This diary note from Molly Dexall, recalling events from Sept. 2, 1939, was found by her son, Fred Dexall, and Alex Krasniak, community support worker at Yaffa House, in one of Dexall’s old binders. It was written by his mother, who was 19 at the time; she died in 1977. It is reprinted here with permission, marking 80 years since the outbreak of the Second World War on Sept. 1, 1939.
September 2, 1939
In Prince Albert, we got the news that there would be a young Judaean Convention in Saskatoon. I wanted to go very badly and my parents agreed to it.
It was to be held in the Bessborough Hotel and to be opened by a formal dinner and dance. As I had no formal gown, I worked some Saturdays for Mr. Barsky at the Blue Chain Stores to earn enough money to buy one. The gown I bought there was pale pink taffeta and cost six dollars.
I stayed with the Sugarmans in Saskatoon and a blind date was arranged for me for the big dinner and dance. His name was Macey Milner and I thought him very handsome and charming.
In the ballroom, shortly before we were requested to find our tables, someone came up and asked me to make the toast to Junior Hadassah. Macey asked if I wanted help in deciding what to say but I told him it was simple and I had it figured out already.
When we were seated and I was asked to do my part, I stood up majestically in my six dollar pink taffeta gown, held up my glass of water and in a loud, triumphant voice I hollered “Here’s to Junior Hadassah” took a long drink of water and sat down. Simple it was – probably the simplest toast that Junior Hadassah has ever received.
After the dinner and dance we went car riding with Lloyd Mallin and his date and a little innocent kissing ensued with a car radio playing gentle tender music when suddenly a harsh, hoarse voice broke in
“War has just been declared”
We sat stunned and there seemed nothing more to do but go home.
I had some sleep and about noon Macey phoned to ask if I’d care to walk in the park with him and some other people. That scene remains imprinted on my memory like a movie still. That little group of five teenage young Judaeans seems almost to have gravitated together on that day like a point in time.
We strolled solemnly and almost silently under the warm sun, over the green grass and through the trees, Macey and I, Maishel Teitlebaum, now one of Canada’s leading artists, Neil Chotem, one of Canada’s leading musicians and Macey’s sister, now Simma Holt, author, journalist and MLA for Vancouver-Kingsway. We knew that something beautiful had ended and something terrible had begun, September 2, 1939.
Katie Delay, left, and Sunny Enkin Lewis are co-presidents of Grant Park High School’s Students for Social Justice. (photo from Sunny Enkin Lewis)
Earlier this year, Winnipeg Grade 12 student Sunny Enkin Lewis won first prize for her age group in A&E network’s contest Lives That Make a Difference. The contest receives hundreds of submissions from all over Canada.
“The prompt [for the contest] is along the lines of, ‘Write an essay about someone who has made a significant contribution to Canada in 2018,’” Enkin Lewis told the Independent. “So, I wrote about Autumn Peltier, who – I believe she’s 15 now, around there – is an indigenous water keeper. She’s an activist for clean water in indigenous communities in Canada. She’s spoken at the UN, she’s spoken to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. So, she’s done a lot of amazing activism.”
Peltier is Anishinaabe and is from the Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island in northern Ontario.
“I chose her for a couple reasons,” said Enkin Lewis, who was born in Toronto, but has lived in Winnipeg for the past 10 years. “First of all, I think her cause is really important in Canada. I’ve always been really upset with Canadian society and government, because we tend to look at ourselves as pretty flawless in terms of human rights. And, it is true that the quality of life for Canadians, overall, is really good. Yet, there are people, a lot of people, who don’t have the most basic of their needs met – water and shelter … and I think she has brought more awareness to that.”
In her essay, Enkin Lewis points out that Peltier not only stands up fearlessly for this cause, but that she does so from a unique worldview as an Anishinaabe person.
“She thinks of water as deserving of rights,” said Enkin Lewis. “That’s not something we would generally think of and I think it’s a really strong statement – that someone can stand up and speak of things in a way that contrasts the common logic of general Western ideas. I think that helps validate indigenous worldviews in a Western context a little more. Also, I was just inspired by her, as a young woman. I think it’s so important that young people’s voices are heard and that’s how I believe change will happen the fastest – if young people are given a platform and are accepted and respected – and she really embodies that.”
As for as why Enkin Lewis’s essay may have been chosen, she said, “I think my choice of person was really relevant in Canada today, especially since, now, I think, there’s a big focus on indigenous rights, and I think it was maybe a bit refreshing to see someone like that. I haven’t read the other people’s essays, and they didn’t tell me why mine was specifically chosen … just that they thought it stood out.”
Growing up, Enkin Lewis learned that “a big thing in Judaism is valuing life over everything, and knowing the value of human life. And, I think a big part of Judaism is also just respect for people and … everyone should have a good quality of life.
