Wednesday, December 29, 2010

McMaster University: The New Jew U?

Most students move through their elementary school days to the local high school with a bit of familiarity. They take with them others they know, likely their friends and continue to forge an identity over the 12 year span. Once the high school days end a good part of that carefully crafted social identity falls away.

Constructing the balance between learning and socializing, starts to an extent from the beginning again. It can once more be a solo journey through the gates to higher learning in a post secondary college/university setting.

Richard Moline, Director of Koach, in his article Choosing a College writes,

"The college selection process, while opening doors to unparalleled growth and exploration, can also be very stressful and trying. Scores of books are published each year providing students and their parents with information on various schools... Most families explore these areas quite carefully while neglecting to consider the availability of any Jewish programming or community...

Frustrated, students may spend a miserable semester or year, or even find themselves transferring to another school where they might feel more comfortable being Jewish."

At McMaster University, Richard Moline has been heard and YES is the new answer to the critical questions:

Can I have both a great University experience while living in a Jewish friendly atmosphere?

Can I get an unbelievable university education while being who I am?

Is there a kosher food option?

Is there a community that will support my needs?

McMaster Center for Jewish Life. Coming fall 2011.

Stay tuned to this channel. A preview of new the center will be available soon.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Reena has a friend in Di Biase

On December 15 at his office, regional councillor of Vaughan Michael Di Biase (on right)  presented a cheque to the Reena Foundation's president Gary Sim. The cheque was made out for Reena’s Outreach, Respite and Enrichment Programs. In total, Reena offers 16 different programs over the year and over 850 individuals benefit from them. Not only do these programs provide life skills and a positive learning and caring environment for participants but they also benefit their families.

For more information on the Reena Foundation and its programs follow the link here.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Political "Action" of a Different Sort

The date for what is undoubtedly one of the biggest Shmoozefest for the younger more urban Jewish community of Toronto has just been announced. The fifth annual Action party, organized on behalf of The Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC), is set to take place Thursday March 10th 8 p.m. at The Royal Conservatory of Music, 273 Bloor Street West.

The purpose of the Action party is to bring hundreds of young professionals together with politicians from all political parties and all levels of government. In one chic social meeting place all in attendance will celebrate and encourage political engagement in support of Canada and Israel. The party will once again include an open bar, sumptuous desserts and live entertainment in addition to a DJ spinning tracks.

Tickets will be on sale around the start of the new year. Notice of ticket availability will appear here. Be sure to check back soon.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Chanukah Farewell 5771

And so we bid farewell, and make one final salute to Chanukah 2010 with this video parody by graduates of the Ein Prat Academy, Israel spoofing the Black Eyed Peas "Tonight's Gonna Be a Good Night". The video was filmed and edited by Toronto's own Aaron Rotenberg.…

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Chanukah in Rhyme























חג חנוכה שמח

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Party Time! Chanukah Style...

Calorie counting begone! Time to let the inner party animal out to "responsibly" play, it's chanukah time again. We here at The CJ Shmooze have the best picks for where to go and what to do.

To kick it off there is not one but two chances to take in a unique performance from critically acclaimed artist SoCalled. His set will be showcased first in an intimate and interactive setting live December 1st at The House (469 Eglinton Ave.W. # 203). The following night, on December 2nd, in an event presented by Ashkenaz and The Annex Shul, SoCalled takes to the stage at the Mod Club (722 College St.)

Young professionals/students looking for a fun-filled, latka-laden, two-part holiday weekend celebration, need look no further. Shabbat dinner begins at 7:30 with a full spread laid out by JUMP (Jewish Urban Meeting Place at 1992 Yonge Street, Unit 103) on December 3rd. The party continues as doors open starting at 9 p.m. Saturday the time at LOL Resto Lounge (718 College St.)

If you're not latka'd out yet, then come out December 7th and learn how to make holiday favorites at home while cooking jointly with BAC (Birthright Alumni Community) and JUMP. Leftovers will surely be welcome on December 8th while you try your luck at dreydle games and more during JUMP's first game night.

That takes us just about to the end of Community Connect's 8 Crazy Nights for 2010, so how to really close it out in style?... Easy! Dor L'Dor Hadassah Chapter's 5th Annual Dreidel Bash at 6 Degrees (2335 Yonge St.) Tickets are on sale now get your today before they sell out.

For more details on all these events, look to the City Wide Events Album Here

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Times of Bar-Kochba and the Midras Caves

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, Yehuda, a great future Jewish leader is born . He eventually became the predecessor of many descendants who assumed leadership roles at significant periods in Jewish history. One of the famous leaders in jewish history living around the Jedian Hills was Shimon Bar-Kochba. While Bar-Kochba was not a descendant of the tribe of Yehuda, and while his revolt ultimately failed, his martial leadership was compelling and critical. For three years, he inspired hope and mobilized Jews to action against the powerful Roman forces.
A visit to the Midras Caves, or “Hiding Caves”, helps one better understand the perilous times of the Bar-Kochba Rebellion of 132 – 135. The Romans tried to rebuild and rename Jerusalem, as a secular city, Colonia Aelia Capitolina, banning circumcision and Torah study. Bar Kochba built the caves so that Jews could hide from the Romans. The caves were small enough to be concealed from them and capable of sustaining --just barely --Jewish life. The revolt took place throughout the entire Judea district and the outcome was disastrous: Judea was destroyed and many Jews were slaughtered. After the suppression of the revolt in the year 135 AC, most of the remaining Jewish population lived in the Galilee area, started a new Jewish community and helped usher in the Mishnaic period. The rest of the Jews from this time were dispersed throughout the world. .

The Midras Caves, which also served as subterranean bases for warriors, are a collection of chambers  connected to each other by tunnels. Most of the chambers allow for standing upright, but in the tunnels between the chambers, one must crawl in order to get through. Many of the hiding caves were also used for storage of food, oil and water. The cave is safe for crawling, and the route is circular. It takes about twenty minutes to complete an exploration of the caves.

Hiking to the caves can be followed by crawling into a tiny tunnel inside the rocky walls. There are arrows indicating the right direction. I wouldn't recommend going into tunnels that are not marked with arrows and signs, as one can get lost. Also, I would not recommend this site to people who have back problems as the tour requires turning and crawling. Don't forget to bring a flashlight with you. This site is appropriate for all ages although it may be too scary for children. The caves provide insight as to how people survived when they preferred to live simply and under difficult conditions, preserving their beliefs, their faith and their Jewish identity, rather than live in their former communities and become assimilated into Roman society.

Couple Wants to Bring Jewish Warmth to Canadian Cold

By Reuvena Leah Grodnitzky

One of the first Chabad-Lubavitch centers to be established in the coming year might soon be known as a “Little (Jewish) House on the Prairie,” its location so remote that it would take nine hours to cross its region by car.

