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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 tbaruchel@holyblossom.org 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 tbaruchel@holyblossom.org.

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.

We Will Be Remembered: How the Toronto Holocaust Museum Sets to be a Lasting Legacy

“The Holocaust, for me, never ended. It is here. The trauma is still here.”

Nate Leipciger was liberated from Dachau 78 years ago, after six long years in Sosnowiec Ghetto and various concentration camps. His words carry the weight of wounds that do not heal with the passing of time. They flow through generations. “I still suffer post traumatic stress. My children inherited it and so did my grandchildren,” he shared with me from inside Toronto’s new Holocaust museum.

At 95 years old, Leipciger has been a Holocaust educator for decades and his family follows in his footsteps. Passionate first-person accounts like Leipciger’s, stating how the Holocaust remains a formidable foe and isn’t just an event relegated to the past, are needed more than ever as harmful narratives from revisionists, deniers, and racists grow more present in our political discourse. The most important thing we can do to curtail such efforts, Leipciger believes, is to tell the truth about the Holocaust and “not to change the reality.” Revisionists are more dangerous than deniers, he said.

The Toronto Police Service reported that in 2022 the Jewish community, which is only 3.4 per cent of the city’s population, accounted for 26 per cent of reported hate crimes. That’s why testimonies from Holocaust survivors are needed to educate society at large, as it gives insight into the enduring role history plays in our present and future. But with more survivors getting older and passing, how can we maintain the impact their first-hand accounts hold to engage and educate? This was one of the concerns that ignited the transformation of the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre into the Toronto Holocaust Museum (THM), now located on the Sherman Campus in the Sheff Family Building.

When designing the new space, one of the key focuses was making the experience enticing for children. The old museum hadn't reached its full potential in this area, noted Tony Reich, co-founder of Reich&Petch and the lead designer and architect on the project.

In 1985, Leipciger and other survivors founded the education centre, but as time went on the space didn’t use innovative or immersive tools to create an integrated and seamless experience. During their research process, Reich and his team visited and attended one of the classes and noticed that after survivors gave a short talk, the children didn’t seem interested in the other activities they were presented with.

“Kids like to create and be participants, and not just be observers. A lot of it is around encouraging creative skills or role playing, imagining other worlds.” Preserving the testimonies of the survivors is essential and is of the greatest importance, said Reich, but from what he told me, I gathered that they needed visitors to have more to do and needed them to want to do more. And because of the lack of education many folks in Canada have on the Holocaust, capturing the attention of the museum’s target audience was and is essential..

In 2019, the Azrieli Foundation and the Claims Conference conducted a study examining Holocaust knowledge and awareness in Canada. Some of the most startling findings reveal that 52 per cent of millennials cannot name one concentration camp or ghetto, 22 per cent of millennials haven’t heard or are not sure if they’ve heard of the Holocaust, and that nearly 57 per cent of Canadians say fewer people seem to care about the Holocaust than they used to. With these statistics, THM will have an important role to play in educating our community.

I spoke with Leipciger and Reich on June 8, when I, along with other media outlets, had the privilege of visiting the museum ahead of its opening. Everyone gathered in the Azrieli Legacy Hall where, under banners of pre-war life, Dara Solomon, executive director of THM and the Ontario Jewish Archives, shared that once we stepped inside we’d find a space “designed to inspire visitors to think deeply about our violent history and make connections between the Holocaust, world events, and contemporary Canadian life.”

When entering the museum you’ll pass through a 40-seat theatre as victims of the Holocaust brandish the screen. The melancholy expressions immediately hit you with all that was lost and taken from them. The banners hanging in the sky seem like a dream. And the swift contrast between life before and during war emphasizes all that was lost. This is exemplified when the next first thing you see are survivors looking right at you. Though I don’t mean in the flesh.

Photographs courtesy of Vito Amati for the Toronto Holocaust Museum.

Leipciger along with other survivors were interviewed and recorded so their testimonies could live on large screens situated on several floor to ceiling panels. “This whole idea was to create a legacy. Personal recollections, almost like you're meeting them, talking to them, one-on-one like in real life,” said Reich. With the touch of your finger, you can begin to explore their histories.

“Many of these people did not talk about it for a long time. They just didn’t want to. It was too painful,” continued Reich, whose grandmother perished in the Holocaust. But the old museum's history of an education program and a “need to tell the stories to the outside world, prompted a lot of survivors to open up and decide they should devote the latter years of their life to education. This is an education centre, it’s not really a museum. It’s all about getting stories out there.”

Including stories about what was happening in Canada at the same time. On the back of every testimony station in each of the open-concept galleries, there is a “Meanwhile, in Canada” panel. Featured incidents range from the Christie Pits Riot, to the moment when the Canadian Olympians vied for Hitler’s autograph at the 1936 games in Berlin, to a quote from then prime minister William Lyon Mckenzie branding Hitler a pleasant and appealing fellow after their meeting. Rachel Libman, the museum’s chief curator, stresses that showing what was happening at home and abroad gives the average visitor, who may not have any relationship to Jewish people and may not know European history, a gateway to understanding through a place they do know, Canada.

The memorial room is flooded with light. A vibrant forest dresses the walls with around 1800 names of those who died in the Holocaust. Deciding how to honour them gave Reich the most trouble because what he did to the space needed to be simple, profound, and important. I told Reich that placing the names against trees, rather than on tiles as was done in the previous space, breathes life into each soul and their memory. However, Reich stated that the room has “two modes. It has that alive mode. But then deep in those forests is another story of the Holocaust. A lot of people perished in forests not in camps. Many were just taken out to the forest and shot, buried.”

And then, next door, there is the “Life in Canada” gallery. A favourite of Hannah Schacter, THM’s program and curatorial associate, because “we cover how the survivors rebuild their lives in Canada. Emphasizing the resilience and strength that they had.”

The contrasting and contradictory emotions gleaned from how the space is designed is what, I think, makes the experience a layered and unique one. If you were to stand in the middle of the room you could be adjacent to the memorial room and the “Life in Canada” gallery and a survivor’s testimony, experiencing all at once different aspects and consequences of the Holocaust.

The rest of the museum is a small free flowing space and is packed with information that you may not get through on your first visit. But what you will take away is that the Holocaust doesn’t live in one pocket of space and time. That is possible because the team who imagined, built, and curated it wants you to think and dig into the complexities of the human experience by showing how resilience, loss, suffering, and joy can coexist.

"Meanwhile in Canada" panel. Photograph courtesy of Orly Zebak.
Nate Leipciger in the memorial room. Photograph courtesy of Orly Zebak.
Photograph courtesy of Vito Amati for the Toronto Holocaust Museum.

I was standing in the centre of the exhibit and experiencing this feeling when I was speaking to Leipciger. He looked around at the survivors on the screens, continuing to tell a part of his testimony to me, when he said “he can see how they, like him, still suffer. It comes back at the most unsuitable moments.”

What you will not find in the museum are videos of Hitler or a design built with the intent to tell the story of the Holocaust chronologically. Reich wanted to focus the experience around emotive stories told through various mediums including video, archival documents, and augmented reality. The only place you’ll find a chronological overview is on an intuitive touch screen that takes you through the different time periods showing the spread of Nazism. There’s a lot of information presented on those slides but it is not a dominating presence. It hangs out in the corner. “The client [the UJA] said we want kids to pick and choose. Let them choose. If they want to learn about how survivors came to Toronto, go to the end room. It doesn't matter what sequence.”

