional heart of the film. Others will derive
more pleasure from Ginsburg finding her footing and her voice as a scholarly
As Stiepleman noted in an interview during a
recent visit to San Francisco, “Coming out of law school, [Ginsburg] had three
strikes against her: she was a woman, she was a mother and she was a Jew. Any
one of those things alone, law firms had taken the risk. It was the three
together that made her unhire-able in their eyes.”
Unable to find a job practising law, she takes
a teaching position. Through a combination of determination, persistence and
luck, she comes across a unique case that addresses the inequities of gender
discrimination. The complainant, who looked after his mother but was denied the
tax deduction for caregivers, is a man.
Earlier in the film, there’s a crucial chain of
events when her husband is diagnosed with cancer. Ginsburg not only took care
of him (and their small daughter), but got them both through law school. That
experience as a caregiver gives her both the empathy and the understanding to
identify with and persuade her would-be client, as well as to research and
argue the case.
The lengthy courtroom scene that comprises the
film’s last 20 minutes or so is genuinely effective and even emotional, despite
the formulaic staging and the fact that we know Ginsburg will prevail. At the
pivotal moment, we witness a character coming into her own, grasping her
abilities and realizing her destiny. And with that, the underdog becomes a
On the Basis of Sex is rated PG-13
for some language and suggestive content.
Michael Foxis a writer and film critic living in San Francisco.
Alice Shalvi, an Israeli professor and
educator, has played a leading role in progressive Jewish education for girls
and advancing the status of women in Israel. Her autobiography, Never a
Native (Halban Publishers, 2018), reads almost as a personal diary.
Otherwise, how could this 92-year-old recall the most minute details of her
The youngest of two children, Shalvi was born
in Essen, Germany, to Benzion and Perl Margulies, religious Zionists who owned
a wholesale linen and housewares business. In 1933, soon after Hitler’s rise to
power in Germany, their home was searched, prompting her father’s move to
London, England. The rest of the family followed in May 1934.
In London, Shalvi’s father and brother imported
watches and jewelry. When the Blitz began, they temporarily moved to Aylesbury,
50 kilometres north of London.
In 1944, Shalvi studied English literature at
Cambridge University. In 1946, she was sent to the Zionist Congress in Basel as
a representative of British Jewish students and, in 1949, after completing a
degree in social work at the London School of Economics, she immigrated to
Israel, settling in Jerusalem. She became a faculty member in the English
department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and she earned her PhD there
In May 1950, Shalvi met Moshe Shelkowitz
(changed later to Shalvi), a recent immigrant from New York, whom she married
in October of that year. They had six children between 1952 and 1967; Moshe Shalvi
died in 2013.
The 25th issue of Nashim: A Journal of
Jewish Women’s Studies and Gender Issues (fall 2003) was dedicated to Alice
Shalvi, “who made the dream of a journal devoted to Jewish women’s and gender
studies possible.” When the concept of Nashim was first presented to
her, the special issue notes that Shalvi greeted it not only with enthusiasm
but as an idea whose time had finally come – she and her friends, pioneers of
second-wave Jewish feminism, had raised it long before. “Subsequently, as rector
of the Schechter Institute (1997-2001), [Shalvi] added her voice to the
approval process for the issue’s first publication. She has remained on Nashim’s
editorial board ever since, contributing her wise and warm guidance on issues
of editorial and academic policy and herself serving as consulting editor for
our issue on Women, War and Peace.”
In an interview by Elana Maryules Sztokman for
the Lookstein Centre at Bar-Ilan University some years ago – after Shalvi had
been awarded the 2007 Israel Prize for life achievement – Shalvi commented: “I
felt that, through the work we had done on behalf of women, an enormous change
had occurred in the status of women, in the self-image of women, in the
self-assurance of women and, most importantly – because that’s what the prize
recognized – in the awareness of the importance and centrality of the subject
of the status of women in society at large.”
