Tag Archives: USSR

Jew of the Week: Fania Nisanov

Fania Nisanov, ת.נ.צ.ב.ה

Fania Nisanov, ת.נ.צ.ב.ה

Fania Nisanov (1924-2015) was born to an observant Bukharian-Jewish family in Kokand, Uzbekistan. Her father was the last in a long line of fabric dyers and merchants from the Emirate of Bukhara, the old Silk Road trading centre (and a UNESCO World Heritage site). One of eight surviving children, as a child she rose early each Friday morning to bake loaves of bread with her mother and sisters, which they then distributed to the poor in their community for the Sabbath. Unfortunately, the wealthy family was a target for criminals, and were robbed of all their possessions on multiple occasions. Despite these tough times, and the opposition from her family at a time when women were expected to stay at home, Nisanov pursued higher education and medical studies, becoming one of the first female doctors in the region. This made her part of an indispensable team that took care of the many ailing World War II veterans. Among those veterans was her future husband, David Polvanov, a high-ranking member of the Communist Party and a war hero that served in both European and Pacific battle zones. Ultimately, Nisanov became a pediatrician and worked diligently for some 40 years, treating children around the clock, never refusing a patient even when they arrived at her doorstep in the middle of the night. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Nisanov immigrated to Israel with her family. There, she took care of her grandchildren and worked from home to help support the family. Among her many jobs was tying and knotting tzitzit (Jewish ritual fringes).The family would move once more to Canada, where Nisanov was a communal leader and elder in Toronto’s Bukharian community. She was frequently visited by travelers from Israel, Uzbekistan, and the US, who came in gratitude for her life-saving role in their lives. Famous for her wisdom, modesty, and sense of humour, she was never slowed down by a life-long disability, a battle with colon cancer, arthritis, and chronic pain. Even in her last days she would be seen with a smile on her face and a “Baruch Hashem” on her lips. Sadly, Fania Nisanov, our dear grandmother, passed away early yesterday morning.

Words of the Week

G-d transforms spirituality into physicality; the Jew must transform physical things into spiritual ones.
Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov

Jew of the Week: Benny Goodman

The King of Swing – America’s First Rock Star

Benny Goodman

Benny Goodman

Benjamin David Goodman (1909-1986) was born in Chicago, the son of a Polish-Jewish father and Lithuanian-Jewish mother, immigrants who met in the U.S. Goodman took his first music lessons when he was 10 years old at the local synagogue. By 12, he made his professional debut (playing the clarinet) at Chicago’s Central Park Theater. At 16 he made his first recordings with the Ben Pollack Orchestra. He would go on to play alongside some of the most popular bands and most famous artists of the day. His own band would appear in a number of films, and on national radio. Despite the open racism and segregation of the time, Goodman began working with African-Americans, and is considered the first major American musician to have an interracial band (which meant he had to avoid playing concerts in the Southern states, where interracial bands were illegal). This was a key step in opening the door for more African-Americans to enter the mainstream music industry. By 1935, Goodman was one of the central forces that ushered in the “swing” era. In fact, he would be crowned the “King of Swing” (in addition to the “Rajah of Rhythm” and the “Patriarch of the Clarinet”). He is often credited with inspiring the start of the “dance craze”, and some consider him “America’s first rock star”. In 1962, Benny Goodman made history when he was sent to the USSR – the first American band on Soviet soil. The tour was designed to ease Cold War tensions, and was hailed a great success on both sides after 32 concerts, including for Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. It was a symbolic start of the process of reconciliation between the US and the USSR. Goodman was voted the best clarinetist multiple times, was inducted in the Jazz Hall of Fame, and awarded a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement. His fascinating story was immortalized in a major motion picture, The Benny Goodman Story.

Words of the Week

God would not have preserved our people for so long if we did not have another role to play in the history of mankind.
– Theodor Herzl