Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the Munich Security Conference. (photo by Amos Ben Gershom IGPO via Ashernet)
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, which took place Feb. 16-18, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu holds a piece of an Iranian drone shot down over Israel last week. Netanyahu warned that Israel could strike the Islamic Republic. Looking directly at Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Netanyhau asked, “Mr. Zarif, do you recognize this? You should, it’s yours. You can also take back with you a message to the tyrants of Tehran – do not test Israel’s resolve!” The drone, which entered northern Israel from Syria near the Jordanian border, was shot down by an Israeli attack helicopter. In response to the drone incursion, the Israeli Air Force attacked the mobile command centre from which it was operated. During the operations, one of the Israeli jets was hit by a Syrian anti-aircraft missile and crashed; its pilot and navigator were able to parachute out of the plane and land safely in Israel.
The Four Seasons of Jersey Boys sings “Sherry.” (photo from Broadway Across Canada)
The multiple-award-winning Jersey Boys comes to Queen Elizabeth Theatre Nov. 14-19. The musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons was written by Jewish community members Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice.
Elice spoke to the Jewish Independent by phone from New York. He and Brickman were friends well before they became writing partners on the musical and other projects.
“We became friends somewhere in the ’90s, 1997-’98, around there, and Jersey Boys didn’t present itself as an opportunity until 2002, although we didn’t really do anything about it until the very end of 2003,” said Elice, noting that the day prior to our interview, Oct. 17, marked the 13th anniversary of the very first production of Jersey Boys, which opened at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2004.
When Elice was asked to write the musical, he asked Brickman to collaborate with him.
“I had spent a couple of decades in advertising and I was no longer doing that,” he explained. “I was working at a movie studio in California and a former client called – this was right after Mamma Mia! had opened on Broadway – and he said, ‘Hey, I have the rights to the Four Seasons’ music.’”
Initially, Elice thought he meant Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.” After setting him straight, the former client asked, “‘Well, would you be interested in doing the Mamma Mia! [concept] with the music of the Four Seasons?’ And I said, ‘No, somebody already did that, somebody already did Mamma Mia!’”
But Elice agreed to have lunch with Valli and Bob Gaudio, principal songwriter of the Four Seasons, and he called Brickman.
He and his friend “had been flirting with the idea of maybe writing something together,” said Elice, “which we assumed would be a screenplay because I was working at a studio and Marshall is, of course, an Oscar-winning screenwriter of some renown; I mean, he’s a legend. And I said, ‘Suppose we were to write a Broadway musical?’ And he said, ‘I’ve never written a Broadway musical.’ ‘Well, neither have I! But no one’s going to pay us anything, so we’ll just be wasting our own time and maybe we’ll have some fun. Let’s go to lunch and see what these guys are like.’”
During lunch, they asked Valli and Gaudio what it was like growing up in New Jersey, said Elice. “They started to tell us these jokes and anecdotes that were so, by turn, hilarious, tragic, stunning, but all of them engaging and compelling. We found ourselves leaning forward like anyone would when being told a really good story. And we said, ‘Hey guys, if you wanted to do this, if you wanted to do your warts-and-all life story, life of the group, that would be something that would be interesting because, look at us, we’re on the end of our seats. Other people would probably respond similarly, too.’… And they said, ‘OK, go ahead, knock yourself out. If we like what you do, then we’ll give you the gig.’”
Valli and Gaudio liked the first few scenes that Elice and Brickman wrote, so the writers began shopping the musical around. “The stars were in alignment,” said Elice, “as we wrote in the show.” The perfect producers, a director and venue were all lined up. “The only thing we didn’t have was the show,” he said. But, within a couple of months, he and Brickman had completed a script and, by August 2004, the production was in rehearsal in Southern California.
“And audiences loved the show from the very first performance,” said Elice. “We were always there in the back with our pads, ready to edit and make changes and do all the things in previews you’re supposed to do, but the show was really solid. Fundamentally, the show didn’t change. We improved certain things about it but there was no big surgery to be done on anything.”
He attributed the success to the music, which “underpins all our lives,” and to the fact that the group’s story is “a compelling one.”
“That’s always the secret to good theatre,” he said. “Tell a good story with characters the audience cares about.”
He also credited director Des McAnuff with being “a great visionary and a great field marshal for the project. He created this rocket ship that we all got on. It was a super-happy experience that could have amounted to nothing, and it ended up changing all of our lives.”
