Peleg Design’s Magnetic Vase is a bestseller. (photo from Peleg Designs)
From optical illusion flower vases to playful elephant-shaped cutlery drainers, Shahar Peleg wants his products to bring his customers joy, but first and foremost to fulfil a need in their home.
How does he figure out what those needs are? “Some of the ideas came to us while daydreaming, some in the shower, some we woke up with and some just came to us by email,” reads the website’s Suggest an Idea section.
People from all over the world reach out, the designer and founder of the brand told Israel21c. “Once in awhile, we get a great idea and we pay royalties to the designers or inventors,” he said. “It’s really amazing because a lot of people have a lot of ideas.” For example, the Bag Bunny, a magnetic rabbit-shaped tool for easily opening plastic packaging, was inspired by a customer suggestion.
Founded in 2005 and based in Tel Aviv, Peleg Design’s online store offers around 100 unique products that stem from everyday needs, each with quirks, twists or optical illusions that Peleg describes as “magical.” Nothing, he said, is what it seems.
The product that kicked off the company’s success was a vase Peleg designed for his own wedding in 2005. These “floating” vases are anchored by magnetic bases hidden underneath the tablecloth. To this day, the vase set is one of Peleg Design’s bestsellers. “It was a huge hit,” he said. “That’s what really began to generate business.”
Another universal problem Peleg wanted to solve was grime building up at the bottom of a cutlery drainer. His answer was Jumbo, an elephant-shaped cutlery holder that drains water out of its trunk, directly into the sink.
Peleg said function is key, and design secondary, to usefulness. But, still, he hopes his customers will fall in love with his “cute” designs.
His newest item, the Egguins, is an example of that cuteness. The penguin-shaped eggholder is not only visually amusing, but makes it easy to remove eggs from boiling water and store them in the fridge. One comment on Peleg Design’s Instagram page calls the item “the best thing since sliced bread.”
Many of Peleg’s products are made from plastic but they are meant to last. Sensitive to environmental issues, he explained that he wants his customers to develop an emotional connection to the items and use them for as long as possible before discarding them.
Passion and profession
Growing up, Peleg dreamed of being an astronaut, but he would eventually find his passion in a different form of exploration: design.
Peleg studied interior design at the Holon Institute of Design. A class project made him realize he had an eye for creating quirky but useful knick-knacks. He had made a wine-bottle holder that seemed to defy gravity. He was able to sell a few even before graduating.
“It started from selling one product in two or three stores in Tel Aviv,” he said. “It’s now become both my passion and my profession.”
What began as a one-man show has expanded to more than 30 countries, including the United States, Japan, Peru, France and South Korea. Some designs can even be found at the gift shop of the Louvre Museum in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art’s gift shop in New York City, where the Magnetic Vase is one of its bestselling items.
Peleg explained that his products are available in most major economies, excluding those that have no political relations with Israel. He hopes one day that will change, and he says so to the businesspeople he meets from countries like Iran and Kuwait.
Every now and then, Peleg receives an email from an Israeli customer, with a photo of his Magnetic Vase on a shelf in the MOMA gift shop. They are so happy to see an Israeli designer’s product among some of the world’s best, he said, noting, “That makes me proud.”
Israel21cis a nonprofit educational foundation with a mission to focus media and public attention on the 21st-century Israel that exists beyond the conflict. For more, or to donate, visit israel21c.org.
One high-tech solution for patients possibly infected with the coronavirus is a robot that can enter the patient’s room and be controlled by medical staff from the outside. (photo from IMP)
Before the coronavirus arrived in Israel – there were two reported cases at press time – Sheba Medical Centre was preparing for it with different high-tech means: a telemedicine app that enables patients to receive care in the isolation, but comfort, of their own home; and robots that can treat in-hospital patients in order to minimize contact with staff.
Sheba’s Datos Health-In is a telemedicine app that enables patients to remain at home. In the event of an epidemic, with more patients than isolation rooms available, the app can be a viable tool for patients who are not severely ill. With the app, patients can enter vital signs and other information, which is directly accessed by their doctor. Patients can also establish contact with their physicians at any time of day or night.
The program was launched on Feb. 9 and tested on Israelis who had been in China and who, according to Health Ministry instructions, had to be in quarantine for 14 days, the incubation period of the virus. Doctors initialized contact with the patients twice a day.
“This is one instance where telemedicine protects staff as well as other patients, by minimizing direct contact with those infected with the coronavirus,” explained Dr. Galia Barkai, head of telemedicine services at Sheba.
Another high-tech solution for patients possibly infected with the coronavirus is a robot that can enter the patient’s room and be controlled by medical staff from the outside. Designed by California-based virtual healthcare company Intouch Health, the robots are already in use in other departments, such as in the intensive care unit of pediatric cardiology, and the trauma unit.
“This technology is the perfect solution to provide care for in-patients infected with coronavirus, while protecting staff from contagion,” said Barkai.
Screening for the virus produces results in just a few hours but, with symptoms that are not very dramatic and that are reminiscent of the flu, including fever, cough and shortness of breath, Israel’s Health Ministry is only allowing those who have returned from China and a few other countries in the Far East to be tested.
– Courtesy International Marketing and Promotion (IMP)
With Hoot Reading, kids and teachers can see and hear each other via video chat. (screenshot)
Hoot Reading allows kids to get in their desired screen time, while also improving their reading skills. Jewish community member Carly Shuler, co-founder and chief executive director of the online tutoring company, came up with the educational concept while working on Sesame Street.
