בימים אלה של המגפה שלא מרפה מחיינו החלטתי שהגיע הזמן לעשות בדיקה לגלות באם חליתי בקורונה. הבדיקה נעשית במהירות לאחר תהליך רישום קצר במבנה של מערכת הבריאות המקומית, שאגב נמצא במרחק של פחות מעשר דקות הליכה מביתי בדאון טאון ונקובר.
הרגשתי כמעט בוודאות שהתוצאות הבדיקה יהיו שליליות ולא טעיתי. האחות הכניסה מקלון מצופה בצמר גפן עמוק לנחיר השמאלי של האף שלי וההרגשה הייתה מאוד לא נעימה. היא ספרה עשר שניות והוציאה את מקלון הבדיקה לרווחתי. לאחר מכן עזבתי את המקום במהירות והמתנתי בדריכות לצואות הרשמיות. כעבור בערך כעשרים וארבע שעות קיבלתי הודעת אס-אם-אס ממערכת הבריאות כי תוצאת בדיקת הקורונה שעשיתי היא שלילית. לאחר מכן בנוסף קיבלתי שיחת טלפון מעובדת מערכת הבריאות שאשררה את הודעת האס-אם-סם ואמרה לי שוב שתוצאות של הבדיקה שליליות.
שמחתי מאוד לדעת שלמרות שלמעלה משנה של מגפה, הצלחתי לשמור על עצמי ולהימנע מלהיבדק בחיידק הנורא הזה. יש לזכור שנושא הקורונה הוא מאוד רגיש עבורי, בעיקר כיוון שאבי נדבק בחיידק ולאחר כשבועיים נפטר ממנו. אבי בן התשעים ואחת היה חולה ונחלש מאוד בחודשים האחרונים. בסוף חודש ינואר השנה הוא אושפז בבית החולים איכילוב שבתל אביב שלא רחוק מבית הורי. בבית החולים הוא נדבק בקורונה ולאחר כשבועיים נפטר מסיבוכים קשים. הרגשתי מקרוב את הנזקים האיומים שמגפת הקורונה עושה לנו, לחיינו, לקרובים כמו גם לרחוקים. אני לצערי לא יכולתי לעזוב את ונקובר ולהגיע להלווייתו שהתקיימה בבית הקברות האזרחי של קיבוץ מעלי החמישה שליד ירושלים, בגלל שקשה היה מאוד לטוס מכאן בעת הזו. לפחות שתיים-שלוש עצירות בדרך ואני הייתי צריך אז בנוסף לקבל אישור מיוחד ממשלת ישראל להגיע להלוויה. לאחר מכן היה עלי להיכנס לסגר באיזה שהיא מלונית בישראל למשך כשבועיים ימים. ובחזרה לקנדה הייתי צריך לעבור הליך סיוטי דומה. החלטנו לכן במשפחתי שלא אטוס. זו הייתה החלטה קשה אך מתבקשת בימים אלה.
לאחר שכאמור בדיקת הקורונה שלי הייתה שלילית הדפסתי את התוצאות במקרה ומישהו יזדקק לראות את המסמך מקרוב. מבחינתי קיבלתי אור ירוק לצאת לחופשה קלה במחוז שלי בריטיש קולומביה, לאחר חודשים ארוכים של שהייה בבית. מצאתי דיל טוב וזול לעיר הבירה של המחוז ויקטוריה, וטסתי לשם לשלושה לילות בסך הכול. לקחתי מלון בדאון טאון ויקטוריה במיקום מצוין וגם לא היה יקר מדי. הגעתי ביום חמישי אחר הצהריים ועזבתי בחזרה לוונקובר בראשון בבוקר. הטיסות אגב בוצעו במטוסי הים הנוחתים במים, כך שפגשתי מעט נוסעים בטרמינלים הקטנים בוונקובר ובוויקטוריה, וגם בטיסות עצמן.
בוויקטוריה סידרתי לעצמי סדר יום עמוס בכל שלושת ימי השהות שלי בעיר היפה והשקטה הזו. עם הנחיתה ביום חמישי אחר הצהריים, הלכתי ברגל מהמלון לגלריה לאמנות שבעיר. התרשמתי מעבודות סיניות ויפניות במיוחד. בערב אכלתי במסעדה המקומית הצופה אל המים.
בשישי בבוקר יצאתי לבקר במוזיאון הימי הקרוב לית המלון. לא התרשמתי יותר מיד ממה שראיתי ולאחר מספר דקות עברתי לגן החיות לחרקים שדווקא מאוד עניין אותי. לראשונה ראיתי מול עיני עשרות חרקים ממינים שונים בתוך בתי זכוכית גדולים. חלקם נחים בעצלות והחלק האחר לא מפסיק לנוע. ההסברים מהמדריך המקומי היו מאלפים.
לאחר מכן ביקרתי בגלריית באטמן הקרובה לבית הפרלמנט של המחוז. הוצגו שם תערוכות של צילומים וציורים של נופים ובעלי חיים. היה מאוד מעניין ומרשים לצפות בהן.
Hagit Yaso, who was part of Metro Vancouver’s celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut in 2014, is among the Israeli performers who will be joining the online event this year. (photo from hagityaso.com/en/home)
The Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and its 46 community partners, which includes the Jewish Independent, will be marking Israel’s 73rd birthday with a virtual celebration April 14 at 7:30 p.m. This year’s special hour-long event will include performances by both Israeli and local artists, as well as some surprises.
