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This rabbi and singer-songwriter is in a New York state of mind



(New York Jewish Week) — Rabbi Steven Blane is nothing if not an innovator: Way back in 2010, a full decade before the pandemic made Zoom services a regular part of Jewish life, Blane launched an exclusively virtual synagogue, Sim Shalom.

Among the many hats he’s worn throughout his professional life, Blane has also launched the Jewish Spiritual Leadership Institute, an online “trans-denominational” rabbinical and cantorial school. Prior to his virtual pursuits, he was a congregational rabbi — and before that, a cantor — and for many years he was also an audio producer, running one of the first companies to record audio books.

Now, at 66, Blane is pursuing yet another career: that of a professional musician. A dedicated singer and songwriter, Blane just released his tenth album, “Songs for New York Lovers,” a collection of 13 jazzy songs, many of which are inspired by the city. These days, in addition to his online Jewish ventures, Blane can be found performing live just about weekly, particularly at Silvana, an Israeli cafe and music venue in Harlem, which is run by “the greatest people on the planet,” he said.

When it comes to performing, “I can’t get enough,” Blane told the New York Jewish Week via a Zoom interview, in which he had both his guitar and a keyboard close at hand. (Ed. note: If you’re a journalist and have never had a source serenade you, I suggest you call up Blane and remedy this immediately!) “I always wanted to be a songwriter, that was my passion right out of college,” he said.

Many of Blane’s original songs reference famous New York City locations, such as “Central Park,” “The Ramble” and “Bleecker Street,” and one tune is even called “New York Is My Girlfriend.” Fittingly, Blane’s virtual background, as we spoke, depicted Central Park in the snow.

As a young man, however, Blane — who counts Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Billy Joel and Elvis Presley among his musical influences — thought his future lay in Nashville. In his early 20s, Blane packed up his car and started driving to Music City, where he hoped to make it as a songwriter. Along the way, however, he got cold feet and turned around. “I have slight regrets about not fulfilling that dream then,” Blane admits. “But don’t get me wrong: I’m very grateful. We’ve had a great, great life.”

Upon his return to New York, Blane gigged around the city, and even landed a role in the 1979 Broadway adaptation of a Leo Tolstoy story, “Strider: The Story of a Horse,” where he played a “gypsy.” At 30, he launched his audio production business and, from there, fell into the professional Jewish world by accident because, in synagogues, he could get paid to sing. “I was making money as a cantor,” he said. “I wasn’t selling religion, I was singing at a high level for a few alter kockers [old people] who appreciated it.”

In the ensuing years, Blane held various cantorial and rabbinic positions in the tri-state area (he was ordained by Rabbinical Seminary International in 2001) but regularly butted heads with more traditional factions in Conservative Judaism that felt playing music on Shabbat was taboo.

Eventually, Blane realized he needed to forge his own path — which led him to launch his online shul and rabbinical school, as well as his concept of “Universalist Judaism,” which, according to Blane, “is just an innate concept within its DNA that there are no barriers to Jewish worship, that there are no barriers to relationships in Jewish universalism.” All are welcome in Jewish Universalist spaces, said Blane — who, upon noticing my son’s budgerigar flying behind me during our conversation, stressed that parrots are welcome, too.

“I’m here for your Jewishness, to support you, to educate you, to be there for life cycles,” he said.

Blane began to pursue songwriting again in earnest in 2014, when he and his wife of 36 years, Carol, left the Bergen County, New Jersey home where they raised their three grown daughters and returned to New York City.

Here, Blane finds inspiration everywhere he looks. “I love the vibe, I love the energy,” he said of the city. “I walk around the city every day. My exercise now is to walk about five or six miles a day.” His favorite haunt, he said, is the Lower East Side — which is certainly a shlep from the Upper West Side one-bedroom where he and Carol live. He particularly likes the corner of Grand and Essex Streets, where his aunt used to reside.

For Passover this year, on Wednesday evening, Blane will perform at the Knickerbocker Bar and Grill on University Place. He’ll lead a group of celebrants through a 45-minute seder before a festive meal that includes braised brisket of beef and apple walnut strudel. “It’s the funnest seder —  you have all these people from the neighborhood, and a few kids,” Blane said. “Before COVID, [it was] packed to the gills. So they’ve been trying to build it up again.”

Pre-COVID, Blane was also known for his High Holiday shows at the classic Bleecker Street rock club, The Bitter End.

Usually, however, Blane keeps his rabbinic identity separate from his singer-songwriter identity — at least officially. Though he may not introduce himself onstage as a rabbi, he sees his current dual careers as informing one another. “Performing for me is davening,” he said, using the Yiddish word for prayer. “It’s a spiritual event. Everything comes together.”

The post This rabbi and singer-songwriter is in a New York state of mind appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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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.

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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.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

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.)

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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.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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