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Michael EskinBy MYRON LOVE
Michael Eskin has become the first chazan in Canadian history to be inducted into the Order of Canada. But it is not for his chazanishe efforts that the creator of the CD “Mostly Genesis With a Little Exodus” – Torah stories put to music for children and families – that the Government of Canada has chosen to honour him.


The prestigious honour is in recognition of his day job – as a world leader in canola research. His research over the past 43 years has contributed greatly to the success of the Canadian canola oil industry. The professor and former associate dean in the Department of Human Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of Human Ecology, University of Manitoba has written or co-written 14 scholarly books on food biochemistry, canola, edible oils and functional foods (his 14th book on Bitterness: Perception, Chemistry and Food Processing is in the final stages of production). Some of his books, he says, have been translated into Japanese, German, Malay, and Portuguese. He has published more than 130 research papers as well as over 60 chapters. Eskin says that he was informed about being inducted into the Order of Canada in early June. “It was a pleasant surprise,” he says modestly.
The scientist/chazan is originally from Birmingham in England. He did his voice training in his native Birmingham, where his father was a chazan and shoichet. The younger Eskin trained at the Birmingham School of Music and was soloist with the Birmingham Zimriya Society, participating in the Zimriya Choirs Festival in Israel in 1961.
He studied cantorial music with a local cantor and his father in Birmingham before moving to London to teach at Southbank University. While in London he sang with the famed London Jewish Male Voice Choir and continued his voice training with Benvenuto Finelli, principal tenor with Sadlers Wells Opera. While in London he also ran the Chelsea Synagogue, a small orthodox synagogue.

Eskin came to Winnipeg in 1968 to teach at the University of Manitoba in the Department of Foods and Nutrition (now the Department of Human Nutritional Sciences). At the University of Manitoba, he worked with the late Professor Marian Vaisey-Genser on canola oil developed by the late eminent plant breeder, Dr. Baldur Stefanson, one of the two founding fathers (along with Dr. Keith Downey of Saskatchewan) of canola.
“I began seriously studying and writing about canola in 1973,” he says. “I have been working on canola ever since, although I have several other areas of research - some interfacing with medicine. I worked for 30 years with Professor Vaisey Genser (who passed away in 2005) studying the chemical composition of canola, its performance and the stability of canola oil. I have continued my work on canola and was an expert in a patent infringement case in the USA because some of my research became quite important to the case. I continue working with a colleague on a new antioxidant and anticancer component in canola meal.”

Eskin has won a number of very prestigious awards in Canada and the USA for his lipid research. He is currently co-editor of Lipid Technology, a monthly international magazine on Lipids that is published by Wiley in Europe.

As for “Mostly Genesis With a Little Exodus”, his first CD, which he put out in 2008, he is happy to report that it is being used as a teaching tool in Jewish schools in Toronto and England.
He says that “Mostly Genesis” was several years in the making. “I had done some satirical writing, including some work for Sesame Street,” he says. “My wife Nella suggested that I do something with a Biblical theme.”
This CD covers some of the wondrous stories found in Genesis,” Eskin says. “In preparing the verses, I have tried to be as true to the text as possible while still making them interesting and fun to sing.”
The CD starts with the biblical story of the Creation and ends with Joseph and Pharaoh’s dreams. The final song was a Pesach rap that the university was so taken with that they made a video and put it on YouTube. The CD brings these stories to life with lyrics that are original and blended with different musical styles. These include folk, reggae, klezmer, and country music as well as rap.
Eskin notes that the music was arranged by his son, Josh, a local musician and teacher, who also plays accompaniment on the CD.
Eskin adds that former Winnipegger Jason Marantz, the past chief executive of the London School of Jewish Studies, created a teacher’s guide for the British Jewish School system using his CD that has now spread to many other countries in the world..
In recent years Eskin has become known for his Lipid raps, several of which are on YouTube. They are used in courses in universities in Canada and the USA. The University of Manitoba recently wrote an article on Eskin, the rapping professor, in TeachingLife, titled “The Professor who puts Phat in Fat.” A couple of months ago he had a phone call from Professor Oleg Medvedev of Moscow State University, asking for permission to use these raps in a nutrition centre he has established. They are now shown with  Russian subtitles underneath. The music on the raps was composed by his talented son, Ezra, who will soon be working on the next Lipid Rap.
As a cantor, Eskin has been involved in several Winnipeg cantorial concerts over the years and will once again be leading Yom Tov services at the Chavurat Tefila Synagogue.
Eskin’s official induction into the Order of Canada will take place at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa later this year or early in 2017.

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