Jill Zarin is the keynote speaker at Choices on Nov. 7. (photo from Twitter)
Philanthropist and entrepreneur Jill Zarin – most recognized for having been on the reality TV show The Real Housewives of New York City – is the featured guest at this year’s Choices, which will be held virtually on Nov. 7.
Zarin is also the author – together with her mother, Gloria Kamen, and sister, Lisa Wexler – of Secrets of a Jewish Mother, a 2010 book full of recipes, advice and parenting tips. She will join Vancouver-area speakers to talk about how they were able to support community during the pandemic.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s Choices is the largest women’s event within the community. This is the 17th annual gathering and the Independent interviewed 2021 co-chairs Sherri Wise, Leanne Hazon and Courtney Cohen by email about what to expect.
“Jill Zarin is an amazing speaker!” they said. “Attendees will also hear from so many inspiring women in our own community who give of themselves to keep our community strong and connected.
“Although Jill Zarin is most well known for being a television personality, she is in fact an extremely philanthropic person,” they added. “After almost two years of COVID, the committee wanted to have a program filled with humour and uplifting stories and Jill was a perfect match.
“As co-chairs, we have always found we learn something from the women who speak, which inspires us to continue supporting our wonderful community.”
The pandemic has impacted everyone around the world in many ways, said the co-chairs, and so many people have stepped up to try to help their communities navigate this very challenging time. Zarin is but one of the many “who have pitched in their time and tzedakah and ideas to help our Jewish community stay strong,” said the Choices co-chairs.
Ideally, the organizers had wanted to be together in person for Choices 2021. Yet with the uncertainties and changing regulations around COVID, they have once again decided to hold the event virtually, while trying to provide the experience in a way that is still meaningful to people.
Given the ongoing reality of the pandemic, the women said they are “really happy and really lucky” that Choices can be offered online. One of the benefits of a virtual event, they pointed out, is making it more accessible to women province-wide.
Choices is a celebration of the impact of women’s philanthropy. Rather than fundraising, the goal is to get more women involved in the community through giving to the campaign and volunteering. The organizers stress that there are many ways of being involved in philanthropy and making a difference, such as connecting with Jewish Federation or one of its many partner agencies.
The 2021 Federation annual campaign is focusing on the theme of being strengthened by what we as a community have been through in the past year-and-a-half and inspired by where we can go together. This year, Choices is recognizing specifically how women in the community came through the pandemic and made the community stronger with their time and donations.
In a non-pandemic year, Choices would have 500 people in attendance. Past speakers have included musicologist Judy Feld Carr, the Canadian responsible for bringing thousands of Jews from Syria to freedom; Talia Leman, the founder of RandomKid, an organization that empowers youth to do good deeds; Talia Levanon, the director of the Israel Trauma Coalition; and Jeannie Smith, who shared the story of her mother, Irene Gut Opdyke, who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.
The Choices 2021 co-chairs lauded the efforts of Sue Hector and Shawna Merkur, the co-chairs of women’s philanthropy at Federation. They also noted the contributions of Ricki Thal (campaign manager), Kate Webster (campaign director) and the Jewish Federation staff for their invaluable support.
To attend Choices, a person must give to the Federation’s annual campaign or make a donation by purchasing a ticket of the suggested amount. There is a suggested minimum donation of $154 to support the campaign and a suggested minimum donation of $36 for first-time attendees.
Irwin Cotler spoke Sunday at a virtual event convened by National Council of Jewish Women of Canada. (photo from raoulwallenbergcentre.org)
Canada is set to make a number of significant commitments to combat antisemitism, as are other countries that participated in a summit on the issue last week in the Swedish city of Malmö.
Irwin Cotler, Canada’s special envoy on preserving Holocaust remembrance and fighting antisemitism, spoke Oct. 17 at a virtual event convened by National Council of Jewish Women of Canada. The human rights lawyer and former federal justice minister, who is also international chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, said that, in the aftermath of the conference, the Canadian government would announce a number of pledges.
These will include enhanced teaching and learning about the Holocaust across generational lines, combating the increasing Holocaust denial and distortion, and battling hatred on social media. Reducing an alarming rise in hate crimes will also be among the pledges Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to make, according to Cotler.
“Twenty-twenty was the year for the highest rise in hate crimes targeting Jews ever,” he said. “But, by May 2021, we had reached the level then of all the hate crimes in all of 2020.”
The government will recommit itself to protecting the security of Jewish institutions, he said.
“Here, the government recently made commitments in financial terms for this purpose,” said Cotler.
Zero tolerance for antisemitism in the political discourse is also an objective, he added.
