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With goblins, spellcasters and delis, board game makers are imagining new Jewish worlds

(JTA) — Running a not-so-Zagat-rated deli, dropping into a Chinese restaurant for Christmas Eve dinner and acting out a bat mitzvah that involves a vampire — for contemporary board game fans, those can be all in an evening’s play.

That’s because a crop of new games aims to merge Jewish ideas and experiences with the aesthetics and language of games such as Dungeons & Dragons. Dream Apart places players in a fantastical reimagining of a 19th-century shtetl, for example, while J.R. Goldberg’s God of Vengeance draws inspiration from the Yiddish play of the same name. In the games in Doikayt, a collection released in 2020, players can literally wrestle with God.

Known as tabletop role-playing games because they ask players to take on a character, these games and their creators imagine exciting new worlds, subvert classic tropes in fun and irreverent ways, and reinterpret Jewish history and identity.

Tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and Call of Cthulhu have exploded in popularity over the past several years, with many — including at least one group of rabbis — picking up the Zoom-friendly hobby during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the new Jewish games aim to do more than just provide a diversion or even an escape.

“Depending on your family, depending on your synagogue, depending on your community, you may have gotten more or fewer options of what Jewishness could mean in your imagination,” said Lucian Kahn, who created a trilogy of humorous Jewish role-playing games. 

“What some of these games are doing is opening that up and pointing to alternate possibilities of imagining Jewishness, not as a way of converting anyone to anything else, but just as a way of showing the tradition is enormous,” he added.

Kahn is the creator of If I Were a Lich, Man, a trilogy of humorous games whose name is a mashup between a “Fiddler on the Roof” song and an undead character, the lich, that frequently appears in fantasy fiction and games. In the title game, players are Jewish liches — spellcasters whose souls, in the lore of Dungeons & Dragons, are stored in phylacteries, the Greek word for tefillin used by Jews in prayer. Representing the four children of the Passover seder, they debate how their community should address the threat of encroaching holy knights.

In some cases, the association of Jews with monsters has given rise to charges of antisemitism — the goblins of “Harry Potter” offer a prime example. But Kahn said he sees Jewish-coded monsters, and queer-coded villains, as figures of resistance.

“There’s a long tradition of looking at the monster and seeing that the reason why these are monsters is because the people who have oppressive power have decided that these are going to be the enemies of the ‘good’ oppressive powers,” Kahn explained. “But if you don’t agree with their ideology, if you’re seeing yourself as being a member of a marginalized community and being in opposition to these oppressive powers, then you can look at the qualities assigned to these monsters and some of them are qualities that are good.”

For Kahn, Jewish-coded monster characters also provide more of an inspiration than the archetypes of more traditional games.

“Maybe somebody thinks they’re insulting me or insulting Jews,” he said. “My response is: I like vampires and liches and trolls and goblins and think they’re much more interesting than bland white muscular humans running through the fields with a cross on their chest hacking at the same things with a sword over and over again.”

Kahn’s outlook has resonated in the tabletop role-playing game community. In February, he and Hit Point Press launched a Kickstarter to fund production of If I Were a Lich, Man. The campaign smashed its $5,000 goal, raising $84,590, enough to hit one of the campaign’s stretch goals of funding a grant to support independent zines about tabletop role-playing games.

The successful campaign means that Kahn’s three games will go into production. In addition to the game about liches, the trilogy includes Same Bat Time, Same Bat Mitzvah, in which players act out a bat mitzvah where one guest has been turned into a vampire, and Grandma’s Drinking Song, inspired by how Kahn’s Jewish great-great grandmother and her children survived in 1920s New York City by working as bootleggers during Prohibition. 

In Grandma’s Drinking Song, players write a drinking song together as they act out scenes. Kahn, the former singer/songwriter and guitarist for Brooklyn Jewish queercore folk-punk band Schmekel, wanted to carry over elements of music into this game.

A throughline in all three games is the power of creative resistance to authority — a narrative that Kahn said strikes him as particularly Jewish.

“There are all these stories in Jewish folklore that are really overtly about finding trickster-y or creative ways of fighting back against oppressive and unjust governmental regimes, evil kings, bad advisors,” Kahn said. “One of the first stories I ever heard in my life was the Purim story, so it’s very embedded in my mind as a part of Jewish consciousness, when evil rulers come to power and try to kill us all, we’re supposed to find these outside-the-box ways of preventing that from happening.”

For some Jewish creators, Jewish holidays are an explicit inspiration. Like many Jewish kids of the ‘80s and ‘90s, Max Fefer, a civil engineer by day and game designer by night, grew up loving the picture book “Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins,” which remains a popular festive text. But as Fefer notes, goblins are often associated with antisemitic stereotypes. Fefer’s first Jewish game, Hanukkah Goblins, turns the story on its head — players interact as the jovial goblins, who are here not to destroy but to spread the spirit of Hanukkah to their goblin neighbors.

Last year, Fefer launched a successful Kickstarter for another Jewish holiday-inspired tabletop role-playing game, Esther and the Queens, where players assume the roles of Esther and her handmaidens from the Purim story, who join together to defeat Haman by infiltrating a masquerade party as queens from a far-off land.

Esther and the Queens channels Fefer’s Purim memories and includes carnival activities, including Skee-Ball; a calm, relaxing Mishloach Manot basket-making; and a fast-paced racing game. 

“All of our holidays, they’re opportunities for us to gather as a community in different ways,” Fefer said. “Watching this satirical, comedic retelling of the story of Purim and the Esther Megillah and coming together into a theater, in a synagogue, to watch these spiels and laugh together and spin the graggers when we hear Haman’s name — all of those things help us build identity and community, and I think games in particular surrounding identity, that’s a great way for a Jewish person themselves to feel seen in a game and reinforce their identity, and share their background with friends.” 

