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Mud: Shtetl to Shoah

Shtetl scene

By DAVID TOPPER A Note to the reader: I will preface this story with a remark about me. I often write stories and poems using the pseudonym Dee Artea (pronounced D R T, my monogram) when writing in a female voice. But this is the first time I have put Dee into a story.

I’m trying to decide what to do with the document that you’re reading. You’ll see shortly, I’m sure, what I’m talking about – that is, if you read on.
I don’t know what to do. I’m stymied. And it’s all because of this new assistant I hired. Dee Artea, who refuses to tell me anything about her past. Not where she’s from, her family, nor even the origin of her name. Nothing. Beyond her being Jewish, I don’t know anything about her.
Well, to be precise, I didn’t hire her, and I guess calling her an assistant is not quite right either – since we’re living together. So, I can’t really fire her, can I?
Which is why – or, at least, one reason why – I’m stymied.
Plus, it just occurred to me that you may agree with her point of view – and then, so-to-speak, take her side on this matter. Well, so be it. Still, what to do?

Many readers will agree with me. My point-of-view, I’m sure. Yes. I am.
There you go. That’s my friend Dee, butting in and making her point. Forcefully, I would say. What should I do about her, short of putting a password on my computer?
In the meantime, I need to bring in some back-story.
It all started when Dee saw my heart-rending book of Roman Vishniac’s photographs of Jews living in the Pale of Settlement in the 1930s. … Wait, before that: I wanted to write something for the local Jewish paper about the pogroms of the late 19th & early 20th centuries as precursors to the Shoah. … No, that’s not it, either. … I need to go … further back. Yes, here goes.
I first met Dee, who was out of a job. I think she got fired for insubordination and th—

That’s what my boss called it. Actually, I was just correcting his mistakes. Proofreading and such.
Okay, anyway, we met one warm day this past spring when I was sitting on a bench in the English flower garden in Assiniboine Park, reading a book. As she walked by, she noticed that I was reading a book of stories by Sholem Aleichem, so she sat down beside me and started a conversation. She immediately told me that Sholem Aleichem (meaning “peace to you”) was the pseudonym of Solomon Rabinowitz, born in the Ukraine in 1859 and one of the most famous Yiddish writers of fictional stories of shtetl life; but, having witnessed a vicious pogrom in 1905, he emigrated, and eventually settled in New York City for the rest of his life – all of which I already knew (well, maybe not the exact dates).
It was quickly clear that Dee was bright, Jewish, and knew a lot about some of the same things that fascinate me in Jewish culture and history. We “hit it off” as they say. Indeed, it was uncanny how much we thought alike – well, at least, on most things. When we parted and decided to meet on this same bench the next day, I thought to myself: bashert.

That’s a very strong statement, I’d say. Don’t you think?
Yes, indeed.
Well, clearly, I liked her. But I must say that I wasn’t attracted to her. She was friendly and all, but not physically appealing. To be honest, she looks a lot like me – which isn’t a compliment, since I’m a man. We are moreover about the same height, complexion, and body weight. There’s nothing particularly feminine about her physique and manners. Nonetheless, over time (really the short time we’ve been together) I’ve moved beyond these external matters, as we’ve become closer, a lot closer, as intellectual – and I might even say, as spiritual – mates.
Despite looking alike, we have different personalities. I’m the rational, level-headed guy, calm (at least, externally so) under pressure. Whereas Dee is passionate, compulsive, and readily shows her emotions. Of course, there is nothing unusual about this classic male/female dichotomy. Cliché? Well, so be it.

You know, there’s a reason for all of this, eh?
In subsequent meetings – initially in the park, then later in my home – I showed her my writings and told her about my research and plans for an essay on the 19th & 20th century pogroms, as portending the Shoah. She was very knowledgeable on this topic, and diligently read over the draft of my essay, correcting my mistakes as she went along. Her proofreading I found very helpful and not at all intimidating. Her changes to my original draft made it a much better essay. And I’m thankful to her for it.

