This city’s Jewish community is aging and to some extent in need of revitalization and reaching out to the community around it.
That’s why the Windsor Jewish Community Centre this month has taken on a unique approach to engaging both with its own members and the wider public with its Water event, which includes a juried art exhibit, as well as symphony and dance performances.
Inspired by Tashlich, the Rosh Hashanah ritual of “casting off” sins and seeking renewal by symbolically throwing bread or food into a body of water, Water was also meant to be symbolic of the Windsor area, since the city is on the Detroit River and much of its identity comes from the river and the Great Lakes.
Windsor-born Gabrielle Pescador (née Bernstein), a multimedia artist now living literally across that river outside Detroit, and who came up with the “water” theme, said the river is “very unique” to the city and was influential in her growing up here. “It was a very important feature of my childhood memories,” she said.
Pescador’s family also happened to play a significant role in building the city’s landmark shul, the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue, in 1929.
“Water is a very significant symbol in art and in spiritual traditions as a cleanser, a transformer, as something representing the transitory nature of life or the creative process, or God, or the sacred,” she said.
She and her husband, Javier, also an artist, decided that a juried art exhibition, which includes submissions of various media – from paintings to sculpture, video and sound – from artists across North America could explore and express this theme. “It had a lot of potential for artists to react to,” she said.
The transcendent show had relevance to the religious and non-religious, Jew and non-Jew.
“Some people responded to it from a Jewish perspective, and some people were spiritual, some people were more connected to nature. We got a really wide response, which is really what we wanted. We wanted the show to not have one note,” Pescador said.
Besides the art show, Water was kicked off by a performance of the Windsor Symphony Orchestra performing, appropriately enough, Handel’s Water Music. There was also a performance by a local contemporary and non-Jewish dance group, HNM Dance Company, which has its studio in the JCC.
Pescador said the event allowed Windsor Jews to define themselves anew.
“The Windsor Jewish community is an aging community, and I think that the Jewish community in itself doesn’t have to define itself by the old guard necessarily,” she said, noting there’s a whole new generation that could be inspired by events like this.
Water even delved into contemporary issues. Pescador said the Detroit River Canadian Cleanup Committee showed a film. “They were excited to have a multilayered experience with respect to the river and how important water is to people.”
Ronna Warsh, chair of the JCC board, said her organization has sought program renewal, in part sparked by its successful annual film festival, which is more than a decade old and attracts a Jewish and non-Jewish audience.
“It seemed pretty clear to us that cultural events were something that might attract people,” she said.
Moreover, Warsh said some of the more recent programming was “routine or somewhat stale and unappealing, so you always have to change up what you’re doing.”