Asian Heritage Month

The Israelites

By Anu Sahota

This being the last week of Asian Heritage Month, I'm going to throw some atypical selections out there for your enjoyment. The first is in recognition of the diversity of the term "Asian" which, according to the last Canadian Census, includes Israelis - who are West Asian. To say that I cannot begin to introduce Israeli issues without going way, way beyond the scope of this blog would be a massive understatement. However, I can present some footage of a remarkable Israeli-Canadian, the architect Moshe Safdie.

Moshe Safdie was born in Haifa, Palestine (now Israel) in 1938 and immigrated to Canada in 1953. His family settled in Montreal and, at the age of 17, he began architecture studies at McGill University. In 1967, he devised the master plan for Montreal's World Expo: the iconic Habitat 67, adapted from his graduate thesis. Habitat 67 was a design for Jet-Age urban living made up of 158 prefabricated concrete apartment cubicles (or containers) stacked and connected through steel cables. This modular structure emphasized a unit of housing and its connectivity to surrounding dwellings (although the original plan called for some 900 individual units ascending towards the sky, only Phase One of the project was ever completed). In mixing cells within a communal structure, it represented Safdie's aim "to try to create a human environment with the maximum utilization of technology" and a consideration of the need to affirm a sense of community while acknowledging the 20th Century North American preoccupation with privacy and isolated living.
In March 1971, the CBC Television program Telescope, hosted by Ken Cavanagh, presented Tour of Israel with Moshe Safdie. The documentary (which has a fantastic score, by the way) follows Safdie to Israel where he had been commissioned to build a rabbinical college in the old city. In the film, Safdie reflects on the connection he feels for his homeland and speaks to that ineffable sense of belonging and sometimes guilt that many immigrants feel when they return to their country of birth. Safdie also talks about enlisting in the Israeli army, from Canada, at the start of the Six Days War in 1967 (the war would be over before he could fight, hence the name).

Safdie established an office in Jerusalem in 1970 and was deeply invested in the rebuilding and restoration of Jerusalem following the war. Over three decades this would include the new city of Modi'in, the new Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, the National Campus for the Archeology and the Yitzhak Rabin Memorial.

Watch Tour of Israel (1971) (runs 22:15) Look for a small boy stuffed in a box. Awfully cute, not to mention evocative of Habitat 67.

You can view many more clips of Safdie discussing his architecture on the CBC Digital Archives site

Finally, further to last week's clips from Wok with Yan, I bring you Jewish cooking, prepared by a Canadian, Mona Brun. Mona prepares cabbage rolls and latkes in this January 1962 episode of CBC Television's Cuisine 30, an afternoon cooking program out of Vancouver.Watch as Mona muses on some "taste-tantalizing" recipes she has learned from a young Jewish friend.

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