As you should be.
Once she moved in with me, she had access to all my books. Quickly she read all the stories I have by Sholem Aleichem, which was the catalyst of our relationship, as you know. Next came Roman Vishniac’s book, mentioned before. Specifically, it’s called A Vanished World, published in 1983, with 180 photographs of life in the shtetls in Eastern Europe between 1935 and 1938.
Either Dee found it, or I pointed it out to her – but, in either case, she read the book and devoured it. She could not stop speaking about it for days – yes, days. She was that obsessed with it.

Yes, and I’m still obsessed because these pictures are almost too painful to look at. They break my heart. They should break yours too.
Yes, I agree. And it occurs to me that this is a good time to bring in some more back-story. Here goes. Roman Vishniac (1897–1990) was born in Russia and grew up in Moscow. In 1918 the family moved to Berlin (ironically because of the rise of anti-Semitism in revolutionary Russia). Hence it was from Germany, although sponsored by – namely, paid for – by the JDC (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee), that Vishniac made several trips into Eastern Europe to photograph Jewish life. He frequently used a hidden camera to capture everyday life in the world of the shtetl (Yiddish, for “little town”), as immortalised, as was said, in the stories of Sholem Aleichem.
Since his trips took place in the years 1935-1938, the title of his book, A Vanished World, had a doubly tragic meaning: that the world of the shtetls was gone, but so were the lives of the people in the photographs, almost all of whom most likely perished by coldblooded murder. Vishniac himself narrowly avoided being another victim of the Shoah, but luckily ended up in 1940 as a refugee in the USA – alive, yet penniless, trying to make a living by taking pictures of people in and around New York City.

You know, he once took a series of pictures of Einstein.
I know.

Ah, of course, you would know that. Oh, and did you know that there is a crater on the planet Mercury named Sholem Aleichem?
Yes.

As I suspected.
As mentioned, many of Vishniac’s pictures were taken in the Pale of Settlement in Eastern Europe. This was a clearly marked area, roughly comprising Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus, and parts of western Russia and eastern Poland (including Warsaw). It was the creation of Imperial Russia under Catherine the Great and was controlled by the Russian army. Recall, for example, that the Jews in 16th century Venice were segregated or quarantined into what was called for the first time a “ghetto.” Well, I would call the Pale of Settlement that began around the late 18th century, a ghetto writ large. Except for Jews with specific professions, businesses, or other situations (such as Vishniac’s father, when they lived in Moscow), all Jews were forbidden to live or even to just be anywhere outside the Pale (such as in Russia proper) – a rule that was strictly enforced until 1914, around the start of the First World War.

Since Vishniac grew up in Moscow, he had a childhood that was fundamentally isolated from Jewish culture.
Yes, that’s true. Thus, those years in the Pale were his first exposure to shtetl life. Incidentally, to be accurate, the area over which Vishniac roved in those years 1935-1938 encompassed more than the Pale. It also covered other parts of Eastern Europe, such as Austrian Galicia, the Kingdom of Romania, and the Kingdom of Hungary – for they too had shtetls scattered throughout their lands.
Nonetheless, having so many Jews concentrated in such small areas between the east and the west, made them (crudely put) sitting ducks. Or, switching metaphors, the Jewish shtetls were islands in a sea of Christianity, prone to occasional violent storms or even hurricanes of hostility, often resulting in the loss of life. This was true, first with the series of pogroms out of Imperial Russia in the 19th and early 20th centuries in the Pale of Settlement; then, later, as armies criss-crossed Eastern Europe during and between the two World Wars. Whether it was the German army moving east, or the Russian army moving west – it didn’t matter. With the breakdown of the rule of law, murder became ordinary: gentile neighbours just walked in and killed Jewish neighbours, confiscating their homes, belongings, and land. The lawlessness often led not only to brutality, where Jews could be slaughtered where they lived, but also to sadistic acts of humiliation, torture, and rape – before being butchered. Then there were the mass executions where men, women, and children were marched into nearby forests or open fields or over ravines or along riverbanks by German army units, often accompanied by local militia (collaborators), and shot point blank – the bodies then dumped into mass graves or allowed to float down rivers to a grave in the sea.

