The Jewish Nomad: a new weekly column by Ilana Zackon

If you’ve been listening to The CJN’s weekly current affairs podcast Bonjour Chai, you might’ve noticed my introductions recently switched from “Ilana Zackon in Vancouver” to “Ilana Zackon in Toronto.”

Now, let’s set the record straight: I’m no stranger to the Greater Toronto Area.

My parents moved to this ever-growing shtetl of Toronto during the mass exodus of the 1980s. I spent the first 18 months of my life in the city (well, actually Thornhill) before we moved back home.

I lived in Montreal for most of my life, save for eight months in New York City, where I continued my acting training, and then five years in Vancouver. I went there for a yoga teacher training, only to get sucked into the peaceful beachside lifestyle.

The bigger shock (even to me!) is that I never once imagined myself ending up in Toronto.

Montrealer that I am, I grew up thinking Toronto consisted of the Eaton Centre, some suburbs and a bunch of tall buildings. All to say, I wasn’t sold.

Cut to the spring of 2021. It was time for a change.

I knew what I was looking for-somewhere closer to home, with lots of acting opportunities and a thriving Jewish community, but I couldn’t figure out where that place could be.

It took me months and months of wracking my brain, before I realized Toronto checked every box. (That’s how stubborn we Montrealers can be.)

To be fair, I never really explored the heart of downtown Toronto as an adult, until recently, when I flew in to decide whether I wanted to move.

Fast forward to the fall of 2021 and I’m now calling it home.

I heard a saying recently: “There are two types of Canadians: ones who hate Toronto, and ones who live in Toronto.”

Now that I’ve been privy to the wonderfully diverse culture, artsy vibes and ample greenery Toronto has to offer, I have to admit that my conception of the city was wrong all along. 

But the bagels are still better in Montreal.

A former naysayer’s extremely fast travel guide to (change your mind about) Toronto

  • Earl Bales Park: Nestled in the heart of North York, the tall trees and well-trodden earthy paths make you completely forget you’re in the middle of a city.  The Holocaust Memorial near the parking lot entrance is especially moving.
  • The Annex: I immediately fell in love with the artsy-looking American Richardsonian Romanesque and British Queen Anne Revival style houses that line the side streets. Around the corner, Bloor Street is filled with tons of cool places to eat and shop. BMV is a massive used bookstore (with discounted books in perfect condition) that I could get lost in for hours.
  • Trinity Bellwoods: This downtown park seems to attract excellent musicians, which makes my visits there all the more special. Queen West also has some of the funkiest shops and street art in the city.
  • High Park: A classic spot. I barely scratched the surface after spending multiple hours in it. Toronto is not the concrete jungle I had imagined, after all.
  • The ravines: Who knew there were so many winding through the heart of the city? The Nordheimer Ravine, which starts at Bathurst and St. Clair, is a particular favourite of mine.

The art worth watching this week

Despite the boycotts I discussed in a column back in June, the Koffler Centre is back in action with a new exhibit: A Heap of Random Sweepings by multidisciplinary Toronto-based artist Sameer Farooq. 

Farooq’s installation is an immersive experience, displaying sculpture, photos and prints which change throughout the run of the show, billed as a statement against the colonialist nature of museum collections.

“To steal something and hold onto it for a couple centuries must make you do strange things. The hands of museum workers anxiously arrange and rearrange objects inside cases, upholding the fabricated narratives of how their collections came to be,” says Farooq. (The show runs until Nov. 14. Admission is free.)

What we’re saying on Bonjour Chai

Avi Finegold and I spoke with Deborah Corber, the founder of Corber Consulting and principal consultant in Indigenous Affairs. Deborah, who remembers me as a six-year-old (her niece and I were friends in preschool—talk about Jewish geography) came on to discuss Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. 

What struck me most from our conversation was how she fell into her area of expertise. She was offered the position with very little knowledge about Indigenous culture, and then spent the remainder of her career visiting Indigenous communities, asking questions, reading and researching. The knowledge she now holds is so valuable and I hope our community is inspired by her words—like I was.

(You can find new episodes of Bonjour Chai near the end of each week on The CJN’s website. Better still, each episode will be delivered to you first if you follow or subscribe wherever podcasts can be found, like through Apple, Google or Spotify.)

In other news, we’re nearing the finish line in our search for a new third host, after Melissa Lantsman departed to ultimately become a Member of Parliament. Stay tuned to find out which part of the country we represent next.

As for me, I’ll get back to roaming around Toronto soon—check this column each week to find out where else I’ve been, and where you should go.

Ilana Zackon can be reached at [email protected] and found on Facebook and Instagram.

HEAR what else she has to say every week on Bonjour Chai