The new Beth Israel building welcomes people from 28th Avenue, while the original building (below) had its entrance on Oak Street. (photos from Beth Israel)
Congregation Beth Israel celebrates its 90th anniversary with a gala on June 12. It will feature “a walk down memory lane through each of the past nine decades,” as well as music, cocktails, dinner and other activities.
While the congregation’s history began in the 1920s, it wasn’t formally established until 1932. In a feature article in The Scribe (2008), community historian Cyril Leonoff, z”l, quotes an Oct. 9, 1931, editorial in the Jewish Western Bulletin, the predecessor of the Jewish Independent. A meeting had been held at the Jewish Community Centre, which was at Oak Street and 11th Avenue in those years, to discuss the possibility of a new congregation. The editorial commented:
“There can be no doubt in the minds of anyone that there is a distinct need for a Conservative or semi-Reform congregation in Vancouver. There are hundreds of Jews and Jewesses and their children who are so far removed by environment and training from the strictly Orthodox service that they have no inclination or desire to attend the synagogue now in existence here. The absence of [such a] synagogue carrying the services at least partly in English, has created a void in the religious life of many of our Jewish people…. The consensus of opinion in the community is … that a new congregation will be welcomed.”
The Jewish Community Centre was considered the best location initially, as the synagogue’s founding was during the Great Depression. Leonoff again cites that Oct. 9, 1931, editorial: “That the Community Centre, situated, as it is, convenient to all residential districts, would be the ideal place in which to set up the new congregation until such time as there are sufficient funds available for the erection of a separate building.”
It wasn’t until the end of the Second World War that the land along Oak Street between 27th and 28th avenues – where the synagogue still stands – was bought. As Beth Israel’s website notes, “by the late 1940s, both a rabbi (David Kogan) and a building site – at 27th and Oak – became available and, in 1949, Beth Israel’s synagogue was dedicated.”
The congregation grew over the years and, for three of those first several decades, the synagogue was led by Rabbi Wilfred and Rebbetzin Phyllis Solomon, Cantor Murray Nixon, z”l, and Ba’al Tefillah, Torah reader and teacher David Rubin z”l.
Programs increased, as did the participation of women, beyond a bat mitzvah ceremony. According to the BI website, “In the late 1980s, it became clear that women, now well-educated in Jewish ritual and study, were ready to move up to the bimah and take their place as full participants in synagogue ritual. By 1989, women were called to the Torah for their own aliyot, were counted in the minyan and acted as sh’lichat tzibbur (prayer leader). Beth Israel was the first major Canadian Conservative congregation to become fully egalitarian.”
The synagogue’s current senior spiritual leader, Rabbi Jonathan Infeld, and his wife Lissa Weinberger came to Beth Israel in 2006 via Ohev Shalom Synagogue in Marlboro, N.J. He told the Independent at the time: “We are very excited about moving to Vancouver, taking on an exciting challenge and being part of this community. I didn’t really know much about Beth Israel when we visited Vancouver, but after doing some research, I realized what a wonderful synagogue with a rich history it was.”
“It has been a pleasure working with Beth Israel as its rabbi for almost 17 years,” Infeld told the JI last week. “I remember the first day I walked into the synagogue. The congregants were wonderful. They were kind and welcoming. But the building was dated and literally falling apart. Everyone knew that we needed a new space for our spiritual home. After a few years, we were able to build an incredible and beautiful new synagogue that will last us for generations. We built a synagogue building for a new millennium…. Beth Israel has always been at the heart of the Vancouver’s Jewish community. I am proud to be part of that. I am sure that the spirit of Beth Israel will be strong for at least another 90 years. I look forward to helping to nurture it for many years to come.”
Construction on the current building began in 2012 and it was dedicated in September two years later. Along with Infeld, Beth Israel is currently led by Rabbi Adam Stein, Ba’alat Tefillah Debby Fenson and youth director Rabbi David Bluman.
“According to Mishna Pirkei Avot,” said Infeld, “a person is strong at the age of 80 and bent over at the age of 90. Beth Israel certainly has shown that 90 is the new 80. We are stronger than we have ever been. We are a synagogue built on the shoulders of giants. Many great women and men have dedicated their time, sweat and tears into building Beth Israel to be the synagogue that we are today. We greatly appreciate that. We could not be where we are today if it were not for them. And we greatly appreciate all of the people who continue to support us so that we can continue to grow and serve the Vancouver Jewish community. Ninety years is a big milestone in the life of synagogue. We really look forward to celebrating our 100th anniversary in 10 years.”
The 90th anniversary gala chair is Dale Porte and committee members are Howard Blank, Alexis Doctor, Jean Gerber, Myrna Koffman, Debby Koffman, Alan Kwinter, Debbie Setton, Leatt Vinegar and David Woogman. To purchase tickets to the June 12 celebration, call the synagogue office at 604-731-4161 or visit bethisrael.ca.
Left to right are Joan Beckow, Claire Klein Osipov, Wendy Bross Stuart and Jessica Stuart, in 2010. (photo by Ron Stuart)
Canceled more than two years ago because of COVID, With a Song in My Heart, a special concert for Jewish Senior Alliance’s spring forum, is back. And it’s even more special.
The May 15, 2 p.m., performance at the Peretz Centre, led by Wendy Bross Stuart, is dedicated to Claire Klein Osipov and Joan Beckow.
“We were originally scheduled to present this program in March 2020. We were well-prepared. Even Claire came over to rehearsal on March 16, 2020 – so she could shep naches from her daughter Lisa’s singing, and she gave us some ‘notes’ to include. Lisa [Osipov Milton] and I were using the very musical arrangements I had created for Claire. Then, COVID happened and the program was ‘postponed.’ In August 2020, Claire passed away.
“Fast-forward to 2022. Two of the singers [David Urist and Osipov Milton] were unavailable. Erin Aberle-Palm was available, and I was thrilled to have her on board. Kat Palmer and Chris Adams had been involved in the recording sessions for the Joan Beckow Legacy Project, completed in February. Chris agreed to join us for a Beckow duet – with Kat.”
