The annual general meeting of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver took place on June 21. Welcomed were five new directors: Gil Kimel, Dean Lederman, Lana Pulver (chair of the annual campaign), Michelle Pollock (chair of the Israel and global engagement committee), David Porte and Daniel Steiner. They join Bruce Cohen, Alex Cristall, Catherine Epstein (vice-chair), Jessica Forman (chair of the HR committee), Sue Hector, Hodie Kahn, Shay Keil, Rick Kohn, Candace Kwinter, Shawna Merkur, Kyra Morris, Lianna Philipp, Lisa Pullan, Stan Shaw and Diane Switzer.
Kwinter is the new board chair and, as such, her central challenge mirrors that of the community: how to navigate recovery and reopening in a time of great uncertainty.
“Over the past year, I have held a dual role as vice-chair of the board and chair of the Israel and global engagement committee, which has immersed me in our work,” said Kwinter in her remarks in the June 25 Federation Shabbat message. “And, through my position on our Community Recovery Task Force, I’ve gotten to know the organizations in our community and see how our community planning, convening, facilitating and fundraising functions create a valuable synergy. The health and strength of our local community is paramount, and it will continue to be a focus throughout my term.
“Israel also holds a very special place in my heart, and I am actively involved with our partner, the Jewish Agency for Israel’s board of governors, where I serve on three committees: antisemitism; unity of the Jewish people; and aliyah. In 2018, I was privileged to be part of a group of community leaders who traveled to Far East Russia to see the impact of our overseas work. As travel restrictions begin to ease, I hope we will have the opportunity to visit our partnership region in the Upper Galilee Panhandle and resume our Israel experience programs for young adults.
“At the same time,” she continued, “I remain connected to the work we do across the continent as part of JFNA [Jewish Federations of North America]. I have attended several General Assemblies over the years, and now is the perfect time for you to experience this epic gathering of Jewish leaders, because you can participate without the time and expense of traveling.
“Looking ahead, I know we have challenges to face, but this is also an exciting time in many ways. COVID has accelerated change and has prompted us all to look at new ways of strengthening our community. Rather than looking ahead to the ‘new normal,’ we need to work together to create the ‘next normal.’ That will be our collective journey over the next two years, and I am looking forward to the future we can build together.”
At the AGM, four community leaders were honoured. Jonathon Leipsic, who chaired the Federation annual campaign from 2018 through 2020, received the Harry Woogman Award, for his consistent and conscientious leadership and his long-standing and diligent campaign involvement. Yael Segal and Becky Glotmanreceived the Lou Zimmerman Award for their integral role in the revitalization of the Ben Gurion Society, a recognition society for young donors who give $1,000 or more to the Federation annual campaign. And Enav Zusman received the Young Leadership Award.
The 2020/21 annual report can be found at jewishvancouver.com/news-and-publications/annual-reports. In 2020, Federation raised $12.2 million from 2,600 donors: $8.8 million in the 2020 annual campaign; $2 million for community recovery; and $1.4 million in special project funding.
COVID-19 was a crisis that affected – and continues to affect – every aspect of the community. Because of donors’ generosity, Federation this year was able to direct more funding to its partners than ever before.
(British Columbia’s record-breaking heatwave has had devastating effects across the province. The tragic fire in Lytton was not the first that we’ve seen and likely will not be the last. With growing concerns for another wildfire season, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver has set up an emergency B.C. Wildfire Relief Fund to assist those affected by wildfires in our province. To donate, visit jewishvancouver.com/bcfire.)
* * *
On May 20, Junior Achievement British Columbia (JABC) inducted new members into its Business Laureates of British Columbia Hall of Fame, including Gordon Diamond. There was also the posthumous induction of 10 Pioneer Laureates, including Morris Wosk, z”l. Diamond and Wosk were featured in the June 25 Jewish Independent article “JA’s newest laureates.” The article accidentally overlooked another posthumous honouree, however: Dr. Walter Charles Koerner, z”l. Here is what the JABC highlighted of Koerner’s life.
Koerner was born in 1898 in what is now the Czech Republic. He developed his expertise in the forestry industry there, through his family’s lumber business.
Koerner and his brothers immigrated to Canada in 1939 and founded the Alaska Pine and Cellulose Co., of which he was president. In 1957, the company became Rayonier Canada Ltd. and Koerner became president and later chairman of the board until his retirement in 1973.
Shortly after his arrival in Canada, Koerner made the University of British Columbia (UBC) a focal point of his philanthropy. He believed that a strong university was critical to building an engaged and successful society. He served as a member of the board of governors of UBC, as well as the chair. Not only that, he was the founding chair of UBC Hospital.
Koerner was also committed to preserving Indigenous art forms and supporting the re-emergence of Pacific Northwest Indigenous art. His multiple initiatives included supporting Indigenous carvers, repatriating Indigenous works from abroad and negotiating with then-prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau for financial support for the construction of the Museum of Anthropology, to which he donated his extensive collection. In recognition of his efforts in supporting Indigenous culture, the Haida Nation celebrated Koerner as an honorary chief of their nation.
