KLEZ KANADA 2012 (Photos and Video)

Klez Kanada

Klez Kanada is Quebec’s largest annual festival of Jewish/Yiddish culture and arts. Every year, musicians, Yiddishists, Jews, and non-Jews gather in the Laurentian Mountains at camp B’nai Brith for a week of inter-generational song, dance, and culture.

This year I attended several very interesting lectures and was treated to numerous musical performances by a wide range of artists, both young and old, from all corners of the globe.

Here are a few of the photos from the festival, and I’m currently working on a short video highlighting parts of the festival.

Photos by Chris Zacchia

video by AskAbigail Productions

Tonight at NYCIFF: Yiddish: A Tale of Survival

If you’re in New York City this evening the film Yiddish: a tale of Survival will be playing at the New York City International Film Festival at 8:00pm (NYIT auditorium on Broadway and 62nd St).

Here is a review of the film from Montreal blog ForgetTheBox.net.

There was once a time when the languages you heard in the streets of Montreal were English, French, and yes… Yiddish. In the early 1920s, Yiddish-speaking Jews from Europe immigrated to Montreal and were a large part of our diverse cultural landscape.

Early Jewish and Yiddish settlers opened the first Bagel shops, Smoked Meat dinners, and founded Yiddish theatres. In a new documentary, Abigail Hirsch looks at Yiddish theatre in Montreal, New York, and even Israel.

In Yiddish: a tale of survival, the history of Yiddish is revealed by exploring the lives and careers of three Yiddish performers. The first, Shmuel Atzmon, an Israeli actor who founded the Yiddishpiel Theater and has been acting for 50 years. Bryna Wasserman, from Montreal, is the heir to the Dora Wasserman Yiddish theatre legacy. And lastly, we meet singer and actress Milena Kartowski, who at the young age of 23 has discovered Yiddish and is helping to bring it to a new generation.

The film explores the paths that brought each artist to Yiddish and how it has shaped their lives. The film is deeply moving and surprisingly entertaining. Watching it, one hears the sounds of the almost forgotten language of Yiddish from the echoes of Sholem Aleichem to the young people’s YaYa group performance, Raisins and Almonds. We are reminded of the legacy Montreal’s Jewish community and Yiddish culture worldwide.

Yiddish: a tale of survival

Yiddish: A Tale of Survival, is a documentary about Yiddish after the Holocaust. It focuses on three generations of Yiddish performers: Shmuel Atzmon, Bryna Wasserman and Milena Kartowski, and examines the state of Yiddish in the 21st century. Here is the trailer:

Yiddish was the main spoken and literary language of Northern European Jews from France to Russia for several hundred years. During the Holocaust a majority of the world’s Yiddish speakers were annihilated. As a result, the Yiddish culture – language, literature, and theatre was nearly destroyed, leaving many wondering whether Yiddish had any future at all.

Twenty-five years ago, Shmuel Atzmon, a holocaust survivor, started a Yiddish Repertory theatre in Israel. He took young Hebrew speaking actors and taught them the Yiddish language, its music and culture. There is now a first rate Yiddish Repertory Theatre in Tel Aviv called Yiddishspiel.

Arriving in Canada in 1950 with two young daughters, Dora Wasserman, succeeded in creating a Yiddish theatre troupe made up of students and their parents, many Holocaust survivors. Her work has been carried on by her daughter Bryna Wasserman, who recently presided over the fiftieth anniversary of the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Troupe by initiating the first ever International Yiddish Theatre Festival in Montreal. Milena Kartowski, a twenty-three year old student of dance, jazz, and opera, from Paris, and a grand daughter of Holocaust survivors, has recently discovered the Yiddish language and its attendant culture. She has fallen in love with Yiddish theatre and song. Milena not only understands the essence of Yiddish culture but also the importance of preserving a culture that is on the verge of extinction.

Yiddish Poster

About me:
 
My name is Abigail Hirsch. I was born into a Jewish family that survived the Holocaust in Europe. I rediscovered the beauty and depth of the Yiddish theatre through the International Yiddish Theatre Festival that was held in Montreal in 2009, and was inspired to initiate this documentary. Everywhere I went in Israel, the US and Canada and shared this project, people of all languages, Jews and non-Jews were excited about it.
 
Update 1/10/2013:
 

We have completed the film and have been submitting the film to Festivals and distributors and potential sponsors.  We held a press screening at McGill University in Montreal on December 10, 2012, Human Rights Day and got some very favorable press coverage. Pierre Landry interviewed me on the CBC Home Run radio show on Dec. 10:  Janice Arnold published a review in the Canadian Jewish News.

http://www.cjnews.com/arts/doc-looks-challenge-preserving-yiddish-theatre

A hartzigen dank (a heartfelt thank-you) to everyone who has donated to help fund this film!  Will keep you all posted on future screenings and how to access the film.

