Cousins Michael, left, and Sam Zipursky co-founded FreshGigs.ca. (photo from Michael Zipursky)
When FreshGigs opened for business four years ago, they took the job-hunting business by storm, generating quick growth and interest. So it makes sense that they would link themselves up with another up-and-coming concept taking the world by storm.
FreshGigs.ca, a Vancouver-based jobsite that focuses on marketing and creative talent, has become one of the first companies in the city to accept the new, revolutionary Bitcoin currency as a form of payment.
Bitcoin is the first decentralized digital currency. Ideal for conducting international transactions due to the lack of fees or bank-adjusted exchange rates, Bitcoin has gained popularity since first being introduced in 2009.
“We see it as another currency and option for people to make payments to post their jobs,” FreshGigs.ca co-founder Michael Zipursky explained in an interview with the Jewish Independent. “Employers can pay for their jobs with Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Paypal and, now, Bitcoin. We focus on providing our clients the best service possible and giving them choices is part of that.”
Bitcoin made its first splash in Vancouver in the fall when the first Bitcoin ATM was installed in a Waves Coffee House in Downtown Vancouver. There, customers need to have their palms scanned in order to make transactions worth up to $3,000.
Zipursky said FreshGigs.ca is moving with the times because they see it as another step in fulfilling their original mission. “We started FreshGigs.ca because many people we knew were very skilled at what they did, they were great at marketing, advertising and design, yet they had trouble finding a job,” he said. “At the same time, employers are looking for qualified talent and didn’t have any good options in these industries. We saw an opportunity to create a jobsite that would connect these two groups in a meaningful and effective way.”
Today, FreshGigs.ca is serving companies like Best Buy, Canada Post, Tourism Whistler, Vancity and the Jim Pattison Broadcast Group.
FreshGigs.ca went ahead with the decision to accept Bitcoin despite the controversy that has surrounded its introduction into the marketplace. Financial institutions have cautioned that the electronic currency can too easily be used for money laundering or to fund illegal activities. The European Banking Authority has cautioned that Bitcoin lacks adequate consumer protection, as it can be stolen and chargebacks are impossible. The government of China recently restricted Bitcoin from being exchanged for local currency and, last year, the FBI seized 144,000 Bitcoin worth $28.5 million from an online black market. However, the use of Bitcoin continues to grow as its value increases. As well, more large or reputable international companies have jumped on the Bitcoin bandwagon, leading many to believe that it is here to stay, despite the pushback. Virgin Galactic, the Richard Branson-owned company aiming to send people to space is accepting Bitcoin, as has popular blogging platform WordPress. Many other organizations, such as PayPal and eBay are making plans to follow suit.
To use Bitcoin with FreshGigs.ca, a client simply needs to go to the Bitcoin payment page and enter the required information to process the order.
Back in Vancouver for the third time, Sidra Bell Dance New York presents a double bill of STELLA and garment March 27-29. The performances are co-presented by the Chutzpah! Festival as part of its PLUS series and the Dance Centre. Artistic director Sidra Bell spoke with the Jewish Independent via email about her background, what inspires her, the power of dance theatre and what makes her company unique.
JI: Could you share a bit about your background?
SB: I was born in New York City to mixed heritage and grew up in the northernmost part of Manhattan in a neighborhood called Inwood. My father’s background is Italian, Irish and Bohemian (on my grandmother’s side) and my mom is African-American. Both of my parents were raised in New York City, in the Bronx and Brooklyn respectively. My paternal grandparents came in through Ellis Island.
I identify with my mixed heritage and was always exposed to the various components that make me who I am although we didn’t specifically practise religion in our household. My parents are both pianists and met through music. They went to New York College of Music and went on to direct together, as well as teach. I am the youngest of four siblings who are all involved in the arts…. In some way or another, most of my family and extended family are artists or use art as an entry point into what they are doing now, and we are all largely entrepreneurs….
JI: How and when did you first discover dance? When did you discover choreography?
SB: I participated in preschool in an after-school dance program, Ms. Patti Ann’s Dance, in my kindergarten years. A couple of years later, my mom took me to an audition at the Dance Theatre of Harlem. I resisted mainly because I was extremely shy and very nervous. I started taking classes in ballet there at age 7 and fell in love with the language of dance and its rigor. I was a very serious child and loved delving into the form that was being taught. I excelled very quickly and was asked to join the weekday program on scholarship, which increased my level and the number of classes a week. By 13, I was taking classes with the professional division, particularly in my summers when I could participate in the intensives.
At age 14, I realized I needed to stretch away from just a classical training and that is when I was accepted into the Ailey School, where I spent two-and-a-half years on scholarship. It was during that time, as I became more exposed to modern techniques, that I became interested in generating my own movement vocabulary. I was able to create a few solos for myself that were showcased at Ailey’s student showcases and also at my high school, the Spence School, where they had a dance program. Because both were New York City based, these showcases were taken very seriously and showcased in well-attended venues such as Symphony Space.
From an early age, I knew that I had to be very rigorous in my craft. In college at Yale, I was part of a student dance company called Yaledancers that produced its own shows in the New Haven, Conn., community. I became more active in my choreographic process and there started truly investigating and making work. This was outside of a conservatory environment and it allowed me to work with my own movement invention. My college years were formative exploration years.
JI: Can you describe how a piece comes together, from inspiration to the stage?
SB: I simply start with movement. Movement has been a driving force behind all of my works. There is always a question around why movement is an important means of expression. This question leads to larger subtexts within a work and perhaps characterizations. What is important to me is to challenge my collaborators to investigate movement with various qualities, tones and entry points. This collaborative focus has led to wildly different worlds onstage. The dancers ingest the vocabulary and regurgitate it based on the tasks or objectives at hand. I find that the concept evolves as we dig deeper each day into the vocabulary. There is a lot of trying and playing in the studio. Sometimes we are at ease and just talking, which leads to insights into what the dancers are thinking about in relationship to the world around us. How does movement bring in larger overtones about the world around us? I love form and that is a huge emphasis. Inventing forms is my primary concern. As we continue, the lens and environment come into play, as well as how the dancers are interpreting each relationship. More recently, I have been working more closely with my lighting designer to create limits onstage that inform how the dancers will interact with the arena or environment set up for them.
JI: Is this Vancouver performance part of a larger tour? I see that STELLA is from 2012, but garment is a brand new piece. How did garment come about? How do the two pieces work together, if at all?
SB: This has been a wonderful year of touring for the company. We have already completed residencies and tours in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh … and Atlanta’s Tanz Farm. [Two weeks ago], we world premièred garment as part of the Kelly Strayhorn Theatre’s commissioning series KST Presents. STELLA was created in 2012 and world premièred at NYC’s Baruch Performing Arts Centre. Before arriving at Chutzpah!, we will be showcasing the same program of garment and STELLA in our San Francisco Season at Dance Mission Theatre.
garment is about living in the skin you are in. Like STELLA, it deals with voyeurism and culture, but I think it drives towards the idea that we can rid ourselves of cultural constructs to re-establish or reclaim our personal and unique identities. Both works deal with popular constructs and individualism in an episodic framework. STELLA has a more cultish feeling, where you really see the dancers playing games and you can’t guess who “Stella” actually is until the end. garment sees the dancers reproducing trends and systems, and also working with joyful abandon. I think the two pieces are in conversation with each other and inhabit many different worlds within these general themes.