Beckow passed away in January 2021.
“About 18 months before,” said Bross Stuart, “my daughter Jessica had come with me to the Louis Brier Home to visit Joan. She asked Joan for her blessing for us (mother and daughter) to record and orchestrate many of Joan’s songs. Joan was visibly touched. She gave us her blessing to proceed. And proceed we did. The Joan Beckow Legacy Project, funded generously by the Canada Council and the Ontario Arts Council, has included the recording and orchestration of 22 of Joan’s pieces, by 30 musicians, in Toronto and Vancouver. Plus a documentary on Joan’s life (directed by my husband, Ron Stuart) and much more. Assistance and support also came from Joan’s son, David.”
Most of the project has taken place during COVID. About the pandemic’s effects, Bross Stuart said, “To make an effort to be positive, I would say, having more time has allowed Jessica and I to create the Joan Beckow Legacy Project and collaborate in every way. The music and the mutual respect have been well beyond my expectations and – as [fellow community member] Sharon Kates added – a mitzvah for everyone. Especially for people who do not yet know the breadth of Joan’s musical output, it will be a stunning discovery.”
With the developments of the past two years, the musical program for the JSA forum has changed from what it was in 2020.
“It includes Yiddish songs – for example, ‘Tum Balalaika,’ ‘Rozhinkes Mit Mandlen’ – in Claire’s memory, and many Joan Beckow songs, recently recorded in studio, including ‘On the Other Side of Nowhere’ and ‘Tov L’Hodot,’” said Bross Stuart, noting that every composer of every song in the program is Jewish.
The Yiddish songs are from the repertoire that Klein Osipov and Bross Stuart presented over the many years they worked together.
“We have a piece of music which says, ‘Because I knew you, I have been changed … for good,’” said Bross Stuart, referring to the song “For Good,” written by Stephen Schwartz. She added, “David Beckow chose his mother’s own lyrics to inscribe on her gravestone: ‘When this life is over, we will meet somehow, on the other side of nowhere, on the far side of now.’ Kat will sing it.”
The Stuarts and Beckows are longtime friends.
“We met Joan about 50 years ago, when her husband, Jack, was Ron’s anthropology student at UBC. Joan’s music was absolutely magic. When she asked me to assist her with the music direction of a show she was working on, I said yes as soon as I saw/heard one of the lead singers – Claire Klein Osipov!
“Joan and I worked together on choral pieces, on musical theatre pieces, on Jewish liturgical pieces and on classical pieces. I organized the publication of a number of her works, and public performances as well. Her music and her friendship enhanced our lives – and inspired my daughter, Jessica, to become a composer and musician. Joan was a mentor.”
Bross Stuart explained her interest in Yiddish music.
“Growing up in a New York City suburb (Yonkers),” she said, “my grandmother lived with us while I was growing up. Although her most comfortable language was Yiddish (Galitzianer variety), she spoke accented English to me. Yiddish was not what my parents wanted me to speak. This, of course, made Yiddish so much more interesting to me. Years later, in Vancouver, working with Claire and creating musical arrangements for all those songs – four CDs’ worth – required a detailed understanding of the Yiddish. The German I had studied in high school and at McGill was helpful, but working with Claire was even more helpful. We did a lot of concert work together, and I would say that our daughter Fiona grew to love Yiddish as a result. Another mentor for us!”
With a Song in My Heart is JSA’s first hybrid event, taking place live at the Peretz Centre, with streaming links available for YouTube, Vimeo or Zoom. Registration is required in both instances. If attending in-person, proof of vaccination is also required. Visit jsalliance.org, email [email protected] or call 604-732-1555.
Dancers Alvin Erasga Tolentino, left, and Gabriel Dharmoo in Passages of Rhythms, in which Jonathan Bernard (below) is a percussionist. (photo by Yasuhiro Okada)
“Passages of Rhythms is inspired by a shared fascination with interculturalism, interdisciplinary activity, flamenco and collaborations between cultures,” percussionist Jonathan Bernard told the Independent about the Co.ERASGA production, which is being remounted May 19 and 20 at PAL Studio Theatre, in recognition of Asian Heritage Month. May is also Jewish Heritage Month.
“Canada is becoming well-known as an international centre of intercultural arts,” said Bernard, a member of the Jewish community. “I very much look forward to the remount and a bright future for the show on Canadian and international stages.”
In Passages of Rhythms, Co.ERASGA’s Alvin Erasga Tolentino highlights flamenco, Bharatanatyam and voices for the body, in a collaboration with local Chinese-Canadian flamenco artist Kasandra “La China,” Indo-Canadian Bharatanatyam dancer Sujit Vaidya and Montreal voice artist Gabriel Dharmoo. Ronald Stelting joins Bernard on the percussion music, and Jonathan Kim provides the lighting.
Bernard was in the original production, which took place at the Firehall Theatre as part of the Dancing on the Edge festival in 2018.
“The creation process of Passages was very smooth, full of joy and dedication, and the result brought a standing ovation from an enthusiastic audience,” he said. “Alvin is a director with a warm heart, an open mind, and is a passionate artist, so I’m overjoyed to be part of the remount.
“This is a dream gig for me,” he continued, “as I caught the flamenco bug back around 2005, I’ve traveled to the birthplace of flamenco in southern Spain to study and I’ve happily spent countless hours collaborating with flamenco dancers at local flamenco venues and on the concert stage. Kasandra was my first flamenco teacher, and we have had an artistic relationship going back to the mid-2000s. One of our groups, Orchid Ensemble, collaborated with Kasandra’s and Oscar Nieto’s Al Mozaico Flamenco Theatre to create a show named after the famous Café de Chinitas in Malaga, where Frederico Garcia Lorca penned some of his most famous works.”
