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Secular left-wing Jewish groups to gather for conference at York U

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Socalled will play as part of the conference on May 28 BANDCAMP PHOTO
Socalled will play as part of the conference on May 28 BANDCAMP PHOTO

Lucah Rosenberg-Lee, a Jewish transgender man of colour, will be one of the keynote speakers at a three-day conference dedicated to promoting secular, progressive Judaism.

Hosted by the United Jewish People’s Order-Canada and the Morris Winchevsky School in Toronto, members of North America’s secular Jewish organizations and educational institutions will gather at York University on May 27 to 29 for the annual Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations (CSJO) conference.

Lucah Rosenberg-Lee
Lucah Rosenberg-Lee

Maxine Hermolin, who has served as the executive director of the Winchevsky Centre for almost 20 years, said the conference, which is themed “Our Tradition of Solidarity” will present workshops highlighting secular Jewish culture, education and politics.

Some of the topics that will be covered include activism experiences in the peace movement, the labour movement, and the women’s movement; the 100th yahrzeit of Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem; Jewish humour; and Jewish values hidden within rap music.

“There will be a number of workshops on a variety on topics. There will also be an introduction to secular humanistic Judaism and things of that nature,” Hermolin said.

“There is an education stream, so there will be an opportunity for teachers who are attending, who are part of schools like ours, to come together and network and share ideas. One of the workshops will be in experiential learning, learning through films, and talking about contemporary issues such as the refugee crisis. Of course, tikkun olam comes into play.”

Hermolin said she expects to attract about 150 to the conference, and to sell out the May 28 concert by Josh Dolgin, a.k.a. Socalled, the Montreal-based musician best-known for his fusion of hip-hop with klezmer music. The Horables, a four-member klezmer band will perform as well.

Keynote speaker Rosenberg-Lee, adopted by two Jewish professors from the Dominican Republic when he was two months old, will talk about the short film he co-directed last year called Passing, which examines the black male experience in North America through the eyes of three men who have transitioned from female to male.

Richard Lee
Richard Lee

“He’ll also talk about the importance of CSJO as an organization that provides an opportunity and capacity for groups that are outside of the mainstream, groups that are secular and celebrate [Jewish] heritage from that philosophical and secular basis, to come together. It just opens up opportunities and shows that we are not an isolated island but we are part of a larger group of people that celebrate that way,” Hermolin said.

“He’ll also talk about his own experience of transitioning. Lucah is a black man, a progressive Jew and his heritage is very important to him, and his progressive values play a role in a lot of his life choice and his professional path and studies.”

Cartoon by Avron Yanovsky UJPO PHOTO
Cartoon by Avron Yanovsky UJPO PHOTO

The other keynote speaker is Rosenberg-Lee’s father, Richard Borshay Lee, a University of Toronto professor emeritus who is best known for his research of hunting and gathering societies and his findings that sharing and co-operation, rather than aggression, is the human species’ key to success.

The conference will also feature an exhibit of political cartoons by the late Avrom Yanovsky. He was a celebrated artist who settled in Winnipeg after moving with his family from Ukraine, and found success publishing left-leaning cartoons in various Canadian publications.

Ester Reiter, a retired social sciences professor from York, will be promoting the upcoming release of her book, The Promise of the Jewish Left in Canada.

For more information, click here.