“While I was there, I was working on a research project aimed at understanding how to help kids learn through video chat,” Shuler explained. “Fast forward a couple of years and my co-founder, Maya Kotecha, and I decided the idea was too good to stay in the lab. So, we got the rights, formed Hoot Reading, and here we are.
“Something a lot of parents don’t know is that there is a deadline for reading,” she said. “We talk a lot about the fourth-grade reading slump, which is this phenomenon that happens in Grade 4, when children need to make the leap from learning how to read to reading to learn.”
The school system is based on the assumption that, by Grade 4, kids will be reading fluently. While some kids are indeed fluent readers by then, some 60% of students are reading below grade level as they start Grade 5. And, from then on, the ability to read is needed for every single topic, from math to science to social studies to music and to health, not to mention for activities outside of school.
“What happens is that those kids, come Grade 4, that we thought were average students, fall behind,” said Shuler. “They lose confidence and they disengage from school. And so, while we don’t believe at Hoot Reading that earlier is better, we do believe that there is a deadline for becoming a fluent reader – and that deadline is Grade 4.
“Hoot Reading, in particular, is good for all kids from kindergarten through to Grade 4 and, then, also any kids who are struggling after that point,” she said. “So, we have kids up to Grade 10 reading with us. They are in that 60 percentile of kids who are reading below grade level.”
The tutoring is done online with classroom teachers, one-on-one, in 20-minute lessons, two to three times a week. The app is basically Facetime meets Kindle, said Shuler. Kids and teachers can see and hear each other via video chat, and both the teachers and the students can point to things and see where the other is pointing.
“It allows for that dialogic reading, but it’s the interactive back and forth that is so important as a child progresses as a reader,” said Shuler. “Kids can do it from the comfort of their own home, from their family car, from their sibling’s piano lesson, or wherever they are. It can really happen anywhere at any time, so parents find it very convenient.”
Weighing in on screens, Shuler said, “At Hoot Reading, we don’t believe all screens are created equal. As parents, we should be paying more attention to what our kids are doing on screens, rather than just focusing on how much time they are spending on them. There are some really great things they can do.
“We believe screens can sometimes have a real benefit to our children’s learning, such as by allowing us to offer an affordable way to do one-on-one reading tutoring. So many kids can get access to it, whereas they couldn’t before. So, we encourage parents to think about it that way.”
Further to this, Shuler encourages parents to be reading mentors and role models, showing their kids that they, too, are using their screens to read.
“It’s really important that our children know that we are reading, so that they can see that it can be a really fun part of their media world,” she said. “Whether we are reading on a Kindle or reading a hard copy book, we want to show them and do it in front of them … and talk about the books and stories at the dinner table, because it’s really important that kids see reading can be fun.”
Shuler feels strongly that parents should help their kids choose apps and games that encourage reading. The ability to comprehend what you are reading and to be able to follow instructions is an important skill. While enjoying some games that do not involve reading is OK, she recommended finding games that do provide a different medium for kids to further their love of reading.
Just like any other skill, the more you practise, the better you get at it and Shuler maintains that kids should read aloud with a grown-up for at least 10 minutes a day, five days a week.
“In the same way that, when learning to play basketball, some kids might be a little better at it than others, but the best way to improve anything is through practise,” she said. “We have to practise and we have to practise out loud, with a grown-up there. Whether that grown-up is a parent, a Hoot Reading teacher, or someone else, kids need to be practising – and that’s not what’s happening in so many households. We’re so busy nowadays, between after-school activities and all the amazing things our kids get to do. But, reading cannot fall onto the backburner, because, if kids don’t practise, they’ll probably end up in that 60% by Grade 4.”
Shuler said kids need to have what they learn in school reinforced at home and, therefore, increasing public awareness is critical.
“A lot of parents don’t know – they just think about reading in terms of literacy or illiteracy so, once their child can read, they think, ‘Great! My child can read. We’ve got this!’ But, the truth is, again, reading is a skill, and you get better at it the more you read. That’s where most parents don’t know how important it is to continue the reading out loud, even if their child is reading.”
She added that “the key is in knowing how important it is and in making sure we prioritize reading practice in the same way we prioritize brushing our teeth.”
Finding books and other material that interest kids and make them excited about reading is paramount. “Just try to keep it a positive experience as much as possible,” said Shuler, “and do what you need to do as a parent to make that happen.”
Shuler and Kotecha recently launched a new initiative, called Hoot for All, sponsored by Spin Master, that will allow them to provide reading tutoring for kids at Boys and Girls Clubs across Canada at no cost to the kids’ families.
Sharon Emek, founder and owner of Work at Home Vintage Experts (WAHVE). (photo from WAHVE)
Sharon Emek’s company, Work at Home Vintage Experts (WAHVE), celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
WAHVE matches experienced professionals who are transitioning into retirement with businesses that are looking for the professionals’ specific skills and expertise. One of the draws for what WAHVE calls “pretirees” is that the pretiree can work from home. “By removing the requirement that workers be in the office, we break down the walls that confine businesses to a smaller talent pool,” notes the website. “Wherever the best talent is for the job, we help make it happen.”
Company founder Emek was raised in a moderate Chassidic home, but her parents refused her request to pursue a higher education. Nonetheless, she went to university, earned a doctorate and became a professor. Being computer and tech savvy, however, she started consulting for companies that were developing efficiency procedures and protocols. In the early 1980s, she went into business for herself.
