Writer and director Adam Bogoch, left, and VTT Alumni Fund chair David Bogoch at the première of Vancouver Talmud Torah Onward: The 100-Year History on Sept. 17. For those who missed the sold-out screening at the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre, the documentary can be watched online, via talmudtorah.com/vtt-onward-100-year-history or on YouTube. (photo by Jennifer Shecter-Balin)
ORT Vancouver will honour Rabbi Dr. Yosef Wosk and Shelley Lederman on Oct. 18 at Congregation Schara Tzedeck. (photos from ORT)
For nearly 140 years, ORT has been equipping people around the world with skills to succeed. The history of the organization in Canada is being celebrated at a gala luncheon next month honouring Rabbi Dr. Yosef Wosk and Shelley Lederman.
The Vancouver region of ORT began in the 1970s and was led by Lederman, who served successive terms as president of the local region and later became co-president of ORT Canada. Carrie Katz, who was Lederman’s co-president, will be the keynote speaker at the event on Wednesday, Oct. 18.
ORT (a Russian-language acronym sometimes translated as the Organization for Rehabilitation through Training) is the world’s largest Jewish education and vocational training nongovernmental organization. Beginning in Russia in 1880, World ORT now operates in 37 countries and engages 300,000 students per year. Originally focused on developing skilled trades among the people, the organization now focuses on high-tech education.
It is ORT’s origin and history – and his own family’s roots – that attracted Wosk to support the organization.
“My father’s family is from Odessa, so I felt a personal connection to the history of the organization and the people they help,” Wosk told the Independent. “Also, the appreciation for the memory of the Jewish community who would not abandon others who needed assistance.”
ORT is founded on the axiom that if you give a man a fish he will eat for a day but if you teach him how to fish he will eat for a lifetime. This is another factor that appealed to Wosk.
“What I was impressed with historically was that it’s not just giving funds,” he said. “It was also educating the people, whether in agriculture or trades and other skills, so that they would be able to eventually help take care of themselves and sustain themselves.”
Local regions, like Vancouver’s, raise funds for ORT educational initiatives in Metro Vancouver, in Israel and around the world.
When Lederman was founding president of the region, there were actually three local branches created, including a Hebrew-speaking group and a Spanish-speaking cohort.
“We created a very strong organization here in Vancouver,” said Lederman, adding that local regions support vital initiatives worldwide, projects that change according to needs over time.
“When people were under duress in Europe during the war and they couldn’t sustain themselves, ORT teachers taught them how to survive as tailors, electricians, as plumbers,” Lederman told the Independent. “And then, in Israel, ORT schools continue to do the same thing. They are teaching those who weren’t going to university but who wanted to come out of high school and be able to support themselves and their families. ORT schools provide education plus trade teachings.”
While she herself did not go to an ORT school, she saw the good works the organization does while growing up in Israel. Being honoured by the organization now means a lot, she said.
“It means a lot because being recognized by your friends and fellow members is really a recognition of all of us,” she said. “By recognizing one person, it’s recognizing the many people who contributed to the success of ORT in Vancouver.”
The theme of the gala is Building Minds Through Inspiration. While ORT began as an educational body teaching skilled trades and crafts, it is now a leader in high-technological training and education. Keeping with this commitment, a percentage of the revenue from the gala will support an ongoing Smart Classrooms initiative at Richmond Jewish Day School (RJDS), as well as provide scholarships for students at the Technological College of Beersheva, in Israel.
Smart Classrooms integrate learning technologies that allow increased interactivity. “The investment by ORT is about allowing Jewish day schools and Jewish schools in Israel to keep pace with technology,” said Abba Brodt, principal of RJDS. “It allows us to marry the best of educational practice with the best of technology for the best possible outcome for students.”
Without the Smart Classrooms funded by ORT, he said, “our students will get a great education but would not be as technologically literate as they should or could be, and they would not be keeping up with changes.”
The gala luncheon takes place at on Oct. 18, 11 a.m., at Congregation Schara Tzedeck. Honourary chair is Dr. Saul Isserow. Master of ceremonies will be Howard Jampolsky. Tickets are available from 604-276-9282 or [email protected].
Pat Johnson is on the organizing committee for the ORT gala.
Chabad Richmond is looking for seniors to teach English to Israelis. (photo from chabadrichmond.com)
Want to make a difference in the lives of Israeli teens? Consider Israel Connect, a volunteer program where Vancouver retirees engage via Zoom (it’s like Skype) with Israeli high school students who want to sharpen their English conversation and reading skills. The program, which starts after the High Holidays, is sponsored by Chabad Richmond.
“We are looking for retirees, seniors or adults with time available for volunteering. Volunteers do not have to be teachers, and the curriculum will be provided,” said Vancouver coordinator Shelley Civkin. “We’re looking for Jewish adults who are fluent English speakers, have basic computer skills and own a computer with a camera.” Volunteers can tutor from home – it will entail a half hour per week – and technical support will be available if needed. Volunteers will be trained in how to download and use Zoom.
“This is a meaningful way for community members to support Israel in a practical way,” said Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman of Chabad Richmond. “You’ll be doing a mitzvah, while investing in Israel and its young people.”
Time preferences of volunteers will be coordinated beforehand, but sessions will likely take place in the morning between 8 and 10 a.m. The Chabad Richmond Israel Connect program is asking for a one-year commitment from volunteers.
“English proficiency is crucial to Israeli students, since it accounts for a third of their entrance exam marks for university,” said Baitelman. “Partnering with the Israeli Ministry of Education, the Israel Connect program targets teens from the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Israel. The tutoring sessions are vital to students’ upward mobility in terms of education and jobs, which is why this program is so important.”
