New Book Release: Tracing Our Roots, Telling Our Story

Tracing Our Roots – Telling Our Story is our society’s Twenty-fifth Anniversary project.  It is an anthology of over 45 compelling and entertaining contributions, written by members of the Jewish Genealogical Society.

The themes include tales of research and discovery, escape, struggle, family reunion, growing up, lives led. Some will make you laugh, some will have you reminisce and a few may even make you weep.

If you wish to purchase the book, please contact Israel’s Judaica: 416-2561-1010/905-881-1010


Book Review: Frumkiss Family Business by Michael Wex

Frumkiss Family Business by Michael Wex

 If you haven’t already started reading Michael Wex’s Yiddish-inflected books, “The Frumkiss Family Business” is a hilarious place to start.

In the guise of a family saga over four generations, Wex has creatively woven the  most engaging, entertaining, and even surprising comedy. It stretches from life in the shtetls of Europe to the landmarks of today’s Toronto… including Caplansky’s deli on College Street. For sure, you’ll be trying to see which fictional characters and which elements of the plot seem to be kind of like people you know and things you recall from reading the newspapers.

The patriarch, Faktor, is a multi-talented actor, comic, and writer, with an urge to confound everybody. The family secret is slowly revealed and how Wex unravels, re-ravels, and twists and turns the secret is a joy to read. And you bet you won’t hear how he does it from me.

Don’t miss this book. Very amusing, full of historical reminiscences, a tour-de-force of Jewish life here and in the most fervent corners of Jerusalem – not always complimentary, fun with Yiddish, and lots more.

Rosh Hashanah and the High Holy Days

Wooden Honey Dish by Emanuel

Rosh Hashanah is right around the corner. No sooner than we drop off the kids at the school door, The High Holy Days are upon us. Rosh Hashanah is early this year, September 8th. That’s when we’ll be sitting around the table with family and friends, enjoying a great meal and welcoming the Sweet New Year with freshly picked Ontario apples and honey from the Jerusalem Mountains.

The Jewish New Year ushers in a time of reflection and meditation. No dance parties to ring out the old and bring in the new. The majority of us will be standing in shuls across the world listening to the shofar and in our minds wondering what Hashem has in store for us.

As we usher in the New Year someone very dear to us at Israel’s Judaica  is missing . He was a tireless worker for Israel and was a kind soul and inspiration to all of us. He was known to all of us both near and far as Izzy Kaplan Z”L. We’re thankful that he passed this way.

To all our customers, readers, authors, book publishers and friends:

Sweet New Year. Shanah Tovah. May you be inscribed for a good life for another year.



Visit our High Holy Days Books Section: CLICK HERE.

Events at ISRAEL’S Judaica: April – May, 2010

Founder of The Ontario Poetry Society
Bunny Iskov
Aeolus House & ISRAEL’S invite you to the launch of “Sapphire Seasons” by Bunny Iskov:
Sunday, April 25, 2o10, 5:00pm
ISRAEL’S Judaica, 870 Eglinton Avenue West @ Bathurst St.
Tel: 416-256-1010 
Free admission: Kosher refreshments
About the Poet:
I.B. (Bunny) Iskov is the founder of the Ontario Poetry Society. Her work has been published in many fine literary journals and anthologies. She has one full collection and several chapbooks.
From Sapphire Seasons

Looking Irish

Growing up, I considered myself Canadian

My unorthodox family

Never observed rituals

Except when it came to me

Dating non-Jewish boys.

I was told they could only be my friends.

Of course, the only time I was invited out

On a date, was by a goy-

A cute one, too.

I spoke my sadness

With solemn sophistication,

Explaining I was only allowed to date

nice Jewish boys.

The response was always the same:

“You don’t look Jewish.”

The funny thing was, when I asked

“What do I look like?”

The response was still always the same.

And to think I wasn’t even wearing green.

Sima’s Undergarments Book Review: Summer Reading

By Ben Barkow

By Ilana Stangler-Ross
By Ilana Stanger-Ross

Sima’s Undergarments for Women, by Ilana Stanger-Ross, The Overlook Press, 2009, 320 pp., provides wonderful sight and insight into the lives of women and families, who happen in this book to live in the traditional Jewish neighbourhood of Borough Park, Brooklyn. Stanger-Ross examines in-depth the life, friendships, and potential for growth of Sima, proprietor of the home-based business of the title.