“That means not just calling out antisemitism in the other’s political party but calling out antisemitism in our own,” Cotler said. “In other words, not weaponizing antisemitism or politicizing it, but holding each of us, respectively, our own political parties, accountable.”
In addition to Trudeau, Israeli President Isaac Herzog, French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken were among the leaders who addressed the conference. The Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism was hosted by Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. Trudeau announced at the conference that Cotler’s role of special envoy would be made permanent.
Cotler contextualized the Malmö forum in a two-decade era of what he calls “demonological antisemitism,” which began at the 2001 Durban conference against racism that devolved into an antisemitic carnival.
“What happened at Durban was truly Orwellian,” said Cotler. “A world conference against racism and hate turned into a conference of racism and hate against Israel and the Jewish people. A conference that was to commemorate the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa turned into a conference calling for the dismantling of the ‘apartheid state’ Israel.
“Those of us who personally witnessed this Durban festival of hate have been forever transformed by the pamphlets and posters of hatred and antisemitism, by the cartoons and the leaflets portraying not only the Jews as Nazis, but the classical antisemitic tropes of Jews with hooked noses, with fangs, with fingers dipped in blood from the killing of children. Where we were accosted with pamphlets of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Where we witnessed demonstrators with signs – incredibly for a human rights conference or for any conference – signs which said, ‘Too bad Hitler didn’t finish the job.’ Where we witnessed Jewish students – and I witnessed this personally – being physically assaulted and being told, ‘You don’t belong to the human race,’” said Cotler.
Durban was the first tipping point and the global surge of antisemitism during last spring’s conflict between Hamas and Israel was a second, he said.
“Jews were targeted and threatened in their own neighbourhoods and on their own streets,” said Cotler. During and after that conflict, Cotler said, Jewish memorials were defaced, synagogues were torched, cemeteries were vandalized, Jewish institutions found themselves under assault and incendiary hate speech – such as 17,000 tweets that “Hitler was right” – exploded.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated antisemitism, or at least has been exploited by antisemites, who have “instrumentalized one of the more ancient tropes of the Jews as the poisoners of wells,” said Cotler. The health crisis has also seen conspiracies of Jews profiting from vaccines and anti-vaxxers posing “as if they were victims of Nazi persecution,” he added.
Cotler lamented what he calls “the mainstreaming, the normalization – in effect, the legitimization of antisemitism in the political culture.” During the conflict last spring, convoys of vehicles in London, U.K., drove through Jewish neighbourhoods screaming, “F–k the Jews, rape their daughters!” This was a convoy and a message that was replicated in Toronto days later and which resulted in, Cotler said, an “utter absence of outrage.”
The legalist also spoke of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism.
“If you can’t define it, you can’t combat it,” he said. The IHRA definition was adopted after 15 years of discussion and debate by intergovernmental bodies, governments, parliaments, scholars and civil society leaders, he said.
The task of fighting antisemitism must not fall only to Jews, Cotler stressed.
“As we’ve learned only too painfully, and have repeated too often, that, while it begins with Jews, it doesn’t end with Jews,” he said. “Therefore, we need this collective global constituency of conscience to combat it.”
We have now finished our second consecutive cycle of High Holidays under the cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, unlike last, plenty of grandparents were able to hug their grandkids, thanks to vaccines. In-person gatherings were possible in different forms, including synagogue services.
The overarching crisis represented by the pandemic coincidentally occurs at a time when Jewish communal leaders are expressing growing concerns about declining levels of affiliation, especially among younger Jews. Polls (criticized by some for their methods) suggest a steep drop-off in support for Israel among American Jews. And there are worries, expressed by Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, among others, of increasing estrangement between Israeli and Diaspora Jews.
Yet, there is almost not a single person involved in Jewish life who will not acknowledge some silver linings in this terrible time. It is human nature to almost instantly take for granted what we have. The sudden omnipresence of platforms like Zoom would have been a sci-fi dream 25 years ago. Educators, rabbis and Jewish organizations made an almost instantaneous shift to virtual events at the start of the pandemic. This, it turned out, served not only existing “audiences” (students, congregants, members) but entirely new faces. People who, due to geography, had no access to Hebrew classes
are studying virtually. British Columbians are scanning options and joining lectures, recitals, panel discussions and standup comedy routines, and more, streaming from New York, London, Cape Town and Tel Aviv. Services and programs generally offered to the Vancouver community are welcoming new attendees, unlimited by geography.
Early on, behavioural scientists predicted a phenomenon of being “Zoomed out.” But a Canadian opinion poll suggested just the opposite. We love Zoom. It allows us to attend a one-hour lecture without the 40-minute commute, the parking and the umbrella-shaking. Of course, it is not the same. We miss the kibitzing and other niceties of an in-person event, but it is pretty darn fantastic under the circumstances.
