Knowing that, in any one day, hundreds of visitors will pass their shops, usually on the way to the Kotel (Western Wall), shopkeepers in Jerusalem’s Old City stock as many items as possible to appeal to all religions. Prayer shawls, rugs, crosses and ritual items of every size and description are available, as are religious paintings and carvings, key holders and the like. (photo from Ashernet)
Achinoam Nini performs for a full house at the Chan Centre on Yom Ha’atzmaut, May 11. (photo from cjnews.com)
Despite the controversy in the months leading up to her Yom Ha’atzmaut performance at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on May 11, Noa’s concert attracted a full house and every one of the 1,185 seats was sold.
“After all the harrowing events leading up to this concert, I am so thrilled to be here and truly grateful to the Jewish Federation [of Greater Vancouver] for not folding and the Israeli ambassador for supporting!” the Israeli singer, whose full name is Achinoam Nini, posted on her Facebook page soon after she touched down in the city.
Performing barefoot throughout, the singer thanked the audience, Federation staff and the Vancouver Jewish community repeatedly during her show “for sticking up for me.”
In February, the Jewish National Fund of Canada, an annual sponsor of Vancouver’s community Yom Ha’atzmaut concerts, withdrew its support, saying it would take a one-year hiatus “due to the views of the entertainment booked for this year’s celebration.”
The organization’s chief executive officer, Josh Cooper, said “the entertainer that has been hired does not reflect nor correspond to the mandate and values of JNF of Canada.” Its decision followed an article in the Jerusalem Post, later retracted, that claimed Vancouver Jews were “outraged” over Nini’s performance and alleged that she supports the boycott, divest and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. She has repeatedly denied the allegation.
After JNF Canada withdrew, the Israeli embassy and the Consulate General of Israel in Toronto stepped in as sponsors. Irit Stopper, deputy consul general in Toronto, represented the state of Israel at the event. It was also attended by Linda Kislowicz, president and CEO of Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA, Vancouver City Councilor Geoff Meggs and Burnaby-Lougheed NDP MLA Jane Shin.
Outside the Chan Centre, Michael Brosgart, president of the Jewish Defence League in British Columbia, stood with a handful of supporters and a few placards declaring “Terrorists are obstacles to peace; Biblical Zionists are not.”
A folding table held pictures of an Israeli couple murdered by Palestinian terrorists, and Brosgart distributed material to bystanders. The pages contained excerpts from letters expressing objections to Nini’s performance from community member Frances Belzberg and Israel Defence Forces Lt.-Col. Eyal Platek, as well as links to articles about the singer.
“Noa is supporting the most divisive groups in Israel – B’tselem, Breaking the Silence, BDS and JStreet,” Brosgart said. “Unfortunately, Jewish Federation and the Israeli embassy, because they’re funding this, are supporting her. We think this is rotting the Jewish community.”
On JDL’s Facebook page Brosgart elaborated. “This performance will be extremely divisive, distasteful, disrespectful and does not represent the views and interests of the community. Especially at the time we need unity the most. This is not about free speech. Nini can sing her sh—y songs anywhere she wants. However, this is Israel’s Independence Day. To bring an anti-Israel, terror-sympathizing, enemy-strengthening performer on this day is to spit in the face of all who have lost loved ones defending the nation of Israel.”
One Israeli who attended the concert but asked not to be named said she disliked that Nini “does not separate her political views from her artistry. I’m sorry the selection committee didn’t do more research before they chose her, but I think they learned a lesson,” the woman said.
After seeing the Facebook responses of Israelis in Vancouver opposed to the performance, she decided to attend nevertheless. She added that, once Nini was invited to Vancouver, “I think it was the best thing to keep her here instead of canceling the performance.”
The kosher restaurant Shuk Eat & Play hosted an alternative Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration dinner for 110 attendees the same night.
“I heard Noa’s political sayings and I didn’t appreciate it,” said Shuk owner Alon Volodarsky. “So, some people who didn’t like her suggested we hold this dinner for those community members who still wanted to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut but didn’t want to attend the concert.”
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net. This article was originally published in the Canadian Jewish News.