When she was consulting for brokers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, she said, “The insurance companies began noticing how the work I was doing helped them run a better operation, so they asked if I’d like to start my own insurance brokerage firm. They said, ‘We don’t have any women,’ so I said, ‘Great. I’ll be happy to.’ I’d never actually sold insurance before, but I know a lot of people, so I wrote a business plan.”
Emek’s agency became one of the largest female-owned agencies in the area, before it merged with a larger brokerage firm in 2003.
“The industry began to worry about a potentially huge talent drain to come … everyone was turning grey,” said Emek. “It was a huge boomer industry. Young people hadn’t come into the industry and everyone was concerned at what we were going to do and how we’d get our work done.
“For me,” she said, “for every problem, there’s a solution. The research started to show that the more active you are, the more you engage your brain, and the longer you live.”
Within a few years, smartphones came out and laptops were gaining popularity. A couple of years later, voice systems and video calls became commonplace.
“You can [work] … at home and no one would know that you weren’t in the office, so it occurred to me, why don’t people do that? I bet people want to continue to work, but they don’t want to be in an office any longer,” said Emek. “After 30 years of driving to work, they are ready to retire from the regular office setting … but they’re not ready to retire from work.
“We did a whole survey in the industry of people over 55, asking them about that. All of them said that they love what they do, that they don’t want to stop working – they just don’t want to work in the office. And, also, that they are worried they don’t have enough money for retirement. So, all that came together in my head and I woke up one day and said, ‘Duh!’”
While people were ready to work from home, brokerage firms did not know how to make that a reality, so Emek developed a methodology for qualifying people interested in going this route. Creating a matrix of questions similar to dating sites, but for business purposes, she assessed 50-to-80-year-olds and helped them create a resumé to qualify them for remote positions in the insurance industry.
For the past 10 years, WAHVE has been connecting “vintage” experts with brokerage positions, filling needs on both sides of the spectrum.
Neither side meets in person, she said, so the potential employer has no idea of the applicant’s ethnicity or physical attributes.
“Our clients fill out a whole job request that includes their work culture, their daily functions, etc.,” said Emek. “We created this very sophisticated software and the whole point is to transform how everyone views retirement. These people are ‘un-retiring’ … retiring from the office, not from work. That’s the key.”
While Emek acknowledges that many other industries could benefit from this type of worker, her focus for now is on the insurance and financial services sectors.
“People are still old-fashioned, thinking the only way to supervise is to see you in the office, but they are beginning to understand that they can have a flexible work environment. They also realize that you can’t always find the right talent in your backyard,” she said.
Although many younger people also would love the opportunity to work from home, Emek recommended that they start by working in an office, to gain experience and expertise.
“That’s the problem with millennials,” said Emek. “They want to work from home, but they don’t have institutional knowledge yet. How are they going to learn it unless they work with people? A 25-year-old has to be trained. They don’t yet have the knowledge to work from home.
“My customers will hire my people because they know they are experts with 25 or 30 years of experience. Within two days, they are 100% productive. My people fill a need immediately. And there’s no turnover, they aren’t looking for a promotion – they just want steady work for the rest of their lives.
“WAHVE is more than a placement agency,” she said. “It provides support to clients, insurance and tech support…. In a sense, it provides home office management services, so professionals can do their jobs. I call it the ‘independent contractor model.’”
Emek gave the example of a woman who contacted WAHVE several months ago. In an email of thanks, the woman shared, “I moved to be near my daughter and granddaughter. I’ve been in the business 30 years and I have excellent credentials, but, every time I walk into the office for an interview, they’d see my age and that I have a limp. So, for over a year, almost a year-and-a-half, I could not find a job. I applied on WAHVE and, within a month-and-a-half, I now have a job I love. And nobody knows how old I am or that I have a limp.”
Of this, Emek said, “That’s why, that’s the purpose of WAHVE.”
WAHVE is not yet in Canada, but Emek would like to see it branch out here and beyond. “At this point,” she said, “we are trying to finish penetrating the big insurance companies. Once we do that, we’ll head to Canada – in two years, we hope.”
The 2019 “class photo” of Chabad shluchim who attended the Kinus Hashluchim in New York. Among the 4,000 Chabad emissaries attending were 14 from British Columbia. (photo from Chabad-Lubavitch)
Fourteen B.C. Chabad emissaries (shluchim), including one from Victoria and one from Nanaimo, recently converged on New York City for the annual five-day International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries (Kinus Hashluchim), which brings together shluchim from more than 100 countries around the world and other Jewish communal leaders, almost 6,000 people.
The Kinus Hashluchim reflects directly on the influence of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, z”l, leader of the Chabad movement, who, decades ago began sending young Chabad couples to far-flung corners of the world to serve and, in some cases, build Jewish communities. The shluchim, or Rebbe’s Army, now comprises 5,000 Chabad couples worldwide. The newest shluchim just established a Chabad centre in Kigali, Rwanda; one in Myanmar; and one on the Caribbean island of Turks and Caicos.
The November Kinus conference focused on the work that has been accomplished. “It’s an opportunity for shluchim to share the various challenges they encounter and the countless accomplishments they achieve. We get a chance to share ideas, inspiration and guidance not only from the Rebbe’s teachings, but from each other. And these enable us to go home spiritually refreshed and ready to implement new things,” said Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman, director of Chabad Richmond. “We definitely gain strength from each other, and our challenge is to celebrate and share Judaism with joy, and to continue optimistically and positively empowering Jews around us.”