Jews produce a vast amount of what is now dryly called “content” … the written word, visual and performing arts, music, science, intellectual pursuits. And it is available in almost every language on the planet – to anyone with a device and access to the internet. The potential this holds to bring together Jews (or, of course, any people) in ways that were not previously imaginable opens entire new worlds of connection.
As we return incrementally to a life more like the before times, we should not cast off the necessities that became welcome additions. Rather than revert to in-person-only gatherings, many groups and events are already adopting hybrid approaches. Those who enjoy the in-person form can participate, but so can those far away or who are strapped for time.
If we now have moments to reflect on the lessons of the past year-and-a-half, we should consider the power of the technologies that have become so common. How can the unifying power of these tools be mobilized to address the problems of division we face as a community? Can a concerted effort to bring together Israelis and Diaspora Jews in remote dialogue help build bridges? Could a centralized schedule of Jewish educational and cultural offerings from around the world expose Jews everywhere to a wider range of opportunities to engage in ways that are meaningful to them? Could a renaissance of Jewish ideas and discussion spring forth thanks to the technology we have become used to during this troubled time?
Can Zoom save the Jews? Well, there are many challenges facing our communities in Israel, Canada and around the world. A simple fix is never going to resolve all the concerns about falling engagement, estrangement between parts of Am Yisrael or the host of issues that our communal leaders have been focused on for decades. But neither should we underestimate the powerful force for good that a simple tool like Zoom has to bring together people who might never otherwise meet.
As a tradition, Judaism has thrived by adapting, while holding fast to customs and ritual. Zoom is now a part of this mix. While it is not perfect – it is not suitable for all denominations to stream on Shabbat or holidays, for example – it holds the potential to continue to connect us even when we are no longer constrained by health restrictions from getting together in person.
The U.S. Congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection is limping along in the face of a near-total absence of cooperation from the Republicans who make up almost half of Congress and of the American voting public. Despite reams of video evidence, there is legitimate worry that justice will not be served in the case of an attempted coup at the heart of American government.
Those who tried to overthrow the will of the people and who even called for the murder of the vice-president of their own party are venerated by their supporters as patriots, while those who seek justice for those events are vilified as traitors.
The very people who tried to subvert the democratic decision of the American people last November – those who are trying to steal the election from President Joe Biden – chant “Stop the steal!” apparently without a hint of irony or self-awareness.
But the fight over Jan. 6 is a small puzzle piece in a larger social disorder. We are seeing verifiable truths dismissed as lies and what should be summarily debunked as lies revered as gospel. Listening to some of these voices, it is difficult to tell whether they are trying to create a reality based on what they wish were true – Trump won, Democrats eat babies, whatever – or whether they truly believe these falsehoods. It’s probably some of both.
Are we approaching a tipping point where a healthy society that has at least a modicum of shared consensus on what is true and what is false slides into a moral terrain that has no agreed-upon truth or lies, right or wrong, good or evil?
The pandemic has brought this problem into clear relief. Doctors say that they are treating people who, on their deathbed, continue to insist there is no such thing as COVID. There is a spectrum, from outright denial of the existence of the virus to conspiracies that it was invented for nefarious purposes to the idea that the virus itself is legitimate but is being exploited by governments (or other disreputable entities) to take away some amorphous “freedoms.”
Recently, parents opposed to mask mandates chased fellow parents (and their kids) at a school in California, screaming that the kids could not breathe through the masks. When some parents responded with what, by any fair measure, is common sense, one protester screamed back: “You were propagandized.… You are not being told the truth!”
To put a fine point on it, people who have been propagandized and who are convinced of a lie are shouting at others that they have been propagandized and do not know the truth.
Recently, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, speaking to a Republican crowd that should have been in his back pocket, said, “If you haven’t had the vaccine, you ought to think about getting it because if you’re my age –” At this point, he was drowned out by screaming and booing. When he was able to speak again, he told the Republican crowd, “Ninety-two percent of the people in the hospitals in South Carolina are unvaccinated.” To this, some audience members began screaming “Lies!”
The New York Times Magazine’s ethics columnist, Kwame Anthony Appiah, wrote recently of the “strange mirror game” being played by conspiracy theorists and hucksters. “They peddle hoaxes that warn of hoaxes, scams that warn of scams. They dupe their victims by cautioning them not to be duped.”
