Jill Zarin is the keynote speaker at Choices on Nov. 7. (photo from Twitter)
Philanthropist and entrepreneur Jill Zarin – most recognized for having been on the reality TV show The Real Housewives of New York City – is the featured guest at this year’s Choices, which will be held virtually on Nov. 7.
Zarin is also the author – together with her mother, Gloria Kamen, and sister, Lisa Wexler – of Secrets of a Jewish Mother, a 2010 book full of recipes, advice and parenting tips. She will join Vancouver-area speakers to talk about how they were able to support community during the pandemic.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s Choices is the largest women’s event within the community. This is the 17th annual gathering and the Independent interviewed 2021 co-chairs Sherri Wise, Leanne Hazon and Courtney Cohen by email about what to expect.
“Jill Zarin is an amazing speaker!” they said. “Attendees will also hear from so many inspiring women in our own community who give of themselves to keep our community strong and connected.
“Although Jill Zarin is most well known for being a television personality, she is in fact an extremely philanthropic person,” they added. “After almost two years of COVID, the committee wanted to have a program filled with humour and uplifting stories and Jill was a perfect match.
“As co-chairs, we have always found we learn something from the women who speak, which inspires us to continue supporting our wonderful community.”
The pandemic has impacted everyone around the world in many ways, said the co-chairs, and so many people have stepped up to try to help their communities navigate this very challenging time. Zarin is but one of the many “who have pitched in their time and tzedakah and ideas to help our Jewish community stay strong,” said the Choices co-chairs.
Ideally, the organizers had wanted to be together in person for Choices 2021. Yet with the uncertainties and changing regulations around COVID, they have once again decided to hold the event virtually, while trying to provide the experience in a way that is still meaningful to people.
Given the ongoing reality of the pandemic, the women said they are “really happy and really lucky” that Choices can be offered online. One of the benefits of a virtual event, they pointed out, is making it more accessible to women province-wide.
Choices is a celebration of the impact of women’s philanthropy. Rather than fundraising, the goal is to get more women involved in the community through giving to the campaign and volunteering. The organizers stress that there are many ways of being involved in philanthropy and making a difference, such as connecting with Jewish Federation or one of its many partner agencies.
The 2021 Federation annual campaign is focusing on the theme of being strengthened by what we as a community have been through in the past year-and-a-half and inspired by where we can go together. This year, Choices is recognizing specifically how women in the community came through the pandemic and made the community stronger with their time and donations.
In a non-pandemic year, Choices would have 500 people in attendance. Past speakers have included musicologist Judy Feld Carr, the Canadian responsible for bringing thousands of Jews from Syria to freedom; Talia Leman, the founder of RandomKid, an organization that empowers youth to do good deeds; Talia Levanon, the director of the Israel Trauma Coalition; and Jeannie Smith, who shared the story of her mother, Irene Gut Opdyke, who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.
The Choices 2021 co-chairs lauded the efforts of Sue Hector and Shawna Merkur, the co-chairs of women’s philanthropy at Federation. They also noted the contributions of Ricki Thal (campaign manager), Kate Webster (campaign director) and the Jewish Federation staff for their invaluable support.
To attend Choices, a person must give to the Federation’s annual campaign or make a donation by purchasing a ticket of the suggested amount. There is a suggested minimum donation of $154 to support the campaign and a suggested minimum donation of $36 for first-time attendees.
Irwin Cotler spoke Sunday at a virtual event convened by National Council of Jewish Women of Canada. (photo from raoulwallenbergcentre.org)
Canada is set to make a number of significant commitments to combat antisemitism, as are other countries that participated in a summit on the issue last week in the Swedish city of Malmö.
Irwin Cotler, Canada’s special envoy on preserving Holocaust remembrance and fighting antisemitism, spoke Oct. 17 at a virtual event convened by National Council of Jewish Women of Canada. The human rights lawyer and former federal justice minister, who is also international chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, said that, in the aftermath of the conference, the Canadian government would announce a number of pledges.
These will include enhanced teaching and learning about the Holocaust across generational lines, combating the increasing Holocaust denial and distortion, and battling hatred on social media. Reducing an alarming rise in hate crimes will also be among the pledges Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to make, according to Cotler.
“Twenty-twenty was the year for the highest rise in hate crimes targeting Jews ever,” he said. “But, by May 2021, we had reached the level then of all the hate crimes in all of 2020.”
The government will recommit itself to protecting the security of Jewish institutions, he said.
“Here, the government recently made commitments in financial terms for this purpose,” said Cotler.
Zero tolerance for antisemitism in the political discourse is also an objective, he added.
“That means not just calling out antisemitism in the other’s political party but calling out antisemitism in our own,” Cotler said. “In other words, not weaponizing antisemitism or politicizing it, but holding each of us, respectively, our own political parties, accountable.”
In addition to Trudeau, Israeli President Isaac Herzog, French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken were among the leaders who addressed the conference. The Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism was hosted by Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. Trudeau announced at the conference that Cotler’s role of special envoy would be made permanent.
Cotler contextualized the Malmö forum in a two-decade era of what he calls “demonological antisemitism,” which began at the 2001 Durban conference against racism that devolved into an antisemitic carnival.
“What happened at Durban was truly Orwellian,” said Cotler. “A world conference against racism and hate turned into a conference of racism and hate against Israel and the Jewish people. A conference that was to commemorate the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa turned into a conference calling for the dismantling of the ‘apartheid state’ Israel.