During the five-day gathering, the shluchim participated in seminars and workshops on combating antisemitism, inspiring pride in the Jewish people, and much more. They also engaged in study, prayer and celebrations, including a gala dinner. The spiritual high point took place on the Friday, Nov. 22, when shluchim visited the Ohel, the Rebbe’s resting place. Thousands of emissaries waited in line to deliver handwritten notes and prayers to the grave.
“It’s an opportunity for us to rededicate ourselves to the Rebbe’s spiritual and social vision for the world,” said Rabbi Yitzchak Wineberg, director of Chabad Lubavitch of British Columbia. On Shabbat, shluchim and lay leaders spent time learning and praying in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighbourhood, which houses the worldwide headquarters of the Chabad Lubavitch movement at 770 Eastern Parkway. They also took part in farbrengens (traditional Chassidic gatherings). On Sunday, the annual “class photo” of more than 4,000 shluchim took place at Chabad headquarters.
The Sunday evening gala, which Baitelman described as “vibrating with uncontainable energy, renewed enthusiasm and an undeniable sense of mission,” was held at the New Jersey Convention and Exposition Centre. Emcee for the evening was Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice-chair of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational branch of the Chabad movement. He spoke of the challenges Chabad emissaries encounter in their work, and praised them for their enthusiastic and unflagging commitment to making a difference in the world.
The gala’s keynote address was given by U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. He related that he has been Torah study partners with a Chabad rabbi in Woodmere, N.Y., for more than two decades, and said that helped prepare him for his current role as ambassador to Israel.
Many of the gala’s speakers emphasized how shluchim are deeply connected to Jews in every part of the world, and that each individual Jew is important to them. Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, a Chabad emissary from Mill Hill Synagogue in London, England, said: “Ask yourself, where would the world be today without the Rebbe’s vision? Who else goes looking for Jews all around the world, in every corner of the world?… What would have become of [Jews] were it not for the unconditional devotion of every shaliach and shalucha?”
The gala wrapped up with the annual “roll call,” at which Kotlarsky read out the names of the countries that have permanent shluchim. The evening ended with dancing and singing. For those who are interested, the banquet was livestreamed by chabad.org at tinyurl.com/twu2x7z.
In addition to Wineberg and Baitelman, the B.C. contingent of shluchim included Rabbi Avraham Feigelstock (Community Kollel), Rabbi Schneur Wineberg (Chabad East Vancouver), Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld (Lubavitch BC), Rabbi Mendy Feigelstock (Kosher Check), Rabbi Levi Varnai (Chabad Richmond), Rabbi Binyomin Gordon (Kosher Check), Rabbi Falik Shtroks (Chabad White Rock/Surrey), Rabbi Chalom Loeub (Chabad UBC), Rabbi Shmulik Yeshayahu (Community Kollel), Rabbi Meir Kaplan (Chabad of Vancouver Island), Rabbi Bentzion Shemtov (Chabad Nanaimo) and Rabbi Binyomin Bitton (Chabad of Downtown Vancouver).
Many of us gravitate towards objects that are bright and sparkly. Creating this magic in one handbag is what Judith Leiber, née Peto, accomplished.
Judith Peto was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1921. Her mother, Helene, from Vienna, was a homemaker and her father, Emil, from Hungary, was a commodities broker. Together with her sister, Eva, the family had a bourgeois lifestyle.
Discovering that their teenaged daughter had a good head for numbers and academics, they sent Judith to London to study chemistry, with the hope that she would acquire a university degree and work in the cosmetics industry. Part of the reason they sent her away to school was a concern about her safety in case of a war. However, the distance from her family proved too difficult for Judith and she soon returned home.
She landed a job at a handbag company and, over the years, her father would bring her an assortment of unique handbags from his many travels around the world, thereby initiating Judith’s collection.
Learning the art of handbag-making from start to finish allowed Judith to become the first woman to join the Hungarian handbag guild; she gained the title of a true craftsman.
Judith and her family escaped and survived the Holocaust due to her father’s large circle of connections. He was fortunate to obtain a Schutzpass, a document that secured the bearer safe passage, giving the family, together with 26 others, access to a house set aside for Swiss citizens, where they could live. They ate what they could, slept on the floor and never left the security of the house.
“People in Budapest and my parents, especially my father, did one thing and then another to keep us safe, or as safe as we could be when everyone wanted to kill us,” Judith told the Jewish Exponent in a 2013 interview.
When Hungary was liberated, the family moved into a basement that was home to 60 survivors. Rebuilding the life they once knew was their goal. During this time, Judith met and fell in love with an American soldier, Gerson Leiber. Against her parents’ wishes, she married him in 1946 and the couple moved to the United States.
The young new immigrant had no intention of staying home and becoming a traditional housewife. With her knowledge and skill in making handbags, she got her first job at Nettie Rosenstein, a fashion designer. Working her way up in the company, she was commissioned to make a handbag to match the inauguration dress of the first lady, Mamie Eisenhower. The bag received high regard and this milestone, after 12 years of hard work, gave her the impetus to start her own brand.
In 1963, she launched her company with her husband and partner by her side, overseeing the business and operational duties. An avid artist himself, a painter, they were an unstoppable duo. In the 7,000-square-foot loft that became their studio, countless creations were brought to life, handbags that epitomized glamour, every piece an original, made with crystals and beads in shapes of animals, fruit and other objects.
