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 ├ętudes 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?