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Jewish Life in Canada, seen through the eyes of William Kurelek

By IRENA KARSHENBAUM In December, as I was running up a steep hill in the bitter Calgary cold, which is not as bitter as the Winnipeg cold, I was cursing myself for not having covered my brilliant head with a woollen scarf.

 Wearing my 1916 prairie costume, underneath a 25 year-old sheep skin coat that now passes for historic, I scaled the hill at Heritage Park while worrying I might suffer a heart attack triggered by too much vigorous movement in the frigid cold. The angle of the hill dropped down and my brisk pace turned into a slow, penguin-like waddle to steady myself on the ice.

My eyes looked up and facing me, as if on the palm of my hand, was a scene from another time. The sun danced on the dazzling, white snow and in the near distance, across the railroad tracks, stood a little, yellow false-front building, once called the Montefiore Institute, framed by naked, trembling trees, and where I was headed. A horse-drawn wagon turned the corner and slowly crossed along the path. Not being satisfied with just savouring the moment, I grabbed my phone. An image emerged on my screen, worthy of a cozy children’s book, or a William Kurelek painting. 

My vision was prescient. 

That afternoon, on my volunteer shift as an interpreter, in the kitchen of the Montefiore Institute, which also served as the cheder, I looked through the sideboard buffet that housed a small library. I was searching for a Hanukkah story to read to the children when my eyes rested on Jewish Life in Canada, by William Kurelek and Abraham Arnold. 

I flipped the pages of this old book and even though I was familiar with Kurelek’s work, I suddenly could see that the artist’s paintings depicting early Canadian Jewish life looked an awful lot like us, the costumed interpreters bringing Jewish life, to life, to the guests visiting the restored 1916 prairie synagogue. I was momentarily confused, was I a subject of a William Kurelek painting that had magically come alive? 

Not wanting the other interpreters to think I am some kind of a book thief (which, of course, I am!) I announced, loudly, that I will be borrowing the book to write my latest story about an out-of-print book — Bernie didn’t know this yet — with promises to return it.

At home, I read the book. Divided into two parts, the first half being the works of William Kurelek (1927-1977), with his own writings about each painting, and the second by, Abraham Arnold (1922-2011) — who served as the founding Executive Director of the Jewish Historical Society of Western Canada — and who contributed a series of essays about various aspects of Jewish life, that read more like a text book.

Kurelek credits “the two Abes of Winnipeg” — Arnold and Abe Schwartz — in his introduction for giving him the support he needed to bring the book project to life.

Kurelek recounts how, in 1973, the idea for the book emerged and was meant as an expression of thanks to the Jewish community for his success as an artist. It was Winnipeg-native, Avrom Isaacs (1926-2016), who first discovered the artist and took the risk of exhibiting his work, a break Kurelek desperately needed having for ten years tried “in vain on my own for recognition.” Isaacs gave Kurelek two opening nights, the first being sponsored by a Jewish women’s organization (he doesn’t say which one) that also bought a few of his pieces. He states that in fact his first art patrons were Jewish and only later, “followed by those of British origin.”

Jewish Life in Canada contains 16 of Kurelek’s paintings, all of which as indicated in the book, are held in the collection of a Mr. and Mrs. Jules Loeb, and was published by Hurtig Publishers of Edmonton in 1976. The book is out of print and unavailable, except through maybe a lucky find at a used book store or on Amazon. My search for a used copy, surprisingly, brought up information that a new edition of a Jewish Life in Canada, this time with writing by Sarah Milroy, will be published by Goose Lane Editions of Fredericton in May of 2023.

Through his paintings, Kurelek, born to a Ukrainian family in Whitford, Alberta, depicts Jewish life in Canada from the east coast, “Jewish Doctor’s Family Celebrating Passover in Halifax,” to the prairies in “Baker’s Family Celebrating the Sabbath in Edmonton” and “Jewish Wedding in Calgary” set in front of the original House of Jacob synagogue, to the west with, “General Store in Vancouver Before World War One.”

