Controversial snow sculpture gets cold reception

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Larger Photo Here - A snow sculpture depicting a Jewish money-lender gets a cold reception from Quebec's
Jewish community at the Winter Carnival last week.

Larger Photo Here

A snow sculpture of a Jewish money-lender on display at Quebec City's winter carnival has received a cold reception from members of Quebec's Jewish community and the Canadian Jewish Congress. Although the Carnaval administration has since apologized for the sculpture, which was created by a Ukrainian team, many feel not enough was done to prevent or remedy the work's anti-semitic message.

"We are sorry. It's circumstantial, it was never our intention to shock people. The Carnaval hopes to provide snow sculptures that appeal to everyone," said Jean Pelletier, director general of the Carnaval.

"Shocked" and "disappointed" were the terms Jake Burack and his wife, Tamara Fitch, used to describe how they felt when they came across the sculpture with their children, 8 and 11, near the entrance to the Plains of Abraham two weekends ago.

"It was a caricature of an Eastern European Jew, hunched over with a hooked nose, wearing a skullcap and holding a money bag. Every cliché possible," Burack said. "Our kids could see how upset we were."

A summary in front of the sculpture explained the work was inspired by the Ukrainian folk tale Den or Vertep, which is told at Christmas time. The summary explained the characters in the piece, the Tsar, the Warrior, the Jew, the Goat, and Death were divided into both "positive and negative characters."

An interpreter who was present during the building of the sculpture told the Buracks the Jewish figure "was a man who lent money at high interest." According to Burack, the interpreter did not understand why they were concerned.

The President of the Carnaval's Snow Sculpture International, Audrey Cook, also examined the work and found nothing questionable about it. "You have to be well informed about all of the little symbols and what they could signify. I looked at this sculpture from all angles before the complaint and I couldn't see any negative connotations associated with the work," Cook said last Thursday.

Some passers-by seemed undisturbed by the sculpture as well. Julien Laplante of Quebec City easily identified the Jewish figure. He said those who felt the Jewish figure was portrayed negatively were "projecting" it onto the sculpture.

Another couple who passed by and identified themselves as Polish-Canadians living in Montreal thought the sculpture was "beautiful."

Before Burack could submit his written complaint, the sculpture had been awarded two of the Carnaval's six prizes. Cook said the sculpture was awarded the prizes based "upon the aesthetic beauty and technical merit of the sculpture, not its potential symbolic significance."

When the Carnaval called to apologize to Burack by telephone last Friday, however, a spokesperson suggested the sculpture might be destroyed or its prizes taken away.

Pelletier later said the Carnaval would not take any of these actions, explaining that the prizes were given by a committee of volunteers and should therefore not be removed.

"The essential is that this will not happen again," Pelletier indicated.

Burack said he could not help but feel "very disappointed" by the Carnaval's lack of action.

"The lack of action detracts from any apology and indicates a lack of sincerity and/or understanding of the issue," Burack indicated via email.

The Canadian Jewish Congress agrees. "It's very disappointing that the organizers didn't realize this was grossly offensive," Rabbi Reuben Poupko said on behalf of the organization, adding, "The iconography is from the middle ages."

Simon Jacobs, the general director for Exhibition Shalom Quebec, an exhibition on Quebec City's Jewish heritage, was upset that such symbolism . "Something anti-semitic is going on in [Ukraine] and is acceptable to the point that they thought they could bring it here to Canada."

Olena Zakharova, the press secretary for the Ukrainian Embassy, defended the sculpture. "It was not the intention of the Ukrainian sculptors to offend anyone. Vertep is an ancient Ukrainian tradition." She suggested that whether the Jewish figure is viewed positively or negatively is "a matter of preference."

The Ukrainian team composed of sculptors Orest Dzyndra, Petro Romanyuk and Sergiy Klyapetura left Quebec City following the award ceremony and could not be contacted by the QCT. Neither the Embassy nor the Carnaval was able to reach them by press time.