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Marshall McLuhan’s adage, “The medium is the message,” has remarkable implications for Jewish education. The immersive nature of television influenced culture goes beyond news and entertainment, to create the global village. The adage is a wakeup call, which reminds us that we are what we eat, that method becomes content and that how we learn shapes who we become. If Jewish education stems from a genuine interest in seeing children advantaged by their Jewishness – spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, even physically – and the Jewish future advantaged by these children – cherished, strengthened, nurtured, even dynamized – what’s the medium and what’s the message?
On one side, parents enrol children in schools for daily Torah study, regardless of the strength of the rest of the curriculum. They rely on the past to carry the future. On the other side, children attend school with other Jewish kids, no matter how little Judaism is taught.
Their families are fine with how the world is turning and look ahead. The former claims the latter don’t care about Judaism, the latter says they get all they need. But how will children be prepared to lead a successful adult life, if they are not broadly trained at school? And how will tomorrow’s adults carry Jewishness forward if they know little of their heritage? One might think that the middle ground is awash in conversations about how to draw both sides towards moderation. Unfortunately, it’s not. The debate over content is silent and empty and the two trajectories head in different directions.
Threads to interweave the two can be pulled from each, deep concern for Judaism from one and adaptation from the other. Cohesion requires a discussion about what genuine educational excellence looks like in 5779, even if schools and parents are not overly open to the topic. Tuition affordability becomes less urgent if what is being paid for cannot secure students’ future and should resolve as enrolment increases.
It’s time to talk about quality. In a multi-focus society and demanding economy, Jewish schools must perch at a level of distinction that makes them competitive with all other claims to the community’s attention and money. Otherwise families will not come, or they will leave. Tech savvy, money conscious parents seek value; both private and tutorial schools proliferate. Excellent schools offer pro-social curricula with strong academic standards, and excellent Jewish schools blend in optimal Jewish identity development. The goal is not to keep Jewish day schools running; it’s to make them the most sought after destination for education of any kind, a palette of diverse centres of excellence that has parents chomping at the bit to get their kids in as soon as possible. This has to be the benchmark because each student is a child only once.
Great schools prepare children to be motivated learners, flexible thinkers and self-regulated individuals who can set and achieve goals, with creativity and ingenuity shining. Graduates show confidence and competency in modern and ancient ways, having studied all subjects, including Jewish texts, values and practice, intentionally and authentically. Flourishing Jewish identity includes happiness to be Jewish, and self-esteem as a Jew and a Canadian.
The age of information is now the age of the curator. All children – Jewish or not – require pedagogy that teaches them to decipher, evaluate and capitalize on the flood of information that surrounds them. Theirs is not a generation in search of knowledge; their challenge is to differentiate between legitimate information, unfiltered opinion and fake news. It’s fascinating that Jewish study encompasses the analytic, interdisciplinary, meta-cognitive approach that the whole world is struggling to manufacture.
State-of-the-art educational strategies confirm that learning in the Jewish way is not simply “our” way of doing it, it is the best way of doing it. It offers benefits in addition to the rituals and precepts that some consider its sum total, delivering intellectual and performance value alongside the “Jewish data.” Complex interpretive tasks are daily fare for students who live a compound identity – i.e., as Jewish Canadians. They adapt to holding multiple ideas in their heads at once. Youngsters who begin early to continually filter moral lessons through metaphorical narratives garner a more intuitive sense for critical thinking than when interpretation skills are introduced in later grades. They negotiate conflicting perspectives of thinkers through the ages, decode foreign language texts for literal and symbolic meaning and meet universal coding with the benefit of experience.
This value add does not minimize the spiritual component. It dovetails with the tradition of na’ashe v’nishma – first do, then understand. Highlighting Jewish pedagogy in this way reminds young parents how Jewish learning earned its celebrated reputation and that it delivers the competencies that society demands. Centres of excellence actively market their unique value propositions; Jewish sensibility comes with everything else.
Young parents are, as ever, a new breed, and sometimes their perspectives seem different and surprising. Yet behind modern verbiage and new applications lie the timeless concerns that all parents share and which find their educational answer in hallmarks of the best learning at the best private schools and best universities. Meanwhile, the best of the best find their solutions in the techniques of Jewish learning. Highly valued universal skills comprise the modus operandi of excellent Jewish learning. It’s almost shocking how timely Jewish methodologies appear vis-a-vis educational trends now feted by advanced schools everywhere. For example, analytical and lateral thinking ground interdisciplinary and computer studies and are core to learning Talmud. Self-awareness and self-management are learned through mindfulness techniques that mirror self-reflection taught Jewishly through ethics and mitzvot. Social justice education, which is emerging as cornerstone curricula in a pluralistic society, is the Abrahamic commitment to moral justice and notion of tikun olam. And currently, one of the most aspirational capabilities for students everywhere is the skill to collaborate, the heart of the learning modality called chevrutah.
Discovering wisdom in an educational technique that has been the purview of religion is a novel and perhaps confronting idea for many younger parents. It resides in unexplored territory that not everyone can see. It’s the frontier of mentorship. Judaism through the ages features a lack of institutional framework and this open-sided canvas may be what some young families best relate to today.
