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Mitch Podolak: ‘A Citizen of Earth’

By KINZEY POSEN (Ed. note: This story first appeared in the October 11, 2017 issue of The Jewish Post & News. With the Annual Winnipeg Folk Festival about to celebrate 50 years since its inception – and which MItch helped create – along with his wife Ava Kobrinsky and Colin Gorrie, we thought it an appropriate time to reprint Kinzey’s moving tribute to Mitch.)

Last November Mitch Podolak was leaving one of his favourite Winnipeg restaurants, the Evergreen on Pembina, when he suddenly fell outside. As he lay there somewhat stunned, he realized that this fall was about to change his life. He couldn’t feel the lower part of his body after landing hard on his neck.
Fast forward to September 2017 and I’m sitting with Mitch in his apartment on Sterling Lyon Parkway in Tuxedo. He just turned 70 on September 21st. When I said, “Imagine, Mitch Podolak living in Tuxedo,” he quickly says, “It’s the wrong side of the tracks.”

Mitch & wife Ava Kobrinsky


In a way I guess he’s right – you can see and hear the rail line close up from his window and Ikea is across the road. He and his wife, Ava Kobrinsky, moved there after he was released from the hospital in April of this year. They still have their home in Wolseley, but Mitch can’t negotiate the stairs and living on one floor is the way to go for now. These days, Mitch uses a motorized wheelchair to get around and his apartment has specialized equipment to help him stand and perform his physiotherapy. He admits he loves the exercise.

Mitch has come a long way from that fateful day last November and can now stand on his own, walk unaided for a short distance, and has regained much of the feeling in his body. There’s still a long way to go to be considered normal, but he’s confident that by the end of this year, he’ll be more mobile.


For those who know him, Mitch’s name is synonymous with the Winnipeg Folk Festival, the Edmonton and Vancouver Folk Festivals, the West End Cultural Centre, The Stan Rogers Festival in Canso, Home Routes… the list goes on. He’s also well known for his political action and work in trying to bring about change. His efforts have led to his being awarded an Honourary Doctorate from Brandon University and the Order of Manitoba from the Province.
When Mitch had to attend the award’s ceremonies, he knew that he had to wear something a bit more sophisticated than his usual black T shirt and jeans. He called up friend and magician Brian Glow to be his fashion consultant. After spending $600 on a dapper black suit, black shirt and silver tie, Mitch shocked many by appearing in his new clothes.

So how did Mitch come to be where he is now, a veritable living legend – a man with more stories to tell than a recovering addict at a 12 step meeting?
It all started in Toronto in 1947, when he was born to Rhoda Layefsky and Noach Podolak. His dad was 20 years older than his mum. Mitch is the youngest of three children – after Alice, the oldest, who lives in Cape Breton, and his brother Mark, a retired Treasury Board Analyst in Ottawa, who’s known as the “white sheep” of the family.


The Podolak family lived on Major Street, in a neighbourhood full of Jews and Europeans located between Bathhurst and Spadina. His father Noach, originally from Poland, was a housepainter, who also did theatrical sets for the Yiddish Theatre in New York for a period of time and was a friend of the well known Jewish actor, Paul Muni. His mum Rhoda was a strong, loving woman, who was born in Canada. Her dad, Mitch’s grandfather Avram Liebe, played a special role in his life and was his hero. The two had a special relationship. During the Spanish Civil War, Rhoda was an organizer for the Friends of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion.


Both Mitch’s parents were passionate socialists and he grew up in a rich atmosphere full of fervent political discussions. Mitch’s dad was a member of the Communist Party, but pulled out of the organization in 1956, over the invasion of Hungary and anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. It was also the year he died, when he was only 56. Mitch was only nine years old at the time and Rhoda, who was now widowed in her thirties, turned her energy to providing for her three kids. She worked as a bookkeeper and remained a widow until her passing in 2005.