A Judith Leiber handbag became a first lady tradition for the inauguration ball. Some A-list Hollywood stars put more thought into their Leiber handbag than their dresses, knowing it would be the focal point of any attire. One handbag could cost anywhere from $3,000 US to $20,000 US.
“That is what people pay for – quality,” Judith told the Exponent.
And quality was what she prided herself on, each bag being made by specialist craftsmen under Judith’s watchful eye in New York.
Her label brought in millions of dollars in sales each year and there was a waiting list for her creations, with women around the world wanting a timeless bag to wear and/or display as part of their home décor.
The company was sold in 1993, with Judith staying on as the head creator. She enjoyed her new life, moving out of New York and settling in East Hampton, N.Y., with her husband, “Gus.”
Over her career, Judith received numerous design awards and had her work exhibited in some of the world’s most renowned museums, including the Smithsonian, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum, to name only a few.
In addition to being displayed elsewhere, there is the Leiber Collection museum in East Hampton, a project set in motion by Gus.
The Leibers were married for more than 70 years. Their earthly love story endured until 2018, when they died within hours of each other, both of heart attacks.
Ariella Steinis a mother, wife and fashion maven. A Vancouverite, she has lived in both Turkey and Israel for the past 25 years.
One of the family cards, produced 100 years ago, that is currently on long-term loan in the folklore department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, on Mt. Scopus. It is from the Chaya and Chana Gitelman Collection.
Not too long ago, I was flipping through a collection of old family cards, all of which were produced 100 years ago in Eastern Europe. On the cover of one card, a young girl sits at a table writing in a notebook. Her mother stands over her, looking on. From a modern perspective, there is nothing unusual about a woman knowing how to read and write. But less than 200 years ago, this would have been considered somewhat revolutionary.
Just how revolutionary? In the article, “The History of Jewish Women in Early Modern Poland: An Assessment,” Prof. Moshe Rosman reported that, at the end of the 19th century, more than half of all Jewish girls could not read, not even in Yiddish. Rosman noted that not only was limited attention given to educating Jewish women, but that those who first wrote the history of this period, deemed it hardly worth dealing with the subject.
In early modern Poland, education for Jewish girls and women was largely designed to make them into faithful Jews who would keep female rituals. For the most part, their education was informal and conducted in Yiddish. Brenda Socachevsky Bacon states that a learned woman was an aberration and considered outside the norm. In analyzing Shmuel Yosef Agnon’s story “Hakhmot Nashim” (“The Wisdom of Women”), which was published in 1943, Socachevsky Bacon says a woman’s very presence in the beit midrash causes the men to be uncomfortable. “They view the realm of Torah study as their own, even as their own hypocritical behaviour belies their dedication to it,” she writes. “The men will not allow this discomfort to continue, even if it involves transgressing the Torah’s commandment not to embarrass another person publicly.”
Fortunately, this was not the whole story of this period. Rosman explains there were secularized school settings in which Jewish girls learned both Yiddish and European languages. The objective of these schools was modernization and general knowledge. Girls read classic European literature. In this instance, the scorn was sometimes transferred, with traditional Jewish literature viewed contemptuously.
According to Prof. Eliyana Adler (“Rediscovering Schools for Jewish Girls in Tsarist Russia”), private schools for Jewish girls were a crucial ingredient in transitioning Russian Jewry into modernity. She reports that, from 1844 to the early 1880s, well over 100 private schools for Jewish girls opened in cities, towns and shtetlach throughout the Pale of Jewish Settlement.
The educators who opened and ran private schools for Jewish girls pragmatically balanced their ideological motivations with very real concerns about funding and retaining communal goodwill. Thus, those who ran private schools offered a variety of student tracks. Rich Jews (like their wealthy Christian neighbours did elsewhere) could pay to board their children. Many schools offered weekly instruction in both music and French as paid electives.
Adler goes on to say, “at the same time, families of modest means were offered tuition payments on a sliding scale. Noteworthy, poor students were actively recruited for scholarship positions. Other schools offered less sophisticated fee scales, but clearly worked within the same framework. The rewards for having a robust student body became clear as both the government and certain private and communal bodies began to award subsidies to successful private schools.”
These private schools for Jewish girls designed Jewish studies curricula to meet the expectations of the Russian Jewish communities from which they drew their students. The curricula had to be modern and useful without being radical. Thus, efforts were made to introduce training in practical crafts; that is, crafts that could be put to use in the marketplace. In 1881, the first trade school for poor Jewish girls opened in Odessa. Thereafter, both trade schools and sections within other schools that offered more in-depth training in such skills as sewing opened with increasing frequency.
By the end of the 1890s, in Odessa alone, more than 500 girls studied in four communally funded vocational schools for Jewish girls. Jewish educators responded to the growing interest in interaction with the surrounding society by opening their private girls schools to Christian girls and by offering to teach courses in the Jewish religion in Russian schools. Prayer served as the common denominator of religious courses – the major focus of religious education was on prayer.
The teaching of Jewish history rather than simply the Torah allowed for an unprecedented degree of interpretation and even mild biblical criticism. Hebrew reading was also offered in many of the schools. Almost all Jewish girls schools offered penmanship and arithmetic.
Every private school for Jewish girls in the Russian Empire required extensive instruction in the Russian language. It was not uncommon for all general studies subjects to be taught in Russian.
