When Toronto poet Simon Constam emailed me with a request to read his debut collection of poetry, Brought Down, he described it as “notable because it addresses people’s daily experience of God and the Jewish religious tradition.” He noted, “it is provocative and well-written as can be attested to by the reviews of it thus far.” Indeed, the reviews I’ve read have been highly complimentary – and justifiably so.
I am neither religious nor a poetry buff, yet I found Constam’s poems engaging. I liked his challenging and questioning manner. At 70+ years old, he has wisdom gained from life experience that includes approximately a decade in which he followed Orthodox Jewish observance. His knowledge of Judaism infuses his writing and I had to look up a few names and concepts, even though there is a glossary at the end of this 61-page volume.
What I greatly appreciated about these poems is the theme that runs through most, if not all, of them: the title idea of “brought down,” as it refers to what we inherit from our ancestors, whether we’re talking about traditions, rituals, genes, coping mechanisms, etc. The lens through which Constam explores these ideas is his Jewishness. In “Yerushalmi,” for example, he writes:
“Today I seem to have the face of a man I briefly stared at, on a bus on Rehov King David in the fall of 1969. / I wear the same clothes, dark jacket, dark shirt, rough tan trousers, dust-scuffed brown boots. / The mirror shows me, grizzled, unkempt, stocky, stoic, almost seventy. / My face is the face my grandfather wore. / My parents, aunts, and uncles swore the resemblance is uncanny. My history is clear. / I was one of Titus’s captives marched through Rome in chains. I collected all my things in a sack to flee from Ferdinand and Isabella along the Jew-choked roads. I missed my fate in Kielce and Bialystock. I hid in the forests by Kishinev.” It ultimately concludes: “I am the inheritor of a furious history that only in this place can I never deny or forget.”
In his struggles with God, Constam contemplates what it means to be Jewish, what it means to be human. While this all sounds quite serious, and it is, there is humour in this collection and, ultimately, it is hopeful. As much as he takes God to task, Constam is calling on all of us to question ourselves, and to accept our responsibility for the state of the world.
Arash Khakpour and Alexis Fletcher première All my being is a dark verse (working title) Nov. 9-10 at the Rothstein Theatre. (photo by Peter Smida)
This year’s Chutzpah! Festival, which takes place Nov. 3-24, highlights Persian culture. The decision to feature Persian artists and stories – which was made well before the protests that erupted in Iran after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the country’s morality police last month – seems even more important and relevant now.
“When the festival was offered the opportunity to support the creation of a new dance work by Alexis Fletcher in collaboration with Arash Khakpour, two Vancouver artists I admire and enjoy working with, I began to explore the resonances between Persian artists and stories of both Jewish and Muslim background,” Jessica Gutteridge, Chutzpah! artistic managing director, told the Independent. “These communities are culturally rich and have been intertwined for a very long time, while at the same time in lesser and greater political tension over the course of history. The festival’s mandate includes exploring what Jewish culture has in common with non-Jewish communities, and bringing artists of different backgrounds into conversation, so I thought it would be interesting to pull on this thread and bring Jewish and non-Jewish artists and culture into a themed programming thread.”
The two main programs of the thread are the Nov. 9-10 world première of Fletcher and Khakpour’s All my being is a dark verse (working title), which was developed through an artistic residency at the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre, and the Nov. 23 concert by Israeli singer, songwriter and actress Liraz Charhi.
Two digitally streamed programs round out the offerings. On Nov. 14, Jacqueline Saper, author of From Miniskirt to Hijab: A Girl in Revolutionary Iran, will speak and answer questions about Jewish life in Iran pre- and post-Revolution. And, on Nov. 21, Israeli chef Ayelet Latovich will present “a menu drawn from the Persian Jewish heritage of her mother’s family, which includes her grandmother, Kohrshid Hoshmand, a well-known and beloved figure in the Iranian community in Tel Aviv.”
“The festival has always provided public outreach opportunities, ranging from master classes to workshops to public conversations with artists,” said Gutteridge about these events. In addition to the Persian-themed outreach, Chutzpah! is partnering with rice & beans theatre’s DBLSPK program to offer a public workshop of Tamara Micner’s new Yiddish panto-in-progress, Yankl & Der Beanstalk.
“We have a broad array of workshops to choose from as well,” Gutteridge continued. “David Buchbinder, Mark Rubin and Michael Ward-Bergeman will lead a creative workshop focused on making intercultural connections. Edith Tankus will bring clowning techniques for self-expression in a workshop tailored to parents and caregivers. Liz Glazer will lead a workshop on how to tap into your funny side and create comedy for the stage. And Maya Ciarrocchi will lead a series of workshops sharing the practice of Yizkor books as a means of remembering and mourning the lost people and places of our lives, that will lead into the final performance of the Site: Yizkor project.”