Do you know what happened in Latvia under German occupation?
Sadly, I do. In German-occupied Latvia, a blue bus of commandoes (Germans and locals) traveled the countryside for six months (July – December 1941) killing the Jews of the towns and villages, murdering over 22,000 innocent children, women, and men – one-third of the population of Jews in Latvia. They went on to assist in other killings, so that the entire Jewish population of Latvia – minus a few survivors – died in the Shoah. These Nazi mobile killing units, roaming throughout Eastern Europe, slaughtered more than one-million Jews – often wiping out entire communities. Such extreme, excessive, meaningless, malicious, senseless, and unprovoked cruelty – is unique in history.

Importantly, today sites of these past atrocities are being excavated in Eastern Europe, as this mass murder is finally, painstakingly, and painfully exposing its gruesome tale.
Yes, finally. Historian Timothy Snyder has called these the European “killing fields.” Let me put it in perspective this way. Probably the common mental image of the Shoah for most of us is that of emaciated prisoners in a concentration camp, such as Auschwitz. However – and this is not commonly known – in fact, more Jews died in these killing fields than in all the camps combined. It’s what has been called “the other Holocaust.”

As you know, I too have read Snyder’s book. I agree with him when he says that “the crime of the Holocaust was unprecedented in that it was the only such attempt to remove an entire people from the planet by way of mass murder.” Indeed, he calls it “the single most murderous outburst in human history.” You know, I sometimes have trouble sleeping at night, knowing so many died in vain, while I’m living peacefully in my bubble in Winnipeg.
Yes, Dee, me too, as you know.
But back to life in the shtetls throughout Europe because there’s more I want to say, starting with another topic that deeply haunts me.

Ah yes, the other Vishniac book.
This other book is titled Children of a Vanished World, published in 1999 (after Roman died) and it is edited by Mara Vishniac Kohn (Roman Vishniac’s daughter, who chose the pictures from her father’s massive oeuvre) and Miriam Hartman Flacks (a Yiddish scholar). The text is in Yiddish (with English translations), plus some poems and music. The main motivating force of the book (for me, at least) is the imagery: 70 black & white photographs, exclusively of children, making it another “Vishniac book” that tugs deeply at the reader’s emotions. So many child Shoah victims: 1.5 million, who perished in the madness of hate – epitomized in these 70 or so innocent faces.

So difficult to look at these pictures and not imagine how, in addition to their already hard lives in the shtetls, they were destined to experience a horrific fate.
To me, the photographs reveal how the life of many shtetl dwellers was, in itself, miserable.

Yes, life in the shtetl was much worse than most of us realize. Actually, it’s there in Sholem Aleichem’s stories, if you look closely.
True, although there were also wealthy Jews here and there. Rich merchants, for example, usually living in large cities, such as Warsaw, Cracow, or Lviv. Perhaps epitomized by the Rothschilds in Paris.

Remember Shalom Aleichem’s story “If I were Rothschild?” An amusing little story where he dreams about what he would do with all that money, starting with paying for his Sabbath meal, then further helping his family, friends, others, and then all the Jews of the world. In fact, with all that money he could end all wars. But then he realizes that the source of all this trouble is money itself, and so he eliminates money altogether.
And so, he ends by asking: How will I now provide for the Sabbath? – thus coming full circle. Which brings me back to the lowly life of most Jews, especially in the Pale and other shtetls, which was economically bleak, with many living in poverty. Women worked almost exclusively in the home, of course. Men were primarily tailors, artisans, shopkeepers, carpenters, cobblers, push-cart peddlers, and tax collectors – as such they often interacted with their non-Jewish neighbours in the village and sometime at weekly fairs. Few Jews farmed because (with some exceptions) Jews were not permitted to own land. When they did own land, what was allotted was often of poor quality for growing crops. Overall, therefore, they were forced to live in the shtetls, where the buildings were shabby wooden structures, and the streets were unpaved.