Shuk owner Alon Volodarsky, left, and chef Evy Swissa. (photo by Lauren Kramer)
Shakshuka is not a dish that’s easy to come by in Vancouver. Until recently, that is. When Shuk opened its doors on Oak and 41st in early December, this favorite Israeli breakfast item made it to the menu, among a host of other Mediterranean foods, including house-made hummus, Moroccan fish, falafel, borekas, labneh and hatzilim.
Shuk’s owner is the multi-talented Alon Volodarsky, 35, an Israeli from Haifa who moved to Vancouver eight years ago and has had careers in professional dance choreography, carpentry and home renovation. He also has owned a store selling remote-controlled toys.
Soon after he arrived here, he tasted the food of chef Evy Swissa, who worked at Café 41, and quickly recognized his expertise. Volodarsky also noticed a dearth of establishments where parents could shmooze, enjoy good food and know that their kids were playing safely within eye- and earshot. So, when the opportunity arose to take over Café 41, he jumped at it. He invested $100,000 in a complete remodel and added a space for kids, with climbing structures in the large dining room to keep the 2- to 6-year-old crowd entertained. Then, he found a slab of cedar, cut and varnished it and made it a centrepiece bar in his new restaurant, Shuk. It’s a fabulous piece of carpentry.
Volodarsky hasn’t spared any expense transforming Shuk into a more sophisticated space, adding a state-of-the-art coffee machine, excellent lighting, a beautiful color scheme and quartz countertops. Dairy products are all chalav Yisrael and many of the ingredients he uses come from Israel, including
Israeli rosewater, tehina, za’atar, Moroccan spices and Turkish coffee by Elite. The kitchen is under Chabad supervision.
My shakshuka ($14.50) arrived on a skillet, presented on a wooden board accompanied by French fries in a neat stainless steel basket. It was also served with pita that Volodarsky was quick to point out is deliberately Israeli-style, sourced from Toronto, and hummus, which Swissa makes in five-litre quantities daily and was so good I had to bring a container of it home. Other items on the menu included the $7 boreka plate (three borekas served with boiled egg, tahini and pickled cukes), the $14.95 falafel plate (seven balls with a side of hummus, fries, Israeli salad and pita), hatzilim ($14.50, served on top of tahini with tomato salsa and pita) and za’atar focaccia ($14.50). There’s also poutine ($7.50), French toast ($8.95), eggs benedict with salmon and avocado ($14.50), pasta and wraps containing fish or falafel.
The food is a mix of Mediterranean, Russian and Yemeni influences, Swissa said. “It’s comfort food that brings you back to Israel,” he confided, adding that the menu is fairly simple with daily specials bringing new items to the mix. The two specials the day I came in were Persian fish balls with couscous, spinach and carrots ($17.30) and flatbread with caramelized onion, goat cheese and pesto ($14).
Volodarsky looked pensively towards the children’s area, where his 3-year-old often releases energy on rainy Vancouver days. “The idea is to attract families with kids,” he said quietly. “Out front we have a quiet area for coffee and meetings, but in the back are most of our 76 seats, and Sundays it’s packed in there.”
The fact that the restaurant is kosher is a big drawcard for Vancouver’s Jewish community and Volodarsky and his team of nine are fighting the perception that kosher means “super expensive.”
“We’re really trying to keep our costs reasonable,” he said. Still, some 55% of diners are not Jewish, Swissa noted. “And they love hummus!”
Don’t miss the desserts – there’s a fabulous selection of delicacies including tahini ice cream, chocolate-banana mousse cups and butter popcorn mousse.
And, if you don’t have the time or energy for a Friday night meal, Swissa can handle that in a heartbeat, complete with the challah, for any orders, even as small as a family of one or two. “I need just 20 minutes forewarning,” he said. He makes 12 challot each Friday in three different flavors, and they disappear fast, so pre-orders are crucial.
Shuk is open Mondays through Thursdays, 8 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fridays, 8 a.m.-3 p.m.; and Sundays, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. There is free underground parking and free wifi. Before Feb. 10, Shuk’s grand opening, access to the kids play area is free. After that date it’s $5 per child, $2.50 per sibling or $30 for a month-long unlimited membership. For more information or reservations, 604 563-4141.
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.