Life, love, longing, death
All my being is a dark verse is inspired by the poems of Forugh Farrokhzad (1934-1967), whose poetry was controversial enough in its expression of personal freedom to have been banned for almost a decade after the establishment of the Islamic republic in 1979. The project combines Farrokhzad’s poetry, the work of local artist Nargess Jalali Delia and the dance choreographed and performed by Fletcher and Khakpour. The shows will include a program of Persian storytelling curated by the Flame.
“I discovered Forugh’s poetry through Nargess, when I was helping her prepare for a visual art exhibit in 2020,” said Fletcher. “Nargess had a painting that captivated me, which I learned was inspired by Forugh’s beautiful poem, ‘Inaugurating the Garden.’ When I read the poem for the first time, I was moved to tears and felt so much of my own life inside Forugh’s words. From there, I started to research the work of this poet and felt viscerally connected to her work. When I began dreaming of creating a response through movement, I approached Arash – an artist I greatly admire and have always wanted to work with. We decided to create and perform together, and to bring together a mix of Persian and non-Persian artists to complete our team, including costume design, original music composition, lighting design, and translation work between Farsi and English.
“Both Arash and Nargess have welcomed me into their culture, language and their very personal connection with Forugh in the most generous of ways,” said Fletcher.
“I am excited to connect with an artist who comes from a completely different movement background from my own, and yet who shares so many of the same interests and curiosities about the place that dance holds in the world, what it can offer and how it can bring people together in unique ways,” said Khakpour.
“Growing up in Iran,” he continued, “I was reading Forugh’s poems at the young age of 11, even though I knew I wasn’t supposed to because her open-minded and dark-natured poems were not seen as ‘appropriate,’ and this experience had a profound effect on me. Forugh’s words were a revelation to read, something that someone wrote so many years ago and yet which seemed to speak directly to my fears and desires as if the words were both coming from me, and as if they were meant only for me.
“After moving to Canada at the age of 15,” he said, “I lost that connection to Forugh’s poetry, but now I am at a place that I feel the need to reconnect to her work again and integrate my love for her work, the knowledge and the sentiment it awakens in my dance practice.”
Currently, the pair are working with four of Farrokhzad’s poems: “The Wall,” “Reborn,” “Inaugurating the Garden” and “Window.”
“Forugh’s work is full of life, love and longing, yet full of death,” explained Khakpour. “I know from growing up in Iran that many people around me talked about her work as a forbidden reality, too forward, or too much – and the ways in which we should be talking, and the ways in which we should not be talking, as men and women. Forugh defied all of these binaries and all of this drew me to her magical poetry and body of work.
“As I was growing up, I have felt that similar feeling of defying the norms about myself, in terms of pursuing a dance career at all, as a man, which has many stigmas attached to it in my culture. I feel the same now as an artist at times.
“Forugh awakens the courage in us to be courageous,” he added. “This has always drawn me to Forugh’s work; her rigorous, rebellious nature has inspired many generations of artists since her death. Her writing, although being specific, is also timeless, transcends across cultures, and is full of humanity and love that goes beyond borders and ideologies. She longed for a world that could address and heal humanity’s pain.
“I think Alexis and I are drawn to Forugh and her work for these unapologetic tendencies and yet her humble nature of being, writing and expressing on the page. We strive for the same things in dance and choreography and long for a world that can address and heal its pain.”
“We both see dance as poetry in motion; a universal way of channeling poetry into the body and sharing that with the audience,” said Fletcher. “We believe this universality, along with the multidisciplinary and cross-cultural nature of this project, is a fertile ground that can draw new audiences to dance and connect different audiences to each other.”
Fletcher quoted from Rosanna Warren’s The Art of Translation: “The psychic health of an individual resides in the capacity to recognize and welcome the ‘Other.’” She explained that she and Khakpour “will use the act of translation as a practice of empathy; a way for artists and audiences to come together and lift the multiple veils of language, culture and ways of being that can obscure ‘the other,’ revealing the universality of our shared human experience, with language, visual art, dance and live performance as ways of ‘lifting the veil.’
“Expanding on the above,” she said, “we are curious about how we can use the practice of duet, including our partnership as performers, as a vehicle of exploration of ‘self’ and ‘other,’ and how this project can be a platform for this resonant conversation. This sparks our interest because, to execute duet skilfully and on an emotional level, one must delve into the other’s perspective more deeply…. We have the unique privilege of sharing this type of intimacy and connection with others as dancers because our bodies, especially in duet, are our physical and literal instruments: we must literally soften and yield our bodies and minds to give or receive the weight of another. We must take time to look into each other’s eyes and allow the other’s body to enter our private, personal space, learning what the impulses, dynamics, instincts and thought processes of that other person are. We must give each other patience and care for the relationship and choreography to work. We must acknowledge different subjective opinions and points of view. We feel that duet is a direct practice platform through which to investigate the myriad ways one can be in an empathic relationship with another.”
