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‘An American Tail’ musical adaptation hopes its Jewish immigration story will resonate in 2023

(JTA) — Itamar Moses was 10 years old when he watched “An American Tail” at his Jewish day school in California. He was struck by the 1986 film, an animated musical about a family of Russian-Jewish mice who immigrate to America. Even though he was surrounded by Jewish classmates and teachers, he had never seen a cartoon with Jewish protagonists.

“Watching this mainstream hit American animated movie where the central character and the central family were specifically Jewish — it was unusual,” Moses told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “I think there was something that felt inclusive to us about that.”

Now a Tony Award-winning playwright, Moses has adapted the children’s classic for the stage. “An American Tail the Musical” will premiere at the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis on April 25 and run through June 18. Along with writing by Moses, who won his Tony for a Broadway adaptation of the Israeli film “The Band’s Visit,” the new production features familiar songs such as “Somewhere Out There” and new music and lyrics by Michael Mahler and Alan Schmuckler (“Diary of a Wimpy Kid the Musical”). The team hopes to tour the show if it has success in Minneapolis.

The original film created by Don Bluth and Steven Spielberg follows the journey of a young, tenacious mouse named Fievel Mousekewitz. Fievel’s family lives below the human Moskowitz family in Shostka, a city in the Russian Empire, in 1885. Spielberg, who had yet to make “Schindler’s List” or widely address his Jewish family history, named the character after his maternal grandfather — Phillip or “Fievel” Posner — an immigrant from Russia.

The movie begins with the Mousekewitzes and the Moskowitzes celebrating Hanukkah when Cossacks tear through Shostka in an antisemitic pogrom, together with their animal counterparts — a battery of evil cats. The Mouskewitzes flee Europe and board a ship to America, where Papa Mouskewitz (voiced by Nehemiah Persoff) promises “there are no cats” and “the streets are paved with cheese.” But a thunderstorm at sea washes Fievel overboard, leaving his devastated parents and sister to arrive in New York City without him. Although they believe he did not survive, Fievel floats to shore in a bottle and sets out to find his family. 

Of course, he quickly learns there are cats in America — along with corruption and exploitation. Fievel is sold to a sweatshop by Warren T. Rat, a cat disguised as a rat. A crooked mouse politician called Honest John (a caricature of the real Tammany Hall boss John Kelly) wanders Irish wakes, scribbling dead mice’s names in his list of “ghost votes.” But Fievel finds camaraderie with other immigrant mice rallying for freedom from the cats’ attacks and Warren T. Rat’s extortion. He befriends Italian mouse Tony and Irish mouse Bridget, who join the quest to reunite his family.

The film’s metaphors will be presented similarly in the stage version, which is also set in the 1880s, although Moses has expanded its lens on the immigrant groups that populated New York at the time. The musical will incorporate more “mice” communities, such as Chinese, Caribbean and Scandinavian mice, along with African Americans and former slaves.

A scene from rehearsal. (Kaitlin Randolph)

“An American Tail” was part of a shift in mainstream media toward Jewish representation, said Jennifer Caplan, an assistant professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Cincinnati who has studied this cultural change.

“It came out in 1986, and then ‘Seinfeld’ premiered in 1989,” Caplan told the JTA. “People point to 1989 as this moment when representations of Jews changed. There was this feeling in the late ‘80s that people were looking for new, different, possibly even more explicit representations of Jews.”

Yet despite the movie’s resonance with children like Moses, some film critics complained that it wasn’t Jewish enough. Critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave the film “two thumbs down” on a 1986 episode of their program “At The Movies,” calling it “way too depressing” for children and arguing that it “chickened out” of an explicitly Jewish story. Ebert noted that while most adults would understand the Mousekewitzes were Jewish, the word “Jewish” never appears in the film, potentially leaving young audiences in the dark. 

“This seems to be a Jewish parable that doesn’t want to declare itself,” he said at the time.

Unlike in Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel “Maus,” where Jews are mice and Nazis are cats, the cat-and-mouse metaphor of “An American Tail” is expansive. The cats represent a universal force of oppression — Cossacks in Russia or capitalists in America — while the mice encompass all persecuted immigrants, regardless of their religion, ethnicity or national origin.

Caplan admitted that some might not have seen it as a Jewish story at the time.

“In 1986, we’re right at the birth of the multicultural push in American schools,” said Caplan. “You’ve got kids who are learning about the melting pot. I think if you are not looking for the coded Jewishness and you’re not familiar with it, then this just seems like a movie about immigrants.”

