Limmud Vancouver is now accepting program proposals for the April 14-15, 2018, learning symposium. Organizers seek presentations on a range of topics – text study, Jewish history, social action, arts and culture, family programs, and more – and welcome a range of formats: for example, lecture, interactive music and movement, chavruta-style small group, PowerPoint. They hope both new and returning presenters will prepare proposals, and encourage both experienced teachers and new voices to share areas of personal expertise. The Limmud principle is, “Every learner can be a teacher. Every teacher should be a learner.”
In 2018, Limmud Vancouver returns to Beth Israel Synagogue. The Saturday night event will shift: before sunset, participants will learn from several diverse presentations; after sunset, they’ll enjoy Havdalah and a reception. There will be only one weekend ticket sold, good for both Saturday night and Sunday.
Limmud Vancouver 2018 chairperson Laura Duhan Kaplan is well known around town for her breadth of teaching and organizational skills. The previous chairperson, Avi Dolgin, and the core group that created Limmud Vancouver will be staying on to create this next weekend. But Limmud Vancouver is looking for community members to join the team. They need volunteers on the existing committees – publicity, community outreach, venue, family programming, etc. And they would like to have one or two more people managing the computer tech for the presenters on the Sunday. As well, they are looking for two people to create the printed program guide – a time-limited task that calls for writing, editing, layout and production abilities. And they are also open to new initiatives; for example, Jewish theatre, monthly topic gatherings, and so on. What would you love to see at the next LimmudVan? What would you love to take on?
Left to right: John Collier, Ralph Jackson (president), Alan Tapper (first vice-president) and Marc Perl (second vice-president) at Royal Canadian Legion Shalom Branch 178’s January general meeting. (photo from the legion)
At its general meeting in January, Royal Canadian Legion Shalom Branch 178 elected its new management slate: Ralph Jackson (president), Alan Tapper (first vice-president), Marc Perl (second vice-president), Jenica Neamu (secretary) and Jeff Simons (treasurer). The executive officers are, in alphabetical order: Libbera Amram, Eugene Edelman, Maurice Elharrak, Rosemary Harkins, Frank Long, Angela Miller, Danny Redden and Larry Shapiro.
The next general meeting will take place at the legion, 2020 West 6th Ave. For information on it and becoming involved, call Tapper at 604-263-8498 or email [email protected].
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On Feb. 13, Israel’s national volunteer emergency medical services organization, United Hatzalah, received the Jerusalem Prize for excellence in lifesaving. The director of United Hatzalah, Moshe Teitelbaum, received the award in honour of the 3,200 volunteer EMTs, paramedics and doctors who work with the organization. The award was presented by Gilad Erdan, Israel’s minister of public security, strategic affairs and information.
Among the reasons given by the judges with regards to why United Hatzalah was selected for the award, the judges explained: “United Hatzalah is receiving this prize due to the activation and operation of its volunteers, and providing first-response emergency medical treatment in the first few minutes after an emergency occurs, before the arrival of an ambulance.”
United Hatzalah president and founder Eli Beer welcomed the prize and the recognition of the efforts of the volunteers.
“This prize was given to us due to our volunteers,” he said. “It is they who deserve it for their hard work and dedication to saving lives across Israel. They leave their beds, homes, workplaces, family and friends in order to answer the call of others and save the lives of those who need it most in their communities. Our volunteers work tirelessly, often long into the night, in order to provide fast and professional emergency response in under three minutes. May Israel be blessed with more people like our volunteers.”
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Limmud, the international network of Jewish learning communities, will be awarded the Jerusalem Unity Prize in the Diaspora category on Unity Day, June 7.
President of Israel Reuven Rivlin will bestow the award in Jerusalem, recognizing Limmud’s global success in bringing Jews together. The prize is a joint initiative between Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Gesher and the families of Eyal Ifrach, Gil-ad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel, z”l.
“We are grateful for this fabulous honour,” said Limmud chair David Hoffman. “Limmud promotes Jewish unity by offering an inclusive cross-communal space for Jews of all ages and backgrounds, to meet, learn, volunteer and build community. Unity is about celebrating our diversity while working together to build community and create a dynamic Jewish future. This is what Limmud does.”
Founded in the United Kingdom in 1980, Limmud today has spread to 84 communities in 44 countries on six continents. In 2016, Limmud’s 4,000 volunteers produced 74 Jewish learning festivals and events around the world, which drew more than 40,000 people.
A core tenet of Limmud is that everybody is an equal member of the community, whether layperson or rabbi, communal leader or educator, adult or child. Limmud’s values stipulate that it is a community of learning, recognizing that far more can be achieved together than individually. Everyone can contribute and all are responsible for one another and the communities that are created.