Yes, and unpaved roads turn to mud when it rains. Mud, mud, lots of mud. Allow me to quote from a landmark book on shtetl life: “In the summer the dust piles in thick layers, which the rain changes to mud so deep that wagon wheels stick fast and must be pried loose by the sweating driver, with the assistance of helpful bystanders. …When the mud gets too bad, boards are put down over the black slush so that people can cross the street.”
Yes Dee. And because of the extensive poverty, Jewish organizations within the shtetls set up a social welfare system, with free medical treatment for the poor. According to some historical statistics, no shtetl in the Pale had fewer than about 15% of Jews receiving tzedakah (charity or relief). Some sources say the number was even as high as over 30%.

There is nothing to romanticize about in such a life. Believe me. A life steeped in mud.
Agreed. Nonetheless, and against these grave odds, the Yiddish-speaking culture flourished. Valuing education and intellectual proclivity, most males were literate (unlike many of their gentile neighbours, such as the peasants).

Here’s a line from a story by Sholem Aleichem: “Earlier in the day the ice had begun to melt, and the snow had turned into waist-high mud.”
The modern Yeshiva system developed too; here students learned Hebrew under a melamed (teacher), of course Hebrew being the alphabet of Yiddish. Showing Jewish fortitude and resilience, they were able to make a life out of the bleak world of the shtetl.

“Joseph the Righteous took my hand and we leaped across the mud. Night was drawing closer and closer, and the mud became deep and deeper. I imagined I had wings, I was being wafted in the air.”
For them the “shtetl” was not the place: it was the people. And the “home” was not the house: it was the family.

“I was plodding through the mud alongside Methuselah, … who pulled his legs from the mud.”
Such dogged spirit produced Sholem Aleichem, whose most well-known creation was Tevye the Dairyman.

“Well, from all the good luck, nothing is left, but nothing, nothing but mud.”
From his stories of Tevye came the Broadway musical and film Fiddler on the Roof. One of the highlights of Fiddler is the scene showing a pogrom, which disrupts the otherwise joy of a wedding scene.

“They slogged through the clay mud and seated themselves on a log.”
As depicted in the play and film, however, this pogrom is mild as far as pogroms go; it’s more like a nasty act of vandalism.

No wonder Philip Roth called Fiddler “Shtetl Kitsch.” And Cynthia Ozick said it was an “emptied-out, prettified romantic vulgarization” of literary master Sholem Aleichem’s Yiddish tales.
One of the first series of pogroms took place in Odessa in 1821, where 14 Jews were killed.

“Around here the mud is so deep that it took the wagon all night to pull through the town.”
But in the late 19th century and into the 20th century it got worse. A series of about 200 pogroms took place from 1881-1884 in the Pale. Thousands of Jewish homes were destroyed. At least 40 Jews were killed and there are reports of 100s of rapes. The next wave was 1903-1906 and much bloodier with over 2000 Jews killed.

“For a time, it even looked as if I might spend Passover axle-deep in mud.”
Thus, from the 1880s to about 1914, over 2 million Jews emigrated out of Russia ending up primarily in the UK, USA, & Canada. I’m sure many readers are where they are today because their forefathers and foremothers came over in one of those human waves.

“She admits that she’s a tinderbox. When a bad mood hits her, she’ll throw mud at anyone.”
Sounds like you, Dee. You, the passionate one.

“We greeted and shook hands, with me knee-deep in the mud.”
But this is enough, already. Stop it. Yes, Sholem Aleichem called attention to the role of mud in shtetl life. So Dee, you’ve made your point.
Time to end this tale. … Now!
And, Dee, you know what? Despite my original misgivings about your insufferable intrusions in my story – I’ve decided to keep them where they are, for they force me to acknowledge the hardship of the Jews in the shtetls. Considering that this culminated in the Shoah, I see them as appropriate for such a terrible tale that is often difficult even to fathom.
From mud in the shtetl to mud in the mass graves – mud has become for me both a reality and a metaphor for all the pain and sorrow of our people in Europe before the rebirth of Israel.


