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Winnipeg Jewish Theatre to present Canadian premiere of “The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk”

Isidora Kecman & David Greenberg
rehearsing a scene in the WJT production
of “The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk”

By BERNIE BELLAN Following upon the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre’s resounding success with its 2021 summertime production of “Dear Jack Dear Louise,” the WJT is once again about to present a play outdoors, beginning June 11, with the Canadian premiere of “The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk”.

Since I really knew nothing about this upcoming production, other than how it was described in an ad that ran in our last issue: “Art comes to life in this music-filled tale of the romance between Marc and Bella Chagall,” I thought I’d better contact WJT Artistic Director Ari Weinberg to give me a more complete description of what this play is all about.

Ari said: “It’s a play by Daniel Jamieson, who’s a British playwright. It tells the story of the relationship between Marc and Bella Chagall. It’s all about their love for each other and the history of their relationship – and his painting, and the story of their meeting in 1914 in Vitebsk, the revolution in Russia, how they survived pogroms together, built a life together, and when she passed away, he shared the stories and the notebooks that she wrote – so the play is all about creativity and love.”

I asked: “How is the play set? Is it dialogue between the two or is it reading out reminiscences – or letters (as was the case in “Dear Jack Dear Louise”)?”

Ari: “It’s sort of a memory play. It starts with Marc as an old man and then it goes back in time and we see various snippets of their relationship at various points in their lives. The time is a bit fluid – it’s mostly chronological, but there are a couple of moments when we go backward in time. It’s sort of like a dream play…it’s sort of like his paintings.

“There are scenes where they talk to each other, and there are scenes where they talk directly to the audience. We also have a pianist and a cellist to play this beautiful music – there are also dance sequences throughout the show.”

JP&N: “There’s no singing then?”

Ari: “There is. There are a couple of songs in the show.”

JP&N: “It sounds highly original. Where has this play been staged before now?”

Ari went on to describe how it was first staged by a British-based theatrical company known as “Knee high” which, unfortunately, was forced to close as a result of the hit that Covid took on almost all live theatrical productions.

“The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk” was first performed seven years ago, Ari explained – which also corresponded with his first year as WJT Artistic Director.

“It received rave reviews,” he noted, and it “toured a little bit in Britain.”

“I actually tried to get this play,” he said – “in the same year we did ‘Dr. Ruth.’”

At the time though, Ari continued, “Knee high” was actually hoping to tour the play throughout North America, including Canada, and they wanted to do the Canadian premiere themselves (even though their planned tour didn’t include Winnipeg), “so we didn’t get the rights.”

“After the pandemic,” Ari said, after the success of “Dear Jack Dear Louise” I began thinking of other shows we could produce and this one came up.”

Like “Dear Jack Dear Louise,” “The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk” is going to be performed in a tent.

“Chagall painted on a canvas. This play will be performed inside a canvas,” Ari observed. “How do we bring people into the world of Chagall? This play seemed like the perfect play to do.”

This will be the first production outside of the UK production then – which toured in the States, Ari said, but “this will be the Canadian premiere – the first production to ever happen that was not the original production.

“The really other beautiful thing about our production,” Ari continued, “is we’re doing it in the round – so the tent will be set up and the set is a giant circle.”

As far as the performers go, Ari said “We have two incredible young performers: Daniel Greenberg, who is from Toronto, and Isidora Kecman, who is also from Toronto. They sing, they dance, they act – they’re incredible performers.”

As I was preparing to end my conversation with Ari, I added this comment: “Marc Chagall; he was quite the surrealist. I can just imagine what your set is going to look like – dancing cows and, of course, the moon prominently featured – right?”

Ari: “Wait till you see it. There are props that evoke his paintings – we’ve got a cow and a rooster that look like they came right out of his paintings.”

Sounds like a real trip!

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Shaarey Zedek renovation update

Shaarey Zedek renovations are now well underway. Here’s a video posted by Shaarey Zedek about the renovations:

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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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