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English translation of Israeli best-seller now available in Canada

Book cover/author Yaniv Iczkovits

By BERNIE BELLAN
A little while ago I was sent a novel titled The Slaughterman’s Daughter. What a fascinating title for a book, I thought.
The letter accompanying the book, which was sent by the Canadian publishing house for the book, explains that the author of The Slaughterman’s Daughter is Yaniv Iczkovits – a name totally unfamiliar to me, but one that is bound to become renowned outside of Israel, where Iczkovits has already apparently shot to the top of literary stardom.

 

 

 

Soon to be available in Canada, The Slaughterman’s Daughter has won several major awards in Israel, including the Agnon Prize and the Ramat Gan Prize for Literary Excellence. The book has only recently been translated into English and the copy that I was sent was an advance reading copy, meaning that it hadn’t totally been edited for mistakes (of which there are very, very few that I could see… an occasional missing article, such as “the”, for instance.)
That same letter also noted that Iczkovits is being compared with American writer Michael Chabon – of whom I am a great fan, and Ivan Turgenev, who was a famous Russian writer in the 19th century.
Here is a summary of the plot of The Slaughterman’s Daughter: It’s a sort of anarchic folk story…set in the Pale of Settlement in the final years of the Russian Empire. Set in a town by the name of Motal (which does exist), it tells the story of Fanny Keismann, the daughter of a “shochet” (ritual slaughterer), who embarks on a crazy adventure in what was formerly known as the Pale of Settlement.
As the introductory letter from the publisher noted, “When Fanny’s older sister’s husband disappears, Fanny leaves her own family and sets out for the great city of Minsk in search of her wayward brother-in-law, armed with her old knife (which had been given to her by her father for use in slaughtering animals on her own), and accompanied by Zizek Bershov, who is either a sly rogue or an idiot.
“Fanny’s mission to help her sister turns into a misadventure that threatens the foundations of the Russian Empire. What began as a family matter in Motal, a peripheral Jewish settlement, breaks the bounds of the shtetl, pits the Russian secret police against the Czar’s army, and upsets the political and social order they all live in.”
Got that? In so many ways it reminds me of Michael Chabon’s brilliant novel, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, in its wildly imaginative plot. Both novels take place in towns that really do exist (Sitka, Alaska in the case of Chabon’s book), but completely alter them in ways that render them mythic.
At the same time though, Iczkovits provides such detailed descriptions of life in the final decade of the 19th century in the Pale of Settlement that even if you aren’t necessarily interested in the dizzying plot twists, you would certainly find yourself immersed in many of the aspects of what daily life was like – especially for the Jewish inhabitants of that area of the Russian Empire.
But, as Fanny embarks on her journey to find her wayward brother-in-law, Zvi Meir, she finds herself embroiled in a maddening police chase led by an intrepid head of the Russian secret police (known as the “Okhrana”) by the name of Novak.
Inspector Novak is a former colonel in the Russian Army, by the way, and two other characters who happen to be Jewish also have backgrounds of service in the Russian army. That aspect of the book allows Iczkovits to offer a fascinating glimpse into what life must have been like in that army – including how young Jewish boys were often taken from their families – never to be seen again, and forced into conscripted service in the Czar’s army where, more likely than not, they were eventually converted into Christianity.
Subplots develop as new characters are introduced, but the common link all those plots share is Fanny Keismann. Interestingly, in Iczkovits’s description of Fanny, he constantly refers to her “wolf-like” eyes which, combined with the knife which she wears on her thigh and which was given to her by her father, render her into a totally ferocious character – and a great, albeit totally unlikely heroine.
As Novak continues his incessant pursuit of Fanny and her cohorts in what becomes an absurd series of accidental crimes, he reminds me of thecharacter “Javert” in Les Miserables, who was obsessed with pursuing Jean Valjean. Novak has dedicated his life to reining in any would-be threats to the Russian Empire, and although he finds it almost impossible to believe that a Jewish woman might be at the heart of the most dangerous plan of insurrection ever to surface in Czarist Russia, he begins to construct an elaborate conspiracy theory that gradually ensnares a growing number of individuals whose reputations should be above reproach. (Sure sounds like Donald Trump would love this Novak character if he were working today.)
Something else that intrigued me about this book was how strong so many of the Jewish female characters were and how much so many of the Jewish men were total nebbishes. The women keep the households together, whether they are elderly bubbies, as in the case of Fanny’s mother-in-law, Rachel Keismann, or Fanny’s sister, Mende, who, although devastated by her husband’s having left her – and who goes through a deep depression for a while, manages to rise from her sick bed and take over management of Fanny’s household in Fanny’s absence.
This is a very long book – and, as is the casein Michael Chabon’s books, not always an easy one to read, but ultimately it proves to be a rollicking good tale. It’s always exciting to be introduced to a great new author whose talent shines through on every page.
In awarding Iczovitz the Ramat Gan Literary Prize, the judges wrote: “This is a perfect, if rare, example of a contemporary Israeli narrative that is in living dialogue with the literary and historical past, drawing on it and constructing an utterly original, independent artistic structure on its foundations … Iczkovits has created a sensual, richly vibrant Jewish world devoid of stereotypes, with flesh-and-blood characters to whom nothing human is foreign. There is no doubt. Iczkovits has pulled this off with wondrous success, yielding a virtuosic novel.”
I can hardly wait for Iczkovits’s next novel.
The Slaughterman’s Daughter is available on Amazon and, according to a spokesperson for McNally Robinson, is on order there.

