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ARTS & KVETCH: Spring Musings, Memories, and Mishloach Manot

Niv readers! I hope you’re ready, because the next month or so is chock-full of Jewish arts and culture events. Purim and beyond, I’ve got you covered!


Purim 2024 is approaching in a few short weeks! The most unique event I’ve come across is Four Faces of Purim: Drag Makeup Mastery, on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. This is a free online drag makeup workshop organized by LGBTQ+ at the J. So if you’ve always wanted to learn how to apply drag makeup, now is your chance. Boy Vey and Josie are ready to help.


Most of the events mentioned in this article are catered toward people who want to attend events rather than participate in them. However, if you are the latter, there is a call for art from the Miles Nadal JCC. They are seeking pieces to include in an August exhibition called L’dor v’dor (from generation to generation). 

The call asks for work that explores the question: “What lessons, values, rituals or stories have we learned from our elders and what do we want to pass down to our children?” Submit your artwork by April 30, 2024 and visit for more information on guidelines, criteria, and submission forms. 

Meanwhile, the Lower Library, located at the University of Toronto’s Massey College, has an exhibition on now that is showcasing nine different Hebrew fonts from the Balinson collection in metal and wood types. A Printer’s Voice: The Balinson Jewish Type Collection is curated by acquisitions specialist Leona Bromberg. Visit in person or check the site regularly to see when the digital edition appears. The exhibit offers a rare example of local Yiddish tangible heritage, as the fonts were originally used from 1911 and onward at a print shop in Hamilton, Ontario. This was the home of Hamilton’s only Yiddish-language newspaper Yiddishe Shtime de Hamiltoner (Jewish Voice of Hamilton). Check out page 11 of this online visual guide to learn more about the newspaper and the remarkable man behind it, Henry Balinson, after which the typeface is now named.

The Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre (OJA) is the largest repository of Jewish life in Canada, and this year the organization marks its 50th anniversary. Since 1973, the OJA has been gathering, preserving, and sharing the stories of Jewish life across the province. Join the celebration this spring as new collections are revealed each week, showcasing a variety of organizations, individuals, and events from over 170 years of Jewish history in Ontario. Many of the collections are still locked online, and there will be 50 collections in total, to represent 50 years of the Jewish community’s history.

Live Events

On Trans Day of Visibility (March 31), LGBTQ+ at the J and the OJA will present The First Jew in Canada: A Trans Tale, written and performed by American author, poet, playwright S. Bear Bergman. The story takes place in 1738 when sailor Jacques LaFargue, a young transgender man, left France to start a new life in Canada, settling in what is now Quebec City. The play reveals “his largely untold story, embroidered onto the bones of nine verifiable facts about his life and existence, and interwoven with the modern experience of a trans and Jewish immigrant to Canada three hundred years later.”

The play promises to take “its audience on a stubbornly Jewish journey of optimism, faith, and joy—including the joy and affirmation of finding an ancestor you never knew you had.” 

To learn more about what is known about LaFargue and his life in Canada visit this site. Tickets are $18 and you can purchase them here

Lastly in the events category, if an evening of laughter sounds like something you need right now, grab your tickets to see Talia Reese, an Orthodox stand-up comedian who will be visiting the Prosserman JCC on March 14. She’s been featured on The Wendy Williams Show and Sirius XM. You can purchase tickets for $39.


The Lishma Jewish Learning Project just wrapped its current semester, which includes classes on mitzvah and pleasure; the history of Israel and Palestine—which provides a foundation for out-of-the-box thinking about the future of the region and its inhabitants—and on finding meaning in the Book of Job. If you’re curious to try a course, you’re already able to sign up for the next one. The class begins on May 1 and runs through to June 5 at Holy Blossom. It’s not clear what the next semester will focus on, but if the previous series is any indication, you’ll be in for interesting discussions. Stay tuned to their website for more information and register for the next course! 

Miscellaneous Musings

I follow Katherine Bogen, a young Jewish scholar, on social media, who recently joined Dr. Hani Chaabo on his podcast, Super Humanizer, to discuss resistance, healing, and activism. The podcast is just one way of unpacking the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, and this particular episode was a beautiful, empathetic conversation that might be of interest. 

It will be a few months until my next article, so if you’re hunting for activities to enjoy, check the Kultura Collective event calendar. And don’t forget to mark your calendars for this year’s annual Toronto Jewish Film Festival, from May 30 until June 9.


Canada’s Troubling History with Nazism

This past September, the world was in shock when the House of Commons gave a standing ovation to 98 year-old Yaroslav Hunka, a former member of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, a volunteer unit known as the Galicia Division. The rapturous applause from politicians came during a visit from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy—to show solidarity with Ukrainian nationalism during its war with Russia. But many Canadians failed to understand that a significant number of Ukrainian nationalists during the Second World War fought alongside Nazis. 

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau immediately apologized and Speaker Anthony Rota swiftly resigned four days after the scandal, the damage was done. Jewish groups around the world condemned Canada, and many wondered how such a glaring error could be made.

Unfortunately, there’s an uncomfortable truth that must be acknowledged: Canada’s history of complicity in allowing Nazi-linked Ukrainian groups to go unpunished. There are known monuments in Canada commemorating these military divisions and the government has allowed in hundreds of Nazi war criminals, who haven’t been extradited and tried in criminal court. 

To understand how Canada got here, I spoke with Bernie Farber, the founding chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and past CEO of Canadian Jewish Congress—he is also the son of Holocaust survivor Max Farber—to discuss the topic. 

How many known Nazi monuments do we have in Canada? 

There are at least two cemeteries, one in Edmonton, Alberta and one in Oakville, Ontario, which has a cenotaph commemorating the Galicia Division. One Nazi monument is too many. The very fact we even have this is more than a stain on our country. There were hundreds of thousands of young Canadian men and women who fought and lost their lives fighting against Nazism and the fact anyone would want to celebrate those Nazis today, as we say in Yiddish, a shande (disgrace).  

How did they come to be erected? There’s a bit of a complicated history. 

That’s right, Ukraine has a complex history and an even more complex history with Jews. People have to understand there was a time when relations between the two groups [Ukrainians and Jews], from the late 1400s to the early 1700s, were fine; some of the greatest Yeshivot in the world, learning centres of Judaism, arose in Ukraine. And, for the most part Jews did their business and Ukrainains did theirs. But by the 1800s that dissipated and Jews became the target of choice in Ukraine, Poland, and Russia—antisemitism became rampant in Eastern Europe. At the same time, Ukraine’s borders had always bounced around. Their borders changed during the Austro-Hungarian Empire and then later during the Soviet Union.They have always yearned for a national state not under the yoke of anyone. 

Flash forward to the late 1930s and 1940s, when Nazism became prevalent, many Ukrainian nationals, not the majority but a large minority, saw an opportunity under Adolf Hitler to become a free and independent Ukraine. Why they would think that is beyond my understanding but that’s what they felt. There were Ukrainian SS divisions, notably the Galicia Division, which had thousands of Ukrainian nationals whose job often involved guarding death and concentration camps, as well as fighting Polish people and the allies under the Nazi flag. After the war, they came to the U.S. and Canada. But these Ukrainians didn’t call themselves Nazis, they said they fought for Ukrainian nationalism and that’s how they got into the country. Possibly thousands came into Canada. That’s how these monuments were erected in these cemeteries commemorating the division they fought for. 

So these Ukrainian nationalists who fought with Nazis have been walking among us? 

There are very well known members of the Ukrainian Canadian community who were members of the Galicia Division, including the former president of the University of Alberta, but this all came to light many years ago. In 1985 there was the Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals in Canada, also known as the Deschenes Commission to determine how many Nazis came into Canada and how many could be dealt with. The Galicia Division, which was found to be a criminal division by the Nuremberg trials after the war, was named under the tribunal as a Nazi division. Here in Canada, the Deschenes Commission was convinced that collectively the division didn’t fall under the definition of war criminals, noting that some might have been involved. We [the Canadian Jewish community] always thought this was a strange and unfortunate finding by Justice Deschenes especially given the Nuremberg finding, and as a result many went unpunished.

After the House of Commons gave that unfortunate standing ovation to the former Galicia Division soldier, Canada’s Immigration Minister Marc Miller said, “Canada has a really dark history with Nazis in Canada. There was a point in our history where it was easier to get [into Canada] as a Nazi than it was as a Jewish person. I think that’s a history we have to reconcile.” What do you make of that statement? 

Potentially many Nazi war criminals came into this country. Deschenes found at least 200 Nazis with blood on their hands. Only one Nazi war criminal was extradited from Canada to Germany, his name was Helmut Rauca, and he was responsible for killing more than 10,000 Jews in Lithuania. It took the RCMP 35 years to find him. It’s a strange, bizarre, and sad story. He was sent to West Germany and died in a prison cell never seeing a courtroom. Canada has a dark history, which the minister alluded to, and we have to come to grips with it. Writing about it is one way, but the government has to come to terms with it as well and make a public statement and apologize. We haven’t seen any apology. They’ve never acknowledged Canada’s lack of interest in going after Nazi war criminals. It’s not a dark secret anymore. 

What work is being done to remove the statues?

Not a thing, zippo, and why? They happen to be on private property. The local cemeteries are owned by the Ukrainian National Committee, and so far they don’t seem moved to remove them.  

Could the Canadian government help in some way? 

They could help in the sense of moral suasion, and the Prime Minister could be more forceful in saying these statues must come down; that they urge the Ukrainian community to do the right thing. We’ve never heard from any prime minister about this, even though these statues came to light some time ago. No one took any steps to do the right thing. 

Some Canadian institutions have taken down statues of figures who they believe to be complicit in the genocide of Indigenous peoples in Canada. It shows that it can be done. 

Genocide was perpetrated against Indigenous people of this land, and one of the greatest villains is our first prime minister John A. Macdonald. It’s hard for us to think about [this history] but in some places statues are coming down such as Ryerson and a few others. If we can start facing our own history and doing the right thing, surely the Canadian Ukrainian community can do the same thing, especially with the crimes this division is associated with. I also have a strong personal connection here, because it is highly possible the Galicia Division were guards and executioners at Treblinka where my entire paternal family were murdered.

What work can be done to ensure Canadians are aware of this history and to apply pressure to get rid of the statues? 

In some ways it started. In Ontario and Alberta, where those two monuments are, both provincial governments have mandated Holocaust education in high school. That is hugely important because education is the key. We have nothing else but education and if kids don’t know about it how will they know what to do about it? A 15 year-old now would have no idea about the Galicia Division, they would have no idea what you’re talking about. It will be a work in progress to be sure. It’s time that with everything else going on, we stop honouring Nazi murderers not just because they murdered six million Jews, but because non-Jewish Canadians fought to ensure Nazism never takes hold in this country. How sad would our fathers and grandfathers who fought in the war be if they were to see these monuments still around in 2023, knowing these war criminals are being honoured on a daily basis. 

This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity and length.

An Enduring Friendship: Paula Goldhar and Rose Lipszyc Explore Life After the War and in Canada

On October 22, 2023, Paula Goldhar (née Lwowski) and Rose Lipszyc (née Handelsman) convened in the Learning Lab at the Toronto Holocaust Museum (THM) to share their testimonies and to celebrate their friendship.

Paula was born in Kielce, Poland in 1924, the youngest of eight children. She was seven when her family moved to Łódź. Her childhood days were spent schlepping between her public school and Bais Yaakov, and going to the movies. “Whenever there was a Shirley Temple movie” in particular, “I had to go. I begged and I pleaded until they took me. Sometimes I pretended I was Shirley Temple.” 

Rose, on the other hand, was a little bit of a wild child. She could be found running on the cobblestones on Grodzka Street or defending herself against those who dared to tease her about her freckles. No one could have predicted that a few years later, Rose’s freckles would have been the least of her worries. 

