Dr. Yosef Wosk, right, with Max Wyman, 2017. (photo by Fred Cawsey)
The Yosef Wosk Poetry Initiative at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, which began in 2009, marked its 10th year with a celebratory gathering of artists and poets and with the publication of a commemorative book earlier this year. In addition, the Yosef Wosk Poets’ Corner, along with the adjacent Poet Laureates Garden, was inaugurated on the newly renovated top floor of the downtown central Vancouver Public Library – it was named in recognition of Dr. Yosef Wosk’s decades-long support of the VPL.
Wosk was an early major donor to the redevelopment of the eighth and ninth floors and the roof of the central branch of VPL and was asked to serve as honourary chair of the VPL campaign in 2018/19. The architect for the renovations, as for the library itself, was Moshe Safdie, while Cornelia Hahn Oberlander designed an extensive garden to complement her roof garden that crowns the award-winning structure.
In the library world, Wosk – who has established more than 400 libraries on all seven continents over the past 20 years – was able to fund more than 50 new initiatives in 2018/19, including 20 libraries in remote Himalayan villages and 37 in Jewish communities throughout the world.
As a writer and publisher, Wosk’s work has appeared in a number of publications. Most recently, these include having curated and written the preface for Memories of Jewish Poland: The 1932 Photographs of Nachum Tim Gidal, featuring photographs by Gidal from Wosk’s and the Israel Museum’s collections (Gefen Publishing, Jerusalem and New York, 2019). He also initiated and funded a biography, written by Christopher Best, of Faye Leung, the effervescent pioneer in the Chinese and real estate communities, affectionately known as the Hat Lady (Warfleet Press, 2020).
Wosk’s essay “On the Wings of Forever” was published in the online Ormsby Review this year in collaboration with the Canadian Academy of Independent Scholars. The editor’s preface notes that: “With prose as profound and learned as it is clear and accessible, here Wosk examines and appreciates the role of museums and museum workers in the digitizing modern world. It’s not gloom ’n’ doom. Instead, he outlines what he calls ‘a stirring vision, one of innovative technology on a human scale, heart-centred and soul-sized.’”
In collaboration with the Canadian Museums Association, Wosk helped transform the President’s Award into the President’s Medal; he also commissioned the medal and wrote the introduction in the booklet that accompanies the honorific, which was first awarded in 2019.
The province-wide Max Wyman Award for Critical Writing in the Arts, which was inaugurated by Wosk in 2017, formed an alliance this year with the VIVA Awards (the Shadbolt Foundation), which will begin in 2020.
In academia, Wosk was reappointed this year as an adjunct professor in humanities at Simon Fraser University and completed four years as a Shadbolt Fellow at SFU, where he was recently named a Simons Fellow.
During the year, Wosk served on 11 boards in the Jewish and general communities in areas such as education, medical research, museums, libraries, literature, business and the arts. These boards have included the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, Schara Tzedeck Cemetery Board, CHILD Foundation, Museums Foundation of Canada and Pacific Torah Institute. He was also an ambassador for the Vancouver Sculpture Biennale and is completing a second term with the B.C. Arts Council.
The Museum of Jewish History in Sosua is located right next to the city’s synagogue. (photo by Dave Gordon)
Famous for its rum, cigars, resorts, beaches and rich history, the all-season holiday destination of the Dominican Republic attracts 800,000 Canadians each year. Moreover, the country has a relatively unknown past – few people realize, or know, that the country opened its doors wide to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution.
This era is chronicled at the Museum of Jewish History, in Sosua, which is in the northern section of the country. Located right next to the city’s synagogue, the museum preserves the memory of those Jewish refugees who sought a safe haven on Dominican soil, and left their mark on the region. It houses photographs of early-to-mid-20th-century Jewish immigrants, along with diary entries, ritual items and copies of letters from Jewish agencies during the war.
Before the Second World War, in 1938, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt summoned the Allies to Evian, France, for a conference about how to handle the massive exodus of Jews who desperately sought to flee Nazi persecution. Though most of the participants at the conference expressed their sympathy, no resolution was formulated. Paraphrasing Chaim Weizmann (who would later become the first president of Israel), Central and Eastern European Jews perceived the world as consisting of just two camps: one that hounded and hunted them, and another that closed its gates.
There was, however, one notable exception.
Of the 32 countries that sent delegations to the conference, only the Dominican Republic, led by President Rafael Trujillo, agreed to receive 100,000 refugees, offering land resettlement under generous conditions. A group of experts on refugee affairs, under the leadership of James Rosenberg, was mobilized by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to capitalize on the offer. This was the birth of the Dominican Republican Settlement Association (DORSA).
Between 1940 and 1945, the Dominican Republic government issued 5,000 visas for displaced Jewish refugees. Tragically, however, the actual number of immigrant arrivals never reached anywhere near this figure, due to the escalation of the war, and also to what some believe to be mishandling by the Jewish Agency, which resulted in delays. Of the nearly 1,000 Jews who settled in the Dominican Republic, most were from Austria and Germany, although some came from as far away as China, and some from as close as the Caribbean islands.
Little by little, the jungle-like territory was divided into residential lots and communal barracks for arriving refugees. Each refugee was furnished with, as a repayable loan, 80 acres of land, 10 cows, one mule, one horse, and a living wage for a month. They were assisted with training in agriculture and farming techniques, of which most had little previous knowledge.
Jews took to food manufacturing, becoming successful in the production and sale of sausage, milk, cheese, tomato sauce, mashed carrots, stuffed peppers and mashed spinach. Many of these industries continue to this day. The refugees’ earnings enabled them to pay their debts and establish other small industries.
By the 1990s, however, just 36 Jewish families remained in Sosua, as most of the population either died, intermarried or moved to larger Jewish communities.
Interestingly enough, well before the arrival of these refugees, in 1916, the Dominican Republic briefly had a Jewish head of state, President Francisco Henríquez y Carvajal.
Visiting the country
Virtually every major supermarket has plenty of items with kosher certification, including imported canned goods, breads, fish and spreads. A Puerto Plata resort named Lifestyle has an on-site kosher restaurant, though only for guests staying there. Alternately, in Punta Cana, the local Chabad offers à la carte food orders upon request.