Nevertheless, Raphael and Sarah Kats are approaching their impending move and establishment of the first-ever Chabad House in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan with excitement. They point out that the Midwestern region has both a lengthy Jewish history and a bright future: Because of its vast natural resources, it’s the fastest growing province in Canada.

“We’re looking forward to our move very much and are very grateful to be given this responsibility and opportunity,” says Sarah Kats, who will soon travel with her young family to the region – her first trip there ever. “We want to serve every Jew, no matter who or where.”

There's more to the story see it Here

Courtesy of News

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thoughts on Remembrance Day

I know what I'll be thinking about at 11 a.m.

Over the past few weeks, a bit of World War II history came alive for me while I was working on a Remembrance Day article for our Nov. 11 issue.

Alan Caplan, a member of the Association of Jewish Ex-Service Men and Women (AJEX), wrote to The CJN last month from his home in Leeds, England. He was seeking relatives of seven Jewish RCAF airmen who were killed during World War II and are buried in Harrogate, about half an hour away.

The letter caught my attention. In 1987, I'd visited Harrogate and taken pictures of the graves he mentioned. I was interested at the time because my father, who was also in the RCAF, had been stationed in the area during the war.

The pictures were a sobering reminder that things could have turned out very differently for my dad, and – without exaggeration – for the entire world.

But the gravestones included few of the details that would make the men "real" in my mind.

That's changed, now that I've seen their pictures and spoken to some of their relatives.

Today, I think of Harry Ratner – a serious-looking young man with a direct gaze and a hint of a smile – as the guy who asked his kid sister, "Hey, Princess, how about polishing my shoes?"

And Morley Stock, who struck a jaunty pose on the steps of the officers' mess, combined a poet's sensibility with a bomber pilot's grit.

Robert Sirluck – looking like he could walk out of his picture in his flying gear and aviator sunglasses – was so committed to fighting the Nazis that he lied about his age to enlist.

Click here to read more about them. And, if you know anyone who is related to the other airmen – Jack Tass, Ernest Israel Glass, R.P. Marks or Joseph Zareikin – Alan Caplan would welcome a call or e-mail.

The spring that brings people together

This week's "Site in Israel", the Ein Prat spring, is very close to the actual place where Yaakov, our forefather, dreamt, awakened and learned about the future of his twelve children who would become a nation. The spring Is located five minutes from northern Jerusalem, next to the Israeli community of Anatot, which is named after an ancient site were the prophets preached to the people of Israel: "The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin" (Jeremiah 1,1).

The Ein Prat spring flows year-round, with an average daily flow of 1,500 cubic meters. The springs provided water to Jerusalem until 1970. Ein Prat combines a variety of experiential opportunities: a charming and picturesque family picnic site beside the water; a short easy hike around the beautiful scenic surroundings; and an intensive hike through natural water pools down to the Dead Sea. Those who enjoy climbing, can scale part of the northern cliff in the stream which is a known outdoor climbing wall. Don’t miss the Haritoun Monastery, originally built by Monk Haritoun in the fourth century. Here, one can easily understand why someone would leave everything and transplant his home to be ensconced in this small heaven that offers a calm and peaceful way to approach life.

Only is Israel is there a breathtakingly beautiful site that combines such a range of different elements: a variety of historical biblical stories, water in the desert, culture, friendly animals of the region and religious nuances. Most important, Ein Prat is a small peaceful island in the Middle East which embraces visitors of many diverse backgrounds – Israelis from Jerusalem, Arabs from East Jerusalem and Christians from all over the world.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Soaking up atmosphere in N’Awlins

Yesterday morning, I walked from my hotel in New Orleans – where I’m covering the 79th annual General Assembly of Jewish Federations – to Café du Monde, the place to go here for coffee and beignets.

Not that I’m a fan of deep-fried dough, but the pastries are a virtual icon for the city, and I wanted to soak up some atmosphere sitting in the open-air café. If I did nothing else non-work-related, I would go to Café du Monde, I decided.

A long line-up almost made me change my mind about staying, but the extra hour we had just gained with the end of Daylight Savings Time tipped the balance the other way. As it turned out, the line moved quickly while a busker played a medley of tunes on his guitar, including Alley Cat, a staple at bar mitzvah parties in the late 1960, and the Beatles’ When I’m 64.

But jazz is the real staple here. Bourbon Street – raucous even during the day – is the home of the city’s signature music, although Preservation Hall, a 260-year-old building that’s been a jazz venue since 1961, is actually located around the corner on St. Peter Street.

I recorded these jazz buskers on Royal Street – a block over from Bourbon – and wandered the shops and galleries on my way to and from Café du Monde, admiring the cast-iron railings on upper balconies reflecting the city’s Spanish heritage. I happened on a small grocery store that sold local treats like pecan beer and Aunt Sally’s pralines, pronounced here with a short “a.”

Praw-leens – who knew? Then again, New Orleanians have a distinctive southern drawl. At the airport in Toronto, a U.S. immigration officer corrected me on my pronunciation of the city’s name. N’Awlins. That’s how they say it here, I think.

At Café du Monde, I heard a customer tell her waiter, “Thank you, darlin’,” as sweet as the generous portion of icing sugar that covers the beignets.

At the end of a French Quarter walking tour I took – I had time for that too! – the guide thanked us for travelling here, and told us that every dollar we spend helps the local economy and the many people still affected by Hurricane Katrina.

But he didn’t call us “darlins.” I’ll have to visit again.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

About Life

Dear Ella,
Adam and I have been together for a year. We’re both divorced and have children from our previous marriages. Adam is a wonderful man, and he tries very hard to be a good dad. He has one six-year-old boy, Josh, who is capable of being a sweet kid, but is usually an intolerable brat. I’m embarrassed to say that I can’t stand being around this kid. As I see it, Adam parents with guilt as his guide. Because of his limited visitation, he tries to be a Disneyland dad, doing only fun things and letting Josh run amok. Adam rarely corrects Josh and feels terribly guilty when he upsets his son, and Josh knows it. When I try to intervene, I end up being seen as the bad guy.
I love Adam, but I’m not sure if I can commit to a life like this. I welcome any advice so that we can work this out as a family.
Blended Battles
Dear Blended Battles
Blended families have become more common, and along with them come all kinds of problems that don’t always exist in a nuclear family. You have two sets of parents in a blended family, and that can be very confusing for children. Since there’s no manual, people tend to go with their gut on how to raise kids, and clearly Adam feels that Josh needs fun more than discipline at this stage. Blended families have a whole myriad of challenges. Navigating through parenting differences is probably the biggest hurdle. You and Adam need to come up with a game plan. You need to analyze what works and what doesn’t, and survey the results of your parenting actions. Is Adam truly happy with the results he sees in his son?
Guilt isn’t a productive emotion. It causes people to make all sorts of bad decisions. Children need consistency and boundaries. They need to know what’s expected of them as they transition from one home environment to the other. You and Adam need to explore all these expectations together. This isn’t easy for Josh. His stable family environment has been dissolved, and re-establishing a new one will take time.
Setbacks along the way are inevitable, but if you both approach this with the same goal, using tolerance, patience, communication and love, you’ll end up with a successful family unit.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Inspiring women

Yesterday morning, I got sidetracked by a 12-minute YouTube video when I should have been getting ready for work.