Shalvi spoke about the Pelech School for Girls
and the Israel Women’s Network. “The school has created a generation of young
modern Orthodox women who are changing that entire social system within modern
orthodoxy,” she said. “The other thing I’m proud of is the years at the
network, which saw the largest number of legislative changes and reforms in
women’s status because what I call the ‘alumnae’ of the network were so
prominent in the Knesset.”
In her autobiography, Shalvi emphasizes “that
it’s all about the home,” and acknowledges the impact her parents had on her.
“What I saw at home,” she writes, “was an open attitude, observance but
openness. My mother always used to set an extra place at the table on Shabbat
in case my father brought home a stranger from synagogue, as was the custom in
those days. And, in my family, I learned about tzedakah in the very best sense
– always a readiness to help others, not only from my father, who did it on a
both public and personal level, but also from my mother.
“The other thing I absorbed was Zionism. It was
a strongly Zionist household, and my father was very active in the religious
Zionist community. From very early on, I knew that I would come on aliyah one
day. I didn’t know when, but it was definitely there in the future.”
When asked to convey one message to the next
generation, Shalvi said, “Reach for the sky and don’t give up. Don’t ever give
up. Even if you know you’ll never attain what you’re reaching for, persist.
Keep at it. I like to quote Robert Browning’s ‘Andrea del Sarto’: ‘Aye, but a
man’s reach must exceed his grasp / Or what’s a heaven for.’ Keep on striving
because, even if you don’t attain that goal yourself, the chances are that, for
the next generation, it will be easier.”
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.
Susan Mendelson, founder of the Lazy
Gourmet, shares a little about herself and her business at the launch of this
year’s The Scribe. (photo by Kenneth I. Swartz)
One of Vancouver’s most successful food
industry professionals shared her story recently, helping to launch this year’s
edition of The Scribe, the journal of the Jewish Museum and Archives of
The topic of the 2018 issue is food, covering
restaurants and related sectors from the early days of the community up to destinations
that are still operating today. Susan Mendelson, best known around town as
founder of the Lazy Gourmet, brought her thespian side to the audience at the
Western Front Nov. 28, eliciting laughter as she guided the packed hall on a
tour through her remarkable career.
“My mother’s mother, Grandma Faye, was a large
influence in my life,” Mendelson said. An extraordinary baker and cook renowned
in her small Jewish community of Quebec City, Grandma Faye took it as a
challenge to keep a deep freezer filled with baking for when friends dropped by
or to be ready for a tea party.
As a child, Mendelson loved to cook and bake.
When the Six Day War broke out in Israel, in 1967, the family rallied to raise
funds to send to Israel. Young Susan planned a bake sale in their backyard. She
made all of her favourite squares and cookies and the neighbours snapped them
up. Mendelson’s mother only told her years later that the cost of the
ingredients was on par with what was raised that day. Thankfully, Mendelson told
the audience, that wasn’t a harbinger of things to come.
Mendelson came to Vancouver to study at the
University of British Columbia and gravitated to the theatre department. Her
theatre professor, Larry Lillo, became a close friend. He broke the news to Mendelson
that she would never be a great actress … though he really loved her
After third year, Mendelson took a break from
school and worked in a group home for troubled teens. There, she met Deborah
Roitberg, with whom she made the food for the kids in the group home. An
instant friendship developed.
After traveling to Europe and Israel, Mendelson
thought she would return to school and pursue social work. Around that time,
Lillo had founded Tamahnous Theatre, an experimental ensemble that was becoming
the resident company at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. He hired Mendelson
as house manager, which allowed her to go to school during the day and work at
the Cultch, as the institution is familiarly known, at night. But the salary
didn’t cover her expenses, so she began to make cheesecake to sell at
intermission, later adding carrot cake and Nanaimo bars to her repertoire –
“when the curtain came down at intermission, the lobby was stormed by people
pushing in line to make sure that they got their piece of the cake.”
Anne Petrie of CBC radio’s afternoon show
called Mendelson, having heard about the cheesecake phenomenon, and asked her
to come on the program.