Albert Einstein was mentioned by Dee, and so I’ve added this, to give some levity to what is otherwise grim and depressing.
As mentioned before, when Vishniac was a new immigrant in New York he earned a living by photographing people. One day he traveled to Princeton, New Jersey, where Einstein lived. Vishniac falsely told the guard at the Institute where Einstein worked that they had known each other in Germany, and thus gained access to Einstein’s office. Einstein was sympathetic to a fellow Jew, a refugee too, and thus allowed Vishniac to take pictures of him while he was working in his office that day doing mainly mathematical calculations, either on paper at a desk or on several blackboards on the walls. Among the many famous portraits of Einstein is one by Vishniac, which you will find on the Wikipedia website for “Vishniac.” I must say, however, that I question the assertion there, that it was Albert’s favourite portrait of himself.
I also wish to point out that throughout the 1930s and into the 1940s, Einstein, using his celebrity status, worked tirelessly writing letters and such, to get Jews out of Nazi Europe – and was successful in many cases.


Since Fiddler on the Roof was mentioned above, here are a few comments on it, considering the theme of this story.
First, Fiddler was preceded by the Yiddish movie Tevya by Maurice Schwartz in 1939, a symbolic year, with the start of the Second World War. Although once thought to be lost, a print of the film was discovered in 1978, and it is now in the US National film Registry by the Library of Congress. In black & white, with English subtitles, Tevya is worth watching for historical reasons, but otherwise it also romanticizes the lives of the Russian Jews. Indeed, it ends, not with a pogrom, but a mere eviction of Tevya and his family from the village they were born into. Incidentally, there were also some earlier theatre productions based on the life of “Tevya the Dairyman.”
As for Fiddler – music by ,  by , and book by Jose – it was first a stage musical in 1964. The title comes from a painting by Marc Chagall (who made a harrowing escape from the Germans by being smuggled out of Nazi-occupied France in May 1941), and as such, the set and scenery of the stage productions mostly reflected the brightly coloured palette of his paintings. The 1971 film, in colour, was probably grittier and more realistic than most of the stage productions. Nonetheless, after watching it again, I must say that it lacks the necessary mud. There’s lots of dirt, well-packed dirt, and the occasional dust – but no mud. Not until the very end, when all the villagers are leaving Russia in the winter, with a layer of snow on the ground; and, at one point, a wagon gets temporarily stuck in a (muddy?) rut, but it’s immediately pushed out – a brief moment, a fraction of a second. That’s it.


Here’s a short, Annotated Bibliography.

  1. Sholom Aleichem, Favorite Tales of Sholom Aleichem, trans. by Julius & Frances Butwin (New York: Avenel Books, 1983). Note: most sources spell his first name as Sholem. This book contains 55 story stories. Of course, the quotes about mud are clearly Yiddish exaggerations – but, in having done so, they speak of the true misery of shtetl life.
  2. Wendy Lower, The Ravine: A Family, A Photograph, A Holocaust Massacre Revealed (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021). This is an extraordinary work of historical research. But it’s an extremely painful book to read, for it takes the reader through the details of a specific murder of a woman and a child in the Holocaust. Now, multiply that horror by millions. This book is in the Winnipeg Library system.
  3. Timothy Snyder, Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning (New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2015). This too is a painful-to-read chronicle of the “other Holocaust” in Eastern Europe, which at the time was the heartland of world Jewry. Multiple copies are in the Winnipeg Library system.
  4. Roman Vishniac, A Vanished World (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1983). Out of print. Many of the pictures are mesmerizing. I treasure my copy.
  5. Mara Vishniac Kohn and Miriam Hartman Flacks (editors), Children of a Vanished World (Berkeley: Univ. of California, 1999). There is a copy of this book in the Winnipeg Library system. As said: it’s heartbreaking to look at these pictures of children – and to contemplate their fate.
  6. The archives of Vishniac’s estate were deposited in 2018 in the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art & Life in the Library of the University of California, at Berkeley. For the scholars – or future scholars – out there.
  7. Mark Zborowski & Elizabeth Herzog, Life is with People: The Culture of the Shtetl (New York: Schocken, 1952). 1995 reprint. This is the “landmark” book mentioned in the story. The quotation is from page 61.

