The Jewish Nomad: A night at the most hilarious education gala in Montreal (if not any place at all)

Ilana Zackon reporting from the bar.

In eight months of writing this column, I’ve covered a lot of events that represented taking baby steps back to having a regular social life, at least when we weren’t stuck in winter lockdown.

But the most fun I’ve had since this godforsaken pandemic began (at least to this point!) was at the Ted Wise Benefit Gala for Jewish Education, put on by ORT Montreal on Tuesday, May 24.

Not only was the food absolutely mouthwatering—we’re talkin’ ribs, fresh cut juicy pieces of brisket, sushi and more by kosher caterer Blossom By La Plaza— the similarly superb entertainment was from Whose Line Is It Anyway? stars Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood.

Sure, it’s a fact that Mochrie is one of my favourite comedians of all-time. But the cause is also something I’m totally behind.

Here’s some history: During the rise of capitalism in Tsarist Russia, most Jews were working for feudal landlords and quickly lost their employment, as they were lacking the skills the new reforms demanded. ORT, which is a Russian acronym which translates to Society for Trades and Agriculture Labour, was established in 1880 to help these Jews learn the necessary skills to become craftsmen and factory workers.

During the First World War, this organization helped displaced Jews get relief work. And during the Second World War, they trained Jews in France and the Warsaw Ghetto to use sewing machines.

Since then, ORT has been instrumental in helping underprivileged Jews gain education all over the world: in Israel, in South Africa, across Latin America–they have a presence in 39 countries overall.

Plus, they have more than 40 schools and two universities, which are focused on STEM education. These help students—and future teachers—get a second chance at a better education, while also enriching their Jewish identities.

Canada has ORT locations in each of its three largest cities: Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. But the main focus of those branches is fundraising, both for World ORT programs and support of local schools. 

The annual galas in Montreal are known for their comedic slant, with headliners like local stand-up Sugar Sammy, and the late Gilbert Gottfried. Even better, ticket sales, advertising and sponsorships are handled by local Jewish schools, who get to keep the profits.

And even if Montreal’s schools are partially subsidized by the government, giving kids a Jewish education still isn’t cheap. It scares me when I think of how quickly enrolment numbers are dropping compared to when I was there.

Having gone through the gambit myself, I feel it’s a necessary part of developing a Jewish identity. And what I witnessed was an overwhelming display of support. The gala was packed.

I even bumped into some old friends and community members who I knew from my days at Beth Tikvah Youth–where I performed in some of my first musicals—and Camp Massad–the overnight camp where I spent my childhood and teenage years.

M Telus, the downtown St-Catherine St. venue formerly known at Metropolis, was the site of the night hosted by an impersonator of Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies. Speeches were then given by organization leaders including Dan Green, the CEO and director general of World ORT.

World ORT director general and CEO Dan Green.

And then we got to the main event: Scared Scriptless

Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood have been performing this hilarious two-man improvisational show for over two decades. Just like their Whose Line? act on TV , the entire performance is entirely made up, inspired by audience suggestions and participation. And these guys didn’t disappoint. 

The funnymen serenaded a lawyer plucked from the audience, brought donors on stage to make sound effects to add their scenes, and impressed the crowd with improvised songs.

It was rollicking good time, they raised $10,000 from the raffle, and I’m sure plenty more for local Jewish schools due to the way their fundraising works on multiple levels. 

For more information on ORT Canada and how to donate, visit their website at I highly recommend checking out this worthy cause!

Ilana Zackon can be reached at ilanawritesthings[@] and found on Facebook and Instagram.

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