With kids as the target audience, the museum is designed to be immersive and tactile. The first step was to create drawers and compartments kids could pull and slide open that contain extra information or archives tucked under glass. With over 40 years in the industry, Reich knows that “kids love opening and looking in and seeing what’s there. You have to actually explore a little bit.”

And they took it even further by employing augmented reality. With an iPad in hand you can chart additional courses for yourself by choosing other stories to follow and discover. You’re in charge. If you decide, for instance, to tap on Fagie’s story, rain will begin to appear in the “Atrocity” gallery as you view the “In the Kovno Ghetto” chapter. In June 1941 her family was forced to move to the ghetto and in the one suitcase she was allowed to bring, she added the Shirley Temple doll that was her most prized possession. And that doll sits animated, whole and broken, on the floor before you.  

The scene from "In the Kovno Ghetto" chapter. Photograph courtesy of Orly Zebak.
Photograph courtesy of Vito Amati for the Toronto Holocaust Museum.

Incorporating augmented reality is quite experimental and has hardly been done, reflected Reich. But the coolest benefit of using this technology is “that the information feeds back to the educators through a server and they can actually find out what the kids are interested in and not interested in. So they can change the programs.” Ensuring that the museum will be able to see firsthand what kids and guests of all ages are connecting with and adapt to fit their needs for years to come.  

I believe that this museum will leave an impression on all who visit. The teams involved have built it with great affection, respect, and love for the survivors and their families, those who perished, even the educators, students, and visitors. I cannot claim to know such things of course, but when I turned to face the brutalist back wall of the theatre and the questions splayed there, I cared to stop, look, and ask myself, “How could the Holocaust happen?” “Is justice possible?” and “What can we learn from the Holocaust?” I imagine folks of all ages will also stop to ask these questions because it is a space that awakens curiosity and reflection. And that’s all Reich could hope for.

“[These questions] are what we want people to really think about when they leave. These are important questions you should ask yourself because there are so many things happening in the world that you know about. Is it important to protect democracy? Some people don’t think so these days.”

I began our trip to THM with a quote from Leipciger that set the tone of what to expect to find upon entering. And I leave you with a striking sentiment he shared to Solomon, during their discussion in the hall, to carry with you as we all find ways to work toward a better future.

“My solution to the problem [of prejudice] is acceptance, not tolerance. Tolerance is a negative aspect because it says I'll tolerate until you become like me. That's not right. I think we have to accept, mutually accept the way we live, the way we believe, the way we dress. Accept our differences; understand each other's differences fully. Not only to study your own history but also the esteem of other minorities in our country.”

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.


Move Over Margot Robbie. We Need More Natasha Lyonne

Woody Allen always gets the girl, well at least for a time. Barbra Streisand is the ugly duckling. Comedian Seth Rogen gets a couple jabs about his appearance but ultimately can be in an on-screen relationship with Katherine Heigl. Lena Dunham was fat shamed for her nudity scenes in the TV show Girls.

It’s no secret there’s a troubling double standard in our culture for women concerning appearances but there’s an additional layer that’s specific to Jewish women who look . . . “Jewish.”  

There is the stereotype of the “nice Jewish girl,” a kind and curvy family woman who loves Judaism, home life, and indulging in the odd bagel. Typically sporting frizzy hair and asymmetrical features, the nice Jewish girl also holds promise to be a diligent wife and mother. It’s the family choice, not the exciting choice. (I should emphasize, there is no one way to look Jewish, but there is an idea of what a Jewish woman looks like in North America and it most closely resembles this definition.)

Because of this, rarely can stereotypical looking Jewish women be leading ladies in mainstream media. Only Jewish actresses who don’t look stereotypically Jewish can—those with symmetrical features, svelte figures, and near perfect hair. Facial symmetry is universally associated with beauty and attractiveness. Most people don’t have perfect facial symmetry—the Margot Robbie’s of the world are few and far between. Though not in Hollywood, where the industry has skewed peoples’ perception of what beauty is, for the worse. Increasingly, I find this phenomenon frustrating as a viewer, and I think it’s harmful for young Jewish girls who feel a nose job, or any other procedure, is necessary for greater acceptance.

I can’t help but feel that Jewish women who look stereotypically Jewish don’t offer the sexy or appealing option to the male protagonist. There’s something almost sexless about them. We’re mothers, not the muse.

If we start to see a more authentic representation of a spectrum of Jewish women on screen we’ll be able to see that Jewish women, frizzy hair and all, can be desired and seek desire. They can be the leading lady. They can express themselves apart from their Jewishness, even if they embrace their Jewishness. They can have rich stories based on their everyday struggles of being a human in this world, not just of being a Jew.

To date, I’ve only seen movies and shows that prove Jewish actresses that secure leading roles all have conventional beauty traits, such as Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johannson, and Mila Kunis, who’ve sparingly played a character in relation to their ethno-religious background.

In fact, many notable Jewish female characters and figures are almost always played by non-Jews—think Rachel Brosnahan in Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Felicity Jones playing Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Rachel McAdams as an orthodox Jew in Disobedience. While all very talented, I can’t help but think their attractiveness made them more appealing for the part.

And if a Jewish woman is allowed to play Jewish, then it’s often in relation to her looks. Many of Streisand’s movies are about her being too unattractive for a man, there’s Funny Face, The Way We Were, and The Mirror Has Two Faces, which takes the ugly duckling trope to new heights. In the film Streisand laments about her face and body for over two hours. In one scene her mother shows a photo of Streisand’s character as a child saying she was an attractive little girl. “I was pretty?” Streisand responds. It’s a painful watch.

Why does it seem, more often than not, that the Jewish women on screen who look like me have to defend their looks? I love Streisand but so many of her works focus on her appearance. While the representation she brought was progressive at the time, she was still confined by restrictive ideas of what a leading Jewish woman, who looks unmistakably Jewish, can do or be on screen.

Recently, I watched the TV show Fleishman Is In Trouble, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Claire Danes, and became deeply troubled (no pun intended). It shows a couple going through a separation and how they got there. He’s a doctor and wants to live a more “down to earth” life and she’s a high powered talent agent who wants to climb the social elite Manhattan ladder. Eisenberg plays a Jew—who looks and acts stereotypically Jewish with his curly hair and neurosis on full display. Danes plays a half-Jew. Her straight blonde hair and traditional attractiveness make her more appealing to Fleishman. She wasn’t the “typical” Jewish woman he dreaded having to marry. During a scene, when he’s reminiscing on the start of their relationship and what made her attractive, he says she was different from other Jews he’d dated.

Jesse Eisenberg’s character wants the exciting choice. The bonus being she’s half-Jewish and her looks came from the non-Jewish side. He hit the lottery.

But what if he married a woman who looked, I don’t know, more like a young Streisand? Why could she not strive to be a part of the Manhattan elite? They are in New York after all. Would her outward Jewishness prevent her ability to play a Jewish character who rarely discusses her Judaism?

I have my heart set on Natasha Lyonne becoming a leading woman—Margot Robbie-level success—on the big screen. Her bright red frizzy hair, smoky voice, and Brooklyn edge make her not just a fantastic Jewish lead on screen but a fantastic female lead that can grab the heart of any man or woman. She doesn’t need to be the character actor that plays odd people because of her Jewish characteristics. Her Jewish characteristics can make her a Hollywood star. A classic lead. A muse.