A dream come true
“Music in my life is the most important thing,” Charhi told the Independent. “When I started to create, to sing and to songwrite in Farsi, I knew that I had a message to be a little voice for the Iranian muted women. I knew that would be a continuation to the women from my family who are muted themselves. It wasn’t a question that I would do that. It’s not about me – I deeply feel I’m the pipe to tell a story.”
On Oct. 7, Charhi releases her third album in Farsi. Called Roya – a vision, a fantasy, a dream – she recorded it with Iranian musicians in Istanbul. “It was an extremely emotional journey I cannot even express with words,” she said, “but we made a wonderful album with wonderful meaning and we all share the same dreams together.”
Charhi collaborated secretly with several Iranian artists – singers, writers, instrumentalists – on her second album in Farsi. Secrecy was necessary because of the political situation.
“Recording my album Zan (woman in Farsi) and collaborating with Iranian musicians was a dream come true,” she said. “I felt that I can give and be artistically freed, especially because I felt that we needed to meet and to create together. [That] we love each other with no boundaries is a fact we wanted to spread to the world. There are bridges we can build despite this crazy situation and we have the power to make a change.”
Charhi chose the name Zan for that album, she said, “because it’s all about women’s freedom I sing about. Struggling and, on the other hand, rejoicing, singing and dancing, making little by little resolution, which is very, very relevant to what’s going on today in Iran.”
Charhi’s first Iranian album was Naz, which, she said means “coquettish manners.” It has been described as a “rebellious soundtrack.”
“It’s about being a good Iranian woman, using all her charm and politeness to get what she wants from her man and still stay determined,” she explained.
Charhi’s parents emigrated to Israel in the 1970s, before the Islamic Revolution, and Israel is where Charhi was born, in Ramla, in 1978.
“My music is built out of layers of my heritage, Israeli and Iranian,” she said, “and so I knew always I wanted to use traditional Iranian instruments and to mix them with my psychedelic music that I love so much [from] the Iranian ’70s.”
She also has released two albums in Hebrew, one self-titled, the other Rak Lecha Mutar(Only You’re Allowed).
As an actress, Charhi garnered a nomination for best actress from the Israeli Film Academy for her role in the 2004 Israeli film Turn Left at the End of the World. She has acted in theatre, television and film, including playing the love interest of Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the movie A Late Quartet (2012), the role of Frida Kahlo in a production by the national theatre of Israel (2017) and an Israeli Mossad agent in the Israeli TV series Tehran (2020).
Suzy Birstein’s “Ladies-not-Waiting: Harlequin Zsa Zsa.” (photo from ParkerArtSalon)
Suzy Birstein’s “Ladies-not-Waiting: Harlequin Zsa Zsa,” made of fired ceramic with glazes and lusters, is featured in the book the poetry project: where poetry expands upon a visual idea, published by ParkerArtSalon. The artwork is accompanied by a poem it inspired, written by Majka Pauchly: “I’m not home décor / I shift on the shelf, and plot / To make my next move.”
Beedie Luminaries students were invited to participate in the project by submitting a work of poetry, inspired by a selection of art provided by the ParkerArtSalon artists. The book launch and an exhibit of the poems with the corresponding artwork by the artists – who also include Miriam Aroeste – takes place at Gallery George June 1-July 3, Wednesday-Sunday, noon-5 p.m., with the official opening weekend June 4-5, 2-4 p.m., with artists in attendance. Visit parkerartsalon.com for details.
“At Rest” by Dov Glock, mixed media. Glock is one of several Jewish artists participating in this year’s West of Main Art Walk. (from artistsinourmidst.com)
The West of Main Art Walk Preview Exhibition and Sale kicks off at the Roundhouse Community Centre May 18-19. The West of Main Art Walk itself welcomes guests into artists’ studios May 28-29. Among the artists participating are many from the Jewish community, including Michael Abelman, Olga Campbell, Dov Glock, Pnina Granirer and Lauren Morris.
The preview – which is open for visitors 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. both days – features a reception at the Roundhouse on May 19, 7-9 p.m. Preview visitors will be able to buy the work of some of the 80 local artists taking part. There will be paintings, ceramics, jewelry, textiles and photography, as well as free art demos.
Artwork will also be for sale on the walk, which includes studios from Point Grey to Main Street, and from Granville Island to 41st Avenue over the May 28-29 weekend. Dozens more artists are showing their works all under one roof in larger hubs like Aberthau Mansion, Art at Knox and Pacific Arts Market. There, you’ll also find art demonstrations and more. At Lord Byng Mini School for the Arts, you’ll discover young emerging artists.