“The fact that, here, in Canada, there are people who don’t have their basic needs met, I think that’s not OK in Judaism. I think it’s important for other cultures to listen to each other, just as I think it’s important for Christian people to listen to Jewish people. And, I think it’s important for Jewish people to listen to indigenous perspectives. As a European Jew, I’m not native to this land … and it’s important to respect the people who are the caretakers of this land and who have been for thousands of years.”
Last year, Enkin Lewis led the organizing of a social justice conference at Grant Park High School, which, in turn, led to the development of a student social justice club at Grant Park. Enkin Lewis and co-president Katie Delay created the club and, because they and the teacher involved in helping to form the group will have left the school by the start of the next school year, Enkin Lewis hopes the younger members will pick up the ball.
“I think our club is very student-centred, very much about what we care about right now, and it gives me and other people an opportunity to get involved in a safe and constructive way,” she said.
As Grant Park has many newcomer Yazidi students, events organized by the club have been focused on building community awareness of the Yazidi situation.
“We did a drive for school supplies for underprivileged students in Winnipeg, and the biggest thing we’ve done is organize a coffeehouse and a couple other events for Yazidis with the help of a local organization called Operation Ezra. We had a bake sale where we sold traditional Yazidi foods, a Yazidi dance class to educate people about the culture, etc. I find that people are not really aware of what’s happening to the Yazidi people.
“We had a coffeehouse in the evening and invited community members, students, parents, anyone to come. There were student performers and a speaker talking about what’s happening, and a Yazidi performer.”
Enkin Lewis’s essay win comes with a $3,000 cheque for her and a $1,000 cheque for her school. She plans to follow her family’s Jewish custom of donating a portion of everything they earn. “I haven’t narrowed it down to a specific organization yet,” she said, “but I’m going to donate it basically to her [Peltier’s] cause – water in indigenous communities. Other than that, I will probably put it toward my education.”
Israelis Ofir Gadi and Or Aharoni are rounding up their year of volunteering in Metro Vancouver. (photo from Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver)
In Israel, high school graduates can go straight into the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) or opt to do a shnat sherut (year of service, for which the acronym is shinshin). The vast majority of 18-year-olds who do a shnat sherut do so inside Israel, volunteering with a variety of social welfare and other nonprofit organizations throughout the country. But, through the Jewish Agency, approximately 100 teens do their year of volunteering in Jewish communities around the world.
Vancouver began to take part in the program in 2015. In August of that year, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver brought three young women to split their time between Vancouver Talmud Torah, Richmond Jewish Day School, King David High School, Beth Israel, Temple Sholom, Beth Tikvah and the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. The final quarter of the year was spent volunteering at camps Hatikvah and Miriam and the JCC day camp. Each agency contributed a portion of money to cover the expenses needed to bring the shinshiniot (female plural for shinshin) here from Israel and to contribute to a small monthly stipend. Host families, who welcomed an 18-year-old Israeli into their family for a period of three months, took care of living arrangements and meals.
Nearly four years later, all of the original host organizations continue to participate in the program. Shinshin coordinator Dan Stern helps make the connections between the organizations and the volunteers as smooth as possible. The main challenge continues to be finding host families. While it is a significant responsibility, the fact that many host families have hosted volunteers multiple times speaks to the rewards of doing so.
This year, for the first time, Vancouver picked one male and one female shinshin. Ofir Gadi and Or Aharoni arrived in early September and settled in right away. They spent two days each week at VTT, interacting with students through activities including song, dance, multimedia presentations focusing on Israel, Israeli-style Jewish holiday celebrations, and Hebrew. RJDS had them once a week for similar activities and the pair helped at the JCC with teen programming. On Sundays, they split up to give a special Israeli flavour to various synagogue religious schools. Federation also has had them working at many community events and its outreach program, Connect Me In, which services Squamish, Langley and Burquest. Additionally, the two have helped make other community-wide celebrations special, including making a presentation at this year’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts.
Gadi and Aharoni have proven to have complementary personalities. They have worked together, smiling through the challenges they have faced and thoroughly enjoying almost everything they’ve encountered here.
“Vancouver is my favourite city in the world,” said Aharoni with her typical warm smile. “The weather is much better than what the other Canadian shinshinim have and the people we have met here have been so welcoming and amazing. Also, being here, I’m not the only one saying thank you on the bus!”
Gadi has also had terrific experiences. “We have worked a lot in many areas of the Vancouver Jewish community and the good thing about that is we have met so many wonderful people,” he said.
While they were prepared to a certain degree about what to expect, both Aharoni and Gadi have said being in Vancouver has exceeded their expectations. “We both love it here and plan to return,” said Gadi.