Searching for the Sacred on Tinder

“What does God think of my Tinder profile?”

That was one I hadn't heard before. This gem of a question came up during a learning fellowship I led at Emory University Hillel, with the final class entitled: Infrequently Asked Questions. This was indeed an infrequently asked question and I loved it because it created a fantastic opportunity for connection. The group of undergraduate students laughed but then trained their eyes on me intently; they genuinely wanted to know what my rabbinic take would be on Divine opinions concerning dating apps. Throughout our studies together, I had emphasized the amazing ability of our ancient tradition to speak to us in meaningful ways in our modern lives. Even so, searching for the sacred on Tinder seemed to be reaching a bit too far for my 19- and 20-year-old students. But they had yet to realize that Torah is found and expressed across the spectrum of human experience.

In tractate Brachot 62a, we hear how the plucky Rav Kahana, in his enthusiasm to learn all he could, follows his teacher, Rav, home and hides under his bed. There, Kahana waits until Rav and his wife get into bed. They start enjoying each other's company but are soon interrupted when Rav discovers Kahana’s shocking intrusion, and proceeds to scold his student for this huge transgression of personal boundaries. However, Rav Kahana defends his actions by saying “This, too, is Torah, and I must learn!”

Torah is what is found in our scrolls, in the five Books of Moses. And yes, Torah is also more broadly speaking, found in the Oral Torah, the rabbinic works of Mishnah and Talmud. However, in proclaiming that his teacher’s sexual relationship with his wife is also Torah, Kahana offers an additional, more abstract and compelling definition of Torah.

I am not advocating for voyeuristic practices. Please do not go hiding under clergy members’ beds! I would however, like to stress the beauty in finding the sacred in all aspects of your lived experience and setting yourself in a mindset that allows you to learn from unlikely sources.

I was delighted by my students' question about God and their Tinder profile because we didn’t need to come up with an answer. The conversation that emerged from the question was far more enriching than a quick answer could ever be. A delightful paradox in our age of having instant answers, is that some of the biggest and most profound questions of life simply cannot be Googled, and there is joy in that. One of the most profound characteristics of Jewish learning is to sit with our questions and revel in the process of personal growth fuelled by curiosity. This was exactly what happened in our musing about Tinder. That question held in it anxieties and commentary on the complexities of human relationships in the digital age. The learning we did from the Rav Kahana story, though not providing a direct answer to the question, demonstrated that this ancient tradition of ours has a lot of relevant things to say, even as it is shouted across the centuries.

Over weeks of study together, we worked to foster a culture of curiosity and support, welcoming questions just like this one. The freedom to question and probe in turn deepened the students’ connection with me as their rabbi, with each other as a cohort, and with this multifaceted tradition we call Judaism. The experience inspired my Hillel students to think differently about their relationship to their Judaism, and indeed to question what constitutes Torah. Moreover, they started to take ownership of their place in the Palace of Torah, because they could see beyond the millennia old texts, which is exactly what the Talmud states should happen, as is stated in Brachot 31b: That Torah speaks to us in human language; it speaks to our shared, lived human experience. Each of us has Torah of our own to wrestle with, learn from and share with the world.

There is always a lot of panic around Jewish continuity and what will come of the Jewish future. My work has primarily been with an age group that Jewish communal institutions have had a notoriously hard time serving well. Countless thought pieces have been penned on “what do the young people want?” With various outcomes listed as mega-church style, Israeli rock-star led Kabbalat Shabbat services, to free dinners and drinks. These do have appeal, but what I have found is that millennials and Gen Z crave authenticity and a sense of belonging. They want to see themselves in our sacred story. From my time as a Hillel professional, and now as a rabbi serving a large congregation focusing on outreach and engagement of young adults and young families, the greatest blessing of my work is that I have the opportunity to empower and teach others to step up and say not only “This, too, is Torah” but crucially, “this is my Torah too.”

That is a deeply empowering message to receive at any age, but especially for our next generation.

Having Fun with Hanukkah

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There’s an exciting new way to celebrate Hanukkah, as families can start to make some new traditions by creating their very own menorahs. The Hanukkah Kits offer an easy assembly and crafting experience!

Learn more about the local business from founder Abby Zaitley to find out why she wanted to start the company.

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I’m Abby. My partner and I, along with our two little kiddos made the move from the bustle of Toronto to Hamilton in the midst of the pandemic. In my previous life, I was a full-time hair stylist, providing in-home services for my clients all around the city.

But life had a different plan for me. These days, I’m doing the stay-at-home-parent thing. I’ve ventured into the wonderful world of crafting and selling Hanukkah kits, as well as self-publishing two self-love kids books. It’s been quite the journey!

When did you start Hanukkah Kits? And why did you start it?

In 2022, I took the plunge and started business. The pandemic for me, like for so many others, started a big shift in my life. Most prominent being my transition from running a mobile hair styling business for nearly a decade to becoming a stay-at-home parent. I loved my new role but it left little time for creativity.

With Hanukkah Kits, I found a direction to channel my energy while helping other parents, who, like me, wanted to add some creativity into their homes during the holiday season with minimal effort. Hanukkah Kits was started with the desire to make the holiday season more enjoyable, and filled with cherished memories.

What is the mission of Hanukkah Kits?

Our mission is to help you create beautiful and meaningful memories, effortlessly, with your family.

Where would you like to see the business in one year? Five years? 10 years?

I'm the type of gal to take things year by year. Each year, I plan to improve my kits, making them even more user-friendly and environmentally conscious. But when it comes to the long-term goals of Hanukkah Kits, I trust my creativity to lead the way.

What do you love about Hanukkah?

I love Hanukkah for the blend of old and new traditions and the chance to make new memories. Crafting, music, decorating, cooking and quality time with family and friends.

You can read more about Hanukkah Kits here.

ARTS & KVETCH: Hanukkah & Hope

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I want to acknowledge that these past two months have been difficult for Jews, Palestinians, and anyone with a connection to Israel and Palestine. It has been challenging working on this article and knowing what to say, because I don’t want to hide my opinions but I also know that this is a very polarizing time and people will disagree with me regardless of where I stand. I’ve been writing the Arts & Kvetch column since Niv launched in September 2020 and the Jewish community has never felt so divided. We’re all working through a variety of emotions and it can be overwhelming.

I’ve been attending vigils and teach-ins to try and understand the issues more deeply, as well as talking to friends and reflecting on opinion pieces and social media posts from across the political divide, as we do not benefit from existing in echo chambers. Unfortunately, I haven’t successfully found any events in Toronto that aim to bring Palestinians and Israelis together, but I encourage you to seek them out. I also encourage you to stay abreast of the news in Israel and Palestine if you can, and stay invested after the war ends (if indeed it does). 

Hopefully, these upcoming events and activities can help lift your spirit in some small way. 

 

Hanukkah

Second order of business—Happy Hanukkah!

Hanukkah takes place from Thursday, December 7 to Friday, December 15.

On Sunday, December 17, Gila Münster presents 8 Gays of Chanukah Queer Jewish Variety Show! This is the 5th annual rendition of the show, and features a multitude of Toronto’s queer Jewish artists including singers, dancers, and drag performers. This event is presented in partnership with FENTSTER, and will incorporate an interactive art installation in the space, which guests will be able to participate in before and after the show. Tickets start at $18.