Part of the happy experience was writing with his friend.
“Writing for the theatre is like talking something into existence,” said Elice. It’s much harder to talk something into existence when you’re talking mainly to yourself, working as the sole writer, he said. “What I love about working with Marshall is that he taught me that, before you do anything, you take very long walks together and talk and talk and talk and talk, until you know how the characters sound, you know how to voice them, you know what happens, you’ve argued about plot and story and then, at some point, you have nothing left to do but sit down and actually write it. But the writing itself, the act of writing, is a product of extensive thinking and arguing and talking.”
There were no rules or a specific format for how the collaboration worked, said Elice. “If he wanted to write a scene, he would; if I wanted to, I would; then we would swap. And then, eventually, we were together combing through it.”
Elice said that he and Brickman weren’t involved in the making of the film version of Jersey Boys, which was directed by Clint Eastwood. “Generally, what the theatre offers that the film doesn’t offer is the live event,” said Elice.
He explained, “The existence of theatre ought to have ended by now – there are many, many other things to do. The theatre is expensive, it only happens in certain places at certain times of the day, it’s not convenient, it’s not particularly user-friendly as a medium, and yet it still exists. It’s actually doing better now than it did last year and, the year before that, it did better than the year before that, etc. So, why is that the case? Because, I think, we’re hardwired as a species – you and I and everyone around us – back to the days when cave-dwellers sat around fires and told each other stories. We like the idea of sitting in the dark and being told stories and experiencing them with other people sitting in the dark at the same time, experiencing the same story that will never be told in exactly the same way because it’s never the same. While the material may be the same, the performing of it is different, the audience is different, the chemistry in the room is different – everything changes.
“Each performance of a live event is a unique performance … and somewhere in there, somewhere in that unique experience, is something that’s thrilling for us,” he continued. “And what Des does specifically with Jersey Boys is to create a variety of roles for the audience because you’re not just sitting watching a show – you’re also the audience in the saloon, you’re the audience in the recording studio, you’re the audience at the concert, you’re the audience at the stadium. And there’s alchemy that happens with Jersey Boys on stage, where the audience, I think, really forgets that they’re watching actors playing these four guys and begins to believe that they are the Four Seasons and we are the people watching them. And so, the audience responds like they would at a rock concert, and not like they would do politely at a Broadway musical.”
He added, “It also happens to be a feel-good show and, as the world winds its way, a feel-good experience doesn’t feel out of sorts, because the rest of our days, we’re constantly facing greater challenges individually and collectively…. There are problems, there are bad things, so, you go to the theatre and feel good, it feels like a nice gift to give people.”
On Oct. 17, Jersey Boys’ 13th anniversary, a new company started rehearsals for another run of the show, said Elice. He dropped in to say hello to everyone and let them know of the significance of the day. “It’s a little like teaching,” he said. “If you’re a teacher, every year, the students stay the same age and you keep getting older … and I feel a little bit that way about Jersey Boys companies. I show up on the first day of rehearsals and, at the first production [in 2004], I was the same age as everybody in the show, and now I’m this old guy, because so many years have gone by but, of course, we’re still telling the story of a boy band, so you’ve got a cast in their 20s, and that’s a misty distant memory for me now.”
For tickets to Jersey Boys in Vancouver, visit ticketmaster.ca or call 1-855-985-5000.
Illusionist Vitaly Beckman can make people’s images disappear from their driver’s licences. Beckman will take part in “M” – The Magic Show at Michael J. Fox Theatre Oct. 21. (photo from eveningofwonders.com)
Vitaly Beckman can make objects levitate. He can transport the image of a person in a photograph to another photograph. And he can predict the future. I know this because I’ve seen him do all those things, and more.
In 2014, the Jewish Independent participated with Beckman in what he would probably call an illusion, but what seemed magical to me. On March 21, 2014, at Havana restaurant, he locked his predictions of what the news would be a few weeks hence – and what I and co-witness Mia Zimmerman, a radio and TV host, would be wearing – in a small box. I held the key to the box, which remained chained up in public view at the restaurant. At Beckman’s April 10 show, the vast majority of his predictions were proven correct, including my and Zimmerman’s chosen outfits.
Beckman is a consummate performer, and his busy schedule and numerous accolades are proof of that. But the best proof is to see one of his shows. He uses humour and charm to involve as many audience members as possible, and even the shy among the crowds seem to want to join in, though many may not get the chance at his next show, just for its sheer size – and that he’ll be one of five performers.