For the past 17 years, Federation has joined forces with Eti Lam, a Tel Aviv producer who specializes in bringing Israeli artists to Jewish communities around the world.
“Producing an event like Israel’s Independence Day requires lots of work and long-term collaboration between the community and myself,” Lam told the Independent. “It usually starts with searching for the right artist that is happy to come to Vancouver on this special date, building a suitable show, rehearsing it back in Israel, and many more activities. And, as with everything, the price should be right to the budget.”
This can take time, she confessed. “Some years, it took the Federation team and me a whole year to find and deliver the right show.”
With the pandemic, things are even more challenging, but the situation also offers a unique opportunity.
“Considering the COVID-19 limitations, we couldn’t meet in the concert hall,” said Lam. “Still, the show must go on. We approached multiple artists that performed in Vancouver in the past and the responses were amazing, so we’ll get to celebrate together this year, too. The performance will be broadcast online, without compromising the uniqueness and festivity of Israel’s Independence Day.”
Lam lauded the Vancouver audience, calling it “truly one of a kind, special and unique.”
“Every year,” she said, “1,200 people gathered together to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day with an Israeli artist. Being able to produce this event year over year for the last 17 years has been a great privilege. It’s been successful thanks to the close relationship with the incredible people in the Federation and in the community. Whenever I arrived in Vancouver, I felt that I had returned to celebrate with a close group of my friends, part of a warm and loving community. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the Federation and community members for their help, support and partnership over the years.”
The evening lineup is set to include various dance groups and artists, as well as students from Richmond Jewish Day School (RJDS) and Vancouver Talmud Torah singing the Canadian and Israeli national anthems. Local talents Orr Chadash, Orr Atid, Duo Orr and Grade 6 dancers from RJDS will join Israeli artists Yoni Rechter, Nurit Galron, Hagit Yaso, Micha Bitton and Shlomit Aharon for the broadcast. This year’s event will also feature a community Koolulam-style video, a version of “Bashana Haba’ah” in which different members of the community sing a line, a verse or the chorus.
Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations go back a long way in Vancouver, though prior to 2002 they were done at a slightly smaller scale, with the exception of Israel’s 50th anniversary in 1998 at the Orpheum. This year, because a plethora of virtual (and worldwide) programs, events and webinars have led to “Zoom fatigue,” Federation decided to “go local” and highlight community talents.
To even localize the Israeli component, Federation invited the Israeli artists, who have performed here before in person on Yom Ha’atzmaut, to dedicate a song to the community. Additionally, organizers have promised a surprise that they feel confident will go down well with the community.
Emceeing this year’s event will be JCC sports coordinator Kyle Berger, who also is a stand-up comedian, and King David High School counselor Lu Winters.
“Once we realized COVID restrictions weren’t going to allow Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman to do it, we were hoping we’d be asked,” said Berger. “The fact that it’ll be on Zoom means they’ll be able to make us look fitter and younger than we actually are, which is another awesome perk.”
Berger and Winters, along with a handful of staff and crew, will be filming and streaming the show from a production studio in Burnaby. “But, when we close our eyes, we will be live from Israel,” said Berger.
“Thankfully, we will both be there doing the show together and will be able to feed off of each other’s energy and nerves. Of course, we will still be 6.13 feet apart while filming,” assured Berger, who has worked with Winters before, as co-delegation heads for the JCC Maccabi Games.
He vowed that “everyone should expect an incredibly fun evening celebrating our community’s special connection with Israel, especially our unique relationship with our partnership region in the Galilee Panhandle. Think Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve meets the Academy Awards – produced by the same number of Jews, but with less famous hosts.”
Nava, Omnitsky and the Perfect Bite are all offering special Yom Ha’atzmaut menus for April 14. Register at jewishvancouver.com/yh2021 to join the celebration.
Also on April 14, the Jewish Federation of Victoria and Vancouver Island will be hosting a small program via Zoom with an Israeli-themed picnic. Registrants will be able to pick up their meal (drive-through) and enjoy it while participating in the Zoom program. To register, send an email to [email protected].
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
Dr. Claude Romney speaking to students pre-COVID. (photo from Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre)
For many years, people dedicated to educating about the Holocaust and its moral lessons have been adapting to new realities. The declining number of survivors and the need to preserve their eyewitness testimony has necessitated innovative means of conveying these lessons to successive generations. As a result of these preparations, organizations like the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC) have been remarkably prepared to continue their work despite the limitations imposed by a global pandemic.
Dr. Claude Romney has been sharing her wartime experiences with younger audiences for several years. Her father, Dr. Jacques Lewin, was arrested in Paris at the end of 1941 and was among the first prisoners transported to Auschwitz. While Romney and her mother survived the war in southern France, evading numerous close calls, her father survived the most notorious Nazi camp because his skills were useful to the Nazis – he was a doctor who was put into service at the camp. Romney has researched and spoken about the experiences of her father and other “prisoner-doctors.”
Since the pandemic began, Romney has done two virtual presentations to schools and, while she wishes the talks could be in person, she is grateful that the technology exists to allow them to happen at all.
“I personally, and I think the other survivors who continue to talk to students online, have to be grateful both to the [Vancouver] Holocaust Education Centre and, of course, most of all, to the teachers who still get in touch and haven’t given up,” she said. “It’s something which could easily have fallen by the wayside. I think it’s very fortunate that teachers are dedicated enough to continue.”
