By BERNIE BELLAN Maria Tarasova-Chomard is a young (24 year old) student, originally from Russia, now living in Paris, who will be presenting a talk on Western Canadian Jewish anarchists for the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada on Sunday, October 3rd.
In the September 1st article I noted that I would have more about my interview with Maria in our September 15 issue, including some detailed information about certain Jewish individuals who were leading anarchists in Winnipeg in the early part of the 20th century.
I should also note that Maria is the first student winner of the Switzer-Cooperstock prize, given for an original essay on a subject relating to Western Canadian Jewish history. The Switzer-Cooperstock prize is awarded biennially, with the new student prize awarded in alternate years.
Returning to my conversation with Maria, which occurred over Zoom on August 24 while Maria was in her Paris home, I asked her “whether there were any names of well-known Jewish anarchists from Western Canada that” she could “throw out for the benefit of readers”?
Maria responded: “Yes, there were the Prasow brothers – Zalman and Israel – they were the leaders of the movement actually. Then there was Feivel (Frank) Simkin.”
Saying the name “Feivel Simkin” certainly triggered a greater interest on my part, since the Simkin name is so well known within the Jewish community. While I don’t want to preempt anything Maria might have to say during her talk on October 3rd, I’m sure reading the name “Simkin”, followed by the word “anarchist” might come as a bit of a surprise to at least some readers.
Following my conversation with Maria, I sent an email to Stan Carbone, curator of the Jewish Heritage Centre, in which I noted that Maria had said that Feivel Simkin was a leading anarchist in Winnipeg – which came as a surprise to me. I had known that Feivel Simkin had been the publisher of the Israelite Press, but beyond that, I knew nothing about the man.
So, Stan sent me a transcript of an interview that Roz Usiskin had conducted with Feivel Simkin in 1977, in which he tells his life story – also how he defines “anarchism”. Here is what he said at one point in the interview: “They believed that you should educate yourself, and then you didn’t need government to look after you.”
I said to Maria that I’d always been a little unclear how to define “anarchist”. I said to her that I thought the anarchist movement had begun in the late 19th century, but she said it actually began earlier than that – “in the beginning of the 19th century”, but the “period of the flourishing of the movement was really toward the end of the century”.
I asked Maria to give me “a Cole’s Notes definition of ‘anarchism’”.
Maria answered: “The most important aspect is that it’s a movement that believes in a society based on community, based on unity, and denies constraint and privilege.”
I asked: “But doesn’t it reject most forms of government authority?”
Maria responded: “Yes, but that comes from a rejection of constraint and privilege. Every state, every government (according to anarchists) is based on constraint and privilege – and hierarchy.”
As our conversation continued, I asked Maria how easy is it to actually identify individuals in the early 20th century in Winnipeg as “anarchists”?
She said it is difficult to do because “there are very few records and since the movement was essentially clandestine, they were actually paying attention not to keep evidence as to who was an anarchist, but when I talk about the ‘anarchist’ movement’ in my work, I talk not only about those who were directly involved in the organizations and activities of the organizations, but also everyone who was interested in the ideas – who called themselves radicals or libertarians.
“We can distinguish two circles. There was the core – the actual activists, the organizers – and there were those who participated in events, were sort of around”, but who couldn’t necessarily be described as ‘anarchists’.”
I asked what documentation might have existed that would have led Maria to conclude that the Prasow brothers and Feivel Simkin were the leaders of the anarchist movement?
Maria said it was mostly through “correspondence” among those three figures, especially correspondence between the Prasows and the leading American anarchist at the time, Emma Goldman (who actually stayed with the Prasows in their house at one time when she visited Winnipeg, Maria noted).
I wondered though, whether that correspondence would have been conducted in English or Yiddish – since Yiddish would have been the mother tongue of those early 20th century anarchists.
Maria explained that English was the preferred language of the anarchists, especially since Emma Goldman had insisted that anarchists’ writing be in English, so that it would be understood by “the generation born in America”.