The action starts with the unexpected arrival of Timna, a lovely young Sabra, who begins as Sima’s assistant. While about as old a novelist’s ploy as any in the world, it works gently and well to unfold the narrative of Sima’s life and to provide entry to sub-plots. Although not handled chronologically as a narrative, we ultimately come to the question of her own sadly decayed marriage.

Two things may provide springboards to your own exploration of your marriage. These are the way Stanger-Ross treats Sima’s dog-eared marriage and the sadness your might feel on hearing familiar-sounding but truly unendearing kitchen conversations unfold. These may be more helpful to the multitude of readers in likewise dog-eared marriages than a garage-full of self-help books. My internet dictionary says dog-eared means “made worn or shabby from use.”

This may sound odd to say, but you can also enjoy the book as an exploration of contemporary novel writing, the sort of thing that James Wood of the New Yorker Magazine explores in “How Fiction Works.” Perhaps the reader can see perhaps one too many summer workshops hidden in the text, but that’s an interesting aspect of the book and not really a detractor. Of course, when you read that Sima’s guests are making wine toasts just before the Seder, you start to wonder why Stanger-Ross wrote such an odd thing and what novelist purpose did it serve?

Highly recommended for men and women… but greatest benefit to those married and over 35.

Wildflowers At My Doorstep, by Marni Norwich

wildflowersReview by Hilary Jacob

When a friend recently selected Wildflowers at my doorstep as a book club selection, I approached the task of reading the collection with two parts intrigue and one part trepidation. I was pleased to learn of a new female literary talent, but the title conjured up earnest verses penned in praise of majestic Canadian landscapes authored by nice (of course), patriotic folk. While I have nothing against praising our sublime landscape, I feared such verse might prove a bit, well, boring. If I commit to carving out sufficient time in a busy week to attend to an entire collection of poetry, I want the experience to be unique, memorable and moving. I crave challenging ideas and subject matter, innovative, impressive and surprising use of language; I want to feel drawn in as I would to any good book, to become engrossed in the world created by the author and to enjoy having visited this place. I was quite certain Wildflowers would not satisfy this lengthy list of requirements. In short, I was mistaken.

In her first published book, Marni Norwich keeps her writing spare and tight, the language pared down to pierce each target with the finest precision possible. The collection of 45 poems juxtaposes light and dark subjects, drawing the reader in expertly with wit and humour then turning sharply to address serious subjects. It is an impressive and delicate balance the artist maintains, a testament to her technical skills and sensitivity in employing her craft; she weaves light and soft textures of irreverence, wit and humour, alternating with weightier, coarser yarns and darker hues as she illustrates subjects including injustice, death, loneliness and loss. The result is a tapestry in which the light and the dark become blended and inseparable. One moment we are laughing, when suddenly the mood becomes serious. I found myself reading and rereading poems, not wanting to miss the subtleties, the nuances and the humour.

We are first led into the “fallen” world by Adam, in “The truth about banishment: His”. The tone of this poem is light and fun and Adam is portrayed as more optimistic than we would conventionally presume. Adam is a colloquial-speaking, modern-sounding, irreverent personality who wants you to know that he’s not a “smartass”. In reference to the infamous apple-eating-debacle, he informs us “the truth about banishment is it opened doors for us”.

Having been turned out of the Garden of Eden in the opening poem, it is fitting that we find ourselves in an uncertain place (We do not arrive). In the poem by the same name, the speaker laments “We are always saying Life is like this, but what do we know? After tens of thousands of years, we are still wondering who we are”. The poems in this grouping ruminate on a variety of difficult, eternally puzzling subjects such as the meaning of life, one’s state upon death and the burden of ego. The opening poem, This poem is a self-conscious and stilted spike of a work, each line kept to a mere few words in length. The tone is ironic and mocking as the speaker makes hyperbolic claims: among the amazing restorative abilities of “this poem” it boasts itself a cure for “loneliness, faithlessness and apathy”, “a magic elixir for a broken heart” and “a tonic for existential angst”. The closing lines ring serious and weighty, however. Conjuring Ulysses and his Odyssey, we are told “This poem is…your compass. Read it carefully and it will guide you home”. The reader must make a choice. Do we choose skepticism and scorn for artistic pretention, or is there a hidden meaning here, only accessible through faith and optimism?