Koerner was a notable philanthropist, who donated millions of dollars to educational institutions and other public organizations and endeavours. Among his many honours, he was a Companion of the Order of Canada, and held an honorary doctor of laws from UBC.
Koerner passed away in 1995.
* * *
Vancouver’s Lilian Broca is among the artists whose works comprise the From Canada exhibition at La Maison de la Mosaïque Contemporaine in Paray-Le-Monial, France.
Every year, La Maison de la Mosaïque Contemporaine organizes and hosts an international mosaic exhibition. The 2021 edition, the 24th, is uniquely devoted to a single country, Canada, through the works of 12 artists whose origins reflect the vast expanse of the territory. This is the first time in Europe that a mosaic exhibition has been dedicated to a North American country, and it is supported by the Canadian embassy in Paris, as well as several other organizations, government agencies and communities.
Joining Broca are artists Maria Abagis, also from British Columbia; Margo Anton, Chris Sumka and Erin Pankratz, all from Alberta; Sophie Drouin, Valerie McGarry, Heather Vollans and Julie Sperling, from Ontario; Suzanne Spahi and Ginette Lussier of Quebec; and Terry Nicholls of Newfoundland.
The exhibit was arranged by Sophie Drouin and Chantal Demonchaux. It opened this month and runs to Sept. 19. For more information, visit maisondelamosaique.org.
Lana Pulver has agreed to lead the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s 2021 annual campaign. She comes to this role with vast volunteer experience. She has served the past two years as the campaign’s major gifts chair and served as both chair and vice-chair of women’s philanthropy. She served on Federation’s board of directors for five years, including on the executive committee. And, she served on the board of governors of the Jewish Community Foundation for 12 years, during which time she chaired both the professional advisory and development committees – not to mention the numerous roles she’s held with other organizations and her professional accomplishments.
* * *
Family physician Dr. Anna Wolak, medical director at King Edward Medical Centre in Vancouver, has been appointed the associate head of the department of family medicine at Providence Health Care.
* * *
Artist Lilian Broca was invited to contribute to Letters from the Pandemic: A 30th Anniversary Commemorative Public Writing Project of the Graduate Liberal Studies Program of Simon Fraser University. The project is hosted by The Ormsby Review and her letter, which was published in February, can be found at ormsbyreview.com/2021/02/14/broca-pandemic-magdalene. She addresses the letter to Mary Magdalene, the subject of her latest mosaics series.
* * *
On March 11, Rabbi Dan Moskovitz of Temple Sholom and his family took the Oath of Canadian Citizenship, making them now both Canadian and American citizens.
Clockwise from top left: committee members Tanja Demajo, Michelle Dodek, Michelle Gerber, Stan Shaw, Renee Katz and Simone Kallner. (photo sextet from JFS)
Jewish Family Services has formed a food security committee. This team will be responsible for leading the transition plan of the JFS’s Jewish Food Bank to its new and dedicated facility near Main and East 3rd Avenue in Vancouver. The committee, which reports to the board of directors, will be focused on supporting the Food Security program development project as a steering committee for the move into the new facility; and assisting as content advisors on an ongoing basis in the areas of food programs planning, security, building management, partnerships and community engagement, and communication.
Committee members have served on the Jewish Food Security Task Force and sit on several committees in the community. The committee co-chairs – Simone Kallner and Stan Shaw – also serve on the JFS board.
This year, a Food Security Project website will be launched to keep people apprised of the committee’s work. It will also contain upcoming town hall meetings, with the most current community stakeholder engagement and input opportunities.
* * *
Created in 1967, the Order of Canada is one of our country’s highest civilian honours. Its companions, officers and members take to heart the motto of the order, “desiderantes meliorem patriam” (“they desire a better country”). Appointments are made by the governor general on the recommendation of the Advisory Council for the Order of Canada and, on Dec. 30, it was announced that Dr. Robert Krell was among the 61 new appointees.
Krell was appointed Member of the Order of Canada for “his contributions to our understanding of mass ethnopolitical violence, and for his advocacy on behalf of Holocaust survivors.”
A professor emeritus of the University of British Columbia, department of psychiatry, Krell’s research and interests are the psychiatric treatment of aging survivors of massive trauma; and antisemitism, racism and prejudice education.
Krell was born in Holland and survived the Holocaust in hiding. The Krell family moved to Vancouver, where he obtained an MD from UBC and eventually became professor of psychiatry. In his psychiatric practice, Krell was director of child and family psychiatry and also treated Holocaust survivors and their families, as well as Dutch survivors of Japanese concentration camps.
Krell established a Holocaust education program for high school students in 1976 and an audiovisual documentation program recording survivor testimony in 1978 and assisted with the formation of child survivor groups starting in 1982. He served on the International Advisory Council of the Hidden Child Gathering in New York in 1991, and he is founding president and board member of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, which opened in 1994 and which teaches 20,000 students annually. He has authored and co-edited 10 books, 20 book chapters and more than 50 journal articles. He continues to write and speak on Holocaust-related topics.
