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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

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Independent Tribune Juive turns 30

Tribune Juive founder Ghila Sroka is marking the magazine’s 30th anniversary.

MONTREAL — When Ghila Sroka was diagnosed with bone cancer 10 years ago, she was about to celebrate the 20th anniversary of her magazine Tribune Juive. She vowed to live to see its 30th anniversary and be in better health to mark the occasion.

Against the odds, Sroka has survived to see that landmark and a special 30th anniversary issue of the Tribune is off the presses.

Keeping the magazine going has no doubt kept Sroka going, too.

“I’m a miracle,” she said. “I’m still fighting to produce a quality magazine for the Québécois about the Jews.”

Her health, sadly, is not robust as she would have wished.

Sroka had a recurrence of the cancer last year and goes most days to the hospital for treatment. Her once formidable energy is diminished, and she is in considerable pain.

But when she talks about the Tribune, her baby, Sroka’s eyes sparkle and her old combative spirit revives.

Over the three decades, Sroka has single-handedly edited, written for, solicited advertising, marketed and overseen the printing and distribution of the magazine, which appears six times a year.

Despite the precariousness of her health over the years, the Tribune has never stopped publishing.

The Tribune does not receive any community or government funding because being editorially independent is precious to Sroka. She says she takes no salary, and her contributors are not paid.

Advertising and sales cover the cost, and when they don’t, she puts in her own money.

Sroka, who is single, operates from her modest apartment near Cummings House, her home for 33 years.

From the beginning, the magazine was geared to francophone non-Jewish Quebecers, especially the intellectual and political class. The goal was to explain Jewish culture and Israel to them, portraying the community as pluralistic and an integral part of Quebec. The majority of its contributors are not Jewish – they are both de souche and newer Quebecers – and much of the content is not directly related to Jewish subjects.

The Tribune’s subtitle is Revue de l’actualité culturelle.

Sroka, who was born in Morocco and grew up in Israel, is first and foremost a Zionist. She identifies with the left and is an ardent feminist. She was raised on a kibbutz among Ashkenazim and was an activist of Hashomer Hatzair, a socialist Zionist youth movement.

Sroka came to Canada from Paris, to teach at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

She is sympathetic to the immigrant experience and Quebec independence, but not when it is excessively nationalistic or exclusionary. Sroka is quick to denounce any hint of antisemitism.

She was a member of the Parti Québécois from 1976, and counted the late René Lévesque and Gérald Godin among her friends, and former premier Bernard Landry is still close.

The Tribune’s support for sovereignty has waned over the past decade; Sroka dropped her PQ membership after she became ill.

“Whatever energy I have goes into Tribune Juive,” she said.

The Tribune has been entirely in French, except for last August’s issue, a homage to Mordecai Richler on the 10th anniversary of his death. Despite their very different views on Quebec politics, Sroka was a great admirer of the pugnacious writer.

In 1982, Sroka was a PhD candidate at the Université de Montréal when Israel’s first war in Lebanon broke out. She was disturbed by what she felt was biased coverage of the conflict in Le Devoir.

“I wrote a letter saying that what they were publishing was false and propaganda. It was never published,” she recalled.

So she founded the Tribune, with the encouragement of the then-Israeli consul general in Montreal, Yitzchak Mayer. She printed 20,000 copies of the first issue, which consisted of four broadsheet pages, paying for it with scholarship money. She sent them free of charge mainly to colleges around the province.

Today, the Tribune has a cover price of $9.95. Sroka declined to specify what the circulation is.

Her early contributors were academics, writers and political activists who she knew personally, and were sympathetic to Israel.

“It was easier 30 years ago to talk to the Québécois about Israel. They were more open than today.”  That change she attributes in part to the massive no vote by Jews in the 1995 sovereignty referendum.

Nevertheless, she believes she has had some impact on francophones’ attitudes. The 30th anniversary issue is filled with contributions from people such as Haitian-born novelist Dany Laferrière, writers Catherine Mavrikakis and Hélène Dorion, publisher Jacques Godbout, Algerian-born architect Salah Benlabed, and former PQ cabinet minister Louise Beaudoin and ex-Bloc Québecois leader Gilles Duceppe.

Sroka is especially proud of Bar-Ilan University professor Ilan Greilsammer’s laurel that her magazine “has never backed down in the face of any attempt at intimidation.”

Sroka can also boast: “There were over 10 intellectual magazines in Quebec at the time I started Tribune Juive. They have all disappeared. I’ve outlasted them all.”


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