Another reason this is a dream gig for Bernard, he said, “is that I have the pleasure of surrounding myself with many of my favourite instruments, collected from 25 years of travel and study around the world, scouring through ancient temple and traditional markets for the best sounding instruments. For example, you will see/hear temple bells and opera cymbals from Beijing and Sichuan province; tuned gongs found in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos; the riqq (Arabic frame drum), handmade in Cairo’s old city; bells from India; and, of course, the cajon, a box drum adapted into the flamenco tradition in the 1960s.
“My compositional ideas that form the soundscape for Passages are not only inspired by the dancers’ movement,” he said, “but by the instruments themselves and the ancient styles traditions they represent. Further, as most often I am busy interpreting the work of composers, Passages gave me a chance to compose my own original music.”
Since the mid-1990s, Bernard and his wife and artistic partner Lan Tung have been creating intercultural ensembles, mixing instruments and instrumentalists from traditions ranging from Chinese, South Asian, Persian, Arabic, North African and Western traditions, creating original Canadian music, and touring internationally. “We looked to ancient centres of interculturalism such as the Silk Road and El Andalus for inspiration, and as reflections of our own unique cultural environment,” he said. “Andalusia was a golden age of interculturalism, where Jews, Muslims and Christians lived in relative peace and shared knowledge and cultural traditions, from architecture to music to the culinary arts.
“Since the birthplace of flamenco – approximately one hour by train to the ancient Mediterranean port city of Cadiz – was located in the heart of Andalusia, I believe flamenco was certainly shaped by the liberal sharing and mixing of traditions,” he said. “For example, the 12-beat time cycles that are of central importance to West and North African traditions are also deeply embedded in flamenco forms; the castanets and palmas (interlocking handclaps) can be found in the carcabas and rhythms of the Gnawa and Berber people of Africa; the Ashkenazi cantorial traditions must have influenced the passionate flamenco vocal style. It might be said that flamenco borrowed rhythmic elements from North Africa, melodic elements from the pre-inquisition Ashkenazi Ladino song, and with simple harmonic structures and the guitar from Europe.”
Passages of Rhythms’ May 19 and 20 performances start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30 ($20 for students and seniors) and can be purchased at eventbrite.ca.
In DANCE:CRAFT, dancers Heather Dotto and Joey Matt interact with and reinterpret five elements – glass, metal, wood, fibre and ceramics – created by B.C. crafts artists. (photo by Michael Slobodian)
After years of development, DANCE:CRAFT will see its world première May 20-22, 7 p.m., at the SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre. Among the craftspeople who contributed their creativity to the show is Hope Forstenzer, a glassworks artist, who also happens to be the director of the Gertrude and Sidney Zack Gallery.
“I was asked to be part of the project in October of 2016 and, at the time, the thinking was that it would take about two years to develop,” Forstenzer told the Independent. “It wound up taking longer than that for lots of reasons – I think one of the primary dancers went on maternity leave and, then, right as the project was about to begin rehearsals, COVID shut everything down.
“Initially, Joe [Laughlin] and I had all kinds of discussions and brainstorming sessions about ways to incorporate pieces into the dance. We rethought quite a bit of it when we started up again, and we wound up with some very interesting stuff that was quite different in some ways than we originally imagined. I think it’s going to be quite a bit different than any of us originally thought – the world isn’t what it was in October 2016.”
DANCE:CRAFT is described as “an exploration of two dancers interacting with numerous craft objects in a reconfigured theatre setting. It’s craft seen through the lens of dance and remixed, a look at our relationship to objects, creating and interacting with them.”
Presented by Joe Ink – which is led by Laughlin – and SFU Woodward’s Cultural Programs, DANCE:CRAFT also features five virtual reality films that give viewers a look into the artists’ studios.
“I’ve made six large blown glass rock-like pieces with lights inside of them, a large acrylic box full of glass balls, and 12 hanging cylinders in various sizes,” said Forstenzer.
The whole creative endeavour began as a research project focusing on dance and art. Laughlin conceived of the concept and the dancers are Heather Dotto and Joey Matt. They worked with five B.C. artists, facilitated by the Craft Council of British Columbia, curators of the show. In addition to Forstenzer, Stefanie Dueck (metal), Patrick Christie (wood), Deborah Dumka (fibre) and Debra E. Sloan (ceramics) provide the five elements that the dancers and Laughlin reinterpret.
“I have been thinking about the earth, the environment, the elements, evolution, geography, migration and humans,” says Laughlin in the press release. “The tactile sensation of handmade objects juxtaposed with the ephemeral quality of the dancing body triggers a memory experience. Being immersed in an environment and watching the body respond to texture and colour is what anchors us in time and space. We are looking for connections between communities and the natural world, geography and the human family.”
Laughlin added, “The process for creating a dancer incorporates fibre, sinew, muscle, bone, water, pressure, agitation and repetition. Craft is a transformative process that incorporates stone, fibre, wood, metal, water, pressure, agitation and repetition.”
DANCE:CRAFT asks audiences to consider, “How do objects further extend the language of the body and its narrative possibilities?”
“I come from a theatre background and have done a great deal of work with dancers and actors,” said Forstenzer in contemplating this question. “Objects – props, costumes, sets, and all things like them – become part of a performance completely. A knife becomes part of an arm, to use for harmless or harmful purposes; a table becomes a second stage if someone stands on it; a mask hides a face. The best performances use performers, environments and objects to tell a story fully. I think what we’ll see with DANCE:CRAFT is a full storytelling collaboration, in which the artists have given works to Joe, and he has created a story to tell with them.
“This has been a fun project to work on,” she continued. “It’s not that often you get to do a collaboration like this. I’m really excited to be part of it.”
Tickets for the performance are $30 ($25 for students and seniors) and they can be purchased at eventbrite.ca.
The creation of Songs for a Lost Pod helped singer/songwriter Leah Abramson explore her family’s Holocaust history. (photo by Angela Fama)
The world première of Leah Abramson’s Songs for a Lost Pod was supposed to be part of this year’s PuSh Festival three months ago. Delayed because of COVID restrictions at the time, it now will debut May 28-29, 7:30 p.m., at Studio T, SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts.