* * *
With thanks to HaShem, Schara Tzedeck Synagogue members Alexander Hart and Kathryn Selby are honoured and delighted to announce the engagement in Jerusalem of their son Shmuel Hart to Reut Rappoport, daughter of Rabbi Jason and Meira Rappoport of Alon Shvut, Gush Etzion, Israel.
Jerusalem-born, Montreal-based composer and vocalist Ayelet Rose Gottlieb released the album 13 Lunar Meditations: Summoning the Witches on Jan. 12, the first new moon of the new year.
A collaborative project, this double-vinyl release includes poetry by more than 20 women and girls from around the globe, a choir of improvising vocalists conducted by DB Boyko, and features vocalist Jay Clayton. Through a multicultural approach, 13 Lunar Meditations is an acoustic exploration focusing on the moon, our relationship with it and its effects on us.
“The moon speaks to the universal and to the intimate female presence,” Gottlieb shared on her inspiration, from her personal journey as an artist and mother. “In this difficult time we live in, having a connection with each other, with the world around us and with the universe may be the most radical act of resilience.”
In 2015, Boyko commissioned Gottlieb to compose a new song-cycle for her VOICE OVER mind Festival in Vancouver. Gottlieb composed the first draft of this song-cycle for her own quintet and Boyko’s improvisers’ choir. Later that year, the piece was presented again at John Zorn’s the Stone, in New York City, where Clayton joined in for the first time.
Gottlieb’s song-cycle traces the phases of the moon, from birth to full glory and all the way back to emptiness. The compositions range in musical expression from wild and experimental, to melodic, rhythmic and light. All are laced with improvisation and rooted in jazz with Turkish and Armenian undertones. Primarily sung in English, also interwoven are Hebrew, German, French, Turkish, Arabic, Spanish and Japanese.
Gottlieb invited more than 20 women and girls to write texts on their personal relationship to the moon, which inspired her compositions. Ages 4 to 70, these contributors represent a global community from diverse backgrounds and nationalities – from Australia to Morocco, a poet, a gynecologist, a lawyer, an energy healer, a sex worker, a grandmother, and others.
Supported by Canada Council for the Arts and a Kickstarter campaign that concluded at 109%, the album was recorded in Montreal. On it, Gottlieb, Clayton and Boyko are joined by Coeur Luna, Turkish violinist Eylem Basaldi, guitarist Aram Bajakian, contrabassist Stéphane Diamantakiou and drummer Ivan Bamford.
The album and accompanying lunar calendar and box set of 13 postcards (with art by Sarit Evrani, designed by Dan Levi) are available for purchase at ayeletrose.com and ayelet.bandcamp.com.
“Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!” by Lilian Broca is part of the exhibit Brides: Portrait of a Marriage, which is at the Italian Cultural Centre’s Il Museo until Sept. 30.
In most romance novels and fairy tales, a love story ends in a wedding and the couple lives “happily ever after.” In real life, it’s not that simple. Marriage has its challenges.
The show Brides: Portrait of a Marriage, which opened at the Italian Cultural Centre’s Il Museo in Vancouver this summer, examines some of the aspects of marriage that fairy tales purposefully omit. The show incorporates the works of several local artists in different media: textile art by Linda Coe, photography by Grace Gordon-Collins, drawings by Jewish community member Lilian Broca and a tapestry by fellow Jewish community member Barbara Heller.
“I always wanted a show about brides,” Angela Clarke, curator and director of Il Museo, told the Independent. “We have weddings at the centre almost every week. There is so much energy, so many emotions. But the Roman goddess of marriage, Juno, was not a happy woman. Hers was not a happy marriage, and the controversy attracted me.”
Brides is part of the museum’s Gendered Voices series, and looks at marriage from a woman’s perspective.
“This exhibition places the institution of marriage under the looking glass,” said Clarke. “Each participating artist tackles the deep psychological complexity and immense social pressure involved in a traditional marriage. Historical perspectives and family dynamics, personal reflections and the impact of feminism are explored in the show.”
Each artist contributed her own personal outlook. Coe’s fabric panels belong to her Dirty Laundry series. Colourful and sophisticated-looking hangings were all created from fabric snatches that were once parts of women’s dowries, used and reused for several generations before they ended up in the artist’s stockpile.
“The eight fabric panels represent eight stages of a woman’s life,” explained Clarke. “Each one incorporates relevant texts from Renaissance romance novels and etiquette manuals. In the 16th century, such manuals were very popular in Italy, especially among the middle classes. They were written to instruct young brides in the proper comportment, in the ways to become a successful bride and mother.”
In addition, those eight panels reference the eight requisite parts of a romance novel, from the Middle Ages to the modern Avon romances. “Those stages have names, the same names as the panels,” Clarke said. “No. 1, Stasis (infant). No. 2, Trigger (young girl). No. 3, Quest (betrothal). No. 4, Surprise (courtesan). No. 5, Critical Choice (bride). No. 6, Climax (wife). No. 7, Reversal (matron). No. 8, Resolution (widow). Every love story published these days must follow this structure.”