In pre-Internet times, parents may have looked to schools for knowledge and community; they now seem to feel in control of both through the push of a button. Perhaps their autonomy is empowered by the Internet, where ad hoc questions are answered on personal screens. Forty years ago, we gathered for peace, women’s rights and Soviet Jewry, and sought guidance from accredited masters. Young parents convene differently and express themselves independently. They neither join membership organizations nor affiliate formally with synagogues. They commit to new agendas, enacting their values through finite transactional events, such as interventions, campaigns or social media. Asked what they want for their children, parents crave the start-up, the fresh and the self-directed.
Excellence in Jewish pedagogy offers the start-up moment. It serves the potential of each and every child personally, through mental flexibility, intellectual acuity and meta-cognitive thinking, on whichever Jewish road is travelled. Let’s not rely on Jewish identity to grow Jewish education. Let’s reconsider excellence and rely on it instead. The Jewish way is as much about method as content. First we do, then we understand.
Our heritage belongs to all Jews, not just the currently committed. The Passover teaching that we should all feel as if we left Egypt together and the ancient legend that all of us stood at Sinai to create the Jewish nation are elements of a powerful myth that is inclusive of all Jews. Jews who are illiterate of their heritage (believers and non-believers) are cheated out of the power that knowledge can give them – the power to choose what kind of Jews they wish to be, which in the modern period is a supermarket of options.
It is difficult for us at the centre of Jewish life who grew up in Toronto to imagine Jews who won’t be in the synagogue of their choice on Kol Nidrei eve. In the 1950s virtually everyone was in shul on Yom Kippur, with the exception of some communists who were recognizing Yom Kippur in their own defiant way. We can’t imagine parents who are not planning a bar or bat mitzvah for their children or not having a bris for their new baby boy, but these families now exist in their tens of thousands near our very own Bathurst Street.
UJA knows it from the number of donations it gets. The population grows and the number of donors stays the same or even decreases. Most of the non-Orthodox synagogues know it because of both decreased membership and dwindling attendance from those who do belong.
In Toronto, these peripheral Jews who constitute the majority of our community are native Torontonians, Russian-speaking, Israeli, or some combination thereof. Even though studies have been done (some of which I was involved in), we don’t know enough about these individuals. We do know that they are not a homogeneous group, and any attempt at generalization is both unfair and inaccurate. They have as many differences among them as do those at the centre of Jewish life. Israelis can be left, right, or centrist in their politics. Russian-speaking Jews can be as different one from the other as Moscow and St. Petersburg or even Minsk and Samarkand. One thing the Israelis and the Russians have in common is that they are very connected to Israel via family, the Internet, and the media.
The big question is how can we help them to get closer to their unique Jewishness (not ours) and to find a Jewish journey that is meaningful to them? These Jews have been with us long enough for us to know that they are mostly not interested in joining synagogues or donating to Jewish charities. Many of them don’t speak English at home and don’t necessarily pay attention to the Jewish advertising up and down Bathurst Street. It will be new portals to Jewish life that these folks will hopefully enter. They will be very different gates than the ones our grandparents built here on their unique Jewish journeys.
I am about to do something risky that could generate criticism on the order of: “You are misrepresenting these Jews with specifics which do not apply to all of them or even most of them.” But I’ll take my chances by peeking into three fictitious families in order to see where the spark of Jewish connection might exist. 1. Jim and Nancy were born in Toronto. Jim grew up in a Christian home with a Christmas tree but no church attendance. Nancy’s parents are Jewish, but they never joined a synagogue. Nancy went to a summer camp that had many Jews, but it was mainly about canoes and tennis. They live in Newmarket with two children and friends much like them. There is no religious observance of any kind in this house, but Jim has taken a recent interest in klezmer music. Jim and Nancy have never been to Israel.
2. Boris and Natasha were born and raised in Kiev. Soon after marrying they left for Israel where Boris was happy but Natasha was not. After six years they left with one child and settled in Toronto. Both have Jewish parents living in Kiev and Israel along with many close relatives in Israel. They speak Russian at home with Hebrew and English words mixed in. They have a yelka (Russian Christmas tree) in their home around Hanukkah time, and Natasha cooks Hanukkah recipes she learned in Kiev from her grandmother. She also visits a Russian Orthodox Church from time to time to listen to the liturgical music. Neither Boris nor Natasha have ever been in a synagogue. Both watch Israeli Russian TV and are on the phone with Israel constantly.
3. Avi and Nurit were born in Israel and arrived here 15 years ago, having both served in the IDF and earned Israeli BAs. They live near Major Mac and Dufferin. They speak Hebrew to each other when they don’t want their kids to understand. All three children were born in Toronto and neither speak nor read Hebrew. Avi had observant grandparents and has memories of Shabbat and holidays with them. Nurit’s family is fifth generation Israeli with strong secular Zionist values. Both Avi and Nurit love reading the Tanach in Hebrew, but do not belong to a synagogue or study group. Their children have virtually no contact with other Jewish children, Israeli or otherwise.
Let me tell you a family story. My grandfather (that is, the man who adopted my mother when she arrived in Toronto from the Ukraine as a 12-year-old orphan in 1922) considered himself a modern Jew. He ate kosher food, drove to shul on Shabbat, and was known for his charitable volunteer work. Once while having a picnic in High Park he noticed a Jewish mother dressed in the east European Orthodox style with her son who was similarly dressed and with tzitzit and payot.
He approached her and berated her in Yiddish for dressing that way and keeping her son in such a traditional manner. She answered in accented English: “Mister, it’s a free country.”
