The Jewish Nomad: Ilana Zackon’s favourite cultural things of 2021 (and the best podcasts she co-hosted, too)

Read on for five year-end picks from the co-host of The CJN’s weekly current affairs show—a podcast, a TV show, a book, a restaurant and some music—plus, check out some of the Bonjour Chai conversations Ilana Zackon thinks are worth your time to catch up on:


Adventures with Dead Jews with Dara Horn

Darkly comic humour brings to light a very important topic: why is the rest of the world only interested in the Jews… when we’re dead? Anne Frank is a prime example, but there are many more

Dara Horn’s podcast, a companion to her book People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present, explores everything from what makes Schindler’s List problematic to how the Japanese tried to build a Jewish state in Manchuria—which is hilariously shocking and mind-blowing all at once.

Great educational fun, and fodder for thinking while on a long car or bus ride. You’ll definitely learn some things your high school Jewish history class didn’t cover, trust me on this one.

Broad City (*yes, I know it’s not new, but…)

Friends told me to watch this show for YEARS and I finally watched it last January with my roommate. (We may or may not have binged almost all five seasons in a shamelessly short period of time.) 

Not only is it wonderful to finally have my very Hebrew name represented to the masses, but Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson are hilaaarious. The shenanigans they get up to had me rollicking with laughter and the show is just so Jewish in a very subtle way. 

Favorite episode: “Welcome to Florida.” Abbi and Ilana head down there to clean out Grandma Esther’s apartment and decide maybe life would be better if they got a spot in the retirement villa. (Talk about the North American Jewish experience.) Also, the fun they poke at gun-toting Floridians (*cough* Trump supporters *cough*) is hella funny. It also features Fran Drescher as Ilana’s unmarried aunt and Susie Essman as Ilana’s very Jewish mother:

Wounds Into Wisdom: Healing Jewish Intergenerational Trauma by Rabbi Tirzah Firestone

I renewed this book four times from the local library, so that I could really digest its contents.

Drawing from Tirzah Firestone’s background as a psychologist and a rabbi, the reader is brought into therapy sessions to get glimpses into a multitude of Jewish experiences—everything from the offspring of Holocaust survivors to PTSD experienced by former Israeli soldiers and their families. 

The author not only offers concrete examples, but also solutions to breaking patterns of silence.

Wounds Into Wisdom was recommended to me by a rabbi I met at a workshop in Vancouver, after we talked about my visceral aversion to the smell of bacon—and pork in general. It took me until this year to read it, but it was worth the wait. 

(I may have to read it four more times. There’s a lot in there.)

Highly recommend.

Chickpea Restaurant (4298 Main St., Vancouver)

This delicious vegan eatery owned by Rotem Tal—an Israeli now living in Vancouver—is a must-try. 

Chickpea lives up to its thematic name with plant-based versions of Israeli and Middle Eastern staples like sabich, shakshuka and shnitzelonim. Every menu item is even transliterated from Hebrew. (Admittedly, it’s quite hilarious to overhear non-speakers attempting to read it.)

Located on the very hip Main Street in East Vancouver, the menus are made from recycled children’s books and the walls are adorned with artsy decor. They once had Israeli illustrator Amit Shimoni’s hipster versions of former Israeli prime ministers adorning the walls. 

Favorite menu item: Kasum (crispy fried cauliflower, sautéed turmeric-covered mushrooms and onions and lemon garlic sauce) served as a platter, complete with homemade hummus, salad and their iconic chickpea fries served in sweet chili sauce. My mouth is watering just thinking about those fries.  

The Chickpea food truck was a highlight of my 2021, for sure. Might be worth flying back to Vancouver for…

Yonina

I discovered this adorable Israeli-American husband and wife musical duo on Spotify—and I’m a little obsessed. I particularly enjoy their Hebrew tunes, but they also sing in English.

With gorgeous harmonies and soulful Jewish melodies, Yoni and Nina Tokayer (“Yonina” is a combination of their first names) make me feel like every day is Shabbat.

Fun facts!

  • The couple originally met on a balcony in Tzfat
  • Yonina were discovered on social media before they took off and began performing all over the U.S., Europe and Israel
  • Yoni and Nina have two kids, who sometimes make musical guest appearances in their videos  
  • Yonina puts out a new song every Friday on their YouTube channel
  • My favourite songs: “Ahava,” “ Halev,” and “Nafshi

Notes from my own podcasting journey

Bonjour Chai launched in March 2021, and what a ride it’s been. 

We started out with Montreal-based rabbi Avi Finegold and political consultant Melissa Lantsman—who left in August to successfully run to become a Conservative MP—and myself in Vancouver.

At that time, I was recording from my room at the Moishe House, before moving to Toronto at the end of the summer. 

As part of the relaunch of The Canadian Jewish News, we set out to fill some gaps in how the community is covered—and bring those voices to a format capable of reaching a new generation. (I’ve been told by listeners repeatedly that they finally feel represented! Yay!)

With our show, we aim to present varied viewpoints—and bring private conversations into the public sphere. 

From same-sex marriage being adopted in more shuls, to Jewish parents who opt out of circumcision, we don’t shy away from shaking things up, and even getting into messy debates.

Looking back at the year, I feel privileged to have met many incredible guests, which included virtually meeting two fellow Jewish-focused podcast hosts: Unorthodox’s Mark Oppenheimer and Israel Story’s Mishy Harman.

We also did three episodes with a Jewish perspective on Indigenous affairs, with consultant Deborah Corber, well-known community activist Nakuset, and professor David Koffman. And I spoke to Margaret Atwood on the Giller Prize red carpet during the too-brief window of 2021 time when live events became a thing again.

Plus, we met Canadaland’s podcasting mogul Jesse Brown to collectively contemplate the condition of digital Jewish communities:

The Frozen Chosen recording an episode with Jesse Brown.

A few more of my favourite episodes that you can check out in these final days of 2021:

  • It’s Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” in which we chat with Nicole Nashen and Harrison Kirschner about how one can be both progressive and Zionist, as well as how to fight antisemitism on campus. There’s a reason I am frequently referencing this episode, on the show. These young folks are the future! Hear what they have to say, you won’t be sorry.
  • Nobody Wins Unless Everybody Wins,” in which we chat with UofT sociology professor David Brym about Canada’s census compared to the Pew Research Survey in the U.S. This episode was really educational and it was also recorded at the beginning of the Gaza conflict. Moment of truth: I broke off a piece of my microphone setup because I was so nervous to talk about the Middle East on the air. Makes for some good drama.
  • Welcome to the Prairies,” in which we chat with popular podcast host and writer Mark Oppenheimer about the launch of Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood—and introduce our new co-host, my old theatre pal David Sklar, a Montrealer who now lives in Calgary. While the Squirrel Hill book was brought on by tragic events, it also sparked a lively dialogue about what kind of synagogue is capable of surviving in this century.  

(You can find every episode at thecjn.ca/bonjour or wherever you get podcasts.)

Here’s to 2022, may this coming year be filled with lots of nachas and less COVID! (L’Chaim!)

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