In 1940, the Germans forced Rose and her family out of their home. In October 1942, the Germans rounded up Rose and her family and took them to the town square in Bełżyce. Her mother and two brothers were deported to concentration camps and murdered. Rose lost approximately 50 family members during the Holocaust. She survived the war with her aunt, living under a false identity. In 1947, Rose attempted to illegally enter the former British Mandate Palestine. However, the British intercepted the boat she travelled on and interned her in Cyprus. In 1948, the British finally granted her entry into Israel. Rose married another Holocaust survivor, Jack Lipszyc, in 1949, and they immigrated to Canada in 1952. She worked in the McGregor Sock Factory and had three children. In 2021, Rose received the Order of Canada for her dedication as a Holocaust educator.

In 1942, Paula and her older sister were deported to the Skarżysko-Kamienna forced labour camp to work in an ammunition factory. In 1944, Paula was forced to work in another factory in Częstochowa, Poland. The Soviet Army liberated her on January 16, 1945. Following liberation, Paula and her sister found their brother in a nearby camp. The siblings stayed together in Poland until 1946, when they moved to Linz, Austria, and then to a displaced persons camp in Bavaria. Paula’s aunt sponsored her immigration to Canada, and she arrived in Toronto in 1947. She met her husband Yitzchak Goldhar in 1948 and like Rose also had three children.

Sometime after, Rose and Paula met when they separately joined the same bowling league. From strikes and spares, a friendship blossomed and evolved. Trips to Florida or Muskoka were planned; card games were won and lost. 

In between bragging, and rightfully so, about their grandchildren and great-grandchildren’s smarts and accomplishments, Paula and Rose sat down with THM’s director of marketing and communications, Michelle Fishman, to expand on the friendships that afforded them the strength to survive the Holocaust, why education is our strongest resource against antisemitism, and how there is nothing quite like a good friend.

I want to start with what seems like a simple question, but over the past two weeks it is probably one of the most difficult to ask: Rose, how are you doing?

Rose: I thought this is going to be a fun and enjoyable [conversation about] memories of our lives together in Canada and how we try to educate children of what happened to us. The hatred is spreading again. And this is painful to me. I find it very difficult. But we have to go on, so let’s have some fun for a change.

I know it’s a difficult and challenging time and bringing a little light here today will be helpful. Paula, how are you doing?

Paula: Today, I’m okay. But most of the days over these past two weeks have not been good for me. I see the Holocaust again. Everything comes back. It brought back memories of when the Germans came into Łódź, where I lived. The army didn’t bother us until the SS came, about a week or two later. A lot of Jewish people decided to run to Russia, those were the lucky ones because the majority of them survived. We stayed and we waited. My father said moshiach will come; my father waited for moshiach but he never came. And I’m watching TV now and reading every article in the National Post. There was one article yesterday I wish I would not have read because they depicted what Hamas did. 

You both had individuals who were instrumental in helping you make it through the Holocaust. Paula, can you tell us how being with Rivka, your older sister, throughout the war and the time in the camps helped you survive? 

Paula: The last words I heard my mother say to my sister as we were walking away was “Look after her, look after her,” and she did. And I looked after her too. We helped each other. If you had somebody with you, you had a better chance of surviving. So my sister survived with me. We were together the whole time. My brother was married and his wife was sent away the day we were liberated. She was sent away and wound up in Bergen-Belsen, and my brother was crying. It was a bitter cold day. After six months my sister-in-law came back, it was a miracle she survived Bergen-Belsen, and she was lucky she worked in the kitchen.

I came in ’47 and I brought them [all] over in ’48, and a year and a half later my brother passed away suddenly, at age 37. I lost my faith I have to say, because of what I saw, what I lived through, but they [my siblings] continued theirs.

Rose, how did being with your aunt help in your survival?

Rose: There were actually three people that helped me survive. First and most of all, my mother. On the road to Sobibor, she decided there was no chance for us if they took away the able-bodied in 1942 and left the women and children to walk to the train station. She realized that we are going to our death, and she quietly threw away everything I carried, looked me straight in the face and said, “My dear child, we don’t have a chance, we are going to our death. But you might have a chance. I don’t believe the whole world has gone mad, there’s going to be somebody somewhere that’s gonna help. And you have to run, please run. I can’t.” So she pushed me off the road. I had a six-year-old brother and she couldn’t leave him alone. She died the same day in Sobibor with my brothers. My father, I have no idea where he died. I ran all day long to the Polish farm she must have mentioned.

My aunt was my mother’s youngest sister and she took me on. The Polish farmer gave us the birth certificates of his daughters. I went to Lublin and met up with my aunt and we both took on a different identity. I remember going through the Polish [checkpoint], they were checking us out. I was a youngster, quite undeveloped at 13, and they said as a child that they’re not going to take me to Germany. But my aunt said, “If she doesn’t go, I don’t go.” So they took me to Germany to work in a factory. That day my aunt became my sister. She was eight years older than me, only 21 at the time, and she took on a wild kid. Nevermind, it wasn’t easy. I got myself into trouble a lot of times.

Rose, at liberation you were left with very little family and loved ones. What did it mean for you at that time to have the support of friends and your aunt?

Rose: It was the most important thing. She was everything to me. But interesting enough, I didn’t understand the horror completely. If you wanted to talk to one another, we were so afraid, we used to go on a field and she used to say, “Do you think we’re going to survive?” And I said, “My mother told me so.” Actually it was funny, she was the adult and I was the youngster, and somehow she believed me. In a way I helped her, in a way we helped each other. It was a relationship that we didn’t even have to talk, we just looked at one another and we understood what one meant. It was a tremendous relationship. I like this friendship too, although we come from completely different backgrounds. I come from a more progressive Jewish family and she comes from a very religious home, but somehow it never mattered did it? No, it didn’t matter at all. We both have the same love for reading. We like to discuss politics and it’s a very nice relationship. She’s calm, I’m a little hyper. 

I remember once we were sitting at bowling and I was very quiet. And one of the girls came over and said, “Rose is there anything wrong?” I said, “No, I just spent two days with Paula.”

When settling in Toronto, Paula this one’s for you, how did having other survivors around you when you came to Toronto aid in your ability to continue?

Paula: I came alone. I was 22 years old. I was single. You can only bring over a brother or sister, [someone] very close, but I was a niece. So my aunt and uncle brought me over, there was a lawyer that could arrange those things, they were like my parents to me. So he made papers that said I was born instead in 1930, which made me five years younger. I sent away the papers to the consulate when we were, at the time, in Germany. It took about six months. When I arrived the whole family was down at Union Station to see what a Holocaust survivor looked like. And I didn’t know anybody. I was scared. I was two weeks on the boat worrying about coming to a bunch of strangers: Would they like me? Would they accept me? Well, they happened to be wonderful to me. I met my husband about a year or two after. We needed people around us because we were alone. Friends became like family. So I had a bunch of new friends. And then when I met my husband he was the most wonderful gentleman. 

There’s a picture of your husband, Yitzchak, in the “Life in Canada” gallery.

Rose: Mine too. Mine too. 

Paula: I got so emotional. A friend called me over and he said, Yitzchak is in this picture. Without planning it, both me and my husband made it into the museum for generations and generations to come. My great-grandchildren, one day they will come to this museum and say, These are really my ancestors, I can’t believe it. They won’t be able to believe. 

Rose, you were a driving force in Paula becoming a speaker here at the museum. Why did you think Paula should become a speaker?

Rose: It took me two years to talk her into it. There was such a small group of Polish Jewish people representing us and not too many of the Polish people were speakers. And she was from Poland and I was from Poland, and I started talking to her [about it] and she listened to me for a change.

We’re so glad that you talked her into it. Paula, what’s your version of the story? Why did you start speaking here?

Paula: It took me a while to speak. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to continue, that I’d break down, that I’d cry, but it’s amazing how as you get older you get stronger. People ask me: Do you hate the Germans? I said I don’t walk around hating anybody. I can forgive but I can never forget. If you hate somebody then you’re not yourself, you cannot be happy, you’ll always think about that person that you hate. It stands in front of you, it blocks other things. I have a husband. I have children. I’m going to bring them up living a peaceful, quiet life without any hate. 

When I watch television now, I am so worried about the situation. The hostages are the biggest problem. There are about 200 of them. I saw on the National Post the front page has tables and 200 empty chairs waiting for the hostages for a Shabbat dinner. When I saw that it broke my heart. I don’t cry too often, but I must say in the last two weeks, I cried. I cried quite a few times.

I think a lot of people have seen that image and it’s definitely something that is indescribable and unthinkable on so many levels. I know Rose shares your sentiments and the idea of hatred. 

Rose: It’s like a nightmare coming back to haunt us, a terrible, terrible nightmare, to me it feels like a cloud has covered the sky and I’m waiting for the sunshine. We thought the last years of our life were going to have joy and pleasure where I could enjoy my children, my grandchildren, and my great-grandchildren. Give us the time, let us live for God’s sakes. What do they want from us? Let them choose somebody else for a change. It is like hell coming back. I get busy with something and a moment later I feel that stone on my heart. And I can’t for a minute remember why and then it comes back to me. It’s hell. Well let's hope it's going to come to peace, let’s hope they find a way, let’s hope people stop hating each other. I don’t understand why they hate each other all the time, why there’s so much hate and so little love.  

I think being here and learning together is hopefully contributing to that idea of hope and education creating change. 

Rose: One day at a time. One school at a time. And we should try and spread the idea of how terrible hate is. It destroys the people who hate because they lose total control of what’s right and wrong.

I think that you’ve educated thousands with your stories.

Rose: We tried our best. What made it so interesting to me is the response that I used to get from the children. I think that convinced me that I’m doing the right thing. 

A young man once told me: “I’ve listened to a lot of speakers and I’ve heard a lot of stories and I’ve read a lot but nobody brought the dead people to life like you did.” I then realized I’m doing something very important—I brought my mother, my parents and my aunts to life, they were among us. So I really appreciate those years. It actually made a life for me [after my husband died]. And thank you, Michelle, you were a great help all through the years. And all the volunteers that used to help us, thank you very much.

Now more than ever it seems we need some wisdom from our survivors who have faced genocide and have overcome such tragedy. Usually I would phrase this final question as what is your message to future generations, but in this current climate I want to ask what is your message to this generation.

Paula: Tolerate everybody. Love people for who they are. Every person born on this earth has a right to live in peace and happiness. Be tolerant. 

Rose: She took all my words away. That’s what I always thought. Because you might be surprised by how much you can learn from other people if you give them a chance. Open up your mind and your heart and you will be surprised.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Toronto Synagogues Celebrate Rosh Hashanah

Synagogues are all abuzz with preparations for the High Holy Days. As Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur quickly approach, many in the Jewish community gather to attend services and participate in events. The New Year is one of togetherness and many synagogues in Toronto have a wonderful array of programming to engage young Jews and young families, as well as long-serving congregants. Niv reached out to many synagogues in the city and compiled responses from those who responded. Take a look at the plentiful offerings for the Jewish New Year.

Holy Blossom Temple  

My favourite part of this sacred season is the opportunity it grants us for introspection and renewal. It serves as a spiritual checkpoint in our lives, urging us to pause, reflect, and take stock of our existence both on a deeply personal level and as a community. It’s a time when we engage in a soulful examination, assessing our actions, values, and intentions over the past year. We acknowledge where we may have “missed the mark” or fallen short of our ideals.

This process of self-reflection and teshuva is not just about dwelling on our mistakes; it’s a chance to embrace the journey of self-improvement and growth. Rosh Hashanah inspires us to strive towards becoming our best selves, to seek forgiveness, and to make amends where needed. It’s a reminder that we are all works in progress, capable of positive change and transformation.