“Today, when deep schisms separate Jews – politically, religiously, within communities and between the Diaspora and Israel – the Limmud model and message is more necessary than ever,” stated Limmud board member and head of strategic development David Bilchitz, who is based in South Africa. “Building and sustaining unity takes hard work and a constant effort to understand and bridge our differences. Owing to Limmud’s shared values, Limmud offers a platform to explore, understand and discuss differences, emphasizing common denominators and what we can learn from each other. It is thus a beacon of light in building the future of community through respect and accepting diverse Jewish identities.”
Apart from its work in the Diaspora, Limmud has been embraced by thousands of Israelis, where nine Limmud communities bring together people across the religious spectrum and from all ethnic origins – Ashkenazim, Sephardim, immigrants from the Former Soviet Union, and many others.
The Jerusalem Unity Prize and Unity Day recognize individuals, organizations and initiatives in Israel and throughout the Jewish world that advance mutual respect among the Jewish people.
At Limmud in Winnipeg earlier this year, Bryan Borzykowski talked about his and his wife Lainie’s difficulties in having children. (photo from Rebeca Kuropatwa)
At this year’s Limmud in Winnipeg, on March 13, Bryan Borzykowski spoke about the miscarriages he and his wife, Lainie, experienced and, in particular, the anxiety they felt during her pregnancy after multiple miscarriages.
A woman’s body innately senses the starting point of pregnancy and it recalculates, again and again, throughout the pregnancy, often determining whether or not it is possible by week 12 to carry a baby to term. This is why women are cautioned not to mention a pregnancy until after that point.
Miscarriages and difficulties in conceiving occur more often than we know – in large part because of our discomfort in speaking openly about the topic. Recently before his Limmud talk, Borzykowski – who is a freelance writer in the field of finance – had written an article on his family’s experiences in Today’s Parent magazine.
Borzykowski and his wife had their first miscarriage before their first child, a second one between their first and second child, and three more between their second and third child.
“The first miscarriage was 10 years ago,” he said. “We’d been going through pregnancy issues for a decade. So, after we realized we had this miscarriage, it was really terrible. But, once we started talking about it, everybody said, ‘I’ve gone through this as well’ … which was really nice to hear.
Apparently, 10-20% of women go through miscarriages. I think it’s got to be higher. Pretty much everyone I know has had one.
“The problem is when you have more than one, especially when you’re dealing with your wife going through this terrible situation. You just want to be there for her. There’s not a lot of time to go talk to friends about it.”
The couple went through IUI (intrauterine insemination) treatments in the hopes of getting pregnant again after their first child. Through these treatments, they discovered they had lost their second child’s twin, which apparently is somewhat common.
“They did tell us that a lot of people have twins, but one disappears … literally, disappears,” said Borzykowski. “At eight to 12 weeks, when they do the ultrasound, it’s already gone. Sure enough, we found out that we lost this twin, which was actually really difficult. We were happy we had one, but the strange thing about this is how attached you get to this thing before it’s even a real thing.
“But you do, you get attached to the idea of the baby. It’s hard to articulate to people who haven’t gone through it. You feel stupid, dumb, getting attached to something that’s not this thing. You start thinking about ways to … avoid the thought process.”
Borzykowski has found that it gets harder to talk about miscarriages the more they happen, but the couple was determined to try for a third child. They did succeed, via in vitro fertilization, which raised questions about the $15,000 cost.
Borzykowski found himself getting into financial conversations with friends. “It’s awkward, talking about your financial situation, about how you’re paying for it,” he said.
The couple’s last miscarriage occurred at 16 weeks. They took a test that showed the baby had Down syndrome. They ended up having only a couple of days to contemplate their options before they learned they had another miscarriage. At that point, they reevaluated their desire for a third child.
“It sounds silly,” said Borzykowski. “A lot of people can’t have more than one. We fully admitted we have an amazing life and are blessed with two kids, but we wanted three. That was hard, because a lot of people would say, ‘You have two, why do want a third?’ I don’t know. We wanted another, but we were pretty close to giving up until, one day, we decided to try. We just didn’t use protection. Somehow, Lainie got pregnant – no fertility [treatments], nothing. But, we didn’t talk about it for three months … not connecting, trying not to feel like you’re going to have a baby. You don’t want to jinx it. If something happens, you don’t want to feel the pain.”
Only after the three months had passed did the couple begin, little by little, to feel a sense of hope, that this was really going to happen.
“We took this test again,” said Borzykowski. “There’s this great test. It tells you everything…. It came back negative. We immediately breathed a sigh of relief. I don’t know. Something changed.
“As time went on, we came to terms with the fact that we were having a third baby … and we started connecting to her, although we didn’t fully think it was going to happen until I was holding her.
“When she came out, it was a miracle. I appreciate her. I appreciate all my kids, but there’s something about what we had to go through to get her that just makes it special … enough to make me realize the importance of opening up, which is difficult still. It helps.”
According to Borzykowski, research and statistics show that talking about miscarriages helps you get through them and that, while men usually get over the experience faster than women, it does affect men as well, with long-lasting effects.
