We went to the Simon Shaheen concert in Koerner Hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) on June 1. After intermission, Shaheen was interviewed on stage by the RCM director of programming. Shaheen refused, consistently and stubbornly, to say the words “Jews,” “Israel” and “Israelis.” He also refused to accept the existence of the State of Israel.
Shaheen said that he went to “Palestine” and visited Haifa and the Galilee, and talked to the local Palestinians (probably meaning Israeli Arabs). He refused to acknowledge that he got to Haifa and the Galilee through the welcoming gates of the State of Israel. Haifa and Galilee are not geographically located within the internationally recognized borders of Israel, but located in a virtual entity called Palestine. The RCM interviewer ignored these “petty” errors and refused to correct false facts, just playing along diplomatically. Then he asked Shaheen if he went to other places in Palestine, such as Gaza and the West Bank. That meant that the RCM accepted, on stage, in front of hundreds of Canadians, the falsified “facts” that Haifa and the Galilee are part of a “Palestine.”
We left, saying to the hall: “Bye-bye, we are now going to Haifa, Israel, and then we will go to the Galilee, which is also in Israel. Accept reality, accept reality.” We think that a public institution such as the RCM should not allow lies to be said that offend a good friend of Canada’s like the State of Israel.
Juliette and Jacob Hershkovich
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Concert Artist Chat (2)
The Royal Conservatory has just completed its third season of presenting internationally acclaimed artists in Koerner Hall. Occasionally we have added an artist chat to a concert. These discussions are spontaneous, unscripted and unrehearsed, and allow our audience to delve a little deeper into the music and to understand the context within which the artists perform. Having said this, we fully understand that, occasionally, comments may be made that are upsetting to some in our audience and we sincerely regret that this happened to two patrons June 1 at a concert featuring Simon Shaheen, a world-renowned artist of Palestinian descent. While the offended patrons may not have agreed with Shaheen, as is their right, we can assure you that we do not believe that Shaheen was deliberately trying to provoke a political discussion, nor were his comments antisemitic.
This season, we presented a special series of concerts titled “Music from across the Middle East” that featured collaborations between Israeli and Arab musicians. The goal was to create a space where music and art could allow for greater understanding of the people in that volatile part of the world. More than 50 artists from Israel, various Arab countries and Canada participated in a glorious expression of peace and mutual respect. The series was a highlight of our season.
We live in a world filled with the constant “noise” of politics and strident opinion. Music gives us a chance to listen and, perhaps, to understand and respect people from all parts of the world.
Peter Simon, President
Mervon Mehta, Executive Director, Performing Arts
The Royal Conservatory
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As a queer Israeli-Canadian who is very pro-Israel, I do not see the big deal in letting Queers Against Israeli Apartheid march in this year’s Pride Parade in Toronto (“City council condemns term ‘Israeli apartheid,’” June 14). There is a little thing called democracy, where different points of view coexist and intermingle. In Israel today, there is a very real debate about whether Israeli apartheid exists. Why is Canada so afraid of this same conversation? Has our Canadian politeness crossed into the realm of censorship? I think so.
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Small archives lose gov’t support
I read the article “Archivists denounce federal budget” (June 14), about the scrapping of a federal program that supports small community archives and museums, with great anticipation. As the former director of the Ontario Jewish Archives, I was involved in the creation of the Association of Canadian Jewish Archives and Museums and was very pleased that the institutional members rallied together to support the National Archival Development Program.
There is one error that I wanted to address. The minister of culture’s secretary describes Library and Archives Canada (LAC) as a Crown corporation. He obviously is not very familiar with the ministry, since LAC is not a Crown corporation. I also wanted to note that beyond the loss of grant funds to Jewish heritage institutions, which is indeed significant, these cuts have posed a near fatal blow to the Canadian archival infrastructure – this includes the Canadian Council of Archives and the provincial councils – which support archives across Canada. In turn, the loss of dozens of archival and library jobs within LAC and the termination of most private acquisitions will also have devastating implications. In a recent article in the Globe and Mail, historian Jack Granatstein condemned LAC’s decision to abdicate its responsibilities in this area, which is a violation of its mandate, as showing “nothing so much as contempt for the past and, regrettably, for the future as well.”
With the largest institutions turning away private collections – even those from provincial or nationally acclaimed leaders and celebrities – who will care for these treasures as the budgets of smaller institutions have drastically been reduced over the last several years and there are no archival grants available anymore? This is something for the community to ponder.
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I am gratified to see that rabbis Adam Scheier and Chaim Steinmetz now require halachic prenups in order to officiate at weddings (“Prenups now required at two Orthodox shuls,” June 7). I have required a halachic prenuptial agreement throughout the 29 years of my rabbinical career. Over my 11 years in Montreal, I have written a Canadian version of this document – which I am happy to share freely – that professionals assure me is the strongest document possible here. I have also worked throughout Canada to persuade other rabbis to make this their requirement as well. Fellow rabbis, please get on board! It is imperative that every Jewish marrying couple fill out such a document. If your officiating rabbi won’t do it, it can be done by any other co-operating rabbi. Feel free to contact any of us for assistance.
Rabbi Michael Whitman
Adath Israel Poale Zedek Anshei Ozeroff
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Nakba Day at Tel Aviv U
Bernard Katz believes it is perfectly fine for Arab students to not only ignore Yom Ha’atzmaut but also to celebrate it in a ceremony as Nakba Day (letter, June 7). He notes that 20.5 per cent of Israelis are Arabs for whom the birth of the State of Israel may very well seem like a tragedy. He is in complete accord with Tel Aviv University chairman Motti Cohen, who is quoted as saying, “We are a democratic institution in a democratic country.” For Arab students to believe that their good fortune to live in a country that affords them an education, freedom and enjoyment of a standard of living not available to their cousins in the myriad of all the Arab lands is a tragedy that betrays a lack of appreciation and clear thinking. Katz, as well, fails to appreciate how perfectly proper it is to describe their behaviour as “disgraceful and an offence” to Israel and its sovereignty. Cohen, on his part, fails to appreciate the significance of where he would be and what university he would be the chairman of, had there not been a State of Israel’s birthday to celebrate. It has nothing to do with democracy. Included in the pursuit of democracy is not the right to disgrace it.
Cote St. Luc, Que.