Songs for a Lost Pod is a “nine-song cycle [that] makes spectacular use of orca vocalizations, transforming them into rhythmic beats in a musical exploration of historical trauma, environmental crisis and communication between species.” The theatrical production is the most recent development in a process that includes an album by the same name, released in 2017.
“It was just an outward spiral, really. The project started with dreams I had about whales, which turned into researching whales for fun, which then turned into a master of fine arts thesis, an album, a comic book, and now a stage show!” said Abramson when the Independent interviewed her in anticipation of the PuSh festival. “When I made the album, I knew there was so much research and information behind the lyrics and music of each song, and I felt like I wanted people to understand that context, so I made the comic book to highlight some of the research and stories. Then, as I was arranging the music to be performed live, I realized that I wanted people to have that context, too, so I’ve turned the research and background into a script. Then we decided that adding visuals would really help immerse the audience in the material. The project has just been expanding from the beginning.”
Abramson, who grew up in Burnaby, said she has been interested in music from a young age. “My grandma sang in her synagogue’s choir and my dad played the piano, so they tell me it runs in the family,” she said. “But I was also told that music was only for fun, and not a real career, unless you were a concert pianist or something like that. So, I tried to do other things, but I was miserable unless I was making music.
“Over the years, I’ve done lots of touring and playing in bands and teaching, but writing and composing has always been what I love the most. I have pretty varied interests – I’m fascinated by marine biology and I love learning about the environment, as well as human history. The great thing about writing songs is that you can research anything and put it into your work. Right now, I’m really excited about writing music for the stage, as well as choral music.”
Along with her MFA in creative writing (with a focus on lyrics) from the University of British Columbia, Abramson studied classical music at Capilano University, and also has studied traditional Appalachian balladry.
In addition to the song-cycle, Songs for a Lost Pod features the narrative script that Abramson mentioned, which “juxtaposes the whale histories with Leah’s own family and their experience surviving the Holocaust and its aftermath,” according to the program description. “Mind of a Snail’s handmade projections create an impressionistic and largely non-representational visual world to support the songs and narration, guiding the audience into a space of contemplation.”
“When I first started looking into whale histories, the parallels presented themselves pretty quickly,” Abramson told the Independent. “It was not my intention to delve into my family’s past, but, while learning about captures and commercial whaling practices, it was hard not to look at the bigger picture of human behaviour throughout history – aspects of cruelty and destruction that manifest in heartbreaking ways. But also, whales are similar to humans – whale intelligence is extremely high, and whale families are extremely tight knit.”
It was difficult for Abramson to explore her family’s Holocaust history – “the loss and pain are pretty overwhelming,” she said, “and it’s not always easy to find a way forward when that intensity is present. Whale families became a mirror for me, a way to understand and experience intergenerational trauma at a greater distance. The project allowed me to deal with my feelings in a more manageable way, through empathy for another species. And it provided a space for my grief, but also helped me find a way through it. Trauma is so common in families of all different backgrounds. Our ancestors may have lived through wars or other calamities and there are so many people living through these things right now. I think learning others’ stories can help people start to process their own family’s pain, even if the details are different. I felt like whale stories did that for me.”
Credit for Songs of a Lost Pod’s music and lyrics go to Abramson in collaboration with Antoine Bédard, J.J. Ipsen, Andrew Lee (Holy Hum), Aidan O’Rourke (Lau), Sandro Perri, Arliss Renwick and Marten Timan. The program notes that credit also could be given to the A5 whale pod, as the musicians “were given selected A5 pod orca vocalizations, along with Abramson’s other field recordings, to turn into beats and tracks, which formed the backbone of Abramson’s songwriting process, and the rhythms behind much of the music.”
Fellow Jewish community member Barbara Adler also has contributed to the project, and is the show’s narrator.
“Barbara and I have known each other for so long that we can’t remember when or how we officially met,” said Abramson. “It’s like that with people in creative community sometimes – you grow up making art alongside each other. We have shared some special experiences and projects over the years, and continue to work together and in parallel. We have some shared Czech-Jewish roots, which makes Barbara a really good fit for this project in particular. She’s working on a lot of interesting projects of her own, and I’m also happy to be one of her composer-collaborators for Mermaid Spring, which is a musical she’s making with Kyla Gardiner (who also happens to be our lighting designer).
“Barbara has been sending me song lyrics over the last few years, which I have been setting to music. I love working with the characters she has created, and it has truly been a joy to work on those songs. I also really admire Barbara’s artistic process. When she writes, she really digs into all the nuances of a situation or character. She welcomes complexity and the messy underside of creation. I think Barbara balances my impulsivity, and helps me step out from the shadows in my shyest moments. She’s also a great performer!”
Liat Har Lev premières a new work at the Dance Centre on April 29, as part of the centre’s celebration of International Dance Day. (photo by Chris Randle)
International Dance Day is April 29. To celebrate the occasion, the Dance Centre is presenting a day of free events, including a performance and workshop by choreographer Liat Har Lev.
Born in Ashkelon, Israel, to Ashkenazi parents from Romania, Har Lev said her parents decided to immigrate to Canada in 1982 because they wanted a safer haven for their children.
While dancing has always been a part of her life, flamenco came later.
“I remember my first jazz dance class at the age of 10,” she said. “Moving in space and creating shapes to the sound of music was natural. I felt alive and so vibrant.”
She first encountered flamenco at the Kino Café, which used to be on Cambie Street in Vancouver.
“I was mesmerized by the force, strength and intensity of the dancers and musicians,” she said. “It was a projection of who I am, an instant connection. Flamenco is a challenging art form in terms of rhythm, physicality and expression. I never stop learning and evolving. It challenges my mind and body and allows me to express deep sorrows and great joys.”