Examples of the above educational transformation may be found in the bigger cities of Eastern Europe. In Plonsk (located some 60 kilometres from Warsaw), for example, toward the end of the 19th century, organizations such as Kahal Katan (literally, Small Community), educated the poorer strata of society. Also during this period, the city (which had a Jewish majority) opened a primary school for Jewish children, where some 80 pupils, mostly girls, studied in Russian. (See yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/communities/plonsk/jewish_education.asp.)
Vilna is another example. In 1915, the Association to Disseminate Education established three schools – one for boys, one for girls and one mixed – whose language of instruction was Yiddish. Also in 1915, Dr. Yosef Epstein established the Vilna Hebrew Gymnasium (high school), which was later renamed after him. The informal educational system included literature, drama, music, industrial arts and other courses. (See yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/vilna/background/20century.asp.)
According to Dr. Ruth Dudgeon (“The Forgotten Minority: Women Students in Imperial Russia, 1872-1917”), Russian women, aided by sympathetic professors, created educational institutions that evolved into universities and medical, pedagogical, agricultural and polytechnical institutes for women. Moreover, in 1916, the Ministry of Education overcame its bias against preparing women for public activity, rather than the home, and mandated the equalization of the curricula in the boys’ and girls’ gymnasia.
In the 1870s and 1880s, Jewish-Russian enrolment in the courses for women was between 16% and 21%. The imposition of quotas in the 1880s, however, reduced the number of Jewish students. But, in places where the quota was lifted, the number of Jewish women in the courses soared.
In the restricted Pale of Settlement, young Jewish women wanting to study did everything to establish residency elsewhere. The “everything” included registering as a prostitute. According to Dudgeon, one brother found out about his sister’s actions and then drowned himself in the Neva; the grieving sister, in turn, ended her life by taking poison.
As circumstances for Jews in the Russian Empire deteriorated in the 1880s, those Jews who stayed in that part of the world came to embrace new ideological solutions to the situation. In an atmosphere of violence, deprivation and brutally strict quotas in education and professions, Russian-Jewish parents wanted their children enrolled in schools where the course of study offered some hope for the future.
By the turn-of-the-century period, educators were no longer opening private schools for Jewish girls based on the old model. The schools they opened – whether they were trade schools where Zionism was taught, religiously mixed schools devoted to full acculturation, or Yiddishist schools committed to inculcating socialism – promised more than basic literacy.
In Poland, Gershon Bacon writes, “the education of Polish Jews in the interwar period was characterized … [as] the ‘victory of schooling.’ The compulsory education law of the reborn Polish republic had brought about in one generation what had eluded generations of prodding by tsarist officialdom and preaching by Jewish maskilim (people versed in Hebrew or Yiddish literature). Whether in the public schools or in the various Jewish school networks, Jewish children in Poland were educated according to curricula that deviated in almost every respect from that of traditional Jewish education. [Notably,] religious families had no objections to sending daughters to secondary schools, even though they objected to exposing sons to secular education.
“What is most striking,” continues Bacon, “are the differences in enrolment figures in institutions of higher learning. There was a much larger proportion of Jewish women students among female students as a whole (36% in 1923/1924), as distinct from the percentage of Jewish men among male students (22% in 1923/1924). It would seem that we have here but another example of a phenomenon observed in other countries, where Jewish women entered institutions of higher learning earlier and in greater proportion than their non-Jewish counterparts.” (See jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/ poland-interwar.)
So many factors about these educational statistics still need to be explored. Nevertheless, one can observe that an outcome seems to have been the creation of a modern Jewish Eastern European woman who “opened her mouth with wisdom.” (Proverbs 31:26)
Deborah Rubin Fieldsis an Israel-based features writer. She is also the author of Take a Peek Inside: A Child’s Guide to Radiology Exams, published in English, Hebrew and Arabic.
Izzy Einstein and Moe Smith sharing a toast in a New York bar, 1935. (photo from Library of Congress; New York World-Telegram and Sun Collection)
Wine is a large part of Jewish ritual and tradition. And a glass or two of schnapps is not uncommon. Adults often drink something alcoholic on a holiday or happy occasion. So what did people do when there was Prohibition?
In Canada, national Prohibition was from 1918 to 1920 and, in the United States, Prohibition lasted from 1920 to 1933. How did Jews get wine for Shabbat and holidays during these periods? And who clamped down on those who were disobeying the law?
In both the United States and in Canada, Prohibition laws allowed for wine to be sold for religious sacraments. This meant that rabbis and priests could lawfully possess wine. In the United States, both Jews and non-Jews were known to use this special legal passage as a ruse. It led to bootleg priests and rabbis and to the hoarding of wine for bogus religious reasons.
Although Canadian provinces had various earlier restrictions on liquor sale and consumption, the national Canadian Prohibition continued for only a short period of time. And, importantly, it remained legal to manufacture liquor in Canada. Even more significant, Canadian distilleries could likewise legally sell it to the dry United States, where the manufacture, importation, sale and transport of alcohol was then illegal. Thus, Canadians brought alcohol to the United States via Windsor, Ont., where it usually went on to Detroit, Mich. At the time, Samuel Bronfman was the Canadian Jewish owner of Seagram’s. He had Jewish bootleggers floating so much illegal booze into the United States over Lake Erie that this body of water became known as the “Jewish Lake.”