At the age of seven, Mitch started to learn how to play the clarinet. The lessons were classical and he really didn’t like it. Although he grew up in an era when rock & roll was making its debut and was just beginning to move the world in a different direction, Mitch was destined to follow a different musical path altogether. When he was 13, his older sister Alice had two tickets to go to a concert at Massey Hall with a guy who was a no-show. Instead, she took Mitch, who thought his sister was going to take him to the symphony. To his surprise, it was to a concert that forever changed his life. The featured performer was folk legend Pete Seeger and young Mitch was simply awestruck, especially by one song. On the way home, Alice explained to him what that particular piece, the “Bells of Rhymney,” was about and what the performer was trying to get across to the audience. He connected with the songs in a way that was new and liberating. Since that day, Mitch has become an ultra passionate supporter and fan of folk music, the kind we call “singer songwriter” now. Along the way, he also learned how to play the banjo quite well.

Mitch comes by his musical ability quite honestly. His uncle Philip on his dad’s side was the conductor of the Polish Army Symphony and his dad, Noach, played the clarinet.
Growing up in a very socialist family, Mitch was sensitive to the actions of the McCarthy era. He recalled two television shows in the fifties that were anti-Communist: “The Man called X” and “I Led Three Lives.” Both seemed to have the communists meeting in basements, with peeling paint and bare wire light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. The plots were often about how to recruit new members and sabotage buildings. On the walls there were portraits of Marx, Lenin, Engels, and Stalin, and they all spoke in bad Russian accents.


As Mitch’s awareness of how socialism could benefit society deepened, he recalled one event that sticks with him till today. It was seeing a hungry man eat chicken out of a garbage can – an image that’s put much into perspective for him.
In 1961, at the age of 14, he joined what was known at the time, as the Y.S.A – the Young Socialist’s Alliance, in Toronto – a Trotskyite youth movement, where everyone called each other “comrade”. Mitch was the youngest member by only a few months. When he first attended a meeting, much like the TV shows, there were portraits on the wall of Marx, Lenin and Engels, but instead of Stalin, there was Leon Trotsky. His involvement gave him the tools and inspiration to engage in socialism and later the anti Viet Nam war movement. Around that time, he met Harry Paine at a movement meeting – a man who would go on to become one of his best friends.


In 1968, Mitch made the move to Winnipeg to study as a mature student at the University of Manitoba and specifically do political organizing. He also established the Vietnam Mobilization Committee. Mitch recalled one particular scene during this period, when he and his friend, Joe Flexer, organized a major event at the U of M. They wanted to go to the Dow Chemical Company’s recruitment centre on campus to demonstrate. At the time, Dow was one of the manufacturers of napalm, a rather nasty incendiary weapon used in Viet Nam against the Viet Cong and innocent people. It would stick to the skin and cause severe burns.
In anticipation, Mitch and Joe went to a hardware store and bought the biggest chains and padlocks they could find to lock the doors to the centre. After entering and insisting they be able to talk to the Human Resources manager, he eventually came out to hear their statement. It was Joe Flexer who yelled out, “Our statement is, get the f_____ off our campus you war-mongering c__k s___s!”

That’s when the situation escalated. The manager went back into the building and the protestors pulled out the lock and chains to stop people from entering and exiting. Soon, there were a thousand people and fights began to break out. As Mitch recalls, it was a crazy time. Mitch recalls that his salary as an organizer was a hundred dollars a month.

Mitch & Ava in the early years


In 1970, he left Winnipeg and began to do more political work in Halifax. It was during that time that Mitch first met Winnipegger Ava Kobrinsky, his wife of 40 plus years. They met in 1971 at the Trotskyist Hall in Toronto and were soon married. They returned to Winnipeg in 1972 when Mitch was 24.
Two years later, Mitch co-founded the Winnipeg Folk Festival with Ava and Colin Gorrie and his life took on a completely different dimension. Over the years, his expertise and vision helped establish almost all of the major folk festivals throughout Western Canada, plus others in Ontario and the Maritimes. He was a bona fide Folk Festival consultant.


As we talked, the subject shifted to music and Mitch showed me how he couldn’t use his left hand any more to play the banjo. Some of the fingers had lost their feeling and were also muscle damaged. He used his electric wheelchair to move over to his desk and grabbed a harmonica. He blew a few fat notes and told the story of how he came to play.
One night, while still in the hospital, at around 10:30 pm Mitch was in bed. He was startled to hear a familiar voice asking people outside his room, “Where’s Mitch?” when suddenly, well known blues musician, Big Dave McLean barged in.He handed him a harmonica and in his gruff voice said, “Here, learn how to play it,” and quickly left.


