I freely admit it, I was one of those angsty teens who wrote bad poetry to express all my big feelings. I also wore a lot of black, but that’s not relevant here. What kind of surprises me about myself is that, despite having taken piano for years, learned various other instruments and sung in choirs since I was in single digits age-wise, it wasn’t until last year that I put some not-bad (not-great) poetry to music and wrote a song. It was inspired by my wife and it must have been beginner’s luck, because I’ve not been able to replicate that success.
This is a long preamble to why I was excited when award-winning songwriter and music consultant Molly Leikin emailed that she had a new book out: Insider Secrets to Hit Songwriting in the Digital Age (Permuted Press). While it’s too soon to say whether it will help me write another song, I did find it informative, easy to read – Leikin has a great sense of humour – and full of practical advice. I’ve just been too busy to do many of the myriad exercises and put in the time necessary to hone any skills.
There is a whole chapter on making the time to write, as well as how to quiet the inner critic, who often stops creative-aspiring people dead in their tracks. Other chapters focus on writing lyrics, composing a melody, picking a strong song title, working with a writing partner, overcoming writer’s block and other aspects of the process. There are also chapters on what needs to be done to get a song published, what royalties are, and what types of jobs you might be able to do to sustain yourself until your music can. Interspersed between the how and what chapters are interviews Leikin has conducted with some of her peers, other songwriters, producers and industry professionals.
Insider Secrets is targeted at writers who want to get into the business. And whether one succeeds at that is as much hard work as it is talent, probably more. One great aspect of Leikin’s approach is that she believes in being kind to oneself, so offers several ideas for how to reward yourself when you do put in the hard work.
“Whatever you do,” she writes, “make a point of acknowledging that you’re doing it as a reward for what you’ve just created. It is a victory in itself, just because you did it, not because your song was downloaded 10 million times. The victory starts with you.”
Ultimately, Leikin says, it comes down to persistence. It is also crucial to understand that a creative life is not a straight path, but an up-and-down one, and you have to learn how to navigate the challenges.
“A writer’s job is to write,” states Leikin. “If you do that, keep raising the level of your craft and write your fingerprint, and hustle your hustle, someday, the world will know your work. But until then, I want you to feel in your bones that you have the magic to go the distance. No Grammy can give that to you. Honestly, you have to give it to yourself, every day, all day, for the rest of your life.”
To purchase the book and for more information on Leikin, visit songmd.com.
Gili Yalo performs in Vancouver on Sept. 24 for a Chutzpah! Plus event. (photo from Chutzpah!)
Israeli singer-songwriter Gili Yalo returns to Vancouver for a Chutzpah! Plus concert on Sept. 24. It’s his first time back in the city since 2015, when he was part of the band Zvuloon Dub System. Yalo said he can’t wait – “the last time at the Chutzpah! Festival was wonderful!” he told the Independent.
In 2015, Zvuloon Dub was touring the United States and other countries. “Part of the tour was the Chutzpah! Festival,” said Yalo, “and we finished the tour in Montego Bay, Jamaica, performing in the legendary festival SumFest. After being part of Zvuloon Dub for seven years, I felt that it was the right time and the right spot to start something new. I came back to Tel Aviv and started working on new songs for my solo career.”
Yalo’s eponymous first solo album, released in 2017, was very well-received and he followed it up in 2019 with the EP Made in Amharica, on which he collaborated with Dallas-based musicians in Niles City Sound, a studio in Fort Worth. He has released several singles and has played on stages and in festivals around the world.
But, even though he has been a singer his whole life and performing almost as long – including in children’s choirs and during his time in the Israel Defence Forces – Yalo resisted making music a career. Among his alternate endeavours was being a club owner.
“I opened the club for Israeli Ethiopian people, who didn’t feel safe to stand in line at Israeli clubs; back then we got a lot of refusal just because of the colour of our skin,” he explained. “At the club, there were two floors, one of R&B and reggae/dancehall music, the other one was Ethiopian music. It really affected me because I have heard and learned lots of Ethiopian music.
“After several years of running the club, I felt that I needed to do something different in my life … and I told myself, you don’t want to regret not trying to achieve your biggest dream, and I decided that I had to try and overcome my fears. It was natural for me to make a fusion of Ethiopian music and Western music such as jazz, funk, R&B and reggae, because that was my life between home and the outside.”
Born in Ethiopia, Yalo was 4 or 5 years old when he and his family fled to escape famine in 1984. Traveling by foot, it took them about two months to walk from the Gondar region, in northern Ethiopia, to refugee camps in Sudan, where they stayed for several months, until being airlifted to Israel as part of Operation Moses.
“Lots of the songs that I’m writing are talking about identity, journey and integration into society, so I think all of it came from the experience of making aliyah and the difficulty in the process,” Yalo told the Independent.
There are many things that Yalo would still like to accomplish, but, right now, he said, “I especially want to share music.” He wants to write good songs, collaborate “with musicians that I appreciate, and take my music to a place that it can inspire lots of people.”
Playing in Vancouver with Yalo will be Nadav Peled (guitar), Dor Heled (keys), Billy Aukstik (trumpet), Eran Fink (drums) and Geoffrey Muller (bass).
About coming to the city, Yalo said, “I want to say that Vancouver is one of the best places in the world. I’ve seen so many places thanks to music and, if it wasn’t so far away from my family, I would definitely consider living there.”
Take This Waltz performers Ted Littlemore, left, and Daniel Okulitch. (photo by Victoria Bell)
Take This Waltz world premières at Rothstein Theatre Sept. 10-11.
