I’ve been thinking about Caillou, a TV show for toddlers and preschoolers. It’s been on television since 1997. Caillou is a little bald French-Canadian kid. He’s broadcast in both French and English, and offers gentle lessons to kids everywhere. My twins watched a lot of Caillou.
The episode I’ve been remembering offers something basic that we should all know. The summary: Caillou’s doing art at preschool with glitter. When he finishes, he doesn’t clean up or wash his hands. The rest of the episode shows off exactly where the glitter ends up, from light switches to friends’ bodies to snack and the table and chairs. That’s why it’s so important to wash your hands after playing with glitter.
The glitter message sticks with kids. It’s also a remarkably easy way to explain germ theory – useful during a pandemic. Glitter, like germs, gets everywhere.
As an early glitter fan, I found this lesson powerful. As a kid, I had several surgeries for birth defects by the time I was 5. I was in the hospital a lot. During one recovery period, I was brought to a big sunny room in the pediatrics ward to do arts and crafts, including glitter, which I loved. My mother still jokes about this more than 40 years later – remembering the day the surgeon came to check my incisions. My mom likely hovered, anxious, as he checked my abdomen and sides. He looked up and grinned when she asked how things were healing. He said things were coming along nicely and were “very colourful!”
What does this have to do with Judaism? I’ve been studying Tractate Pesachim as part of my pursuit of Daf Yomi (a page of Talmud a day). Pesachim’s topic is Passover. In Pesachim 15, the issue is how to burn all the chametz (leavened bread) that we get rid of right before the holiday. It’s considered “impure.”
Impurity here is often defined as something “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” There are many reasons why something is considered impure. The questions the rabbis are weighing are interesting. They wonder, “Is it OK to burn two different kinds of impure things together?” They imagine the Temple priests having to get rid of all this and finish cleaning by the start of the holiday.
The other impure things brought up – and this rabbinic impurity topic is complex – are pigul and nottar, two categories of sacrificial meats that have gone wrong. Jane Shapiro, in introducing this issue on the My Jewish Learning website, explains that pigul is something sacrificed “with improper thought.” That is, something sacrificed in error; that is, the priest thought it was to be burnt or eaten at the wrong time. Nottar was an offering made at the right time and not eaten – basically, leftovers, which are then considered impure. There’s common sense in this. Sometimes we cook things incorrectly (pigul) or, lacking refrigeration, we might just have to get rid of leftovers (nottar) to avoid food poisoning. In these cases, the impurity’s a mess-up. It’s not an unclean animal, another source of impurity, but, rather, a human mistake that leads to the disposing of something.
As the rabbis sort through what can be burned together, they examine how one kind of impurity causes a first-degree impurity, which, if it touches something else, becomes a second or a third degree of impurity. Something in this discussion reminded me of glitter and, then, germ theory.
Even the most careful person can be surprised by a sneeze, or get too close to someone when they are supposed to be social distancing. In fact, keeping oneself safe from invisible germs, like the coronavirus, can be difficult. Even healthcare workers, swathed in protective equipment, can slip up. In a sense, this rabbinic concept of impurity is a lot like catching germs. If we accidently mix items or people inappropriately, we pass along impurity, or germs.
If we visualize germs like Caillou’s glitter or my preschooler hospital craft project, we better understand how tricky a time we’re in. We’re still facing a long haul.
Yes, we hear a vaccine is on its way, but we don’t yet know how long it will take for enough Canadians to be vaccinated. We don’t know how effective the vaccine will be, or if enough people will be willing to take it. Meanwhile, COVID-19 is spreading just like that glitter. It’s everywhere that we are, and it’s scary. There’s every chance that we might encounter the virus through an inadvertent slip up (like the rabbinic impurity of pigul or nottar) but, since it’s germs and not glitter, we won’t know until later. We must act as if we are impure because the virus isn’t visible.