If this trip is a do-it-yourself getaway, as opposed to an all-inclusive, here are two suggestions for luxury stays that will offer the feel of home:
Villas Agua Dulce is a jaw-droppingly elegant and spacious facility. Each villa has a fully furnished living room, dining room and a washer/dryer. Three-bedroom villas are available to accommodate a family of seven. Toss in for good measure an outdoor patio, outdoor private pool, a spa centre, tennis and basketball courts, and Bauhaus interior design.
With the beach just a few hundred feet away, Cabarete Palm Beach Condos is centrally located in the Cabarete area. Each condo has a fully equipped kitchen, living room (with big TV), dining area and outdoor patio.
As for suggested adventures in the Puerto Plata area, I have several.
Monkey Jungle: After enjoying the 4,500-foot, seven-station zip lines overlooking the trees, visit the adjacent capuchin monkey reserve. Scores of these adorable creatures bounce around from tree to tree, hopping on your shoulders and nibbling straight from the fruit plate in your hand.
Ocean World: This is where you can swim with sharks and dolphins and kiss the sea lions.
Tip Top Catamaran: Take a ride on the 75-feet-long and 33-feet-wide catamaran. Tourists are offered the chance to experience the vibrant underwater world through snorkeling Sosua Bay (equipment is provided). Immerse yourself in schools of fish, peer at the coral, get face-time with a puffer fish and play with the sea urchins.
Twenty-seven waterfalls of Rio Damajagua are tucked away in the hills of the Northern Corridor mountain range, behind tall stalks of sugar cane. In addition to the mélange of outdoor activities – such as cliff jumping into natural waters and climbing through caves – you are surrounded by forest. And, depending on the season, fruit will be growing from coconut, avocado, coffee bean and mango trees.
Kiteboarding: Think of yourself hovering over the ocean on a surfboard, propelled by a giant inflatable kite, and you have kiteboarding. Dare2Fly provides kiteboarding packages, lessons and rentals.
Rancho Luisa y Tommy: Try a morning horseback ride. Run by 30-year-old Tommy Bernard, a Quebec expat, he’s an affable fellow who’ll treat you to engaging conversation on topics including animals, his adopted country, and most anything in life.
Dave Gordonis a Toronto-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in more than 100 publications around the world.
Michael Schwartz of the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia accepts the Award of Merit: Excellence in Community Engagement on behalf of all the partner organizations in the Cross Cultural Strathcona Walking Tour. (photo from JMABC)
The 2019 B.C. Museums Association Awards for Outstanding Achievement were handed out on Oct. 2 at the BCMA conference gala at Courtyard by Marriott in Prince George. The awards recognize institutions and individuals who have exemplified excellence in exhibitions, community engagement and innovation within the province’s museums, galleries and cultural heritage community. This year, three Jewish community groups were honoured for their work.
The Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre received the Award of Merit: Excellence in Collections for its collections management system, which provides access to Western Canada’s largest collection of Holocaust-related artifacts, survivor testimonies, archival materials and publications (collections.vhec.org). The award recognizes recent excellence in collections best practices, which may include innovative approaches to collecting, collections management, preservation, repatriation, collections-based research, dissemination and accessibility.
The Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia (JMABC), along with 16 partner organizations, including the Jewish Independent, received the Award of Merit: Excellence in Community Engagement for the Cross Cultural Strathcona Walking Tour. The award recognizes a recent outstanding success in community engagement, as demonstrated by ongoing participation of new audiences, new partnerships with community organizations, and supporting needs of the community through innovative programming.
Co-led by Carmel Tanaka and Michael Schwartz (director of community engagement at the JMABC), the walking tour celebrates the history of Vancouver Downtown Eastside neighbourhoods Hogan’s Alley, Jewish Strathcona, Japantown (Powell Street) and Chinatown. The guided walking tour builds awareness of the contributions of early immigrant communities then and now. Originally conceived in celebration of Vancouver Asian Heritage Month and Canada’s Jewish Heritage Month, the first series of tours debuted in May 2019.
With the theme of education, the route began at the oldest elementary school in Vancouver, Lord Strathcona Elementary School, referred to as the “League of Nations” for its multicultural makeup. When the triangle rang at the end of the day, school continued for many children in the form of nearby programs where students learned language and cultural traditions. Tour participants learned how these diverse communities interacted with one another in their common struggles, and how they were impacted by the urban renewal of the area.
The Cross Cultural Strathcona Walking Tour Working Group comprises Association of United Ukrainian Canadians; Benny Foods Italian Market; Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden; Musqueam Elder Larry Grant (honourary advisor to PCHC-MoM and VAHMS); Greater Vancouver Japanese Canadian Citizens Association; Heritage Vancouver Society; Hogan’s Alley Society; Jewish Independent; JMABC; Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre; Pacific Canada Heritage Centre Museum of Migration; Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society’s explorASIAN; Vancouver Heritage Foundation; Vancouver Japanese Language School and Japanese Hall; Vancouver School Board; Vancouver School Board Archives and Heritage Committee; Wongs’ Benevolent Association; and Youth Collaborative for Chinatown.
After leading the Bayit in Richmond for the last five years, Michael Sachs has stepped down as board president, to spend more time with his young family.
Michael’s efforts and dedication have given members of the Bayit much for which to be grateful. During his tenure, Michael had a vision for how he saw the community and, as a man of action, he followed through. With a philosophy of engaging with everyone, he worked together with all of the Jewish organizations in Richmond and beyond, without ever losing focus that he was building a Bayit community.
Michael’s stepping down from the position of president doesn’t mean he won’t continue to be involved in the Bayit. As past president, he will remain on the board of directors and continue to be a part of the Bayit’s future.
Current Bayit board member Keith Liedtke will take over as the Bayit’s interim president. He shares Michael’s vision and sees the need for a strategic plan that will allow the Bayit to continue growing and filling the community’s needs.
The Bayit thanks Michael for his contributions as president and for his decision to stay on as a member of the board.
