J Street president and founder Jeremy Ben-Ami. (photo from J Street Facebook page)
In what many observers will see as the de facto expression of mainstream U.S. Jewry’s outlook on J Street, members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on April 30 voted 22-17 (with three abstentions) to reject the membership application of the self-labeled “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby. J Street secured the votes of only about a third of the Conference’s 50 members.
The 42 Conference members in attendance in New York exceeded the 75-percent quorum needed to hold the vote, but J Street fell significantly short of the required threshold of a two-thirds affirmative vote from the Conference’s full membership. The result that 25 organizations either voted against J Street or abstained meant that half of the Conference’s members declined to support J Street’s application.
“The Conference meticulously followed its long-established Process and Procedures Guidelines in considering J Street’s application…. The present membership of the Conference includes organizations which represent and articulate the views of broad segments of the American Jewish community and we are confident that the Conference will continue to present the consensus of the community on important national and international issues as it has for the last 50 years,” said Conference of Presidents chairman Robert G. Sugarman and executive vice-chairman/chief executive officer Malcolm Hoenlein.
Shiloh Winery overlooks the Shiloh River and the Judean Hills. (photo from shilohwinery.com)
The second in a short series featuring nine Israeli wine producers features Mayer Chomer of Shiloh Winery, situated above the Shiloh River overlooking the Judean Hills.
Mayer Chomer: Shiloh Winery was opened in 2005. That’s when we started running operations. We started in a very small garage, making boutique, very selected wines. I think that we’ve been making good product, good wines. Now the winery has built up to 10,000 cases and we’re growing.
Yossie Horwitz: Can you tell a little about the winemaker, the philosophy of the winery, what types of wines you’re trying to make?
MC: So, we started wanting to make just quality wines. We’re not interested in the volume business. We wanted to make very, very unique wines, quality wines, and obviously we wanted to distinguish ourselves from the rest of our colleagues and competitors. So, our philosophy is really making no compromises in our process: making and investing as much as we can in our equipment and, obviously, trying to be and to make always the best wines possible based on our grapes, our varieties that we have available and, you know, we invest a lot of money planting our vineyards so we can really control our quality. We’ve been just – thank God, you know – selecting good grapes based on a lot of research and making the wines that you see in the market. Thank God, people are acknowledging it by its quality.
YH: What types of wines do you make? Do you make single varietals or blends?
MC: We do have several series. We have the Mosaic, which is our flagship, a blend of five different grapes. We have a series that we call Secret Reserve. We have a merlot, a shiraz and a cab – straight cab. We also have the Shor series. Shor means bull in Hebrew, and the reason why we call it the Shor is because we inherited the lands of Joseph. It recognizes the bull that he slaughtered in the Bible. We also have barbera, merlot and a cab. And we have a lower blend; we call it Mor. We have a white wine, we have a dessert wine – we have all kinds of range!
YH: What’s special about the terroir where your grapes come from?
MC: I can tell you all the things about my terroir, but I’m going to answer you with a quote from the Bible…. The Bible says that Joseph got an extra blessing from the patriarch Jacob…. You know, many people … comment [o]n the Bible, one of them was Rashi, who was very famous, he asked: “What is so special about this blessing? Why did he [get] this land? [Does] Shiloh ha[ve] an extra blessing?” And, on this spot, Rashi answers, “Because the fruits are sweeter.” So, we have a gorgeous, gorgeous place to grow and plant our vineyards. As a matter of fact, many of the wineries are planting vineyards in Shiloh because of this quality. Outstanding quality!
YH: What are the plans for the future?
MC: Well, continue to do good wine, keeping the quality at all costs. And we want to grow, obviously, but we want to grow as per the request of our customers. If our demand will grow, because people will continue acknowledging our quality, then we’ll grow. Otherwise, we will stay where we are, always doing different things and new important things that can be attractive to our customers and clients. But always keeping proportions, meaning we want to be always a quality winery, as opposed to a mass winery.
YH: Can you tell us a little about how you got started in the wine business?
MC: To make this very long story short, I lived in Spain for several years. I was working and doing my PhD. I’m a lawyer by defect!… So I was there and, obviously, Spain is a very important wine region. And every time I would have people over to my house for holidays or for the Sabbath, I was very frustrated that I couldn’t get a good kosher wine. So, back in the [United] States, I was a little bit naïve and I thought, “I’m going to change the world! And I’m going to have just good quality wines, and I’m going to go to Israel and make a good winery.” And that was the beginning of it.
YH: When was this?
MC: This was in 1997. I was in Spain until 2001. So then, when I moved to Israel, I was working for a couple of years and then I decided, “OK, let’s make the dream come true!”
YH: What other regions inform your style of winemaking?
MC: I don’t know if I can answer that. I love French wines as well as Italian wines, which are very different, although they are the Old World. I really respect the New World wines: New Zealand, California. I think it’s important to have a combination of New and Old, just not be limited, but actually just making the best wine possible. We like to make wines that we know customers will appreciate, because customers nowadays start looking for something new, something interesting and attractive. At the same time, you always have that romanticism of good quality, classic wines.
