By GERRY POSNER I just had a first. My wife and I attended the first ever SASKATCHEWAN JEWISH ARTS FESTIVAL, held in Saskatoon from October 19- 23, 2022. It was a joy to be there.
Now this joy was certainly enhanced by the fact that the organizer, fund raiser, creator and curator of the event and the general head honcho was my nephew, Joel Bernbaum. He and the Festival producer, Malvina Rapko, were the ones that made this first ever festival reach fruition. In addition, my wife and I were able to be present for the involvement of my son Ari in the program, both at the Shabbat service on Friday night and at a panel discussion on Sunday afternoon. I say without reservation, the festival was a huge success.
To make this kind of event work, the key was to involve the broader Saskatoon community. Truth be told, there are few Jews in Saskatchewan. In Saskatoon, there are likely fewer than 200 family units. Thus, the challenge was to develop activities that would appeal to the wider Saskatoon population. And that is what the organizers did. All the events were well attended.
One might ask why have a Jewish Arts Festival at all and in fact I asked my nephew that very question. He was quite clear as to why. Because of both the pandemic and the declining Jewish population in Saskatoon, the Jewish community was unable to participate in Folkfest, the Saskatoon version of Folklrama. Hence, Joel and the committee planning the event felt there was an opportunity to reach out to show to the city of Saskatoon and beyond what the Jews of Saskatchewan were all about. At the same time this was an opportunity to show off the newly refurbished Agudas Israel Synagogue, originally built in the 1950s.
The festival featured Jewish artists and speakers, both from Saskatchewan and across Canada. There was a festival opening dance party on October 19 with DJ Butt Mitzvah and a lecture titled “Ukrainian Jewish Artists Across Three Centuries” at the Ukrainian Museum of Canada on October 20. As well, on October 20 there was a Jewish film night at the Broadway Theatre. As well, there was the production of the play “Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story.” The play was the only part of the festival where the guest had to pay. The play was produced by the Persephone Theatre at the suggestion of Bernbaum. He arranged to have the festival coincide with the running of the play.
By the time this article reaches print, the play will already have been shown in Winnipeg by the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre, so it is too late to give a shout out to the readers on the outstanding success of the Old Stock play which has been running for many years now across the country and in the US. What the play captured was the immigration issues faced by a Jewish couple back in 1908 (very relevant to the present day) and their story was brought to life by some familiar (but original) music and the superb performances of the five actors and musicians, particularly the multi-talented Ben Caplan.
The Friday night service, which had a much larger attendance at the synagogue than was ever the case in many years, was highlighted by the spectacular voice of Saskatoon-born and bred soprano Jardena Gertler- Jaffe. One of the prayers she chanted was a composition of the prayer “Mi Chamocha,” which Ari Posner created. I, of course, am biased, but it was a thrilling few minutes for my wife and me.
On Sunday afternoon, October 23, the festival concluded with a panel discussion on the relationship between music and prayer. The discussion was skillfully moderated by Joel Bernbaum and the panelists, including Ben Caplan, Jardena Gertler Jaffe, Ari Posner and the Rabbi of Agudas Israel, Claudio Jodorkofsky. There was a good sized crowd there, many of whom were not Jewish. I kept thinking as I watched the panel in action: What would this day have meant to my in-laws, Frank and Frances Bernbaum, long time residents of Saskatoon, who had two grandsons up there on stage participating in this Jewish event? The nachas for them would be never ending.
So I say Kippahs off to the Jewish community of Saskatoon. Stay tuned for the next festival, perhaps as early as next year or 2024.