JI: Critics have called your work powerful, atmospheric, surreal, sensual and ferocious. I would add that your work is also in many ways hyper-modern, with industrial or “futuristic” qualities, from the costumes to the electronic soundscape you work within. It’s also very theatrical. Is there an overarching aspect of contemporary life that you’re exploring through your choreography?
SB: The main thread of my work is the personal questions that I grapple with. I think they are universal questions about our condition in contemporary life. As the world changes more rapidly, I grapple with my individual questions around identity, legacy, the afterlife, politics, community. The list can go on. I think I deal with these questions in my work, and not in a politicized way. The dancers contribute to this probing research and we work with play to reach and deconstruct content around these themes. Personas get developed through movement research and worlds get built from our collective thinking. I like playing this out on stage. There is often no resolution, but I am happy that there are always more questions. There is no one way to view the work and I like that the audience can reach in and find their own personal story. I am always surprised and pleased at the level of analysis an audience can bring to a moment. They bring up aspects I didn’t see and I think that is the beautiful quality that dance has. Its ephemeral and abstract nature can really make you feel. You may not know why you feel a certain way because it is truly coming from a visceral space. I like the fact that dance doesn’t have to deal with realism in such a direct way.
JI: What are the lines between dance and theatre, and what elements of performance bring them together? As well, can you share something about your work on Test and what draws you to work in the medium of film?
SB: I actively aim to eliminate the lines between dance, theatre and visual art. They are mediums that create a mutual, shared experience for the performers and the audience. I use whatever elements help me create those experiences for the viewer. I think this is why I have explored so many different aspects of dance and theatre. I use whatever technique or model that I believe services the work in the moment. I was the lead choreographer on Test (testthefilm.com), which has now been seen and awarded prizes worldwide. The film was shot and created on location in San Francisco. It was an incredible process working with Chris Mason Johnson, who wrote the screenplay and directed. He was a former dancer with Frankfurt Ballet and White Oak Project. I learned so much about the process of film making that I believe has improved my skills as a dance maker. Everything that was created on set was to service the storyline about dancers in the 1980s during the AIDS epidemic. My material was tempered to that era and I found it refreshing to have such a guide. It made me much more clear in the process of creating a choreographic work, which I consider to be a directorial act as well.
JI: How does your academic orientation and background impact your dance work, if at all? Are you currently teaching?
SB: I guest teach internationally. Teaching is a passion and I truly love the exchange I get to have with dancers from all over the world. My mind expands each time I lead a workshop because of the collaborative nature of working with such diverse communities. My academic background gave me a strong sense of language and articulation. My analytical nature has kept me interested in the research of movement not just its results.
JI: Are there differences in how you approach choreography for your own company versus commissions from other companies?
SB: My process is highly collaborative and I always go into a studio with very little expectation. This has produced very different works in each environment I visit. I like going into a new community on commission and introducing my language, but also learning about what gets that particular company excited about movement. With my company, we have such a history together that each work seems to be a reflection or a response to the last. I have been working with my dancers for some years and there is rich history that they bring to the studio but also a curiosity in moving forward.
JI: Vancouverite Rebecca Margolick is one of your dancers. Is there anything you can tell me about Rebecca’s contributions to SBDNY for her hometown audience?
SB: I met Rebecca when she was 16 years old at Arts Umbrella, where I taught and staged work. She was so wise and left a great impression on me. She brings a beautiful physical quality to the work but is also highly theatrical. When she is on stage she inhabits another aura. I find that fascinating about her. She is very discrete offstage but onstage she is a bold performer. She is a chameleon.
JI: Is there is anything else you would like our readers to know?
SB: This is our third visit to the Chutzpah! Festival as a company and I am so excited to be returning with these two works. I’m also thrilled to be co-presented by Chutzpah! PLUS and the Dance Centre. We love the city and can’t wait to see our Vancouver friends.
Sidra Bell Dance New York presents STELLA and garment March 27-29, 8 p.m., and March 29, 2 p.m., at Scotiabank Dance Centre, 677 Davie St. Tickets, $28/$24/$20, are available at chutzpahfestival.com or ticketstonight.ca.
Dov Elbaum speaks in Vancouver on March 30. (photo by Sasson Tiram)
Israeli journalist, writer and television host Dov Elbaum will be visiting Vancouver for a Cherie Smith JCCGV Jewish Book Festival-sponsored talk at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver on March 30.
Starting his career in print media, Elbaum moved into book publishing and writing for television. Eventually, he moved in front of the camera; since 2007, he has hosted the popular parashat hashavua-themed show Mekablim Shabbat (Welcoming Shabbat). Elbaum is also involved in academic research and teaching on secular Jewish culture, and is the founder of the BINA Secular Yeshiva in south Tel Aviv. He is in Vancouver promoting the new English translation of his 2009 book Into the Fullness of the Void: A Spiritual Autobiography, and the Jewish Independent talked to him about his journey, Judaism in North America and Israel, and secular Jewish renewal.
JI: You have quite an interesting biography. While rejecting the ultra-Orthodox community you grew up in, you’ve remained deeply involved and curious about being Jewish. Where are you in your journey now?
DE: My journey from the world that I grew up in has been a long journey and it isn’t over yet. Still, I have gone through many significant points along the way. At the beginning, I was trying to get away, but today I find myself looking for a way to get to a renewed approach to Jewish culture, one that comes not through guilt or fear or obligation, but through love. And, when I approach Jewish culture in this way, through love, I see how my own path can help build connections to Jewish culture within secular Israeli society.
In the past in Israel, access to Judaism was through religious denominations, specifically Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox. Today, I am trying to find a way for secular Israeli Jews to approach Judaism positively, and not through negative definition, sof, which synagogues they don’t go to, or which mitzvot they don’t observe. In doing so, I am trying to develop new, nontraditional frameworks through which secular Israeli Jews can explore and express their Judaism. This is my current station on my journey.
JI: On the one hand, tshuva (return), on the other, she’ela (“lapsed”). Can you comment on the macro meaning of these opposite phenomena in Israeli society and perhaps what the numbers are in the two directions?
DE: I don’t think anyone has exact numbers of hozrei b’she’ela and hozrei b’tshuva in Israel. I imagine that the numbers are similar in both directions, though I might tend to believe that there are somewhat more hozrei b’tshuva. This is due largely to the fact that institutions of hazara b’tshuva receive a great deal of funding from the Israeli government as well as philanthropy from Israel and abroad.