– This article is reprinted courtesy of the Grape Collective, an online publication for all things wine. For more information, visit grapecollective.com.
Wine has been made in Israel since biblical times. The Book of Deuteronomy lists seven blessed species of fruit, including “the fruit of the vine.” Israel’s Mediterranean climate boasts many microclimates, which foster a diversity of wine styles.
The modern Israeli wine industry was greatly influenced by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild, owner France’s Château Lafite Rothschild. He started making wine in Israel in the late 19th century, importing French vine varieties and winemaking knowledge, and founding Carmel Winery, today the largest wine estate in Israel.
By the late 1980s, most Israeli wine was low quality, used for sacramental purposes. But the 1990s saw a huge boom in the establishment of quality-focused boutique wineries that were taking an artisanal approach. Today there are hundreds of wineries producing in aggregate more than 10 million bottles per year. Three producers are responsible for 80 percent of the production: Carmel, Barkan and Golan Heights Winery.
This short series features nine Israeli producers about the wines they make, their individual path into winemaking and their terroir. The first in the series profiles Irit Boxer-Shank of Barkan Winery, the second-largest winery in Israel.
Christopher Barnes: How did you get involvd in wine?
Irit Boxer-Shank: Well, it’s from the family. My father used to own the winery, Barkan. Now, he’s just the CEO.
CB: How did that change?
IBS: I started out as the owner’s daughter. I grew up there since I was 10, so I did everything in the winery, from putting on the labels all the way to the vineyards, walking with the workers, and then the winery was sold to a bigger company. My father is the CEO. I’m the winemaker. We’re still there doing our stuff, and we love it, but it’s not family-owned now.
CB: Tell us a little bit about the terroir where your wines are made.
IBS: Well, because we’re a big winery, we do wines from all over the country, from the northe[rnmost] part to the south, including in the desert. We have all kinds of terroir. We have all the varieties. We do a lot of experiments. That’s what’s fun about being a winemaker in Barkan. I love it because I have fruit from all over the country. I have all kinds of varieties, and I can play all the time.
CB: How many different varieties are you making right now?
IBS: A lot of them, and we do a lot of experiments. We bring a lot of new varieties. There is now a malbec that is brand new. We’re going to bring it to the [United] States. Pinotage was the first different variety that we started growing in Israel, then we have marselan and caladoc from south of France. Well, we’re playing a lot with it. Some of them that are not as good, we’ll go back, and we’ll do something else, but we have a lot. Of course, the cabernet sauvignon is the king, it will always be the king, but we do a lot of varieties.
CB: I interviewed a winemaker in Australia who is using 60 different varieties in his wines. I said to him, “How do you keep track of it? How do you know what’s working and what’s not when you have that many?” Is it more of a challenge to make wine with a lot of different types of grapes?
IBS: I don’t think so. It’s like asking a person who has a lot of children, “How do you keep up with them?” It’s like you grow them from the beginning to the end, so you know each of the wines just like you know a person, all the way, very intimately.
CB: You mentioned malbec. How do you decide if you’re going to try a new variety?
IBS: It’s a long process. We go and try it in different countries. We see the soil and the climate that they’re growing it in, and the best versions of them – like malbec in Argentina, in the south of France. And then we go back home and see if there are very similar [conditions], as similar as we can in Israel, and then we plant just a small plot. If it’s good, we’ll plant more, and then there are trials in the winery to see how to ferment it and what kind of barrels to put it in. It takes us at least eight years to start an experiment on a variety and maybe take it to the market.
CB: Do you buy a lot of fruit?
IBS: No. One of the more interesting things about Barkan Wineries is that we grow everything ourselves. We are also the biggest grower in Israel because all of the grapes are ours, which gives us full, complete control in the winemaking.
CB: Do you have a philosophy of winemaking? Is there something that you feel is your stamp in terms of the process and the styles of wines that you make?
IBS: Well, I discovered that we like using technology to do more of the Old World style. We’re trying to have all the fun from all the different worlds, the New and the Old! That’s something that really characterizes Israelis. We do fusions – that’s what you call the Israeli kitchen cuisine: “the fusion.” We take something from the new and something from the old, and do something from Israel. I guess, in winemaking, it’s also like that.
– This article is reprinted courtesy of the Grape Collective, an online publication for all things wine. For more information, visit grapecollective.com.
Dancing in Jaffa follows dance instructor Pierre Dulaine as he teaches 11-year-old Israelis and Palestinians. (photo from Tiara Blu Films)
Going back at least as far as 2001’s Promises, most recent documentaries that have opted for an optimistic slant on the Israeli-Palestinian situation have centred on children. The next generation, to be sure, is the universal embodiment of hope. But betting on today’s children to solve a problem down the road is tacit acknowledgement that today’s adults aren’t up to the task – or so those who see the Mideast glass as half-empty might say.