From his family’s experiences, Borzykowski also learned that it was OK to go for what they wanted, as long as they felt they could manage the emotional possibility of having another loss.
“We knew we wanted a third,” said Borzykowski. “That was never the question. It was just … the emotional toll. We didn’t want to break up our family. I don’t think it would have, but I can’t say for sure. But, it worked out for us. I’m glad we went for it. I’m glad it worked out well. It’s easy to say now, but I’m glad we didn’t stop.”
Something else Borzykowski learned from these experiences was the significance of he and his wife being there for each other. These were experiences that made them even closer, he said. As well, for Borzykowski, having people to talk to about it was key – whether a family member, a friend or a professional.
“It also forces you to deal with death on a more regular basis and, in a sense, gives you an advantage over some of your peers in the future,” he said. “People often don’t understand the depth of loss that comes from losing an unborn child and the only way for them to understand it is by talking about. Then, maybe people would understand that, if we need more time, that’s OK.
“When people start opening up more,” he continued, “that changes some of the cultural thinking around it…. If you knew, before the miscarriage, that everyone went through it, maybe it wouldn’t feel as shameful or you wouldn’t feel as lost.”
Limmud Vancouver 2016, which takes place Jan. 30 and 31, includes seminars, lectures, workshops and discussions on a wide range of topics. This second article in a two-part series features a few of the presenters.
The love of two women
People who have a familiarity with modern Jewish and Zionist history know the name Eliezer Ben-Yehuda as the man who nearly single-handedly revived Hebrew into a modern language. Ben-Yehuda’s grandson, also named Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, contends the history of modern Hebrew, Judaism and Israel would be very different were it not for the two women in his grandfather’s life.
“The story of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda is really very, very interesting and there’s an aspect of it which is really overlooked very often and it’s the issue of the women,” he said in a telephone interview from his home in Florida.
Ben-Yehuda was married, consecutively, to two women – sisters – and the grandson contends that they are the reason the world still knows his name.
“Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, at the beginning of his path, was doomed to an early grave and all his dreams and all his great ideas about reviving the Hebrew language and reviving the Hebrew people in their land could have come to naught,” he said.
At age 21, while studying in Paris, Ben-Yehuda nearly died of tuberculosis. He wrote to his fiancée, his childhood sweetheart Devora Jonas, breaking off their engagement. “He wrote a letter and said forget about me, find yourself another man who is going to give you a life,” said the grandson. “She refused to be jilted. She said, you promised to marry and by God I’m holding you to your promise.”
The couple had five children before Devora died of tuberculosis. Three of the children died of diphtheria in short succession after their mother’s passing. Before she died, Devora insisted that Ben-Yehuda marry her sister, Paula Beila, who later took the Hebrew name Hemda.
“Hemda got this letter from her sister and it said if you want to be a princess, come marry my prince, my husband,” said the grandson. “Hemda decided that, yes, she wants that … and she says I’m going to come to Jerusalem, I’m going to marry you, I’m going to take care of your children for my sister and we’ll have our own children and I will help you in your job.”
They did have children – six, although only three survived, including the father of the Eliezer Ben-Yehuda who will be in Vancouver this month. He credits the two women for everything his grandfather accomplished.
“The first one [Devora] rebuilt his morale,” he said. “He was really quite resigned to the fact that he was going to die.… He married her and she filled him with hope and with strength through love and through her enthusiasm and through her caring of him.”
Hemda was the force that got a world-leading publisher to print Ben-Yehuda’s magnum opus Hebrew dictionary and, after he died with six of the 17 volumes completed, pressed her son Ehud (father of Eliezer the grandson) to complete the series.
Ben-Yehuda’s work changed the course of Jewish history, but his grandson assigns credit elsewhere. “The thing that made it possible was the love of two women,” he said.
Kenneth Bob’s Zionist credentials are pretty strong. He is national president of Ameinu, the progressive Zionist organization, he chairs the board of directors of the American Zionist Movement and serves on the Jewish Agency for Israel board of governors. He believes it is those like him, who identify as progressive Zionists, who can have the most impact confronting the boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) movement against Israel.
“We share some of the criticism of Israeli policy,” he said of progressive Zionists and the BDS movement. “Where we differ is the BDS movement generally doesn’t support Israel’s right to exist and we are very strong supporters of Israel’s right to exist, we just disagree with some of Israel’s policies. Because the criticism of Israel is coming from the left, it is best for the left Zionists, the ones who can speak the language of the left, to combat their attacks.”
Some commentators argue that BDS is having little real impact, while others see it as a genuine advancing threat. “I take the middle ground on this,” said Bob. Most of the BDS resolutions are emerging on large or elite campuses and gain much media attention, “so the number of BDS resolutions is actually maybe smaller than people might think. It’s in the dozens, not in the hundreds.” However, BDS is making inroads in the trade union movement.
In a world that sometimes seems awash in inhumanity and rights abuses, some people suggest singling out Israel for approbation is evidence of bigotry. As a strategic argument, he said, this approach is not very useful.
