8 Jun 2011

Proud, Jewish and Lesbian, Expressions Through Art at Congregation Darchei Noam

Posted by Moshe Mikanovsky

Proud, Jewish and Lesbian, Expressions Through Art at Congregation Darchei Noam
By Moshe Mikanovsky
Shalom Toronto, June 7 2011

As June marks Pride month throughout the world and with Toronto leading the festivities in Canada, various Jewish organizations are taking part in the cultural discussion, which is an integral part of the events. One such organization is Congregation Darchei Noam,  Toronto’s Reconstructionist Synagogue, whose Jewish Diversity Committee, is opening its doors next Sunday to “Proud, Jewish and Lesbian, Expressions Through Art”.

Justine Apple’s CD cover, “Passages”

Justine Apple’s CD cover, “Passages”

The event is co-sponsored by Kulanu Toronto, a Jewish LGBTQ social, educational and cultural group. Its Executive Director, Justine Apple, is one of three diverse creative artists who will participate at the event. Musician and visual artist, Apple will be joined by award-winning author Gabriella Goliger of Ottawa, and fellow Torontonian filmmaker Barbara Center.

Apple, who is busy nowadays with preparations for Pride events, will be presenting her abstract paintings, as well as talk about and perform her music. Describing her style as a merge of classical and new age, Apple mentioned some of the descriptions she has heard over time for her instrumental music – contemplative, reflective, moving, powerful. She was also honored to be compared to Canadian composer Stephan Moccio, who composed Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics’  “I Believe”.

Justine sees a direct connection between her art and her lesbian identity, and draws her inspiration from the highs and lows of her own life experience. Coming out, the excitement of new relationship or the heart-breaking at the end of one, all took part in her creative process. Her paintings have been exhibited at various galleries and venues around Toronto, and her music was a complimenting backdrop for some of these shows.

Author Gabriella Goliger, who spoke to me over the phone from her home in Ottawa, is excited to participate in the event, and is happy that the congregation is putting together an event of pride identity, diversity, and with a focus on the women. Although not an autobiography, in her 2010 novel “Girl Unwrapped” (Arsenal Pulp Press), Goliger draws from her own life experience to create her heroine Toni.

Girl Unwrapped, by Gabriella Goliger, Arsenal Pulp Press

Girl Unwrapped, by Gabriella Goliger, Arsenal Pulp Press

As the fitting metaphor in its title suggests, the protagonist tries to live in hiding, but cannot. She becomes exposed, but this exposure forces her out of her shell and she eventually blossoms. An only child of Holocaust escapees, Toni grows up in the 50s and 60s with several extreme conflicts, the strong taboos of the time as well as her background religion and culture’s prejudices against homosexual feelings, coupled with her parents’ stronger-than-life-and-love desire for her to continue their family, being their only hope for future generations. Toni, who like Gabriella, is raised in the lower class neighborhoods of the newly Jewish immigrants in Montreal, is brought up with the ghosts of her grandparents, aunts and uncles. Later, she moves to Israel of the post Six Day War, immersed in the ideology and naivety of the era, only to face disappointments. She tries to remake herself but it doesn’t work out and she falls back into her old patterns. For young North American Jews at that time, going to Israel meant leaving childhood behind and becoming strong and focused. But Toni can’t fit into that pattern because of the conflicts within her. Eventually she returned to Canada, accepting her own true identity in the process.

When talking of her book, Goliger explains, “You don’t have to be Jewish or gay/lesbian to relate to this book. The story is unique and specific, of course, but embraces broad themes: dealing with conflicting identities, questions of belonging, i.e., who is the “other” and who is “us”, and how do we deal with “the stranger in our midst.””

Author Gabriella Goliger

Author Gabriella Goliger

Goliger’s previous book is Song of Ascent, a collection of short stories roughly based on her own family. Her parents moved to Palestine in the 30s, where her older brother was born. Goliger herself was born in Italy, but spent her first two years Israel. In 1952 her family moved to Montreal. Her biography includes four years as a graduate student in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, couple of years living in the Canadian Arctic, and the past 30 years in Ottawa with her partner Barbara Freeman, whom she married in 2006. She has earned her living as a freelance writer and editor, but, these days, devotes almost all her time to her fiction. In addition, Goliger is active with her Reform congregation, a member of a Gay Lesbian Jewish group in Ottawa, and is the Ottawa co-chair of Canadian Friends of Peace Now (Shalom Achashav). 

Barbara Center, an artist and filmmaker from Toronto, came out later in her life, and is also a parent of two adult sons, one of whom is gay. She will be presenting and speaking about her short movie Letters, a poetic, reflective expression of the filmmaker’s rediscovering her roots and coming out later in life as a Jewish lesbian.  Although this is one person’s story, it poignantly touches the heart of what it means to be Jewish and gay.

 Letters was created as part of the 2010 Legacy Video Project, a special multi-generational mentoring program in celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film and Video Festival.  Three seniors and four youth journeyed together for five months, learning the skills to create short videos that would both challenge and touch us.  Letters had its premiere screening at the Inside Out Festival May 2010.  It also screened at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival in May 2011. 

This is the 3rd year Pride Program at Darchei Noam, as Andria Spindel, Chair of the Jewish Diversity Committee explains, “[the committee] has the mandate to build awareness within our synagogue community and the wider Jewish community (on behalf of Darchei Noam) of the great diversity that exists among Jews globally. We also want to create an inclusive and welcoming environment in Darchei Noam, fulfilling our own stated principles. Thus we program about and for Jews with disabilities, Jews of colour and LGBTQ Jews. We look across the Jewish world, and bring forth information, stories, and the people who make up the diversity of Jews and Jewish communities in what our committee calls the Global Jewish Village.

       Speakers have come from India, Iran, Turkey, China and Uganda; others have visited and reported on Jews in Ghana, Cameroon, and Rwanda, as well as Zambia, Nigeria and Ethiopia. We have had Afro- Canadian and Afro-American Jews sharing their experience of growing up amidst the dominant white Jewish, Ashkenazi community. For Shabbat Itanu our committee offers a special addition to the service in recognition of those among us who are disabled, and the committee consistently looks for ways to improve accessibility to all aspects of the service, programs and facilities.
We encourage members to March in the Pride Parade and support our LGBTQ Jews, and we welcome their participation in Darchei Noam.”

During the event, Justine Apple’s CD will be available for sale and signing. Barbara Center will sell copies of her movie’s DVD. Copies of Gabriella Goliger’s book will be available for sale and signing.

Proud, Jewish & Lesbian, Expression Throughout Art, will take place on Sunday, June 12, at 7:30pm, doors open 7:00pm. Congregation Darchei Noam, 864 Sheppard Avenue West, Toronto.  Free admission. Refreshments served. For more information: www.darcheinoam.on.ca, aspindel@rogers.com or 416-409-3822 or KulanuToronto@gmail.com

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2 Responses to “Proud, Jewish and Lesbian, Expressions Through Art at Congregation Darchei Noam”

  1. Hi Justine,

    We met at the 3/11 Nehrim gathering in Ct.,USA. I wanted to tell you how much I love your album of piano compositions and writing. It is moving, relaxing, and virtuosic.



    Kacenka hruby

  2. Whaaaat!? She was my 4th grade teacher at Discovery Public School in Maple, Ontario! Miss. Apple since when did you become a musician!?



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