Both perspectives are skillfully interwoven in Dancing in Jaffa, a nuanced, feel-good study of cross-cultural fence-hopping in which the best traits in human nature vie with street-level realities.
The movie’s motor is world-champion ballroom dancer and teacher Pierre Dulaine, who returns to his hometown after many years with the self-proclaimed goal of giving something back. Perennially dressed in a starched shirt and tie, and fluent in Arabic, English and French, the grey-haired Dulaine is a cosmopolitan alien in a working-class town.
The indefatigable Dulaine is a lifelong proponent of partnered dancing as a way to develop social skills and self-confidence but, in Jaffa, he’s determined to apply his pedagogy to an even greater good. His plan is to teach merengue, rhumba and tango to 11-year-olds at various schools, culminating with young Jewish and Palestinian Israelis dancing together in a public ballroom dance competition.
“This is how you learn to work with another person,” Dulaine offhandedly remarks to one child while correcting his form. It’s a lovely sentiment, one that will gradually sink in after the student has become comfortable with the steps and can actually look at and interact with his or her partner.
There’s an unpredictability and bumpiness to Dulaine’s mission, at least initially, that negates the comforting formula that some viewers will expect. Most of the kids are shy, embarrassed and downright resistant to engaging with the opposite sex, even without the Islamic prohibition on touching someone of the opposite sex. (None of the Jewish kids are Orthodox.)
While boys will be boys and girls will be girls, Dulaine perseveres with firmness, as well as affection. Progress in the classroom can be hard to discern, however, so the film provides glimpses of the home lives of three children to suggest their individual blossoming.
Hilla Medalia, the prolific Israeli-born producer and/or director of such documentaries as To Die in Jerusalem and Numbered, again displays her talent for gaining access, winning trust and crafting small, revealing moments. The most memorable are political rather than interpersonal, and occur on the street rather than in someone’s home. The arrival in town of an intentionally intimidating group of right-wing Israelis chanting some variation of “Jaffa for the Jews” provides buzz-killing evidence that conciliation is not everyone’s goal.
An illuminating sequence contrasting the observance of Independence Day at a Jewish school with its description as the Nakba (Catastrophe) at a Palestinian Israeli school likewise underscores Medalia’s preference for presenting reality rather than peddling fantasy.
In this regard, she and Dulaine are perfectly in step. He was four years old when he left Jaffa with his Palestinian mother and Irish father during the War of Independence, and he’s chagrined but not surprised when his request to re-enter his family’s old home is summarily rejected by the Jewish owners.
Consistent with the theme that the future is more important than the past, Dulaine’s presence in the film steadily diminishes. We, and he, are left with the satisfaction that individual children have grown and glimpsed possibilities they couldn’t have imagined. A small victory, perhaps, compared to a lasting resolution to the ongoing conflict? Even a pessimist wouldn’t have the chutzpah to call a child’s transformation a “small victory.”
Dancing in Jaffa, in Hebrew, Arabic and English with English subtitles, played at the Vancouver Jewish Film Festival in November 2013 and has yet to have a Canadian release date scheduled. It’s on a limited release in the United States. The film currently has a rating of 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
Michael Fox is a writer and film critic living in San Francisco.
An aerial view of the acropolis of Herodium. (photo from commons.wikimedia.org)
In Israel, water scarcity has long been an issue. Even the Old Testament narrates that the Hebrews complained to Moses about the lack of fresh drinking water (Exodus 17:1-7, Numbers 20:2-13) in the arid Zin Wilderness.
Whether the answer to that particular water problem came from Divine intervention or from human ingenuity or both, the fact remains that the people who populated the ancient Land of Israel figured out sustainable solutions to their water shortages. This article focuses on three historical examples of sustainable water practice.
The first of the sustainable water system to be examined takes you forward in ancient history and north of the Zin Wilderness or Desert (Midbar Tzin, in Hebrew) to Herodium, a hilltop palace and fortress built by King Herod that stood securely at the highest peak in the Judean Desert.
Herodium was constructed more than 2,000 years ago in 23-20 BCE. Needless to say, it was crucial to have access to drinking water in this semi-arid and elevated location, and four vast underground cisterns for rainwater and spring water were carved deep into the mountain. Three of the cisterns were built in close proximity, about 80 feet below the summit. The fourth was hewn slightly above, about 16 feet from the summit. The largest cistern could hold up to 400,000 gallons of water. Access to the three lower cisterns was via the northeast side of the mountain, close to Herodium’s only flight of steps.
Water traveled a few miles from the Spring of Artas to drain into the large pool of Lower Herodium. It was carried uphill on donkeys and emptied into the lower cisterns. There were two ways to obtain water from these cisterns. One, exiting the palace-fortress with empty water skins or jars via the stairs until reaching the opening to the three lower cisterns. Water would then either be carried all the way back or, two, be transported to the opening of the higher cistern, at which point water was (ingeniously) funneled into the reservoir. A bucket attached to a man-made vertical shaft then brought this water up to the palace courtyard. This method was less labor intensive and insured the privacy of the “royals.”
