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.”
Joan Beckow, left, Wendy Bross Stuart, centre, and Jessica Stuart, during a visit a few years ago. (photo from Jessica Stuart)
Acknowledging that the music world is “a fickle one in which skill, talent and ingenuity do not necessarily result in widespread acknowledgement or musical reach,” Jessica Stuart said Joan Beckow’s “music deserves to be heard. It deserves to be performed and played for many generations to come, and it is more than good enough to stand next to the work of Leonard Bernstein or Stephen Sondheim.”
Stuart and her mother, Wendy Bross Stuart – accomplished musicians in their own right – are co-directors of the Joan Beckow Project. Stuart is also project manager and producer of the project. Arts administrator Rosie Callaghan handles many of the behind-the-scenes details.
Beckow passed away on Jan. 13, 2021, at age 88. She was a close family friend of the Stuarts, and she and Bross Stuart collaborated professionally for more than 40 years. Jessica Stuart grew up surrounded by Beckow’s music, both because her mother and Beckow had worked together and because Stuart has performed a large body of Beckow’s work. The seeds of the Joan Beckow Project were planted in 2015, when Stuart discovered that none of Beckow’s music was available online and almost none of her choral or musical theatre music had ever been professionally recorded or transcribed. Beckow gave Stuart her blessing for the project.
Beckow started her career with a music degree from the University of California at Los Angeles. At UCLA, she composed six original musicals for the theatre department, where she collaborated with her friend, Carol Burnett. Beckow was resident composer and music director for the Stumptown Players, out of San Francisco, and, when she graduated, she started composing for Holiday Theatre L.A.
Eventually, Beckow found her way to Vancouver, where she worked with many theatres as a composer and music director, including the Playhouse, Carousel and Belfry theatres, as well as with the Shaw Festival. With Bross Stuart, she composed several musicals and, in 2002, It’s All in the Song, a summary of Beckow’s work, premièred at the Chutzpah! Festival.
Beckow’s resumé also includes a degree in music therapy from Capilano College, where she was faculty for 10 years. And, over a 25-year period, she wrote original material for the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver’s Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance! theatre program for youth.
“Part of the reason I think it’s so important to record Joan’s work for the first time, is that, although her pieces have a natural beauty and intuitive sound, on paper (literally, the musical scores), her pieces look very complicated,” Stuart told the Independent. “Many of her songs cycle through multiple musical keys and several time signatures in one piece and I strongly believe that, if we want choral directors, vocalists and instrumentalists to choose this music to perform, they need the chance to listen and fall in love with it first.”
Beckow wrote hundreds of compositions, and Stuart and her mother started talking about song selection long before the project officially started.
“How does one sum up a composer’s career in one album? Well, we decided that we couldn’t, so we made it a double disc,” said Stuart. “One disc will focus on Joan’s musical theatre material, and the other will focus on her classical and sacred music, including many pieces set to text from the Jewish liturgy. There will be 22 pieces in total.”
Also part of the project is a 25-minute documentary, directed by Stuart’s father, Ron Stuart, in collaboration with editor Carlos Coronado.
“We applied to the Canada Council for the Arts, to the Concept to Realization program, in which we were able to define the scope of our project activities to include more than just an album recording,” said Jessica Stuart. “We wanted to tell the story of Joan’s life, culminating in the present-day recording of her debut album, albeit posthumous.”
In addition to the Canada Council support, the project has received support from the Ontario Arts Council and from Beckow’s son, David Beckow. But such undertakings are expensive. This one involves 30 musicians, and recording sessions in both Vancouver, where Bross Stuart lives, and Toronto, where Stuart is based.
“Even with the arts councils’ generous contributions, this massive undertaking still requires more financial support and, with some of this music having waited 70 years to be recorded for the first time, cutting corners is not an option we’re willing to consider,” writes Stuart on the Indiegogo fundraiser page.
As part of the project, Beckow’s songs have been “lush[ed] out.”