“Those of us who personally witnessed this Durban festival of hate have been forever transformed by the pamphlets and posters of hatred and antisemitism, by the cartoons and the leaflets portraying not only the Jews as Nazis, but the classical antisemitic tropes of Jews with hooked noses, with fangs, with fingers dipped in blood from the killing of children. Where we were accosted with pamphlets of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Where we witnessed demonstrators with signs – incredibly for a human rights conference or for any conference – signs which said, ‘Too bad Hitler didn’t finish the job.’ Where we witnessed Jewish students – and I witnessed this personally – being physically assaulted and being told, ‘You don’t belong to the human race,’” said Cotler.
Durban was the first tipping point and the global surge of antisemitism during last spring’s conflict between Hamas and Israel was a second, he said.
“Jews were targeted and threatened in their own neighbourhoods and on their own streets,” said Cotler. During and after that conflict, Cotler said, Jewish memorials were defaced, synagogues were torched, cemeteries were vandalized, Jewish institutions found themselves under assault and incendiary hate speech – such as 17,000 tweets that “Hitler was right” – exploded.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated antisemitism, or at least has been exploited by antisemites, who have “instrumentalized one of the more ancient tropes of the Jews as the poisoners of wells,” said Cotler. The health crisis has also seen conspiracies of Jews profiting from vaccines and anti-vaxxers posing “as if they were victims of Nazi persecution,” he added.
Cotler lamented what he calls “the mainstreaming, the normalization – in effect, the legitimization of antisemitism in the political culture.” During the conflict last spring, convoys of vehicles in London, U.K., drove through Jewish neighbourhoods screaming, “F–k the Jews, rape their daughters!” This was a convoy and a message that was replicated in Toronto days later and which resulted in, Cotler said, an “utter absence of outrage.”
The legalist also spoke of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism.
“If you can’t define it, you can’t combat it,” he said. The IHRA definition was adopted after 15 years of discussion and debate by intergovernmental bodies, governments, parliaments, scholars and civil society leaders, he said.
The task of fighting antisemitism must not fall only to Jews, Cotler stressed.
“As we’ve learned only too painfully, and have repeated too often, that, while it begins with Jews, it doesn’t end with Jews,” he said. “Therefore, we need this collective global constituency of conscience to combat it.”
Live performances – that you can see in person – are, thankfully, a thing again. At least, for now. And this year’s Chutzpah! Festival, Nov. 4-24, features many shows that people will be able to attend, most of which will also be streamed digitally.
For the two artists the Jewish Independent interviewed this week about the festival, the upcoming performances hold special meaning.
“I am so looking forward to coming back to Canada,” said New York-based comedian and storyteller Ophira Eisenberg, who was born in Calgary. “And Vancouver at that! Where it all started.” Eisenberg performs Nov. 7 at the Rothstein Theatre.
Shay Kuebler/Radical System Art’s Momentum of Isolation sees its world première at the theatre Nov. 13 and 14. The dance company returns to Chutzpah! as resident artists. The Rothstein Theatre and Chutzpah! “have been critical to the growth of Radical System Art and my work as an individual artist,” Kuebler told the Independent, describing the theatre as “the cradle that supported us” during “our infancy as an organization.”
“When I stepped back into the theatre,” Kuebler said, “it was like being back in a close friend’s home. It feels right. There’s a groove and comfort there. This has enabled us to create with as much momentum as possible, both as a company and collective of artists.”
Stepping back into a theatre has been an emotional experience for many artists.
“This spring in New York, I performed numerous times outside,” said Eisenberg. “All of the situations were a little different and, a couple of times, the address of the show was a large tree in a park! It wasn’t ideal and definitely was challenging, but people really wanted to laugh and take in some live entertainment, so it was uplifting.
“My first real performance inside at a comedy club was in early May, when New York opened small performance venues,” she said. “The audience was distanced and masked, and I think they laughed louder and harder than an audience of 3,000 – or maybe my ears weren’t used to hearing live indoor laughter and it sounded explosive. Either way, it almost brought me to tears, and I know I’m not the only one that felt that way.”
Eisenberg comes to Vancouver soon after the final episode of National Public Radio’s comedy trivia show Ask Me Another, which she hosted for nine years, interviewing and joking with numerous famous folk, including Sir Patrick Stewart, Awkwafina, Ethan Hawke and Julia Stiles, among many others.
“After interviewing hundreds of celebrities, authors, musicians,” said Eisenberg, “one thing that stands out to me is that, whenever we talked about a project that meant a lot to an artist, they mentioned that what made that project so successful was the supportive environment – and the fact that they worked with people who allowed experimentation and even failure. That ended up bringing out their best work. I think about that a lot when it comes to creating a space for artists to truly succeed.”
Eisenberg has headlined and performed at countless festivals and appeared on numerous comedy networks and programs. She has her own comedy special, called Inside Joke, and her first book, Screw Everyone: Sleeping My Way to Monogamy (Seal Press), was optioned for a feature film. She is a regular host and storyteller with the Moth, an organization that has become a radio show and podcast, in addition to putting on live events and other activities.
As for what she would still like to accomplish in her career, Eisenberg said, “I’m working on another podcast that I hope is also long-running! But I have so many things I’d like to do. Maybe too many things! On the docket are writing another book, and I’d love to write for TV. Performing live is my first love, so I’m looking forward to a safer world where that can happen more often.”