Lies have been around forever. But it seems we are in another realm now. When Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to Trump, defended then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s false claims that attendance numbers at Trump’s 2016 presidential inauguration were the largest in history, Conway asserted that there were facts and then there were
“alternative facts.” This was not the genesis of a culture of gaslighting, but it did represent, along with Spicer’s lies, a turning point. The Trump administration operated in a world that rational observers would view as existing in an alternative universe of alternative facts.
Jews and supporters of Israel who forgive Trump’s many affronts because they deem him to be on “our side” on one issue suffer from something that might be equated to the difference between the weather and the climate.
Trump may indeed have taken steps that people view as being to Israel’s advantage. But, in nearly everything else Trump and his supporters have done, they have assaulted truth, facts and rationality. They call black white and up down. Legitimate media are “fake news” and darkweb rantings are trustworthy sources.
In a story in the last issue of the Independent, the commentator Bret Stephens said: “We now have come to a place where, increasingly, we are a nation that can bring ourselves to believe anything and a nation that can bring itself to believe anything … sooner or later, is going to have no problem believing the worst about Jews.”
Trump, Spicer, Conway and their crowd did not invent the situation where lies are gospel and truth is rejected, but they did their best to perfect it.
It should not need saying that such people should not be trusted, since their loyalty and sincerity are worthless. Republicans who, on a dime, turn into an angry mob screaming “Hang Mike Pence!” should not be trusted when it comes to something as sacred as the security and the fate of Israel and its people.
More gravely still, there is a reason why Jews are often referred to (as dehumanizing as the term is) as “canaries in a coalmine.” When antisemitism emerges, it is a sign of broader societal disorder. It is no surprise that the spike in antisemitism we are witnessing coincides with a phenomenon where verifiable facts are regarded as debatable assertions and the most ludicrous assertions are not only accepted as truth but defended with fanaticism and violence.
In the late 20th century, Canadian Jewish Congress and other groups adopted an approach premised on the idea that the best way to ensure the safety of Jewish people was to advance an ideal that protects allminorities. There might always be people with antisemitic motivations, but, if we can inculcate in society a transcendent commitment to equality for all, we may create a firewall against the worst antisemitism.
As CJC and others did several decades ago, it may be time for Jewish people and others who care about fighting antisemitism to rededicate ourselves to strengthening the most fundamental principles of our democratic societies, the very foundations that we too often have taken for granted, even after Jan. 6. This includes not only ensuring basic things like civil and voting rights and protecting the institutions of democratic government, but it calls on us to contest outright lies and to defend basic truth. If, in the process, we manage to yank our democratic societies back from the abyss of lies and the frightening places they lead, we will have made things better not only for the Jewish future, but for everyone’s.
We’re in the month of Heshvan on the Jewish calendar. Some people call it Mar-Heshvan or Marcheshvan. (Since this is transliteration, it can be spelled either “ch” or “h.”) It’s called mar, or bitter, because, aside from Shabbat, there are no Jewish holidays during this month.
Of course, as Canadians, we had Thanksgiving in there. However, after a long stretch of Jewish holidays, many Jewish people, myself included, quite like the idea of a month off from them. Finally, I have time to start another big project. A relatively quiet Jewish month leaves more time to do “regular” work, learning and making changes.
As a kid, I was very active in my Reform congregation. I learned to lead services and read Torah and Haftarah, and did it without hesitation after becoming a bat mitzvah. Unfortunately, though, at that time, we didn’t chant in my parents’ congregation, so I never learned how to do it. I married into a family with slightly more traditional practice among some of its members and, therefore, have been attending services with chanting now for more than 20 years.
Yet, learning to chant is a tricky business as an adult. On one occasion, I asked a rabbi if I might learn and he said of course, the congregation ran a special group class for adult b’not mitzvah. (Mostly it was women who never were able to participate in a bat mitzvah service as a child.) I said no, I’d been there and done that – complete with leading the service, a reception with custom-made omelettes, and a special dress. I just wanted to learn to chant. He had no space in his imagination for someone who just wanted to learn this skill without the lifecycle event.
I also learned that there are different kinds of trope. Chanting comes along with symbols in the text of the Torah, Haftarah, Eicha and Megillat Esther. The symbols were introduced by the rabbis as a way to mark and understand the text better. It’s like punctuation. However, as an oral tradition, chanting melodies differ according to where one lives and one’s background. There are actually many different styles of chanting trope, including smaller regional differences, as well.
The trope I’ve begun learning is an Ashkenazi one, which is perhaps appropriate to my family background. (I haven’t done a DNA test, though, so I’m going by family lore.) However, parts of my family are Western European and others have been in the United States for a long time. It’s even possible that I’m learning the “wrong” trope for my background. I’ve found that several Sephardi and Mizrahi chanting styles sound clearer and make more sense to me, perhaps because I’ve learned Modern Hebrew and I lived in Israel as a teenager. It’s actually not as simple as “Learn trope!” “Chant Torah!” although it seems this way if you’ve only lived in one specific Jewish ethnic community with unified customs and traditions.
