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The first lines ever spoken in The Last Man on Earth, the post-apocalyptic TV dramedy series that sometimes felt like the world’s longest awkward inside joke, are a prayer. They are said by leading man Phil Miller (played by Will Forte), who’s lived for years in slovenly isolation on a barren Earth, after just about everyone else was killed by a mysterious plague.
“Hello, God,” he says, while lying in the bed of his childhood home in Tucson, Ariz. “First of all, apologies for all the recent masturbation.” He pauses. “But, I gotta say, that’s kinda on you.”
That sets the tone for what would become one of the most surreal sitcoms that has ever aired. The show was cancelled this May after four seasons, breaking the hearts of its dwindling fan base – around 1.5 million viewers by its finale, which was down from its early peak of nearly six million – leaving them without any bargaining power. Unlike more popular cancelled shows (Community, Brooklyn Nine-Nine), The Last Man on Earth wasn’t great television. It was weird television.
Many of its gags were cringe-worthy. Its characters swung from obnoxious slapstick to brilliant prop comedy to poignant monologue in 22 minutes, while the directors peppered in short-lived celebrity cameos and beautifully desolate panoramas of the American west. But behind its baffling veneer, the show concealed an unwavering spiritual core.
Don’t get me wrong, this was by no means a religious show. Nor was it Jewish – none of its creators or main actors were members of the tribe. But it nonetheless touched on distinctly Jewish themes – namely, that a community bound by faith and will is a profound necessity in life.
After spending the show’s entire pilot episode alone in a twisted, hedonistic purgatory – flippantly robbing museums, lounging in kiddie pools full of margarita mix – Miller yells at God, “I don’t need people! I can make it work on my own.” It’s a sentiment he repeats at the first season’s end, after finding a small group of survivors who get so weirded out by his antics that one guy abandons him in the middle of the desert. “I don’t need any of you,” Miller screams as the car drives away.
Yet he falters by himself. Miller was a horrible human being when he was alone and, initially, he’s equally horrible when surrounded by people. It takes time for him to figure out how to be a moral person. But watching his progress is the most rewarding part of the series. It’s reminiscent of other great contemporary Jewish television: take Rebecca Bunch, who transforms from the titular character of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend into a responsible adult, or Josh Greenberg, whose emotional maturity held together the short-lived and equally absurd show Man Seeking Woman.
The Last Man on Earth only works because Miller incrementally evolves into a valued member of his community and comes to realize that the only way to survive is by sticking together and believing in a collective future. Without other people, he would have died ages ago.
Over the show’s run, the characters take turns in similarly isolating, and potentially lethal, situations: one gets trapped in an elevator while on a wine bender, another runs out of medication and is locked up in solitary confinement. At the end of every story, every episode, every season – indeed, the show itself – the lesson is clear: loneliness is a fate worse than death.
The series finale (spoilers ahead!), which ends on the show’s biggest cliffhanger, is reminiscent of the Jewish version of the apocalypse. Just as the dead tzadikim will be resurrected upon the Messiah’s return, in the final moments of Last Man, the group stumbles upon hundreds of survivors wearing gas masks that glint in the sun, staring them down like zombies. The main characters are gobsmacked. But there’s optimism, too: at least they’re not alone.
Five Jewish-Canadian educators from Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal were in Israel from July 8-12, to attend the first Global Jewish Education Summit, which was sponsored by Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs.
The conference, which brought together 150 Jewish educators from the Diaspora and about 30 of their Israeli counterparts, demonstrates Israel’s revived commitment to Diaspora communities, and specifically Jewish day schools, said Paul Bernstein, CEO of Prizmah: The Center for Jewish Day Schools, who also attended the summit.
“In a period when some would argue we have seen our relationships weakening … they (the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and its minister, Naftali Bennett) are turning around and saying that it’s really important that we are together and that Jewish education lies at the heart of succeeding in creating that unified Jewish future,” said Bernstein, who participated with the Canadian educators in a conference call with The CJN, while they were in Jerusalem.
