Holon Children’s Museum is a children’s museum unlike any other. (photo by Lauren Kramer)
Take small kids with you to Israel and one thing is for sure: you’ll want to have more on your itinerary than holy sites and 2,000-year-old ruins. Fortunately, this small country has a diverse range of fun family attractions that appeal to toddlers, kids and preteens. From a biblical zoo to a chocolate factory and science museum, here are some highlights that will keep your kids smiling in the Holy Land.
Jerusalem Biblical Zoo (jerusalemzoo.org.il). This 100-acre zoo started as a petting zoo in the 1940s and now includes more than 300 species, a quarter of them animals that were mentioned in the Bible, such as Syrian brown bears, Persian fallow deer, Asian lions, Nile crocodile and the Asian leopard. There are also many non-biblical animals in this expansive zoo, which easily takes a half-day to explore. Look out for Sumatran tigers, a rhino and a hippo, giraffes, kangaroos, wolves and fruit bats. Many of the animals are under threat of extinction. Israel is the only country in the Middle East offering protection to wolves, for example, and the wolf exhibit tries to raise awareness on how wolves and people can live in harmony. Open year round, the zoo charges $28 for admission for adults and $11 for kids.
Bloomfield Science Museum (mada.org.il). When it first opened 21 years ago, the Jerusalem museum was the only one in the country: today, it’s one of four. Its interior is far from fancy, but it more than compensates in its wide range of innovative exhibits, a selection geared to entertain and engage all age groups, from 3 through 83. “Hands-on” is the theme here and, in every exhibit, visitors are encouraged to touch, play and explore. We visited during Chanukah, when the museum had set up a station for kids to build their own unique spinning tops using recycled materials. We loved the light and shadow exhibit, a labyrinth of rooms that combine art with the science of how light and shadow interact. Other exhibits explain the connection between physics and how amusement parks work, how electricity is distributed, and how science and technology play out in some of Israel’s favorite children’s stories. Free for kids under five, the museum charges $12 for kids and adults or $45 for families.
Galita Chocolate Factory (galita.co.il). Combine kids and chocolate and the result is delight, especially if the experience includes making your own treats. The chocolate factory at Kibbutz Degania on the Sea of Galilee offers a selection of kid-focused workshops with various candy-making projects, from building and decorating a miniature chocolate candy house to creating chocolate lollipops, truffles and more. Kids play with mixtures of white and brown chocolate and carefully decorate their creations before the finished versions are refrigerated and taken home. An on-site chocolate shop sells the creations of Galit Alpert, the Belgium-trained Israeli owner whose delicacies are irresistible. Prices range from $11-$22 per person, depending on the project, and reservations are recommended.
Holon Children’s Museum (childrensmuseum.org.il or 03-6503000, ext. 3). Don’t be fooled by its name – this is a children’s museum unlike any other you’ll ever set foot in. Its four segments cater to vastly different age groups. Kids age nine and up will love Dialogue in the Dark, an exhibit wherein visitors get to experience what it is like to have no vision by taking a tour in complete darkness, in the company of blind guides. Along the way, they experience the various rooms they enter by relying on their other senses. Likewise, in Invitation to Silence, adults and kids age 10 and up get immersed in a tour of silence, one wherein they need to use other methods of communication – hands, face and body – to communicate emotions and reactions. In Dialogue with Time, visitors explore the concept of aging through experiences and games. They’re invited to identify various songs and objects that crisscross the generation gap, and to experience what it feels like to lose dexterity in the hands and feet by donning special gloves and shoes. Talking figurines reflect on their different experiences of aging and the entire experience invites discussion, dialogue and contemplation on what it means to age gracefully. Finally, in the only segment of the museum that remotely resembles a typical children’s museum, children ages 4-8 get to explore the making of music and art using unconventional instruments and objects, led by actor guides. Each tour lasts between 90 minutes and 1.5 hours and costs $15 per segment. Reservations are essential.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond, B.C. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.
Inside Bordeaux’s Grand Synagogue of the Gironde. (photo by Karen Ginsberg)
On a recent trip to the Basque, my husband and I learned a great deal about the strong Jewish presence that formerly existed in the region.
The Basque country comprises southwestern France and northeastern Spain. Our journey started in Bordeaux, France, which, strictly speaking, is not part of the Basque. Rather, Bordeaux is the capital of the neighboring Aquitaine region. Our sightseeing there included a visit to the Grand Synagogue of the Gironde, located in central Bordeaux, serving a Jewish population of 1,100. A 2007 brochure given to us on our visit, History of the Jewish Population of Bordeaux, dates the synagogue back to the 1880s, the land for it having been a gift from the city. On the morning of our visit, a young man, soon to be a bar mitzvah, was just finishing his practise session on the bimah, which gave life to the building.
From Bordeaux, we traveled by train two hours southwest to St. Jean de Luz, a mid-size town on the Atlantic coast that is part of the French Basque, where we had rented an apartment. We found our most substantive Jewish Basque connection on a day trip to nearby Bayonne.
Musée Basque et de l’histoire de Bayonne is a modernized space housing the history and culture of the people of the region. Within, there is a special exhibit that celebrates the presence of Jews in the Basque since the 1600s. The roots of the Jewish community there stem from the migration that took place when the Jews were expelled during the Spanish Inquisition.