But let’s talk about these phenomena spiritually rather than sociologically. I don’t like use of the words she’ela and tshuva in the context of exit from or entry into orthodoxy. I think that the meanings of these words in Judaism are much deeper than their current sociological use. In spiritual terms, she’ela and tshuva should be processes in every person’s life, and not connected to any one movement, denomination or label.
JI: Many of the progressive movements in Judaism in Israel have their origins in North America. How do you see North American Judaism influencing the religious landscape in Israel and vice versa?
DE: I think that Israeli culture has received quite a lot of gifts from North American Jewish thought. And, yes, I believe it’s true that a lot of the spiritual renewal in Israel has received spiritual and financial support from North American Judaism. I can also say that we Israeli Jews must give credit and appreciation to North American Judaism for teaching us how Judaism can develop and can be understood pluralistically.
At the same time, I think a most meaningful laboratory for Jewish renewal can happen when taking place in the Hebrew language and in the landscape of Jewish culture and society, as found specifically in Israel. When these ideas of Jewish renewal and pluralism come into contact with Jewish Israelis, the impact is fascinating; [it’s a contact that is experienced] much differently and more intensely so than in the Diaspora. Thus, when North American Jews come to visit and engage with Israel, they can influence as well as learn a great deal from Israel. We have much to learn from one another.
JI: In a lecture given by Micha Goodman, he suggests that Judaism in North America has been influenced by Abraham Joshua Heschel’s teachings, which were focused on the human experience. On the other hand, he says that Yeshayahu Leibovitch detested this approach, instead putting God at the centre regardless of whether this made Jews themselves feel spiritually enriched. Is this a good metaphor for Judaism in North America versus Israel?
DE: I don’t agree. I love and appreciate Micha Goodman, but I think such a metaphor of North America equals Heschel and Israel equals Leibovitch is not so precise. In fact, in recent years, I would say that Heschel’s ideas have had a much stronger impact in Israel [than those of] Leibovitch.
I don’t think that Leibovitch’s ideas had such a tangible impact on broader Israeli society. He voiced an important voice and many have been interested in his ideas, but still I don’t see the impact so directly on the ground. Heschel’s ideas, on the other hand, have had a very significant impact. Today, I feel that most of the secular Jewish renaissance movement in Israel feels closer to Heschel than to Leibovitch.
JI: There seems to be an awakening of interest in secular Jewish learning in Israel with BINA, your organization, and many other secular Jewish midrashot that have opened in recent years. Why is this happening now?
DE: I can think of a few reasons. First of all, I think that the assassination of Prime Minster [Yitzhak] Rabin in 1996 shook Israeli secular society profoundly. Secular Israeli society started to feel that they were losing hold on the country, and losing it to a particular group of religious Israelis whose mindset they no longer understood, whose world they no longer understood. Hence, a renewed interest in Judaism and the world of Jewish religion.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, secular Israeli society has been in an ongoing process of being emptied of the values upon which Israel was established. And now, the vacuum has expanded so much that secular Israelis have come to realize that if we want to continue to live in this wonderful and dangerous place called Israel, it needs to be clear to us what we are doing here. If a person doesn’t understand his or her role or purpose in this place called Israel, he or she won’t last here long. So, secular Israelis are starting to ask each other the most elementary questions of identity and purpose, and are going back to the old sources.
JI: Given all these movements, it seems possible to be both secular and connected to Judaism, but can there be continuity of such a connection over generations?
DE: First of all, that’s a great question. How do we pass these ideas and values to the upcoming generations is one of the deepest and most essential questions of Judaism. Take a look at the Sh’ma: “… and you shall teach them to your children and speak of them….” The Sh’ma asks us to make our values present in daily life. And I believe therein is the solution. In Israel, it is also easier. We speak Hebrew and live the Jewish calendar and, through the language and calendar, we can make Jewish culture present in a very tangible way. In Israel, it’s easier to be a secular Jew than in other places, because the language and the place make it easier to actualize Jewish culture in daily life without being religious in a traditional or halachic sense.
JI: Is there a manner in which knowledge and ownership of Judaism in Israel translates to political power?
DE: In the last elections, the Jewish secular renaissance in Israel earned a certain amount of political entrance through the election of MK Ruth Calderon and a few other MKs … that have understood the power and influence that this movement has, and they have seen fit to give expression to it…. The ignorance among the general public regarding the possibility of having a profound Jewish identity without connection to traditional organized religion is still widespread, and we have a lot of work to do, especially with everything that relates to public awareness and the establishment of new secular yeshivot that should receive government funding just like any other educational institution, which is something that has yet to happen.
JI: Can you talk about/explain the popularity of your show Mekablim Shabbat?
DE: I think it’s been popular because of all the things we’ve just mentioned. Israeli society has been thirsty for years for Jewish content without vestments of religion. On the show, I try to demonstrate that you don’t have to be religious in order to approach the Jewish canon, to read and explore it, to ask questions about it and about life, and to use it in order to think and to express ourselves. Israeli society has been very thirsty for meaningful Jewish content, but they don’t want it all wrapped up in religion. When I present it … without religious garb, they can connect to it.
JI: What would you like to share with the Vancouver community when you are here?
DE: That the time has come for these two different movements … to come together and think about how we can contribute to and learn from one another. We must learn from one another’s knowledge and experiences and explore how we can strengthen one another, and not let certain negative forces control and dominate the global sphere of Jewish culture and spirituality.
I look forward to opening up a dialogue and exemplifying some of the fruits of our labor in Israel through a re-reading of the Jewish sources, specifically one of the most-read texts in the Jewish tradition – the story of the Exodus from Egypt in the Passover Haggadah.
Maayan Kreitzman is a freelance writer living in Vancouver.
Tickets for Dov Elbaum’s March 30, 6 p.m., talk at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver ($14/$10) are available at the centre, 604-257- 5111 and ticketpeak.com/jccgv.
Gary and Nanci Segal learn about bees at the Hebrew U Rehovot campus, home of the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment. (photo from JNF Pacific Region)
This year, for the first time in Vancouver, Jewish National Fund and Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem are together hosting the Negev Dinner.
The dinner will pay tribute to businessman and philanthropist Gary Segal, whose “remarkable heritage” is “led first and foremost by a love of humanity, a love of the land of Israel and a deep social commitment and yearning for tikkun olam,” said JNF Pacific Region shaliach Ilan Pilo. The event will raise funds for an educational outreach program led by JNF at Hebrew U’s Joseph Meyerhoff Youth Centre.
“Gary and [his wife] Nanci wanted to support the JNF and HU and, when this project came up, they simply realized the importance of doing it,” Dina Wachtel, executive director of CFHU Western Region, told the Independent. In the program, she explained, “They are taking mainly at-risk youth from the periphery of the country, both geographically and socially, many of whom are kids of immigrants and hard-working citizens, and are offering them a lifetime opportunity … interaction with PhD and graduate students who teach them science and ecological sciences. Basically, these kids are exposed to a world that, for the most part, they are not familiar with and, by exposing them to hands-on lessons in science and allowing them to learn presentation and leadership skills, we are literally transforming their sense of pride and ability to believe in themselves that, yes, they can reach university and that it is not beyond their reach.