I have always loved that story as the best example of what modernity has given us. We have a supermarket of options to live a meaningful Jewish life; perhaps even more so in this postmodern period.
Can we help Jim, Nancy, Boris, Natasha, Avi, Nurit, and their friends on the fringe to identify the spark of Jewish life that does exist in their lives and then use that spark to light a new journey towards a Jewish life that corresponds with their lifestyle? It’s doubtful that a synagogue, or a JCC, or a Walk for Israel is the portal they will enter. But, hopefully, they will find a road that leads to Jewish literacy and enables them to choose what kind of Jew they wish to be.
We at the centre of Jewish life are justifiably proud of our community as it is, one of the strongest Diaspora communities in the world. The institutions of our community must always be open and welcoming, but we must be prepared to help the marginal Jews of the GTA find new portals to their own Jewish journeys and see their presence in our midst as an enhancement of our peoplehood.
There is an ancient prophecy, beginning with Moses and continuing with the prophets, that speaks of Jews being scattered into exile. The prophet, Daniel, speaks of four ferocious beasts that come upon us. These beasts have been understood as the Jewish exiles of Babylon, Persia, Greece and ultimately Rome.
However, this prophetic disaster is always followed by the hopeful notion of the “ingathering of the exiles,” the idea that, when all is said and done, the Jewish people will be brought together from the four corners of the world back to Israel.
This ingathering is most often linked to the view of a messianic era, when Jews will search for God and will then find each other. Today, with the liberation and immigration of Jewish groups to Israel, whether they are Yemenite, Ethiopian, Russian or Syrian, the question has been raised as to whether this could be the beginning of the prophetic “ingathering”.
In fact, when speaking of Jews moving to Israel, we use the term “aliyah”, which means “elevation”. Jews are not engaged in immigration when they move to Israel; they are engaged in fulfilling a holy prophecy, elevating the mundane to the holy.
Yet the question remains: what is the purpose of the exile? Did God punish the Jews by flinging us into exile, in which case the ingathering would occur once we learn our lesson and become obedient?
Interestingly, the Talmud states that the final exile occurred because Jews practised “baseless hatred” toward each other, not because of our relationship with God. We couldn’t stand each other. We judged, condemned and even killed each other for no substantive reasons. The Jews of that time differed in their practices and their interpretations of Jewish ritual. It was those differences that led to hatred, and those differences are what the sages called baseless.
Perhaps exile was not a punishment, but an experiential understanding of baseless hatred.
For 2,000 years, Jews have been subjected to surviving through what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel termed “the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.” The exile experience thrust us into the ugly core of baseless hatred and showed us there is no positive way out.
When Jewish commentators discuss the resolution of exile – ingathering the exiles – they do not address the reality of the differences exile has created within our people. Mostly we are familiar with the separate traditions of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, German traditions and Spanish traditions that grew into separate Jewish practices, languages and history. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The Jews of Greece, present in that land since the 4th century B.C., have their own Jewish traditions, as do the Jews of Italy, Iran and Holland, to name a few. In fact, being exiled to the four corners of the world for at least 2,000 years has resulted in an extreme diversity of Jewish expression. How are we to create one people?
The most recent Jewish expression of diversity is the denominational difference between Orthodox, Conservative and Reform communities. There are other groups that exist, as people were not finding their place within these three mainstream options.
Recently, young families are stating more and more that they do not identify with any one stream of Judaism.
A secular culture of lateral thinking to progress in a professional world, as well as freedom of choices which include choosing gender, has resulted in young Jews feeling confined by the boundaries and definitions of Jewish spiritual expression. In some American cities, Jewish community centres are attempting to fill this growing void in Jewish connection.
What if the “ingathering of the exiles” is an ancient prophecy that could speak to a global Jewish community? We have spent thousands of years all over the world creating Jewish cultures, traditions and rituals that, if brought together, would speak of almost boundless Jewish expressions. What if this ancient prophecy did not only speak of gathering people to Israel, but also of gathering our exile treasures into our peoplehood?
Instead of locking us into our differences, which our own history has shown we do not navigate well and the sages warned against, what if we reimagine those differences? Six hundred thousand Jews stood at Mount Sinai and received the Torah. The rabbis told us that each person heard something different, resulting in six hundred thousand understandings of being Jewish.
The challenge is not to create one truth, but to discourse with each other about our multiple truths.
Ingathering of the exiles would then mean each group brings its exile treasures to the larger people. As part of the Jewish people, I can now enrich myself with these treasures.
A Jewish-Greek bride and groom betroth themselves to each other by wearing
flower crowns which they exchange in front of family, friends and witnesses. One year later, they stand under a
huppah and marry. When their child is born, there is a traditional scroll the family writes to protect that child from all evil.
Jewish women of Iran hold bowls of water under the new moon so they can see each other’s reflections in the water and grant blessings, understanding that the reality of this world is but a reflection. The rabbis of towns in Italy, in the Middle Ages, resolved how to include a Torah scroll into the birthing room of a difficult delivery. Sephardic Jews eat lentils on Passover; Ashkenazim wait six hours between eating meat and milk, while the Jews of Germany wait three hours and Dutch Jews wait one hour. All these traditions are authoritatively anchored in Jewish texts.
The beauty and power of tradition is that it creates a chain linking us to previous generations. The Jewish expression “The custom of our ancestors is in our hands” secures us from creating a Jewish nation filled with chaotic self-expression. The ingathering of these cultural treasures has each group bringing its authoritative traditions.
