Arts & Kvetch: A guide for staying connected to Jewish arts and culture during the pandemic


International events

Saturday Night Seder

Now, I know it’s September and we’re celebrating Rosh Hashanah, but if you missed Saturday Night Seder on YouTube, you really must watch it. 

Featuring Idina Menzel, Dan Levy, Billy Porter, Darren Criss, Tan France, Rabbi Amichai Lau Lavie and many more (Jews and non-Jews alike). With  original songs for the Seder by Broadway legends Stephen Schwartz and Benj Pasek (yes, of Dear Evan Hansen, La La Land and The Greatest Showman fame. Did you forget when he thanked his mom in his Oscar speech for letting him quit the JCC soccer league to be in a school musical?) 
The event raised 3 million dollars to benefit the CDC Foundation’s Coronavirus Fund, and you can buy two of the songs; proceeds continue to  go to Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.  

Canadian events 


If you want some good old-fashioned classroom time, maybe you should sign up for a Jewish-specific course with Lishma, which is ‘a community of learners in our 20s and 30s, excited to share our desire for greater Jewish engagement.’ 
They ask questions exploring how Jewish traditions inform our lives today. Their August programme was ‘Exploring the Experience of Jewish People of Colour and Systemic Inequality in Canada’, with Sara Yacobi-Harris, and the 2020-2021 semester dates have been announced.

Virtual Art Gallery

“Banff Springs Backyard” by Sandy Blass

Calgary’s reform Jewish congregation Temple B’nai Tikvah has recently announced a virtual gallery, and the inaugural exhibition is entitled “How Art Thou?”; an appropriate question to be asking amidst COVID-19 and also at this very particular time of year. This exhibit is available from September 8 through October 15 on the Temple’s website.

Calgary’s Jewish artists have chosen to approach this theme both with works that are intended to help us forget our worries, and works that address darker themes. The exhibit includes photos of beautiful mezuzahs, Group of Seven-esque watercolours, and multi-plate etchings of evocative callbacks to pogroms and blatant anti-Semitic persecution.

Jewish centres & institutions in Toronto 

These organizations may be of more interest to Toronto readers, but their content can be enjoyed from anywhere. 

The Schwartz/Reisman Centre and the Prosserman JCC teamed up to launch an On-Demand programme for their community, and much of their programming can be accessed anywhere for free. Watch this session on Facing and Combating Racism With/In the Jewish Community featuring Rivka Campbell, Tema Smith, and Tyler Samuels – and this interview with Rachel Freier, the first Hasidic female judge and founder of the first female volunteer ambulance service (the documentary about her can now be watched for free in Canada on CBC Gem). 

If you’re missing your community JCC, this is probably the closest you can get—from films, discussions with scholars and journalists, to a full calendar of free online workout classes, they’ve got everything! 

Toronto Jewish Film Festival

The Toronto Jewish Film Festival is one of the largest Jewish film festivals in the world, and it was able to switch to an online format in June for its annual festival. 
TJFF is planning to hold another rendition of an online festival in October, and because the June version was only available to those in Toronto, I’m willing to assume it will be the same for October. So, if you’re in the GTA, take advantage of this opportunity. 
If you didn’t have a chance to attend any of the programming from June, you can still check out the Zoom Q & A’s with directors and actors on the TJFF website. Add the festival to your calendar and follow TJFF on Instagram and Facebook to keep apprised of Jewish news in the film world.

Ontario Jewish Archives

If you’ve been to the Prosserman JCC, you’ve probably heard of the Ontario Jewish Archives (OJA). The OJA acquires and preserves primary materials related to Ontario’s Jewish community. 
The OJA mounts a number of special exhibitions each year to explore various themes, and it has now become the (free) ‘Virtual OJA’. Some examples of its recent webinars include ‘A Conversation About Early Jewish Food Sources in Toronto’, ‘Being Jewish During a Pandemic: What’s Lost | What’s Gained?’ and ‘From Yiddish Theatre to Kung Fu Films to Contemporary Art’. You can also check out the OJA’s podcast and family-friendly colouring pages. 

The Koffler Centre

IN THE WORKS. (Koffler Centre for the Arts)















The Koffler Centre is a Jewish organization that values social justice, equality and inclusiveness and facilitates conversations around art with a focus on intercultural dialogue.

Check out its Books & Ideas series for nuanced discussions on ‘provocative writers, artists and thinkers’, as well as its rotating art exhibits. You have until November 30th to check out their current digital exhibit A Matter of Taste. 

Another online ‘exhibit’ worth checking out is IN THE WORKS, which aims to give a glimpse into the artistic process and exhibition development. Artists that are featured in this series are those who are currently producing upcoming projects at the Koffler Gallery. 

Lastly, a new project inspired by the COVID-induced quarantine called Art Bursts: Prompts for Creativity in Isolation was created by the Koffler Gallery Education Team to encourage young artists and their families to keep creating and connecting from home. If you’re in need of inspiration, check out @kofflerarts to see the weekly prompt! 

The House

As a young adult, I readily acknowledge that Toronto’s Jewish community is sorely missing young people attending its arts and culture institutions. As a frequent Toronto arts-attendee, I know that the majority of individuals who attend film festivals, music performances and theatre are older, and this fact is only exacerbated when it comes to Jewish-cultural events.

One of the organizations trying to bridge that gap is The House. Through their programming, the organization seeks to foster in young adults (between 22 and 35 years old) “a deepening appreciation of Jewish wisdom, values, and traditions by highlighting their relevance for navigating life’s important decisions and everyday life.” 
This organization is entirely based on community and in-person events, so watching it pivot to online programming has been impressive (have you ever witnessed  a Zoom matchmaking session before?) If you’re a young adult looking to meet Jewish individuals around your age, The House may be a good place to start. 


Jewish& was created by the Miles Nadal JCC in Toronto as a way to explicitly gather multi-faith and cross-cultural individuals, couples and families for Jewish exploration, education and celebration. Town Halls are now held online ensuring everyone can still participate. Their Facebook page is also a space where events and information are shared. I’ve found it to be a welcoming and diverse group to be part of, and I’ve long appreciated the progressiveness of this downtown JCC.
Thanks for reading this round of Arts & Kvetch. Let me know what your favourite Jewish cultural institutions are! Have you tried to remain connected to your community, Jewish or otherwise, in this time? Lastly—and this isn’t so much an activity as a value—the act of giving, tzedakah. If you have the ability to give and there is an arts and culture organization that you’d like to support, now is a great time to donate.

Comment below to share what has helped and I hope you found something useful in this article. You can find me on Twitter at @LaraBee713 and on the podcast Watch the Film With Us (or @WTF_WithUs on Twitter).

Header image design by Orly Zebak. Original photographs courtesy of Lara Bulger.

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