Eisenberg’s journey to success began at a young age.
“I truly believe I was drawn to New York as a child from watching Sesame Street!,” she said. “I went to McGill for university, where I got a bachelor’s in anthropology and theatre, then moved to Vancouver for a couple of years, where I tried standup for the first time.
“I was honestly too scared to move to New York,” she admitted, “so I moved to Toronto and spent five years performing and starting to understand my craft. Then, one day, I thought, ‘I need to move to New York now while I can still happily live with a futon and milk crate furniture.’ Two years after moving here, I discovered the Moth…. I love writing jokes, but I was working on other material that just did not fit into the standup mold. I found an outlet of expression at the Moth and in this short form storytelling, and I continue to pursue both.”
When asked to describe her connection to Judaism and/or Jewish community or culture, Eisenberg said, “I have a joke in my act that goes something like this: ‘I was raised Jewish in Calgary, Alberta, or so I thought because when I moved to New York I wondered, “maybe I was raised Protestant?” Everyone in New York is more Jewish than I am. My Puerto Rican neighbour knows more about Judaism than I do.’
“That is just a joke but living in New York is definitely the first time I felt surrounded by pervasive cultural Judaism. My father was the principal of the Hebrew school in Calgary but left that job the year I was born, so I went to public school. We still practised at home and went to synagogue during the High Holidays. As an adult, I’ve definitely been able to find my community here in Brooklyn, which is very wonderful and embracing.”
In 2018, before the pandemic sent us all into relative isolation, the United Kingdom appointed its – and, apparently, the world’s – first minister of loneliness, to address the problem as a public health issue.
“Right away, the title of ‘minister of loneliness’ grabbed me,” Shay Kuebler told the Independent. “There’s something very simple about it and it almost feels like a caricature, yet, when you think of someone whose entire work/career is to disrupt loneliness, it becomes deeply serious. When you read about isolation and loneliness, the gravity of this position becomes even more clear.”
The United Kingdom’s action was a catalyst for Kuebler, who noted, “You can now find multiple countries that have ministers of loneliness.”
The work Momentum of Isolation “speaks to a number of ideas around isolation and loneliness,” he said. “By doing so, I hope to open up greater conversations around the topic and maybe have audiences start their own exploration of the topic.”
Momentum of Isolation explores the theme both through physical isolation and social isolation, explained Kuebler. “These two points are explored through a number of different scenes, which make the show episodic in its structure, with some through-lines and arcs for characters moving all the way through.”
The work has turned out to be even more relevant than Kuebler initially thought it.
“Honestly, this show took on an evolution that I could have never projected,” he said. “The timing of our first full-company research period coincided with the closures and lockdowns across 2020. I knew that this project was important, and being forced into an online/isolated form of research was profound, to say the least.
“This isolated online research, which enabled one-on-one time with each of the company artists, created a well of material,” he said. “It was a format that was completely new, but something I found extremely valuable. While working with each artist one on one, I was simultaneously writing and composing music for the work. This not only led to a lot of new scenes and ideas, but it also distilled what was most relevant and necessary to say.
“For me, this piece was both a rediscovery and a reinforcement of what I hold most valuable. It has brought me back to how and why I want to create. I am grateful for this.”
For those unfamiliar with Radical System Art and dance in general, Kuebler added, “I know when we hear ‘dance’ and, especially, ‘contemporary dance,’ a lot of people can feel hesitant. I want readers and audiences to see this show as more of a ‘contemporary theatre experience.’ It brings together technology, design and multiple art forms around a very relevant – and timely – theme. It is something being made now, through many different artists and their many unique experiences…. With a collaborative approach to connecting with our audiences, we hope to create something new, relevant and accessible.”
Micah Groberman with his son, Evan. (photo by Micah Groberman)
The current photography exhibit at the Zack Gallery, Discoveries: A New Way Forward, allows visitors a peek into the wilderness of British Columbia. A bird serenades the sunset. A bear crosses a road. A coyote glares into the camera. Even a Whistler bridge seems to lead to an adventure in the forests and mountains of our province. The photographer, Micah Groberman, talked to the Independent about his art and how the pandemic set him on his new creative course.
“Before the pandemic, I had a business with a partner, Ivan Solomon. We did many different things, but mostly we designed wall murals for children’s stores, hospitals and private clinics,” said Groberman. “After the pandemic hit, we couldn’t do it anymore, couldn’t stay inside the enclosed spaces for the long time it takes to create a large mural. Many places closed. School was canceled. I had to stay at home and take care of my sons.”
For Groberman, instructing his elementary school sons from a set curriculum was frustrating. “I’m not good at math,” he joked. So he found something else to do with his boys. He shared his passion for nature with them. They went for walks in local parks. And they took photographs.
“I started taking photos when I was about 9,” Groberman recalled. “It was with a simple camera, the point-and-shoot kind. I enjoyed it and did it for a long time, simply for myself and my family. During COVID, my photography took a more serious turn. I wanted to do it well. I wanted to learn. I watched videos on YouTube. You can find all sorts of useful tips online. I got myself some professional gear, a large camera. And I took photos. Many, many photos. I learned by doing.”
Groberman classifies his images into three categories: landscape, wildlife (which includes all his animal and bird shots) and fine art. The last category is the most inclusive. It overlaps with landscape and boasts some unusual shots, like a PNE ride from a rare angle or an old pickup surrounded by flowers that displays an uplifting message in its cargo bed.