For those kehilah curious folks who would like a taste of our community, I am happy to highlight our B.Y.O.C. (Bring Your Own Crumbs) Taschlich. It is a wonderful way to meet our rabbis and cantors in a more intimate setting. Please join us at the Don River, Glendon Campus of York University Entrance, Saturday, September 16, 4:30 p.m. to symbolically cast off our sins and regrets of the year past and prepare ourselves for the good year ahead. Come hear the shofar, explore the easy trails, and enjoy the outdoors together. All are welcome. You bring your crumbs, we’ll bring something sweet to share! If you are interested in joining us for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur services or some of our many study sessions, please reach out at and I will be happy to get you connected.

Engaging younger generations is a priority at Holy Blossom. This year, I joined the team as their first Director of Outreach and Next Gen Engagement; my rabbinate is focused on actively listening to young professionals and young families, ensuring they feel seen, heard and supported. This is a year-round endeavour but at this sacred season we offer a Yom Kippur morning prayer experience tailored for those in their 20s and 30s. For those with children, we have a range of offerings for different ages and stages. To learn more about our flexible membership models for young adults and young families, please reach out at

From our littlest blossoms to our wisdom generation, there are opportunities to connect with our tradition in meaningful ways. We’re committed to creating a vibrant, inclusive community that resonates with the aspirations of our younger members, ensuring our traditions continue to thrive.

-Rabbi Taylor Baruchel

First Narayever Congregation

Rosh Hashanah is the time of year when Jews come out in the greatest numbers of the year to participate in synagogue life. It lifts my heart to know that these days remain important and precious enough that Jews who follow  different levels of observance,hold varied beliefs about God and  prayer, and about Israel, choose to come out on these days.

Narayever is very excited to once again be offering High Holiday services at both the Miles Nadal JCC (MNJCC) and in our newly renovated shul on Brunswick Avenue. We are also offering family services in the MNJCC theatre and a new initiative—a special outdoor family service on  Robert St. Field on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. At the MNJCC we are introducing a new machzor (Lev Shalem), a new seating arrangement, and stimulating adult education that we hope will appeal to attendees of all ages.

-Rabbi Ed Elkin

The Annex Shul

I love the invitation to begin again. In our daily liturgy we acknowledge the world is created anew in each moment, and on Rosh Hashanah we might be able to feel that more fully. We have the opportunity to move in a different, more aligned direction. Returning to alignment is the practice of teshuva, which the High Holy Day season is all about.

Annex Shul is doing all of our services outside in Bickford Park again this year. The beauty of the day and gathering together shimmers more, for me at least, when we can see each other’s faces in the sunlight, feel the breeze and weave our yearnings and prayers in with the grasses and trees, insects and birds, in the life-filled park.

Our community is run and shaped by Jews who are under 40, so we are building a community that works for us. We are making ongoing decisions about what is meaningful in our tradition today and I think that the decisions we come to point us in compelling and grounded directions.

-Rabbi Aaron (he/him), Spiritual Leader

City Shul

City Shul is dedicated to making the sacred High Holiday Day moments more accessible and engaging for our younger generation, enabling them to make a meaningful connection to our community and traditions, and fostering a deeper connection to Jewish heritage.

We offer separate programs for teens and middle school-aged individuals during all of our High Holy Day services. This year we will offer these younger members of our community active involvement through Torah study and Israeli poetry, connecting them to the themes of beginnings and conflict resolution, all through hevruta and Pardes text practices.

For several years now post–mitzvah kids have had aliyahs on Rosh Hashanah,so the whole community can celebrate their achievement; teens have been invited to volunteer in various capacities; and university students have been offered aliyahs to welcome them back home.

While we are together, over the holidays, we will be announcing our plans to foster a teen group in the year ahead—a program of fun, friendships, celebrations and learning, with opportunities for leadership development and tikkun olam.

This Yom Tov, City Shul teens take charge of our annual Yom Kippur food drive. They have designed a poster to publicize the drive, are distributing food donation bags to neighbours, family and friends; and have signed up to receive food donations and thank donors. Their contributions count towards volunteer hours required by high schools.

Young people who join City Shul for the High Holy Days will have a great opportunity to become a part of a community of our younger congregants and to join us in conjuring and making plans for youth group activities in the year ahead.

Danforth Jewish Circle

Rosh Hashanah is considered the birthday of the world, a day in which we celebrate the day that all of this was born. What a beautiful reason to gather together: to sing, pray, nosh, learn, and hear the shofar! But it also could be seen as the day of the world’s conception. Seen in this light, we might ask ourselves “What is yet possible? What might yet become in this new year?” Just as the world is pregnant with possibilities, so too are our lives. What is working and should continue in the new year? What changes might we try to make so that our hearts, minds, bodies, and spirits are more in alignment? This is an awe-some time of year to turn inward and turn to community, to explore what is possible.

There is so much happening at the Danforth Jewish Circle (DJC)  over the High Holy days. We have musical and spiritually uplifting Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services in our sanctuary, engaging children’s services and programming, spirited teen programming, a dawn Rosh Hashanah service at Evergreen Brickworks,and this year we are particularly excited about a new offering on Yom Kippur afternoon called Music and Meditations. It’s a two-hour block of time (4–6 p.m.) to simply sit in our sanctuary (and maybe close your eyes) as some of our incredible community members offer their musical gifts on this most sacred day.

I want to highlight what a gem the DJC is to the Toronto Jewish community. As a joyous, inclusive, accessible, inspiring Circle, we are helping to create a fresh, progressive vision of Jewish community, learning, and spiritual practice in downtown Toronto. This certainly extends to the High Holy Days where every soul who walks through the door (or joins online) is seen and loved.

On both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we run a family service from 8:30 until 9:15 a.m. that is filled with songs, stories, surprises, and the shofar (on Rosh Hashanah). We also offer youth programming (interactive service plus activities) from 10:00 a.m. until 12:45 p.m. and teen-specific programming at 11 a.m. Each of these pieces is facilitated by our experienced and amazing team of educators. And new this year, we’re welcoming post- b’nai mitzvah teens to join our adult volunteer choir on the bimah on Rosh Hashanah morning to help lead our community. Our youth programs throughout the High Holy Days are led by our teens, under adult mentorship and guidance.

The DJC remains committed to making High Holy Day and general membership accessible to all. Both students and folks under 30 have FREE membership to the DJC, and there are sliding scales for all other categories of membership ( new families, first year of membership, single parents). Our services are engaging and topical, relevant and inspiring. The music and melodies we sing bridge traditional and contemporary so there is something for everyone to love. Our Rosh Hashanah day two study session,  led by Rabbi Ilyse Glickman,will explore anger in ourselves and in our world—adults of all ages can no doubt relate. Come one, come all, experience this radically welcoming community.

Rabbi Ilyse Glickman (she/her)

Canada Has Seen a Drastic Rise in Antisemitism. So Jews Are Taking a Stand

Jews remain the most targeted religious group for hate crimes in Canada, and over the last few years it’s become worse.

Statistics Canada has published their police-reported hate crime data for 2022 revealing hate crimes targeting Black and Jewish communities remained the most commonly reported to police, representing 23 per cent and 14 per cent of all hate crimes, respectively. It’s important to note that Jews represent just one per cent of Canada’s population.

Alarmingly, while religiously motivated hate crimes in Canada declined overall, Jews were the only religious group to experience an increase in incidents.

The statistics paint a concerning picture of a cultural shift in Canada, which is often touted as a place that welcomes newcomers and celebrates diversity. But hate crimes against minorities are on the rise as political divisions in Canada, and around the world, continue to widen.

In Canada, on average, more than one hate incident targeted the Jewish community every day in 2022. Anti-Jewish hate crime has increased by a staggering 52 per cent since 2020.

But some Jewish groups are choosing to fight not just antisemitism but all targeted hate to improve life here in Canada.

I spoke with Shimon Koffler Fogel, president and CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), over the phone to discuss how they’re addressing and combatting antisemitism in Canada and how the country’s sociopolitical climate has changed.

I have heard and read that anti-Jewish hate crime has been on the rise. It was especially noticeable in the U.S. once former president Trump was elected. But to find similar statistics in Canada is worrying. Why do you think we’ve seen anti-Jewish hate crime increase by 52 per cent since 2020?

I first want to say that Canada still represents the best country for any minority or targeted group to live in. There are clear efforts made by all three levels of government to ensure everyone feels fully empowered and they are recognized as legitimized stakeholders in this project we call Canada. That being said, there is work to be done collectively to make things better and ensure that everyone has equal access to “the promised life.”

[In the last few years] We are more sensitized to the issue of equity and committed to diversity that have fed into woke sensibility (which has unfortunately been hijacked to be something negative) but it tells us that not everything is right and we have to look at inequities. This has led to a battle cry from the extreme right in terms of them boasting about replacement theory—their perception that others are asserting their place in traditional white society, putting it at risk; that doesn’t excuse it but helps explain the dynamic we’re seeing. There’s also an issue on the left of reducing everything into a binary relationship, unable to see nuance in situations.

And social media platforms have given people a degree of anonymity to say and act out things that should never be articulated properly without consequence. It’s given people  permission to share their worst instincts. It has fuelled this fire of polarization that has become toxic. People are not applying critical thinking, they’re not really thoughtfully reflecting on what is in this sentence they just wrote. They’re effectively bullying and terrorizing someone online. Social media has a dark underbelly and if it’s abused, and it clearly and willfully is being abused, by those who have an agenda of hate, we need to do a better job of addressing that.

What does it tell us about the sociopolitical climate in Canada?

The Canadian experience has been infected by everything we’re seeing around the globe. What I just said in terms of hyperpolarizations, normalizing of hate—not that hate hasn’t always existed, it’s been around since the time of Abraham—but more so for the permission to allow hate to creep out of the dark corners into normative conversation as if it can be defended and promoted is something we’re seeing manifest all over the world, Canada included.  

Because antisemitism has existed for so long, are Jews or the broader public, desensitized to these statistics? How do you convey the severity of the issue to any skeptics?

This is the most fundamental challenge. Canadians simply don’t find the claim of antisemitism credible. Not because they hold a particular animosity but for them it doesn’t meet with their perceptions of Jews. Many look at Jews and see success, money, position, achievement, across the whole spectrum from the economic to academic, fine arts, politics, sciences, so in the face of that how do you reconcile that success with the claim that this is a persecuted or targeted community?

Within the Jewish community, how do we go out and make the case that hatred against Jews is a real problem? While not falling into the trap of “I’m the victim of hate.” There’s the temptation to allow victimhood to define our identity. We must become empowered and be like an activist in addressing hate not just for Jews but for all. We’ve [CIJA] made a point in every conversation that there’s a recognition of not just Jews but also Muslims, Indigenous communities, LGBTQ+ communities, Black communities, Asian communities . . . Whatever is happening to Jews is happening to other segments of Canadian society and it’s important we shed a light on that as well.  

Does combatting and confronting antisemitism and other forms of hate become more difficult when we’re seeing trusted new sources be blocked from Meta and potentially Google later this year, which is a response from Big Tech to Canada’s Online News Act? Won’t hate continue to be on the rise if misinformation is able to flourish?

An antidote to that is to become active participants in accessing trusted information. We’ve been so passive, relying on third parties to give us all the information. We can’t have a bunch of silos of different communities living in their own world and notionally being aware of others. If we don’t reach out and become comfortable with each other and develop common ground and purpose, those who have an interest in dividing communities will have a much easier time doing it.

Start getting involved in stuff. Information and evidence is accessible. We’re the victims of fake news only so long as we allow those who promote it to define what our reality looks like. As a society, it’s not hard to pull the wool over our eyes on so many things.