“We did some focus group work and liberals … don’t claim to be consistent. When you ask them in focus groups why you’re picking on Israel, they say, well, Israel wants to be like the West, so we’re going to treat Israel like we would the West. And I say, yes, I think we can hold Israel to a higher standard than we do Libya or Syria. I think that’s valid.”
His approach is that single-mindedly attacking Israel isn’t going to resolve the problem of Palestinian statelessness.
“If you really want to try to bring about a two-state solution, then let’s work with those coexistence NGOs on the ground in Israel and Palestine,” he said. “Let’s invest in Palestinian businesses and Israeli businesses that are trying to work across the border. Let’s do all kinds of positive things to encourage our kind of people on the ground in Israel and Palestine, but just punishing Israel doesn’t make sense.”
Life before 1492
The topic of Jews in the Iberian Peninsula immediately raises the spectre of 1492, the year the Jewish people were expelled from Spain. In his Limmud presentation, Robert Daum will delve into the dramatic history that came before that fatal date.
“It would be a distortion of the history of any European Jewish context to focus only on the catastrophes that punctuated many centuries of dynamic community life, intellectual creativity and fascinating politics,” said Daum, a rabbi and academic with appointments at the University of British Columbia and a fellow at Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue, among other positions. “To use an analogous case, the Shoah more or less destroyed European Jewish civilization, but it does not represent or describe European Jewish civilization. At the same time, one cannot ignore the elephant in the room, so to speak, and, of course, 1492 is a critical part of the story. We also need to understand what happened before 1492.”
The lasting impacts of Spanish and Portuguese life on the following half-millennium of Jewish history, Daum said, is panoramic.
“Just as one cannot begin to understand the history of Spain without knowing about the history of Romans, Christians, Jews and Muslims on the Iberian Peninsula,” he said in an email interview, “so, too, one cannot begin to understand many aspects of Jewish civilization, from politics to law to Talmud study to poetry to the development of the Hebrew language, without knowing more about developments in Jewish communities on the Iberian Peninsula before 1492.”
Daum said that most people know that the history of the Jews in Iberia is a rich and storied one, but, he added, “the history is even more interesting than this!” Moreover, this history is still having an impact on Spain and Portugal today, something he will touch on during his presentation.
“In addition to exploring a few fascinating stories, one should expect to come away with a sense of some of the major debates about Jewish (and Muslim) history on the Iberian Peninsula, and an awareness of how these debates are deeply connected to heated debates within Spain today about that fascinating country’s founding narratives and its place in the region,” he said.
Old meets new
For a city that is so new – it celebrated the centenary of its founding in 2009 – Tel Aviv has become a global hotbed of artistic and literary ferment. That’s no coincidence, says Naomi Sokoloff, a professor of modern Jewish literature and Hebrew at the University of Washington.
“It was designed to be that way,” she said. “It’s been a magnet for writers and artists and publishers almost from the beginning.”
Tel Aviv was created not only as the first Hebrew city, but also as a secular sibling to Jerusalem, the sacred city.
“The city was founded by visionaries,” she said. “Some of them were more utopian and some of them were more pragmatic, but they really founded the city as an idea and as an ideal.”
The name itself is a figment of literature. Theodor Herzl’s utopian novel of a Jewish state, Altneuland (Old New Land), was almost immediately translated into Hebrew and the title of the book was Tel Aviv. Aviv means spring, representing the rebirth of the Hebrew nation, while tel reflects the ancient heritage, meaning accumulated layers of civilization.
Sokoloff’s presentation at Limmud will look at the literature and art of Tel Aviv through the writings of S. Yizhar, a song by Naomi Shemer, a story by Etgar Keret and some paintings of Tel Aviv, all of which may shed light, she said, on the tension between the founding ideas of Tel Aviv and how things turned out.
Limmud Vancouver, a now-annual festival of Jewish learning, takes place Jan. 30 and 31. The “pan-denominational” event includes seminars, lectures, workshops and discussions on a diverse array of topics. This week and next, the Independent features a few of the presenters who will participate in the local version of the international phenomenon that has now reached more than 60 Jewish communities worldwide.
A national fish story
Eve Jochnowitz calls gefilte fish the national dish of the Ashkenazi Jewish people.
“Wherever you have Ashkenazic Jews, you have the Yiddish language and you have gefilte fish,” she said. “It’s like DNA. It’s in many different permutations and incarnations, but the gefilte fish pretty much goes wherever the Yiddish-speaking Jews go.”
A culinary ethnographer who hosts a Yiddish-language cooking show, Jochnowitz doesn’t want to tip her hand too much in advance of her presentation here this month.
“Let’s just say there are some very surprising variations on gefilte fish out there and let’s just say that the Ashkenazic Jews will come up with ingenious ways to have gefilte fish in the most unexpected situations,” she said in a phone interview from her New York home.