A friend of mine had forwarded the link in an e-mail that said she is “collecting” women who inspire her. “Pls watch this and tell me how worthy she is of making my list,” she wrote.

I was curious, but had no intention of watching the entire video. Just a minute or two, I decided. As it turned out, that was all it took to override my intentions.

And my friend’s request? Completely rhetorical.

The subject of the video is a 106-year-old survivor of Theresienstadt, a Nazi propaganda camp to show that inmates there were treated well.

A former concert pianist who performed all of Chopin’s études from memory at the camp, Alice Sommer – the world’s oldest living Holocaust survivor – was born in Prague in November 1903, and now lives in London, England.

She still plays piano and receives visitors every day, sharing life wisdom often peppered with an engaging laugh.

A sample from the video: “A lot of German journalists... ask, ‘Are we allowed to enter your room? Do you not hate us?’ So my answer is, ‘I never hate, and I will never hate. Hatred brings only hatred.”

I watched the video a second time as I began to write this blog entry yesterday afternoon, then drove home with Sommer’s melodic renditions echoing in my head.

Click here to see the video.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A twist at Hasbara

The mind of the student can be a brilliantly creative and libidinous network of receptors and neurons. It is no more evident than in the recent video posted to the site for Size Doesn't Matter.

While on the one hand applauding social achievements in Israeli citizen relations to fictional / real scientific initiatives persued by Israeli companies, the video shows how much of a converstion non starter certain Israeli accomplishments can be, in the local coffee shop.

And yet, see how it all plays out...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Yehoram Gaon in Toronto

Getting a chance to see one of Israel's iconic showbiz personalities is a treat. And two nights ago, I was able to do just that when I took in the larger-than-life personality that is Yehoram Gaon performing at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts.

He was brought in by the Canadian Friends of Hebrew University. (CFHU) who are also helping give exposure to one of the university's major initiatives: the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC), which is on the forefront of "unlocking the mysteries of the genes and proteins that control fundamental processes in living cells." A truly amazing project.

Now, I'm not Israeli nor am I very fluent in Hebrew (to my shame), so a lot of Gaon's banter with the audience in between songs would have been lost on me had it not been for my wife's ongoing translating, bless her. And while he's a very charismatic story-teller, his greatest talent is his singing voice.

Above, from left: CFHU National President Nathan Lindenberg, Yehoram Gaon and CFHU National Director, Rami Kleinmann pose post-event in Toronto this week.
The man who starred in Casablan and made the song "Kol HaKavod" an integral part of Israeli culture was in fine form on Tuesday night. The mostly Israeli crowd sang with him, clapped along and kibbitzed with the star as he belted out tunes as the 71 year old entertainer enthralled his audience over the course of two hours.

And while I wasn't able to sing along, the feeling of being part of Israel for a night was worth every moment. Thanks to CFHU for their hospitality and their efforts to bring this giant of Israeli entertainment to Toronto for a night of magic.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Makom makes the Slingshot cut

Courtesy of a posting found on the sixth annual edition of Slingshot: A Resource Guide for Jewish Innovation, has been released. The guide features 50 inspirational organizations in Jewish life found in North America. Some of the major highlights of the release focus on:

A cautiously optimistic Jewish innovation sector, a number of organizations have stabilized in today's economic environment via philanthropic support as well as mergers and strategic alliances; though many organizations that have been around for five years or more are struggling to find further support for growth.

In past editions, the guide focused on inspirational Jewish leaders, especially among the next generation of professionals. This year, the attention is given more to the organization’s missions and activities. Still believing in the importance of entrepreneurs, founders and leaders, recognition is being given collectively to the community within the organization in that all are responsible for ensuring its success.

Words from the post to live by: "Individualism may abound, in fact, may be the catalyst for change, but the community must share the responsibility for its own success."

According to Will Schneider, the director of Slingshot, in company with this year's most notable 50 was Makom. That's right Shmooze readers, Makom, the grassroots, downtown community, building traditional and progressive Jewish life in Toronto. Like its contemporaries JUMP, The House and the Annex Shul, Makom creates an inclusive and diverse space, committed to Jewish learning, arts and culture, spirited prayer and ritual, and social and environmental activism.

Members of Makom meet every-other week at The Kiever Shul (25 Bellevue Avenue, Toronto) to welcome Shabbat with soulful and song-filled Friday night services. Both men and women participate in leading services. All are invited and children are welcome. You can walk in as you are. That is to say, no need to dress up and jeans are acceptable. If you would like to check them out on a Friday night, a minyan of 10 women + 10 men to start the ma’ariv service is required, so they ask that you please come on time.

To see which other organizations made the list just click here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Re: Israel A Difference of Opinion

Reported in print and online this week, Israeli Opposition leader Tzipi Livni position made clear that "Israel should pursue peace talks with the Palestinian Authority (PA) so that its future as a Jewish democratic state can be assured. ...Only peace can ensure that Israel will remain Jewish as well as democratic". The comments were made while addressing a large audience at a United Jewish Appeal of Greater Toronto function held at Events on the Park. This is typical of many news reports on re-newed Israeli peace efforts made despite escalating attacks by members of Hamas and Hezbollah.

What message does this continuously re-enforce on campuses across Canada? Is there nothing more to focus on than the political and military positions within the country? Coming next week in The CJN's opinion section, columnist Seymour Epstein asks "Is militant campus advocacy the solution?" He investigates the conventional wisdom these days that young Jews don’t know enough about Israel to defend against anti-Zionists. While he recognizes there are many different kinds of Jewish education: schools, yeshivot, women’s study centres, Jewish Studies programs on campus, summer camps, Birthright, Masa and adult study groups, he omits centres like JUMP (Jewish Urban Meeting Place), The House and The Annex Shul. These environments, and the programming they provide, enable young jews to absorb more positive aspects of Israel's cutlure, and provides oppotunities to celebrate the country's achievements.

So, is the solution to cram Zionist data into the minds of young Jews so that they can fight back with knowledge? Read why Epstein believes it's problematic from the perspective of an educator.

Have your say here! For Epstein's full opinion on the matter, check your next edition of The CJN.

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Tribute to True Heroes

In a room at the Allstream Centre filled with just over a thousand attendees, The Canadian Society of Yad Vashem held the True Heroes Tribute Gala Tuesday evening on the Exhibition grounds in downtown Toronto.