“Past volunteers really enjoyed helping their Israeli students, and made great connections with them. The students’ marks on their English exams prove that this kind of one-on-one tutoring makes a significant difference in their lives,” said Civkin.
For more information, contact Civkin at 604-732-6330 or [email protected].
Rabbi Jay Henry Moses will speak at FEDtalks on Sept. 13. (photo from Rabbi Jay Henry Moses)
While hate groups and their opponents across North America rally, and sometimes brawl, proponents of civil discourse are teaching people to communicate effectively across divides.
However, Rabbi Jay Henry Moses, who will speak in Vancouver this month, admits that those at the extremes may not be fertile soil for seeding civil discussion. It’s the vast majority in the middle of the bell curve he is interested in, the great number of people of goodwill who wish to debate agreeably but sometimes lack the skills to do so.
Moses is vice-president of the Wexner Foundation, which was founded by Ohio philanthropist Les Wexner in the 1980s to focus on the development of Jewish professional and volunteer leaders in North America, and public leaders in Israel. Moses will visit here as one of five speakers at FEDtalks, the opening event of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s annual campaign, on Sept. 13.
The Wexner Foundation has an upcoming summit on civil discourse and the topic permeates everything the organization does.
“The topic is of particular interest to us because, built into the fabric of all the programs that we run for leaders is the element of diversity,” he told the Independent in a telephone interview. “We have, since the very beginning of our work, always been very clear that we serve the entire Jewish people and the entire state of Israel and that the leaders who go through the programs that we run will be stronger and better leaders for having encountered those with different viewpoints, and learn from them. It’s actually long been part of the secret sauce of what makes our program successful … that we’ve managed to be able to bring together people who disagree with each other about important things but who share a common mission of one type or another. We’ve been able to bring them together and have the resulting cohorts be greater than the sum of their parts precisely because of that diversity.”
Nurturing an openness to diversity of opinion, particularly in the frequently contentious realm of Jewish and Israeli leadership, allows alumni of Wexner’s varied programs to bring some of that wisdom to the other circles of influence they occupy, he explained.
Inside and outside of the Jewish world, there are challenges and opportunities around civil discourse, Moses said.
“I am optimistic in the long run but realizing in the short run the hill that we have to climb is pretty steep,” he said. In the aftermath of Charlottesville and other conflicts, the chasm between the ideal and the real is evident.
“The ideal may be that everybody will be able to participate in conversations with people they disagree with and do so in the spirit of openness and learning and growth and not necessarily agree, but at least be able to occupy the same space and have the spirit of open-mindedness in their conversations and maybe get to better solutions because of talking with people who are speaking differently and so on,” he said. “That’s the ideal that we are working towards. The reality is that we have extremes on both ends. We have people whose adherence to their worldview and ideology is so extreme and so rigid that they have no interest in, nor ability to, engage in conversation – civil conversation – with people they disagree with.”
Focusing on these extremes is not a recipe for success, said Moses.
“We have to start by not focusing on them, [and] actually focus on those in the middle of the bell curve who may be on one side or another of any given ideological divide, but who are not closed off entirely to engaging with people they disagree [with],” he said. “I think the vast majority of North American Jews, if you want to talk about the universe that we are mostly influencing, are mostly in the middle of that bell curve somewhere. They are not extremists and [are] candidates for the kind of experiences that can enrich them, and enrich our community, by bringing people together who disagree in the right way.”
Providing people with the tools to express themselves and to listen to those with whom they disagree is an art, not a science, and Moses acknowledges he doesn’t have the silver bullet. But working toward civil discourse may be more urgent now, in the age of social media.
“When conversation is left to its own devices, especially in an era of social media, we often lead with less than our best selves,” said Moses, dryly. “So, having a structure within which to safely and carefully and slowly approach sensitive topics is really important. Letting it unfold organically, as it often does in social media is, in many cases, a recipe for miscommunication and breakdown of civil discourse.”
Bad experiences on social media, Moses fears, have actually made people more wary of having potentially difficult conversations in person.
“They are more hesitant to have conversations in person because they’ve seen online how quickly it can devolve into personal attacks or other really uncomfortable and difficult situations,” he said. “I think we are encountering people we disagree with all the time but I feel like we’re actually talking to them less because we feel we have nothing to talk about. We don’t know how to start those conversations, or we have had them end badly. We’ve had personal relationships damaged and much of that damage has happened online because things happen more quickly and at a greater distance. So, face-to-face conversation is suffering as a result.”
The essence of his message to the Vancouver audience will be that struggling to communicate civilly is not a new phenomenon, but it is made more urgent by contemporary developments.
“This problem is not new – it’s been part of our community’s challenge for centuries,” he said. “At the same time, we are in a moment where, because of a combination of a lot of these factors, it’s a crisis, you have a level of urgency that it may not have had before. I want to make the point that, although unhealthy disagreement has a long history in Jewish life, we also have baked into the fabric of our tradition amazing resources and a time-tested recipe for creating a culture of dissent that allows us to engage in a healthy way as a community. I’d like to address some of the ways we can use those principles from our tradition and from our history, sort of repurpose them for the 21st century, and create a new model for how we can rebuild that culture of healthy dissent using our own DNA and adapting it to our day.”
Before becoming vice-president of the Wexner Foundation, Moses was head of the Wexner Heritage Program. Originally created as a stand-alone foundation, and now based within the larger foundation, the Wexner Heritage Program’s mission is “to expand the vision of Jewish volunteer leaders, deepen their Jewish knowledge and confidence, and inspire them to exercise transformative leadership in the Jewish community.”