As the nursery rhyme states, “some like it hot and some like it cold.” At Herodium, you had both hot and cold – and more. The Roman-style bathhouse featured a below-floor heating system in both the tepidarium (warm) and the caldarium (perhaps the precursor of the hot tub?), as well as a cold bath (frigidarium), or some kind of Roman bath/Hasmonean ritual bath hybrid, according to a Stanford professor of history.
According to David Mevorah, a curator of a Herod exhibit at the Israel Museum, by installing Roman baths, the king helped spread the importance of washing to the indigenous people of ancient Israel. Moreover, at what is called Lower Herodium (apparently the high-rent district of the day), the enormous pool (referred to by local residents today as El Hammam and measuring 70×45 metres or 230 feet) functioned as a swimming pool, a water reservoir and a small lake for boating, according to historians.
Today, Herodium is no longer a hilltop palace-fortress, but an amazing national park located just south and east of Jerusalem. For directions and hours, call the Herodian National Park at 057-776-1143 or visit parks.org.il.
Another (though more modern) solution to water scarcity is located just across the street from the Jerusalem Theatre at 17 Marcus St. Five large cisterns once serviced the Jesus Hilfe Asyl (what later became known as the Hansen Hospital). The Herrnhut Brothers, German Christians affiliated with the Moravian Church, donated the money to build the hospital in the late 1800s. It housed and treated people who were suffering from Hansen’s disease, a bacterial disease that was misdiagnosed as leprosy.
With the water collected, the 70 hospital patients (plus, in some cases, their healthy children) and the German Sisters of Mercy met all their water requirements, including medical needs, personal sanitation, in the kitchen and laundries, and for garden and farm maintenance.
Under the supervision of Jesus Hilfe builders, local workers constructed the cisterns, the largest of which was probably built in 1898. When full, it held 15×15 metres of water. In late December 1902, it even overflowed.
The other four cisterns were fed from rain gutters, which began on the hospital roof complex. Rain was collected from the staircase, the cistern roof and even from the road outside the compound’s high stone wall. Two cisterns were built near the laundry; one cistern was built near the southern garden while the others were situated within the main building, in the central courtyard or kitchen area.
With the advent of medicines to effectively treat Hansen’s disease, the in-patient hospital closed. Over the years, it has been an Israeli Ministry of Health outpatient facility and an early-childhood development centre. At present, it is being used as a Jerusalem municipal cultural centre. Inside the facility, you can visit an informative exhibit dealing with the history of the hospital and health care in Jerusalem. For visiting hours and tour arrangements, email [email protected] or call 054-744-6123.
Another ingenious water system is today located in a Ramla (or Ramle) city park. During the early Muslim period, in the early eighth century, Ramla was a strategically significant town, and served as the administrative centre of Palestine. Ramla was close to the road serving the holy city of Jerusalem and the port of Jaffa. Obviously, maintaining control of such an important location meant it had to be populated. This included providing inhabitants with a viable source of water.
Entering the city park, you’ll catch a glimpse of some long, rounded structures peeking up from the ground. When you descend the steep, narrow metal staircase (that now covers the original stone) leading to the pool, you take a step back in time, into the early Muslim period. This building, however, was not just any old storage unit. This elaborate reservoir, built in 789, is decorated with heavy brick, stone arches and a domed roof. Down below, you’ll find yourself facing an underground dock. It could pass for a medieval fort or a house, except that the floor is missing. In its place, the different chambers are filled with water deep enough for row boating! Altogether, the place gives you a mini-taste of Venice, Italy, except that at Ramla’s Pool of Arches, you never see the sky.
Today, we know arches make the sturdiest of structures, but this was still a novel idea back in the eighth century. Indeed, this construction proved so successful that the 400-plus-metre Pool of Arches withstood the devastation of the 1068 CE earthquake. You can see five of the original six vaults that covered the pool. Fifteen square pillars and 16 cross-shaped pillars support the vaults. Pointed arches exist between each pair of pillars. To compliment the arches, the architect designed small windows above them. These windows were likewise shaped as pointed arches. Locals drew water from 24 square openings in the ceiling.
There are various theories about the reservoir’s original source of water. Some claim it was filled only with rainwater. A more compelling assertion is that water flowed 10 kilometres from Tel Gezer via Caliph Sulayman ibn Adb al-Malik’s water conduit (in Hebrew referred to as an amah). Two points are clear: (1) it wasn’t water from any adjacent spring and (2) we are talking about a part of the world that is hot and dry for months at a time. The engineering and maintenance of this cistern was so successful that archeologists believe it was actively used for 150 years.
The site has a somewhat obscure history and goes by a variety of names, including the Pool of St. Helena and the Pool of Al-Anziya. In the early 20th cenutry, the British repaired the pool, but it was the (post-statehood) Ramla Municipality that converted it for boating.
After you visit the Pool of Arches, make note of the continuation of the city’s old subterranean water system. Ancient water cisterns are located in the White Tower’s large courtyard.