Israel has traditionally promoted broad Jewish engagement, with programs such as Birthright, which brings young people to Israel for a free 10-day trip. Bennett, who is also the education minister, is intentionally focusing on day schools now, according to Bernstein.
“This is turning round and saying deep Jewish knowledge, experience, learning, through a strong Jewish education, such as at a Jewish day school, is absolutely essential to the future of the Jewish people,” Bernstein said. “The Israeli government saying that and believing that is a really strong statement.”
The ministry has begun working with local communities, particularly in Europe and Latin America, to provide funds and expertise to help schools flourish, Bernstein said.
One reason Canadian educators attended the conference was to encourage a similar investment and partnership in their own schools, Bernstein added.
About 80 per cent of the attendees at the conference came from schools outside North America, said Lori Binder, head of school for Winnipeg’s Gray Academy.
Deep Jewish knowledge, experience, learning, through a strong Jewish education, such as at a Jewish day school, is absolutely essential to the future of the Jewish people.
– Paul Bernstein
Binder said that one highlight was when Israeli President Reuven Rivlin thanked the attendees for their contributions to Jewish education around the world.
“For me, as someone who’s an educational leader in the heart of the prairies, very far away from another community, I actually got quite emotional,” she said. “Being in an environment with people throughout the Diaspora reminds me of the context of what we are doing and why we are doing what we are doing.”
While she and Joyce Kerr, the elementary principal at Gray Academy, were in Israel, they also visited their partner high school in Kiryat Shmona, which has had an exchange program with the Winnipeg school for more than 20 years.
Making those kinds of personal connections for both students and educators is crucial to strengthening ties between the Diaspora and Israel, Bernstein said.
Being in an environment with people throughout the Diaspora reminds me of the context of what we are doing and why we are doing what we are doing.
– Lori Binder
Renee Cohen, the principal, and Jonathan Levy, the head of school, at TanenbaumCHAT in Toronto, said there is an eagerness among Israeli educators to work with and learn from their colleagues in the Diaspora.
“Another area that the Israeli administrators brought to the conference was the idea of professional development for Judaic studies teachers and the willingness to share those resources and for our teachers to be part of their network, because they have a huge supply of resources that they want us to be part of,” Cohen said.
The task for Israel is particularly challenging, said Abba Brodt, director general of Montreal’s Hebrew Foundation School. “There are 31 different countries here (at the conference), each clamouring for their own attention from Israel and wanting their own relationships. Israel has to learn about so many more different types of Jewish communities and needs than we do. So I have a fair bit of empathy for what Israel has to do. It’s reaching out to so many different communities across the world.”
NBA star Draymond Green’s recent visit to Israel, where he met with President Reuven Rivlin and went to a shooting practice on a military base, sparked criticism from notable figures on the American political left, including Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King and CNN commentator Marc Lamont Hill.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Sarah Silverman’s new late night show, I Love You, America, earned Emmy nominations on Thursday. Maisel, Amazon Studios’ popular series set in a Jewish 1950s New York neighbourhood, was nominated for best comedy series. I Love You, America, got a nod in the variety sketch series category.
Star-K, a kosher-certifying agency, said it can no longer vouch for the kashrut of many beverages served at Starbucks. Star-K for years has kept a list of the drinks prepared at Starbucks that it called “kosher friendly,” but the stores were not under the certifying agency’s supervision.
The trial of two German-Canadian siblings charged with inciting hatred, stemming from their denial of the Holocaust, has begun in Munich. Alfred Schaefer, 63, and his sister, Monika Schaefer, 59, are being tried together on six counts of “incitement to hatred,” for producing and posting videos in which they denied the Holocaust.
Good Shabbos, Shabbat Shalom! If you’re looking for quick and easy soup recipes that you can prepare in advance and have on hand in your refrigerator ready to serve at a moment’s notice, there’s nothing better than cold summer soups!