A year and counting into the pandemic, Romney said the global upheaval could have led to lost opportunities.
“We feel there is some urgency because we’re not getting any younger,” she said. “It’s very important.”
The online events differ, depending on the audience. Some classes that are still meeting in person are set up so that the speaker sees the teacher but not the entire class. When classes are virtual, the speaker is one of many faces on a Zoom call.
“This would never have been possible for students 15 years ago, 10 years ago maybe even,” Romney said. “It makes a big difference because, of course, there are books and articles, but it’s not the same as hearing somebody tell their personal stories.”
While the survivor speakers are talking about their past, the lessons they aim to impart are for the present and future.
“I think it’s vital that the new generations know about what happened because it’s up to them to prevent this kind of thing from happening again,” she said. “And to understand that it’s vital to be tolerant of other people who may be different in some ways because they come from different cultures, different religions. It’s a cautionary tale really.”
Ashley Ross has been teaching a course in genocide studies at Aldergrove Community Secondary School for four years. She can attest that students make connections between the present and the past – and that relevance has been honed more sharply in the past couple of years.
“When I first started teaching it, it was very hard for them to understand the German context of that era,” she said, noting that she was challenged to demonstrate the “slippery slope” of hatred, fear and scapegoating. Sadly, students understand that phenomenon better than just a few years ago. “Right now, they are immediately seeing connections and understanding and seeing it play out in their current world.… More than ever, the lessons of the power of propaganda and the fear and the scapegoating are really resonating in our world. It’s through those historical lessons that we are better equipped to process what we’re currently facing.”
She maintains that the survivor speakers’ virtual events are every bit as powerful on the students as an in-person one. She even sees a benefit in the fact that, when they know they can’t be seen by the speaker, students may be more open with their emotional responses.
“Because the Holocaust survivor is only looking at my face rather than their faces, I find that it’s often more raw for the students. In a large auditorium, it doesn’t have that same personal impact,” said Ross, who has led a student trip to Europe that included a visit to Auschwitz.
Sharing firsthand accounts with young generations puts a human face to a part of history that is enormous in scope and perhaps remote in time from the perspective of a teenager.
“I think there’s a sense of honour to have a direct connection to this history that sometimes feels so far away,” she said. “It’s a reminder that it isn’t so far away. I think it’s really impactful to hear first-person accounts [about] something that can get so bogged down in huge numbers.”
Dr. Ilona Shulman Spaar, education director and curator at the VHEC, acknowledges that her team did not know what to expect when the pandemic began a year ago. At the same time, the remote delivery of programs and resources that was necessary due to COVID was something for which the centre was already prepared. Not only were Holocaust survivors and other educators delivering virtual talks to student groups in remote parts of British Columbia, a vast digitization process over the past several years has made much of the centre’s collections accessible online, including artifacts, documents, written testimonies and videos.
“In a way, that’s nothing new for us,” she said.
Some research requests saw an uptick as teachers encouraged students to undertake individualized projects – and because the revised provincial curriculum also emphasizes “self-directed learning.”
The VHEC also saw an increase in donations of artifacts and documents. This may be because people are spending more time at home and deciding to clean out attics and closets. Shulman Spaar also thinks people may have a little more time to read the communications they send to supporters, which often include appeals for family records and other items.
Echoing the Aldergrove teacher, Shulman Spaar thinks another factor for increased interest in the VHEC’s programs and resources may be due to current events. Political situations in the United States and around the world, the increased awareness of violence against minority communities and other topics in the news daily underscore the relevance of the organization’s work.
“Ultimately, we are an anti-racism-based Holocaust education centre,” she said. “If you look at what’s going on, it does seem very relevant at the moment.”
There were challenges in rapidly scaling the delivery of virtual programs to more groups. Docents, educators and survivor speakers had to learn the new technologies and adapt their messages to the medium.
Conversely, there have been silver linings. Some survivors who, for health or mobility reasons, could not present their testimonies in person have been able to do so virtually. As capacity has grown for delivering programs remotely, so have requests. The VHEC has welcomed invitations from other provinces, as well as schools in northern British Columbia and other remote parts of the province where survivors are unlikely to visit.
Moreover, said Shulman Spaar, some participants have commented that seeing survivors in their own homes, rather than on a stage, is unexpectedly powerful.
“It’s not the same as an in-person encounter,” she acknowledged, “but, also, hearing the speaker speaking from her or his living room, it’s a different intimate situation that happens. Yes, there is this screen still, but some students and teachers comment how they feel very close and it feels like an intimate encounter rather than being in a big hall and on a stage.
With 13 parties in the Knesset – and several of those umbrellas encompassing a variety of factions – patching together a coalition will be a challenge. It may not be possible at all, meaning Israelis would see their fifth election within a little more than two years.
Whatever pileup of strange bedfellows eventually manages to form a government, one particular possibility should be especially disconcerting.
To enhance their chances of passing the electoral threshold, three far-right parties united under the banner of Religious Zionism and succeeded in taking six Knesset seats. The Religious Zionist party, led by Bezalel Smotrich, seeks to annex all (or part, depending on which faction you listen to) of the West Bank and adheres to a familiar litany of Israeli far-right policies.