On Tuesday, December 12, FENTSTER will host an event by and for Jewish artists and creatives called Gathering & Celebrating Difficult Times: A Conversation for Jewish Artists + Chanukah Hang. The goal is to counter the isolation that many are currently feeling with connection and embrace hopefulness and healing.

Please note the event states: “We do not presuppose any particular political orientations and affiliations. However, this is not a context for political debate or to advocate for specific political solutions.”


Film


On Sunday, December 10, the day this issue launches, you can catch the advance screening of The Zone of Interest (directed by Jonathan Glazer), presented by the Toronto Jewish Film Festival (TJFF) at 4:00 p.m. I missed this film at TIFF in September so I’m excited to finally see it; I even mention it in my previous Arts & Kvetch article.

This film is adapted from Martin Amis’ 2014 novel and is inspired by the real-life Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel) and his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller, Anatomy of a Fall), who strove to build a dream life for their family in a house right next to the concentration camp. Special guest filmmaker Matthew Shoychet (The Accountant of Auschwitz) will introduce the film. You can buy tickets for the screening here. If you can’t make the screening, it will be in select theatres (including TIFF Bell Lightbox) starting December 22.

The Zone of Interest is co-presented with the Toronto Holocaust Museum, which opened to the public a few months ago. On Tuesday, December 12, there is a free talk with Globe & Mail journalist Marsha Lederman who will “shed light on the current moment through her unique lens as journalist and columnist for the Globe & Mail and as a descendant of Holocaust survivors”. Sign up for tickets to the event here.

Another film in TJFF’s international series Film Bites will screen on December 13. The Price of Sugar, directed by Jean Van de Velde, is set in 18th century Suriname, and tells a little-known story of slave-owning Dutch Jews. Come to the screening early and enjoy a meal inspired by the film for an additional fee. Buy tickets here.

Museums 

The Koffler Gallery’s exhibit The Synagogue at Babyn Yar: Turning the Nightmare of Evil into a Shared Dream of Good, has been extended until January 14. The gallery said the exhibit has been emotionally resonant for patrons due to its messages of hope. So if you haven’t visited yet, you now have more time to see it. 

I know that Niv is the best Jewish-content online magazine around, but if you’ve read every single article on the website and are looking for more, Koffler has a magazine called Arcade where you can find articles related to the exhibitions on display. During Holocaust Education Week in November, Koffler Arts hosted a symposium called “Babyn Yar, the Holocaust and Beyond: Architectures of Memory,” which invited a range of speakers to expand on themes explored by the exhibition. You can read the conversation between the artists and historians that concluded the event here.

Community

If you’re not in the Jewish& Facebook group (and you’re not yet annoyed with me recommending that you join it!) please do. This is a lovely online, inclusive community, and members frequently share events going on. The group’s monthly Building the Jewish Cookbook is a way to try new recipes and sample fusion cuisine. Their November event was Veggie Okoy Latkes with sour mango applesauce!

Thanks to the Jewish& group, I happened across the cutest little (virtual) Judaica shop based in the east end. Now hear me out—if you, like me, think of an overcrowded, old-fashioned store full of tchotchkes when you hear Judaica, there is an alternative. East Toronto Judaica has items that are so cute and trendy they look like they could fit right in at Urban Outfitters—I want that 20-sided dreidel and “L’chaim Baby” card. Or maybe the Jewish dino sticker. There are some neat books too, so check it out here. Bonus: you’re buying local! And if you are a Jewish artist and interested in selling your own products in the shop, they’re looking to add more. You can reach out here.

If you want more Jewish merch, take a look at these neat handcrafted handbags. FENTSTER salvaged bags that were headed to the dump and invited artists to upcycle them. The result? One of a kind personal works of art that you can use every day. In purchasing one, you will help raise funds for the gallery, and a contribution will be made to Heart to Heart, a Canadian organization that works with Palestinian and Israeli youth to equip them with the skills and tools to work in solidarity across lines of difference to create more just and inclusive societies.

Lastly, if you’re interested in the idea of making art to relax, sign up for the last session of Restorative Creativity at the Miles Nadal JCC on December 16. This Shabbat activity can help with any internal processing you may need.

That’s all for this month. I truly hope that the next time you’re reading my words, things are a bit brighter. Please take care of yourself and let’s work towards a better future.

Lara

Celebrate Shabbat with Adeena Sussman

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Adeena Sussman’s book tour for her New York Times best selling cookbook Shabbat: Recipes and Rituals From My Table To Yours landed in Toronto in mid-October. Sussman’s follow up to Sababa launched on September 5, and has clearly made a splash. 

For the self-described homecook, this three-month book tour is a journey she could not have expected, especially after the events of October 7. The Israel-based, American born, Sussman remains resilient. “We’re here,” she tells Bonnie Stern, during their J Chefs panel at the Prosserman JCC, “to embrace what is beautiful about our culture and to celebrate and talk about it.” 

And talk about it, they do. 

Over the course of two helpings (two J Chefs events), Stern, a noted cookbook author in her own right, hosts Sussman’s musings about how Shabbat is a shifting and ever-evolving practice. 

I feel there's a reason why you’re here at this time: you have the ability to help people and bring them together, and your wonderful sense of humor, even in sad times, is really important.

I've been living in Israel for the better part of the last 10 years and Israelis live with this duality of joy and sorrow. It's very much a part of our lives because Israel is my home. It's my home and my homeland, and being here during this time has been super challenging, but the community has come out to support Israel and each other and me and I feel energized and inspired by the way that people are coming together. And we're going to have Jewish joy, I promise, in about 30 seconds. We keep living. We celebrate life. If we don't, then they win.

How did your two cookbooks, Sababa and Shabbat, come about?

I met my husband nine years ago on a blind date and we got married six and a half years ago and I moved to Tel Aviv. I moved to Israel for love and I stayed for the food. We moved into the Carmel market area together and I think Jay very wisely knew that I couldn't leave if I was living in this incredible place. And he was right. I quickly became connected to it and Sababa was the story of my absorption into Israeli culture using the shuk or the Carmel market as my ulpan, where people go to learn Hebrew. I knew Hebrew, but the food culture was the way, my way, into Israel and the way that I could make myself feel at home quickly. And when I had the opportunity to write the book, I wanted to find a way to translate everything I loved about Israeli cooking as an American living in Israel. Most of the chefs who've written amazing cookbooks about Israel are Israelis living in America and I found myself with this weird, unique perspective as sort of an insider outsider in the culinary culture. it has all the staple ingredients in it and how to use them in multiple ways so you don't end up with that bottle of pomegranate molasses that you bought for that one Ottolenghi recipe four years ago, and it just keeps looking at you from the pantry, like “use me, use me.” And so, I like to take all of my condiments and ingredients and put fun twists on how to use them. How to make them so if you live somewhere where you can’t get preserved lemons, you can just make them, it's simplifying and de mystifying the cuisine and it was really fun to see so many people cook from the book. it was like a proof of concept that israeli food is like no longer a moment, it's a movement, it's been happening for a long time. It used to be that you would say I want French food, I want Spanish food, I want pizza, now saying I want Israeli food is something millions of people say every day. 

And how long did it take you to write Shabbat?