Heller’s tapestry and Gordon-Collins’s photographs explore wedding dresses and the commodification of weddings. The tapestry shows a bride in a beautiful dress, but her face is blurry, unimportant, and the dress becomes the focal point, a uniform, a symbol.
The photos, in the photogram or X-ray style, lack faces altogether, only the wedding attires of four generations of women of the artist’s family can be seen.
“Grandmother’s wedding tunic was modest, especially in comparison to the artist’s daughter’s wedding dress, much more opulent and sensual, and designed for one-time use only,” said Clarke. “Here, we can trace how, through the generations, the weddings grow into an industry, and the wedding accessories become commodities.”
While neon-bright colours dominate Gordon-Collins’s images and Coe’s collages shimmer with the patina of gold, Broca’s contribution to the show is a sequence of stark black and white lithographs, all from her Brides series.
“My mother passed away in 1989,” Broca said, as she explained the roots of her series. “I was devastated by her death, although it was a blessing after suffering for years from cancer. Soon after her passing, I started dreaming about her as a young bride. I decided to draw my dreams.”
Her drawings reflect the dichotomy between the happily-ever-after concept and the fact that most marriages in the past were arranged, and not unions of love.
One of the drawings, “Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!” depicts a bride sitting in a chair, regarding a frog in her lap. A few more frogs – potential princes? – wait at her feet, expecting her to choose between them.
“I knew my bride would not kiss that frog,” said Broca. “So I added several other potential grooms. Some small, others big…. Still, I had a feeling she would resist them all.”
The work “Upon Reflection” is even more powerful. It shows a bride in a gown and veil looking into a full-length mirror. The image in the mirror depicts the bride, face and posture serene, as befits the occasion, but Broca has left the image of the bride herself white and, from within it, there is the drawing of a woman, the bride, trying to escape.
“That woman, upon reflection, discovers how much she doesn’t wish to be married, to be tied down. What happens next is up to the viewer’s imagination,” said the artist.
For Broca, black and white was the only possibility for the series. “It was the most appropriate way to describe what I felt…. After the first two or three drawings, I began to realize that many brides were not happy at the altar – I showed them. Only a very few happy brides appear in my drawings. Not because happy brides are a minority, but because happy brides are difficult to portray without slipping into a less-than-powerful mode. I may be wrong, I may be able to do it today, but, at that time, it didn’t seem possible.”
Clarke knew about Broca’s series and wanted to include it in its entirety in the show, but that wasn’t possible. “We couldn’t include so many that Angela wanted because they had been sold,” said Broca. “We couldn’t borrow them. The owners live in the U.S. and Eastern Canada. As it is, the two works in the exhibition were borrowed from local owners.”
Brides is at the Italian Cultural Centre until Sept. 30.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Many Jews retain the custom of honoring Judith by eating cheese for Chanukah, and the custom of eating dishes like cheesecake and blintzes emerged from the story of Judith. Many Jews retain the custom of honoring Judith by eating cheese for Chanukah, and the custom of eating dishes like cheesecake and blintzes emerged from the story of Judith. (photo by Andrevan via commons.wikimedia.org)
Mention symbolic foods for Chanukah and everyone immediately responds – latkes and sufganiyot. But someone may say cheese pancakes. Cheese? Why?
The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), written in the 1500s by Rabbi Joseph Ben Ephraim Caro, a Jew from the Iberian Peninsula, is a digested version of commentaries on laws in the Talmud (commentaries on the first five books of the Bible). The Shulchan Aruch is meant to be an authoritative volume on commandments and, in this volume, there is a legend that dairy dishes and cheese pancakes were to be eaten for Chanukah to commemorate the bravery of Judith, who was a Hasmonean, the same clan as the Maccabee family. As well, Rabbi Moshe Isserles, the 16th-century Polish scholar (1525-1572), wrote, in Orach Chaim, that eating cheese commemorates Judith feeding milk to the enemy.
So, who is Judith and why do some Jews honor her at Chanukah? The Book of Judith is part of the Apocrypha – books not included in the Bible as read by Jews and Protestants. Originally written in Hebrew, the 16 chapters of the standard version of the Book of Judith are in Greek. It is surmised that the author of this book was a Jew who lived and wrote in Palestine and probably lived near Shechem.
In the Book of Judith, interestingly enough, Judith is not mentioned in the first half of the story. In the second half, first her lineage is described then we are told that this young woman was a widow for three years and four months. She was the widow of Manasseh, who belonged to her tribe and who suffered some kind of heat stroke while overseeing the barley harvest and subsequently died in the town of Bethulia in northern Samaria where they lived. Bethulia is near where Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. It was also a city in the hill country of Samaria that occupied a narrow, important pass at the entrance of Judea, from Jerusalem to Jezreel.
We read: “She was beautiful in appearance and was very lovely to behold.” Judith was also wealthy, having been left gold and silver and menservants and maidservants and cattle and lands.
In the story, it is related that Bethulia was under siege by the army of Holofernes, commander-in-chief of the sixth-century BCE Assyrian king Nebuchadnezzar. Holofernes was a soldier sent to destroy any people who did not support his king. In the story, he cut off the water supply of Bethulia. After 34 days, when the town leaders were ready to surrender to Holofernes, the town magistrate, Uzziah, suggested five more days as a compromise to see if G-d would intervene.