In 1953, the Israeli Parliament passed a law which established YadVashem, The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, as the sole entity allowed to bestow the title Righteous Among the Nations on behalf of the State of Israel. Righteous Among the Nations denotes non-Jewish individuals who, during the Holocaust, risked themselves and their families’ lives and safety in order to save numerous Jews, without demanding any rewards in return. Those recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations” are awarded a specially minted medal bearing his or her name, a certificate of honour, and the privilege of having his or her name added to those on the Wall of Honour in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.  Since its inception, Yad Vashem has recognized, on behalf of the State of Israel, over 23,200 “Righteous Among the Nations” from 44 countries around the world. 

Under the direction of National Chair, Fran Sonshine and  Executive Director, Yaron Ashkenazi, the Gala was hosted by CEO of RioCan REIT Ed Sonshine along with Canadian businessman, political activist and former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party John Tory.
Also present in the audience were Israel's Consul General to Toronto and Western Canada Amir Gissin, Israel's Ambassador to Canada Miriam Ziv, the Hounorable Jason Kenney Canada's Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. Words were read aloud from Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a pre-recorded message was played from the Right and Honourable Stephen Harper praising and pledging to continue supporting their good works. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Is this really what gifting is all about?

Dear Ella,
In today’s mail, I noticed an invitation-like envelope, hand addressed to my husband and me. As I didn’t recognize the return address, I was particularly curious what this “invitation” was for. I opened the envelope to find a lovely, professionally printed card with what I thought was a smaller reply card. I started reading. It was in two parts: the first was the announcement of a marriage that had already taken place, while the second was the announcement of the forthcoming arrival of their baby. I kept reading and turned over the invitation to see what I was invited to. It was blank. I pull out the “reply” card, which listed two high-end stores that these people have registered at for baby gifts. That’s it! No invite. Nothing but a card asking for a gift from us. I would love your opinion on this one.

Dear Stunned,

While it’s always nice to receive news about happy occasions, in this case, it’s been overshadowed by the request for gifts. Having never heard of this type of gift-giving, I showed the invite, which you attached to your letter, to a number of people. I showed it to older people, younger people, and people in a range of socioeconomic and cultural groups. I thought, possibly, that with the fast pace of technology, such as e-mails, text messaging, social networks and e-cards, this might be a new way people are doing things. No need for an expensive wedding or baby shower – what a waste of time and money when we could simply cut to the chase and get to the important part: the gifts!

I polled more than 100 people, and the opinions were unanimous. The shock and bewildered looks I received as they realized what they were reading were all similar. Some thought maybe these people were needy, but the gift registrations were for expensive, trendy stores, so that theory was quashed. Clearly this couple was misguided and oblivious to how people would react. Maybe they received poor advice from a well-meaning friend or relative?
Whatever the reason, I can find no redeeming conclusion. I welcome any thoughts or opinions from my readers. Is this a sign of the times? Will we start seeing more of this type of gift appeal?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Make sure you dance on Simchat Torah

Bringing back one of RABBI MICHAEL STAVSKY's favorite posts:

Judaism is filled with joyous holidays. The Torah commands us to “be happy on your holidays” (Deuteronomy 16:14), and we fulfill this commandment by refraining from work, spending the days praying to HaShem and eating good food.

But when one thinks of the most joyous of all holidays, what comes to mind? Many might say Purim, with its many beautiful practices, such as reading the megillah and exchanging mishloach manot. But during only one nine-day holiday period do we refer to the days as Zman Simchateinu (the time of our happiness). These are the holidays of...

To Read more Click Here

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What do you pay most for at Sukkot?

@WeJew picked up on this informative video from infolivetv on the "Four Species Sukkot Market" in Jerusalem. Hear about the varieties of etrogim, lulavim, and the myrtle branches; what each of the four species symbolizes, and how much people in Israel are willing to spend in certain instances. Many make it an all out (money becomes no object) celebration of the chag.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Sukkah: An unusual Mitzvah

Rabbi Michael Stavsky will illustrate the meanings behind and wrapped up in the customs and practices of the Chag of Sukkot:

We’ve just completed the high holiday period known as the Yamim Noraim. We’ve spent countless hours praying, fasting and beseeching Hashem to bless us with a sweet, healthy and happy New Year. Now that it’s behind us, we are blessed with the most joyous of our holidays, Sukkot. Yet this festival (which the Torah and Talmud simply refer to as Chag, and is the only festival where we are specifically commanded to rejoice) requires us to leave the comforts of our homes and sit in a temporary hut called a sukkah. In this article, we’ll explore this most unusual of mitzvot....

Read the full article online now from The Canadian Jewish News.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ask Ella - Situational Faith

Dear Ella, This past year has been a hard one. I lost my mother, who was also my best friend, after going through a rough period with my youngest son who was diagnosed with ADHD.

My marriage has taken a big hit as well. We’re not quite separated, but we might as well be. We are living like strangers in the same house.

I’m not a religious person at all, but I found myself praying to G-d on more than one occasion, seeking help to get through this. I actually went to the synagogue near my house last week and bought myself a High Holiday ticket. Now I feel like the biggest hypocrite. I’m struggling with all kinds of emotions and feeling a bit ridiculous. Did I think it would solve all my problems?

Turning to Faith

Dear Turning to Faith

Faith is a very individual concept. There’s no right or wrong. There’s only what’s right for you as an individual. Some people are born into an observant lifestyle, and they practice their beliefs from Day 1. Others come to religion for different reasons, such as marriage, spiritual fulfillment, tradition, search for peace etc. Whatever the reason, it makes no difference. In your case, it may be the pursuit of hope. What you’ve been through is too much for you to handle on your own, so you’re searching for help. Praying is a sort of meditation. It gives you the time and permission you need to think and dig down deep into your soul for answers, for peace and for strength. You’re turning to religion to find that, as so many people do. There’s no need to question your motives.

Rosh Hashanah is an excellent time to start being introspective. It’s the “beginning,” the start of a new year, as well as new thoughts, ideas and changes. It’s a time to look back and see what we could have done differently and bring those positive changes with you into the future so that you can make a better life for you, your family and those around you.

Spirituality isn’t ridiculous. It’s a way of accessing your inner being. Don’t fight it, I think it’s a journey you won’t be sorry you took.

I would like to wish all my readers a very happy and healthy New Year. L’Shanah Tovah Tikateivu V’Taichatemu.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Shatner in top form at Toronto's Fan Expo

A delicate, magical mystical thing is a laugh according to star of stage and screen, icon William (Bill) Shatner. That's right Shmooze readers the man who made famous Captain James Tiberias Kirk, officer T.J. Hooker and most recently legendary fictional litigator Denny Crane descended upon Toronto, to the delight of many at this year's Fan Expo.