Among the collection of artifacts is a beautiful portrait of Augusta Furtado, who, in the 17th century, was a merchant and president of the Israelite Consistory of Bayonne, as well as twice serving as Bayonne’s mayor. The collection also includes furniture and religious objects from a private synagogue in the 19th century, including an ark, menorah and pulpit, a child’s temple presentation dress, circa 1885, a shofar, an 18th-century mezuzah and a sabbatical lamp from a Portuguese ceremony that was used in Bordeaux and Bayonne. One of the most interesting items is a document dated Jan. 19, 1753, entitled The Statues of the Jewish Nation of Saint Esprit, a reiteration of the royal protective orders of 1550 in which the title Jew is used for the first time instead of the term New Christian or Portuguese.
A further Jewish connection in the region has to do with one of the sources of Bayonne’s current fame as a world centre for the manufacture of high-quality chocolate. The chocolate-making skills of the exiled Spanish Jews who settled in the area were put to use. Their contribution to the industry is told at some length in the self-guided tour of the city’s delightful l’Atelier du chocolat. Both my husband and I felt compelled to enjoy a generous chocolate-tasting at the atelier out of respect for our ancestors!
Bayonne has a beautiful synagogue in the core of city, but it is locked behind steel gates with no one available to provide any information on whether and how the building is being used, if at all. Nevertheless, an inscription carved onto the exterior of the synagogue speaks volumes about the vision the community had for this holy place: “Ma maison sera denommée une maison de prières pour toutes les nations.” (“My house will be marked as a house of prayer for all nations.”)
Signage outside the synagogue gates draws further attention to the pride that the community had in being able to build its own shul: “This place of worship for the Bayonne Jewish community was built in the 19th century by architect Capdeville. The monumental neo-classical-style building illustrates the wish of the community’s leaders to assert the presence of Judaism in the heart of the district and also to provide a single place of worship for the faithful, replacing the private synagogues used previously.”
Our last daylong outing – to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France – metaphorically closed a circle for us with respect to early Jewish life in the Basque region.
These days, it seems, almost everyone knows someone who has undertaken the six-week walk referred to as the Camino de Santiago (the Way of Saint James). This medieval pilgrimage runs from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, near the Spanish border, more than 750 kilometres northwest of the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. There is generally a degree of wonderment and respect accorded to anyone who has retraced those steps. One has only to walk the steep main street of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to understand that there is a hardship to be endured no matter how solid one’s walking shoes or how well-organized is today’s network of rest places along the route. Being in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port surrounded by modern-day pilgrims at the start of their journey brought to my mind how different their trek would be to that of the expelled Spanish Jews. I could not help thinking what it must be like to have to flee one’s home under threat of death, travel on foot, by cart and, for some, partially by boat, to hopefully reach the safety of new lands. These Jewish travelers had no fancy walking shoes, no “service centres” along their route and they most certainly traveled with fear in their hearts.
My husband and I left the Basque knowing that there were likely many other remnants of a Jewish presence in the area yet to be discovered. Our curiosity peaked, it’s a challenge we will hopefully be able to take up on a future visit.
Karen Ginsberg is a travel writer living in Ottawa.
Steven Finkleman in front of the restored Chennamangalam Synagogue. (photo by Steven Finkleman)
I had bought my airline ticket to Mumbai in the fall, aiming to track down the remains of the Jewish community in India. I set out with my backpack on Jan. 9 and, after several days, arrived. I had pre-booked a stay at Sassoon House, which is a residence for Jewish travelers at Magen David Synagogue in Mumbai.
Lufthansa pulled in at 2:30 a.m. Perfect time for arrival into a strange city of 18,000,000 people. Somehow, I found a taxi and a Western traveler who wanted to share the ride with me. And, somehow, I managed to give some direction to the synagogue, which is currently situated in the predominantly Muslim district of Byculla. It does take a bit of guts.
We pulled into the synagogue compound around 3:30 a.m. under the watchful eyes of Mumbai’s finest, accompanied by huge spotlights, army tanks and AK47s (all in response to the terrorist attack at a Mumbai synagogue five years ago). I was as cool as a cucumber. My taxi partner at this point was in apoplectic shock.
Fortunately, Mr. David, the caretaker of Sassoon House did answer the phone and let me in for four hours of rest, prior to attending the Shacharit service for Shabbat at 8:45 a.m. Interesting service. I was #11 in attendance, so was superfluous to the congregation. (I often have been #10 in these circumstances, serving as the final man needed to allow the service to proceed.) The service was rapid, Sephardi Orthodox, and the accent of the Baghdadi congregation made following along somewhat challenging. The familiar tunes of the Barchu, the Shma, the Amidah, the Aleinu, were absent and keeping up with the service required heavy concentration on my part after a 36-hour flight and four hours of sleep.
I received an aliyah to the Torah and, when I gave my name as Zalman ben Yaacov, Zalman being a Yiddish name and, therefore, totally unheard of in Mumbai, they interpreted my name as Solomon, and called me up as Shlomo ben Yaacov. Lunch at the rabbi’s home followed. Considerable gin was flowing (considering it was a former British colony) accompanied by lots of traditional Judeo-Marathi songs. I was forced to sing a representative Canadian song and led them all in a rousing version of “Allouette.” The luncheon ended with everyone sharing some snuff! As they all snorted away, I was sure to ask, “Are you certain that this is only tobacco?” before trying some myself.