“As the director of that program for many years,” he said, “I worked with Jewish communities across North America to identify and then train volunteer leaders – high potential, promising, up-and-coming volunteer Jewish leaders who engage in a two-year program of study of Jewish history and Jewish thought and also of Jewish leadership. We basically are investing in these leaders to give them knowledge and inspiration to go back to their Jewish communal volunteer work with broader vision, more confidence, a deeper network and a sort of bolder vision of what the Jewish future can be and their own sense of responsibility for bringing us toward that future.”
There are several connections between the Wexner Foundation and other speakers at FEDtalks, Moses noted. Also at the Chan Centre podium will be Eric Fingerhut, president of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, of which the Wexner family has been very supportive. He also noted that Ruth Wasserman Lande, another speaker (profiled in the Independent Aug. 18), is a Wexner alumna.
Moses has a request for the Vancouver audience: “Judge me kindly if I’m sharing the stage with Ruth, who is an extraordinarily impressive and charming person.”
For the full speaker list and to purchase tickets, visit jewishvancouver.com.
Vancouver Talmud Torah’s expanded new campus includes many collaborative spaces. (photo from VTT)
On Sept. 17, Vancouver Talmud Torah will mark its centenary, celebrating “its humble beginnings as an afterschool cheder to the VTT of today – a modern, state-of-the-art facility with the capacity to educate generations of Jewish children in the decades to come, just as we have been doing for the past 100 years,” head of school Cathy Lowenstein told the Independent.
The focal point of the celebratory evening is the documentary Vancouver Talmud Torah Onward: The 100-Year History, written and directed by Adam Bogoch. The event sold out in three hours, said David Bogoch, Adam Bogoch’s father and chair of the VTT Alumni Fund, which supported the project.
David Bogoch was on the VTT board for seven years. He served as alumni chair when he was a board member and it’s a position he retains.
“It is my hope that anyone who attended the school could reconnect with the school and their classmates through the alumni organization,” he said in an interview with the Independent. “It is not an association, nothing formal, just a large family of friends, past students and parents of students.”
The alumni fund, he said, “receives donations and, in turn, makes gifts to the school. Over the last few years, the alumni fund installed an alumni garden at the corner of Oak and 26th, purchased band instruments for the students of the school, and purchased display cases for use in the hallway of the school.
“In an effort to get more people excited about reconnecting with the school, I felt it was necessary to document the 100-year history of the school, and to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the school appropriately. It is important for future parents, board members, staff and administration, and the community at large, to know how much of a struggle it is to keep the school open, paid for, able to properly care for and educate the children who walk in the door. It takes great effort from many individuals, and the full support from the entire community to keep Talmud Torah doing its best.
“We must also recognize all of the leaders of the past and the people who helped the school become what it has become,” he added, “so the documentary was a natural fit. The film is a permanent reminder and a wonderful gift to the school.”
The film was produced independently from the school, said Lowenstein. While they knew an historical piece was being made, she said, “the fact that it was completed to coincide with VTT’s 100th anniversary year was sheer good fortune. Many of us were interviewed, but we actually had no idea how and when it would all come together.”
Lowenstein said the production of the film “is close to the heart of David and Adam, who are the son and grandson of the late Dr. Al Bogoch, z’l, a former VTT board chair who, through passion and conviction, single-handedly engaged our community to burn our last mortgage. Adam is a wonderful storyteller and he does his family proud through the recounting of Talmud Torah’s fascinating story. VTT Onward is a vitally important historical record of our school.”
Some members of the VTT leadership team were shown a rough cut of the film and, said Lowenstein, “while we might not endorse everything that’s said in the film, it would be an honour to kick off VTT’s 100th year by showing it to our community.”
The title of the film, she said, captures “the very essence of what our school is about. We are always looking to fulfil our mission of academic excellence and nurturing lifelong learners. We have a responsibility to look ahead, to plan and vision forward to ensure that we are offering the best possible in core academics and Judaic studies to our students and families.”
But looking back is also necessary. “The film relies on archival photographs and live interviews with some of the very community leaders who ensured that the school remained strong and viable through some exceedingly difficult periods,” she said. “I appreciated learning about different perspectives from many community stakeholders. It is not often that one has the opportunity to hear so many different points of view from those who have been intimately connected to the school.
“The challenges our predecessors faced are the very same challenges we also face today – and that Jewish day schools across North America confront as well. I found it encouraging to see the ebb and flow and highs and lows of this institution, yet with the reassurance that VTT is a treasured community asset that is vital to the growth, strength and future of our community.”
Stressing her pride in the school’s faculty, Lowenstein said, “Although our expanded new campus allows us to do things we never imagined possible, what happens inside the four walls of the classroom (and now in our many collaborative spaces) is still our top priority. I have a team of key professionals dedicated to ensuring that the academic and Jewish experience at VTT remains relevant and vibrant. We are continuously looking to improve our offerings, and each new school year brings new ideas and new innovations. This, to me, is the hallmark of a responsive and reflective school.”
As for some of the current challenges, Lowenstein said, “As the community knows, we have just completed the building of a magnificent new campus and now we must finish paying for it. Paying down the interest on our loan is one of our key priorities to remain financially sustainable. One of our greatest challenges – and it applies to almost every independent school on Vancouver’s West Side – is the decreasing number of school-age children in the catchment due to Vancouver’s high housing costs. This is an issue that VTT, [Jewish] Federation and so many other Jewish community agencies are exploring and trying to address. Our board of directors is also committed to ensuring VTT remains an affordable option to middle-income families.