But Moses, who said the movie held a “mystical place” in his imagination, did not view the story’s broad allegory as a shortcoming. Instead, he saw an opportunity to pull its continuous thread for a message he hopes will feel relevant today: that while immigrants discover inequality and abuse in America, the forces of injustice are changeable, and that people can overcome life’s harsh realities through “grit and hard work and coming together.”

“That message is always timely, but definitely coming out of the last few years and the conversations that America is having about immigration,” said Moses. “I wanted to tell this story that’s really a fable, so you can get at these ideas indirectly as opposed to in a dry, didactic way.”

Jodi Eichler-Levine, a Jewish studies professor at Lehigh University, argued the tale’s success lies in being a “story of Jewish immigration that appeals to non-Jews as well” and called the movie a “fairytale about America.” It premiered 100 years after the Statue of Liberty’s dedication in 1886, amid centennial celebrations of the country’s immigration history. In the film, the statue comes alive, winking at Fievel and his sister once they find each other and look west at the vast expanse of the United States. 

Itamar Moses won acclaim for adapting “The Band’s Visit” for Broadway. (Courtesy of Moses)

Whether viewers still buy into the optimistic crescendo of “An American Tail” remains to be seen. Do Americans still believe, as Moses hopes, that immigrants and oppressed peoples can unite to overthrow the tyrants of unfettered capitalism? A Gallup poll from February showed that Americans’ satisfaction with the country’s level of immigration has dropped to 28%, the lowest point in a decade. 

Moses is betting that children’s theater has a way of refreshing themes adults have exhausted with political discourse. Children want to grapple with the ideas at the core of the show, he said, such as “the needs of the individual and the needs of the collective, the need to go out on your own but still remain connected to your family and your background.”

“The most successful material for kids tends to engage with real things that they’re thinking about and worrying about,” he said. 

Today, another wave of families has fled Fievel’s hometown: though Shostka was part of the Russian Empire in the 19th century, it is now in the Sumy region of northeastern Ukraine. The Sumy Oblast was among the first regions stormed by Russian forces in February 2022 and continues to suffer daily shelling. Eichler-Levine expects that global refugee crises will only continue to broaden the appeal of a migration story.

“The ideas [in An American Tail] are sadly relevant for most of the planet right now, given that climate change and devastation from war are leading to another tremendous wave of global migration,” said Eichler-Levine.

The post ‘An American Tail’ musical adaptation hopes its Jewish immigration story will resonate in 2023 appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Canada’s economic growth projected to be about 1% in the first half of 2024

Canada is a country with a thriving Jewish community and has traditionally offered the security of a strong economy for residents. The national economic outlook is naturally something that everyone in Canada’s Jewish community keeps track of – especially those involved in business in the various provinces.

With this in mind, the July 2023 Monetary Policy Report from the Bank of Canada made for interesting reading, projecting a moderate economic growth figure of around 1% for the first half of 2024. This is in line with growth figures that had been forecast for the second half of 2023, and sees the country’s economy remain on a stable footing.

Steady projected growth for first half of 2024

Although projected economic growth of around 1% in early 2024 is not as impressive as figures of around 3.4% in 2022 and 1.8% in 2023, it is certainly no cause for alarm. But what might be behind it?

Higher interest rates are one major factor to consider and have had a negative impact on household spending nationally. This has effectively seen people with less spending power and businesses in Canada generating less revenue as a result.

Interest rate rises have also hit business investments nationally, and less money is being channelled into this area to fuel Canada’s economic growth. When you also factor in how the weak foreign demand for Canadian goods and services has hit export growth lately, the projected GDP growth figure for early 2024 is understandable.

Growth in second half of 2024 expected

Although the above may make for interesting reading for early 2024, the Bank of Canada’s report does show that economic growth is expected to pick up in the second half of the year. This is projected to be due to the decreasing effect of high interest rates on the Canadian economy and a stronger foreign demand for the country’s exports.

Moving forward from this period, it is predicted that inflation will remain at around 3% as we head into 2025, and hit the Bank of Canada’s inflation target of 2% come the middle of 2025. All of this should help the country’s financial status remain stable and prove encouraging for business leaders in the Jewish community.

Canada’s economic growth mirrors iGaming’s rise

When you take a look at the previous growth figures Canada has seen and also consider the growth predicted for 2024 (especially in the second half of the year), it is clear that the country has a vibrant, thriving economy.

This economic growth is something that can be compared with iGaming’s recent rise as an industry around the country. In the same way as Canada has steadily built a strong economy over time, iGaming has transformed itself into a powerful, flourishing sector.

