(JTA) — When he was 13 years old, Josh Greene moved with his family to San Clemente, California, a city known as one of the best spots for surfing on the West Coast. Greene quickly fell in love with the sport, even holding his bar mitzvah party at a local museum dedicated to it.
As a “skinny, very unathletic” teen, Greene said he endured a significant amount of bullying, including some that “extended itself into antisemitism.” Students at his school would compare his physique to that of a Holocaust survivor.
Surfing provided refuge.
“Surfing was my way to really carve my own niche and find the confidence, courage and physical strength I needed,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
But years after his bar mitzvah, Greene learned that his parents had arranged for the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center to remove swastika-engraved boards that were on display, to avoid disturbing the partygoers. Wanting to learn more, he discovered that the sport’s history is full of Nazi imagery: Particularly in the 1960s, seeing surfboards with swastikas or surfers giving “Sieg heil” salutes was commonplace. Serious surfers called themselves “surf Nazis” as a way to signal their intense dedication to the sport.
An aspiring filmmaker — he received his first “real camera” as his bar mitzvah present — Greene decided to combine his two passions and delve into the dark history.
The result, completed before he graduated from the University of Southern California in May 2022, is a documentary called “Waves Apart,” which chronicles the history of antisemitism in surfing. Directed by Greene, the student-produced film was a finalist in the fall for a Student Academy Award, given by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
“Waves Apart” made its global debut at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Thursday, before heading to other Jewish and documentary film festivals in California, Denver, Toronto and Maryland.
After chronicling his own journey with surfing and the bar mitzvah incident in the film, Greene interviews surf writer Dan Duane and Jewish history professor Steven Ross, who provide a fuller picture of Southern California’s history of both surfing and Nazism, and their unfortunate overlap. As Duane wrote in a 2019 New York Times article, that overlap runs deep — The first commercially made surfboards made in California are thought to be the “Swastika model,” sold in the 1930s by the Pacific Systems Homes company, which also made prefab houses. The 1960s surfer icon Miki Dora was known to have painted a swastika on at least one of his boards.
Duane cites arguments that claim early surfers, who wanted to be seen as a rebellious subculture, used the swastika only to irk members of mainstream society. But Duane argues back that their antisemitism was part of a clear culture of racism in the largely white surfer community.
“I’ve heard all the predictable excuses for this stuff, like that the swastika was an ancient Sanskrit symbol,” he wrote in The Times. “Putting a swastika on something to anger people means you know that it angers them and very likely why.”
In his movie, Greene also speaks with Jewish surfers, both his classmates at USC and Jewish surfing legends like Shaun Tomson and Israel “Izzy” Paskowitz. Paskowitz shares a story of encountering a surfer with a swastika spray-painted on his surfboard — which his father, the famous surfer Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, destroyed out of anger.
“Right as I was about to graduate, we had the first screening of our film, in our school’s theater,” Greene said. “We drew a packed crowd, and it was so rewarding and such a great sign of confirmation about the film’s message and connectivity with our audience. We saw people crying, people smiling at the end, with the way our film ends with a hopeful tone and message for the future.”
That hopeful message is where Tomson comes in. A former pro surfer and now a motivational speaker, Tomson reached the pinnacle of the sport by winning the 1977 World Surf League championship. He won 19 major professional surfing events in total and is a member of both the Southern California and International Jewish Sports Halls of Fame.
Tomson, born in Durban, South Africa, also had a surfing experience tied to his bar mitzvah that would prove foundational. Tomson’s father took him on a surfing trip to Hawaii, which Tomson called “the Mount Everest of surfing.”
“For me, it was a total representation of what a bar mitzvah is — it’s coming into manhood,” Tomson told JTA. “And here I was, a young boy paddling out in a 25-foot surf in Hawaii, which was a moment for me that changed my life. I came back to South Africa, and my career and my role in surfing changed after that bar mitzvah present.”
Tomson said he has faced antisemitism before outside of the sport — he was called a “Jew boy” by a fellow member of South Africa’s army as a teenager — but never as a member of the surfing community in the 1970s onward.
“While it’s not an excuse, I think there’s just a lot of ignorance,” Tomson said. “When I say ignorance, perhaps it wasn’t actually directed at Jews, it was more just blatant stupidity, and a lack of awareness of what actually happened in the Holocaust.”
There weren’t many Jewish surfers in South Africa when Tomson grew up, but he said he feels a direct link between his identities as a Jew and as a surfer.
“When you’re out in the ocean, there’s certainly a spiritual and a religious connectivity there, which is totally aligned with Jewish values,” he said.
No experience exemplifies this connection more powerfully than the tragic death of Tomson’s son, Matthew, who died in 2006 at the age of 15 as a result of a schoolyard “choking game” gone wrong. Tomson tells the story in the documentary.
Tomson explained that his particular expertise is tube riding — the picturesque but challenging technique of riding inside a tunnel-like wave. Two hours before Tomson’s son died, he called his father to share an essay he had written about how in tube riding, “the light shines ahead.” Just hours later, Tomson received the devastating news.
“So when I was trying to make sense of the world and my life, and why God had done this to me, I went back to my old shul,” Tomson said. “The old shul where I’d had my bar mitzvah. And I look at that lamp of everlasting light that represents the hope and faith of Judaism. And I thought of the words that my son wrote, ‘the light shines ahead.’ And I realized that Judaism’s about hope.”
The film ends on that hopeful tone: The last scene features a group of Jewish surfers at a beach in Malibu, reciting the Shema prayer in the water, before hitting the waves as the sun begins to set. In the last shot, the group sits down to a Shabbat meal on the beach.
“Surfing can be seen as a microcosm for issues like that and I think we would be doing our sport a great disservice if we ignored our own signs of darkness,” Greene said. “I think that by making a film like this, we can dispel ignorance and divisiveness, and instead promote inclusivity, community and equality for all surfers and all people.”
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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