If there are so many variations, then what, at root, defines geflite fish?
“Usually it is made of freshwater fish; in Eastern Europe, most frequently carp, pike and whitefish,” she said. “The more carp there is, the more dark and the more fishy, more flavorful, it is. Some people like it to be more fishy, some people like it to be almost a tofu substitute with the fishiness very understated and the gefilte fish itself being more of a base for some horseradish or egg sauce or whatever it is you choose to put on your gefilte fish.”
It may or may not have matzah meal, it may or may not have sugar, she said.
“This is another very controversial issue with gefilte fish – should it be sweetened or salted or both?” she said. The term itself means “stuffed fish,” but stuffing a fish is very difficult and labor-intensive, so “most gefilte fish is not gefilte.”
Although she is a gefilte fish maven, Jochnowitz stressed that Ashkenazi food is not limited to the familiar.
“Yiddish food is a universe,” she said. “There is much more to Yiddish food and Yiddish cooking than just challah and kugel.”
Her other presentation at Limmud will focus on the little-known phenomenon of Jewish vegetarian cookbooks of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Two sides to the story
David Matas, a noted human rights lawyer who represents the organization Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, says the world needs to recognize that Palestinians are not the only refugee population that emerged from the war of 1948-49.
“What we see is two refugee populations that were generated as a result of the Arab invasion to stop the creation of Israel,” he said. “The Jewish population is, in fact, more numerous than the Palestinian.”
The United Nations, with a few exceptions, has been concerned about the Arab refugees from that time, but not the Jewish ones who were forced from their native lands across North Africa and the Middle East, he said. Israel has also not taken a strong lead on the issue until recently, he added.
“Israel, on the whole, has not been a great advocate on this issue historically because there has been the Zionist mythos that people wanted to come to Israel rather than the fact that they came because they were refugees,” he said. “It’s only recently that Israel has itself adopted this position that these people are a refugee population and should be treated in any overall refugee settlement.”
There is also the fact that Jewish refugees have been given citizenship in Israel or other countries, while the Palestinian populations have largely remained stateless.
“The Arab population mostly has not been resettled and, in fact, they’ve grown because their descendants have been classified as refugees,” Matas said. “They’ve remained as a perpetual refugee population. There’s been an attempt to keep this population as a refugee population, as an argument for the destruction of the state of Israel.”
Matas and his organization believe both refugee groups should receive justice. Most likely, he said, a resolution might involve a compensation fund that wouldn’t necessarily come from Israel or the Arab states, but possibly from the United States or third parties willing to facilitate a larger peace settlement.
“That compensation fund would be available to people who were victimized from both refugee populations, as well as their descendants, or something like that,” he said. The idea of compensation for massive human rights violations is not new. “There’s been lots of experience with the Holocaust, amongst other [cases]. You’ve got a kind of jurisprudence and experience to draw on in order to make these programs work.”
While some commentators contend that the refugee issue can wait until later stages of any negotiated settlement, Matas disagrees.
“I think it’s important to bring it in at this stage of the negotiations,” he said. “This Palestinian notion that we are the refugees and the Jews aren’t plays into this false narrative there’s only one victim population when in fact there are two.”
A Polish journey
Jewish Canadians often travel to Poland in search of their family’s roots or as an exercise in history. Norman Ravvin travels there frequently, but he is as focused on the present as on the past.
“You can visit Poland on different terms,” said the Montreal academic and author. He will lead a session on traveling Poland that focuses on the major cities of Warsaw, Kraków, Lodz and Poznan, as well as his maternal ancestors’ hometown of Radzanow.
“The overall depiction will be of Poland as a place that is alive and contemporary,” he said. “Aspects of that are related to Jewish memory and parts of it have to do with contemporary Polish life and then the way that one feels as you go back to the ancestral place.”
Things are changing fast in Poland, Ravvin said. The end of communism, the integration into the European Union and the general march of time means things have altered significantly since Ravvin first toured there in 1999. One area of progress relates to Jewish and war-era history.
“In the last 25 years, they’ve become very effective at commemorating Jewish prewar life,” he said. “If you had traveled to Poland in 2000, this wouldn’t necessarily have appeared to be true, but now certainly it is true and, when you walk in Warsaw, the sidewalks are marked with these remarkable inlays which say this was the ghetto wall, so that you step over it and you actually feel that you understand the prewar and the wartime city and now the postwar city.”
Some of the efforts, he speculates, are for the purposes of tourism, but he also acknowledges Polish efforts at education.
“They’re doing a reasonable job of confronting how to live with the shadows of the past,” he said.
Ravvin’s mother’s family fled Radzanow in 1935 and all those left behind were murdered. The family made their way to Canada, eventually to Vancouver, where Ravvin’s grandfather, Yehuda-Yosef Eisenstein, was a shochet (kosher slaughterer).
Ravvin welcomes people to bring their own family history to his presentation.
