Yosef Wosk was inducted as an Officer of The Order of Canada in 2020 for his extensive contributions as a scholar, writer and educator, and for his wide-ranging philanthropy.

The citation from the Governor General reads: "Yosef Wosk is a Renaissance man of the 21st century. A rabbi, scholar, businessman and art collector, he is a revered educator and community activist who inspired many to become engaged in global issues and local challenges. Former Director of Interdisciplinary Programs in Continuing Studies at Simon Fraser University, he founded the Philosophers Cafe and the Canadian Academy of Independent Scholars. A poet, explorer and dedicated philanthropist involved with museums, the arts, social services, publishing, nature and heritage conservation, he has endowed hundreds of libraries worldwide."

For a summary of Wosk's achievements, see this accompanying news story on BCBookLook, with photos:

https://bcbooklook.com/2020/11/27/41941/

********************

BC AUTHOR ENTRY

LITERARY LOCATION: 2, The Street of Light, Israel Torah Research Institute, Jerusalem [Yeshivas Itri]

The Vancouver-born poet, philosopher, rabbi, philanthropist, scholar, educator and community leader Yosef Wosk has had an enormous cultural impact on his hometown--where he has founded the Canadian Academy of Independent Scholars and SFU's Philosophers' Cafe and served as a director in Continuing Studies at SFU--but his literary and cultural associations with Jerusalem are also prodigious.

Wosk lived in Yerushalayim (as it is called in Hebrew) for six years: one as a student at Hebrew University (1969-70); three-and-a-half years as a student at Israel Torah Research Institute: Talmudic Academy for Religious Studies from which he received a B.H.L. [Bachelor of Hebrew Letters] (1972-75); one year on sabbatical (1992-93); and numerous other visits for shorter periods of time. His three-and-a-half-year stint at the Torah Research Institute was at 2 Rehov Ha'Or (2, the Street of Light) in the Romema neighbourhood on a hill behind the Tahanat Ha'Merkazit (Central Bus Station), one block from the Allenby Memorial. Known as Hartman's Yeshiva when he attended, the school has since moved and morphed into other institutions.

While studying written and oral traditions, Wosk has also been a writer, editor, public speaker, mentor, curator, researcher, art exhibit collaborator and antiques collector in Jerusalem. Hence he simultaneously views himself "as a struggling pilgrim in search of his emotional and spiritual bearings." Beyond the city has travelled throughout the Altneuland, exploring the Jordan River, the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret), the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea, climbing desert mountains, hiking through pomegranate orchards, descending to the lowest point on earth, and meditating among its ancient olive groves.

Along his spiritual path, Wosk not only conceived and funded the 100,000-tree Morris J. and Dena Wosk Peace Forest just outside of Jerusalem, he also sponsored the creation of over three hundred small libraries throughout Israel including portable units for the IDF, collections for the Ethiopian community, and a Spanish language branch. Donations were also made to the national library as well as social science, neighbourhood, history, and holocaust libraries.

In 1993 the Yosef Wosk Computer Center was established at the Bostoner Yeshiva in Har Nof, Jerusalem, and 2001 saw the dedication of the Yosef Wosk Children's Synagogue Library at Shalva in Jerusalem, an organization for mentally and physically handicapped children and their caregivers.

Beyond his activism within galleries, museums, schools, gardens, hospitals and social services, Wosk as been active in the literary realm. He first made his mark in 1973 when he wrote and published "A Journey to the Heart of Tradition"; in Hartman's Yeshiva Bulletin (Jerusalem: Israel Torah Research Institute 1973).