Having converted to Catholicism in adulthood, Kurelek doesn’t shy away from religious subjects displaying remarkable knowledge about Judaism’s religious practices. In “Yom Kippur” he shows what the Holy Day looks like with congregants immersed deep in prayer, men wearing their tallis, women praying in the women’s balcony. He paints a white parochet explaining that, “White, symbol of purity, is the dominant colour of this solemn day.” He used Toronto’s Kiever Synagogue as the basis for this work.

Kurelek shows how Jews toiled in their new land with works like “Morosnick’s Market, Dufferin Street, Winnipeg,” “Teperman’s Wrecking Firm in Toronto” with men sorting scrap metal, men sewing in “Jews in the Clothing Business in Winnipeg” and “Jewish Scrap Collector Questioned by a Toronto Policeman,” a composite work inspired by Kurelek’s memories and multiple photographs including one from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. 

Four of Kurelek’s paintings depict Jewish farming life.

In “Pioneering at Edenbridge, Saskatchewan,” Kurelek writes about the history of the colony, which was settled in 1906 by 20 Jewish immigrants, originally from Lithuania, who decided to leave their new-found home in South Africa for a second migration to fertile farm lands along the Carrot River. It is this painting, with its horse-drawn wagon and wooden homes in the distance, that reminded me of the view I encountered at Heritage Park that December day.

In “Bender Hamlet, the Farming Colony that Failed,” Kurelek displays good knowledge of Jewish prairie history, listing all the farm colonies of Saskatchewan and Alberta, even mentioning my beloved Montefiore where the Montefiore Institute originally stood, also Camper, Pine Ridge and Bender Hamlet of Manitoba. He paints Bender Hamlet, founded in 1903, with a few, far away, grey buildings set against a vast sky and yellow, grassy fields littered with rocks. The inspiration for the painting, he notes, came from Abe Schwartz, who gave Kurelek his great-aunt’s diary describing her life farming in North Dakota. Kurelek explains how he incorporated pieces of the diary into the picture frame, “I want to convey the idea that these memories are like voices in the wind as it sighs through the thistles of the overgrown fields and through the chinks of abandoned buildings.”

Kurelek’s Jewish Life in Canada is more than a thanks to the Jewish community, but a gift of memory that reveals a life that once was to future generations.

Irena Karshenbaum, founder of the project that gifted the restored Montefiore Institute to Calgary’s Heritage Park, volunteers as an interpreter in the synagogue and writes. 

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Chuck & Carol Faiman – a “Fien” team

Carol & Chuck Faiman

By GERRY POSNER Take two Jewish kids – a boy and a girl from the north end of Winnipeg, have them grow up in the 1950s, and you would probably be well familiar with their following the well-worn path of marriage, raising a family, professional success, and a continued connection with Manitoba. That pattern would well describe Charles or, as he is better known – Chuck, and Carol Faiman.

Carol was a Fien, daughter of Sophie and Harry Fien. Chuck was the son of Bessie and Max Faiman. Carol was a graduate of places well known to Winnipeggers, as in Champlain and Luxton Schools, St. John’s High School and the University of Manitoba, where she received a B.A. Later, she did post-graduate work in vocational rehabilitation counselling. As well, Carol has a well-known passion for art, stemming in no small part from classes she took in art history at the University of Winnipeg and later at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Chuck’s parents, Max and Bessie Faiman, were part of a core group who founded the Talmud Torah Hebrew Day School, which Chuck attended. He was also a student at Machray School and, like so many other north enders, St. John’s High School. Hard though it may be to believe, he graduated high school at 15. By 22, he already had an M.D. degree.

He trained in endocrinology at the University of Manitoba Medical School, the University of Illinois, and later at the Mayo Clinic. Returning to Winnipeg in 1968, Chuck Faiman’s career took off as he became a Professor of Medicine and Physiology and later the head of the Endocrinology Laboratory. During his tenure at the hospital, one year Chuck took a sabbatical leave with his family at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel.