Judith was upset that her countrymen had no trust in G-d and did not approve of the five-day compromise, so she sent her maid to summon the town magistrates. She chastised them for putting G-d to a test, and she urged them to call upon G-d. “Therefore, while we wait for His deliverance, let us call upon Him to help us, and He will hear our voice, if it pleases Him.”
Of course, the people were thirsty, and Uzziah told Judith to pray for rain. She was not happy with that suggestion, so she convinced the magistrates to let her try to do something independently – “Stand at the town gate tonight so that I may go out with my maid…. Only, do not try to find out what I am doing; for I will not tell you until I have finished what I am about to do.”
First, she put ashes on her head and uncovered the sackcloth, then she prayed to G-d to hear her, and she prayed for strength to G-d to strike down the enemy. “Give to me, a widow, the strong hand to do what I plan.”
She then went to her house with her maid, removed her widow’s clothes, which she had worn for the past three years, washed her body, anointed herself, braided her hair and dressed as beautifully as when she was married. She adorned herself with bracelets and chains and rings and earrings and ornaments “to entice the eyes of all the men who might see her.”
She and her maid then went outside the city gates with wine and oil, roasted grain, fig cakes and bread, and dishes on which to eat. Together, they went down to the gate of Bethulia where Uzziah and the elders stood. They opened the gate and she and her maid walked down the mountain, past the valley until they were out of sight.
Judith was greeted by the Assyrian soldiers, who took her into custody. They inquired who she was and where was she going. She told them she was a woman of the Hebrews, fleeing from them. She told the soldiers she had information on the Israelites for Holofernes and she would show him how to capture the hill country. The soldiers then chose 100 men to take her to his tent.
The men who were with Holofernes left his tent, and Judith went inside, where Holofernes was laying on a bed under a canopy woven with purple and gold and emeralds and precious stones. She bowed before him, and his servants helped her up. He told her not to be afraid; he had never hurt anyone willing to serve Nebuchadnezzar. They talked, and she told him she would give him information so he could attack Bethulia. Holofernes and his servants were impressed.
Judith told him her people had exhausted their food supply and would kill their livestock. She devised a plan for Holofernes to go against them with his army and she would lead him to Jerusalem. Holofernes was delighted with her beauty and her wisdom.
Holofernes offered Judith food and drink, but she refused. She then left and went to sleep in her tent. She remained in his camp for three days and, each night, she bathed in a nearby spring and then returned to her tent. On the fourth day, Holofernes asked his eunuch to persuade Judith to come to a banquet in his tent. It appeared she had gained his trust. This time, she accepted. She adorned herself, and her maid entered his tent and placed skins on the ground near where Holofernes was sitting.
When Judith entered, we read: “Holofernes’ heart was ravished with her and his passion was aroused, for he had been waiting for an opportunity to seduce her from the day he first saw her.”
Judith drank and ate what her maid prepared. “Holofernes was greatly pleased with her, and drank a great quantity of wine, much more than he had ever drunk in any one day since he was born.”
His servants left them alone, and he fell asleep dead drunk. Only Judith and Holofernes were in his tent. Her maid was outside. Judith prayed for help from G-d. “Now, indeed, is the time to help your heritage and to carry out my design to destroy the enemies who have risen up against us.”
She then took Holofernes’ sword, took hold of his hair and struck his neck twice to cut off his head. She pulled his body off the bed and covered it with the canopy. She gave the head to her maid to put in their food bag. They left the camp and returned to Bethulia.
When the men of the city heard her voice, they called the elders to gather at the city gate and open it for her. Judith took the head of Holofernes out of the bag and showed it to them. They were astonished, and they thanked G-d. She told them to hang the head on the wall. At daybreak, she said, they should take up their weapons and look as if they were going to attack the Assyrian outpost. Holofernes’ men will run to Holofernes, she said, they will panic and flee, and the men of Bethulia will pursue them and cut them down.
At dawn, the men of Bethulia hung the head of Holofernes on the highest part of the wall and waited at the mountain passes with their weapons. The Assyrian soldiers could not believe their eyes, so they went to Holofernes’ tent and found his body on the floor. The eunuch ranted and raved about what this woman had done.
When the army heard the eunuch, “overcome with fear and trembling,” they rushed out and fled through the hill country. The Israelite soldiers chased after these enemies and slaughtered them and took their possessions.
The high priest came from Jerusalem to salute Judith and bless her. The people plundered the camp for 30 days. He gave the tent of Holofernes and the general’s possessions to Judith. Then, all of the women of Israel ran together to see Judith and they blessed her and performed a dance in her honor. They adorned her with olive branches, and she went before all the people in the dance, leading all the women, and the men followed the women.
The procession continued to Jerusalem, where Judith took the possessions of Holofernes and offered them as a gift to G-d. The celebrations in Jerusalem lasted three months, after which Judith and the townspeople returned to Bethulia. Judith continued to live there and rejected all the proposals from men who wanted to marry her. At the age of 105, she freed her maid and distributed her property since she had no children. She died and was buried in a cave in Bethulia with her husband.