At “M” – The Magic Show on Oct. 21 at Michael J. Fox Theatre, Beckman will be sharing the stage with four other acclaimed and award-winning magicians: Kel, Wes Barker and the team of Trevor and Lorena Watters. The promotional material assures “cutting-edge illusions, mystery, music, comedy, audience participation (you’ve been warned!) and precision sleight of hand.”
It’s not very often that there’s a performance of this magnitude, Beckman told the Independent. “We all have our own shows but this is the first time we have a chance to collaborate,” he said. “Each of us has a different style and it’s exciting to combine into one show.”
In addition to the illusions already mentioned, Beckman’s An Evening of Wonders show includes “Super Vision,” where he reads books and newspapers from a 50-feet away. He writes all of his material and has invented all of his tricks.
“The latest illusion involves turning back time, as an old branch becomes young and fresh again, while I become old,” he shared.
Beckman has been practising magic since the age of 14, when he was inspired, he said, “by a David Copperfield special and started performing for friends and family, and inventing my own illusions. I felt like magic brings out all of my strengths and talents and that I can express myself in the best possible way by creating and performing illusions, by bringing my imagination to life and sharing it with an audience.”
However, notes his bio, it would only be years later, that Beckman “would abandon a career in engineering to focus on rebuilding people’s childlike sense of wonder and bridging the gap between dreams and reality.”
“I am naturally an optimist but also a realist,” he told the Independent. “I believe in good news but also stay grounded. Every new idea I conceive seems impossible at first, but then I can find a way to achieve it. I think that makes me think that it can be true for anything and, with effort and imagination, anything is possible.”
Partial proceeds from “M” – The Magic Show will be donated to the YMCA; funds will go to helping people of all ages access community programs, including swimming, childcare and education. “M” starts at 8 p.m. on Oct. 21 and Michael J. Fox Theatre is at 7373 Macpherson Ave., in Burnaby. Tickets are $39 (plus tax and service charges) from vtixonline.com or 604-241-7292.
Honoring one’s parents is one of the Ten Commandments. In Judaism, respecting and deferring to our elders is not just a value, it’s the law. That said, the opportunity to honor our elders in front of the entire community doesn’t come around very often. Which is just one of the reasons Louis Brier Jewish Aged Foundation’s Eight Over Eighty is so unique.
On May 25, noon, in the Great Hall at the Vancouver Law Courts, LBJAF will honor eight individuals/couples in their eighties who all have one thing in common: “They have each led by example.”
Four of the honorees are featured in this article: Dr. Marvin and Rita Weintraub, Rita Akselrod, Dr. Jimmy White and Chaim Kornfeld. Next week’s Jewish Independent will feature profiles of honorees Dr. Arthur and Arlene Hayes, Stan and Seda Korsch, Samuel and Frances Belzberg, and Serge Haber.
“I know the eight and they are wonderful,” event chair Mel Moss told the Independent, noting about the planned celebration, “Eight over Eighty is modern, yet staged in a traditional way. It is a tribute. It is light and bright yet respectful, it is a vibrant, swinging and ‘with it’ event.”
Dvori Balshine, LBJAF director of development, said, “This will be an event that the community has not seen before. People have been saying, ‘What a brilliant idea!’…. We came up with something fresh, in a new place and at a new time of day.” Even the nomination process, she added, was incredibly well received by the community
RITA AND MARVIN WEINTRAUB Books and education
Marvin Weintraub was born in Poland and came as a child to Ontario, where he ultimately received a PhD in plant physiology. Rita (Enushevsky) was raised in southwestern Ontario, near Niagara Falls, and graduated in sociology and philosophy. Both studied at the University of Toronto, where they met. They married soon after.
Settling for a decade in St. Catharines, which at the time had a Jewish population of about 500, together they started an adult education series and Rita launched a Jewish library in the synagogue that doubled as a community centre. Some of the librarians still working at the desk were originally trained by Rita.
“I have great faith in the value of education of all kinds, but particularly for Jewish adults and for youngsters,” said Marvin, who taught in the synagogue’s afternoon school. They both became active in Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) and she in National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW).
Marvin took a job at the University of British Columbia in 1959 and the young family moved west, immersing themselves in synagogue and community life. Rita became vice-president of Beth Israel Sisterhood and NCJW, taking special interest in global concerns like Vietnamese boat people and Soviet Jewry. She also brought her dedication to adult education, which she championed in Vancouver as she had in Ontario.