“The concert as a whole tells a story, and each song finds its place within that story,” Idan Cohen told the Independent about Take This Waltz, which sees its world première as a Chutzpah! Plus event Sept. 10-11 at the Rothstein Theatre.
Cohen is the artistic director of Ne. Sans Opera and Dance, so it might seem odd that he’s staging a show celebrating the music of Leonard Cohen. But he’s a fan of the Canadian icon, who died in 2016, and this production piqued his interest.
“I’ve admired Cohen’s lyrics and music for years,” said Cohen, who is not related to the singer-songwriter. “So, when Daniel Okulitch, one of Canada’s most appreciated operatic baritones reached out to me to directly to produce Take This Waltz, I immediately said yes. Daniel’s vision was to look at Cohen’s music through the classical tradition of the Song Cycles (Lieds). I thought that it was a really interesting way to look at Cohen’s music through a fresh, exciting lens.”
Okulitch contacted Cohen after having created a successful online concert that included some of Leonard Cohen’s work, as well as that of other singer-songwriters, which took place via Pacific Opera Victoria in winter 2020. Okulitch wanted to add dance to the concert.
“I knew that, if I was to take this on, I would want to focus on Cohen’s body of work and say something meaningful about the times we live in,” said Idan Cohen. “Ne. Sans’ mandate is to follow the operatic tradition in the full sense of it – to create work that integrates all the classical arts of theatre, music, dance, set and costume design. It is challenging to do in this economy, but I strongly believe in this type of offering.
“It took us some time to fundraise so that we can present this work as I believe it should be presented,” he noted. “We have an ensemble of cello, violin and accordion, with stunning arrangements by Adrian Dolan, and Daniel’s voice is so rich and sensitive, that it speaks straight to the heart. Amir Ofek is designing the set, Itai Erdal creating the light design and Christine Reimer the costumes. Alongside Daniel is the dancer/musician Ted Littlemore, with whom I’ve been collaborating for almost five years, who’s such a wonderful artist. I am truly blessed, and I hope that we’ll not just do justice to Cohen’s legacy, but help audiences experience it in a different, new way.”
About that legacy, Cohen added, “I had coffee with the wonderful Vancouver-based composer Rodney Sharman the other day, to discuss a future project that we’re working on, and Rodney said something that I found to be really relevant to Take This Waltz. He said that he thinks that my body of work is a variation of two core elements: love and death. And I thought to myself, that’s life, right? Cohen got it. His wisdom is so profound that it sometimes seems as if he knew the secrets of the human soul. I think it’s because he was brutally honest, a thing that we don’t see a lot in our contemporary culture. There’s so much pain and often bitterness and anger in his work, that are then composed in such generosity and love. What a beautiful combination. My work is to honour that.”
About his collaborators on Take This Waltz, Cohen said the production started at Pacific Opera Victoria, “as an intimate, beautiful concert of various music that included just a few of Cohen’s songs, and Vancouver Opera decided to support its development and creation. Jessica Gutteridge, a wonderful human and the artistic director of Chutzpah!, has given us a very generous creative residency at the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre in Vancouver’s JCC [to further develop the work]. It’s all live, no film or projections. I felt that Cohen’s work needs to be honest and direct. Having said that, there are quite a few surprises in the show – you’ll just have to come and see!”
Take This Waltz is being presented with Pacific Opera Victoria and Vancouver Opera, and Chutzpah!’s live music programming is supported by a grant from AmplifyBC. The Sept. 10-11 shows are also being supported by the Bierbrier family, in memory of Len Bierbrier, who was a dear friend of Chutzpah! board chair Lloyd Baron, said Gutteridge. Bierbrier was also a friend of Leonard Cohen, she said.
While most people cannot claim that level of connection to the legendary musician, many people do feel connected to him in some way. When asked to confirm that, indeed, he was not related to the singer-songwriter, Idan Cohen said, “We are all related, aren’t we? I first heard Cohen’s music through my dad and, in many ways, always felt that he is a father figure to me. So many of us feel that way about him and his music and poetry. I love him like family. Does that count?”
Montreal guitarist and member of the Jewish community Henry Garf takes part in this year’s Vancouver International Flamenco Festival. Presented by Flamenco Rosario, the festival features live performances, with both ticketed and free events.
Garf performs at the Waterfront Theatre Sept. 23, as part of Kara Miranda’s company. Sombras/Shadows is a live music and dance presentation with projections reflecting personal experience both visually and thematically. Shadows are explored as interplay between light and dark, through the lens of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung’s theories of the Shadow Self. A parallel search is for intangible shadows of the past, Miranda’s ancestral roots, living in the shadow of the flamenco greats that came before and the masters that reign today and finally accepting and actualizing her shadow side.
Garf also teaches a master class at the Scotiabank Dance Centre Sept. 24, with Alvaro Echanove, called Theory and Practice: Exploring the Skills of Improvisation, Dynamics and Active Listening through Palmas. Palmas is a style of handclapping that accompanies flamenco dance.
Other master classes take place Sept. 17 and 18, with Mucha Muchacha, and on Sept. 24, with Albert Hernandez. Other ticketed shows include Mucha Muchacha at the Rothstein Theatre Sept. 16. Their eponymous show started as theoretical and practical research about women artists from the “Generation of the 27th,” known as Las Sinsombrero, and evolved into a contemporary dance project focused on the ideas of empowerment, determination, voice, participation, freedom and cooperation. The performance is developed from force-driven movement, effort, celebration and physical exhaustion. They put “at risk” traditional Spanish dance’s corporeality in a confrontation with contemporary dancing.
