By MYRON LOVE
Angela Orosz-Richt is greatly concerned about the rising tide of Anti-Semitism in the world.
“It seems that the world hasn’t learned anything from the Holocaust,” she said. “There are still a lot of people who believe that all Jews are rich and influential, that we control Hollywood and the media. The internet is full of garbage and we are seeing rising levels and Anti-Semitic attacks in Germany and France and even Brooklyn.
“And it’s not just the old Anti-Semitism. The lies about Israel are outrageous.”
She further noted that half of Canadians can’t name one concentration camp and many don’t know what Auschwitz was.
“There is still so much more (in terms of education) that needs to be done,” she said.
Orosz-Richt has in recent years taken a leading role in Holocaust education. On Thursday, February 27, the youngest survivor of Auschwitz was in Winnipeg for the first time speaking on behalf of the March of the Living to a full house at the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue.
Her appearance in Winnipeg came at the behest of Carrie Shenkarow, chair of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg’s March of the Living Committee.
Her father was an architect, her mother a well-educated young lady who was raised by French nannies. They met and fell in love and were married in 1943.
“Life was good at first,” she said. “My parents had an active social life. They didn’t see the clouds on the horizon.”
The Germans invaded Hungary in April, 1944, and, shortly after, Orosz-Richt’s parents were removed from their apartment to the ghetto and, on May 22, loaded with hundreds of other Hungarian Jews onto boxcars en route to Auschwitz. Orosz-Richt recounted the standard scenes of yelling, beatings, snarling German shepherds and the presence of Joseph Mengele on the platform designating the new arrivals for life or death.
Prisoners whose lives were spared had their heads shaven, were given uniforms and wooden shoes and were given numbers. “All their dignity was removed,” Orosz-Richt said. “They were no longer counted as human beings.”
While her father was worked to death, her pregnant mother somehow survived. She was first assigned to go through the belongings of victims for anything of value. Then, the five-months pregnant woman was put to work at hard labour building roads. What saved her was a reassignment to kitchen duties where she was able to scrounge potato peels.
When, at seven months pregnant, her condition was brought to the attention of Mengele whose staff subjected her to medical experiments consisting of injecting caustic substances into her cervix.
She was being encouraged by others in her barracks to abort her baby. “MY mother had a dream of her mother telling her to trust in God and not abort her child,” Orosz-Richt said.
She gave birth in the barracks with the help of another inmate who had had some medical experience. Orosz-Richt weighed one kilo at birth and her chances of survival were slim. Further upping the odds against her, almost immediately after birth, her mother had to go outside with the other prisoners for the daily roll call.
“She had to stand for three hours in freezing temperatures in flimsy clothing,” Orosz-Richt said. “It was the thought of her baby waiting inside that kept her going. She was afraid that I might have died before she got back.”
After liberation, mother and sickly child returned to Hungary where they lived with Vera’s mother. Vera found a doctor who looked after her baby. Mother and daughter escaped from Communist Hungary in 1948 and, shortly after, Vera married an older man who had lost his wife and daughter in the Holocaust.
“I grew up with loving and protective parents,” she said.
Orosz-Richt – who has four children of her own – noted that for the first twenty years, survivors didn’t want to talk about what happened to them. For the next twenty years, no one wanted to listen. It has only been in the last 30 years that Holocaust victims are talking and people are listening.
“Holocaust education is so very important,” she said. “Government needs to be involved and we need to start teaching the Holocaust at a younger age.”
Speaking on behalf of the Federation, Jessica Cogan, Israel and Overseas Chair, spoke about the importance of the March of the Living. “I consider the March of the Living a sacred duty,” she said. “My own participation I consider one of the most meaningful moments in my life. It shaped who I am today.”
She noted that the March of the Living began in 1988. Every year, thousands of young people from all over the world gather once a year at Auschwitz, walk the three kilometers from Auschwitz to Birkenau following in the footsteps of the death march near war’s end and show that the world that the Nazi’s failed in their “final solution”. Then they follow up with a trip to Israel where they celebrate Yom Hatzmaut and celebrate the miracle which is the rebirth of Jewish life in our ancestral homeland.
“Our goal this year was to send 20 students from Winnipeg on the March of the Living – 20 in ’20,” Cogan said. “I am happy to announce that we have exceeded that number. We will have 24 students going this spring.”
While the students contribute to the cost of the trip, Cogan noted, the March of the Living Committee raises funds to subsidize those costs.
“We want to thank our donors and encourage others to give,” she said.
Shabbat Unplugged returns for seventh year with increased participation
By MYRON LOVE This year’s second annual – post Covid lockdown – Shabbat Unplugged on the weekend of January 26-28 – had a different feel to it in the shadow of the dark events of October 7 in Israel (events that are being felt by, Jews worldwide), notes Shabbat unplugged co-ordinator and Winnipeg Hillel Director Raya Margulets.
“My sense is that there was a much stronger feeling among our participants of shared community,” she comments.
She reports that this year’s Shabbaton attracted 115 students,including participants from Edmonton, Calgary, Regina and Toronto.
Among the participants this year were a number of non-Jewish university students – StandWithUs Emerson Fellows from across Canada – who spoke about how they have come to develop a sense of solidarity with Israel. As Shabbat Unplugged co-founder Dr. Sheppy Coodin observed, these non-Jewish students were disturbed by the anti-Israel and antisemitic actions on many university campuses. They were angered by what they viewed as a double standard where Israel was concerned and have chosen to make common cause with their Jewish contemporaries.