From this jovial Canadian treasure, you would never believe he considers getting a laugh to be brain-surgery. Shatner drew each belly laugh out of the crowd with ease at the Spotlight conducted by Space channel's Innerspace hosts Teddy Wilson and Ajay Frye. Vocal on all sorts of topics, we metaphorically travelled into Shatner's past along the road connecting Toronto to his childhood home in Montreal, (now labelled the Highway of Heroes) through the stories he recounted.

We then came back to present day with even more amusing anecdotes that had recently happened to him. Chief among the stories was the fiasco's that transpired at the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Gretzky's delay in lighting the Olympic torch at the opening ceremonies and what preceded his ascent to the closing ceremony stage.

Shatner's comedic timing and delivery has been well recognized over the last ten years thanks to his brilliant portrayal as staunch conservative Republican and founding partner of Crane, Poole and Schmidt, Denny Crane on ABC's Boston Legal. In 2004 Shatner won an Emmy for the role David E. Kelly first introduced on "The Practice", before he spun off the characters of Denny Crane and James Spader's Alan Shore, to the all new Boston Legal spinoff . In 2005 Shatner won the Golden Globe and yet another Prime Time Emmy for the much loved Crane. He was subsequently nominated each year on from 2006 until the end of Boston Legal's run in 2009

Here he talks about what it was like bringing part of himself to the role and the freedom playing Denny Crane bestowed upon him.

With four projects currently on the go he is anything but slowing down. Shatner returns to situation comedy this fall on CBS's $#*! My Dad Says, in Shatner's Raw Nerve on the Bio channel, hosting "William Shatner's Weird or What" and in his behind the scenes series "Aftermath with William Shatner".

Monday, August 30, 2010

Interviewing Dan Aykroyd - not what I expected

It looked like the one-on-one interview I was hoping to get with comedian Dan Aykroyd when he was in town for UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s campaign launch wasn’t going to happen.

But on the day of the event – this past Tuesday – I received an e-mail from Sally Szuster, the federation’s director of public & media relations, letting me know that there would be a media scrum at 6 p.m. She noted that Aykroyd would be on a tight timeline and would have to finish by 6:15.

It didn’t exactly turn out the way I expected. I made it downtown to the Carlu, where the launch was being held, in plenty of time. A reception for top donors was under way, with servers offering wine and hors d’oeuvres in the foyer of the renovated 1930s event space.

Things were running late – that part wasn’t a shock – and we were told Aykroyd would be available closer to 6:30. “We” turned out to be a small group, just me and a CTV cameraman.

I thought the scrum would be in a separate room but, instead, we were asked to wait at the end of the foyer. Aykroyd was ushered past us with a promise that he’d be brought back, and we watched him meeting and greeting and posing for pictures until Camera Guy (who had parked at a meter and was on a tight timeline himself) decided to venture into the crowd and do some filming.

I stayed close behind, not wanting to miss out on the promised scrum.

Sure enough, one of the UJA people decided that it made sense for Aykroyd to talk to us on the spot instead of returning to the less crowded far end of the foyer.

After the CTV spot was filmed, I had a chance to ask a few questions while Aykroyd was on his way from the reception to a pre-event dinner. (For the record, he didn’t eat. “No fressing before the show,” he said.)

Fortunately, I can multi-task – walk, talk, take notes, and juggle notebook and tape recorder, all at the same time.

And fortunately, Aykroyd could pick up right where he left off after each photo op and introduction.

It was probably the most fragmented interview I had ever done.

But Aykroyd was quotable and on-topic, plus he had something to say. (You can read the interview here.)

I didn’t end up using any quotes from the talk he gave later that evening. But – no big surprise here – he was very funny.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Relationships to Love in the Digital Age

In the near three years now that JUMP (Jewish Urban Meeting Place) has been in operation, here in Toronto, there have been quite a few talks on the subject of love, dating and relationships. Now it might look strange that love, dating and relationships are written here separately. Often times they get combined into just one of these three terms. Clearly from the talk last week led by Jason ("JR") Renard on the top tips to online dating, they each in fact exist in their own orbit.

JR defined love as the proper name we give to the overwhelming affection we feel towards another person, favorite family pet and/or for some, to an inanimate object. We navigate through the few or many relationships we have with the same or opposite sex via the vehicle of dating. The intention in large part is to find our Beshert or "the one", whom we will ultimately marry and with whom we will intimately share our life.

Here he reflected on his two dealings with the types of users commonly found on all the popular and probably even on the not so popular online dating sites. The first experience ended horribly and was just about enough to turn him away for good. The second well...

To really understand relationships and love and find success in a world of online dating, JR's top tip was to be truthful and honest. When going beyond what we see in embellished profiles and cropped photo-shopped pictures, open yourself up to learning how to give, receive, maintain and cultivate love through the intimacy of face to face conversation.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

See and hear the Toronto mayoral candidates debate for Jewish seniors

Last week, the Top 5 Toronto mayoral candidates took the stage at Shaarei Shomayim synagogue to answer questions of interest to the city's Jewish seniors. As at most debates, things got a little heated, a little off track but also very enlightening as to who the candidates are and what they represent.

The Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC) and the Association of Jewish Seniors (AJS) co-hosted the event. CJPAC kindly offered The Shmooze the video of the debate. So click below to watch, hear and absorb what they all had to say and decide for yourselves who you like best or least. Below are the candidates' answers to the first question of the debate. For the rest of the debate videos, please click CJPAC's Youtube channel here.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Top Tips for Online Dating...Coming Soon

Dating and finding your Beshert or "the one" is one of the most difficult tasks we encounter in life, a point many seem to agree on. This week JUMP the Jewish Urban Meeting Place ran a talk on how to make online dating work for you. Instead of explaining it all in written form here on the Shmooze. check back next week for the in-depth discussion. We recorded all the major points on video for you all to see.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Paul McCartney puts on a one-of-a-kind show

Playfulness and energy. That sums up last night's Paul McCartney show at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

I've been to a ton of concerts, but I've never seen anything like this one.

Almost every seat was filled with cheering people. Sitting up in the 300s level, I was blown away by the sheer number of people there. It's crazy to know they were all there, with very, very expensive tickets, all to see one man. What a crazy world it is. But by the end, I completely understood the attraction.

Paul McCartney wows crowd at Toronto show [Grace Zweig photo]
I have to start by saying that I'm not a huge Beatles fan. I respect them and I appreciate them, but I've never felt the desire to go out of my way to listen to them. Therefore, my views come from someone who didn't know what to expect, and mostly has concert experiences from indie or rock club concerts.

Before the show, screens on each side of the stage showed 60s era photos and videos to the soundtrack of remixed Beatles and Paul McCartney songs.

When the lights went down and the former Beatle walked on stage, the crowd went wild.