The two other shows at the Waterfront Theatre are Anastassiia Alexander on Sept. 22, performing The Machination of Memories Suppressed, based on the poem “Maquina de Olvido,” which Alexander wrote, and the performance contains elements of spoken word with dance; and Flamenco Rosario on Sept. 24, with Nuevo III, a collection of new choreographies by Ballet Nacional de España choreographer Albert Hernandez, Granada’s Sara Jimenez and Rosario Ancer.
On the afternoons of Sept. 3 and 4, free performances take place on the Picnic Pavilion stage at Granville Island. The Saturday features Mozaico Flamenco, A.J. Simmons and company, Bonnie Stewart, Jhoely Triana, and Michelle Harding and Calle Verde. Performers on the Sunday are Mozaico Flamenco, Kara Wiebe, Harding and Verde, Linda Hayes, and Stewart. There is also a free 20-minute workshop on Sept. 4 for children at noon, and a 30-minute one for adults at 12:20 p.m.
Leamore Cohen (photo by Efrat Gal-Or Nucleus Photography)
The Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver’s inclusion services program is one of the recipients of the Lieutenant Governor’s Arts and Music Awards, in the category of visual arts. This one-time honour, marking the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, recognizes organizations like the JCC that have excelled in fostering wide community engagement through a robust spectrum of arts and culture programs. Most important: the award emphasizes the JCC’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity.
It all began with a passionate letter of nomination by Chaia Schneid, whose daughter, Sarah Halpern, discovered “a previously untapped creative passion” in the Art Hive and Theatre Lab classes she attended, among other programs run through the JCC’s inclusion services. Writing to the Hon. Janet Austin, lieutenant governor of British Columbia, Schneid stated: “The quality of the arts and culture programs is unlike anything we have found elsewhere. They are professionally delivered and of the highest calibre, and yet individualized to meet the special needs of the diverse participants.” In particular, Schneid praised the JCC’s annual Jewish Disability and Awareness Inclusion Month (JDAIM). Schneid also praised current program director and inclusion services coordinator Leamore Cohen, calling her a “rare individual.”
Shelley Rivkin, vice-president, local and global engagement, at the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver wrote a letter of support for the nomination. In it, she highlighted several inclusion services arts and social programs, and Cohen’s leadership.
“Leamore Cohen is the driving force behind these programs and her compassion, creativity and commitment to inclusion shine through in all aspects of the program,” wrote Rivkin. “She is always generating new ways and ideas for participants to engage with the arts and to create to the best of their abilities. These programs break new ground by offering meaningful educational and recreational opportunities for people with diverse needs. Having had the opportunity to attend some events, I have seen firsthand the joy that participants feel in being able to express themselves in a variety of mediums and the pride that their parents and family members experience when they see the creativity and talent of their loved ones.”
For a growing number of Vancouverites from all religious and ethnic backgrounds, and across all ages and abilities, the calibre and range of the JCC’s work is well-known. A schedule of performing and fine arts programs coincides with an array of sport, leisure and fitness options inside a facility that houses a theatre, library, gymnasium and pool. The JCC is also widely known for its annual Jewish Book and Chutzpah! festivals – both occupying a key place in the city’s cultural calendar – alongside community services including preschool and toddler daycare.
“While the arts programming is the centrepiece of what is being offered,” wrote Rivkin, “other inclusion programming for adults includes free memberships and access to all the fitness and wellness facilities at the Jewish community centre along with two virtual classes offered five days a week that are designed to be sensitive to the sensory stimulation needs of participants.”
Noting that activities continued throughout the pandemic, Rivkin concluded, “the program demonstrates its dedication to equity and inclusion daily by the range of programs embedded in the arts that have been opened up to this population and, of course, commitment, both on the part of Leamore Cohen, who dedicates so much time and thought to designing these programs, and to the participants themselves, who have remained active and involved despite their personal barriers and the COVID restrictions.”
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On June 18, Annette Whitehead was awarded a Queen’s Platinum Jubilee pin by MP Joyce Murray. Whitehead was nominated for the honour by Kitsilano Community Centre for her outstanding commitment and dedication to her community. She also received a certificate as a sign of gratitude for all the wonderful and hard work she does for her constituency.
June 2022 marked the 70th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. To commemorate this milestone, Murray was issued a number of Platinum Jubilee pins, which she decided would be best used to celebrate and thank those who volunteer in Vancouver Quadra. The ceremony took place at Trimble Park.
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On July 7, the National Audubon Society announced the winners of its 13th annual Audubon Photography Awards. This year, judges awarded eight prizes across five divisions from a pool of 2,416 entrants from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and seven Canadian provinces and territories.
Local Jewish community member Liron Gertsman won three awards:
Professional Award Winner for his photo of a white-tailed ptarmigan,
Professional Honourable Mention for his photo of a sharp-tailed grouse, and
Video Award Winner for his sharp-tailed grouse video.
In a July 7 Facebook post, Gertsman writes about his wins: “Getting a chance to shine some light on these often under-appreciated birds brings a big smile to my face!”