One of the highlights in her dance journey, she said, “was the first time I stepped on stage to perform my first flamenco solo. It boosted my confidence and opened the door for opportunities.”
On the Dance Centre’s website is a profile of Har Lev. In an interview with the centre, she says, “I believe that dance performance exists to communicate and teach. It is an embodied language that has different forms, shapes and expression. As an expressive dancer, the source of the inspiration for my choreographies and performances comes from the need to express a story, to invite people to move and think deeply. My work is inspired by the human condition and personal experiences. I take pride in collaborating with local dance artists and musicians and I strive to create new works.”
The Dance Centre profile includes a video of Har Lev’s We Shall Not Forget, which she began choreographing with the support of the centre’s 12 Minutes Max program. It is a powerful commemoration, dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust.
“We Shall Not Forget was inspired by my ancestors that perished in such a horrific way,” she told the Independent. “It was a calling for me to honour and remember them; a message from them through me. This tragedy left a big scar and a lesson to humankind.”
On International Dance Day, Har Lev will première a new work, Tientos. The program description says it “explores themes of personal integrity, internal conflict and the freedom of resolution, expressed through the flamenco dance forms of tientos and tangos.”
A work-in-progress, it features live music and singing. It is a collaboration between Har Lev, who choreographed and dances the piece, singer Maria Avila, guitarist Peter Mole, drummer Matteo Bebbo Sampaolo and choreography facilitator and dramaturg Carmen Romero. The performance will be followed by a brief introduction to flamenco workshop, led by Har Lev.
At the presentation, the artists will be collecting non-perishable food items for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank. So, if you’re heading downtown to see the show or attend the workshop, try and remember to bring an item to donate.
International Dance Day was started by UNESCO in 1982, with the date commemorating the birthday of Jean-Georges Noverre (1727-1810), who is considered the founder of modern ballet.
The monument for the 73 Israel Defence Forces soldiers killed in the 1997 helicopter accident over She’ar Yashuv in northern Israel. (photo by Geoffrey Druker)
This year’s community Yom Hazikaron commemoration on May 3 will mark the 25th anniversary of Israel’s worst air disaster.
On the evening of Feb. 4, 1997, two Israel Air Force helicopters collided into each other. One crashed in Moshav She’ar Yashuv, the second near Kibbutz Dafna. All 73 people on board the helicopters were killed, including eight air crew members. No one on the ground was hurt.
“The presence of Israeli forces in southern Lebanon, following the 1982 operation, led to ongoing battles with the Hezbollah,” explained Geoffrey Druker, who leads the annual Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) ceremony, which this year takes place at the Rothstein Theatre. “Many IDF convoys going into southern Lebanon were ambushed and hit by IEDs, so the IDF started flying in its troops.”
Druker said the accident was devastating. “It was the largest helicopter crash in all helicopter aviation,” he said. “Until, in 2002, a Russian helicopter downed by Chechens killed 127.
“The accident increased the pressure to withdraw from southern Lebanon,” he added, “which happened in May 2002.”
Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s Gesher Chai (Living Bridge) programs connect Metro Vancouver’s Jewish communities with Israel’s Galilee Panhandle communities. One of those connections is that King David High School’s sister school in Israel is Har Vagai, which is located on Kibbutz Dafna, where a part of one of the helicopters fell. In 2017, KDHS Grade 8 students traveled to Israel and spent time with their Har Vagai peers.
“The students visited the memorial and documented their meeting there, and the video was shown at our Yom Hazikaron ceremony here,” said Druker. “The memorial site is located in the ravine where a helicopter fell, not far from Kibbutz Dafna. On the site are 73 boulders, each the height of a person and all names are recorded on the site – a very moving memorial site.”
The 73 boulders surround a small pool. Among those remembered are three soldiers from our partnership region: Sgt. Tomer Goldberg, from Moshav Dishon; Staff Sgt. Tsafrir Shoval, from Kibbutz Baram; and Staff Sgt. Alejandro (Ale) Hofman, from Kibbutz Merom Golan, who was a graduate of Har Vagai. Hofman was 19 when he died.
In addition to that physical memorial, Druker said, “An annual conference is held in memory of the fallen, attended by the bereaved families. Students from the region participate in the conference. It’s attended by groups of soldiers and, over the years, the prime minister, the president, minister of defence and the chief of staff have attended and spoke at the conference.
“Every year, they focus on another topic, not necessarily on loss and grief – the bereaved families choose to have educational and other topics of interest. This year was about solidarity in times of COVID-19. Due to COVID, only 400 people attended this year, and the chief of staff spoke on behalf of the country’s leadership.”
Druker added, “An interesting point about that conference – the organizers do not adhere to official protocol because that might take away the decision-making from the bereaved families, regarding who can speak and what elements must be included. The wife of the then-chief of staff when the accident happened, Tali Lipkin-Shahak, has taken part in all the events. She personally is committed to be with the bereaved families.” (Amnon Lipkin-Shahak died from cancer in 2012.)
The local Yom Hazikaron ceremony will pay respects not only to the 73 who died in the helicopter accident 25 years ago, but all of Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of hostile acts.
The commemoration at the Rothstein Theatre on May 3 starts at 7:30 p.m. and registration is required for those wanting to attend in-person, as seats will be limited: jewishvancouver.com/zikaron. The ceremony also will be broadcast live.
Art Vancouver returns after a two-year COVID-imposed hiatus. Artists and galleries from across Canada and the United States – as well as from countries including Argentina, Cuba, Iran, Kenya, Mexico, Taiwan and Zimbabwe – are scheduled to exhibit at the Vancouver Convention Centre May 5–8. Several of the artists are members of the Jewish community, and they spoke with the Independent about their art and the return of the event.
The international fair, first held in 2015, is the main annual event of the Vancouver Visual Art Foundation, which was formed in 2017. The foundation has not let the pandemic quash its momentum.
