Reena Failure
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Reena Failure

Graphic by Marc Lostracco/Torontoist, incorporating an image designed by Tariq Sami (original below).

As part of each hand as they are called, her Luminato project celebrating the history of Jewish life in Kensington Market, artist Reena Katz was to organize a game of Mah Jongg between seniors from the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care and grade eight students from Ryerson Community Public School. (Mah Jongg is “a game that originated in China, migrated west, and was popularized with North American Jewish women during the 1920s.”)
This past Monday, May 25, Luminato sent out a spiffy, colourful HTML message to their mailing list, touting the upcoming festival’s “Visual Arts & Design Program,” including each hand, which it said had commenced on May 14. If Luminato had been reading the newspapers, however, they would have been aware that there had been some, um, controversy around Katz’s project and that it hadn’t gone ahead as planned. Maybe they could even have taken a look at Katz’s own press release from May 15 stating that the whole thing had been put on ice by Baycrest’s sudden withdrawal of their participation. Unlike the Koffler Centre of the Arts, which had pulled out the preceding week, Baycrest’s support was fundamental to the piece going forward.
Katz, you see, is a supporter of Israeli Apartheid Week; although this fact has absolutely no relevance to the project in question, nor was it ever her intention to allude to the Israel/Palestine issue in each hand, she has found herself blacklisted by Baycrest, Koffler, and Koffler’s parent org, the United Jewish Appeal of Greater Toronto. Apparently, the brain trust at Baycrest decided that they didn’t want to let their poor seniors be exposed to someone whose head contained particular dangerous thoughts, regardless of whether those ideas would actually be expressed. The best way to deal with old people, of course, is just to smile and nod and humour them—what if the game of Mah Jongg had suddenly turned political? What then?
The ideological litmus test can go both ways, apparently.


Promotional image for each hand as they are called designed by Tariq Sami, courtesy of Luminato.

To call this McCarthyist is to put it lightly; more than that, it is part of a larger campaign to centralize Judaism, as both a religion and a culture, for particular, narrow political purposes. These groups are advocating the de-facto excommunication of someone whose opinions do not align perfectly with their own. Jews should be monolithic, you know. Top-down models are the way to go; look how influential Catholicism and Scientology are.
In a 2006 letter to the Star, Dr. Frank Bialystok of the Canadian Jewish Congress (another group with Borg-like ambitions) rejected an earlier letter-writer’s characterization of his group as right-wing and stated that the “CJC represents the entire Jewish community, right, left and centre.” This is true, but in a backwards sort of way: rather than accommodating a variety of voices from the Jewish community, they simply redefine who qualifies as an upstanding member of said “Jewish community.” B’nai B’rith is even more b’rash, lobbying for public funding to be cut from cultural groups that displease them; thankfully, some politicians and groups have more integrity than others.
As for each hand, Luminato sent out a correction-notice of a press release on Tuesday, noting that the event has been “postponed indefinitely and will no longer be part of Luminato 2009.” Oh well.
“I do hate myself,” Larry David famously retorted on Curb Your Enthusiasm, when his affinity for Wagner music was deemed a betrayal, “but it has nothing to do with being Jewish.” This is a worthy mantra. But, given repeated attempts at censorship by local organizations claiming to represent all Jews, to feel otherwise would be forgivable.