In 1992, Chuck Faiman accepted an offer to become Chairman of the Department of Endocrinology at the Cleveland Clinic. At that time, all the family knew about Cleveland was that it was in Ohio and that they had a baseball team there. Five years later, the Faimans became US citizens and, to this day, hold dual citizenship. During the time when Chuck was growing the department, he had the opportunity to look after heads of state, crown princes and the Sheikh of the United Arab Emirates, where he also provided medical consultations and teaching. (It occurs to me that given Chuck’s connection, maybe he can persuade the Sheikh or his colleagues to consider taking into The United Arab Emirates some of the people floundering in Gaza.)

Chuck was an active player in his field, and is still involved in teaching and as a consultant in the department. He was honoured to receive an award as a Master of the American College of Endocrinology.
Carol also had careers, both in Winnipeg and in Cleveland. In Winnipeg, she worked as a vocational rehabilitation counsellor and ergonomist for the Society for Manitobans with Disabilities. She did not miss a beat when she moved to Cleveland, where she worked in physical therapy at the Cleveland Clinic with patients suffering from occupational injuries. She is now retired.

Now, not be overlooked is that the Faimans are a team. They just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in June 2023. They have three sons, all of whom were raised in Winnipeg: Barton, an MBA graduate of the Asper School of Business and his wife Michelle are still residents of Winnipeg. Gregg, a graduate of the University of Manitoba Medical School, trained with his father in endocrinology at the Cleveland Clinic – sort of a medical version of Gordie and Mark Howe and Bobby and Brett Hull in the hockey world. He and his wife Karrie have three children. Matthew, another U of M Medical School graduate, trained at the Cleveland Clinic in Internal Medicine. He and his wife Beth have one son. All the Faimans remain staunch Blue Bomber and Jets fans.

The Faimans were, and are still, very active in their community, both in their synagogue and other areas. For those readers who can go back that far, Chuck Faiman was largely involved in the amalgamation of the Talmud Torah and the Peretz Schools, not to overlook his term as president of Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate. That active participation continued in Cleveland with the Cleveland Federation.
Carol served on the Board of Rosh Pina Synagogue, as it was then known, and then in Cleveland as a board member at Park Synagogue. Moreover, Carol initiated a programme, which she ran for 14 years, for the National Council of Jewish Women at the Cleveland Museum of Art. For over 15 years the Faimans have also been regular attendees at courses offered by the Siegal College of Jewish Studies, a division of Case Western University.

What also keeps the Faimans very happy is the renewal of their Winnipeg roots each year when they return to the family cottage at West Hawk Lake. There is also a Winnipeg reunion of a different sort each winter in Florida. Likely what sets the Faimans apart from many other people who have moved away is that, although they do maintain strong connections to their history and friends back in Winnipeg, they have integrated well into the Cleveland community, even at an older age when they moved there.

So, for anyone who knows them, the recognition and success the Faimans have earned is well deserved.

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Debut novel from Montreal’s Ben Gonshar follows in the mould of Phillip Roth

Ben Gonshor/cover of The Book of Izzy

Ben Gonshor is an award-winning writer, actor, musician and entrepreneur. His play, “When Blood Ran Red,” won the David and Clare Rosen Memorial International Play Contest at the National Yiddish Theatre in New York. 
Now, with his debut novel, The Book of Izzy, Gonshor follows the likes of Phillip Roth in how The Book of Izzy is a captivating modern take on Jewish cultural touchstones and heritage.
“The Book of Izzy is a story about a man trying to find his own place between two worlds as he reckons with letting go of his painful past to focus on creating a fulfilling present. In the process, Izzy embarks on a fanciful, romantic voyage that not only forces him to come to terms with his Jewish identity, but to also confront the mystifying bird that holds the key to preserving the past and ensuring the survival of his heritage.
“Izzy is a writer who’s found himself in a series of downward spirals; between his recently failed love life, his faltering career as both a wedding planner and a novelist, and an ever-looming mental breakdown, he’s at his wit’s end. 
“Filled to the brim with wit, candid discussions about navigating life with a mental illness, and an engaging cast of characters, The Book of Izzy is a captivating modern take on Jewish cultural touchstones and heritage.”