“Both Gary and Nanci know that Israel’s number one capital is its human resources and, by investing in these kids, they are literally investing in Israel’s most precious capital.”
Vice-president of Kingswood Capital Corp., Gary Segal’s philanthropic endeavors are numerous. Locally, they include – but are not limited to – Ronald McDonald House, VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation, Jewish Community Foundation, Louis Brier Home and Hospital, Kollel, Vancouver Talmud Torah Foundation and St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation. Among the work Gary and Nanci Segal (and their family) support is that of Dr. Rick Hodes, medical director of Ethiopia for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
“It was important to me to support a project that would have a direct impact on underprivileged youth, including the Ethiopian community that I have become involved with over the years; at the same time, it would have to be one that fits the mandates of both organizations,” explained Gary Segal about the choice of the JNF-HU project for the proceeds of this year’s Negev Dinner.
Seeing the JNF and CFHU projects firsthand
The Segals were in Israel earlier this month on a trip with Pilo and Wachtel. “The two days I just spent in Israel witnessing firsthand the outreach activities of the Joseph Meyerhoff Youth Centre at Hebrew U affirmed the absolute merits of this project and how it aligns perfectly with my stated goal for this dinner,” said Segal.
“I witnessed the enthusiastic way in which these young students embraced the wide range of activities, and heard from them directly how much they love being part of it,” he added. “These children would not have the opportunity to be exposed to such things through their homes and resource-challenged schools alone. A clearly devoted and emotionally invested teacher that I spoke with recounted how she overcame her own disadvantaged background to become a teacher, and how important it is to her to give these children the understanding and belief that they can aspire to a better life through advanced education. Most of the participating children have parents either in low-level jobs or else unemployed, and many of them come to school hungry so, on her own account, she brings food to school to be able to feed them. In addition to stimulating an interest in science and the environment through this youth centre program, the children go back and do research and make a presentation to the student body and parents, as well. The teacher explained how this develops public speaking and leadership skills and instils in them a new sense of self-confidence. At the same time, for the parents, it leads to a sense of pride in their children.”
The trip to Israel “was a mixture of viewing projects, gaining perspectives on Israel from a variety of people, experiencing the specific science outreach program we are supporting through the upcoming dinner, and having some fun,” Segal said.
In Jerusalem, the couple visited Mahane Yehuda, Teddy Park, the Old City and the Western Wall. On erev Shabbat, they had dinner at the home of Rabbi Ehud Bandel, the first Israeli native ordained in the Masorti (Conservative) movement. One evening, they took in a musical comedy show by the Voca People and, another night, Gary Segal dined with two Knesset members from the Yesh Atid party, Ronen Hoffman and Karine Elharrar. “Ronen is head of the Israel/Canada relations committee and has prior experience in various Israeli peace efforts; Karine is involved in disabilities awareness and accessibility,” explained Segal.
Sunday was spent touring JNF projects, he continued. They visited a new water bio-filteration pilot system in Kfar Saba, the Biriya Forest (“which sadly suffered a lot of tree-branch destruction from the winter snowstorm”) and the Hula Valley bird sanctuary park. “We saw everything in a somewhat different light,” he said, “as it was an extremely hazy day due to dust from Africa having spread all the way to Israel.”
On Monday, the Segals met with HU president Menahem Ben-Sasson on the Mount Scopus campus before heading to HU’s Safra Givat Ram campus to meet with Joseph Meyerhoff Youth Centre administrators and get an overview of the program they are sponsoring.
“Interacting with these lively and outgoing youth over the course of these two days was most definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me and Nanci, and my ability to converse directly with the kids in Hebrew made it particularly fun and personal for me,” said Segal. “In the spirit of my own quest for new experiences as an adult, I did something I never thought I would do – in one of the Monday morning labs, the instructor was talking about the West African python snake wrapped around his neck and, when he went to pass it to me, I actually took it from him and held it while encircled by some curious yet wary girls in the class – my first close-up, hands-on interaction with a snake.”
On the way to Tel Aviv, Segal said they stopped at the JNF Canada Park so that he and Nanci could “plant an olive tree and see the commemorative plaque for the grove we planted in 2000 in honor of our daughter Stephanie’s bat mitzvah.”
Before checking into their hotel, they met with the new Israeli health minister, Yael German, who, Segal noted, “before national office … was the very successful mayor of Herzliya for 15 years.” She gave them over an hour of her time, he said, discussing with them some of the many issues with which the ministry is dealing.
“Tuesday involved a visit to the Hebrew U Rehovot campus, home of the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment,” said Segal. “We first were introduced to some of their international activities to assist countries to alleviate problems of hunger, disease and poverty through technical training and technology transfer. We heard about some fascinating research projects being undertaken in this regard, and had the opportunity to hear from a half-dozen post-graduate international scholarship students from Africa and Asia who are there to gain knowledge that can be implemented back home.”
For the rest of the morning, the Segals tagged along with children visiting from the periphery community of Kiryat Malachi. They saw the mechanical milking process and, said Segal, “another first for me, tasting fresh (sterilized) goat milk. We then moved on to a session learning about live bees and the workings of the hive and honey making. Before leaving the campus, we had lunch in the cafeteria with the children…. It gave me the opportunity to have a very moving and enlightening talk about the outreach program with one of their obviously very dedicated teachers.
“We then departed campus for the last element of our outreach experience – a visit to the periphery community of Kiryat Ekron. The mayor of this community of 11,500 people was very happy to take the time to greet and accompany us at the school, and the proud principal of the school explained to us how she had a vision to bring such a science-outreach program to her school and had searched far and wide and negotiated for about a year to make her vision a reality. We sat in on an entertaining chemistry class being led by the same Hebrew U graduate student we first met the day before in Jerusalem while leading a class there on trees and the environment. As we were leaving the school, I saw the presence of JNF here, too, in an outdoor classroom structure that had been funded by them. Another fond memory from this visit was successfully coaxing a number of young girls to serenade me with one of their favorite Israeli pop songs in Moroccan Arabic.”
The next day and a half comprised visits to more JNF activities, “including the Be’er Sheva River Park, the older settlements and newer pioneer settlements near the Gaza borders, and the impressive Sderot high school.” The region’s mayor explained the “programs available to the students, as well as the challenges of being in such a dangerously exposed area.”
Rounding out their 10-day trip, the Segals met JNF world chairman Efi Stenzler, spent time with friends and took a helicopter ride over the country with Wachtel.
