Wednesday 23 September 2015

Radio vet Tom Whelan joins Ted Bird Show on The Jewel 106.7 FM

The Jewel 106.7 FM has added another veteran to its roster.  Tom Whelan is now the news anchor on the Ted Bird Morning Show.

Radio listeners will best remember Tom as a producer and operator for the old CFCF/CIQC/940 News radio operations in Montreal. As Jewel Programming Director Ted Silver notes, Whelan also had a successful run as a voice over announcer.

Given the fact that the Jewel's mandate is to cover the West Island, specifically the Hudson, St. Lazare, Vaudreuil-Soulanges territory, I keep waiting to see if they will give a call to the multi-talented "Coach K" Kosta Papoulias as a sportscaster. Kosta is a major player on the internet radio show, a resident of St. Lazare and a popular fill-in sports anchor for CBC Daybreak 88.5 FM.  Whelan, by the way, lives in Hudson.

I have enjoyed the Bird Show as well as Tasso's drive home program. On some days I can actually hear the station in my car while driving in the West End. However,  I listen mostly online. It is refreshing to see a station with such a unique local mandate.

Monday 21 September 2015

Legendary Local Rabbi Sidney Shoham passes away suddenly

As he sat  in his office overlooking Yitzhak Rabin Park in the Montreal suburb of Côte Saint-Luc a number of  years ago, Rabbi Sidney Shoham’s eyes grew a little misty as he discussed how much BethZion Congregation meant to him.

 “There are a lot of memories here,”  he told me. “We pioneered the concept of the suburbansynagogue in Montreal.  Others, I believe, followed our example.”
Rabbi Sidney Shoham

Rabbi Shoham, who died suddenly Sunday evening, September 20 was a living legend in the Montreal Jewish community. For decades he was front and centre with local community organizations, holding top positions locally and nationally. He also had the distinction of being the only rabbi to ever chair the Combined Jewish Appeal campaign, primarily because of talents as a superb orator.

I met Rabbi Shoham as a toddler. As a lifelong member of Beth Zion, I would see him when I attended Hebrew school at the synagogue and I had the honour of him being at the pulpit at my bar mitzvah. I sat at my seat during the High Holy Days each year mesmerized by every word he uttered.  He was often very controversial. And that is what his audience expected.

Rabbi Shoham was a “very young” 86 years old. It was shocking enough nine years ago this Yom Kippur to hear his announcement on Kol Nidre that he was retiring after 50 incredible years at the bima and to become rabbi emeritus.  His death does not seem real. This is a man who beat cancer. I saw him on numerous occasions in the last few weeks, at the benefit Cats Concert I organized and golf tournament I co-chaired. He was the picture of health. Ironically, his last public appearance was only hours before he died at home – attending the annual Beth Zion Cantorial Concert.

When Rabbi Shoham retired, a  synagogue executive member asked. “How do you replace a legend. He has been the only rabbi this synagogue ever had.”

The synagogue had to go through three rabbis to find his proper successor.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland the son of Rabbi Yechiel and Rebbetzen Ethel Shoham, Rabbi Shoham attended the  Talmudical Academy of Baltimore grade school and then went to Mesivta Rabbi Chaim Berlin Rabbinical, Brooklyn, New York.  While studying in the Yeshiva, Rabbi Shoham attended  Brooklyn College at night and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in psychology.  Later, he attended graduate school at New York University, School of Psychology and continued his studies in Montreal at the Allen Memorial HospitalMcGill University where he furthered his courses in Pastoral Psychiatry. 

Rabbi Shoham arrived in Montreal in 1955 to visit his brother Gilbert, who was Rabbi of the Beit Hamidrash Hagadol Synagogue on McKenzie.  While here, he met with an enthusiastic group of individuals anxiously waiting to build a new community in the western suburb of Montreal.  After discussions with the committee, several weeks later he was hired as the Rabbi of Beth Zion in the winter of 1956. Over the years he had been active with nearly every Jewish organization in the city, notably Combined Jewish Appeal, B’nai Brith and State of Israel Bonds.  Many Jewish organizations  held testimonial dinners in his honour. He  even hosted radio and television shows.

The synagogue itself began in a congregant’s home in 1952, four years before they hired Rabbi Shoham and moved into their present quarters on Hudson Avenue.

“There are a lot of memories here,” Rabbi Shoham, told me. “I have overseen five decades of torah studies, services, counselling, weddings, bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs. It’s like home to me.”

Rabbi Shoham recalled the early days of the synagogue. “At the time,” said the rabbi, “the park across the street from us had a baseball field. There were times when we did not have enough people for a minyan (10 men are required for prayer in the Jewish religion) so I’d go out to the baseball field and ask for a few volunteers. I was a pretty fair player myself and they wanted me to be part of their club. My message was simple. I’d join their team if they’d join mine. It worked.”

In fact, when he was young, Rabbi Shoham was considered a prospect for Major League Baseball.