Also part of the month’s events is the annual (since 2018) Art for All Fundraiser. More than 70 artworks have been donated – and all are on sale for $50 each. Proceeds will go to the art program at Coast Mental Health. Its resource centre’s art room opened in 2000, and is a place where clients discover their creative potential while developing new ways of expressing emotions, healing pain and growing their self-esteem and self-awareness. Supported by volunteers – including clients and professional artists and art instructors – who give their time, feedback and encouragement, clients are able to work in a number of media, including paint and sculpture; supplies are provided. An annual art show brings together the artists, other resource centre members and Coast clients, family and friends and the general public to celebrate their work and their journey towards recovery.
Granirer, who was a co-founder of the very first open studios walk in Vancouver in 1993, is doing something a little different from the main event. On May 18, 7 p.m., at the Roundhouse, she is launching her poetry-art memoir, Garden of Words. (For more on the book, see jewishindependent.ca/poetry-and-painting-flourish.) Some of the paintings featured in the book will be exhibited and the books will be available during the whole time of the preview and at Granirer’s studio during the walk weekend.
During the walk, Granirer is inviting people to her studio, where she will be offering her works for 50% off, with proceeds being donated to Stand up for Mental Health, which has helped people suffering from mental health issues to do away with stigma all over Canada, the United States and Australia.
Artists will be opening their studios from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on May 28 and 29. This is a unique opportunity to meet the artists, enjoy the art and ask questions. More information and the interactive online map can be found at artistsinourmidst.com.
– Courtesy Artists in Our Midst and Pnina Granirer
Pnina Granirer launches her new book, Garden of Words, at the Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival Feb. 9. (photo from JBF)
“Unexpected and unplanned, like small gifts offered by a kind friend, poems have been forming in my head ever since I was a child,” writes Pnina Granirer in her most recent book, Garden of Words. “Unexpected” is the perfect word for Granirer, who continually reinvents her artistic self.
Garden of Words is a beautiful mix of Granirer’s painted “words” and her written ones, her more distant past and recent experiences, including the loss of her life-partner of more than 65 years, in August 2020. The book is dedicated to Eddy and the final poem (“Goodbye”) and image (“Eddy Studying During Power Outage,” 1957, charcoal on paper) are of him.
This collection is a very personal work that shows Granirer’s powers of observation, both in her paintings and drawings, as well as in her poetry. It also shows her strength via her willingness to be vulnerable.
Two poems are part of the book’s foreword. The first, explains Granirer, who was born in Romania, “expresses the joy and happiness of a 10-year-old when on August 23, 1944, the Soviet Red Army entered our town, on the day that the cattle cars were waiting at the train station to take us away to the concentration camps. It had been a narrow escape, indeed!” The second is the title poem, in which Granirer notes that she is a painter, “I speak with paint and brush / my words are written / with colour and with line.” But, she recognizes the power of words, their ability to “conjure a Universe”: “I should so like to plant / a garden of words / in my field of colours // and watch them grow.”
Garden of Words has six sections: Sea and Stones; Pandemic; Dancers; Memories of Spain; This and That; and Closure. Her poems are short, concisely capturing the ephemerality of life – not even stones are permanent, the ebb and flow of water covers and exposes them, reshapes them, while they absorb past lives (fossils) and form sculptures. Stones offer inspiration and company to Granirer, who listens to their “quiet whispering.”
While all of the paintings Granirer has selected for this book interact wonderfully with her poems, reinforcing their themes, particularly powerful is the interplay between the poems about COVID-19 and artworks that had, of course, other meanings when they were created years ago. The new poem “All Together Now,” which starts, “This novel enemy is democratic. // In its indifference / all prey is equal,” is followed by the 2008 painting “Utopia – All Together Now,” which features four people dancing within a diamond-shaped boundary. One dancer’s head and their left foot cross the barrier. With dancing as one of the activities that has been restricted during the pandemic and the fact that we’ve all had to create bubbles (diamonds?) within which we can socialize safely, this probably once-joyous painting takes on a more sombre joy.
There are also sparks of sombre humour in various poems, including “Visit with El Greco” and “City Woman.” And the fear is palpable and relatable in the prose poem “Grenada,” which includes the stark reflection: “Five hundred years after the Inquisition, the burnings and autos-da-fé are pushed out of memory, conveniently forgotten, but the ceremonies persist; the dark past is not taught in Spanish schools. It has been turned into an Easter celebration, a parade, a fun event.” But, for Granirer, the crowds are ominous, evoking images of the Inquisition: “I am a Jew and it is coming for me. I am a Muslim and I am afraid. I am a Black woman and here is the KKK coming. I am terrified. The sight of those pointed hoods unleashes a flood of emotion I did not know I was capable of. My anxiety is close to panic.”