Visitors aged 2 and up can take a boat ride; life jackets are provided. For hours and directions, call 08-977-1595, 08-920-7586 or 052-851-0715. A helpful map can be found at ramla.muni.il/eng.
Deborah Rubin Fields is an Israel-based features writer. She is also the author of Take a Peek Inside: a Child’s Guide to Radiology Exams published in English, Hebrew and Arabic (take-a-peek-inside.com).
The Norman Tel Aviv (thenorman.com), a luxurious boutique hotel, has restored two buildings on Nachmani Street, at the heart of the Tel Aviv UNESCO heritage site for historic Bauhaus architecture. The newly renovated hotel’s management are also dedicated patrons of the arts, seeking to support contemporary artistic expression in Israel. When complete, the complex will be a travel destination that houses and showcases many avant-garde cultural treasures.
“Tremendous care has been taken to restore these buildings to their original grandeur, preserving the eclectic style, Renaissance and oriental influences that characterize the edifice at #23 Nachmani, as well as the striking modernist architecture of the adjacent building at #25,” said Olivier Heuchenne, managing director of the Norman.
The hotel – whose grand opening is planned for this summer – will sport an interior design echoing the luxury and style of the grand hotels of the early 20th century, featuring top restaurants, an extraordinary collection of Israeli artwork, an elegant library bar and the Norman’s signature world-class amenities.
The art collection, comprised of more than 100 works, stands at the centre of this accomplishment, uniting design themes and creating an interactive experience for guests. Featured are works by Ilit Azoulay, Sigalit Landau, Klone, Dana Levy, Assaf Shaham and Tsibi Geva, among others, celebrating a class of leading contemporary Israeli artists whose work is exhibited worldwide.
For Tamar Dresdner, the in-house art curator and consultant tasked with selecting works for display, the opportunity to partake in the restoration is a dream come true. “I’ve been living in Tel Aviv for years,” she said in an interview. “I remember walking past these buildings when they were residential properties and then entering them when they housed offices for businesses and lawyers. I always fantasized about what could be done with the space.”
Dror Fuchs in Israel with the ambulance donated by Winnipeg. (photo by Ariel Karabelnicoff)
In May 2013, the first Winnipeg-donated ambulance took to the streets of Israel. The vehicle was largely donated by allocations from Jewish Foundation of Manitoba fundholders responding to an ambulance fundraising drive, with additional money from members of the general community topping off donations. Another campaign for a second Winnipeg-donated ambulance is already on its way.
The Canadian Magen David Adom (CMDA) Winnipeg chapter ambulance-drive telethon was held on Nov. 24, 2013, with lead CMDA Winnipegger organizers Yolanda Papini Pollack and Sheldon Zamik, assisted by members of the CMDA Winnipeg chapter.
Growing up in Israel, Papini Pollack said she had to learn early on that it is never too early to prepare for a crisis.
“It’s rewarding to have a small role in saving the life of someone in need,” she told the Independent. “It scares me to think someone won’t get the medical treatment s/he needs due to a lack of operational ambulances.
“Magen David Adom has always been instrumental in helping save lives of Israeli residents, regardless of their ethnicity or religion. It’s an organization that unites all sectors of Israeli society.”
A filmmaker and educator, Papini Pollack created a short video clip to help convey the message of the fundraising drive and also spearheads the annual telethon.
“It was a great feeling to accomplish our goal last year, but there was also a feeling of fulfilling a duty,” she said. “This is something I had to be involved in, as I have a responsibility to the people of Israel. This is the least I can do.”
CMDA’s Winnipeg chapter wants to send more ambulances to Israel.
“It will be amazing if even one person in Israel would be able to say, ‘My life was saved thanks to an ambulance sent by people of Winnipeg.’”
“Wouldn’t it be great if Winnipeg could send an ambulance to Israel every year?” she asked. “It will be amazing if even one person in Israel would be able to say, ‘My life was saved thanks to an ambulance sent by people of Winnipeg.’
“Last year’s donors were so happy to see that 100 percent of their money was used to buy the ambulance. They were also thrilled to see a concrete photo of what their donation was able to achieve – the actual ambulance serving the people of Israel and being appreciated.”
Papini Pollack has received many messages from people in Winnipeg, expressing their thanks, as well as from people in Israel very appreciative of this lifesaving gift.
“Hearing that all the volunteers want to ride in the new Winnipeg ambulance was one of the most heart-warming things I heard all year,” she said.
The Winnipeg chapter of CMDA will continue raising awareness about the importance of MDA, while raising funds to send the second Winnipeg-sponsored ambulance to Israel.
“Our goals are very attainable,” said Papini Pollack. “We already raised a large portion of the needed money needed, with hope our community will succeed again this year.
“People wanting to get involved are welcomed to join our committee or help in other ways. We always need more volunteers and donations of any amount.”
Ariel Karabelnicoff, executive director of Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Manitoba Region, first heard about the ambulance fundraising drive last September, having crossed paths with Papini Pollack at the Prophecy Conference, an event to which they were both invited to have a booth.