We can choose to judge each other and condemn the group that is different, or, maybe, we can finally glimpse the resolution of Jewish exile in the creation of a people diversely engaged in the tapestry of Torah, Jewish history and Jewish creativity.
The struggle with infertility has been documented since biblical times. And with infertility on the rise – one in six couples require medical intervention – more people are experiencing this specific kind of heartbreak and trauma. To examine how this growing issue feels on the inside, The CJN spoke with a number of people who have dealt with infertility:
Jan Silverman was 26 when she suffered two ectopic pregnancies that rendered her unable to have her own biological child. “Face it,” her doctor told her. “You’re never going to get pregnant.”
Silverman now educates men and women with reproductive challenges. Much has changed since the nightmare that Silverman endured, largely in terms of medical science, but the disappointment and the insensitivity haven’t. (“When are you going to have a baby?”).
“It affects every part of your life and yet you look fine,” says Silverman. “The doctors treated me horrifically in a pivotal, life-changing moment. There was nothing and no one to turn to. That’s when I decided to become an advocate.”
One day she noticed an ad for Resolve, a fertility support group in the U.S. “I thought I had died and gone to heaven. This was me! So I wrote to them in Boston asking if they had a Canadian chapter.”
They didn’t, but thanks to Silverman’s grit, Infertility Support Group, a gathering she founded “for any patients who want to share thoughts, strategies, joys and sorrows related to their family building journey” is marking its 25th anniversary.
Silverman hears it all, third Thursday of every month. “What keeps me in the group process,” she explains, “is that I will never forget the feeling the first time I looked into the eyes of another infertile person and thought, ‘she gets it.’ I don’t have to explain the enormity of how it feels every time I get my period, or of being at a party where the most common question is how many kids do you have.”
Silverman, who decided to adopt and is a mother and grandmother, says the pain recedes but there are still triggers. She places her hands directly in front of her face, totally obscuring it. “Over time, it [infertility] becomes like this,” she says, separating her fingers and allowing the light to penetrate.
The High Priest and Hannah by James Tissot.
• • •
Alyssa would like to be pregnant. Although Alyssa isn’t her real name, she emphasizes that she doesn’t keep her fertility journey a secret from family and friends. Moreover, she thinks it’s something that should be shared and that it’s part of women’s health that has been relegated to secrecy, which makes it harder to bear.
Here’s what she’s going through right now: “For the first couple of months, I just did my own thing, reading online what the best time for sex is, if you’re trying to conceive. I used ovulation sticks and apps like Period Tracker. But I always knew it would be an issue, or thought I knew.
“I had in my head that you don’t go to a doctor until you’ve been trying for a year, but I wanted to do something, so I started seeing a naturopath, who measured my cortisol levels – the stress hormone – and said they were off the charts.… Fertility is stressful. I had acupuncture, tried holistic meditation and reiki.
“My doctor referred me to a fertility clinic. I was amazed. It was like a factory – in a good way. I don’t know what I expected, but I was surprised to see so many people, all different ages, different races, different socio-economic levels. So many women and couples. The waiting room was packed.”
Alyssa ran into an old friend on one of her trips to the clinic. “She turned beet red and asked me not to tell anybody because only her immediate family knew,” Alyssa says.
• • •
Rhonda Levy is the founder of Empowered IVF. Today, she is the mother of 21-year-old fraternal twin sons, who were conceived on her fifth in vitro fertilisation (IVF) attempt. She says that the people she works with “tend to be couples who have had multiple failed IVF cycles and they are desperate to be provided information about clinics that are best equipped to help them.” According to Levy, the fertility clinic system in Canada is shrouded in secrecy. “Although clinics submit their success rates annually to the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society,” she says, “the public is denied access to individual clinic data. This keeps vulnerable patients in the dark and forces them to roll the dice when choosing a clinic.
“In my opinion, this system, sadly lacking in transparency, rewards mediocrity. Failed IVF cycles generate repeat business, but they cause patients to experience severe pain – emotionally and financially.”
• • •
Sarah grew up in Perth, Ont., always knowing that she wanted a family. She met Selena in 2012 and they were married a year later. “We didn’t twiddle our thumbs or linger, enjoying life as a married couple with no kids, because we wanted Sarah’s parents [who were not in good health] to live to see us have a baby,” says Selena.
Sarah had her ovarian reserve tested at a fertility clinic and the result was low, confirming their determination to move forward promptly. Although not expressly discussed at the outset, Selena had always felt that she would be the pregnant one and she carried both pregnancies.
They used an anonymous donor from a sperm bank, a process they describe as “highly mediated.” One of the criteria that figured in their selection process was that the donor agree to meet with the child, if the child chooses to contact him after turning 18. It’s called an “open identity donor.”
They decided to use one of Sarah’s eggs first and one of Selena’s next, with sperm from the same donor, so that there would be a genetic connection between the siblings.
Sarah’s egg was retrieved, the egg was fertilized and five days later, the embryo was transferred into Selena and she got pregnant on the first try. Their first daughter was born in June 2015. Sarah’s dad died during the pregnancy, but her mother lived to see her grandchild.
