Musician Myrna Rabinowitz, left, and Jewish Senior Alliance’s Shanie Levin. (photo from JSA)
The theme of this year’s Jewish Seniors Alliance-Snider Foundation Empowerment Series is “Be inspired!” and the first of four sessions was called Be Inspired through Story and Song.
Held at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture on Nov. 29, Gyda Chud, co-president of the JSA, introduced the two presenters, referring to each as “a gift to our community”: storyteller Shanie Levin, who is a member of JSA’s executive board and on the editorial board of JSA’s Senior Line magazine, and singer-songwriter and guitarist Myrna Rabinowitz.
Rabinowitz opened with the Yiddish song “Abi Gezunt” (“As Long as You’re Well”) and the audience echoed enthusiastically the refrain, “As long as you’re well, you can be happy.”
Levin followed with a story by Kadya Molodowsky, the first lady of Yiddish poetry. A House with Seven Windows is about a proud, strong heroine in the mid-19th century who embraced the dream of “normalizing” Jewish life through a return and settlement in the land of Israel.
Other songs by Rabinowitz included the Yiddish translation of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” as well as “Sleep Little Boy,” a Yiddish song that she wrote eight years ago for her first grandson. She ended with the Yiddish rendition of “Sunrise Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof (Tog Ayn Tog Oys).
Tall Tamara by Abraham Karpinowitz, both sympathetically comic and painfully tragic, was another inspiring story of Vilna’s poor and the unexpected dignity available to one woman through a chance contact with Yiddish literary culture.
Levin also shared Ted Allan’s Lies My Father Told Me, about the relationship between a 6-year-old child and his grandfather that transcends the differences in ages with deep connection. This story was made into a Golden Globe-winning film of the same name.
The last story Levin read – If Not Higher by I.L. Peretz – was about a rabbi who demonstrates that doing good deeds on earth may be a more exalted activity than doing God’s will in heaven.
Chud thanked the performers and urged the audience to attend upcoming JSA events, the next one being the screening of the movie Music of the Heart, starring Meryl Streep, at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver on Jan. 15.
Marilyn Berger, who initiated the Light One Candle project and designed a card to help JSA celebrate Chanukah, encouraged the audience to spread the light and make a special donation to help JSA continue its peer support program, as well as its advocacy work.
Dr. Yosef Wosk, right, with Max Wyman, 2017. (photo by Fred Cawsey)
The Yosef Wosk Poetry Initiative at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, which began in 2009, marked its 10th year with a celebratory gathering of artists and poets and with the publication of a commemorative book earlier this year. In addition, the Yosef Wosk Poets’ Corner, along with the adjacent Poet Laureates Garden, was inaugurated on the newly renovated top floor of the downtown central Vancouver Public Library – it was named in recognition of Dr. Yosef Wosk’s decades-long support of the VPL.
Wosk was an early major donor to the redevelopment of the eighth and ninth floors and the roof of the central branch of VPL and was asked to serve as honourary chair of the VPL campaign in 2018/19. The architect for the renovations, as for the library itself, was Moshe Safdie, while Cornelia Hahn Oberlander designed an extensive garden to complement her roof garden that crowns the award-winning structure.
In the library world, Wosk – who has established more than 400 libraries on all seven continents over the past 20 years – was able to fund more than 50 new initiatives in 2018/19, including 20 libraries in remote Himalayan villages and 37 in Jewish communities throughout the world.
As a writer and publisher, Wosk’s work has appeared in a number of publications. Most recently, these include having curated and written the preface for Memories of Jewish Poland: The 1932 Photographs of Nachum Tim Gidal, featuring photographs by Gidal from Wosk’s and the Israel Museum’s collections (Gefen Publishing, Jerusalem and New York, 2019). He also initiated and funded a biography, written by Christopher Best, of Faye Leung, the effervescent pioneer in the Chinese and real estate communities, affectionately known as the Hat Lady (Warfleet Press, 2020).
Wosk’s essay “On the Wings of Forever” was published in the online Ormsby Review this year in collaboration with the Canadian Academy of Independent Scholars. The editor’s preface notes that: “With prose as profound and learned as it is clear and accessible, here Wosk examines and appreciates the role of museums and museum workers in the digitizing modern world. It’s not gloom ’n’ doom. Instead, he outlines what he calls ‘a stirring vision, one of innovative technology on a human scale, heart-centred and soul-sized.’”
In collaboration with the Canadian Museums Association, Wosk helped transform the President’s Award into the President’s Medal; he also commissioned the medal and wrote the introduction in the booklet that accompanies the honorific, which was first awarded in 2019.
