Adina Horwich at the 42nd annual Rockowers Awards. She received an honourable mention for journalistic excellence in covering Zionism, aliyah and Israel. (photo from Adina Horwich)
The Jewish Independent won four Simon Rockower Awards for Excellence in Jewish Journalism this year. The awards, which are given out by the American Jewish Press Association, were for work done in 2022. The JI has had a few Rockower hat tricks in its history, but this is the first time the paper has garnered four honours in one year.
The awards were presented on July 11 at the Higgins Hotel and Conference Centre in New Orleans, La., where the AJPA’s annual conference was held. The JI mainly competed in the division of weekly and biweekly newspapers, but there were some categories for which the competition was between all types of media (print and online); awards were given for first and second place, and sometimes honourable mention.
Writer Adina Horwich traveled from her home in Israel to New Orleans to receive her award in person. She won the JI an honourable mention for journalistic excellence in covering Zionism, aliyah and Israel for her article “Immigration challenges” (jewishindependent.ca/immigration-challenges-2). The piece both reviews Adi Barokas’s Hebrew-language graphic novel, The Journey to the Best Place on Earth (and Back), about Barokas’s experience trying to immigrate to Vancouver from Israel, and shares Horwich’s experience making aliyah from Canada. The jury commented: “Extremely readable story, that skilfully explores from a personal perspective the nitty gritty of making aliyah.”
The JI’s Pat Johnson also received an honourable mention – his article “Oasis in the Caucasus” (jewishindependent.ca/oasis-in-the-caucasus) garnered recognition for excellence in writing about Jewish heritage and Jewish peoplehood in Europe. The jury said about his piece:
“A terrific look into the Jewish community of Azerbaijan that most of us, unfortunately, don’t have on our ‘Must-Go Places to Visit.’ Pat Johnson’s very nice story strongly suggests otherwise. Johnson paints a wonderful picture of this tucked-away ‘shtetl’ where the residents say they have never faced antisemitism. If only we could feel so lucky here in the United States! And while most of us do well playing ‘Jewish geography,’ actual world geography is often more of a challenge. Having Johnson admit having to Google Azerbaijan before traveling there to report this story added a nice touch that connects with readers who may also be unfamiliar with the country – but now more knowledgeable thanks to this feature.”
Johnson was recognized for another of his articles, “Maus not too graphic” (jewishindependent.ca/maus-not-too-graphic), which placed second for excellence in education reporting. Johnson sat in on Anna-Mae Wiesenthal’s Holocaust and Genocide Studies class at King David High School, and listened as students discussed the graphic memoir Maus by Art Spiegelman.
“Lots of people laughed when a Tennessee school board pulled Maus from the curriculum because of the drawing of a naked cat. That was too much for board members and they banished the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel,” wrote the Rockower jury. “Viewing the book through the eyes of five students at a Jewish high school subtly portrays the board decision’s absurdity.”
Rounding out the JI wins was a first place for excellence in editorial writing – where all entries competed in the same division. The JI editorial board of Johnson, Basya Laye and me were honoured for the set of editorials that included “Every person has a voice” (about Elon Musk, hatred and misinformation online, and how people can counter such forces), “Extremism not helpful” (about New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh’s views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) and “New era in U.S. politics” (about the U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of a woman’s right to reproductive self-determination, as well as the Jewish perspective on abortion).
About these editorials the Rockower jury wrote: “These pieces are good examples of what editorials should be – thoughtful examination of pressing issues, using clear reasoning in looking at both sides, then coming to a well-reasoned conclusion. Local tie-ins strengthen opinions.”
All of us at the JI appreciate the AJPA’s recognition of the hard work that goes into producing an independent Jewish newspaper, magazine or website, and we congratulate all of our colleagues on their achievements. For the full list of Rockower winners, visit ajpa.org.
The JI couldn’t do what we do without our subscribers, donors and advertisers – thank you for all your support. For readers who are thinking about subscribing, donating or advertising, please consider doing so to help us continue producing a high-quality, independent Jewish newspaper that connects community members from across the religious and political spectrums; covers lifecycle events and local, national and international news; and documents our community history as it happens. Visit jewishindependent.ca/support-the-ji, email [email protected] or call 604-689-1520.