“I took it last year at the Richmond Sunflower Festival,” Groberman explained. “The organizers put the old truck among the flowers, and I thought it looked interesting.”
Many of his images, especially of wildlife, are fascinating because he has sought them out. In addition to artistic skill and adequate hardware, nature photography requires a great deal of perseverance and patience. Groberman has both.
“The bear that crosses the road – I took this picture from my car,” he said. “We were in Whistler, driving around, looking for bears. It took us three hours, until one walked out of the woods.”
Another of his amazing wildlife shots is a coyote on a piece of driftwood. “I noticed him hiding in the bushes on the other side of a stream in Richmond. I followed him for about five minutes, with only glimpses, until he came out and stared at me. I took the shot, but I was glad there was water between us.”
While taking his own photos, Groberman tried to share his knowledge with his sons. “My younger son wasn’t that interested,” he said, “but my older son, Evan, took to photography. I taught him, and he inspired me. Many of my photos in this show I took when I was with him. I think teaching him made me a better photographer.”
Groberman hadn’t ever exhibited his photos prior to the pandemic. He had never even thought about doing so. “It was just a hobby,” he said. “But, in 2020, I participated in a group show at the Zack. A couple of my son Evan’s photos were also on display. That’s how I first met Hope [Forstenzer], the gallery director.”
According to Groberman, the current show was supposed to be a double feature, including a sculptor as well. “But the sculptor didn’t happen,” he said, “so it became my solo photography show. There are 37 images in the show: 30 are mine, seven are Evan’s. We have a show together.”
The name of the show – Discovery – came from the experiences shared between father and son. “Our walks together were bonding,” said Groberman. “We discovered things together. Evan discovered new skills. I discovered a new way to move forward and I discovered teaching. That’s where the name of the show came from.”
Groberman hopes that his wall mural business will recover once the pandemic ends, but he also sees several new avenues for his creativity.
“I want to do more with my photography,” he said. “I’m exploring different options, trying to establish myself locally. I went to stores to offer them prints of my photos and postcards. I rented a bunch of my prints to a movie set. I entered local contests. One of my photos – a mama hummingbird feeding her babies – was featured on CBC. Another – a photo of a heron – won the Richmond banner contest last year in the nature category. You will see my heron on the streetlights in Richmond. I have an Instagram account. I’m just starting with photography, but I want to see where I can end up.”
Discover opened on Oct 4 and runs until Nov. 7. Learn more about Groberman’s work at micahgphotography.com.
Olga Livshinis a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Magdeburg, Germany, 1938. (photo from Bundesarchiv / Bild 146-1970-083-42)
Next month, our community marks the 83rd anniversary of Kristallnacht, the state-sponsored pogrom known as the Night of Broken Glass, which took place on the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938. Hundreds of synagogues were burned, Jewish-owned businesses were destroyed, nearly 100 Jews were killed and 30,000 were sent to concentration camps. The shards of broken window glass seen in front of Jewish-owned stores the next morning gave this event its name.
On Nov. 4, 7 p.m., streaming live via Vimeo, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre in partnership with Congregation Beth Israel features keynote speaker Judy Batalion, author of The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos, in conversation with the VHEC’s Dr. Abby Wener Herlin, and a Q&A. Visit vhec.org for details.
On Nov. 9, beginning at 7 p.m., streamed live on Zoom, Victoria Shoah Project hosts a program called Communities Standing Together Against Hate: Lessons from Kristallnacht. Remembrance is essential, however we also must act in tangible ways to protect all peoples. The Shoah Project is inviting political and law enforcement leaders, as well as representatives from the diverse faith communities, to join together at the commemoration to lead the reading of a pledge of mutual respect and support. Join in remembering the past and committing to take action for a better future where we will respect and protect our neighbours, not remain silent in the face of any injustice against any person or group and work towards building bridges leading to unity and shalom. For more information, visit victoriashoahproject.ca.
– Courtesy Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre & Victoria Shoah Project
Haley K. Turner has made a parody of her own Chanukah song, in an effort to get Adam Sandler’s attention.
On Nov. 3, local singer-songwriter Haley K. Turner is releasing what might be the only original Chanukah song set for release this year, and one of only a few in the last 25 years. Inspired by a recent plea from Adam Sandler for “someone out there” to write a new Chanukah song, Turner did just that.
In the tradition of nostalgic, sentimental classics such as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Intangible Things (A Hanukkah Song)” features a string orchestra with lyrics that were completed early this year, on the very last snow day of last winter.
Since Sandler asked for the song, Turner decided he should know about it. In an attempt to garner his support, she wrestled an alligator in a Happy Gilmore parody video, which can be seen on YouTube; created a tutorial on “How to Get in Touch with Adam Sandler”; and recorded a parody of her own new song, “Intangible Things.”
The videos showcase Turner’s spirited side, one that may not have been recognizable from the vulnerable storytelling displayed on her debut LP in from the dark, which was released early 2020. (See jewishindependent.ca/find-comfort-in-music.) It was recorded at Monarch Studios with Juno-nominated producer and musician Tom Dobrzanski (Said the Whale, the Zolas). Her 2011 EP, Ready or Not, was produced by Ben Kaplan (Mother Mother, Five Alarm Funk).
It may take a miracle to get Sandler’s attention but, as Chanukah shows us, miracles do happen.
To hear “Intangible Things” once it’s released, as well as its parody and the Happy Gilmore video, visit facebook.com/haleykmusic.