The most poignant part of this whole complicated impurity narrative is that the rabbis just can’t figure it all out. They say more than once that we’ll just have to wait for the prophet Elijah to return to give us the right answers. Reading it, you can imagine their shoulders shrugging as they struggle with what they don’t know and can’t figure out.
Scientists and doctors everywhere are also figuring things out as they go. They have to learn to live with the mystery. We don’t know everything – about the pandemic, how it works, when it will end and about those germs that spread like glitter.
For most, 2020 has been a rocky year. As we turn towards the secular year 2021, it’s important to remember that a vaccine might not be an instant fix. We face the future much as the rabbis faced some of these difficult questions about impurity long ago, and the researchers do today. We don’t know all the answers. We must do our best, square our shoulders, and keep on keeping on.
Yet, every week, as we end Shabbat, we sing about Eliyahu (Elijah) and we welcome him to every Passover and every bris. It’s in yearning for Elijah that we find the faith to keep trying.
Wishing you a happy and healthy 2021! I hope your home celebrations are great – and without glitter!
Joanne Seiffhas written regularly for CBC Manitoba and various Jewish publications. She is the author of three books, including From the Outside In: Jewish Post Columns 2015-2016, a collection of essays available for digital download or as a paperback from Amazon. Check her out on Instagram @yrnspinner or at joanneseiff.blogspot.com.
A participant in Yehudit Silverman’s The Story Within process shows off their self-made mask. (photo from Yehudit Silverman)
This past spring, Prof. Yehudit Silverman’s new book came out. In The Story Within: Myth and Fairy Tale in Therapy, the Concordia University professor emerita walks people through a step-by-step process to healing.
“When a person embarks on this journey, they feel called to a story, but they don’t know why,” said Silverman. “And it’s the sense of the unknown that’s really important…. Sometimes, in conventional therapy, we just go around in circles and might not necessarily get to the deeper layers that are inaccessible to us. But, through the arts and through the use of a character from a myth or fairy tale, gradually we can access those areas in ourselves.”
In Silverman’s approach, clients start by choosing their own story after going through a couple of exercises. “That process of choosing the story is therapeutic and healing in itself, because it’s part of the person’s sense of their own sense of knowing their own strengths and their own intuition, which is really important,” she explained. “Also, it’s important to stay with one character in a story for a long time, allowing the depth work to be done … recognizing what the character’s quest is, which is so important in myth and fairy tale, which is why I think they are still so relevant.
“The protagonist is on a quest and has to face obstacles and challenges,” she continued. “That can be so helpful when people are facing their own challenges and obstacles, so they don’t feel so alone. Also, they get to work with fiction, which is very safe, providing a certain amount of distance.”
People choose their stories for different reasons.
“Someone might be really drawn to a character that is having to do an impossible task, like in Rumpelstiltskin, where the girl has to make straw into gold,” said Silverman. “A lot of people think they are facing an impossible task, so they might then choose that story.
“Sometimes, it’s just the title of the story. I worked with an adolescent who was homeless and, sadly, addicted to drugs. When I worked with her, she chose the story of the handless maiden, which led to, sadly, to the revelation of her having been abused as a child. It was just the title that drew her.”
Once people choose a character, they start to build a mask. Then, they build the environment for the character and go through the steps that are described in Silverman’s book. The process is usually done within the context of a group, so that it is witnessed, which, according to Silverman, aids significantly in healing.
“They work with other people so that, at some point, they actually direct someone else in their mask and in their costume,” she said. “They get to look at what their character looks like to an outsider. And then, they have people embodying the obstacle and the helper, so they actually embody going through the quest and the challenges of the character.”
Silverman once worked with an anorexic teen who chose the character of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. “For her, the tornado was her eating disorder that took her to the Wonderful Land of Oz … which was, for her, magical. It was the ‘Land of Starvation’ and the good witch, Glenda, was actually evil for her, because she was trying to get her to go back to Kansas…. I realized that, for her, everyone in the hospital was evil, was going against what she felt was her sense of reality and her sense of what was magical and important, which was her starvation.