A longtime involvement
Segal’s connection to JNF and HU extend much further back than this recent visit, of course. “From my Talmud Torah and Camp Hatikvah days,” he said, “I grew up with a strong feeling of connection to Israel and an understanding of its importance to the Jewish people. In terms of JNF specifically, though I felt I was already very familiar with the general nature of JNF’s activities in Israel through the blue pushke box, Tu b’Shevat, attending Negev dinners and my many discussions over the years with different Vancouver JNF emissaries, I must say that I was very impressed on this trip seeing the breadth and depth of JNF’s projects from before statehood through today, and the vast impact they have on the quality of life, security and future prospects of the Israeli people. They touch upon these areas in so many different ways.
“Regarding Hebrew U,” he continued, “I can honestly say that my decision to attend Hebrew U in 1971/72 for my second year of university studies played a pivotal role in developing many of my life interests and activities…. That was a very exciting and stimulating year and a half, from the first few months on kibbutz through the end of the school year in Israel, then followed by three months of adventure travel with my good buddy Ben Goldberg in East Africa, including being in Uganda during Idi Amin’s reign of terror. This opened up a whole new desire to learn about the developing world, leading to my post-BA year of travel across Asia and the Middle East in 1974/75. You could say, in a way, this all sowed the seeds for my current philanthropic work in Ethiopia and my interest in the Ethiopian community in Israel.”
The 2014 Negev Dinner takes place on Sunday, April 6, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver, starting at 5:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, call 604-257-5155 or e-mail [email protected].
Members of the Momo Minyan. (photo by David Berson)
Sometime in the next three months, two Tibetans will arrive in Vancouver from Arunachal Pradesh, a poor, remote region in the far northeast of India. When they get here, a group of Jews from Vancouver’s Or Shalom Synagogue will be waiting for them, ready to aid with their resettlement in this country. The group, which calls itself the Momo Minyan – momo after a Tibetan steamed dumpling – formed in June 2013 with the sole purpose of helping these Tibetans create a new life in British Columbia. In February, they completed and filed the sponsorship papers. Now, they wait. When the newcomers arrive, their work will begin in earnest.
The group will be supporting the two Tibetans financially, but their involvement will go beyond hard cash. “It means receiving them at the airport, finding a place for them to stay, ensuring they get registered for health benefits, helping them learn the language and find a job, and assisting them as they integrate socially,” said David Berson, a member of the minyan. The group will be responsible for accommodating the Tibetan refugees and ensuring they can access the services they require. It promises to be no small undertaking.
Back in 2010, at the urging of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed to allow 1,000 Tibetans from this rugged, contested area to resettle in Canada. Arunachal Pradesh is claimed by China as “South Tibet” and for the past 55 years the strip of land along this border has been home to thousands of Tibetans. To determine who was chosen to go to Canada, a lottery was held in the village’s public square, eventually granting a new life to one-sixth of the Tibetans from this area. The first wave of 55 arrived in Canada in December 2013. By the program’s conclusion, there will be approximately 200 refugees in British Columbia and others in Calgary, Ottawa and Toronto.
To make the transition to Canada possible, each one required sponsorship by a Canadian group or individual before they could obtain special travel documents and enter the country as landed immigrants.
Vicki Robinson, a facilitator for the Momo Minyan, said Or Shalom is the first synagogue in Canada to sponsor Tibetans under this program. The minyan has partnered with the Tibetan cultural society in this project. The United Church of Canada, a government sponsorship holder, has also helped to get the applications completed. “The United Church has a lot of experience in resettlement, working with the Canadian Immigration Committee and getting all the permits lined up,” Berson said. “They’re a conduit more than a partner for us.”
The Momo Minyan will be responsible for the Tibetans’ entire integration package, including finding and paying for an apartment, paying for health insurance and food. “Until we know who we’re absorbing, it’s difficult to know what kind of work will be appropriate,” Berson said of the process. The refugees, who have varying levels of education, come from poverty-stricken villages in this region, where they have limited access to medical care and often have to send their children away to school. “Their lives are threatened and they are a stateless people living in a disputed territory,” he noted.
The Tibetans have neither Chinese nor Indian citizenship. Some have more work experience than others, said Berson, who recently learned the Tibetans in this area tried to cultivate apple orchards for the past 10 years, but were more successful growing kiwi. Some worked in the agricultural sector in Israel, as foreign workers, he added. “The Canadian government is going to Arunachal Pradesh this month to interview them, so we’ll hear very soon about the Tibetans we will be receiving.”
The minyan has begun fundraising in the Or Shalom community and will extend its efforts to the wider community once more is known about the particular immigrants they are sponsoring. Eligibility for social assistance is not a possibility under the agreement with the Canadian government, which estimates sponsorship costs at $12,000 per person per year. With the cost of living in Vancouver, that won’t be enough, Berson said. “It’s guiding our efforts in terms of fundraising, but we think we’ll need more than that. The government is very nicely providing them with landed immigrant status, but not any other aid, per se, in the process. After five years, they will be eligible to apply for Canadian citizenship like any other landed immigrant.”
Members of the Momo Minyan united in a mutual agreement to participate in this humanitarian effort, one that resonated with many in the synagogue, Berson said. “The opportunity for us to be able to extend our hospitality to another group that has suffered exile and have a diaspora is probably one element why I got involved. The Tibetans are amazing people but they’re very reserved and shy in their mannerisms,” he added. “There’s going to be big cultural differences.”
Robinson was eager to step forward and join the minyan after visiting Tibet in 1994. “The Tibetan people stole my heart,” she admitted. “They are amazing, beautiful, spiritual, good people who are struggling in a very difficult situation. Since my visit there, I’ve been involved working with the Tibetan community in exile. I spent time working with the Tibetan Women’s Association in India for a year, where I met Tibetans from Arunachal Pradesh.” Robinson’s family came to Canada fleeing persecution, which was another reason she wanted to get involved. “I thought this would be good work to do – a way of giving back to the country that welcomed us,” she said.
Those interested in contributing to the resettlement efforts can contact Berson by email at [email protected].
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond, B.C. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.
Caitriona Murphy, left, and Stephanie Moroz in Between the Sheets by Jordi Mand. (photo by Tim Matheson)
Twenty-something Torontonian Jordi Mand is a Canadian playwright coming off a huge success with her first full-length script, Between the Sheets, the story of a parent-teacher interview gone awry. Local company Pi Theatre, known for its innovative and site-specific work, will treat Vancouver to the Western Canadian première of the play in an actual classroom at Admiral Seymour Elementary School in Strathcona.
The action revolves around two characters, Teresa, a Grade 3 teacher, and Marion, the well-heeled private-school power mom of Alex. Marion rushes into the classroom at the end of an evening for an unscheduled interview. The conversation deteriorates into an accusation from the furious Marion that Teresa is having an affair with her husband of 24 years, Curtis. As one would expect, Teresa vehemently denies the charge until the incriminating evidence is literally thrown in her face – a folder of romantic e-mails. Oh my! The predicament makes for 60 intense minutes of theatre.