The Indian community goes back about 2,000 years. Some date it to the expulsion after the destruction of the First Temple, others to after the destruction of the Second Temple. The community has four components.
The Bene Israel and Cochin communities came both around the same time. The Cochin community was likely from seafarers and merchants, possibly dating back to King Solomon’s time. The Bene Israel community around Mumbai dates from a shipwreck 2,000 years ago where seven men and seven women survived. Their holy books were lost, but they remembered to keep the Shabbat, kashrut and brit milah. Generations later, they were tutored by the Cochini community to improve their knowledge of Judaism.
The third community to arrive was the Paradesi community. Paradesi means foreigner, and this group was basically Sephardim who arrived from Spain or via Amsterdam in the 16th century, and headed to Cochin. The fourth group, led by David Sassoon, emigrated from Baghdad, and came in the 18th century, setting up congregations in Mumbai, Pune and Ahmedabad. The Sassoon dynasty was very dynamic both for the Jewish community and the Mumbai community at large.
There are several residual synagogues in Mumbai, with some still in use, such as the Baghdadi community’s Magen David (where I stayed) and Keneseth Eliyahoo, along with the original Bene Israel community’s Tiferet Israel synagogue. Five thousand Jews remain in Mumbai, and three or four synagogues hold services on Shabbat. Tiferet Israel has a strong component of younger men.
I was lucky to travel to Cochin (now called Kochi) in Kerala state and, besides spending a wonderful day in Jewtown, Cochin, and visiting the Paradesi synagogue, I also rented a taxi and went to search out the remnants of the Jewish community in more remote areas. I visited two restored synagogues at Parur (or Paravoor) and Chennamangalam (or Chendamangalam), and I visited the Kadavumbagan synagogue in Ernakulum, which was closed 40-50 years ago and remains unrestored.
There are about 12 Jews left in Kerala. I spent two days visiting Sarah Cohen. Sarah, 91, is the matriarch of the Cochin Jewish community. She reminded me totally of my Baba Sarah. On my first visit, I asked her if I could bring her anything that she needed. She asked for chocolate and beer, and I returned the next day with some Cadbury. Sarah has an embroidery shop on Jew Street in Jewtown, in the city’s Mattanchery neighborhood, two blocks from the Paradesi synagogue, which is spectacular – it is a national historic landmark, expertly renovated and with excellent historical information.
I was also able to meet Elias Josephi at the Kadavumbagan synagogue. About 50 years ago, the synagogue disbanded because of lack of membership and Josephi purchased it. He currently runs a plant nursery and an aquarium/fish shop in the antechamber of the synagogue. Behind his desk, the closed door leads to the treasure of the sanctuary, exactly as it was left 40-50 years ago.
At the peak, there may have been about 100,000 Jews in India. Eighty percent of them emigrated to Israel in the 1950s/60s. It is interesting that they remained separate. The Cochinis went to Nevatim and the Bene Israel went to Dimona, Ashdod, etc. Fifteen percent of the Indian Jews went to English-speaking countries such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, and five percent remain in India today.
What a fascinating Diaspora story. How intriguing that at all ends of the earth, one can find Jewish communities. I believe it was one of our sages who once said, “If there is oxygen, there are Jews.” Or, perhaps, it was me who made up that line!
Steven Finkleman, originally from Winnipeg, is a retired pediatrician living in Kelowna. He travels extensively and often researches and visits remote Diaspora communities on his adventures.
Dr. Neil Pollock instructs a team of surgeons in Rwanda on carrying out his technique of circumcision. (photo from Dr. Neil Pollock)
Dr. Neil Pollock specializes in circumcision, from newborn to adult, and adult vasectomy. As a leading expert in circumcision, he has traveled around the world to train physicians and, this summer, he will head to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to teach a team of doctors in medical newborn and infant circumcision.
“After carrying out 50,000 infant circumcisions and traveling recently to Turkey, China and Africa to exchange ideas, I have evolved my technique to make it applicable to infants, children, teenagers and adults,” Pollock told the Independent in a recent interview. “I have developed a technique to do circumcision in this older age group under local anesthetic without using sutures and using, instead, a cyanocrylate skin glue that closes the wound. Being able to do the procedure under local anesthetic and with skin glue instead of a general anesthetic in hospital provides for a much simpler, easier, quicker, safer and improved cosmetic outcome for patients.”
This method, he said, is unique. “I’m unaware of this approach being used anywhere in [Canada] except in my clinics. The older age group is currently requesting circumcision for reasons like reduction in disease transmission, preference of their partners and improved hygiene.”
In 2008, Dr. David Patrick was the head of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. Pollock said he was asked by his colleague “to teach my surgical techniques for circumcision in Rwanda, where they were using scissors and stitches, without anesthetic, and their surgeons desperately required training in an alternative quick, safe and painless infant circumcision technique that would be accepted by their population. In coordination with their surgeons, I planned with my team a five-day surgical training mission that year and flew to Rwanda. I have been in contact with these surgeons by email since my trip and they have informed me that they are using my technique effectively and safely throughout the country now.