“I told her that I was putting myself through
university with the recipe, but that I would come onto her show to tell her
listeners how to make chocolate cheesecake, a recipe that my friend Miriam
Gropper had given me,” Mendelson said.
Her cheeky attitude was a hit with audiences,
and she was asked back. She returned for Valentine’s Day, talking about
aphrodisiacs. Soon she had a regular radio gig paying $25 per appearance.
Mendelson’s boss at the Cultch started asking
her to cater opening night parties. Wedding catering followed and then
Mendelson was given the responsibility of catering to all the performers at the
first iteration of the Vancouver Children’s Festival. She and Roitberg
discussed opening a take-out food business.
“Our concept was that people would bring in
their casserole dishes and platters and we would fill them with our food and
they would take them home and pretend that they had made them themselves,” she
said. “We would call ourselves the Lazy Gourmet, in honour of our customers who
wanted gourmet food but were too lazy to make it themselves.”
Over the years, Mendelson had shared scores of
recipes with radio listeners and some asked her to put them in book form. Mama
Never Cooked Like This sold out and went into reprints; it was picked up by
an American publisher.
To coincide with the publication of her second
book, which was written for children and titled Let me in the Kitchen,
the producer of the Children’s Festival, Chris Wootten, asked Mendelson to
produce her own show. The best part of that experience, Mendelson recalled, was
that a single dad in the audience brought his 7-year-old son and they bought
the cookbook and made recipes
from it. “Six years later, I met those two,”
she said. “And, seven years later, I married the dad and became stepmother to
the most wonderful young teen. I was so happy that Jack and Soleil had experienced
that show and that in some way we shared that amazing experience of my life.”
TV appearances followed and Mendelson was asked
to write a souvenir cookbook for Expo 86.
But the trajectory was not entirely positive.
After expanding the Lazy Gourmet from one store to three, the company began
losing money. They eventually abandoned two of the storefronts and Roitberg
left the business to raise a family.
Soon after the birth of daughter Mira,
Mendelson was invited to cater a new event that was coming to Vancouver: the
Molson Indy Vancouver.
“If you thought that the Children’s Festival
wore me out … you can’t even imagine what that event did to me physically,” she
said. “But, of course, I loved it and, by the last few years of the race, which
took place on Labour Day weekend – Jack will tell you that it was our
anniversary weekend that we didn’t celebrate for nine years – we were also
catering the Abbotsford Airshow, which took place two weeks beforehand and, two
weeks before that, we catered the Skins Game at Predator Ridge in the
In addition to hard work, Mendelson credits her
success to hiring people who she says are smarter and more talented than
herself. A couple of years ago, she gave shares in the company to two long-term
team members and moved into a part-time role. The company continues to expand,
including a lifecycle catering department. “We call it womb-to-tomb catering,”
she said, citing baby-namings, britot milah, b’nai mitzvah, weddings and
funerals, as well as personal events. More recently, Mendelson took on catering
the lunches at Vancouver Talmud Torah.
The Scribe launch also
included words from Cynthia Ramsay, editor and publisher of the Independent,
who has also, for the past nine years, edited The Scribe.
“When I started the job, the journal was a mix
of academic essays and community-related history,” Ramsay said. “But it soon
changed to become a means by which the museum could highlight its collection;
the oral histories, photographs and other artifacts that it houses on the
community’s behalf. We’ve done issues on the Jewish Western Bulletin,
the Jewish Independent’s predecessor; on the furniture industry; scrap
metal dealers; the clothing industry; on some of the community pioneers who are
buried in our cemeteries all around the province; and, this year, of course,
our issue is on the food and service industry.”
She credited museum staff Alysa Routtenberg,
Marcy Babins and Michael Schwartz, and the publications committee, which this
year included Routtenberg, Perry Seidelman, Gary Averbach, Debby Freiman, Fred
Swartz and Ronnie Tessler. The JI’s production manager, Josie Tonio
McCarthy, does the layout for the journals.
Seidelman, president of the JMABC, urged audience members not to
throw out photographs or documents. “Give them to us,” he said.