For this round of elections, they partnered with another small faction, called Noam, whose platform ostensibly seeks to create a halachic theocracy. In practical terms, the party is obsessed with homosexuality and seeks to delegitimize LGBTQ+ Israelis and roll back legal protections and equality. In addition to attacking gay people, the party has equated Reform Jews with Nazis and Palestinian terrorists who “want to destroy us.”
The third rail in this extremist triumvirate is Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), which is a descendant of the outlawed racist party Kach, led by the American-born fanatic Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was assassinated in 1990.
When Kahane was in the Knesset, before a law was passed to bar overt racists from elected office, all other members of the assembly would walk out when he rose to rant against Arabs. In an eerie echo of the Nuremburg Laws, Kahane sought to legally prohibit sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews, among other far-reaching extreme positions.
An indication of the shifts in Israel’s body politic over the decades is evidenced by the fact that the incumbent prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, worked behind the scenes to get these small extremist factions to cooperate in order to reach the electoral threshold. While previous prime ministers – and every other member of the Knesset at the time – refused to listen to the hateful rhetoric of Kahane, this prime minister helped ensure his ideological successors would be represented in the Knesset.
It is bad enough that these ideas will be given a legitimacy they do not deserve by mere dint of their advocates being members of the Knesset. As a small rump of crazed zealots, they should be ignored and shunned. Instead, they will play a central role in the determination of who (if anyone) forms the next government.
It is worth recalling an incident in Austria, in 2000, when the xenophobic, racist and arguably neo-fascist Freedom Party, led by Jörg Haider, entered into a governing coalition in that country. The government of Austria to which Haider belonged was sanctioned and condemned by governments worldwide and other member-states of the European Union ceased cooperation with Austria’s government.
While the Abraham Accords have reduced Israel’s diplomatic isolation dramatically, the country still faces unjust judgment in the court of global opinion. If a new governing coalition includes a segment of enthusiastic homophobes, misogynists, racists and ethno-religious supremacists, a universe of denunciation would rain down on the country. And rightly so.
In what may be an irony of historical proportions, that ugly scenario could be prevented by another stunning development on the other end of the political (and ethno-cultural) spectrum.
A new Arab party, called Ra’am, has bolted from the conventions of the Arab political sector and adopted a pragmatic approach. Rather than the purely oppositional stands taken by the other Arab parties for decades, Ra’am seems prepared to play the game that small Jewish parties have excelled at. In a fractured political culture, the tail often wags the dog. Ra’am, led by Mansour Abbas, seems to understand the opportunity this presents. Strangely, this Arab religious party could find common cause with Jewish religious parties on issues like funding for parochial education and other community needs (as well as its apparently virulent hatred of homosexuality).
As the horse trading begins in earnest this week to patch together a quilt of some ideological consistency in the Knesset, Ra’am is sitting in one of the most enviable positions of potential power, possibly able to extract all sorts of treasures out of a leader desperate for their crucial four votes. The only thing they have explicitly ruled out is any situation that would enable groups like Religious Zionism, Otzma Yehudit and Noam.
How ironic it would be if Israel were saved from its own worst angels by an Arab political party that learned its capacity for power from watching the fringe elements on the other side of the Knesset.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, vote on March 23. While the prime minister’s party won the most number of seats in the Knesset, he will still struggle to form a government. (photo from IGPO)
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu makes a stunning deal with lawmakers to abandon his post and replace Reuven Rivlin as president of the country when the president’s term expires later this year. An agreement to pardon Netanyahu around corruption charges he currently faces is part of a deal that leads to Netanyahu ending his run as the country’s longest-serving leader. With “King Bibi” finally in a sinecure of symbolic eminence, the polarized Knesset manages to cobble together a coalition and stave off the fifth round of elections in two years.
This was one of the most fantastical possibilities mooted in a webinar presented by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) March 25, just two days after Israelis voted in the fourth of a series of elections during a two-year period of instability.
The panelists were CIJA’s chief executive officer Shimon Koffler Fogel and Adir Krafman, the agency’s associate director for communications and analytics. They sifted the entrails of the convoluted election outcome.
While ideological schisms divide Israeli politics, as does the secular-religious divide and other fractures, Fogel and Krafman concurred that the elephant in any discussion of the next Knesset is Netanyahu. CIJA is a nonpartisan organization and Fogel emphasized that the panelists, and moderator Tamara Fathi, were not advocating any outcomes, merely commenting on possibilities.
And the possibilities are almost endless. The vote sent 13 parties into the 120-seat Knesset. Some of these are not even parties, so much as umbrellas under which different factions coalesced for electoral purposes, so the mosaic of the chaotic chamber could refract in countless ways. But, while there are myriad permutations of possible coalitions and strange bedfellowships, Fogel, Krafman and most commentators in Israel and abroad think the most likely outcome is a fifth election. That is how difficult it would be for either side to patch together 61 members of the Knesset to govern.
Krafman presented graphic evidence of the challenges the pro- and anti-Netanyahu factions face in reaching that magic number. The pro-Bibi side likely has 52 dependable seats; his opponents probably have 57. That means an anti-Netanyahu coalition could form with the support of Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party, which holds seven seats. For Netanyahu to eke out 61 seats would require the backing not only of Bennett but also of the four seats won by the Arab party Ra’am. Such a partnership would be historic and would have been almost unthinkable in the recent past. But Netanyahu of late has been making amenable noises toward Arab Israelis in general and to the Arab parties in particular. However, even if the prime minister and his unlikely allies in the Arab sector made a deal, it could upend the consensus on the other side, as some on the right would probably balk at joining a coalition that includes Ra’am.