During the nine days before Tisha B’Av, foods traditionally associated with joy, such as wine and meat (including poultry), are forbidden, except on Shabbat. Steak-Spiced Planked Salmon and Grilled Vegetable Medley are perfect either for Shabbat or the nine days—check out http://www.cjnews.com/food/the-shabbat-table-lets-get-grilling
Since this is a good time to explore a meat-free diet, these three delicious vegetarian soups will make excellent additions to your culinary repertoire.
Expecting guests? For an elegant touch, serve chilled soups in martini glasses or glass mugs. If the weather is uncertain, Black Bean & Corn Soup is a great choice. It can be baked in your oven or made in your slow cooker, and even better, it tastes terrific either hot or cold.
Adapted from The New Food Processor Bible (Whitecap) by Norene Gilletz
No cooking required! This uncooked chilled soup is very refreshing on a hot summer day and is a wonderful thirst-quencher. Be careful not to over-process the vegetables.
1 English cucumber (do not peel)
1 green or red bell pepper, seeded
1 medium onion
6 firm, ripe tomatoes, cored
4 cloves garlic
Juice of 1/2 lemon (2 Tbsp lemon juice)
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil or canola oil
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 Tbsp minced fresh basil (or 1/2 tsp dried)
2 tsp salt (or to taste)
2 1/2 cups tomato juice (salt-free or regular)
Additional chopped vegetables and basil for garnish
Cut cucumber, bell pepper, onion, and tomatoes into 1-inch chunks.
Insert steel blade in processor bowl. Process cucumber with 4 or 5 quick on/off pulses, until finely chopped. Transfer to a large bowl. Repeat with green pepper, onion, and tomatoes, adding each in turn to mixing bowl.
Drop garlic through feed tube while machine is running; process until minced. Add lemon juice, oil, chili powder, basil, salt, and half the tomato juice. Process until smooth.
Add mixture to chopped vegetables along with remaining tomato juice. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Ladle soup into a large pitcher, cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight to blend flavours.
Serve chilled. Garnish with additional chopped vegetables and basil if desired.
Yields 6 servings.
Note: This keeps about a week in the refrigerator. Do not freeze.
NO-COOK LAZY DAY BEET BORSCHT
Adapted from Healthy Helpings (Whitecap) by Norene Gilletz
This light and refreshing chilled soup tastes exactly like the dairy borscht that my late Auntie Adele was famous for, but with none of the work. The colour is absolutely incredible! Best of all, it takes no more than ten minutes to prepare, from start to finish. You can easily double the recipe to serve a crowd or to keep on hand in the fridge for quick lunches.
2 cans (19 oz/540 ml each) beets (whole or sliced)
1 can (48 oz/1.36 litres) tomato juice
1 litre (4 1/2 cups) buttermilk
1/2 cup sugar (artificial sweetener can be used)
1–2 Tbsp lemon juice (to taste)
Drain beet juice into a very large mixing bowl. Process drained beets in the food processor until fine, using the steel blade.
Combine all ingredients with beet juice in mixing bowl and mix well. Store in glass jars in the refrigerator. Keeps about 10 days. Serve chilled.
Makes 10–12 servings (about 14 cups). To freeze, pour borscht into storage containers, leaving at least 1-inch at the top of each container.
Esther’s Easy Vegetable Borscht: Refrigerate a 32 oz jar (4 cups) of commercial borscht. At serving time, add some chopped boiled potatoes, cucumber, green onions, and fresh minced dill. Great for summer!
Adapted from Norene’s Healthy Kitchen (Whitecap) by Norene Gilletz
Rabbi Robyn Fryer, formerly of Toronto, transformed my black bean and corn casserole into a soup because she didn’t realize that she was supposed to drain the canned beans! I modified her version slightly and this fiber-packed soup is the result. She likes to serve it chilled for Shabbat on a summer evening but it’s also delicious served hot. Pack some in a thermos for a healthy lunch.
4 cups (2 -19 oz/540 mL cans) canned black beans (don’t drain)
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 4- or 5-quart ovenproof casserole with cooking spray. Combine all ingredients in the casserole and mix well (or combine all ingredients in a 6-quart slow cooker).
Bake, covered, for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. If soup is too thick after baking, add a little water. (If using a slow cooker, cook for 6–8 hours on low, or 3–4 hours on high.)
