A Bintel Brief: Yiddish Theatre alive and well in Montreal

By Glenn J. Nashen

 The Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre opened its 60th season this week with its latest production of A Bintel Brief. This performance at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts  is brought back to the stage after it originally opened in Montreal in the 1970s. It is a story based upon real letters to the editor of a Yiddish language daily newspaper in New York City in the early 1900s.

The production is composed of a series of true stories of Jewish immigrants coming to America and trying to adapt to their new world. It not only connects the stories of immigrants in the early 20th century to their former lives in Russia and Europe but it also connects them to their descendents 100 years later.

A Bintel Brief peeks inside the immigrant experience of long ago and reminds us that little has changed and that the struggles and efforts made are both timeless and universal.

The show is brought to life by budding director Michelle Heisler who has previously acted in the DWYT and works with young children’s theatre. Heisler is a talented actor and singer having performed on stage across Canada, the United States and Europe.

The cast is an energetic and spirited group of youngsters, young adults and older folk who come together as though they were a true family.

Aron Gonshor and Sam Stein are iconic in the DWYT and for good reason. Their vaudeville singing and dancing with old-fashioned, side-splitting humour kept the audience in tears of laughter. Their schtick was out of Wayne and Shuster and they were classic funnymen. They also took on serious roles in skits ranging in theme from overworked and underpaid, depressed immigrants to tragic episodes involving loss of life and great despair. If there are lifetime achievement awards for outstanding performance in Yiddish theatre this duo is certainly right for the prize.

Mikey Samra is known for  his many performances in the Cote Saint-Luc Dramatic Society but his stage presence in Yiddish was equally spectacular. He is a compelling young actor who will continue to flourish in whatever language he chooses.

Jodi Lackman has played at the Segal before but her performance in A Bintel Brief takes the cake. Her facial expressions and shrieking voice at learning her husband has another wife and children, her melodramatic overtones in yearning for her secret lover and her comedic expressions are worthy of praise and applause.

The list of talented and dedicated young actors who have put in tremendous effort to speak a language that is probably quite foreign to most of them is long and impressive. Kudos to all of them for entertaining the audience with song and dance, with drama and comedy and by keeping the language and rich history alive.

One particular skit involves a class of immigrants trying to learn to speak English. It is ridiculously funny with mispronunciation and misunderstanding. I could just imagine my Bubby and Zaida in such a class with their thick yiddishe accents trying to learn their new language. Indeed, I still remember the words of my very funny Russian-born Zaida who’d say, “I speak 12 languages and don’t understand any of them!”

The stage was simple and old fashion in the Segal Centre’s smaller theatre. Presented with English and French supertitles it is an easy-to-understand show even if you’re not fluent in mama-loschen. The four piece band was fun and lively under the musical direction of Nick Burgess.

Despite the young children who sing and dance in the first act (they leave at intermission to get home for bedtime) the heavy adult themes would give this musical performance a PG-13 rating, not age appropriate for pre-teens.

DWYT President Ben Gonshor thanked the capacity opening-night audience for continuing to support community theatre, particularly in Yiddish. With such great benefactors such as Alvin Segal, Barbara Seal and the Azrielli Foundation and Federation CJA Montrealers are fortunate in that they will continue to be treated to such memorable and entertaining evenings for years to come.

A Bintel Brief continues at the Segal Centre though October 21. Tickets are available at SegalCentre.org or by calling 514-739-7944.

McGill IBD Fundraiser to feature international entertainer and mentalist Oz Pearlman

By Mike Cohen

The McGill IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) Research Group will hold its annual fundraising event on Thursday, November 15 (6 pm) at Oscar Peterson Hall (7141 Sherbrooke Street West) at Concordia University Loyola Campus in NDG, featuring international entertainer and mentalist Oz Pearlman.

The goal of the upcoming program, entitled “A Mind-Blowing Event,”   is to raise $175,000 to secure funds critical for IBD research, patient care, and clinical training opportunities.

Lorne Mayers, Melissa Diamond, event coordinator Emily Shore and Dr. Ernest Seidman at the 2017 program.