Between 1948 and 1951, more than 121,000 Jews were smuggled out of Iraq in operations Ezra and Nehemia. Many of those who came to Israel settled in the town of Or Yehuda, some 10 kilometres southeast of Tel Aviv. In 1988, Or Yehuda’s mayor, Mordechai Ben-Porat, who was himself born in Iraq, was instrumental in creating in the town the Museum of Babylonian Jewry. Together with six other founding members, the museum was built to tell the story of the Jews in Iraq, up until the aliyah following the establishment of the state of Israel. The museum has become the largest centre in the world for documenting, researching, collecting and preserving the spiritual treasures of Babylonian Jewry. (photo by Ashernet)
A tallit’s tzitzit with threads dyed in tekhelet blue produced from Murex trunculus snails. (photo from Ptil Tekhelet/Eugene Weisberg)
There’s only one thing missing from the comprehensive temporary exhibit Out of the Blue, which opened June 1 at the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem (BLMJ) – the reek of the workshops along the Mediterranean coast of Phoenicia and Israel that produced the prized dyes known in antiquity as tekhelet and argaman.
Researchers at the Jerusalem-based foundation Ptil Tekhelet (Blue Thread) maintain that some 8,000 Murex trunculus mollusks were needed to produce a single gram of the luxury pigment. A demonstration of the malodorous dyeing process was carried out – in the garden of the museum – with one of the marine gastropods. A person can only imagine the stink of many thousands of the rotting sea creatures.
The Out of the Blue exhibit documents the significance of tekhelet, together with the Tyrian purple called argaman in the Torah, from antiquity to the present. Not coincidently, the exhibit opened in honour of Israel’s 70th anniversary. It traces the heavenly blue from the time it was a colour revered by the ancient Israelites and other early peoples of the Near East to its use for Israel’s national flag.
“This special exhibition looks at the magnificence as well as the significance of the colour blue in the ancient world, and ties the blue dyed threads mentioned in the Bible and extra-biblical texts to the very design of the flag of the state of Israel today. BLMJ is proud to be the one museum in the world that highlights the relevance and continuity of the roots of civilization in this region and their impact on our world today in a universal and non-sectarian way,” said museum director Amanda Weiss.
Out of the Blue spotlights ancient Near East cultures’ fascination with the colour as a symbol of divinity. In the Egypt of the pharaohs, Mesopotamia and Canaan, lapis lazuli imported at great cost from Afghanistan was used for cultic purposes.
The BLMJ exhibit continues with the lucrative imperial purple dye industry of the ancient Phoenicians, whose name means the “Purple People.”
But, for this reviewer, the core of the exhibit deals with the dyeing of sky blue tzitziyot (ritual fringes affixed to Jews’ tallitot, prayer shawls). In the eighth century, following the Arab takeover of the Levant, that technology was lost. As a result, Jews were compelled to wear white rather than blue ritual fringes on their prayer garments. Research to rediscover the lost dyeing process of the biblical commandment became synonymous with Zionism, the Jewish people’s return to their biblical homeland.
For more than 25 years, Ptil Tekhelet has dyed hundreds of thousands of sky blue tzitziyot coloured with murex snails’ distinctive tint. The azure tzitziyot remind worshippers of the sea, the sky and God’s sapphire-hewn throne, according to Tannaite sage Rabbi Meir, who was a disciple of Rabbi Akiba.
The exhibit includes a collection of the snail (hilazon) shells excavated at Tel Shikmona near Haifa, and dating back to the 10th through seventh centuries BCE, according to Yehuda Kaplan, one of exhibit’s three curators.
“You can see that, for some of them, there is a breach in the shell,” he said during a press tour of the exhibit. It was from those holes that a gland from the snail was extracted, with each yielding only a “minuscule” amount of the rare and highly coveted dye’s raw material.
“These snails, the Murex trunculus, probably about 4,000 years ago it was discovered that they could produce magnificent dyes with the most beautiful colours, dyes that were fast on wool, never faded. And that was something in the ancient world that was simply unheard of, it was priceless,” said Dr. Baruch Sterman of Ptil Tekhelet, co-author of the book The Rarest Blue: The Remarkable Story of an Ancient Colour Lost to History and Rediscovered.
At some point, added Sterman, those dyed fabrics were “worth up to 20 times their weight in gold.”
Other artifacts on display include garment fragments discovered at Masada during archeological excavations in the early 1960s. More than 30 years later, tests using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) proved the cloth had been dyed with a murex solution.
Out of the Blue concludes with the flag flown outside the United Nations in New York in May 1949, when Israel was accepted as a member state of the international body. A second Israeli flag on display was carried into orbit aboard the American Apollo spacecraft, which docked with the Soviet Soyuz rocket on July 17, 1975, in the first international manned space flight.
Sterman’s nonprofit amuta (foundation) is based on the research, in the 1980s, of Otto Elsner, a chemist at Ramat Gan’s Shenkar College of Engineering and Design, who discovered that, if a solution of the purple dye made from the hypobranchial gland of the Murex trunculus was exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, it would turn a deep shade of blue.
Popularizing that knowledge has been a slow process. According to the Talmud, tekhelet is a specific azure dye produced from a sea creature known as a hilazon. Rabbinic sages ruled that vegetable indigo dyes were unacceptable.
Over the past 150 years, several marine creatures were proposed for reviving the biblical process of dyeing the tassels, among them one favoured by Israel’s first chief rabbi, Isaac Herzog, father of Israel’s sixth president, Chaim Herzog. Rabbi Herzog, who completed his PhD at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1914, believed that the violet pelagic snail, Janthina janthina, was the source of the ritual tekhelet.
Another theory was proposed half a century earlier by Rabbi Gershon Hanokh Leiner, known as the Radzyner Rebbe, who produced blue dye from the black ink of the Sepia officinalis (the common cuttlefish). But chemical analysis identified his dye as Prussian blue, an inorganic synthetic colour derived from iron filings and not from the squid itself.