The band played perfectly together, reciting the songs with precision and a real tightness.
They performed a wide range of songs ranging from the Beatles’ early material all the way to his most recent album.

He also played the Jim Hendrix song Foxy Lady in a tribute to the late guitarist, emanating the wild rock and roll sound for which Hendrix was known. McCartney told a story about seeing Hendrix perform the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album just days after its release.

In that performance Hendrix used excessive whammy bar movements causing the guitar to slide out of tune, so he asked if Eric Clapton was in the audience—which he was—and requested he tune his guitar for him.

McCartney bounced around while he played, looking like he was having a great time. He was playful and seemed thankful at the same time, combining a sense of ease, excitement and humility.

Real emotion came through as he sang. Even after performing the same songs thousands of times, they still came out fresh and full of feeling.

He joked around with the audience and was very energetic. He seemed at home on the stage and his voice was strong as ever. I could hardly believe the sound and power that came out of this man.

He had a moment of dedication for John Lennon as he introduced the song about the conversation they never had, Here Today. The soft guitar-vocal piece still sounded extremely honest and clearly resounded with many audience members.

A while later came a moment for George Harrison right before he performed Something on Harrison's old ukulele. When the guitar solo kicked in, McCartney switched to a guitar while a slideshow of old McCartney and Harrison photos played behind them.

He also dedicated his performance of My Love to his late wife, Linda McCartney, as well as the other lovers in the audience.

Throughout the show, the musicianship, needless to say, was phenomenal—but I wouldn't have expected anything less from such a legend.

It was a lot of fun watching drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. dancing behind the kit throughout Dance Tonight—and McCartney’s subsequent imitation of the dance. The drummer was amazing throughout the show, performing much of the backing vocals while he drummed, and even left the drum set to sing and dance during a couple of the songs.

McCartney led the crowd in making strange sounds as he began Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, for which he said was only the second time he ever performed it in Canada, with the first being the first night of the Toronto stop.

During Paperback Writer, McCartney played the guitar he used during the period in the 60s when he recorded that song. It seemed he switched guitars after every couple of songs, and he jokingly described these purpose of these changes as simply to show off.

"We've got all these guitars," he said, "we're going to show them off."

Shortly after, the atmosphere changed completely and got even better. It began at the start of what was easily the best set: Let It Be, Live and Let Die, and Hey Jude. Although I've heard the pyrotechnics are identical every time he performs Live and Let Die, it was easily the best performance of the night.

The encore included Day Tripper, Lady Madonna, Get Back. The second encore had Yesterday, Mull of Kintyre, Helter Skelter, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and The End.

During the second encore, he called up an audience member who held a sign asking McCartney to sign her arm, promising she wouldn't sell it on eBay, quite to his amusement. He signed it on the condition that she sticks to her promise.

He performed Mull of Kintyre with the kilted Paris-Port Dover Pipe Band, which was a great addition to the show.

The energy completely changed from the first two-thirds of the show—more of a concert-like performance—to the last portion, encompassing the final few songs of the main set and the encores, which become more of a party. Instead of sitting and listening, almost everyone was standing, dancing, and clapping along.

It almost could have been two separate shows—but I suppose that's what happens when the performer has such a huge catalogue of material.

It isn’t to say the beginning section was worse, but the second portion is where McCartney truly grabbed every person in the audience and pulled them into the show.

The spread of ages within the audience was huge, with little kids as well as older folks in attendance.

I didn't come into the show hoping to relive past music moments like many of the audience members clearly were. I’ll admit I only knew most of the songs from hearing them in my Dad's car as I grew up.

But it was a great show, and an incredible experience, and I never appreciated the Beatles and McCartney as much as I did that night.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Canadian content in LA exhibit

In Los Angeles recently for a “girls’ trip” to visit an LA friend, our little Toronto group visited the Skirball Cultural Center (, a Jewish museum where I would have been happy to spend more time.

Enjoyed the Jews on Vinyl exhibit, on now until Sept. 5. It features a display of record album covers from the 1940s to 1980s in a room with comfortable seating and headsets so visitors can listen to the music.

The mix of “American Jewish” albums includes cantorial and even Christmas music by Jewish artists, and ranges from the Barry Sisters (whose Yiddish albums my grandfather liked) to parodist Allan Sherman (more my parents’ generation) to Barbra Streisand, Barry Manilow and Neil Diamond (whose music still resonates for me).

But my personal favourite – the one I least expected to see – was a 1977 album by the Stan Hiltz Orchestra, which I remember as a popular Toronto wedding band in the ’70s and ’80s.

The orchestra, which had a 38-year run, started in 1965 as a rock ’n’ roll band, Hiltz told me when I reached him this week by phone. Kosher Style, the band’s only album, was a promotional item used as a giveaway at weddings and bar mitzvahs. It was also distributed in the United States, where it was heard on Jewish radio stations.

The album is included in the book, And You Shall Know Us By the Trail of Our Vinyl: The Jewish Musical Past As Told By the Records We Have Loved and Lost, a couple of copies of which were on hand at the exhibit.

It was fun to happen on some local content, especially when we noticed the CN Tower on the album cover.

And we didn’t realize until we arrived at the museum that admission is free on Thursday. Two nice surprises in one afternoon.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Which Jewish women top your list?

The theme of The CJN's 2010 Rosh Hashanah supplement will be "Which Jewish Women Top The List?"

It will be highlighting the lives and contributions of 16 Jewish women, all of them prominent, but not all of them well-known today - who have made significant contributions to Jewish life and Jewish history.

The list of 16 will sweep across the wide swath of Jewish history over the last 500 years.

The women selected will have left marks in the world on the Arts, Literature, Academia, Scholarship, Politics and Social Action. This supplement will aim to inform and instruct The CJN's readers about the lives of these women and hopefully inspire readers through the awareness of the rich, resplendent history of which readers may only have scant knowledge.

We here at The Shmooze invite you, our dedicated followers and all CJN readers, to submit your Top 4 picks in our comments section below.

Thank you and we look forward to comparing and contrasting your picks with ours.

The CJShmooze Team

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Changing of the Guard at JUMP

Top: Debbie Osiel
In a late day communication from JUMP, Debbie Osiel the Jewish Urban Meeting Place's founding director, announced with mixed emotions she has resigned effective Friday July 23rd. Osiel leaves the organization after three years, founding it in 2007 working alongside trip co-ordinator Shlomo Buzaglo. In Osiel's parting words she says, "I have had the opportunity to work with an unbelievably talented and passionate team of professionals, meet amazing new friends and be part of an organization that is truly making an impact in the Toronto Jewish Community."

Although Osiel will be moving on to a new professional venture, JUMP will remain close to her heart and she looks forward to continuing to serve the community as a volunteer. On occasion, she will undoubtedly involve herself though less officially instead as a participant with JUMP's activities.