“And so, little by little, she worked with it and she embodied the tornado,” said Silverman. “She was actually swirling around and started crying, and realized how destructive it was. It was the first time she had had that realization – she didn’t have it when people were just talking to her.”
The teen connected and embodied the “chaotic energy of the tornado,” said Silverman. “She began to realize it was destructive and, then, she very slowly started healing. But, for her, having that story was essential.”
Although COVID-19 has made holding in-person group sessions impossible for Silverman, it has opened the door to including people from all over the world in the online groups she leads.
The Story Within outlines Silverman’s process step-by-step, taking readers through each one, and it can be useful for both therapists looking to implement the technique, as well as anyone wanting to understand why they do what they do.
“If you’re going through something that is severe or you are in crisis, you should definitely see a therapist,” said Silverman. “And, if you’re going to use the book, you should only use it in context of therapy. But, for people looking for personal healing and a way to have creative reflection about what their life and quest is, then it is definitely for those people – for seekers, for artists and, also, for therapists, as something to integrate into their process with clients. And that’s something I do a lot of right now – supervising therapists insofar as how to integrate this into their work.”
Silverman said already established groups can use the book, as well, to form a more solid structural foundation perhaps. And, “there are so many people at home right now, and they are really questioning what their life is about,” she added. With the anxiety, she said, “having this structure, where they can go through a creative process … is so life-giving. It really allows us to express what’s going on inside into an outside form.”
One of Shlomit Etzion’s handcrafted quilts. (photo by Nir Falay)
Despite being generally considered the cradle of ancient civilizations and the source of the world’s monotheistic religions, the Middle East region is not known for its quilting. Yet, even in Jerusalem, you will find dedicated quilters.
Quilting is the process of sewing two or more pieces of fabric together to make a thicker padded material. Quilting is done all over the world, from Europe to America, to Southern Asia. While we don’t know its origins, we do know that, for many years, people quilted their clothes. Moreover – despite the Middle East not being recognized for its quilting – the earliest piece of quilted garment comes from the figure of a Pharaoh, dating to around 3400 BC, the period of ancient Egypt’s First Dynasty.
Shlomit Etzion, a Jerusalem resident since birth, said she has always worked with her hands. Her mother encouraged her to do handcrafts and she recalls that she started with embroidery. For a time, Shlomit considered going to a high school where she could pursue that, but decided not to go that route. In the end, she began quilting after she finished her university degree.
What would compel someone to begin quilting? For Shlomit, it was the beauty of traditional quilts. She likes Amish quilts and has even visited Amish quilters. She also likes the quilts of Native Americans. That is not to say, however, that she does art quilt, which employs both modern and traditional quilting techniques to create art objects. An art quilt is an original exploration of a concept or idea rather than the handing down of a pattern. It experiments with textile manipulation, colour, texture and/or a diversity of mixed media. Since this is not the type of work she creates, Shlomit describes herself as a traditionalist who uses traditional patterns as a jumping off point.
(As an aside, there are a number of quilt patterns based on the Hebrew Bible. They include Jacob’s Ladder, the Children of Israel, Joseph’s Coat of Many Colours and the Star of Goshen.)
In the beginning, Shlomit worked using scraps from old clothes and sewing by hand, just as was originally done in the United States. But now she buys her material, because it offers her more choices. She only uses cotton, as she likes the feel of it. When she visits the United States, she always goes to fabric stores to shop for material. However, there are now a few stores in Jerusalem that have a good cloth selection.
Shlomit uses a Bernina quilting machine, but there is a lot of picking of materials, measuring, pinning and cutting to do by hand. To secure her pieced top, the insulating fabric and the backing fabric, she brings her materials to a woman with a long-arm machine. Amazing as this may sound, Shlomit pointed out that nowadays, instead of sewing, some people even glue their pieces together.
