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Embracing their place on ‘the fringes,’ queer artists reimagine Jewish ritual garments for all bodies

(JTA) — Binya Kóatz remembers the first time she saw a woman wearing tzitzit. While attending Friday night services at a Jewish Renewal synagogue in Berkeley, she noticed the long ritual fringes worn by some observant Jews — historically men — dangling below a friend’s short shorts.

“That was the first time I really realized how feminine just having tassels dangling off you can look and be,” recalled Kóatz, an artist and activist based in the Bay Area. “That is both deeply reverent and irreverent all at once, and there’s a deep holiness of what’s happening here.”

Since that moment about seven years ago, Kóatz has been inspired to wear tzitzit every day. But she has been less inspired by the offerings available in online and brick-and-mortar Judaica shops, where the fringes are typically attached to shapeless white tunics meant to be worn under men’s clothing.

So in 2022, when she was asked to test new prototypes for the Tzitzit Project, an art initiative to create tzitzit and their associated garment for a variety of bodies, genders and religious denominations, Kóatz jumped at the chance. The project’s first products went on sale last month.

“This is a beautiful example of queers making stuff for ourselves,” Kóatz said. “I think it’s amazing that queers are making halachically sound garments that are also ones that we want to wear and that align with our culture and style and vibrancy.”

Jewish law, or halacha, requires that people who wear four-cornered garments — say, a tunic worn by an ancient shepherd — must attach fringes to each corner. The commandment is biblical: “Speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout the ages” (Numbers 15:37-41) When garments that lack corners came into fashion, many Jews responded by using tzitzit only when wearing a tallit, or prayer shawl, which has four corners.

But more observant Jews adopted the practice of wearing an additional four-cornered garment for the sole purpose of fulfilling the commandment to tie fringes to one’s clothes. Called a tallit katan, or small prayer shawl, the garment is designed to be worn under one’s clothes and can be purchased at Judaica stores or online for less than $15. The fringes represent the 613 commandments of the Torah, and it is customary to hold them and kiss them at certain points while reciting the Shema prayer.

“They just remind me of my obligations, my mitzvot, and my inherent holiness,” Kóatz said. “That’s the point, you see your tzitzit and you remember everything that it means — all the obligations and beauty of being a Jew in this world.”

The California-based artists behind the Tzitzit Project had a hunch that the ritual garment could appeal to a more diverse set of observant Jews than the Orthodox men to whom the mass-produced options are marketed. Julie Weitz and Jill Spector had previously collaborated on the costumes for Weitz’s 2019 “My Golem” performance art project that uses the mythical Jewish creature to explore contemporary issues. In one installment of the project focused on nature, “Prayer for Burnt Forests,” Weitz’s character ties a tallit katan around a fallen tree and wraps the tzitzit around its branches.

“I was so moved by how that garment transformed my performance,” Weitz said, adding that she wanted to find more ways to incorporate the garment into her life.

The Tzitzit Project joins other initiatives meant to explore and expand the use of tzitzit. A 2020 podcast called Fringes featured interviews with a dozen trans and gender non-conforming Jews about their experiences with Jewish ritual garments. (Kóatz was a guest.) Meanwhile, an online store, Netzitzot, has since 2014 sold tzitzit designed for women’s bodies, made from modified H&M undershirts.

The Tzitzit Project goes further and sells complete garments that take into account the feedback of testers including Kóatz — in three colors and two lengths, full and cropped, as well as other customization options related to a wearer’s style and religious practices. (The garments cost $100, but a sliding scale for people with financial constraints can bring the price as far down as $36.)

Spector and Weitz found that the trial users were especially excited by the idea that the tzitzit could be available in bright colors, and loved how soft the fabric felt on their bodies, compared to how itchy and ill-fitting they found traditional ones to be. They also liked that each garment could be worn under other clothing or as a more daring top on its own.

To Weitz, those attributes are essential to her goal of “queering” tzitzit.

“Queering something also has to do with an embrace of how you wear things and how you move your body in space and being proud of that and not carrying any shame around that,” she said. “And I think that that stylization is really distinct. All those gender-conventional tzitzit for men — they’re not about style, they’re not about reimagining how you can move your body.”