In a telephone interview with the Independent, Mand spoke about her career and work. Born and raised in the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill, she attended Jewish day school and graduated from the National Theatre School of Canada. “Originally, when I went to theatre school, I thought I wanted to work in classical text and then, in my second year, a group of us adapted a novel and it was an amazing experience where we collaborated to create an independent piece of work. It started my writing heart to pulsate. When I graduated, I realized that acting was not for me. I hated the auditioning process and I was bored in rehearsal. Then I started to write and I realized that that was my passion and where I wanted to be.”
Mand has written a number of short plays but Between the Sheets is her first full-length work. “My idea for the script did not come from one particular thing but from a number of events in my life,” she said. “Some of the inspiration came from my personal health issues where I had to navigate the health system, which I found very difficult to do, and so part of Teresa’s experience with those same issues relates to that.
“Another aspect of the play comes from the time I was the drama instructor at a Jewish day camp in Ontario and I worked with special needs campers. I became very close to one with Down’s syndrome, Alex. He was this amazing, miraculous creature but he had a very complicated relationship with his mother. The memory of that has stayed with me all these years and is reflected in Marion’s character.
“As to the classroom setting,” she continued, “it sort of goes back to my Jewish upbringing. I went to a private Jewish school and perhaps in my subconscious I wanted to play out some of my anxieties from that time. A classroom means so much to different people. It allows for a different dynamic and interpretation of what is happening in the script.”
Between the Sheets had its world première in Toronto in 2012. The National Post called it “a gripping new play, terrifically performed.” The Globe and Mail critic declared, “If you handed out report cards for shows, Between the Sheets would get straight As.” While one of the critics was surprised at the sexual connotations of the title in relation to a school drama, Mand said, “I was surprised to read that comment. That was never my intention. The title comes from the fact that the two characters are in a tremendous amount of pain and together they share those kinds of feelings that we only let ourselves think about while we are in bed just before we fall asleep. So, to me, the title symbolizes a place where our loneliness and pain catch up with us.”
The play has had international exposure, with a successful run in New Zealand and a remount scheduled for later this year. To date, it has been produced in a theatre setting. Mand is excited that Pi will be using an actual classroom for its production. “Pi has a reputation for using non-traditional spaces in really inventive ways,” she commented. “Using a classroom makes the room the fifth character – it is magical and will open up the audience experience in so many ways. It will solidify what happens in real time and people will be a part of it. I am really excited to see how it turns out.”
Mand is grateful for the opportunities that the production has brought her at home and abroad, and the impact the play has had. “In Toronto, teachers and principals would come up to me after the show and thank me for telling this story. The script really stirred something in people. Once they see the show, they will never be able to look at a classroom in the same way again.”
Between the Sheets runs March 14-26 at Admiral Seymour school, 1130 Keefer St. For times and ticket information, visit pitheatre.com or call 604-872-1861.
Tova Kornfeld is a Vancouver freelance writer and lawyer.
Recessed LED home lighting can make a big statement, inside and out. (photo by Mark Whitehead)
Customization, once seen as a luxury, can now be found in all facets of consumer products. The newest trend: controlling your home with your fingertips from anywhere in the world.
With the launch of everything electronic and motorized, handheld devices such as your smart phone or tablet are now able to control almost anything with the touch of a finger. With the newest builds and renovations, home automation, in some form or another, is being specified into the design. Technology has catapulted the use of home automation to the next degree and has become more popular – and more affordable.
Home automation spans a wide breadth of components: from controlling a home’s lighting and window coverings by using a smart phone or tablet, to scheduling timers throughout the day, to turning on and off your central heating and home-entertainment systems. New builds and renovations are taking advantage of open walls, and the trend of installing hidden speakers, wireless routers and other normally obvious audio components into the walls makes the final interior design seamless. Even motorized tracks can be hidden within the ceiling, hiding drapery tracks, for example, which creates additional visual height with true floor-to-ceiling draperies.
Trending with window shades is the option for motorization, as well. The sleek and contemporary designs of roman shades, cellular blinds, even the newest in vertical blinds, can be motorized and fit in perfectly with contemporary home décor. And with many more affordable products on the market, consumers are able to have luxury items without paying the luxury ticket.
The popularity of LED lighting is making a huge impact in interior design. Custom LED home lighting has moved from just changing a light bulb to installing fully recessed indoor perimeter lighting, and even offers various outdoor applications, such as illuminating walkways, pathways and porch lights.
Kitchens are the heart of any home, and esthetic is just as important as functionality in the design of a great kitchen. Hardware mechanisms that provide soft-close drawers and cabinets add an extra bit of luxury to a kitchen’s everyday use. Whether choosing contemporary handles in clear acrylic and chrome, or streamlined and contemporary push-touch cabinetry instead, the selections of hardware are endless.
Acrylic elements are also creeping into today’s homes in versatile ways other than in the kitchen. Resembling glass, acrylic gives the illusion of glass without the fragility and weight. One of the ways this medium is making a statement in contemporary interior home design is molded into contemporary sculptures. On its own or in a collection, acrylic sculpture can offer a focal point to any room. Some acrylic sculpture suppliers give the option of custom colors, adding an extra personal touch to a statement piece or collection. Especially when beautifully lit, acrylic sculpture brings simple elegance to the home.
Don’t forget about the importance of fabric in home design. This year, texture is big and the more layered the better! Mix different textures with bold patterns to make a statement, or mix soft and sleek textures to create a luxurious atmosphere. Fabrics enhance a room’s décor, creating soft, easy lines and offering points of visual interest. By playing with color and lots of layered textures, interiors are warming up to cheerful design and easy, comfortable living.
Michelle Diaz is a design assistant at RodRozen Designs. The firm, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, is proud of its achievements in the interior design and construction trade. Consisting of co-owners Derick and Steven RodRozen and a design team, RodRozen Designs strives to create uniquely stunning and luxurious homes throughout the Lower Mainland. For more information, visit rodrozen.com or email [email protected].
Shockeling can help you achieve kavanah, intense concentration with Hashem through the medium of prayer. (photo by Ashernet)
The language of Yiddish is one of the most unique forms of expression. It is in fact untranslatable. Tomes have been written on it. Its vocabulary and expressions are so self-descriptive. Many words have found their way into the English vocabulary. Who can translate the word nu, or shlep, or bittere gelegte or … shockel? It is this last word in which I am interested here.
Shockel: a description of the rhythmic, swaying movement that Jews all over adopt when they are engrossed in prayer. I have been intrigued and bemused over many years of observation of how Jews pray, and this script is a description of the main styles that tend to be adopted. They are often reflective of the personalities of their users. The next time you go to shul, watch the men in prayer, and see if you can identify the styles. Try them out yourself, and maybe you will be able to choose one that really stimulates you into an attitude of devotion and prayer.