“If they’re carrying their own version of this story,” he said, “they might warm that up in their minds, their own families’ Polish past, what they know about it, what they wish they knew, if they’ve gone, whether they might go, so that the possibility is the thing they’re considering and then maybe my talk will change the way they think about that.”
Limmud Vancouver is accepting submissions until Oct. 15 for presenters at the 2016 learning festival. (photo from Limmud Vancouver)
After two successful events in the past two years, Limmud Vancouver is returning for a third learning extravaganza in 2016.
Following a Saturday night Limmud cabaret, to be held Jan. 30, LimmudVan ’16 will offer a daylong celebration of Jewish learning at Beth Israel Synagogue on Sunday, Jan. 31. Presentation proposals are now being accepted from experienced as well as first-time presenters.
A non-denominational, pluralistic gathering for Jewish learning, Limmud is a growing global phenomenon that began 30 years ago in the United Kingdom and has attracted participants and presenters of all ages and backgrounds. There are now more than 80 Limmud festivals held annually in Jewish communities all over the world, from Canada and the United States to Australia, Turkey, Sweden, India, China, Brazil and, of course, Israel.
Since its inception in 2014, LimmudVan celebrates the wide range of wisdom and knowledge within our Jewish community and we encourage everyone to share their excitement for any topic with a Jewish aspect. In the first two years, presenters have included scholars, teachers, actors, rabbis, lay enthusiasts, scientists, artists, storytellers, cooks, musicians and others. Topics have ranged from Torah study to opera, social activism and Jewish environmentalism to Jewish humor, Czech Torah scrolls to Jews and indigenous peoples.
Whatever topic you are passionate about, you are welcome to present it in the format that appeals to you most, whether dramatic or interactive, as a lecture or something different – you decide. If you would like to be a part of a local, thought-provoking learning event, visit Limmud Vancouver’s website and submit a topic (or two?) about which you would like to share your knowledge and enthusiasm with the wider community.
A core Limmud value is that everyone is a student and everyone can be a teacher within this interconnected learning community. “Volunticipating” is also an important aspect of Limmud. Everyone, including organizers and presenters, registers to participate and take part in the daylong event. And, as a volunteer-led organization, its success depends on the time and energy of individuals who care about community-based Jewish learning. If this is something you are passionate about, and whether or not you would like to present this year, consider gifting some of your time as a volunteer and help make LimmudVan ’16 an event to remember.
Go to limmudvancouver.ca, where you can also see what was offered at last year’s learning event. Short- and long-term volunteers are accepted on an ongoing basis. Presenter submissions will be accepted until Oct. 15, 2015. Chosen presenters will be contacted and the program will be confirmed in November. Tickets for the event will go on sale soon afterwards. Follow Limmud Vancouver on Facebook and Twitter.
Earlier this month, the American Jewish Press Association announced the winners of this year’s Simon Rockower Awards for Excellence in Jewish Journalism, which honor achievements in Jewish media published in 2014. In its division (newspapers with 14,999 circulation and under), the Jewish Independent garnered two first places.
Publisher and editor Cynthia Ramsay won the first place award for excellence in writing about Jewish heritage and Jewish peoplehood in Europe for her article “World Musician at Rothstein” (Nov. 21, 2014), about the work of Lenka Lichtenberg. The group Art Without Borders was bringing Lichtenberg to Vancouver from her home base of Toronto for a solo performance at the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre. The article includes reviews of Lichtenberg’s three most recent CDs and how, in all of her music, “the memory and traditions of those who have lived before can be heard – they are celebrated, and merge with the memories, traditions and passions of Lichtenberg and the artists with whom she collaborates.”
The JI editorial board – Pat Johnson, Basya Laye and Ramsay – won the paper’s other award: first place for excellence in editorial writing. The three editorials that comprised the winning entry were “The message is universal” (March 7, 2014), about plans for the Canadian National Holocaust Monument to be constructed in Ottawa; “The spirit of Limmud” (Feb. 14, 2014), about how the vision and passion of one woman, Ruth Hess-Dolgin z”l, significantly enriched our community by initiating the movement to bring Limmud here; and “Uniquely set apart for exclusion” (May 9, 2014), about the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations decision to exclude J Street from the group.
The Rockower awards will be presented at AJPA’s annual conference, which, for the second year in a row, is scheduled around the Jewish Federation General Assembly being held in Washington D.C. Nov. 8-10. AJPA sessions will be held Nov. 9-11. The entire list of Rockower winners can be found at ajpa.org/?page=2015Rockower.
Hannah Fogel and Daniel Kroft. (photo by Rebeca Kuropatwa)
Held earlier this year in March, Limmud Winnipeg featured a couple of young community members sharing their experiences of volunteering in Kenya. Their talk, Walking the Talk of Jewish Values in Kenya, reflected on how their Jewish upbringing was an essential ingredient in being able to give of themselves abroad.