The biggest surprise for Aharoni was that she felt at home as soon as she arrived. “I didn’t know that it would be such a good fit,” she said. “I was positive coming in but I have found the energy and the vibe of the students amazing and the community, host families and friends I’ve made have been so special.”
Although she has traveled outside of Israel, she said she didn’t know anything about what it is like to live as a Jewish person outside of Israel. She comes from a secular Israeli family and, she said, living here has brought up questions about Jewish identity that had never been an issue before.
“Firstly, I am an Israeli. Secondly, I feel fully Jewish even though I am not at all religious,” she said. “I see that it’s important to live the Jewish life the way you want. I also understand that going to synagogue is important here in order to be part of something, and being part of a community is very special.”
Both teens have stayed with families with whom they have deeply connected. “It’s been great to be part of a different family every few months,” said Gadi. “I have enjoyed my host siblings and I hope our connection will continue and my family in Israel will have a chance to host my families from here.”
Gadi is from a small community near Modi’in called Reut and Aharoni’s family lives on a moshav called Aviel, near Caesarea. Both shinshinim expect visitors, as host families and friends of past shinshiniot have kept in touch and visited when in Israel.
“The connections with people makes this experience more powerful and meaningful. Both Ofir and I have made so many special connections with students, families and the Vancouver Jewish community,” said Aharoni.
Up next for both shinshinim is summer camp. Aharoni will help augment the Israel programming at Camp Hatikvah and Gadi will be at Camp Miriam lending an additional Israeli vibe to the camp.
For more information about the shinshin program or how to host one of the two shinshinim who will arrive in September, contact Jewish Federation at 604-257-5100.
Michelle Dodekis a freelance writer living in Vancouver.
The cast of Arts Umbrella’s production of James and the Giant Peach includes Teilani Rasmussen (as Ladahlord), left, and Sophie Mercier (as James). (photo by Tim Matheson)
“Well, maybe it started that way. As a dream, but doesn’t everything. Those buildings. These lights. This whole city. Somebody had to dream about it first. And maybe that is what I did. I dreamed about coming here, but then I did it.”
Roald Dahl (1916-1990) wrote some of the most-known children’s books, including The Gremlins, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Matilda and, published in 1961, James and the Giant Peach, from which the above quote comes. Still as relevant as ever, and adapted into a musical about a decade ago, James and the Giant Peach is “wildly entertaining,” director Erika Babins told the Jewish Independent in an interview about Arts Umbrella’s Expressions Theatre Festival, May 17–25. “The music is written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who wrote the music for La La Land, The Greatest Showman and Dear Evan Hansen, to name a few. I find I always have at least one of their catchy songs stuck in my head. There’s also puppets!” she said.
James and the Giant Peach is one of four productions featured in the festival. The others are Peter Pan (by J.M. Barrie), Animal Farm (adapted by Nelson Bond from the novel by George Orwell) and Into the Woods (music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by James Lapine).
“Choosing the Expressions Theatre Festival shows is an involved process that starts at least a year in advance. We’re already choosing shows for our 2020 festival,” said Babins, who is a member of the Jewish community. “Each troupe director is responsible for choosing the show their troupe will perform.
“As directors, we keep in mind the strengths and areas of growth we see within our cast,” she said. “We want to ensure that the skills students develop throughout the year build upon or differ from those we explored in past years. For shows, we want to choose something that can challenge and engage our students throughout the rehearsal process. At the same time, we want to select shows that will appeal to our audience, which includes a large number of students who attend school matinées that run along with our public performances.”
The Arts Umbrella promotional material summarizes the plot of James and the Giant Peach: “When James is sent by his conniving aunts to chop down their old fruit tree, he discovers a magic potion that results in the growth of a tremendous peach … and launches a journey of enormous proportions. Suddenly, James finds himself in the centre of the gigantic peach, among human-sized insects with equally oversized personalities. After the peach falls from the tree and rolls into the ocean, the group faces hunger, sharks and plenty of disagreements. Thanks to James’ quick wit and creative thinking, the residents learn to live and work together as a family.”
“I chose James and the Giant Peach for myriad reasons,” Babins said. “Last year, the Junior Musical Theatre Troupe performed Guys and Dolls, a classic musical with a lot of realism. James and the Giant Peach is pretty much the opposite of that: it’s a contemporary show written with lots of theatricality and wonder. I also find the themes in the show particularly universal for the age range of 13-to-16-year-olds who perform in the show. In the musical, the theme of chosen family comes up a lot – the idea that you have the right to surround yourself with people who make you feel safe and happy, and that you’re allowed to distance yourself from those who make you feel bad or hurt you.”
Babins has been working at Arts Umbrella as the choreographer for the Senior Musical Theatre Troupe since 2012, and she began teaching in the general and yearlong theatre programs in 2014. “We started the Junior Musical Theatre Troupe just two years ago and the original director is taking a leave of absence, so I was asked to helm this production,” she said. “I was more than happy to take on the role.”