“No one ever again spread terror among the Israelites during the lifetime of Judith, or for a long time after her death.”
Some scholars have come up with another reason that Judith is a heroine. Both 11th-century French talmudic scholar Rashi and 14th-century Spanish scholar Rabbi
Nissim ben Reuven Gerondi maintained that the Greeks had decreed that all virgins about to marry had to submit themselves to a prince prior to marriage. Because Judith, the daughter of Yohanan the high priest, fed the governor cheese that made him sleepy, and she seized the opportunity to chop off his head, she thus saved the virtue of all future brides from sexual exploitation (Mishnah Berura).
This story in the Mishnah says Judith fed Holofernes cheese to make him thirsty. Since Judith lived about the same time as the clan from which the Maccabee brothers came, and they are the heroes of Chanukah, around the 14th century, some Jews instituted on the eating of cheese pancakes and cheese blintzes at Chanukah in honor of her heroism.
According to an article in Schechter on Judaism (Vol. 4, issue 4, December 2003), entitled “Insight Israel,” Rabbi David Golinkin, president of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, confirms the original story that, in Orach Chaim, section 670:2 of the Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Isserles relates: “It is customary to recite songs and praises [to God] at the festive meals which are common [on Chanukah] and then the meal becomes a mitzvah meal. Some say that one should eat cheese on Chanukah because the miracle occurred through milk which Judith fed the enemy (Kol Bo and RaN).”
Golinkin writes: “Indeed, that is what the Kol Bo and Rabbi Nissim of Gerona (RaN) wrote. In his commentary to Rabbi Yitzhak Alfassi (the Rif) on Shabbat 23a … he says that, ‘it says in a midrash that the daughter of Yohanan [the high priest] fed the enemy leader cheese to get him drunk and cut off his head and they all fled, and, therefore, it is customary to eat cheese on Chanukah.’
“The Kol Bo, which is an anonymous halachic work written in Provence in the early 14th century, has a slightly different version of the story. It says that the daughter of Yohanan the high priest fed the Greek king ‘a cheese dish in order that he become thirsty and drink a lot and get drunk and lie down and fall asleep.’ That is what transpired; she then cut off his head and brought it to Jerusalem and, when his army saw that their hero had died, they fled, and that is why it is the custom to cook a cheese dish on Chanukah.”
The question, of course, is where did RaN and Kol Bo find this story? It sounds a lot like the story of Judith and Holofernes, as found in the apocryphal Book of Judith. Indeed, cheese is mentioned in some ancient versions of Judith 10:5, which lists the foods that Judith took with her when she left the besieged city to visit Holofernes. Nevertheless, Judith 12:17-20 describes the way in which Judith got Holofernes to go to sleep; it says explicitly that Judith gave him wine to drink and not a cheese dish. Medieval Jews knew the story of Judith from medieval Hebrew sagas called “The Story of Judith” and the like. Some 18 versions of the story have been published. Most of those versions, including the Book of Judith itself, say that Judith gave Holofernes wine to drink, but a couple of the versions do indeed mention milk or cheese.
“Ma’aseh Yehudit,” which was first published in Sefer Hemdat Yamim (Livorno, 1763), says that Judith “opened the milk flask and drank, and also gave the king to drink, and he rejoiced with her greatly and he drank very much wine, more than he had drunk in his entire life.” In other words, according to this version of the story, Judith gave Holofernes both milk and wine. It is clear that the author was influenced by the story of Yael and Sisera in the Book of Judges, because the phrasing was borrowed from Judges 4:19.
“Megillat Yehudit” relates that Judith, after fasting, asked her maidservant to make her two levivot (pancakes or fried cakes). The servant made the levivot very salty and added slices of cheese. Judith fed Holofernes the levivot and the slices of cheese “and he drank [wine] and his heart became very merry and he got drunk and he uncovered himself within his tent and he lay down and fell asleep.”
Finally, the milk and cheese version of the Judith story is mentioned in a Hebrew poem for Chanukah published by R. Naftali Hacohen in 1757: “… It is mitzvah to eat and rejoice / eating cheese – one cannot force. / It is customary to remember, not to forget / the story of Judith who did it on purpose / to feed him milk to make him sleep.”
American Jewish writer Rahel Musleah discovered that Jews of Tunisia celebrate Rosh Chodesh Tevet, which falls at the end of Chanukah, with chag habanot, festival of the daughters. Mothers give honey cakes and gifts to their daughters, men give gifts to their fiancées and they eat a festive meal to honor Judith.
Scholars have tried their hands at coming up with other reasons why one eats cheese dishes for Chanukah with a little gematria. The Assyrian oppressors forbade the celebration of Rosh Chodesh, Shabbat and brit milah. If one takes the first letter of the Hebrew word for month, chet from chodesh; the second letter of the Hebrew word for Sabbath, the bet of Shabbat; and the third letter of the Hebrew word for circumcision, the lamed of milah, you get the Hebrew word chalav, which is milk.