Ra’am is one of the big stories of the election. Exit polls indicated the party would not make it over the 3.25% threshold to win any Knesset seats. That created a scenario where Netanyahu and his probable allies were seen as almost certain to form a government.
But, as actual counting took place through the night and into the morning, it became clear that Ra’am would cross the minimum support for representation. Instantly, the calculations shifted.
If Ra’am were to enter a coalition government, or even if it merely supported a government from the sidelines, it would be a turning point in the role Arab parties play in Israeli politics. Ra’am has already upended conventional Arab approaches to politics. The umbrella of Arab parties, recently running under the banner of the Joint List, has always played a spoiler role. They are oppositionist and anti-Zionist groups that are as much protest movements as conventional political parties.
Perhaps learning a lesson from the outsized power of small, right-wing and Jewish religious parties, Ra’am adopted a more pragmatic and transactional position than their former allies in the Arab bloc. The leader, Mansour Abbas, has not ruled out supporting a coalition or playing a role in government. Like smaller Jewish parties, he would be expected to come to coalition discussions with a shopping list of demands, such as more funding for projects and programs that benefit his constituents.
Ra’am’s success makes it an unqualified winner in the election sweepstakes. Fogel and Krafman discussed other winners and losers.
“The first loser, I think, is Netanyahu,” said Fogel. “Despite his party winning the most number of seats, 30 seats out of 120 in the Knesset, [he] is still not able to form a government.”
That might have been survivable if other parties that are Netanyahu’s likely backers did not also come up short.
“The other two losers are other right-wing parties,” Fogel added. Naftali Bennett, whose Yamina took seven seats, and Gideon Sa’ar, whose New Hope party took six, had hoped to siphon off a larger chunk of Likud’s votes.
“Both of them really failed to do that, winning only a handful of seats,” said Fogel.
It is a profound statement about tectonic changes in Israel’s ideological fault lines that the Labour party, which took seven seats, and another left-wing party, Meretz, which took six, are viewed as having had a good night. In the days leading up to the vote, there were questions whether either party would overcome the minimum threshold. The Labour party was the indomitable establishment political party for the first three decades of Israel’s existence.
Another loser, Fogel said, was Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party. Lieberman is a right-wing but avowedly secularist politician. He ran a campaign promoting separation of religion and state and against Charedi privileges. His message may have backfired: while turnout was down overall from the last election, Charedi voters turned out in greater numbers, possibly in reaction to Lieberman’s message.
The discussion turned again to what may be the most likely path for a right-wing government, which could be the exit of Netanyahu. There are centrist parties, Fogel said, that do not have issues with Likud policies so much as they do with the prime minister personally. With him gone, a bloc of anti-Bibi members might engage with Likud under a new leader and form a centre-right coalition.
As unlikely as this scenario might be, it would stave off another unsavoury development.
Any hope of forming a Netanyahu-led coalition probably depends on support from the extremist grouping called Religious Zionism. This new umbrella of racist, misogynistic and homophobic extremists, which holds six seats, would taint any coalition as the most far-right government in Israel’s history. (Click here to read this week’s editorial.)
Whatever happens – whether someone can manage to hammer together a government, or whether exhausted Israelis will trudge to the polls for a fifth time – there are serious issues facing the country.
“There are some pretty daunting challenges out there,” Fogel said. “Most especially on the economic side. We see that some other countries have already begun to emerge [from the pandemic] with a fairly robust recovery. Israel isn’t there yet…. There is a sense of urgency that they do have to get an Israeli government in place that is going to be able to effectively address these issues and it’s not clear that the election result will offer that to Israelis, so I think it makes a situation, if anything, more desperate.”
There are several opportunities for the local community to commemorate Yom Hashoah this year.
On Wednesday, April 7, 3 p.m., the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC) is partnering with the Montreal Holocaust Museum for an online program focusing on the importance of remembrance and the intergenerational transmission of memory. The program will include survivor testimony clips and comments from members of the second and third generations about their families’ experiences during the Holocaust. Attend live via facebook.com/events/188237616165702. For more information, visit museeholocauste.ca/en/news-and-events/yom-hashoah.
On Thursday, April 8, 3:30 p.m., community members can join Premier John Horgan for a Holocaust Memorial Day service livestreamed from the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, in a gathering organized with the VHEC and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. Holocaust survivors are invited to a private pre-ceremony reception with Horgan at 3 p.m. – survivors may RSVP to receive a Zoom link by emailing [email protected] or phoning 604-622-4240.
Also on April 8, at 4 p.m., the VHEC, together with the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre, Azrieli Foundation, Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, Facing History and Ourselves, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal, March of the Living Canada and UIA present a Canada-wide Yom Hashoah program featuring survivor testimony from cities across the country, a candlelighting ceremony and other components that share stories of resiliency, faith and hope. Register via holocaustcentre.com/2021-cross-canada-yom-hashoah.