“When I heard the first ambulance was on its way, it felt amazing,” said Karabelnicoff. “I was proud of my colleagues and the people of Winnipeg. And, as I shared with other people news that the ambulance was on its way, they too were proud and impressed.”
Karabelnicoff’s current connection to MDA is through his friend’s son, Dror Fuchs, a 16-year-old who volunteers with MDA (during his free time, on weekends) in Israel.
“I heard from John Plantz, a Christian Zionist who is one of the main organizers of the Prophecy Conference in Winnipeg and who is part of the fundraising campaign for the ambulance, that he is very excited that Winnipeggers successfully sent an ambulance,” said Karabelnicoff.
“Recently, Dror sent me a photo of a brand new ambulance he was volunteering on and he mentioned it came from Winnipeg. You could probably imagine how I felt inside.”
To donate to the Winnipeg chapter ambulance drive or the Vancouver chapter ambulance drive, send a cheque to CMDA head office in Montreal (at CMDA, Suite 3155, 6900 Decarie Blvd., Montreal, QC, H3X 2TB), with mention of where you would like the money to go to, call 1-800-731-2848, or visit cmdai.org. CMDA is a registered charity and all donations will be acknowledged with a tax receipt.
Idan Raichel performs for one night only at the Vogue Theatre on May 12. (photo by Eldad Rafaeli)
Vancouver audiences are in for a treat next month when Israeli musician and uber-producer Idan Raichel together with the ensemble of international musicians that comprise the Idan Raichel Project perform for one night only at the Vogue Theatre on May 12.
The IRP’s unique sound – a blend of African, Middle Eastern, Indian and Latin American rhythms and instruments, is familiar to Vancouver audiences. Their three previous tour stops here – also presented by the Chutzpah! Festival – were sold out well in advance. This time, in addition to old favorites, audiences will be treated to some songs from Raichel’s latest and most successful album to date, A Quarter to Six, released in late 2013 to enthusiastic reviews from music critics and fans, sky-rocketing to double-platinum status within two months of its release.
The album’s title, taken from a work by Israeli dramatist Yossi Banai, refers to the twilight hour, a time of transition from day to night. “This is a very special time in Israel, the change of the day … you can think about what has happened up until now, also what could happen,” explained Raichel, who spoke with the Jewish Independent from his home in Tel Aviv. “The hour of the day that is like the crossroads in life…. After 10 years with the Project, I feel we have reached this time … of change, a transition, both musically and personally.
“A Quarter to Six [is] a kind of closure,” mused the artist. “It speaks about the crossroads we have in life. I don’t know if it’s age, or different perspectives, but we all have it about life … it doesn’t have to be a matter of age, you can feel this crossroads when you are 15 or 50.”
More than a collection of songs, the album is what Raichel terms “a complete piece of art,” as it includes a booklet of small paintings that he has been working on for the past two years. This album “is a big musical journey – inside my life spiritually and outside, touring and collaborating with [musicians] from Germany, Portugal, Columbia. The thing that touches me the most is that people see each song fits … [it’s] part of a story and they are listening from start to finish, writing comments about the booklet.” The songs are “not just singles,” he continued. “Every song is a script in a movie, every scene is singing about the situation that he or she is in. At concerts, I see kids and their parents, grandparents with kids coming, it’s reaching a wide audience…. The first time this is a full album that goes deeply into the theme of crossroads in life.”
While the format of this album differs from previous recordings, what hasn’t changed is Raichel’s unique sound, created in part by the collaboration with international musicians. A Quarter to Six brings together an eclectic mix of voices, languages and musical disciplines with guest artists that include German counter tenor Andreas Scholl, Colombia’s Marta Gómez, Portuguese fado star Ana Moura, Arab-Israeli singer/songwriter Mira Awad, Malian singer and guitarist Vieux Farka Touré, and a selection of some of Israel’s top up-and-coming singers and musicians. Raichel wrote all the melodies and lyrics but collaborated with each artist, allowing them to interpret and adapt their song to their own personal style.
This latest record is a very personal album – mirroring the very real crossroads that Raichel faces at this stage of his life and career. The 36-year-old recently settled down with his steady girlfriend, became a father and – in a move that elicited some very strong reactions from fans across the world – cut off his trademark dreadlocks. Raichel agreed that in retrospect the album foreshadowed his own transition into adulthood.
“Is it personal? When I wrote the album, I still had my dreadlocks, I was on and off in my relationship with my lady but somewhere inside I knew it was time to make decisions, to change things. I knew … I have to shave my dreadlocks after 14 years, I knew we were on and off but I knew I wanted her to be the mother of my kids.… Later on, it was natural. One month after the album was released, we knew that we were pregnant, things were happening.”
Having a child has opened Raichel up to a whole new world. Having a baby “gives me such a perspective about life…. I just enjoy this miracle, see how she develops and discovers new things every day…. It opens my appetite for more young creatures, maybe another nine or so. I wish!” But Raichel and his Austrian girlfriend, Damaris, are not planning on adding to their brood just yet. Their baby girl, Philipa Helena Damaris Raichel, remains with her mom in Israel while Raichel is on the road. “Damaris and the baby won’t tour with me…. I think it’s good to separate things. On the road, everyone has stuff to do. I don’t want them to feel forced to have to wake up early or, you know, to see the concerts every night.”