Leamore Cohen (photo by Efrat Gal-Or Nucleus Photography)
The Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver’s inclusion services program is one of the recipients of the Lieutenant Governor’s Arts and Music Awards, in the category of visual arts. This one-time honour, marking the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, recognizes organizations like the JCC that have excelled in fostering wide community engagement through a robust spectrum of arts and culture programs. Most important: the award emphasizes the JCC’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity.
It all began with a passionate letter of nomination by Chaia Schneid, whose daughter, Sarah Halpern, discovered “a previously untapped creative passion” in the Art Hive and Theatre Lab classes she attended, among other programs run through the JCC’s inclusion services. Writing to the Hon. Janet Austin, lieutenant governor of British Columbia, Schneid stated: “The quality of the arts and culture programs is unlike anything we have found elsewhere. They are professionally delivered and of the highest calibre, and yet individualized to meet the special needs of the diverse participants.” In particular, Schneid praised the JCC’s annual Jewish Disability and Awareness Inclusion Month (JDAIM). Schneid also praised current program director and inclusion services coordinator Leamore Cohen, calling her a “rare individual.”
Shelley Rivkin, vice-president, local and global engagement, at the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver wrote a letter of support for the nomination. In it, she highlighted several inclusion services arts and social programs, and Cohen’s leadership.
“Leamore Cohen is the driving force behind these programs and her compassion, creativity and commitment to inclusion shine through in all aspects of the program,” wrote Rivkin. “She is always generating new ways and ideas for participants to engage with the arts and to create to the best of their abilities. These programs break new ground by offering meaningful educational and recreational opportunities for people with diverse needs. Having had the opportunity to attend some events, I have seen firsthand the joy that participants feel in being able to express themselves in a variety of mediums and the pride that their parents and family members experience when they see the creativity and talent of their loved ones.”
For a growing number of Vancouverites from all religious and ethnic backgrounds, and across all ages and abilities, the calibre and range of the JCC’s work is well-known. A schedule of performing and fine arts programs coincides with an array of sport, leisure and fitness options inside a facility that houses a theatre, library, gymnasium and pool. The JCC is also widely known for its annual Jewish Book and Chutzpah! festivals – both occupying a key place in the city’s cultural calendar – alongside community services including preschool and toddler daycare.
“While the arts programming is the centrepiece of what is being offered,” wrote Rivkin, “other inclusion programming for adults includes free memberships and access to all the fitness and wellness facilities at the Jewish community centre along with two virtual classes offered five days a week that are designed to be sensitive to the sensory stimulation needs of participants.”
Noting that activities continued throughout the pandemic, Rivkin concluded, “the program demonstrates its dedication to equity and inclusion daily by the range of programs embedded in the arts that have been opened up to this population and, of course, commitment, both on the part of Leamore Cohen, who dedicates so much time and thought to designing these programs, and to the participants themselves, who have remained active and involved despite their personal barriers and the COVID restrictions.”
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On June 18, Annette Whitehead was awarded a Queen’s Platinum Jubilee pin by MP Joyce Murray. Whitehead was nominated for the honour by Kitsilano Community Centre for her outstanding commitment and dedication to her community. She also received a certificate as a sign of gratitude for all the wonderful and hard work she does for her constituency.
June 2022 marked the 70th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. To commemorate this milestone, Murray was issued a number of Platinum Jubilee pins, which she decided would be best used to celebrate and thank those who volunteer in Vancouver Quadra. The ceremony took place at Trimble Park.
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On July 7, the National Audubon Society announced the winners of its 13th annual Audubon Photography Awards. This year, judges awarded eight prizes across five divisions from a pool of 2,416 entrants from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and seven Canadian provinces and territories.
Local Jewish community member Liron Gertsman won three awards:
Professional Award Winner for his photo of a white-tailed ptarmigan,
Professional Honourable Mention for his photo of a sharp-tailed grouse, and
Video Award Winner for his sharp-tailed grouse video.
In a July 7 Facebook post, Gertsman writes about his wins: “Getting a chance to shine some light on these often under-appreciated birds brings a big smile to my face!”