Playing the role of James in the Arts Umbrella production is 15-year-old Sophie Mercier. “She brings both a maturity and an emotional vulnerability to the role, which James needs to have in order for the audience to care about his journey,” said Babins.
When asked about the most fun aspect of this production, Babins said it was “playing into all the theatrical moments.”
“The show is a play within a play, with the narrator introducing us to all the characters and themes at the beginning of the show. We have a lot of fun breaking the fourth wall and bringing the audience in on the magic of theatre,” she explained.
As for the most challenging part, she pointed to the set changes. “We have some big and elaborate set pieces,” she said, “and I often ran out of hands to move them around the stage. But I think we have found some clever solutions to those challenges.”
The Expressions Theatre Festival opens and closes with Into the Woods (May 17 and May 25, 7 p.m.), which runs a few times during the festival. James and the Giant Peach will be performed twice: May 19, 4 p.m., and May 23, 7 p.m. For more information about the festival and the full performance schedule, visit artsumbrella.com/expressionstheatre. Tickets start at $12 and the shows take place at Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island.
This screenshot from the 30th anniversary video of the Public Speaking Contest shows participants’ excitement. Larry Barzelai can be seen at the back of the crowd on the right.
On March 14, about 90 young participants and their families and friends, as well as volunteer judges and moderators and others from the Jewish community gathered for the annual Public Speaking Contest, presented by Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and State of Israel Bonds.
“This contest was established in memory of my father, Morris Black, who left money in his will to support such a contest,” Larry Barzelai told the Independent. “It has morphed from a Peterborough-based essay contest for famous people in Jewish history, to an Ontario-based essay contest, to a public speaking contest in Hamilton (run by my brother Rick) and the present public speaking contest in Vancouver. I give credit to my brother Rick, who originally came up with the idea of a public speaking contest in Hamilton, where he lives, and I started the contest in Vancouver a few years later.
“For my father, family, education and Judaism were the most important things in life,” Barzelai added. “This contest combines all three.”
This year’s Grade 4 through Grade 7 participants came from Gilpin Elementary School, Richmond Jewish Day School, Temple Sholom Religious School, Vancouver Talmud Torah, Vancouver Hebrew Academy and West Point Grey Academy. Some of the public school entrants may also attend a synagogue school.
Speeches had to run less than three minutes, but could cover any topic. Students were given a list of suggestions, such as the following: What is your favourite Jewish holiday and why? Describe a family member or someone from Jewish history and tell us why you admire them. Israel is often described as the “start-up nation” – name something invented in Israel and discuss how you think it has made a difference to people’s lives. Reduce, reuse, recycle are terms used to describe how people protect the environment – tell us about two Jewish values that you feel are connected to environmental protection. If you only had time to visit one city in Israel, which city would it be and why?
“To prepare a talk, students must conceive of a topic, organize information about that topic, and be prepared to deliver a speech to an audience of fellow students and strangers,” said Barzelai. “The preparation helps their ability to organize their thoughts in a coherent manner. Subsequently, they have to be prepared to present the information in a manner that is convincing to other people. These tasks require time and effort. After they give their speeches, they usually feel a well-deserved sense of accomplishment. What could be a better learning environment for the students and more positive experience for the families!”
Lissa Weinberger, manager of Jewish education and identity initiatives at Federation, is in charge of managing the literally hundreds of moving parts of the machine the contest has become. She provided the Independent with the list of winners for this year’s event, though the contest organizers rightfully stress that every participant is a winner for having participated and put in the work.
With the contest in its 31st year, Barzelai said, “It continues to be rewarding to watch the smiles on students’ and parents’ faces after they have given their speeches. This reflects the fact that the students have worked hard, have accomplished something valuable and are proud of themselves.”
He added, “It is also rewarding to see the children of parents who were in the contest themselves when they were in elementary school.”
Last year, to celebrate the contest’s 30th anniversary, Barzelai had a video created.
“It was hoped that the video would encourage future students to participate,” he said. “They would see that most participants seemed to enjoy their involvement in the contest, and viewed it as a positive learning experience.”
Written and directed by Adam Bogoch and edited by Thomas Affolter, the video gives a brief history of the contest, shows clips of the 2018 event and features interviews with the students, community leaders and volunteers, including Barzelai’s spouse, Rhona Gordon, who is an advisor on the project and is always on hand to help give out the awards on contest night.
This year’s awards went to, in Grade 4: Myelle Leung (1), Lia Golik (2) and Miri Grad (3) in Group 1; Miriam Ora Yeshayahu (1), Arlo Foxman (2) and Yanky Baitelman (3) in Group 2; and Naomi Bernal (1), Hannah Pressman Chikiar (2) and Jake Silver (3) in Group 3.
