“I was in the right place at the right time with the right preparation,” said Linda Lando about her new position: director of the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery.
Lando has unique qualifications for the job, having been an art dealer, with her own gallery, for 30 years. Now, she wants to share her knowledge of the arts with the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver and its gallery.
Lando didn’t dream of becoming a gallery owner when she was young. “It just happened,” she told the Independent. “After getting my degree in art history from UBC, I did some work for the UBC art gallery and worked for a local auction house. When Alex Fraser Gallery had an opening, I applied and got the job. I liked gallery work so much that I ended up buying the gallery. It was unintentional. It was never a goal of mine to run a gallery, but I loved it.”
Although her gallery has changed its name twice since – it is now Granville Fine Art on the corner of Granville and Broadway – Lando remains the owner. She intends to retain her client and artist lists, both of which she’s established over the years, but she is eager to explore the new venue, to dedicate half of her time to the Zack.
“I can’t see myself doing anything else but running a gallery, but I’m ready for something new, for community-minded work, away from the commercial art world…. Sometimes we have to rise above the monetary values and do something for the community.”
She had been searching for a new direction for awhile when she received a phone call from Reisa Smiley Schneider, the gallery’s recently retired gallery director. Schneider told the Independent: “We started talking about the recent changes in our lives, and she said she wasn’t sure what she was going to be doing in the next while and had to make some decisions about her gallery. We chatted for awhile, and then she said someone had suggested she apply for my position. I asked her how she responded to them, and she sounded like it was something she might consider. I proceeded to tell her how much I had loved my job over the 15 years I had worked there. I included some of the things that frustrated me as well, just to be realistic, but basically I encouraged her to apply and to do so soon, as the deadline for applications was in two days. I was delighted to hear that she was interested in the position, as it seemed a ‘win-win-win’ for everyone and every organization involved. What a gift to me to have Linda, a gallery owner for 30 years, take over as gallery director! I am excited to see how the gallery will soar under her direction.”
Lando elaborated, “I’ve known Reisa for some time, and she was always happy here at the Zack. She had a connection with people. When I learned about her retirement, I decided to apply for this job. Sitting all day at my commercial gallery could get lonely. Nobody comes there just to chat. But here, interacting is easy. Children come to the gallery. Someone offered me a chocolate. Nobody’s offered me chocolate at my gallery. Here, Reisa had created a warm, friendly place, and I’ll try to keep it [that way].”
She is already keeping that promise, maintaining a link between the past and the future of the gallery. Whoever comes through the door – an art lover to look at the current exhibition, a toddler to play hide and seek or a senior on the way from a class – Lando engages everyone with a smile and a friendly word.
“Running a gallery requires huge people skills,” she noted about her approach. “I have to keep my artists happy. The best part of the job is phoning the artists and saying that their painting is sold. I love it. It could be very disheartening, when you put up a beautiful show, and it doesn’t sell. But it’s not only about selling.” Her job is also about educating people, she said. She considers the educational aspect essential, both for a commercial gallery and for the Zack.
Keeping her clients happy is also paramount. “Anybody walking into the gallery with the intention to buy is in a good space with me. I have to build on that. Sometimes, people start by liking art and then they become collectors, passionate and knowledgeable about the art they collect. I have to keep up my research to be worthy of their trust. It’s all about trust. For the clients to trust my taste and my artists, I have to know what’s going on in the marketplace, what is a good investment, especially in regards to historical works. Before [the] internet, I often went to auctions and shows in Toronto. Now it’s easier – everything is online.”
Unlike sales of historical masterpieces, where the dealer’s personal taste counts for much less than marketplace demands and cultural traditions, in the modern arts, the dealer’s taste is utterly important.
“That’s why I like the Zack,” Lando added. “It’s not exactly a commercial gallery, no pressure to sell. But, of course, if paintings sell, it’s good for everyone, for the artists and for the JCC. I see it as my biggest challenge: finding good, quality art and making sure a certain calibre of artists wants to exhibit here. Plus, attracting serious buyers. Now, when collectors want to buy a painting, the Zack is not on their usual route. I’d like to change that, so they would consider the Zack when they are ready to make a purchase.”
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Shannon McLeod, left, and Rachel Yaroshuk. (photo by Olga Livshin)
Unlike academic and institutional libraries, most small public libraries in North America don’t offer ebooks to their readers. Setting up a digital borrowing system requires hours of research and special computer knowledge. It is an expensive endeavor, too, besides presenting several legal wrinkles. Isaac Waldman Jewish Public Library at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver is the first Jewish public library in Canada to do so.
In September 2013, the Waldman Library hired two digital content managers, Rachel Yaroshuk and Shannon McLeod, to organize the library’s digital portal. Both have master’s degrees in library and information studies from the University of British Columbia.
In an interview with the Independent, Yaroshuk and McLeod explained that the project grew out of the endowment to the library from the Sonner family, which was established 10 years ago. Eric Sonner, a Holocaust survivor and a local businessman, initiated the endowment.
McLeod said: “Eric was an avid reader. He established a fund with the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver for the benefit of the library. The fund was to sit for 10 years, and the interest would finance the library needs. Eric passed away in 2009. After the 10-year term ended in 2013, Eric’s daughter, Eve, approached the library with the idea to launch a unique Jewish ebook collection at the library, using the principle capital. She thought that such a project would be a fitting way to use the money, as her father liked to be cutting edge in his thinking and actions. He also had a strong commitment to the Jewish community and highly valued the library’s contribution.”
Of course, the library embraced the Sonner Family eBook Project, one that would honor the life and values of Eric Sonner. “We want to keep up with the rest of the world,” said librarian Karen Corrin about the new collection. “Everybody is excited about ebooks.” To take this idea from intentions to execution wasn’t easy, however: it took two dedicated professionals and a lot of hard work.
