by Ben Harris, JTA | PUBLISHED Aug 6, 2013 | World
At a protest in downtown Toronto over the weekend, a speaker identified as Elias Hazineh, made this statement:
We have to give them an ultimatum. You have to leave Jerusalem. You have to leave Palestine … When somebody tries to rob a bank the police get in, they don’t negotiate and we have been negotiating with them for 65 years. We say get out or you are dead. We give them two minutes and then we start shooting and that’s the only way they’ll understand.
As the Jewish Journal reported yesterday, Hazineh is the former president of Palestine House, which lost Canadian governmental support last year because of what Ottawa called a “pattern of support for extremism.”
Today, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the lobbying arm of the Canadian Jewish federation, announced it was submitting information about the rally to police for review.
Blogger Geller testifying before Toronto police board over nixed shul talk
Palestinian leader in Canada: Shoot Israeli Jews if they don’t leave Jerusalem
A Palestinian community leader in Toronto said Israelis should be given a two-minute warning before being shot.
Addressing the annual Al-Quds Day rally on Saturday, Elias Hazineh, the former president of Palestine House in suburban Toronto, called for “an ultimatum” to Israelis: “You have to leave Jerusalem. You have to leave Palestine.
“We say get out or you’re dead! We give them two minutes and then we start shooting. And that’s the only way that they will understand,” Hazineh said to cheers from a crowd of approximately 400.
The annual rally took place at a park near the grounds of the Ontario capital building. Last week, the sergeant-at-arms of the Legislature denied a permit to hold the rally on the grounds surrounding the building for reasons of “public safety.”
The move was applauded by Jewish groups, which have monitored previous Al-Quds Day rallies in Toronto.
A global Al-Quds Day was started by the late Iranian cleric Ayatollah Khomeini to press for the “liberation” of Al-Quds, the Arabic name for Jerusalem.
Khomeini “reminded us that Jerusalem is ours and will remain forever ours,” Hazineh added.
Last year, the federal government cut funding to Palestine House, which had offered newcomer settlement and language instruction services, because of what Ottawa called the cultural center’s “pattern of support for extremism.”
Madrid’s chief rabbi: Gays are ‘deviants’ who need re-educating
Blogger Geller testifying before Toronto police board over nixed shul talk
Blogger Pamela Geller said she will testify over a complaint she filed against a Toronto-area police force in the cancellation of a synagogue appearance.
Geller told JTA via email on Monday that she was scheduled to testify Wednesday via Skype before a hearing of the Office of the Independent Police Review Director in Toronto, which oversees grievances against area police.
She alleges that the York Regional Police, north of Toronto, threatened and bullied Rabbi Mendel Kaplan into canceling her appearance last May at his Chabad synagogue because of her strident anti-Islamist views.
Kaplan is a volunteer chaplain with the force, and Geller accused the police of threatening to remove him from the post if he did not comply.
Geller’s complaint claims “breach of police policy and conduct pursuant to the police Code of Conduct and the York Regional Police’s Code of Professional Ethics.”
York Regional Police said the complaint was lodged with the OIPRD.
Complaints can take 120 days to resolve, an OIPRD official said, though the official did not confirm or deny a complaint was brought by Geller.
In a statement last May, York Regional Police said reports that Kaplan had been threatened were “a flagrant misrepresentation of the facts.”
According to police, the rabbi canceled Geller’s talk because “it would place him in conflict with the values of our organization, which support a safe, welcoming and inclusive community for all.”
Kaplan told JTA that he has already given evidence to the complaint’s investigators.
Asked whether he ever felt intimidated or threatened, he said, “There was a very clear choice laid out to me. The police said, ‘we don’t believe this agrees with [our] values, so either you have to give up your chaplaincy or you can have this speech.’
“I did something that I didn’t necessarily want to do because I had to do it.” He added, “It was a wise decision not to host her because it was not something worth losing my chaplaincy over.”
Geller’s talk, sponsored by the Jewish Defense League, was moved to another venue, where she lashed out at the police. She later wrote that “jackbooted thugs” had used “intimidation” on Kaplan to persuade him to cancel the synagogue talk.
Madrid’s chief rabbi: Gays are ‘deviants’ who need re-educating
Police: Toronto couple murdered in Florida were asphyxiated
A Toronto Jewish couple found dead in their Florida townhouse in January were asphyxiated, police said.
Police Chief Dwayne Flournoy of Hallandale Beach, Fla., said Wednesday that there were at least two perpetrators, and police have “no reason to believe the people responsible were known to [the couple].” The January murders of Toronto snowbirds David “Donny” Pichosky and Rochelle Wise in South Florida were “senseless,” Flournoy added.
Wise, 66, was a retired preschool administrator at Bialik Hebrew Day School in Toronto and a former director of a day camp. Pichosky, her husband of four years, was a retired businessman who volunteered with Jewish seniors. The couple belonged to Toronto's Shaarei Shomayim Congregation. Their deaths shocked Toronto's Jewish community.
Investigators quickly ruled their deaths a double murder but chose not to release the cause of death after receiving the results of toxicology tests. Flournoy and other member of his team visited Toronto in January to gather leads.
In February, police released video surveillance footage shot the day before the couple's bodies were discovered of a woman carrying an unidentified item toward the back of the townhouse Wise and Pichosky shared.
Police are awaiting the results of further forensic testing, Flournoy said. There are also numerous surveillance tapes to be studied. He refused to comment on whether anything was stolen from the home.
CrimeStoppers and private donors have offered a reward of $51,000 for information that would help solve the case.
Sequester cuts to Israel expected to be $155 million
Toronto rabbi charged for alleged sexual assault after 40 years
One of the world’s best-known Reform temples reportedly is in turmoil over the unexpected departure of its rabbi.
Some members of Toronto’s renowned Holy Blossom Temple are “incensed” at a recently negotiated deal that will see Rabbi John Moscowitz step down next month, the Toronto-based Globe and Mail newspaper reported in its May 26 edition.
“Under the accord, Rabbi Moscowitz, 60, will take an unusual, fully paid, three-year sabbatical, effective July 1, although he will return to officiate at High Holiday services this fall,” the report said. His retirement would begin in 2015, but he will continue on staff as rabbi emeritus at an “undisclosed salary.”
The settlement, “said to be worth more than a million dollars, was hammered out in protracted legal negotiations,” according to the Globe.
Members of Holy Blossom, which was founded in 1856 as a stalwart of Reform Judaism, include some of Toronto’s wealthiest and most philanthropic Jewish community members. The paper reported that “many” congregants are “outraged” by the decision, and by how the temple’s board of directors handled the issue.
“This has been a tremendous act of board mismanagement,” the Globe quoted member Linda Frum, a Canadian senator, as saying. “I am so upset about the way he has been treated. I feel so poisoned by the atmosphere created that it’s not a place that I could continue to feel comfortable. I know others who are leaving and others who are considering it.”
Bound by confidentiality agreements, neither Moscowitz nor members of the temple’s board spoke to the Globe, “but it is clear that his departure culminates a long and acrimonious backstage battle that divided the congregation,” the paper said.
Shavuot and Mormons
Anti-Israel group setting up battle with plans to rejoin Toronto gay pride parade
The activist group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid is planning to return to the gay pride parade in Toronto, setting up another battle with Jewish groups and the city.