Writing a cookbook is kind of like cooking a 10 course feast and then waiting a year and a half for anyone to eat the food. This [Shabbat] concept was a little bit more complex for me because I had to dig into my own family history and talk about how my observance level has changed and how I observed Shabbat has changed. I used to do it with my family in a very traditional way and left it for a while and kind of came back to it, and Israel re-inspired a lot of my love of Shabbat and that combination of Judaism as both a religious and a cultural construct. And yes, I have to say from a Jewish pride perspective, seeing the word “Shabbat” in the New York Times bestseller list is one for the team. That's been amazing.

Tell us a little bit about Shabbat in your own home.

I grew up in Palo Alto, California. One of very few Orthodox Jewish families. My mother became religious when she married my dad. She met him on a blind date and she ordered fried clams and didn't understand why he wouldn't eat them at Howard Johnson's when he was eating the cold ice cream. And he explained to her what Kashrut was. That's how little she knew. And they fell in love and she took on religious observance. 

She grew up in a home where cooking was not cherished. Her mother was taken out of school during the Depression to cook and clean for her family. And so my grandmother viewed cooking as a chore. So when my mom met my dad, she learned how to cook and cook kosher at the same time and the two cookbooks that were the pillars of our kitchen were the New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne and the Chabad Spice and Spirit cookbook. My sister and I still have both of those books. My mother passed away 17 years ago, and they're two very cherished heirlooms. I have the New York Times and she has Spice and Spirit, sometimes I'm jealous I don't have both, but we share. 

Because Palo Alto was a small town and a very small [Jewish] community, our table was always full of whoever was visiting from out of town. If you go to one of those sisterhood charity gift shops, there are those spiral bound travel guides from the 1980s, and for Northern California it says Sussman 4931639. So people would call and say can we come over we need a place to sleep, we need meals for Shabbat, and it just made for this very interesting Salon/Shabbat table experience where people from all walks of life were coming, whether it was Nobel Prize winners who were at Stanford or single moms with kids who needed a place to sleep for a few nights. I would come home from summer camp and my father would throw my duffel bag in my room and point at my bed and tell me that the chief rabbi of France had slept there the weekend before. Having a big tent approach to entertaining is that extra element of Shabbat. There was always room for other people and everyone had a voice and was seen and heard at the table. My mother’s only requirement was that you contributed something to the conversation. 

The really wonderful thing about the book is that you share other people's recipes, you give other people credit. 

Of course and give other people the stage. People invite me to cook in their home and I think in Western culture that's a polite, maybe semi-sincere invitation. And in Israel if someone says “Come learn my recipe,” I'll say, “What time should I be there? Give me the address.”

There's a great recipe in the book for a beautiful braised lamb and rice that has a Bharat style spice blend, which is a warm spice blend with pepper and cinnamon and cardamom and ginger, from the cloves and mace from the northern part of Israel. The family [whose recipe this is from] was from Lebanon. 

I was buying cheese in the shuk and a woman with a baby carriage came up to me and she knew my work and invited me over to make her grandma's lamb and rice. I got to the house a few weeks later, at the appointed time, and all of a sudden all these cars started screeching and converging at different angles and all of her sisters were joining. What I didn't realize was that she was just using me to get her grandmother to commit the recipe to paper. They've been trying to get it out of her for about 20 years. And only did that happen when they told her that this cookbook writer wanted to come over. Sometimes I can be that buffer. We had this amazing day where I hung out with these beautiful sisters and their grandma and she told me amazing stories about how there were Jews in so many Arab lands. She's from Lebanon and her family owned a textile factory and they lived on the water. They loved their life in Lebanon and they had to leave in the late ’50s and early ’60s because of antisemitism and discrimination.

It's a great privilege to be able to help people codify these family recipes and put them on paper, and now these sisters have it to give to the next generation. That's the kind of thing I love to do.

What are your views on perfectionism in the kitchen?

Perfectionism is overrated. My mother used to always say there are no mistakes in the kitchen, they're only happy accidents. If she burned the chicken it was smoked chicken. We're overly focused on the kitchen being immaculate and everything being done perfectly heated and all that stuff and for me, I like to bring people into the process especially on Saturday, like when we do a big pot of stew on Shabbat afternoon. Perfection can get in the way of the cook enjoying the process. I tried to focus on a different spiritual aspect of Shabbat also for the cooking. It's not always about quantity. For me, the perfect Shabbat meal is the one that you have the time, the resources, the energy, and the budget for. 

It's so comforting when you spend a Shabbat dinner with someone. It really adds levels to a friendship.

Growing up, everybody wanted in on Shabbat at our home, whether they were religious or not, Jewish or not. The idea that you're invited into someone's home for this special meal is something that a lot of us take for granted, but a lot of people don't have that in their lives.

And that's what I love about our traditions: you just get to it. You make the food you put it out. You have the holiday, you do your thing and so much just comes out of that routine and ritual and obviously it's elevated by spirituality and culture but I always tell people if you don't know the prayers, you can say the regular prayers but also maybe say something that's meaningful to you. Create a ritual of your own. I'm very into people meeting Shabbat and Shabbat meeting people where they're at. The book intentionally does not have an instruction manual on how to do the rituals. That's not my job. I love the way that I was raised and I'm so grateful for it but I do think there's a wide range of ways to celebrate Shabbat and that it’s a wonderful way to bring people into Jewish culture. 

And Shabbat in Israel has a special spirit because the whole country slows down and takes a collective sigh on Friday afternoon. Three, four o'clock just gets quiet, the buses stop. You can hear yourself talk, which in Israel is always a wonderful thing. The country does a lot of the work for you and helps set you up for this beautiful time together. I really love celebrating Shabbat in Israel. I miss it a lot and it's going to be hard to go back in some ways because the country is a different country than the one I left seven weeks ago. But I'm also eager to be there and cook in my home and anchor myself in the place I love, with people I love.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Mac and Cheese Fritters

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These Mac and Cheese Fritters combine two Hanukkah traditions—fried and dairy foods—for a fun holiday appetizer or snack.

Use Pepper Jack and sharp cheddar cheeses for spicier fritters or tone them down by using Monterey Jack, Colby, or mild cheddar.

Photograph courtesy of Faith Kramer.

The fritters are best served warm and can be made a day ahead and reheated. Eat them plain, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and/or chopped parsley, or with a dip of marinara or pizza sauce.

For best results, be sure mac and cheese balls are very compact (otherwise they will open up when fried) and monitor oil temperature. Cool, strain, and store used oil for reuse.

If a deep fry/candy thermometer is not available, drop a small cube of bread in hot oil. The oil is ready to use if the cube browns in about 45 seconds and the oil immediately bubbles all around it.

Makes about 30–32 1-inch balls

Ingredients

8 oz. uncooked elbow or fusilli pasta
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup flour
1 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon powdered mustard
2 1/2 cups total shredded cheddar, Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack, and/or Colby cheese
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
2 large eggs, beaten
About 1 cup purchased dried unseasoned fine bread crumbs or matzah meal
Neutral oil as needed
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
3 tablespoons chopped parsley (optional)
1 1/2–2 cups purchased pizza or marinara sauce, warmed (optional)

Directions

Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente (tender but with a bit of resistance in the centre). Drain.

Melt butter in a 4-quart sauce pan or pot over low heat. Whisk in flour until smooth. Gradually add milk, whisking constantly, until smooth. Adjust heat to medium low and bring to a simmer, whisking often.