Following is an excerpt from The Book of Izzy:
“Hi, I’m Sue-Ann,” the twenty-something waitress said to me, extending a hand forthrightly and with the other lifted a shot glass, clinked it with Luba’s and downed it with a “L’khaim” that made you pay attention.
“Doubtful,” I thought to myself and immediately began calculating that the combination of brown bottle curls and olive skin combined with breasts and hips that curved in a way my bubbe would have approved of, didn’t add up to Sue-Ann. Then again, the piercing blue eyes and nose that would have survived a Gestapo roundup, suggested I could have been dead wrong.
I wasn’t.
“Sue-Ann, shmuann!” Luba admonished her, then looked to me while pouring herself another shot. “Her name’s Soreh,” she said while pointing insistently to her new friend then drank, ripped a piece of bread from the loaf and tossed it in her mouth and proceeded to introduce me.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t get that?” Sue-Ann said re Luba’s unintelligible attempt to say my name in mid-chew.
“I’m Isaiah,” I introduced myself. “Friends call me Izzy.”
“Itzikl,” Luba offered with a giggle.
“ALubable!” Sue Ann said in that patronizing way common among dog-lovers when inquiring about a breed they’ve never seen around the run. “And so Jewish…I like that,” she purred then knowingly struck a pose that emphasized her personalities, while simultaneously resting her right palm on the flesh of its adjoining hip that now introduced itself into the conversation, teasing a hint of color that I imagined made for something interesting further below. She then capped it off with a smile that revealed two perfectly formed dimples on either side, the kind so charming as to inspire a Rumshinksy tune.
“You didn’t drink your shot,” she reproached me playfully, pointing at the offending glass on the table that I knew better than to touch. “How about a beer?” she suggested with pride, “we brew in house.”
“Sure,” I answered, still somewhat sensory overloaded. “But nothing too hoppy, I’m not into drinking flowers.”
“Double IPA coming right up!” she said, clocking my narishkeit then brushed her hand expertly on my shoulder as she turned to leave. “You’re right, he’s cute,” she said to Luba, then winked in my direction before heading off toward the bar.
“Let me guess,” I began to ask Luba, who looked at me with a Cheshire grin on her face that told me everything I needed to know: “She’s Leah,” I said, referencing the lead female character in The Dybbuk.
Her giggle this time was more of an outburst of joy, as she clapped her hands near to her face and rocked back and forth happily, like another bet she made was about to pay off.
“Where’d you find her?” I asked, gazing in the direction of the bar where Sue-Ann and her pals were huddled and looking right back at us.
“I didn’t, she found me,” Luba answered and waved in their direction. “I like her. We’ve been spending a lot of time together.”
“Clearly,” I said and returned my attention back to the table. “She’s an actress?”
“So why is she playing Leah?” I asked somewhat incredulously. Mind you, not that that it was any of my business but, knowing full well the chops required for the part, it seemed a fair question.
“She read for me, she feels the character deeply.”
“She speaks Yiddish?”
“Nope,” Luba answered again, with not an iota of concern in her voice.
“I don’t get it,” I said and continued, dumfounded: “You want me to play opposite someone who doesn’t speak Yiddish and on top of that you don’t even know if she can act?”
“I don’t know if she can act?!” she guffawed, repeating my question back to me aloud as if to make me hear how dumb it sounded. “What she just did naturally in that moment,” she continued, now more earnestly while gesturing with her finger in a circular motion as if to summarize a scene that had just played out at the table, “is more than some actors learn to do with a lifetime of training.”
“What do you mean?”
She didn’t answer, but cocked her head to the side instead and threw me a look like, again, I should have thought before I spoke.
“What?!” I said incredulously and could feel my cheeks starting to flush.
“She had you mesmerized,” she answered with a smile then drank another shot and tossed a piece of bread in her mouth.
“No she didn’t,” I lied.
Luba said nothing as Sue-Ann had now returned with my beer, a basket of gluten free tortilla chips and an assortment of cheeses, each of which she proceeded to describe as an award winning artisanal creation sourced from her friends at farms nearby, without specifying whether the pals she was referring to were the farmers or their animals cuz these days, you know, it could go either way. Regardless, as she side-straddled a chair that she’d pulled in from a nearby table and invited us to dig in, I thought better than to comment on the fact that without a quality goat on the cutting board, which admittedly was artfully presented along with an assortment of dried fruit and a delightfully sweet onion tartinade, what she put on the table was a whole lot of lactose intolerance.