Once done, let stand for 1/2 hour to cool before refrigerating. Serve either chilled or hot.
Makes 6–8 servings (about 12 cups). Keeps for 4–5 days in the refrigerator; reheats well. Freezes well for up to 4 months.
If sodium is a concern, choose an organic brand of canned black beans. They contain from 15 to 140 mg of sodium per serving, compared to 400 to 480 mg found in regular brands. Also, choose a low-sodium brand of canned stewed tomatoes and tomato or vegetable juice.
Khawla is a Yazidi woman from Dugri, Iraq. I interviewed her a few weeks ago, in the company of Mirza Ismail, the chairman of Yezidi Human Rights Organization-International, who acted as our interpreter.
Khawla, the eldest of four daughters, was 14 when, in August 2014, her girlhood and happiness ended with an ISIS assault on her community. The Kurdish Peshmerga, which was tasked with protecting them, fled, leaving them utterly defenceless.
Khawla’s story is long and gruesome. She was held as a sex slave for three years. Twice she tried to kill herself: once by pulling the emergency brake of a car and flipping it; and once by eating rat poison.
Now, Khawla is physically safe in Canada, but she may never be psychologically whole.
There are 60 million refugees worldwide, so moral triage is inevitable. Who should Jews choose to help? I choose the Yazidis. Unlike persecuted Christians, they have no worldwide network of co-religionists. They are a fragile people – perhaps a million altogether – whose history stretches back 6,000 years. Their religion – monotheistic, non-proselytizing, peace-loving, with enmity toward none – contains elements of all the Abrahamic faiths.
The Yazidi are enduring a genocide – both the UN and the Canadian government have officially acknowledged that the Yazidi’s horror story meets the UN’s criteria for a genocide. And this is not the first. According to Ismail, today’s disaster is the 74th genocide the Yazidi people have suffered throughout their long history, including having lost 350,000, alongside the Armenians, at the hands of the Turks 1914-18. And yet, the Canadian government has not bestirred itself on their behalf. The government did not even meet its meagre target of bringing in 1,000 Yazidi refugees in 2017, and has no plans to bring more in 2018.
Many people think the threat to Yazidis has receded in Iraq and Syria, but it hasn’t. Many of them languish in refugee camps, and they have no status with the UN group that’s tasked with processing claims. Some Yazidi have been told that they will have to wait until 2022 just to go through the interview phase of the process.
Syrian Muslim refugees can go back to their homes when the dust settles. The Yazidi cannot. Sinjar, their ancestral home, is still a war zone and is uninhabitable. They have nowhere to go and the Iraqi government doesn’t care about them. Yazidis living here in Canada, like Khawla, still have family in captivity there. There are 3,200 girls like Khawla who are still “owned” by jihadists, many of whom have by now been forcibly converted to Islam. Canada has a military presence in Kurdistan and could easily help them, but there is no political will to do so.
Hearing their stories, I am naturally appalled, but I’m also reminded of my own history. Here is this small people, surrounded by militant Islamists who hate them for no reason other than that they are different. I think of the 800,000 Jews who were ethnically cleansed from Arab countries in the 1940s. If they had stayed, they would certainly have suffered the same fate as the Yazidis.
The Jews of the Middle East had Israel to flee to. Let anti-Zionists ponder that ineluctable fact. The Yazidis have no Israel, no IDF, no prosperous Diaspora with Yazidis in high places to plead their case. In 1977, then-Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin welcomed 300 Vietnamese boat people to Israel. He said: “We never have forgotten the boat with 900 Jews, the St. Louis, having left Germany in the last weeks before the Second World War … traveling from harbour to harbour, from country to country, crying out for refuge. They were refused.… Therefore, it was natural … to give those people a haven in the Land of Israel.”
How ironic it is that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau only recently apologized for Canada’s refusal to accept those very refugees. Words are good. Saving people is better. The Yazidis of today are the European Jews of yesterday.