Queers Against Israeli Apartheid withdrew from last year’s Pride Toronto parade after city officials demanded assurances that the group would not take part amid rumblings that funding to the parade could be withdrawn.
“We decided we didn’t want to be the scapegoat for Pride not getting funding from the city, but this year we feel it’s time to go back,” QAIA spokesman Tony Souza told the Toronto Star on May 15. “It so happens that the issue we’re talking about is controversial, but that doesn’t mean that the work that we do, which is basically for justice for people, should not be celebrated.”
The Pride Toronto festival, to be held June 22 to July 1, will publish a list of groups in early June that have registered to participate. If a complaint is filed, which is likely in this case, a panel of legal experts will render a final decision on whether QAIA can march.
Some Toronto officials and Canadian Jewish groups object to QAIA because they say linking Israel to South African-style apartheid is odious and inaccurate. The groups note that Israel is the only Middle East country where homosexuality is tolerated.
Howard English, senior vice president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said he hopes the Toronto City Council “keeps in mind the hateful nature of QAIA’s messaging and the extent to which it’s divorced from the reality of public opinion among the people of Toronto.”
In March 2011, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford told the Canadian Jewish News that “taxpayer dollars should not go toward funding hate speech.”
The city has recommended that the council allocate $1.6 million to the Pride festival.
A woman living in Toronto was charged in the United States with taking part in a scheme to steal from a Holocaust survivors’ fund.
Documents obtained by the CBC, the state-owned broadcaster, show that the FBI alleges Luba Kramrish was part of a conspiracy that falsified documents to claim money from a special fund created by Germany after the Second World War.
The fund, administered by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, was earmarked for Holocaust survivors who fled parts of the Soviet Union ahead of advancing Nazi troops, and those who survived ghettos and concentration camps.
Last year, the FBI announced charges against several U.S. citizens allegedly involved in the scheme.
Kramrish is alleged to have falsified details for her mother’s application to the fund and that once she realized how to cheat the system, began recruiting some two-dozen other applicants. A court document states that “Kramrish provided documents for approximately 20-25 different cases. [She] helped falsify these applications so that they would be approved.”
The indictment says Kramrish took a cut of every payout.
The conspiracy to steal from the fund was uncovered in the U.S. just over two years ago. The investigation is still underway, but it is estimated that at least $60 million has been siphoned from the fund.
About $6 billion has been paid out to about 450,000 survivors since the funds were made available.
Kramrish’s Canadian lawyer declined comment to the CBC.
A former lawyer who calls himself a rabbi was arrested in Toronto and faces extradition to the United States where authorities allege he ran a massive immigration fraud scheme.
For years, the man who goes by the name Rabbi Avraham David, 47, lived the life of a rabbi, writing scholarly articles and a book on Torah and indulging his passion in gematria, or Hebrew numerology. In online postings, he said he was descended from a Hasidic dynasty. He became involved in a downtown Toronto Orthodox congregation.
But authorities in the United States contend the man, whose real name is Earl Seth David, had for 15 years run a multimillion-dollar operation that provided fake papers for thousands of undocumented immigrants. He was arrested in Toronto on Oct. 11.
A Canadian citizen, David passed the U.S. bar in 1988 and practiced law in New York until he was suspended in 2004. He fled to Canada two years later.
Together with 26 other people, he is accused of operating a scheme through his Manhattan law practice. For fees of up to $30,000, clients were allegedly supplied with fake documentation stating they had been sponsored by U.S. employers to help them immigrate to the United States and secure legal status, the Globe and Mail newspaper reported.
His license to practice law was suspended as a result of an unrelated incident some 12 years earlier. According to court documents, David was peripherally involved in a stock manipulation and money-laundering scheme in which he cooperated with authorities and was not charged.
Toronto Police are investigating several swastikas spray-painted around the city in recent days.
A red-and-black stenciled Swastika was found on the wall of the school of Beth Tikvah Synagogue, a Conservative congregation in Toronto, Friday morning.
The words “Islam will Rule” were scrawled underneath the symbol.
Police are currently reviewing footage from a video camera to identify the vandals.
Two similar swastikas have been painted nearby this month, one outside a Korean-language church.
In a letter to congregants, Beth Tikvah’s rabbi, Jarrod Grover, wrote “This kind of hatred has no place this street, in this city, or in this country.” He asked Muslim leaders “to speak out against anti-Semitism and vandalism.”
“We will remain vigilant in the wake of this disturbing and offensive event,” said the CEO of the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy, Shimon Fogel, in a statement. “We know that this outrageous act will be condemned by Canadian Muslims and members of all faith communities who share our commitment to security, peace, and respect for all faiths.”
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Holocaust women’s rape reports break decades of taboo
by Cynthia L. Cooper | PUBLISHED Jun 3, 2011 | Arts
Gender violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other conflict zones around the world is a subject of continual research and education through witness testimonials,
podcasts and information presented by the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
But this year the museum took a look back, delving into a topic from history that, surprisingly, is entirely new pivotal research about the rape of Jewish women during the Holocaust, described in a new book by two female scholars.
“Rape does not just happen,” said Bridget Conley-Zilkic, director of research and projects for the division that guides the museum’s genocide prevention programs, at a special event in Manhattan, N.Y., about the new book. “It is a tool that perpetrators use to reach their ends. We honor the history of those who suffered and those who died in the Holocaust by changing our world today.”
The rape and sexual abuse of Jewish women in the Holocaust has been a subject that is so taboo that it has taken 65 years for the first English language book on the subject to make its way to the public.
“One question we get a lot is, ‘Why did it take so long?’ And, for that you have to understand how it came about,” said Rochelle G. Saidel, co-editor with Sonja M. Hedgepeth of “Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust,” a multidisciplinary anthology released by Brandeis University Press in December 2010.
In 2006, during a rare seminar about women and the Holocaust at Israel’s Yad Vashem memorial, Saidel and Hedgepeth, both accomplished historians, mentioned, in passing, sexual abuse.
Saidel said, “This very illustrious Holocaust scholar raised his hand and said, ‘There were no Jewish women who were raped during the Holocaust. How can you say such a thing? Where are the documents? Where is the proof?’ ”
His voice was not alone. For decades, a myth held sway that the Nazis didn’t rape Jewish women because it violated German rules on “race” mixing. Others asserted that Jewish women who were raped must have colluded with the Nazis for food and that women, especially attractive ones, who survived the death camps voluntarily engaged in sexual barter.
Saidel and Hedgepeth knew rape was not documented in the same way as the number of trains that traveled to a concentration camp, but they sought out scholars from seven countries and collected 16 essays, drawing upon oral histories, literature, psychoanalysis, eyewitness reports and diaries.
The stories of rape and sexual abuse began to emerge as if they were old photographic film waiting for the right chemicals, and long-erased pictures of Jewish women who had suffered sexual abuse began to emerge.
Jewish women were raped and sexually abused by Nazi guards, but also by liberators, people who hid them, aid givers, partisans and even fellow prisoners. Judy Weiszenberg Cohen, an Auschwitz survivor living in Canada, told the editors that the “fear of rape” was omnipresent in the concentration camp.