This year’s honoree will be “YOU, the IBD Patient,” acknowledging those who have lived with IBD through the life stages as well as the McGill IBD community which we have built around these individuals. “You are our heroes, the reason we exist and to whom we hope our work makes a difference,” said Lorne Mayers, president of the McGill IBD Research Group.”

Joanne Cutler and Nick Burgess from Que Sera.

The evening will consist of a cocktail dînatoire provided by Java-U Catering, with musical entertainment provided by Que Sera, followed by Oz Pearlman, who will read minds and WOW the audience.

The McGill IBD Research Group

The McGill IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) Research Group is dedicated to ensuring financial support for IBD clinics at McGill University’s teaching hospitals, MGH, JGH, and the MCH.  The funds raised with the help of our dedicated volunteers provide important services for those living with IBD, as well as their friends and family, with the overall goal of improving quality of life, training the next generation of IBD clinicians and scientists, and raising awareness through patient education and community outreach programs.

Oz meets former President Bill Clinton.

The Remarkable Oz Pearlman

Dazzling audiences with his unique mind-reading ability for over a decade, Oz Pearlman is a world-class entertainer and one of the busiest mentalists in the country. A top 3 finalist on America’s Got Talent in 2015, Oz has also appeared on a variety of both national and international networks, including NBC’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Kelly and Ryan, The Today Show. Watch with  here with Jenna Hoda on Today.

Oz uses his magic.

Pearlman has been making a name for himself as one of the busiest mentalists/magicians in North America since he left the comforts of Wall Street in 2005. But making it to the finals of America’s Got Talent truly shot him to fame. “It was like rocket fuel,” he said, “and opened so many doors. I landed an agent and a new fan base.”

Oz waves to an adoring crowd.

A world-class entertainer and one of the busiest mentalists in the country, Pearlman developed an interest in magic at a young age and what started as a hobby quickly became a lifelong passion. After a couple of years spent working on Wall Street, Oz decided to pursue his dream and become a full time entertainer. He has now been dazzling audiences with his unique mind-reading ability for over a decade.

Pearlman’s client list reads like a who’s who of politicians, professional athletes, A-list celebrities, and Fortune 500 companies. His natural charisma and charm make him the perfect choice for corporate events and private parties alike. His unique blend of mentalism and mind-reading create an interactive experience that is redefining the very nature of a magic show…one that truly needs to be seen to be believed.

Pick a card- any card!

When he isn’t blowing the minds of audiences around the world, Pearlman is an avid marathon and ultra-marathon runner, having completed such grueling races as the Badwater 135 Miler, Hawaii Ironman World Championships, Western States 100 and Spartathlon. He takes great pride in his marathon PR of 2:23:52 and has won dozens of races throughout the country.

So what is mentalism? Think of it as “magic of the mind.”  Rather than utilizing sleight of hand and fast fingers, mentalism requires a deep knowledge of human behavior. It combines a multitude of techniques including the art of suggestion, subliminal messaging, body language reading, statistical analysis and neurolinguistic programming. Every show is different because every person is different, adding to the element of excitement and surprise at Oz’s performances.

It was at age 13 that Pearlman fell in love with magic. While on a cruise with his family, he was brought on stage and witnessed the miracle known as the sponge balls. A sleepless night ensued trying to figure out how in the world one ball transformed into three while squeezed so tightly in his own hand. That night set in motion years of tireless study of all things magic and mentalism. It is all but certain that if you bumped into him anytime between the ages of 13 and 23, he had a deck of cards in hand and coins rolling up and down his fingers. By age 14, he landed his first steady gig at a local Italian restaurant in Farmington Hills, Michigan and discovered his passion for amazing audiences with his abilities. Over the years his focus went beyond sleight of hand magic and into mentalism, learning from the legends in the field while also creating his own original techniques.

Pearlman has spent years learning how to read people and analyzing what guides their decision making processes. He is neither a fortune teller nor a psychic and does not claim to have supernatural powers. He will be the first to tell you that if he knew the future, he would have won the lottery by now…probably more than once! Mentalism is wholesome entertainment appropriate for ages 9 through 99 and will have you amazed at the uncharted potential of the human mind.