Firefighters Daniel Greenberg, left, and Adam Bender. (photo from Adam Bender)
There are not many Jewish firefighters in Vancouver – but two of them serve together in Fire Hall #2 in the Downtown Eastside.
Being Jewish is not all Daniel Greenberg and Adam Bender have in common. They are also both Ontario-born men, about 40, who came to firefighting comparatively late in life after other careers. And both have young families who they get to spend quality time with because the shift work inherent in their profession offers a flexibility that the 9-to-5 grind does not.
The two met while stationed together in the Downtown Eastside, a posting unlike any other in the city. The vast majority of calls to which they respond are drug overdoses and related emergencies. The leading minds of politics, policing and healthcare have not been able to resolve the epidemic of addiction that grips the neighbourhood and, if firefighters had the solution, it would have been implemented by now, but they don’t.
“This issue is often discussed amongst the firefighters,” said Greenberg. “We obviously don’t know the solution. It’s a terrible situation. It is difficult to see. You are seeing human beings living in a state that, honestly, you don’t expect human beings to live in…. Safer places for them to go, more permanent housing situations, access to treatment programs – any and all of the above sound wonderful and ideal.”
Vancouver Fire and Rescue recognizes the toll that serving in this challenging hall can take and they have a limit of 80 shifts – or about a year – before being transferred to a more conventional hall.
When he started, Greenberg got some advice from a veteran firefighter.
“Don’t make their emergency your emergency,” he was told. This may be easier said than done, of course, and Greenberg said the fire department takes the risks seriously. During recruitment, trainees go through resiliency training to prepare them in advance for what they might encounter, and the department is sensitive to the impacts tough calls can have.
“If we witness a particularly troubling call, you are essentially taken out of service and you are provided with counseling,” said Greenberg.
This is a major advancement from the old-style approach, which Greenberg characterized as “Tough it up, shake it off, on to the next.”
“We are all made to feel really supported,” he said of the current atmosphere.
Greenberg became a firefighter in Ontario after working in construction and teaching physical education and kids with special needs. He moved west when his wife, Emily Greenberg, was hired as head of school at Vancouver Talmud Torah. They have three kids, ages 12, 10 and 6.
“I was really searching for a career path that I’d be very passionate about, that would suit my strengths and my interests. Frankly, also, a job that could support my family and my wife not only financially but also me being able to be around the family a lot more than a simple 9-to-5,” he said.
Jewish people may be overrepresented in many helping professions, but not this one. Greenberg isn’t sure why.
“I think, historically, whether I’m generalizing or not, most Jews are steered towards professions that are more of the white-collar variety: lawyers, doctors, builders, entrepreneurs,” he said. “Certainly anything that involves a level of danger, perhaps, doesn’t speak to Jewish people. Mothers are probably a key ingredient there.”
Coming to firefighting after wider experiences, Greenberg has no regrets.
“It’s really exceeded my expectations,” he said. “Every firefighter I speak to truly loves the job.”
He sees his work as an embodiment of the value of tikkun olam.
“I’m fortunate to have a job and a career where I may not be helping the world at large per se, but to an individual in that moment, in their most dire moment, it feels pretty good to be there with my crew helping them and potentially saving lives,” he said.
Greenberg also picks up some shifts as a supply teacher and he is starting a new side business involving cosmetic tattooing for hair loss. He noted that he may be the only Jewish vegan firefighter in North America.
Greenberg met Adam Bender at the hall. It was a total coincidence that two practising Jews – maybe the only ones on the job – would end up in the same station.
Bender was born in Oakville, Ont., but spent formative years in Israel. His parents moved there when he was a year old and they returned to Canada around the time of the first Gulf War, when Bender was in Grade 1.
In Hamilton, Ont., at this point, Bender admitted he was not a model student.
“To say that I was kind of a piece of crap would be an understatement,” he said. He was kicked out of school and, to avoid being kicked out of his house, he made a deal to go on a five-month ulpan on a kibbutz in Israel.
But Bender’s parents got more than they bargained for when he returned home from ulpan with a surprise.
“I did something my parents I don’t think thought was part of the deal when I signed up for ulpan,” he said. “I signed up with the Israeli army. I broke the news to them when I came home that I was going back in a month.”
He served two years (since he was joining at age 21, rather than 18, he was not required to commit to the usual three years) and made it into the paratroopers and special forces.
“Special forces unit [was] probably the biggest influence on my character in terms of understanding the ability to accomplish goals,” said Bender. He returned to Canada, intending to study at the University of Toronto but, again, school wasn’t a good fit and he joined the Canadian military. There, he also served in the special forces.
He met his now-wife and proposed shortly before a six-month deployment in Iraq. The understanding was more intuitive than explicit that, for the marriage to work, a career other than the military was required.
They married in 2017 and now have two kids, 3 and 1. He joined Vancouver Fire and Rescue in 2018.
Like Greenberg, Bender isn’t sure why more Jews don’t choose their path, but suggests “the Jewish grandmother card” may play a role. “There’s a lot of other professions that are a lot more attractive, let’s say, and safer. Firefighting is a blue-collar job at the end of the day.”
The Greenberg and Bender families hope to get together for Shabbat dinner one of these weeks, but the pandemic has thwarted that hope so far. Meanwhile, Bender said, it’s a happy coincidence that the two tribe members ended up together.
“There obviously wasn’t any strategic implementation of putting the two Jewish kids together on one crew,” said Bender. “We’re kind of lucky that that happened.”