Features

A Backwards Family Tree

author Janice Weizman/cover of "Our Little Histories"

By ILANA KURSHAN
The following review first appeared in the February 15, 2024 issue of Lilith Magazine. Reprinted with permission.
What does Jennifer Greenberg-Wu, an American-Jewish museum curator working on a reality show in rural Belarus, have to do with Raizel Shulman, a Russian mother desperate to save her triplet sons from being drafted into the czar’s army? The answer spans three continents and nearly two centuries, and it is the spellbinding tale that Janice Weizman weaves in Our Little Histories (Toby Press, $17.95), a novel that unfolds back-wards to tell the story of a family’s history one generation at a time.
Each of the book’s seven chapters focuses on another branch of the family tree that connects Jennifer back to Raizel. We witness the encounter between Jennifer’s mother Nancy Wexler, a young feminist hippie from Chicago, and her distant cousin Yardena, 25 years old and happily pregnant in Tel Aviv in 1968. In the next chapter we meet Yardena’s mother, Tamar, who, while smuggling guns for the Haga- nah, engages in a fateful act of betrayal with a visitor to her home on Kibbutz Hadar, where she has made her home ever since her parents sent her off on a train from Minsk in 1927. In the next chapter we meet Tamar’s distant cousin, Gabriel Schulman, a literature teacher in Vilna, who is attacked in a dark alley in Tamar’s impassioned letters pleading with him to come to Palestine before the situation in Europe gets worse for the Jews. “To be a Jew in Vilna, or Poland, or perhaps anywhere, is to find courage where you thought you had none, to feel it flowing through your veins like blood,” Gabriel thinks in the seconds before he is attacked.
Set one year earlier but thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean, the following chapter focuses on a third branch of the family—not those who stayed in Europe or settled in Palestine, but those like Nat Wexler, a first-generation American journalist in Chicago who is also Tamar and Gabriel’s cousin. Nat understands Yiddish but cannot speak it, and prides himself in his assimilation into American culture; he dreads bringing his fashionable, light-hearted Jewish-American girlfriend to the Yiddish theater with his mother, who is eager to meet her. The penultimate chapter takes us back forty years earlier to turn-of-the-century Belarus, where Gabriel’s father Yoyna is sent on a mission by his own father to reunite with his father’s two brothers; all three brothers were separated at a young age. In the book’s compelling, heart-wrenching final chapter, we meet three triplet boys, one of whom is Yoyna’s father, and we learn the reasons for their tragic separation by their mother Raizel in the shtetl in 1850, where “every year, right around the short dark days leading up to Hanukkah, the boys of Propoisk become scarce…gone for weeks or even months at a time.”
Like A .B. Yehoshua’s Mr. Mani, which follows a Sephardi family back in time, Our Little Histories is a book that demands re-rereading, backwards, from the last chapter back to the first. Connecting threads link one generation to another, and serve as leitmotifs through out the book, like the poem in three stanzas that Raizel Schulman pens just before she parts from two of her triplets so as to spare them from the czar’s army; each son receives one stanza, and the poem is published in a 1914 Yiddish anthology which Yoyna gives to Gabriel, who mails it to Tamar, who donates the slim booklet to the Yiddish library in Tel Aviv, where Yardena and Nancy find it; Nancy will give that booklet to Jennifer to take with her to Belarus for her reality show. When Jennifer’s mother hands her that booklet, she is convinced she has seen it before, and her deja-vu mirrors that of the reader, who will encounter and re-encounter the anthology, and Raizel’s poem, in each of the book’s seven chapters.
Our Little Histories is masterfully constructed, such that the book’s final chapter is both inevitable—it couldn’t possibly have been any other way—and yet impossible to predict. The three branches of Raizel’s family, who make their homes in Europe, Israel, and America, offer us an intimate window into aspects of Ashke- nazi Jewish history—pogroms and Zionism, yeshiva culture and the assimilation, the kibbutz and the shtetl. We have all tragically witnessed how the legacy of persecution has reverberated even in the Jew- ish homeland, a reminder of the unbear- able sacrifices and the acts of raw courage that continue to forge us as a people.

Our Little Histories is available in paperback and kindle on Amazon.

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Features

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?”
“Nope.”
“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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