His multi-month experience in the Health Sciences Centre taught him several things. He can’t say enough about the doctors, nurses and staff who touched him through their professionalism, dedication and caring. He reflects a lot about what will happen with the impending cutbacks and what will happen when more baby boomers enter the system.
Back in January, Mitch’s good friend , singer, songwriter, and artist, Heather Bishop, organized a crowdfunding initiative to help finance necessary renovations to his home. It’ll allow him to live there eventually.
The goal was $20,000. It went live on Thursday and by Friday, the goal had been reached. Mitch was deeply touched by the outpouring of good wishes, stories and funds. It’s something he’ll never forget.


I asked Mitch if he had any regrets so far in his 70 years and his response was an immediate: “None.” I then asked what he was most proud of and he said, “The work we did to help stop the war in Vietnam, the West End Cultural Centre,” and, he added, the numerous folk festivals he established. Then, pausing for a few seconds, he smiled in his chair and said,“I’m proud of my relationship with my wife, our partnership, and my children.”
“Ava is an unsung hero, brilliant at organization, without her, none of this would have happened,” he added.


It’s not difficult to see what drives Mitch Podolak in terms of inspiration.
Basically, it’s two things: politics and music – in no particular order. It’s where it started for him and where he continues to flourish and contribute as a human being.
Mitch is constantly thinking of where to go next. His medical problems as a human being have given him plenty of time for introspection and he wards off any negativity by staying focused on his projects. His body may have slowed down, but his brain doesn’t rest.. The power of a moving lyric tied to a melody never fails to move him. Pair that with his love of freedom, justice and “menshlechkeit,” and you realize that what his family inculcated him is ever present.

He has three major projects he’s working on right now. One of them is a book entitled “Passing Through.” It will consist of 71 essays of people he has known throughout his life, including: his Uncle Meyer, who jumped off
the train on the way to Auschwitz, but whose family refused to follow him; his Zeida Avram Leibe – his mum’s dad whom he idolized and who taught him how to play gin; plus Mitch’s very close friends, Joe Flexer and Harry Paine, among 67 others.
Throughout the years, Mitch has kept in touch with his siblings, cousins, nephews and nieces. He appreciates family and the connections it brings. He calls it the core Podolak: people caring about other people.


I ended our conversation by asking Mitch how he feels about being a Jew. His Hebrew name is Melech which, of course, means king – and he likes the name. His mum Rhoda often used it: “Melech Ben Noach”, a.k.a. Mitch Podolak. Suffice to say, you’re not going to find Melech at any of the synagogues on Yom Kippur or on any other holidays. He loves the culture, the food, the music, the humour, but he’s an avowed atheist. He’s well aware of Jewish values and ethics and uses them to form his vision of a better world, especially the aspects of brotherhood and sisterhood. When it comes to Israel, Mitch has hopes of it becoming a socialist country, in the context of a socialist Middle East in which all Semites are equal and united in making a better world. In his way, Mitch Podolak has found a path to peace.

At the age of 70 and having to undergo a traumatic health setback, he’s remarkably selfless, stubborn, surprisingly traditional, and ever hopeful and optimistic. In fact, these days, at a time when his injuries won’t allow him to play his beloved banjo, Mitch says, “At least I can sing badly!”
(Ed. note: MItch Podolak passed away in August 2019.)

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Features

How Live Casino Dealers Enhance Your Gaming Experience

In the booming online gaming world, live casino dealers stand out as the bridge between the virtual and the real. They bring the physical casino’s authenticity and excitement to your screen, creating a more immersive and engaging experience. But how exactly do live casino dealers enhance your gaming experience?

From fostering a social atmosphere to increasing trust in online games, these professionals make gaming sessions more enjoyable and genuine.

Real-time Interaction

Real-time interaction revolutionizes the online gaming industry, particularly in live casinos. By leveraging advanced streaming technology, live casino dealers can engage with players just as they would in a traditional casino environment.