Oz and Elisa at their wedding.

Meeting his Hampstead born wife via JDate

Pearlman met his wife Elisa on JDate. Today they are the parents of two young children. Elisa, who grew up in Hampstead, serves as his booking agent and publicist.  “I also tend to be the guinea pig when it comes to testing out new routines and mind reading methods,” she says.

Let’s go back to 2009 when the couple first connected. “I was 26 years old and Judaism wasn’t exactly my top priority at the time,” Pearlman shared on a JDate testimonial. “Fresh off a long-term relationship with a non-member of the tribe, my running pal and training partner (our aforementioned character) gifted me a book titled ‘Why Marry Jewish?’ At first, I found it to be a bit absurd, as I could barely even be considered a ‘High Holiday Jew.’ But as I leafed through chapter after chapter, it dawned on me how important Judaism was to me in a cultural and traditional sense. My sense of humor, group of friends and many other facets of life were inextricably tied to my identity as a Jew.

“So what does any normal twenty-something do upon being thoroughly persuaded? I signed up for JDate, of course! There were some good dates, there were some bad dates… but the date that revealed the love of my life was destined to take place quite late on the night of January 13, 2009. After some wild partying on New Year’s Eve, I woke up with a slightly throbbing headache and zero desire to brave the frigid winter weather. I logged onto JDate and started chatting with a beautiful Canadian girl who was in Florida at the time. She was nursing a hangover and we both exchanged war stories about the last night’s various partying debacles. A half hour soon became an hour, then two, and before we knew it, most of the day had flown by. The conversation flowed and she seemed to like my jokes, which is without a doubt the key to my heart. Over the next week, we kept chatting every day and escalated this long-distance relationship to Skype.”

As luck would have it Elisa had landed an internship for a PR agency in Manhattan and was fulfilling her lifelong dream of moving to the big city. She had lived in the same house all her life in Montreal and was ready for a change of pace, and wanted to meet some new people through JDate. “In fact, our opening chat was during her first few hours logged onto the site,” Pearlman explains. “As they say, timing is everything in life! Fast-forward two and a half years to sunny San Diego, California. Deception is the name of the game and what pays my bills, so you better believe I had a few tricks lined up when popping the question. For several months leading up to the proposal, I kept Elisa in the dark, going so far as to make her think our relationship was a little rocky. All is fair in love and war, and it made the surprise to come all the more memorable. I flew out to Southern California, unbeknownst to her, and waited for her to arrive later that day for a business trip. She ordered room service at her hotel and I showed up instead, on one knee, with a ring, asking for her hand in marriage. A year later and that beautiful Canadian girl I loved chatting with on JDate became my wife!”

 Tickets for the fundraiser are available online at www.mcgillibd.ca or by calling 514-398-2787.The cost, including a cocktail dînatoire (6 pm)  provided by Java-U Catering and musical entertainment provided by QueSera, is $250. A special price of $150 is available for those aged 35 and under. There is also a show only option (7:45 pm entry) for $75.

 Watch  the first episode of his 2018 Summer  NBC show Oz Knows here:


Canada Council nominates translation of Jacob Isaac Segal book for Literary Award

The Canada Council for the Arts has revealed the 2018 finalists for the prestigious Governor General’s Literary Awards (GGBooks).These 70 Canadian books are among the best published this year in seven categories, both in English and in French. They are the works that stood out to peer assessment committees from close to 1,400 titles submitted for consideration.

One of this year’s finalists, Vivian Felsen, is a finalist in the Translation category for her translation of Jacob Isaac Segal: A Montreal Yiddish Poet and His Milieu. Felsen is a first-time finalist, based in Toronto.