Think you’re not a puzzle person? Think again. “We solve puzzles of every sort, every day. They show up in so many of our life choices – in our decision-making, in our development of human relationships, in time-management, and so on,” writes local Jewish community member Jonathan Berkowitz. “Although puzzles are usually considered to be activities of recreation, having any facility with puzzle-solving enhances other life skills. It helps you with listening, parsing, decoding, defining, lateral thinking – in short, problem-solving.”
In his recently published book, The Whirl of Words: Puzzling Past and Present (FriesenPress), Berkowitz gets into the nitty gritty – history, philosophy, etymology, mechanics – of puzzle construction and solving in a conversational style that makes for good reading, even if you don’t absorb all the details on the first go. In fact, an ability to give something the once-over and then revisit it is an important aspect of puzzle-solving. It’s the second of eight steps that Berkowitz offers for solving puzzles, which would serve well for any puzzling situation.
Puns, by the way, are a part of wordplay, which, writes Berkowitz, “involves perceiving patterns where none were expected. Pattern matching is a hallmark of intelligence. It is at the root of science and art. Much of thinking is really just finding the underlying pattern.”
Berkowitz is adept at both science and art. He appears regularly on CBC Radio 1, where he is “the Word Guy” on the show North by Northwest. He creates and solves puzzles and is a member of the National Puzzlers’ League. Oh, and he’s a professor of statistics at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business.
The Whirl of Words is about all kinds of wordplay, the main types of which, Berkowitz explains, “involve letter play (wordplay involving the letters of the alphabet and their usage in words without regard to sound or sense), sound play (wordplay involving the sounds of words without regard to letters or meanings) and meaning play (wordplay involving the meanings of words without regard to letters or sounds).”
There is a chapter on numbers, both as words (one, two, three, etc.) and as mathematical concepts. There are discussions of the potential cognitive and other benefits of puzzle-solving, such as learning about a range of topics, from sports to geography to politics.
“Word puzzles improve vocabulary, grammar, spelling and communication skills, boost memory and enhance cognitive and analytical skills,” writes Berkowitz. “By improving your problem-solving skills, you may also improve your performance at work and in other areas of life. They can be a positive factor for your mental health, because focusing your attention on a puzzle can aid relaxation, ward off anxiety, and keep your emotions under control. After all, how can you think negative thoughts when you’re concentrating on a puzzle? And, doesn’t it feel fantastic when you solve a puzzle?”
Going back to his eight steps, out of context, they could be mistaken for a self-help guide:
“The puzzle is in the details. Read the instructions carefully. Then read them again.”
“Give it the once-over, twice. Assess the challenge.”
“Don’t just sit there, try something.”
“Don’t give up; persist.”
“Open your toolbox.” What approach might lead to a solution?
“Use the force wisely. Be systematic and efficient.”
“Sleep on it…. Like a train, once you are on a track, it is difficult to change tracks. Put the puzzle aside and come back to it with fresh eyes and a refreshed brain.”
“You are not alone. It is perfectly fine to seek help from resources.”
As is also true with general life circumstances, the key to getting better at something is to practise. And Berkowitz provides plenty of puzzles for readers to solve, as well as the answers to them at the end of each chapter.
The Whirl of Words includes a selected biography for those interested in further learning, and a much-needed glossary – most readers will discover many new words and terms while enjoying this book.
To read excerpts from The Whirl of Words and to purchase a copy of it for yourself or a fellow puzzle lover, visit whirlofwords.com.
After COVID-19 hit, The Eichmann Project – Terminal 1 evolved into a per- formance directed to a camera. (photo from Pathos-Mathos Company)
Art has many facets, forms and reasons for being. As much as it can be an escape from our daily realities, it can help us process and understand them, sometimes in vastly different ways. The Chutzpah! Festival, which opens Nov. 4 with City Opera Vancouver singers performing to the Marx brothers’ A Night at the Opera, features many examples of entertainment with multiple purposes.
On the face of it, Project InTandem’s dance double bill (Nov. 6-7) might seem to have nothing in common with the theatre work The Eichmann Project – Terminal 1 (Nov. 8). Yet both deal with, among other things, trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as our ability to change ourselves and even our circumstances.
The Eichmann trial
Lilach Dekel-Avneri and the Pathos-Mathos Company’s Terminal 1 examines the 1961 trial, in Israel, of Adolf Eichmann, one of the main perpetrators of the Holocaust. The books of attorney-general Gideon Hausner, political theorist Hannah Arendt and journalist and poet Haim Gouri, “with their testimonies on the trial, were the inspiration for the three main ‘characters’” of the theatre work, explained Dekel-Avneri. “My dramaturg, Liat Fassberg, and I, like in a Greek tragedy, positioned the two main characters with opposing worldviews, one against of the other. The words by poet Haim Gouri, who was present at the courtroom and reported daily from there, were composed and treated as a chorus. The chorus tries to advance in telling the tale of the trial while providing a dramatic lament on the happenings.
“It is actually a trial of the trial,” said Dekel-Avneri, “dotted with texts from researchers of the Holocaust and post-traumatic stress disorder, poets, philosophers, and performers’ live comments between those three main voices. The COVID-19 epidemic presents itself in the team’s testimonies and actions, erasing all plans and forcing project evolution into a digital performance to the camera.”
Dekel-Avneri refers to the Eichmann trial as “the first reality show in Israel.”