The Krakow JCC Yiddish Club members look serious as two Jewish comedians from Canada try to teach them the Yiddish word for “foolishness.”
The visitors didn’t realize that their grasp of the language was easily matched by their pupils – nearly all of whom were not Jewish.
This is a scene from Narishkayt: YidLife Crisis in Krakow, a humorous documentary co-produced by Eli Batalion and Jamie Elman about their trip to the Polish city a couple of years ago. The film was directed by Paulina Fiejdasz, who is not Jewish.
Batalion and Elman, both Montreal natives, are the creators and stars of the irreverent Yiddish comedy web series, YidLife Crisis, which was launched in 2014. Foolishness is what they do, they say, but they hope to convey a deeper meaning through it.
The duo are astonished by the interest in all things Jewish among non-Jews, or those who have discovered a Jewish connection in their ancestry, in Krakow.
Learning Yiddish is certainly not narishkayt (foolish) for the people they met. For example, Batalion and Elman, despite their schooling in Yiddish and family backgrounds, had to ask a young woman in the class to translate a Forward article, because they cannot read the language as well as she can.
The film’s world premiere was simulcast in Montreal by Federation CJA and at the Krakow JCC on June 27, during Krakow’s 28th Jewish Culture Festival. As Batalion observed, the weeklong event is the largest of its kind in the world.
Batalion thinks his grandparents, all of whom came from Poland, would find it “ironic but pleasurable” to see the devotion that non-Jews in Poland have for reclaiming and honouring what they see as part of their heritage – the 1,000-year history of Jews in the country.
“Poland is one of the biggest allies of the Jewish people in the world today,” Batalion declared after the screening.
This was Elman’s first trip to Poland since he went on the March of the Living as a high school student a quarter-century earlier.
The contrast couldn’t be starker, he said. That Poland was presented as a dark and depressing place for Jews, which so different from “colourful” Krakow he sees today.
The live feed allowed for interactions between the two audiences before and after the screening, with each waving to the other and a translator alternating between Polish and English.
Poland is one of the biggest allies of the Jewish people in the world today.
– Eli Batalion
Krakow JCC executive director Jonathan Ornstein, a New York native, explained that it is difficult to determine how many Jews live in the city because figuring out “who is a Jew” is especially complicated in Poland.
He gave the example of one man who discovered that his mother was Jewish and avidly adopted his new identity, while his brother, a practising Christian, was not interested. Orenstein spoke against a banner that read, “Building a Jewish Future in Krakow.”
Other than Ornstein, the JCC staff is largely non-Jewish.
The enthusiasm for Jewish history and culture blossomed after the fall of communism, which had suppressed nationalist expression since the war, the director of the Galicia Museum said.
Narishkayt follows Batalion and Elman as they try to explain Jewish humour to the class and focuses on them coming to terms with the conflict between their traditional Jewish and modern secular identities, even as they approach middle age.
They tell the class that humour has historically been “a massive defence mechanism” for Jews against persecution and discrimination. Diaspora Jews learned to make fun of themselves and the Yiddish language was the perfect vehicle.
An Orthodox rabbi they meet in the film agrees to watch the YidLife Crisis episode, “Sex, Drugs, Milk and Meat” – proof, the duo say, of a tolerance for self-questioning in Jewish tradition, even among the most pious.
Poles seem to already understand the importance of Jewish humour. On a visit to a Jewish bookshop, the two find a book of Jewish jokes alongside texts on Jewish religion and philosophy.
Fiejdasz said she has been interested in Jewish culture since childhood and this film and her earlier work were made to further build bridges and promote dialogue between the communities.
Narishkayt was made largely with a Polish audience in mind and the comedians hope their “kitsch” will contribute a little to strengthening Polish-Jewish rapprochement, especially at a time when that is being tested.
The film received funding from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Bronfman Fellowship and the Barbara Stevens and Michael Kurtzig Family Fund.
The trial of two German-Canadian siblings charged with inciting hatred, stemming from their denial of the Holocaust, has begun in Munich.
There was drama early in the proceedings, as co-accused Alfred Schaefer gave the Nazi straight-arm salute in the courtroom three times.