“The impact of our humanitarian effort became known in the international medical community, which led to Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, professor at [the University of California, Los Angeles] Medical School, contacting me recently and asking me to essentially replicate the work I did in Rwanda, but this time in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where they are being overwhelmed by the number of patients requiring treatment for AIDS and would receive huge benefit from introducing a preventative strategy to reduce AIDS transmission, such as infant circumcision, which will reduce the risk of their circumcised infants later contracting AIDS when they hit sexual age, by over 60 percent. Its impact and effectiveness has been referenced metaphorically to be like a vaccine.” Circumcision, he added, “works to reduce AIDS by removing the portal of entry of the virus, which is the foreskin.”
Klausner, a professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases and the program in global health at UCLA, is an advocate in the use of medical male circumcision for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV. He volunteers with GHESKIO, an organization run out of the Centre for Global Health at Weill Cornell Medical College in partnership with the Haitian government. Operating primarily in Port-au-Prince, their work is supported by Haiti’s first lady and has a mission to combat HIV and improve conditions of maternal and child health. GHESKIO will host Pollock’s training in Port-au-Prince.
Raised in Winnipeg, Pollock explained that he decided to become a doctor “because I had a strong interest in sciences, medicine and surgery from a young age.” Early in his career, he decided to create a special focus on circumcision and vasectomy, and built a highly focused practice and a well-tested – and respected – technique.
“My interest in developing a safe, quick and painless approach to circumcision for the medical community in B.C. arose initially from some of the rabbis approaching me approximately 20 years ago and encouraging me to become a mohel in Vancouver,” Pollock said.
The benefits of newborn and infant circumcision are many, but the rates of the procedure vary from region to region, and remain contentious to those opposed to what’s seen as elective (non-consenting) surgeries for babies.
Pollock noted, “The most important change recently in how the medical community has come to view circumcision is expressed in the … consensus statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics released in late 2012 declaring that ‘the medical benefits of infant circumcision outweigh the risks.’ This is the strongest statement of support ever issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“The benefits of circumcision are multiple; they include reduction in the risk of urinary tract infection, which can lead to kidney infection and renal failure, reduced risk of cancer of the penis, cancer of the cervix in partners, reduced risk of balanitis (which is infection of the foreskin), and other foreskin-related problems, like phimosis.” As well, circumcised males also experience a “reduction of multiple sexually transmitted diseases, like HPV, herpes and AIDS transmission. The latter is exponentially more important in places like Haiti and Africa, where a large number of the population has AIDS in comparison to other regions of the world where AIDS is less common.” Possible risks include “bleeding and infection,” he added, “but, in experienced hands, risks are extremely low.”
Rwanda and Haiti share a history of national trauma, which has led in both countries to poor health outcomes. In 1994, at least 800,000 Rwandans were massacred by their countrymen in a genocide. In 2010, Haiti, already the victim of more than two centuries of extreme poverty, dictatorships and U.S.-led military interventions, experienced a 7.0 earthquake that resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000, and displaced 1.5 million of the tiny country’s 10 million people. Since then, Haitians have been hit by serious outbreaks of preventable disease, including cholera, tuberculosis and AIDS. According to the United Nations, life expectancy is 61 years for men and 64 for women.
The health challenges that Haitians are very similar to those experienced in Africa, and the training is seen as critical in addressing those obstacles. “Like there was in Rwanda, there is a need to train surgeons in Haiti to carry out a quick, safe and painless infant circumcision technique,” Pollock explained. “In regards to what accounts to gaps in circumcision rates, there may be a deficiency in trained surgeons to carry out the surgery in an acceptable manner, along with variations in social and cultural norms that influence the choice to have circumcision.”
The ultimate intention of the training, Pollock said, is “to set up a national program accepted by the population, to introduce infant circumcision safely and effectively, and have it evolve to become a widespread practice throughout the country, thereby reducing the transmission of multiple diseases, including AIDS.”
Pollock’s visit to Haiti will involve intensive training. “My goal is to carry out a similar plan to what we executed in Rwanda. I worked with physicians there weeks ahead to set up a surgical schedule of 20-to-30 infants per day, over four-to-five days of operating. After working with doctors on models that I brought to demonstrate the technique and do the primary teaching, they moved to assist me with the surgeries and eventually carry them out under my supervision on the infants booked for circumcision.”
The training in Haiti, part of a nongovernmental public health initiative, will be partially supported by charitable donations. “The commitment from my end for Haiti will include a week away from my practice and the commitment to help raise the $25,000 for the mission to take place. The plan is to raise $25,000 from the Vancouver community in the next seven days or so as to be able to launch the teaching mission in Haiti by the end of the summer. During the week in Haiti, I will train two physicians, who will then train other physicians once our team leaves. I will maintain follow-up with these physicians to help them manage any issues that should arise.” The goal is to create a sustainable public health campaign and donated funds not only will go towards covering the costs for the week, but also for “the next 500 infants once we leave.”
Readers who would like to donate to the effort “will support an initiative, which will undoubtedly over the years save thousands and thousands of lives,” Pollock said. “It’s intended that Haiti will become a training centre for circumcision in the Caribbean. It is likely that my technique, once taught in Haiti, will soon be shared with multiple countries throughout the Caribbean, multiplying its effect to save lives throughout the entire region. So, I’m asking readers and members of the community to reach deep and consider making a financial donation to help us raise $25,000 in the next [several] days to allow this mission to proceed.”