That dispute continues to reverberate: most of the blue-coloured tzitziyot worn in Israel today are dyed from the inexpensive cuttlefish, acknowledged Ptil Tekhelet. (The tekhelet factory in Radzyn near Lublin in Poland was destroyed during the Holocaust, and the technology was lost but was revived in Israel after 1948 thanks to the prewar research of Chaim Herzog.)
The rediscovery of tekhelet has almost messianic implications – one rabbinic source notes, “The revelation of the hilazon is a sign that the redemption is shining near.”
According to the museum, “The tekhelet blue, which reminded every Jew of their connection to God, remained in the memory of the [Jewish] people and became an integral part of the national symbol of the state of Israel.”
A page of the digital interactive installation of the domestic space of the Jewish ghetto, which was created by camerAnebbia. Part of the exhibit Venetian Ghetto: A Virtual Reconstruction: 1516-2017, which is at the Italian Cultural Centre’s Il Museo until Oct. 30. (photo by Cynthia Ramsay)
The Venetian ghetto – a segregated enclave for Jews and the one from which the very name “ghetto” emerged – was created 500 years ago. An exhibit at Vancouver’s Italian Cultural Centre tells the history of the ghetto and is one of a number of local cultural events this year marking the half-millennium since the notorious decree.
The Venetian Ghetto: A Virtual Reconstruction: 1516-2017 opened at the centre’s Il Museo this summer. It is an abridged version of a larger exhibit showing concurrently at the Doge’s Palace in Venice, said the museum’s curator, Angela Clarke.
Clarke and Il Museo had wanted to do something around the topic of the ghetto in part because of a connection with a member of Vancouver’s Jewish community. When the late renowned University of British Columbia architecture professor Dr. Abraham Rogatnick passed away in 2009, he left his collection of Venetian books and other materials to the museum.
“A lot of the prints we have in the hallways are from his collection,” said Clarke. “Venice was his specialty.”
Rogatnick took his architecture classes to Venice and was also noted for turning his lectures into theatrical performances, accompanied by moody lighting and complementary background music. (After his retirement, he became immersed in Vancouver’s alternative theatrical scene, depicting, as he put it, “usually dying old men.”)
“We have, for a long time, wanted to do something in honour of Abraham Rogatnick,” said Clarke. When she discovered that the Doge’s Palace was planning an exhibit to mark the 500th anniversary, she contacted the institution. They agreed to reproduce a version of the exhibit tailored to Il Museo’s space.
It was the palace’s 16th-century resident, Lorenzo Loredan, the doge of the Republic of Venice from 1501 until his death in 1521, who determined that Jews should be segregated from the general Venetian population.
Although the origin of the term “ghetto” is disputed, many accept the view that it comes from the Venetian dialect’s word ghèto, foundry, which was the neighbourhood in which Jews were confined. Jews were allowed access to the city during the day, but were restricted to the ghetto at night. Space limitations in the ghetto led to upward expansion, including multi-storey homes and buildings, a unique architectural approach to that date.
“They built upwards to accommodate their family life and their businesses, so you got these very, very high staircases in buildings and they just built upwards,” Clarke said. “For the Jewish community, it’s all about going up stairs. I think a lot about the aging people in these families. What happened to them? What would an 80-year-old do? How would they negotiate that and go about their family life and business? And the stairs are incredibly steep. That was just their everyday life.”
The exhibit has four parts, including an interactive exploration of the ghetto’s synagogues through a virtual reconstruction. The architecture of the ghetto, the cemeteries and “the ghetto after the ghetto” – the fate of the area after Napoleon conquered Venice and emancipated the city’s Jews in 1797 – round out the exhibit.
The ghetto was remarkably multicultural, Clarke emphasized.
There were four main cultural groups that came to Venice, she said. “There were the Italian Jews, there were the German Jews, there were the Spanish Jews and then there were the [Levantine] Sephardic Jews, and they all came to Venice, so there were a number of synagogues and each synagogue was like a different cultural centre, based on your group, because each synagogue, of course, had schools. You have Hebrew but then your own cultural language. So the synagogues really did deal with a diverse group of people who came.”
Jews began gravitating to Venice as early as the 900s, with a surge in the 1300s and then again after the expulsion from Iberia.
The segregation of Jews was premised on economic concerns, said Clarke, with restrictions on professional activities that pushed the Jewish residents into dubious roles like moneylender. As in so many instances across European history, Jews were forced to wear differentiating articles of clothing; in Venice’s case, a red hat. The exhibit demonstrates the constancy of the compulsory topper while also depicting changing styles across centuries.
“The fashions change but the red hat stays the same,” Clarke says guiding visitors from one painting to another. “The woman over there, she’s very Renaissance. Over here, it’s the 1700s and he’s still wearing the red hat but the fashion has changed dramatically.”
Napoleon liberated the Jews, but he had somewhat bigoted notions of the city of Venice.
“He called it the drawing room of Europe, depicting Venice as this beautiful little elegant community,” Clarke said. “However, I’ve been reading Florence Nightingale and she [observes that] referring to something as a drawing room is a pejorative term. For a man to be in a drawing room is basically to say that he’s effeminate.
“When you look at it in that historical context – especially when you’re dealing with a megalomaniac who’s got basically size issues – it’s a veiled term,” she said, laughing.
The exhibit at Il Museo coincided with the Stones of Venice exhibit at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver (profiled in the Independent Aug. 18) and performances of Merchant of Venice and Shylock as part of this year’s Bard on the Beach (reviewed July 21).
“It all just seemed to come together, which is very bizarre,” said Clarke. “It doesn’t often happen that way.”
The Venetian Ghetto: A Virtual Reconstruction: 1516-2017 continues until Oct. 30 at Il Museo in the Italian Cultural Centre of Vancouver, 3075 Slocan St. More information at italianculturalcentre.ca.
Interior perspective of The Evidence Room, with models of an Auschwitz gas column and gas-tight hatch, plaster casts and a model of a gas-tight door. (photo by Fred Hunsberger, University of Waterloo School of Architecture)
Visitors to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) will see an obscene display among the collections of dinosaur fossils, Egyptian mummies and suits of armour – a scale model of a gas chamber of the kind used at Auschwitz, where more than one million Jews were murdered between 1942 and 1945.
