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“Festival of New Yiddish Culture opens to rave reviews

Beyond the Pale performed in front of a large crowd at the Berney Theatre on Thursday, Feb. 8

By SHARON LOVE The Festival of New Yiddish Culture ‘Put A Yid On It’ is on from February 7th to the 11th, 2024. As stated in the program, movies, music and more is what it’s all about.

As of Friday morning (Feb. 9) we are at the halfway point of the festival. Two Yiddish films ‘Yiddle With His Fiddle’ and ‘The Light Ahead’ have both played at the Berney Theatre.

On Wednesday evening at the Handsome Daughter Cafe, a standing room only crowd took in the book launch of ‘Yiddish Cinema:The Drama of Troubled Communication’. Co-authors Jonah Corne and Monika Vrecar along with moderator Simone Mahrenholz provided an interesting discussion about the thoughts, philosophy and research that led the authors to write this text. Of special note is that Corne, Vrecar and Mahrenholz are all on staff at the University of Manitoba.

What would a Yiddish festival be without music? And lively musical as well! The opening concert was held at the Berney Theatre on Thursday evening and featured ‘Beyond The Pale’. This Toronto based acoustic ensemble which has been around from the late ‘90s started out playing classic Klezmer music. Over the years they have broadened their scope to include Balkan, Reggae, Romanian music and much more, in their repertoire. This award winning group has travelled the world while performing at music festivals and concerts. Members of the ensemble are leader Eric Stein on mandolin and vocals (Yiddish and English), Bret Higgins on base, Martin Van De Ven on clarinet, Milos Popovic on accordion, and Brigette Dajczer on violin. These musicians had smiles on their faces all evening. They seemed to enjoy making music together as much as the audience of about 150 people enjoyed being at the concert. It was pointed out that this was Brigette’s first gig with this band. No one in their wildest dreams would have suspected this. She played with energy and enthusiasm all evening and never missed a beat!

Eric Stein, who is presently the Artistic Director of Toronto’s Ashkenaz Festival, introduced the numbers on the program and had a delightful rapport with the audience. During the concert he paid tribute to Winnipeg’s own ‘Finjan’ who are definitely pioneers in the revival of klezmer music and Yiddish culture.

The program was eclectic and included both material from years back as well as numbers from their newest CD. The playful tune ‘Turkish Delight’ is their original piece, in tribute to the late Irving Fields (Yitzhak Schwartz) who was a well known pianist and lounge artist. Another number, a combination of a Hora and Bulgarian music was very melodic. ‘Ruckus in Ralia’ with its strong beat was written in memory of the group’s trip to Serbia. Chazan-ja is a mix of klezmer and reggae music and traces of the Yiddish song ‘Dei Muzinke Oysgegebn’ could be heard.

Speaking of Yiddish numbers, the first song was early in the program. It was a comical love song written by Aaron Lebedeff, a Yiddish song writer and actor. ‘A Glezela Yash’ a cute drinking song and an old favourite ‘Az Der Rebbe Zingt’ had people humming along. A song about Shabbes in remembrance of Yiddish theatre star and singer Mina Berne was also on the program. With Stein on vocals these numbers added to the versatility of this group and their emphasis on reclaiming the Yiddish language through music.

As the program was coming to an end the music kept getting livelier. If, after close to two hours on stage, with a short intermission, you would have thought that these performers would be toning down, you were definitely wrong. The final number, a medley of Bulgar music, featured Van De Ven on clarinet who thrilled the crowd with a very very long held note.

After the standing ovation the encore number was a high energy series of Jewish wedding tunes. You could feel the excitement in the air! This is the third time in almost twenty years that Beyond The Pale has performed here and judging by the reaction from the audience, they will be welcomed back anytime!
The second half of this festival is also jam packed. Two more films will be shown, and the second concert features Montreal based Socalled(Josh Dolgin) in performance at the West End Cultural Centre. Bagels and a Bisl Yiddish with Prof. Itay Zutra is on tap for Sunday morning. An I.L.Peretz Folk School Alumni mini reunion will wrap up the festival late Sunday afternoon.

Kudos to Shira Newman, the Festival Producer as well as the Coordinator of Arts and Older Adult Programming at the Rady J.C.C. Shira had a vision to mount a Yiddish festival and it has now come to fruition. Thanks go out to the Rady staff and volunteers and to Lionel Steiman, Rochelle Zucker, Itay Zutra and Sharon Love of the organizing committee. The support from sponsors the Asper Foundation, the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba, the I.L.Peretz Folk School Endowment Trust and the Rady J.C.C is very much appreciated. This festival has provided an opportunity for Winnipeg audiences to celebrate the richness of the Yiddish culture and language.

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Winnipeg Council of Rabbis criticizes suggestion that Simkin Centre ought to offer non-kosher meals – as well as kosher meals

Rabbi Yosef Benarroch

We received the following letter from the Winnipeg Council of Rabbis in response to the suggestion that the Simkin Centre ought to offer non-kosher meals (Read story at🙂

Dear Bernie
We read your opinion piece on kashrut at the Simkin Centre with a certain amount of shock, as you advocated that the Simkin Centre not be a kosher facility. After a long discussion we had with food services at Simkin, it is clear that your statements about the quality of food are simply wrong. Residents at Simkin receive meals that are on par with all other similar facilities in Manitoba. The menu includes chicken both dark and white, meats including roast beef, ground meat, and much more. The only item not offered at Simkin that is offered at other similar homes is pork, which we hope you are not advocating for. 