To make a donation, contact Dr. Neil Pollock at 604-644-5775 or [email protected]. “We will make it very easy for people to donate, and make arrangements for their cheques (made payable to the Vancouver Foundation) to be picked up by our team,” he said. Donations can also be mailed to 4943 Connaught Dr., Vancouver, B.C., V6M 3E8.
Marc and Chantal Belzberg with MK Danny Danon, centre, at OneFamily’s August 2013 launch of Longing for a Hug, an exhibit of original artworks created from the personal stories of bereaved Israeli children. (photo from Finn Partners)
In the summer of 2001, Jerusalemites Marc and Chantal Belzberg were busy planning their daughter Michal’s bat mitzvah. Relatives from Vancouver and New York were booking their flights to Israel in anticipation of what was to be a huge and festive family gathering. Then, on Aug. 9, 2001, just one month before the bat mitzvah celebration, a suicide bomber entered the Sbarro pizza shop in Jerusalem and executed one of the most notorious terror attacks of the Second Intifada. The family was faced with an uncomfortable question: How could they possibly celebrate in the face of such great tragedy?
The Belzbergs decided to cancel the party and instead committed themselves to a bat mitzvah project. They would visit and console the injured and bereaved families of the Sbarro bombing, and the money that Michal’s extended family would have spent coming to Israel for the celebration would be collected and turned into a fund for these victims of terror.
Less than a week later, another suicide attack wounded 15 Israelis in a café. The needs were clear, and the Belzbergs felt that they had to try to assist these latest victims of terror, as well.
“It turned into a family project, a long-term commitment that we took on after several months of working with the victims,” Chantal Belzberg, now the executive vice-chair of OneFamily, recalled. “We came to the simple conclusion that if they need help, they are our family. We wanted to help every one of them.”
The small family project quickly blossomed into a large nonprofit operation. From the tragedies of the Second Intifada, OneFamily, a national organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of victims of terror attacks and their families, was born. Though maintaining the organization was a daunting task, a strong family history of commitment to the Jewish community prepared them for the challenge.
The Belzberg family has roots in Vancouver that go back 46 years, when they moved here from Edmonton in 1968.
“I went to Eric Hamber High School but, for Grade 10, my parents sent me on a program called Haddasim,” Marc Belzberg recalled, referring to the program sponsored by Hadassah-WIZO that sent groups of Canadian teenagers to Israel for the year in order for them to serve as youth ambassadors upon their return. Along with the deep connection he forged with the land of Israel, he also developed a love for philanthropy, a familial commitment he picked up in his youth.
“My father, Samuel Belzberg, was involved with and actively supported so many institutions and programs, both in Vancouver and throughout North America. He supported Simon Fraser University and started a leadership program called Action Canada for the 15 best and brightest future leaders in the country. In the Jewish community, he supported the Conservative synagogue Beth Israel and [an] Orthodox synagogue, Schara Tzedeck. He invested in Jewish education in Vancouver through his work with Vancouver Hebrew Academy, Vancouver Talmud Torah, the former Maimonides [Secondary School], and now King David High School, as well as NCSY, and he helped preserve Jewish history, contributing to the foundation of the Wiesenthal Centre and the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.”
Imbued with a sense of communal responsibility and a love for Israel, Marc and Chantal Belzberg moved their family to Jerusalem in 1991. With the foundation of OneFamily 10 years later, they continued the family legacy of philanthropic work.
OneFamily supports victims of terror from the time of impact, and continues to provide assistance, be it emotional or financial, for as long as needed, Marc Belzberg explained. “Today, the support required is so different. People don’t know what is going on here in Israel, like they did during the intifada. Thank God, attacks are not happening on a large scale like they were, but they are happening on an individual level: an officer is stabbed, a soldier is killed while sleeping on the bus. But there are no more headlines like there used to be.”
This reality makes the work undertaken by OneFamily even more important. “OneFamily does not just provide an emergency response, we are in it for the long term,” said Marc Belzberg. “That means we are there for the young man who is scared to start his own family due to trauma a decade earlier. We are there to pay for IVF treatments for the woman over 40 who lost her children. And we are there for the woman who cannot support her children due to severe PTSD from three separate terror attacks.”
A quarter of OneFamily’s budget goes to the children’s division, because, as Chantal Belzberg explained, children have the greatest chance of fully healing from trauma. Each child is paired up with a volunteer counselor who builds a relationship with the child(ren). They are present for important dates, such as the yahrzeit (anniversary) of family members who were killed.
As a “full-service” organization, OneFamily helps victims throughout the entire healing process and provides financial aid, including lobbying the government to ensure that victims are receiving the funding to which they may be entitled. They also provide social services, including psychological treatment, Shabbat retreats, summer camps and other activities to help bring victims together. She summarized OneFamily’s approach simply: “Victims can help each other. Healing happens better together than alone.”
While the headlines about Israel focus on peace talks, it is important to remember the individuals who have suffered throughout the conflict and need continuing support. As the Belzbergs see it, every last one of them is family.
A horse figurine is evidence of early Jewish ritual practice. (photo by Clara Amit/IAA.COM)
One might think that a significant archeological find a few hours’ walk from Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem would turn up artifacts we would recognize as Jewish. But since the Judaism of the day was not what we know, the find yielded ritual objects that seem vaguely pagan, almost heretical by today’s standards.