The Evidence Room exhibit, as it is named, consists of white plaster replicas of elements of the Nazi death camp murder machine, including the steel mesh columns through which pellets of Zyklon B insecticide were lowered to asphyxiate the prisoners locked inside the gas chambers. Similarly, it depicts the heavy door, which was bolted from the outside.
The exhibit features a reproduction of the original architectural drawings prepared by German architect, engineer and SS-Sturmbannführer Karl Bischoff, who served at Auschwitz as chief of the Central Construction Office of the Waffen-SS.
Visitors to ROM will note the meticulously planned airtight seal around the gas chamber’s door to prevent toxic leaks, and the grill-covered peephole that allowed dignitaries to watch the prisoners die.
“To understand this room … we first have to acknowledge that it’s related to the most murderous place,” said the exhibit’s creator, Robert Jan van Pelt, at a ROM Speaks lecture on June 27.
Van Pelt’s grisly display is the first in a ROM series intended to engender discussion of contemporary issues. And the issue here is forensic architecture, a relatively new field that uses planning and design tools to understand human rights abuses, in this case genocide.
For van Pelt, a Dutch-born architect who teaches at the University of Waterloo, The Evidence Room represents the culmination of two decades of work.
Van Pelt served as an expert witness during a trial, in London in 2000, in which Holocaust-denier David Irving unsuccessfully sued Emory University professor Deborah Lipstadt for libel after Lipstadt, in a book, called out the pseudo-historian’s falsehoods. Irving famously quipped “No holes, no Holocaust.”
Van Pelt testified that indeed there were apertures in the gas chambers’ ceilings through which poison pellets were dropped. His testimony led to his 2002 book The Case for Auschwitz: Evidence from the Irving Trial.
The 592-page volume greatly impressed Alejandro Aravena, curator of the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale. The Chilean, who was awarded architecture’s Pritzker Prize for his work transforming slums and making architecture a tool of justice and social change, commissioned van Pelt to create an exhibit explaining the workings of an Auschwitz gas chamber. A model was on display at last year’s Venice Biennale.
In preparing for the current exhibit at ROM, van Pelt – together with colleagues Donald McKay, Anne Bordeleau and Sascha Hastings – wrote a supplementary book, The Evidence Room, published by the New Jewish Press in association with the University of Toronto’s Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies.
“It is difficult to imagine the details of a gas chamber, where humans were locked in to die,” says one Holocaust survivor quoted in van Pelt’s new book. “One has to feel the double grates that protected the bucket filled with poison pellets from the desperate hands of the condemned, peer into the bucket, imagine the pellets melting away, the poison oozing out of them.
“I knew a good deal about the Auschwitz-Birkenau murder factory,” says the survivor, “but the gas column really shocked me. Because of what I had read about people thinking they were going into a shower room, I had always imagined the gas being dispersed by sprinklers. Touching that construction had a profound effect on me – a new visceral recognition all these years later.”
And what of the pristine white plaster van Pelt and his architecture students used to build the reproduction?
For me, it jarringly evoked a sense of peace and innocence. But, as well, it called to mind that those murdered in the gas chambers defecated and urinated as they died and that Sonderkommandos (a special unit of slave labourers who removed gassed corpses and hauled them to the crematoria) had to whitewash the gas chambers after each usage.
Lior Schillat of Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research and Maya Halevy of Bloomfield Science Museum Jerusalem will speak at Jerusalem of Gold: Capital of Innovation & Tech on July 16. (photos from CFHU Vancouver)
“Hebrew University is probably the only university that ‘founded’ a state rather than vice versa, as the cornerstone for the university was laid on July 24, 1918, and, on April 1, 1925, the Mount Scopus campus was opened,” Dina Wachtel, Western region executive director, Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University, told the Independent. “The contemporary history of the city of Jerusalem and the story of the Six Day War is intertwined with the story of the university – what better way to celebrate that than by bringing in four of Jerusalem’s change-makers?”
The July 16 TED Talk-style event at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver – hosted by CFHU, the Jerusalem Foundation and JCCGV – “is a celebration of the start-up nation and the role the city is playing in becoming a centre for innovation and technology,” said Wachtel. “Thus, it is also the story of how innovation improves the lives of humanity in this world regardless of boundaries of any kind: geographical, political, ethnic, religious.”
At the event called Jerusalem of Gold: Capital of Innovation & Tech, the speakers will be Lior Schillat, director general of Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research; Maya Halevy, executive director of Bloomfield Science Museum Jerusalem; Yonatan Avraham, student ambassador of HUstart, the university’s entrepreneurship centre; and Tamir Huberman, vice-president of business development and information-technology director of Yissum, the technology transfer company of Hebrew U. The Jewish Independent interviewed each of the presenters in anticipation of their Vancouver visit, and will feature Schillat and Halevy this week, and Avraham and Huberman on July 7.
Schillat will talk about Jerusalem’s Population: What Does the Future Hold? But first, what about the Jerusalem of the past – what would have inspired a Canadian Jew to make aliyah 50 years ago?
Actually, said Schillat, in the 20th century, the biggest wave of immigrants from countries such as Canada came right after the Six Day War.
“If you’re Canadian and you’re making aliyah in ’67 and you’re choosing Jerusalem for your home, I guess the main reason you would do that would be because of the spiritual effect the glorious victory of 1967 would have on you,” said Schillat.
“If you are a bit more practical, you also understand that, with this victory, Jerusalem, for the first time since 1948, became again the centre of the country … centre in the geographical meaning and also the centre of attention as to what was going on in the country.”
Fifty years later, he said, while “we still haven’t reached some kind of stability in the situation in Jerusalem,” the city “is one of the most interesting … cities in Israel, and why is that? First of all, it’s Jerusalem, meaning it’s beautiful, it has stories that are in the heart of billions of people all over the world…. I would say the Jerusalem brand is stronger than any other brand in Israel, including the Israeli brand itself…. So, if you would come to Jerusalem, it would be because you want to spend your life in a way that is a bit more meaningful than … in any other city in Israel, in any other Western country.”