This dynamic interaction enhances the gaming experience by fostering a sense of presence and camaraderie. Through chat features and live video feeds, players can communicate with the dealer and even with other participants, creating an immersive and social atmosphere.

The role of the live dealer is crucial, as their real-time responses and professional demeanour elevate the authenticity and enjoyment of the game. This interactive experience makes the games more exciting. It instills greater trust and transparency, replicating the feel of a brick-and-mortar casino from the comfort of home.

Enhanced Trust and Transparency

Trust is essential in online casinos as it dramatically impacts players’ peace of mind. Gamblers look for confidence that their selected platform is dependable, safe, and runs transparently and fairly.

Online casinos build trust and transparency by acquiring proper licensing, offering secure transactions, ensuring fair play, and providing high-quality customer service. Moreover, other online casinos introduce live casino games with live dealers to enhance trust and transparency.

In addition to real-time interactions, live dealers can interact with the players like in brick-and-mortar casinos. Players can ask questions, make comments, and receive immediate responses, fostering a sense of community and reliability.

This interaction mimics the social aspects of land-based casinos, where players can gauge the dealer’s demeanour and professionalism, thus bolstering their confidence in the game’s integrity.

Additionally, live dealer games are often overseen by regulatory bodies and broadcast from high-quality, secured studios, adding another level of accountability. Multiple camera angles and advanced streaming technology ensure every action is visible and transparent, diminishing potential fraud concerns.

Professional and Entertaining Conduct

Professional conduct is the backbone of any successful live casino. Dealers who are well-trained in the game’s rules, adept at handling cards or other gaming equipment, and capable of managing the game flow efficiently create a seamless gaming experience.

They also uphold the principles of fairness and transparency, providing players with peace of mind that the game is being conducted properly.

Beyond professionalism, a dealer’s entertainment ability sets a live casino apart from its online counterparts. Engaging dealers who interact with players, share witty banter, and maintain a lively atmosphere can transform a simple game into a memorable event.

Their charisma and energy help to foster a social environment, encouraging interaction between players and setting the stage for a more immersive experience.

The best live casino dealers master the delicate balance between professionalism and entertainment. They effortlessly shift from explaining complex game rules to keeping the mood light and engaging. This balance ensures players feel respected and entertained, enhancing their satisfaction and encouraging repeat visits.

Varied Game Options

The success of online casinos heavily depends on the calibre and diversity of their game offerings. In the fiercely competitive online gambling industry, casinos must provide a wide range of top-notch games to draw in and keep their players engaged.

One essential reason online casinos need a diverse game selection is to keep players interested and entertained. Another advantage of offering a wide range of games is that it meets players’ diverse preferences. Gamblers have unique tastes, motivations, and gaming styles.

That said, live casino dealers are trained to handle multiple game types, ensuring players enjoy various gaming options.

Their professionalism and capability allow seamless transitions between games, keeping the gaming environment dynamic and engaging. This variety caters to seasoned gamblers seeking depth and strategy and welcomes newcomers eager to explore and learn.

Moreover, live dealers often introduce unique game variants and themed events that you might not find in a traditional online casino. These unique offerings can include everything from high-stakes poker tournaments to themed game nights featuring popular TV shows or movie franchises, enhancing the gaming experience.

Personalized Gaming Experience

Another key benefit of having live casino dealers is the personalized gaming experience they provide. Dealers are trained to cater to each player’s unique preferences and behaviours, making adjustments and offering insights that make each session feel exclusive.

Their friendly demeanour and professional approach ensure that the games run smoothly and that players feel valued and entertained.

Moreover, the live casino setup often includes multiple camera angles and high-definition streaming, ensuring players don’t miss a moment of the action. This level of engagement and transparency boosts player confidence and trust in the game’s fairness, further enriching the overall experience.

Conclusion

Live casino dealers significantly enhance the online gaming experience by bringing authenticity, interaction, trust, and entertainment. With varied game options and the ability for personalization, players can enjoy a casino experience that closely mirrors the excitement of playing in a physical casino.