“Joan wrote most of her pieces for piano and voices, and the piano accompaniment always felt very orchestral, so adding strings, woodwinds and percussion felt completely natural and somehow brought even more emotional levity to the pieces,” explained Stuart. “The arrangements were done by Wendy and I, separately, but then requiring approval from each other before signing off. We agreed that these arrangements needed to keep a focus on Joan’s actual writing, instead of letting our imaginations run too wild, and we stuck to that. The results are quite wonderful!”
As for the vocal contributors to the project, Stuart said, “The main consideration here was about getting the right voices for the right pieces. Wendy hired the personnel involved in the musical theatre portion of the album, which took place in Vancouver at Bryan Adam’s recording studio, the Warehouse.
“When I first conceived of this project,” she said, “I recognized that Joan’s classical and sacred music somehow had a kinship with jazz in terms of harmony, so I was eager to get the material into the hands of some of my favourite jazz musicians and improvisers based in Toronto. When choosing the personnel in Toronto, I went for both classical and jazz musicians, and even arranged a few pieces with sections earmarked for improvised solos. As suspected, not only did the music lend itself exceptionally well to improvisation, but Joan’s music had the Toronto jazz scene completely enamoured, and kind of in a tizzy, which was a real pleasure to watch.”
One of Stuart’s longtime favourite Beckow pieces is “Dwelling Places.”
“Joan once told me that she never wanted a harmony to simply exist as an ornament to a melody – that a harmony should be able to stand alone even if the melody were removed,” explained Stuart. “That, to me, is a profound idea, and I’ve always admired the myriad moving lines Joan was able to work into one piece concurrently within the accompaniment and vocal parts of her work. These lines lead you emotionally from one place to another, seamlessly, and all of sudden you have goosebumps and don’t even know why.
“Also, whether Joan was setting her own lyrics, or else poetry by Dorothy Parker, or else Jewish liturgical text, like ‘Dwelling Places,’ to music, she had an incredible gift for being able to mirror spoken cadence and intonation within her melodies.”
Stuart continued, “A new favourite of mine, though, discovered through the process of working on the Joan Beckow Legacy Project, is what I refer to as her ‘instant Christmas classic,’ called ‘A Christmas Wish.’ This is a song that stands up next to ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire (The Christmas Song),’ and you can’t help but to imagine Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra’s voice all over it. And I’m sure we’re all aware of the long-standing tradition of Jewish songwriters creating the best Christmas music, so it’s time we added a female composer’s take to the mix!”
For anyone wanting to know more about the Joan Beckow Legacy Project, there are regular posts on Facebook and Instagram. To contribute to the project via Indiegogo and watch a short video about it, visit igg.me/at/joanbeckowlegacy. There is a six-level range of incentives for donors, from a personal social media shoutout for a $25 gift, to a personal thank you in the liner notes of the album – and all the goodies of the prior levels – for a $1,000 contribution.
Left to right, Ori Laizerouvich, Israel Atias, Daniel Gad and Omer Perelman Striks co-star in The New Black. (photo from ChaiFlicks)
I have to improve either my Hebrew comprehension or my English speedreading skills before April 12. The second season of The New Black premières that day on ChaiFlicks and it’d be great if I could understand more of what was going on – even with my limited capacity, the first season was an absolute blast.
Also recently premièring on the streaming service ChaiFlicks, which carries all sorts of Israeli films and TV shows, was the second season of Checkout, an Israeli comedy in the tradition of American sitcoms Superstore, The Office and Parks and Recreation. It has some seriously funny moments, though a couple of the characters may grate on folks, as some of the characters on the aforementioned American shows did.
Superstore takes viewers into an Israel that most Jews will recognize, but that will be less familiar to those whose only experience of Israel is via the news. The show is set in a small supermarket, Issachar’s Bounty, in a small town, Yavne. The store’s patrons are regulars, and one in particular, fanny-packed customer Amnon, who has a complaint or gets into a confrontation every time he comes in to shop, is particularly annoying, as often is his main sparring partner, the brash cashier Kochava. But the other characters – notably Shira, the store manager who idolizes and sees herself as an up-and-coming Steve Jobs – offer enough less-in-your-face humour that the show is well worth watching if you like reality-show-type comedies. As in the other shows of this genre, there is a camera crew making a documentary about the store, so the characters not only interact with one another, but express their views in interview snippets with the film crew.