He also writes about the white-tailed ptarmigan:
“Perfectly adapted to harsh alpine conditions, they spend most of their time foraging on small plant matter in the tundra, insulated from the wind and cold by their warm layers of feathers. Ptarmigan are also famous for changing their feathers to match their snowy surroundings in the winter, and their rocky surroundings in the summer. This mastery of camouflage makes them very difficult to find, and I’ve spent countless hikes searching for them, to no avail. On this particular day, after hiking in the alpine for a couple of hours, I stumbled right into my target bird! This individual was part of a small group of ptarmigan that were so well camouflaged, I didn’t notice them until some movement caught my eye just a few yards from where I was standing. Wanting to capture these remarkable birds within the context of their spectacular mountain domain, I put on a wider lens and sat down. The birds continued to forage at close range, and I captured this image as this individual walked over a rock, posing in front of the stunning mountains of Jasper National Park.”
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At the Rockower Awards banquet, held in conjunction with the American Jewish Press Association’s annual conference, June 27, 2022, in Atlanta, Ga., the Jewish Independent received two Simon Rockower Awards for Excellence in Jewish Journalism. These awards honoured achievements in Jewish media published in 2021 and there was a record-breaking 1,100-plus entries from AJPA members.
In the news story category, in the division of weekly and biweekly newspapers, the ˆI took second place for Kevin Keystone’s article “What constitutes recruiting?” The piece explored the allegation by a coalition of foreign policy and Palestinian solidarity organizations that Canadians are being recruited for the Israel Defence Forces.
For excellence in editorial writing, in which all member papers competed, the JI editorial board of Pat Johnson, Basya Laye and Cynthia Ramsay received an honourable mention, or third place. “Strong reasoning and writing, relevant to Jewish audience,” wrote the judges about the trio of articles submitted. The submission included “Ideas worth the fight,” about university campuses and the need to keep “engaging in the battle of ideas, however daunting and hopeless the fight might appear”; “Tragedy and cruelty,” about the response to the catastrophe at Mount Meron on Lag b’Omer in 2021; and “Antisemitism unleashed,” about how the violence in Israel in May 2021 year spilled out into the world with a spike in antisemitic incidents.
Myriam Steinberg’s Catalogue Baby: A Memoir of Infertility, with illustrations by Christache, has won two gold medals for best graphic novel. The first was the Independent Publishers (IPPY) Awards, and the second is the Foreword Indies Award. This is after having won the Vine Award for Canadian Jewish Literature last fall.
“This book was not only a labour of love, but also a call-out to the world to recognize and acknowledge the very real experience of so many people,” wrote Steinberg in an email. “Pregnancy loss and/or infertility touch almost everyone in some way or other. It affects those who are trying to conceive the most, but it also touches (often unbeknownst to them) their children, friends, family and colleagues.”
To celebrate the honours, Steinberg is offering a 20% discount on books bought directly from her (shipping extra). To order, email [email protected].
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The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO) and the VSO School of Music (VSO SoM) are excited to recognize the appointment of Ben Mink, CM, as a Member of the Order of Canada. On June 29, 2022, Governor General of Canada Mary Simon announced that Ben Mink, who is a member of the board of directors for both the VSO and VSO SoM, has received the distinction “for his sustained contributions to Canadian music as a producer, multi-instrumentalist and writer.”
Mink has amassed a critically acclaimed body of work spanning decades, styles and genres as an international musical force. His influence is tangible and enduring in the widest range of musical styles and directions, and his imprint can be found in countless recordings, film scores and television programs. As a producer, songwriter, and instrumentalist, Mink has brought his signature style and approach to major musical artists and productions. He has an impressive list of recording collaborations that include k.d. lang, Rush, Daniel Lanois, Roy Orbison, Elton John, Alison Krauss, Heart, Feist, the Klezmatics, Wynona Judd, Method Man, James Hetfield (Metallica), and many more.
He has been nominated for nine Grammies, winning twice for his work with k.d. lang. The song “Constant Craving,” which he co-wrote and produced with lang, won her a Grammy for best female pop performance and has been used in several TV shows.
In 2007, he was co-nominated for his work on Feist’s Grammy-nominated “1234,” which gained global popularity in the roll out campaign for the iPod Nano. His recent collaborations with Heart were Billboard hits. Mink’s work helped set new and significant directions in Canadian popular music, and his writing and producing has been recognized with seven Juno nominations (three wins) and the SOCAN Wm. Harold Moon Award for international recognition.
Reesa Steele and family have the absolute pleasure to announce the upcoming marriage of Talia Magder and Weston Steele on Sunday, July 24, 2022, under the chuppah in front of family and friends in Vancouver.
Mazal tov to Nicole and Philip Magder of Montreal and Reesa Steele and David Steele of Vancouver.
Mazal tov to Talia and Weston. May this be the first of many simchas ♥
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Emmy nominee Molly Leikin is the author of Insider Secrets to Hit Songwriting in the Digital Age, published by Permuted Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, in July 2022. It is Molly’s eighth book.
Back row, left to right: Jocelyne Hallé, Debbie Cossever, Nassa Selwyn, Susan Goldstein, Arnold Selwyn, Karon Shear and Marshall Berger. Middle row, left to right: Beryl Israel, Maurice Moses, Daniella Givon, Muriel Morris, Dawn Hurwitz and Rona Black. In front: Sara Bernstein, left, and Tamar Glaser. (photo by Jocelyne Hallé)
Shortly after she arrived in Vancouver from South Africa, in 2002, Beryl Israel founded Showtime, a seniors’ singing and dancing group. In the decades since, Showtime participants have performed 230 concerts. After a hiatus forced by the global pandemic, Showtimers are back to rehearsals, hoping to have their first public performance in September or October.
“It’s old-time, happy favourites, from the movies and from Broadway shows,” Israel said of the Showtime repertoire.