Yaroshuk recalled: “I was working as an on-call librarian at the New Westminster Library when Karen contacted me. We met, and I knew it’s too much for one person. We needed a team of two, so they hired my friend, Shannon. We both studied at the same program at UBC and worked together. Having a good partner is important for such a complex project.”
They started out by looking at possible digital content providers. “We had limited options,” said Yaroshuk. “Only a few suppliers offer ebooks to libraries in Canada. There are legal restrictions. And we needed to find Jewish content. Not all the books are available in e-format. We ended up with OverDrive, one of the leading ebook suppliers for libraries in Canada. The format offered is ePub. Many devices can read it: tablets, Kobo reader, iPhone. The library signed a four-year contract with OverDrive.”
“We’re still building the collection. For now, it includes about 50-50 fiction and non-fiction, children’s and adult books. We’d like some feedback from the community before proceeding.”
At first, 50 books will be available to library patrons, but Yaroshuk noted that it’s only a start. “We’re still building the collection. For now, it includes about 50-50 fiction and non-fiction, children’s and adult books. We’d like some feedback from the community before proceeding.”
McLeod also outlined some technical considerations they faced. “There was a problem of online integration,” she explained. “The digital content doesn’t sit at the library – it’s on the OverDrive servers, but the users will be able to access it from the library catalogue.”
Users will be able to link to it from the library catalogue and download ebooks. They will be able to do so from the library or from anywhere in the world, even from home, as long as they have an internet connection and a library card.
According to McLeod, OverDrive has built a special website for Waldman. It looks similar to the library website and uses the same color scheme. Users will be able to link to it from the library catalogue and download ebooks. They will be able to do so from the library or from anywhere in the world, even from home, as long as they have an internet connection and a library card. After three weeks – a standard library borrowing time – the file will disappear from their reading devices.
The computer aspects, as well as the finding and cataloguing of all the books, took time, but now the system is almost ready. It goes live at the end of February.
“It’s a soft launch,” said Yaroshuk. “The official launch is in the beginning of March, but now the next phase of the project starts – to train everyone to use the new system. We’ll have posters, video instructions and printed handouts, color coordinated for different devices. We’ll have demonstrations and one-on-one sessions for the JCC staff, library volunteers, seniors groups, school kids. We are preparing promotional materials to let everyone know about the new service.”
Of course, an ebook needs an e-reader, and not everyone is comfortable with the idea of digitized books just yet, or even owns an electronic reader, especially older adults. “We’d love to offer some e-readers, too, so people could borrow them as well as ebooks, as the VPL is doing, but it’s expensive,” Corrin said.
As representatives of a younger generation, both McLeod and Yaroshuk own e-readers, but “… I love physical books,” said McLeod. “I don’t think ebooks will replace print; they are just a convenient supplement. When you commute or travel, you can have a few ebooks on your device and not worry that you’ll have nothing to read when you finish a book. And the devices are light.”
For information about the ebook collection, call 604-257-5111, ext. 252, or email [email protected].
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
An architectural design rendering of the Leo Wertman Residence at 611 West 41st Ave. (photo from Gomberoff Bell Lyon Architects Group Inc.)
When Legacy Senior Living opens in the Oakridge neighborhood in July 2014, the 91-suite, independent-living seniors residence will pay tribute to a man who believed in building community. Built by the Wertman Group of Companies, it was created in honor of Leo Wertman, who founded the company back in 1962.
According to material provided by the company, Leo Wertman came of age in Ruzaniec, Poland, and was the only survivor of his family during the German occupation. As a teen, he became a Polish partisan, participating in missions to defy the occupation and emancipate Poland. In the process, he became a protector to many Jewish women and children, as well as the sick and elderly who sought shelter in the forest outside the city limits of Lublin and Ruzaniec. By night, he would venture into town, returning with food and medical supplies that helped keep some 200 displaced, hidden Jews alive during the occupation. Later in his life, he moved to Canada with his wife Regina and children Joseph and Rochelle. His business origins were manual labor and a small scrap-metal endeavor that he built up until he had the funds to invest in residential real estate in the 1960s. In a fast-growing city like Vancouver, he believed people would always need somewhere to live. According to the family, he became known as the “Provider” for the role he played during the war, and it was one he lived up to until his passing in the 1980s.
Meanwhile, the business was expanding and Wertman’s son became actively involved, helping it grow from a few apartment buildings to a large development company and real estate management group. Today, this private company includes grandson Jason Wertman, who serves as vice-president of Legacy Senior Living.
The Wertman Group has built several higher-end residential/condominium buildings on the west side of Vancouver, and it manages rental properties on the North Shore from its headquarters at 1199 West Pender.
The Wertman Group has made its mark on the Lower Mainland in a variety of ways. The company’s portfolio includes the Hycroft Medical Centre and the Guildford Medical Centre, two landmark medical buildings that were overhauled, renovated and re-tenanted. It has built several higher-end residential/condominium buildings on the west side of Vancouver, and it manages rental properties on the North Shore from its headquarters at 1199 West Pender.
Beyond business, the Wertmans have a legacy of donating to causes in Israel as well as to organizations serving the local Jewish community, including the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, Vancouver Talmud Torah, Lubavitch B.C., Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and Schara Tzedeck Synagogue.
“With Legacy Senior Living, our goal was to create an outstanding senior living residence in Leo’s honor, right here in the heart of Vancouver,” said Jason Wertman by telephone. “We want it to be a place where seniors can stay active and involved, living creative and fulfilling lives – a place where great food, friendships, culture and thoughtful living spaces will combine as the ideal lifestyle community.” The residence was designed to promote a healthy, independent way of life that highlights personal choice, convenience and exceptional service. “People who have some gas in their tanks can come here to reclaim quality of life and focus on being active and healthy,” he added.
Wertman describes Legacy Senior Living as being comparable to a Four Seasons Hotel. “It’s truly luxury living, with high-end finishes and a boutique style. The suites, which will be available exclusively for rental and will range in price from $3,750 to $7,700 per month, feature video-monitored entrances, automatic keyless entry, three elevators and remote-controlled blinds.”