He also writes about the white-tailed ptarmigan:
“Perfectly adapted to harsh alpine conditions, they spend most of their time foraging on small plant matter in the tundra, insulated from the wind and cold by their warm layers of feathers. Ptarmigan are also famous for changing their feathers to match their snowy surroundings in the winter, and their rocky surroundings in the summer. This mastery of camouflage makes them very difficult to find, and I’ve spent countless hikes searching for them, to no avail. On this particular day, after hiking in the alpine for a couple of hours, I stumbled right into my target bird! This individual was part of a small group of ptarmigan that were so well camouflaged, I didn’t notice them until some movement caught my eye just a few yards from where I was standing. Wanting to capture these remarkable birds within the context of their spectacular mountain domain, I put on a wider lens and sat down. The birds continued to forage at close range, and I captured this image as this individual walked over a rock, posing in front of the stunning mountains of Jasper National Park.”
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At the Rockower Awards banquet, held in conjunction with the American Jewish Press Association’s annual conference, June 27, 2022, in Atlanta, Ga., the Jewish Independent received two Simon Rockower Awards for Excellence in Jewish Journalism. These awards honoured achievements in Jewish media published in 2021 and there was a record-breaking 1,100-plus entries from AJPA members.
In the news story category, in the division of weekly and biweekly newspapers, the ˆI took second place for Kevin Keystone’s article “What constitutes recruiting?” The piece explored the allegation by a coalition of foreign policy and Palestinian solidarity organizations that Canadians are being recruited for the Israel Defence Forces.
For excellence in editorial writing, in which all member papers competed, the JI editorial board of Pat Johnson, Basya Laye and Cynthia Ramsay received an honourable mention, or third place. “Strong reasoning and writing, relevant to Jewish audience,” wrote the judges about the trio of articles submitted. The submission included “Ideas worth the fight,” about university campuses and the need to keep “engaging in the battle of ideas, however daunting and hopeless the fight might appear”; “Tragedy and cruelty,” about the response to the catastrophe at Mount Meron on Lag b’Omer in 2021; and “Antisemitism unleashed,” about how the violence in Israel in May 2021 year spilled out into the world with a spike in antisemitic incidents.
Myriam Steinberg’s Catalogue Baby: A Memoir of Infertility, with illustrations by Christache, has won two gold medals for best graphic novel. The first was the Independent Publishers (IPPY) Awards, and the second is the Foreword Indies Award. This is after having won the Vine Award for Canadian Jewish Literature last fall.
“This book was not only a labour of love, but also a call-out to the world to recognize and acknowledge the very real experience of so many people,” wrote Steinberg in an email. “Pregnancy loss and/or infertility touch almost everyone in some way or other. It affects those who are trying to conceive the most, but it also touches (often unbeknownst to them) their children, friends, family and colleagues.”
To celebrate the honours, Steinberg is offering a 20% discount on books bought directly from her (shipping extra). To order, email [email protected].
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The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO) and the VSO School of Music (VSO SoM) are excited to recognize the appointment of Ben Mink, CM, as a Member of the Order of Canada. On June 29, 2022, Governor General of Canada Mary Simon announced that Ben Mink, who is a member of the board of directors for both the VSO and VSO SoM, has received the distinction “for his sustained contributions to Canadian music as a producer, multi-instrumentalist and writer.”
Mink has amassed a critically acclaimed body of work spanning decades, styles and genres as an international musical force. His influence is tangible and enduring in the widest range of musical styles and directions, and his imprint can be found in countless recordings, film scores and television programs. As a producer, songwriter, and instrumentalist, Mink has brought his signature style and approach to major musical artists and productions. He has an impressive list of recording collaborations that include k.d. lang, Rush, Daniel Lanois, Roy Orbison, Elton John, Alison Krauss, Heart, Feist, the Klezmatics, Wynona Judd, Method Man, James Hetfield (Metallica), and many more.
He has been nominated for nine Grammies, winning twice for his work with k.d. lang. The song “Constant Craving,” which he co-wrote and produced with lang, won her a Grammy for best female pop performance and has been used in several TV shows.
In 2007, he was co-nominated for his work on Feist’s Grammy-nominated “1234,” which gained global popularity in the roll out campaign for the iPod Nano. His recent collaborations with Heart were Billboard hits. Mink’s work helped set new and significant directions in Canadian popular music, and his writing and producing has been recognized with seven Juno nominations (three wins) and the SOCAN Wm. Harold Moon Award for international recognition.