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Features

New book chronicles what were arguably the most important – and controversial Olympic Games in history

Review by BERNIE BELLAN With the 33rd Summer Olympics set to take place in Paris from July 26 to August 11, I thought it an opportune time to tell readers about a book that was released earlier this year and which provides a sweeping view of what were arguably the most controversial Olympic Games ever held – the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany.
Written by two writers, Glenn Allen and Richard Kaufman, who have spent most of their careers writing and producing films, PLAYED: The Games of the 1936 Berlin Olympics combines fiction and non-fiction in a thrilling, yet somewhat confusing manner.
Although Jewish readers are likely to find themselves focused on the rampant antisemitism that pervaded the games – given the determination of Hitler to use the Olympic Games as a masterful propaganda tool, this book is sure to appeal both to fans of the Olympic Games and students of history.
There are many heroes mentioned throughout “PLAYED,” including such well known names as Jesse Owens, who embarrassed Hitler to no end by winning what was then a record four Gold medals in various track events. But there were many other heroes as well, especially Alan Gould, who was the Associated Press Sports Editor, and who wrote many columns calling for a boycott of the games; and William Dodd, the US Ambassador to Germany from 1932-1937, who was warning of the dangers posed by the Nazi threat long before it became all too apparent to politicians, including President Franklin Roosevelt – who adopts quite a sanguine attitude toward the Nazi threat in this book.
And then there are the villains, chief among whom was the despicable Avery Brundage, President of the American Olympic Committee, who was determined to be appointed to the International Olympic Committee (of which he was later to become its president, from 1952-72). It is no coincidence that it was Brundage who was not only the key figure in overcoming resistance to the notion of the US boycotting the 1936 games, it was Brundage who was also central to the 1972 Munich Olympics carrying on even after the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes.
I admit that I knew quite a bit about Brundage’s unsavoury reputation even before reading this book, but the degree to which he connived to make sure America would be represented at the games when there was fierce opposition to exactly that position from many of the leading figures in the sports world in the US at the time is truly shocking.
But, while the historical record provides ample evidence of the extent to which Hitler and his henchmen were determined to use the Olympics as a showcase for Nazi superiority, while reading this book I couldn’t help but wonder just how much fiction was mixed with fact.
In the press release I was sent about the book, it was noted that “Based on real stories and real people involved in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, PLAYED plunges readers into a compelling, fictionalized account of the insanity and hysteria that unfolded across Germany, the United States and in much of the world from 1931 through 1936.”
I couldn’t help myself from questioning: Just how much is fact and how much is fiction in this book? Of course, given that the authors use their imaginations to conjure up the dialogue in the book, I kept thinking to myself – especially as I was reading about how sexually aggressive many of the female characters in this book were: Is this a case of two screenwriters using their past experiences writing movie scripts as an excuse to infuse something that might be passed off as a largely historical account with a great big dollop of licentiousness in order to attract readers?
Two of the major female characters: Martha Dodd, daughter of US Ambassador Dodd, and Eleanor Holm, a champion US swimmer, certainly led carefree sex lives – at least if you were to believe the accounts given in this book. Dodd, in particular, is such a fascinating character, because not only was she quite willing to go to bed with many Nazis (and it seemed – anyone who asked her), including Ernst “Putzi” Hanfstatengel, described as Hitler’s henchman – who would eagerly dispatch anyone Hitler wanted rid of, in time Martha Dodd ended up in the arms of a Russian spy – who himself was ordered executed by Stalin.
As for Holm, even though she was a champion in the swimming pool (in backstroke events), she hardly led a disciplined life as an athlete. In PLAYED, at least, she is one hell of a “player” – and this was well after she was married!