In her work, Shlomit often uses the nine-patch on point (consisting of nine evenly sized blocks stitched together). However, she has also made stunning quilts using the jelly roll pattern – for which the fabric is pre-cut and you can use a simple sewing method to put it together – and the log cabin pattern. In log cabin quilts, there is a repeated single block pattern of light and dark fabric strips that represent the walls of a log cabin; a centre patch, often of red cloth, represents the hearth or fire. Other geometric shapes such as trapezoids or right-angle triangles might appear in her quilts.
Shlomit likes fall colours the best – oranges, tans, brown shades. Because she is a red head, for a period of time she steered away from greens and blues. As a child, she had been pushed to wear those colours.
Life in general inspires her art, and living in Jerusalem plays a role, she said.
She derives tremendous joy from quilting, she added. She can sit for a whole day doing it. She enjoys not just the sewing, but also the technical work. She probably has 50 to 60 completed quilts at home, she said.
In Israel, unfortunately, people are not very interested in paying the price that quilt handwork commands, so her sales have covered the cost of her supplies, but not the hours she has spent making the quilts.
She prefers to work alone, but, when quilting meetings are held in Jerusalem, she joins the group. The Jerusalem quilting group is not formally active, though. Members seem to get together most regularly when they have an exhibit for which to prepare. While some readers may have seen movies or read books – such as Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace or Whitney Otto’s How to Make an American Quilt – in which people attend quilting bees, working on the same quilt, this does not happen in Jerusalem. Like many groups, the Jerusalem quilters have met less often because of COVID-19 concerns.
Even though they aren’t an active group per se, the Jerusalem quilters have had some lovely exhibits at the International Convention Centre, the Jerusalem Theatre, the YMCA and the Mormon College. (See israelquilt.com/en/quilting-groups for more information.) Shlomit herself has exhibited in the United States and in the United Kingdom.
I suspect this quote about quilts originally targeted the receiver, rather than the giver: “Blankets wrap you in warmth, quilts wrap you in love.” In Shlomit’s case, however, the physical making of the quilt is a form of love.
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.
Grounds for Goodness Downtown Eastside: Adventures in Digital Community Art Making, led by Ruth Howard, is part of the Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival, which starts Oct. 28. (photo by Adrienne Marcus Raja)
Tikkun olam, the imperative to repair the world in which we live, is a core influence of the project Grounds for Goodness Downtown Eastside: Adventures in Digital Community Art Making. Led by Toronto-based theatre designer and educator Ruth Howard, the residency is part of the Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival.
The festival runs Oct. 28 to Nov. 8, and Grounds for Goodness, which “explores why and how people sometimes do good things towards others,” takes place Oct. 30 to Nov. 12. It comprises participant and audience interactive story-sharing, art-making, workshops and an evolving gallery online, as well as Downtown Eastside window displays. The residency is co-produced by Jumblies Theatre and Arts and Vancouver Moving Theatre.
Howard – who has participated in the festival before (jewishindependent.ca/putting-heart-into-city) – is the founder of Jumblies. She said tikkun olam is an underlying motivator in all her work – “and one of this project’s explicit intents is to connect its themes and questions, my Jewish heritage as a second generation Holocaust survivor and my vocation a community-engaged artist.
“Community arts is predicated on the working belief that bringing people together across differences can foster commonality and understanding,” she explained. “And yet, growing up in the 1960s, as the child of a German Jewish refugee (my mother and family escaped to England in 1938) and an experimental psychologist, I was bred on evidence that groups of people tend to do atrocious things towards others, with goodness being individual heroic exceptions. I was told at a young age about [Stanley] Milgram’s electric shock experiments, and understood the link between such cautionary tales and attempts by survivors to explain the Holocaust. My own uncle – Henri Tajfel, both social psychologist and Holocaust survivor – coined the term ‘social identity theory.’