“We’re right in the heart of the Jewish community, with easy access to shops, physicians, services, parks and familiar neighborhoods, and the availability of a town car transportation service will help residents move around their local catchment area.”
The location is a big draw, noted Carol Omstead, managing director. “We’re right in the heart of the Jewish community, with easy access to shops, physicians, services, parks and familiar neighborhoods, and the availability of a town car transportation service will help residents move around their local catchment area.”
Life at Legacy includes a selection of dining choices, a concierge service and a wellness navigator, who can give advice and information to residents when and if needed. Jewish residents will have ample opportunities to continue their traditions, including Oneg Shabbat with a special musical performance by Annette Wertman on Friday afternoons, kosher-style meals (with strictly kosher meals available for those who require them) and the town car service, which can help them commute to the synagogue of their choice. “Our goal is to keep all cultural groups connected to their traditions,” Omstead said.
“We’re gearing towards the Jewish community,” added Wertman. “Our target market is the same as that of the Jewish Community Centre and the Richmond Country Club. The Jewish community is not enough to support us entirely, so we’re open to everyone. But the residence is geared towards and was inspired by the Jewish community.”
Omstead said Legacy was designed for seniors who want their golden years to be a time of growth and development. “It’s about living life your way, preserving and enhancing your activity level and independence” she said. “When you’re in a positive environment like Legacy, you can achieve great things.”
The seniors residence that most closely resembles Legacy is Tapestry, which has locations in Kitsilano and on the south campus of the University of British Columbia. What sets Legacy apart is that more meals are included, there is transportation available to residents seven days a week and its central location in Oakridge. Also, its ownership. Omstead added that the company is particularly suited to serve the local population. “Because we’re right here, we’re really attuned to the community we serve,” she said.
Wertman said his family is excited about the development, one of their biggest projects to date. “It’s consuming all our time and energy, and the suites are being rented out quickly,” he said. “Everything we have now is from the foundations that my grandfather Leo built, so, in a sense, this is his legacy project.”
The presentation centre, now open at 2827 Arbutus, at 12th Avenue, is open Monday to Friday, 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m, and all day Saturday and Sunday. A courtesy shuttle service in a dedicated Legacy Senior Living 2013 Bentley is available for those who don’t drive. Call 604-240-8550 to arrange for a ride during the show suite hours.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond, B.C. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.
National Council of Jewish Women Israeli brunch, Vancouver, B.C., 1965. (JWB fonds, JMABC L.13972)
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].
Joanne Waters, left, and Karen Brumelle. (photo by Olga Livshin)
Karen Brumelle and Joanne Waters have much in common. They have been friends for more than 40 years. Both spent their childhood and young adulthood in the United States. Both came to Vancouver when their husbands started working at the University of British Columbia. Both are artists and have participated in multiple exhibitions. Both are inspired by nature. But they never exhibited together until now. Their show, Brush and Wire, is at the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery until March 16.
The artists’ visual narrations complement each other, as Brumelle’s cheerful paintings of rivers and forests provide a quaint background for Waters’ wire sculptures of birds and sea creatures.
“You’re influenced by the place you live in,” Brumelle said, explaining her landscapes of local scenery. Color and line serve as her creative language, the vehicle of her love for her adopted land. “Everything I look at, I mentally put a frame around. I always wonder: what might make a good painting? I take lots of photographs but I don’t want photographic likeness. I want to simplify the images, find their emotional core. I am more concerned with portraying a spiritual essence.”
Orange leaves blaze on her autumn trees. The green flow of the Fraser River invites contemplations. What many Vancouverites see from their windows, Brumelle explores through brushstrokes, paper and scissors.
“Collages are more fun. They are spontaneous, a free exploration.”
In her collages, Brumelle combines paper shapes with painting. “Collages are more fun. They are spontaneous, a free exploration. The pattern of the paper often suggests the collage details. I collect papers, buy them wherever I travel. My collages are more abstract than my paintings but they’re also more playful.”
Perhaps the playfulness of her collages is an echo of her long career as an art teacher. Before she retired in 2004, she taught art at Arts Umbrella and other schools. For 10 years, she taught art at Lord Byng and loved it.
“When I was a teacher, I constantly tried to come up with new exercises for my students. I wasn’t painting as much then – no time – but my creativity was engaged fully. The fun part of teaching was to see what my students would come up with.”
Now, when she has more time, she is drawn to capturing the quiet, elusive beauty of nature. Recently, she also started adding figures to her compositions. “I want to express the wonder of the world, its size, its light and shadow, its patterns and its hidden places. I need to paint. I get grumpy if I don’t.”
“Crochet, knitting, felting, macramé, I’ve done it all. I also made baskets and sculptures from dry kelp and driftwood for 20 years.”
Like her friend, Waters feels the irresistible attraction of nature and the urge to share her artistic discoveries. “I always had to create,” she said. Although by education, she is an occupational therapist, art has always been important to her. “I started with fabric art,” she said. “Crochet, knitting, felting, macramé, I’ve done it all. I also made baskets and sculptures from dry kelp and driftwood for 20 years.” Not many artists occupy such a niche, and her crafty, whimsical kelp pieces sold well at arts-and-crafts boutiques around British Columbia.
She also taught various arts-and-crafts classes and worked in recreational therapy. Among her students were not only healthy adults and children but also seniors with mental and physical disabilities. “When I worked with low-functioning people, my creativity went into making their work look good. Being creative isn’t just art.”