The more you know, the more complicated things seem. The best metaphor I’ve come up with springs from an odd social media interaction I had. Someone I know only online described her harvest supper menu as including “Jewish-style brisket.” I jokingly responded, “WHAT?! There’s only one kind? What about the many varieties I’ve had over the years? Could it be that I’ve never eaten the only ‘official’ Jewish brisket recipe?”
I said maybe this was an Eastern European/Ashkenazi recipe, or her family recipe. After all, brisket is a relatively cheap cut of meat, cooked low and slow, which is perfect to make on Shabbat, when some families do not adjust oven temperatures or turn the oven on or off.
The person insisted that this was indeed the Jewish-style brisket her family made, mostly, and that, if you Google it, this exact recipe pops up. (Hint, lots of things pop up online that don’t hold up under scrutiny.) Eventually, I suggested that perhaps this was best called a family recipe or a specific geographic recipe, and wished her bon appétit.
Geography matters in cooking meat – for instance, in a Southern barbeque recipe. That is, brisket in Texas doesn’t taste like brisket made in eastern Carolina. Nothing could be more different! The same is true for Jewish trope or chanting. They don’t sound the same because, although Jews originated, long ago, in what is now called Israel, we’re now a diverse people, from all over the world. Just as Jews don’t all look the same, we all don’t eat the same foods on holidays, or sing the same melodies for Lecha Dodi, Adon Olam or myriad other prayers.
So, I begin, with baby steps, to learn one chanting/trope tradition while acknowledging there are many others out there. Like the many brisket recipes and holiday traditions out there, knowing about diversity and traveling deepens our appreciation for what we know and enjoy, and for learning more.
In the meanwhile, I joked with a non-Jewish friend I know in “real life” that, if there is really only one Jewish-style brisket recipe, we might be in trouble. “Oh no!” she replied. “I have to figure out ‘the’ Christian brisket recipe! How have I missed it after all this time?!” We snorted together with laughter. Next, I might call a Muslim friend to ask if there just one Muslim meatball – after all, the kibbe and kofte I’ve shared over many years might not be the official kind?
The best learning for Heshvan? There might not be a single “official” version of anything. That, in itself, is a lesson in diversity that might be worth learning like trope … over and over.
Joanne Seiffhas written regularly for CBC Manitoba and various Jewish publications. She is the author of three books, including From the Outside In: Jewish Post Columns 2015-2016, a collection of essays available for digital download or as a paperback from Amazon. Check her out on Instagram @yrnspinner or at joanneseiff.blogspot.com.
Live performances – that you can see in person – are, thankfully, a thing again. At least, for now. And this year’s Chutzpah! Festival, Nov. 4-24, features many shows that people will be able to attend, most of which will also be streamed digitally.
For the two artists the Jewish Independent interviewed this week about the festival, the upcoming performances hold special meaning.
“I am so looking forward to coming back to Canada,” said New York-based comedian and storyteller Ophira Eisenberg, who was born in Calgary. “And Vancouver at that! Where it all started.” Eisenberg performs Nov. 7 at the Rothstein Theatre.
Shay Kuebler/Radical System Art’s Momentum of Isolation sees its world première at the theatre Nov. 13 and 14. The dance company returns to Chutzpah! as resident artists. The Rothstein Theatre and Chutzpah! “have been critical to the growth of Radical System Art and my work as an individual artist,” Kuebler told the Independent, describing the theatre as “the cradle that supported us” during “our infancy as an organization.”
“When I stepped back into the theatre,” Kuebler said, “it was like being back in a close friend’s home. It feels right. There’s a groove and comfort there. This has enabled us to create with as much momentum as possible, both as a company and collective of artists.”
Stepping back into a theatre has been an emotional experience for many artists.
“This spring in New York, I performed numerous times outside,” said Eisenberg. “All of the situations were a little different and, a couple of times, the address of the show was a large tree in a park! It wasn’t ideal and definitely was challenging, but people really wanted to laugh and take in some live entertainment, so it was uplifting.
“My first real performance inside at a comedy club was in early May, when New York opened small performance venues,” she said. “The audience was distanced and masked, and I think they laughed louder and harder than an audience of 3,000 – or maybe my ears weren’t used to hearing live indoor laughter and it sounded explosive. Either way, it almost brought me to tears, and I know I’m not the only one that felt that way.”