We at The CJN and on behalf of our Young Professional network at Heebonics wish Osiel all the best in her future endeavours and on-going community participation. We thank her for all the good works she has put forth.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Torontonian shines on home turf in Rookie Blue

From strength to strength. Ameri-Canadian actor and native Torontonian Gregory Smith, has found success again. He has twice now landed roles as an angst-ridden Jewish youth. Smith is probably still best known by many for playing Ephram Brown for four seasons on the WB’s critically acclaimed series Everwood. He co-starred alongside Treat Williams and fellow Canadian - also now an ABC network alum from Brothers and Sisters - Emily VanCamp of Port Perry, ON. Smith returned to TV on June 24th with another Jewish character: Dov Epstein in Rookie Blue.

Rookie Blue, which airs Thursday nights at 9 EST on both ABC and Global, is filmed in Toronto and stars five Canadian actors in the roles of rookie police officers working the inner streets of Canada’s biggest city. Smith’s character is described as a “young Jewish hipster cop” and asthma-prone adrenaline junkie who idolized Starsky and Hutch as a kid – to the disapproval of his hippie parents.

Just announced yesterday after airing only 3 of its first season's 13 episode order, the show has delivered record breaking numbers to the letter network. The highest numbers from its summer premiere schedule in the last six years. 7 million viewers have tuned in thus far and an additional 2 million or so from Canada. The show has been green lit for a second season which will resume later this year once the first season has wrapped.

Smith has a knack for playing off against top talent who are quite appealing to watch. For the purpose of the press junkets, the fantastic chemistry he elicits from his co-stars can be seen from the interviews he gives, alongside yet another fellow Canadian Missy Peregrym. Peregrym who is also a WB/CW alum was previously seen in the series Reaper which ended a two season run last year and before that was the shape shifting agent Candice of "The Company" in the first season of NBC's one time hit Heroes.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

My G20 experience

Special to The CJN

TORONTO — On Sunday, June 27, a day after I watched members of the so-called Black Bloc destroy parts of downtown Toronto, I took to the street again with my camera.

I ended up watching the crowd of nearly 1,0000 people march peacefully to Queen Street and Spadina Avenue, where they were met by at least 100 police officers.

The demonstrators began to have some sort of street party in the middle of the intersection, with music playing and people dancing. Many people turned it into a sit-in.

The police had already blocked any access to Spadina Avenue heading north, and within a matter of minutes, Queen Street West was also blocked. At that point I realized that I should probably leave, as I was not there to demonstrate against the G20, but just to take pictures.

Within seconds of my decision, groups of riot police showed up in full gear to block off the remaining exits from the intersection, as well as to take over the positions of the police on bicycles.

We were never once given a warning to leave and at this point were barred from exiting the intersection.

In groups of four, riot police officers would enter the crowd, grab someone by the neck and arrest them.

The police began to close in on what would become known as the “human box,” hitting their batons against their shields, and yelling, “Move!”

My first instinct was to stick with members of the media. I immediately saw Francis D’Souza from CityTV, who seemed very shaken up, and stood next to him, as I assumed the police wouldn’t harm or arrest members of the media. The members of the accredited press got together and negotiated their release with police, only to be put in zip ties once they exited.

As it started pouring rain (I later learned that Toronto was under a severe thunderstorm watch), I immediately started looking through my phone to see who could help me and other innocent bystanders around me to get out of this situation.

I was standing next to a man who was out walking his dog, as well as a couple who was going out for dinner, and many other people who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. I urgently got in contact with a reporter I knew from the local news station CP24, who managed to broadcast me live via phone on the station.

Within minutes, the staff at CP24 had contacted the mayor, chief of police and the head of the integrated security unit, all of whom would not comment on the situation.

After nearly two hours of standing in the rain and pressure on public officials by the media, those that were left in the “human box” were allowed to leave, while close to 150 people were arrested.

Soaking wet, freezing, hungry and needing a bathroom for the past six hours, I learned that this was a weekend that City of Toronto would never forget.

Sammy Katz, 23, is an active member of the Jewish community on campus.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Lousy Money Manager

Dear Ella,

My friend, Cindy, is a lovely woman, but she has no sense when it comes to money. Cindy is the type of gal who has to have everything – the latest trendy outfit, pair of shoes, car. She has her nails done every week and is forever going to her masseuse. The problem is that she has no money! She lives off some money her parents left her, but that will soon be gone. She has no savings, no RRSPs, no real estate. Her car is leased, her condo is rented and her credit cards are maxed out.

She has come to me for a loan from time to time, but I’ve always managed to weasel out of giving it to her. I feel like I’m standing by and watching my friend self-destruct. At this rate, she’s going to end up homeless.

How do I get through to her?

Lousy Money Manager

Dear Lousy Money Manager,

Cindy may be spending to fill a void. This excessive spending behaviour is no different than any other addiction.

Being a close friend, you have to care enough to actually get involved. You must call her out on what you see and not let her make excuses for her actions. Are you prepared to take her by the hand and lead her through the steps she will have to go through? If you are, here are some practical measures to help Cindy.
For starters, you need to get her to admit she’s in trouble. This will be the hardest part. Let her know what you’ve noticed and try to scare her into reality. Be honest and tell her why you won’t lend her money. If she’s willing to disclose her financial situation, you can show her on paper how she’s setting herself up for disaster.

If you can get through this first step, you can move on to a positive solution. Help Cindy come up with a budget. Write down every expense she has and every bit of money she has to work with. See if she’s willing to be accountable for her spending. This is a huge undertaking, and you need to decide if you can make this commitment. You might want to suggest getting a professional involved.

Don’t be surprised if Cindy isn’t willing to listen, but feel good knowing that at least you’ve planted the seed of concern. Let her know you will be there when she comes to terms with the fact that she needs help.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Bibi's address re: Gilad Schalit

On the anniversary of Gilad Schalit's fourth year in captivity at the hands of Hamas, and with the whole of Israel fixated on the conclusion of the 12-day Free Gilad March – organized by his parents, Noam and Aviva – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to the national airwaves last Thursday night to give the following address to his country:

It's hard to imagine how to deal with such a situation. As a parent, the phrase "by any means necessary" comes to mind. And I'd certainly be in that mindset if one of my children was taken hostage. There would be no convincing me otherwise. But, if one can, one needs to put themselves in Bibi's position as well.

Thousands of supporters joined the Schalit family on the ninth day of their protest march calling for the release of the abducted IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, rallying in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square. Yellow poster reads "Gilad still lives." [Kfir Sivan/Israel Sun photo]

Last Friday, Hamas rejected Israel's offer to release 1,000 prisoners, none of whom would be permitted in the West Bank and would not include mass murderers, as Netanyahu said. And so Gilad continues to languish... somewhere. No one has ever been allowed to see him and verify his well-being. Save for this video release of him reading a newspaper on Sept. 14, 2009, there's been no communication from his captors about his state of health or location.