Unfortunately for Holm, however, one man who lusted after her – and whom she detested, was Avery Brundage. Now, I did try to find out whether the account given by Kaufman and Allen of what happened between Holm and Brundage when they were both on the same ship headed to the Berlin Olympics with the entire American team of athletes and officials, was in any way true. (In the book, Brundage attempts to rape Holm, but given her athleticism, she manages to deliver a solid kick to his nether regions – leaving him writhing in pain. The next day, he decides to kick her off the US Olympic team.) According to Holm’s own account, however, the reasons for her being booted off the team had to do with her not wanting to go to bed when she was told to do so. (I much prefer the PLAYED version – and if they ever make a movie from the book, I’m sure audiences would be much more interested in watching Holm do to Avery Brundage what a lot of women would probably fantasize about doing to men.)
Of course, the parts of the book describing some of the leading Nazis, including Hitler himself, along with Joseph Goebbels and Herman Goering, are luridly detailed – as one would expect any description of them to be, but one character who comes off quite favourably – much to my shock, is Leni Riefenstahl, the famed German filmmaker, who had already established a notorious reputation as a propagandist in her famous documentary about the 1934 Nuremburg Rally, “Triump of the Will.”
Rather than painting her as a tool of the Nazis though, the authors offer quite a sympathetic – even admiring portrait of someone who was wedded to her craft. According to this book, Riefenstahl actually fell in love with a member of the US Olympic team by the name of Glenn Morris, who goes on to win Gold in the decathlon competition. (Again, however, there is one unforgettable scene where Morris, after winning his medal, runs over to Riefenstahl, rips off her blouse, and kisses her breast. Is this a Hollywood screenwriter’s fantasy? Who knows?)
There are also many stories of Jewish athletes in this book – some of which are tragic. The female high jump champion in Germany at the time was someone by the name of Gretel Bergmann. Bergmann had gone to England prior to the Olympics knowing full well that she would not be allowed to compete for Nazi Germany. In the book, Putzi goes over to England and threatens Bergmann that she will have to return to compete for Germany, otherwise her family – who had still remained in Germany, will face severe consequences. When Bergmann reluctantly returns to Germany, Brundage points to her becoming part of the German Olympic team as a sign that the Nazis have softened their stance toward Jews, but once the American do agree to participate and cross the ocean to Germany, Bergmann develops a mysterious “injury” that prevents her from actually being part of the German team.
The book is full of such stories – so many, in fact, that your head will be spinning trying to keep track of all the characters mentioned in the book.
Still, if you want to enjoy a rollicking read that may or may not have many parts that are wholly concocted from the writers’ imaginations even though they’re writing about actual events, then you might want to give PLAYED a shot.
As for this year’s version of the Olympics, while there isn’t nearly the same dramatic tension surrounding them as there was prior to and during the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the cheating, skullduggery, and propaganda that permeated the 1936 games has forever tarnished the reputation of the Olympic Games and, while it’s a different type of antisemitism that we’re seeing on the world stage these days, we’re all holding our collective breaths wondering how Israeli athletes are going to be treated in Paris – the same way Jews were wondering how Jewish athletes were going to be treated in Nazi Germany in 1936.

PLAYED: The Games of the 1936 Berlin Olympics
Published 2024 by WordServe Publishing
419 pages

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Features

A Jewish Perspective on the Hidden Gems of Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta

Nestled along Mexico’s Pacific coast, Nuevo Vallarta and its neighboring city, Puerto Vallarta, have become popular destinations for travelers seeking sun, sea and cultural experiences. For Jewish travelers, exploring these cities offers a unique blend of relaxation and discovery; from pristine beaches to vibrant local culture, here’s a perspective on the hidden gems these destinations offer.