The second time, because they were using Selena’s egg and womb, they planned to use a treatment called intrauterine insemination (IUI), which is much cheaper and simpler. However, it wasn’t quite so easy getting pregnant the second time. “After the first two tries failed,” Selena says, “I started active monitoring for each cycle, going into the clinic every second day to have blood drawn. I got very good at having my blood drawn. Blood draw hours are between 7 and 9 a.m. People go in before work and the clinic is packed.”
Today, the couple has a busy household. Selena’s melodic voice and Sarah’s deeper even-toned one are punctuated by their five-week-old’s gurgles. They have a three-year-old, as well.
• • •
Aden Seaton of Chelsea, Que., was shocked when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 28. Although having a baby wasn’t yet on her radar – Seaton and her now-husband Howard Krongold had known each other only six months – she followed medical advice to have her eggs retrieved and stored for possible future use prior to treatment, in case the chemotherapy damaged them. What she recalls of her egg-harvesting process is a waiting room full of really stressed out people.
Seaton was under the care of an Israeli doctor named Hananel Holzer, who she kept in touch with him for many years, when he was working in Montreal. He has since returned to Israel, where he still practices. Today, Seaton and Krongold are the parents to two rambunctious boys, both of whom were conceived naturally.
And those eggs? “I gave them to research last year,” she says.
• • •
Fifteen years ago, three close friends were going through the challenge of infertility, replete with specialist appointments, treatments and huge bills. They came to the collective realization that not everyone could afford the enormous expense. They started an organization called Small Wonders.
Today, the organization distributes grants to qualifying couples for up to 50 per cent of their treatment costs. It also helps couples emotionally, through discussion and in-house support groups for people with primary or secondary infertility. They’re also hoping to start a mens-only support group soon, which a variety of rabbis have wholeheartedly endorsed as being not only needed, but necessary.
Small Wonders executive director Denise Levin says that failed IVF attempts bring up an overwhelming array of emotions, such as fear, worry, sadness, anger, denial and guilt. They also cause people to ask questions, such as, “Why did this happen to me?” and “What did I do wrong?”
“It’s so important that family and friends acknowledge both the emotional and physical needs of a woman experiencing this,” says Levin.
• • •
Petite, fair and quick to smile, Alexandra Sipos-Kocsis believes she literally coached herself to fertility. Although it was only seven years ago, her doctor’s advice was lame.
“She told me to go home and eat walnuts,” says Sipos-Kocsis.
Sipos-Kocsis (who is married to CJN editor Yoni Goldstein) calls it “the lowest point of my life.” Exacerbating matters was the fact that she knew no one who had experienced what she was going through. She couldn’t help wondering why she was going through such turmoil. Yet a “loud and powerful” inner voice told her it was to help other women. She went on to become a fertility coach.
But first, she turned her training on herself. She says that she could feel herself opening up. Her daughter was conceived with the help of a fertility clinic. Her son was born without the help of a fertility clinic when her daughter was 18 months old.
Typically, her clients are in their 40s and already attending a fertility clinic. Sipos-Kocsis gets her clients to focus on the positive, rather than the negative (“I want to be a mother,” versus “I’m not pregnant”). She talks about fertility, rather than infertility. She prefers to work with women in their own homes, but interestingly, many of her clients are international, so she interacts with a lot of them via Skype, FaceTime and WhatsApp.
As much as she believes in being connected to the physical, she has a strong spiritual bent, too. “You can have a perfect embryo that doesn’t necessarily make a child,” she explains. “When a baby is born, there’s that sense that it’s a miracle.”
• • •
A doctor who went through IVF and ended up adopting recalls: “What comes to mind, after all this time, is just how challenging those years were. When you grow up in a Jewish home, family is at the centre of everything you do. From one generation to the next, there’s supposed to be an orderly progression through the life cycle. You grow up, you get married, you have children. That’s what you’re supposed to do.
“If you don’t have children, you feel you don’t belong. Friends, family and even casual acquaintances will ask, ‘When are you going to have children?’ You recognize that they mean well, so you do your best not to make them feel uncomfortable. You smile and say, ‘We’re working on it.’ After a while, most people will figure it out and stop asking.”
• • •
Jon Waldman has a self-effacing sense of humour, evidenced in his Ted Talk, “Swimming Aimlessly: Getting Men to Talk about Infertility.” But while his speech is funny, his message is serious.
Waldman and his wife dated for five years and were engaged for 19 months. He jokes that immediately following their vows, “the question” was popped: when are you going to have a baby? When they finally got pregnant after about a year, they were elated, only to be heartbroken by a miscarriage at 11 weeks.
That is where their fertility journey began. It was a struggle that was much bleaker than they expected. Making matters worse, couples rarely speak of it, and men even less so. Waldman recalls social situations where the women gathered on one side sharing facts about conception, while the men on the other side talked about – you guessed it – sports.
With their infertility labelled as unexplained, Waldman felt anger, along with a sense of shortcoming. He shut down. At his ultimate low, he sought counselling and anti-depressants, though they couldn’t help solve the underlying issue, which he emphasizes “does not go away.”
He recalls avoiding social situations, like children’s birthday parties, where people would make comments like, “You better catch up!” Well-intentioned words, but they landed like a punch in the gut. Waldman would like couples going through infertility to know that there is support available, and he encourages them to talk about it. He’d like everybody else to think before they speak. To those who question the cost and effort of going through IVF, he asks, “Would you question someone who was spending money on cancer treatment?”