As a religious philosopher, he subsequently edited Petach: A Journal of Thought and Reflection, Israel Torah Research Institute: The Shapell College Center for Jewish Studies, Jerusalem (1973-75), contributing "Torah Revelation: Then as Now,"; Petach: A Journal of Thought and Reflection of The College of Jewish Studies, Israel Torah Research Institute, Vol. ii, p. 49-72, Jerusalem (1975), as well as "Can you say where I am and where I am not? Creation has arrived-it inhabits the universe,"; Petach: A Journal of Thought and Reflection of The College of Jewish Studies, Israel. Torah Research Institute, Vol. i, p. 75-79, Jerusalem (1974)

Other publications include:

"Research Analysis Regarding the Publication of the Encyclopaedia Judaica on CD-ROM,"; Aryel Publishing (Vancouver) for Keter Publishing House (Jerusalem) (1994)

"Beneath the Mask: Fragments of an Estr Scroll";, a significant chapter (p. 11 - 45) in The Hidden and the Revealed: The Queen Esther Mosaics of Lilian Broca, including other essays by Lilian Broca and Sheila Campbell with an introduction by Judy Chicago; Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem & New York (2011)

"I Don't Need Any More Students, But I Could Sure Use a Friend: Letters to a Photoman,"; three years of correspondence between Nachum Tim Gidal [Jerusalem] & Yosef Wosk [Vancouver], with selected photographs (pending)

Yosef Wosk has also donated funding towards the publication of:

-- Siddur Ha'Tefillah (a bilingual Hebrew and Amharic [Ethiopian] prayer book), translated by HaRav Yosef Hadane, chief rabbi for Ethiopian Jews in Israel, a project of the Sokhnut-The Jewish Agency for Israel, Jerusalem [unsure if publication was fully realized in this format] (2005);

-- Sefer Ma'ah'marei Ha'Tannaim, Institute of SMA, Jerusalem and Brooklyn (2004); The Conquest of Time: A Study in the Dynamics of Creativity by Rabbi Chaim Lifshitz, Sadnat Enosh Publications, Jerusalem (1975)

As a lecturer he has presented:

-- "2000 years before creation: a book collector's journey from Jerusalem to New York and from distant auctions to the used bookshops of those occasional cities."; In this presentation he discussed his extensive travels as a book collector throughout the world. The presentation [available on DVD] was part of 'Share the Enthusiasm' series of book collectors talks sponsored by Special Collections, Simon Fraser University Library, in conjunction with The Alcuin Society; at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, SFU Vancouver campus (March 23, 2005)

-- "Edenic Asymmetry,"; Twelfth World Congress of Jewish Studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, (August 1997)

-- "A Rededication to Life and Torah in the Aftermath of War."; An address delivered two months after the Yom Kippur War before an assemblage of hundreds of students and colleagues as well as rabbinical, military and government officials including Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel. Israel Torah Research Institute, Jerusalem (December 1973)

In the realm of film, Yosef Wosk is interviewed for My Father's House, a film by Mark Benjamin, producer; B'nai Brith, distributor, Jerusalem (1974). He also donated support for Peace It Together, a project to bring Jewish and Arab, Palestinian, Israeli and Canadian youth together for dialogue, camping and film-making in a neutral environment [Vancouver] and The Adam Institute [Jerusalem] (2004 and 2008). Wosk has also been a donor to the SHEKEL Film Festival, "Reframing Reality - Films that Challenge the Concept of Disability";, Jerusalem (2015)

In the realm of theatre, he appeared on stage for Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure" at tje Kahn Theatre, Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1970). In the realm of music, he has been a significant donor to the Dena Wosk Music Therapy Program at the Residential Treatment Centre for children from abused backgrounds at the Children's Home and Canada Group House. Programs include instruments, song writing, children's choir and social skills through music. The program is coordiated via B'nai Brith, Jewish Women International of Canada, Jerusalem (2002-present).

Not all of his enthusiasms and beliefs have born fruit. Wosk contributed to yet-to-be-realized plans to create The Center for the Preservation of the Hebrew Book at the Jewish National & University Library, Jerusalem (1994-96). Meanwhile he has supported numerous book publications concerning the Holocaust in conjunction with the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre.