Traveling to Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta

Barceló Puerto Vallarta: A Tranquil Haven

Among the myriad of accommodations in the region, the Barceló Occidental Nuevo Vallarta (with bookings at https://www.barcelo.com/en-ca/occidental-nuevo-vallarta/) stands out as a serene retreat. Situated on Mismaloya Beach, this resort combines traditional Mexican architecture with modern amenities. Its all-inclusive packages cater to families, couples and solo travelers, providing an ideal base for exploring both Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta.

Exploring Nuevo Vallarta

Embracing Nature at El Cora Crocodile Sanctuary

Nature enthusiasts will appreciate El Cora Crocodile Sanctuary, located a short drive from Nuevo Vallarta. This sanctuary not only preserves native wildlife but also offers educational tours that delve into the region’s ecosystem. For Jewish travelers, it provides an opportunity to connect with nature while appreciating Mexico’s biodiversity.

Cultural Insight at the Marina Vallarta

The Marina Vallarta, known for its upscale ambiance and waterfront dining, offers a glimpse into local life. Jewish travelers can explore boutique shops and art galleries while enjoying a variety of international cuisines. The marina’s lively atmosphere during sunset, with boats bobbing gently in the marina and street performers entertaining passersby, creates a memorable experience.

Discovering Puerto Vallarta

Historic Exploration in the Zona Romántica

Puerto Vallarta’s Zona Romántica, also known as Old Vallarta, beckons history buffs and culture seekers. Cobblestone streets wind through quaint neighborhoods lined with colorful colonial architecture. Jewish travelers can visit the Zona Romántica’s eclectic art galleries, boutique cafes and the iconic Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, offering a glimpse into the city’s rich cultural heritage.

Artistic Marvels at the Malecón

A stroll along the Malecón, Puerto Vallarta’s oceanfront promenade, reveals a treasure trove of sculptures and open-air art installations. From the whimsical Seahorse sculpture to the thought-provoking Millennium sculpture series, each artwork tells a story of Mexico’s artistic spirit. Jewish travelers can engage with local artists and appreciate the vibrant cultural tapestry that defines Puerto Vallarta.

Culinary Delights

Savoring Kosher-Friendly Cuisine

While kosher options are limited in Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta, some restaurants and resorts offer kosher-friendly menus upon request. The culinary scene in both cities blends traditional Mexican flavors with international influences, ensuring there is something to satisfy every palate. Jewish travelers can indulge in fresh seafood ceviche, traditional tacos al pastor and refreshing aguas frescas while soaking in the coastal ambiance.

Community Engagement

Connecting with Local Jewish Communities

For Jewish travelers interested in community engagement, both Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta host small Jewish communities. Synagogues and Jewish community centers welcome visitors seeking spiritual connection and cultural exchange. Engaging with local Jewish communities provides a deeper understanding of Mexican-Jewish heritage and fosters meaningful connections across cultures.

Final Note

Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta offer Jewish travelers a blend of relaxation, cultural exploration and natural beauty. Whether basking in the sun on pristine beaches, exploring historic neighborhoods or savoring culinary delights, these cities provide a rich tapestry of experiences. With accommodations like the Barceló Puerto Vallarta offering comfort and convenience, travelers can immerse themselves in Mexico’s Pacific coast while appreciating its hidden gems from a unique perspective.

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Features

Gambling Statistics Shine Light on Canadian Gambling Culture

Explore pivotal statistics that highlight Canada’s gambling culture. Get a concise overview of the trends shaping the nation’s betting landscape.

Canada’s gambling culture is as diverse as its landscape, and recent statistics shed light on this thriving sector. From coast to coast, Canadians engage in various forms of betting, each with its own set of trends and numbers. This article delves into the data, uncovering the patterns and preferences defining gambling nationwide.

Canadian Gambling Statistics

User penetration refers to the percentage of consumers engaging with a product or service beyond the expected audience. Despite a 47% decline in 2023, the online gambling industry is projected to expand.

By 2027, it’s forecasted that the gambling market will cater to 20.38 million individuals. This trend suggests an increasing preference among Canadians for online gambling over traditional brick-and-mortar casinos.