In Jerusalem, he said, “from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to sleep, you live for something, for an idea. It’s true for everyone – of course it’s true for religious people, but it’s also … true for secular people. Life here just has much more meaning. You know, it’s not for nothing that Jerusalem is 10% of the Israeli population but 25% of civic society organizations are based here. And if you look at Israel’s biggest struggles or debates, many of them were generated from the Jerusalem society.”
Jerusalem is a completely different city than it was 50 years ago, said Schillat. “Jerusalem is one of the most advanced high-tech ecosystems in the world today…. When you look at the numbers, you see that, today, Jerusalem is considered among the 30 biggest ecosystems in the world. And some of the researchers even say that they would consider it for next year among the 20.”
It’s not the tech hub that Tel Aviv is, he acknowledged, but, in proportion to its population, Jerusalem rates high on the tech scene. And this shouldn’t be surprising, he said.
“People here are using their minds all the time, and high-tech is exactly that – it’s how you use your mind in order to create gain, in order to create technology that could help better the world…. The number of technological companies in this city has more than doubled in the last four years. The number of employees in high-tech is growing 15% every year for the last three years.”
Schillat gave as the best example of Jerusalem’s growing prominence in this area the recent acquisition by Intel of Jerusalem-based company Mobileye for $15.3 billion. Not only that, he said, but Intel also has decided to base in Jerusalem its international research and development centre for autonomous cars.
“I don’t see the Jerusalem of the future as being another New York or another Frankfurt or another Tel Aviv; it won’t be a financial centre. I see it as a city of knowledge; of creating fruits from thinking, from knowledge, from discussion. And I also think that Jerusalem is facing now the amazing challenge, and very hard challenge, of integrating into this group of thinkers and builders the more weak populations…. The real test for Jerusalem for the next 50 years would be, ‘Did you integrate the Charedi groups, did you integrate the Arab groups into this economic development model of a city of thinkers, or did you just go with this idea by yourself, meaning just a small elite group of thinkers went with it by themselves and left the majority of the city behind?”
One facility that is trying to integrate various population groups is Bloomfield Science Museum. Founded and operated by the Jerusalem Foundation and HU, the museum is supported by the national and municipal governments. Its website describes science “as a common language that disregards physical borders, cultural and religious differences and enables dialogue among participants with a common interest and diverse backgrounds.” Halevy will talk on the topic Raising a Start-up Nation.
“There is much research that shows that young kids love science and science classes,” she said, “but they don’t see themselves in a STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] career, mainly because they believe that having a STEM career is being a scientist, which they think it is to work alone in a lab, and can be relevant only to the best scholars. Our role is to show the variety of opportunities that STEM learning can open for them in a future career.”
Bloomfield serves as a lab and hub for education programs, she said. “As a lab, we develop new approaches, new pedagogy, new tools, and we test those with a variety of people, as we are also a hub for all the communities in Jerusalem.”
The museum collaborates with institutions around the world, as well. A current exhibit that will travel to Ottawa, among other places, is the Bicycle Exhibition 2 x 200. The new Canada Science and Technology Museum is set to open in November after extensive renovations and the exhibit is scheduled to arrive there after a few other stops.
The idea for the exhibit came when Halevy was on a visit to Ottawa in October 2015, at the request of then-Israeli ambassador to Canada Raphael Barak, “who wished to develop cooperation among cultural institutions from Canada and Israel.”
Visiting the museum while it was under renovation, Halevy saw the collection of bicycles it had in storage and learned that 2017 would mark 200 years since this invention.
“So we decided to focus our cooperation on a bicycle exhibition,” she said, “to use their collection and to add interactive exhibits – we are very experienced in this field – and the idea was that we will develop and build the whole exhibition in Jerusalem and later on it will travel to Ottawa.
“We were lucky to find two more partners, from Germany and Italy, that loved the concept of the exhibition and that wished to join us, so the tour will start in Jerusalem, will move to Bremen (July 2018) and then to Naples (July 2019) and will end in Ottawa (2020). We were also approached by other museums that wish to present the exhibition after the partners’ tour ends.”
Bloomfield signed a letter of intent with Ontario Science Centre last year. “The main idea is to develop our cooperation around the culture of innovation and to start developing this culture from an early age, as the future of both our economies is based today on innovation and entrepreneurship,” explained Halevy. “We plan to develop together an interactive exhibition and special programs for young children and youth and to connect them to each other. We wish to open the exhibition and launch the programs in 2018 – 70 years to the establishment of Israel. During my time in Toronto, I will have a meeting with the CEO and president of the Ontario Science Centre, Dr. Maurice Bitran, to discuss it more in-depth.”
As for other collaborations with Canadian institutions, Halevy said, “We might develop new collaborations on my tour, as I plan to visit my colleagues from Calgary and Vancouver.”
Jerusalem of Gold: Capital of Innovation & Tech is open to the public. Tickets are $45, though Wachtel said, “Students who are interested in coming to the event are welcome to register at our office and receive a free ticket.” For tickets, the speakers’ bios and other information, visit cfhu.org, email [email protected] or call 604-257-5133.
Kat Romanow is director of food programming at the Museum of Jewish Montreal. (photo from Kat Romanow)
Kat Romanow has taken upon herself the challenge of teaching people more about Jewish food in one of Canada’s most Jewish cities.
“I started studying Judaism in my undergrad and, at the end of it, food was something that sparked my interest,” said Romanow. “I ended up going to Boston for a summer to do an internship and it was there that all of this coalesced.
“Jewish food is what I want to study academically. I also felt a connection to Judaism – Shabbat dinners, shul … I get the non-academic Jewish things, and it was there I realized I felt a deep connection to it. That’s when I knew I wanted to convert. It’s a connection I didn’t necessarily feel in Catholicism, but I found in Judaism – the community, rituals … things that really speak to me and bring meaning to my life.”
Romanow was born and raised in Montreal and is currently the director of food programming at the Museum of Jewish Montreal, where she runs and manages Fletchers, the museum’s restaurant.
