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Weinfeld: In praise of radical Jewish anarchist radio

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Sam Bick and David Zinman, hosts of the Treyf podcast

Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, is traditionally a solemn affair marked by prayer, fasting and asking for forgiveness. In the fall of 1888, however, a group of London Jewish anarchists celebrated the holiday by throwing a raucous
ball.

The tradition spread to New York and other American cities, and even to Montreal in 1905, before finally petering out, as anarchists shrank in numbers and moderated their tactics. Yet the British Jewish anarchist group Jewdas resurrected the celebration in London three years ago.

Superficially, the practice seems as goyish as you can get: eating, drinking and being merry on the Day of Atonement. But in fact, this was an utterly Jewish act. After all, one has to know when Yom Kippur falls on the Hebrew calendar, and the significance of it, in order to properly desecrate it.

It’s similar to the Brooklyn restaurant Traif, a thoroughly Jewish establishment that serves plenty of pork and shellfish. The experience is enhanced if you know what treif means and how the laws of kashrut work.

In 2015, the Montreal-based Treyf Podcast emerged. The show, which is still going strong, consists of Montrealer Sam Bick and Torontonian David Zinman, who see themselves operating in the tradition of the Yom Kippur ball anarchists, who they mention frequently. Treyf’s humorous tagline is, “A Debatably Jewish Podcast,” a reference not only to the debates on the show, but also the fact that many Jews would not consider their views kosher.

In covering a wide variety of topics, from BDS to basketball, Bick and Zinman represent the radical anarchist left. They are explicitly anti-Zionist and link Israeli oppression of Palestinians to how Europeans treated First Nations in North America. They take issue with Jewish complicity in white supremacy and the patriarchy, and criticize not only conservatives, but also mainstream liberals and progressives.

While it’s sometimes said that the voice of dissent needs to be shrill to be heard, Zinman and Bick’s banter is positively charming. The result is deeply engaging social justice-oriented vaudeville-inflected edutainment.

It also works because the hosts do their homework. Their shows are well-researched and full of fascinating historical tidbits and astute analysis.

They pose perceptive questions to terrific guests, including academics, activists and artists, and occasionally people who disagree with them. Yoni Goldstein, editor-in-chief of The CJN, has appeared more than once, as has former Canadian Jewish Congress leader and current CJN columnist Bernie Farber. They often include voices of Mizrachim, women, LGBTQ Jews and Jews of colour, all of whom are too often marginalized in Jewish spaces and conversations.

READ: WEINFELD: JEWISH LIFE BELOW THE MASON-DIXON LINE

Despite their critical stance towards institutional Judaism, Zinman and Bick have clear affection for their heritage, an anarchist ahavat Yisra’el. The show features a segment called “shkoyach,” a Yiddishized version of the Hebrew term of praise “yasher koach” (may your strength increase) that’s often delivered in synagogues.

Bick and Zinman, by contrast, grant a “shkoyach” to groups or individuals whose actions reflect their radical values. Their theme music, by Jewish-Canadian rapper Josh Dolgin (a.k.a., Socalled) contains a hauntingly catchy riff on the mourner’s Kaddish. And they make sure to catalogue each episode by Hebrew date.

Bick and Zinman’s politics put them outside the Canadian Jewish mainstream, but they come at their views from an informed position. Both went to Jewish day schools, love the Yiddish language and are knowledgeable about Jewish history and religious practice.

Like the anarchists who threw Yom Kippur balls, they know of what they speak. With a few thousand people listening to each episode, Zinman and Bick have effectively carved out a Canadian podcast space for radical Jewish politics. One need not agree with everything they say to be entertained by their wit, educated by their wisdom and inspired by their ethical commitments. Shkoyach!

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