For most of the group’s history, rehearsals took place at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, but, as rehearsals return, they will be meeting at Kerrisdale Community Centre. Concerts are performed wherever they can bring happiness and good memories – community centres, church groups and Jewish venues like the Richmond Kehila Seniors, the Louis Brier Home and Hospital and the Weinberg Residence.
From the start, 20 years ago, the group – which usually consists of about 16 performers, many of whom are Jewish – has done a concert every three or four weeks. That came to an abrupt halt with the arrival of COVID. Now, as the group plans the first post-pandemic activity, Showtimers are reflecting on what the group – and Israel in particular – has meant to them. In a series of testimonials collected by participant Karon Shear, members spoke of the impact of their participation in general and of their friendship with Israel. The testimonials were compiled “behind my back!” Israel noted, and were shared in Senior Line, the publication of the Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver.
Muriel Morris, who has just retired as the group’s pianist, said the Showtime experience was important at a pivotal time in her life.
“Beryl came into my life shortly after Ben, my husband, died,” said the musician. “Meeting her was so fortunate for me. Showtime filled a great void in my life, as pianist of the group, giving pleasure to all our audiences and giving myself a true feeling of well-being and fulfilment.”
With Morris’s departure, the group will sing to music recorded by North Shore musician Bob York.
“We’re very privileged and lucky that he’s done this for us,” Israel said.
While Showtime includes a cadre of singers and dancers, Israel alone fills many roles.
“I’m the everything,” she said with a laugh. “I’m the director, producer, choreographer, I make the costumes, I do the arrangements, I do the bookings. I ended up doing it all.”
Most of the performers are north of 70.
“I don’t know what’s happened with the 60-to-70 age group,” she said. “They sort of disappeared.”
A number of the most active participants are in their 90s – and maybe singing and dancing keeps them young.
“It’s very rewarding, both for participants and for the audience,” Israel said, a theme reflected in the many testimonials collected by Shear.
“I love the costumes, the rehearsals, being on the stage, singing and dancing and entertaining folks,” said singer Debbie Cossever. “Beryl gave me the opportunity to use my talents bringing joy to the lives of seniors. I have been with her troupe for 17 years
because I love it! I am so proud I am a Showtimer.”
“Beryl has enhanced my life and my dreams have been fulfilled,” said singer and dancer Sara Bernstein. “It has been an honour over the 17 years being part of Showtime. I witnessed how people sprung up from wheelchairs in elation of the dance, costumes and musical joy Beryl produced. I shall never forget seeing stroke victims joyfully tapping a finger or toe in unrestrained elation. Caregivers and staff mentioned that the residual energy of the shows carried on for days.”
“Although my stage presence in acting and singing goes back over 75 years,” Arnold Selwyn added, “the last 16 years, performing with Beryl’s Showtime group, has given me, without a doubt, the most satisfaction and pleasure. Her professionalism, choice of content and skill of program arranging, makes each show run smoothly and [be] enjoyable for the varied audiences. It is a joy to work with her and watching her dance is a delight.”
“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do a mitzvah (again and again) while I do some of the things I love most – singing and dancing,” said Daniella Givon. “It is a pleasure to bring light and colour, music and movement to those who are wheelchair-bound, who cannot live on their own and who need special care. Every time I see our audience smile, nod their head, clap their hands and sing with us, I know this mitzvah counts.”
The creation of Songs for a Lost Pod helped singer/songwriter Leah Abramson explore her family’s Holocaust history. (photo by Angela Fama)
The world première of Leah Abramson’s Songs for a Lost Pod was supposed to be part of this year’s PuSh Festival three months ago. Delayed because of COVID restrictions at the time, it now will debut May 28-29, 7:30 p.m., at Studio T, SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts.
Songs for a Lost Pod is a “nine-song cycle [that] makes spectacular use of orca vocalizations, transforming them into rhythmic beats in a musical exploration of historical trauma, environmental crisis and communication between species.” The theatrical production is the most recent development in a process that includes an album by the same name, released in 2017.
“It was just an outward spiral, really. The project started with dreams I had about whales, which turned into researching whales for fun, which then turned into a master of fine arts thesis, an album, a comic book, and now a stage show!” said Abramson when the Independent interviewed her in anticipation of the PuSh festival. “When I made the album, I knew there was so much research and information behind the lyrics and music of each song, and I felt like I wanted people to understand that context, so I made the comic book to highlight some of the research and stories. Then, as I was arranging the music to be performed live, I realized that I wanted people to have that context, too, so I’ve turned the research and background into a script. Then we decided that adding visuals would really help immerse the audience in the material. The project has just been expanding from the beginning.”
Abramson, who grew up in Burnaby, said she has been interested in music from a young age. “My grandma sang in her synagogue’s choir and my dad played the piano, so they tell me it runs in the family,” she said. “But I was also told that music was only for fun, and not a real career, unless you were a concert pianist or something like that. So, I tried to do other things, but I was miserable unless I was making music.
“Over the years, I’ve done lots of touring and playing in bands and teaching, but writing and composing has always been what I love the most. I have pretty varied interests – I’m fascinated by marine biology and I love learning about the environment, as well as human history. The great thing about writing songs is that you can research anything and put it into your work. Right now, I’m really excited about writing music for the stage, as well as choral music.”
Along with her MFA in creative writing (with a focus on lyrics) from the University of British Columbia, Abramson studied classical music at Capilano University, and also has studied traditional Appalachian balladry.