“The exact number of women who experienced sexual molestation during the Holocaust cannot be determined and the rapists by and large did not leave documents testifying to their actions,” writes Nomi Levenkron, a human rights attorney in Israel, in an essay in the book. Most women who survived preferred silence, she said, fearing that they would be stigmatized in their communities.
“This is about all of our humanity. After I read the manuscript, I became kind of obsessed with it,” said Gloria Steinem, the renowned feminist writer and advocate, who sponsored two events in New York this year to draw attention to the publication. “I thought, ‘It’s 70 years later. Why didn’t we know this?’ For all of the people to whom it happened, to be victimized is one thing — to be shamed, as if it was your fault, is another profound and deep oppression.”
Many sexually abused women were raped and then simply killed.
Author Moinka J. Faschka of Kent State University in Ohio, one of the contributors to the book, cites survivor Harry Koltun, who said in an interview: “[T]he Gestapo SS came in and took out a few Jewish girls, they took them into a forest and they never came back. They did what they had to do sexually, and they killed them. Nice, nice-looking girls.”
At a presentation at the Anne Frank Center USA in New York, the book’s authors said that previously the barriers to telling the stories of sexual abuse have been tremendous. Some Holocaust scholars believed that segmenting out rape stories — and even women’s stories unrelated to sexual violence — would sever women from the community by focusing on one group when all Jews, regardless of gender, were targeted for persecution. Rape was not included in the Nuremberg Trials when Nazi officials were charged with war crimes.
In other cases, women feared they would be considered “impure” or be ostracized by their families.
“I have been interviewing Holocaust survivors in Israel since ’78, but it didn’t even occur to me to ask about sexual assault,” said Eva Fogelman, a psychologist in New York City. “These people had lost so much of their dignity and privacy. I didn’t want to take that last bit of privacy away from them.”
For this book, Fogelman identified 1,040 testimonies of the 52,000 in the Shoah Foundation collection at the University of Southern California that mention rape or fear of rape.
“What you have is women who were raped talk about it in bits or pieces. Or, ‘I know a woman, and this happened to her,’ a way of indicating this happened, but not implicating themselves,” Fogelman said.
This book, said co-editor Hedgepeth, is only the beginning of the exploration of this sensitive topic.
“I’m starting to feel from conversations that there will be more that comes out of this,” she said.
Cynthia L. Cooper is an independent journalist in New York who frequently writes about reproductive rights.
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Queers Against Israel Apartheid quits Toronto parade
Queers Against Israeli Apartheid said it will not participate in the Toronto Pride Parade.
The group, which has raised controversy with its planned participation in the parade, was announced its decision in an April 15 news release.
Mayor Rob Ford said on the same day that the city should withhold the funds until after the parade to ensure that Queers Against Israeli Apartheid does not actually march. Ford has said he would withhold city funding from the parade if the group participates.
Pride Toronto received $123,807 from the city last year.
Toronto’s city manager said in a report that the group’s participation does not violate the city’s anti-discrimination policy, allowing the city to go forward with providing funding for the 2011 event. The city said it would fund the parade as long as all of the groups participating adhered to the city’s anti-discrimination policy.
Queers Against Israeli Apartheid’s withdrawal was presented by the organization as a “challenge” to Ford. The organization said it will hold its own event this week.
“Rob Ford wants to use us as an excuse to cut Pride funding, even though he has always opposed funding the parade, long before we showed up,” Queers Against Israeli Apartheid spokesperson Elle Flanders said in the news release. “By holding our Pride events outside of the parade, we are forcing him to make a choice: Fund Pride or have your real homophobic, right-wing agenda exposed.”
The Canadian Jewish Congress, which has voiced its objection to the organization’s participation, said it was pleased that Queers Against Israeli Apartheid had withdrawn from the parade.
“This is a positive step and reaffirms what Canadian Jewish Congress has been saying all along: There is absolutely no place in the Pride Parade for hateful and discriminatory messages,” said CJC’s CEO, Bernie Farber. “The Pride Parade should be about openness and inclusivity and not about divisive, inflammatory messaging, which serves only to create a hostile and toxic environment.”
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City funding OK for parade including Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, says Toronto official
A decision by Toronto’s city manager would permit city funding for the Toronto Pride Parade regardless of the participation of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.
The city manager’s report was in response to a motion put forward last year by the City Council to determine whether city funding for the parade should be withdrawn in 2011 because of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid’s participation, which some say violates the city’s anti-discrimination policy.
The report found that the group’s participation does not violate the policy. The city’s executive committee is scheduled to consider the report next week, on the second day of Passover.
Pride Toronto received $123,807 from the city last year. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has said he will withhold city funding from the parade if the controversial group marches.
The Canadian Jewish Congress disagreed with the city manager’s conclusion.
“The comparison paints anyone who supports the Jewish State of Israel, namely Jews, as supporters of racist regimes, and thus as racists themselves,” CJC CEO Bernie Farber said. “Using the Criminal Code of Canada and the Ontario Human Rights Code as the basis for this decision is employing too narrow a standard.
“The very definition of discrimination is when you treat one group of people differently from another based on their ethnicity, religion or country of origin. QuAIA are attempting to do just that.”
CJC’s Ontario Region director, Len Rudner, said that “Pride Toronto has created a dispute resolution process, on the recommendation of the Community Advisory Panel, which is precisely the tool through which decisions about QuAIA’s participation in the parade should be made. We believe Pride Toronto has its own values and standards regarding this hateful comparison.
“We hope this dispute resolution process will clarify and uphold those values, and that Pride Toronto will not abandon its core values, which include honoring the past, protecting the future, valuing diversity and respect.”
Canada’s federal government will contribute up to $15 million toward the building of a massive Jewish community campus north of Toronto.
Monday’s announcement was made by Julian Fantino, Canada’s minister of state for seniors.
The federal funds will support the third phase of the Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Jewish Community Campus project, a sprawling 50-acre site in the Toronto suburb of Vaughan. Its services are to be phased in from 2012 to 2016.
The final phase of the project, to cost $45 million, will include a conference pavilion and atrium, a theater and lecture hall, an outdoor pool, and a number of multi-purpose programming and meeting facilities.
A Jewish high school already is housed on the campus. The completed project will include a network of health and social services.
The Lebovic campus is one of three Jewish community centers in the Toronto area being funded by the United Jewish Appeal Federal of Greater Toronto’s $225-million Tomorrow Campaign. To date, $180 million has been raised for the project.
“Our government remains focused on the economy, which is why we are proud to invest in this local infrastructure project that will create jobs, strengthen Vaughan’s economy and improve the quality of life of [local] families well into the future,” said Fantino.
Egyptian gas supply to Israel again fails to start up
Brother slams thesis writer for citing grandmother
The brother of the author of a thesis accepted by he University of Toronto that calls Holocaust education programs “racist” slammed her for invoking their Holocaust survivor grandmother in her defense.
Jenny Peto, a Jewish activist with the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, attacks in her thesis the March of Remembrance and Hope, through which young adults of diverse backgrounds travel with Holocaust survivors to sites of Nazi atrocities in Poland, and March of the Living Canada, part of an international program that takes young Jews and survivors to Poland and Israel.
Peto argues the programs cause Jews to believe they are innocent victims. In reality, she writes, they are privileged white people who “cannot see their own racism.”
The thesis has been denounced by some professors and Jewish groups as biased and academically unsound. The University of Toronto has come under attack for accepting it and awarding the degree.