“Therefore, my attention was grabbed a few years ago when I read some books about the saving of Danish and Bulgarian Jewish populations during the Holocaust by citizens of those countries. The Danish story was slightly familiar to me and the Bulgarian one not at all. I have since become quite obsessed by these and other instances (for example, Albania, the Rosenstrasse protests) that run against the grain of my and other people’s common assumptions about human behaviour and ‘nature.’ I felt compelled to tell these stories and learn more about the reasons behind them. I started to investigate the notion of ‘social goodness’ from many angles: history, psychology, anthropology, philosophy, memory, folk tale, legend, theory.”
With the help of independent research and creation grants, Howard “gradually brought the project into the work of Jumblies, inviting and including the responses of diverse community participants and groups. Now, we have a broad and growing repertoire of stories with which to play.
“However,” she stressed, “it’s important to me to uphold the project’s origins in Jewish perspectives and histories, and my own Jewishness: a complicated mix of darkness, hope and urgency to understand how to cultivate grounds for goodness through never forgetting what can happen in its absence.”
The Jumblies team in Toronto includes Howard’s daughter, web designer and choir conductor Shifra Cooper, and composer Martin van de Ven, also a member of the Jewish community.
In addition to being a composer for film, television, theatre and dance, van de Ven is a music facilitator and educator. He is also a clarinetist and has performed with the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band, Chutzpah Ensemble, and Beyond the Pale. He has been involved in many Jumblies projects – as musical director, composer and/or performer. “Ruth and I have written several choral works together,” he told the Independent.
“To me, Jumblies is the embodiment of a music and art-making philosophy that believes the arts are there for everyone to create and not just for the well-trained elite,” he said. “Composers such as John Cage and Canada’s R. Murray Schafer talk about this in their writing and both were an early influence on my music education. Jumblies allows me to use my own skills and training to combine the efforts of trained and non-trained performers to create art, and specifically music, that serves the purpose of the moment, whether a stand-alone piece or something that supports a story being told. I think this work is important; it democratizes and decommodifies music-making and breaks down barriers to creation for community members who are otherwise shut out of the creative process. The myth that music-making is the sole purview of the highly skilled, and it is only worthwhile if it is commodified into a product to be consumed, is damaging to the whole idea of ‘homo ludens,’ the idea that a fundamental human attribute is the ability to play, invent and create.”
The community choir that Cooper directs embodies this concept of art being for everyone.
“The Gather Round Singers is an intergenerational community choir, made up of 30-plus mixed-ability, multi-aged singers, from across Toronto and beyond,” she said. “We exist within Jumblies Theatre, and so share their dedication to radical inclusivity and benefit from their experience in creating interdisciplinary work.”
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, the choir has been meeting weekly online since April, said Cooper, “to rehearse and perform new choral works designed or adapted for this new context” – that “[c]horal music is among the more challenging forms to adapt to online gathering, as video calling platforms such as Zoom are designed to reduce vocal overlap, and create latency that makes in-sync singing impossible.”
The Gather Round Singers will perform two new pieces for the opening of the DTES Vancouver residency, said Cooper – “one a world première by Martin van de Ven and one a work-in-progress by Arie Verheul van de Ven, both of which were developed this summer especially to be performed on Zoom. These are both part of Jumblies’ larger Grounds for Goodness project, which continues until a final presentation in June 2021, and will include several other new musical and choral pieces … and other composers (including Andrew Balfour, Christina Volpini and Cheldon Paterson).”
“Grounds for Goodness overall is a multi-year project that includes many partners, places and participants,” explained Howard. “It has been taking place through real-live and virtual activities for almost two years. There have been episodes in Nipissing First Nation (near North Bay, Ont.), Montreal, Brampton, the Ottawa Valley, Algoma Region (northern Ontario), and with various Toronto groups.… We have received funds to tour the project, which have now been adapted to allow for ‘virtual touring.’ The Vancouver iteration is the next big chapter in this project.”
For Grounds for Goodness Downtown Eastside, Martin van de Ven said, “we’ll be premièring a work called ‘Besa.’ ‘Besa’ is an Albanian Islamic concept about hospitality and the need to help and protect guests and those in need within and beyond your community.