In the guise of humour, many a true observation is made in Superstore, which touches upon social inequality, terrorism, racism, homophobia and many other issues. Viewers can choose to just laugh at the goings-on depicted or they can take more away from the show. The same can be said of The New Black, which has some uncomfortable moments – for example, are we supposed to laugh when one of the yeshivah students is appalled when his matchmaker sets him up with a woman who uses a wheelchair? I don’t think so. I think we’re supposed to be appalled at his behaviour, behaviour that one can easily imagine of many self-absorbed 20-something guys who fancy themselves a prize despite all evidence to the contrary.
That the four yeshivah boys at the centre of The New Black seem like regular college-age men is why the show has broad appeal. That is does, while also being packed with somewhat-high-level (to non-Orthodox Jews) talmudic discussions, is a notable achievement. It is easy to see why the show was nominated for eight Israeli Television Academy Awards. It is smart, engaging, fast-paced and has a fantastic soundtrack. While non-Jews will have to watch it with a semi-knowledgeable Jewish friend and non-Hebrew-speaking Jews will occasionally have to press pause to take in the subtitles fully, The New Black has legs … and Borsalinos aplenty.
For access to these two comedies, and many other programs, visit chaiflicks.com.
Looking Back, Moving Forward is available for purchase from the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia. (photo from JMABC)
The first thing many readers will do upon opening the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia’s Looking Back, Moving Forward: 160 Years of Jewish Life in BC is try and find their friends’ writeups and those of the organizations with which they volunteer or work. That is, if they didn’t submit their own writeup for the publication. If they did send in their bio or one for their family, then that’s the first page to find.
Even people who grew up in the province and have a multigenerational presence here will find novel tidbits in this 284-page hardcover (or soft) coffee table book. Published to celebrate the museum’s 50th anniversary last year, it is appropriately dedicated to Irene Dodek (1930-2019) and Cyril E. Leonoff (1925-2016). Leonoff was founding president of the Jewish Historical Society of British Columbia, which was established in January 1971. Dodek, also a founder of the museum and archives, “helped define its direction early on and conducted more than a hundred oral history interviews with members of our community.” More about Dodek and Leonoff can be found in the first pages of the book, before the greetings from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier John Horgan.
In her president’s message, Carol Herbert writes, “Our stories are fascinating, and demonstrate the evolution over time of our communities, from a few small clusters of Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe in late 19th century to present-day diverse Jewish communities, comprised of individuals who originated from across the world; Sephardic, Mizrahi and Ashkenazi; secular and religious; leaders, activists and advocates for Jewish and general community causes.”
Both Herbert and the book’s editor, Michael Schwartz, director of community engagement for the JMABC, acknowledge that this publication is a partial snapshot of the community. They both encourage readers who haven’t done so yet “to share your memories of where we’ve been, celebrate with us where we are, and join us in envisioning where we might be headed,” writes Schwartz.
A chapter on the history of the JMABC begins the book proper. It is followed by brief regional histories – Victoria, Vancouver, Kootenay/Boundary, Okanagan, Prince George, Sunshine Coast, Central Vancouver Island and Whistler. The chapter on organizations is divided into those that work in advocacy and activism; religious observance; education; youth groups and camps; seniors; arts, culture and leisure; Zionism; Holocaust education; and anchor organizations. That last one, by the way, is where you’ll find the Jewish Independent (pages 126 and 127).
The Notables chapter is sorted chronologically: pioneers (1886-1945), postwar (1945-1970), modern (1970-2000), contemporary (2000-2010) and emerging (2010-present). Within each section, people are listed alphabetically by surname, as are the entries in the Family Album chapter. Rounding out the publication is a list of donors and an index.