In a stinging letter published this week in the National Post newspaper, David Peto of Houston takes his sister to task for dedicating the thesis to their grandmother.
In her introduction, Jenny Peto asserted that if her grandmother “were alive today, she would be right there with me protesting against Israeli apartheid.”
David Peto pointed that their grandmother, Jolan Peto, was a Holocaust survivor who helped save “countless” children from the Nazis in war-torn Budapest.
Their grandmother “taught us to abhor hatred” and was “an ardent supporter of the state of Israel,” he wrote.
He said his sister “is simply wrong; our grandmother would have been entirely opposed to her anti-Israel protests,” adding: “I cannot in good conscience allow my sister to misappropriate publicly our grandmother’s memory to suit her political ideology.”
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Toronto threatens gay parade’s funding over anti-Israel group
The city of Toronto has threatened to withdraw funding from a gay pride parade if an anti-Israel group is allowed to participate.
The city believes that its anti-discrimination policy was violated by the participation of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid in the 2009 Pride Toronto parade, to which the city gave $121,000, the Toronto Star reported Monday.
The city reportedly received complaints about the use of the phrase “Israeli apartheid.”
Pride Toronto officials told the newspaper in an interview hours before the city’s general manager of economic development and culture made the funding cut threat that it had not been decided whether the group would be allowed to march in the 2010 parade.
The threat follows the announcement and cancellation last month of a Pride policy that would have parade signs reviewed by an ethics committee.
Elle Flanders, a Jewish member of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, objected to the city comparing a political opinion on apartheid to hate speech.
“They’re trying to compare it to hate speech, and I find it deeply offensive, as somebody who’s been fighting human rights battles for a really long time, to hear that criticism of the State of Israel is somehow hate speech. No way,” Flanders told the Star.
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Toronto film fest calls Israeli PR strategy into question
By Ben Harris, JTA | PUBLISHED Sep 15, 2009 | Arts
When Amir Gissin helped come up with an idea to remake Israel’s international image several years ago, it’s unlikely he imagined that the showcasing of Israeli films in Toronto would spark a star-studded Hollywood brouhaha over artistic expression and cultural boycotts.
But that’s what happened as Israel became the major flashpoint at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
In an interview last year with the Canadian Jews News, Gissin boasted that his new marketing idea, known as Brand Israel, would help reshape public perceptions of the Jewish state and culminate in a major presence at the 2009 festival.
The presence turned out to be the focus on Tel Aviv as part of the festival’s new City to City program, which included an appearance by the city’s mayor and VIP receptions in addition to the screening of 10 Israeli films.
“The way to fix negative images of Israel is to present Israel in a positive light elsewhere,” Gissin told the paper.
But the effort appears to have backfired as a string of celebrities, including Jane Fonda, Danny Glover, Viggo Mortensen and Harry Belafonte, signed on to the so-called Toronto Declaration claiming that the Tel Aviv spotlight is merely an attempt by the Israeli government to divert attention from its treatment of the Palestinians.
So rather than talking about Israel’s rich cinematic culture, the buzz this week in Toronto has centered on the one thing Israeli officials had sought to avoid: the conflict with the Palestinians.
Israel has long sought to divert the focus from its conflict with the Palestinians out of concern that in the eyes of many, the country is a Middle East backwater engaged in an interminable tribal conflict.
The 2007 “Girls of the IDF” photo shoot for Maxim magazine and the recent transformation of a spit of land in Manhattan’s Central Park into a replica of the Tel Aviv beach were of a piece with the Foreign Ministry’s efforts to broaden public perceptions of Israel and, in effect, tell the Western world, “Hey, we’re just like you.”
Last year, the Israeli government dedicated $10.6 million to the effort, according to Joel Lion, Israel’s current consul for media affairs in New York, who in an earlier post in Germany arranged for the prime minister of Saxony to cook falafel and couscous with an Israeli chef.
Increasingly, cultural events featuring Israeli artists have been the focus of protests in North America. But the debacle in Toronto appears to have drawn a much higher level of attention, raising questions about the rebranding strategy.
The trouble began when filmmaker John Greyson pulled his short film from the festival. That spurred a group of filmmakers and activists—among them Fonda, Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky and the historian Howard Zinn—to sign a declaration titled “No Celebration of Occupation.”
“We do not protest the individual Israeli filmmakers included in City to City, nor do we in any way suggest that Israeli films should be unwelcome at TIFF,” the statement said. “However, especially in the wake of this year’s brutal assault on Gaza, we object to the use of such an important international festival in staging a propaganda campaign on behalf of what South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and U.N. General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann have all characterized as an apartheid regime.”
Within days, the Jewish federations in Toronto and Los Angeles had organized a group of Hollywood stars to sign a statement protesting the Toronto Declaration. The statement—its signatories include Jerry Seinfeld, Natalie Portman and Sacha Baron Cohen—ran as a full-page advertisement in the Tuesday edition of the Toronto Star.
“Anyone who has actually seen recent Israeli cinema, movies that are political and personal, comic and tragic, often critical, knows they are in no way a propaganda arm for any government policy,” the statement said. “Blacklisting them only stifles the exchange of cultural knowledge that artists should be the first to defend and protect. Those who refuse to see these films for themselves or prevent them from being seen by others are violating a cherished right shared by Canada and all democratic countries.”
Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center argued in an opinion piece for the Toronto Star that those backing the declaration criticizing the focus on Tel Aviv had signed on to something that was “intentionally or unintentionally nothing more than a recipe for Israel’s destruction.”
Fonda took it personally, responding with a statement in which she described her support for various Israeli causes and stressed that the declaration did not call for a boycott of Israeli films. Several Atlanta Jewish leaders, including rabbis and a former federation president, issued their own statement defending her.
However, Fonda then issued a second statement standing by her opposition to the official focus on Tel Aviv, but saying that the declaration was one-sided and poorly worded.
In interviews Tuesday, those involved in Brand Israel disputed the notion that the festival controversy rendered their strategy inoperable. Several compared the effort to New York City’s campaign to rebrand itself the Big Apple in the 1970s after years in which the city was seen as a hotbed of crime and ineffective government.
“You’re always going to have people imbued with politics and seeing things through that lens,” said Barak Orenstein, a brand manager in Toronto who gave the keynote address at a Brand Israel conference last year. “But there’s definitely a need to share Israel’s contributions with the world. And I think the country has to be proactive about the wonderful things that it’s sharing.”
Lion was even more dismissive, saying that the protesters were a small group and “nothing new.” He noted, as did several others, that the festival stood by its decision to highlight the Israeli films and festival-goers would still have a chance to see them.
“People see that films from Israel are coming to an international film festival,” Lion said. “They see that the films are there. So it’s also a part of the branding effort, even if there’s controversy. Controversy only helps.”
Follow our complete coverage of the Toronto Film Festival boycotts on our Hollywood Jew blog.
Reposted with permission of Jane Fonda
I recently signed a letter protesting the Toronto International Film Festival’s decision to showcase and celebrate Tel Aviv. This in the very year when Gaza happened. The decision made the festival a participant in the newly launched campaign to “rebrand” Israel. Arye Mekel, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Director General for Cultural Affairs, has said that artists and writers must be enlisted in order to “show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.” The protesters felt it was wrong for the much-respected festival to be used in this manner. The role of art, after all, is not to prettify but to expose reality with all its contradictions and complexities.