Reesa Steele and family have the absolute pleasure to announce the upcoming marriage of Talia Magder and Weston Steele on Sunday, July 24, 2022, under the chuppah in front of family and friends in Vancouver.
Mazal tov to Nicole and Philip Magder of Montreal and Reesa Steele and David Steele of Vancouver.
Mazal tov to Talia and Weston. May this be the first of many simchas ♥
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Emmy nominee Molly Leikin is the author of Insider Secrets to Hit Songwriting in the Digital Age, published by Permuted Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, in July 2022. It is Molly’s eighth book.
Editors from three Canadian Jewish publications gathered on May 11 for a wide-ranging and passionate online discussion about the state of Jewish media in the country.
Yoni Goldstein of the Canadian Jewish News, based in the Toronto area, Bernie Bellan of the Jewish Post and News in Winnipeg and Cynthia Ramsay of Greater Vancouver’s Jewish Independent examined such topics as the economic viability of Canadian Jewish media, antisemitism, and the ability to balance an array of differing opinions within the community. All three publications have a long-standing history of Jewish journalism, with the Post and News and the Independent able to trace their beginnings to 1925 and 1930, respectively. (Though the JI started as a mimeo in 1925, the newspaper began five years later.)
Goldstein led off by explaining the recent manifestation of the CJN, which, founded in 1960, is the baby of the group. The paper closed in mid-2013 and again in April 2020, but reopened each time. The current version restarted in January 2021 with a reduced staff and a focus on online media.
When introducing his paper, Bellan noted that the Post and News readership skews to an older demographic yet endeavours to be as inclusive as possible. “With the advent of the internet, there are so many different news sources that it is hard to establish a clear identity for a lot of Jewish media,” he said. “You have to change with the times and know your audience.”
Ramsay, too, addressed the fine line between keeping established readers interested and also bringing in a younger audience. “We celebrate Jews in the community whether or not they are doing something specifically Jewish. We want to look forward and also respect the past. We try to be a window to the world and not be too insular.”
Moderator Bryan Borzykowski, the president of the CJN, next pressed the panelists on staying relevant in an age when connections to Jewish organizations are waning.
“One of the positive sides of the digital age is that you can dive in and see what sorts of stories people are engaged in,” Goldstein responded, highlighting the numerous subjects CJN offers in its podcasts, from politics to arts, sports to humour.
Bellan said he features newcomers to Winnipeg in his paper, whether they are from Russia, Israel or elsewhere in Canada. “We want them to know that the established Jewish community welcomes them and we want them to feel integrated in the community,” he said.
“As long as you are writing a paper that is in this moment and not dwelling on the past, then you are relevant, and your readers will decide that,” said Ramsay.
Borzykowski asked about revenues, particularly during a pandemic, which has challenged further the solvency of media in general.
“Most of our money still comes from advertising. For now, it is great because we are small, lean and we are able to ‘pivot’ quite easily. I don’t have to get OKs to do anything. And our community has been very supportive,” Ramsay said.
For the CJN there are three money planks, according to Goldstein: advertising, subscriptions and donations. The publication hopes to be able to provide tax receipts to donors in the future.
Bellan credited a loyal local subscriber base and an attachment that former residents of Winnipeg have towards the city as reasons that place his paper in an enviable position when it comes to sustainability. “There are probably more Jewish ex-Winnipeggers in the world than there are current Jewish Winnipeggers,” he noted.
Balancing the range of opinions readers have on issues, such as Israel, was the next phase of the discussion. Ramsay welcomes a diverse selection of views on the Jewish state, with the ground rule being the recognition of Israel’s right to exist. “We had to bring the readership along to the concept that you don’t have to be afraid if someone does not agree with you on Israel,” she said.
Goldstein brought attention to the number of reputable publications based in Israel, which, from the CJN’s perspective, would not be worth competing against. Instead, when the publication does run an Israeli story, it will likely have a Canadian connection, he said.
Bellan’s Post and News presents a vast spectrum of views on the Holy Land, from running pieces by a Palestinian scholar to a hawkish opinion writer, and Bellan stated that differing views on topics can contribute to the vibrancy of a publication.