“Ultimately, our goal is to ensure we meet the diverse needs of our VTT families. We want students to receive their Jewish education at VTT from the early years until they become proud graduates in Grade 7.”
“For 100 years,” said David Bogoch, “the school has been a focal point of the Jewish community. Students make lifelong friends from their years there. They learn so much about being Jewish and what that means. The students become successful leaders throughout the entire community as they grow up, and the entire community benefits from the school.”
Adam Bogoch and Cynthia Ramsay at Main Street Brewery, where they discussed, among other things, Adam’s documentary film about Vancouver Talmud Torah. (photo by Adam Bogoch)
As I watched filmmaker and writer Adam Bogoch briefly consider jaywalking across Main Street to meet me at Brassneck Brewery, I held my breath. Thankfully, he decided to cross at the lights and, together, all body parts intact, we headed into the crowded tasting room and found two places at the bar.
We had lots to talk about that sunny, humid day in July – he was excited to share with me, and Jewish Independent readers, news of a commercial project he was just completing. The final product, Vancouver Talmud Torah Onward: The 100-Year History, will première on Sept. 17 at Rothstein Theatre. While the event has sold out, there will be other opportunities for community members to see it.
“… there have always been community-minded individuals who have been ready to step forward and guide the Talmud Torah onward, and keep the light of Jewish learning alive.”
Adam chose to frame the work with an article from the Jewish Western Bulletin, the predecessor of the JI. Written by Harry Wolfe, the short item appeared in the Sept. 2, 1948, issue of the JWB, which was dedicated to the imminent opening of the then-new building at 26th Avenue and Oak Street, and featured a lengthy history of the school’s first 30 years. What is interesting about Wolfe’s quote – and Adam’s decision to use it – is that it recognized both the numerous (recurring) problems that faced the school, as well as the fact that “there have always been community-minded individuals who have been ready to step forward and guide the Talmud Torah onward, and keep the light of Jewish learning alive.” Hence, the name of the film.
“It’s extremely challenging to create a documentary on an institution that doesn’t feel like a puff piece. Honestly, that was the first obstacle to overcome,” said Adam in an email interview. “I have my own personal perspectives on religion and community politics that I didn’t want clashing with the mission of the movie. So, the only way I could get around this was to locate the heart, that something that we can all relate to.
“Luckily, this was almost instantaneous. While going through the archives, I found a superb article in the Jewish Western Bulletin … written by Harry Wolfe in 1948…. It perfectly encapsulated the trials and tribulations of the school and how the success or failure of the institution was, and still is, solely on the backs of the community. It also stated that, despite major setbacks, there have always been those willing to put their tucheses on the line for VTT.
“The reasons they did this were numerous and we explore some of them in the movie,” he said. “But, even when I went to VTT, there was a love that pervaded the halls of the school. No matter where you fell on the religious, financial or political spectrum, there was a place for you. That’s an institution worth talking about and one worth fighting for.
“That’s not to say that it’s perfect. Nothing is, and the movie doesn’t shy away from that, which, aside from being a vital part of storytelling, is part of the fun of it. But, hopefully, the film helps to keep the school (and the community) on the right track.”
It certainly kept Adam on track, making “sifting through hundreds of hours of footage far easier. If it didn’t fall under the umbrella idea, it got cut.”
The film project was funded, said Adam, “by the generosity of Syd Belzberg and by multiple donations made to the VTT Alumni Fund.” It took more than three years to complete – and that was after years of discussing the idea of a documentary. It was a concept for which his father, David Bogoch, in his capacity as alumni chair, advocated “with many different boards.”
“Frankly, it took awhile for excitement to build,” said Adam. “At first, only my dad, who’s a wealth of information on the topic, truly saw a story worth telling. By the time we knew the school would be celebrating its 100th anniversary, things really began to take shape. Past board members and individuals in the administration embraced my dad’s ideas and he convinced me to helm the project.”
In addition to funding the documentary, the VTT Alumni Fund has been financing the digitization of the archives, said Adam.
“I spent the first two years of this project doing research. This included the expansive VTT archives, the Jewish Western Bulletin, the Jewish Museum and Archives of B.C. and Rozanne Feldman Kent’s book The Vancouver Talmud Torah: 1913-1959 and Beyond.”
While he did most of the legwork himself, he received “some significant assists” from his dad. “As well,” he said, “I was lucky enough to work with a small crew on certain days. So much visual content came from [VTT’s] Jennifer Shecter-Balin, and she simply must be praised.” He gave a lion’s share of the credit to film editor Thomas Affolter. “The broad strokes of the project may have been due to my experience as a writer,” said Adam, “but he has a director’s mind that added a real sense of professionalism and cleanliness that is immediately evident on screen.”
The decision of who to interview was a collaboration between Adam and his dad. “We had suggestions given to us by [VTT head of school] Cathy Lowenstein, as well as by staff members, but most of the 46 faces featured were our decision,” said Adam.
“… we have an all-star lineup of community members of all different ages, occupations, experiences and perspectives. It’s like the Ocean’s Eleven of the Jewish community.”
In his 1948 article, Wolfe wrote, “We have attempted to give credit where it is due, but many will have to remain unmentioned because of modesty or because research could not uncover names.” Adam said he faced the same challenge and is expecting to receive “a few remarks on missing faces. But, it’s important to note that some people were unavailable or had no interest in being on camera. The movie also couldn’t be unbearably long, so we had to cap at a certain number of individuals. But, we have an all-star lineup of community members of all different ages, occupations, experiences and perspectives. It’s like the Ocean’s Eleven of the Jewish community.”