In Grade 5, the winners were Mira Hurwitz (1), Baila Shapiro (2) and Anne Cohen (3) in Group 1; Adina Ragetli (1), Sophie Rossman (2) and Jakob Murphy (3) in Group 2; and Sarah Malul (1), Hannah Setton (2) and Hannah Norden (3) in Group 3.
In Grade 6, winners were Chaya Malul (1), Eden Almog (2) and Tamir Gini (3) and, in Grade 7, they were Chasya Berger (1), Rivka Feigelstock (2) and Max Dodek (3).
Teens from CTeens, NCSY and BBYO joined together for the Not Your Bubbies’ Babka Bake at Congregation Schara Tzedek on March 7. (photo from CTeens)
On March 17, teens from three local organizations – CTeens (Chabad Teens), NCSY (National Conference of Synagogue Youth) and BBYO (B’nai B’rith Youth Organization) – joined together for a mitzvah. Around 30 teens from Richmond and Vancouver gathered for the Not Your Bubbies’ Babka Bake at Congregation Schara Tzedek, where they learned how to braid challah and make chocolate babka.
This wasn’t an ordinary get-together, it was a mitzvah event, timed to help celebrate Purim. The challot went to seniors in the Light of Shabbat Program, and the teens took the babkas home.
The Light of Shabbat Program is run by Chabad Richmond, in partnership with the Kehila Society. Every other week, a group of volunteers makes and delivers full kosher meals, along with Shabbat candles and grape juice, to Richmond seniors who are alone on Friday nights. To find out more about the program, visit chabadrichmond.com/lightofshabbat. Part of the meal is homemade challah, which was made by these teens as part of the mishloach manot (also referred to as shalach manot), or Purim food baskets, given on the holiday.
It’s a mitzvah and tradition for adults to send a gift basket of ready-to-eat foods to at least one friend during the day of Purim. The baskets should include at least two foods, often hamantashen, chocolate, fruit, cookies or candy. The source of mishloach manot is the Megillah, or Book of Esther, which talks about “sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.” The idea of sending gifts of food on Purim is to strengthen our bonds of friendship with fellow Jews, as one theme of Purim is friendship and unity.
Aiden, a 15-year-old CTeen, said the reason he joined the Not Your Bubbies’ Babka Bake event was to meet other Jewish teens, and help out. “I love to bake,” he said, “and it makes me feel good knowing that the challahs we’re baking are going to seniors in our community.”
A CTeen for two years, Aiden wanted to feel more connected to the Jewish community, so he started going to shul at Chabad Richmond. Then he met Rabbi Chalom Loeub, who leads the CTeen program. Among other things, the CTeens get together every Sunday to bake cookies and cakes for seniors. Aiden also mentioned going to the CTeen International Shabbaton in New York, which he said was “incredible.” He’s now trying to get other Jewish teens involved in CTeen, too.
Jillian Marks, 17, was another participant in the challah and babka bake. She came to the event through her involvement with BBYO. As a youth leader for the Vancouver chapter, she wants to create “a pluralistic environment for everyone who wants to meet other Jews and feel safe and be whoever they want to be.” BBYO holds different events, all of which have some Jewish element to them. For this particular event, BBYO joined with CTeens and NCSY to “work together, not compete. You can be in all of the groups, not just in one of them,” said Marks.
Each of the youth groups emphasizes leadership skills, and many of their events are teen-run initiatives. Marks added that “the purpose of this challah/babka bake was not just to meet other Jewish teens, but also to volunteer and help out the community.”
All the teens echoed the same sentiments – that making challah for seniors is a mitzvah and that it feels good to volunteer. It’s a nice perk, they said, that they also get to meet other Jewish teens, adding that they would “get the word out” to their friends.
Several teens from NCSY, including Neer, 16, Jessie, 17, and Romy, 16, also attended the challah and babka bake. They run Live to Give, a social action outreach program for the local NCSY chapter. One of their projects is to take homemade baking to Louis Brier Home and Hospital residents. One of the teens said, “For seniors who have no family, or very little, it’s special for them, and it brings a lot of light to their life.”
Members of the NCSY chapter also make and deliver food to people in Oppenheimer Park. “It’s a great opportunity to help out in the community and it’s very rewarding,” said the teen.
For the past 24 summers, Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance! has attracted hundreds of enthusiastic and talented participants from throughout Canada, the United States and Israel, many of whom have gone on to successful careers in the performing arts. The deadline is April 1 to apply for this summer’s sessions, which take place at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver July 2-25 and Aug. 6-29.
