Posts Tagged ‘Canadian Jews’

Calgary Jews Disavow Sex Offender, Rabbi’s Letter

February 15, 2013

This article as first published in The Times of Israel.

Aubrey Levin's trial revealed a pattern of sexual misconduct that stretched back to his days in South Africa's apartheid-era military, where he earned a reputation as "Dr. Shock." (YouTube screenshot)

Aubrey Levin’s trial revealed a pattern of sexual misconduct that stretched back to his days in South Africa’s apartheid-era military, where he earned a reputation as “Dr. Shock.” (YouTube screenshot)

In the wake of a sexual abuse scandal that has rocked Calgary, leaders of the Canadian city’s Jewish community have moved quickly to distance themselves from a local rabbi’s expression of support for a convicted Jewish psychiatrist with a notorious past.

At issue is a letter from Rabbi Yisroel Miller, the leader of House of Jacob Mikveh Israel, an Orthodox synagogue, which was read aloud during the sentencing hearing for Dr. Aubrey Levin. Levin, who had occupied a prominent position in the University of Calgary‘s psychiatry department, was convicted Jan. 31 of sexually assaulting male patients who had been referred to him for assessment and treatment by the province of Alberta’s criminal justice system.

At the hearing, Levin’s attorney characterized the assaults as “minor” and read aloud a letter submitted by Miller, the psychiatrist’s rabbi at House of Jacob Mikveh Israel. Miller wrote that Levin’s “humble manner and complete lack of arrogance endeared him to everyone,” and pleaded for leniency.

“The bad does not erase all the good,” Miller argued. “I know all the goodness within him still remains. A prison term would be a death sentence for him.”

Justice Donna Shelley was unmoved, sentencing Levin to five years in prison for “horrible violations of the trust that these the patients put in you as their psychiatrist.”

“As a psychiatrist, you knew their vulnerabilities . . . They were entitled to feel safe and supported during their appointments with you. Instead, you exploited them in a predatory and repetitious manner.”

The offender’s wife, Erica Levin, was not in court. She was under house arrest, having beencharged with attempted jury tampering.

Her husband was released on bail Wednesday, pending the outcome of an appeal.

Levin’s membership in Calgary’s approximately 7,500-person Jewish community was not publicly acknowledged until the rabbi’s letter was read, according to Bev Sheckter, executive director of Jewish Family Service Calgary.

“I would have been happy had no one ever known he was Jewish,” she told The Times of Israel.

Calgary’s Jewish community was further shaken by the revelation of Levin’s highly controversial past in his native South Africa, where he lived before immigrating to Canada in 1995.

In South Africa, Levin had served as the chief psychiatrist in the apartheid-era military, receiving the nickname “Dr. Shock” for his use of electroconvulsive aversion therapy to “cure” gay soldiers. The psychiatrist, now 74, also reportedly held conscientious objectors against their will at a military hospital and subjected them to powerful drug treatments.

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© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.



Yiddish Montreal History Wins Book Award

June 6, 2012

This piece was first published on The Arty Semite blog at the Forward.

Rebecca Margolis

A crowd will gather in downtown Toronto on June 7 for the 2012 Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Awards. One of the winners will be Rebecca Margolis, an associate professor in the Vered Jewish Canadian Studies Program at the University of Ottawa, who will be honored for “Jewish Roots, Canadian Soil” (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011), a study of the development of Yiddish cultural life in Montreal in the first half of the 20th century. In the book, Margolis examines key cultural institutions like the press, the theater, literary publications and secular Jewish schools that built and sustained Yiddish Montreal.

“This is a huge and very pleasant surprise, and a great honor,” Margolis told The Arty Semite in a recent phone interview.

Edward Trapunski, a member of the CJA’s panel of judges, believes the award is much deserved. His own father had been very active in Montreal’s Yiddish community and served on the executive boards of many of its institutions.

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© 2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Strange Like Me

February 16, 2012

This, my first regular column for JWeekly, was first published under the headline “Jewish storyline on ‘Downton Abbey’? Stay tuned.”

Lady Cora Crawley (neé Levinson) played by Elizabeth McGovern

Like so many other Edwardian soap opera lovers, I am obsessed these days with Masterpiece Classic’s “Downton Abbey.” But it wasn’t long ago that I was smitten by another television series. It, too, was from a Common-wealth country. However, it wasn’t set in England, nor did it tell the story of aristocrats and their servants at the beginning of the 20th century. Rather, this other show took place much closer to home — in more ways than one.

The show I was hooked on from January 2009 to December 2011 was “Being Erica,” which aired for four seasons on Canada’s CBC network (and on Soapnet in the U.S.). It had no great houses, world wars or Gilded Age costumes. However, it did have Toronto landmarks, family conflicts and some cute contemporary fashions. It also featured time-travel psychotherapy. (Yes, you read right — patients get to go back in time and revisit their greatest regrets to learn lessons they can apply in the present.) But most important, “Being Erica” depicted a young Jewish woman and Jewish life in the most realistic way I had ever seen on television.

Erica Strange (played by Erin Karpluk)

Erica Strange was exactly like me … if I were 15 years younger and a petite redhead. Nonetheless, she and her Jewish family resembled my own in my native Toronto. “Being Erica” had no broad shtick about being Jewish, no silly Borscht Belt humor (save for the T-shirts Erica’s kippah-wearing Reform rabbi father wore, printed with sayings like “I’m with Moses” or “I’m on Shabbat-ical”). I loved Erica so much that I decided to write an article about her for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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© 2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.