Only a few days earlier, Schaefer gave the salute at a neo-Nazi rally in Nuremburg, where he reportedly said, “It’s time to exterminate the kikes!”
Schaefer, 63, and his sister, Monika Schaefer, 59, are being tried together on six counts of “incitement to hatred,” for producing and posting videos in which they denied the Holocaust.
“Both are under suspicion (for publishing) video clips in which they denied the genocide of Jews in the Holocaust during World War II,” a court spokesperson told CBC News.
Monika Schaefer, of Jasper, Alta., who is being held in Munich’s Stadlheim prison during the trial, gained notoriety in July 2016, after appearing in YouTube videos, one in English and one in German, in which she described the Holocaust as the “biggest and most pernicious and persistent lie in all of history.”
Monika Schaefer said that while there were camps where prisoners were kept against their will, “these were work camps – the prisoners of the camps were being kept as healthy and as well-fed as was possible in those terrible war years.”
In 2014, she called former Green Party of Canada president Paul Estrin “a Zionist shill,” after he wrote a defence of Israel’s operations in Gaza that year. She said Jews “have taken control of most of our major institutions, including the media, the banks and the government,” and that Judaism is a “supremacist cult.… Remember who did 9/11 – the same criminal state, which is now destroying Gaza.”
She was arrested last January in Munich, where she was attending the trial of another Holocaust denier, Sylvia Stolz. Schaefer was likely on the radar of German police because B’nai Brith Canada had filed complaints against her with officials in that country.
B’nai Brith also contacted the German Jewish community “to ensure that local police complaints were filed against the Schaefers, as well,” according to Aidan Fishman, national director of the group’s League for Human Rights.
An environmentalist and musician from Jasper, Monika Schaefer, who was born in Canada to German parents, was the federal Green party’s candidate in the Alberta riding of Yellowhead in 2006, 2008 and 2011. She was ousted over the YouTube videos, which the party condemned “in the strongest possible terms.”
We are fully confident that Alfred and Monika Schaefer will face justice for their relentless incitement against Jews in Germany and Canada.
– Michael Mostyn
In May, Alfred Schaefer, who lives outside Munich, was convicted of incitement to hatred for a speech he delivered in the German city of Dresden in February 2017. He was fined 5,000 euros ($7,700).
According to Wild, Monika Schaefer’s lawyer, Wolfram Nahrath, “is known as one of the favourite lawyers of neo-Nazis,” and is “an extremist himself, often delivering speeches at neo-Nazi rallies.”
A recent article in Die Welt magazine called Nahrath “the most well-known defence lawyer among Holocaust deniers.”
The trial resumes July 16 and continues on Aug. 16 and 17. If convicted, the siblings face up to five years in prison.
“We are fully confident that Alfred and Monika Schaefer will face justice for their relentless incitement against Jews in Germany and Canada,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada. “We applaud the perseverance of German authorities in pursuing this case.”
The far-right group Canadian Association for Free Expression is providing daily updates on the trial on its website. It reported on July 3 that Alfred Schaefer surrendered his German and Canadian passports, so he could be released from custody.
Love your neighbour as yourself – I am God. (Leviticus 19:18)
Growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, my earliest memories included time spent watching TV shows, from The Brady Bunch to Sesame Street. The long-standing PBS children’s show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, seemed old-fashioned and corny by comparison, but surprisingly, every word of its theme song came back to me at a recent screening of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?. The powerful documentary examines the unique life and work of Fred Rogers – producer, writer and host of the show, as well as composer of its music and ordained minister. As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that Jewish concepts serve as underlying themes in this extraordinary man’s influential life and work.