Another pair of Jewish game creators, Gabrielle Rabinowitz and her cousin, Ben Bisogno, were inspired by Passover. 

“The seder is kind of like an RPG in that it’s a structured storytelling experience where everyone takes turns reading and telling, and there’s rituals and things you do at a certain time,” Rabinowitz said. “It’s halfway to an RPG.”

The game became a pandemic project for the two of them, and alongside artist Katrin Dirim and a host of other collaborators, they created Ma Nishtana: Why Is This Night Different? — a story game modeled on their family’s seder. The game follows the main beats of the Exodus story, and in every game, there will be a call to action from God, a moment of resistance, a departure and a final barrier — but different characters and moments resonate depending on the players’ choices. 

As an educator at the Museum of Natural History, Rabinowitz said she is often thinking about how to foster participation and confidence, and she wanted to create a game-play mechanic to encourage players to be “as brazen as her family is.” The result was an in-game action called “Wait! Wait! Wait!” — if players wish to ask a question, make a suggestion, disagree with a course of action or share a new perspective, they can call out “Wait! Wait! Wait!” to do so.

The game also includes a series of scenes that are actively roleplayed or narrated, and each includes a ritual — one that can be done in-person or an alternate remote-friendly version. For example, at one point each player must come up with a plague inspired by the new story they’re telling together, and in the remote version, players go camera-off after reciting theirs. 

“The fact that it was created during the pandemic and a way for us to connect and other people to connect with each other is really the soul of the game,” Rabinowitz said. “After each person tells a plague, by the end, all the cameras are off and everyone stays silent for another minute. It’s a hugely impactful moment when you’re playing remotely. The design is interwoven in the game itself.”

Rabinowitz said by playing a story of a family undergoing these trials, the themes of family and identity deepen every time she plays the game. 

“A lot of people say, ‘Wow, I’ve never felt more connected to this story,’” she said. “Embodying these characters gave me a feeling of relevance and that makes it feel important as a Jewish precept.”  

For other creators, that deep connection comes in more lighthearted scenarios. Nora Katz, a theatremaker, game designer and public historian working at the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) by day, created the Jewish deli-centered game Lunch Rush, which was included in the Doikayt anthology.

“There’s also types of institutions that come up a lot in [tabletop role-playing games], especially sort of high fantasy,” she said. “Everyone meets in a tavern, there’s an inn, things like that. So the idea of a deli as a central gathering place in a world like that felt fun to me.”

An important element of Lunch Rush is that players must be eating while playing, so for Katz’s first round with friends, they got together with chocolate chip ice cream and dill pickle potato chips. She said the deli is a shared language, and her fellow players were all bringing in their own favorite things about delis they loved into the fictional place they were building together. 

Tabletop role-playing games “at their core are about collaboration and relationships and storytelling and community, and for me, all of those things are also what Jewishness is about, to me they totally go hand in hand,” Katz said.

The games are not meant to be for Jewish players only. Rabinowitz said the guidebook for Ma Nishtana includes essays to encourage people to further engage with the narrative. 

“Jewish players, non-Jewish players, priests, non-religious people, all different people have played it and almost all of them have told us it’s given them a new way of thinking of how they relate to religious tradition, and I didn’t really set out to do that,” Rabinowitz said. “I feel really privileged to have helped create that space.”

Rabinowitz and Bisogno also commissioned other creators to build alternate backdrops for their game, so it can be repurposed to telling the story of another oppressed people’s fight for freedom. Players can interact as embattled yaoguai, spirits from Chinese mythology; explore a Janelle Monáe-inspired Afrofuturist world; play as Indigenous land defenders; or unionize as exploited workers at “E-Shypt.”

Fefer, who has been amplifying the work of other Jewish creators in the tabletop role-playing game space, said the harm of stereotyping and reinforcing negative tropes is still present in the industry, and not just for Jewish people. For example, fans recently criticized Dungeons & Dragons publishers Wizards of the Coast for reinforcing anti-Black stereotypes in the descriptions of a fantasy race, the Hadozee. 

“I think it’s a process of talking to people who are from these groups and bringing them onto your teams and making sure you’re incorporating their perspectives into, in the example of Dungeons & Dragons, a hundred-million-dollar industry, being intentional about that design and looking at things from lots of different angles,” Fefer said. “How could our branding, our games be reinforcing something we’re not even aware of?”

Fefer hopes people who play Hanukkah Goblins and Esther and the Queens feel seen and have moments of shared joy, and also that they learn something from these games — about the antisemitic tropes in fantasy, or about underrepresented groups within the Jewish community. With Esther and the Queens, Fefer collaborated with a writer and artist, Noraa Kaplan, to retell the Purim story from a queer and feminist lens, drawing on Jewish texts that the pair said shows the long presence of queer and trans people in Jewish tradition.

“We have a lot of richness within Judaism to share our culture and share our upbringing but also just be representation,” Fefer added. “We’re living in a time of heightened antisemitism and the world being a gross place to be at times, and we can really bring the beauty of Judaism into game design and create experiences for people that are both representative of Judaism and also just very Jewish experiences.”

But for all the important conversations and learning experiences that can come from Jewish tabletop role-playing games, Katz said the goofiness and joy is important, too.

“We live in such a horrendous society that is of our own making,” she said. “If you can, for a little while, enjoy an anticapitalist fictional deli that you and your friends live in, I think that’s great.”

The post With goblins, spellcasters and delis, board game makers are imagining new Jewish worlds 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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