Presenters Hannah Fogel and Daniel Kroft graduated from the Gray Academy of Jewish Education in 2012 and traveled to Kenya for three weeks in June of that year instead of going on their class graduation trip. “This was kind of our alternative grad trip idea and everything worked out,” Fogel said of her choice.
Once in Kenya, the two learned there are many misconceptions when it comes to the day-to-day lives of Africans. “There’s actually quite a big difference in levels of development in the country,” said Fogel.
Kroft reflected, “We spent one night in Nairobi and then we drove out to Mara, [which is] basically a game reserve, a rural area with villagers.”
Fogel said they spent their nights in a military-style tent and their days helping build school classrooms and playing with local children – having a chance to learn a little bit about their lives, challenges, and experiencing the “contagious positive vibe they have … regardless of their difficult existence.”
Describing their personal living conditions, Fogel said, “Due to the lack of running water, we had to use bucket showers that were filled by Kenyan staff that worked at our camp. One of them, his job was basically getting hot water. So, they’d heat up this big tub of water over a fire and you’d ask them to fill the bucket over your shower, two people per bucket.”
Ever since the trip, Kroft said he has continued using the Kenyans’ conservative showering strategy he learned there. “They recommended we take staggered showers – so to turn on the water, get wet, turn off the water, soap up, then turn it on again and try to use very little water.”
Kroft said he learned that the local Maasai boys are sent off to become men – going on a quest and returning as warriors – at the age of 13. They spend time in the wilderness, doing strength training and learning how to use bows and arrows.
While Kenya has begun offering free elementary school education for all, there are not enough teachers, schools or resources to go around. “In a lot of communities like this, the parents came together and built their own classrooms for the kids to go to,” said Fogel. “Finding teachers and resources was still a big problem. They have a limited number of pens and pencils in the room. Kids share one pencil between the three of them.”
Kroft was struck by the similarities between the mission statement philosophies at the Kenyan school and his home school, Gray Academy. “You have things like community, cultural values and leadership,” he said. “You go halfway around the world and you have the same sort of values being promoted.”
Both Fogel and Kroft were happily surprised to be able to connect with the children so easily. “We didn’t know very much Swahili or their tribal language, and they knew very little English,” said Kroft. “Our facilitator basically dropped us off and said, ‘OK, go play!’ It was actually surprisingly easy to find ways [to connect], through hand gestures, hand signals … lots of hugs, and they love soccer.”
There were less light moments, as well. “We listened to a university professor speak who came to our camp to discuss hunger and starvation,” said Fogel. “And we learned some stats. More people have died from starvation in the past five years than all the battles, wars and murders in the entire world in the last 150 years. That’s something we can’t imagine in Canada. To think of that is a whole other level of poverty.”
Seeing how all people have similar struggles and needs particularly impacted Kroft. “Agriculture, food security, health, clean water – these are all issues that aren’t just isolated to Africa,” he said. “These are things that are going on in Manitoba, in Canada, on some of the reserves.”
Kroft and Fogel found that most Jewish values are values held by other religions and cultures throughout the world, as well.
“We are not that different after all,” said Kroft. “Jewish values were definitely in the back of our minds going, just because it was the culmination of graduation from the academy – 13 years surrounded by Judaism and Jewish values. It was something that we thought about.”
Fogel added, “Also, we had no idea what to expect, but there were similarities. At the school, people we met had similar values, regardless of what they had or the communities they grew up in. It was also interesting learning about Maasai culture, a similar coming of age at 13 [in Judaism].”
Kroft interjected, “Actually, when they come back from their journey, the similarity of practice…. The men get circumcised at 13 and it’s a sign of weakness to flinch during the process. So, it’s a really big deal, a shame on the whole family [if they flinch].”
Kroft also felt that education plays a central role in the Maasai community, similar to what we see in the Jewish community. “They don’t really have the means…. They are starting to get it now, but idealistically it’s really important to them,” he said “Family values, togetherness, respect are big things…. To be a teacher, which, again, is like Judaism. There are similarities and differences.”
Returning home, both youth described wanting to remain committed to social justice issues. Kroft said, “I’m chaperoning with a Washington trip this year. One thing, we did a session last week on food security and the lack of food at the concentration camps and things like that. And, in order to give the kids a sense of what that means, we had them tally up their daily intake of calories at the end of the day. We had a big list of foods and the amount of calories they’d eaten that day – you’d have 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 calories a day. Then, you’d tell them how much they were given in concentration camps as a perspective thing. It was something I’d personally seen in Africa, not to the same extent … that’s something that comes to mind.”
An organization Fogel volunteers with in Winnipeg is Osu Children’s Library Fund. “It was started by a woman in Winnipeg and she was living in Ghana for awhile with her family and realized the lack of educational books for the kids there,” she said. “So, she started this fund, collecting books from relatives, and put together a library in an old corrugated metal box car. They’ve built libraries in 10 different countries, mainly in Africa. So, I volunteered with her collecting books and going to her house and packaging them. She’s into photography and has written some children’s books with the pictures she’s taken.”