In addition to the song-cycle, Songs for a Lost Pod features the narrative script that Abramson mentioned, which “juxtaposes the whale histories with Leah’s own family and their experience surviving the Holocaust and its aftermath,” according to the program description. “Mind of a Snail’s handmade projections create an impressionistic and largely non-representational visual world to support the songs and narration, guiding the audience into a space of contemplation.”
“When I first started looking into whale histories, the parallels presented themselves pretty quickly,” Abramson told the Independent. “It was not my intention to delve into my family’s past, but, while learning about captures and commercial whaling practices, it was hard not to look at the bigger picture of human behaviour throughout history – aspects of cruelty and destruction that manifest in heartbreaking ways. But also, whales are similar to humans – whale intelligence is extremely high, and whale families are extremely tight knit.”
It was difficult for Abramson to explore her family’s Holocaust history – “the loss and pain are pretty overwhelming,” she said, “and it’s not always easy to find a way forward when that intensity is present. Whale families became a mirror for me, a way to understand and experience intergenerational trauma at a greater distance. The project allowed me to deal with my feelings in a more manageable way, through empathy for another species. And it provided a space for my grief, but also helped me find a way through it. Trauma is so common in families of all different backgrounds. Our ancestors may have lived through wars or other calamities and there are so many people living through these things right now. I think learning others’ stories can help people start to process their own family’s pain, even if the details are different. I felt like whale stories did that for me.”
Credit for Songs of a Lost Pod’s music and lyrics go to Abramson in collaboration with Antoine Bédard, J.J. Ipsen, Andrew Lee (Holy Hum), Aidan O’Rourke (Lau), Sandro Perri, Arliss Renwick and Marten Timan. The program notes that credit also could be given to the A5 whale pod, as the musicians “were given selected A5 pod orca vocalizations, along with Abramson’s other field recordings, to turn into beats and tracks, which formed the backbone of Abramson’s songwriting process, and the rhythms behind much of the music.”
Fellow Jewish community member Barbara Adler also has contributed to the project, and is the show’s narrator.
“Barbara and I have known each other for so long that we can’t remember when or how we officially met,” said Abramson. “It’s like that with people in creative community sometimes – you grow up making art alongside each other. We have shared some special experiences and projects over the years, and continue to work together and in parallel. We have some shared Czech-Jewish roots, which makes Barbara a really good fit for this project in particular. She’s working on a lot of interesting projects of her own, and I’m also happy to be one of her composer-collaborators for Mermaid Spring, which is a musical she’s making with Kyla Gardiner (who also happens to be our lighting designer).
“Barbara has been sending me song lyrics over the last few years, which I have been setting to music. I love working with the characters she has created, and it has truly been a joy to work on those songs. I also really admire Barbara’s artistic process. When she writes, she really digs into all the nuances of a situation or character. She welcomes complexity and the messy underside of creation. I think Barbara balances my impulsivity, and helps me step out from the shadows in my shyest moments. She’s also a great performer!”
Liat Har Lev premières a new work at the Dance Centre on April 29, as part of the centre’s celebration of International Dance Day. (photo by Chris Randle)
International Dance Day is April 29. To celebrate the occasion, the Dance Centre is presenting a day of free events, including a performance and workshop by choreographer Liat Har Lev.
Born in Ashkelon, Israel, to Ashkenazi parents from Romania, Har Lev said her parents decided to immigrate to Canada in 1982 because they wanted a safer haven for their children.
While dancing has always been a part of her life, flamenco came later.
“I remember my first jazz dance class at the age of 10,” she said. “Moving in space and creating shapes to the sound of music was natural. I felt alive and so vibrant.”
She first encountered flamenco at the Kino Café, which used to be on Cambie Street in Vancouver.
“I was mesmerized by the force, strength and intensity of the dancers and musicians,” she said. “It was a projection of who I am, an instant connection. Flamenco is a challenging art form in terms of rhythm, physicality and expression. I never stop learning and evolving. It challenges my mind and body and allows me to express deep sorrows and great joys.”
One of the highlights in her dance journey, she said, “was the first time I stepped on stage to perform my first flamenco solo. It boosted my confidence and opened the door for opportunities.”
On the Dance Centre’s website is a profile of Har Lev. In an interview with the centre, she says, “I believe that dance performance exists to communicate and teach. It is an embodied language that has different forms, shapes and expression. As an expressive dancer, the source of the inspiration for my choreographies and performances comes from the need to express a story, to invite people to move and think deeply. My work is inspired by the human condition and personal experiences. I take pride in collaborating with local dance artists and musicians and I strive to create new works.”
The Dance Centre profile includes a video of Har Lev’s We Shall Not Forget, which she began choreographing with the support of the centre’s 12 Minutes Max program. It is a powerful commemoration, dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust.
“We Shall Not Forget was inspired by my ancestors that perished in such a horrific way,” she told the Independent. “It was a calling for me to honour and remember them; a message from them through me. This tragedy left a big scar and a lesson to humankind.”
On International Dance Day, Har Lev will première a new work, Tientos. The program description says it “explores themes of personal integrity, internal conflict and the freedom of resolution, expressed through the flamenco dance forms of tientos and tangos.”
A work-in-progress, it features live music and singing. It is a collaboration between Har Lev, who choreographed and dances the piece, singer Maria Avila, guitarist Peter Mole, drummer Matteo Bebbo Sampaolo and choreography facilitator and dramaturg Carmen Romero. The performance will be followed by a brief introduction to flamenco workshop, led by Har Lev.
At the presentation, the artists will be collecting non-perishable food items for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank. So, if you’re heading downtown to see the show or attend the workshop, try and remember to bring an item to donate.
