Happy September, Niv readers! This is a busy month for all things arts and kvetch with the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in full swing, along with Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and the related holiday events. Let’s dive right in, starting with some dates you can add to your calendar.
TIFF: Thursday, September 7–Sunday, September 17
Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year): Friday, September 15–Sunday, 17
Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement): Sunday, September 24–Monday, September 25
Sukkot (harvest festival): Friday, September 29–Friday October 6
TIFF is the highlight for film fans in Toronto, and there are a number of selections that touch on Jewish subjects and themes. Those films include Shoshana, a historical thriller that weaves politics in with romance, The Zone of Interest, about an Auschwitz officer and Kidnapped, the true story of a Jewish child who was abducted from his family by the church under the Pope’s orders in 1858 Bologna. A Canadian film called The Boy in the Woods was also selected exclusively for industry members (there are no public screenings), but more information on the film will be coming out in a few months. In the meantime, you can read the memoir it’s based on by Maxwell Smart, who as a child, survived the Second World War by hiding in the Polish forest.
The Toronto Jewish Film Festival (TJFF) has an upcoming screening in honour of the Days of Awe, the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. SHTTL will be screening on Wednesday, September 20 at 7 p.m. at the Cineplex Cinemas’ Varsity theatre. This film is set the day before the Nazis invaded Ukraine and captures the vibrancy of shtetl life. Shot entirely in Yiddish (with English subtitles), SHTTL was such a hit at TJFF 2023 that it is returning due to popular demand. Introducing the film and facilitating the post-screening discussion is Professor Anna Shternshis, director of the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto. Get your tickets here.
Also returning from the 2023 festival is a screening series of Canadian actor Saul Rubinek’s early work, available to view across the country on the TJFF virtual platform from September 21 until October 15. These rare archival titles can be watched here (if you register for a free account) starting in late September.
If you’re still starved for Jewish films from the summer months, might I suggest a Barbenheimer viewing? For those unaware of this double bill and its Jewish roots, Barbenheimer was the cultural phenomenon this summer in which the two polar opposite films Barbie (the doll was created by Ruth Handler, a Jewish woman) and Oppenheimer (the Jewish physicist) came out on the same day. Or perhaps I can convince you that the upcoming Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour movie is a Jewish production simply because of the musicians involved. Swift’s kindred collaborators Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner of the National, not to mention opening acts HAIM and Gracie Abrams, are all Jewish. Did you get your tickets yet?! (Don’t ask me if I managed to get tickets to the Toronto concert, please).
ROSH HASHANAH & YOM KIPPUR
In a city as big as Toronto there are countless events you can take part in, but I want to highlight a couple of them that stand out from the usual services.
Join the Miles Nadal JCC (MNJCC) for a beautiful Rosh Hashanah hike on Sunday, September 17. It is open to anyone and complete with shofar blowing and an apples and honey picnic. The event is presented in partnership with Secular Synagogue and Jewish& at the MNJCC. It is $10 to attend and a portion of the proceeds will go to the South Riverdale Community Health Centre. Register for the morning walk here.
A couple days later, the MNJCC is teaming up with Shoresh and LGBTQ+ at the J for a tashlich ceremony (a casting away ritual) at Hanlan’s Point where Toronto’s LGBTQ+ community has gathered since the 1950s. Register for Queer Waters, taking place on Thursday, September 21, here.
If you’re trying to focus more on tzedakah, Mazon Canada is an organization you might be interested in getting involved with. In Hebrew, mazon means food, nourishment, and sustenance. It is a grassroots organization that feeds both Jewish and non-Jewish Canadians in need by supporting front-line food projects across the country. For Rosh Hashanah they have a campaign where you can send personalized Mazon Holiday cards for a fee, each card provides 3–5 meals for struggling Canadians.
Mazon is also looking for new committee members to volunteer their time and help the organization. If you’re looking for more ways to be involved in your local Jewish community, this could be a perfect fit for you. Learn more and apply here.
For a full rundown of all of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services at various congregations across Toronto, check out this list compiled by the United Jewish Federation.
Come for the snacks and music, stay for the community time. Join this workshop, facilitated by LGBTQ+ at the J and hosted at the MNJCC, to explore what it means to enter into a sukkah with ourselves, each other, our ancestors, and descendants, whatever that might mean to you. Robbie Solway will lead an ancestor’s welcome and help you reflect on ushpizin, the Sukkot practice of welcoming ancestral guests into the sukkah. This event is designed and intended for members of the LGBTQ+ Jewish community.
The Jewish Russian Community Centre (JRCC) of Toronto is hosting what sounds like a fabulous Sukkot street party on October 13. If you’re in any of the Richmond Hill/Thornhill/Etobicoke/Scarborough areas, JRCC branches are hosting various events for kids and adults alike.
There are a couple of live performances to look forward to stave off post-holidays blues.
For comedy lovers, check out this upcoming live event featuring a discussion between Ralph Benmurgi, host of the Canadian Jewish News’ Not That Kind of Rabbi, and Mark Breslin, founder of Yuk Yuks. Breslin will cover how his own Jewish journey influenced his expansive career. Tickets can be purchased for $12.
For those enamoured by the theatre, buy your tickets to The Lehman Trilogy, a show about the lives of the infamous Lehman Brothers. The play follows the life of the Lehman family from 1844 through the next 163 years, when their firm collapses and triggers one of the largest financial crises in history—the 2008 recession. On November 22, the JCC’s of Greater Toronto will be presenting this Canadian Stage production at the Bluma Appel Theatre downtown, and the performance will be followed by a discussion about the play with a special guest.
Last but not least is an event that Niv is already involved with. Jewish Futures: An Arts and Culture Salon will facilitate networking, workshops, and activities, communal learning, and the exploration of Jewish and artistic identity and practices. Organized by Kultura Collective, the goal is to build resilience and leadership for Toronto’s Jewish cultural community. And coming all the way from Brooklyn, to serve as the keynote speaker, is artist, educator, and rabbi, Kendell Pinkney. With a practice that “probes the intersections of race, narrative, collective memory, and sacred mythos” we are sure to enjoy a stimulating conversation. You can find more information about the day’s speakers, sessions, and workshops here. This doesn’t take place until November, so you have lots of time to decide if it’s for you. Fun fact: Niv is the promotional partner!
Happy Holy Days and happy fall!
Header image design by Orly Zebak.
Lara Bulger has a deep-rooted commitment to the arts. With a Bachelor’s degree in Music with minors in Film and English, plus a Master’s Degree in Arts Leadership, she is passionate about the capacity of art to bring about social change. Lara is currently pursuing her PhD in Cultural Studies at Queen’s University, focusing on documentary film and its social, political and cultural impacts.