As usual, the weekend began with a candle lighting, Kiddush, and a traditional Shabbat dinner. Following the Shabbat service led by Coodin, a long time Gray Academy science teacher, and some of the students, there were presentations (in addition to the non-Jewish students) from representatives of the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC) and StandWithUs Canada and a presentation by Emily Kalo, immediate past president of the Winnipeg chapter of Students Supporting Israel (SSI), outlining measures which are being taken to counter anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity on university campuses.
As noted earlier, Shabbat Unplugged was started in 2016 by Coodin, a science teaher at Gray Academy, and fellow Gray Academy teacher Avi Posen (who made aliyah in 2019) – building on the Shabbatons that Gray Academy had been organizing for the school’s high school students for many years.
The inaugural Shabbat Unplugged was so successful that Coodin and Posen did it again in 2017 and took things one step further by combining their Shabbat Unplugged with Hillel’s annual Shabbat Shabang Shabbaton, which brings together Jewish university students from Winnipeg and other Jewish university students from Western Canada.
“It was a pleasure working with Raya again,” Coodin said, noting that Margulets is also a former student of his who took part in the 2017 Shabbat unplugged as a student. “Raya worked incredibly hard to make the weekend a success,” he noted. “There were a lot of details to be worked out for 100-plus students as well as the presenters. She is just fantastic.”
Margulets observed that the weekend was funded in part by grants from the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba, CJPAC. the JNF, and StandWithUs Canada, along with a generous gift from the Asper Foundation.,
“We are looking forward to having even more students joining us for Shabbat Unplugged next year,” she says.
“Festival of New Yiddish Culture opens to rave reviews
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.
Tom Traves: From the north end to the presidency of several Canadian universities
By GERRY POSNER There haven’t been lot of Jewish presidents of Canadian universities.
To be clear, there have been some, but not as many as one might expect – given how many Jewish academics we’ve had in Canada over the years.
One person who made the short list of Jewish university presidents in this country has been none other than a former Winnipegger – right out of the north end of Winnipeg: Tom Traves. Now retired, Traves had a long and distinguished career in the university setting as President of Dalhousie University in Halifax, serving for 18 years in that position.
Traves’s tenure as Dalhousie president followed a four-year term as Vice- President of the University of New Brunswick. But, if you read the CV of Tom Traves, you can understand how this came to be.
Tom was a graduate of the University of Manitoba with a B.A. ( Hons.) in 1970, followed by an M.A. from York in 1973, and a Ph.D., also from York, in 1976.
Tom began his teaching career at York (where he spent many years) in 1974 as a lecturer, then as an associate professor, from 1976 to 1991. From 1981 to 1983, Tom was the Chairman of the Division of Social Science at York. He was soon appointed, in 1983, as Dean of the Faculty of Arts, where he served until 1991. From York Tom moved to the University of New Brunswick, where he became both Vice President (Academic) and a Professor of History, from 1991 to 1995.
Then, in 1995, Traves was invited to be the President and Vice- Chancellor of Dalhousie University for a six year term. When that term ended, Tom was appointed again for another six year term. And still later, in 2007 – for yet a third term of three years. When that ended, he was renewed for another three year term. Would you not agree that Tom Traves and Dalhousie had a strong connection, to put it mildly? Just to lend credence to this statement, it was during the Tom Traves tenure that enrolment at Dalhousie grew by over forty percent and external research grants and contract income increased by over three hundred percent. Now, those are impressive statistics. Perhaps the most telling assessment of Traves during his time at Dalhousie is a comment made by a former member of the University’s Board of Governors, who noted that Traves had been at the centre of a fund raising campaign which raised over $250 million during his time at Dalhousie, the highest total in the history of the province. When asked about Traves and his successor, Richard Florizone, this board member called them both remarkable individuals: “I would hire them for my company in a minute, and they would make me money.”
To read through the list of books, articles and other credits of Tom Traves is more than the Jewish Post & News could put on its website, as it might overload the system. But for sure some of the highlights of his career (aside from all the boards he has sat on across New Brunswick and Nova Scotia), would be the awards and honours that have come his way. He was the recipient of an award not commonly given to Canadians: the Filosofie Hedersdocktor Honoris Causa, from Umea University in Sweden in 1997, and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Commemorative Medal in 2000. Not to be forgotten was Tom’s inclusion on the list as one of the top 50 CEOs in Atlantic Canada in 2005, 2006 and 2007. There were so many other major awards, culminating in 2014 when he was appointed to the Order of Canada.
With all of that, Traves was still in demand when he retired and moved back to Toronto in 2016. He was asked to be the Interim President of Brock University in 2016 while that university sought out a long term person to fill that position. Once he completed that role, he semi-retired, taking on consulting activities over the last number of years.
How did a quiet unassuming boy, son of Sam and Marjorie Traves (Kay), brother to the late Nancy Traves, a product of West Kildonan, advance so far and so fast? Did he show signs of this kind of superior level of scholarship and leadership in his early days? Some might answer that it was his time spent at West Kildonan Collegiate that spurred him on to greater heights. Was it perhaps his days as an undergraduate at the University of Manitoba (from 1966-1970?) No one can say for sure, but the truth is that Traves had a speedy trajectory upward and even in retirement he has moved along at a decent clip. He is quite active these days, playing Bridge, golf, and now Pickleball. In large part, he and his wife Karen (Posner), my first cousin, (and that connection to the Posner family might be the real reason for his great success) have focused time and attention on their grandson Ben, son of his daughter Julie. There are also trips to the Washington D. C area, where his son Will and his wife live, along with his oldest grandson, Daniel.
In short, the Tom Traves story is just another Winnipeg success story – if the city wishes to lay claim to it: North End Jewish boy makes good in the east. The best part of the whole story is that, if you know Tom, or just met him, you would never have an inkling of his accomplishments, so unassuming is he. That is Tom Traves.