The film has been self-funded and any donations are gratefully appreciated.


Sincerely,

Abigail Hirsch

Rabbi Steinmetz on Being Selfless

Rabbi Steinmetz asks the question why do people take on thankless and selfless tasks, like the firemen who risked their lives on 9/11 at the World trade Center?

The idea that evolution relies on survival of the fittest goes against the idea of sacrificing oneself for others but religion has an answer for this. The Rabbi talks about Maimonides’ concept of a person who serves out of love. A person who serves out of love does what is right because it is right.

Do you have any thoughts on the matter? Who do you sacrifice for, for love?

Ruth Wisse on Sholem Aleichem and Yiddish Humour

Ruth Wisse

Ruth Wisse was at the Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal, on October 22, 2012, talking about Jewish humour. In this clip she discusses the beloved author, Sholem Aleichem, “The Jewish Mark Twain” (1859 – 1916), and she analyzes his gift of humour and how it helped to define Jewish comedy and succeeded in bringing Jews together to this day.

Ruth Wisse is the Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard University. She is currently writing a book on Jewish Humour which will be published next year.

This was one of a number of lectures presented by the Shaar Hashomayim as part of their Tuesday night learning seminars. For more visit their events calender.

 

Le Mood 2012


Le Mood is a one day festival that aims to celebrate being Jewish as well as to educate both Jews and non-Jews about a miriad of topics related to Jewish life, arts, and culture. The Le Mood festival prides itself on being quirky, and an alternative to conventional models of Jewish learning. The Montreal festival is now in its second year and has so far been a rousing success; this year saw nearly 1000 attendees!

Le Mood ComediansI think everyone who attended could find something to sink their teeth into. This year there were workshops about food and sustaining our planet; about human rights in Canada and elsewhere; about relationships – straight or gay; about being “religious or not”. There were workshops teaching people to break dance or perform comedy; there was traditional music as well as rapping; Jewish comics, live and several documentaries: Punk Jews and Shlemiel, performance art, as well as traditional Jewish learning! – an amazing outpouring of talent, drive, and creativity, most of it from the younger set although all age groups could be found.

Le Mood does a good job of offering workshops that focus not only on religion but also on cultural aspects of Jewish identity. One workshop was about traditional pickling by Jeffery Yaskowitz. He explained how to pickle…  pickles and the traditions that accompanied the craft. Science and religion intertwined as the recipes and traditions unfolded. Le Mood had various food and beverage workshops throughout the day, and we were treated to many tastes and “how to’s”.

A workshop of particular interest to me was a roundtable discussion, titled: “Is Yiddish Dead?” It started and ended with communal singing and in between we heard the stories of several young people and how their lives intersected with Yiddish in Montreal as young parents, teachers or performers.

Ari 360 The night ended with a Rap performance by Shi 360 followed by a Comedy Roast of the Montreal Jewish Community featuring Joey Elias and some of Montreal’s funniest Jewish Comics. Jewish Guilt, Cote St. Luc, and bar-mitzvas were all on the table as the night ended in laughter.

If you missed it this year, definitely make a point of circling it on your calender next time!

And for all the photos from this year’s festival check out Le Mood 2012.

Anthony Russell, Opera Singer

Anthony Russell is a young operatic singer who has found a way to unite his beliefs and passion. Anthony converted to Judaism as an adult and has always felt a strong connection to Jewish culture, Jewish characters and the Jewish languages (Hebrew & Yiddish).

Anthony Russel

He recently performed at the Ashkenaz Music Festival and at Klez Kanada. Abigail had a chance to sit down with and ask a few questions to this amazing young artist.

 

Confessions of a Self-Hating Jew

At the Montreal World Film Festival, I had the opportunity to watch Phillip B. Roth’s new film: Confessions of a Self-Hating Jew. The description of the film says:

“CONFESSIONS OF A SELF-HATING JEW examines how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict affects the lives of American Jews from the perspective of a gay Naked Yoga teacher.”

confessions of a self hating jew

The director was at the screening and fielded questions from the audience after the film.  The film opens with the filmmaker holding a banner with the Star of David and the number 6,000,000 in the middle of a banner with flames around it. He ends the film abruptly, with the same slide but this time he is seen ripping apart the same banner of the 6,000,000 in the middle, the flames and the Star of David around it, and the screen abruptly fades to black and lights are up. Needless to say, it is controversial and shocks the viewers. I was especially taken aback since this appears to give fodder to Holocaust deniers.