This is Adam’s favourite aspect of the documentary, “that it provides voices from all corners of the community. Sure, we could have always featured more. There will always be factions that we didn’t include. However, we have 46 featured faces. Each with their own perspective. Some of which are in conflict with one another. But all of them are shooting for the same goal – a prosperous Jewish day school that welcomes everyone.”
Adam gave the school credit for its hands-off approach to the content. “Some of these opinions [in the film] are not what the school endorses. But they understand that they are just opinions. Informed discussion is vital for growth, and we can’t shy away from it. At the end of the day, we had very little interference from the school; and what little we did have made the project stronger, kinder and still just as honest.”
He added, “The board and admin have been so supportive of this journey, and they must be acknowledged for their bravery in embracing something that wasn’t completely shiny and beautiful. That tells me that they’re confident in the quality of their school.
“Another thing that interested me about VTT Onward,” he said, “was that I was honouring my family roots. My grandfather, Dr. Abraham (Al) Bogoch was a giant in the community, especially when it came to VTT. My dad has followed in his footsteps in a way that I think exceeds my grandfather’s influence. My connection is different, but this is one way that I can contribute to something that’s been integral to the Bogoch family.”
Adam himself is a VTT alumnus – class of 2005. By the time I first met him, he had moved to the next level of his Jewish education and was at King David High School. The reason for that meeting, in 2009, was the screening of his first feature film, Avoid Confrontation – he was 17!
From April 2010 through March 2011, we ran a series in the JI that that followed the production process of his second feature film, Complexity, from concept to completion. And I interviewed Adam in July 2011 about the short film Eye of the Beholder, co-written by David Kaye and Vanessa Parent, which he directed.
When we were organizing our beer-tasting and informal interview this summer, I was shocked how long it had been since I’d written about his work. It wasn’t like we hadn’t kept in touch. We get together every so often to catch up on each other’s lives, though generally over coffee and pastry.
The idea for the beer-tasting interview originated in the spring, while we were at Thomas Haas café on West Broadway. There, Adam made an offhand comment about having to come back another time to take a proper photo of the cappuccino (it might have been a latte). Lo and behold, he writes about coffee for the food blog Hidden Gems Vancouver.
While he initiated that blogging gig, and does enjoy content writing immensely – blogs, websites, ghost-writing – he said, “ultimately, I do it to supplement my other works.”
His resumé includes “writing and rewriting film outlines and treatments, as well as penning works for the visions of others,” but his passion remains screenwriting.
“Writing and directing two feature films as a teenager, before I could truly comprehend what story really is, was the best training for what I do now. But it’s a constant learning experience,” he said. “I’ve also been lucky to have been trained by some of Hollywood’s most influential writers and professors. Experiences I’ll never forget.”
At Brassneck, we discussed how to construct a plot, as well as successful and not-so-successful adaptations of books to the screen. Our beer choices oddly echoed our personalities, with me tending toward the darker beers, only accidentally ordering the aptly named Klutz Kolsch, a blonde ale, and Adam ordering the likes of Hibiscus Wit (which he has in abundance), Wingman (I’m sure he makes a great one) and Sunny Disposition (which he also has, both in temperament and in looks, with his broad smile and ginger locks).
As we took our interview and beer-tasting to Main Street Brewing on East 7th Avenue – and had some much-needed food – we talked about VTT Onward, the Jewish Independent’s upcoming Chai Celebration (don’t make any other plans for the night of Dec. 6!), more about film adaptations and a bit about the challenges we each face being self-employed in the arts.
“At the end of the day,” said Adam, “I’ve picked a profession that is highly competitive and doesn’t operate in any way like ‘mainstream’ careers. It’s a constant barrage of rejection and uncertainty. But I’ve been extremely fortunate to have signed with a tornado of a manager, Liz Hodgson. She’s been responsible for the careers of some notable A-list talent, both in front of and behind the camera. She’s been mentoring me consistently – one of the most common ways for writers to break into the industry on a significant level – and is currently representing my next two projects, one of which I’ve been rewriting for over six years.”
This latter script has almost been made four times, and has received multiple offers, said Adam. “I’ve taken none. This is because there’s always been something that has kept me from releasing it. That, or the deals haven’t been right.
“Recently, I’ve been working with my manager on a rewrite that will hopefully allow me to let it go…. Without over-talking it, Between Me (current title) is about a teenager battling his three personality projections who seek to push and pull him towards utterly catastrophic directions.”
We decided that Brassneck’s Bivouac Bitter could possibly represent the teenager’s negative id, its Raspberry Changeling (which was sour, not sweet) his super ego. To describe his whole character, Adam thought Main Street’s Old Knights Pale might be appropriate. We found the teen’s positive id at 33 Acres Brewing on East 8th Avenue, in Nirvana, appropriately enough.
Despite having a little more to eat at 33 Acres, the beer-tasting was having an effect on me. After more discussion about life, the VTT film screening, which was then only in the planning stages, and the JI, which Adam described at one point as the “printed record of history,” we parted ways. He was decidedly more peppy, but I slowly made my way safely home. When I looked at my watch, I couldn’t believe that six hours had gone by.
A real tête-à-tête had obviously been overdue and the beer-tasting a good idea – at least for deep conversation. As for an interview, not so much. While I took the odd note, all of the material for this article comes from an email interview after the fact.
I will next see Adam at the Sept. 17 première of VTT Onward. Even though I’ve seen it, I’m looking forward to it. I’m not the only one who was impressed by the rough cut. A few others have seen it.