Her transition to wire sculpture is more recent. “When my husband died a few years ago, I moved to a smaller apartment,” she said. “There was no place to dry kelp, so I started experimenting with wire. I made a wire basket. Then I thought: if I could make a basket I could make anything. I made a dolphin. Then a bird. I use picture books and the internet and I usually fiddle with wire in front of the TV. About two hours at a time; afterwards my hands get tired.” Her wire ducks promenade in front of Brumelle’s paintings of ponds and rivers. Her starfish cling to the plastic stool legs as if they were pier piles submerged in a river. Her fisherman dreams of the biggest catch of his life and, behind him, a father and son roam a beach on her friend’s painting. The organic connection between the two artists links them on a subliminal level, as well as in their everyday lives.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
The author’s grandfather, Solomon/Zalman (later, Bernard), is at top right.
I have been researching my family history for some years now. Usually, over the winter break, when life slows down to a dull roar and I can spend time at the computer. I pore over JewishGen for hours, entering names of people and places into search engines. The same searches over and over, hoping that databases will have been updated; that something in my mind will click; that I will finally reach the right person; that the right person will still be alive – that someone will be able to tell me what happened to the women in that photo. The photo from Vienna. The photo of the family that could have been. That should have been. These four brothers and two sisters. The brothers who escaped. The women who did not, and perished. Where? How? The women whose stories have never been told. Or maybe they were told to someone in the United States, Argentina, Scotland or Mexico – but not to me.
In recent months, I have started to ask new questions. These new questions are concerned, as ever, with the people in the photo. But they are also about my own motivation. Why do I feel compelled to keep searching? Why do some people live by the adage that it’s all water under the bridge, while others steadfastly paddle upstream? Would it not be easier to drift with the currents of time, away from our family’s past and just meander, uncomplaining, toward the future?
People used to tell me that true self-knowledge only comes to us when we have children of our own and are challenged daily, hourly, to face ourselves. We find out if we have truly stuck to the resolutions of childhood. You know, the resolution that we’d do things differently, be more engaged, more sensitive, empathic, less busy, more patient – that we’d truly remember what it was like to be a child.
Sure enough, since my first searches brought me in touch with my many cousins, I have had children of my own. I watch our older child leaving behind his early childhood, becoming more and more aware of our small family unit. I hear his wistful questions during each year’s big festivals and explain that our family is scattered across the world. I set up Skype for him to speak to relatives on other continents. His curiosity, persistence and intellect are bound to lead to more searching questions, questions about who we are and where we came from. And since he is already attached to his Jewish roots in our household of mixed traditions, I know that I’ll need to get my story straight soon enough. I know this because it is already beginning. Perhaps this is why I search, I wonder? So I can look him in the eye and know that I don’t have to fudge it?
But then I realize that my motivation comes from a more complex place than one where i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. It’s not just about information; it’s about education.
There is certainly no education quite like motherhood. Children are such dogged teachers. Their curriculum may seem haphazard at times, their lesson planning a little sketchy, but when I take a step back – a really big step back – I find that what they are teaching me has as much to do with my ancestors as the two little chaps asking me to help them finish a puzzle, reassemble a broken toy or read a particularly difficult word.
Researching one’s family history is a gesture as deeply spiritually maternal as the act of raising one’s own children. Yes, there is a visceral desire shared by all humans to know where we come from and who we are, but there is an added layer of compassion, of love, of nurturing that comes when the people we love are gone.
Researching one’s family history is a gesture as deeply spiritually maternal as the act of raising one’s own children. Yes, there is a visceral desire shared by all humans to know where we come from and who we are, but there is an added layer of compassion, of love, of nurturing that comes when the people we love are gone. And not only are they gone, they left us too soon and in a manner so horrific that time and again, the adjective I hear from survivors’ children and grandchildren is “secretive.” So often, people simply don’t want to talk. They don’t want to share their stories because that would mean choosing to relive the horror, to tell tales that are replayed in dreams over and over again. The ones that wake them up at night and destroy the possibility of sleep for hours to come.
Those of us who grew up in the safety of this part of the world, we who are too young to have been witnesses to these crimes against humanity, we are aware of our good fortune. We know how lucky we are to have grown up in peacetime and, yet, we can feel somehow diminished by our lack of suffering. At the same time, and as we become parents ourselves, we dream of extending our parental love back through time to embrace and soothe the wounds inflicted on our forebears. We recall those who died in infancy or childhood. Having expanded our capacity for love, our fluency in that subtle language, we want to communicate absolute safety to that vulnerable child, the terrified adult unable to keep her children safe. We are challenged by the desire to reach out to our tormented and murdered ancestors, adults and children alike, to lift them out far beyond the atrocities and into the warmth of our own homes, our present, a safe and comfortable existence that they never knew.
And yet, unable to do so, we do what we can. We learn their names and we express our empathy and our sorrow by inscribing them and their stories in Word documents late at night while our children sleep, so that tomorrow, when they wake up, their parents can let them know, as they do every single day, that they are loved, that their world is safe and that, as small as it is, the human heart embraces the whole wide world.
Shula Klinger is an author-illustrator in North Vancouver, B.C. Her young adult novel, The Kingdom of Strange, was published in 2008 by Marshall Cavendish.
From left: Leah Deslauriers, Devorah Goldberg, Lisa de Silva, Donna Cantor, Julie Hirschmanner and Charles Leibovitch, with Debbie Sharp in front. (photo by Karon Shear)
All of us fervently wish that, as the years gather, we will be able to gracefully embrace and be embraced by them. On Jan. 22, an overflow crowd at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver Dayson Boardroom learned how to do just that.
Shanie Levin, Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver (JSA) coordinator of the event, called Aging in Place, welcomed everyone. Co-hosted with the JCC Seniors, the session – which was moderated by Donna Cantor, senior outreach counselor at Jewish Family Service Agency – featured a panel of experts on the subject.
The first to speak was Debbie Sharp, field supervisor for the United Way’s Better at Home program, which offers support by paid staff and unpaid volunteers for seniors 55 and older who want to remain at home while aging, with the ability and dignity to do so. The United Way offers programs that are funded by the B.C. government in up to 68 communities across the province, and can offer help in a range of non-medical services on a sliding fee scale. Some programs are even offered at no charge.