Simmer uncovered (lower heat if necessary), whisking occasionally, until very thick and smooth (volume should be reduced by half), about 5–10 minutes (timing will vary).

Turn off heat but leave pot on burner. Use spoon to stir in salt, pepper, mustard, and cheese until incorporated in the sauce. Stir in the pasta and green onions until fully coated. (If cheese sauce is solidifying before ingredients are properly mixed, heat over very low heat.) Take pan off burner. Let rest for 20 minutes. Add eggs. Mix until well combined.

Grease a plate with oil. Line a second plate with paper towels.

Wet hands. Squeeze, press, and roll 2 tablespoons of mixture between hands to make compact, dense 1-inch diameter ball with no bits of pasta or green onion sticking out. Roll in crumbs, making sure ball stays compacted. (If it doesn’t, re-compact and roll in crumbs again.) Place fritter on greased plate. Repeat with remaining pasta, rewetting hands as needed.

Cover the bottom of a wide, deep 6–8 quart pot with 1–1 1/2 inches of oil. Clip on deep fry/candy thermometer. Place over high heat until the thermometer reads between 340 to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Adjust heat to maintain temperature.

Add 5–6 balls to pot, making sure they are compact before adding to oil. After a minute, turn fritters with metal tongs or long-handled metal slotted spoon. Fry about 2 minutes total, adjusting heat as needed, until browned all over. Remove to paper-towel covered plate to drain.

Add oil if needed. Check temperature. Add next batch and fry. Repeat with remaining fritters.

If serving soon after frying, keep fritters warm on an ungreased baking sheet in a 250 degree Fahrenheit oven. To make ahead, store airtight overnight at room temperature between waxed paper layers. Reheat in 350 degree Fahrenheit oven on an ungreased baking sheet until warm, about 10 minutes.

ARC Ensemble Lifts the Veil on the Lost Jewish Composers

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For the last 20 years, the ARC Ensemble has devoted most of its energy and resources to the exploration of music that was sidelined by war and exile. The ensemble’s first recording—devoted to the works of Mieczyslaw Weinberg—featured his Piano Quintet op. 18, composed in the aftermath of his terrifying flight from Warsaw to the Soviet Union. The Weinberg recording was nominated for a Grammy and now has over a dozen rival recordings. Paradoxically, it was this very practice of over-duplication that had dissuaded me from re-recording the Piano Quintet. When ARC recorded the piece, the only other version was a deleted Soviet issue featuring the Bolshoi Theatre Quartet with the composer at the piano.

The ARC Ensemble has now released 10 recordings, the seven most recent (on Chandos) are part of its pioneering Music in Exile series. Almost every work in the ensemble’s discography is new to the catalogue, previously unknown to both the ensemble and its audience. The assessment and recovery of these works has been a hugely exciting process. When, after 80 or more years, a strong but long-forgotten piece is finally brought to the stage, the thrill can be quite extraordinary, especially when one’s colleagues around the world adopt and perform it. This happened recently when the release of works by the Kharkiv composer Dmitri Klebanov coincided with Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Klebanov, an ardent nationalist, drew on several Ukrainian melodies for his Fourth Quartet, melodies that had been used by his older colleague Mykola Leontovych. In the context of Russia’s aggression, it is troubling to remember that Leontovych was killed by the Soviet secret police in 1921. With the Klebanov release, I received requests for his scores from all over the world and Klebanov’s voice became one of protest.

A few years ago, the ensemble released a collection of chamber works by the Czech-American composer Walter Kaufmann (1907–1984) who spent the Hitler years in Bombay (now Mumbai) and produced a considerable amount of chamber music. The violinist and pedagogue Mehli Mehta, Maestro Zubin Mehta’s father, was a close friend and collaborator. Any listener to All India Radio will be familiar with its station ID, a fourteen-note melody, composed by Kaufmann, recorded by Mehli nearly 90 years ago, and still played daily. When the ARC Ensemble performed Kaufmann’s String Quartet no. 11 at Toronto’s Koerner Hall, Zubin’s son, Mervon, the Executive Director of Performing Arts at the Royal Conservatory, was able to claim a very personal connection. Mehli Mehta, his grandfather, would have led the original ensemble at its Bombay premiere, with Kaufmann playing viola. The quartet, a fascinating amalgam of Indian and Western traditions, is now available through Doblinger Verlag, Vienna, but there are another 11 quartets that still await exploration. It was thrilling to hear the premiere of Kaufmann’s Indian Symphony a couple of weeks ago in Carnegie Hall, part of a program of exile music conducted by Leon Botstein.

ARC Ensemble performs Robert Muller-Hartmann's music at Koerner Hall in Toronto. Photo courtesy of ARC Ensemble.

Preparing the unknown for performance is very different from the “oven-ready” approach that generally accompanies the rehearsal of familiar music. When musicians encounter a new commission, the composer is usually available to offer guidance and advice. When an ensemble—or a soloist, or conductor for that matter—rehearses an unknown composition from the 1920s or 30s, outside help is no longer available. The composer is deceased, as are the musicians who might have had firsthand memories of the work. Only very rarely is there a recording. When the ARC Ensemble begins this process, every musical decision is made without the convenience, or the complacency, offered by precedent. Questions surrounding tempo, phrasing, bowing, articulation, balance, mood, the relative importance of individual musical lines, and a sense of the composer’s broader intentions present a tabula rasa. The musical text often prompts debate, especially when musicians are playing from scans of a manuscript, rather than a published edition. A misplaced note, a missing ledger line, an ambiguous accidental, dynamic marking or articulation sign, any of these, can halt proceedings and precipitate lengthy discussion. Players are left to draw on their knowledge and experience, and to search for clues in the score, or in other works by the composer. Solutions are often hard-won, and as musicians become more familiar with the piece, opinions can, and do, change.

The early rehearsals of an unknown work are, in effect, the beginnings of an unravelling, during which essential musical questions have to be solved. This is the infant state of what will eventually become a performance tradition. ARC’s members tackle the process in an exploratory spirit that is tempered by humour and an acute sense of responsibility. A new work has to be presented in its most flattering light, with the same commitment that is accorded the standard repertoire, where journeys are familiar and the listener will draw on memories of previous performances and recordings. It is the ensemble’s job to make the new sound just as inevitable, comprehensible and hospitable, even though time, reflection and repeat performances will always provide music with more options and depth.

German-Jewish composer Robert Müller-Hartmann. Photo courtesy of the Royal Conservatory of Music.

The ARC Ensemble’s latest recording, which was released on November 17, is a compilation of chamber works by the German-Jewish composer Robert Müller-Hartmann (1884–1950) who fled to England in 1937. Before Hitler’s ascent to power in 1933, Müller-Hartmann had enjoyed a successful career. His works had been performed by illustrious conductors: such as Richard Strauss, Wilhelm Fürtwangler, Karl Muck and Fritz Busch. Artur Schnabel had premiered his chamber music. In England Müller-Hartmann was introduced to Ralph Vaughan Williams and the B.B.C. Symphony’s conductor Sir Adrian Boult, and for a while a second career looked possible.

But time ran out and after his death in 1950, Müller-Hartmann’s music vanished from the concert platform. His sons who had emigrated to a kibbutz in the Galilee before the war inherited his scores which were then bequeathed to the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. Among the recorded works is a Sonata for Two Violins, op. 32, which is as fun to listen to as it is to play. 