There are happier reflections. “Pas-de-deux,” for example, describes two men, each flying their own kite, but close together: “They leap / they dance / they bend and kneel / they sway from side to side / and turn as one.” When the men and their kites finish their dance, they receive “scattered applause from the small gathered crowd.”
At age 86, Granirer continues to create in new and meaningful ways. She launches her new book at the Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival on Feb. 9, 1 p.m. Visit jccgv.com/jewish-book-festival.
Lisa Richter, author of Nautilus and Bone, joins the Jewish Book Festival Feb. 7 (photo from Lisa Richter)
Nautilus and Bone: An Auto/biography in Poems by Toronto poet Lisa Richter – who takes part in the Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival on Feb. 7 – will send readers down many proverbial rabbit holes. They will want to know more about the writings and life of Yiddish poet and journalist Anna Margolin – not only to better understand Margolin, but to appreciate more fully Richter’s poetic biography of Margolin and her conversations with Margolin’s works.
Margolin is the pen name of Rosa Lebensboym, who was born in Brisk (now Brest, Belarus) in 1887. She immigrated to New York City in 1906, “spent time in London, Paris, Warsaw, Odessa and Palestine before eventually settling permanently in New York in 1913, where she died, in 1952.”
Says Richter: “I was enticed by this Russian-Jewish-American woman writing a hundred years ago about myth-making, roots, identity, alienation, gender fluidity, Eros and desire (at times unmistakably queer, arguably pansexual). Her poetry felt bold and subversive, even by modern standards: H.D. meets Patti Smith.”
Richter does not speak Yiddish, so has relied on Shirley Kumove’s Drunk from the Bitter Truth: The Poems of Anna Margolin, a translation of Margolin’s volume of poems, Lider (Poems), with a “thorough and comprehensive introduction to Margolin’s life and work.” Richter also accessed Margolin’s files at YIVO and read Reuben Iceland’s (Ayzland’s) memoir, From Our Springtime: Literary Memoirs and Portraits of Yiddish New York, as well as other source material.
Richter discusses her many reasons for feeling connected to Margolin, including that, as Lebensboym adopted the name Margolin upon arrival in New York, Richter’s maternal great-grandfather, born Samuel Margolin, “changed his surname to the more Russian-sounding Lapitsky to avoid antisemitism when he immigrated to Montreal as a young man in 1903.”
Richter writes, “I like to imagine him meeting Miss Rosa Lebensboym. In my imagination, he passes his old birth name to her, much in the way one would pass along a string of heirloom pearls to one’s daughter (though they would have been roughly the same age, both born in the 1880s).” Richter notes that the name Margolin and its variations come from the Hebrew margoliyot, meaning pearls.
The emotional and spiritual connections come through in Nautilus and Bone. Richter does not claim to explore every facet of Margolin’s life and work. She explains, “The persona I have enacted in these poems hovers on the periphery of my imagination, filtered through my own dreams, preoccupations, (dis)pleasures, experience. I try my best to give a lyric voice to the most essential, enduring aspects of the poet’s life and work as I see her, and to engage in conversation with those parts of myself that are most closely, most symbiotically intertwined with her story.”
And she does so in a wide variety of poetic forms, all of which she wields with great skill. Among the recognition the book has garnered are the Canadian Jewish Literary Award for Poetry and the National Jewish Book Award for Poetry (United States) – “the first time a Canadian poet has ever received this honour,” Richter shared with the Independent.
In Nautilus and Bone, most readers will encounter forms of poetry they’ve never encountered before. “A City at the Sea’s Mouth” is a homolinguistic translation (in this case, English to English). “Primeval Murderess Night Talks Back to Anna Margolin” is a Golden Shovel poem – the “end-words of each line make up the first two lines of Anna Margolin’s poem ‘Primeval Murderess Night,’” notes Richter, crediting the creation of the form to Terrance Hayes. And, as the name suggests, “Anna Margolin Cento” is a cento, in which a poem is composed of lines from other poets’ poems.
“A poem’s form and content are inextricably linked, in the same way that a particular dish can only be made or served in certain kinds of containers,” Richter told the Independent in an email interview. “The same raw dough can be shaped into dinner rolls, pretzels or challah bread – the way you present and shape the material will affect the way it’s consumed and experienced.
“In some cases,” she said, “the form came to me later (the prose poem form of ‘So Uncommonly Smart for a Girl,’ for example) after a traditional, lineated form didn’t seem to be working. In other cases, the form came first, and the poems later. For instance, the long sequence of sonnets at the end of the book became the vehicle for telling the love story of Anna Margolin and her final life-partner, the poet Reuben Ayzland, as the sonnet has a long and distinguished history of wrestling with matters of the heart.
“The process of homolinguistic translation, or ‘re-translating’ a poem from the same language, is a means of engaging/wrestling/ conversing with a source text, and keeping it alive by breathing new life into it, using fresh grammar, syntax and language. I see it as an act of homage and tribute.”