Vivian Felsen (Photo by Tineke Jorritsma.jpg)

The connection between Felsen and Segal goes much deeper than her being the translator of this work — Segal was in fact a colleague and friend of Ms. Felsen’s grandfather. The personal connection between the two is a unique bond that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Jacob Isaac Segal: A Montreal Yiddish Poet and His Milieu is a series of poems, lyrics, essays and articles, by the Ukranian-born writer. In the early 1900s, Segal relocated to Montreal, where he became one of the first Yiddish writers in Canada. Felsen translated the work of Pierre Anctil, from French to English, analyzing the artistic, spiritual and cultural importance of Mr. Segal’s work.

The translation depicts both his biography and work highlights, explaining how he lived in Montreal throughout the Holocaust, and how his Yiddish language and writing helped prosper the Jewish culture in Canada.

Famous Jerusalem Market headed back to Toronto Oct. 21 and 22 for a good cause

Here’s some food for thought: if you could enjoy some incredible Israeli cuisines and save lives at the same time, would you?

Presented by Ezer Mizion Canada (a not-for-profit organization) in support of its world’s largest Jewish Bone Marrow Registry, the Famous Jerusalem Market is coming back to the Greater Toronto Area  on October 21-22 at the Promenade Mall.
The market will host more than vendors, live music and other family-friendly activities to bring the authentic ‘Shuk’ (the Hebrew word for ‘market’) experience to life. Torontonians will have the chance to explore everything from its mouthwatering dishes to its lively merchants, spices, sounds, aromas, and more. Not to mention, organizers are flying in a number of Israeli merchants straight from the market itself to set up shop. New to the festival this year is the “Night Shuk,” which is a unique beer bazaar featuring handcraft beers imported from Israel.The event is held to raise awareness and funds for Ezer Mizion’s largest Jewish Bone Marrow Donor Registry that, to-date, has saved the lives of 3,000 people, including 48 Canadians. Proceeds from the market will go towards covering the cost of Bone Marrow DNA matching tests – a critical part in the treatment process.

Dena Bensalmon, Managing Director with Ezer Mizion Canada, emphasizes the significance of the Bone Marrow Registry and how Torontonians can join a special Donor Pool called TorontoTogether.


Walk4Friendship  planned for Old Port

Friendship Circle will be holding its  10th annual Walk4Friendship at the Old Port on Sunday, October 14. The 2k walk or 5k run attract hundreds of community members to come together in order to support friendship and inclusion for young people with special needs and raise important funds for the organization. 
This year, the goal is to raise $500,000 by organizing teams and reaching out to sponsors in the community. It is an exciting family-friendly walk, followed by a celebration promoting inclusion and friendship for young people with special needs. The celebration is coming along with food, drinks and fun activities such as interactive games, face painting, tattoos, caricature artists, virtual reality, axe throwing, and more! 
Moreover, like last year, La Grande Roue has generously partnered with the Friendship Circle and is offering  free rides on the ferris wheel for all participants following the festivities! 
The 2017 Walk4Friendship was a total success. It  raised $ 510,000for the organization and almost 1,000 people were there to celebrate. This year’s theme will be “Pure Friendship,”  celebrating the amazing friendship that the organization was able to create and empower for the special needs children and volunteers. 
The Walk4Friendship really means a lot to the organization and to  Family Support and Program Developer  Racheli Edelkopf.  “We’re so grateful and inspired to see the community come together to walk in support of friendship and inclusion for our special friends,” she said. ” This walk celebrates the unique abilities of each individual and the incredible affect of inclusive friendships!”

Shaare Zedek Congregation presents successful event: Sing Together for Israel – Jews and Christians

By Dean Bye

On September 26,  Cantor Daniel Benlolo was shocked to see so many Montreal Jews and Christians showing up early at Shaare Zedek Congregation. They were arriving for a ‘Sing Together’ that he and myself as  founder of the Christian Zionist organization of Return Ministries, are partnering in for the purpose of bringing Christians and Jews together for Israel. Their inspiration was the Israeli president‘s words earlier in 2018 and the phenomenal success of Koolulam in Israel.