The couple tried acupuncture, fertility drugs, IUI and IVF, and started to investigate adoption opportunities. They left the Winnipeg clinic where they began treatment unsatisfied and frustrated and took a road trip across the country to a clinic in Victoria. There, after trying to conceive for six years, they finally succeeded. Their daughter, Kaia, was born in 2015.
Kol Nidrei has a profound hold on Jews, well beyond what one would expect from the legalistic formula annulling vows. As Yom Kippur approaches, I like to reread a memoir written jointly by a husband and wife who survived the Shoah through different paths, each posing as Christians. Norman Salsitz, a yeshiva bocher with payot and kapote, changed his name, enlisted in the Polish army and rose in its ranks. Manya (Amalie) Petranker was born in Munich and raised in Poland, spoke perfect German and Polish, and posed as an Aryan Pole.
In Against All Odds, the couple recount their precarious meeting in Poland, soon after the country was liberated. It was still dangerous to be openly Jewish, and both continued to conceal their identities. In late 1944, while en route to Krakow, Salsitz’s unit took shelter for a night in an abandoned flour mill that was once owned by a Jewish family. The soldiers scoured the premises for souvenirs and came upon a Victrola record player and a stack of vinyl records. The men began to play the records, mostly classical pieces and popular Polish songs.
“But then,” Salsitz recollects, “someone put a record on that in an instant penetrated to my very core. It was the Kol Nidrei, the sacred prayer of the Day of Atonement. I was stunned; it had been years since I had heard this mournful, awe-inspiring prayer.” Instantly, his mood changed. The familiar and haunting melody was restorative. It reconnected the poseur to who he really was. The Polish soldiers in his unit didn’t like the recording, however, and wanted to toss it in the trash. To explain his attachment to it, he told them that it was an “ancient Castillian aria” from a classical Spanish opera. “This came to mind, I think, because Kol Nidre was in fact created in Spain by the Marranos,” he reflected.
Soon after, Salsitz’s unit moved on and entered Krakow. There, he first encountered the woman who would later become his wife. Beautiful, blonde and educated, with perfect command of German, Polish, English and other languages, Petranker was in charge of the staff of the factory that Salsitz’s unit was commandeering. He took her for a Nazi.
Salsitz was troubled by his response to this beautiful woman. He was both strongly attracted to her and repelled by what he believed her to be. Petranker sensed that one of the other men in the unit was Jewish and signaled to him that she was, as well. Salsitz did not believe her. He suspected that she was a wily anti-Semitic spy and decided to test her. He commanded her to say something in Hebrew. In her oral testimony to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, she recollects saying, “ata hamor gadol” – you are a big fool. Still not convinced, Salsitz accused her of learning Hebrew so she could identify Jews to the Nazis. Pushing further, he demanded that she tell him when we recite Kol Nidrei. That was the turning point for both of them.
“When he asked me about Kol Nidrei, I understood he’s Jewish, too. Excited, with tears in my eyes, I said to him, ‘you, too?’” she recalled.
It seems particularly appropriate that through their shared memory of Kol Nidrei, the two impostors revealed themselves and re-owned who they were. Although its origins date back as early as the eighth century, many Jews associate Kol Nidrei, and the undoing of vows, with forced Jewish conversions to Christianity, especially the Spanish Inquisition.
Salsitz and Petranker’s story reminds us of the multiple levels on which we experience ritual and liturgy. We may be moved by language, transported by melody, touched by community, linked to history, thrust into our deepest self – and beyond ourself.
An anti-racism group called Standing Together Against Mailing Prejudice (STAMP) says that it is doing everything in its power to stop the publication of Your Ward News, a neo-Nazi publication that’s once again being delivered to many Toronto households, including taking legal action.
Spearheaded by Lisa Kinsella and her husband, Warren, STAMP was formed two and a half years ago, when the Kinsellas were made aware that Your Ward News was being delivered in their neighbourhood.
“When Your Ward News started to be delivered in our neighbourhood, because their so-called headquarters are a short distance from our home, we started to oppose it,” said Warren Kinsella. “We’ve continued to push against and to fight Your Ward News.”
In a Sept. 13 press release, STAMP outlined the current legal cases against the publication’s editor, James Sears, and publisher, Leroy St. Germaine, many of which were initiated by STAMP, B’nai Brith and other groups.
In November, the pair were charged with promoting hatred against Jews and women. It was the first time a charge of promoting hatred against women had ever been laid in Canadian history.
“Lisa pushed hard for that charge to be laid,” said Warren Kinsella, adding that with all of these lawsuits, they are hoping to bankrupt Sears and St. Germaine.
Next month, the two will appear in court on the charge of uttering death threats against at the Kinsellas.
“The court agreed that there was a case there to be pursued and that’s the next fight we’ve got with these creeps,” said Warren Kinsella. “So we’re hopeful we’re going to be successful there.”
Last year, STAMP successfully lobbied for Canada Post to stop delivering Your Ward News.
“When the publication first started showing up a few years ago, I thought it was odd, considering it was billing itself as being news about the ward that I lived in,” said Rob Johnston, a resident of one of the neighbourhoods that’s been receiving the paper.
“It certainly didn’t feel, or appear to me, like news, but more opinion and personal-attack focused. It was all about hate. It was being shoved in our faces.”
Former public services minister Judy Foote issued the ban on the federal mail carrier delivering the publication in 2016. Despite that, it is still being delivered by volunteers and private carriers. Nevertheless, the fact that it is no longer being delivered by the postal service was welcomed by many.