The specific services offered reflect the different needs of each community, explained Sharp. Among those offered are yard work, minor home repair, light housekeeping, grocery shopping, friendly visiting, snow shoveling, and transport to appointments. The program is intended to help seniors play an active role in their communities and continue living at home surrounded by family and friends.
The next panelist was Julie Hirschmanner, occupational therapist at Vancouver Coastal Health, who listed ways in which seniors can stay at home safely. VCH can provide the services of health-care providers such as nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and care managers to help with bathing. Hirschmanner recommended equipment that would make each step of aging easier – grab bars and raised toilet seats, for example – and general advice. In stressing that prevention is the best tool seniors themselves can use, she listed certain hazards we tend to overlook in prevention of falls: rushing to get things done, rising too quickly from a seated position, getting overtired, carrying too much in both hands so being unable to use rails, climbing onto furniture to reach for things, wearing slippers with no backs (hence, no support), dimly lit areas, incorrect or overuse of medication, and clutter in pathways or stairs. She also reminded attendees that people can call 911 if they have fallen and cannot get up, and highly recommended a medical-alert bracelet if one lives alone.
The JSA’s Charles Leibovitch spoke about the many important services offered by JSA peer support counseling graduates, who have passed an intensive 11-week training course. This program, initiated by JSA and set up by Leibovitch in 2011, offers peer counseling, in which trained individuals are matched up with clients requiring the service; friendly home visits, which involve a trained graduate visiting the home of a senior, usually one who is too frail to venture out on their own, and assisting them with shopping, light errands, banking or getting to medical appointments; Shalom Again friendly phone calls, where the loneliness and isolation of individuals is alleviated by someone keeping in touch with them on a daily, weekly, bimonthly or monthly basis. It is important to allow time for conversation, some socialization and perhaps even to encourage a slow reintroduction into community activities. These services are at no cost to the client receiving them.
There have been three graduating peer-counseling classes, with about 13-15 graduates in each. A new class is underway and there are 30 clients at present, with a waiting list. The clients are matched with the counselors, and followed up by Leibovitch and Lynne Moss, his assistant, after the initial introduction. The client also receives Leibovitch’s cellphone number to be used if anything urgent arises. Cantor remarked that she has met many happy clients of these match-ups.
Lisa de Silva, a private occupational therapist, spoke next. Her four staff offer the services required pre- and post-surgery, and can be booked as needed, and not on an ongoing basis, as this type of care can be quite costly – though it may be covered partially by Blue Cross or another insurance provider. De Silva and her staff also offer general at-home care services – and, between them, they speak four different languages, which may be helpful to non-native-English-speakers in times of stress.
The last presenter, Devorah Goldberg, is an interior designer. Specializing in design for seniors, she incorporates function and beauty, using ergonomics to ensure that each client has a home best suited to his or her needs. Her suggestions include cupboards built lower down, no gas stove, labeling items or color-coding them so they are easily identifiable, sensor lamps beside the bed, a large dial phone with numbers (and even the faces) of dear ones for speed dialing, grab bars in the bathtub and by the toilet, extra shelves to house toiletries within easy reach, and no soft sofas (as it is too difficult to stand up once seated).
JCC Seniors coordinator Leah Deslauriers, who contributed her wonderful sense of humor throughout the presentations, thanked the panelists and presented each of them with a token of appreciation on behalf of the organizers and attendees. Many questions were asked during the presentations, which showed the audience’s keen interest in the topics that were being discussed.
Binny Goldman is a member of the Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver board.
Dr. Charles Kaplan and Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan. (photo from Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan)
The small group meeting to pray and learn in living-rooms in the late 1970s and early 1980s couldn’t have known for certain that their community would survive to grow into a 200-family congregation, but they did know that they’d helped start something special. That much was apparent from the start.
This year, Or Shalom, the outgrowth of that small group, celebrates 36 years, but will also say goodbye to its current spiritual leader, Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan. She and her husband, Charles Kaplan, arrived in Vancouver in 2005, encountering a vibrant and energetic Jewish Renewal congregation, with a permanent home on East 10th at Fraser Street – and an already storied history.
Rabbi Daniel Siegel who co-founded Or Shalom with his wife and partner, Hanna Tiferet Siegel, was in 1974 the first person to receive smicha (rabbinic ordination) from Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of the Jewish Renewal movement. Today, Siegel is director of spiritual resources for ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, where he also serves as associate dean of the ordination programs, chair of the rabbinic texts department and rabbinic director of ALEPH Canada. From his Gulf Island home, Siegel described the congregation’s early evolution, and what makes Renewal’s approach resonate today.
“We consciously chose Vancouver, Hanna and I, as a place to move to because we wanted to start a congregation and we wanted to see whether the things that made us newly excited about our Judaism were things that other people would respond to, other people who were also disenchanted or disconnected, so we were looking for a place to do that.”
About a year after arriving here, the Siegels’ vision took root. “We started the second year that we lived in Richmond, in 1978. We started what was then called the Hillel Minyan, and we would meet once a month on Friday night and the following Shabbos morning,” he said.
With help from friends, the Siegels were able to put a down payment on a home on West 22nd Avenue and started leading Shabbat morning services in their living-room. The name was changed to Havurat Sim Shalom. Over the next several years, services were held in participants’ living-rooms, rented homes and on the University of British Columbia campus. The Siegels worked in partnership, Daniel taking leadership of more traditional aspects, he recalled, and Hanna Tiferet on the creative expressions. In that way, there were various access points for participants.
“The intention was that we wanted to create something that gave ownership to people very quickly,” he explained. “So, Torah discussions, which could be done in English, and pesukei d’zimrah, which could basically be some melodies bridged by reading … were open to almost anybody as soon as they wanted to try it. And then there was leading shacharit and reading Torah, which required traditional skills, which meant that people had to decide to improve their Hebrew or whatever they needed to do. I think that was always intentional…. The motto of Havurat Sim Shalom was ‘traditional, egalitarian, creative,’ that’s what we called it.”