Looking Back, Moving Forward offers a broad overview of many of the major players in the B.C. Jewish community over the 160 years since Jews first arrived here. It focuses on accomplishments and takes readers right up to 2021. It is easy reading, and no one need worry that any dirty laundry is aired. Given the celebratory nature of the book, none of the submitters (including the JI) talk about the challenges they’ve faced or controversies, and neither do any of the introductions to the various sections.
Some history is given only passing mention, such as what community fundraising structures were in place prior to the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s emergence in 1987, for example, but the book isn’t meant to be a comprehensive historical tome. Rather, it’s a fun, page-flipping community yearbook of sorts, which will hopefully motivate people to both learn more about the community and contribute their stories to its archival record.
Looking Back, Moving Forward is available in hardcover ($100) and softcover ($50). To place an order, contact the museum offices at 604-257-5199 or [email protected]. Shipping is available across Canada for a fee of $20 per book.
As meaningful and fun as most of the Jewish holidays are, there’s a lot of running around, cleaning, cooking and other preparation that generally goes into them. Three recently published children’s books – two about Passover and one on Shabbat – capture the joys of the holidays, and the craziness that can sometimes precede them.
Passover, Here I Come!, written by D.J. Steinberg and illustrated by Emanuel Wiemans was put out this year by Grosset & Dunlap. It’s a compilation of short poems, all related to Passover, from “Scrub-A-Dub-Dub!” preparations to “Bye-bye, Bread!” and “Hello, Matzoh!” it goes through pretty much every aspect, including the Passover story, what’s for dinner and the search for the afikomen.
“Made by Me!” is about making up the seder plate, and all the plate’s items and their symbols are noted alongside the illustration. For the poem “Our Magic Table,” the drawings and words again combine to wonderful effect. We see the tables from set-up to guest-filled, and the typesetting, leaving gaps between the letters forming the words “g r o w s a n d g r o w s,” communicate the truly magic nature of a Pesach table that does seem to fit an enormous number of people, when we’re lucky to have many friends and family join in our celebrations.
Steinberg’s verse and Wiemans’ drawings work well together, simultaneously entertaining and teaching. The basics of Passover are all covered in Passover, Here I Come! which even includes a recipe for Mom’s Matzoh Brei after the four-line poem “World’s Best Breakfast.”
A Persian Passover (Kalaniot Books) by Etan Basseri with illustrations by Rashin Kheiriyeh, also contains a recipe – for hallaq, which is Persian-style charoset. In addition, the end of the book features a brief description of Passover and what goes on the seder plate, a glossary of Persian and Hebrew words used in the story, and a couple of paragraphs on Jews in Persia, known today as Iran, though, notes Basseri, “the culture and main language of this region is still called ‘Persian.’”
Set in Iran in the 1950s, A Persian Passover follows siblings Ezra and Roza, who are helping their family get ready for the holiday. Everyone is put to work and Roza is finally old to enough to accompany older brother Ezra to the synagogue, where families bring their own flour “to be mixed, rolled and baked into soft, delicious matzah.” Though older, Ezra is not necessarily wiser and he’s still a kid, with energy to burn. Not having learned from an earlier collision with a neighbour – as he ran a lap around the house, being timed by Roza – Ezra once again asks Roza to measure how fast he can run to the next street corner, freshly baked matzah in hand.
“But he didn’t see the rut in the road up ahead. ‘Oof!’ yelped Ezra as he tripped and fell. Splat! went the bag of matzah as it dropped into a puddle.
“‘The matzah!’ they exclaimed together.
“‘That was all the matzah we had for the week. Now it’s gone. What will we tell Mama and Baba?’ asked Roza.” (The glossary notes that baba means dad in Persian.)
Ezra and Roza set out to find replacement matzah before the seder starts, and we meet more of the neighbourhood folk. Hopefully, it won’t be too much of a spoiler to know that the kids succeed – not only receiving kindness, but also showing kindness to others along the way.
The last book that recently came out has to do with matzah, but not with Passover, which is why it’s included in this brief roundup even though it’s about Shabbat. Good for year-round reading, Bubbe and Bart’s Matzoh Ball Mayhem, written by Bonnie Grubman and illustrated by Deborah Melmon, was published by Seattle’s Intergalactic Afikoman last November. Created by two dog lovers, it begins, “This is Bubbe’s story. Believe me that it’s true. Her puppy loved each Friday night like Jewish puppies do.