[caption id="attachment_23007" align="alignleft" width="800"] Vancouver Holocaust educator and author Robert Krell with Yosef Wosk, 2020[/caption]

On the home front, where he tends to remain relatively inconspicuous, Wosk took inspiration from Lilian Broca's mosaics to create a lyrical prose poem in the voice of the Biblical figure of Esther for his artistic contribution to The Hidden and the Revealed: The Queen Esther Mosaics of Lilian Broca (Gefen Publishing, 2011). Wosk's prose poem is accompanied by notes illuminating his extensive investigation of biblical and mythological aspects of the Esther story. [See Lilian Broca entry on the ABCBookWorld reference site for details]

This was followed by Wosk's poem and essay for the book-length catalogue Heroine of A Thousand Pieces: The Judith Mosaics of Lilian Broca (Vancouver: Italian Cultural Centre 2015), inspired by Broca's use of mosaic tiles to reinterpret the story of Judith that was first recorded around 163-142 BCE.

Painters throughout history have depicted how a chaste Jewish temptress beheaded the oppressive invader Holofernes to save her people from oblivion. As an amalgam of Scheherazade, Mata Hari, Salome and David vs. Goliath-depicting a femme fatal as a saviour of the Jews-the fictional story of Judith connects on levels beyond religion. Broca's Heroine of a Thousands Pieces offers an uplifting, feminist portrayal of an enduring story.

Inspired by Lilian Broca's stunning mosaic cycle in seven parts that depicts Judith's heroism in a new art exhibit, Yosef Wosk has outlined the deeper meanings of the Judith story-including Judith as the personification of Israel itself-within his explanatory meditations within the book.

This book-length catalogue-with contributions by Rosa Graci, Sheila Campbell, Angela Clarke and Adolfo Roitman-accompanied the debut of Broca's Judith mosaics at Il Museo (Italian Cultural Centre) in Vancouver from November 2015 to March 2016; followed by a Toronto exhibit at JD Carrier Art Gallery, May to July.

Once upon a time, in a Jewish city called Bethulia, soon to be overrun by Assyrians, there once lived a beautiful young widow named Judith who was mourning the loss of her husband, Manasseh.

When the town fathers show they are unwilling or unable to take responsibility for defence of their city against the marauders led by Holofernes, Judith dresses herself in opulent robes and jewellery.

The elders are astounded by her beauty. "May the God of our ancestors grant you favour,"; they say, "and make your design successful for the glory of the Israelites and the exaltation of Jerusalem.";

So Judith sets forth for the enemy camp, accompanied only by her maid. General Holofernes and his troops are similarly impressed. "They marvelled at her beauty, regarding the Israelites with wonder because of her, and they said to one another, 'Who can despise this people who have such women among them?'";

The Assyrian soldiers leave Judith unharmed and allow her to observe her Jewish rituals for several nights until Holofernes, intending to have her as his concubine, invites her to dine with him. He intends to rape her, if necessary, but the wiley and alluring Judith succeeds in getting him drunk.

Judith beheads Holofernes with a sword when he is inebriated and asleep. The unsullied heroine and her maid hurry back to Bethulia with Holofernes' head in a bag. [Images of this decapitation have been immortalized by the likes of Caravaggio and Getileschi.]

Shocked by the assassination, the Assyrians flee.

Judith takes the head of Holofernes to the Temple of Jerusalem where she is accorded the honours of a male hero. Instead of accepting riches, Judith chooses the independent life of a devout widow, refusing to remarry, remaining childless.

It doesn't matter that the city of Bethulia never existed or that Assyrians in the story were said to be ruled by King Nebuchadnezzar, a Babylonian. The power of the story lies in metaphor.

"Judith lived the rest of her long life, 105 years, in pious integrity and dignified nobility,"; Wosk concludes, "She became a legend in her own time but the concept of personal happiness was as rare as it was foreign to her generation.

"Happiness was contingent upon the nation, the people, the family, deity and the dedication to duty. The book's twin engines-wrapped in drama and charged by suspense-are patriotism and piety.

"May we continue to be inspired by the study of Judith's exploits and the telling of her story-mosaic and archetype, real or imagined. May her actions, and ours, be made of such memory that will be handed down to our descendants from age to worthy age.";

Judith is Hebrew for Jewish woman. Betulia in Hebrew is virginity. As depicted by Broca and articulated by Wosk, it was Judith's virtuous self-discipline that triumphed over the excess and debauchery of Holofernes as much as it was her beauty.

