Looking back on 2020



December 30, 2020

2020 diary

This year was a year like no other! The pandemic forced us to take our community life online and rethink how we express our arts, culture and heritage. We were resilient and found new ways of sharing our stories, learning and engaging together.

There was so much to watch online this year that you may have missed a few streams! Not to worry – you can go back and enjoy it all at your own pace. We’ve highlighted a few recordings from our 2020 archive. Wishing you all the best for a safe, happy, healthy and creative 2021!

cultural arts

We began a series of discussions with arts leaders on the future of cultural and performing arts in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Arts, culture and heritage spaces and organizations acted quickly to adapt and engage their audiences with digital programming. In this conversation  three Jewish arts, culture and heritage organizations shared how they re-imagined their programming for a pandemic, and how they see the future of culture as we move forward in the “new normal.”

Audiences around the world began experiencing the performing arts in a whole new way: online. As Toronto began to reopen in the summer, leaders from performing arts organizations discussed how they adapted their programming for the pandemic, and what they see as the future of the performing arts as we move forward into the “new normal.” The Future of Performing Arts was a two-part panel discussion on the Virtual J platform with a focus on theatrical productions and musical performances.


The Toronto Jewish Film Festival went online for the first time! TJFF2020 Online included International, Canadian and Toronto Premieres showcasing stories about long distance lovers, unlikely companions, familial discord, political outsiders, trailblazing women, modernist visionaries, and pop culture pioneers. This year the festival split into two showings, with half the films on offer in the spring and the rest in the fall. Making the transition from the big screen to the small screen, viewers could now choose films on demand, with the festival experience recreated through a series of conversations with actors, directors, producers and filmmakers.

Many of the screened films will become available following the festival on J-Flix, TJFF’s streaming free service. Currently, over 135+ curated titles are available for streaming including documentaries, feature length narratives, and shorts, along with beloved archival films, all of which represent the global flavour of TJFF programming. Register for J-Flix for free on j-flix.com

HEW 2020

In a commitment to affirm how important Holocaust education, memory, and remembrance are, and in understanding that people struggle to find relevant, engaging content and community in isolation, the Neuberger launched the Neuberger @ Home Series. Since April, they have presented a variety of digital programs designed to stimulate and inspire. From movie screenings to our Anne Frank Community Reading Project, along with special guest speakers and learning sessions, there’s something for everyone with the Neuberger @ Home. You can access recordings of these webinars and online programs here.

The Neuberger and the Virtual J partnered to bring Holocaust Education Week 2020 to the comfort and safety of your home for the first time. Despite the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Neuberger’s transformative online activities inspired, educated, and recognized the remarkable contributions of Holocaust survivors while compelling us to contribute to an inclusive society for all Canadians. We reflect back on Holocaust education over the years, and together ensure that education continues to play a vital role in combating all forms of hate to help create a better future. The week featured an online film series, book talks, Neuberger curated films, a wide array of scholars, experts, and well-known personalities including Star Trek’s George Takei and Yair Rosenberg, senior writer at Tablet Magazine. You can re-watch many of the lectures here.

virtual oja
Jewish community parade to commemorate the Balfour Declaration (St. Catharines, ON), 1917. Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, item 417. Photograph by Franklin Caplan.

The Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre is the largest repository of Jewish life in Canada. Despite the challenges that come with remote working, the Ontario Jewish Archives (OJA) has continued to do what we do best – connect you to your history. New virtual learning opportunities, online programming, and podcasts are all part of our effort to bring the many fascinating stories out of our vaults and into your homes.

Learn from the comfort of your home about how the Jewish community has navigated this global pandemic, the historic role of the famed Standard Theatre in Toronto, and the many ways that food has historically shaped the Jewish experience. Explore the fascinating stories of Ontario’s Jewish community through the OJA’s series of podcasts. Long-form or bite-sized, each podcast examines the histories told through the collections of the OJA. Enjoy this new series of colouring pages made by OJA Archivist Kara Isozaki of digitized photographs from our collections.

The OJA has been collecting the province’s Jewish history for over 45 years. During this challenging and unprecedented time, it is essential that we capture, in real time, the impact COVID-19 is having on our community. From Zoom Brit Milot and baby namings to Zoom weddings and shivas, the OJA is committed to ensuring these moments are collected and preserved in perpetuity. Submit your thoughts, photos, journals, tweets, Facebook posts, and videos and preserve your experience of living through the COVID-19 pandemic. Share your experiences with the OJA as part of the COVID-19 Documentation Project.