I know CIJA has undertaken two major initiatives in the fight against hate this year. First by becoming a founding member and Canada’s representative on the newly formed J7, The Large Communities’ Task Force Against Antisemitism among major Jewish organizations from seven of the world’s largest diaspora communities and co-creating the two-day Antisemitism: Face It, Fight It conference taking place in Ottawa this fall. Those are two big undertakings! It feels like there’s an urgency to your work in combatting antisemitism now more than ever.

We’re hoping the conference can achieve three things: First, we want all participants to understand what hate looks like in 2023. We will focus on antisemitism, but a lot of presenters are from different communities so everyone can learn what hate looks like from different perspectives. Hate on the right, is not the same as the left. Antisemitism looks different in different communities and needs different solutions. Second, we want people to transform from being passive victims to empowered activists. Not just make a difference but be the difference— that can only happen when you’re engaged with your community. Third, is to give some consideration to the role of the government in supporting and engaging in that fight. They can be onlookers and standby, or they can stand up and step up.

Our hope is that the conference serves as a launch pad for a sustained approach to combat hatred against Jews and others. This conference isn’t a one off. It’s the beginning of something that will carry us forward over the coming years. There is no immediate remedy. You have to work at combatting hate, but we’re determined to do so.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Are the Oscars Celebrating Jewface?

The biggest night in Hollywood is celebrating Jewface. 

At this year’s Oscars, Maestro, Bradley Cooper’s biopic about the acclaimed American Jewish conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein is nominated for seven awards. Tonight, on March 10, millions of viewers will tune in to watch this past year’s venerated films, with many blissfully unaware of the public scrutiny that has plagued Maestro.

When film images were first released last year of Cooper sporting an exceptionally large prosthetic nose to look more like Bernstein, Maestro has garnered considerable controversy. An uproar rose on the Internet, with one social media user saying, “This isn’t about making a non-Jewish actor look more like Leonard Bernstein; it’s about making a non-Jewish actor look more like a Jewish stereotype.”

The stills prompted and revived the conversation around Jewface—who can play Jewish characters? And when non-Jews play Jews, can they wear prosthetic noses? 

After the onslaught of negative public opinion, Bernstein’s children released a statement saying they supported Cooper’s depiction of their father, and that Bernstein wouldn’t have minded the prosthetic, which quieted the qualms until the movie’s release. 

When I first saw the side-by-side images of Cooper playing Bernstein and Bernstein, it was clear that Cooper’s profile was exaggerated. I felt a sense of unease. Why did he need to change his face at all? He looked enough like the young Bernstein, face intact. When he plays the older Bernstein, the makeup department can age his face, but why make Cooper’s nose bigger than it is? 

Cooper defended the makeup choices, saying in an interview with CBS Mornings, “it’s all about balance. My lips are nothing like Lenny’s and my chin. . . . It just didn’t look right” without the prosthetic.

There were also critics and fans who didn’t understand why Cooper’s portrayal of Bernstein garnered such a polarized reaction. Other actors have donned prosthetics before to look more like the real-life person they’re inhabiting such as Nicole Kidman playing Virginia Woolf in The Hours, Gary Oldman playing Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, and Austin Butler playing Elvis Presley in Elvis, to name a few.

It’s important to place Cooper’s Bernstein in the context of Jewish history. There’s a long and troubling history of Jewish caricatures and stereotypes that have followed Jews for decades. The most insidious was during the Second World War when Nazi propaganda showed Jews with hooked noses, dehumanizing and vilifying the Jewish people. It’s a painful part of Jewish history and can be triggering for Jews to see non-Jews don prosthetic noses. 

Cooper’s intentions were pure, but his ignorance about Judaism prevails in this situation. If capturing the physical look of the real life characters was paramount for Cooper, why did Carey Mulligan who plays Bernstein’s wife Felicia Montealegre not wear any prosthetics when she was younger? Why does she look enough like Montealagre, but Cooper doesn’t look enough like Bernstein? It should be noted that there was upset over Mulligan’s casting as Montealagre was a Chilean-American actor born in Costa Rica–Mulligan isn't of South or Central American descent. 

What struck me when watching the film is there’s only one scene that mentions Bernstein’s Judaism, when his mentor the Russian-American conductor Serge Koussevitzky says, “To a Bernstein they will never give an orchestra. But a Berns?” and continues to discuss the difficulties of being a Jew in the business. If the film didn’t wish to explore his Jewishness, why perfectly depict his Jewish features? Bernstein is one of the most famous American composers and conductors of the 20th century and there is no doubt in my mind that he faced prejudice climbing the elitist classical music ladder, defending himself against the antisemitism that came his way. None of that is investigated in Maestro. His Judaism is explored in the periphery and that is what I take sincere issue with in the film. 

If non-Jewish actors want to play Jews they must take time to understand the religion and culture, and immerse themselves in the rich, resilient, and beautiful community they’re trying to depict. The answer isn’t putting on a prosthetic nose. But the Academy chose to celebrate that choice; telling the world that Jewface is acceptable and permissible. And that message sets a troubling precedent.

Duality in Every Season: Meditating on Passover and Beyond

The coming of spring, and our festival of Passover, brings with it a feeling of renewal.

There is a prevalent theme in Judaism that even on your happiest occasions you remember loss—and even in those moments of loss, you look for joy and renewal. There is this constant notion that in life we can hold sadness and happiness at the same time, that one begets the other. 

It is the reason you smash the glass at a wedding or leave a corner of your new home unfinished. Even on our most joyful occasions, these traditions remind us of the pain and destruction our people have faced in the past.

Similarly, when someone dies, we say “may their memory be a blessing” because there is this incredible idea that in those moments of profound loss we have to carry on living and find what gives us joy and hope.

Spring is exactly that pivotal season. We move from the cold and dark of winter to a rebirth of our earth and the real hope and excitement of new life blossoming. The days are brighter and warmer with unfurling leaves, colourful blooms, and gorgeous birdsong.

It is in this season that we sit around the Seder table and recount our Passover story. The moment when the Red Sea parts and makes way for the Israelites to cross, before the water returns and drowns the Egyptians, brings with it the thrill of redemption.

But even in this moment of celebration, when the Jews were freed from slavery, God (in the Midrash) scolds the angels for singing, because God’s creatures are dying. At the same time, God doesn’t tell the Jewish people off, as there is a recognition that even in moments of loss one still has to be glad for the things that are.

During the Seder—while we talk of freedom throughout—the food we eat is the salt water of tears, the charoset of cement, and the maror of the bitterness of slavery.

Again, even in our moments of happiness, we also remember pain and loss. The Seder is designed this way to make us think about the responsibility of what being free really means.

Judaism exists in this contrast.

You only know what loss is because you’ve loved. You only know what loneliness is because you’ve had friendships. You only know the value of life because there is death.

Our challenge is to continuously notice and appreciate the sparks of hope and the moments of joy in the everyday.

For us, as Jews, acknowledging these contrasts shouldn’t only come once a year on Passover but every week on Shabbat. This affords us the ability to take time to reflect on both our sadness and our joy.

There Are No Words

Rabbi Mark Glickman’s sermon is from a Shabbat service on October 13th. The information said in his sermon does not reflect the constantly changing information that has occurred over the last two months.

When my wife Caron and I were in Israel last February, we went with a couple dozen of my colleagues to a small cluster of communities near the Gaza border called Sha’ar Hanegev. Our hosts there welcomed us at the local community centre and showed us into a meeting room. Over tea and cakes, we had the chance to meet Ofir Libstein, the mayor of Sha’ar Hanegev.

Mr. Libstein shared with us something of what life was like for him and his neighbours living in that troubled corner of the world. He spoke about the Palestinians on the other side of the border and acknowledged that, while some people in Gaza certainly wished him harm, he was confident that most of the Palestinians there were just like him—people with husbands, wives, children, and friends, just trying to live their lives as peaceably as they could.

Last Saturday, Hamas terrorists murdered Ofir Libstein in a firefight at Sha’ar Hanegev.

Saturday, October 7, was the deadliest day in the history of the Jewish people since the Holocaust. These are the pictures of just some of the victims.

The terrorists murdered more than 1,300 people in Israel. But that number—1,300—hides so much. They were old, and they were young, they were married and they were single. They had families, they had partners, they had friends. Many were non-Jews living or working in the Jewish state.

“He who destroys a single life,” the Talmud says, “is considered to have destroyed a world.” In Saturday’s violence, 1,300 lives came to a sudden end at the hands of terrorist evildoers. We mourn their deaths; we pay tribute to their lives. About 250 others were taken hostage, and we pray for their safe return.

We are here tonight to celebrate Shabbat. And we are here to grieve. And we are here to reflect. And we are here because we need one another. And we are here in search of God’s comfort and guidance. When you kill one Jew, you injure the Jewish heart. And we are here to nurse our wounded heart together. It was Israelis who were attacked on Saturday, but, as Yehudah Amichai’s poem notes, the diameter of that bomb extends much farther—even to here in Calgary and beyond.

As your rabbi, I’m supposed to comfort you at this juncture but I’m finding that difficult because right now I need comforting, too.

This is a moment that calls for moral clarity on the part of the Jewish people. Israel was attacked by terrorists. Old and young were slaughtered—men, women, and children. The killers went to their victims’ homes, to their town centres, and to a music festival, and they filmed their multi-pronged pogrom so they could brag about it to the world as it happened and afterward.

There are those who blame Israeli policy for these attacks, arguing that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and its treatment of Palestinians somehow paved the way for the horrors of last Saturday. Yes, there has been longstanding conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. But when you and I are having a dispute, however nasty my own behaviour might be, you don’t come to my home and kill my family. Such a response is never called for, it’s never “understandable,” it’s never a result of previous mistreatment. Accusations that Israeli policy brought this on are simply attempts to blame the victims, and to excuse unconscionable acts of terror. It is a perspective that we should refute at every possible opportunity.

There are those in the media who refer to the perpetrators of this violence as freedom fighters, and as people struggling for peace, who act on behalf of the rights of their people. That terminology is wrong—the perpetrators were terrorists. People who are fighting for national liberation don’t attack concert-goers. People who want peace in their land don’t murder peace activists. Those who want a better world for their people don’t commit brutal acts of terror.

Let’s be clear. Like many of us, I’m opposed to the occupation. Like many, I dream of a state for the Palestinian people just as we Jews have. And I, too, am horrified at some of the ways Israel has treated those who live in Gaza and the West Bank. But none of this—none of it caused this week’s carnage.

“Yes, but the occupation,” some people say. “Yes, but the corruption of the Netanyahu government. Yes, but . . .”

For the murder of infants, there is no “yes, but.”

For the slaughter of innocents, there is no “yes, but.”

For taking the elderly and the wounded hostage in a war zone “yes, but” has no place.

Let’s remember that although these attacks targeted mostly Jewish Israelis, Jews are not the only victims of Hamas’s terror. Hamas has caused great suffering on the part of Palestinians. Israel ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005, and soon afterward, Hamas took control of the area. It was a moment of such promise when Israel gave Gazans their autonomy. But Hamas squandered foreign aid in a morass of corruption. Hamas quashed their political opponents, often violently. And now, Hamas has brought the wrath of the IDF upon Gaza's citizens. Hamas has Jewish and Palestinian blood on its hands.

Let us hope and pray that, in the heat of war, Israel is able to remember this as it engages in the crucial task of defending itself against terrorism. There are more than two million people living in that little Gaza strip. There is no electricity, and Israel, who maintains external control of the area, has turned off access to food and water. The only way out might have been through Egypt, but Egypt hasn’t opened the door.