The simple shockel
This is a gentle rhythmic bow from the waste with a pelvic lunge as you straighten up – a very simple, easy-to-learn movement. But there are some variations, for instance, the simple shockel with head extension. Here, you proceed with the movements of the simple shockel, but it is done rather slower. The body tends to fall forward until the point at which it appears to overbalance, at which point the head is stretched forward very rapidly while the body straightens up. All in all, an intriguing movement, and very good for the cervical vertebrae, if you don’t put your neck out while practising it.
The friendly simple shockel with lateral movement
Here, instead of bending forward from the waist, you twist alternately to the left and the right, as if you are addressing a large audience. Combined with a head extension and a slight smile on the face, the incumbent gives the impression of being a really friendly fellow. A style that you may well want to emulate. But be careful of straining the vertebrae. It could take weeks to recover.
An entertaining variation of the friendly shockel with lateral movement, you stand with your feet slightly apart, toes pointed outwards – the further the better. (Some folks can do this movement with the toes pointed out about 90 degrees!) The trick is to keep the legs and back quite stiff. You bow from the waist to the left and simultaneously lift the right toe. Repeat to the other side. When accompanied by a glazed look in your eyes, the effect can be highly spiritual.
Walking on the spot
Now, here is an interesting movement. This overcomes the restrictions of keeping the feet together during the Shemoneh Esrei prayer, when you are not allowed to separate the feet. The movement consists of simply bending your knees alternately as you bend forward. A fine variation is to raise the toe of the leg whose knee is bending, simultaneously with the heel of the opposite foot. It’s very good exercise for the muscles of the feet, but needs practise to coordinate properly.
Alternate bowing with ankle twist
When I first saw this, I was very impressed, as it requires tremendous coordination of rhythm. It shouldn’t be done during the Shemoneh Esrei because it requires the feet to be slightly separated, but one wonders…. The technique is simple, but requires a lot of practise. With the feet slightly separated, you bow rhythmically to the left and right alternately, as in the simple shockel with lateral movement. But here is the catch. As you bow to the left, you raise the right ankle slightly, and similarly on the other side. Once you have mastered this movement, you proceed to move the raised foot in a circular, back-and-forth movement, similar to squashing a bug. A beautiful thing to watch, and one certainly worth the effort of learning.
I first saw this style used in a Chassidic community in Israel. The congregant stands sideways with one foot ahead of the other, as if he is prepared for a fencing competition. He then proceeds to lunge forward and back in a rhythmic motion in time with his prayers.
The lunge with second thoughts
The basic lunge is very good for the lungs, if combined with proper breathing, but it reaches perfection in this variation. The operator goes into the lunge movement, but then draws up suddenly as if he has second thoughts, and draws himself back rapidly to an upright position. It imposes a tremendous strain on the back muscles, since they have to go into reverse at the very instant that the body has reached its maximum momentum in a forward direction, so be careful before attempting this shockel. If you work into it slowly, and perfect it, you could be the admired hero of the congregation.
The hula hoop
This is a relaxing movement, most suitable for use during intermediate prayers, while you are building up your spiritual resources for the Shema or Shemoneh Esrei. You stand upright with your feet slightly apart, and exercise a rotational movement as if you are trying to maintain a hula hoop in motion. It is particularly good for the stomach muscles, and will help tighten any slightly (or not so slightly) sagging abdominal area.
The vibrating calf
This movement is usually used by persons who are either in a hurry to get to the end of the service, or who are eagerly anticipating the arrival of Moshiach. It is executed by standing perfectly still, and rapidly vibrating the muscles of the calf from side to side. It may sound simple, but it can look pretty spectacular if done with finesse.
The drunken swagger
This movement is performed with ease if you have had a couple of tots of whisky prior to entering your house of prayer. However, I have seen it done very effectively by folks who are stone-cold sober. You need to stand with feet fairly widely apart, with knees bent, hips thrust forward and shoulders well back. The trick is to give the appearance that you are about to collapse backwards while you sway gently from side to side. A glazed look in the eyes contributes enormously to the effect.
This is more an expression of urgency than style. All congregations have their wanderers. They wander around aimlessly during the service, walking determinedly in one direction, and then stopping as if they have suddenly changed their mind, and then walking back again. Many of them wander around and examine every detail in the shul – the books, the seats, the cracks in the walls. Some even pick up objects and examine them. Some intone loudly as they meander. Others simply appear lost. I remember one wanderer who was actually scary. A rather big, heavily bearded guy who would fix me with a stare from the opposite side of the shul, and then start to walk determinedly in my direction. As he approached, his eyes opened wider and took on an aggressive look. He would come within a distance of about one foot, thrust his face into mine, and then abruptly turn around and wander back again. He would repeat this a few times during the service.
The helicopter movement
This is a rotational motion from the waist up. The upper body rotates in a circular movement, building up momentum, and the hands swing out to the sides, lifting up higher and higher as the rotational speed increases. (Of course, you need to know the prayers by heart for this version of the shockel.) At top speed, the effect is not unlike a helicopter blade rotating and, indeed, sometimes there is a very real fear that the operator will take off vertically. This one takes years of practise.
These descriptions should give you a renewed interest in and enthusiasm for davening. But be warned – it is easy to be distracted from the real purpose of it all, which is to achieve kavanah, intense concentration with Hashem through the medium of prayer. So, please take these descriptions in the spirit in which they were written.
Dr. Stan Shear emigrated in 2004 to Vancouver from South Africa, where he taught information systems at the University of Cape Town until his retirement. He also has officiated as a chazzan for the past 30 years, both in South Africa and Vancouver.
Jayme Stone calls himself a banjoist, instigator and composer. His repertoire, which includes four albums – The Utmost (2007), Africa to Appalachia (2008), Room of Wonders (2010) and The Other Side of the Air (2013) – bridge myriad genres, including folk and roots music from around the world, jazz and chamber music. His latest endeavor is the Lomax Project, which he brings here for CelticFest Vancouver next weekend.
Music journalists have said that Stone’s music “sounds like nothing else on earth,” is “spirited,” “enchanting,” “adventurous” and “delicate, imaginative and unusual.” To get a true sense of what Stone is capable, however, and what his oeuvre sounds like, it might help to know more about from where he comes than to where he’s going.
More associated in North American ears with the sounds of Appalachia and bluegrass, the banjo also has a significant presence in traditional American folk and roots music, including country, blues and old-time. However, what we know of as the modern banjo has a longer – and more global – story to tell.
“Predecessors of the banjo and the blueprint for making and playing it came over with slaves from West Africa starting in the 1500s,” Stone told the Independent in an email interview. “It was, and continues to be, part of many African-American traditions, and African influence abounds in all forms of American music, including the blues, jazz, rock and roll and the many roots and branches of traditional music. From my perspective, each of these genres tells a unique story of how immigrant culture from the British Isles and Europe combined with African culture in a different way. The history of the banjo tells a similar story.”