“I’m blown away by the response,” said Adam. “I had no clue it would be received as well as it has been so far. I’m now confident that the community at large will find something in it that moves them and, therefore, I’m thrilled to be able to share it.
Sol and Shirley Kort (photo from Alisa Kort)
The Kort family – in an initiative led by sisters Beverley and Alisa – has established a scholarship in their parents’ names with the National Council of Jewish Women. The award will provide education funding to two newcomer women each year.
Beverley and Alisa’s parents, Shirley and Sol Kort, have both passed away. They met, said the sisters, in Shirley’s hometown of Edmonton at a Shabbat dinner event organized by the local Jewish community for the American Jewish soldiers stationed there – this included Detroit-native Sol, who was then in the U.S. army.
The couple moved to Vancouver in the 1940s and Sol started up the business Kent Chemicals with a fellow American who relocated to Vancouver.
Of Kent Chemicals, Beverley said, “He did that for many years, until the 1960s. Then, he sold his business and went into continuing education at UBC. On the side, he was leading and developing a lecture series called Search for Meaning, and more. He decided that, instead of being a chemist, he’d become an adult educator in the humanities.”
Sol was in his 40s when he changed career paths. In his new endeavour, he enjoyed connecting with people who were pushing the boundaries of understanding philosophy, science and psychology – people questioning the world.
Beverley recalled going to her father’s lectures, along with other kids, starting in her early teens. “I’d sometimes leave school and go to those lectures,” she said. “People came and stayed at our house. I was exposed to all sorts of interesting perspectives, like Buddhism and different types of spirituality, levels of consciousness, and ideas. I was already curious about human nature and this catapulted me onto the level of, ‘Oh, my God! Wow. What’s going on?’”
Meanwhile, Beverley’s mom, Shirley, was busy doing her own work, serving on the board of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver for many years and being involved in National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), among other pursuits. Later, Shirley helped form Shalom Vancouver, a welcoming service for newcomers to Vancouver.
“This was very important to her,” recalled Beverley. “People would describe her as one of the most welcoming, supportive people. When we did a special kind of presentation about my mom for the NCJW after she passed away, people got up and spoke about their relationship with her, especially young women who moved to Vancouver when she was quite involved in the council. They just found there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do to help them get settled – connecting with people, coming to our house for dinner. Our whole family has this culture of, come for dinner, how can I help you connect, that kind of thing.”
Alisa added, “My mother was also on the board of the Volunteer Bureau of Canada and had been a president of the Vancouver chapter of the NCJW a number of times, [as well as being] involved in their mobile hearing testing project, HIPPY and Shalom Vancouver. My father was involved with the Vanier Institute of Canada and was director of humanities and science in continuing education at UBC.”
Alisa noted that one of her father’s good friends, author Ted Roszak, wrote of Sol that “he was ‘a bright, inquiring and caring educator who wanted to bring every leaping mind he could find to his school.’”
When Sol passed away, the Kort family established a fund in his name at the Isaac Waldman Jewish Public Library, as he was an avid reader. They also sponsored the Sol and Shirley Kort Author Series, the opening night of the Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival, for many years.
“My mom, during her life with my dad, was always hosting events and having people come and speak, and dealt with the behind-the-scenes things, organizing and being social,” said Beverley. “For her, hosting the author series in her and my dad’s name was a nice continuation of that. We did that for many years. They would come to our house the night before. And, the author would come, and my mom would meet him and talk. We named it after both of them because we always wanted to do something for both of them together.”
When Shirley passed away, the family wanted to find a way to further commemorate both of their parents’ lives, and looked to the NCJW, even though Sol wasn’t a member of the council.
“He was like a feminist more than his own daughters were, and he was an educator and a mentor,” said Beverley. “He was always finding people who needed mentoring. We were hosts for a Bosnian family who we’re still good friends with. After retiring, they set up weekly sessions with him to talk about books. He led speaking series for seniors and was always looking for ways to teach.”
Among the NCJW initiatives that were important to Shirley was HIPPY (Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters), said Beverley, and she talked about it “a lot during the last three years of her life, as she struggled with dementia. HIPPY is about mentoring women and furthering their education. We wanted to do something that would further education and make a difference in someone’s life – that’s why we chose the scholarship.”
The Shirley and Sol Kort scholarship provides $2,500 per year to two newcomer women toward their education.
“HIPPY is a way of keeping my parent’s memory alive and supporting something that represents the essence of what they found important in the world, which is welcoming people, furthering education, being supportive and being larger than the Jewish community,” said Beverley.
According to Alisa, her parents were interested in people, above all – they were passionate about education and in helping newcomers to the Jewish community and beyond. Beverley and Alisa also are inspired in what they do by their late grandmother, who informally adopted one of the young children who made their way to safety via the Kindertransport.
Regarding the HIPPY scholarship, Alisa said, “It seemed to embody all that our parents held dear and it also seemed very important to support women, particularly women with children struggling to find a new life in a new country after having to let go of so much of what made them who they are.”
The initial recipients of the award, said Alisa, “were both very highly motivated and articulate about their experiences as immigrant women and mothers in Canada, and how … being involved in HIPPY has factored into their journey and continues enriching their lives. They’re multicultural in background. One of the women intends to complete her bachelor of social work and the other wants to get her social work diploma.”
Past president of NCJW’s Vancouver chapter, Debbie Altow, said, “Shirley Kort inspired us all in council. Besides working to bring HIPPY to Canada, she led the way – she was the first in our membership to use a computer; she worked tirelessly to pilot a hearing testing program for preschoolers (a project taken over by Vancouver’s health department); she hosted so many meetings that daughter, Beverley, printed up a neat collection of her recipes; and she had family and friends all over Western Canada, especially in Edmonton and Winnipeg.