Founded in 2010, the museum offers walking tours of historic Jewish neighbourhoods, numerous online exhibits and a large oral history collection. And, now that they have a physical space – which they acquired about a year ago – they also offer lectures, workshops and pop-up exhibitions.
Romanow majored in Jewish food history at Concordia University and, in conjunction with the museum and a friend, developed a walking tour called The Wandering Chew.
“We aimed to teach people about lesser-known Jewish food traditions through pop-up dinners, cooking workshops and other food events,” said Romanow. “That’s where I got the cooking experience, holding pop-up dinners for 30 to 40 people. We’d find the community we wanted to explore, interview people from the community, including getting their recipes, put together a menu and do a dinner.”
The goal was to expand people’s knowledge about Jewish food. “Here, in Montreal, you automatically think of bagels and smoked meat,” said Romanow. “But, our aim was to go beyond that and show people that Jewish food is very diverse and is made up of a lot of different cuisine and dishes.”
At Fletchers, they serve foods during the day that draw from the flavours of the diverse communities highlighted on the walking tours. And, in the evening, one can find a variety of workshops, meals and cookbook launches.
Romanow has been selected to represent Montreal at the ROI (Return on Investment) Summit in Jerusalem July 2-6. The summit brings together 150 of the brightest Jewish minds from around the world to brainstorm ideas for the future.
“I’m really excited,” said Romanow. “It’s also my first time going to Israel. For the summit, I’m most excited about getting to meet all these other young Jews doing really cool projects … making connections and sharing ideas. We’ll learn from each other and build off of what we’re all doing. So, I think, coming out of this, I’ll be full of new ideas and inspiration. I’ve already received emails and I can see potential future collaboration.”
Romanow is planning to stay in Israel after the summit, to visit the country, experience the Israeli food scene and get some new ideas for Fletchers.
Something she has found lately is that people in their 20s and 30s are becoming more open to exploring different ways of making the food they grew up with different, putting their own mark on it.
“There’s now a community of younger Jews who are reintroducing people to what Jewish food is,” said Romanow. “I want to keep adding to the menu and keep holding more and more events, so that people can really engage with their Jewish identity through food on a regular basis.
“But, I also aim to write a cookbook about exploring Jewish food in the Diaspora. That’s what I’ve been doing with the Wandering Chew. I think the cookbook is the next step. I’m in the process of writing the proposal, so hopefully in the next few years it will come out.”
For now, Romanow plans to delve deeper into local Jewish food history, as she balances running Fletchers, the Wandering Chew dinners and walking tours of the local Jewish food scene, which are called Beyond the Bagel.
Through Beyond the Bagel, Romanow said, “We go to places like Schwartz’s and we eat bagels. But, I did all kinds of archival research and oral history interviews … and so you get to go deeper into the history of these places.
“At our space (at the museum), we also have a boutique where we sell things related to Jewish history and Montreal – books, locally made products. And we use it as an event space … concerts, lectures and many more.
“Right now, we have Yiddish classes there, too, and photo exhibits that change throughout the year related to Jewish culture. We’re not a traditional museum, one that you go into and look at objects. You can come to the space, grab a bite, browse the boutique and also go on one of the walking tours or onto the website.”
Cambie Street, looking south from 41st Avenue, 1952. (photo from City of Vancouver Archives via jewishmuseum.ca/oakridge)
On Nov. 23, the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia had both its annual general meeting and launched its newest online exhibit, Oakridge.
JMABC board president Perry Seidelman called the AGM to order and noted a major absence.
“Forty-five years ago,” he said, “Cyril Leonoff became our founding president and was at our side throughout all of those years. However, sadly, this ongoing support ended this year with Cyril’s passing. There is so much that can be said about Cyril but tonight I will only say that he has been and will continue to be missed. It goes without saying that we would probably not be here tonight if it was not for Cyril Leonoff.”
Seidelman then went on to list some of the year’s accomplishments, including ongoing speaking engagements and historical tours, as well as the recording of 35 new oral history interviews and the digitization of “various family fonds, the Mountain View Cemetery Restoration Committee fonds and the Temple Sholom fonds.”
He noted that the digitization of “the oldest books from Congregation Emanu-El (1861 through 1901 approximately)” was complete and they will be online soon, that several online exhibits had been mounted during the year, and that the museum’s “largest collection by far, the Canadian Jewish Congress, Pacific Region, fonds, has begun to be processed, with immense research potential.”
The museum handled hundreds of research requests, he said, and “received donations ranging from fiction manuscripts to synagogue records to WWII records.”
Seidelman noted that longstanding JMABC member (and a past president) Bill Gruenthal was recognized by “Jewish Seniors Alliance for years of extraordinary volunteer work” and that archivist Alysa Routtenberg had “recently completed her first year as archivist as Jennifer Yuhasz’s successor. It has proven to be a nearly seamless transition with a continuing and increasing inflow of documents and interviews and regular transmission of the vast history of which we are guardians.”
He thanked JMABC administrator Marcy Babins, JMABC coordinator of programs and development Michael Schwartz, Shirley Barnett for her leadership in the restoration of the Jewish section of Mountain View Cemetery, Cynthia Ramsay for editing the JMABC’s annual journal, The Scribe, and donors and funders, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver. He bid farewell to three members of the board – Barnett, Chris Friedrichs and Barbara Pelman – and welcomed four new members: David Bogoch, Alan Farber, Alex Farber and Carol Herbert.
After the AGM was the Oakridge launch.
“With this exhibit,” said Schwartz, “we set out to document an important period in our community history; a moment when a population boom coincided with financial stability and postwar optimism to cause our community to grow both in size and stability in a way rarely seen before or since. This era set a new foundation for our community that we have built upon and relied upon ever since.
“This exhibit places this period in context with events happening both before and since. It asks why and how many Jewish families and institutions chose to establish themselves in Oakridge.”
Compiled over two years, the Oakridge research team was Erika Balcombe, Junie Chow, Elana Freedman and Josh Friedman, with Schwartz. A large portion of the exhibit comprises oral history interview excerpts from community members Harry Caine, Vivian Claman, Irene and Mort Dodek, Gail Dodek Wenner, Wendy Fouks, Debby Freiman, Sarah Jarvis, Ed Lewin, Sandy Rogen, Ken Sanders, and Seidelman.