A fierce and passionate advocate for public television, Rogers was relentless in his vision and often prescient in his views. A deeply religious man, his life was devoted to using his creativity and talent to bring an educational message of brotherly love and understanding to his young audience. Disturbed by what he saw as the soulless commercialization of early children’s programming, he crafted an imaginary kingdom of trolleys, people and puppets for which he provided all the voices, as well as the music. This seemingly innocent and quaint world became a forum and safe space for discussing all manner of tough topics of the day – racism, disability, the Vietnam war, even the assassination of Robert Kennedy – in a clear, compassionate and gentle way. During a time of civil unrest when African Americans were barred from public swimming pools in some Caucasian neighbourhoods, Mr. Rogers invites African American police officer Clemmons to join him in soaking his feet in a tub of cool water on a hot day. A disabled boy in a wheelchair is invited as a special guest who joins the host in a song about tolerance and self-acceptance. These demonstrations of love and compassion go on to positively affect the participants and their families for the rest of their lives, as well as generations of viewers.
Twenty years after the Holocaust, humanism was an important theme for Rogers, a true pioneer and giant in his field who remained a fixture on television until his untimely death in 2003. But if we look deeper, we see that for Rogers the first step to tolerance of others is self-acceptance, and he uses his own life as a model for others to follow. A difficult childhood is alluded to in the film, while his study and performance of music is revealed to be both a sanctuary and tool to reach his audience. His emphasis on self-acceptance brings to mind that most famous quote of Hillel the Elder:
If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?
These timeless words of wisdom from our ancient Jewish texts couldn’t ring more true. At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise and the connection of the Jewish people to its ancient homeland is being questioned, it remains more vital than ever to re-examine our religious, historical and cultural heritage, and to recognize the commonality of our fundamental human values. After three decades on the air, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood became an American institution. Asked for words of encouragement after 9/11, Rogers references the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, urging his audience to help repair the world and care for each other.
On Friday, June 29, Governor General Julie Payette announced 105 new appointments to the Order of Canada. Among them were many Jewish-Canadians, including Sharon Sholzberg-Gray, for her work advocating for Canadians’ health care.
Yet her career as a health-care advocate was something of an accident, she says.
Some time after graduating law school at McGill, she moved to Ottawa, where her late husband Herb Gray was a Member of Parliament representing his hometown of Windsor, Ont. (Gray was made a member of the Order of Canada as well. He was appointed in 2003 for his career in politics, which included being the first Jewish federal cabinet minister.)
Sholzberg-Gray decided to do graduate work in public law because she was interested in constitutional law and human rights. But as a member of the Quebec bar she couldn’t work in an Ontarian law firm.
She remembered being interested in the Medicare debate in the mid-’60s, when she was the first female president of McGill’s student union. Coverage for hospitals had been implemented in the previous decade, but Lester B. Pearson’s government was debating whether to cover physicians. So after working as a legal-aid researcher and executive director of a non-profit for international women’s issues, she found a new public purpose when she began serving as the executive director of the Canadian Long Term Care Association.
“I became a health-care advocate, basically, arguing that even though hospital services were covered, people were worried about wait times and physician services. We didn’t have broad enough coverage in our system for home and community care.”
In the mid-’90s, Sholzberg-Gray was part of a group that successfully lobbied the federal government to make drastic policy changes.
“All the national health organizations formed the coalition. And I was chosen at some point to head the coalition or to be co-chair of it. Basically we were a ‘save Medicare’ coalition. The federal transfer for health to the provinces was on the track to zero – in fact it would have been zero,” she said. “And we kind of reversed that trend and turned it around entirely by constant advocacy for about 10 or 15 years.”
That advocacy includes the 2004 Canada Health Accord. The government adopted the financial figures suggested by the Canadian Healthcare Association, of which Sholzberg-Gray was the president at the time. Sholzberg-Gray stresses that everything she accomplished was part of a larger team effort, but her appointment to the Order of Canada proves she was always an integral member of those teams.
“Sharon Sholzberg-Gray is being recognized for her leadership in health care, notably for her advocacy for access to publicly funded and accessible health-care services for all Canadians. Amongst other things, she was an influential advisor on the work of the Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada,” said Sara Régnier-McKellar, a communications advisor for the Governor General, in an emailed statement.
When Sholzberg-Gray received the phone call informing her of her appointment, she saw the Governor General’s caller ID and thought she would be invited to a dinner. Then she learned the real reason.