On Sunday, April 11, at 11 a.m., the Victoria Shoah Project is inviting the community to attend a virtual Yom Hashoah with the theme of “Preserving and Honouring Voices from the Shoah.” The program features a tribute to a survivor originally from Hungary, George Pal, who will speak about his book, Prisoners of Hate, which was published in 2018. The service will also include an historian speaking about the Holocaust in Hungary, a recitation of the Kaddish of the Camps, commemorative music, and a message from Rabbi Harry Brechner of Congregation Emanu-El, Victoria. For the Zoom link, visit victoriashoahproject.ca.
Since the High Holidays last year, a group of demonstrators has met every Thursday afternoon opposite the Chinese embassy in Ottawa to protest in support of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The protest was initiated by members of Kehillat Beth Israel, a synagogue in Ottawa, but has grown to include other faith communities and cities, including Vancouver. (photo from Phil Kretzmar)
The Chinese government is perpetrating a genocide against Uyghur people in the northwestern part of that country – with possibly millions incarcerated and untold numbers coerced into slave labour and forced sterilization. Reports also suggest organ harvesting. Children are being separated from their families.
Canada, the United States and the Netherlands have accused the Chinese government of committing genocide. There are about 12 million Uyghurs, mostly Muslim, living in the region of Xinjiang, which some Uyghurs prefer to call East Turkestan, reflecting their connection to central Asian cultures. A United Nations Human Rights Committee report in 2018 asserted that as many as one million Uyghurs were being held in at least 85 concentration camps, though other estimates say possibly three to five million are now incarcerated. The Chinese government acknowledges the existence of the camps, but claims they are education and skills training facilities.
Uyghurs who are not imprisoned have been subjected to intensive surveillance, repression of religious expression, slave labour and forced sterilizations.
A concerted campaign has been waged to suppress Uyghur culture and the Muslim religion to which most of them adhere. It began with a ban on men growing long beards or women wearing veils and expanded into the destruction of dozens of mosques.
The region is an economic powerhouse, producing 20 to 30% of the world’s entire cotton supply. It is also rich in oil and minerals, and produces China’s largest supply of natural gas.
A webinar was presented March 22 by the Canadian Multifaith Initiative for Uyghur Rights. In addition to three Uyghur expatriates who spoke from a personal perspective, three clergy members of different traditions spoke of the moral obligation to defend the imperiled people.
Vancouver anthropologist and author Alan Morinis was one of the organizers and moderators, and Rabbi Susie Tendler of Richmond’s Beth Tikvah Congregation introduced one of the speakers. Rev. Christopher Pappas, an Anglican priest, and Mufti Aasim Rashid, a Muslim scholar, also spoke.
Mihrigul Tursun, who spoke on the webinar, was incarcerated several times and said she was electrocuted and subjected to other forms of torture. She saw detainees beaten, starved and strip-searched. Scores of prisoners were kept in tiny spaces, forcing some to stand up while others slept sideways.
The Chinese government has contested Tursun’s testimony, claiming she was taken into custody on suspicion of inciting ethnic hatred and discrimination. The government also insisted she was not imprisoned, but spent time in a skills training facility.
Akeda Pulati described the personal anguish from a family’s perspective. Pulati’s mother, Rahile Dawut, disappeared on Dec. 12, 2017, and her family has had no contact and seen no trace of her since. She assumes her mother is in a “re-education camp.”
“The Chinese government has been claiming that those kinds of centres, those kinds of places, are educational centres for people to receive education and job training,” she said. “How could my mom, in her retirement age, need job training?”
Pulati stayed silent for some time for fear of reprisals by the Chinese government against other members of her family and community.
“I stayed silent for too long,” she said. “One day, I realized I cannot stay silent anymore. Our people is experiencing a genocide. I don’t want my mother to die in this horrific place. I lost hope for the Chinese government to have mercy on my mother, have mercy on the Uyghur people.… I am not the only one experiencing this tragedy. There are many, many Uyghur children like me searching for their parents. We found each other on social media and we decided to do something together.”
Mehmet Tohti is a Uyghur-Canadian activist and executive director of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project, based in Ottawa. He is a cofounder of the World Uyghur Congress and has twice served as vice-president. By extrapolating the Chinese government’s own limited information on the subject, Tohti estimates there may be 7.8 million Uyghurs incarcerated.
“Hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs living abroad are not communicating with their family members,” he said. “They don’t know whether their families are alive or dead. I don’t know whether my mother is alive or dead.”
The world must make China realize they will pay a price for their actions, Tohti said. “Unless there is a cost, the Chinese government won’t stop,” he said.
Canadian companies are the fifth largest investors in the region, Tohti said. “The Chinese ambassador [to Canada] said that Canada’s exports to China soared more than 95% in the last year,” he added. “We are still continuing business as usual.”
Canadians, Tohti said, should be calling on our elected officials to introduce legislation to ban imports of products that may have been created with forced labour. “We have to force our companies to disclose their supply chain,” he said.
Other Canadians are also stepping up on the matter. An ad hoc group coordinated by Ottawa Jewish community member Phil Kretzmar helped schedule a demonstration outside the Chinese consulate in Vancouver during Passover, on April 1. The local team intends to demonstrate outside the Chinese consulate in Vancouver, 3380 Granville St., every Thursday at 3 p.m. until further notice. For more information, email [email protected].
Shalhevet Girls High School will honour Shelley Rivkin at its gala on April 11. (photo from Shalhevet)
On April 11, at its annual gala, Shalhevet Girls High School will honour Shelley Rivkin as a Guardian of the Flame.
