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Delightful author and Playwright Primrose Madayag Knazan was the Featured Author at Rady JCC's Tarbut Festival of Jewish Culture November 14,2022

Jane Enkin, November 15, 2022


Primrose Madayag Knazan is a delightful, energy-filled writer and playwright. As the featured author in Tarbut 2022, she read from her play Precipice and talked about her novel for young readers, Lessons in Fusion. Cantor Leslie Emery interviewed Knazan, followed by a Q and A.


Winnipeg-born Knazan grew up in a Filipino Catholic home. As an adult, she converted to Judaism, and she and her husband are raising their sons in an Ashkenazi style Jewish home, while enjoying their continued involvement in her Filipino family. Knazan explores the process of conversion, and many aspects of both cultures, in her play, which won the 2021 Jewish Playwriting Competition.


The scene she read was lots of fun, with the many voices of people from the main character Sharrah’s Filipino family celebrating Christmas and her boyfriend Isaac’s family celebrating Shabbat and Hanukkah. She told us about many of the more serious experiences covered in the play – Sharrah’s sister Shannah transitions and becomes Colin, and Isaac’s grandmother turns out to have been a Jewish refugee in the Philippines during World War II. The Philippines, Knazan told us, accepted 1300 Jewish refugees, and had planned to accept many more, at a time when most countries in the world were turning Jews away.


The germ of the play was a brief scene presented during Knazan’s conversion class. She was inspired by Rabbi Alan Green, Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Shaarey Zedek, who coincidentally served as rabbi in a synagogue in Manila, and feels she came to both a cultural and a spiritual Judaism. She is drawn to the symbolism and ritual that are so important in Judaism.


Her first novel, Lessons in Fusion, was written, like so many new works, during the pandemic. At first her life was on pause, she said, as she experienced anxiety, but “then I pressed play and wrote and wrote.” The pause was her “Selah”, a Hebrew word from the Psalms that she defined as a pause to absorb the meaning and reflect.


Lessons in Fusion features a young Jewish-Filipinx teen who loves to cook. Throughout the book are fusion recipes developed by Knazan, who is a food blogger. “Food is a gateway to culture, and a bridge to family,” said Knazan. Scenes about food run through the play Precipice as well, including Sharrah’s repeated job of chopping garlic for her mother for family celebrations.


Knazan spoke about the place of women of colour in the theatre, the “3.7 %” of theatre professionals. Originally an acting student, she has found more satisfaction in writing. After all, she explained, she is a woman who is used to “standing out” in many ways, but “I have the confidence and charm to pull it off.” She had felt there was no place for her as a performer, but now she is writing characters she feels are representative of Canada’s diversity.


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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