The Book of Izzy

By Ben Gonshor

AOS Publishing

Publication date: May 2024

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Online Casinos: Why Are They So Interesting?

If you’re someone who likes to spend most of their time online, you’ve probably come across different types of entertainment. One form that gives you a good adrenaline bump is online casinos. Like with any kind of entertainment, there are good sides and bad sides to it.

The majority of online casinos are not expensive, and there are reasons they’re so popular and becoming more popular each day. Of course, some casinos offer 150 free spins for $1 deposit, but there are some things you should watch out for as well.

Good Sides of Gambling

Before we jump into the world of online casinos, let’s discuss gambling in general. Can we really say that there are good sides to gambling? Why not make it a little debate, let’s see what are the arguments for gambling in general:

  • It’s entertaining: There’s no doubt that it’s entertaining because you can feel the adrenaline of uncertainty and the rush when you’re about to win something. It can be a good game.
  • There are economic benefits: Of course, if you do win something, the type of game and the type of stakes can be different, so the economic benefits can be quite good. That’s a good argument for it.

It’s social: You can talk at most games, whether it’s a bet on a soccer match, a poker game, blackjack, or roulette, you’ll get a chance to socialize and communicate with others playing the same game.
Skill showcasing: Apart from spins where you’re just waiting to see if you hit the jackpot, some games require more than luck. Poker takes considerable skill to win, and you can be that hotshot who keeps winning and wins big.
Can be charitable: It’s not uncommon for the proceeds from different gambling games to go to some charity. So, even though it might be something where you can lose your money, you can find solace in knowing that it will go to a good cause.
Bad Sides of Gambling
So, we know that it might not even be necessary to write about this because you can read it almost anywhere, and you can hear it almost anywhere. These bad sides are very real and they will always be something to consider before participating in any gambling activity:
Harmful and addictive: A major argument for why it’s bad is the fact that it can cause addiction. The rush supplies your brain with enormous dopamine levels and this is how you become addicted to that feeling and become willing to do anything to get it again.
Exploiting weakness: Because of the addiction, a gambling person statistically loses more often than not, and this causes a need to try to win again which is a kind of exploitation of the financial weakness gamblers are destined to experience.
Gambling consequences: It’s all a chain of consequences, the addiction and the harm it causes, and further exploitation leads to an increase in crime, and other societal factors suffer the consequences.
Regulations and challenges: There’s an issue in regulating gambling because there are always loopholes in laws, and it’s difficult to maintain continuity to prevent some forms of gambling from reaching the wider public.
Uncertainty: It’s unpredictable because it’s largely based on chance. Of course, you’re going to use some skill when playing Texas Holdem, but there’s still a large chance you’ll lose unless all the other players fold.
Why Online Casinos Become More Popular Each Day
Online casinos are becoming more and more popular because they are extremely convenient. You can play any game online. Just type it into a search engine and you can pick your favorite casino game from your chair and play.
Online casinos almost always have some kind of promotion or bonus like free spins and welcome bonuses. They’re accessible all the time, every hour of every day of every week, etc. You’ll remain anonymous, and your privacy will be respected.
The main thing is that there’s global access to online casinos, you can go online and play casino games wherever you are. But, it also provides ample possibilities for players to practice their skills and learn more things about how to play games such as Texas Holdem.
What to Watch Out For in Online Casinos?
There are a few things you can always check before you engage in online casinos. If they’re transparent about their terms and conditions, and they include the possibility to see their licensing, you can rest assured that it’s safe to play games there.
However, it’s also good to look at possible payment options, different security measures they have, etc.
There are good and bad sides to gambling, it all depends on the individual. When it comes to online gambling and casinos, they’re fun and convenient, but you can never be careful enough when playing their games.

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