The filmmaker tells the audience that he stopped considering his Jewish heritage after his bar mitzva, at the age of 13. He continued to be a supporter of Israel until he gradually realized that some people do not agree with the traditional Jewish narrative about Israel. He first realized this by seeing Vanessa Redgrave at the Academy awards expressing support for the Palestinian cause.

He became curious about his parents support for Israel. In his film, he interviews his father, mother and grandmother, in their home, as they explain that, yes, they do support Israel and do not understand why he does not, even though they may not follow all of the Jewish rules: His grandmother is seen cooking bacon for breakfast.

Also featured in the film are: Charles Small, a scholar of anti-semitism; Phyllis Chessler, the feminist, who has written, “The New Anti-Semitism: The Current Crisis and What We Must Do About It“; an orthodox Jewish couple identified as “liberals” who oppose “Zionism”; Hannah Arendt, a German/American Jewish philosopher, with a problematic connection to Jews and Israel; as well as a representative of the Neturai Karta, a tiny minority of Jews, a virulently anti-Israel Hassidic group that lives in Jerusalem and opposes the creation of the Sate of Israel on religious grounds because “It i only the Jewish Messiah who can create a Jewish State. The Neturai Karta are so extreme that they are often seen joining Palestinian anti-Israeli demonstrations – (I have noticed that there is always a small group of them protesting at the Israeli Indepence Day celebrations here in Montreal, and they are often seen supporting the Ayatolla Khomeini of Iran who has repeatedly threatened to “wipe Israel off the map”.

To the filmmakers’ credit he also has slides showing the history of wars attacking Israel in the Middle East and their outcomes. In between, we are treated endlessly to the same video clips of him in the nude, instructing his naked Yoga class participants, seeing him exchanging identities with a non-Jewish Gay man, and being chased by a Hassid with side-curls. In other words, he covers the waterfront of criticism of Israel and some idiosyncratic ideas of anti-semitism. Is this tongue-in-cheek? What does he want to say?

confessions of a self hating jew

I, myself, was very confused as to the filmmakers’ point of view. The reason, I think, is that this film can be seen as a Rorschach test of peoples’ attitudes towards Jews and towards Israel. This was exposed during the question and answer period. In the sparsely populated theater, approximately four people voiced questions or comments about the film. The comments seemed to me to represent many varying responses to Jews and Israel that are floating around in the universe, only one of which I thought represented a solid understanding of either Israel or Jews.

1. The first person commented that he actually liked Roth’s Mother, Father and Grandmother. I did too because they were plain speaking older Americans expressing their feelings about Israel based on their experience of being Jews in America – Americans who had lived through the periods before and during the second World War and the fragile Jewish American world that existed before the establishment of the State of Israel, and who appreciate the value of the power of the State of Israel as a defense against the very real dangers of anti-semitism worldwide.

2. The second person said, “I am glad that you pointed out that Jews don’t all share the same ideas re: Israel.” This person identifies with the Jewish filmmaker who he perceives as identifying with those Jews and non-Jews who criticize and distance themselves from Israel in the diaspora, those who choose not to see the veiled antisemitism embodied in the virulent anti-Israel, leftist kabal, so aptly chronicled by Phyllis Chessler. They wear the the hat of “Jewish intellectuals critical of Israel” and thereby siding with non-Jewish leftist criticism of Israel which actually turns out to mostly quite unhinged. It was Robert Wistrich, the scholar of antisemitism who pointed out that Nazi intellectuals were among the greatest supporters of Nazi ideology in Germany.

3. Then there was another person, who saw himself as one of the critics of Israel and commended the filmmaker..

4. And one student who asked about the Neturai Karta. I guess, he was genuinely struggling to understand the various points of view.

How to understand this mishmash of a film and the title: “Confessions of a Self Hating Jew?” The phrase “self-hating Jew” has been fashionably used to characterize Jews who side with the critics of Israel. Most people don’t realize that “self hatred” is one of the defense mechanisms of the Ego, coined by Sigmund Freud in his book, “The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense”. The core of “self hatred”, he claims is the Ego’s identification with the aggressor” in order to avoid  feelings of humiliation and distress that are attendant in the aggression. Roth, the filmmaker, explained to me when I approached him after the film, that by tearing up the banner of the six million, he is expressing his idea that in America today, he has matured to understand that he no longer has to fear prejudice for  being gay, for being Jewish, and he now feels “free to be a Gay Jew teaching Yoga in the nude and free to criticize Israel since he no longer fears the “bogeyman of anti-semitism.” Unlike his parents, he feels free in his identity as an American Jewish gay naked Yoga teacher. Of course, the reality of a defense mechanism is that by definition it remains unconscious: In order for it to function as a defense, the ego must remain blissfully unaware of its functioning.

Author: Abigail Hirsch, MSW, filmmaker, blogger, journalist, citizen of the world