President Reuven Rivlin established the 70th anniversary of Israel by declaring, “LET’S SING TOGETHER – Religious, secular, Arabs, Jews, soldiers, women, men, children . . . let’s put aside everything that divides us and do together what connects and brings us together. Amazingly, 12,000 Israelis then joined with him in a celebration of Israel’s 70th year of Independence.

Pictured from left to right: Back row: Rabbi Alan W. Bright, Dean Bye, Cantor Daniel Benlolo, Daniel Bastien. Front Row: Nancy Cooperberg (president SZC) and Danielle Theriault. 

The most recent gathering at Shaare Zedek was no ordinary choir as people poured into the Montreal synagogue. Cantor Benlolo, filled with pure joy, sensed it was such a privilege to lead them during this special Sukkot evening that he started everyone singing even before the on-timers and late arrivals came.

Rabbi Alan Bright said in his opening statement, “Song is the voice of the soul; it has the ability to traverse all religions; it has the ability to bring people together. You don’t even have to understand the language but when you hear the music you are touched by it. Do you know what happens when we come together in unison, when we sing, when we rejoice? When we do so for peace? Peace for all mankind? And God is about His Peace. We do one thing. We sanctify God’s Name. That is what tonight is all about, to bring back unity, to bring back peace and at the same time, to do so with a pure heart and soul which sanctifies God’s Name. And if we do so together, we will achieve what the scripture tells us, (spoke Lev. 23:40 in Hebrew and English) ‘we shall rejoice before God.’ Might we join together tonight and truly sing the evening away as we observe the festival of Sukkot and all its joy. Thank you and God bless you all.”

Cantor Benlolo belts out a song.

Daniel Bastien of Return Ministries, thanked Congregation  President, Shirley Cooperberg, for opening the doors of the synagogue to welcome Christians that evening. And he thanked the Jewish community for opening their hearts to Christians coming to sing with them.

“When the LORD brought back the captives of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with singing.” Psalm 126:1-2a.

Referring to the song that Jewish people know in Hebrew as “Shir Ha Ma’alot,” Danielle Theriault of Return Ministries shared that, “Those in the crowd representing the nations are honored to have been invited under the Jewish Sukkah in this festive season. Furthermore, we are blessed to have opportunity, through interactive song, to fulfill our part in the words of Psalm 126:2-3, declaring about Israel and the Jewish people: “The LORD has done great things for them!”  To which the Jewish people respond, “HaShem asah nifa’ot lanu!” – “The LORD has done great things for us,” and together – “And we are glad!”

The evening also provided opportunity to participate as Christians and Jews as we work together for Israel. A video highlighted this ‘Work Together for Israel’ project that the Jewish Agency for Israel and Return Ministries have partnered in together since 2016. Situated on a 15-acre campus at Kibbutz Beit Zera in the Jordan Valley, they and Christians from the nations come to serve Israeli young people preparing for and completing their military service.  Everyone was exhorted to not only Sing Together for Israel but also to ‘Work Together for Israel.’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WL6XTymWyd8&feature=youtu.be )

We are so grateful for the very warm welcome from the Jewish community of Montreal that we received as Christians representing a mix of multicultural and denominational backgrounds. It was thrilling to unite in singing together with joy during Sukkot. Just as a song provides respective parts for different singers to blend in harmony, so also God chooses and calls the people of Israel for specific purposes while He also chooses and calls the nations for their purpose. Canadian Christians join with millions of others from the nations as we do our God-given part in assisting our Jewish friends who are ready to fulfil their God-given calling, to make their Aliyah, to live and prosper in their promised land. We live in the times when the melody of these purposes is coming into harmony! As Sing Together moves out across Canada in 2019, our goal is to unite Christian and Jewish communities to not only come together to sing, but may this also break any and all walls that divide us. We need each other. May God so inspire all Canadian Jews and Christians to each do our respective part in working together for Israel, for the purpose of pleasing the One Father, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

It was fitting that Cantor  Benlolo rallied his new choir to close the unique evening in the responsive song ‘Hallelujah.’ Someone remarked it was like heaven and earth also sang along with great joy!

More information on Sing Together for Israel can be seen at www.singtogether.ca