Remarkably, the two most successful U.S. Prohibition agents were Jewish. Izzy Einstein and Moe Smith were two “regular”-looking guys who had absolutely no resemblance to flashy Prohibition agent Elliot Ness, who has been characterized in television series and in movies. Their ability to fool violators with either their ordinary appearance or with their numerous disguises allowed them to make an outstanding number of arrests. In all, they made 4,932 arrests of bartenders, bootleggers and speakeasy owners. They had a 95% conviction rate. They confiscated an estimated five million bottles of alcohol. At the time, this catch was worth about $15 million US.
Neither man had any law enforcement training. Einstein had been a pedlar and a postal worker. Smith had sold cigars. They were not even strongly for temperance, but they were for upholding the law. Initially, Einstein’s job interviewer didn’t want to hire him as an agent because of his lack of training, but Einstein managed to convince the man that he was right for the job because he looked so unremarkable and because he had a “feel” for people.
Having been born in Austria, Einstein spoke a number of languages. He put his language skills to use when the pair disguised themselves. They were known to have used a huge variety of get-ups, including as German pickle packers, Polish counts, Hungarian violinists, Jewish gravediggers, French maitre d’s, Italian fruit vendors, Russian fishermen, Chinese launderers, streetcar conductors, ice deliverers, opera singers, judges, traveling cigar salesmen, Texas cattlemen, movie extras, football players, beauty contest judges, grocers, lawyers, rabbis, college students, plumbers and delegates to the Democratic National Convention. In my estimation, however, the funniest costumes were those of them dressed as a man and woman. One of them sported a thick beard and mustache and a bowler hat, while the other dressed in a heavy fur coat, scarf and jaunty cloche hat.
Einstein claimed that it was key to come into a speakeasy carrying some kind of tool of the trade, so he often carried a string of fish, a pitcher of milk, trombones, a fishing rod or a big pail of pickles. He did not carry a gun, however, and Smith carried one only occasionally.
The greater their chutzpah, the greater the risk to their personal safety. At one Bowery saloon, for instance, Einstein even produced his actual agent’s badge and asked for a pint of whiskey. The bartender thought it was a gag and served him.
So that he had enough evidence to bring charges against the offenders, Einstein devised a special hidden liquor collection system. There were three parts to this system: a rubber bag hidden below his shirt, a rubber tube that was connected to the bag, and a glass funnel sewn into his vest pocket. He sipped the liquor and, without anyone noticing, poured the rest of the drink down the funnel, which then led to the rubber tube.
The pair’s success on the job became a matter of public record. New York newspapers frequently covered their escapades. They became so well known that Einstein’s face was even hung in certain speakeasies. But even that did not tip off drinking customers, as Einstein reportedly once stood below his photo without anyone catching on.
Einstein and Smith had worked as federal Prohibition agents for about six years when they were laid off, perhaps because they inadvertently made other agents “shine” less than they did. They both went on to be a different kind of agent, successfully selling insurance. Some of their clients, it is said, were people they had busted.
Deborah Rubin Fields is an Israel-based features writer. She is also the author of Take a Peek Inside: A Child’s Guide to Radiology Exams, published in English, Hebrew and Arabic.
From kimchi to cast iron, more than 300 new products were on display at this year’s Kosher Fest. (photo by Dave Gordon)
At Kosherfest this year, there were such traditional Jewish staples as gefilte fish, matzot, bagels and cured meats. But cauliflower pizza crusts, organic tequila, vegan cheeses, kimchi and date-seed coffee were among 300 new products on display.
The two-day event in New Jersey was the 31st annual convention. It showed that kosher food does not necessarily hail from countries with large Jewish populations. In the hopes of grabbing a slice of the market, exhibitors came from around the world, including from South Korea, Australia, Italy, Brazil, Mexico and the Netherlands.
From Pakistan, Adnan Pirzada, the general manager of Dewan Sugar Mills, was exhibiting kosher-certified ethanol for companies to use in beverages and mouthwashes. Currently, they export to 30 countries and are seeking U.S. consumers. The certification is new to the 15-year old company, which produces 125,000 litres of ethanol a day.
“We wanted to tell people that there’s nothing not kosher that ever comes in contact with what we make,” he said, noting that “sometimes, non-kosher ingredients can be in foods and people not know it.”
An example of that came from Dakshin Thilina, the director of Nexpo Conversion, makers of kosher dried coconut milk powder and coconut oil in Sri Lanka. Nexpo supplies an Australian ice cream manufacturer and an organic chocolate manufacturer, and hopes to find U.S. distribution.
“There are three big players in Sri Lanka [in the coconut industry] and they all use sodium caseinate, an animal-based product, and that makes it non-kosher,” he said. “So, now, with vegan, organic and other aspects that make these popular, we needed to enter the market in a different way. We cut out the sodium caseinate and went with a pure organic powder. Without that component, it’s essentially lactose-free – the allergies people suffer from due to milk-based products is out and, because it’s non-dairy, kosher Jews can use it anytime, alongside meat.”
In Dubai, kosher catering is a one-woman show, and she was at Kosherfest.
Elli Kriel, a South African expat of seven years who lives in Dubai, began her company recently. “I was producing kosher food for our family and people started reaching out to me,” she said. “Travelers in particular, moving through the city, needed kosher food. I used to invite them to eat in our home, but I realized, as more and more people began reaching out, I was in a good position to offer kosher catering.”
