Camp BB-Riback welcomes filmmaker Hart Snider for a workshop on antisemitism and more

'Basketball Game' author Hart Snider (centre) with Camp BB-Riback Director Stacy Shaikin and one of the event co-sponsors JNF Edmonton Executive Director Jay Cairns. (Photo supplied)

by Maxine Fischbein

(AJNews) – A July 15 reunion at Camp BB-Riback, co-sponsored by JNF Edmonton, underscored how former Camp B’nai Brith Director Bill Meloff, of blessed memory, and Rivvy Meloff – who worked shoulder to shoulder with him at the camp – helped turn adversity into a teachable moment that continues to inspire 40 years later.

“The Basketball Game” author / filmmaker Hart Snider speaking to a group at Camp BB-Riback. (Photo courtesy Camp BB-Riback).

In 1983, Jim Keegstra – an Eckville, Alberta social studies teacher who also served as town mayor – was fired from his teaching position for teaching antisemitism and holocaust denial to grade nine and 12 students. The “Keegstra Affair,” created a maelstrom of emotion in the Alberta Jewish community.

Remarkably, Bill Meloff had a response that might seem counterintuitive today, in a world increasing given to extremes. Why not invite some of Keegstra’s former students to Camp BB to get to know some of their Jewish peers?

And so, on July 10, 1983, a busload of Eckville kids, and some of their parents, joined BB campers for a “Day of Fun and Fellowship” that featured conversation, a picnic and a basketball game.

Hart Snider – who was nine years old at the time – returned to Camp BB Riback on July 15 to talk about that day and to share his 2011 four-time Leo-nominated animated short film The Basketball Game, based on the emotions he experienced as events unfolded.

“It was about my first real attempt to understand what antisemitism is,” Snider told campers. “This was something I really had to figure out, even as a nine-year-old.”

“This story is about how antisemitism spreads, but also how two communities work together to try and stop it,” Snider added. “It’s an uncomfortable topic, I know, but because it’s out there, it helps to talk about it.”

The five-minute film depicts the range of emotions Snider and his sidekicks Barry Cooper and Danny Freedman experienced that day.

Snider described how Freedman expressed sympathy for Keegstra’s students, saying that what happened in Eckville was not their fault.

“I didn’t understand that, I just thought they hated us,” Snider said. “We’ve gone to school and learned about the Holocaust. They’ve gone to school and only learned this lie that the Holocaust was a hoax.”

LTP campers and Federation CEOs Adam Silver (Calgary) and Stacey Leavitt-Wright (Edmonton) at Camp BB-Riback during a session with author Hart Snider. (Photo courtesy Camp BB-Riback).

The film is better seen than retold. Suffice it to say that nine-year-old Hart, remarkably channeled by his 40-something self, conjures comic-book villains reflecting the worst fears that the kids from both communities had when they first met. Fortunately, Snider’s actual interactions with the Eckville kids eventually got him to a less scary place.

Snider did not name Keegstra in the film. Neither did he mire viewers in dates and details. What is notable is the emotional and psychological atmosphere created by Snider and vivified through the skilled animation of his colleague Sean Covernton.

While speaking to campers, Snider fleshed out some of the history, including how Eckville mother Susan Maddox lodged a complaint about Keegstra’s teachings and pulled her son from his class.

“For more than a decade, Jim Keegstra had been referring to Jewish people using ugly antisemitic terms in his classroom and teaching his students to believe in conspiracy theories, that shadowy figures were secretly holding the puppet strings, controlling current events,” Snider said.

After Keegstra was fired in December 1982, the media descended on Eckville, recalled Snider. The story garnered local and international interest, sparking fears in the Jewish community that Keegstra now had a vast platform to share his views.

Some 75 kids – half the student body at Eckville High – signed a petition asking for Keegstra’s reinstatement, Snider said.

The situation grew from bad to worse when Conservative MLA Stephen Stiles publically stated that the murder of European Jews by the Nazis had never been proven.

Snider spoke of the emergency rally held at the Edmonton Jewish Community Centre when a committee reported their efforts to have Premier Peter Lougheed address antisemitism and Keegstra in the legislature.