This is Shabbat B’reishit, when we Jews read the opening verses of the Torah. As I was reading the portion this week, my eyes were drawn to the story of Cain and Abel. Cain, according to the Torah, was history’s first murderer—the first person who rose up against their fellow human being and took their life. In this case, it was the life of Cain’s brother, Abel.

In 1981, Israeli poet Dan Pagis wrote about the aftermath of this murder from the perspective of Cain and Abel’s mother, Eve.

The poem is called “Written in Pencil in the Sealed Railway-Car,” and Pagis is using the story of Cain, Abel, and their mother Eve as an allegory for the Holocaust. A section of the poem reads:

here in this carload
i am eve
with abel my son
if you see my other son
cain son of man
tell him that i

I invite you to reflect for a few moments on these words. Eve sits in a railway car with the body of her murdered son. Her other son is Cain, Son of Man, Kayin ben Adam, Cain Son of Adam. She searches for him, but he is far, far away. And she wants to say something to him, she wants to share what she is thinking and feeling. But when it comes time to put words to what is in her heart, she falls into silence. She writes a message, but she can’t finish the thought.

There are no words.

Adonai oz l’amo yitein. Adonai y’vareich et amo vashalom. May God grant strength to our people, and may God bless our people with peace.

The sermon has been shortened for length and clarity.

The Closer We Are To Cringe

Cringe. When I asked my teenage daughter how she would define it, she replied, without missing a beat: “You saying the word ‘cringe.’”

As a parent of teens, my guiding philosophy is that whatever I say or do will be embarrassing, so I may as well embrace it. This is especially true when it comes to music. I embrace the fact that I sing “Rasputin” while cleaning out the fridge for Passover, and that my internal High Holy Days playlist includes Dar Williams (“Sometimes I see myself fine/sometimes I need a witness/and I like the whole truth/but there are nights I only need forgiveness”—really, it doesn’t get better than that).

Surprisingly, some of my taste is having a moment, as is evident by the appearance of the Indigo Girls classic, “Closer to Fine,” in the Barbie movie (kids, take note: I restrained from singing along in the theatre just for you). So, I felt very seen by Lydia Polgreen’s recent New York Times article “Why is Everyone Suddenly Listening to a Staple of My Angsty Adolescence?” According to Polgreen, the Indigo Girls are easy to dismiss as cringe, with “a kind of pathetic attachment to hope, to sincerity, to possibility.” But then, she suggests, this is exactly what we need.

We know we live in challenging times. I’ve been a rabbi for over 20 years now, and preparing sermons every Elul gives me some perspective: we always live in challenging times. There is always a crisis, and the world always feels like it is ending. Still, after a summer of smoke-filled skies, this September feels more apocalyptic than most. What is there for us to say? What is there for us to do? Polgreen writes:

You can respond to these circumstances with fatalistic cynicism. Or you can meet them with a sense of possibility, grounded in reality, loosely tethered to something like hope.
To me, this is what the Indigo Girls are all about. Sincerity coupled with wisdom, which is a recipe for something durable: solidarity. A sense that we are in this together. The Indigo Girls are great. Cringe but true. That’s because the kernel of who we are is cringe. That is what it means to be open to the world. To be open to the possibility of a future different from who you are now. When we are young, we feel that way because we don’t know any better. Eventually you get to a place where you know all the ways it can go wrong and feel open anyway.

This is the heart of the High Holy Days. Vulnerability and hope. Loving and losing. Showing up, even when it’s hard. Falling down and getting back up, again and again and again.

Rabbi Alan Lew wrote a wonderfully-titled book that I often turn to this time of year, This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation. One of his key insights is that the High Holy Day season actually begins with the memorializing of the destruction of the Temple on Tisha b’Av and ends with sitting in the sukkah, our temporary home on Sukkot. If we take these days seriously, Lew says we realize that “our heart is always breaking, and the gate is always clanging shut . . . the houses that we live in never afford us real security. Their walls and roofs are never complete—they never really keep us from the world or from harm.” But knowing this is what lets us really live. In Lew’s words, “The illusion of protection falls away, and suddenly we are flush with our life, feeling our life, following our life, doing the dance, one step after another.”

Seriously cringe. But this time of year, I encourage all of us to embrace it.

The Canadian Jewish community has great strength in tradition. Many people, at least in Montreal where I live, go to the same synagogues their parents were married in and that their grandparents founded. There is a profound beauty in continuity and connection but it sometimes comes with a cost. We don’t always seek out the places that are the best fit for us in terms of community or spirituality; we don’t always go where we can bring our whole selves. Wherever you may be over the High Holy Days, I encourage you to make the experience mean something. Be authentic. Be vulnerable. Embrace the cringe.

Just please don’t show this article to my kids.

Forgiveness: It's Complicated

During the Days of Awe, the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, many Jews  prepare to have difficult conversations with friends and family by asking and bestowing forgiveness. Some Jews will even recite prayers of repentance during selichot services. Asking for and granting forgiveness can strengthen relationships and help us heal from past hurts. We ask for forgiveness and grant it all the time. But sometimes an incident can’t be easily forgiven. And that’s okay.

I was recently asked how to approach the upcoming High Holiday season if someone does not speak to their family because it is emotionally and/or physically unsafe to do so. I’ve reflected on this and come to realize that if someone has decided they can’t have contact with a family member or can’t forgive that person, they probably have a damn good reason.

We live in a culture that is obsessed with stories of reconciliation and redemption. The memes that fill my Instagram feed aren’t the only ones telling me that forgiveness benefits the forgiver more than the forgiven, Jewish texts do so as well. For example, Leviticus 19:18 teaches us why we shouldn’t bear grudges: “You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kin but incur no guilt on their account.” We are told that holding a grudge only harms us and not the person who did wrong. We are told that to forgive will make us feel good or whole. We are told that life is too short to hold onto hurt. Those ideas may all be true in some circumstances but they can also put a lot of pressure on someone who has been hurt, abused, mistreated, or harmed.

Of course it is beneficial to let go of grudges over something small or petty, or even something material. The Talmud urges us to let go of grudges that arise over money (BT Yoma 23a). There is a big difference between issues that cause a grudge or festering fight than problems that arise out of more egregious forms of harm. Sometimes it’s healthier to make peace with the fact that someone will not apologize, hear us out, or give us what we need. We are not responsible for the hurt others cause us.

However, I suggest finding ways to process past harm. Members of my Secular Synagogue community have found success with a variety of strategies including resting, therapy, writing a letter to someone who has harmed them (whether it is sent or not), a host of self-care and community-care strategies—from visiting a mikvah or a ritual bath, to hosting a celebration to mark an end to a relationship—and taking time to read. Forgiveness is not the only way to move forward. If someone has done something unforgivable, it’s not your responsibility to forgive them but it’s your responsibility to figure out how you want to keep going either with or without that person in your life.

In my community we often note that the person we have to forgive the most is ourselves. Sometimes we have committed a wrong and have not been forgiven. More often, we beat ourselves up for things that weren’t in our control. We worry over missteps and slights we caused, even long after the person we hurt has stopped thinking about it. We need to let that go and work to forgive, accept, embrace, and love ourselves fully, especially as we acknowledge our imperfections.

I continue to hear stories about people who offered forgiveness in unimaginable circumstances. I have worked with people who reunite with parents who rejected them for being queer; people who forgive the person who sexually assaulted them; people who forgive those who have conned, stolen from, and gaslit them. If that helped the person who was wronged, then the act of forgiveness is worth celebrating. Though, sometimes we need to let go of the pressure to forgive in order to move on. Be kind to yourself, especially if others haven’t been kind to you.

This time of year is for more than just apologies and forgiveness. It’s for figuring out what we need, who we want to be, and who we want with us on life’s journey. No one is owed your forgiveness, but if you’d like to offer it, this part of the year is a time to consider what we owe others and ourselves. There is beauty, goodness, and wonder in the world and I wish you all that and more this year.

Liana Finck’s Guide to Motherhood Is a Guide for Humanity


When you pick up Liana Finck’s new graphic memoir How to Baby: A No-Advice-Given Guide to Motherhood, with Drawings, due April 30, Finck assumes you’ve done so because you’re ready to have a baby. If you have indeed been cajoled into motherhood by “honest Abe or foul Sycorax,” as Finck states, congratulations, you are the book’s target demographic and you’re in for a “wild ride.” 

This isn’t an Emily Oster data-driven guide to parenting, this is a memoir in the form of a guide that speaks with intimacy and frankness on the hellish and joyous landscape of motherhood. Finck’s directness makes the book an important guide to follow because through the act of telling her story she will prepare you for the weight of your new responsibility and that despite the pressure, you don’t need to lose or forget yourself. 

All the “advice” Finck gives comes from her own experiences of motherhood. She is the heroine of the story. We follow her from the time she starts trying to get pregnant with her first child to the time when her son reaches the one year mark, to the arrival of her second baby. When she addresses the reader as “you” she is also indirectly saying, This is what will (likely) happen to you because it happened to me. 

If, however, you have no present or future interest in becoming a parent, I urge you to read on. For though you will not become a stuffed animal exterminator, as Finck warns, or be split into an old and new self (both of which you’ll want to maintain), or gain the “perfect excuse” to skip a party, you’re still in for a wild ride. It’s a story that is worth your time because you will walk away invigorated. Think of motherhood as a metaphor for all the stages in your own life where your self has been challenged (it's also bound to happen again). Use this guide to help realize or remind yourself that anything you want to do or be, can be possible even if it feels impossible right now. 

Finck has not published work as personal as How to Baby since Passing for Human in 2018. The latter is a “neurological coming-of-age story” where she is an outsider searching for connection, meaning, and self. It is in those pages that Finck develops into the artist and humourist we first got to know in the New Yorker and on Instagram. We watch Finck grow up in Passing for Human, and in How to Baby we watch her evolve into her new role as a parent. 

Now, it is time for me to be honest. I am not an expert on parenthood or on the myriad of ways you can make a baby or how to take care of a baby. In fact, at this very moment, I find the idea of being a mother overwhelming (and this book didn’t help counter that). So if you are thinking about becoming a parent, are pregnant, or are a new parent, I cannot tell you if this book will actually give you what you need. But I can tell you that you’ll find a book that does what all great works of art do: portray the confusing contradictory nature of the human species. If you don’t need to know how to baby, the pistachio-filled, fine-shaky-line illustrations and textual observations still provide the layered Finckisms pointing out the joys (dogs, for example) and shortcomings (not enough time, for example) of the human experience.

But because the topics addressed arise out of Finck’s personal life, the guide only includes what she knows and is therefore limited in scope. For instance, if you are looking to get pregnant through other avenues than just sex, you won’t find any information about that in her book. It is an exclusive “sex—> pregnancy” zone because it is what Finck did. Except don’t mistake her for a sex expert.

To know how to baby is to understand that you will live in contradictions, and that life’s highs and lows will be happening at the same time. Here’s some of the few things that happened to Finck and that will happen to you, in no particular order:

You will hide your disappointment if you’re having a boy even though you believe gender is a construct. 

You will be tethered to your baby and/or breast pump: you are the laboratory. But it will all be amazing.

Your husband is annoying. 

You will forget yourself. 

You will become a nag. 

You will be gifted a velvet umbrella.

You will wonder if there is room for a social life.

You will get back to work. 

You will love your son more than anything in the world. He is the only perfect man. 

But sometimes your son will not always appear perfect or act perfectly. 

The illustration of the baby changes depending on either the developmental stage he is in or if Finck wants to reflect how the baby is behaving or how she, or you, feels about the baby in a certain scenario. Sometimes the baby looks like an old man. Sometimes the baby looks like an angel. Sometimes it looks like the baby is Godzilla and will swallow our heroine whole. And all the while, Finck emphasizes that the love you receive from your child and the love you have for your child is extraordinary. 