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Features

Is There Enough Time Before Summer to Get a Summer Body?

Do you think there’s enough time to get a summer body before the height of summer? Of course! If you start right now, you still have two months before August, which we’d class as the height of summer. Two months is enough time to make good progress and see some changes that’d make you look and feel incredible.

Read on to find out more.

Lean Diet and Lifting Weights

It’s the part that nobody likes to think about – the hard work. Yes, if you want to get a summer body before summer, you must be ultra-strict with your lean diet and lifting weights, with a sprinkle of cardio. Combining a lean diet with weight training forms the basis for your summer body.

If you’re ultra-strict with your diet and training four or five times a week, there’s a massive difference you can make, especially if you get your training plan spot on. You can also speed up the process with supplements – supplements will be your best friend! Check out Canadian Made Labs (canadianmadelabs.com) for example, to find the best supplement for you.

Stick to eating whole, unprocessed foods like lean meats, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Reducing refined sugars and unhealthy fats will help you lose fat and build muscle. Swap your sweet snack for 0% low-fat Greek yogurt, granola, honey, and mixed fruits, and you’ve already made a massive difference to your diet and outcomes. And it tastes good!

Weight training is equally essential for muscle development, metabolism, and how quickly your physique changes. Focus on compound exercises that target multiple muscles for maximum results.

Hybrid Training

Hybrid training works well. If you’ve got some fat to trim, cardio is essential. Don’t worry, you don’t need to run. A moderate-paced walk on a steeper incline can burn more calories than running, is more enjoyable for most people, and won’t leave you gasping for breath. The stair master is another good cardio machine for a quick blast that will leave you gasping for breath but feeling good.

If you really want to make quick changes, do high-intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT workouts consist of short bursts of high-intensity exercise followed by brief periods of low-intensity exercise or rest.

This form of workout can help you lose body fat within a short period compared to steady-state cardio exercise, for example – a 20-minute session doing these intervals may benefit you more than one hour of slow walking. Apparently, you can burn 40% more body fat with HIIT. And what’s 20 minutes of sweating and suffering if you want quick gains?

Psychological Resilience and Self-Control

It doesn’t only involve physical fitness; mental strength and willpower also play a huge role in achieving a perfect summer body. Discipline and a positive mindset are necessary for maintaining focus on one’s goals. Set achievable targets, and understand that progress takes time. If you’re ever lacking motivation, pick the body you want and imagine it in your mind. Tell yourself, over and over, that you need that body. In times of low motivation, reminding yourself repetitively of the body you want can make a big difference.

Consistency in the eating plan and daily training will encourage habits that can become part of you. And, don’t only measure your progress through weight or inches alone but also how good you feel physically and mentally.

It’s time to think about your summer body…because you’re running out of time. Start today and see what difference you can make by August!

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Want to know about a a Muslim Arab state that’s been “occupied” by another Muslim Arab state? Read about Western Sahara

Contributed by DOMINIC MARTIN Did you know that a mere four hour flight from London lies a self-proclaimed Arab state chafing under a decades-long occupation? And that their haughty overlords, motivated in part by dubious historical claims to the land, partly by naked territorial aggrandizement, annually encourages thousands of its settlers to move in and tilt the demographic balance in its favour? And all this with the tacit support of its Western allies, and in blatant violation of numerous UN resolutions? Meanwhile the indigenous inhabitants of this land are left to eke out a threadbare existence in the arid scraps left to them, whilst many more languish in refugee camps in neighbouring states. And yet, undaunted, this oppressed people fight on, standing proudly under their red, green, white and black flag. Their occupiers, in a move equal parts desperation and exasperation, have resorted to constructing an enormous barrier across the entirety of the territory, de facto annexing the choicest areas to the ‘motherland’.

I talk of course of Western Sahara, or the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic if you prefer (Morocco, which has occupied the bulk of this former Spanish colony in north-west Africa since 1975, prefers the term ‘Southern Provinces’). Never heard of it? You’re not alone. Despite lying just 60 miles east of the Canary Islands, this Britain-sized slab of rock and desert occupies a position in the average Westerner’s imagination somewhere between East Timor and Ambazonia. There are no weekly protests in support of the oppressed Sahrawi people, no calls to boycott Moroccan goods, no ICC court case against Morocco, and no ceaseless stream of hand-wringing pity pieces for the Sahrawis in the left-leaning media.