“The creation of Art Downtown was introduced as a safe space during COVID, where people could have a place to get out and enjoy arts and culture,” Art Vancouver founder Lisa Wolfin told the Independent.
The summer outdoor festival invites artists to create art in various public spaces in downtown Vancouver. People can come and see the creative process in action and speak with the artists. The artists’ works are exhibited, and available for purchase.
“There is an area where people can sit down, get their hands full of colour and learn how to make art at no cost, as this is sponsored by Opus Art Supplies, giving people an opportunity to try things they may have never done before,” said Wolfin. “Live music is part of the festival. Each week, there are two new musicians, including singers, guitarists, bands, and duets, in all genres.”
During the pandemic, the foundation also offered online art classes. Since the easing of health restrictions, in-studio classes have started.
“People from all over B.C., Canada, the United States, Costa Rica, and as far away as Australia, [have] registered for the classes,” she said. “The instructors are professional local artists, teaching in a variety of different styles – florals, landscapes, abstract, graphite, neurographic, impressionism and figurative are some of the subjects demonstrated, with acrylics, watercolours, oils, markers, palette knives and metallics … [being] some of the materials we use.”
Wolfin herself has taken more than 100 classes over the last two years.
“There are stations all over my art studio with different mediums waiting to be experimented with,” she said. “In every class I took, I received a golden nugget that has added to my repertoire and moved my work in a different direction…. Each instructor had their own style and colours that they preferred, which took me out of my comfort zone and back to kindergarten to start all over again, being open to trying new things.
“Neurographic art is a new direction my work has shifted into,” she continued. “Russian psychologist Pavel Piskarev coined the term neurography, or neurographica, in 2014 – it helps us engage more neurons. By this, he specifies how using the simplest tools to draw, through this technique, is a link between conscious and unconscious. This connection is made by the brain cells called neurons being activated in a way that brings forth awareness and mindfulness…. This is a healing project for people of all ages, no artistic abilities are required, only the interest in creating an artwork that is not only intuitive but greatly beneficial to our emotional and calming states…. Neurographical art is a way to transform the stress, fear and chaos of our world into something more calming and peaceful. Art is always about expression and finding that inner peace.”
While still undecided about exactly which art pieces she’ll be showing at Art Vancouver, Wolfin described a new tree series she has been working on.
“I start out with acrylics using bright colours instead of the neutral and natural colours found in nature, including various mediums and acrylics because they create more depth and richness to my work, which is meant to be more realistic,” she explained. “Life is colourful. I look deeply into the forests and feel the colours, then transfer what I pick up onto the canvas. Next, I add Posca paint pens, dabbing colours all over the canvas for an added dimension. Then I go over the canvas with oil pastels and add another texture to it. The pastels skip over the gaps in the weave, leaving little dots of another medium. Lastly, a layer of resin is poured over the canvas and spread out to create a luscious thick layer of gloss which intensely brings out the layers of the colours, making the colours pop.”
She also has been creating florals with KrinkNY paint markers. “Because the tips are much thicker than a paintbrush, I have had to loosen up and go with the flow of the paint,” she said. “This paint mixes with itself when you go over it and it gets wet again. You can blend as you paint, and it is a challenge to get what you think you want [based on the] traditional way of painting.”
Artist Sky Lilah also has used the pandemic years to branch out. “I am continually striving to do something new,” she said. “Over the past few years, I have started to teach online art classes, for youth and adults. I have done a series of abstracts with the theme being on consciousness. For Art Vancouver 2022, I am doing a new series of mixed media, with the focus on love, thoughtfulness and manifestation. I have also been spending more time creating a unique fashion line and hand-painted clothes.”
The work she’ll be bringing to Art Vancouver is a new style of mixed media, she said, “with the focus being on my family – making unique pieces based on each member, including components from their past, present and future. I am fascinated by time and consciousness and how our minds create our reality.”
In addition to her art, Lilah will be bringing to Art Vancouver a personal development workbook that “includes self-awareness exercises and creative exercises to help one further develop themselves and live their best life,” she said.
“My personal development practice always influences my style of artwork,” she added. “The constant strengthening of my creative muscle, I believe, helps me in all areas of life.”
Lilah is excited by Art Vancouver’s return.
“I love the thrill of prepping for a show, and the impact that the show has on the community is so rewarding. It is always a pleasure to connect with each attendee and hear different perspectives from the art world.”
“When creating the pieces for the Art Vancouver exhibition, I was on Cloud 9,” said Taisha Teal, explaining the title of one of her series of works.
“When I create art, I am in the flow,” she said. “I am in a meditative state where time does not exist. On Cloud 9 has a deeper meaning – of being in another space in time, in the ninth dimension of pure bliss and happiness. When I am in the studio, I am at peace. There is no stress. It is where the magic happens. My name, Taisha, also means number nine in Hebrew; so the title felt pretty perfect.”
During the pandemic, Teal said, “I had the chance to really experiment with new materials and the courage to play around with no judgment.”
The Naked Line Ladies, also known as her “sparkle ladies,” are women in her life “promoting body positivity and female empowerment,” said Teal. Reminders, she said, “that you’re beautiful no matter what, and your body is the only one you’ve got…. We’re embracing our uniqueness, celebrating who we are.”
About her Spraypainted Hearts series, Teal said, “Infinite hearts, infinite strength. There is enough love to go around.”
And the Abstract Alcohol Ink collection is dedicated to her travels. “During this pandemic, I have felt very stuck,” she said. “I have been reminiscing about the places I’ve been and the colours I’ve felt along the way. This abstract series has really helped my mental health in overcoming the chaos in this pandemic. Not having to create the perfect realistic image, I use colours and gestural marks to create a piece that resembles places I have been.”
Artist Monica Gewurz also has been doing more abstract work over the pandemic, focusing more on the feelings generated by the landscape than its literal appearance.
“During the lockdown,” she said, “I continued to explore new techniques and tools, incorporating heavy textures and thin veils, to capture moments that uplift and refresh. We have all been held back from so many important things in life and, hopefully, these paintings can bring some uplifting and beauty to people’s lives.”