Throughout How to Baby you are followed by a witch on a broomstick, with her cat saddled behind. And most of the time it feels like the decision to become a mother, which Finck likens to flipping a coin or consulting a witch, is one you’ve made because you’ve been hoodwinked (or people you know have been). It is difficult to focus on the joyful moments or feel how exceptional and blissful they are because they are dwarfed by new problems and worthwhile complaints. It constantly feels like Finck and mothers everywhere are always reacting to something. So when we witness moments when Finck is in command, it is a welcome surprise.

The only rule Finck is certain you must follow is a rule she will also tell you is okay to break. And that rule applies to sleep training. Finck breaks her no-advice rule to tell you, quite sternly, that you must sleep train your baby or risk them becoming a ball of scribbles. However, you can also lie to your doctor and tell them your baby is sleeping in their bassinet and not in your bed. Finck follows her instincts, and the lesson is that you should too. Finck takes the gentler approach to training here, but there will be other decisions she makes that make no sense to her at all. 

One such moment occurs when her baby starts eating solids. She tells you mothers will experience the strange desire to crouch on the floor and compete with their dog for their baby’s chewed up leftovers. The living room is the wild west, and Finck is going toe-to-paw with her dog. Here, you’re only at risk of laughing out loud and perhaps laughing at yourself because you’ve been here before or know you will soon be. Yet, there’s a carnality to the action that is fulfilling to watch because Finck is acting upon instinct. 

These are two of only a few instances where Finck is in control. It’s a refreshing shift because it is rare people generally do what they want without explanation or sense. And in motherhood, it is especially rare because mothers can lose their sense of self and can be overlooked by others. Motherhood is bloated with responsibility, duress, and chaos. Despite all the joy and help Finck receives from loved ones, she still expresses that it will often feel like you will be carrying your home, and its inhabitants, on your back. But in these moments of passion, Finck shows us it doesn't always have to be so difficult or reactive. Whether you are a parent or not, it is possible to make your own rules and follow your gut.

Near the end of her first year as a mother, “One of the most profound aspects of new parenthood,” Finck writes, “might be getting to experience the other side of childhood.” She has come to understand what it must have been like for her mom to parent and withdraws from the role as her child. You might mistake this to mean that Finck leaves her old self behind. It is the opposite. In being able to see how her mother parented, Finck can follow the version of motherhood her mother presented her with, one that is “joyful that needn’t derail one’s career/art practice.” 

In the acknowledgements, Finck is not sure if she would have chosen this path if she didn’t have “good role models” like her mom. And in creating How to Baby (and releasing You Broke It! this past year) Finck is a good role model to follow because her practice and career continues to blossom. She presents a version of motherhood infused with the lesson her mother presented her. Finck shows that you’ll be able to, in your own way, carry your old self into your new role. You can still ponder, albeit within a more fine-tuned schedule, how to baby, how to adult, how to be. 

Asian American Jews Invite Audiences into Their Lives

Growing up, we each thought we were the only Asian Jew in the world. As Los Angeles community leaders for the LUNAR Collective, a national organization by and for Asian Jews, we have encountered others who grew up with the exact same thought. Since joining we have connected with more Asian American Jews than we ever imagined existed. And we are excited to share their stories with the world.

On May 15, in honour of both Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and Jewish American Heritage Month, Braid, a storytelling theatre company, will offer the world premiere of What Do I Do with All This Heritage? a show about the lives of Asian American Jews. It will be directed by Susan Morgenstern, the Braid’s longtime producing director, with both of us serving on the producing team. Also on the producing team are the Braid’s founder and artistic director Ronda Spinak, and the LUNAR Collective’s two co-executive directors, Maryam Chishti and Jenni Rudolph.

The show will be done in the style of Salon theatre, an artform the Braid has utilized for 16 years to dramatize true stories reflecting the contemporary Jewish experience. A dozen or so autobiographical stories connected by a common theme are selected by the show’s producers and “braided” together into an hour-long theatrical experience, in which a cast of four to five actors perform them either as monologues or short, multi-person scenes—eschewing sets, props, and costumes in favour of letting the words themselves paint a picture in the audience’s mind. The stories are curated from writer workshops, community submissions, and interviews conducted by the producing team whose transcripts are adapted into stories.

The show will be performed in person at venues in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, with more cities pending, as well as live on Zoom for a worldwide audience. Salon theatre especially adapts itself well to Zoom as a live performance medium. To our knowledge, this is the first-ever theatre show to explore the lives of Asian American Jews.

What Do I Do with All This Heritage? offers stories that range from hilarious to heartbreaking as audiences journey into the lives of Asian Jews revealing their true stories of struggle and perseverance in trying to hold two age-old traditions in their hearts. A cast of professional actors bring to life funny stories of food, heartbreaking stories of isolation, and triumphant stories of understanding that “all this heritage” doesn’t dilute one’s Asian or Jewish identities but strengthens both. These autobiographical stories explore the struggles of patrilineal Asian Jews’ search for acceptance, adoptees finding their authentic selves, how mixed-race and interfaith Jews balance honouring their different traditions, and how Jews by choice explain their spiritual journey to the people around them. It even explores what happens when someone from a historically Jewish community in Asia comes to America and suddenly finds themselves an outsider in their own communities.

These true stories were gathered from a development process generously supported by the Jews of Color Initiative that included a series of story-writing workshops held around the country to train professionals and non-professionals to create material in the Braid’s unique, Salon-style of theatre.

The Braid’s goal is always to democratize storytelling. We wanted Asian Jews of every age, stage, and walk of life to share their stories so audiences can get a fuller sense of what it means to be an Asian American Jew. 

The team has worked to ensure a range of Asian ethnic backgrounds are represented, including Chinese, Korean, Indian, Vietnamese, and more.

“For a decade and a half, I’ve had the joy of showing the diversity of the Jewish people,” Spinak said with pride. “We’ve created groundbreaking shows featuring the true stories of Jews of Colour, Latin Jews, Queer Jews, Persian Jews, Jews of the American South, women rabbis, Israelis in America, and so many more. People sometimes say to me, ‘Wait, there are Asian Jews?’ This show is my answer: ‘Yes, and they have amazing stories to tell, which all of us will relate to, no matter what your heritage may be. We’re all trying to integrate the different sides of ourselves.’”

To learn more and get tickets, visit

Belonging in Jewish Literature: In Conversation with Dr. Nora Gold


Two time Canadian Jewish Book Award-winning and best-selling author Dr. Nora Gold is the editor of 18: Jewish Stories Translated from 18 Languages—the first anthology of translated multilingual Jewish fiction in 25 years. Since its publication last October, 18 has shattered the narrow viewpoint many people have about Jewish fiction and voices. Through its transcendent, rangy, and unforgettable stories, Gold’s inclusion of a chorus of different voices and perspectives challenges the monolithic way people think about not just Jewish literature but Jewish people.

Iranian-Canadian author Hollay Ghadery reached out to Dr. Gold to talk about belonging in translated texts, and the controversial implications of this unprecedented level of inclusion in an often myopic range of Jewish literature. In this collection, Gold has included works not only by Ashkenazi Jews but by Sephardic Jews, too, as reflected in the stories that were translated from Ladino, Turkish, Italian, Albanian, and Greek.

18 was a pretty spectacular undertaking. What made you decide to try to pull it together? Why now?

This book developed organically from the literary journal I founded and edit, Jewish Fiction .net: a journal publishing Jewish-themed fiction that was either written in English or translated into English, but not previously published in English. I’ve always loved translated fiction, so from the outset of Jewish Fiction .net in 2010, I sought out Jewish-themed translated stories and novel excerpts. Our inaugural issue, for instance, contained fiction originally written in four languages, and 5 of the 13 stories in it were translations. To date, we’ve published 160 translated works that were originally written in 20 languages, and these constitute almost 30 per cent of Jewish Fiction .net.

I love all the stories we publish in this journal, including of course the ones written in English, but I’ve always felt the translated works provided a special spice to our cake. Still, it took me a few years to fully appreciate the treasure trove we had amassed, and to recognize that this was, in a way, the jewel in Jewish Fiction .net’s crown. Then, only several years later, did I realize that these translated works were not only a source of pride but something of real significance. By then I knew from many of our readers whose first language was English that until they’d started reading our journal, they had never encountered Jewish fiction in translation (aside, perhaps, from Hebrew, Yiddish, or Judaeo-Spanish); in fact, they hadn’t even known all this other literature existed. I discovered that, unfortunately, this was typical. When most people hear the phrase “Jewish fiction” they think mainly of American Jewish fiction, and have little awareness of the rest of what exists around the world, either in English or in other languages. This is not only sad but ironic because (related to Jews having lived for two thousand years among other nations and having written in virtually all the languages of the countries where they dwelled) one of the key features of Jewish fiction is its multilingualism.

Jewish Fiction .net has readers in 140 countries, and some of these readers, from dozens of locations, have urged me over the years to publish a collection of stories (including translated ones) from our journal. Until two years ago, I staunchly ignored these requests. I was busy with my own writing, and—like most writers—resisted undertaking any new project that would cut into my writing time. Then something changed. I suddenly felt that the ignorance about, and misconception of, Jewish fiction was a serious problem, and one I could help to address by sharing some of the amazing translated works from my online journal. This felt to me like an important, even an urgent, project. So I took it on.

This anthology was intended to be, in a sense—and in the best sense when it comes to powerful literature—disruptive in nature?

Yes, absolutely.

Disruptive not only in that the book challenges the notion that Jewish literature is a monolith but that Jewish life is monolithic. I’m thinking specifically of how the stories in this collection aren’t always religiously Jewish but culturally Jewish, which expands on the narrow perception of what it is to be Jewish. Is this range a decision you were conscious of making when you curated the book?

Your comment is perceptive, Hollay, about the often narrow (and distorted) perceptions some people have of Jews. For example, many people think of all Jews as white, when in fact this is true only of Jews from European backgrounds; Jews from North Africa and Arab countries generally have darker skin, and Ethiopian Jews, and some other Jews, are Black. Another common misconception about Jews is that they are all rich, or at least richer than other people—a belief that is untrue and also helps to fuel antisemitism.

I agree that the stories in 18 reflect that Jewishness can be experienced as both a religion and a culture. Yet neither Jewish religion nor Jewish culture are monolithic. Religiously, there are multiple, radically different streams of Judaism, each with its own set of practices, prayer books, and rabbinical organizations. And Jewish culture differs enormously from place to place, shaped by the surrounding culture of wherever Jews happen to live; so Jews from different places (think Yemen, Hungary, Argentina) have lived their lives in different languages, eating different foods, playing different music, and observing different customs. There is no one “Jewish culture.” Which is one of the points of my book. At the same time, there is a thread, a clear and undeniable thread, that runs through all this diversity of culture and religion, uniting Jews as a people. This thread, too, comes through in 18.

Now to your question: Is the range across Jewish religion and Jewish culture in 18 something I consciously decided on when curating this book? The answer is no. I was just applying the definition of Jewish fiction that I’d honed over the first 13 years of Jewish Fiction .net, the journal from which all these stories were taken. The question you touch on about what a Jew is, is closely related to the (hotly debated) question of what Jewish fiction is. There are many perspectives on how to define Jewish fiction, which I discuss in some depth in my introduction to 18. As I explain there, my favourite definition is Ruth Wisse’s, who sees Jewish literature as literature that is reflective in some way of Jewish experience, Jewish consciousness, or the Jewish condition. This definition, as you can see, encompasses both the religious and cultural components you alluded to—and more.

If you had to pick one story in this collection that you think would be the most likely to inspire discussion (or hot debate, even), which one do you think it would be, and why?