Artist Julie Weitz ties the knots of the tzitzit, fringes attached to the corners of a prayer shawl or the everyday garment known as a “tallit katan.” (Courtesy of Tzitzit Project)

For Chelsea Mandell, a rabbinical student at the Academy of Jewish Religion in Los Angeles who is nonbinary, the Tzitzit Project is creating Jewish ritual objects of great power.

“It deepens the meaning and it just feels more radically spiritual to me, when it’s handmade by somebody I’ve met, aimed for somebody like me,” said Mandell, who was a product tester.

Whether the garments meet the requirements of Jewish law is a separate issue. Traditional interpretations of the law hold that the string must have been made specifically for tzitzit, for example — but it’s not clear on the project’s website whether the string it uses was sourced that way. (The project’s Instagram page indicates that the wool is spun by a Jewish fiber artist who is also the brother of the alt-rocker Beck.)

“It is not obvious from their website which options are halachically valid and which options are not,” said Avigayil Halpern, a rabbinical student who began wearing tzitzit and tefillin at her Modern Orthodox high school in 2013 when she was 16 and now is seen as a leader in the movement to widen their use.

“And I think it’s important that queer people in particular have as much access to knowledge about Torah and mitzvot as they’re embracing mitzvot.”

Weitz explained that there are multiple options for the strings — Tencel, cotton or hand-spun wool — depending on what customers prefer, for their comfort and for their observance preferences.

“It comes down to interpretation,” she said. “For some, tzitzit tied with string not made for the purpose of tying, but with the prayer said, is kosher enough. For others, the wool spun for the purpose of tying is important.”

Despite her concerns about its handling of Jewish law, Halpern said she saw the appeal of the Tzitzit Project, with which she has not been involved.

“For me and for a lot of other queer people, wearing something that is typically associated with Jewish masculinity — it has a gender element,” explained Halpern, a fourth-year student at Hadar, the egalitarian yeshiva in New York.

“If you take it out of the Jewish framework, there is something very femme and glamorous and kind of fun in the ways that dressing up and wearing things that are twirly is just really joyful for a lot of people,” she said.

Rachel Schwartz first became drawn to tzitzit while studying at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem in 2018. There, young men who were engaging more intensively with Jewish law and tradition than they had in the past began to adopt the garments, and Schwartz found herself wondering why she had embraced egalitarian religious practices in all ways but this one.

“One night, I took one of my tank tops and I cut it up halfway to make the square that it needed. I found some cool bandanas at a store and I sewed on corners,” Schwartz recalled. “And I bought the tzitzit at one of those shops on Ben Yehuda and I just did it and it was awesome.”

Rachel Schwartz stands in front of a piece of graffiti that plays on the commandment to wear tzitzit, written in the Hebrew feminine. (Courtesy of Rachel Schwartz)

Schwartz’s experience encapsulates both the promise and the potential peril of donning tzitzit for people from groups that historically have not worn the fringes. Other women at the Conservative Yeshiva were so interested in her tzitzit that she ran a workshop where she taught them how to make the undergarment. But she drew so many critical comments from men on the streets of Jerusalem that she ultimately gave up wearing tzitzit publicly.

“I couldn’t just keep on walking around like that anymore. I was tired of the comments,” Schwartz said. “I couldn’t handle it anymore.”

Rachel Davidson, a Reconstructionist rabbi working as a chaplain in health care in Ohio, started consistently wearing a tallit katan in her mid-20s. Like Kóatz, she ordered her first one from Netzitzot.

“I would love to see a world where tallitot katanot that are shaped for non cis-male bodies are freely available and are affordable,” Davidson said. “I just think it’s such a beautiful mitzvah. I would love it if more people engaged with it.”

Kóatz believes that’s not only possible but natural. As a trans woman, she said she is drawn to tzitzit in part because of the way they bring Jewish tradition into contact with contemporary ideas about gender.

“Queers are always called ‘fringe,’” she said. “And here you have a garment which is literally like ‘kiss the fringes.’ The fringes are holy.”

The post Embracing their place on ‘the fringes,’ queer artists reimagine Jewish ritual garments for all bodies 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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