Shua Kisilevitz, the archeologist who was part of the team that excavated the site at Tel Motza, about seven kilometres west of Jerusalem, prefers the phrase “pagan Yahwism” to describe the religion of the era.
Last December, Kisilevitz and three fellow archeologists announced what they called an “unusual and striking” find, unearthed in construction for a highway: the 2,750-year-old walls of a temple, along with a cache of ritual objects that included a pedestal decorated with lions and sphinxes, pendants, pottery and vessel fragments, and figurines – two human and two animal – that may or may not have depicted deities.
The dig provides “rare archeological evidence for the existence of temples and ritual enclosures in the Kingdom of Judah in general and in the Jerusalem region in particular,” the team announced.
The uniqueness of the find is even more remarkable, the archeologists said, because of its proximity to the First Temple, built, according to the Bible, under King Solomon in 960 BCE. But archeologists know little about the period’s religious practices because there are hardly any remnants of ritual buildings from the era, according to Kisilevitz.
While more study is needed, the find provides valuable insights into what those rituals might have been, she said in an interview prior to her recent talk on the subject at the University of Toronto. While those practices may seem strange and un-Jewish today, they were in keeping with the rules of the time, Kisilevitz said.
Previous excavations showed that Motza functioned within the royal administration of the Kingdom of Judah, she said. “It was very much connected to Jerusalem. [It couldn’t] create its own religion. The people of Motza didn’t wake up one morning and say, ‘Oh, we want to create something new.’ They couldn’t break off so easily.”
The artifacts are important because they reflect a formative time for Judaism, she noted, adding they show that the ancient Israelite faith was not always centralized in Jerusalem and its practitioners may have used ritual objects now forbidden as graven images. “There are all these presumptions we have which we project onto the early formation of religion,” Kisilevitz said. “This temple finally shows us how the religion started out and what it really looked like at the time. They [were] doing what was common in the period.”
The find also conforms to biblical accounts, which mention local religious precincts outside Jerusalem, she added. And “Motza” is mentioned in the Book of Joshua as a town in the tribal lands of Benjamin, which bordered Judah.
Kisilevitz, who works for the Israeli Antiquities Authority and is in Ontario for several months on an exchange with the University of Toronto, said the team does not know whether the human and animal figurines served a religious purpose. “It’s kind of tricky and a little bit hard to say,” she noted.
The archeological team believes the temple at Tel Motza must have functioned before religious reforms enacted in the times of kings Hezekiah and Josiah, which abolished all ritual sites outside Jerusalem and concentrated religious practices solely in the Temple.
Kisilevitz believes the artifacts do not conflict “at all” with modern understanding of Judaism. “We just have to change the way we think of the religion at the beginning.”
Ron Csillag is a Toronto freelance writer. A version of this article was originally published in theCanadian Jewish News.
Cantor Herskovits and Schara Tzedeck Choir, Vancouver, 1955. (JWB fonds, JMABC L.14274)
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].
Morgan Carrier and Shira Laye are LACAR. (photo from Morgan Carrier)
Nearly a decade ago, Shira Laye set out to explore the world of jewelry design. In 2013, she and her partner Morgan Carrier established LACAR – a combination of their surnames – a line of beautiful, wearable art, with influences ranging from “the dark side of Victorian mourning jewelry, to the architectural shapes of art deco and the great jewelry eras of the past.” I am the proud owner of several LACAR pieces.
Growing up in a large family, each child has to intentionally carve out her individuality. In our household of five siblings, this was no less true. From a young age, Shira, one of my younger sisters, had a particular talent for assembling stylish and unique outfits, with a remarkable flair for accessories. It was her childhood love of ancient artifacts and art, however, that originally sparked her love of jewelry.
Shira’s first brushes with the ancient world happened on a 1993 family trip to the Holy Land. “My first big trip as a kid to a faraway destination was our family trip to Israel, where I spent time in museums looking at ancient artifacts and pieces of jewelry from a long time ago, imagining that I was somewhere where someone might have worn that,” she recalled in chat over a coffee and sandwich at a café on Main Street. In fact, while I was spending much of my summer in a decidedly less artistic environment, in a microbiology lab at the Technion, most of the rest of the family was heading out to explore the ruins of Katzrin and the Old City, the springs at Ein Gedi or the collection at the Israel Museum.
In Israel, Shira got her first inklings of what she might like to be when she grew up. “I spent a lot of time illustrating what I saw and I decided that I wanted to become an archeologist. Not because I wanted to discover an ancient civilization, but rather I was sure I would unearth a treasure. A couple of years later, as a teenager, I went on another trip to Israel and spent the day on a dig with our older cousin, which was fun but a little bit disappointing. I decided I didn’t want to be an archeologist anymore – we didn’t find anything remotely shiny, it was just a hot day in the sun. I realized the only way to find treasure was by buying it at the store or learning to make it myself. And so, my fascination with ancient art and artifacts and jewelry of all kinds remained.”
After studying art history, Shira signed up “on a whim” for a course in jewelry making at Vancouver Community College. “I made just a simple silver band and a hammered cuff that I gave away as a gift,” she recalled. “And then I didn’t do anything for a little while, until I met a friend that had a home studio and traded me in exchange for doing some simple tasks like filing and sanding. She showed me some techniques … I really liked it, so I signed up for a program in New York, at Studio Jewelers in Midtown.”