Harley Rothstein was a member of the young community. In an essay he wrote in 2000 about the history of Or Shalom, he shared some of those experiences. “I attended the minyan for the first time in January 1980. Entering the Siegels’ house on 22nd Avenue I was instantly struck by the enthusiastic participation. I enjoyed the meditative quality of the service in which some prayers were highlighted and certain lines repeated. I noticed a number of beautiful and unfamiliar melodies. I appreciated the depth of thought and extent of participation in the Torah discussion. I was surprised by the leadership shown by the women (I learned later that I had walked into a special women’s Shabbat). The physical layout was fascinating. Almost all participants were sitting on the floor, crowded into a limited space (Hanna’s enormous loom took up about one third of the living-room). I was delighted by the potluck lunch afterwards with the kind of vegetarian and whole foods that I had eaten for years. I was impressed by the energy and spirit of this small group and immediately became a regular participant.”
“The early days of Or Shalom were an adventure for those who were involved. Many of us were discovering a Judaism [that] we didn’t imagine could be so rich and meaningful. We were young and these were, for the most part, uncharted waters.”
Later he wrote, “The early days of Or Shalom were an adventure for those who were involved. Many of us were discovering a Judaism [that] we didn’t imagine could be so rich and meaningful. We were young and these were, for the most part, uncharted waters. We were drawn together as friends and held together by inspired leadership. What made it work was that we honored the centuries-old wisdom of the Jewish tradition while at the same time honoring our own creativity and insight, as well as our commitment to deeply held political values, such as gender equality, social justice and peace.”
By the time the Siegels left for Hanover, N.H., in 1987, Or Shalom was already on firm footing and, though it was still small and mostly consisting of friends, its early success encouraged mainstream congregations to reconsider some of what they wanted to offer. “I think Or Shalom served the function of being a kind of presence that encouraged a bit of ferment in the community, which I think was good because supposedly people cared about the fact that so many young people were not connecting … and they wanted them to connect,” Siegel said. “When we actually got them to connect, I think people had mixed feelings about that success.”
The tension between tradition and creativity was the defining feature. “The most important thing in my mind about what Hanna and I were trying to set up was a community that would be experimental and traditional at the same time,” he explained. “What Zalman called ‘backwards compatibility.’ The creativity that we do is compatible with what we inherited. That still is a very important thing to me. That’s why I do halachic thinking…. In my mind, what was really innovative about Or Shalom as we envisioned it was that combination of a creativity [that] was backwards compatibility, which was loyal to the tradition … both in the sense that we respected what we inherited and we also respected that we inherited a tradition of creativity…. I would say that was the challenge that we faced when we started it, and it would be the challenge that I would hope Or Shalom would look to finding ways to face and play with over the next 36 years.”
“Renewal does not seek to be a denomination. And that’s a big difference. We’re more like an association of like-minded people whose primary relationship to Judaism is through an unfolding relationship with the Divine. And so we don’t have creedal or halachic requirements for belonging, we don’t have any exclusionary clauses – like if you belong to us you can’t belong to something else – so that our clergy association has in it rabbis from all across the Jewish spectrum.”
Today, Renewal communities have sprung up all over North America – and beyond, Siegel said. “We have strong connections in Brazil, we have some people in Costa Rica now, we have a small hevre in Germany and in Amsterdam and in Stockholm, less so in England. And in Israel.” This growth can be attributed to the fact that “Renewal does not seek to be a denomination. And that’s a big difference. We’re more like an association of like-minded people whose primary relationship to Judaism is through an unfolding relationship with the Divine. And so we don’t have creedal or halachic requirements for belonging, we don’t have any exclusionary clauses – like if you belong to us you can’t belong to something else – so that our clergy association has in it rabbis from all across the Jewish spectrum.”
Duhan Kaplan, who has now been Or Shalom’s spiritual leader for nearly a decade, warmly described her first days with Or Shalom and her plans to continue participating in the congregation and wider Jewish community. “When Charles and I first came to Vancouver, we fell utterly, totally in love with Or Shalom – and East Vancouver. None of that has changed; if anything, it has intensified. Every week day, I appreciate Vancouver’s combination of natural beauty, access to urban services and perpetually green foliage. I especially love the winter mist and fresh air. With every Shabbat gathering at Or Shalom, I get cumulatively more relaxed. I worry less about logistics, and appreciate more deeply the way that singing, studying, shmoozing and celebrating life events together creates spiritual community. Leading the service has become a spiritual high for me; I take note of who is there, try to connect with them in thought and feeling, and help uplift the group with words and music.”
Growing up in New York, Duhan Kaplan said her “childhood experiences of Judaism were all positive: a large social circle, Orthodox synagogue, Conservative Jewish day school and Hebrew-speaking summer camp.” A self-described book addict, she graduated from university with plans to be an educator.
“My own education is ongoing; I’m in love with school,” she said. “I have a BA in philosophy from Brandeis, an MEd in adult education from Cambridge College Institute of Open Education, a two-year certificate in ayurvedic yoga from the New Life Centre, a PhD in philosophy and education from Claremont Graduate University, rabbinic ordination from ALEPH … a graduate certificate in spiritual direction from Vancouver School of Theology; and I’m currently taking graduate courses in depth psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Honestly, I’m pretty tired: for 33 years, I’ve been working full time, going to school and raising children – without nannies or extended family, but with a great marital partnership and an organized household.”
After spending several years as a philosophy professor, Duhan Kaplan said she was looking for something new. “My leadership role in our local havurah and my powerful dreams and conversations with God led me to deeper Jewish study. I found [ALEPH]’s ordination program, a hybrid distance-learning/residential program, with an emphasis on kabbalah, just right for a philosopher juggling work, family and school. In 2005, I received smicha, moved to Vancouver and started to work at Or Shalom.”