Eisenberg comes to Vancouver soon after the final episode of National Public Radio’s comedy trivia show Ask Me Another, which she hosted for nine years, interviewing and joking with numerous famous folk, including Sir Patrick Stewart, Awkwafina, Ethan Hawke and Julia Stiles, among many others.
“After interviewing hundreds of celebrities, authors, musicians,” said Eisenberg, “one thing that stands out to me is that, whenever we talked about a project that meant a lot to an artist, they mentioned that what made that project so successful was the supportive environment – and the fact that they worked with people who allowed experimentation and even failure. That ended up bringing out their best work. I think about that a lot when it comes to creating a space for artists to truly succeed.”
Eisenberg has headlined and performed at countless festivals and appeared on numerous comedy networks and programs. She has her own comedy special, called Inside Joke, and her first book, Screw Everyone: Sleeping My Way to Monogamy (Seal Press), was optioned for a feature film. She is a regular host and storyteller with the Moth, an organization that has become a radio show and podcast, in addition to putting on live events and other activities.
As for what she would still like to accomplish in her career, Eisenberg said, “I’m working on another podcast that I hope is also long-running! But I have so many things I’d like to do. Maybe too many things! On the docket are writing another book, and I’d love to write for TV. Performing live is my first love, so I’m looking forward to a safer world where that can happen more often.”
Eisenberg’s journey to success began at a young age.
“I truly believe I was drawn to New York as a child from watching Sesame Street!,” she said. “I went to McGill for university, where I got a bachelor’s in anthropology and theatre, then moved to Vancouver for a couple of years, where I tried standup for the first time.
“I was honestly too scared to move to New York,” she admitted, “so I moved to Toronto and spent five years performing and starting to understand my craft. Then, one day, I thought, ‘I need to move to New York now while I can still happily live with a futon and milk crate furniture.’ Two years after moving here, I discovered the Moth…. I love writing jokes, but I was working on other material that just did not fit into the standup mold. I found an outlet of expression at the Moth and in this short form storytelling, and I continue to pursue both.”
When asked to describe her connection to Judaism and/or Jewish community or culture, Eisenberg said, “I have a joke in my act that goes something like this: ‘I was raised Jewish in Calgary, Alberta, or so I thought because when I moved to New York I wondered, “maybe I was raised Protestant?” Everyone in New York is more Jewish than I am. My Puerto Rican neighbour knows more about Judaism than I do.’
“That is just a joke but living in New York is definitely the first time I felt surrounded by pervasive cultural Judaism. My father was the principal of the Hebrew school in Calgary but left that job the year I was born, so I went to public school. We still practised at home and went to synagogue during the High Holidays. As an adult, I’ve definitely been able to find my community here in Brooklyn, which is very wonderful and embracing.”
In 2018, before the pandemic sent us all into relative isolation, the United Kingdom appointed its – and, apparently, the world’s – first minister of loneliness, to address the problem as a public health issue.
“Right away, the title of ‘minister of loneliness’ grabbed me,” Shay Kuebler told the Independent. “There’s something very simple about it and it almost feels like a caricature, yet, when you think of someone whose entire work/career is to disrupt loneliness, it becomes deeply serious. When you read about isolation and loneliness, the gravity of this position becomes even more clear.”
The United Kingdom’s action was a catalyst for Kuebler, who noted, “You can now find multiple countries that have ministers of loneliness.”
The work Momentum of Isolation “speaks to a number of ideas around isolation and loneliness,” he said. “By doing so, I hope to open up greater conversations around the topic and maybe have audiences start their own exploration of the topic.”
Momentum of Isolation explores the theme both through physical isolation and social isolation, explained Kuebler. “These two points are explored through a number of different scenes, which make the show episodic in its structure, with some through-lines and arcs for characters moving all the way through.”
The work has turned out to be even more relevant than Kuebler initially thought it.
“Honestly, this show took on an evolution that I could have never projected,” he said. “The timing of our first full-company research period coincided with the closures and lockdowns across 2020. I knew that this project was important, and being forced into an online/isolated form of research was profound, to say the least.
“This isolated online research, which enabled one-on-one time with each of the company artists, created a well of material,” he said. “It was a format that was completely new, but something I found extremely valuable. While working with each artist one on one, I was simultaneously writing and composing music for the work. This not only led to a lot of new scenes and ideas, but it also distilled what was most relevant and necessary to say.
“For me, this piece was both a rediscovery and a reinforcement of what I hold most valuable. It has brought me back to how and why I want to create. I am grateful for this.”