International Dance Day was started by UNESCO in 1982, with the date commemorating the birthday of Jean-Georges Noverre (1727-1810), who is considered the founder of modern ballet.
Israel’s Gilat Rapaport and the InJoy Band headline this year’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration on May 4 at the Vogue Theatre. (photo from injoyprod.com)
This year’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration on May 4 at the Vogue Theatre, headlined by Israel’s Gilat Rapaport and the InJoy Band, marks 20 years since the first large-scale community-wide event to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day was organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver.
“Growing up in Vancouver, the community had occasional large Yom Ha’atzmaut events with Israeli performers and I have wonderful memories of attending them,” said Stephen Gaerber, who co-chaired that first major gathering. “I was incredibly impressed by a large event held to celebrate Israel’s 50th in 1998 at the Orpheum [which was chaired by Judy Mandleman]. It was 2001, the Second Intifada was raging, Camp David had resulted in failure and Israel was, as usual, being disparaged in the press. My friend, Rick Schreiber, had become the chair of the Federation’s Israel department, and I told him that I thought the community should be having large-scale events every year to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut and all that is wonderful about Israel. His response was, ‘OK, you chair it.’ That’s how I became chair for the 2002 Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration, first co-chairing with my wife, Shari, and then, starting in 2003, with my brother Allen.”
Of course, local groups celebrated Israel’s birthday in various ways prior to 2002, notably the now-defunct Canadian Zionist Federation (CZF). Bernard Pinsky was CZF chair in the late 1980s.
“In the 1980s,” said Pinsky, “CZF brought in big names from Israel for a Yom Ha’atzmaut concert, including top artists like Nomi Shemer, Chava Alberstein, and Haparvarim. The concert was held at the JCC and wasn’t always right on Yom Ha’atzmaut, it was when the artists were available. The venue meant that we could only sell about 400 tickets, and CZF did a lot of fundraising to cover costs.”
Geoffrey Druker, who still leads the community’s annual Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) ceremony, said he was recruited by Pinsky to become involved in CZF and it was from Pinsky that Druker took over the role of local CZF chair in the early 1990s.
“We ran most Israel-related community programs,” said Druker, including Yom Ha’atzmaut, Yom Hazikaron, Walk with Israel (which took place on Jerusalem Day), the student public-speaking contest and other programs. When CZF closed nationally, Druker said he gathered past local leaders of the group to decide “whether to become an independent local organization or join Federation.”
The choice was to join the Israel desk at Federation, and Druker continued to chair many of the events, with most of the Yom Ha’atzmaut activities being held at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, he said.
“Federation didn’t have the funds for a large Yom Ha’atzmaut, and we couldn’t risk having a large celebration … while keeping the event tickets affordable to all,” said Druker. “So we ran smaller celebrations and with less-known artists.”
Affordability remained key when Federation, led by a committee put together by Stephen and Shari Gaerber, took over the event.
“Our goal wasn’t to just make it a concert, but a real community celebration,” said Stephen Gaerber. “We kept ticket prices very low so that everyone could afford to attend – and if they couldn’t afford even that, we made free tickets available through JFS [Jewish Family Services]. We invited all Jewish organizations in the city to add their names as Community Partners, and dozens did. We had children from Hebrew Academy, Talmud Torah and RJDS performing in addition to Israeli singer Danny Maseng.
“We were given no budget (other than staff time) for the event from the Federation and I didn’t want one. I was determined that the Federation not take anything away from what they were allocating to local community agencies in order to make this event happen. We believed that the community would support the event and we were right. We raised the funds from generous donors, rented the Chan Centre and signed a contract with the performer. We put tickets on sale and we sold out all 1,200 seats very quickly. The event itself is a bit of a blur, but my most vivid memory is the joy people expressed to us at its conclusion.”
With that success behind them, the goal was to involve even more individuals and organizations in the celebrations.
“For years,” said Gaerber, “Jonathan and Heather Berkowitz wrote a piece for young community members to perform and we were fortunate to have Wendy Bross Stuart direct them. We later added the JCC’s children’s Israeli dance troupes to the program, sometimes joined with dancers from our partnership region in the Upper Galilee.
“Pam Wolfman took over chairing the event in 2014 and continued to tweak things to make sure everything is new and fresh and even better each year, including involving the entire community in the community song,” he said. “What hasn’t changed is the support from the community. To this day, other than staff time, the Federation has not had to give any funding at all towards putting on the event. The group of donors has grown over the years and that allows the event to continue to stay true to our initial vision – tickets are still affordable and many are available at no cost to those who need them – and the events continue to sell out.”
The annual celebration brings Israeli performers – from veteran musicians to up-and-coming singers and musical groups – to Vancouver on Yom Ha’atzmaut.
“For many,” said Gaerber, “it was their first time performing outside of Israel on Yom Ha’atzmaut, as they hesitate to leave the country for this important day. Without exception, they have all expressed how incredibly meaningful it was for them to experience the warmth of our community and its love for Israel. A number of our performers who would not have otherwise considered coming to Vancouver for Yom Ha’atzmaut have only done so because they have heard from other performers about their experience and our Jewish community.
“Despite our Jewish community’s relatively small size,” he said, “we have been told by Israeli diplomats that Vancouver’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration, always occurring actually on erev Yom Ha’atzmaut, is one of the largest celebrations of its kind taking place on that day outside of Israel.”