Why not? Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, right? Those on the progressive left endlessly tell us that their support for the Palestinian cause is due solely for their compassion for an oppressed people – ‘you don’t have to be Muslim/Arab to support Palestine, just human’, as the phrase de jour goes. Yet Western Sahara? Crickets. This is perplexing – after all, it has all the right ingredients; if anything, it offers a far more clear-cut case than Palestine, given that the Polisario Front (Western Sahara’s answer to the PLO) has refrained from terrorist attacks on civilians and focuses its armed struggle solely against Moroccan military targets, and therefore doesn’t require the kind of awkward moral hedging demanded by supporters of the Palestinians.

And yet Western Sahara is comprehensively ignored. Its flag emoji has failed to take its place next to the EU, Ukraine and trans flags in the Twitter and Instagram bios of the right-on set. Could it be that this intra-Arab dispute between two Muslim peoples who look the same and speak the same language simply lacks the gravitas and high-stakes excitement of the Arab-Israeli imbroglio? That this dispute over a remote desert fastness, whose main exports are fish and a bit of phosphate, is simply not sexy enough? (Even Lonely Planet, usually a-gush with fawning admiration for the most dangerous and dusty ‘up and coming’ developing world destinations, calls it “featureless, arid, inhospitable and uninviting.”) Is it possible that despite the evident wrongs committed against the long-suffering Sahrawi people, that the slacktivist set simply don’t care? It certainly seems that way, which would suggest to this author at least that their support for Palestine represents for the most part less a genuine outpouring of righteous fury against injustice, than a performative display of allegiance to ‘the current thing’. Having long since grown bored of the grim trench warfare in Ukraine, this is now the sole foreign policy issue on which our progressive panjandrums absolutely insist that one must take a stand. The only other similar dispute which even comes close is the moribund ‘Free Tibet’ movement, which has long since fizzled out as its supporters realised the futility of protesting the regime in Beijing.

We are often told that the world doesn’t care about Palestine, that “Palestinian blood is very cheap” as former Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf put it. Yet the complete opposite is in fact the case. No other foreign policy issue attracts as much international attention as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and no other ‘national liberation’ struggle attracts as much foreign support as that of the Palestinians. Would a major flare up of fighting in Western Sahara be capable of swinging a British by-election, as happened recently in Rochdale? Hardly.

So, that’s the progressives. Meanwhile the vociferous rage of their erstwhile allies in the Islamic ‘ummah’ is perhaps at first glance more understandable, their religious sensibilities understandably inflamed at seeing Muslims dying by the score, and at the hands of the infidel no less. Yet even here we see a similar double standard at play. Where has been the outrage at other violent oppression committed against Muslims, such as China’s brutal suppression of the Uighurs, Burma’s genocidal attacks against the Rohingya, or the Alawite Assad regime’s brutal bloodbath in Syria? To say nothing of the tens of thousands of deaths caused by intra-Muslim civil wars in Yemen, Sudan or Iraq? It’s hard not to notice that Muslims generally ignore those issues and reserve especial ire for Israel and Israel alone. Ad for Western Sahara – it doesn’t even get a look in. It would seem that Laayoune, Dakhla or Boujdour simply lack the heady religious allure of Jerusalem, Jenin or Jericho. It would seem that some Muslim lives are worth more than others.

At some point the brutal fighting in Gaza will come to an end. The rent-a-protestors will find a new trend to get excited about. It is quite likely that we will see yet another international push to reanimate the interminable Arab-Israeli ‘peace process’. Forget potential nuclear war in Korea or Kashmir, or the slow-motion implosion of Myanmar – the entire weight of the world’s efforts and attention will once again be bought to bear on the great, grand cause of creating a corrupt, authoritarian (if not outright Islamist) Palestinian statelet in the Middle East. And when that happens, spare a thought if you will for the Sahrawis, as they waste away in their desert shantytowns. After all, no one else will.

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