She is inspired by and proud of her accomplishments during her tenure, including the year-long Exploring Judaism course, her experiences working closely with bar and bat mitzvah students and the more “personal moments in pastoral care, where I witness people’s reserves of strength and courage. I may be exhausted a lot of the time, but I never, ever feel my work lacks meaning.”
“Our founder, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, was a master at using creative techniques to disrupt routine thinking and engage the whole person in discovery. He urges us to respond to changing social questions using traditional Jewish resources, recognizing how diverse and evolutionary Judaism has always been. As a teacher, he has empowered Jewish intellectuals, artists, environmental activists and more; his influence can be felt across all Jewish movements.”
Renewal’s orientation towards Judaism and life provides a vehicle to chart a satisfying course, she noted. “Renewal is spiritual and socially liberal. Following the early Chassidic teachers, we explore the inner spiritual journey of Jewish life. We take seriously life’s existential questions and we fully expect Judaism to help us answer them. To stimulate our souls, we study, sing, make art and have fun. Our founder, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, was a master at using creative techniques to disrupt routine thinking and engage the whole person in discovery. He urges us to respond to changing social questions using traditional Jewish resources, recognizing how diverse and evolutionary Judaism has always been. As a teacher, he has empowered Jewish intellectuals, artists, environmental activists and more; his influence can be felt across all Jewish movements.”
Judaism’s evolutionary character resonates with those who haven’t fit into more mainstream Jewish life. “Or Shalom is really a community of seekers. Our members are deeply committed to Judaism, but they don’t participate out of a sense of obligation,” she explained. “Each person is genuinely and self-consciously on a path of spiritual and moral growth. Of course, we are all at different places on our path. But this self-awareness really makes working relationships easier; people reflect, reach out across conflict, and grow the community.”
Though the time has come to move on from synagogue leadership, Duhan Kaplan doesn’t plan to stop being a teacher. “Charles keeps reminding me to take some down time, but my normal way of living is to be working, going to school and volunteering. Next year, I’ll be working part time, teaching three graduate courses each at the ALEPH seminary and the Vancouver School of Theology. I’ll continue to take courses in Jungian psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute and I have agreed to a big volunteer project for Ohalah: Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal. I hope to do some cat transportation for VOKRA, Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue. Yes, I’ll still be blogging! And I hope to put the finishing touches on the animal book.
“Of all the roles I play, educator still resonates most deeply,” she continued. “When I’m teaching, I can be scholar, deep listener and interpersonal facilitator all at once. I have to be well prepared and flexible at the same time. And I get to play with different learning modalities, as we explore really deep ideas in ways that work for the learners.
“Or Shalom is a wonderfully musical community and the congregational singing (without musical instruments) on Shabbos morning is utterly awe inspiring! It has been a joy to introduce new melodies to this community because they will join in with enthusiasm in singing absolutely anything, even adding beautiful harmonies.”
A Pittsburgh native who grew up in “a relatively non-observant, culturally Jewish-identified home,” Charles Kaplan said that he “began to rediscover and explore my Jewish (religious) roots in my 30s and this accelerated exponentially after Laura and I met.” A multi-instrumentalist, he and his wife have continued the tradition of making music a large part of the service. “Or Shalom is a wonderfully musical community and the congregational singing (without musical instruments) on Shabbos morning is utterly awe inspiring! It has been a joy to introduce new melodies to this community because they will join in with enthusiasm in singing absolutely anything, even adding beautiful harmonies,” he said.
And though he often gets asked by others about being the rabbi’s husband, he said “Or Shalomniks are far too comfortable with egalitarianism to even think the question! Usually, it’s asked with a clever smile, ‘You know the wife of the rabbi is the rebbetzin. What do they call the husband of the rabbi?’ My standard answer is ‘Around here they call me “the hubbetzen!”’ In all seriousness, supporting the rabbi’s work as a spouse is a challenging responsibility regardless of gender.” Among other contributions, “I’ve gotten myself involved in davening, musical events, ritual committee and even building maintenance! All with ‘ivdu et Hashem b’simcha!’”
Pat Gill and David Kauffman are co-chairs of the board of directors, and spoke to the JI about reaching the double-chai milestone. Or Shalom “occupies a unique place in Vancouver Jewish life,” said Kauffman, who first discovered the congregation in 1985. “Firmly committed to inclusiveness, we make efforts to invite and engage everyone who wants to explore, or return to Jewish life and Jewish community, regardless of their background…. As a participatory shul, most Shabbat services are different each week, portions of davening and reading Torah and Haftorah by a significant percentage of the congregation.”
Gill said she heard about Or Shalom “20 years ago when my husband and I were planning to move here from Seattle. A friend said we should check it out; we’d like it. She was so right. Our first event was High Holidays, 1994, and we were hooked!”
Both agree that Duhan Kaplan has “set the bar high” for the next rabbi. “Reb Laura has brought to Or Shalom a high level of insight, analysis of text, and ability to teach,” said Gill. “As well, her davening and leyning are exceptionally musical and beautiful…. I believe Reb Laura was the first female congregational rabbi in B.C. Her knowledge, intellect and desire to work with the greater Jewish community in Vancouver have earned respect for her and, I believe, for female rabbis in general, as women become more accepted in the role of pulpit rabbi.”
Kauffman seconded that praise. “Reb Laura has brought the aspects of Jewish life that Or Shalom dreamed of in a rabbi. Teaching that draws from rabbinic tradition and modern philosophy, davening that reflects musical influences both traditional and more recent, such as those taught by Reb Shlomo Carlebach and others. For the greater Vancouver Jewish community, Reb Laura is known for her courses all around the Lower Mainland, including Talmud Torah, Vancouver School of Theology, Melton Institute and the most recent Limmud Vancouver. We expect that Reb Laura will continue to teach in her many ways in and around Vancouver even after she leaves the role of Or Shalom’s full-time spiritual leader.”