When questioned about reporting on antisemitism, Goldstein said it could be seen as one of the key reasons for the existence of Jewish media in that it will cover the topic in a more sensitive and journalistically appropriate manner than the mainstream press.
Bellan said his paper has taken note of the recent increase in antisemitism, especially in universities, and has published a lot more articles on the subject of late.
Ramsay emphasized that, while acknowledging and dealing with the topic of antisemitism, the Independentdoesn’t write from a position of fear or panic, but rather one of pride in celebrating Jewish identity.
No present-day conversation of modern media would be complete without the mention of “fake news” and what responsible publications can do to prevent it.
“The challenge is to build trust with audiences,” Goldstein said. “You have to build your reputation as being honest and rigorous in your reporting.”
In Winnipeg, the anti-vaccine movement became a problem for Bellan as his main columnist is one of its adherents. Bellan’s response was to counter with facts and chronicle his own battle with COVID-19 without denying anti-vaxxers space in his paper.
Ramsay stressed the importance of fact-checking and sourcing material while, at the same time, providing room for as many views as possible. That said, she said she does censor material, such as that from anti-vaxxers, which could harm public health.
Borzykowski ended the evening by noting that the CJN is a national paper and touching on the possibility of collaboration between the CJN and local Jewish newspapers across the country.
Congregation Etz Chayim in Winnipeg hosted the event, with Monica Neiman supplying the technical support.
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
When we decided to have a celebration marking 18 years since the beginning of the latest chapter of the Jewish Independent’s nearly-nine-decade history, it made perfect sense to focus on the future as much as the past.
The centrepoint of the JI Chai Celebration is the JI’s 18 Under 36 Awards. The day’s headlines might be cause for dejection, but anyone who works with, or spends any time with, members of this community’s younger generations knows that the future is bright.
This truly is reason to celebrate.
I am amazed to think I’ve owned the newspaper for longer than some of our awardees have been alive. I don’t feel that old. On the other hand, it does seem like another lifetime when Kyle Berger, Pat Johnson and I bought the Independent’s predecessor, the Jewish Western Bulletin, from publishers Sam and Mona Kaplan. Kyle was 24, Pat was 34 and I was 29 – we all would have qualified for the JI’s 18 Under 36 Awards, and I’d like to think we might have offered some tough competition.
I would say to younger audiences, as both a promise and a warning: beware of how way leads on to way. Sometimes wonderful things happen and the mission of your life presents itself without you even realizing what’s happening.
My roots are not here. My immediate family has lived in Ontario for a long time now. And, when I came here about 25 years ago from Ottawa, I intended to spend a year in British Columbia, get my master’s in economics at Simon Fraser University, then return east and do a PhD in economics at University of Toronto.
But, I got a job in Vancouver as I was finishing my MA, and worked as an economist until, one day, I took a phone call from the then-publisher of the Jewish Western Bulletin. I’d never heard of him … or it. My involvement with the Vancouver Jewish community was through music – with the Vancouver Jewish Folk Choir, with whom I still sing today, and Beth Israel Choir. The paper was looking for someone to fill in writing editorials and I was looking for a change, so I agreed to take the job – for the summer.
As I mentioned, one thing leads to another, and the Kaplans, who had published and edited the JWB since 1960, wanted to retire. Pat and Kyle, my then-newfound friends and colleagues, suggested we put in a bid to buy the paper. I didn’t think the Kaplans would sell it to such a green team, as there were some other serious bidders with far more experience in business.
But the Kaplans saw something in the three of us that I certainly did not. They were Orthodox Jews, Zionists who brokered no criticism of Israel, and believed in advocacy journalism. We were secular, Zionists of a rather more open-minded variety, firm advocates of free speech and believed that journalism should be as objective as possible. Despite our obvious differences, I think the Kaplans recognized in us something of the inevitable future.
While Kyle and Pat have moved on to other endeavours, they thankfully remain involved in the paper and are there to help and offer advice, with Pat still doing much writing, as well as serving on the editorial board.
Looking back at the past 18 years, I can say that, while we’ve had challenges, we’ve overcome them and we’ve had many more successes. And this is one of the major reasons for the JI Chai Celebration. We want to celebrate the fact that, with the community’s help and the hard work and dedication of so many over the decades, the Jewish Independent, this community’s newspaper, is a vibrant and evolving enterprise.