Some of the poems were written as early as 2017, said Richter, shortly after her first book – Closer to Where We Began – was published, but “the bulk of the poems were written over the course of a year-and-a-half, from 2019 to spring 2020,” she said. “The original manuscript was much more autobiographical, but once I started researching and writing the Margolin poems, it became clear that the book was to become ‘an auto/biography in poems,’ as the book is subtitled, and was much more about Anna Margolin than it was about me. I have to credit my editor at Frontenac House, Micheline Maylor, for her vision and encouragement for this project. Both she and George Elliott Clarke, my mentor at the Sage Hill Spring Poetry Colloquium, were extremely supportive.”
While Richter’s conversations with Lebensboym/Margolin left her with more questions than answers, Richter said, “I think that’s a good state of mind for a poet to live in. As Rilke famously put it in Letters to a Young Poet, ‘Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.’ I don’t think I’ll ever be entirely ‘done’ with Anna/Rosa, but it’s not entirely up to me. For all I know, she’ll be with me for some time…. I would love to learn to read Yiddish someday so I could read and appreciate her work in its original form.”
As for what she hopes readers take away from the conversations, Richter said, “Mystery, uncertainty, history, complexity, ambiguity, ancestral lineage, eros/sensuality, mythmaking. But if a reader just finds one poem in the book that speaks to them, I’m happy.”
Temple Sholom treasurer Daniel Gumprich, left, president Melody Robens-Paradise and Rabbi Dan Moskovitz. (photo from JCF)
Temple Sholom has a new $1 million endowment fund that will provide the congregation with stable, long-term income for the synagogue in perpetuity.
“We chose to establish this fund at the Jewish Community Foundation because we know that they will manage it carefully and expertly. We are thrilled that Temple Sholom will be able to rely on income from the fund to meet its needs for generations to come,” said the family who seeded the fund.
It was important to the family that they be able to leverage their giving to inspire others. So, in addition to seeding the fund, they established a program to match contributions, which not only maximized their own impact but that of every donor who joined them in giving.
“The foundation supported our staff and leadership to confidently approach congregants about contributing to the fund,” said Cathy Lowenstein, director of congregational engagement at Temple Sholom. “We were able to give everyone the opportunity to participate, which created the momentum necessary to reach our goal.”
“The endowment will ensure our ability to serve every facet of our congregation through dynamic programming, strong leadership and robust outreach for generations to come,” said Temple Sholom’s Rabbi Dan Moskovitz. “It also means we can undertake a long-term approach to planning, because we have the financial strength to adapt to the changing needs of our congregation.”
Many local Jewish agencies, congregations and other organizations have endowment funds at the Jewish Community Foundation, including the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, Jewish Family Services Vancouver, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, and others. In addition, individual fund holders often choose to support an organization through their own donor-advised or -designated funds.
Diane Switzer, chair of the foundation’s board of governors, said, “We are very proud to manage endowment funds on behalf of so many crucial organizations across our community, and we take our responsibility to manage these investments prudently extremely seriously. This is how we carry out the important work of building and enriching our community.”
People can make a contribution to the Temple Sholom Endowment Fund via jewishcommunityfoundation.com. They can also establish a fund for an organization or an area of need about which they care by contacting JCF executive director Marcie Flom at 604-257-5100.
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Alex Leslie’s Vancouver for Beginners was one of the works shortlisted for the 2020/2021 City of Vancouver Book Award. The honour recognizes authors of excellence of any genre who contribute to the appreciation and understanding of Vancouver’s diversity, history, unique character, or the achievements of its residents.
In the poetry collection, “[n]ostalgia of place is dissected through the mapping of a city where Leslie leads readers past surrealist development proposals, post-apocalyptic postcards, childhood landmarks long gone and a developer who paces at the city’s edge, shoring it up with aquariums.”
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Prairie Sonata by Sandy Shefrin Rabin was named one of the best books of 2021 by Kirkus Reviews. The novel tells the story of Mira Adler, a teenage girl growing up on the Prairies after the Second World War, and what she learns about life and love from her Yiddish and violin teacher, Chaver B, a recent immigrant from Prague. Kirkus called it “a compelling work with a wistful longing for days of childhood innocence. A poignant and eloquent reflection on tradition, family, friendship, and tragedy.”
Winner of the Independent Press Award, and named a 2021 New York City Big Book Award Distinguished Favourite in the young adult fiction category, Prairie Sonata has been introduced into high school curricula.
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The Canada Council for the Arts’ 2021 Governor General’s Literary Awards winners include, in the drama category, Sexual Misconduct of the Middle Classes by Hannah Moscovitch.