Gewurz is planning on bringing a new collection of more than 30 works to Art Vancouver.
“I paint primarily in acrylic,” she said, “but combine this with a variety of other media such as gesso, mediums, glazes and inks. I also like to use materials that excite me, like gold leaf and unusual acrylic mediums.”
During the pandemic, Gewurz said she has taken several online courses and “successfully increased the number of virtual juried exhibitions in B.C. and the U.S.” She also has “participated in numerous art shows conveying the climate change and our large carbon footprint in our planet. I am now being recognized as an eco-artist in the U.S.,” she said.
The environment is a top concern for Gewurz. For example, a piece of hers, “Ebbing,” was chosen for “the label of Safe Haven fortified wine of the 40 Knots winery,” she told the Independent in an April 2020 interview. “A portion of the wine sales goes to support salmon habitat restoration. I donated the artwork.”
Gewurz is one of 11 artists – with her painting “SOS” – in the year-long touring exhibit Diving In: The Art of Cleaning Lakes and Oceans’ Art Tour, an environmental art campaign initiated by the Sea to Sky Arts Council Alliance with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans, Return-It and local artists. It showcases “stunning pieces of art by selected artists created from a range of objects recovered through clean-up dives at local lakes and ocean sites.”
For a professional artist, said Gewurz, “it is important to exhibit at high-calibre international art exhibition shows. Art Vancouver provides me with a platform to display my works as well as sell them – this will be my fifth time exhibiting there.”
Grateful for the opportunity, she said, “To showcase my work in person was something I truly took for granted. Over these last few years, I have found a new appreciation and gratitude for events like this. To be able to connect, converse and exhibit amongst other creative people in my hometown is such a great opportunity.”
Given the continuing pandemic, safety won’t be lost in the excitement.
“We have a larger room in the Convention Centre West building so we can create a safe, socially distanced exhibition with more space between the aisles,” said Wolfin, acknowledging the work of the women-led organizing team of the event and the many volunteers.
The art exhibit is but one of the weekend’s activities. There will be a talk on non-fungible tokens (NFTs), for instance.
“There will be a whole section with NFTs for people to enjoy and learn about this whole new direction in the arts,” said Wolfin. “Art classes are going to feature non-traditional art mediums so anyone interested can try their hand in art…. Opening night starts off with The Face of Art, our runway show that puts a face to the artwork. Friday night will have an all-new art game feature – teams of three people will compete with each other for one hour to build a sculpture out of Lego…. Saturday night is Art Masters, a one-hour painting competition where the artists are given a theme and one hour to create using non-traditional tools, as there are no paintbrushes included!”
A Million Voices, choreographed by Matthew Neenan, is described as a “lighthearted and whimsical ode to Peggy Lee’s iconic jazz standards.” (photo by Rob LatourRob Latour)
Los Angeles-based BODYTRAFFIC returns to Vancouver for their DanceHouse debut, May 5-6, at the Vancouver Playhouse. The company, which is led by artistic director Tina Finkelman Berkett, will present Mixed Repertoire – A Million Voices, The One to Stay With, SNAP and PACOPEPEPLUTO.
“It is an immense privilege to present BODYTRAFFIC’s DanceHouse debut this spring, which also represents the company’s return to Vancouver since 2015,” said Jim Smith, artistic and executive director of DanceHouse, in a press release. “This is a masterful program of short works that effortlessly showcases BODYTRAFFIC’s singular ability to take on any dance genre, moving from hip hop to ballet to jazz and back again. Beautiful, virtuosic, political, and with a dash of much-needed lightness, this evening of dance will leave audiences breathless and wanting more.”
“We love coming to Vancouver,” Berkett told the Independent. “The audiences are always so welcoming and so curious. There always feels like a supportive energy for the work we are sharing. I loved that program that we offered back in 2015 [at the Chutzpah! Festival]. Typical to BODYTRAFFIC programming, it was packed full of works by choreographers who I believe in wholeheartedly.”
As for the May program, Berkett said, “The works the company will offer on May 5 and 6 showcase the versatility and virtuosity of our dancers. The program offers singular choreographic voices, some emerging and some established. Baye & Asa and Micaela Taylor are newer voices in our industry and are certainly taking the dance world by storm; I’m so excited to share their works. As always, the program will offer the audiences a chance to enjoy and be entertained.”
According to the press release, the 90-minute show will open with A Million Voices, from Matthew Neenan, which premièred in 2018. “A lighthearted and whimsical ode to Peggy Lee’s iconic jazz standards, this infectious piece featuring seven dancers reminds us that, even during our toughest moments, life is always worth enjoying.”
The One to Stay With by choreographers Baye & Asa was commissioned by BODYTRAFFIC and premièred only just last month. “Inspired by Patrick Radden Keefe’s 2021 book The Empire of Pain, about the Sackler family’s role in ‘Big Pharma’ and the current opioid epidemic,” The One to Stay With is a work for eight dancers. It “tackles ideas of power, greed and deceit, punctuated by a lively score of Russian waltzes and Romanian folk songs.”
SNAP, from Micaela Taylor, which BODYTRAFFIC premièred in 2019, features six dancers in a “hip hop-infused choreography [that] urges audiences to ‘snap out of’ pressures to conform, encouraging us to embrace the individuality of our own selves as well as those around us.”
The final piece, PACOPEPEPLUTO, by Alejandro Cerrudo, which premièred in 2011, features three male dancers, “who each perform an athletically charged solo set to a Dean Martin classic.”
BODYTRAFFIC was co-founded in 2007 by Berkett and Lillian Rose Barbeito. It is now under the sole artistic direction of Berkett, who started her career at Aszure Barton & Artists, with which she became a feature dancer, as well as Barton’s assistant and an instructor.