Labour Day 2020 marked 25 years of the Ashkenaz Festival. While we couldn’t gather together at Harbourfront Centre this year, a virtual celebration of Ashkenaz’s 25th anniversary brought together a series of new and archival performances. The festivities included two parallel programs: a series of new ‘pop-up’ performances by Toronto-based artists livestreamed each day, and a series of archival performances from past Festivals, streamed each evening. The livestreams captured some of the spirit and energy we would have normally experienced at this time of year, celebrating this milestone with a taste of world-class Jewish music from around the corner and around the world. You can stream many of these performances from Ashkenaz’s Facebook page.

The Ashkenaz Foundation also held a series of online streaming converts, performances, conversations and podcasts this year. Give a listen to what you may have missed here.

vine winners

Even before the pandemic, the Koffler Centre of the Arts was curating digital exhibitions, publications and projects through their online platform Koffler.Digital. In 2020, the Koffler not only presented in-person exhibitions (visible while socially distant) but expanded their digital offerings to include more exhibitions, as well as online community programs and education programs such as Art Bursts: Prompts for Creativity in Isolation.

The Koffler Centre also presented the of the 2020 Vine Awards for Canadian Jewish Literature on the Virtual J platform in November. The national awards program honours both exceptional Canadian Jewish writers and non-Jewish Canadian authors exploring Jewish subjects in Fiction, History, Non-Fiction, Young Adult/Children’s literature, and Poetry. The awards ceremony is available for on-demand viewing on the Virtual J platform. You can also access past conversations with authors and artists as part of the Books & Ideas series here. Be sure to listen to African-American, Jewish food writer, culinary and cultural historian and educator Michael W. Twitty, in an online conversation with Nam Kiwanuka.

conversations on the green

If only we could enjoy a play from the comfort of the plush seats of the Greenwin Theatre! With all live productions cancelled for 2020, the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company brought Jewish stories and performances into the comfort of our homes with exciting virtual programming including cabarets, play-readings, a radio play, and a Hanukkah concert from around the world.

Every Monday evening Co-Artistic Directors Avery and David spoke live with the wonderful performers and directors who have graced the Harold Green’s stage with the series Conversations on the Green. This was a way to pull back the curtain and give audience members an inside look at the life and career of some of Canada’s best theatre artists. Missed a conversation? Catch up on all Conversations here.

witness installation
Detail from the FENTSTER installation, Witness by Ella Cooper.

With the closure of indoor spaces, FENTSTER became one of the few spots in Toronto to open a new exhibition during the pandemic. In the spring, the window gallery showcased What Will Remain by Toronto artist Robert Davidovitz. The stained-glass sculpture was an homage to his roots in Vilna and to the fragile material that buttressed his family for generations. The exhibition has closed, but you can watch the opening event and conversation here.

In the fall, FENTSTER opened Witness, a never-before exhibited work by Toronto-based photo-video artist Ella Cooper who uses movement and performance-based techniques in her work to explore identity and reclaim representations of Black bodies. The exhibition is on view until January 21, 2021 so you still have some time to catch it in person! The show inspired a conversation on art and identity between a dynamic group of Canadian and U.S. artists who identify as Black and Jewish, hosted by theatre artist and Rabbi-to-be, Kendell Pinkney. Watch the conversation with Ella Cooper, Rebecca S’manga Frank, Sara Yacobi-Harris and Anthony Russell here.

yiddish classes

Yiddish went digital! In addition to learning Yiddish online (register now for Winter 2021 classes) you can catch up on the Committee for Yiddish’s exciting fall and summer 2020 online lecture series, on their YouTube page! Lectures include Dr. Rachel Seelig’s On the Edge of the Volcano: Yiddish Literature in Berlin Before the Third Reich and Vivian Felsen’s From Radical Poets to Rabbinical Scholars: The Yiddish Voices of Kensington Market.

Toronto’s JCC’s also went online to deliver community content including cultural programming, conversations with community leaders and thinkers, fitness classes, cooking demonstrations and more! Much of this content is still available to stream so visit the Virtual J (a collaboration between the Prosserman JCC and the Schwartz Reisman Centre) and the Miles Nadal On Demand. For the top-watched streams from the Virtual J, check out the channel Rewind 2020.

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