The province-wide Max Wyman Award for Critical Writing in the Arts, which was inaugurated by Wosk in 2017, formed an alliance this year with the VIVA Awards (the Shadbolt Foundation), which will begin in 2020.
In academia, Wosk was reappointed this year as an adjunct professor in humanities at Simon Fraser University and completed four years as a Shadbolt Fellow at SFU, where he was recently named a Simons Fellow.
During the year, Wosk served on 11 boards in the Jewish and general communities in areas such as education, medical research, museums, libraries, literature, business and the arts. These boards have included the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, Schara Tzedeck Cemetery Board, CHILD Foundation, Museums Foundation of Canada and Pacific Torah Institute. He was also an ambassador for the Vancouver Sculpture Biennale and is completing a second term with the B.C. Arts Council.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, in Jerusalem in May 2018. (photo from Ashernet)
Nechama Rivlin died June 4 at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva, at the age of 73. She had undergone a lung transplant operation three months ago because of pulmonary fibrosis. She received a lung from Yair Yehezkel Halabli, 19, of Ramat Gan, who drowned in Eilat. President Rivlin extended his family’s thanks to the Halabli family, “who donated their late son Yair’s lung, for their inspiring nobility and wonderful deed.”
Nechama Rivlin was born in 1945 in Moshav Herut in the Sharon region. She completed high school at the Emek Hefer Ruppin Regional School. In 1964, she began studying natural sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. After graduating, she worked at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as a researcher in the department of zoology, and other departments. In addition, she studied modern, classical and ancient art. In 1971, she married Reuven (Rubi) Rivlin and settled in Jerusalem. They have three children and many grandchildren; she was sister to Varda.
Rivlin’s fondness for Hebrew literature and art led her to write from time to time about writers and artists, who particularly appreciated the posts she published on the official Facebook page of the president. She generally began her posts with the words, “Hello everyone, Nechama here,” and signed them “Yours, Nechama.” In 2018, she established the President’s Award for Hebrew Poetry.
Shira Geffen shares how she met her husband, Etgar Keret, in the film Etgar Keret: Based on a True Story, which screens Nov. 14. (photo from facebook.com/etgarkeretfilm)
“I want to write stories so the readers will like mankind a little bit more,” says Israeli writer Etgar Keret in the documentary Etgar Keret: Based on a True Story. Similarly, as depicted in another film, the Israel Museum aims to uplift and educate visitors with its artistic, cultural and historical displays, and The Museum offers a glimpse into the breadth of its collections and the diversity (and quirkiness) of its employees. Both of these award-winning films screen during the Vancouver Jewish Film Festival, which started this week.
Danish filmmakers Stephane Kaas (director) and Rutger Lemm (writer) do an excellent job of introducing viewers to what makes Keret tick. They do so using a creative mix of interviews with Keret and his family, friends and colleagues; reenactments of sorts of a few key points in Keret’s life; and a few of Keret’s stories, the portrayal of which is mainly done in animation. Not surprisingly for anyone who has read Keret’s short stories, there are several laugh-out-loud moments in Etgar Keret: Based on a True Story, but there are also sombre elements, as we learn about how Keret has been impacted by tragedy, including the suicide of one of his best friends.
One of the funniest scenes is when Keret shares his first story with his brother, Rodi (Nimrod). Rodi brings his dog along for the walk and, after he finishes reading Keret’s story and praises it, he asks whether the typed copy he’s holding is the only copy. When Keret says no, Rodi uses the paper to pick up his dog’s poo. Perhaps a lesson in humility, Keret explains that it was at this moment he realized that a story is not in the piece of paper on which it has been written or typed – once a story has been read, it is in the mind of the reader. Keret calls this ability of a writer to transfer their ideas to another person a “super power.”
While many of Keret’s stories have gloomy aspects to them, the stories as a whole generally leave readers feeling good. He describes his stories as “an advertisement for life,” saying that he writes to answer the question of why he wants to live.
“I think the need to tell stories is, basically, the need to put a structure to the reality around you. And I feel that the more chaotic and the less sense it makes, the stronger the need I have to tell a story about it,” he explains in the film.
Etgar Keret: Based on a True Story screens Nov. 14, 8:45 p.m., at Fifth Avenue Cinemas (19+), following the 22-minute short Large Soldier, directed by Noa Guskov. “It’s 1973 and all that Sherry, a 15-year-old Israeli girl, wants is a boyfriend,” reads the synopsis of the film, which is in Hebrew with English subtitles. “A letter exchange with an unknown soldier makes her believe that it’s going to be her first love. But what will happen when the imaginary soldier becomes real?”