This becomes even clearer when you consider that Canadian iGaming has been a major contributor to the sustained growth seen in the country’s arts, entertainment and recreation industry, which rose by around 1.9% in Q2 of 2023. The healthy state of online casino play in Canada is also evidenced by how many customers the most popular casino platforms attract and how the user experience these operators offer has enabled iGaming in the country to take off.

This, of course, is also something that translates to the world stage, where global iGaming revenues in 2023 hit an estimated $95 billion. iGaming’s global market volume is also pegged to rise to around $130 billion by 2027. These kinds of figures represent a sharp jump for iGaming worldwide and show how the sector is on the ascent.

Future economic outlook for Canada in line with global expectations

When considering the Canadian economic outlook for 2024, it is often useful to look at how this compares with global financial predictions. In addition to the rude health of iGaming in Canada being reflected in global online casino gaming, the positive economic outlook for the country is also broadly in line with expectations for many global economies.

Global growth is also predicted to rise steadily in the second half of 2024 before becoming stronger in 2025. This should be driven by the weakening effects of high interest rates on worldwide economic prosperity. With rate cuts in Canada already expected after Feb 2024’s inflation report, this could happen in the near future.

The performance of the US economy is always of interest in Canada, as this is the country’s biggest trading partner. Positive US Q2 performances in 2023, powered by a strong labor market, good consumer spending levels and robust business investments, were therefore a cause for optimism. As a US economy that continues to grow is something that Canadian businesses welcome, this can only be a healthy sign.

Canada set for further growth in 2024

Local news around Canada can cover many topics but the economy is arguably one of the most popular. A projected GDP growth figure of around 1% for Canada’s economy shows that the financial state of the country is heading in the right direction. An improved financial outlook heading into the latter half of 2024/2025 would make for even better reading, and the national economy should become even stronger.

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The Legal Landscape of Online Gambling in Canada

Online gambling has grown in popularity around the globe in recent years. While many jurisdictions have legalized land-based gambling, it hasn’t applied to online platforms. Nonetheless, Canada is one nation that has legalized online gambling with their provinces’ licensing and regulating sites.

Nonetheless, Canadians of legal age can enjoy playing their favourite online games where available. So many games like slots, blackjack, and roulette still maintain their popularity even in the digital sense.  Want to learn about what’s legal in Canada for online gambling? Let’s take a look.

What is legal for online gambling in Canada?

What is the best online casino in Canada? The list we provide you here should be a good start. It’s also important to note that most Canadian provinces do not have laws that prohibit offshore online casinos.

Many provinces provide licensing to online casinos. They even regulate them as well. For example, Alberta and British Columbia have sites regulated by their respective governing bodies. The Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) allows legal online gambling and oversees the services it offers to Maritime provinces such as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

However, there are some caveats to address. In Newfoundland and Labrador, online gambling that is not offered by the ALC is considered illegal. Therefore, it is the only Canadian province as of 2024 that prohibits offshore options.

In terms of the legal age, there are three provinces where the legal age is 18: Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec. The remaining provinces establish 19 as the legal age for gambling including online.

Who are the regulatory bodies for gambling in Canada?

At the Federal level, the Canadian Gaming Association is the regulatory body for gambling in Canada. Thus, they cover both land-based and online gambling in the country. There are also provincial and regional regulatory bodies such as the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) – which covers the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador.  

The Western Canada Lottery Corporation covers Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon Territory. A handful of provinces also have their regulatory bodies covering lottery and gaming.

Canada requires online casinos that wish to accept players from the country to adhere to regulations and licensing. These licenses are provided by provincial regulatory bodies. When licensed, online casinos must follow the regulations and security standards.

However, there is the belief that many of the laws about gambling in Canada may be outdated. This could be because these laws were created long before the advent of the Internet. Therefore, such laws may need to be modernized. Nonetheless, online gambling for the most part is legal, just dependent on the province.

Are there any legal grey areas to discuss?

The grey area that is considered a concern pertains to the use of offshore sites. As mentioned earlier, Newfoundland and Labrador is believed to be the only province that prohibits it. Even online casinos with no licensing by Canadian or provincial authorities accept residents of the country.

On the players’ end, many Canadians are allowed to play at online casinos. However, they may be restricted from certain platforms. This is to ensure that the players themselves are protected from unknowingly playing on platforms that may be illegal. 

What are the other laws and regulations about online gambling in Canada?