Growing up in Toronto, Stone developed a love for music early but didn’t start playing banjo until his teens. “I was born and raised in Toronto but started playing the banjo at 16 when I moved to Vancouver for a spell. My parents had a good record collection growing up and my uncle Ian loved listening to music and played a little piano. We used to listen to old records with rapt attention, and he was the first person to turn me on to poetry, Eastern philosophy and ’60s culture.” Most significantly, perhaps, delving into those records introduced Stone to the inherent possibilities of his chosen instrument.
“I discovered the banjo at precisely the moment I got serious about studying music,” he said. “I had started playing country blues guitar having fallen in love with folks like Elizabeth Cotten, Mississippi John Hurt and Reverend Gary Davis. At that time, you could mail order cassettes of out-of-print recordings from the Smithsonian Folkways catalogue and I reveled in the discovery of these older artists and avidly read liner notes. In a short span, I heard the banjo in many settings, from southern old-time Appalachian music to Mike Seeger to Earl Scruggs to modern pioneers like Tony Trischka ad Béla Fleck.
“Béla came to play at the Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver and it turned my world upside down. I immediately wanted to play the banjo, but I also realized that you could play any kind of music on the instrument. It was thrilling to see both what a varied history the banjo had and how much music had yet to be played on the instrument. I loved the quirky physics of the tuning, its unique timbre and variety of playing styles. I’ve been hooked ever since!”
Stone’s musical lens is global and multidisciplinary in scope, as he explores songwriting and storytelling traditions from around the world. Bringing all the pieces together is a labor of love. “I’ve long been interested in music from around the world and like immersing myself in different approaches to making music,” he said. “I love the interaction and improvisational spirit of jazz; the clarity of melody and grit of folk music; the attention to detail and color in chamber music; the rhythmic variety of music from foreign cultures. It’s often these core elements that attract me, rather than simply the veneer of style, if that makes any sense. In a way, I like to bring different approaches into my own musical culture and sort of curate my own esthetic world, as if it were an art gallery with all different kinds of art hanging on the walls.”
His reputation for innovation, reinvention and collaboration stems from his role as an instigator. “At bottom, I really just love being engaged in listening to and learning about music. Since I sometimes hear things that don’t exist yet or have an inkling to combine things that aren’t obvious, I have to make that music so it exists in the world. Along the way, I’ve performed, made records, produced them for others and taught – it’s really all a natural extension of my passion for music and interest in sharing it with others. It’s often necessary for independent musicians like myself to wear many hats. I started using the word ‘instigator’ because I often kickstart and head up projects and collaborations. I’ve always been an upstart of sorts.”
Indeed, frequent collaboration has been integral to Stone’s career. Each album and project has been a shared effort, as they take listeners from the banjo’s roots in West Africa, to the music of Bach and Debussy, and along the Cinnamon Route through Persia and India and beyond.
“I really love collaborating,” Stone noted. “It includes so many things I enjoy: learning, sharing, creating, friendship and community. I also like working with musicians that have their own voice and sensibility – often people that play their instruments in unique ways. It just makes sense to collaborate because I could never write music that fully allows them express their personalities and idiosyncrasies. By collaborating, I get to draw on people’s uniqueness while also working it into a context that includes my own voice and approach. I have to be very organized, plan ahead and work with people who I trust. I’ve been doing this for a long time, so I’m pretty used to balancing all the elements and rolling with things when they go awry.”
Stone’s Lomax Project is named after Alan Lomax, the famed field collector of American folk and roots music, an ethnomusicological treasure trove, much of which is archived at the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Centre. Lomax is also well known for having produced radio and live concerts, as well as for his academic contributions and political activism, among other roles. It is fitting that Stone would pay homage to the multitalented and versatile Lomax, whose work was cross-genre, global and truly multicultural.
“Alan Lomax was a folklorist who began accompanying his father, John Lomax, on field recording trips through the American South in the early 1930s when portable recording technology first became available,” Stone explained. “They collected folk songs from people on plantations, penitentiaries, front porches, churches and schoolyards in the hopes of capturing traditional, rural, folk songs from people who made music for their own enjoyment rather than for commercial gain. Alan made field-collecting trips all over America and eventually all over the world for 60-plus years and recorded over 50,000 songs, in addition to taking photographs, making films and writing prolifically about traditional music. He was an incredibly strong-minded, dedicated and prolific cultural force.
“The idea of my project is to unearth songs that Alan collected and collaborate with some of my favorite musicians on new arrangements. We’ll recycle, re-imagine and rework these old melodies and lyrics and try to bring new life to the material.”
The artists with whom Stone will perform in Vancouver include multi-instrumentalist Eli West, fiddler Crittany Haas, singer and composer Moira Smiley and double bassist Joe Phillips. Other Lomax Project artists have included Tim O’Brien, Bruce Molsky, Margaret Glaspy, Greg Garrison, Julian Lage, and Pharis and Jason Romero.
Stone’s own cultural background is Jewish. “I am Jewish or, as I prefer to say, Jew-ish. My family on both sides are Jewish, and I grew up going to Hebrew school, synagogue, having a bar mitzvah and all that. It’s not something I kept up with in my adult life, and I looked more to Buddhist and yoga traditions in my late teens. Since having kids, my wife and I have been slowly coming around to incorporating more Jewish traditions back into our lives. We try to do Shabbat dinner every week and get together for some holidays with other like-minded, somewhat-on-the-fence, modern Jewish families and friends. I can’t say being Jewish has influenced my music per se, but it’s of course one of the many things that has shaped who I am.”
Finding the time to unwind might be difficult, but Stone has a rich life outside of music, too. “When I’m not working on music, I’m spending time with my family. I have an almost-four-year-old girl and a 10-week-old boy, so life is full. When I do find time to unwind, I like to practise yoga, do contact improv dance, read and hang out with friends. I love to cook and we usually make a big deal about meals at home.”
After CelticFest, Stone will play a concert at the Bach Music Festival of Canada with his Other Side of the Air collaborators. The concert will feature the quintet “playing a Bach fugue, a Trinidadian calypso, Bulgarian mountain dance and an Appalachian barnburner.”
And next on the list for Stone? “I’ll be recording the Lomax Project over the next year and an album will be out in the spring of 2015. It’ll include Grammy-winning songster Tim O’Brien, Bruce Molsky, Brittany Haas, Margaret Glaspy, Moira Smiley, Eli West, Julian Lage, Greg Garrison, Joe Phillips and others. We’ll be launching a Kickstarter campaign in the spring to fund the recording.”
Jayme Stone brings his Lomax Project to CelticFest Vancouver on March 14, 8 p.m., at the Vogue; March 15, 8 p.m., at Vancouver FanClub; March 16, 2 p.m., at Mahony and Sons Music Stage (Granville at Robson); and March 15, noon-4 p.m., at the Tom Lee Music City Stage (929 Granville St.) for a series of one-hour workshops with Lomax Project artists. For tickets and information, visit celticfestvancouver.com.