I think “The Guest” is likely to inspire discussion (maybe even hot debate!), because it is such a painful, brilliant, and intense evocation of how religious tradition when combined with patriarchy can have devastating effects on the lives of women and girls. I won’t say more than this because I don’t want to ruin the story for those who haven’t read it yet, but it is gorgeously written and packs a real punch. And even though it’s set in the past, it still (unfortunately) has resounding relevance today.

What would you say are some of the trends and challenges particular to Jewish fiction today or in the near future?

One trend and challenge in the near future that I hope 18 will help to provoke is a significant increase within the Jewish fiction “canon” of the number of works originally written in languages other than English. As I mentioned, most people think of “Jewish fiction” only in terms of English-language works (and usually just American ones, at that). This has to change. Jews and non-Jews alike have to understand that Jewish fiction is a truly multilingual body of literature, and that this multilingualism is part of what makes it such a treasure.

An additional challenge, and one that I hope will become a trend, is expanding the understanding of Jewish fiction to include Jewish-themed literature written by non-Jews. I know this position is a controversial one within the Jewish literary world, and—at this point, anyway—a minority view, but I stand by it. The whole question of what is and is not Jewish fiction is, as I’ve said, passionately debated; in my introduction to 18, I laid out my own perspective on this issue. But now I’ll add to what I wrote there, and say that in my view some brilliant Jewish-themed fiction has been written by non-Jews, and in fact an example of this appears in the story “Golem,” translated from Polish. So I hope in the not-too-distant future the field of Jewish fiction will expand its borders to include a broader range of languages and of writers, all to the benefit of this rich and splendid literature.

Speaking of rich and splendid literature, what’s next for you? What are you working on now?

On March 1 I had a book of two novellas come out with Guernica: In Sickness and In Health and Yom Kippur in a Gym. In Sickness and In Health is about a woman who had epilepsy as a child so her most cherished goal has always been to be “normal;” but just when things are going right for her (with her family, friends, and artistic career), some cartoons she drew threaten to reveal her secret medical past and destroy the life she’s worked so hard to build. In Yom Kippur in a Gym, five strangers at a Yom Kippur service in a gym are each struggling with an intense personal crisis when a medical emergency unexpectedly throws them together. In one hour all their lives are changed in ways they would never have believed possible.

In 2026, I have another novella coming out with Guernica. Doubles, set in 1968 in an institution for troubled youth in Montreal, is told from the perspective of a brilliant, spunky, 12-year-old girl who is obsessed with math.

What am I working on now? Another novella (of course)! I am on a novella roll. I love novellas. I just read a new translation, by Damion Searls, of a Thomas Mann novella called Chaotic World and Childhood Sorrow, and it reminded me why I love novellas so much: they have great power and range and at the same time great intimacy and concision. A novella embodies the best of a short story and the best of a novel.

For the Love of Yiddish: Queer Yiddish Camp and Rad Yiddish Talk Shop

Hot off the heels of Queer Yiddish Camp and Rad Yiddish’s cabaret fundraiser in December, organizers freygl gertsovski, Sorke Schneider, and Willow Rosenberg came together to discuss the passions that feed their work in building queer and Yiddish spaces 

And each one of them wears many hats. 

Sorke is a queer Yiddishist and amateur musician, playing folk music, including klezmer, in some community bands. She works in publishing and are a cultural organizer, putting on contra dances in upstate New York.  

Willow is queer, disabled, and neurodivergent who is from the UK but now resides in Winnipeg. She works part-time at a tabletop gaming shop and is a certified tournament judge for three different collectible card games. Outside of the gaming world, you can find them writing or performing a comedy routine. 

freygl, based in Toronto, is also a writer, though mostly of queer, disabled, Jewish speculative poetry, and is a soon-to-be graduate of arts administration and culture management. 

Yet this is not the first time Queer Yiddish Camp and Rad Yiddish have collaborated on a project before.

Queer Yiddish Camp launched in May 2022 and was comprised of 17 queer faculty who taught five levels of Yiddish classes and various Yiddish cultural and history classes—including participatory Yiddish dance and vocal classes—in a two week intensive on Zoom. Since then, freygl notes, they’ve been teaming up with Rad Yiddish regularly on their programs like Queer Yiddishist Shmueskrayzn (conversation practice circles) and other events.

Rad Yiddish’s events are politically, culturally leftist and have included poetry and short story reading circles and discussions facilitated by community members, to worker’s songs zinerays (singing circles) led by members of the Boston Workers Circle.

Working together is a natural fit, as Sorke described Rad Yiddish as a “Yiddish free school” and Queer Yiddish Camp akin to a “radical yeshiva.” In fact, they have a few events lined up for spring. Come March 11, they’ll be hosting a Yiddish song circle with Boston Workers Circle; on March 24, there'll be a Radical Yiddish Purim games night; and on April 8, a Queer Yiddishist Shmueskrayz (conversation practice circle). And their first zine will be released later this year. The text seeks to explore versions of queer/lefty/Yiddish futures. 

But while we await what is to come, settle into the conversation below. 

What is your connection to Yiddishkayt?

Willow: I grew up in a fairly assimilated family in Winnipeg, especially on my dad’s side, but my mom’s family was very socialist and Yiddish and Ashkenazi. There used to be a very strict dichotomy between North End Jews who were still very traditional and South End Jews who were assimilating into Christian culture. My grandparents spoke Yiddish but kept it from my parents. In university, I took a Yiddish class for a year as one of my electives and tried my best to rebuild that connection. I lost it again until Yiddish came to Duolingo, and that was how I started exploring Yiddishkayt Facebook groups and other online communities. 

freygl: I grew up hearing phrases like “sheyne meydele,” but between my family being Russian- and Hebrew-speaking, I never formed the idea of Yiddish as a fully-fledged language. As a first-generation post-Soviet Jew, I grew up with a lot of Soviet Jewish food and culture and stories from my mom about her life, but I didn’t really have a sense of what our family’s lives were like going further back. One day I Googled Moldovan Jewish history and read some cursory Wikipedia-type pages where they said Klezmer music originated in what is present-day Moldova, and that Yiddish was the language of Ashkenazi Jews for one thousand years. When I read that my brain exploded a little because I’d been missing this really critical piece of information about my own culture. I decided then and there I’d learn to play klezmer and become fluent in Yiddish. I also credit the influence of Indigenous elders I met during my involvement with Indigenous solidarity activism who said white folks need to learn their own cultures so they’re not taking from ours.

Sorke: I grew up in a very lefty, progressive interfaith family in New York City, a mix of Ashkenazi and Irish. I felt equally comfortable at a Dropkick Murphys show as on candle patrol at a Hanukkah party. I’ve been studying Irish traditional flute since I was 14, and I play several kinds of folk music, like American folk and some French Canadian. In my twenties, I started wanting to learn klezmer, too. One fateful day, walking across my university campus to catch a ride to a fiddle jam, someone handing out quarter cards spotted the violin on my back and yelled across the quad, “Hey, you play an instrument; you should join the klezmer band.” So I showed up a few days later.

My grandfather’s first language was Yiddish. My Irish grandmother actually spoke some Yiddish so I knew quite a lot of Yinglish. But it wasn’t until I'd been playing klezmer for a while that I saw all my friends learning Yiddish, and thought, I need to learn it.

What excites, inspires, or motivates you about cultural organizing?

freygl: We can amplify the work of those revealing alternate possibilities for what Yiddish has been and help realize the creative production of those further queering and cripping Yiddish.

Sorke: People really enjoy themselves at the events we organize. I recently started writing radical recipes for the newsletter and folks are excited by that. People have been responding positively and enthusiastically and it means a lot to know we’re reaching people in ways that are fun and meaningful to them.

Willow: Building intentionally queer spaces, intentionally Yiddish spaces—which are inclusive and radical—while also reconnecting with our histories and communities feels important.

So not only are you cultural organizers, but you’re also artists in your own right. How has Yiddish influenced your artistic or creative process?

Sarah :The Yiddish cultural world has given me a lot of room to grow, especially at KlezKanada, Yiddish New York, and Queer Yiddish Camp. When I’m in these spaces I feel like I’m somewhere safe. I’ve grown as a musician because it made me more confident about trying things out, like playing in a different octave, or doing a short solo piece. I started trying out comedy, because I figured, if I’m here to do Yiddish culture, everything can be Yiddish culture, so let’s try performing a comedy set, let’s try that creative writing workshop, let’s get up there and dance. It’s helped me be more open and creative.

freygl: Yiddish has helped connect my art to my ancestors more tangibly, instead of grasping for stereotyped imaginations of my ancestors. When I read Yiddish stories, poetry, or newspaper articles, listen to Yiddish music, watch Yiddish movies or plays, I get glimpses into the lives of Yiddish speakers, writers, and artists from the past and have a better sense of what has already been possible in Yiddish.

I speak and think in different cadences, in different languages. The first time I tried to write a poem completely in Yiddish it came out more fluidly. I was less inhibited; I let the cadence of Yiddish shape my feelings into the words on the page. What came out couldn’t have been written in English. 

What brought you to stand-up, or sit-down (for a mobility-inclusive term), comedy? What kind of comedy have you done to date?

Willow: I was itching to get back into performance. I was tangentially involved in theatre as a kid but didn’t stick with it after high school. When I moved back to Canada in 2021, I was looking for ways to connect to local life here. A friend of mine did a five minute comedy set in the 2022 Winnipeg Fringe Festival. I went with a bunch of friends and thought, I want to do this. They did another show a few months later, and I asked, if I wanted to try stand-up, how would I go about it? 

They told me about a women’s and non-binary open mic on the first Friday of every month. I started writing out some jokes only the week before the show, because of my ADHD. My friend who had first invited me couldn’t make it because of a chronic pain flare, so I was alone in terms of who I knew performing that night, but I did really well. As I walked off the stage, the person who performed before me introduced herself and said she runs a bimonthly queer comedy night and wanted me on it. So of course I said yes. It’s been over a year since I started comedy, and I love it. 

Sorke: In my younger days, I experimented with drag. I enjoyed the comedy and stagecraft aspect of it. My dad is an actor. My grandmother was an actress. One of my grandfathers was a magician. There’s a deep respect for stagecraft in my family and when we’re together we have a rather theatrical perspective of the world. I'm always looking for ways to honour that legacy. Performing comedy has been filling that need that I've been trying to find an outlet for. It's also a lot cheaper than drag. 

At a Zoom event in 2022, a friend and I were writing silly comments in the chat and she sent me a message asking if I’d ever tried stand-up comedy, saying she thought I’d be pretty good at it. Then last year, on the shuttle bus up to KlezKanada, no one could hear anything because the rain was so loud, so I sat in silence and got to thinking that there’s a cabaret at the retreat and maybe I should try doing comedy. I started writing a set in my head on the bus. I performed a five minute set at the KlezKabaret, goofy, low-key comedy, and it felt really good! 

I’ve really only been doing stand-up for about a year and I’ve only done a few formal sets but I’m trying to further develop that muscle.

Do you think comedy can be an instigator for social change or can effectively convey a political message? 

Sorke: Comedians help change people’s mindsets. A comedian can use observation and absurdity to call attention, and to make you think about something by exaggerating the situation. When I was in college, I was involved in a campaign to increase recycling on campus, which made increasingly absurd use of ninjas saying bad things will happen to you if you don’t recycle. Someone got swallowed by a dumpster, cans flew out of a bin, then ninjas emerged. I think activism goes better with a side of comedy and I’m still working on ways to incorporate more social change into a comedy routine.

freygl: Environmental activism using comedy reminds me of the political organizing I did in my youth. We had this big convergence at the capital called Power Change. Several of us were in costume as GMO corn zombies in front of a McDonalds, which was one of the stations along a march route that thousands were participating in. It was absurd and bizarre, yet we got the message across. 

