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Jane Enkin


By Jane Enkin, April 29, 2012

I love the holiday of Simchas Torah.  The rest of the year we come to study the hows and whys of Torah; we engage with and challenge the laws and the narrative.  On Simchas Torah, we simply embrace the Torah, and love the Torah.   Our celebration of Yom Ha'atzmaut in Canada is similar – this is not a day to analyze and delve into the complexities of Israel, but simply to affirm our love and gratitude.

Winnipeg's celebration is particularly special. Our gathering isn't only a chance to honour Israel's creation and independence, it is a celebration of our community as well.  A huge team of professionals and volunteers work together to plan the event and communicate with many generous donors.  More volunteers come to prepare food, decorate, and run programs. And a dedicated group of community members come to participate.

This is truly an all ages party  – I enjoyed meeting a three week old baby, and there were countless bubbes and zeides.  Lots of teens were involved as volunteers.  My ten year old “tween” and her classmates didn't respond well to the Israel Institute of Science offerings, but perhaps that's because they headed up to the Multipurpose room quite late, after the other activities ended.  It would be nice to get some feedback from other tweens about that feature, or from the volunteers who set it up.  To my adult eye, the themes looked interesting, but the actual science activities looked like things the kids would have done already at an earlier age.  Fortunately,  the grade five girls I spent time with found lots to interest them in the Walk Through History in the gym.

The buzzing scene in the gym was fantastic.  At a table with generous giveaways – I Love Israel buttons, bags to carry all the kids' treasures, etc –  we were greeted by the first of a cast of thousands of volunteers.  Friends met, shmoozed and floated on.  Toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged kids all found terrific things to do.  There were fun facts and photos tying the kids' activities to  Israeli achievements.  I loved the energy at the Eurovision Song Contest area where kids played beautiful drums.  There was lots of action at the Maccabee Games and Olympics stations. DIY Stained glass Chagall windows and a place to make Hebrew buttons were among many activities that encouraged creativity. Most kids happily displayed their body art from the very smoothly handled Glitter Art Tatoo table.
While the gym was converted to a concert venue, we went for a good meal. The salads especially were distinctively Middle-Eastern, and really delicious.  We also spent some quiet time browsing in the shuk, enjoying lovely hand beaded kipot, and delicately painted kipot by local artist Ruth Livingston.

Back in the gym, there was lots of dancing – on stage from a group of experienced adult dancers, and then in the audience throughout the concert.  I liked the order of the concert, with the children's choirs appearing between sets of band music.  It really gave prominence to the achievements of the students in our city who take the time to learn Israeli Hebrew along with their other studies, and the dedicated teachers who help them learn through music.  There were fine, energetic performances from the Yona choir, the Brock Corydon Choir and The Gray Academy choir, and a lovely piece when the Brock Corydon and Gray Academy children sang together.

Gilat Rapaport and Tal Levit showed a commanding presence in what must be a very difficult performance situation.  The room is huge, the acoustics not so great, and the chatty audience is in constant motion.  This is a party, after all.   The vocalist has a powerful, supple voice that floated over the crowd and her band:  the keyboard,  plus local performers Jeff Gordon on drums and Myron Schultz on clarinet. There was a good balance of contemporary songs and familiar hits from the last 60 years, with a bit of Hasidic song as well.  General circle dancing morphed into Israeli folk dance when songs such as Mayim, Od Lo Ahavti Dai and Nigun Atik were played.  Some talented folks remembered the steps – Tamar Barr does a graceful twist during the Yemenite Dror Yikra – others were brave enough to pick them up on the fly. For me, there's always a beautiful feeling when I lock on to Miserlou and can enjoy the flowing women's dance from body memory, without having to think.

Hardy guests who had danced or chatted to the end headed outdoors for a colourful display of fireworks.  The uplifting lights left me feeling positive; feeling affirmative; feeling Yes! about Israel.

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Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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