Matthew Goodman, the Food Maven of the Forward newspaper maintains that the first latkes were probably made from curd cheese and fried in butter or olive oil. By the Middle Ages, as Jews migrated into Eastern Europe, butter and oil were expensive and poultry fat became a frying agent, thus cheese would not be used. By the 16th century, pot cheese was either unavailable or expensive, so first buckwheat flour and then potatoes were substituted and, ultimately, potato pancakes became common fare for Chanukah.
Meanwhile, many Jews retain the custom of honoring Judith by eating cheese for Chanukah, and the custom of eating dishes like cheesecake and blintzes emerged from the story of Judith. Some believe the salty cheese that Judith served Holofernes may have been in the form of fried cakes. Recipes for ricotta pancakes in Italy and feta cheese pancakes in Greece may be modern versions of these ancient fried cakes.
It is a custom that women do no work on Chanukah as long as the lights are burning, and they should not be lenient in this matter. Among some Sephardi communities, women refrain from work all day during Chanukah. In other communities, this custom is followed only on the first and last days. On the seventh night, women sing, dance, drink wine and eat foods made from cheese.
The reason for particular emphasis of Chanukah observance on the part of women goes back to the harsh decree issued by the Greeks against the daughters of Israel – that every girl who was to be married was to be brought first to the Greek ruler. Additionally, the miracle itself came about through the heroism of a woman.
Among Ashkenazim, many serve latkes with sour cream, and will partake in blintzes. But, for the most part, serving cheese dishes at Chanukah is more popular in the Sephardi tradition. Sephardim typically prepare various rudimentary doughnuts (bunuelos and loukoumades) and fried pastries, such as shamlias (fried dough strips) and zalabiya (batter poured into hot oil in a thin spiral, similar to Amish funnel cakes, and coated with syrup or honey). North African Jews enjoy debla, dough rolled to resemble a rose, deep-fried and dipped in sugar or honey. Italians honey-dip deep-fried diamond-shaped pieces of yeast dough called frittelle. The Bene Israel in India prepare milk-based fried pastry called gulab jamun.
Whichever traditions you follow, you might want to add a new one to honor Judith.
Sybil Kaplan is a journalist, foreign correspondent, lecturer, food writer and book reviewer who lives in Jerusalem. She also does the restaurant features for janglo.net and leads weekly walks in English in Jerusalem’s market.
Lilian Broca with the diptych “Judith Meeting Holofernes,” part of the Heroine of a Thousand Pieces: The Judith Mosaics of Lilian Broca exhibit that opens at Il Museo on Nov. 12. (photo from Lilian Broca)
Artist Lilian Broca calls her most recent subject – the apocryphal Judith, who slew the general Holofernes and saved her village – “a woman’s woman,” because “she was able to do what she wanted to do.” Granted, times have changed, and that’s not such an unusual phenomenon, but equality is still an issue for many, there are still oppressors, the world is still in need of repair, tikkun olam. Broca’s work reminds us of the power we each have, woman or man, to save, heal or improve at least a part of the world in which we live. And it does so in the most beautiful way.
Heroine of a Thousand Pieces: The Judith Mosaics of Lilian Broca opens at the Italian Cultural Centre’s Il Museo on Nov. 12, 7 p.m., with a reception. It is the artist’s second major mosaic series. Her first – seven years in the making – told the story of Queen Esther, the heroine of Purim.
“Throughout my career,” writes Broca in the Judith exhibit catalogue, “I have deliberately used powerful women figures from mythology as symbolic figures and role models whose experiences, I contend, shed light on today’s concerns, thereby becoming relevant to our contemporary society. In my last three series of artworks, I have profiled three exceptionally wise and fearless legendary figures: Lilith, Esther and now Judith.”
Over the years, she has worked with a variety of media, but the Queen Esther series called for a new medium: “In the Book of Esther, it is written that King Xerxes’ palace was magnificently adorned with a floor encrusted with rubies and porphyry in pleasing designs – in other words, mosaics.”
As with the Esther series, the nine panels depicting seven scenes from the story of Judith are created in Italian smalto glass. The panels range from 72 to 78 inches tall and 48 inches wide.
As a widow with no children or family, Judith was able “to act on her own without getting permission from the alpha male of her family,” Broca told the Independent. That allowed her to do what she did, “because women, as you know, in biblical times belonged to a male, either a husband, father, brother, son. She had none of those, and she was wealthy because her husband had left her quite wealthy. So, she was a woman’s woman, she was able to do what she wanted to do.”
In short, Judith wanted to save her village of Bethulia from the Assyrian army, which was under the command of General Holofernes, who answered to the ruler Nebuchadnezzar. A beautiful woman, she seduces her way into Holofernes’ camp and, eventually, into his tent, where she manages to get him so drunk that he passes out. She then cuts off his head with a sword, smuggling it out of the camp with the help of her servant. She presents it to the people of her village, while Holofernes’ army flees in disarray.
“We meet her at the point where she calls the town officials, and tells them that she’s going to be victorious,” and that she’s going to be successful with the help of God, explained Broca of the exhibit’s first panel. Judith doesn’t, however, tell them what she’s going to do.