She said Elli’s Kosher Kitchen’s launch was bolstered by the United Arab Emirates’ Year of Tolerance, announced in February, “a government initiative promoting the idea of diversity within the UAE and the tolerance for all religions and races.” It was then, she added, that the Jewish community was formally recognized and, “at that moment, I thought it was perfect to step forward.” There are about 150 people in the Jewish community, with tourists receiving food each day, she said.
Kosherfest attracted about 6,000 attendees this fall, some 800 more than last year. With 360 exhibitors, roughly 300 products on the floor had been introduced within the last 12 months, said organizers.
A recent Quartz article elaborated that it is “fairly astounding that more than 40% of the country’s [United States’] new packaged food and beverage products in 2014 are labeled as being kosher, while it was on only 27% of packaged foods in 2009.”
Explanations for this include the public’s desire for assurance that a product does not include certain allergens, or traces of allergens, such as shellfish. Or an assurance that a product is vegetarian or vegan, as in the example of Oreo cookies, that once contained lard, prior to the producers’ switch to kosher.
Another example of food that contains ingredients that may surprise some consumers is cheese. Most cheeses contain enzymes and rennet (animal-derived), but the Sheese line uses coconut oil, palm oil and other vegan replacements. Hailing from Scotland’s Isle of Bute, the “cheese” is lactose-free, vegan, kosher, cholesterol-free and gluten-free, appealing to various dietary needs.
In light of bug infestations in dozens of supermarket vegetables and the challenge of washing them thoroughly so as not to ingest these non-kosher critters, Boston-based Fresh Box Farms came to Kosherfest with a solution. They’re growing and selling leafy greens that are hydroponically grown in a triple-sealed environment, using no pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. “It’s free of any pests. And we don’t wash our product, and the consumer doesn’t need to either,” said Jacqueline Hynes, senior marketing officer.
An online essay by Star-K, a kosher certification agency in Maryland, noted that some “35 million non-Jewish consumers of kosher products” buy them because of health and food safety concerns, “as a trustworthy means of ensuring that these criteria are being addressed.” Food production companies, it says, are increasing their lines of certified products, due to “more general cultural anxiety about industrialization of the food supply.”
Menachem Lubinsky, chief executive officer of Lubicom, the organizer of the event, said kosher foods today appeal to a “more health-conscious consumer. Now, it’s become almost fashionable to have vegan or gluten-free, so why not kosher? They don’t want any customer to be left out.”
By 2025, the kosher industry will reach some $25 billion US in sales a year, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Not everything exhibited at Kosherfest was a food product. One company sold kosher cast-iron cookware. Isaac Salem, president of New York-based IKO Imports, said their cookware differentiates itself from other such products, as its non-stick “seasoning” is created with a proprietary plant-derived oil base, rather than the typical animal fat, “which obviously can come from non-kosher sources.” He said their cookware holds up against competitors, and appeals to vegans, as well.
Consumers who keep kosher will also be able to enjoy something they’ve never had before. Promised Land Beverage Company’s Exodus Hopped Cider does not contain any leavened products or grains; rather, it has fermented apples and hops, add could double as a kind of beer.
“Now you can have beer at the seder,” said Yoni Schwartz, company president, “something unimaginable in the past.”
Dave Gordon is a Toronto-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in more than 100 publications around the world.
The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), a nonprofit, Washington, D.C.-based education and advocacy organization, announced last month that award-winning Vancouver landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander is the namesake of a recently established prize.
The Cornelia Hahn Oberlander International Landscape Architecture Prize (“Oberlander Prize”), which will be conferred biennially beginning in 2021, is the first and only international landscape architecture prize that includes a $100,000 US award, along with two years of public engagement activities. The naming announcement was made at an event at the Consulate General of Canada in New York City.
The 98-year-old Oberlander has been in practice for more than 70 years. Her notable projects include the New York Times building courtyard (with HMWhite landscape architects and urban designers), the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, the Canadian chancery in Washington, D.C., the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the Canadian embassy in Berlin, Robson Square in Vancouver, the Vancouver Public Library, and many others. Oberlander has worked on public housing in the United States and Canada, pioneered playground design with the Children’s Creative Centre at Montreal’s Expo ’67 (and designed 70 other playgrounds), was an early champion of green roofs and, for decades, has advocated for landscape architecture’s leading role in addressing environmental, ecological and social issues and the impact of climate change.
Oberlander is held in high regard both within and beyond her profession, as is reflected in the early results of a campaign to raise $1 million to help endow the Oberlander Prize, with commitments of $10,000 each from and/or on behalf of 100 women, part of a broader campaign to raise $4.5 million. The 100 Women Campaign launched in July 2019 and its website includes information about each of the more than 70 women who have contributed to date.
“It was the consensus of the prize advisory committee, which helped shaped the prize, and TCLF’s board of directors that Oberlander’s inspiring and trailblazing career in the field of landscape architecture exemplifies the critical values and ideals of the prize, and that she is someone who embodies the prize criteria of creativity, courage and vision,” said Charles A. Birnbaum, TCLF’s president and chief executive officer.
In tandem with the naming of the prize, all of Oberlander’s publicly accessible works are being added to TCLF’s What’s Out There landscape database; on June 20, 2021, the centennial of Oberlander’s birth, TCLF will host a What’s Out There Weekend of free, expert-led tours of Oberlander’s landscapes in the United States, Canada and Germany; and an update to TCLF’s 2008 Pioneers Oral History with Oberlander has been produced. More public engagement events will be announced later. See tclf.org/prize.