A Vancouver B’nai Brith Lodge brought six of Keegstra’s former students to a Holocaust Education Symposium in Vancouver.

“One student wrote afterwards, ‘The most impressive thing I experienced were the talks with the survivors. I’ll never forget these people,’” Snider said.

“Another student wrote about the experience of staying with a Vancouver Jewish family and said it was nice to be greeted kindly, treated like people and not like bigots or freaks.”

Keegstra was not re-elected as Eckville mayor and was eventually charged with inciting hatred against an identifiable group. The trial took place in Red Deer.

“His trial was an awful thing to witness,” said Snider, adding that many members of the Jewish community attended.

Snider’s Grade 6 Talmud Torah teacher, Tslila Barzel, took her students to Red Deer.

“For her, that day, we weren’t just a busload of Jewish kids on a field trip to Red Deer. We were a symbol of Jewish perseverance and strength,” Snider said.

“Personally I was terrified of Keegstra actually looking at me and being in the same room as him. I worried about what he’d be talking about. I wondered if we’d be on TV. I thought it was officially the worst field trip of all time.”

Snider and his classmates were deemed too young to be in a courtroom and Barzel and her class returned to Edmonton.

“In the end Keegstra was successfully convicted of criminally promoting hate. His story forced Canadians to have an uncomfortable public debate about antisemitism in our society, and it reminded everyone about the importance of thinking critically and that we all have a responsibility to stand up to hate.”

But to Snider the story is not so much about Keegstra.

“To me it’s about his former students, what happened to them…. It’s shocking. They were lied to and robbed of proper education,” Snider told campers.

“And just by hanging out together, talking and playing a simple game of basketball, it helped dispel fear and prejudice.”

Snider pitched his animated film through an NFB program for emerging filmmakers. They opted to fund the film, but gave it a small budget, Snider said. He and Sean Covernton simplified the project, working mainly in black and white and using colour only when depicting nine-year-old Snider’s worst fears.

A photo of Hart Snider as a child.

The animated depiction of Snider was based on a photo of him at the time. Anyone who knew Bill Meloff back in the day can attest that Snider (who dedicated the film in memory of Meloff) and animator Sean Covernton brilliantly captured the essence of a man who was truly larger than life. During his talk Snider described Meloff, in part, as a sociology professor, Jewish camp director and cattle auctioneer who loved technology and gadgetry.

Snider based a “curly-haired friendship-bracelet-making” camper on his muse and partner in life, Galit Mastai, who attended Jewish camp, though not at BB. The Goatman, fictional protagonist of many a camp BB horror story through the generations, has a cameo in the film, and Snider brought his childhood love of comics to the fore, even creating a Jewish comic titled Supermensch.

“I got the idea that the villain in the comic should look just like a demon. So in the film, when the character is asked if he really has horns, he makes a connection that he is being seen like a super-villain and starts acting like one.”

When The Basketball Game premiered in Edmonton, MLA Janice Sarich was there. She spoke of it in the Alberta Legislature the following day.

“I was so proud to be standing there, in the same spot where the premier finally did address antisemitism back in 1984,” Snider recalled, adding that his animated short later screened at film festivals worldwide and was aired nationally by CBC.

Paying tribute to the NFB, Firefly Books and the talented colleagues who helped bring his movie and graphic novel to fruition, Snider praised the efforts of Mastai, who recently collaborated with him on a study guide for the graphic novel – also titled The Basketball Game.

As Snider points out, the story started with a teacher. Fittingly, he is dedicated to helping other teachers by providing trusted resources that mitigate against antisemitism and hate.

Notably, Snider – who eventually served on the camp staff and as Regional AZA president – cut his teeth as a filmmaker when Meloff put a video camera in his hands at the camp. Snider later taught filmmaking to campers in a program called BB TV.

Thrilled to return to Pine Lake after 30 years, Snider shared his favourite spots with his daughter, who looks forward to her first Jewish camp experience in BC next summer. It was also a full-circle day for Snider’s father, Earl, who was among the first campers when the camp opened in 1956. Hart’s mother, Ruth, also attended the camp.

Basketball game with Maccabi Canada alumni Jordan Balaban. (Photo courtesy of Camp BB-Riback).