Marvin was elected president of Beth Israel and, later, Pacific Region chair of CJC, during which time he focused on addressing challenges of Jewish schools and helping teachers upgrade their skills.
Invited to the USSR in 1968 by the Soviet Academy of Science to lecture on plant virology, Marvin took the opportunity to smuggle in a suitcase filled with tefillin, tzitzit, siddurs and machzors. He attended shul morning and night for a month, using his serviceable Yiddish to identify daveners who could use the items.
In 1973, with Dr. Sid Zbarsky and Dr. Robert Krell, Marvin began the process that would lead to the first professor and program of Judaic studies at UBC, which now has three full-time and one part-time faculty.
In 1978, he was awarded a Queen’s Medal for service to Canadian science.
When the Jewish community centre at Oak and 41st was being designed, Rita convinced planners to set aside space for a Jewish library. Then Marvin set up a lunch between Rita and Sophie Waldman, during which Rita convinced Waldman to memorialize Waldman’s recently deceased husband, Isaac, with a library. Rita remains chair of the Friends of the Waldman Library and the annual fundraising telethon, which she began 20 years ago. She also has been a volunteer with Shalom BC, welcoming newcomers to the local Jewish community.
Of all her achievements, the library holds a special place for Rita. “It’s the focal point of the JCC,” she said.
RITA AKSELROD From tragedy to action
Rita Akselrod’s early experiences were forged by life in Romania, first under the Nazis, then under communism. At seven, she was barred from attending public school because she was Jewish, so a makeshift Jewish school was formed. She and the other Jews in Bacau were forced to wear the yellow star, were subject to curfews and forbidden from assembling in groups. The men in her family were conscripted into forced labor.
By the time Rita was ready for high school, the Russians had taken over and she was taken by her uncles to high school in Bucharest. Her brother wanted to go to university, but the communist regime wanted him in the army, so he fled the country. The rest of the family soon fled also, making their way to Budapest, then trekking through cornfields to an American-controlled zone before landing in a displaced persons camp in Austria.
There, she met “my Ben,” who she recently lost after more than a half-century of marriage. The couple made their way to Israel. But life was difficult in the state’s earliest years, and more so when Rita lost a baby three days after birth. They chose to move and were helped by Leon Kahn, a friend of Ben’s who had settled in Vancouver.
“Leon Kahn sent us papers and we came to Canada,” she said, acknowledging that when she first looked at an atlas, she was alarmed. “I couldn’t believe that we would come to Vancouver when I saw Alaska close by. When I was in Israel and we were corresponding, I said, ‘What’s Vancouver? It’s cold. It’s near Alaska.’ But we did come.”
Kahn set them up in a room in a shared house that had seen many Holocaust survivors and Ben began collecting junk with a horse and buggy, which he would then sell to used-goods dealers. “My husband wasn’t a businessman,” Rita said. “He came from camps and ghettos, he didn’t know the city, he didn’t know the business.”
But the family succeeded, and later sponsored Rita’s parents, brother and his family from Israel.
In 1979, tragedy struck, when the Akselrods’ daughter, Sherry, was killed by a drunk driver. She was a parole officer who had offered to trade shifts on Dec. 26 so a colleague could spend Christmas with family. The loss spurred Rita to bring the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving to British Columbia. She also became involved in grief support, which was taking place in a church.
“I was speaking to a rabbi and said, ‘Can we have it in the Jewish community? Do I have to go to a church?’” Jewish Family Service Agency started a grief support group and Rita attended. Eventually, they asked her to take it over, which she did for many years as a volunteer. As well, she has been actively involved in substance abuse education programs.
She and Ben were founding members of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre and, for more than 20 years, Rita coordinated the speakers program, which has allowed tens of thousands of young British Columbians to learn about the Shoah directly from survivors. She is a past president and a life governor of the centre.
She also spent nearly three decades on the board of the Louis Brier, stopping only because she needed to devote more time to Ben when he developed Alzheimer’s. She is immensely proud of her work on denominational health, which ensured that faith-based agencies like the Louis Brier were treated appropriately when the province devolved health delivery to regional boards. A master agreement was signed between the province and the boards, and Rita noted that it “was signed in the Louis Brier, in front of the synagogue, with a priest there and other members of the denominations.”