As a result of this emphasis on the next generation, “a lot of their effort went into education,” Maria said.
Given the anarchists’ objection to governmental authority, I wondered whether there was a convergence between anarchism and the kibbutz movement, for instance, which was also predicted on a rejection of authority?
Maria suggested though that there was a fundamental divide between anarchism and Zionism. For anarchists, “the nation should either not exist or should only exist until there are not any nations at all. The Zionist movement (in contrast) was about Jewish nationalism. For anarchists, building the nation or an ethnic movement was not important at all.”
But, just how many identifiable anarchists were there in Winnipeg in the early part of the 20th century, I wondered? “Would they have been in the hundreds?” I asked Maria.
“Oh no,” she answered. “I’ve been able to identify only five or six of them.” (And yet, in Roz Usiskin’s interview with Feivel Simkin, he referred to Emma Goldman filling a hall with 700 attendees when she spoke in Winnipeg, so surely that must have been more than a passing interest in anarchy among a great many Winnipeg Jews in the early 20th century.)
Still, as Maria pointed out, “they may have been people who were simply interested in going to a talk.”
Was anarchism more than a “fringe movement” then? I asked.
“Oh yes,” Maria responded. “They were noticeable in the ideological landscape of the time, especially before (the Winnipeg General) Strike, in 1919. They were bringing about real change in the sense that their influence, their contribution to real projects, to social education was pretty noticeable –and pretty impressive, for the time. It wasn’t just a marginal group, even though it was a lot less numerous than some of the other currents.”
During our entire conversation, the discussion was confined to Jewish anarchists. I wondered, however, whether Maria had come across any references to non-Jewish anarchists during that period in the early 20th century?
“It’s not something I have found a lot of mention about,” Maria answered. “I know there was quite a lot of cooperation in the United States between Jewish and Italian anarchists – and with Spanish anarchists toward the 1930s, and with German groups” as well, “but in Canada it’s truly hard to say (whether there was much involvement by non-Jews in the anarchist movement). “I have not been able to find any mention of that.”
Winnipeg Jewish Theatre to open season with world premiere of “Pals”
By BERNIE BELLAN The opening show of Winnipeg Jewish Theatre’s 2023-24 season promises to be a clever and poignant take on relationships between men and women, when “Pals” makes its world premiere on November 9 in the Berney Theatre, running until November 19.
“Pals” is the third two-person show created by the team of Diane Flacks and Richard Greenblatt. Interestingly, when I spoke with Flacks and Greenblatt while they took a break from rehearsing the play in Toronto, they told me that their previous two two-person plays also had one word titles – with four letters in both: “Sibs” and “Care.”
“Pals” is the story of two friends, told over a 25-year time period. Their friendship survives many tribulations, including both characters entering and exiting many other relationships. The play uncovers the underlying tensions that permeate all friendships.
“Pals” opens with the two characters meeting for the first time. I asked Diane and Richard whether the notion of their having sex ever enters into the plot, but Richard was quick to exclaim, “We don’t have sex.”
Diane also noted that, in the case of her character, she is married to another woman. (Diane is a lesbian in real life.)
The fact that the characters maintain a friendship though becomes a source of friction within their respective relationships. It raises the question: Can you have an intimate, albeit platonic, relationship, with a member of the opposite sex all the while you’re in a physical relationship with someone else?
I asked whether the characters in “Pals” are Jewish (which both Diane and Richard are), and the answer was “yes.”
Both Diane and Richard have had past associations with the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre. Richard’s goes back a very long time – when he directed the critically acclaimed “League of Nathans” in 1995.
Diane Flacks appeared in a one-night performance of a show in 2021 called “25 Questions for a Jewish Mother,” which was a part of that year’s Tarbut festival. There were no in-person events that year, due to Covid, but “Jewish Mother” was available on Zoom and had a huge audience.