“Every year, we honour a Jewish woman who is passionate and dedicated to the Jewish community,” Vivian Claman, president of the Shalhevet board, told the Independent. “Shelley personifies the kind of woman we inspire our students to become – independent thinkers and leaders in their communities. Shelley not only works hard for the Jewish community but for the Vancouver community, as well.
Rivkin is the third woman to be so honoured by Shalhevet. Anita Silber was the first, in 2019, and Sarah Berger was recognized last year.
Rivkin is vice-president of planning, allocations and community affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver. She is an adjunct professor of social work at the University of British Columbia and at Langara College, and she is a member of British Columbia’s Multicultural Advisory Committee.
“My parents were a significant influence,” said Rivkin about her choice of career and her participation in community. “My mother was a social activist and early feminist who introduced me to many of the ideas that contributed to my decision to go into social work, while my father was deeply connected to Jewish values and traditions. Both believed in the value of volunteer work and had me volunteering for a variety of causes from an early age.
“My Jewish education at Schara Tzedeck and involvement in both NCSY and BBYO also provided me with a deeper understanding of Judaism and Jewish life that I have carried with me throughout my career.
“There have also been some amazing women who have inspired me along the way,” she noted. “The late Rosemary Brown, who I had the privilege of meeting when I was in university, really opened my eyes to the barriers and obstacles that many women were facing and continue to face in our society.”
Rivkin’s specific areas of responsibility at Jewish Federation include community planning, local grants distribution, Jewish education, partner agency relations and community security. While she was hired in 2007, she had volunteered with the organization for a couple of years before that.
“In 2005, I was asked to chair the poverty coalition,” she explained. “This connection brought me closer to the work of Jewish Federation and, as I took on more volunteer responsibilities, I became more intrigued by the work that Federation did on a daily basis. In 2007, Federation went through a restructuring process to move toward a closer alignment between central planning and financial resource development. A new senior position was created, and [then-Federation head] Mark Gurvis asked me to apply. This was an opportunity to connect my Jewish values to my day-to-day work.
“The most rewarding aspects of the job are when you can move from project inception to project completion,” she said. “The most recent example was the establishment of the Food Security Task Force in 2017. I was responsible for staffing the task force. The task force released their report in late 2018. The report had an important impact in raising awareness about the depth of food insecurity in our community. Through the hard work of Jewish Family Services and many generous donors, we have seen the implementation of one of the key recommendations of that report, the establishment of an integrated food hub. This has been very rewarding.”
Rivkin feels strongly about the benefits of a Jewish education.
“I am setting up an endowment with the Jewish Community Foundation that I hope that Shalhevet supporters will contribute to,” she said. “Over time, the interest earned on the capital can enable Shalhevet to support special projects that are not covered through their general operations.
“I am setting this up because I believe strongly that young Jewish women should have full access to quality general studies and Judaics education. As an Orthodox woman myself, I am committed to ensuring that young Orthodox women living in Vancouver have the best educational opportunities available.”
Currently, Shalhevet has 14 students enrolled for the 2020-2021 school year, and they anticipate around the same number of students for the next year, Meira Federgrun, head of school, told the Independent. “What we lack in student numbers, we definitely make up in enthusiasm and involvement,” she said.
About how the school has been coping with COVID-19, Federgrun shared, “As with all schools in B.C., Shalhevet had to craft a safe return-to-school document that was approved by the Ministry of Education before the start of the school year last September; we have been doing full-time, in-person learning since then. We have sanitizing products available throughout the school and high-touch surfaces, as well as equipment, are sanitized several times a day. Our staff and students wear masks in all areas of the school, including the main room and classrooms, and remove them to eat or drink.
“Because Shalhevet is a small school,” she said, “our entire staff and student body is considered one cohort, so we are fortunate in that we don’t have to worry about a lot of the restrictions and traffic flow that larger schools with multiple cohorts have. As a result, we’ve been able to provide our students with as ‘normal’ a daily school experience as possible.”
The annual gala is the only way the school raises money. “It’s our once-a-year fundraiser,” said Claman. “It’s also a way to bring awareness of Shalhevet’s great contribution to the community and its importance in maintaining a thriving Orthodox community.”
Part of the virtual celebration will be a piece performed by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, which was organized by Danielle Ames Spivak, chief executive officer of the Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
It will include “an introduction from [Irit Rub] the director of KeyNote, the musical education department of Israel Philharmonic, talking about the relevance of education and music,” said Claman. “Every year, we offer some form of entertainment, like comedians, a magician, etc., but we had to find something that would be conducive to online entertainment.”
Also part of this year’s gala, said Claman, “For the first time ever, we will be showing a video taking an inside look at Shalhevet.”
For her part, Rivkin said, “I am so grateful to the Shalhevet community to be honoured this way. It has been so uplifting for me to know about this honour, especially following such a challenging year.”
Actor Tovah Feldshuh talks about her new book, Lilyville, on April 15, in an event held in partnership with the JCC Jewish Book Festival. (PR photo)
The long-awaited Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival closing night event – Tovah Feldshuh talking about her new book, Lilyville: Mother, Daughter, and Other Roles I’ve Played – finally takes place on April 15.
The event was postponed to piggyback on the Book Festival of the Marcus JCC of Atlanta and JCC National Literary Consortium In Your Living Room Live series. It will feature Feldshuh in conversation with CNN correspondent Holly Firfer, and promises to be an entertaining evening with many laughs and lots of good advice, if Lilyville is any indication.