“I never dreamt of having a dance company,” Berkett told the Independent. “When I was a young dancer, I had a very different idea of what my future would be. I thought I’d join a repertory company – not start one! But life led me to Los Angeles and eventually to launching BODYTRAFFIC to fulfil my dreams as a dancer.”
Before moving to Los Angeles from New York and co-founding BODYTRAFFIC, Berkett was a founding member of Mikhail Baryshnikov’s Hell’s Kitchen Dance.
“Jewish values are a part of everything I do,” Berkett said when asked how her being Jewish influences her outlook and choices. “Family, community, charity, honour, respect, curiosity and a commitment to learning are also central to who I am and the work I do.”
BODYTRAFFIC’s May 5 and 6 shows at the Playhouse start at 8 p.m. Tickets (from $35) can be purchased at dancehouse.ca.
Israel’s Gilat Rapaport and the InJoy Band headline this year’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration on May 4 at the Vogue Theatre. (photo from injoyprod.com)
This year’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration on May 4 at the Vogue Theatre, headlined by Israel’s Gilat Rapaport and the InJoy Band, marks 20 years since the first large-scale community-wide event to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day was organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver.
“Growing up in Vancouver, the community had occasional large Yom Ha’atzmaut events with Israeli performers and I have wonderful memories of attending them,” said Stephen Gaerber, who co-chaired that first major gathering. “I was incredibly impressed by a large event held to celebrate Israel’s 50th in 1998 at the Orpheum [which was chaired by Judy Mandleman]. It was 2001, the Second Intifada was raging, Camp David had resulted in failure and Israel was, as usual, being disparaged in the press. My friend, Rick Schreiber, had become the chair of the Federation’s Israel department, and I told him that I thought the community should be having large-scale events every year to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut and all that is wonderful about Israel. His response was, ‘OK, you chair it.’ That’s how I became chair for the 2002 Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration, first co-chairing with my wife, Shari, and then, starting in 2003, with my brother Allen.”
Of course, local groups celebrated Israel’s birthday in various ways prior to 2002, notably the now-defunct Canadian Zionist Federation (CZF). Bernard Pinsky was CZF chair in the late 1980s.
“In the 1980s,” said Pinsky, “CZF brought in big names from Israel for a Yom Ha’atzmaut concert, including top artists like Nomi Shemer, Chava Alberstein, and Haparvarim. The concert was held at the JCC and wasn’t always right on Yom Ha’atzmaut, it was when the artists were available. The venue meant that we could only sell about 400 tickets, and CZF did a lot of fundraising to cover costs.”
Geoffrey Druker, who still leads the community’s annual Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) ceremony, said he was recruited by Pinsky to become involved in CZF and it was from Pinsky that Druker took over the role of local CZF chair in the early 1990s.
“We ran most Israel-related community programs,” said Druker, including Yom Ha’atzmaut, Yom Hazikaron, Walk with Israel (which took place on Jerusalem Day), the student public-speaking contest and other programs. When CZF closed nationally, Druker said he gathered past local leaders of the group to decide “whether to become an independent local organization or join Federation.”
The choice was to join the Israel desk at Federation, and Druker continued to chair many of the events, with most of the Yom Ha’atzmaut activities being held at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, he said.
“Federation didn’t have the funds for a large Yom Ha’atzmaut, and we couldn’t risk having a large celebration … while keeping the event tickets affordable to all,” said Druker. “So we ran smaller celebrations and with less-known artists.”
Affordability remained key when Federation, led by a committee put together by Stephen and Shari Gaerber, took over the event.
“Our goal wasn’t to just make it a concert, but a real community celebration,” said Stephen Gaerber. “We kept ticket prices very low so that everyone could afford to attend – and if they couldn’t afford even that, we made free tickets available through JFS [Jewish Family Services]. We invited all Jewish organizations in the city to add their names as Community Partners, and dozens did. We had children from Hebrew Academy, Talmud Torah and RJDS performing in addition to Israeli singer Danny Maseng.
“We were given no budget (other than staff time) for the event from the Federation and I didn’t want one. I was determined that the Federation not take anything away from what they were allocating to local community agencies in order to make this event happen. We believed that the community would support the event and we were right. We raised the funds from generous donors, rented the Chan Centre and signed a contract with the performer. We put tickets on sale and we sold out all 1,200 seats very quickly. The event itself is a bit of a blur, but my most vivid memory is the joy people expressed to us at its conclusion.”
With that success behind them, the goal was to involve even more individuals and organizations in the celebrations.
“For years,” said Gaerber, “Jonathan and Heather Berkowitz wrote a piece for young community members to perform and we were fortunate to have Wendy Bross Stuart direct them. We later added the JCC’s children’s Israeli dance troupes to the program, sometimes joined with dancers from our partnership region in the Upper Galilee.
“Pam Wolfman took over chairing the event in 2014 and continued to tweak things to make sure everything is new and fresh and even better each year, including involving the entire community in the community song,” he said. “What hasn’t changed is the support from the community. To this day, other than staff time, the Federation has not had to give any funding at all towards putting on the event. The group of donors has grown over the years and that allows the event to continue to stay true to our initial vision – tickets are still affordable and many are available at no cost to those who need them – and the events continue to sell out.”
The annual celebration brings Israeli performers – from veteran musicians to up-and-coming singers and musical groups – to Vancouver on Yom Ha’atzmaut.
“For many,” said Gaerber, “it was their first time performing outside of Israel on Yom Ha’atzmaut, as they hesitate to leave the country for this important day. Without exception, they have all expressed how incredibly meaningful it was for them to experience the warmth of our community and its love for Israel. A number of our performers who would not have otherwise considered coming to Vancouver for Yom Ha’atzmaut have only done so because they have heard from other performers about their experience and our Jewish community.
“Despite our Jewish community’s relatively small size,” he said, “we have been told by Israeli diplomats that Vancouver’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration, always occurring actually on erev Yom Ha’atzmaut, is one of the largest celebrations of its kind taking place on that day outside of Israel.”