The director and creator of Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance! is Perry Ehrlich, who received an Ovation Award and the Canadian Bar Association’s Community Service Award (acknowledging his dedication to working with children and musical theatre). A composer, pianist, teacher, arranger, producer, adjudicator, writer and talent coordinator, Ehrlich also directs ShowStoppers performance troupe (theimpresario.ca).
Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance! is taught by a faculty of professional instructors, each working in his or her respective field, including musical directors Wendy Bross Stuart and Diane Speirs; director Chris McGregor; choreographers Anna Kuman, Jason Franco, Keri Minty and Meghan Anderssen; acting coach Amanda Testini; and Mariana Munoz and Charlie Weaver, set construction and costume co-ordination.
Peter Birnie, former theatre critic for the Vancouver Sun, commented that the faculty members “are all teaching in a carefully choreographed nesting of studies that takes place all over the JCC and culminates in a big, brassy show. I try to attend every year, and always come away just as thrilled as the parents and families with the level of talent on display. It is about the joy that comes from singing your lungs out and dancing your hooves off.”
This year’s final production in each session – called Shamilton – will take place in the Rothstein Theatre and feature an original script and a broad repertoire of music from Broadway and movie musicals.
The Finishing School will again be offered for serious musical theatre students attending Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance! and it will feature approximately 10 sessions from 3:15 to 5:15 p.m., after the regular program, which will run 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Finishing School students will receive instruction in audition technique, presentation of songs and scene work, and will participate in intensive dance workshops and meet with well-known professionals in the theatre community.
The Boot Camp Dance – for those either new to dance or wanting to refine their skills – will also be offered.
The cost to attend Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance! is $750 for JCCGV members and $850 for non-members. Scholarships are available through the Babe Oreck Memorial Fund, the Phyliss and Irving Snider Foundation, and others for those with financial need.
A contingent from Richmond Chabad CTeen joined the 11th annual CTeen International Shabbaton that took place in New York last month. (photo from Chabad Richmond)
Teens from around the world celebrated Jewish unity, heritage and pride at the 11th annual CTeen (Chabad Teen Network) International Shabbaton. The convention, which took place Feb. 22-24, drew more than 2,600 participants. From world-class speakers to a closing ceremony with a surprise appearance by WeWork founder Adam Neumann, the Shabbaton left the teens exhilarated and ready to share their Jewish pride with others.
The weekend included a traditional Shabbat experience in the heart of Crown Heights, the Chassidic neighbourhood of Brooklyn, hands-on workshops and lectures about Judaism, and the Times Square takeover, featuring Jewish pop star Yaakov Shwekey.
The theme of the Shabbaton was I-Matter. The theme was meant to empower teens to recognize and use their inherent, true value, which is not dependent on achievements or status. It’s a message that has resonated with many teens, who have found their voices and personal missions through their involvement in CTeen.
“The highlight of the CTeen International Shabbaton was getting to know fellow Jewish teens from around the world, and learning about their Jewish communities and what it’s like to be a Jew in their area. It was an experience of a lifetime and I can’t wait until next year,” shared Richmond teen Sarah Aginsky, Grade 10.
“The most meaningful part of my experience at the Shabbaton would be when we spent Saturday night in Times Square,” said fellow Richmond teen Aidan Wessels, also in Grade 10. “It really makes you feel at home, being surrounded by Jewish people, and you don’t have to be ashamed or anything to be who you really are. It really touched my heart when we were introduced, via video, to Rabbi Yitzy Horowitz, who has been diagnosed with ALS and chose to live with such a disease and still try to look on the bright side of everything.”
“The CTeen International Shabbaton was so meaningful to me,” added Jordan Wessels, Grade 12. “This is because we all have such a great Jewish experience, and meeting Jewish teens from all over the world. The amount of energy of so many people like you is truly amazing.”
Over the weekend, 15 teen speakers shared personal stories of struggle, triumph and strength in the face of adversity. The stories ranged from students who fought for Jewish rights at school, to those who dealt with alopecia (spot baldness) and subsequent bullying, to teens who lost family members to drug addiction.
Priest-turned-rabbi Yaakov Parisi shared his inspiration for living a Jewish life with teens in an animated story during Shabbat dinner. Prof. Binyamin Abrams, who lectures on chemistry at Boston University, answered questions about Torah and science, and ecouraged teens to seek knowledge while living Jewishly.
“The secret of my life and success is keeping Shabbat,” declared Neumann during the closing. “Disconnecting from the world for 25 hours and connecting to something greater than myself makes me who I am. There has never been a more relevant time in history to celebrate being Jewish. If you come away with one thing today, I hope it’s that you disconnect to connect.”
“You may find yourself alone, the only Jew in your public school, or you may feel like a minority, but remember: there is no such thing as a small Jew,” said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, chair of CTeen. “I hope you take the energy you gained this weekend and carry it into every aspect of your lives back at home.”
