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The legacy of Isaac Babel, Russia’s Jewish Hemingway, is dissected in new Chicago play

CHICAGO (JTA) — All writers strive for a good story. How far they will go to find it depends on their ambition, their wherewithal and their sanity.

Isaac Babel, a Russian-Jewish writer who came from a relatively stable, privileged background in Odessa in the late 1800s, would go to war among Cossacks who murdered Jews, make friends with Soviet agents and then cuckold one of them. The reason why Babel constantly put himself in harm’s way may have been simple, according to another writer.

“I think he wanted something to write about,” said Rajiv Joseph, whose play at Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago, “Describe the Night,” centers on Babel. “He was a young man who had wanted to be a writer but had nothing to write about.”

“Describe the Night” blends three stories from different eras that engage with questions of who controls the truth. The first portrays Babel, the Soviet secret police head Nikolai Yezhov and Yezhov’s wife, Yevgenia, with whom Babel begins an affair. The second follows a young Soviet agent rising through the ranks just before the Berlin Wall falls, and the third dives into a conspiracy behind a 2010 plane crash near Smolensk, Russia. 

Babel himself may not rise to the ranks of Tolstoy or Dostoevsky in terms of immediate name recognition in the United States, but the journalist, author and playwright is remembered as one of Russia’s preeminent 20th-century writers. His modernist and bloody tales in “Red Cavalry,” a collection of short stories inspired by his time on the frontlines of the Polish-Soviet War of 1919, vaulted him to the status of a Russian Hemingway. The pithy American war correspondent once expressed his admiration, perhaps even jealousy, of Babel’s writing, saying “Babel’s style is even more concise than mine.”

Like Hemingway, Babel went to war in search of a good story. Combat itself was not the only threat to him: as a Jew, he bore witness to the Cossack cavalry’s antisemitic atrocities. Babel tamped down his Jewish identity while covering the war, though he would feel a sense of isolation in both societies or as his grandson would later describe him “a Jew among the Cossacks, and a Cossack among the Jews.” In his own diary, Babel wrote “Talking to the Jews, I feel kin to them, they think I’m Russian and my soul is laid bare.” 

Joseph, who is not Jewish and authored the Pulitzer-nominated play “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” had read “Red Cavalry” years ago but was inspired to write “Describe the Night” after discovering the poetic journal Babel had kept during the war. The title of the play comes directly from the diary, which repeats the word several times in Babel’s own prompts to describe things ranging from kitchens to marketplaces to women to horses. Sometimes Babel successfully answers his own prompts by forcing himself to write, and other times he doesn’t, Joseph said.

Lead actor James Vincent Meredith is also not Jewish and admitted he had concerns about “the choice of casting a black man in the role of a Jewish man living in the world of Russia, the Ukraine and Paris.” He partly found his way to the character by watching the 2015 documentary “Finding Babel,” which follows Babel’s grandson across Russia and Ukraine as he searches for his famous ancestor’s remains.

“I can read Babel’s work (I have), I can travel to Israel (I have, decades ago), I can take Hebrew as an elective in college (I did, not very well), I can read Chaim Potok (I have). But these are at their best, however well intentioned, tourist pursuits for one who is not Jewish,” he said. “I will never come close to knowing the true soul of a Jewish person. Thankfully, Rajiv has created this character that by his design, anyone can inhabit.”

Yasen Peyankov and James Vincent Meredith in a scene from the play about Isaac Babel. (Michael Brosilow)

He added that the play isn’t meant to be historically accurate. “The character of Isaac, as well as others in the play, is meant to be an entry point into a world where the scalpel crafting the ‘truth’ is rarely placed in the hands of those who are adversely affected by it. As a black male and father of a black male in the U.S., I’m certainly cognizant of that world.”

Joseph feels that he and other artists share the instinct Babel had to leave his comfort zone. He wanted to be a writer, but growing up in suburban Cleveland gave him little inspiration. After college, he joined the Peace Corps and spent three years in West Africa.

“That was a real life-changing event for me that opened my world and opened my mind,” Joseph said. “Not nearly as traumatic as traveling with the cavalry through Poland in 1920, but the same impulse to break out of your norms.”

Yet Joseph believes Babel’s desires went beyond pushing boundaries and into a deep, pathological need to associate with danger.

“The thing I find really interesting about Babel, both through his writing and through his personal life, is this inexorable draw towards danger and filth,” Joseph said, adding that Babel would hang out in taverns with Soviet soldiers, members of the secret police and executioners like Yezhov. “He was already treading on such thin ice. So he had a recklessness, you could call it a death wish if you want.”

Meredith was also stunned by the writer’s intense flirtations with danger.

“Why get that close to the flame? That to me is one of the things that really appealed to me about this guy,” Meredith said. “I tend to play it safe, as safe as an actor can play it, but I see this guy who had these kinds of desires, he had this quest to make this amazing art as far as his stories and I just I’m just so attracted to that.”

Joseph said he saw some parallels between Babel’s story and the exodus of some of his artistic peers in Russia, who have fled to Europe. In his time, Babel was seen as subversive by nature, existing as a Jewish man in early Soviet Russia. His relished writing about prostitutes and mobsters, transforming underworld characters into urban legends. His 1935 political play “Maria” was canceled during rehearsals and by 1939, Soviet police arrested him and confiscated his writing. Throughout the 1940s, his works disappeared from circulation. Though some believed Babel had spent time throughout that decade in a prison camp, the government had executed him in 1940.

“In the 1930s and ‘40s, I think if you are a Jewish creative writer, you’re automatically subversive,” Joseph said. He noted one pivotal scene where Nikolai Yezhov labels Babel as such because his writing portrays Russia as gloomy rather than inspiring.

“If you’re telling the truth, you are subversive,” Joseph added. “So I think that pretty much any creative writer worth his or her weight would be considered subversive at that moment.”

“Describe the Night” runs until April 9 at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago.


The post The legacy of Isaac Babel, Russia’s Jewish Hemingway, is dissected in new Chicago play 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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Obituaries

Dr. NATHAN WISEMAN

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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