For more information about NCJW in Vancouver, visit ncjwvancouver.org.
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.
You’re reading the weekly congregational email. Something radical seems to have happened. Within a week, everything has changed. Well, maybe the format seems the same, ready to lull you into “services this week, events, make a donation …” but then it hits you. It’s like a revolution happened. Instead of the regular schedule, where the adult service is happening at 8 p.m. Friday night, and davening starts at 9:30 Saturday morning, it’s all changed. Imagine this:
Come for our weekly great Kabbalat Shabbat service at 4:45! Join us for prayers, story time, snack, dancing and singing. The service ends by 5:45, followed by an Oneg Shabbat with fruit, veggies, cheese cubes, challah and grape juice.
Want to stay up later? Join us in the sanctuary for a summer camp-style sing-along of Shabbat music and study the Torah portion with the rabbi and your friends.
On Saturday morning, daven with us! Services begin at 8:45, with morning prayers, movement activities, another great story (with a picture book!) and three dances to help us learn new psalms. We’ll learn the Torah portion of the week, act out some of it, and end with a rousing Adon Olam. Let’s march around and pretend we’re playing in a band.
Services end by 10:30. We’ll provide a healthy Kiddush snack, including whole grain crackers, juice and water, lots of fruits and veggies, and more. (It’s a nut-free environment, but feel free to bring along dairy or pareve snacks to share.)
If the weather’s good, after snack, let’s play outside at the shul playground. If not, we’ll run in the shul gym so you can get tired before going home to have a big Shabbat lunch and nap.
In the evening, join us for Havdalah at the shul at 5! We’ll be serving pizza and salad, with cookies for dessert. (Click here for costs, to register and for the Jewish movie of the week.) After dinner, we’ll be showing a G or PG movie in the gym for families who want to stay out late.
Also there’s a Saturday evening study session. This week: Jewish advice for managing our busy modern family life, at 6:30 in the library. (Free.)
Note: If doing the rabbi’s Saturday evening study session, please be sure one parent or friend is in the gym to supervise your offspring and enjoy the movie together.
Reminders: On Sunday morning, the shul opens bright and early as usual for religious school, yoga for parents, coffee klatch and the usual lecture series after the morning minyan.
Our congregational soup kitchen, visit to the local Jewish seniors centre, nursing facilities and once-a-month cemetery clean-up all meet on Sunday afternoons. (Cemetery group, next week is our hike at the lake, so bring your boots and bathing suit and we’ll see you on the bus – we might let others attend if there is room! Click here to register.)
See you then!
* * *
OK, as you read this, you’re thinking, this is all well and good for those few young families out there. I mean, maybe my children or grandchildren might go sometimes? But, for me, well, I feel left out. This doesn’t seem like what I’m used to.
But consider the model some congregations still use: Join us for a family Shabbat dinner! (It happens only once or twice a year.) Services start by 5:30. Food is offered, one course at a time, starting after 7. There’s no finger food or even challah on the table. The kids’ food comes after the salad course. Parents who don’t want to create a scene take their children home long before dessert is served to avoid a train wreck…. And nobody wants to come back.
Should Jewish life be all about young families? Well, no. We shouldn’t give up traditional services or customs, but the V’ahavta says “we should teach it [Judaism] to our children.” How do you do that better, so there will be Jews a generation from now? Should your congregation include positive experiences for younger people? Does that create a plan for the future?
Based on a random sampling of kids’ events in my Jewish community (Winnipeg) over the last six years, here’s a generic sampling of what I’ve seen.
If a shul schedules a Tot Shabbat irregularly – although kids thrive on routine – it happens during kid dinnertime or even at bedtime. If your preschooler eats dinner at 5:30 and is in bed at 7:30, how does that service at 6:15 work for you? Hear any angry screaming in that sanctuary?
How about the big kid events scheduled for 1-3 p.m.? Many kids are grouchy creatures around then. We love naps. If we’re skipping them, well, the activity had better be fabulous … and tolerant of crying, hitting and screaming.
Many congregations do a great job of integrating families into their activities and planning. Instead of having kids’ events as an afterthought once a year, most events are designed with whole families in mind … and preschool activities meet the needs of families with babies and small kids.
Teenagers and adults have relevant events. People of all ages have good family programming, too. Sometimes, this is all the same service. Can kids have roles in the service, like saying the Shema or leading a song? Can kids’ restless behaviour be tolerated at the same level as we tolerate adults’ conversation and restless behaviour?
How about making registration accessible and online? Include active learning as part of all events, so Judaism remains relevant?
The kicker – somebody always says: It can’t be done. This isn’t the way we do it here. It’ll be expensive. It’s not possible.
I say: dream bigger.
Joanne Seiff, a regular columnist for Winnipeg’s Jewish Post and News, is the author of a new book, From the Outside In: Jewish Post Columns 2015-2016. This collection of essays is available for digital download, or as a paperback from Amazon. See more about her on joanneseiff.blogspot.com.
A picture from Smart Money, a study intended to help the Jewish community navigate the high-tech world. (photo by Lewis Kassel courtesy of Moishe House)
By day, Liora Brosbe is the family engagement officer for the Jewish Federation of the East Bay in Berkeley, Calif., where she reaches out to the community with a menu of opportunities for “connecting to Jewish life and each other.” But when she’s not at work, Brosbe’s main job is raising three kids, ages 2, 6 and 8. Their home? A laboratory for Jewish learning strategies.