“A lot has been said about the connection between trials and performance,” she explained. “The Eichmann trial was the first trial-show recorded in front of a live audience, that actually bought tickets, and was projected live on the radio, later on television, with the full documentary show now available on the internet.”
Terminal 1 explores the concepts of collaboration and obedience, and asks, “What is our responsibility as citizens, as artists?”
“It’s an extension of Arendt’s brilliant manifest evoking the citizens to think by themselves and not to obey automatically. Not to automatically be part of horrific systems, just because they say: do this and not that,” said Dekel-Avneri. “We are thinking creatures, the least we can do is use our heart and brain, take responsibility for our actions, and not collaborate with demons.”
The show initially was created to be interactive with an audience and then remade for film because of COVID.
“During 2020, at the beginning of the outbreak, the Israel Festival, where we premièred, decided to move online, so I made my choice,” said Dekel-Avneri. “Since I do not believe in shooting a theatre show and screening it, I had to let go of my vision for the full project I was working on for six years, and re-create it as something new, made especially for the camera.
“The Eichmann Project – Terminal 1 is, for me, the first station, like its name,” she continued. “The last station may be completed in the future, or not. It will need to start almost from the beginning. We hope that one day we will find a sponsor or a theatre to collaborate with and fulfil the vision of this Via Dolorosa of 21 live scenes. The trial is not going anywhere and, unfortunately, we, by ‘we’ I mean humanity, do not learn from our past mistakes, so it looks like it will remain relevant for awhile.”
Dekel-Avneri recently premièred Crowned, which she described as “a performative portrait, broken by the encounter with time, shattered in the prism of the plague, emerging through a web of video and audio testimonies by seven women at different decades of their lives, which coalesce into a course of a lifetime. An attempt to leave a monument to the voice of femininity at the current time, femininity striving, despite everything, to see the opportunity for growth within the crisis and wonder about the intersection between life and art at a time of change. These women take responsibility of their actions, future and well-being,” she said.
“In a way,” she added, “Crowned is a post-traumatic response to what COVID did to The Eichmann Project. After being torn apart from my original vision and separated from the audience, I prepared a show for any situation – we are not afraid from lockdowns or the camera anymore. The camera became a friend, a tool and a partner, to continue creating performative works.”
Project InTandem – which was cofounded by Calgary-based producers and choreographers Sylvie Moquin and Meghann Michalsky in 2017 – brings two works to the Chutzpah! Festival: Deep END by Michalsky and moving through, it all amounts to something by Moquin.
“This double-bill,” explains the press material, “explores themes of female struggle and empowerment…. Michalsky investigates how movement can accumulate and evolve through set rounds and repetition. Moquin’s work is inspired by the concept of neuroplasticity and the journey of rewiring one’s patterning.”
The pair met for the first time when they both created short works for a production at the University of Calgary, eventually forming Project InTandem “to share workload, resources, and to create an opportunity for emerging artists to produce evening length work.”
“Having Meghann as a collaborator has always pulled me to a higher standard,” Moquin told the Independent. “I think we work together in a way that elevates us to achieve more than what might be possible on our own. It also makes the journey of being an artist less lonely.”
“Our approaches to dance can sometimes overlap because we have had similar experiences or opportunities, or trained within similar methods,” they said in their email interview with the JI. “All of our accumulated experiences as dancers and movers inform us as creators; those experiences become like an inventory of information.”
Moquin has been a dancer within Michalsky’s choreographic works since 2018, so that also informs their relationship.
“Some of our shared values include creating work with visceral physicality, creating opportunities within our city, elevating the production value of contemporary dance work, and always prioritizing integrity,” they said.
Each has her own interests, though.
“I am really interested in exploring what the body can endure in this work,” said Michalsky. “We push and we push again. As performers, we pass through movements and states and eventually surrender to things that are no longer needed. I am interested in seeing the dancer go through something tangible in real time, something that is honest and showcases risk and vulnerability. As a choreographer, I play with conflict from both internally in the body and externally in the space and I desire for both of these things to be felt by the audience.”
About her piece, moving through, Moquin said, “When creating this work, I was completely immersed with investigating partner work (the way bodies engage and interact) as well as being upside down. I used these primary desires to dig into the concept of neuroplasticity – the way we adapt, the way we can gain governance over our thinking; sometimes even the feeling of being trapped in our own mind and thoughts.
“I am a big believer that we must fail in order to succeed,” she continued. “As a choreographer, I use the sensing body to somatically approach theories I find fascinating in the world. I am especially interested in how bodies interact with one another, how they can support each other to fly, spin, and find themselves upside down effortlessly. I am keenly interested in the effects of the mind, the power of our thoughts, and the ability for change and growth. I would say that my research and choreography seeks to find a sense of hope within a world of chaos.”
The initial vision of moving through included the use of “walls.”
“I couldn’t get the idea out of my mind, and so I finally started looking into building/creating something to fulfil these ideas,” said Moquin. “The material used (a form of Plexiglass) was almost a happenstance. I became fascinated by the translucent quality. I had no way of knowing how this material would have such an impact within our world merely months after creating and premièring the work in March 2020. As I watch this work now, two years later, after a global pandemic, it is almost startling to watch the dancers engaging with these Plexiglass structures.”
The Chutzpah! Festival runs Nov. 4-24. For tickets and the full lineup, visit chutzpahfestival.com or call 604-257-5145.