For those unfamiliar with Radical System Art and dance in general, Kuebler added, “I know when we hear ‘dance’ and, especially, ‘contemporary dance,’ a lot of people can feel hesitant. I want readers and audiences to see this show as more of a ‘contemporary theatre experience.’ It brings together technology, design and multiple art forms around a very relevant – and timely – theme. It is something being made now, through many different artists and their many unique experiences…. With a collaborative approach to connecting with our audiences, we hope to create something new, relevant and accessible.”
Micah Groberman with his son, Evan. (photo by Micah Groberman)
The current photography exhibit at the Zack Gallery, Discoveries: A New Way Forward, allows visitors a peek into the wilderness of British Columbia. A bird serenades the sunset. A bear crosses a road. A coyote glares into the camera. Even a Whistler bridge seems to lead to an adventure in the forests and mountains of our province. The photographer, Evan, talked to the Independent about his art and how the pandemic set him on his new creative course.
“Before the pandemic, I had a business with a partner, Ivan Solomon. We did many different things, but mostly we designed wall murals for children’s stores, hospitals and private clinics,” said Groberman. “After the pandemic hit, we couldn’t do it anymore, couldn’t stay inside the enclosed spaces for the long time it takes to create a large mural. Many places closed. School was canceled. I had to stay at home and take care of my sons.”
For Groberman, instructing his elementary school sons from a set curriculum was frustrating. “I’m not good at math,” he joked. So he found something else to do with his boys. He shared his passion for nature with them. They went for walks in local parks. And they took photographs.
“I started taking photos when I was about 9,” Groberman recalled. “It was with a simple camera, the point-and-shoot kind. I enjoyed it and did it for a long time, simply for myself and my family. During COVID, my photography took a more serious turn. I wanted to do it well. I wanted to learn. I watched videos on YouTube. You can find all sorts of useful tips online. I got myself some professional gear, a large camera. And I took photos. Many, many photos. I learned by doing.”
Groberman classifies his images into three categories: landscape, wildlife (which includes all his animal and bird shots) and fine art. The last category is the most inclusive. It overlaps with landscape and boasts some unusual shots, like a PNE ride from a rare angle or an old pickup surrounded by flowers that displays an uplifting message in its cargo bed.
“I took it last year at the Richmond Sunflower Festival,” Groberman explained. “The organizers put the old truck among the flowers, and I thought it looked interesting.”
Many of his images, especially of wildlife, are fascinating because he has sought them out. In addition to artistic skill and adequate hardware, nature photography requires a great deal of perseverance and patience. Groberman has both.
“The bear that crosses the road – I took this picture from my car,” he said. “We were in Whistler, driving around, looking for bears. It took us three hours, until one walked out of the woods.”
Another of his amazing wildlife shots is a coyote on a piece of driftwood. “I noticed him hiding in the bushes on the other side of a stream in Richmond. I followed him for about five minutes, with only glimpses, until he came out and stared at me. I took the shot, but I was glad there was water between us.”
While taking his own photos, Groberman tried to share his knowledge with his sons. “My younger son wasn’t that interested,” he said, “but my older son, Evan, took to photography. I taught him, and he inspired me. Many of my photos in this show I took when I was with him. I think teaching him made me a better photographer.”
Groberman hadn’t ever exhibited his photos prior to the pandemic. He had never even thought about doing so. “It was just a hobby,” he said. “But, in 2020, I participated in a group show at the Zack. A couple of my son Evan’s photos were also on display. That’s how I first met Hope [Forstenzer], the gallery director.”
According to Groberman, the current show was supposed to be a double feature, including a sculptor as well. “But the sculptor didn’t happen,” he said, “so it became my solo photography show. There are 37 images in the show: 30 are mine, seven are Evan’s. We have a show together.”
The name of the show – Discovery – came from the experiences shared between father and son. “Our walks together were bonding,” said Groberman. “We discovered things together. Evan discovered new skills. I discovered a new way to move forward and I discovered teaching. That’s where the name of the show came from.”
Groberman hopes that his wall mural business will recover once the pandemic ends, but he also sees several new avenues for his creativity.
“I want to do more with my photography,” he said. “I’m exploring different options, trying to establish myself locally. I went to stores to offer them prints of my photos and postcards. I rented a bunch of my prints to a movie set. I entered local contests. One of my photos – a mama hummingbird feeding her babies – was featured on CBC. Another – a photo of a heron – won the Richmond banner contest last year in the nature category. You will see my heron on the streetlights in Richmond. I have an Instagram account. I’m just starting with photography, but I want to see where I can end up.”
Discover opened on Oct 4 and runs until Nov. 7. Learn more about Groberman’s work at micahgphotography.com.