In addition, every major Jewish organization in Winnipeg has a Kashrut policy in place. The reason for this is simple. Kashrut is a Jewish value — and for many, a core Jewish value —  and it is the responsibility of Jewish organizations to uphold Jewish values. How odd is it that Winnipeg’s “Jewish” newspaper would be advocating for treif food, and in your words  will “never give up the fight” to make sure it happens. A Jewish newspaper should be advocating for Jewish values, period. 

Finally, Kashrut allows the Simkin Centre to be an inclusive Jewish institution that accommodates the needs of the entire Jewish community. There are many residents and families that consider kashrut as an integral element in how they express their Judaism. They would have no other place to send their loved ones if the Simkin Centre was not Kosher.

The vast majority of Jews in Winnipeg want to see the Simkin Centre continue to be Kosher, and we hope you will either reconsider your position or not press a minority position onto the majority. We, as the rabbis of the Winnipeg Council of Rabbis, all endorse and fully support this position.

Winnipeg Council of Rabbis

  • Rabbi Yosef Benarroch, Adas Yeshurun Herzlia
  • Rabbi Allan Finkel, Temple Shalom
  • Rabbi Matthew Leibl, Simkin Center
  • Rabbi Anibal Mass, Shaarey Tzedek
  • Rabbi Kliel Rose, Eitz Chayim

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Bernie Bellan asks: If kashrut is so intrinsic to Jewish organizations in Winnipeg, why was the Rady JCC allowed to make its annual sports dinner non-kosher?

Bernie Bellan

Here’s a question for the Council of Rabbis – whose letter tearing a strip off me for daring to question the necessity of serving fully kosher meals to every resident of the Simkin Centre appears on this website: Have you ever considered the total hypocrisy inherent in your insisting that kashrut is vital to the Simkin Centre, while the Rady JCC some years ago abandoned the requisite that its annual sports dinner be kosher?
The sports dinner asks anyone attending whether they’d like a kosher meal (which is what I suggested the Simkin Centre could also do) and, from what I’ve been told, the number of individuals who respond in the affirmative can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
I don’t recall the council of rabbis kicking up a huge fuss over that change. But, to be consistent guys, (and by the way, only one of the five rabbis on that council is actually a subscriber to The Jewish Post, butI’m glad you’re all such vociferous readers), I expect you to demand that the Rady JCC sports dinner revert to being fully kosher.
After all, as Rabbi Benarroch so succinctly puts it in his letter: “Kashrut is a Jewish value — and for many, a core Jewish value —  and it is the responsibility of Jewish organizations to uphold Jewish values.”
I won’t hold my breath waiting for you to publicly demand that the sports dinner revert to being fully kosher. As I recall, the reason that kashrut was abandoned as a prerequisite for the dinner was because of the cost. So, when Simkin Centre CEO Laurie Cerqueti wrote me in an email,  “I know for this year as of the end of October we are over budget on food by $150,000. We must continue to fund any costs on food from our existing annual budget or through fundraised dollars,” I fully expect the council of rabbis – and anyone else who is adamant that the Simkin Centre remain absolutely kosher to join in a campaign to raise that $150,000 so that Simkin can remain kosher without cutting into other areas of operation. How about it, guys?
My point in advocating for Simkin to modify its kashrut policy was to be as realistic as the people behind the sports dinner were in recognizing that the cost of a full adherence to kashrut can be prohibitively expensive. But, the sports dinner still allows anyone who wants a kosher meal to have one. That’s all that I was advocating for the Simkin Centre. So, tell me rabbis: Where do you draw the line from one Jewish institution to another? Or, does the slippery slope that you’re on also have an off ramp that allows you to abandon principles when it’s expedient to do so?

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Ben Carr explains why he called for Israeli PM Netanyahu’s resignation

On January 29 a conference was held in Jerusalem titled “Settlement Brings Security.” Although the conference was not organized by the Israeli government per se, 12 members of the ruling right-wing coalition government of Israel were in attendance, including two cabinet ministers: National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.
At the conference strong support was given to rebuilding Jewish settlements in Gaza and the northern part of the occupied West Bank. Ben Gvir has also called for the forced resettlement of Palestinians from Gaza to outside of Gaza.
In response to that conference, Winnipeg South Centre Liberal MP Ben Carr suggested publicly that it would be in the best interests of the Middle East and the world if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were to leave office.