In addition to writing for the stage, Diane Flacks has written for TV, including Working the Engels, Baroness Von Sketch Show, Young Drunk Punk, PR, and The Broad Side.
Richard Greenblatt has performed in theatres across Canada and abroad, as well as in feature films, television and radio. He co-wrote 2 Pianos 4 Hands, which played on five continents and in over 150 cities since it opened in 1996.
Pals is directed by the internationally acclaimed director Jillian Keiley. More information, tickets and 5-show subscriptions can be found at: www.wjt.ca. You can also reach WJT by phone at (204) 477-7478.
To watch a preview video from Pals, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2W0VmHHFbA
Simkin Centre introduces Friday afternoon Shabbat services – open to all
By BERNIE BELLAN (Posted Oct. 31) The Simkin Centre held its first ever Friday afternoon Erev Shabbat service this past Friday (Oct. 27), led by Rabbi Matthew Leibl.
There were more than 30 residents in attendance, along with various other outside guests. The service was approximately 45 minutes long and was filled with stories and songs associated with Friday evening Shabbats – some from Rabbi Leibl’s own childhood and some from more recent years.
The Friday afternoon Erev Shabbat services are now to become a regular features at the Simkin Centre and are open to anyone to attend.
To watch a short clip of Rabbi Leibl introducing his first Friday afternoon service click https://youtu.be/hLSrV18K58o
The complete text of MP Marty Morantz’s speech at the community vigil for Israel on October 10
Tonight we are all Israelis!
Conservatives stand with Israel.
Pierre Poilievre stands with Israel.
On Saturday we woke up to unspeakable images.
We must stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel as it defends itself from these criminal and barbarous acts.
On Shabbat, Hamas brutally invaded Israel, invaded homes, killing hundreds, taking hostage hundreds.
More Jews were killed in Saturday’s attack than in any single day since the Holocaust.
Some 1500 human beings killed in a single day would be like 6000 Canadians being murdered in a single attack.
They were children, babies, men, women.
They were young people just out listening to music at a dance party.
This was an unprecedented brutal attack.
As we speak Hamas is threatening to execute innocent hostages.
This outrage cannot, must not stand.
Don’t let anyone tell you Hamas is the legitimate voice of the Palestinian people. It is not a government.
They are a genocidal murderous and evil death cult and they must be defeated.
But friends, we have seen evil before.
Jews have been persecuted for millennia, but we have survived.
Conservatives unequivocally condemn the invasion of Israel by Hamas terrorists and the sadistic violence that Hamas has carried out against innocent civilians.
Now is the time for moral clarity. There is no moral equivalency between democratic Israel and the butchers of Hamas.
There is no response, no matter how strong, that would be disproportionate to the crimes Hamas has committed.
Israel has the right to defend itself against these attacks and respond against the attackers – as any other country would.
Theodore Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, said, “If you will it, it is no dream.”
In 1948 that dream became a reality – a homeland in Israel, the promised land.
Working together Israelis turned a desert into an oasis.
An island of democracy surrounded by a sea of autocracy.
A Jewish state where Jews could live in peace free from fear and persecution.
Let there be no doubt. Israel is the ancient and indigenous homeland of the Jewish people.
We will not let the butchers of Hamas take that dream, long realized, away from us.
Many politicians will stand with Israel when it is easy.
But listen to what they say when it is hard.
They will talk about “both sides.”
I’m here to tell you that there is only one side.
The side of morality.
The side of democracy.
The side of Israel.
We see too often politicians at the United Nations unfairly singling out Israel for criticism.
I will always stand against the unfair singling out of the Middle East’s only democracy.
Already there are calls for Israel to deescalate.
I ask you.
Would any country deescalate after having its people slaughtered in cold blood?
I wish the people of Israel and its brave soldiers Godspeed on their mission to defend the promised land from pure evil.
As Prime Minister Stephen Harper said:
Through fire and water Canada will stand with you.
Am Yisrael Chai!