Still … it is no secret that the newspaper industry is a tough one these days, to put it mildly. We must find a way to keep the Independent a sustainable and quality publication – not just for the coming months, but for the coming generations. The funds raised through the JI Chai Celebration will go, in part, toward a study of North American Jewish community newspapers and other examples of community journalism, which might direct us to best practices and models for the future of the JI.
The incredibly generous financial support of Joseph and Rosalie Segal and family, and the support of Mary-Louise Albert of the Rothstein Theatre and Chutzpah! Festival, laid the foundation for this celebration. The contributions of Gary Averbach, Shirley Barnett, David Bogoch, LKP Holdings (Tzipi Mann and family), JB Newall Memorials, Olive+Wild, Red Truck Beer, Vancouver Learning Centre, Web exPress, Yosef Wosk and so many others made it all possible. Led by talented event manager Bonnie Nish, all of this came together in three months.
Everyone performing here today is donating their time, as is the bartender and the volunteers you’ve seen on tickets, at the auction tables, ushering, all about. And about that auction table – thank you so much to all the donors to the auction and those who contributed the prizes for tonight, including the gift packages for the 18 awardees.
In addition to funding a study that can set the course of the paper’s future, revenue from this event will help stabilize the Independent and let us continue the important role we play as a mirror to and a voice of this community.
To ensure that independent Jewish journalism survives and thrives in this city and province, though, it ultimately depends on you. I ask you to support this newspaper by reading, sharing, subscribing, advertising or donating.
If you still wonder why and for whom we need to continue building this community and strengthening the media that shares its stories, look only to the 18 individuals being honoured tonight and to the future that they represent.
The Jewish Independent begins its three-week summer break now, and we wish you a relaxing and rejuvenating time in the sun. You can stay in touch by visiting our website and, if you do not already, please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. While we are away, we have a favour to ask – we would love it if you would help us identify some of the young people in our community who are doing amazing things.
The Independent is planning a Chai Celebration on Dec. 6, marking the 18th year of the current era of the paper’s almost nine-decade history. It has been 18 years since Cynthia Ramsay became publisher of the paper, and we are marking the occasion by recognizing a new generation of community leaders, movers, shakers, thinkers, doers and all-around awesome people under the age of 36 who are contributing to the well-being and growth of our community, Israel and/or working toward making the world a better place.
A central component of the Chai Celebration is the 18 Under 36 awards, and we are asking you to help identify 18 young people who deserve recognition in a variety of endeavours. Nominations will be reviewed by a panel and 18 individuals will be selected in categories that include philanthropy and volunteering, business and technology, education and continuity, arts and culture, health and wellness. (Additional suggestions are welcome.) Nominees must be residents of British Columbia and either be Jewish or be making positive contributions to the Jewish community or Israel.
In addition to identifying excellent nominees, there are more ways for you to be involved in this exciting celebration. We are seeking sponsors for nomination categories and awards, and for other components of the event. We are requesting silent-auction, raffle and prize donations.
You know that this is a challenging time for print media. The Jewish Independent is a vital community forum, a place that reflects and represents the diverse identities, ideas, denominations and issues that make our community what it is. We are able to do this because we are not a nonprofit organization that represents one group’s particular interests. We are a small business that strives to serve each and every organization and member of the community, and we depend on readers and advertisers – and those who have generously answered our occasional calls for donations – to do so.
If there are times when what you read in these pages challenges your assumptions or expands your horizons, or even unsettles you from time to time, then part of our mandate has been fulfilled. But, in addition to challenging assumptions and encouraging new ways of thinking about ideas ancient and fresh, the paper is also, we hope, a community message board, a few minutes a week with a trusted friend, an entertainment guide, a neighbourhood chat and more. We hope that you regard the paper as an important institution in our community.
We sometimes hear you say that you wish there were more pages in a given week. We wish that, too. The number of pages reflects the revenue generated through advertising. We want to offer you the best product possible and want to partner with community businesses and organizations to bring you the best reporting and most informative community news. It is advertising revenue that allows us to pay writers, meet rent, buy equipment, print the paper, mail and distribute the issue, and develop the digital components that allow us to advance in a changing media landscape. When revenues are lower, we must reduce our costs, hence, those smaller-than-average issues.
