Monday, 22 May 2017

Another Short Tikkun Olam Story From The Streets of Toronto

Another short post about the Tikkun Olam happening every day on the streets close to my home.

This past weekend we were privileged to celebrate with good friends on the occasion of a milestone birthday. As a kibbitz, the hostess gifted us all with scratch-off lottery tickets that we played together at the dinner table. It should be noted that I am not a regular lottery ticket buyer and I have never before played a scratch-off. After some discussion as to the methodology so as not to accidentally void a possible winner, we all began scraping at our tickets with coins. A friend across the table was elated when he won $10.00, but my highlight came on the final rub of my ticket when I was stunned to find a $50.00 winner. After ascertaining from everybody at the table that I had indeed been a fortunate soul, I began to plot and plan what to do with my free money. I mean, really? How often does something like that occur?



The Husband had been talking for a couple of weeks about going to see the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Coincidentally, the cost of the tickets was exactly $50.00. We decided that since today is a holiday, we would make our way over to the AGO to view the work of one of my all-time favourite artists. 

But as it happens, my plans were slightly waylaid by a story I saw on last evening's newscast. It seems that there is a good soul of a local chef named Jagger Gordon who has set up a soup and sandwich bar in a retrofitted shipping container in a nearby neighbourhood.  It is a pay-what-you-can enterprise that is an outgrowth of his Feed It Forward program designed to collect discounted food from local sources and feed it to those less fortunate. Chef Gordon is passionate about food waste and he is even more so about making sure nobody goes hungry. I was enthralled by the story and said to The Husband that I really wanted to stop in to check out his work on our way to the AGO this morning.

Jagger is an extremely affable man. He carefully explained his project to us and when The Husband offered him some cash to offset his costs, he told us that our small donation would feed about eight other people. He made sure that we added our poker chips to the jar so that those eight would eventually have their soup and sandwiches. 


I certainly am not trying to tout our altruism. That is not at all the point of this piece. Yes, it is true that some of my free money went to support this project, but I simply want to highlight the good work going on in our neighbourhoods, sometimes right under our noses. We hear so much shit about people today that every so often it is really wonderful to remember the decency and morality of humankind. If you happen to be in the Dundas/Bathurst Street area of downtown Toronto over the next couple of months, I urge you to stop in and chat with Chef Jagger Gordon and contribute to his little bit of Tikkun Olam, the reparation of our little corner of the world. 

And...The Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit at the AGO is absolutely worth the price of admission. A lovely way to spend a holiday Monday.

Monday, 15 May 2017

My Weekend on Broadway

Last December, The Husband gifted me with Hamilton on Broadway tickets for my birthday. As he knows his wife is a very public and self-proclaimed Broadway musical savant/nerd, his gift couldn't have been more on point or more personal. The date finally arrived this past Friday and while I have been sitting and marinating my emotions for the several intervening days from then until now, there is no question that witnessing that show was one of the most profound and emotional experiences I have ever had in the audience over decades of watching musical theatre. I don't really want to rehash what dozens of critics and theatre-goers have already written about this brilliant musical. That would truly be an unworthy exercise in mental masturbation, but I will give a few answers to some very basic queries some of you have asked about the evening.

Yes. The Husband did pay an ungodly sum for our tickets. I won't embarrass either one of us by publishing the actual number, but I do know that he felt his largesse was truly vindicated by the performance. This was the first time in over thirty years of dragging him to musicals whereby he said that he really wants to see this one again because he feels that he hasn't fully processed it. I have to admit that he stunned me with that admission.

Yes. The cast we saw was excellent. Were they as good as the original? I can't answer that because I never had the good fortune to see that award-winning group, but this cast of actors was off the charts brilliant and incredibly talented. Their voices were strong and the acting impressive as hell. This young ensemble made my Hamilton experience singular and I was engrossed from note one.

Yes. I was terribly concerned that the hype was overplayed and that I would be disappointed. The Husband kept asking me if I was excited and I kept downplaying my emotions. It seemed impossible that anything could live up to the reviews and massive media reports. I won't say that it surpassed the hype, (honestly..how could it?) but it was certainly a unique and singularly impressive theatre experience.

Yes. I believe that this show is one of those rare experiences that moves the needle for the Broadway musical. Every so often, a show comes along that changes the definition of the artform. It started way back with Show Boat by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II in 1927. Show Boat was a radical departure from the trivial burlesque and "follies" that had preceded it as it married musical spectacle with serious drama. Those watershed Broadway musicals moments are few but important. Porgy and Bess gave us the first American operetta. Oklahoma! gifted us with the book musical and fully integrated choreography into the storytelling. West Side Story allowed it's lead characters to die and not have a happy ending. Hair integrated modern themes and explored rock and roll for the first time within the confines of the musical theatre stage. Cats demonstrated that a series of independent stories strung together could act in cohesive harmony. Rent allowed for the exploration of modern alienation. And finally, Hamilton has continued the work Mr. Miranda began in In the Heights where he married the beats and rhymes of hip-hop with the elegance of jazz, r&b, and traditional Broadway belting. The simplicity of the choreography belies the complexity of the source material. The historicity he imparts to the audience is poetic and he takes great care to present his subject matter without fear or favour. Hamilton is a watershed moment in the history of Broadway musical theatre and I do believe it carries a mark of brilliance.

Yes. I do want to see it again. Like The Husband said, it is impossible to digest it all in just one sitting.

No. Hearing and memorizing the soundtrack isn't nearly enough to get the full picture of the true brilliance of this particular piece. I have had the music playing almost non-stop for close to two years and I still wasn't prepared for what I saw.

Yes. You should pony up for whatever it costs when this show comes to your city. Even if you think it isn't in your musical "wheelhouse", you should see it anyway. I do believe it is that important a work of art. It is kind of like saying that you won't see a Picasso exhibit because blue isn't your favourite colour.