Lawyer, author and political consultant Warren Kinsella has been writing about Canada’s neo-Nazis for decades. COURTESY WARREN KINSELLA
“I understand and appreciate that we live in a country that allows and promotes free speech, but this felt like someone wanting to inflict their opinions on us through where we lived and directly to our doors without our permission,” said Johnston.
Warren Kinsella agrees, adding that, “The prohibitory order was mainly as a consequence of the lobbying that Lisa was doing in Ottawa to get folks there to pay attention to what was happening in Toronto.”
STAMP has worked closely with a number of Jewish advocacy groups, including the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), which supports what the group is trying to do.
“It is heartening that the stand against this disgusting publication has been actively taken up by an array of individuals and groups, reflecting the fact that Your Ward News traffics not only in anti-Semitism, but other vile forms of hatred, as well,” said Noah Shack, CIJA’s vice-president for the Greater Toronto Area.
“Every voice condemning this grotesque publication is important and we commend all those who have come forward to take a stand against it.”
While the Kinsellas are still waiting on court dates for a number of pending lawsuits, Warren Kinsella said they want their community to know that they are standing up to Your Ward News.
“As upsetting as it is, the fight is continuing and we’re not going to let these guys get away with it,” he said.
Think of it as speed dating meets Ted Talks: the Kehilla Residential Programme, a Toronto-based non-profit, is using a presentation style called PechaKucha, in which presenters show a series of 20 slides for 20 seconds each, to raise awareness of, and find solutions to, the city’s housing affordability problem.
Yes, this is a Jewish community event, but no, PechaKucha is not Hebrew, Yiddish or even Aramaic. It is Japanese for “chit-chat,” and has become a popular way to deliver fast, concise presentations.
Kehilla’s event, called “Tall Timber: What’s the Word on Wood,” will bring together experts to discuss a new way of building with wood that is strong enough to replace steel and concrete in the construction of large buildings.
“As socially conscious millennials, we’re deeply affected by housing affordability issues in the city and interested in exploring new building innovations that can potentially bring the cost of construction down,” said Kehilla board member and event co-chair Lirad Kligman.
“Timber frame tall building technology is currently in its infancy, so it will be exciting to bring top experts with real world timber experience together into a room, to explore its future. Timber is also a natural symbolic fit to Sukkot and the temporary wooden sukkahs that remind us of Jewish wandering, homelessness and the importance of housing.”
Naama Blonder, who’s also an event co-chair and board member, as well as an architect at Smart Density, explains that, “Tall Timber is renewable, with the future potential of replacing the need for very energy-intensive and non-renewable concrete and steel. Another huge benefit is its impact on reducing noxious emissions, as carbon gets stored in the wood when it grows. And it is a grown-in-Canada product. We have lots of forests.
“Potentially, tall wood construction should become competitive and cheaper than concrete or steel. We’re not there yet, because this technology is in its infancy, but it will happen as the industry matures. Even if the structure is not cheaper than concrete yet, there are other potential savings: the building is much lighter than a concrete building and this can mean big savings on foundations. Also, the erection is faster than concrete, the same way that steel is faster than concrete, which saves a lot of construction time. It’s possible to use tall timber even for buildings of 40-plus storeys.
“At this stage, it won’t be possible to build the entire building of wood. The main structure will have to be non-combustible, but we can still do it with floor slabs, for example, and enjoy many of the benefits of tall timber.”
David Gasch is a real estate investment associate at Marcus Millichap and the third co-chair of the event. He said that, “The event is an excellent reflection of what Kehilla is all about. We are delivering a high-end real estate industry event framed with in a meaningful Jewish context connecting the celebration of Sukkot with Kehilla’s mission of providing shelter. This event leverages Kehilla’s prominent reputation and strong relationships with in the Jewish and broader real estate communities.”
Kehilla’s mission to the most vulnerable members of our community keep roofs over their heads got these young professionals involved with the organization. They are particularly moved by Kehilla’s Rental Assistance Program, which has grown from assisting seven households in 2014, to over 200 today.
Tall Timber continues in Kehilla’s tradition of offering innovating programming that leads to real change. Kehilla ran an international design competition called Sukkahville for six years. In addition to attracting media and public attention, Sukkahville’s main message was using the symbolism of the Sukkah as temporary shelter, to promote the need for more permanent affordable housing.
Tall Timber takes place on Sept. 27 from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at The Kiever Shul in Toronto. Tickets are being sold for $39. An after party will be held following the event at Supermarket Restaurant and Bar in Kensington Market.
In 1993, filmmaker Ariel Vromen was part of an Israeli air force rescue unit sent in to Lebanon to evacuate both Jewish and Arab soldiers wounded during a battle. During the fighting, two of Vromen’s closest friends died in front of his eyes.
In an interview, Vromen also recalled the disconnect of fighting just beyond Israel’s northern border, when he would be “laughing and playing backgammon, and then in less than 30 minutes we’d find ourselves in a battle zone or a disaster area,” he recalled.
The contradictory nature of his military service is one reason Vromen (best known for directing the American thriller The Iceman) was drawn to direct the spy thriller The Angel, airing on Netflix.
The film spotlights the enigmatic Egyptian Ashraf Marwan, a confidant of president Anwar Sadat who became a spy for Israel. He famously warned the Mossad about the planned Arab surprise attack that started the Yom Kippur War in 1973, preventing what could have been even greater Israeli casualties.