“I couldn’t believe it, frankly.… It never occurred to me that I would ever have an Order of Canada. So I’m deeply honored to receive this award,” she said.
“It’s amazing and whatnot, but I have to tell you, as much as I’m thrilled of the award for the Order of Canada and happy with the work that I and so many other people did to move the Medicare agenda forward in Canada, I don’t think anything is as important to me as my two children and my 10 grandchildren.”
Other Jewish-Canadians who will receive the Order of Canada include Lorne Michaels, Julia Gersovitz, Eli Bornstein, Allan Steven Detsky, Arthur Fogel, Abraham Fuks, Nahum Gelber, Julia Gersovitz, Mitchell L. Halperin, Dianne Kipnes, Irving Kipnes, Morton Minc, Calin Rovinescu and Yvonne Steinert.
Act To End Violence Against Women, which has been working for decades to provide shelter, support and services to abused women and their children, is folding operations.
The organization, formerly known as Jewish Women International of Canada, will close its doors in Toronto at the end of July and cease operations at the end of August.
“This is a very, very sad time for all of us – board, staff, members and volunteers,” wrote Mark Anshan, the organization’s board chair, in a July 10 letter to donors and volunteers. “We are ending a 92-year tradition of service to the community. We have all worked very hard to find another solution and have been unable to do so.”
The group “just couldn’t continue to raise the kind of money that we needed,” Anshan told The CJN. He said the annual budget was between $200,000 and $300,000.
A press release from the group said it “could no longer sustain its valuable programs without a clear path to consistently raising the required funds.”
Three full-time jobs in Toronto will be lost, including that of Penny Krowitz, who served as executive director for 34 years.
Operations in Montreal were to be closed down irrespective of developments in Toronto, Anshan said.
Among the programs the organization has offered are Jewish Legal Information & Support, which helps women navigate the legal system in Ontario by providing support workers, education, referrals to lawyers and community resources; and Alternative Short Term Emergency Housing, a kosher shelter for Jewish women and children who have experienced abuse.
It has also raised funds for the Jerusalem Hills Therapeutic Centers, which provides treatment and services in Israel for youth who have been victims of violence.
The end of the organization’s operations presents “a gap,” said Anshan, “and we’re hoping some other organization will step up and take over some of the services we were providing.”
Jewish Family & Child (JF&CS) is “exploring some funding options,” in the wake of Act to End Violence Against Women’s imminent closure, “but without donor support, there will be an unfortunate gap in services in our community, for members of our community when they’re most vulnerable,” JF&C executive director Brian Prousky told The CJN.
JF&C will continue to provide “a full range of services to women who have been victims of abuse,” Prousky said.
Many Jews “still have trouble believing that woman abuse exists among us,” he added.
In a statement to The CJN, National Council of Jewish Women, Toronto said it was “sad” to hear the news of the closure, but that it would have no response until its board meets at the end of July.
On its website, Act To End Violence Against Women describes itself as “a Jewish organization inspired by the Jewish values of tikun olam (repairing the world); tzedakah (charity); and chesed (acts of loving kindness).”
This is a very, very sad time for all of us.
– Mark Anshan
It dates to 1927, when the first Canadian chapter opened in Windsor, Ont. It was then called B’nai Brith Women of Eastern Canada. In 1968, it became B’nai Brith Women of Canada.
In the mid-1990s, it was renamed Jewish Women International of Canada and rebranded with its current name in 2011, as its work became more focused on abuse against women in all religious and ethnic communities.
Among the funders and partners listed on the organization’s website are the Ben and Hilda Katz Charitable Foundation, the Finkler-Friedland Family Foundation and the Howard and Carole Tanenbaum Charitable Family Foundation.
The “biggest loss” from the closure of the group is the awareness of abuse it created and education programs it offered, Krowitz told The CJN.
“The other work is all reactive, it’s after the fact,” she said. “So by doing the education and creating awareness in the community of what domestic abuse is, we can actually prevent it.
“There’s nobody else in the Jewish community who does this work.”