I signed the letter without reading it carefully enough, without asking myself if some of the wording wouldn’t exacerbate the situation rather than bring about constructive dialogue.
Last week, Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz, director of the Chai Center in Los Angeles, explained to me the meaning of the Hebrew word “teshuva”—to fix things you have done incorrectly, not just by never doing them again but by “coming with a sincere heart. Words that come from the heart enter the heart.”
Some of the words in the protest letter did not come from my heart, words that are unnecessarily inflammatory: The simplistic depiction of Tel Aviv as a city “built on destroyed Palestinian villages,” for instance, and the omission of any mention of Hamas’s 8-month-long rocket and mortar attacks on the town of Sderot and the western Negev to which Israel was responding when it launched its war on Gaza. Many citizens now suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result. In the hyper-sensitized reality of the region in which any criticism of Israel is swiftly and often unfairly branded as anti-Semitic, it can become counterproductive to inflame rather than explain and this means to hear the narratives of both sides, to articulate the suffering on both sides, not just the Palestinians. By neglecting to do this the letter allowed good people to close their ears and their hearts.
Additionally, protesting the use of the festival to “rebrand” Israel was perhaps too easily misunderstood. It certainly has been wildly distorted. Contrary to the lies that have been circulated, the protest letter was not demonizing Israeli films and filmmakers. On one of the many trips I have made to Israel, I spoke at Tel Aviv University’s film department and am well aware, as I’m sure the other signatories are, that Israeli films are not a mouthpiece for their government’s policies. Nor was the letter an attack on the legitimacy of Tel Aviv as an Israeli city, or a call to boycott the Toronto Film Festival. In fact, many signatories are attending the festival and have films showing there.
As I said in my recent blog, the greatest “re-branding” of Israel would be to celebrate that country’s long standing, courageous and robust peace movement by helping to end the blockade of Gaza through negotiations with all parties to the conflict, and by stopping the expansion of West Bank settlements. That’s the way to show Israel’s commitment to peace, not a PR campaign. There will be no two-state solution unless this happens.
The Israeli-Palestinian story cannot be reduced to a simplistic aggressor-victim relationship. In order to fully understand this, one must be willing to come together with an open heart and really hear the narratives of both sides. One narrative sees 1948 as the mass expulsion of Palestinians from their land. Another sees it as the birth of a nation. Conceivably it was both. Neither narrative can be erased, both must be heard.
Director Mike Leigh may be known as a bit of a curmudgeon, but he refuses to see his new film, “Happy-Go-Lucky,” which revolves around a relentlessly optimistic teacher, as a departure.
The 65-year-old British writer-director is famous for gritty realism in movies such as “Naked,” about a strangely metaphysical angry young man, and “Vera Drake,” about a 1950s illegal abortionist, for which he received one of his five Oscar nominations. He’s also known for working without a script, instead encouraging his actors to improvise. A comedy sketch apparently has parodied his movies by depicting characters sitting around and grunting.
Leigh has little patience for such parodies and even less for critics who marvel about “Happy-Go-Lucky” as “a change of pace” for the director.
“Rubbish,” he says of such reviews, hunching in his chair and folding his arms during an interview at the Four Seasons Hotel here. “This movie has all the elements of a ‘Mike Leigh’ film because I cannot get away from making a Mike Leigh film. All my work combines a balance between the humorous and the pathetic.”
He says he traces this point of view to his Jewish upbringing in Manchester, though he now leads a secular life and eschews organized religion.
The idea for “Happy-Go-Lucky” began when Leigh was pondering the gloom-and-doom atmosphere after Sept. 11.
“I thought, ‘Now’s the time to make an “anti-miserablist” film about people who are living their lives and getting on with it,'” he says.
The main character, Poppy (Sally Hawkins), gets on with her life even as she encounters a seething driving instructor (Eddie Marsan), who eventually stalks her; a mentally ill transient; a bullying student; and her dour sisters.
“She is an optimistic character, but more importantly, she is a ‘positivist,'” Leigh explains. “Poppy is someone who looks things in the eye, who deals with difficult matters as they arise, who is open and nonjudgmental. She cares and is motivated by her love for people … but none of these things in a soppy, sloppy or sentimental way.”
The movie received good reviews when it premiered at the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival, where Hawkins won the best actress award, and it marks a milestone of sorts for Leigh. At 65, he has some 20 plays and almost as many films under his belt, of which 10 have been released in a DVD box set this year (some for the first time).
A series of conversations with Amy Raphael make up the new book, “Mike Leigh on Mike Leigh,” which will hit stores in the United States this month. In the interviews, Leigh reveals previously guarded secrets about his filmmaking techniques, as well as candid reflections on his heritage, including comments on how some Jews pretend not to be Jewish.
Fear of being singled out as Jewish is more pronounced among British than American Jews, he suggests in person.
“I was in New York recently, and if you come from London and you’re Jewish, it is remarkable to be somewhere where Rosh Hashanah is virtually a public holiday. Everything closes down…. It’s like a version of the ‘Yiddish Policemen’s Union,'” he says, citing Michael Chabon’s novel about a Jewish settlement in Alaska. “The point is that we are used to being this relatively closeted minority, but I have to qualify this statement by reminding you that I have spent so much of my life not really being a part of the Jewish scene.”
Leigh’s Yiddish-speaking paternal grandfather was born Meyer Lieberman (later Anglicized to “Leigh”) in what is now Belarus and arrived in England as “part of the great Jewish emigration west,” the director says. “Actually he had a ticket to New York, but he stopped off to see some people in Manchester and decided to sell the remainder of his ticket, and he stayed — how dramatic that sounds! Had he not done that, he wouldn’t have met my grandmother, and therefore I would not exist in the form that you now meet me.”
Leigh’s physician father and midwife mother met through Habonim, the Labor Zionist youth movement, in 1936. Mike Leigh, in turn, became a Habonim leader and traveled with the group to Israel on a ship as a teenager. The experience had a dramatic effect on his future work as an artist: “The atmosphere was one of chevrah, of sharing, openness and coming together — of making things happen by colluding — which describes the spirit of how I work with actors and the atmosphere of my rehearsals.”
But when Leigh returned to the United Kingdom, his overriding goal was to immerse himself in the theater. While attending the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, he played down his background to escape being stereotyped.
“If you’re perceived as the ‘Jewish’ filmmaker — particularly since that was not the agenda I was concerned with — it could only get in the way, so therefore, I was not interested in talking about it,” he says matter-of-factly.
Leaving the chevra of Habonim wasn’t difficult, he suggests, because he had never intended to pursue Jewish religion or culture.
“I walked away from the Jewish world at 17 — I couldn’t wait,” he says. ” I was eating bacon and pork at an early age; I lived a completely secular existence.”
Leigh directed his first feature film, “Bleak Moments,” in 1971, and in the 1990s made a splash on the international scene with movies such as “Naked” and “Secrets & Lies.”
“Mike Leigh’s work, as filmmaker and playwright, has always seemed to be about Englishness, about the turmoil and pain that lies beneath the veneer of ordinary lives,” an article in the Guardian said of him.