IRP’s blend of international musicians and sounds has put it at the forefront of the world music scene. In addition to that, Raichel calls the Project’s music “the soundtrack of Israel,” adding that the group plays the role of cultural ambassador for Israel. “The definition of world-music artist can change from one time to another, but world-music artists bring the soundtrack of where they come from. For example, Bob Marley is the voice of Jamaica; Edith Piaf, the voice of France; or like Miriam Makeba is the voice of South Africa. We feel honored when people describe our music as the soundtrack of Israel. If people don’t know anything about our country but can remember our music … especially people from conflict regions, then they see the other side of our culture.“
The past year has been a banner one for Raichel, who performed privately for Barack Obama during his state visit to Israel, appeared with French superstar Patrick Bruel and was awarded ACUM’s Composer of the Year 2013. To top it off, the popular Israeli entertainment magazine Pnai Plus named Raichel “Man of the Year.” Far from finding this flattering, the title made the unexpectedly humble musician feel uncomfortable. “Well, I was speechless then, and I’m speechless now,” he said. “In such a crazy country like ours, with so much happening every day, even every half day … how weird it [is] to get this recognition. I think a better Man of the Year would be … there is the story of one of the army commanders, he lost his two hands in an explosion and, a few months after that, he came back to the army to lead [his soldiers] again.” He added, “Just the struggle, even if it wasn’t an army, even if it was a soccer team … I don’t know, to see the power of good will, how strong you can be facing such trauma, how you can not give up to depression or pain or disappointment, that was an inspiration, I guess.”
Raichel said there is “a lot of good music coming from the Israeli music scene” nowadays. “It’s becoming more and more open to sounds from all over. Back in the day, you would hear less of the Yemenite roots, Middle Eastern influences,” it was “mostly Ashkenazi music.” And while he enthused about Israel’s modern musicians, mentioning DJ Avishai Cohen and Yemen Blues in particular, he still enjoys the music of Arik Einstein and Shoshana Damari. “Now, there are so many more radio stations, for more artists. Today, you hear music that more reflects the sound of the Israeli melting pot.”
Chutzpah! Festival artistic managing director Mary-Louise Albert said audiences are in for a whole new experience at the May 12 concert. “I have brought Idan back because it builds his audience here in Vancouver and I’m committed to supporting many artists beyond just presenting them one time. Artists develop and grow, so audiences get to experience this growth also when an artist performs multiple times.” With its 10-member ensemble (the largest of IRP’s Chutzpah! engagements), Albert said the Vogue Theatre is the perfect showcase for this high-energy, “plugged-in” event. “Vancouver audiences have not experienced this show before,” she said.
Opening for IRP is Vancouver’s Babe Gurr, who will showcase songs from her current album, SideDish, a unique blend of world music and her own roots style that has earned Gurr glowing reviews and a strong following.
Nicole Nozick is a Vancouver-based freelance writer and communications specialist.
Left to right, Ari Cipes, Rabbi Shmuly Hecht and Ezra Cipes have joined forces to help make Summerhill Pyramid Winery’s Tiferet, the only kosher uncooked wine in Canada. (photo from summerhill.bc.ca)
The rolling hills and verdant valleys of British Columbia’s Okanagan region are home to more than 200 wineries, many of which are internationally renowned and award-winning. In fact, a number of Canada’s most prestigious wineries call this region home – Mission Hill, Cedar Creek, Sumac Ridge, to name a few – with one singled out as “B.C.’s most visited winery” by Tourism Kelowna.
There are several possible reasons for Summerhill Pyramid Winery’s popularity. It could be the incongruous sight of the enormous, dazzling white pyramid towering over the central terrace (more on that later). Perhaps it’s because of the estate’s Peace Park or the quality of its 100 percent organic vineyard. Then there’s the winery’s most recent offering, Tiferet (Hebrew for beauty/glory), a new, top-of-the-line kosher wine whose very name reflects the exceptional landscape from which it was created.
Summerhill Pyramid Winery was founded by native New Yorker Stephen Cipes, who moved to the Okanagan with his young family in 1986 and felt an immediate spiritual connection with the land. The developer-turned-vintner purchased Summerhill Vineyards, replanted the existing table grapes with winemaking European grapes and set to work. Located on Kelowna’s Lakeshore Wine Route, the mid-size winery has been producing organic, award-winning wines ever since, making a name for itself in European capitals.
Now, three of Cipes’ four sons are involved in managing the family business. Chief executive officer Ezra Cipes spoke with the Jewish Independent from his office, which overlooks the magnificent, blue waters of Lake Okanagan.