This December’s celebration is an invitation for our community to come together and support independent Jewish media in British Columbia – as well as to celebrate our community, enjoy a great show and have some fun. We hope you will be a part of it.
For more information, email Ramsay at [email protected]. To nominate someone you know under the age of 36 (as of Dec. 7, 2016) who deserves recognition, email Ramsay or message the JI via one of our social media platforms and tell us a bit about your nominee and why they should be the winner. And please spread the word – #18under36 is underway!
Achinoam Nini at the 21st UNESCO Charity Gala 2012 in Dusseldorf, Germany. (photo by Michael Schilling via commons.wikimedia.org)
The Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s invitation to Israeli singer Achinoam Nini (Noa) to perform at the community’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations has received mixed reactions, including a withdrawal of support for the event by Jewish National Fund of Canada, Pacific Region.
In a Feb. 18 statement, JNF Canada chief executive officer Josh Cooper said the organization would be taking a one-year hiatus from its tradition of sponsoring the Yom Ha’atzmaut event “due to the views of the entertainment booked for this year’s celebration. The entertainer that has been hired does not reflect nor correspond to the mandate and values of the Jewish National Fund of Canada.” When pressed to answer where, specifically, Nini diverged from JNFs mandate, Cooper said he had “nothing further to add.”
Among the many Jewish community partners in a Jewish Federation of Cincinnati-sponsored performance by Nini and Mira Awad in June 2015 was JNF, and JNF was one of the sponsors of a Nini and Gil Dor concert in Atlanta less than two weeks ago. About the different mandates and values of JNF Canada and JNF USA, Cooper said “JNF/KKL has offices in 48 countries. While we all work together in Israel, we operate independent of each other in our respective countries.”
Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver issued a statement saying the organization was “disappointed” by JNF’s decision to withdraw support: “JNF has been a valued sponsor of our Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration for many years, and we look forward to welcoming them back next year.”
In a Feb. 20 article, the world chair of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL)-JNF, Danny Atar, told Haaretz that he was against JNF Canada’s withdrawal of support over Nini’s views, saying, “I intend to express my opinion on the decision directly to the leadership of JNF Canada at a meeting we will be having shortly in Israel.”
Locally, Nini’s scheduled appearance is drawing strong reactions from some community members.
Richmond resident Arnold Shuchat expressed his “complete opposition to the decision to engage the controversial artist” in a Feb. 18 letter to Ezra Shanken, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, and to its board of directors. “The purpose of a Jewish community event should be to marshal and unify our community as opposed to fragment it,” he wrote. “It had to be obvious to any reasonable person who might have investigated her political positions that she would be a polarizing figure to many in the community. This decision is a regressive and irresponsible one and should be reversed as quickly as possible to prevent damage to both the reputation and fundraising ability of our Federation.”
René Ragetli, also from Richmond, agreed. “I think she’s a divisive figure and it’s a big mistake to have her here, especially for Yom Ha’atzmaut. She’s said some outrageous things – called our leaders fascist thugs and expressed admiration of Mahmoud Abbas. The woman is not balanced,” he said. “Her bringing comfort to the widow of a terrorist at an event to honor the Israeli fallen – it’s insulting. Sure, people are entitled to their own opinions, but having her on the stage for Yom Ha’atzmaut degrades the event. This is a storm that’s not going away, and a mistake that needs to be corrected.”
An online petition titled “Stop Achinoam Nini from performing at our Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration” had almost 400 signatures at the time of publication. Cynthia Ramsay, publisher of the Jewish Independent, said she has received several letters and emails about Nini.
“Every person who’s tried to get me to run a letter or has cc’d me on an email to Federation has the exact – and I mean exact – same two points: she supports B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence, and she’s anti-Israel or pro-BDS,” Ramsay said. (See “Let’s talk about Nini…” by the JI editorial board.) “No one has provided any evidence, not even a Jerusalem Post quote, to support their allegations, some of which are even nastier and also with zero proof. Because of the wording of most people’s emails/letters, I think it’s a chain reaction, everyone’s just repeating what they’ve heard from someone else without doing any research of their own. The main concern seems to be about BDS and she is against BDS from what I’ve read.”