“Our intrinsic worth is not based on achievements,” said Chabad Richmond’s Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman. “Every individual can connect to G-d, no matter the circumstances. It is because of this connection that every individual, in any situation, can make a significant difference. That is what CTeen is all about.”
With more than 500 chapters in 23 countries, CTeen Network’s mission is to empower tomorrow’s generation of leaders through Jewish education and by providing a strong Jewish network across the globe. Teens develop awareness and confidence, while connecting with individuals who share similar experiences and beliefs. They become an integral part of a group that focuses on building core values and stresses positive character development. CTeen is open to Jewish teens regardless of affiliation.
Sarah Jacobsohn is the Ultimate Canada 2018 Junior Female Athlete of the Year. (photo from Sarah Jacobsohn)
Last month, Ultimate Canada named Sarah Jacobsohn the 2018 Junior Female Athlete of the Year.
“I was in the middle of biology class, looked at my phone, and saw that one of my teammates had texted me saying congratulations and a long paragraph,” recalled Jacobsohn about hearing of the award. “And I was like, what’s going on? I had no idea.
“Then, I saw the article that was written about me and I got the notification that they had selected me for the award … and I started crying in the middle of class and I called my mom. It was so surreal and just amazing.”
Jacobsohn was born in St. Louis, Mo., in 2000, and moved with her parents and older sister to Winnipeg in 2006. She has been attending Gray Academy of Jewish Education since then, and will be graduating this year.
Athleticism runs in the family. Both of Jacobsohn’s parents played sports into adulthood. She also gets her height from her parents: her mom is 5’11” and her dad is just over six feet.
Jacobsohn has played sports for as long as she can remember. “I played Timbits soccer since I was in Grade 1, then I continued playing competitive tennis and soccer. Once I found ultimate, I quit all those other sports to play ultimate,” she told the Independent. “For my high school, I still play volleyball, basketball and ultimate but, on a competitive level, I gave the others up for ultimate.” (That said, she remains a competitive player at the other sports. For example, on the school’s varsity basketball team, she has been averaging 37 points per game.)
Ultimate was designed to be played without referees. “The spirit of the game is heavily emphasized, which is something you don’t find a lot in competitive sports in this day and age,” said Jacobsohn. “Essentially, it’s about maintaining a level of sportsmanship and integrity while playing the sport. You have to make the calls yourself and communicate with other players on the other team. And, it’s always maintained, that sportsmanship and respect for other players. Even at the highest level, ultimate is still heavily dependent on player communication, which I think is amazing.”
At the higher levels, there are “observers,” who help the players regulate the game, but they only intervene when asked by the players to do so. And, even after having been asked for their opinion, it is still up to the players to accept or disregard an observer’s call.
“I think that’s what a lot of sports have lost in the past few decades,” said Jacobsohn. “That competitive atmosphere takes away from the sportsmanship, and it shouldn’t. There should be a balance.”
In ultimate, she said, “people understand that, to keep that respect of the game, they have to be honest. It’s really amazing to see that, even at the highest level.”
Jacobsohn started playing ultimate in Grade 6 and, at 14 years old, her coach convinced her to try out for the provincial junior team. She made the team, as one of the youngest in the group. It was there that a national coach spotted her and, at age 15, she traveled to Vancouver for the national tryouts and made the team.
Jacobsohn participated in her first world championship in Poland in 2016, and Canada took home the gold. Last summer, Jacobsohn, as captain, led the provincial team to a gold medal. She went on to captain Team Canada to a bronze medal at the world championship in Waterloo, Ont.
All of these feats, as well as her extensive involvement in the ultimate and broader communities, contributed to Jacobsohn being chosen for the athlete-of-the-year award.
“The award is strictly based on achievements from the past year,” said Jacobsohn. “So, last year, I was captain of my provincial team and we won gold at nationals for the first time ever. Then, as captain of Team Canada, we won bronze at the worlds. And, I’ve done a lot of community stuff locally.
“I’ve been involved in the Winnipeg ultimate community for six or seven years, which is a lot, when I’m only 18 years old. I’ve gotten to know essentially the entire ultimate community. I’ve literally grown up in this community – finding a lot of leadership opportunities in it and chances to voice my opinion. I fight a lot for gender equity and voice that opinion a lot in the Winnipeg ultimate community.”
Jacobsohn serves on the Manitoba Disk Sports board, offering suggestions, as a high school student, about tournament arrangements and how the province runs the sport. She also has been very involved in the Winnipeg Ultimate Women’s Competitive League, helping to get a lot of juniors involved.
“As a very competitive female athlete, I understand my responsibility growing up as a female athlete in today’s world,” she said. “I have an immense responsibility to stand up and role model for other female athletes, and I’m not scared to do that.