By downplaying the sensationalism of the story-seduction and murder-the character of Judith has been revered as the mother of the Hebrews, in Wosk's words, "as if it was she who had given birth to all she had saved.";

Heroine of a Thousand Pieces is not only visually splendid; it is an original, feminist interpretation in which Judith's moral qualities are given equal emphasis to the seduction and homicide.

Judith is shown meeting the town's elders, praying in the desert. She is not a voluptuous assassin; instead she has a modest demeanor when she displays her trophy. In this way, devoutness, chastity, ingenuity and courage are celebrated.

Around 2002, Broca starting importing high quality glass from Orsoni in Venice. Over a seven-year-period she created ten glass and mosaic tile panels in the Byzantine style to tell the Biblical story of the lowly-born Esther who disguised her Jewish faith in order to be become Queen, enabling her to save her people from annihilation. Co-published in New York and Israel in 2011, The Hidden and the Revealed: The Queen Esther Mosaics of Lilian Broca also included texts from Sheila Campbell and Yosef Wosk.

For her depiction of the story of Judith, Lilian Broca has opted for the Baroque style of the seventeenth century to better incorporate theatrical gestures and emotional expressions of an even more audacious heroine.

The subject matter of Judith was suggested to Broca by Adolfo D. Roitman, Curator of the Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, who has contributed an introductory essay on theological themes. Roitman views the story as a confrontation between paganism and monotheism, as well as between faith and disbelief; and he traces the appeal of Judith's activism to the power of the Maccabees' revolt that gave rise to Hanukkah.

Yosef Wosk's ability to combine wisdom, writing and teaching is also evidenced in the provocative convocation speech he delivered to graduands at Simon Fraser University [see below] when he received a degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa on June 14, 2012.

His address at Sam Sullivan's Public Salon on June 5, 2013 can be viewed at
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u81YdjMa_R0

The world continues to go in the wrong direction but Yosef Wosk stands against the wind and direct us towards toward good works. In the month of April, 2017, for example, he created and funded a new award for Cultural Commentary. An audience of 400 gathered at the Vancouver Playhouse to see the venerable arts critic and Canada Council board member Max Wyman become the inaugural recipient of the annual $5,000 Max Wyman Award-entirely generated by Yosef Wosk. And so he continues to create, to elevate, to inspire. Like The Fool in the Tarot pack, he is always open and alert to what comes next. It's almost impossible to list all the ventures he has saved, emboldened, validated. When Leonard Cohen died, Yosef Wosk quickly instigated and funded a memorial celebration. The daily stamina required for this kind of responsive philanthropy is worthy of note. More akin to the Dalai Lama than Warren Buffett, Yosef Wosk is an uncharted and largely unrecognized leader on what he has called "the vast Ocean of Universal Creativity." His is a rare form of creativity generosity that our world needs, as much, or more than, ever.

BOOKS:

The Hidden and the Revealed: The Queen Esther Mosaics of Lilian Broca by
Lilian Broca, Sheila Campbell, Yosef Wosk. Published by Gefen Publishing House Ltd., Israel and New York
November 1, 2011
ISBN: 9789652295606
$35, hardcover

Heroine of a Thousand Pieces: The Judith Mosaics of Lilian Broca by Lilian Broca, Sheila Campbell, Angela Clarke, Adolfo Roitman, Yosef Wosk. Foreward by Rosa Graci
(Vancouver: Italian Cultural Centre 2015) 978-0-9948658-0-9

Nachum Tim Gidal: The Polish Photographs, 1932, with Nissan Perez, senior curator of photography, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem & New York, and Aryel Publishing House, Vancouver (2020)

FORTHCOMING:

GIDAL: The Unusual Friendship of Yosef Wosk & Tim Gidal - 60 Letters, 60 Photos



 

[BCBW 2020]

 



Yosef Wosk and Elie Wiesel in Vancouver, 1997. Photo by Dina Goldstein.