So it came as a shock to some when his comedy-drama, “Two Thousand Years,” which opened at the National Theatre in London in 2005, revolved around members of a Labor Zionist family as they argued about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what it means to be Jewish.
“Here’s my Jewish play,” he wrote in his introduction to the published script. “I’ve been threatening to do it for years, but I haven’t felt ready until now.”
Leigh had been commissioned to write something for the company, which he perceives as “a forum for ideas,” and used that as an opportunity to reflect upon his upbringing and his disappointment with Israel and its policies.
Like all of Leigh’s work, the script was created in an atmosphere of secrecy, via conversations with individual actors, who were told as little as possible about the other characters until improvisations began. The topic of the play remained unknown to the public (and even to theater officials) until the production went into rehearsals. Nevertheless, Leigh’s fame ensured that tickets sold out within minutes of going on sale.
Leigh says he selected only Jewish actors for “Two Thousand Years” so they could bring their personal experiences to the table.
“That kind of casting is central to the way I work,” he explains. “You can’t just say, ‘Well, anyone can do this; you just have to learn the lines and stand in front of the camera.’ It’s a creative process where an actor comes in with nothing, and I work with them, and we create a character from scratch.”
Critics were so surprised by the play’s content that headlines referred to the author’s Jewish background as Mike Leigh’s “secret.”
“It was like, ‘Hey, he was a closet Yid,’ which is nonsense,” the director says with a laugh.
These days, he has a dual take on his heritage: “I am fundamentally upset by religion; I think it’s deeply unhealthy,” he says. “I’m a totally spiritual person but entirely unreligious. But I have Jewish roots; I am Jewish, and that’s why I dealt with it in ‘Two Thousand Years.’ And indeed there is an unquestionably tragicomic dimension to my work, which it would be disingenuous to not own up to being pretty Jewish.”
“Happy-Go-Lucky” opens Oct. 10 in Los Angeles.
Ray Benson (Asleep at the Wheel): The biggest Jew in country music [VIDEO]
Briefs: Katsav backs out of sex charges plea deal, Al Qaeda has more threats for the Jews
Moshe Katsav, the Israeli ex-president mired in a sex scandal, has rejected his plea agreement. Katsav appeared in Jerusalem District Court Tuesday and pleaded not guilty to charges of sexual offenses. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz now will have to decide whether to indict Katsav and on what charges.
Under the rejected plea bargain, Katsav would have been convicted of sexually harassing and molesting female staff but spared more serious rape charges. Katsav’s lawyers said they believe the prosecution’s evidence does not prove that the president is guilty of the charges.
The defense won a postponement in proceedings last month so that the evidence could be reviewed. Katsav and his attorneys will now go ahead and try to challenge the complainants’ credibility. Women’s rights groups and anti-corruption lobbies were upset that the former president, who stepped down in disgrace last year, was offered a plea bargain.
Katsav arrived at court with his wife, Gila, a half-hour late, delaying the start of the trial. His car was surrounded by womens’ rights activists and television camera crews.
Al Qaeda Steps Up Threats to Jews
Al Qaeda stepped up its calls to kill Jews. Ayman al-Zawahri, the Osama bin Laden lieutenant who last month urged Muslims to strike Jews “everywhere” in revenge for an Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip, issued an even more expansive threat last week. “We promise our Muslim brothers that we will do the best we can to harm Jews in Israel and the world over with Allah’s help and according to his command,” Zawahri said in an audiotape released online.
The remarks, which were in response to e-mailed questions from Al Qaeda supporters and came with an English translation, linked the sought-after fall of Israel to the sought-after failure of the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
“I expect the jihadi influence to spread after the Americans’ exit from Iraq and to move towards Jerusalem,” Zawahri said.
A fugitive from the Egyptian regime of Hosni Mubarak, Zawahri predicted the demise of the pro-Western governments in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. But he had especially hostile words for the United Nations, calling it an “enemy of Islam” for its vote on creating the State of Israel in 1948.
Center on Israel Education to Open
The first national center to provide resources for teaching about Israel at the pre-college level is being launched. Financed by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation and the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Washington, D.C.-based Israel Education Resource Center will develop materials, train educators and help congregational and Jewish day schools integrate the study of Israel into every aspect of their curricula. Lynn Schusterman announced the center’s launch Monday in Boston before 1,300 day school educators at the national assembly of Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education. The new center is meant to help close the gap between the Israel education Jewish children receive at the high school level and the complexities and hostility they often encounter when they reach college.
“We realized that most students were coming to university with very limited understanding of modern Israel,” said Lisa Eisen, national director of the Schusterman Family Foundation. “The idea that they would be ill equipped to engage in informed discussions, much less advocacy, with so little knowledge and so little connection to Israel” led the two foundations to put their money behind a national resource center that will focus its efforts on K-12 Israel education.
The center is searching for a president and will do some pilot programs this year to help selected day schools better integrate Israel studies into their general curriculum. When operational, the center will act as a clearinghouse for best practices, allowing Israel educators from schools and informal settings, such as youth groups and summer camps, to share resources.
Conservative Shuls May Quit Group
Two Conservative Canadian synagogues are moving ahead with plans to break with the movement’s synagogue umbrella organization. The board of Adath Israel, a century-old congregation in Toronto, voted “overwhelmingly” last week to leave the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), the Canadian Jewish News reported.
At Beth Tikvah, also in Toronto, the board of governors recommended severing ties to United Synagogue on June 30, when its membership term expires. The United Synagogue “no longer represents what and who we are,” said Rabbi Steven Saltzman of Adath Israel.
Canadian Conservative synagogues are generally more traditional than their American counterparts, and the 2006 decision by the movement’s law committee to permit the ordination of gay clergy set off speculation that the Canadians would secede from United Synagogue. But movement leaders in Canada say the issue is one of return on membership dues, as much as any ideological divide, that has led many synagogues to consider secession.
“For some years, the congregations in Montreal felt that they were getting little for the annual fees they pay to USCJ, and the issue of ordaining homosexuals brought to a head this long simmering discontent,” said Rabbi Alan Bright of Shaare Zedek in Montreal, which has voted on the issue. Bright would not disclose the decision.
Beth Tzedec, another congregation in Toronto, also is considering secession.
Israeli Cabinet Debates Chametz Ruling
The Israeli Cabinet debated a court challenge to restrictions on the public display of chametz during Passover. Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai, who leads the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, used Sunday’s session to complain about a Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court decision last week to overturn municipal citations against grocery stores that display bread during Passover.
The offending shops, the court ruled, had not flaunted the chametz but only chose to offer them to nonobservant customers. Such reasoning did not sway Shas, however, which saw a challenge to a 20-year-old chametz ban.
“This ruling is a black stain on Jewish identity,” Yishai told the Cabinet, according to political sources. He further asked Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann to countermand the court.
PJA head Sokatch leaving to helm S.F. federation
Craig Prizant, philanthropreneurship and evangelicals
As a former fundraising professional at the Jewish Federation, I read with interest your story about the firing of Craig Prizant (a gentleman I do not know) (“Federation May Face Lawsuit Over Fundraiser Prizant’s Firing,” Feb. 27).
There has been a revolving door of development professionals, those at the top of the department and lower level staff, which, to my mind, shows either an appalling lack of management or a lack of appreciation on the part of the exec.