The industry boasted a 97% return on investment in 2022, outperforming land-based casinos, which only saw a 61% return. With the rising interest in online betting, Canada’s online casino industry is experiencing the highest user penetration rate.

What Is the Average Expenditure on Gambling by Canadians?

Many enjoy the thrill of the occasional game of chance. The fact that you can retain all of your earnings, as there are no taxes on gambling profits in Canada, adds to the allure of gambling. In Canada, winnings are subject to taxation only for professional gamblers with a sustained winning streak.

In recent years, the trend toward online casinos has changed. The pandemic-induced closures of land-based casinos accelerated this change. It’s a profitable industry, as 60% of Canadians say they spend money gambling each month.

Canadian gambling statistics:

  • Six out of ten Canadians have gambled.
  • The monthly average expenditure for gaming and gambling in Canada is $6.75.
  • A month’s worth of gaming expenses is reported by 63% of males and 57% of women.
  • According to 73% of Canadians, gambling-related issues have gotten worse in their region.

The Increasing Attraction to Online Casino Gambling in Canada

An increasing number of Canadians are using online casinos, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. They offer various benefits regular casinos do not and are more convenient. Over time, land-based casinos’ revenue has decreased due to the growing popularity of online gambling sites.

The pandemic shutdowns accelerated the drop. For instance, the land-based casinos in Alberta no longer make as much money as they once did. Consequently, the Albertan government opened an online casino, and other governments quickly adopted similar strategies.

Casino Games at Online Casinos in Canada

Online casinos in Canada offer various games that cater to different preferences. Some of the most popular casino games at Canadian online casinos include:

  • Slots: These are the most common and varied, with themes ranging from classic fruit machines to the latest online slot games with advanced graphics and features.
  • Table Games: Classics like blackjack, roulette, craps, and baccarat are available in multiple variations.
  • Live Dealer Games: These provide an immersive experience, allowing players to interact with real dealers and other players in real time.
  • Video Poker: A favourite for many, combining elements of slots and poker in a unique format.
  • Progressive Jackpots: Games that offer the chance to win life-changing sums of money with a single spin.
  • Canadian Legalities for Online Gambling Sites
  • Casinos are legal in Canada, but each province and territory has the authority to establish its gaming regulations and issue online gambling website licences. Saskatchewan is the only province that does not host multiple online gaming sites.
  • Authorities in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba issue licences without a specific requirement, but these online casinos must operate exclusively within their respective provincial borders. Online gaming sites seeking to operate beyond these borders need a special agreement.
  • In Canada, only land-based casinos face penalties; foreign operators can only function by obtaining local licenses. Although offshore casinos cannot legally target Canadian players, they can accept them.
  • Statistics on Gambling Addiction in Canada
  • While the majority of gamblers do so without experiencing issues, there are hazards and health issues associated with it for some people. Because of this, the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) carries out studies and creates resources aimed at assisting Canadians in making wise decisions regarding their gambling, both generally and, in particular, high-risk scenarios, like when they’re using alcohol or other drugs.
  • Here are some key statistics on gambling addiction in Canada for the year 2024:
  • 64.5% of Canadians aged 15 or older actively participated in gambling activities within the past year.
  • 1.6% of Canadian gamblers, representing approximately 304,400 individuals, face moderate-to-severe gambling addiction risks.
  • Canadian males reported higher gambling participation and addiction risks compared to females.
  • Indigenous Canadians showed a higher tendency to gamble (72.4%) and experienced greater susceptibility to gambling problems (4.5%) than non-Indigenous people.
  • In Canada, responsible gambling is promoted through various programs and initiatives, ensuring that individuals engage in betting activities within their means and maintain control. The emphasis is on providing resources and support to prevent gambling addiction and encourage safe, enjoyable gaming experiences.
  • Reflecting on Canada’s Responsible Gambling Journey
  • The statistics we’ve explored offer a revealing glimpse into Canada’s gambling culture, highlighting both the widespread appeal and the responsible practices of Canadian bettors. As the industry evolves, it reflects the country’s commitment to balancing entertainment with economic benefit and social responsibility. The future of gambling in Canada seems poised to be driven by informed choices and a clear understanding of the risks and rewards involved.
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