According to a CBC report, “Carr said that he has major concerns about the Israeli government and he hopes Netanyahu will be, in his words, ‘gone sooner rather than later.’
“Carr, who is Jewish, says he does not support politicians on the far right of the spectrum in Israel who display maps of Gaza with Israeli flags.
” ‘Governments change,’ said Carr, and Israel is still an ally that has an important security role to play in the region.
” ‘It’s very, very important that we remember that governments come and governments go, and our relationships with states are deeper than the relationship that we may have with the current government in power,” he said Wednesday, January 31.
” ‘My hope is that Netanyahu will be gone sooner rather than later, because I think that’s in the best interests of everybody in the region, and I think that’s in the best interests of everybody around the world.”
” Carr also made the point that the Liberal Party is a ‘microcosm of society,’ and there are various views about the Israel-Hamas conflict within his caucus.”
“Throughout the conflict, a handful of Liberal MPs, including Carr, have been vocal about their opinions on Canadian government policy — and not always aligned with it.
” ‘It makes sense that these conversations are happening and I don’t think that it’s a source of negativity or division,’ Carr said.”

On Monday, February 5, we contacted Ben Carr, asking him whether he would consent to an interview in which he could elaborate upon the criticism that he had leveled at Prime Minister Netanyahu the previous week.

Following is that interview:
Carr began by saying, “I want to start by responding, Bernie, to a point that I know some have raised – and there are often questions about whether it’s appropriate or the place of a Member of Parliament in Canada to comment on the affairs of another nation, in this case, Israel.
“What I want to say to that is that when the domestic affairs of that nation spill over into the domestic affairs of my nation, our nation, and impact those that I represent to the degree that this conflict has, I feel it is reasonable and responsible for me to lend my voice to the conversation. As I have said previously in written statements, throughout the course of this conflict, I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu has been an obstacle to peace in the region.
“The most direct and specific examples for me, in which this has been highlighted in recent weeks, include two things: One, his refusal to accept that a two state solution is a viable path forward, even if Hamas is not the representative body at the table. And secondly, his refusal or reluctance to criticize publicly or condemn the behaviour or views being presented by those on the extreme right of the political spectrum in Israel.
“I believe that continues to pose an obstacle to a peace that is so desperately desired.”

I asked Carr whether he thought national Jewish organizations, such as CIJA or B’nai Brith “should also be leveling the same kind of criticism at the Netanyahu government?”

Carr responded: “I’m not going to give any direction to what the leadership of national organizations may want to do or choose to say about this particular issue. That’s their business, not mine. I am happy, as always, to engage in conversations as I have from the beginning of this conflict with the leadership of both national Jewish organizations and local Jewish organizations.
“But the opinions that I’m sharing are the opinions of a Member of Parliament who is faced with the challenges brought to me by constituents daily in regards to this conflict. So my comments are in relation to the responsibility I feel I have as a leader at the federal level for people in Winnipeg South Center.
“So my commentary is rooted in that. What national Jewish organizations want to say, or feel they should say, are decisions that rest with them, and it is certainly not my intention, or desire, or business to provide them with any guidance on that front.”

JP&N: “Have you received any feedback following the reports in the media about what you had said?”
Carr: “Anytime a Member of Parliament comments on policy publicly, and particularly when a Jewish Member of Parliament, which I am, comments publicly on an issue as divisive, challenging, and sensitive as the Middle East, there will undoubtedly be reaction from folks with varying perspectives on the issue. In this instance, I would say that I have been met with more positive and favourable reactions from folks who also believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu currently poses an obstacle to peace in the Middle East than from those who believe that he is moving the region in a direction that they would like to see.”

JP&N: “What about from among your own colleagues in the Liberal Jewish caucus? Have you had reaction from them?”
Carr: “I’m not going to share the granular details of my discussions with colleagues as much of that happens behind closed doors. However, I would say, without speaking for them, because it is not my job to speak on behalf of my colleagues, that much like the reaction I have had from constituents, the reaction from those I work with, both within the Liberal Party and beyond, has been less on the critical side of things, vis-a-vis the comments I made about Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

JP&N: “One final question: Do you plan on pursuing this course of, of trying to raise the issue how Netanyahu is an obstacle to peace, or was that your one kick at the cat, so to speak?”
Carr: ” I want to be very clear about something. The decision as to who leads the Israeli government belongs in the hands of the Israeli people. I have not suggested, and I am not now suggesting, that in any way, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government or leadership is illegitimate. Nor do I believe that any foreign state, whether allies or not, should have a say in dictating the outcome of those elections.

“However, to the point I made earlier, I don’t believe it is unreasonable or irresponsible to lend a voice as an elected official on an issue with domestic consequences for those that I represent to comment. Bernie, I am not in Ottawa and the Member of Parliament for Winnipeg South Centre to focus only on one issue.
“There are dozens of preoccupations and issues on the minds of the people I represent, inclusive of climate change, affordability, health care, reconciliation, housing, that they expect me to be advocating for and representing their interests on in Ottawa. The Middle East is an issue that I am confronted with.
“It’s a serious issue. It’s a challenging issue. It’s a divisive and sensitive issue. My work will continue to be focused on representing a wide array. of the issues that matter to people in Winnipeg South Center. So, so far as my commentary regarding the conflict in the Middle East is concerned on principle, when I feel or where I feel people expect or deserve to hear from me, I will speak up and lend my voice.
“However, the issues facing the Middle East at the moment do not occupy the only piece of real estate in my mind or in my energy as it is concerned to the work I undertake as a Member of Parliament.”

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