From the 100 members it had when Rabbi Shoham arrived, that number rose at one time to more  than 1,000.

“To quote Hillary Clinton," said past president Eli Cohen,  “it  takes a village to build a community. And it's taken Beth Zion to help build the community. It is Rabbi Shoham who was innovative and who brought Beth Zion to the attention of the greater Montreal Jewish community.”

Funeral services will take place at Beth Zion Congregation in the main sanctuary at 10 am Tuesday, September 22, erev Yom Kippur. Shiva will be at 5703 Melling Avenue until 4 pm, Mincha at 3:30 pm.

To Rabbi Shoham's wife Jewel and  the entire family,  allow me to extend my deepest sympathies.


Sunday 20 September 2015

Vittorio Rossi looking to "Kickstart" his play The Envelope into a motion picture

After I first met noted Montreal playwright Vittorio Rossi last winter when he visited his old high school, James Lyng in St. Henri, we spoke about his then upcoming play at the Centaur Theatre called The Envelope.  I was very intrigued and made a point of going to see it. Needless to say, it was a great piece of work lambasting the Canadian film industry. In fact, my first thought was "Why can't this be turned into a motion picture?"

Vittorio Rossi

Rossi, who  has a small role as a police officer in the upcoming Montreal shot motion picture The Walk, is indeed thinking big about The Envelope. He wants to bring it to the big screen, but after depicting government funding for such projects as somewhat of a sham he plans to raise his own funds. As of October 1,he will launched a 40-day Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to raise $140,000, a sizeable amount but a meagre sum, even by indie film standards.

Rossi says he ispassionate about The Envelope’s universal theme of artistic integrity versus financial gain, which he’s filtered through the circumstance of a writer/director trying to make a Canadian film within the current landscape. “At one time or another, we’ve all discussed why we don’t care about or watch Canadian-filmed entertainment," he states. “The general public definitely has an opinion on the subject but what it may not know is why the state of the industry is the way it is. That’s why the making of this film is so important. If things are to improve, if we are to gain the recognition Canadian artists deserve, the system needs a major overhaul. Like the saying goes, ‘the same old thinking gets the same old results.’ Nothing will change if we keep hiding from the current state of affairs that this screenplay exposes.”

Kickstarter awards Rossi the money only if he meets his goal. He expanded on his choice to take this risky route. “As an artist I have to think big or go home! If I chose a crowdfunding campaign that gave me whatever I managed to raise, and it was only half or even three quarters of my goal, I’d have to make the movie with insufficient funds. My supporters wouldn’t see the film I envisioned and it would have little or no impact. I’ve taken the budget down to the bare minimum so if I can raise this amount, I can deliver what I imagine.”

Rossi already has an  all-Canadian cast in mind. They would include: Mark Camacho (X-Men: Days of Future Past, ACTRA Award for Outstanding Performance as President Nixon), Howard Rosenstein (well-known face to theatre audiences across Canada, most recently in Scotland, where he reprised his role of Red Peter in Kafka’s Ape at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival), and Brett Watson (a Ryerson performing arts grad with over 20 years of experience in film, TV, stage and voiceover). Stand-up comedian, Guido Cocomello, who blew Montreal audiences away revealing his dramatic chops in the stage version of The Envelope, would reprise his role as Marcello.

Relative newcomer, Vladimir Philogene is Rossi’s first choice for cinematographer. Simon Webb (Being Human and Mohawk Girls), who worked on Rossi’s first short film, Little Blood Brother, and is a 25-year film and television veteran, would be film editor. Sound goes to Gabor Vadnay, a two-time Gemini award-winner with over sixty film, TV and documentary credits to his name. Patrizia Pino (The Hunger and Further Tales of the City), another long-time teammate of Rossi’s, is coordinating the post production process.  

Rossi is calling in as many favours as he can to keep costs down and in addition to the feature film, he’s producing a companion documentary about the making of the film and the Canadian film industry. Donors at a certain level will have an opportunity to voice their opinions about the industry, whether they coincide with Rossi’s views or not. “Making a donation to my campaign”, stated Rossi, “tells me you think the Canadian film industry is broken too; that talented, experienced artists, not bureaucrats, should decide which film projects merit financial support; that funds need to be funneled into the promotion of our own Canadian stars; that pandering to the lowest common denominator does not a film make … all these elements currently in play only further damage our reputation as filmmakers at both the national and international levels.” 

On Thursday, October 1 between 5 and 7 pm, Rossi will celebrate the launch of his Kickstarter campaign at Old Montreal’s Ristorante Da Franco’s (233, rue Notre-Dame Ouest), a favourite Rossi hangout and the backdrop of the film’s story. Everyone is welcome: meet the cast, discuss filmmaking with Rossi and his team, and learn more about The Envelope and the crowdfunding campaign. Live Kickstarter donation stations will be at the ready for eager contributors. “Three K a day …” Rossi quipped, “… seems doable to me.”

For more on The Envelope on Kickstarter, go to; enter The Envelope in the Search Projects line.