You can listen to ARC’s wonderful violinists Erika Raum and Marie Bérard perform IV. Schnell mit Anmut on ARC’s YouTube channel.

Magic Mountain

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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.
Lake.

William Kurelek’s Jewish Life in Canada

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The McMichael Canadian Art Gallery’s exhibit on William Kurelek’s artwork depicting Jewish life in Canada provides viewers an evocative glimpse of the Jewish community in various parts of the country. The gallery has graciously provided Niv with select works from the exhibit for those who might have missed it in-person this last year.

William Kurelek (1927–1977) is a beloved figure in Canadian art, a revered Ukrainian Canadian painter whose works express his deeply felt immigrant experience and his compassionate vision of humanity. Many of his richly detailed, jewel-toned works reflect memories of his hardscrabble childhood in Manitoba, others his sometimes apocalyptic ruminations on a darkening world.

His suite of paintings titled Jewish Life in Canada was made to honour his friendship with the Toronto art dealer Avrom Isaacs, who offered the artist a framing job at his gallery before discovering his employee’s remarkable creative gifts. A devout Roman Catholic, Kurelek intended Jewish Life in Canada as a gesture across the cultural divide, implicitly demonstrating his open-mindedness toward Canadians of cultural and religious backgrounds different from his own.

— McMichael Canadian Art Gallery

William Kurelek (1927–1977), Jewish Immigrants Arriving on the Prairies, 1975, mixed media on board, 50.8 × 57.2 cm, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Photo: Michael Cullen, Dunnville, Ontario, © Estate of William Kurelek, courtesy of the Wynick / Tuck Gallery, Toronto.
William Kurelek (1927–1977), Pioneering at Edenbridge, Saskatchewan, 1975, mixed media on board, 47 × 59.1 cm, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Photo: Michael Cullen, Dunnville, Ontario, © Estate of William Kurelek, courtesy of the Wynick / Tuck Gallery, Toronto.
William Kurelek (1927–1977), Bender Hamlet, the Farming Colony that Failed, 1975, mixed media on board, 78.1 × 83.8 cm, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Photo: Michael Cullen, Dunnville, Ontario, © Estate of William Kurelek, courtesy of the Wynick / Tuck Gallery, Toronto.
William Kurelek (1927–1977), Jewish Scrap Collector Questioned by a Toronto Policeman, 1975, mixed media on board, 40.6 × 71.1 cm, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Photo: Michael Cullen, Dunnville, Ontario, © Estate of William Kurelek, courtesy of the Wynick / Tuck Gallery, Toronto.
William Kurelek (1927–1977), Jewish Store in Vancouver Before World War One, 1975, mixed media on board, 30.5 × 40.6 cm, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Photo: Michael Cullen, Dunnville, Ontario, © Estate of William Kurelek, courtesy of the Wynick / Tuck Gallery, Toronto.
William Kurelek (1927–1977), Jewish Dairy Farm Outside Winnipeg, 1975, mixed media on board, 40.6 × 62.2 cm, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Photo: Michael Cullen, Dunnville, Ontario, © Estate of William Kurelek, courtesy of the Wynick / Tuck Gallery, Toronto.
William Kurelek (1927–1977), Jewish Dairy Farm Outside Winnipeg, 1975, mixed media on board, 40.6 × 62.2 cm, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Photo: Michael Cullen, Dunnville, Ontario, © Estate of William Kurelek, courtesy of the Wynick / Tuck Gallery, Toronto.
William Kurelek (1927–1977), Jewish Baker’s Sabbath, Edmonton, 1975, mixed media on board, 60.3 × 30.5 cm, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Photo: Michael Cullen, Dunnville, Ontario, © Estate of William Kurelek, courtesy of the Wynick / Tuck Gallery, Toronto.
William Kurelek (1927–1977), Doctor's Family Celebrating Passover in Halifax, 1975, mixed media on board, 44.5 × 61 cm, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Photo: Michael Cullen, Dunnville, Ontario, © Estate of William Kurelek, courtesy of the Wynick / Tuck Gallery, Toronto.
William Kurelek (1927–1977), Jewish Home Life, Montreal, 1975, mixed media on board, 40.6 × 71.1 cm, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Photo: Michael Cullen, Dunnville, Ontario, © Estate of William Kurelek, courtesy of the Wynick / Tuck Gallery, Toronto.
William Kurelek (1927–1977), Teperman's Wrecking Firm in Toronto, 1975, mixed media on board, 41.9 × 40.6 cm, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Photo: Michael Cullen, Dunnville, Ontario, © Estate of William Kurelek, courtesy of the Wynick / Tuck Gallery, Toronto.
William Kurelek (1927–1977), Morosnick's Market, Dufferin Street, Winnipeg, 1975, mixed media on board, 50.8 × 57.2 cm, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Photo: Michael Cullen, Dunnville, Ontario, © Estate of William Kurelek, courtesy of the Wynick / Tuck Gallery, Toronto.
William Kurelek (1927–1977), Yom Kippur, 1975, mixed media on board, 50.8 × 57.2 cm, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Photo: Michael Cullen, Dunnville, Ontario, © Estate of William Kurelek, courtesy of the Wynick / Tuck Gallery, Toronto.

Tea in the Desert

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And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.

— Genesis 21:13

They were in Erfoud, and, as they entered a restaurant shortly after nightfall, they bumped into a sweating, burly Italian who said scusi, then introduced himself as Gianni. From kindergarten on, the kids had called Isaac by a nickname he still went by. “Call me Izzy,” he said, shaking the massive hand of the smiling hulk of a man. “Izzy Solomon. And this is my friend Gretchen,” he added, with a polite nod. There was a momentary silence. “I’m from New York, she’s from Bavaria. We’re here to see the Sahara.”

“Please join me for dinner,” said Gianni. And they sat down at a metal table on the edge of the patio, where a gentle breeze brought some relief from the day’s unrelenting heat. Gianni ordered a large bottle of red wine and they took turns making toasts. They shared two long barbeque spits, with chunks of beef, lamb, chicken, and liver. Gianni told them that he had little chance to speak Italian there in the wastes of the northern Sahara, but he enjoyed the occasion to speak English with the occasional traveller. Half intoxicated, he took the time to teach them one of his favourite sayings: Se hai un nemico, non pensare alla vendetta, ma siediti sulle rive del fiume sacro e aspetta che il suo cadavere arrivi galleggiando. If you have an enemy, do not think of vengeance, but sit upon the bank of the sacred river and wait for his cadaver to come floating by. Gianni liked that Izzy laughed at his jokes. He also liked Gretchen’s long golden hair and her turquoise blue toreador pants. Izzy and Gretchen liked Gianni for his broad shoulders, friendly paunch, hairy arms, and ready smile.

Over dinner, they discovered that Gianni was a cartographer working for King Hussan. The King had no idea how many people lived in the shifting villages on the edge of the Sahara, how many villages there were, how many hectares of desert sand belonged to each village, or who the chief was overseeing each clan. He needed Gianni to quietly discover the details for his ten-year census and, more importantly, for the guidance of his tax collectors. So Gianni did his job. He enjoyed the work, he told them, but at times he regretted that his research would cost his genial hosts much money when tax time came around. Despite his uncomfortable moral dilemma, it was a good job with good pay, and most of all he loved the desert, and so he stayed.