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The opening of Ran Tal’s documentary The Museum grabs viewers’ attention: a black screen, the sound of footsteps, some shuffling about, then a woman asks a man, “What do we have?” “That’s a huge painting,” he begins. When the scene is revealed, we see the man and woman sitting on a bench, looking at the painting, but the woman seeing it only through his eyes, as she is blind. Later in the film, this woman is part of a group of blind people visiting the museum – she and others touch various sculptures, feeling how the works are made.
The Museum makes clear the enormous responsibility and privilege of caring for, handling and presenting art and artifacts. Over a period of one-and-a-half years, Tal interviewed several museum staff – including a security guard who is also a cantor; the institution’s kashrut inspector, who notes that “a museum doesn’t replace spirituality”; and the then-museum director, who sadly had to miss his mother’s funeral because it took place on the day the museum reopened after an extensive renovation. Tal also films visitor interactions over that time, and highlights a 50th anniversary event (in 2015) featuring Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and members of his government. Netanyahu remarks that the museum shows three things: “One is our bond to this land in a very dramatic display, and one of humanity’s most significant archeological finds, the Dead Sea Scrolls. Another is the great cultural treasure of the Jewish people in Israel and the world over, which symbolizes our contribution to humanity.”
Admittedly, The Museum only touches upon more serious concerns – there is a scene where a group of museum staff discusses a collection of traditional Palestinian clothing that is in storage, and the potential impacts of displaying (and not displaying) them – but it at least does bring up such issues, which will hopefully open the door for more in-depth discussion.
The Museum screens on Nov. 17, 6:45 p.m., at the Rothstein Theatre. For the full festival schedule and tickets, visit vjff.org.
Rae Maté is one of the many artists who have donated work to the fundraiser for a Hornby Island gallery. (photo from Rae Maté)
Hornby Island, in Georgia Straight, is known for its natural beauty. It is no surprise that many of its small population – 1,016, according to the 2016 census – are artists. While the community hasn’t had a regular exhibition space, this is about to change. On Oct. 10, the Hornby Island Arts Council is holding an auction fundraiser in support of building a new art centre.
“A full 40% of residents of Hornby are visual artists, dancers, musicians, poets, actors and writers,” Cheryl Milner, auction chair, told the Independent about the need for a permanent gallery. “For too many years, local visual artists have been using a 1967 mobile home with a small display area to show their work. Otherwise, artists have built their own studios or hung their work in the local co-op general store to get in front of the island visitors.”
About the concept for the fundraiser, Milner said, “The idea came to me because I became familiar with this amazing woman on the East Coast of Canada, Zita Cobb. She lived on Fogo Island, left after high school, made it in the high-tech business and went back home to see how she could help her native island, particularly because the cod fishery had closed. She started a foundation to create greater cultural resilience for the region.”
Milner doesn’t want anyone to compare her to Cobb, but she wants to help Hornby Island and its artists on a smaller scale. “My thought was to marry Vancouver to Hornby Island as Toronto supports Fogo Island. The auction is our first attempt, and we’ll see how it goes,” she said. “The parallel goes only as far as helping support the gallery. We don’t wish to expand things further than that for now.”
She said a gallery has been on the radar of the arts council for years. “We have some new blood in the organization and want to help make it happen,” she explained. “We are also applying for some matching grant opportunities, which means that we could potentially double the capital we have been scrimping to save. Currently, we have about $180,000 saved. This will give us a good foundation to move forward. We do have a couple of architects on board to support this venture, so there appears to be quite a lot of momentum to get this done.”
Attracting tourists is one of the reasons the auction will take place in Vancouver, not on the island itself.
“Many Vancouverites frequently visit Hornby,” Milner said. “They love the place and their special time there. We are giving Vancouver an opportunity to support the artists they love by helping to build a proper facility to house a permanent gallery, exhibition and workshop space for future generations.”
The artists of Hornby Island are excited about the gallery and the auction.
“Approximately 35 artists donated their works,” said Milner. “About 25 are in the live auction and another 10 in the silent auction, which will focus on items and services of interest to Vancouverites.”
Besides their art, some participants are offering “Hands-on Hornby” artistic experiences to bidders. Among these will be cutting a song with Marc Atkinson at the Barn Studio and a two-day workshop with ceramicist Rachelle Chinnery, which includes a rental stay.
One of the visual artists who donated their work for the auction is Vancouver Jewish community member and well-known local artist Rae Maté. In 2011, she had a solo show at the Zack Gallery, and the Independent published an interview with her at the time. Since then, much has happened in her artistic life.
