Tag Archives: Canadian Jews

Jew of the Week: Frank Gehry

“The Most Important Architect of Our Age”

gehryFrank Owen Ephraim Goldberg (b. 1929) was born in Toronto, the son of a Russian-Jewish father from New York, and a Polish-Jewish mother. As a child, he enjoyed constructing model buildings and cities with his grandmother, using scraps from his grandfather’s hardware store. After he finished high school, the family moved to California and he soon enrolled in architecture studies. It was there, because of ceaseless anti-Semitism, that he changed his last name to “Gehry”. Meanwhile, he worked as a truck driver, radio announcer, and served in the US Army before going to Harvard for graduate studies in design. Gehry got an architecture job back in Los Angeles and started wowing people with his unique designs. After a stint in Paris, he opened up his own practice. In 1989, he won the Pritzker Architecture Prize, bringing him even more fame. His Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain was described as “the greatest building of our time”. It inspired what is now called the Bilbao Effect – a “revitalization of cities through iconic, innovative architecture.” Since then, Gehry has become the world’s most influential and well-known architect, and is regularly involved with some of the most high profile projects around the globe. In addition to lecturing as Professor of Architecture at the University of Southern California, Gehry also designs museum sets and exhibitions, furniture, sculptures, and has created six lines of jewellery for Tiffany & Co. He also designed the World Cup of Hockey, and developed new architectural software. Gehry has won countless awards, including the Order of Canada, and last week received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Sydney Pollack made a documentary about Gehry’s work, and Vanity Fair described him as “the most important architect of our age.”

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Jew of the Week: Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen, in Memory

Leonard Cohen (Credit: CBC)

Leonard Cohen (Credit: CBC)

Leonard Norman Eliezer Cohen (1934-2016) was born in Montreal, the grandson of a Lithuanian rabbi and a Polish immigrant who founded the Canadian Jewish Congress. Cohen grew up very close to his Jewish community, and attended Montreal’s Jewish Herzliah High School, where he was first inspired to take up poetry by a teacher. While studying at McGill University, he published his first set of award-winning poems. His second book of poetry found even more success, and was seen as an important work in Canadian literature, with one critic calling Cohen “the best young poet in English Canada.” Cohen moved to a small island off the coast of Greece and wrote prolifically, publishing several more books of poetry and novels. One of his later books – a Literary Award winner – was inspired by the Hebrew Bible and consisted of 50 poems that Cohen called “prayers”. Meanwhile, Cohen started recording music in the 1960s as poetry did not bring the income he hoped for. His first album was a big hit in the US and UK. It was his seventh album that had his most famous song, “Hallelujah”, which Cohen went through some 80 drafts writing, and “banging his head on the floor”. The song was inspired by various Biblical scenes, including the stories of Samson and Delilah, and King David and Batsheva. It would be covered by over 200 artists in dozens of languages, and become the subject of a whole book and BBC documentary. In 1994, Cohen entered a period of five years of seclusion during which time he was ordained a Zen Buddhist monk. However, he never abandoned his Jewish roots, and said, “I’m not looking for a new religion. I’m quite happy with the old one, with Judaism.” Cohen was known to keep Shabbat throughout his career, even while on tour. In his 2009 concert in Tel-Aviv, Cohen spoke Hebrew and ended the concert with Birkat Cohanim, the priestly blessing. During the Yom Kippur War, Cohen went to Israel to volunteer at a kibbutz before going to the front lines himself to entertain Israeli soldiers, saying he will “stop Egypt’s bullets”. In his 1972 Jerusalem concert he was so emotional that he had to walk off stage at one point. The crowd started singing to bring him back and a teary-eyed Cohen felt like “the entire audience turned into one Jew”. All in all, Cohen produced 15 albums (the last of which was released just three weeks ago), 13 poetry books, and two novels. He won a plethora of awards – including multiple Junos and Grammys, the Order of Canada, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – and inspired countless musicians, poets, and artists. He has been hailed as one of the most influential songwriters and greatest musicians of all time. Sadly, Cohen passed away earlier this week.

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Words of the Week

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
– Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen performing for the IDF, with Ariel Sharon looking on.

Leonard Cohen performing for the IDF, with Ariel Sharon looking on.