The Schalits and Netanyahu will likely meet again later this month after Gilad's parents camp out in front of Netanyahu's residence to protest the government's refusal to meet all demands from Hamas in exchange for Gilad's freedom.

What position do you take?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Let's hope push doesn't come to shove at Pride Parade

Special to The CJN

For anyone who loves Toronto, the last few days have been pretty hard to bear. The G8/G20 vandals, visigoths and huns were not only at our door, they seemed determined to smash it down on a madcap spree of wanton destruction. We’ve seen police cars torched, store windows smashed, police officers assaulted by a fringe group of rage-fueled radicals hiding like wolves in sheep’s clothing amidst flocks of more peaceful protesters.

When apprehended or detained, the “Black-Bloc” Twitter activists predictably screamed about how their rights to free speech and assembly were being infringed upon, when in fact they were merely using these civil liberties as a cloak for their criminal behaviour. Their contempt for law and order seems just as colossal as their sense of entitlement to rampage and destroy as they please.

In a way, Toronto has lost its virginity in this rampant weekend of broken glass. But guess what? It’s not over yet. Even as we sweep up the sidewalks, we face a very real prospect of more ugliness unfolding here next Sunday July 4.

The Toronto Gay Pride Parade wasn’t supposed to be like this. The annual street party for LGBT rights should be all about celebrating one’s sexual identity as well as embracing the positive values of diversity, inclusiveness and acceptance.

But as many of us have witnessed, Pride has been hijacked by a bullying group of one-issue activists, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (“QuAIA”). QuAIA holds that it is their fundamental right to falsely brand Israel an apartheid state, thereby demonizing Israel and, by extension, the normative Jewish community. The implication is clear: all Jews who support Israel are racists. Many Jewish Torontonians (and there are 200,000 of us in the Greater Toronto Area) say that such malicious labeling makes them feel unwelcome and unsafe at Pride.

As my brother, lawyer Martin Gladstone, pointed out in his powerful documentary film “Reclaiming Our Pride”, QuAIA’s message has absolutely nothing to do with Pride’s mandate and violates the city’s non-discrimination policy. Martin’s film documented QuAIA’s raised fists, military garb, crossed-out swastika and the chant, “Fist by fist, blow by blow, apartheid state has got to go,” which the rabble shouted as they marched. Put plainly, that’s a call for the destruction of Israel in only slightly more veiled language than Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran might use.

Normally, our society permits such reckless and inflammatory rhetoric as the price of free speech. But we have a right to demand more civil discourse when our tax dollars are paying for it. Like all not-for-profits, Pride is obliged to abide by the city’s non-discrimination policy as a condition of funding. You can’t promote hate and intolerance in the public square on public funds.

After city councillor Giorgio Mammoliti introduced a council motion to defund the parade, Pride's board announced it was giving QuAIA -- or at least the term “Israeli Apartheid” -- the boot. On June 9 executive director Traci Sandilands, in a letter explaining the decision, outlined that if Pride allowed QuAIA to stay, it stood to lose funding and sponsorships worth more than $660,000, the participation of more than 50 groups, street permits, and cancellations of large parts of the celebration. She added that Pride faced “immediate bankruptcy" if it allowed QuAIA to march.

Their sole raison-d’etre threatened, QuAIA’s members and supporters screamed censorship when told they must respect the city’s conditions. Under the ridiculous premise that their civil rights had been curtailed, they roused supporters and caused a ruckus. Ultimately, they managed to convince Pride they were not really a poison pill after all and might easily be swallowed without fatal consequences.

All this happened on the quiet, as Pride was happily taking the city’s cheque for $123,000 to the bank. Only then did it announce, with truly breathtaking duplicity, that it was going to readmit QuAIA back into the parade. Mammoliti and the city councillors who backed his motion are understandably outraged at what Mammoliti has described as a purposeful deceit, and have put forth another motion demanding repayment. Torontonians should let their city councillors know that they regard Pride's "take the money and run" behaviour as unethical and scandalous.

Many city residents feel angry and upset. The Jewish community has a right to feel gratuitously antagonized, and abandoned by Mayor David Miller, who failed to provide the vitally needed leadership that should have been there from the beginning. If this had happened under Mel Lastman's watch, he never would have put up with QuAIA's antics for a moment.

Instead of voting with their feet by keeping away, the gay Jewish group Kulanu, the Canadian Jewish Congress and a host of other organizations are calling for more Jewish participation at Pride, not less. “We don’t like to surrender ground to the extremists,” Congress CEO Bernie Farber explained. Kulanu and many others plan to march with banners proudly proclaiming solidarity with Israel, the biggest champion of gay rights in the Middle East. But as some have observed, QuAIA’s divisive and hateful messaging promotes a “punch-counter punch” culture that, if tempers get inflamed, could be taken too literally by some in attendance.

Members of the Jewish Defense League of Canada and other defenders of Israel have also announced they are planning to be at the parade “to confront Pro Hamas hate.” Participants are being encouraged to bring signs to “expose the murder of gays in Islamic countries.”

Hopefully, push won’t come to shove this Sunday and things won’t turn out as they did in August 1933, when some foolish young punks unfurled a swastika flag at a baseball game involving a Jewish team in Toronto’s Christie Pitt Park. Perhaps you've heard of Toronto's Christie Pitt riot? The fighting went on for three days.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Noam Katz - Rabbi, Musician and Dean

Hard news media seems to really be waking up to the fact that social media, used as a tool for the aggregation and dissemination of news and newsy material, is quickly becoming a go to source. Many are more easily connected now to Facebook, Twitter and Blackberry BBM's for more up-to-the-minute and up close visual coverage than they are to accessing a television set.
Recently, if not for a posting on the Union for Reform Judaism Camps Facebook page, and an announcement from the Foundation of Jewish Camps website, we would have missed out on hearing that a great artist and recently minted Reform rabbi from HUC (Hebrew Union College) Los Angeles, Noam Katz, has moved his family to Toronto.
Heebonics caught up with Katz, just after the 2009 URJ Biennial. Katz is known for leading crowds of people from teens to their 40's in traditional prayers and rhythms, inspired by Jewish communities around the world. When he was last here in Toronto, he played songs from his latest album A Drum in Hand in front of 3,500 people.

Here's a sample track Sim Shalom from his third studio album:

Starting this summer, he takes on a new dual position with Camp George and the Leo Baeck Day School, as the Dean of Jewish Living. His music – as Vicky Tobianah previously reported for us – has transcended barriers, making his audience feel like part of a global community. Now for our children, in his new capacity, he will undoubtedly and successfully, seamlessly blend together formal and experiential education.