“In Albania, during the Second World War (and Italian and then Nazi occupation), this meant that almost all Jewish people living and finding refuge in Albania were sheltered and hidden, and Albania ended up with a larger Jewish population at the end of the war than at the beginning. We created a work based on texts found in writings and interviews with Albanians – from the book Besa: Muslims who Saved Jews During WW II by Norman H. Gershman.
“The COVID-19 restrictions prevented us from developing this piece as we normally would,” he continued, “and so I composed a work that could be performed and rehearsed with everyone being online. It involved researching the technology, experimenting with Zoom meetings and audio programs, as well as writing music that allowed for enough flexibility to deal with internet latency. For our Vancouver residency, we will be presenting this work and sharing our experience of creating an artwork to be performed online with members of the Vancouver art community.”
Those Vancouver artists include Savannah Walling, Olivia C. Davies, Beverly Dobrinsky, Khari Wendell McClelland, Renae Morriseau and Rianne Svelnis, as well as 10 DTES-involved participants.
* * *
Van de Ven started music lessons when he was 6 years old – on recorder. “In elementary school,” he said, “my friends and I decided we wanted to form a circus. As the only one in the group with musical training, I was charged with writing the theme for the circus band. I dutifully started writing down half notes and quarter notes on paper and tried to play them on the recorder. The method worked fine but I soon realized I would need some additional training if I wanted it to sound good.
“I ended up with a musical education partially shaped by my father’s interest and taste for very modern classical and jazz music and eventually formal training at university,” he said. “In my late teens, I realized that my interest in science and engineering paled compared to the excitement I felt for a live performance, whether as an audience member or as a performer.”
In university, in addition to his formal training, van de Ven was involved in various jazz programs and, eventually, studied and performed in free improv ensembles. He also did a short stint in Europe, studying early computer music in electronic sound synthesis.
“Klezmer music has a history deeply rooted in East European and Middle Eastern music traditions. As a clarinetist,” he said, “it provided for me a wonderful vehicle to not only deeply emerge myself into a culture other than my own but also perform a lead role playing in a band.”
For her part, Cooper has loved choral singing her whole life. “And I bring this love to my own work,” she said, “while having always believed that bringing together community arts and choral singing requires a flexibility and a softening of our understanding of the boundaries of what ‘choral music’ can be – this is something that I have always been creatively driven by. In these times, I’m learning a lot more about how far this can go.
“Sometimes, turning things on their head can be revealing of new approaches, considerations or perspectives,” she said. “For example, one young woman who has sung with the choir for many years, said to me the other day: ‘In rehearsal, I always sit in the back row, so I only see the backs of people’s heads. I like on Zoom that I can see the faces of everyone I’m singing and performing with.’ Another choir member told me that she feels more confident and motivated to practise when she has her microphone off and is alone in her room following along – this confidence comes through strikingly in the recordings she shared with me for one of our digital projects. In these ways, sometimes, working online has revealed the limitations of our previously established norms for singing in-person. I think often now about how, whenever we can safely be back together, we might incorporate these learnings.
“Which is not to gloss over any of the challenges of meeting online,” stressed Cooper. “I think I can speak for at least the majority of the choir when I say we all immensely miss singing together – in sync, in harmony, in rhythm. And a digital space, even though full of many possibilities, is also full of boundaries and obstacles to folks joining in, especially those experiencing more precarious housing or financial insecurity. Our team worked closely all summer with members of the choir community to bridge this gap, purchasing and delivering internet-enabled devices to choir members and providing remote and in-person (socially distanced) trainings and trouble-shooting.” They did so with funding from several sources, notably the Toronto Foundation.
“Another part of my work has often included event management and digital design and, in the new reality of virtual art-making, these two often come together in interesting ways,” Cooper added. “I’m delighted to be designing a new interactive website for Grounds for Goodness at the DTES Heart of the City Festival, that will act as an online evolving gallery, showcasing new work created through the community workshops and acting as the container and guide for the culminating virtual event.”
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.