“When Bubbe made her matzoh balls, Bart was at her feet, waiting for a ball to fall, and not some doggie treat.”
While Bart’s begging doesn’t achieve the desired result, he does get to eat all the matzah balls he’s able to catch. Bubbling away in the pot on the stove, the matzah balls grow so large that they blow off the lid and zoom all over the room. Not to be held back by “a better lid, and some very sticky tape,” the balls continue to fly. And we get to count them as they do. (Another spoiler alert: Bart gets to eat an awful lot of matzah.)
Eventually, with a little magic, calmness is restored and dog and house are cleaned up in time for Shabbat dinner with the family.
Bubbe and Bart’s Matzoh Ball Mayhem ends with a couple of paragraphs about Shabbat, “a very special day of the week,” and a short glossary.
Alan Twigg, author of Out of Hiding: Holocaust Literature of British Columbia, at the gravesite of Rudolf “Rudi” Vrba, who died in 2006. (photo from JCC Jewish Book Festival)
Fittingly for a man who has dedicated his life’s work to the written word, Alan Twigg has compiled a fascinating bibliography. Out of Hiding: Holocaust Literature of British Columbia is one of two books to be launched in a JCC Jewish Book Festival epilogue event on April 5. The other is Sounds from Silence: Reflections of a Child Holocaust Survivor, Psychiatrist and Teacher by Dr. Robert Krell, to whom Twigg’s book is dedicated.
“More than anyone in Canada, Robert Krell has continuously carried the torches of healing, investigation and discourse about the Shoah since the 1970s to counteract ever-encroaching racism, denial and wilful ignorance,” writes Twigg, whose book is also dedicated to the late publisher and editor Ronald Hatch, who died last November. Hatch and his wife Veronica co-managed Ronsdale Press, which published Out of Hiding.
Among other things, Twigg is the founder of the BC BookWorld newspaper, TheOrmsby Review (now called The British Columbia Review), the ABCBookWorld reference site, the Literary Map of BC and the Indigenous Literary Map of BC, as well as many of the province’s literary prizes. He has published 20 books and made seven literary documentaries.
Twigg wrote Out of Hiding with the help of many, including, notably, Yosef Wosk, who wrote the book’s afterword, in which Wosk discusses various kinds of hiding – from one’s mission, from persecution, in dreams, in silence, from truth. Wosk notes that the perpetrators of the Holocaust also tried to hide: “The Nazis engaged in fraud, deception and secrecy on a massive scale,” he writes.
“The secrecy was complete and, to a large extent, effective,” he adds. “The very monstrosity of the crime made it unbelieveable. In fact, the Nazis speculated that the unimaginability of their Aktionen would work in their favour.” But this expectation “was frustrated by the Allied victory. [What remained of] Nazi archives were opened, contemporary Jewish documents were discovered, and facts were ferreted out by courts and scholars. Moreover, by 1942, the Free World had gradually learned the truth, albeit not always complete and precise.”
Wosk concludes, “There is much to remember and even more to know as the Holocaust comes out of hiding.”
And this is one of the reasons Twigg compiled this collection.
“I am not a Jew. I am not a German. I simply believe it is the responsibility of everyone on the planet to know more than just a little about the Holocaust,” begins Twigg in the foreword. “It is our collective responsibility to teach our children – with details – about why the Shoah is unique among the many genocides.”
He points out: “No other political regime has ever systematically murdered at least 1.5 million babies and children.”
As well: “Never before or after has a modern, industrial state mobilized all of its resources to systematically commit murder at least six million times in about eight years (from Kristallnacht in 1938 to 1945) and no other government has established a separate killing ground to murder approximately 50,000 women (at Ravensbruck, north of Berlin).