At the time, I was living in Manhattan and Shira joined me there to study jewelry design and experience what the city has to offer. “It was a really great time,” she said. “I was equally as inspired by being in New York, living there, as I was by the techniques I was learning in school…. I ended up extending my stay to apprentice with a jeweler, a pretty unique guy, a little bit out there. It was a lot of running around. I knew where to buy pearls in one area in the jewelry district or where to get this from that person. It wasn’t as much technique as I would’ve liked. After I came home, I continued to learn more technique, as I still do to this day.”
Shira established her own line soon after and began taking on custom work, “which was a way to learn to expand my techniques,” she said. “And just by necessity, I would take on a project and I’d be like, OK, I get to learn how to do this! It was a great way to learn. And then, as time went on, Morgan was spending more and more time with me in the studio, and I’d show him how to do different finishing techniques or he’d help throughout the whole process of making a piece. He’s really natural with anything that’s hands-on and design oriented and, in no time at all, he was contributing to the design process as well. So, it just made sense to team up officially since that’s what we were doing unofficially.” The two came out with their first collection, Oculus, in 2013.
Of their work together and his background, Morgan shared, “I’m a handy guy with a background in the arts and construction. I studied theatre at UBC and then went on to a brief film career after studying documentary film studies in Paris for two years. I am always building or sculpting something, so it wasn’t a stretch in skills for me to pitch in. Shira would bribe me into date nights at the studio and we would listen to an episode of This American Life while slowly depleting a glass of red wine. It was romantic, but it also involved a lot of sanding, filing and polishing between sips of wine and, before I knew it, we were collaborating on designs. In our case, life partners make great business partners. This is my third or fourth career in life, and I’m loving it. It combines all the skills I’ve been mastering in other jobs over the past 20 years.”
Morgan said they both love “creating objects of beauty that appear simple but require problem solving in making them. We love that the possibilities are endless.”
It’s the shared love for objects of beauty that is key to making a successful collaboration, Shira said. “Every piece is a collaboration because even if it starts out as one person’s idea, it kind of morphs as we discuss it together, the idea comes to fruition. It ends up having little bits of both of us. We’re really lucky because we definitely have our own ideas, but we really share a similar esthetic. Our design processes are a little different but we really work well together; we’re good team. One of us might have an idea for a motif and then bring it to the other person. It may change slightly or be applied to a different piece or shape.”
LACAR make their home at Main and Broadway, a new studio space they share with fellow jeweler Anita Sikma. “I’ve spent years building up a studio and the repertoire of tools that I have on hand,” Shira said. “Now, I have a nice new bench that Morgan built for me since the move. I have on it all kinds of hand tools, files, hammers, measuring tools, steel blocks, a Fordham, safety goggles, and then we also have a lot of big tools.”
The move means that LACAR can expand their repertoire, Shira said. “We work in silver and bronze primarily for our collections, but our work is available in gold on a make-to-order basis. We can work in any metal – platinum, white gold – anything. We’d love to experiment with other mediums in the future. Now that we have a big studio space, we’ve got big plans.”
Their debut collection “was an expression of the beauty of eroded sanctuary,” the two told me in a follow-up email. “We wanted our pieces to be monumental, worthy of worship, but we wanted them to be light and wearable. So, we came up with the esthetic of the Gothic archway. The arches create a heavy vaulted lacework, drawing inspiration from sacred architectures.”
Soon after it debuted, they started making rings for Morgan to wear. “Until then, our line was mostly geared towards women,” Shira said, “and Morgan felt like he should be wearing more LACAR to promote our brand. Before we knew it, men were taking notice of our small ring collection. We decided to launch a men’s line, one that would have androgynous appeal. The pieces are heavy and solid; we tried to keep it a little more streamlined – lots of clean lines, flat surfaces.”
Though it’s hard to pick favorites, Morgan said he really loves the Obelisk ear cuff. “We wanted to make a cuff that complimented the form of the ear,” he said. “And the Signet ring, which we created as part of our new line, but that we’ve already customized for clients using family crests and other motifs.”
“Nothing passes through the studio door if we are not happy with it,” added Shira. “I really like all of the pieces that we have made. Morgan only wears some of them, but I get to wear them all. I would say that right now I’ve been wearing our gold Helm earrings with black diamonds pretty much every day, which we also have available without the diamonds and in silver and bronze, different price points, as well as the Vault bracelet with black jade inlay. Those pieces I wear every day and the other pieces kind of rotate. I’ve also been wearing our Siamese collar quite a bit. A bit more of a statement piece, but it looks really nice with a dress or even a casual pair of pants – it adds a nice detail.”
Favorites that they don’t get to wear “are some of the custom pieces that we’ve created. These come out of a nice collaborative process with the client’s ideas and our designs and technique. I’ve been really sad to see some of those pieces go! I specifically love working on engagement rings – that’s the favorite for me. Right now, we’re working on a beautiful ring, kind of a deco-inspired piece where the client brought in his girlfriend’s grandmother’s ring, which had a beautiful centre diamond and yellow gold, but he wanted something in white gold and with a different feel. We are using the diamond and creating a whole new piece that better fits her style and her esthetic.
“We do wedding rings, as well, and we’re right now working on a whole bunch of bridesmaids gifts, so that’s exciting…. One of the custom pieces that stands out was another art deco-inspired engagement ring that was inspired by the skyline.”