Online casinos have implemented measures for responsible gambling. This includes providing support and resources to problem gamblers on their site. They are also restricted regarding the marketing and advertising aspects of promoting their platform. 

One restriction of note is that marketing that is targeted at minors is prohibited. Another prohibits professional athletes from appearing in online casino ads in Ontario.

Even offshore casinos must adhere to these laws and regulations. Especially if they have obtained a license from the provincial bodies that allow them to operate.

Canada’s online gambling is legal – but will things change

As it stands right now, the legality of online gambling in Canada seems to fall under the purview of provincial laws and regulations. Canadian citizens must perform their due diligence further to see which online casinos are allowed by their respective provinces. Just because it may be legal in one province, it may not be the same in others.

Nonetheless, the question is: will any laws relax certain restrictions? Will Newfoundland and Labrador change their tune regarding offshore casinos? It’s unclear what the future holds – but watch this space for any changes about online gambling in Canada.  

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Wiseman, Nathan Elliot
1944 – 2023
Nathan, our beloved husband, Dad, and Zaida, died unexpectedly on December 13, 2023. Nathan was born on December 16, 1944, in Winnipeg, MB, the eldest of Sam and Cissie Wiseman’s three children.
He is survived by his loving wife Eva; children Sam (Natalie) and Marni (Shane); grandchildren Jacob, Jonah, Molly, Isabel, Nicole, and Poppy; brother David (Sherrill); sister Barbara (Ron); sister-in-law Agi (Sam) and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Nathan grew up in the north end of Winnipeg surrounded by his loving family. He received his MD from the University of Manitoba in 1968, subsequently completed his General Surgery residency at the University of Manitoba and went on to complete a fellowship in Paediatric Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard University. His surgeon teachers and mentors were world renowned experts in the specialty, and even included a Nobel prize winner.
His practice of Paediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg spanned almost half a century. He loved his profession and helping patients, even decades later often recounting details about the many kiddies on whom he had operated. Patients and their family members would commonly approach him on the street and say, “Remember me Dr. Wiseman?”. And he did! His true joy was caring for his patients with compassion, patience, unwavering commitment, and excellence. He was a gifted surgeon and leaves a profound legacy. He had no intention of ever fully retiring and operated until his very last day. He felt privileged to have the opportunity to mentor, support and work with colleagues, trainees, nurses, and others health care workers that enriched his day-to-day life and brought him much happiness and fulfillment. He was recognized with many awards and honors throughout his career including serving as Chief of Surgery of Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, President of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, and as a Governor of the American College of Surgeons. Most importantly of all he helped and saved the lives of thousands and thousands of Manitoba children. His impact on the generations of children he cared for, and their families, is truly immeasurable.
Nathan’s passion for golf was ignited during his childhood summers spent at the Winnipeg Beach Golf Course. Southwood Golf and Country Club has been his second home since 1980. His game was excellent and even in his last year he shot under his age twice! He played an honest “play as it lies” game. His golf buddies were true friends and provided him much happiness both on and off the course for over forty years. However, his passion for golf extended well beyond the eighteenth hole. He immersed himself in all aspects of the golf including collecting golf books, antiques, and memorabilia. He was a true scholar of the game, reading golf literature, writing golf poetry, and even rebuilding and repairing antique golf clubs. Unquestionably, his knowledge and passion for the game was limitless.
Nathan approached his many woodworking and workshop projects with zeal and creativity, and he always had many on the go. During the winter he was an avid curler, and in recent years he also enjoyed the study of Yiddish. Nathan never wasted any time and lived his life to the fullest.
Above all, Nathan was a loving husband, father, grandfather, son, father-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, and granduncle. He loved his family and lived for them, and this love was reciprocated. He met his wife Eva when he was a 20-year-old medical student, and she was 18 years old. They were happily married for 56 years. They loved each other deeply and limitlessly and were proud of each other’s accomplishments. He loved the life and the family they created together. Nathan was truly the family patriarch, an inspiration and a mentor to his children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and many others. He shared his passion for surgery and collecting with his son and was very proud to join his daughter’s medical practice (he loved Thursdays). His six grandchildren were his pride and joy and the centre of his world.
Throughout his life Nathan lived up to the credo “May his memory be a blessing.” His life was a blessing for the countless newborns, infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers who he cared for, for his colleagues, for his friends and especially for his family. We love him so much and there are no words to describe how much he will be missed.
A graveside funeral was held at the Shaarey Zedek cemetery on December 15, 2023. Pallbearers were his loving grandchildren. The family would like to extend their gratitude to Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, in the name of Dr. Nathan Wiseman.

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