The immediate question at hand was why the winery had decided to produce a kosher wine, especially an extremely limited edition one (1,200 bottles) with a hefty price tag ($100 per bottle). Cipes explained that he was inspired by his friendship with Okanagan Chabad Rabbi Shmuly Hecht and a desire “to share the beauty of natural, uncooked wine with Hecht and all Sabbath observant Jews.”
Cipes and Hecht formed a deep bond while “studying texts together and drinking mevushal [cooked] wine together,” Cipes explained. “None of [the cooked kosher wines] can compare with living, uncooked wine, and I realized that Rabbi Hecht did not know the pleasure of living wine. There was none available to share with him, so we decided to make it ourselves, and we set out to make it as beautiful as possible. We used the best grapes of the vintage, bought the best barrels from France and now, a year and a half later, I am pleased to say that the wine we made exceeded my expectations.”
Kosher winemaking is somewhat complicated. Governed by the same kashrut laws pertaining to food (prepared under supervision of a rabbi, containing only kosher ingredients, using rabbinically certified equipment), kosher wine is further divided into two categories: uncooked and cooked. Although both are considered equal with respect to kashrut, their production and final result couldn’t be more different.
To qualify as kosher uncooked wine, the wine’s entire production – from “vine to wine” in vintner vernacular – must be handled exclusively by Sabbath-observing Jewish males. And that includes pouring. Understandably, it is well-nigh impossible for commercial producers to comply with these conditions and most opt to make the cooked category of kosher wine, if they produce such wine at all. Kosher cooked winemaking allows non-Jews of both genders to handle production and serving, however, the other regulations are no less strict. For a wine to qualify as kosher cooked, it must be heated to 1850F, which, well, cooks it. And therein lies the rub.
Exposure to such high temperatures significantly compromises the wine’s flavor and texture and, while most producers now use flash-pasteurization techniques to minimize the damage, there is simply no way around it. “Wine is a living thing…. By cooking the wine, we are destroying the wine,” Cipes’ explained matter-of-factly. The dilemma facing kosher wine vintners is best summed up as having to choose between quality and quantity, taking into account the obvious economics that accompany those choices.
Which brings us back to Tiferet, whose kosher uncooked status partly explains its steep price. Cipes acknowledged the challenge of producing uncooked wine and described Tiferet’s creation as “a labor of love.”
“The complication is that only the hands of Sabbath-observant Jews could touch the wine, equipment or any unsealed vessel containing the wine,” he said. “We had to make the wine away from our regular wine cellar, and without the trained hands of our regular team. But otherwise, it was the most simple and natural process: crush the grapes, allow the fermentation to happen … press the juice from the skins … age in barrels, blend the barrels … allow the solids to settle … rack the wine … and seal it in a bottle. Rabbi Shmuly or myself was there every single day except for Shabbos, checking the temperature of the room or performing some task. For such a simple process, the quality of the wine comes from the quality of the fruit, the careful handling, and creating the correct conditions for the fermentation and maturation.”
Tiferet was made with a relatively new “meritage” blend (merit/heritage), a delicate balance of Bordeaux-inspired grape varieties – merlot (60 percent), cabernet sauvignon (20 percent) and cabernet franc (20 percent) – cultivated in the semi-arid conditions of an Osoyoos organic vineyard and then brought to Summerhill to be turned into something that sounds much more than a run-of-the-mill premium wine.
“Making [Tiferet] with the rabbis changed its way,” Cipes said, trying his best to explain his sense that something else was at work during the creation of Tiferet. “In a way, the wine made itself, there was some magic that happened there. It’s hard to put my finger on it … a certain element of magic happened naturally that wouldn’t have happened otherwise … it was the work of the elements, and of natural forces beyond our control. We can only take credit for partnering with these forces to create this incredible wine.”
The description of Tiferet on Summerhill’s website diverts sharply from adjectives usually associated with wine flavor and aromas. Forgoing the more mundane “‘fruity” or “crisp,” Summerhill goes out on a metaphorical limb declaring, “Tiferet has the aroma of baby’s breath and the flavor of mother’s milk.” (If you’re wondering, as did I, the reference is not to genus Gypsophila, most commonly found in English country gardens!)
On the telephone, Cipes struggled to articulate the sensory sensations evoked by this wine. “It has a sweet milkiness … an unusual flavor, a sweet dairy note that doesn’t linger for long … it’s almost an effervescence. The texture is … full- bodied, soft and kind of silky in your mouth, elegant, fresh, fruity. There’s an added complexity to the wine,” before returning to the rather odd-sounding, “It’s like baby’s breath.” Tiferet wine, Cipes concluded, is for a drinker who “want[s] to have an experience of beauty.” With my request for a sample politely but firmly declined, and a price tag sadly out of reach, I’ll just have to take his word for it.
But, wait. What about the promise for more about that huge, looming pyramid, rivaling only the great pyramids of Egypt for alignment and precision? And the new-age-sounding Peace Garden? You’ll have to visit the winery in person to learn more – and, while you’re there, could you bring me back a bottle of that magic?
Nicole Nozick is a Vancouver-based freelance writer and communications specialist.