Willow: I’m thinking of Hannah Gatsby's sets and specials using comedy to frame an important and often difficult discussion. I have a bit about how broken trans health care is in the UK, where I used to live, and the absurdities of what one has to go through, over-exaggerating and adding in comedy—forcing people in Canada to learn about how awful it is over there. Given how much the right wing in Canada is copy-pasting the transphobia from the U.S. and the UK right now, I don’t know if making comedy about it is helping, but it feels like I’m at least doing something.

Do you try to combine your comedy with Yiddish?

Sorke: I actually really try to keep the Yiddish separate because there’s this whole cliche of: Yiddish oh, ha ha, it’s so funny, just put some Yiddish in your comedy routine, ha ha. But no. It’s a language in its own right. Why do we as English speakers think that Yiddish is an intrinsically funny language? There are words in English that sound like a funny word. 

I’m not at a point where I could do an entire standard routine in Yiddish so I really try to keep things separate because I’m trying to avoid any cliches. 

What was it like co-MCing the Cabaret Fundraiser? What can folks expect if they go back and watch the recording? 

Sorke: Folks can expect jokes for very small audiences. I had to slip in at least one Moyshe Oysher reference because everything I learned about that individual is golden. There was a lot of fawning over the performers and dorky, awkward enthusiasm for Yiddish in general, stopping short of cringe, well, maybe giving cringe a little kiss on the cheek.

Willow: Authentic enthusiasm is so wonderful to me and I was so excited about the performers we had. It was tough to match them and live up to the quality they brought. We made sure to have at least one guest appearance by my cat who loves to climb on top of me when I’m on Zoom.

Gefilte Fish Poppers


I like to spice up the meal (and discussions) at the Seder table by adding a few dishes every Passover based on the global Jewish kitchen. One of my favourites is mini peppers stuffed with gefilte fish. 

Many Ashkenazi Jews who settled in Mexico and elsewhere in Central and South America add some spice to their traditional Eastern European foods, which inspired me to add salsa to gefilte fish. Since the word gefilte actually means stuffed or filled, I decided to stuff the fish into small, sweet peppers (for extra spice use jalapeño or poblano peppers, see recipe notes). 

Serve Spicy Gefilte Fish Baked in Peppers as you would regular gefilte fish or use as an appetizer as “gefilte fish poppers.” 

Gefilte Fish Poppers. Photograph courtesy of Faith Kramer.

Gefilte Fish Poppers

Serves 8, doubles well


3/4 cup Passover Salsa (see recipe below), divided

2-1 pound bags mini sweet peppers (peppers should be about 2 1/2-3 1/2 inches long)

Vegetable Oil

1 pound rockfish, red snapper, or similar mild white fish

1 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

2 large eggs

1 medium carrot

1 small onion

1 large celery stalk

1/4 cup matzah meal

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon crumbled, dried oregano leaves

1/4 teaspoon cayenne, optional

Chopped cilantro or parsley

Jarred, ground white horseradish, optional


Prepare salsa. Oil rimmed baking sheet. Choose peppers that lay flat or mostly flat so they can be stuffed. (If they are very wobbly, slice a bit off the bottom until they stand, but be careful not to cut through.) Leave stems on. Slit peppers horizontally leaving connected at tip and stem ends. Pull out seeds. 

Place fish, juice, and eggs in food processor. Process until puréed. Scrape into large bowl. Process carrot, onion and celery in food processor (no need to clean work bowl) until minced but not puréed. Combine in bowl with fish and 1/4 cup salsa. Sprinkle with matzah meal, salt, sugar, black pepper, oregano, and red pepper. Mix thoroughly. To test flavouring and spicing, fry a spoonful of batter in a tablespoon of oil in a small fry pan over medium heat. Taste. Add salt, cayenne, and sugar as needed to the remaining raw fish batter.

Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Firmly pack the raw fish into peppers, filling them end to end and mounding the fish an inch or so above the tops. Place on prepared sheet, bake 25-30 minutes until the peppers are tender and filling is firm and lightly browned. Serve hot, warm, or room temperature topped with cilantro and remaining 1/2 cup salsa. Pass horseradish if desired.

Passover Salsa: Combine 3/4 cups fresh diced tomatoes, 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic, 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic, 1 tablespoon minced jalapeño (or to taste; seed for milder flavour), and 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro or parsley. Mix. Add 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1 1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice. Stir well. Use 3/4 cup for recipe. Refrigerate remainder and reserve for another use.

Notes: Bags of mini sweet peppers are available in supermarkets’ produce sections. You probably won’t use them all in the recipe but I specify 2 pounds since some will be too curved or otherwise unsuitable for stuffing. Save any leftover for another use.

Substitute small red, yellow and or orange bell peppers. Cut bell peppers in half top to bottom, remove stems and seeds (being careful not to pierce the peppers all the way through), lay halves flat and stuff. 

For spicier poppers substitute fresh jalapeño peppers (which are smaller) or fresh poblano chilies which are much larger.

Alternative iteration of dish featuring poblano chillies. Photograph courtesy of Faith Kramer.

The Three Faces of Esther


I am descended from two Esthers. 

My paternal great-grandmother, Esther, was born in Russia. After being forced out of her homeland due to pogroms, she found herself in what is now Belarus. She later married Elias and they moved to Budapest, where it was safe for them, even during World War I. She raised her four children, including my grandfather, Izso. Esther lived with him and his wife, Shari, after becoming widowed. 

During the Nazi occupation of Hungary, Izso died. Esther, Shari, her children, and other family members were taken to a ghetto, a brick factory outside of Budapest. They were left outdoors without food or protection from the elements and were eventually loaded into cattle cars and taken to Auschwitz. My father was separated from the women, who clung together to help Esther walk—her legs swollen from the days on the train. 

The women were immediately taken to the gas chamber. 

On the first day of my father’s internment, he learned that the women were slaughtered. After the war, my father found out his brother Rudy had been killed. My father visited the synagogue in Újpest years later. His entire family was on the memorial.

I look a lot like Esther, I share her curly dark hair, the same nose, the same chin. 

My maternal grandmother, Esther, was born into an Orthodox family in what is now Slovakia. Her father Morris had 13 children. 

Esther’s husband, Jakob, was from Ukraine and in the Czech military. After World War II started, he moved his family, which included three children, to Bratislava. But in doing so, he "went AWOL," and fearing he'd be arrested as a deserter, they moved to Budapest. The family lived there for a few years before the Nazi regime arrived in Hungary. At that point, Jakob told his family he had to leave, and paid the Swiss to protect the building where his family was hiding. Grandma Esther and my mother were captured in Budapest while out getting food. My grandmother stood up to the Nazi soldiers and told them she had two more children at home, and she wished to get them so they could all go together. They went back to their building and weren’t forced to leave just yet. 

After some time, they were captured and taken to a ghetto. They were part of Eichmann’s last march, and while many people were taking valuables, hoping they could buy freedom, Esther smuggled food within their clothes and made the children carry heavy blankets, items that would keep them alive on the march. 

My grandmother kept her children’s spirits up by singing to them, praying with them, encouraging them to stick together and to be brave. While others died, they marched on, ending up in a satellite camp near Mauthausen. By the time they arrived, the three children were all sick, but Grandma Esther managed to convince the commandant to allow them to live with her. She worked in the kitchen, cooking for the German soldiers, and smuggled crusts of bread and raw potato peels back to her children. They survived together and were sent to a displaced persons camp in northern Germany. 

My parents met during this time; my dad was in a displaced persons camp in Bavaria and my mom worked for the American military as an interpreter. Though they were married without rings, an American officer bought my mom a dress (she later traded it for a tablecloth—she was practical). 

Once they immigrated to the U.S., arriving in NYC, they lived together in a studio apartment. 

My Grandma Esther lost all of her siblings that remained in Czechoslovakia except one brother and one half sister. She cared for her brother, who lost his wife and children in the camps. Her half-sister ended up in Sweden after the war. My grandma helped bring her to the U.S. so they could be together. 

Esther was a devout Jew. She prayed every day, many times a day. She had incredible posture. She didn’t suffer any fools. She gave tzedakah, she planted trees in Israel, she visited Israel and got to pray at the Wailing Wall. She lived until 69, the age I am now. 

It was her who taught me how to cook, how to grow vegetables, how to sew by hand, how to embroider, and how to make jewellery. I could always count on her, I could always go to her with my troubles. 

Looking back on her life, largely spent in exile, I can’t help but see the parallels between her and Queen Esther. Like Queen Esther, she was a prisoner. Like Queen Esther, she risked her life by standing up for what she believed in. Her bravery inspires me.

Paper Mosaic / Junk Mail collage technique. On canvas. 24x24"

Collage the Haggadah


The Haggadah has always been an object that sparked creativity. For centuries Jewish artists have been inspired by the rituals of the Seder, the conversations of the rabbis, the objects and animals in the songs, and the season of spring. I am one in a long line of artists who have used the Haggadah as the diving board to plunge into the visual sea. What started with a few plagues and some ancestors, soon blossomed into collages about all aspects of the text.

The artwork below stems from my self-published book the Collage Haggadah.

“Burning Bush”
“Test Seder Table”

Two Poems

“NUN” and “PEI,” translated from the Portugese by Alexis Levitin, are two poems from Leonor Scliar Cabral’s Consecration of the Alphabet, a twenty-two poem sonnet sequence in which each poem is devoted to a linguistic, historical, and artistic examination of a single letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The translated edition of Consecration of the Alphabet is forthcoming from Ben Yehuda Press.


The eel slips by with sinuosity

and gently skims across the coral’s spine:

bubbles of air drift up, a trail of signs

rising from sands of muted mystery,

a nuptial bed, a velvet alcove where

the petals of anemones, the scales   

of fish, dusted with phosphorescent veils,

reflect a starlight not from anywhere.

The seed of life, the snake-like cord, the cry,

cabala’s half a hundred, standing guard,

a shield protecting us from the unknown,

from plagues and pestilence, the evil eye,

and, firmly lodged, a pledge above our heart,

conducting us in safety to our home.


Portico of the word, inaudible

silence that cannot live without a voice,

and bubbles dancing in the air, just when

the cork, beyond recall, without a choice,  

explodes and flies off into space. Mere stroke, 

it takes its place, accepting for its sign 

the half-moon as a mate, and both embroider

knots of letters on the unseen line.

Rectangle’s angle now begins to curve

or turn again to angle, metaphors

or pieces of a mouth, that come to land 

on parchment or papyrus that now serve  

to carry off the signs in Diaspora,

and plant them far away on alien sand.

Miriam at the Sea


Where sand meets sea, Miriam plays her tambourine. This painting below, aptly titled Miriam at the Sea, by Lynne Cassouto, depicts Moses’s sister in a moment of joy and celebration. The Egyptians have been vanquished.

Miriam at the Sea, 1995

Magic Mountain


For me, Magic Mountain represents a place between heaven and earth, an in-between location where one may decide to move up or to come down literally and metaphorically. It is a place of contemplation—one can pause and re-think, re-evaluate their past, and perhaps choose one’s future. In many cultures, including Judaism, a mountain is a place where fates are decided, important decisions are made, and truth is discovered. This body of work is inspired by various Torah mountains and Thomas Mann’s magnum opus Magic Mountain.

Magic Mountain I, 2023, Oil Pastel on Board, 32x 24.
Magic Mountain II, 2023, Oil Pastel on Board, 32x 24.
Magic Mountain III, 2023, Oil Pastel on Board, 32x 24.
Magic Mountain VI, 2023, Oil Pastel on Board, 32x 24.
Magic Mountain V, 2023, Oil Pastel on Board, 32x 24.


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