When you have staff coming and going on a frequent basis, you lose institutional knowledge of the various fundraising divisions, and, what I think is most important, you lose the relationships to people and community that your professionals make while at the Fed. Since the early 1990s, people have come and gone (sometimes with alacrity and with no respect to the individuals) in a manner that I don’t think you find in other American Jewish communities.
It was heartening to read in your article that finally the lay people are taking a stand. Perhaps the Prizant issue is just the tip of the iceberg? Perhaps the community would be better served by better oversight by the lay board and volunteers? And why is 6505 going through staff so quickly while the Valley Federation is not? These are issues that should be addressed.
Roxann Smith Beverly Hills
Toronto’s accomplishments are even greater than Gary Wexler may realize (“Think ‘Philanthropreneurship,’ Like Canada,” March 2).
A couple of years before Gary was hired by the Toronto federation, and before the present executive was there, I was in Toronto for a week, training boards and staff people. I had been there a few times over the years and found it a progressive, vibrant Jewish city as Gary describes. Alan Reitzes was still the federation CEO.
Alan informed me that before my presentation at the federation board meeting, one matter of business was on the agenda. That item was the plan that Gary described in his article. At the time it was a two-track proposal.
The second part of the proposal was to establish a $100 million community fund. The proceeds were to be made available to any Jewish endeavor in the city deemed worthy of support by virtue of its contribution to the upbuilding of Jewish life in Toronto. This plan to raise $250 million over a period of time was passed unanimously and was “kicked off” by a single $35 million contribution.
Subsequently, the community leadership did commit to the new floor for the annual drive but the $150 million goal was raised to $300 million, as Wexler reported. I sat there silent, overwhelmed by the plan’s visionary challenge and scope, and immediately thought of Los Angeles and its potential to become a truly great Jewish city.
Upon my return home, I approached a dedicated and devoted lay leader and told him the Toronto story. He, too, was impressed and took up my challenge for him to initiate some beginnings to initiate a comparable plan in Los Angeles. He felt he could call 10 people together and begin the process with $10 million in new money. I thanked him but urged him to think in larger numbers and he agreed, ultimately feeling he could raise $25 million. I was elated but then made a great mistake. I should have urged him to go ahead, raise the money and then present the check as a challenge gift to The Federation, coupled with a visionary plan of how to jump start the development of a comprehensive scenario for consideration by all segments in the community.
Alas, I did not. My visionary friend brought the idea to a few community leaders who provided all manner of discouraging reasons as to why the idea would never get support in Los Angeles. The rest is history.
Los Angeles remains a fragmented community, raising money for great purposes under many auspices but never coming together to act except, in emergencies, to move to some exciting, energized and stimulating approach for tomorrow’s Los Angeles.
Wexler was undoubtedly trying to challenge those great visionaries among us to turn their thoughts, imaginations and energies to the end that this magnificent place in flux called Los Angeles set some overarching priorities for the community’s benefit and flowering.
Gerald Bubis Founding Director School of Jewish Communal Service Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Former Board Member The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles
Regarding Tom Tugend’s interview with Zev Chafets (Evangelical Support for Israel — Good for the Jews?,” March 2), who is promoting his book “A Match Made in Heaven: American Jews, Christian Zionists and One Man’s Exploration of the Weird and Wonderful Judeo-Evangelical Alliance,” there is much that Jews need to learn about Christian Zionists.
The first is to appreciate that in many quarters they are considered neither Christian nor Zionist. They are the hard-core religious right and no amount of their support for Israel justifies what they would like to do to America.
Tugend asked all the right questions, but Chafets kept saying he wants American Jews to shut up about the theocratic domestic agenda of Christian Zionists (prayer and creationism in the schools, for example).
Chafets’ expressed contempt: “All I’m advocating is that you cut out the sneering, patronizing behavior toward evangelicals, and you don’t need to patrol every town square in Alabama for religious symbols…important to Christians.”
It’s some consolation that this interview appeared for the comedic Purim edition. We recommend that Chafets take his own medicine and begin campaigning for an Israeli government run by Satmar.
Correction:An article about Gila Almagor (Israel’s ‘Grande Dame’ Grows Up on the Big Screen”) had an incorrect byline. The author of the story was Jessica Steinberg. The Journal regrets the error.
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When American Jewish leaders hear I’m consulting in Canada, they often comment that Canadian Jewry is years behind American Jewry.
After several years of intensively
working with the Toronto Jewish community, I’m not so sure. In fact, I see them as being ahead of us.
Since 2001 I have been intimately involved with UJA-Federation of Toronto as the marketing partner in an infrastructure campaign that is raising nearly $300 million over a seven-year period. The federation has raised more than half the amount while doubling what it raises in its annual campaign during the same period.
As Toronto Jews re-envision their community, they’re rebuilding it in three geographical areas of what is referred to as the Greater Toronto Area: the vibrant, gentrified downtown area, in the north of the city where the major Jewish population is; and in the far northern region where young Jewish couples are moving.
Throughout this project the federation is partnering with community institutions, acting not in a traditional allocations capacity but as the actual fund-raising arm — identifying mega-donors, cultivating them and ultimately making the request.
They’re acting as collaborative partners in an imaginative planning process as well. They’re building and rebuilding JCCs at state-of-the-art levels with floors of stores — the Birthright Israel store, the Mount Sinai hospital storefront, the Second Cup coffee chain and possibly commercial establishments such as the Gap and others.
In the same spirit, they’re also building and rebuilding day schools, Hillels, museums, theaters, a Holocaust center, the federation building, open spaces and celebration centers. They’re bringing in the best architects, space planners, program professionals, educators and thinkers — creative and Jewish minds.
The Vaughan campus, now called the Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Campus for the brothers who made a $25 million naming gift, is described by the architect as having been designed in the spirit of the great Jewish area of Vilna and as an integral part of the community where the city streets traverse the center, filled with inspirational and spiritual design, plazas, nature and public spaces.
Through the physical building and rebuilding of their community, Toronto Jews in essence are building and rebuilding the community’s soul, setting a model for Jewish communities throughout the world.
We have a lot to learn from our Canadian brothers and sisters, particularly those of us living in Los Angeles. It’s time Toronto’s tale was told.
Spending a week per month there, I’m learning that to American eyes, Canada can be very deceptive. It looks and smells like America, but scratch the surface and our northern neighbor is a million miles away. It’s a very different place and culture.
How Canadian Jews see themselves as Canadians is very different than how we American Jews see ourselves as Americans. Active American Jews are in a constant struggle between two very rich senses of identity — our national identity as Americans and our communal, religious and Zionist identity as Jews.
Active Canadian Jews, I have observed, live with a completely different dynamic. They’re proud of their Canadian citizenship, but don’t have a deep sense of Canadian national identity. Their national identity is ebulliently Jewish, belonging to the Jewish nation. Their Jewish communal work leads them on a much different path.
It’s only partly against this backdrop that UJA-Federation of Toronto is pulling off what no American federation is.
Two other critical parts have laid the groundwork for this campaign, which I believe are the more influential factors.
First, unlike America’s highly mobile society, Toronto’s Jewish leaders are deeply committed to maintaining family continuity in the same city. They want their children and grandchildren to remain Jewish and in Toronto. How to do it is a constant discussion that arises in many meetings.