For now, the search for an interim rabbi continues. “We’ve embarked on a rabbi search mission, one based on the thorough process that gave us such excellent results 10 years ago,” said Kauffman. “We’re looking for an interim rabbi for about a year, and posting a larger search for a full-time rabbi to start in the summer of 2015. Our process will eventually bring the committee’s three top choices to Vancouver for Shabbaton-like interviews, after which a community process will help us find the best match.”
Or Shalom’s 36th anniversary celebration features entertainment by Tzimmes and Grand Trine, on March 1, 7:30 p.m., at VanDusen Botanical Garden. Tickets at 604-872-1614 or [email protected].
Dudu Tassa & the Kuwaitis will play at Vancouver FanClub on March 9. (photo from Chutzpah!)
The 2012 Vancouver Jewish Film Festival brought Dudu Tassa to local audiences – on film. The 2014 Chutzpah! Festival is bringing Tassa to the city again – in person.
Dudu Tassa & the Kuwaitis will play at Vancouver FanClub on March 9. Tassa, on vocals and guitar, will be joined by Nir Maimon (bass guitar), Neta Shani Cohen (cello), Eyal Yonati (computer), Barak Kram (drums) and Ariel Qasus (qanun). They will perform “Iraq ’n’ roll” – not coincidentally the name of the documentary that screened at VJFF.
Gili Gaon’s film Iraq ’n’ Roll followed Tassa as the rock musician/composer reconnected to his musical roots: specifically, as he gathered information about his grandfather and great-uncle, Daoud and Saleh al-Kuwaiti, respectively, who were famous musicians in Iraq in the 1930s. When they emigrated to Israel in the 1950s, they were unable to make a living as musicians and their music was all but forgotten. That is, until Tassa set about discovering more about his cultural heritage.
In addition to the film, Tassa’s 2011 release – Dudu Tassa and the al-Kuwaitis – reinterprets the al-Kuwaiti brothers’ work in a contemporary context. On the album, Tassa “sings their songs in Arabic and Hebrew, and integrates Iraqi, Middle Eastern and Israeli rock music.” The album features archival materials from the Kuwaitis and “integrates a variety of styles and guests, among them Yehudit Ravitz and Barry Sakharov. Tassa’s mother and Yair Dalal also take part in this exciting project.”
Tassa grew up in Ramat Hasharon, in central Israel, close to Tel Aviv. “I started out by playing the guitar and singing at a young age,” he told the Independent in an e-mail interview. “I was noticed, and realized that this was what I wanted to do in my life and went in that direction. Growing up, my musical taste changed but, in my heart, I will always be a rocker. At home, my mum listened to mostly Arabic music when my dad was out of the house. The general idea was to become ‘Israeli’ and to listen to Hebrew music.”
Tassa put out his first album when he was only 13 years old. He described the genre of the music on that recording as “more oriental singing. I then turned towards rock and, by 2000, I was a singer/songwriter. I joined many productions and became a requested guitar player. I played for many years on a famous TV show with a comedian – that’s how I earned the money to finance my own material.”
His second album came out in 2000 and his third, Out of Choice in 2003, includes a version of “Fug el-Nahal,” which his grandfather and great-uncle used to perform; the song also appears on Tassa’s 2004 album Exactly on Time. While the al-Kuwaiti brothers did not write the song, they performed it, and the song represents Tassa’s first foray into interpreting and performing that type of music, sung in Arabic.
“My grandfather and his brother, Daoud and Saleh al-Kuwaiti, were great composers coming from Kuwait to Iraq. They composed many songs, which spread in popularity throughout the entire Middle East. The sultan in Iraq in the ’40s appointed them to start the National Broadcasting Orchestra and they composed, played and recorded for many years, until they emigrated to Israel in the ’50s.
“My grandfather and his brother, Daoud and Saleh al-Kuwaiti, were great composers coming from Kuwait to Iraq,” explained Tassa of what he discovered in his research. “They composed many songs, which spread in popularity throughout the entire Middle East. The sultan in Iraq in the ’40s appointed them to start the National Broadcasting Orchestra and they composed, played and recorded for many years, until they emigrated to Israel in the ’50s.
“I am named after my grandfather Daoud (David); Dudu is a short name for David,” he added. “My grandfather died just when my mum was pregnant with me.
“I had always heard of my grandparents and the dark side of it was that, when arriving to Israel, they had to make their living out of other things and could not support themselves with music. I was aware of it always, but didn’t deal with it.”
He has since dealt with it, of course, and he is continuing his family’s musical legacy with his current work. About that, he said, “In a way, I guess, it keeps their names alive. In Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s period, the composers’ names were deleted on all the compositions (because of their Jewish heritage), and now the world again recognizes them. Also in Iraq, a few years ago, Iraqi musicologists on TV recognized the Kuwaitis to be the most important composers of modern Iraqi music.”
Tassa is also a record producer, he has composed music for film and TV, and has even tried his hand at acting, which was “a truly new experience” for him – he played a Syrian prisoner in Samuel Maoz’s 2009 film Lebanon.
“I am currently working on a new album,” he said, sharing with the Independent that he still gets “excited each time before the release … like a child.”
Dudu Tassa & the Kuwaitis’ appearance at the Chutzpah! Festival is the first of a tour. “We continue to New York – the Jewish Heritage Museum, where they also have an interesting exhibition on Iraqi Jewry – then to Boston, South by Southwest showcases in Austin and, finally, San Francisco.”
About how musical performance has changed since his grandfather and great-uncle took to the stage, Tassa said, “The fact that we can use the computer, and involve recordings inside a live performance, does change a lot.
“As for the audience, I think they will judge good music and bad music so, in that sense, maybe nothing has changed. As a matter of performance, it’s the same. Either you’ve got it on stage or not. I think that although we try to impress [people] with great lights and sounds, it all comes down to if the listener is moved or not.”
Vancouver FanClub is at 1050 Granville St. The March 9 show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets ($25/$30 plus taxes and fees) are available at chutzpahfestival.com, as is the full festival schedule.