“Tomorrow,” said Gianni, “tomorrow I will take you to a desert village where no one goes. No one even knows the village is there, built of sandstone and adobe it blends into the desert sands. The chief is a friend of mine, he will invite us to tea in the desert. You will enjoy it.” Izzy and Gretchen, sipping their third or fourth glass of wine each, nodded in agreement and, when the bottle was empty, they staggered off to their room, while Gianni lingered on the patio beneath the bright desert stars. He sipped the last of his wine and hummed a tune from childhood without realizing he was doing so. Then he too stood up, stretched in the cool night air, and went inside to go to sleep.

The next morning, he joined them for coffee at their pension. Then they all piled into his sturdy old Land Rover and headed off. The sun was climbing in the spotless sky and the breeze that swept over them in their open car was already warm with the gathering day. Gianni repeated his favourite aphorism of Confucian origin and Izzy dutifully parroted it back. They both burst out laughing and Gretchen chuckled. It was going to be a good day.

After close to an hour of driving, with featureless flat land to the right and encroaching sand dunes to the left, Gianni slowed down and, though there was no signpost or any other indicator, made a sharp turn off the asphalt and onto the hard-baked, cracked and arid land. There seemed to be nothing there at all, but after a meandering path of perhaps half a kilometre, out of nowhere, some sand-coloured low-lying structures began to take shape. They came to a stop and Gianni said, “We have arrived.”

The babble of children surrounded their car. Almost immediately, a tall Amazigh strode forth from the shadows of what seemed to be a street covered with a thick awning of palm fronds. “Bienvenu” he said, and held his two palms flat together, as if in prayer. Moving forward effortlessly in his white robes, he led the three visitors down the narrow twilit lane. After several turns, he led them into a square room with a high ceiling and an open space where a skylight might have been. There was a brief burst of giggling from the rooftop, but then someone shooed the little children away.

Seated on an elegant thick carpet of rich carmine hues was the village chief with a smile of welcome on his face. To his left stood an official of some sort, a kind of adjutant. They shook hands with the official and bowed their heads to the chief. Gianni whispered to them that the standing dignitary was the wise man, the sage of the village. The chief gestured broadly, suggesting they join him on the carpet. He continued to smile but averted his eyes from Gretchen, that bold blond figure in her turquoise toreador pants, something no doubt, he had never encountered before in all his life. Taking their cue from Gianni, the tourists nodded their respect and folded themselves down upon the carpet. Their host welcomed them in French and said he would be serving them tea. He called out an order and, in the silence that followed, he looked expectantly at Gianni. The two newcomers gazed curiously at this host from another world. Meanwhile the wise man took up a rusty old insect sprayer and pumped away at the flies congregating around their gathering. It was clear that the wise man was enchanted by the modernity of his ancient atomizer.

As they awaited tea, there was the sound of hurried footsteps and suddenly a young man burst in, sweaty and triumphant. He was carrying a large, solid square of salt wrapped in brown paper. He had bicycled a long way through the desert to get this essential product, important for every family in the clan. He was pleased to have succeeded in his quest and, the chief, his father, beamed with pleasure at his son’s success. The lad shook hands with Gianni and the two newcomers and took his seat on the deep plush of the carpet. The chief clapped his hands, indicating that now they were six, and a servant brought in six delicate silver teacups and saucers, and a bowl full of sugar cubes.

As they continued to wait, Gianni leaned over to Izzy and murmured, “You should see his scimitar. You wouldn’t believe it. Its handle is filled with jewels and its blade is inscribed with ancient texts. I have offered to buy it many times, but he refuses to sell it.” The astute chief, comfortable in French, had overheard him and retorted: “Sell it? Of course not. I would never sell it. However, I would be happy to give it to you, Gianni, my dear friend, as a gift. But I cannot. I must save that scimitar for the Holy War against the Jews.”

Izzy stiffened. He was astonished. The chief had been so friendly, so warm, so welcoming. Even now, a servant was pouring mint tea into everyone’s cups. A bowl of sweet dates was making its way around the circle. Isaac wondered what would happen if he stood up and simply announced to the gathering, “Mes amis, nous sommes deja arrivés.” My friends, we have already arrived. He assumed that his host would look back at him astonished, as if in the presence of bad manners, an ill-timed joke. It was clear that this dweller in the desert had never seen a Jew in his life. He probably assumed they could be recognized by their tiny goat horns, as tradition suggested. To him they must be mythic creatures, perhaps like dragons in Scandinavia. And Isaac felt a deep sympathy creeping into his astonishment. This man was, after all, his brother in the desert, descended from Abraham’s first son, Ishmael. Ishmael, reluctantly cast forth into the wilderness with his equally innocent mother Hagar, by the patriarch himself. Cast forth because Sarah was now the jealous protector of her own son, Abraham’s second born, who had come so unexpectedly from God, into her womb and into this world. And so she insisted. A mother’s love. How strange, indeed, are the ways of the Lord.

Sipping his mint tea, nibbling on a sweet date, complimenting his host on the elegance of it all, Isaac wished he could leap up and embrace him as a brother. But prudence suggested otherwise. And so the tea in the desert continued in peace and harmony, neither marred by blind hostility nor blessed by an embrace delayed for almost four millennia. Gretchen from Bavaria also sipped from her hot tea, innocent in her turquoise toreador pants. And Gianni sat there silently, still pondering if he could somehow convince the chief, his friend, to part with that spectacular scimitar. The village elder sipped quietly from his cup, unaware of the tangled complexities lying beyond his purview. The son, too, sipped from his cup, proud still of the heavy square of salt he had brought on his bicycle to the village from afar. And their host, the benevolent chieftain, looked kindly upon them all and was grateful for the opportunity this visit gave him to show foreign guests the age-old treasure of his people, desert hospitality.

The Brighton Beach Bible

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It was a dream of mine to create a graphic novel based on my life and Jewish heritage. When I was 40, after the death of my father and the selling of my childhood residence, I left Brooklyn for the New Jersey suburbs. While it wasn’t far, the suburbs felt alien to me after the buzz and excitement of New York City. I was dislocated and had to imagine a new future. I found myself falling back on the text of Exodus, and examining the story anew. I felt connected to it now that I had undergone, what was for me, a massive change in my life. A significant transition.

That’s when the idea came to me to put pen to paper and tell my story, to make my own Exodus, and I knew just where to set it.

I spent significant periods of time at Brighton Beach and Coney Island as a kid. I was struck with their mythic qualities, diverse crowds, ruined amusement rides, broken architecture, concession stands, and faded history. These epic memories and structures would serve as the environment to depict a modern retelling of the Exodus from the Hebrew Bible.

The Brighton Beach Bible is a narrative about Jewish culture and identity that also explores modern religious belief as depicted in art. I painted at the beach and included old master art references, movie stills, comic book panels, and other visual material to depict the most important story in the Jewish canon with seriousness, irony, and humour.

Mixing my art with Jewish traditions and personal experiences was a cathartic and rewarding journey for me.

You can read more about The Brighton Beach Bible here.

The Burning Bush.
Miriam's Revelation.
Bast Beach.
The Study of Maimonides.
Brighton Exodus.

The Signs Get Resolute

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The signs have spoken: your new year’s resolutions are in! Ring in 2024 with a little help from your friends in the night sky. These resolutions seek to give you exactly what you need.

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