“In 2015, my third book in the Crocodile series with the author Robert Heidbreder, Crocs at Work, was published by Tradewind Books. My silly crocodiles are back and, this time, they have jobs and professions, which they do in very surprising and funny ways,” she said.
Since the death of her mother in 2017, Maté has devoted herself to art full-time.
“I’m excited to be using oils again as well as acrylics,” she said. “I’m exploring new directions: abstraction, non-figurative works and landscape. This summer, I had a very successful show on Hornby during the art festival in August. I was one of the four artists invited to mentor Hornby children. The children’s art was shown alongside with the mentoring artist’s new works. It was an exciting and rewarding experience for us all.”
Maté’s ties to Hornby Island are longstanding. “Our family fell in love with Hornby Island in the 1980s, when my sons were little, and we spent several summer holidays camping there,” she said. “After my daughter was born, we purchased a small cabin. Five years later, we sold it and bought a larger place with indoor plumbing. We are still there today and we have many Jewish friends who live nearby. For years, we have been having potluck Shabbat dinners at Grassy Point, a wonderful park with a meadow and a beach a short walk from us. It is famous for its sunsets.”
Maté has enjoyed the island and its artistic atmosphere for years. It feeds her creativity.
“I used to tell people that being an artist on Hornby Island is like being a Jew in New York,” she said. “Almost everyone is creative and involved or interested in the arts. I feel very inspired and at home there.”
She also contributes to the arts scene on Hornby. “I regularly sell my art cards at the co-op store and at the farmers markets in the summer. I had a few solo and group shows at the community hall.”
Not only do she and her family spend most summers on the island, but she usually manages to get there for about a week every two months. “I do so much of my painting and illustrating work there, on my deck in the garden, when the weather allows, or in the studio during the colder months,” she said.
When Maté heard about the auction, she knew she wanted to donate her works for it.
“When Cheryl approached me at the market, I said yes immediately. This is a cause I whole-heartedly support. I am offering three paintings for the auction, all new, created especially for this event.”
The Oct. 10 auction will take place at Sage Bistro, which is behind the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at the University of British Columbia. To learn more, visit hornbyislandartscouncil.wordpress.com.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
B.C. Culture Days has announced a province-wide invitation to B.C. artists to apply to its annual Ambassador & Awards Program. Up to eight selected applicants from across British Columbia will receive $1,000 each to act as a Culture Days spokesperson and to present an activity during the Culture Days weekend (Sept. 28-30, 2018). Culture Days is a national celebration of arts, culture and heritage welcoming the public behind the scenes to discover their own creativity through free, hands-on activities for the whole family.
The B.C. Culture Days Ambassador program first began in 2013 with only one ambassador selected each year but, with the support of funders and sponsors, has since grown to allow for up to eight ambassadors, plus awards to help support their activities. Over the past five years, many ambassadors have had a profound impact on their arts and cultural community. “I believe that [Culture Days] instilled a sense of pride and created a unique framework for me to continue my mentorship with the youth in my community, continuing to build future leaders for tomorrow,” said Roxanne Charles, one of the 2017 ambassadors from Semiahmoo First Nation.
To be eligible for the ambassador program, an applicant must be: an individual artist (amateur or professional) residing in British Columbia; active in their arts, culture or heritage community; present and available to act as a spokesperson in their community during the months of May-September 2018; and prepared to register an activity to present during the Culture Days weekend.
Ambassadors are involved with reaching out to community members, such as individual artists, arts organizations, cultural organizations, heritage organizations and businesses, encouraging them to offer activities during the Culture Days weekend. They encourage public participation and discussion about Culture Days through in-person interviews with community members, blog posts and social media, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. They may also be asked to help activate a local pop-up event or partner event leading up to the Culture Days weekend.
In collaboration with local community organizers and B.C. Culture Days staff, the ambassador may be asked to present an activity at a community planning session or participate in TV, radio and newspaper interviews on behalf of B.C. Culture Days, so experience with public speaking and engaging audiences is an asset.
Interested applicants can visit bc.culturedays.ca to complete the online application form. Submissions will be juried by members of the B.C. Culture Days steering committee and finalists will be called for an interview. The deadline to apply is March 21.
The Vancouver Jewish Community Centre doing a children’s baking program, Jan. 18, 1974. (photo from JWB fonds, JMABC L.11635)
If you know someone in this photo, please help the JI fill the gaps of its predecessor’s (the Jewish Western Bulletin’s) collection at the Jewish Museum and Archives of B.C. by contacting [email protected] or 604-257-5199. To find out who has been identified in the photos, visit jewishmuseum.ca/blog.