Olga Livshinis a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
It’s no secret that antisemitism around the world has been increasing for years. As recently as Sept. 30, MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert saw his office window hit with a spray-painted red swastika. Make no mistake: there is no place for antisemitism in our world. That’s why Chabad Richmond is offering the four-week Rohr Jewish Learning Institute program called Outsmarting Antisemitism on Wednesdays Nov. 3, 10, 17 and 24 from 7:30-9 p.m.
“Join me each week as we explore the ethical impacts of history repeating itself, both within the Jewish community and beyond, by those who believe that antisemitism and hatred are accepted and encouraged practices and attitudes,” said Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman, director of Chabad Richmond.
Outsmarting Antisemitism takes on this subject directly and unapologetically, with a sense of optimism, faith and a distinctly Jewish approach.
“Through insightful source texts and fascinating case studies, this course examines the sources of this ancient scourge, along with the appropriate strategies for overcoming it. It’s time to find the confidence to fight hate with hope, and to stand tall against antisemitism,” said Baitelman.
“Upon concluding our series Outsmarting Antisemitism, you will be better equipped to campaign publicly against those who oppose both Israel and the Jewish people, and ensure we do everything possible to condition society to bring out the best in humans, rather than their more sinister elements,” he added.
Outsmarting Antisemitism will be offered both in-person and online via Zoom. Sign-in information will be provided at the time of registration. The cost to attend is $75 per person or $130 per couple, and includes the textbook.
This course will also be offered to lawyers for B.C. Law Society accreditation on Nov. 25, Dec. 2, 9 and 16 from 7:30-9:30 p.m. and will take place in person, at Chabad Richmond, 4775 Blundell Rd. The cost is $540 including textbook and the course is applicable for eight CLE approved credits.
Magdeburg, Germany, 1938. (photo from Bundesarchiv / Bild 146-1970-083-42)
Next month, our community marks the 83rd anniversary of Kristallnacht, the state-sponsored pogrom known as the Night of Broken Glass, which took place on the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938. Hundreds of synagogues were burned, Jewish-owned businesses were destroyed, nearly 100 Jews were killed and 30,000 were sent to concentration camps. The shards of broken window glass seen in front of Jewish-owned stores the next morning gave this event its name.
On Nov. 4, 7 p.m., streaming live via Vimeo, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre in partnership with Congregation Beth Israel features keynote speaker Judy Batalion, author of The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos, in conversation with the VHEC’s Dr. Abby Wener Herlin, and a Q&A. Visit vhec.org for details.
On Nov. 9, beginning at 7 p.m., streamed live on Zoom, Victoria Shoah Project hosts a program called Communities Standing Together Against Hate: Lessons from Kristallnacht. Remembrance is essential, however we also must act in tangible ways to protect all peoples. The Shoah Project is inviting political and law enforcement leaders, as well as representatives from the diverse faith communities, to join together at the commemoration to lead the reading of a pledge of mutual respect and support. Join in remembering the past and committing to take action for a better future where we will respect and protect our neighbours, not remain silent in the face of any injustice against any person or group and work towards building bridges leading to unity and shalom. For more information, visit victoriashoahproject.ca.
– Courtesy Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre & Victoria Shoah Project
Haley K. Turner has made a parody of her own Chanukah song, in an effort to get Adam Sandler’s attention.
On Nov. 3, local singer-songwriter Haley K. Turner is releasing what might be the only original Chanukah song set for release this year, and one of only a few in the last 25 years. Inspired by a recent plea from Adam Sandler for “someone out there” to write a new Chanukah song, Turner did just that.
In the tradition of nostalgic, sentimental classics such as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Intangible Things (A Hanukkah Song)” features a string orchestra with lyrics that were completed early this year, on the very last snow day of last winter.
Since Sandler asked for the song, Turner decided he should know about it. In an attempt to garner his support, she wrestled an alligator in a Happy Gilmore parody video, which can be seen on YouTube; created a tutorial on “How to Get in Touch with Adam Sandler”; and recorded a parody of her own new song, “Intangible Things.”
The videos showcase Turner’s spirited side, one that may not have been recognizable from the vulnerable storytelling displayed on her debut LP in from the dark, which was released early 2020. (See jewishindependent.ca/find-comfort-in-music.) It was recorded at Monarch Studios with Juno-nominated producer and musician Tom Dobrzanski (Said the Whale, the Zolas). Her 2011 EP, Ready or Not, was produced by Ben Kaplan (Mother Mother, Five Alarm Funk).
It may take a miracle to get Sandler’s attention but, as Chanukah shows us, miracles do happen.
To hear “Intangible Things” once it’s released, as well as its parody and the Happy Gilmore video, visit facebook.com/haleykmusic.