“Irene deserves double thanks,” said Schwartz, “as we have included an excerpt of an interview that she carried out with Bea Goldberg and Marjorie Groberman in 1996. Naturally, I thank Bea and would certainly thank Marjorie were she still with us.”
Schwartz also gave thanks to JMABC colleagues Babins and Routtenberg, as well as Yuhasz, “each of whom devoted much time and energy to this project,” and the board of directors.
At the turn of the last century, explained Schwartz, “there were essentially two interconnected Jewish communities: the affluent Reform Jews in the West End and the Orthodox, working-class Jews in the East End, what today we call Strathcona…. Over time, the Jews of the East End grew more financially stable and began to relocate to the new neighborhood of Fairview in the 1920s and ’30s.”
He noted, “If the Great Depression hadn’t hit, it seems likely that Oak and 12th Avenue would have been the heart of the Vancouver Jewish community. Instead, campaigns to build Beth Israel, Talmud Torah and a new Schara Tzedeck were put on hold until after the war. All three projects were completed in 1948. By that time, the city had continued to expand southward, so these three facilities were built closer to King Edward Avenue.
“This southward shift was further encouraged by another important event,” he continued. “In 1950, the CPR, the Canadian Pacific Railway, released a parcel of land stretching from 41st Avenue and Granville Street to 57th Avenue and Main Street. The city identified the middle third of this land for residential development and worked with Woodward’s and other developers to construct Oakridge Mall as an anchor for the new neighborhood.
“This neighborhood didn’t attract exclusively Jews, but it arrived at a perfect moment for our community.”
There was a lot of material from which the researchers had to choose. “The work was to pare it down to a manageable size, a representative cross-section of the community,” said Schwartz. “As you can imagine, everyone we spoke to had a very different experience. For instance, Vivian Claman and Ed Lewin shared with us the experience of survivor families.”
In the exhibit, said Schwartz, Lewin comments, “The survivors and their children were almost like a sub-community of the Jewish community. We kind of did everything together, we were like an extended family.”
“In general, the Baby Boomers we spoke to had happy memories of their childhoods,” said Schwartz, giving the example of Claman.
“We played in the street – we would be gone all day,” she says in the exhibit. “We played kick the can! I mean, those were the days that you would go outside and you would just play till it was dark or till your parents yelled and said come in for dinner. There was a lot of hanging out.”
That’s not to say everything was perfect. Schwartz noted Mort Dodek’s comments in the exhibit.
“One other thing that you have to understand is that there was a lot of antisemitism at that time,” says Dodek. “There were people who were uncomfortable living in Shaughnessy, a lot of Jewish people were not comfortable there. The Shaughnessy Golf Course was there, and it was restricted, no Jews were allowed to join that club.”
And Irene Dodek notes, “When we first moved to Vancouver in 1947, my parents went out with a real estate man to look at a house at 25th between Oak and Granville, and the real estate agent told my father, ‘This is a good neighborhood because no Jews or Chinese are allowed.’”
Schwartz also pointed out that there were divisions within the Jewish community, citing Seidelman and Mort Dodek’s comments from the exhibit.
“The rabbi of Schara Tzedeck would not go to Beth Israel, would not be seen to enter, whereas today they have the Rabbinical Association, all the rabbis get on really well together and they seem to respect each other’s different levels of observance, whereas in those days they didn’t,” says Seidelman.
“If you want to talk about splits in the community,” says Dodek, “there was a terrific split between the people who were involved with the Peretz shul and people who were involved with, say, Talmud Torah…. It was not religious and believed that the main language to speak for a Jewish person was Yiddish. And, of course, the people at the Talmud Torah, the language to speak, of course, with the establishment of the state of Israel, was Hebrew.”
“Another theme that emerged through our interviews,” said Schwartz, “was the way gender roles were changing and have changed since the 1960s. Men always worked outside the home, but women rarely did. This was beginning to change, but very slowly. Without full-time jobs, women had the time to dedicate to volunteer organizations like Hadassah and National Council of Jewish Women. Both organizations accomplished a great deal in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, but have struggled in the years since, as fewer young women have the time to devote to this type of work.”
For anyone wanting to know more about the role of women in the community, Schwartz recommended the museum’s 2013 exhibit More Than Just Mrs., which can be found online.
“Oakridge, like each of our exhibits, serves three functions,” said Schwartz, listing those functions: a chance to grow the museum’s archives, to increase awareness of the JMABC and of Jewish life in the province, and to reflect on how the community has changed over time.
For the Oakridge exhibit, he noted, the majority of the oral history interviews “were undertaken by volunteer and student interns, giving them valuable experience in the art and science of oral history interviews. Thanks to projects like this, including other exhibits and our annual journal, The Scribe, our oral history collection has grown substantially in recent years, bringing our current total to 762 interviews.
“Just this month,” he added, “we held two interviewer training sessions as the first phase of our Southern African Diaspora Oral History Project…. Through this project, we intend to interview hundreds of community members who arrived here from South Africa and the neighboring countries in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.”
With respect to increasing awareness, Schwartz said, “Many of you will remember the launch of our modern architecture exhibit New Ways of Living back in January of this year. This event had an attendance of over 150 people, many of whom were not Jewish and found out about the event through our partners, Inform Interiors and the UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. Similarly, our 2015 exhibit, Fred Schiffer: Lives in Photos, attracted more than 800 people over its two-week run, again with much thanks to our partners, Make Gallery and Capture Photography Festival…. Each new exhibit has a specific thematic focus which draws in a new audience.”
As for reflection on the Oakridge years, Schwartz pointed to the expansion of the Jewish community. “Families,” he said, “have settled into neighborhoods throughout the city and the region in general.”
Referring to the Oakridge area, he concluded, “[I]f fewer and fewer Jews live in this neighborhood, does it make sense for the Oak Street corridor to remain the hub of much Jewish activity? This remains to be seen.”