“Hannah Moscovitch’s play is an articulate, poetic, beautifully written play with characters who are complex and complicated,” noted the peer assessment committee. “A superb piece of writing that shines as a play, as a living piece of theatre and, no doubt, literature that will endure.”
In the drama, “[t]he archetypal student-teacher romance is cleverly turned on its head for the post-#metoo era…. Jon, a star professor and author, is racked with self-loathing after his third marriage crumbles around him when he finds himself admiring a student – a girl in a red coat. The girl, 19-year-old Annie, is a big fan of his work and also happens to live down the street. From their doorways to his office to hotel rooms, their mutual admiration and sexual tension escalates under Jon’s control to a surprising conclusion that will leave you wanting to go back and question your perceptions of power as soon as you finish.”
For anyone who has thought about publishing their own story, poems, photos, artwork – really, anything they have created – The Gate and Other Poems on a Life’s Journey (FriesenPress) should be an inspiration to just do it already.
This book of poetry by Winnipeggers Doug Jordan, with editing and photography by my cousin Sidney Shapira, is a wonderful example of what we are capable of creating when we stop thinking about maybe doing something and act. It also affirms the benefits that can be reaped by working with someone on an endeavour, not only for encouragement but for holding ourselves accountable to whatever vision we may have, and bringing it out of our heads and into being.
In Shapira’s introduction, he acknowledges that Jordan’s target audience for this collection is his family, friends – in particular, friends who had also lived on the Shilo army base, near Brandon, Man., as kids – and former students. While this is probably the audience who will most revel in this publication, there are poems that will speak to everyone, about love, work, grief and other universal themes. They date from 1965 through to 2021.
Shapira has thoughtfully chosen photos of his that would complement various poems – all in black-and-white, to match the sombre mood of Jordan’s writings. The collection doesn’t leave readers in a sombre mood, however, perhaps because of the rhyming, which may not suit everyone’s tastes. Jordan explains his choice in a note at the end of the book:
“I enjoy poetry that rhymes and has rhythm,” he writes. “It is easier to read. Most poets prefer a form of free verse and their message is completely lost to many of their readers as they try to uncomplicate the poet’s words. This is when, as a teacher, we often hear ‘I hate poetry.’ No wonder. They can’t understand it, and don’t get me going on Shakespeare and others of that ilk.
“I say, if you are a poet and have a message or a story to tell, try do so in its most understandable terms.”
But don’t confuse rhythmic with simplistic. As Shapira notes, “Doug’s poems never meet his own standards after one draft; for example, ‘The Streets of Copenhagen’ took 10 years to achieve ‘finished’ status.”
The Gate truly represents a journey – one to which all of us can relate.
The exhibition Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything was the most popular in the history of the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC), recording 315,000 visits over its year-long run. The massive multidisciplinary show, produced by MAC, opened in November 2017 on the first anniversary of the Montreal-born singer-songwriter’s death. A scaled-down version then went on an international tour planned through to 2022, first at the Jewish Museum in New York in 2019 and then at Copenhagen’s GL Strand art centre, where it ran until the COVID pandemic hit. Last month, MAC launched a virtual exhibition of the same name that will be up for three years and available free of charge, but within Canada only.
As was the case with the original, visitors can easily spend hours, if not days, trolling through this exhibit, which blends much of its real-world components with hundreds of related images and music, audio and visual extracts, texts and background information. About 50 artworks from MAC’s permanent collection are also imaginatively linked to Cohen’s poetry, songs, interviews and, sometimes, drawings of himself.
For the original show, MAC director John Zeppetelli and guest curator Victor Schiffman commissioned some 40 Canadian and international artists to find inspiration in Cohen’s life and work. Given a free hand, they produced visual and performance art that drew heavily on multimedia, using technology that often allowed the audience to interact. These unconventional tributes drew mixed critical reaction, but an adoring public, still mourning his loss, was just happy to immerse themselves in all things Cohen.
Cohen’s children, Adam and Lorca, cooperated with the MAC project, and the man himself is said to have given his go-ahead for the concept the year before he died.
With the virtual exhibition, visitors control how much they sample, as they meander through the different portals. The site’s main page has an otherworldly feel, as links drift in a black cosmos and (optional) ethereal soundscape. Visitors can explore the four main themes about Cohen: Poetic Thought; Spirituality & Humility; Love; and Loss & Longing. Or. they can head to the Gallery to search by contributing artist; the two other sections are Echo, audio and transcribed impressions offered by visitors to the original exhibition, and Context, a biographical sketch of Cohen.
With respect to navigating the site, if one wants, for example, to delve into the source of the title, which comes from Cohen’s 1992 masterwork “Anthem” (with the lyrics, “There’s a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in”), a link under Spirituality & Humility leads to the Montreal electronic band Dear Criminals’ interpretation of the song. Related to that recording is a video of Cohen performing the song in London in 2008, a transcript excerpt of a radio interview he gave for Sony Music in 1992, explaining what the lyrics mean, and a video clip of his rendition of it that year on television in France.