LACAR has been a mainstay at some of Vancouver’s pop-up shops, including at the Chinatown Experiment earlier this month. “It was with the Dreamlover Collective, which is friends of ours: Andrea Rokosz of Army of Rokosz and Karen La of Broken Promises and Marie Foxall of Wasted Effort…. They’re hosting so many great local vendors and designers, everything from hot sauce to jewelry, ceramic works, stockings. Our studio mate, Anita Sikma, is one of my favorite jewelers in the city … she was part of it, too. It’s great to be part of that, and a lot of fun.”
Aside from more retailers, Shira said they would love to work on a fine collection. “That would be really satisfying. We’re slowly building up, just continuing to work. Sometimes it’s hard to hone in on doing one collection because you’re constantly having so many ideas…. We just want to continue to create new things all the time!
In 2003, the Jewish Independent reviewed Jennifer Gasoi’s debut children’s album, Songs for You, describing it as “intelligent, energetic, philosophical, educational, at times silly and, most importantly, it’s high-quality music.” Since then, Gasoi has garnered numerous awards and nominations for her music. The latest – her second CD, Throw a Penny in the Wishing Well, took home the 2014 Grammy Award for best children’s album.
With the big January win still fresh, Gasoi – the first Canadian to ever receive this Grammy honor – returns to Vancouver next month. Living in Montreal since 2002, she is not only coming back to see family, but to perform two concerts on April 12 to benefit the Children’s Hearing and Speech Centre of British Columbia.
Gasoi, who also won the 2013 Sirius XM Canadian Indie Awards for children’s artist of the year, the Parent Choice Award and the Canadian Book Centre’s selection for best children’s music, and was a semi-finalist in the International Songwriting Competition and a Juno nominee for children’s album of the year, took time to speak with the Jewish Independent before her upcoming visit.
JI: You’ve won other honors and nominations in your career. In what ways, if any, is the Grammy different, and in what ways has it already affected your work/schedule?
JG: The other awards and nominations were wonderful accolades, but winning a Grammy has taken my career into a whole new realm. I’m being asked to speak and represent many different organizations. I’ve had quite a few requests internationally – to play shows (U.S.), to submit my music to radio stations (Australia), to sell my CDs (a theatre company in Oklahoma) and I’ve even had interest to play a show in China. There’s a certain status associated with being a Grammy winner that I’m still getting used to! It’s been quite a challenge keeping up with all the requests and opportunities arising. There’s no question that new doors are opening and my horizons are broadening.
JI: You have consistently put out quality recordings. From where do you find your inspiration? How do you keep the work fresh and interesting for yourself?
JG: I am inspired by life. By people, experiences, nature, music, small moments, unexpected interactions, synchronicities. Sometimes, it’s just a simple two-minute interaction that can inspire a song. Or a memory can be the catalyst. “The Little Things” started off with the image of jelly tots– little candies that I used to love as a child – and it spun into a whole song about all the joyful moments from my childhood. “The Pizza Man” was inspired by a real-life pizza man at a iconic pizzeria in Montreal. Inspiration can hit anytime, anywhere. To keep the creative energy flowing, I see live shows, listen to music, practise yoga and meditation, go for walks on the mountain, take improv comedy classes, watch inspiring videos, dance, and spend time with creative and inspiring people. Children are one of my main sources of inspiration. They continually amaze me. They are so full of life, connected, brilliant, openhearted, pure and so much fun to be with. They remind me of what is really important in life.”
JI: You’ve been very involved in the Jewish communities of both Vancouver and Montreal. In what ways, if at all, has your Jewish heritage/upbringing/communal ties influenced your life/work?
JG: There is something very special about being part of such a close-knit community in both Vancouver and Montreal. It has provided me with a real sense of belonging and groundedness. When I was a child and attended synagogue at Temple Sholom, I was deeply moved by the music played during the services. I love Jewish music. It touches my soul. My Jewish heritage has definitely influenced my songwriting. In my first album, Songs for You, I have a klezmer tune called “The Animal Party,” and, in my latest CD, Throw a Penny in the Wishing Well, the hora features prominently at the end of “The Purple Man.”
I have the privilege of playing music for seniors and patients in several hospitals in Montreal. There is a significant Jewish population, so I often play classic Jewish songs such as “Hinei Ma Tov,” “Heveinu Shalom Aleichem” and “B’shana Ha’ba’a.” I once played Hatikvah during one of my gigs at a Jewish seniors group held in a synagogue, and everyone in the room stood up and sang along. It was so powerful, it brought me to tears.
JI: Are there any projects on which you’re currently working/collaborating?
JG: I have some projects in the works. That’s all I’ll say for now. My priority is to get all my business in order so that I can continue to create music, perform and reach a wider audience.
JI: Is there is anything else you’d like to share?
JG: I am so grateful to be living the life of my dreams. I hope that I can inspire others – big and small – to take chances in their lives, to live from the heart and know that anything is possible.
Jennifer Gasoi will perform twice at the Children’s Hearing and Speech Centre of British Columbia’s annual Family Concert on April 12, at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. The event at the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre – which raises funds to support CHSC’s audiology program – will also feature clowns, games, auction items and face painting. Tickets are $15.50 per child and youth under 17, $18.50 per adult 18 and over, and $60 for a family of four (two adults and two children under 17); they are available from childrenshearing.ca.