The second grouping in the collection, Inheritance, is arguably the most affecting of the sections. The writer points to strong women of personal significance (for example, her grandmother), of historical significance (Anne Frank) and modern day activists (Betty Krawczak and Renee Boje) and highlights the optimism, faith and tenacity these women displayed in the face of incredible adversity. In Inheritance the speaker reminds herself “You think you are the first to experience displacement… Your great-grandmother crossed an ocean with little more than hope in her bags”. In Green Jade Necklace, of her grandmother the writer says “she knew how to spring hope from asphalt like wildflowers”. In the poignant poem Dear Anne Frank, the writer speaks directly to Anne, as to a sister or close friend, grieving for her “losses” and describing simple pleasures she wishes she had the possibility to show and to share. There is something almost childish in the tone of the poem and in the childishness, hopeful, that the actual act of writing such a letter might be useful, could actually alleviate suffering.

The third grouping I have been trying to read you this poem focuses on the act of writing and the need for connections through this traditionally solitary artistic process. Says the speaker in the poem of the same name, “I can’t do this on my own. I just need you to reach forward with the tentacles of your mind, touch these words and lead me home”. Themes of loss and dislocation are repeated in this section, as the author pays tribute to Po Seng, a Chinese immigrant and doctor turned poet, and Marcel, a 75 year old Flamenco teacher who arrived in Canada at 15, having lost his parents, siblings and other relatives in the death camps. Says the speaker: “Marcel, we’ve only just met, but I think I know you, an Ashkenazic Jew… igniting a stage”.

While poems in the previous sections generally allude to ethereal forces, energies and spirituality and prodded the reader to reevaluate archetypal human problems, the poems in the final 2 groupings, This body and All the crazy boys are more obvious, more corporal and generally lighter. The topics explored include the frustration of insomnia, scoliosis, recollections of an argument at the age of 5 and ex-boyfriends. However, the author shows respect for the body and the mysteries it holds. The body, referred to previously in Listen as a “misunderstood ally” “could teach me a thing or two” and “Would tell me a lot if only I would listen”. In Despite everything, especially my vegetarianism, we pinpoint what may be the most succinct example of the message in the Wildflowers collection. In reflecting on an egregious act of inconsideration by a former boyfriend, the speaker notes that through the eyes of the poet, she can appreciate the inconsiderate act for its artistic merit “the way I savour incongruity and the improbable contrast of many things”. The over-arching message in the collection appears to be that if we develop the skills and discipline to view the world with optimism and faith, to recognize our connectedness to each other and to utilize the poet’s technique of “savouring incongruity” we will be able to flourish despite life’s hard truths and adversity.

The closing poem, The truth about banishment: Hers gives Eve the last word. At first we laugh as Eve tells us in her rough way that it was “sass”, not temptation that motivated her to eat of the apple and further: “…the point being, I don’t like to feel I’m being messed with”. Having thus shrugged off the significance of her actions, in the closing lines, however, Eve becomes serious and admits that the apple, when held, seemed to hold “gravity” and actually gave her power to see the future and feel the “yearning love” of future generations. Thus the reader is given a choice: do we despair at the prospect of this perpetual cycle of life and death or are we filled with hope and optimism that the cycle of life and death is fuelled by love.

Throughout the collection, the author directs our attention to themes and motifs repeatedly, and eventually a pattern emerges for the reader. The poet guides our attention to a few seemingly random wildflowers at our doorstep; if we look further we realize identical flowers blanket the landscape. Experiences that befall each of us may seem intensely personal, but if we look further we might recognize, and find solace in, the inter-connectedness between ourselves, the world and unseen natural forces.

Wildflowers at my Doorstep is available at Israel’s Judaica.