She is a recipient of the YWCA Women of Distinction Award for community and humanitarian service and, on the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, she was awarded with honorary Canadian citizenship in Ottawa as a Holocaust survivor who has contributed to Canadian life through remembrance and education.
JIMMY WHITE Make friends with change
Change has been a constant for Jimmy White. He was born in Ohio but the family moved to Saskatchewan during the Depression. His father ran a store before thinking better of it and moving the family to the coast. Jimmy studied at UBC but, since there was no medical school here at the time, he headed to Toronto to become a doctor. While there, he met Beulah and they returned to British Columbia as a married couple.
Jimmy saw even more of Canada through assignments at military hospitals during the war. When peace came, he took up practice downtown and became an institution in the community.
Beulah passed away young, leaving Jimmy and two daughters. He would later marry Miriam Brook, who was widowed with three girls of her own. Sadly, Miriam, too, has since passed away, but Jimmy said he is thrilled to have five daughters.
In addition to his work and family obligations, Jimmy has been a leading voice for Zionism, as an activist in Young Judaea, then the Vancouver Zionist Organization. He was president of the Jewish Community Council (precursor to the Federation) and of the Richmond Country Club. He was a key fundraiser who helped obtain the land for and construct the JCC at Oak and 41st.
These days, he is the head of the residents council at the Weinberg Residence and enjoys yoga, concerts, bridge, art classes, detective novels and debates on politics and language.
The guiding advice of his life came from his mother, he explained. “She said, ‘Make friends with change.’ In her day, there was a horse and buggy. Then the automobile came in. What a big change that automobile made. And now computers and everything! If you don’t make friends with that, you’re left behind. You don’t have to like it, but you have to make friends with it.”
He was amused by a young visitor recently who came to the Weinberg Residence from a Jewish day school. “One of the kids said to me, ‘You’ve had so much change in your lifetime, now there’s no more change left, there’s no more to discover … iPads and iPods,’” Jimmy recalled. “I said, ‘It’s just beginning.’ He said, ‘What else is there to discover?’ I said, ‘That’s exactly what they said when the automobile was invented and when the computer came along. Somebody’s going to invent an antigravity pair of shoes.’”
CHAIM KORNFELD Never give up
Chaim Kornfeld was born in 1926 in a small town in northeastern Hungary, the youngest of eight children. While his father ran a grocery store and his mother managed the large, observant family, Chaim studied at cheder and yeshivah – until 1944. It was at that comparatively late period in the war when the Jews of his town, and of much of Hungary, were placed in ghettoes before being transported to camps.
In May 1944, Chaim was separated from his parents, sisters and grandmother on the platform at Auschwitz. Dr. Josef Mengele sent Chaim to the right and the rest of his family to the left. His father’s last words to Chaim, before he and the others were sent to the gas chambers, were “Never forget that you are a Jew.”
Chaim survived Mauthausen and Gusen, where he worked in an airplane factory. He survived a death march just four days before liberation in May 1945. Of his large family, only Chaim, a sister and two brothers survived. He finished his secondary education in Budapest and was preparing to enter rabbinical school when the Jewish Agency offered him the chance to go to Israel. He leapt at the opportunity, joined the Israeli air force, and was a founding member of Kibbutz Ma’agan. But educational and professional advancement was limited in Israel’s early years and Chaim took his brother up on a sponsorship to Canada.
In Saskatoon, Chaim taught Hebrew school in the afternoons and evenings, while attending university. During this time, he corresponded with a young woman he had met in the Israeli military, Aliza Hershkowitz, and convinced her to join him on the Prairies. Chaim and Aliza would raise four children (a fifth passed away in infancy).
While at the University of Saskatchewan law school, he served as camp director for Camp B’nai B’rith in Pine Lake, Alta. Practising law continuously since 1960, he is proud to be one of the oldest in his profession.
Chaim is a board member, past president and life governor of the Louis Brier Home. He shares his story of survival and accomplishment with students at the annual high school Holocaust symposium and he swims six days a week at the JCC, where he has been a member for 40 years.
For years, he has served as a Torah reader at the Louis Brier synagogue. Responding to the honor of being recognized for his dedication to community, Chaim said he is embarrassed by the fuss. “I don’t look for honor,” he said. “I never looked for kavods.”
His advice for others? “I would advise people – and I still do in my office sometimes – to never give up. That is my motto in life. Whatever comes up, I won’t just lie down and take it.”
He emphasized his enduring love for his wife Aliza and added, “I always come home for dinner.”