In the second panel, Judith is praying, asking God to help her deceive Holofernes and his men. Not knowing how women prayed at the time, Broca contacted Dr. Adolfo Roitman, curator of the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum (where the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed), but, despite his and other biblical specialists’ efforts, they weren’t able to answer that question. “So, I was left with my artistic licence,” said Broca. “I figured that light is always associated with the divine, and so I had a lot of photos of oil lamps dating from that century … and I decided to have her praying in front of that lit oil lamp, with that light, and her hands … she is begging God, she is arguing with God, she is having a dialogue, so I put her hands in a kind of gesticulating [position], up in the air.”
The third scene – one of the exhibit’s two diptychs – depicts Holofernes first meeting Judith in all her finery and beauty. “Judith, just like Esther, was articulate, spoke very well, and perhaps also God helped her,” said Broca. “She told the general a cockamamie story about God coming to her in her dreams and saying to her, you have to go down [to see him] because he will be the winner of the war, he’s a great leader, and I’m going to punish the people of Bethulia … because they broke the dietary laws. Well, that was true: they were starving, they had no water. The general knew that the Israelites had a very powerful God” who would protect them if they were faithful to Him and kept His laws. Judith continued, said Broca, “saying that God will tell her in three days’ time when is a good time to attack. During those three days, she will stay with him in the camp but, every night, she will go with her maid … to pray, and then come back to the camp. And then, on the third night, God will tell her. In the meantime, the general wanted to seduce her, that’s all he had on his brain.”
In this way, the sentry was used to seeing Judith coming and going, said Broca, which is why she was ultimately able to steal the severed head, hidden in a sack, out of the camp. The fourth scene of the exhibit is a diptych of Judith plying Holofernes with wine, the fifth panel shows Judith about to bring down the sword onto his neck, while the sixth has Judith and her maid running to Bethulia, sack and sword in hand. The final panel shows Judith raising the head for her people to see.
Broca started this work about four years ago. Roitman was in Vancouver giving a talk on the Dead Sea Scrolls and visited her studio. “When he saw Esther, he said, oh, now you have to do Judith.” He told her that Judith was likely written as a response to Esther, that Judith is the flipside of Esther. “And it is absolutely true,” said Broca. “When I read the story, I knew right then and there that my greatest dream in life is to have both Esther and Judith exhibited in one very large museum.”
Because they are completely different personalities, Broca used different methods in creating the two mosaic series. “Esther was executed in a Byzantine style, and that was because
Esther was a quiet, loyal little girl who manipulated men to do a dirty job, basically…. Judith, on the other hand, was a warrior from the get go.” Judith acted independently and “in a manly manner,” while Esther “acted within the accepted nature of women’s role in life,” said Broca. This is why the artist couldn’t create
Judith using “that very quiet, icon-like Byzantine style…. I had to use a more Baroque style to show her personality.” Judith’s depictions needed to have more action and movement, as well as more emotional facial expression.
Broca said that what attracted her to the stories of Judith and Esther, true or not, was that “these heroines illuminate the fundamental truth … and that is that one single individual, not just a group, male or female, can – and will – make a difference in a threatened community. Today, we have Malala [Yousafzai] – she is an example of such a heroine. And both Esther and Judith save their communities from being exterminated, or taken into slavery, as was the case with Judith, I believe.”
Both Esther and Judith are examples of women’s empowerment, and can serve as role models, said Broca. As well, the medium of mosaics bears its own message, not only connecting an ancient art with contemporary times, the past with the present, but also in that “our world is becoming more and more fragmented, and it’s essential that all these fractured elements should be put together in order to heal, to make the world whole once again.”
In the Esther series, the unifying motif that ran through the panels was a wrought-iron lattice that appeared in each one. Broca said she agonized for weeks over what would be the unifying motif in the Judith series. “Finally, I came up with this idea of a torn sketchbook page. The reason for that is because I thought, well, what am I doing? I’m revivifying or reenacting an ancient story, and I’m starting from scratch, and it’s from my personal vision.” Since she started with sketches that became the mosaics, she thought, “Why don’t I show the whole process?” The sketchbook also becomes a “21st-century prop,” something that brings the work, and the ancient story it tells, into the present. Included in the exhibit are Broca’s sketches and painted sketches (which are called cartoons). “In total,” she said, “there will be 14 pieces under glass accompanying the mosaics.”
The catalogue accompanying the Judith exhibit is comprehensive. It is a full-color, 94-page publication with essays by Broca and Roitman, as well as by Dr. Sheila Campbell, archeologist, art historian, curator and professor emerita of the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies; Dr. Angela Clarke, museum curator at the Italian Cultural Centre in Vancouver; and Rabbi Dr. Yosef Wosk, adjunct professor and Shadbolt Fellow in the humanities department at Simon Fraser University. The book’s foreword is written by Rosa Graci, curator at Joseph D. Carrier Art Gallery in Toronto, where the Judith series will be displayed from May 5-July 4, 2016.