As a result, these leaders recognize that they must build a community of the future, creating the type of institutions that will be seen as mainstream and world-class, inspiring the imagination, enthusiasm and pride of a new generation of Jews who are sophisticated and worldly.
The second, and by far more important, factor is their leadership.
They realize that in order to achieve their dreams, they cannot just maintain a community but must work to envision one — in a big way. This has led these leaders to create big ideas and take huge risks to claim an unprecedented return. As they often say, the alternative is to shrivel and lose.
As a marketer I’ve seen that vision, big ideas and risk are everything when leading a community organization such as a federation.
From the start of this project, the executive director of the Toronto federation, Ted Sokolsky, risked professional safety, going out on a limb to articulate a bold vision, create big ideas and inspire allies among professional and laypeople, and ultimately to motivate Toronto’s wealthy Jews — those both deeply and peripherally involved in the federation — to donate generously of their own funds, ranging from $5 million to $25 million.
That’s what demographer Gary Tobin describes when he talks about how federations need to move from the annual campaign business into the philanthropy business. Watching the success of Toronto, I would call this “philanthropreneurship.”
Philanthropreneurship means identifying needs, setting a bold, risky vision, then creating big ideas to be funded in order to carry out the vision.
In philanthropreneurship, the funders are viewed as investors and treated like partners. The return has to be quantifiable.
Federations needs philanthropreneurship, and Toronto is a prime example. So are the initial foundations that created the vision and funded the ideas of Birthright Israel.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a model of philanthropreneurship. So is Warren Buffet. Hopefully, so will be the foundation of Sheldon Adelson.
What has been the trajectory of philanthropreneurship in Toronto?
In the past 20 years, Toronto grew from a Jewish community of 80,000 to nearly 200,000 due to an influx of English-speaking Jews leaving Francophone Quebec, and immigration from the former Soviet Union, South Africa, Israel and English-speaking countries around the world.
Toronto also has attracted families from across Canada who are seeking a Jewish community of size, breadth, depth and multiple alternatives.
“He starts out with that,” says Barry Diller, alluding to a squiggle-like drawing in the new documentary, “Sketches of Frank Gehry,” and “he ends up with this,” pointing to a model of the InterActive Corp. (IAC) Building, currently under construction in Manhattan. Although made completely of glass, a material that likes to be flat, Gehry has molded the glass walls to resemble a row of sailboats billowing in the wind.
Even to the architect’s detractors — and there are many — buildings like the IAC offer something new and unexpected, even if a lot of looking is needed sometimes to wrap one’s mind around these edifices. In short, the IAC Building aspires to be a work of architecture that is simultaneously and unapologetically a work of art.
There’s an implicit question in the comments of Diller, the chairman of Expedia and Gehry’s client for the IAC Building: How did that blankety-blank squiggle turn into a really good building?
The film, a rare departure into documentary by Sidney Pollack, director of “Tootsie” and “Out of Africa,” assays the mystery of Gehry, an outwardly aw-shucks guy, who regularly produces some of the world’s most aggressive and attention-getting buildings.
While it is interesting to hear Gehry, 77, describe his formative influences — building blocks during childhood, the images of fish, the architecture of Finnish master Alvar Aalto — this kind of museum-docent talk does not bring us close to the core of Gehry’s creativity. Pollack’s film is strongest when filling in the human, rather than theoretical, background.
The real question here is: How did this lower-middle-class Jew from Toronto become the most celebrated architect in the world, and one of the rare people in the profession, outside of Frank Lloyd Wright, to become a household name? (What other architect is well-known enough to be spoofed on “The Simpsons”?)
Pollack, with his skill in developing character, locates the Freudian threads in Gehry’s life story. A Canadian in Southern California, the young Gehry, then known as Goldberg, struggled in architecture school, believing himself victimized by anti-Semitism in a largely all-WASP profession.
He has the outsider’s simultaneous rejection of, and reverence for, authority, here symbolized by the architectural profession, with its weighty baggage of uptight, exclusionary, backward-looking rules. The young Gehry wonders why architecture must be so authoritarian and rule-bound, as opposed to something akin to the delight he experienced as a child, building imaginary cities on the floor of his aunt’s apartment.
Gehry’s creative solution — his psychoanalytic victory — was to embrace the delight of free-form design, while making sure that his buildings met the needs of his clients. His freedom in designing what appear to be purely sculptural objects that subsequently win rapturous praise must make him the envy of all architects who secretly wish they could find such willing clients. Gehry seems to embody the myth of the artist-hero, a symbol of personal attainment and untrammeled freedom of expression.
Yet self-doubt remains. On the eve of his greatest popular triumph, the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, five years ago, the architect recalls walking around the spectacular complex, shortly to become the most photographed and discussed building of the past 50 years, asking himself, “What have I done?” It is the most touching moment in the film.
That kind of vulnerability and introspection makes “Sketches of Frank Gehry” at times resemble a Woody Allen movie. The plotline certainly sounds a lot like Allen: A sad sack, Jewish shlub who feels excluded from the country club set of architects, turns out to be the designer of amazing buildings that turn the world of architecture on its ear. Meanwhile, the hero, in all innocence, says things like, “Gee, did I really do that?”
Adding to the Allen-like texture of the film is a series of celebrity talking heads — Diller, ex-Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, actor Dennis Hopper, rock musician Bob Geldof, ex-talent agency director Michael Ovitz, artist Julian Schnabel, the late architect Philip Johnson — each expressing his admiration for cher maitre.
And in the archetypally Allen moment, we meet Gehry’s psychoanalyst of 35 years, who acknowledges with a coy smile that “Frank has made me famous,” while adding that he refuses services to other architects seeking to emulate Gehry’s inner transformation. (Question for Gideon Kanner: Is there a statute of limitations on physician confidentiality?)
This enjoyable, undemanding film from the hand of a master director holds no terrors for nonarchitects and others who feel flummoxed by the mystique and technical complexity of the profession. This very much reflects the attitude of Gehry, who seems intent on puncturing a certain kind of architectural snobbery.
What the film does not do is help us understand the process through which a scribbled drawing turns into a finished building. For all the accessibility of Gehry the man, Gehry the creative personality remains a mystery.
From Nov. 13-15 in Toronto, college students are invited to attend Do the Write Thing, a conference on Jewish journalism held at the General Assembly, the annual gathering of machers in the Federation system and other Jewish organizations.
Aside from participating in workshops on things like objectivity in reporting, the dynamics of power between the media and the Jewish establishment and reporting on Israel, students get a chance to network with top-notch journalists as well as lay and professional leaders of the Jewish community.
The cost to students for hotel, meals and conference is $99, and travel is subsidized up to $200. Applications are due Oct. 13. For more information go to www.wzo.org.il/en/dtwt or call 1-800-274-7723.
Anti-Bias Buy In
Applications are now available for high school students of all ethnic and religious backgrounds who want to become involved in the Anti-Defamation League’s anti-bias youth education program, Dream Dialogue. In quarterly meetings, participants bond across ethnic groups, develop teen leadership skills, train to become anti-bias peer facilitators, lead discussions in valuing diversity with their peers and initiate a community social action project of their choosing.
The program is free. Applications are due Oct. 10 for the 2005-06 school year. For an application or further information, call Jenny Betz at the ADL, (310) 446-8000, ext. 233, or email email@example.com.