Many years ago, in the village of Chelm, there were two families, the Chiribim and the Chiribom. They were enemies. They fought over everything. They fought over land, they fought over water, they fought over cows and horses and chickens. They fought over air.
The Chiribim and Chiribom didn’t talk to each other. They were stubborn. They didn’t look at each other.
In the synagogue and village hall, they would sit on opposite sides of the room and glare or shout or scream. Or spit. It was disgusting.
The feud had been going on for years, decades, perhaps centuries. No one knew where it began or how it had originated. What insult had provoked the first Chiribim to scorn the first Chiribom? It was long ago and long forgotten.
Sometimes the anger came to blows, but, fortunately, so far no one had been seriously injured or killed.
Rabbi Kibbitz, the oldest and wisest of leaders, was sick of it. He was tired of the malice, tired of the hatred, tired of the tension. He was tired of mopping spit off the floor of the synagogue.
So he decided to solve the problem. The Chiribim and Chiribom needed to come together to work out their differences. They were farmers, they worked the land. They were neighbours, living so close to each other but so far away.
The problem was that he couldn’t get them all in the same room without someone blowing up.
It had been pouring rain for most of the week of Passover, and everyone was cranky.
In those days, after a long rain, everyone in the village would go out into the woods to pick mushrooms. Mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers and sisters would all pack up their lunches, bring along empty baskets, and hunt for wild treasure. The youngsters would find dozens of kinds of fungi, and the elders would teach them which ones were tasty, which were revolting, and which might kill you.
During the rainstorm, Rabbi Kibbitz sent a note to the Chiribim, asking them to join him in the forest for lunch. He also sent a note to the Chiribom, asking them to join him for lunch in the same place, at the same time.
Early the next morning, the rabbi pulled on his boots, put a basket over his arm and plodded into the Black Forest. First, he would find the Chiribim and then the Chiribom. And then they would work it all out.
Unfortunately, he forgot his glasses, so he was having a hard time seeing where he was going.
Soon, he came upon a group of people.
“Chiribim?” he asked them.
They shook their heads. “Chiribom,” they answered.
Sighing, the rabbi continued his search.
He realized he should change his tactics. He would meet with the Chiribom first, and then the Chiribim.
Soon, he came upon another group of people. “Chiribom?” he asked them.
Another group of people were asked, “Chiribom?” and they answered, “Chiribim.”
The next group were queried, “Chiribim?” and they replied “Chiribom.”
The rabbi was getting frustrated. “Ai Chiribiri biri bim bom bom! Ai Chiri biri biri bim bom bom!”
Back and forth the rabbi went racing through the forest. If he asked, “Chiribim?” they told him, “Chiribom.” If he asked “Chiribom?” they told him, “Chiribim.”
“Ai Chiri biri biri bim bom bom. Ai Chiri biri biri bom!”
The Chiribim and Chiribom were stubborn. They loved an argument, and neither group liked to be pinned down or admit to anything. Perhaps they were playing tricks on the rabbi. Perhaps they were just being obstinate.
“Bim!” the rabbi shouted.
“Bom!” they answered.
“Bom?” the rabbi yelped.
“Bim!” came a chorus.
“AAAGH! Bim bom bim bom bim bom!”
He began to twirl about.
He asked another group, “Bom?”
They answered, “Bim!”
The next had to be … “Bom?”
“Impossible! Bim bom bim bom bim bom!”
The rabbi was running and twirling, almost dancing. “Ai Chiribiri biri bim bom bom.”
His hair was everywhere. His coat was open. “Ai Chiri biri biri bim bom bom. Ai Chiri biri biri bim bom bom. Ai Chiri biri biri bom.”
Well, the Chiribim and the Chiribom started laughing. They couldn’t help themselves. Their rabbi, this wise old man, was acting like a chicken with his head cut off, like a frog trying to escape a pack of curious boys, like a school teacher with a cube of ice dropped down his back. All the time he was muttering to himself like a crazy man, “Chiribimbombimbombimbom.”
They laughed and they grinned and they smiled, and then they looked up.
Across the forest they saw something that they had never seen before.
They saw each other smiling and laughing and grinning.
They looked and they realized that they all wore the same kind of clothes. They had the same kinds of shoes and hats and hair. They all held baskets full of mushrooms.
So the Chiribim and the Chiribom came together in the middle of the forest and shook hands, and they kissed cheeks, and they hugged.
And, of course, they had a Passover lunch.
Such a feast! Chopped liver on matzah with fresh-picked mushrooms. Beet salad. Brisket. And Mrs. Chaipul’s light-as-a-feather lemon meringue pie. So delicious!
When they were done eating and finished cleaning up, they lifted the poor rabbi up on their shoulders, because he was still too dizzy to walk, and all together they carried him back to the village of Chelm, singing: “Ai Chiri biri biri bim bom bom….”
From that day on, they were no longer known as the Chiribim or the Chiribom, but as the Chiribimbombimbombimbom…. Bim…. Bom.
“Ai Chiri biri biri bim bom bom.
“Ai Chiri biri biri bim bom bom.
“Ai Chiri biri biri bom….”
Izzy Abrahmson is a pen name for author and storyteller Mark Binder, who lives in Providence, R.I., and tours the world – virtually and in-person. Abrahmson’s Winter Blessings: Warm Stories from the Village was a National Jewish Book Awards finalist. This story about Chiribim and Chiribom is from his latest book in the Village Life Series, The Village Feasts: Ten Tasty Passover Stories, which is available on Amazon and at books2read.com. To listen to the audio version of this story, narrated by Binder, visit izzyabe.com.