Feldshuh’s first book is a unique memoir in that it is framed in terms of her relationship with her mother – the longest and most important of Feldshuh’s roles having been the one she didn’t audition for, being the daughter of Lillian (Lily) Kaplan Feldshuh. The memoir is structured as a theatre piece, starting with the Program Note and ending with Exit Music, with three acts, many scenes and more in between.
Strong women characters, from the fictional Yentl (from the mind of Sholem Aleichem) to the very real U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dominate Feldshuh’s career. She has performed in theatre, film and television, winning numerous awards and nominations for the excellence of her work. She also has been recognized for her charity work. And, it seems, through it all, family has been a priority.
In Lilyville, Feldshuh writes about her upbringing, how and why she became an actor, some of the people and incidents that have influenced her, her marriage (to a lawyer, like her beloved father was, and which she considered becoming at one point) and being a mother herself. Given her successes, readers may be surprised at the professional challenges she has overcome along the way, including being told outright by a director that she’d never make a good actress, she should become an accountant. But the biggest obstacle for her was coming to understand that her mother, who seemed cold and shy throughout Feldshuh’s (and her older brother’s) upbringing, loved them. While hypercritical and emotionally closed throughout their growing-up years, their mother was always there for them. It was only after their father died that their mother – who had been raised to be what was considered a good woman back then, ie. a woman who dedicated herself to her husband and kids, her own aspirations be damned – blossomed.
In an interview with the Detroit Jewish Book Fair, Feldshuh said about writing Lilyville that she “felt compelled to tell her [mother’s] story and mine and how the two of us had a lifelong journey toward each other. In essence, I dig down into the primal relationship between parent and child, with the specifics between mother and daughter.”
Luckily for the women, they had the time to repair and build their relationship, as Feldshuh’s mother lived to 103. Through that century-plus, Lily Kaplan Feldshuh, who was born before women were given the vote in the United States, witnessed countless social, cultural and technological changes, and Lilyville is partly a history of women’s rights in that country.
General admission to Feldshuh’s book talk is free. Admittance to the pre-event meet-and-greet portion of the event comes when, in addition to registering, you purchase the book; the $36US includes shipping and you will receive a copy with a signed bookplate. Visit jccgv.com/jewish-book-festival.
Ted Littlemore is one of seven dancers in the latest iteration of Idan Cohen’s Orfeo ed Euridice, which will be available online April 6-13. (photo by Flick Harrison)
The first article the Jewish Independent published about choreographer and opera director Idan Cohen was about his reimagining of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice. Much progress has been made in the few years since, and excerpts from the contemporary dance work will be streaming on demand April 6-13.
Cohen was a relatively recent arrival from Israel back in 2018. As artistic director of Ne. Sans Opera and Dance, which he established here in 2017, he has become a prominent part of the Vancouver arts scene. He is currently artist-in-residence at the Dance Centre, which describes Cohen’s approach to this 18th-century opera as one that interprets
“Orpheus not as a god, but as an artist – a human who looks at the complex and sometimes violent history of Western, classical opera and dance with eyes wide open, the dancing body serving as a living example of human strength and fragility.”
In the myth, poet and musician Orfeo mourns the death of his wife, Euridice, and tries to get her back from the Underworld. It is an effort fraught with challenges, not unlike creating a new artistic work.
“Staging an opera is a monumental task, and it is really exciting to have an audience who has been following this production from its inception,” Cohen told the Independent. “Alongside the Dance Centre’s residency, we were given a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, through the Piercey family – the Sheila Kathleen Piercey Fund – which enabled us to continue and present this final phase of the research, leading to the full production in 2022.
“For the past few months,” he said, “I have been rehearsing with Leslie Dala as the music director and with seven incredible dancers and five opera singers. We are presenting almost 40 minutes of a piano reduction of the score, played live by Leslie, and the singers, as a dance-opera. So you’ll get to see and listen to a live opera that is also a dance performance.”
In 2019, Ne. Sans presented Trionfi Amore, as a part of the research for Orfeo ed Euridice. That production featured Ted Littlemore, Kate Franklin and Jeremy O’Neill. For this April’s production, they are joined by dancers Hana Rutka, Rachel Meyer, Aiden Cass and Stephanie Cyr.
“The wonderful counter-tenor Shane Hanson is singing Orfeo and the chorus singers are Heather Pawsey, Tyler Simpson, Heather Molloy and William Grossman,” said Cohen. Costume designer and stylist is Evan Clayton, while Littlemore pulls double duty – not only performing, but in charge of the makeup and masks.
The number of people involved now brings its own challenges, given the continuing pandemic.
“The Dance Centre’s residency enabled us to rehearse in large spaces that allowed for our relatively big group to remain socially distanced at all times,” said Cohen. “Following COVID-19 protocols meant that we needed to be wearing masks and that the performers could not touch. I tried to look at these not as obstacles but as creative opportunities and I am very proud of what we’ve managed to achieve.”
Ever the one to look on the bright side of things, Cohen added, “It was wonderful to gather musicians and dancers and create. There’s nothing quite like it, and I hope that the result will be as pleasurable to our audience as it was to us.”
The April streaming, which will have been pre-recorded, includes a discussion with Cohen. Tickets are on a sliding scale, and can be purchased from thedancecentre.ca/event/idan-cohen.