While Ruach, and LTP (Leadership Training Program) campers and staff attended Snider’s talk, Cochavim campers (grades one through four) enjoyed a basketball clinic led by Camp BB alumnus and veteran basketball player Jordan Balaban.

Balaban – who first competed at the Maccabi Games at the age of 16 – serves on the board of Maccabi Canada and is on a mission to encourage Western Canadian Jewish youth to become involved in the games, held every four years in Israel.

“Sport is amazing…once you get into that arena or on the court with other kids, you’re all the same, play within the same rules, and you can relate and identify and build relationships,” Balaban told AJNews.

The basketball-themed camp-wide festivities were capped off with a dance party DJ’d by the Magen Boys. It was a fun finale for Wonder Week campers who returned home the following day, said Camp BB Director Stacy Shaikin.

Special guests at the camp-wide program included the Meloffs’ daughter and son-in-law, Lauren and Geoff Sky, and Lew Hamburger, former executive director of the Edmonton JCC, each of whom were at the camp on July 10, 1983. Hamburger – who helped facilitate the discussions between the Eckville and Edmonton youth – was delighted to return to the camp with his wife Patty, their children Debbie and Howie Sniderman, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The Hamburger and Sniderman family at Camp BB-Riback. (Photo courtesy Camp BB-Riback).

Hamburger told AJNews that in 1983 the camp was chosen as the location for rapprochement between Jewish kids and their Eckville peers because “…there was no other place we could get away from the press…so that the participants could feel they were very safe.”

Kids were encouraged to begin their dialogue by discussing their daily lives rather than hate, antisemitism and preconceived notions of one another, he said. People were cautious at first in their interactions, said Hamburger, “But then humour entered the picture, and they started joking with each other.”

Hamburger praised the camp’s continuing efforts to teach kids about antisemitism and how to respond to it. “Protecting kids from uncomfortable stuff… just prolongs the agony,” Hamburger said. “It just means you leave them unprepared when they encounter it.”

LTP campers Shayna Cairns (Edmonton) and Elle Delaney (Saskatoon) told AJNews that they have been on the receiving end of antisemitic remarks.

Cairns has been asked by classmates whether Jews control Hollywood. Delaney was targeted by classmates with Holocaust jokes. She reported one incident to her teacher and school principal. While telling her errant classmates how they made her feel, they broke down in tears. Delaney said she was glad that they grasped the seriousness of their actions.

On another occasion, an individual with whom she was interacting on Snapchat learned that Delaney was Jewish and spammed her with hateful messages including “Gas the Jews.”

Delaney registered a complaint with the instant-messaging app.

“They said they’d investigate, and if it was against their community guidelines they’d get back to me,” said Delaney, who never did hear back from Snapchat.

“I don’t know how that doesn’t go against community guidelines for hate speech,” she said.

Both Cairns and Delaney expressed appreciation for Snider’s talk and his film.

“I really liked how he showed his perspective, how it showed the other peoples’ perspectives and how it didn’t end in a bad way. It ended in some people getting clarity and having a loving mindset,” said Cairns.

“It’s interesting to me that the basketball game took place 40 years ago and it’s still very relevant,” Delaney said.

Camp Director Stacy Shaikin agrees, and he has arranged for the camp to give a copy of Snider’s graphic novel to kids celebrating their b’nai mitzvah. Sponsors of the initiative include Edmontonians Teddy Braun and Edward Lazar, JNF Edmonton and the Jewish Federation of Edmonton.

Shaikin hopes other individuals and organizations will step up to support the book initiative and other important projects that keep kids safe, including the Camp BB Riback cabin refurbishment campaign.

To watch The Basketball Game, go to For more information about the graphic novel The Basketball Game, go to To find out more about Camp BB Riback or to make a donation, go to

Maxine Fischbein is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

1 Comment on "Camp BB-Riback welcomes filmmaker Hart Snider for a workshop on antisemitism and more"

  1. Hi! I am camp bb´s photographer and the lady told me i was going to get credits for the photos, she even wrote my e-mail down, but I got any. I just wanted to say I am sad but I like to see my pics here. Greetz, nice article.

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