Bret Stephens (photo from harrywalker.com/speakers/bret-stephens)
Western media have got the narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict wrong, says Bret Stephens, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, editor and columnist who is an opinion writer for the New York Times. But, for a journalist to diverge from that entrenched storyline is almost impossible.
Stephens, a former editorial page editor at the Wall Street Journal and managing editor of the Jerusalem Post, recalled when he first started covering the region, in 2000.
“I went out there purely wearing my journalist’s hat and saw a story that was very different from the story that was being reported by many of my colleagues in the mainstream press,” said Stephens in a Sept. 23 webinar hosted by Honest Reporting Canada.
“I think lots of the Western press have continued to get much of the story dead wrong, most of all on that fundamental question: who is the aggressor?”
An example of media’s inability to diverge from a predetermined storyline came in 2019, he said, when residents of Gaza were protesting against the oppression and economic deprivation brought on by the Hamas regime that governs the seaside enclave. The global media, which tends to focus disproportionately on Palestinian concerns, almost entirely ignored the anti-Hamas activism, Stephens said.
“They wanted the world to believe that Palestinians in Gaza had one problem,” Stephens said, “and the name of that problem was Israel.”
Accurate reporting from Palestine is also a challenge because Western media hire freelancers, or “stringers,” in Gaza and the West Bank who do not operate with the same freedoms that reporters in Israel enjoy.
“They have colleagues in Gaza, where the pressure is not-so-subtle for those stringers to toe a particular ideological line, to not report stories that would be inconvenient for the Hamas narrative,” he said.
Winning the battle of ideas, Stephens said, is a priority for Hamas.
“The field of combat is not the battle they know they’re ultimately going to lose against Israel, but the one they think they’re going to win in the realm of public opinion,” he said.
Stephens clarified that he is a columnist, paid to have opinions. But too many journalists today, he said, either view themselves as activists or cannot differentiate their own opinions from straightforward reporting.
The broader context of societal understanding of what were once considered verifiable truths does not bode well for Jews, he added.
“Race is replacing ethnicity as the defining marker of group and personal identification,” he said. “Now we have this new kind of racialism that is dividing people into people of colour and white people. So Jews find themselves, or the majority who are not Jews of colour find themselves, shunted into a racial classification that they don’t recognize as their own.
“I don’t think of myself as a white guy,” he said. “I don’t feel like I have participated in any system of white supremacy. I am the son of a woman who was a hidden child in the Holocaust. She was hunted down for not being white. A Jew. To somehow pair me in this new scheme with the white mask is an injustice to millions of Jews who feel deeply discomfited by this new racialism.”
He added: “Jews have never, never done well when racialist dogma becomes a defining feature of society.”
Other social trends should alarm Jewish people, said Stephens, a conservative writer who calls himself a “never-Trump Republican.”
“The concept of personal success is now being called privilege,” he said. “There are all kinds of Jews who came to these shores in North America with nothing, or next to nothing, and who achieved, by virtue of hard work, effort, ingenuity, good luck, whatever. But now success is being called privilege and privilege is being seen as a product not of individual merit, but as a system of oppression.”
Further, he said, independent thinkers are now being treated as heretics, “and Jews have a long tradition of independent thinking.”
The widespread acceptance of outlandish lies, exemplified by the so-called “Pizzagate” theory, the group QAnon and the idea that the 2020 U.S. presidential election was unjustly stolen from Donald Trump, are an indication of fringe ideas seeping into the body politic, he said.
“We now have come to a place where, increasingly, we are a nation that can bring ourselves to believe anything and a nation that can bring itself to believe anything … sooner or later, is going to have no problem believing the worst about Jews. This is the moment that we’re in.
“Conspiracy thinking has gone mainstream and there is no bigger conspiracy theory in the world than antisemitism,” he said.
Stephens challenged the rote assertion that “anti-Zionism is not antisemitism” by making a stark comparison.
“What is antisemitism?” he asked. “It is a belief, born in the 19th century, that Jews were imposters and swindlers. They were imposters because they were pretending to be Europeans, whether German or French or Italians or whatever, but they were really Semites; that they are not from Europe, they are from the Middle East. And, it said further, these imposters are swindlers because they are trying to swindle real Europeans out of their financial wealth and culture and heritage or whatever. Now, think of what anti-Zionism has shown us. Anti-Zionism is the view that Jews are imposters and swindlers, that they claim to have a Middle Eastern descent but there is no Jewish connection to the land of Israel – that’s the line. And they’re swindlers – they’re swindling Palestinians out of their land.”
Stephens said he supports a two-state solution, “just not now.”
“In theory, a two-state solution is the ideal outcome,” he said. “We should labour towards that, while knowing that it could take 10 or 50 years.
“The prospect of a Palestinian state today isn’t about where you draw the borders. It’s about whether a self-governing Palestinian state can have enough pluralism, liberalism, democracy, tolerance and, above all, a willingness to live in an enduring peace with its neighbours … because the last thing Israel needs is re-creating what the Gaza Strip has become in the West Bank.”
Demanding Palestinian self-determination now, he said, is like inducing a baby in the 20th week of pregnancy.
“It’s going to result in tragedy. Let’s be mindful of what the long-term goal is, but let’s be practical and thoughtful and sensible about how we get to it.”
Honest Reporting Canada describes itself as an independent grassroots organization promoting fairness and accuracy in Canadian media coverage of Israel and the Middle East. The webinar is available for viewing at honestreporting.ca.