“Yes, they’re little Petri dishes,” their mom, who is also a psychotherapist, said with a laugh. “Like most families, screen time is a huge issue at our house, both for time and content, but I tell families it’s also an amazing opportunity for low-barrier Jewish engagement.”
With the avalanche of new technologies – many of them being tapped for Jewish learning – educators, funders and parents are often befuddled about where to invest their money and their kids’ or students’ time. A recent report on the implications of the wave of educational technology and digital engagement is designed to guide the Jewish community through this complex space.
Sponsored by the Jim Joseph Foundation and the William Davidson Foundation, Smart Money: Recommendations for an Educational Technology and Digital Engagement Investment Strategy examines many of these innovations and provides suggestions for navigating the high-tech world. The study’s recommendations include using virtual and augmented reality (a user could, for example, experience the splitting of the Red Sea); creating games based on alternative scenarios for “Jewish futures,” such as rebuilding Jewish life after the Roman destruction of the Second Temple; offering opportunities for students to learn coding and other technological skills, which can foster connectedness among Jewish youths and introduce them to Israeli high-tech companies; and increasingly using video, music, podcasting and other platforms.
The report is garnering far more attention than expected, according to the sponsors.
“We did not originally intend for this to be a public report,” said Barry Finestone, president and chief executive officer of the Jim Joseph Foundation, “but the substance of the findings and recommendations really challenge us, as funders, to think strategically, creatively and collaboratively about how we can utilize educational technology and digital engagement to advance our Jewish educational missions.”
For the report, Lewis J. Bernstein and Associates interviewed 50 experts, investors and educators from both the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds to create the recommendations.
“It’s a huge media marketplace out there and most Jews are exposed to the same information as the rest of the world,” said Lewis J. Bernstein, a former producer of Sesame Street and the report’s lead researcher. “Parents and educators have difficult choices to make, and Jewish learning and wisdom compete with the secular world.”
Read more at jns.org.
Vancouver Talmud Torah head of school Cathy Lowenstein Lowenstein addresses those gathered for the closing of this year’s Mitzvah of Valuing Philanthropy program. (photo by Jennifer Shecter-Balin)
On June 15, Grade 7 students at Vancouver Talmud Torah celebrated the close of the year’s Mitzvah of Valuing Philanthropy (MVP) program. Started by the late Sari Zack Weintraub Greenberg nine years ago, MVP integrates a curriculum of tikkun olam (repairing the world), rooted in traditional Jewish teachings, into the students’ educational experience.
Head of school Cathy Lowenstein said Greenberg’s work “revolutionized the school’s tikkun olam curriculum.” Greenberg encouraged the students to “lovingly expand their universe of obligation,” said Lowenstein. The program is something that the kids look forward to in their Grade 7 year, she continued, noting that “tikkun olam is a cornerstone of the school.”
Since its inception, the MVP program has raised a total of $220,000. This year’s 39 Grade 7 students raised an impressive $27,000. On top of this fundraising record, this year’s Tzedakah Project has also contributed $10,000 as a grant to “motivate and inspire” the kids to develop their passion for tzedakah (charity/justice) and chesed (loving kindness).
The MVP group expressed thanks to Cambridge Uniforms for their ongoing support of the program. This year also saw the involvement of Chimp representatives Judy Boxer and Ariel Lewinski, who offered support via the company to this generation of philanthropists. Boxer and Lewinski gave gift cards totaling $10,000 out to the members of the audience on June 15. Each card could be used to donate $100 to a charity of the recipient’s choice.
The MVP program is support by the Irma Zack MVP Endowment Fund, established by Dr. David Zack – Greenberg’s father – in memory of his late wife, and the original seed funding was donated by Sylvia and the late Lorne Cristall. It is through these funds that the school has been able to run MVP and other such initiatives.
The MVP students followed a careful process of selection of charities to support. They picked ethical commandments to work with, such as healing the sick, helping others in difficulty, or feeding the hungry. They researched the agencies that satisfied these criteria and found contacts with whom to work. Having interviewed these contacts, the kids then had 20 minutes to convince their class to contribute to their agencies, turning classrooms into boardrooms for allocation meetings.
Funds were donated to 24 different organizations this year, including household names like UNICEF and Magen David Adom, and local beneficiaries like the Vancouver Aquarium and Big Sisters. Students also selected Down Syndrome Research and CEASE, an agency that supports women victims of sexual exploitation and domestic violence.
Several students offered their perspectives on the MVP initiative to the Jewish Independent.
Asher Teperson described how “we assumed the roles of principal researchers, primary investigators, bankers and lawyers to assess the needs in our community and respond to them in concrete ways.” For the MVP students, this was a rite of passage. “We had a taste of what it means to become an adult in the eyes of the Jewish community,” said Asher.
Estie Kallner echoed these sentiments: “How often are 12- and 13-year-olds asked to make phone calls to strangers, conduct interviews in corporate offices, request clarification on financial matters and pester agency executives on their overhead costs?”
Julia Huber closed the program remarks with a reflection on how much they had grown through the experience. She described a group of “restless, nervous and confused” kids at the start of the program. However, she said, “with support and encouragement, not only did we embrace the challenge, but we exceeded even our own ambitious goals.”
As another student, Isabella Leipsic, observed, the program left them with a profound sense of their own “strength” in “moral decision-making.” She added, with thanks to the program, “our lives will never be the same.”
Shula Klinger is an author, illustrator and journalist living in North Vancouver. Find out more at niftyscissors.com.