The Legal Foundations and Borders of Israel Under International Law

A Treatise on Jewish Sovereignty over the Land of Israel

Author:  Howard Grief

ISBN: 978-965-7344-52-1

This book is a comprehensive and systematic legal study and exposition of Jewish national and political rights to all of the Land of Israel under international law. The book is designed not merely for jurists and lawyers, but for anyone wishing to gain a clear understanding of the true facts and background that led up to the re-birth of the Jewish State of Israel in 1948.

Grief’s book is comprised of five mutually independent sections as well as five interesting appendices. Section I discusses the Origin of the Jewish Legal Title over Palestine and the Land of Israel . Section II deals with the Continuation of Jewish Legal Rights and Title of Sovereignty upon the termination of the Mandate for Palestine . Section III answers the question of how Jewish legal rights and title of sovereignty in regard to Palestine became obscured and forgotten after they were first recognized in international law. Section IV is devoted to the Switch in National Identities and Names, featuring a discussion of Palestinian Nationality and the Arab Appropriation of the name “Palestinians” that originally referred principally to the Jews of Palestine. Section V, the concluding part of the book, details the remedial steps that should be taken to preserve Jewish legal rights and title of sovereignty over the Land of Israel in the face of persistent Arab attempts to usurp them as their own.

Grief’s book is a convincing presentation of Israel ’s legal case to the land known throughout history by various names: Canaan, the Land of Israel , Judah or Judea, the Land of Zion , Palestine , the Holy Land or the Promised Land. It provides incontrovertible evidence and an in-depth analysis in support of Israel ’s position, while at the same time, the book exposes the falsity of the Arab “Palestinian” claim to the land.

No person seeking to be conversant with or knowledgeable about the ongoing conflict in the Middle East involving Israel and the Arab-Muslim world can afford not to read this well-documented and exceptionally well-written book that is magisterial in sweep and content.

About the author

The author is veteran Attorney Howard Grief, a member of the Bars of Israel and Quebec , who served as legal adviser on the Land of Israel to Professor Yuval Ne’eman, when he served as Israeli Minister of Energy and Infrastructure. To learn more visit

Step into Character with Toronto Jewish Writer John Miller

A Sharp Intake of Breath by
Author: John Miller
Reviewed by Amit Bitnun

One could argue that self-expression is the main reason people write. A character’s voice is either autobiographical or the author’s personal interests, enthusiasms and values are craftily disguised in the choice of subject, the characters and their development. John Miller, whose latest novel A Sharp Intake of Breath (Dundurn, 2007) has received the 2008 Martin and Beatrice Fischer Award in Fiction at the 20th Canadian Jewish Book Awards, admits that writing from someone else’s point of view liberates the imagination.

A Sharp Intake of Breath is the story of Toshy Wolfman. Born into a liberal Jewish family in Toronto in the 1930s, Toshy’s formative years are defined by the insecurity and rejection he feels because of his cleft lip and palate and resulting speech impediment. Despite his photographic memory, his appearance and breathy nasal voice, cause peers to verbally abuse and alienate him, and adults to brand him as stupid and without potential. Toshy’s devotion to his two sisters, combined with feelings of self-loathing and worthlessness, climax in a life-changing, snap decision that consigns him to the Kingston Penitentiary.

The prison experience contributes to his self-growth and maturity and follows him into old age. The no less important present day plot serves as basis for flashbacks into Toshy’s life. The story moves seamlessly between these pieces, whose puzzle-like connection will ultimately give the reader a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. A must-read story of marginalization based on appearance and perceived disability.

The book is so well written, it is very hard to believe that the only part of John Miller reflected in the book is his deep concern and sensibility to social issues. Born in Toronto, he graduated from McGill with an Honours B.A. in Geography of International Development, and obtained an M.A. in International Development Studies from the Institute of Social Studies in the Hague, Netherlands .

Whether working with the AIDS Committee of Toronto, being the Executive Director of Trinity Home Hospice, working in policy development and program management for the Ontario government’s Ministry of Community and Social Services, or consulting for non-profit organizations and governments, John has dedicated his expertise to helping the marginalized. “When we step into the shoes of people who’ve been marginalized, it helps us understand the world better.

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