“And, going to school where I’m one of six girls in my grade, I’ve been able to gain respect from a lot of boys and change perspectives on what being a female athlete means.”
Now, Jacobsohn is busy training for the under-24 national team tryouts. And, while her main aspiration is to become a doctor, like her dad, she is hoping to continue playing ultimate competitively for many years to come.
Teen activists talk with Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart at a climate-strike action on Dec. 7. (photo from Rebecca Hamilton)
“It’s going to be our future, so it’s up to us to take it into our own hands and show that, even if we can’t vote, we can still make a difference in our communities and the world,” Malka Martz-Oberlander told the Jewish Independent when she and fellow activist and friend Rebecca Hamilton met with the paper to discuss recent – and future – efforts to draw awareness to the climate crisis.
The two high school students are part of the group Sustainabiliteens, which was inspired by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. Last year, Thunberg started monthly school strikes, stating that preparing for a future that won’t have a livable climate was pointless. The strikes, called “Fridays for Future,” have spread to at least 270 countries, including Canada.
Inspired by Thunberg, strike action took place at Vancouver City Hall on Jan. 16, the day that Vancouver city council unanimously passed a motion put forward by Councilor Christine Boyle (OneCity) to declare a climate emergency. Similar motions have been adopted in other cities, including London, Los Angeles and Oakland, but Vancouver is the first in Canada to do so.
“Climate change is already impacting the people of Vancouver and will continue to. We need to respond to this crisis urgently and compassionately with a path towards a more equitable society,” said Boyle in a release. “Adequately addressing the climate emergency won’t be easy, but we are a smart city, capable of doing difficult things.”
Hamilton was an organizer of the strike at City Hall, and the groups Force of Nature and Extinction Rebellion Vancouver also supported the action. There was a previous school walkout and strike for the climate on Dec. 7, said Martz-Oberlander. She and Hamilton are among a growing number of Metro Vancouver teens coming together in what Martz-Oberlander describes as a “shared passion for climate justice.”
“With some of my friends, it’s just doom and gloom,” said Martz-Oberlander. “There’s this sense of this is all going to happen and no one can do anything, so why do anything? It’s out of our hands, we’re just kids…. But there’s also a lot of people that I know who are hopeful and see the bigger picture.”
“When I ask kids about the climate crisis,” said Hamilton, “they say that they think it’s a real problem and they’re scared. But the world around us doesn’t recognize what’s happening with the same sense of urgency that we feel. We are living in a confusing and weird time. On the one hand, we understand the science, we’re being told the scientific facts that we’re in a crisis. We’re being told these very conflicting messages, and there’s this dissonance. So what am I supposed to believe? The world is just going as normal, but why are you telling me then that we’re in this crisis and everything needs to change? I think that’s really frustrating. Me, personally, every day I’m frustrated by that.”
Both Martz-Oberlander and Hamilton grew up in the Vancouver Jewish community and say their Jewish values inform their activism. Martz-Oberlander’s family has been involved with Congregation Or Shalom since before she was born, and Hamilton grew up going to Temple Sholom.
“In the Torah, it talks about needing to pass down this world better than we got it,” said Martz-Oberlander. “That’s the concept of l’dor v’dor, ‘from generation to generation.’ The Jewish teaching that really influenced me is the sense of responsibility towards future generations.”
“Camp Miriam was most important to me in cultivating my Jewish identity,” said Hamilton. “I think it played a huge role in what I’m doing and why I care about it. The focus on youth agency, being told we could create change. It’s tikkun olam – environmentalism and climate justice is the most important way to try and help other people and create a more just world.”
Both teens avoid the word “climate change,” preferring instead to talk of the “climate crisis” or “climate emergency” and the need for “climate justice.”
“Climate change doesn’t sound urgent enough,” said Martz-Oberlander. “It’s an emergency.”
“I prefer climate emergency or climate crisis,” said Hamilton, who cites Jewish writer and activist Naomi Klein as an important influence on her thinking. “It’s not about preventing this catastrophe but about healing the foundation of our world. The climate crisis is a manifestation of these unjust worldly systems which exploit nature, animals and people, so fixing that manifestation will also mean fixing those systems.”
Hamilton and Martz-Oberlander were inspired to join the climate-strike movement after it came to Canada with a strike in Sudbury, Ont., led by 11-year-old Sofia Mather.
“I feel like I have been concerned about climate change my whole life,” said Hamilton, “but I began to want to do something when I realized that nothing else really matters if we live on a dead planet.”
Hamilton and Martz-Oberlander are currently preparing for a Canada-wide school strike on May 3, and have a local action planned for Feb. 15.
Matthew Gindin is a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He is Pacific correspondent for the CJN, writes regularly for the Forward, Tricycle and the Wisdom Daily, and has been published in Sojourners, Religion Dispatches and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.