“No other regime has so thoroughly and consistently degraded its victims,” writes Twigg. “Estimates vary but the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum claims Germans created 980 concentration camps, 30,000 slave labour camps, 1,150 Jewish ghettos, 1,000 prisoner-of-war camps and 500 brothels where women were sex slaves.” And yet, Holocaust education surveys have shown that most people would struggle to name one or two camps, other than perhaps Auschwitz.
Twigg believes that, “if the most-heinous, most-planned and most extensive genocide can be deep-sixed by mankind, all genocides thereafter can be shrugged off as natural – as inevitable as forest fires, plagues, droughts, locusts or tidal waves.” If that happens, he argues, then genocide becomes “someone else’s problem.” As for something the magnitude of the Holocaust, he writes, “Most certainly it can happen again.”
Out of Hiding is an intensely personal project for Twigg. He describes the book as “a roadmap back to places and experiences that must never be forgotten, offering a wide range of perspectives from the Holocaust-related books of British Columbian authors.” In total, he covers some 160 books in four sections. Some authors have written, edited or otherwise helped bring into being more than one memoir, novel, report or study; some of the people discussed are the subjects of the publications, rather than the writer.
Part One features relatively long expositions on Rudolf Vrba, Robert (Robbie) Waisman and Krell.
Twigg considers Vrba – who lived in Vancouver for the last few decades of his life – the “most important author of British Columbia.”
Writes Twigg in Out of Hiding, “Historian Ruth Linn estimates there were about 500-700 attempts to escape from Auschwitz-Birkenau, and most failed. Some 75 of these attempts were made by Jews; only five Jews made it successfully to freedom. The most significant of these five was Rudolf ‘Rudi’ Vrba, the main author of the most authoritative report on the true nature of the concentration camps, co-authored with co-escapee Alfred Wetzler.”
The Vrba-Wetzler Report, dated April 25, 1944, “finally revealed to the Allies the true nature and extent of the Holocaust.”
Twigg provides a biography of Vrba and some of what he learned from him as a friend. He also shares that Vrba, who died in 2006, was buried in a “seldom-visited cemetery, known to few people, where there is only a simple headstone.”
The April 5 event will include a video of Wosk chanting a Jewish blessing for Vrba at the graveside – something that apparently has not been done before.
Both Waisman and Krell are discussed in as much depth as Vrba, from their brief childhoods before the Holocaust through to recent history, sharing some of their writings and accomplishments, giving readers a sense of who they are and why their contributions are so vital.
Part Two offers shorter personal summaries on dozens of authors and publications. This section includes Lillian Boraks-Nemetz, Claudia Cornwall, Peter Hay, David Lester, Robert Mermelstein, Heather Pringle, Peter Suedfeld, Mark Zuehlke and many others. It features survivors of the Holocaust, as well as researchers, educators, journalists, graphic artists and editors who have studied the Holocaust, members of the Second or Third Generation, and a few non-Jews.
Part Three features an eclectic mix of 26 writers/artists, including Olga Campbell, Esi Edugyan, Jean Gerber, Rabbi Marvin Hier, Nikolaus Martin, Isa Milman, Norman Ravvin, Colin Upton and others.
Part Four: One Doctor, Two Rabbis comprises three essays. The first is on Dr. Tom Perry, who served with the U.S. Army Medical Corps in the Second World War, and “took a series of rarely seen photos that his widow Claire Perry donated to the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre in 1994 along with a five-page letter he wrote to her from ‘somewhere in Germany,’ describing his feelings and impressions of Buchenwald.” The letter is included in this section – and it is a powerful testament, though words don’t capture the horror as much as do his photographs.
The second essay, “Lulek’s Story,” flows from a well-known photo taken by Tim Gidal on July 17, 1945, in a refugee compound near Haifa – front and centre is Israel Meir “Lulek” Lau, holding a Buchenwald banner. Rabbi Meir Lau, who became Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, was the youngest survivor of Buchenwald and his story is moving and inspirational.
Wosk’s afterword rounds out the collection with his thought-provoking reflections on hiding.
“Soon all witnesses will be gone,” concludes Twigg in his author’s statement. “The Holocaust must not be relegated to being merely the psychic preserve of Jews and Germans.”