The exhibition stresses how influential Judaism was to Cohen, who was born into a prominent Jewish family in 1934. “A strong spiritual presence inhabits much of Leonard Cohen’s work,” reads an entry. “Raised in the ancestral tradition of Judaism, Cohen discovered and developed an interest in poetry as a child while listening to the Hebrew Bible reading cycles and the sung prayers of the Jewish liturgy.”
Although he left Montreal in the 1960s, Cohen maintained a lifelong membership in Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Westmount, where he grew up. He turned to its cantor, Gideon Zelermyer, and men’s choir for traditional backup to the title cut from his final album, the haunting “You Want it Darker,” released just weeks before his passing. The choir had a small part in the original exhibition, which has been carried over to the virtual. It appears in South African-born Candice Breitz’s panoramic video installation in which 18 elderly men, fans of Cohen but lacking his talent, were recorded covering “I’m Your Man.”
MAC invites visitors to continue the conversation via social media at #cohenetmoi. The virtual exhibition Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything is accessible at expocohen.macm.org until Feb. 12, 2024.
The Kirman English and Yiddish Library at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture is available for anyone in the community to access. (photo from Peretz Centre)
“Books are humanity in print” – Barbara Tuchman
The Kirman English and Yiddish Library at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture was set up in 1976 by Paula and Shaya Kirman, members of the Peretz Institute – as it was then known – and dedicated Yiddishists. The two main purposes in establishing the library were, first, to collect and preserve the books that were scattered in different places in the community, and, second, to make these books available to the whole community in a lending library.
Paula Kirman, who worked as a cataloguer at the University of British Columbia library, volunteered many hours to set up a card catalogue and shelve the Peretz library in an organized way. Eventually, she resigned from her volunteer position because of a perceived lack of support from the Peretz Institute’s board of directors.
In 1999, in preparation for the construction of the Peretz Centre’s present building (in the same location the institute had been since the 1960s), the library books and card catalogue had to be boxed and removed. With the completion of the new building in 2000-2001, the organization was renamed the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture and the words of I.L. Peretz, considered by many as the “father” of modern Jewish culture, were prominently displayed above the entrance foyer: “A people’s memory is history; without a history, a people can grow neither wiser nor better.”
Sporadic attempts to restore the library were made, but, when Al Stein returned to Vancouver and joined the centre’s board of directors in 2001, much of the library was still in boxes and Kirman’s card catalogue was in disarray. Stein volunteered to lead the effort to restore the library, if the board would support it in two ways: vote for funding for new shelving and support Stein’s effort to obtain a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Vancouver to hire a library technician and digitize the entire library, including the Yiddish books.
The grant proposal was successful. A newly graduated library technician, unfamiliar with Yiddish, was contracted and many hundreds of hours were spent properly transliterating each Yiddish book and journal title, digitizing the entire collection in accordance with the latest electronic library standards, relabeling each book, arranging for electronic hosting of the library catalogue, supervising the installation of new shelving and then, finally, shelving the books and journals in an organized fashion.
Thanks to large and small donations of both English and Yiddish books from individuals, from the Winnipeg Jewish Library and from the Isaac Waldman Jewish Public Library at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, as well as a small number of purchases, the Kirman Library of the Peretz Centre now contains nearly 4,000 books and journals and is almost at capacity. The collection includes titles by kabbalists, rabbis, atheists, historians, politicians, musicians, artists, humourists, and those who wrote fiction, plays and poetry – in other words, the entire spectrum of Jewish creativity, encompassing all the arts.
Most of the collection is now in English and is a unique treasure trove of information and pleasure for the casual reader and the scholar. Two collections are of note. The late Dr. Gersh Winrob donated his English-language collection of Holocaust literature, memoirs, history and analyses, certainly one of the largest in the community. And the late poet Miriam Waddington donated part of her library, mostly English-language literature and essays, with a bit of Yiddish poetry.
The Peretz Centre is a proud member of the Yiddish Book Centre, now the largest Jewish cultural organization in the United States.
The Peretz’s library catalogue may be searched from any computer via the Peretz Centre website, peretz-centre.org: click the Kirman Library tab and then the Catalog link. The library ID is Kirman Library. No password is needed.
Books and periodicals can be borrowed for a $10/year fee. Four items may be borrowed at a time, for a period of four weeks, which may be renewed if no hold has been placed on the item. And the library may be used whenever the Peretz office is open, so call ahead before coming down, or for more information about library policy in general, such as its overdue or lost items policy, or to obtain a library card: 604-325-1812, ext. 1, or [email protected].
If you have any specific questions or comments about the library, or wish to make a donation to it, Stein can be reached at 604 731-1193 or [email protected].