Marwan (played by Marwan Kenzari) was the son-in-law of Egypt’s president Gamal Abdel Nasser and later became close with Nasser’s successor, Sadat. Yet one day in the 1960s, he called the Israeli Embassy from a telephone booth in London and offered his services as a spy. The Mossad enlisted his efforts, and Marwan passed valuable information to the Israelis, putting his life in serious danger along the way.
In 2007, several years after he was outed as a spy, Marwan fell to his death from a balcony in London at the age of 63. Vromen said he believes Marwan’s death was a murder.
The filmmaker – who was raised near Tel Aviv but now lives in Los Angeles – came to the project two years ago, when an Israeli producer gave him an early draft of the screenplay, based on Uri Bar-Joseph’s popular book, The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel. (Marwan’s code name was The Angel.) But after reading the book, Vromen was at first reluctant to direct the movie.
“I felt it was very one-sided … a very coherent story but told from the Israeli point of view,” he said. “So I started to use a lot of my relationships in the Arab world to get into the Egyptian side of the story.”
Vromen regards Marwan as a hero for Israel who had more complex motivations beyond the notion of helping to create peace in the Middle East.
“His motivation early on was as a young man who was poor, lost and humiliated by his father-in-law,” Vromen said. Nasser apparently viewed Marwan with disdain, due in part to his dearth of funds at the time and his family’s lack of status, Vromen said.
“I’m very confident that when he first approached the Mossad it was an avenging emotional path,” the filmmaker added.
It was also partly a mercenary decision.
“I don’t know of any spy who didn’t want to be paid,” Vromen said.
In fact, Vromen added, Marwan used his Mossad fees to create the seeds of what would become a US$3 billion business empire by the time of his death.
Marwan’s fortunes began to shift after Nasser died and he became a close aide to Sadat, with access to state secrets. As he became more successful, his motivation to spy shifted towards creating “a path to make peace between the countries,” Vromen theorized.
The Egyptians have long claimed that Marwan was a cunning double agent who actually duped the Israelis into funding expensive war mobilization efforts in two false alarms prior to the 1973 war.
Many Egyptians have dismissed the film as Israeli propaganda and denounced Vromen’s casting of an Israeli to portray Sadat. Vromen says he approached a number of Egyptian actors who refused to participate in the film. “Egyptians have cold feet about the movie,” he said. “The assumption is that because I’m an Israeli, I am biased.”
But Vromen insists he attempted to show both countries’ side of the story.
The Television Academy’s 70th Primetime Emmy Awards were held last night in Hollywood with delightful surprises and touching wins. Here’s a recap of some of the top moments from the telecast:
Long since his days as “The Fonz” on Happy Days, Henry Winkler picked up his first Emmy Award, winning best supporting actor in a comedy series for the HBO dark comedy Barry. See the video below for what he had to say backstage.
70th Emmy Awards: Backstage LIVE! with Henry Winkler - YouTube
The Amazon original series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel scored big, winning outstanding comedy series. Rachel Brosnahan won the outstanding lead actress award for personifying the show’s titular character, while Alex Borstein won the supporting actress award for her portrayal of Susie Myerson, Maisel’s manager. Show creator Amy Sherman-Palladino won both for writing and directing the series.
From left (bottom) Amy Sherman Paladino, Alex Borstein and Rachel Brosnahan
In one of the most touching moments, American producer and director of the 2018 Oscar telecast Glen Weiss won the award for outstanding directing of a variety special and shocked the audience as he proposed to his girlfriend. Weiss got down on one knee and effectively stole the show, cementing a long lasting memory into Emmy history.
Glen Weiss Proposes To His Girlfriend After Winning The Emmy For Producing The Oscars - YouTube
Rounding out the night, Canadian-American television producer, writer, comedian, and actor, Lorne Michaels, best known for creating and producing Saturday Night Live, accepted the award for outstanding sketch comedy series after the show posted yet again a year of exceptional ratings.
The Television Academy’s 70th Primetime Emmy Awards were held last night in Hollywood with delightful surprises and touching wins. Here’s a recap of some the top moments from the telecast:
Long since his days as “The Fonz” on Happy Days, Henry Winkler picked up his first Emmy Award winning best supporting actor in a comedy series for Barry. See the video below for what he had to say backstage.
70th Emmy Awards: Backstage LIVE! with Henry Winkler - YouTube
The Amazon original series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel scored big, winning outstanding comedy series. Rachel Brosnahan won the outstanding lead actress award for personifying the show’s titular characte while Alex Borstein on the supporting actress award for her portrayal of Susie Myerson. Show creator Amy Sherman Paladino won both for writing and directing the series.
From left (bottom) Amy Sherman Paladino, Alex Borstein and Rachel Brosnahan
In one of the most touching moments, American producer and director of the 2018 Oscar telecast Glen Weiss won the award for outstanding directing of a variety special and shocked the audience as he proposed to his girlfriend, got down on one knee and effectively stole the show, cementing a long lasting memory into Emmy history.
Glen Weiss Proposes To His Girlfriend After Winning The Emmy For Producing The Oscars - YouTube
Rounding out the night Canadian-American television producer, writer, comedian, and actor, Lorne Michaels best known for creating and producing Saturday Night Live, accepted the award for outstanding sketch comedy series after the show posted yet again a year of exceptional ratings.