This year’s Limmud Vancouver had about 35 percent more attendees than it did last year. (photo by Robert Albanese)
About 350 lifelong learners spent the day exploring a huge diversity of Jewish ideas at the second annual Limmud Vancouver event Feb. 1.
Limmud is a worldwide confederation of festivals of Jewish learning, entertainment, ideas and exploration. Started in the United Kingdom in 1980, Limmud is now an annual event in 80 cities. The local event last year was held at King David High School, but this year, it took place a few blocks away, at Eric Hamber, which accommodated 350 registrants, where last year’s had to be capped at 260.
“That’s about a 35 percent growth,” said Avi Dolgin, a founder and organizer of the Vancouver event. The structure changed a little as well, with 40 individual sessions, up from 36 last year, but over five blocks instead of six as was done previously.
“We had eight options per timeslot to drive people truly crazy,” said Dolgin. At breaks between sessions, participants shared take-aways from the many lectures, events, performances and panel discussions.
King David teacher Aron Rosenberg led a session called Love, Hate and the Jewish State, based on a program developed by the New Israel Fund. Participants were asked to move around the room in response to questions of core values around attitudes about Israel, Canada, citizenship, human rights, religion and other hot button topics. Participants moved left or right across the room depending on their level of agreement or disagreement with statements such as “Christmas should be a federal holiday in Canada” or “serving in the Israeli military is a Jewish value.” The room broke into smaller groups to discuss statements about Israel with which they agreed or disagreed.
In another session, comedian and inspirational speaker Adam Growe explained his mathematical formula for measuring success at tikkun olam. (The formula is: S=(hti)c*k.)
In a session on the messianic idea in Judaism, Beth Israel Rabbi Jonathan Infeld said that Judaism is “100 percent about bringing Moshiach” and added that “we have a problem with this idea.” Part of the problem, he said, is that Jews have a history with false messiahs, from Jesus and Bar Kochba to Marx and the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
As an example of how messianism – a belief in a future of perfect existence ushered in by the Messiah – permeates Judaism, Infeld said that the Passover seder, which is almost universally accepted as a metaphor for the Exodus from bondage in Egypt, is actually about redemption from this world. And the wish “next year in Jerusalem” is not so much an aspiration for the literal city in Israel, but for the place and time of the Messiah.
Dolgin took special pride in the diversity of Limmud Vancouver’s offerings. “It was a mix of some text, some history … this year we had a lot of arts and culture – Bernstein and opera and Shakespeare, Jews and Western literature,” he said. “This year, we also had workshops, group discussions about what’s your relationship with Israel and Jewish identity, traditional talmudic study chavruta-style. We had a panel talk which included a debate on the issue of Shmita, which is the seventh year in which the land and the economy is supposed to revert to the situation before.”
In future, Dolgin said, he hopes Limmud will beef up children’s programming and attract more Orthodox participants. He noted that, on forms submitted by presenters, a large proportion said they were shomer Shabbat and keep kosher.
“We look like were kind of a Renewal or Reform outfit, but a quarter or maybe as much as a third of the presenters said they observe Shabbat,” he explained.
Organizers are already priming volunteers and presenters for next year. In addition to attracting teachers who may not see themselves as teachers, Limmud is looking for volunteers in such areas as technology and publicity.
“As a young organization, we’re still easy to hijack because we have no allegiances to anybody except the people working in it,” Dolgin said. “So, if people have a vision for what Limmud could be, then they should come in and steer it in that direction and they will be met with open arms.”
Moishe House (and friends) show off their “Most Jewish Table” certificates. From left to right are Alexei Schwartzman, Benjamin Groberman, Carol Moutal, Jordan Stenzler, Shayna Goldberg and Kevin Veltheer. (photo by Robert Albanese)
Music. Storytelling. Video. Flash dance. These were just some of the elements in Limmud Vancouver’s first-ever Saturday night cabaret, which took place on Jan. 31, the night before the all-day learning festival.
One hundred and sixty people gathered around tables of food, books and Havdalah candles in a transformed Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver auditorium, awash in colored lights and humming to the music of Sulam. The event, co-produced by JCCGV and LimmudVan ’15, brought a cabaret of storytelling (Shoshana Litman of Victoria and local raconteur Michael Geller), drama (Michael Armstrong of Victoria’s Bema Theatre), songs (singers Harriet Frost and Wendy Rubin), Talmud (Tracy Ames), a quiz show (former Vancouverite Adam Growe), Havdalah (Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan), dancers (led by Nona Malki) and lots of good food.
A highlight of the evening was an inter-table contest of personal Jewish experiences: Who has climbed Masada? Who attended Camps Miriam or Hatikvah? Who speaks Ladino? etc. The winners, a group of Moishe House residents and friends, beat the opposition in a spirited event that included spontaneous renditions of Adon Olam, and were proclaimed “Most Jewish Table.”