Shuchat said the issue with Nini was not about BDS. “This has been very divisive because she’s very controversial, she’ll offend a lot of people and it was very foreseeable that this would happen. She’s polarizing so it was a dumb decision to invite her. Mainstream media are going to see this and say, ‘Look at all these heebs fighting with each other!’ Federation should cancel the engagement and focus on building a cohesive community.”
Ramsay disagreed. “I think it would be very sad if Federation withdrew its invitation or if Nini declined it because of the controversy it’s causing, which, I think, is unmerited.”
A Feb. 22 letter to Federation board chair Stephen Gaerber signed by more than 30 Israeli Canadians also urged “Federation to stick to the invitation.” It notes that “the current political climate in Israel condemns every person who advocates for peace and human rights, and campaigns, such as the recent one by Im Tirzu and other similar extremist groups, single out progressive artists, including Amos Oz and David Grossman to name a few.
“By canceling the invitation of Achinoam Nini to perform in Vancouver,” the letter continues, “we will not only be missing the opportunity to experience a great musician, it will also mean taking a stand against everything Vancouver and Canada is proudly known for, our belief in tolerance, pluralism, human rights, these same core values as they are reflected in our Jewish heritage. Here in Vancouver we must not get entangled in the type of intimidation that is going on in Israel. If the opportunity to bring her is missed due to politics, it sends a terrible message and may create rupture in the local Jewish community and will distance plural and liberal people like us from it.”
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net. A version of this article was published by Canadian Jewish News.
Earlier this month, the American Jewish Press Association announced the winners of this year’s Simon Rockower Awards for Excellence in Jewish Journalism, which honor achievements in Jewish media published in 2014. In its division (newspapers with 14,999 circulation and under), the Jewish Independent garnered two first places.
Publisher and editor Cynthia Ramsay won the first place award for excellence in writing about Jewish heritage and Jewish peoplehood in Europe for her article “World Musician at Rothstein” (Nov. 21, 2014), about the work of Lenka Lichtenberg. The group Art Without Borders was bringing Lichtenberg to Vancouver from her home base of Toronto for a solo performance at the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre. The article includes reviews of Lichtenberg’s three most recent CDs and how, in all of her music, “the memory and traditions of those who have lived before can be heard – they are celebrated, and merge with the memories, traditions and passions of Lichtenberg and the artists with whom she collaborates.”
The JI editorial board – Pat Johnson, Basya Laye and Ramsay – won the paper’s other award: first place for excellence in editorial writing. The three editorials that comprised the winning entry were “The message is universal” (March 7, 2014), about plans for the Canadian National Holocaust Monument to be constructed in Ottawa; “The spirit of Limmud” (Feb. 14, 2014), about how the vision and passion of one woman, Ruth Hess-Dolgin z”l, significantly enriched our community by initiating the movement to bring Limmud here; and “Uniquely set apart for exclusion” (May 9, 2014), about the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations decision to exclude J Street from the group.
The Rockower awards will be presented at AJPA’s annual conference, which, for the second year in a row, is scheduled around the Jewish Federation General Assembly being held in Washington D.C. Nov. 8-10. AJPA sessions will be held Nov. 9-11. The entire list of Rockower winners can be found at ajpa.org/?page=2015Rockower.
At NCJW’s 90th anniversary party, left to right, Robyn Lenn, Ezra S. Shanken, Debby Altow, Catherine Stoller, Sharon Allentuck and Cynthia Ramsay. (photo by Joanne Emerman)
The Vancouver section of National Council of Jewish Women of Canada welcomed national president Sharon Allentuck of Winnipeg and Robyn Lenn, president of International Council of Jewish Women, to a jam-packed 90th anniversary party at VanDusen Botanical Garden on Nov. 16.
Vancouver president Catherine Stoller and anniversary committee members greeted the approximately 125 people to a farmers’ market of food, bubbly and partner-agency displays. Council members had a chance to renew friendships, visit the displays of B.C. Transplant Society, Vancouver Coastal Health, HIPPY/MOSAIC, the JCC Jewish Book Festival, Children of the Street, Elizabeth Fry Society, and Council’s signature projects, Books for Kids, Operation Dressup and ALUMA of Israel.