***As a quick footnote to our weekend on Broadway, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the other two plays we saw. Sweat is a brilliant and difficult dissertation on working class alienation. It is the winner of this year's Pulitzer Prize for Drama and is nominated for several Tony awards. And of course...there was the Divine Miss M. Never before has a role so perfectly suited an actress. Bette Midler was born to play Dolly Levi. She is "of age" and frankly her voice is showing some wear and tear, but it really worked in the part and she happily moved about the stage with the flamboyance that the role dictates. David Hyde-Pierce is her perfect foil as Horace and was every bit her equal. Hello Dolly! is an old-fashioned, rip-roaring, over-the-top Broadway crowd-pleaser and it succeeds on every level.

Broadway is my happy place but it is even more so when I get to witness history.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

My Oven Was Trying to Kill Me

Today I made hard-boiled eggs in the microwave.

I never even knew it was possible to make hard-boiled eggs in the microwave. I mean....why on earth would anybody, anywhere willingly choose to make hard-boiled eggs in a microwave? For me, the microwave has always been a glorified double boiler/butter melter/pizza re-heater. I simply don't cook in a microwave.

Maybe it's because of the less than appetizing food that seems to come out the microwave. Perhaps it's an unnatural fear of radiation poisoning our meals. Perhaps it's just the reality that a microwave is a cooking tool rather than a full-fledged cooking device. Whatever the reason, today, out of sheer necessity, I made hard-boiled eggs in the microwave.

Why?

Because our full-fledged cooking device has been thankfully euthanized. Our stove, which hasn't functioned properly since we moved in here, is about to become a matte-finished heap of useless scrap metal. May it forever rot into whatever hell stoves/ovens descend.

We knew when we bought this place that the oven was less than optimal. The gas burners didn't properly ignite and the gas stove, which I will admit to being fearful of and less than enthusiastic about, cooked unevenly and overheated on a regular basis. The previous owners needed to get the oven into working order and to their credit, they did just that. It was our own fault that we didn't include a "please do not incinerate our food" clause into the real estate offer. The oven consistently ran about seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit hotter than any set temperature, so it wasn't unusual for cookies to come out charred or roasted cauliflower to become a meal fit for Satan.

Repairing a seventeen-year-old oven seemed silly. We knew that a replacement would need to be found, but we also knew that we would be spending the winter south so procrastination was definitely in order. I started doing the research on new ovens while in the Southern Home and while I often hyperventilated over the cost of even the most basic of said devices, I knew that a functioning oven wasn't a luxury.

Our timeline was accelerated during my cooking preparations for Passover. When a batch of my chocolate macaroons came out flambéd after only 8 minutes at 270 degrees, we knew that we were at the end. Not only that, we started smelling gas on a regular basis. I was getting paranoid. Was our oven trying to slowly poison us or maybe a grand explosion was in the cards? When The Husband lit a Yahrzeit candle for his father on the last evening of Pesach, I hurriedly moved it to a different area of the condo for fear of us both winding up on top of the dome. Whatever the issue, we knew we were done. The Husband (thanks to the Divine Spirit for a handy husband) found the gas shut-off and we have been without a functioning stove or oven for almost a week now.

We are limited in our options. Due to the configuration of our condo kitchen, we need to have a downdraft. A hood and a fan aren't really options in an open concept design with twelve-foot ceilings. The stove would have to fit neatly into a previously designed spot which meant a 31-inch slide-in model. I really wanted to keep the gas burners but was adamant that we have an electric oven, which meant dual-fuel. When all the research was completed, we realized that we only had a choice between two models. Ruling out the Jenn-Aire was a no-brainer. We haven't had good experiences with this company in the past, and thus we were left with Kitchen-Aid. The reviews on it are positive so we ordered it.

The appliance store insisted that their installer must come out to take a look at the situation before they would even allow us to make the purchase. Sam showed up on the day of the second seder. He pulled and prodded. He hemmed and hawed and then said haltingly, "I'm not sure that it's possible."

What. The. Fuck???

Sam (who for some reason insists that we call him Mac) told us that the downdraft from the old oven is in the wrong place and he is pretty sure that the new oven won't fit. I asked him what the solution might be and he said without any trace of irony or amusement, "You might have to do a full kitchen remodel."

What. The. Absolute. Fuck????

I remained calm in the face of stupidity. "Sam/Mac," said I. "We are not remodeling the kitchen unless you are offering to do the work gratis. Obviously, we need a stove. You are basically telling us that there isn't a SINGLE model on the market today that will work? Your job is to make it work. MAKE. IT. WORK!"

Sam/Mac got back down on his hands and knees, hemmed, hawed, huffed, and puffed and lo and behold came up with a solution. A Pesach miracle. He tells us that the installation experience (?) takes three days. One day to uninstall the old piece of shit that wants to send us into the world beyond. A second day to deliver the new model and remove the old piece of shit that wants to send us into the world beyond. And finally, a third day for Sam/Mac to install my heavenly new piece of nirvana.

Day one was today.

Hopefully, we are on tap for delivery of the new machine tomorrow and we can kick this piece of crap into the gutter.

But until Sam/Mac returns on Friday, reconnects the new stove, and gives us a gas feed that isn't going to launch us into orbit when we ignite the burners, I will continue to make hard-boiled eggs in the microwave. Our very safe, possibly radioactive microwave.

I suddenly feel an overwhelming need to take a Silkwood shower.







Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Another Vignette of Tikkun Olam

Another quick and really nice story from the streets of urban Toronto.

I know, I know. 

I am in danger of losing my official membership card to the "Curmudgeonly Gadfly" club, but my psyche has been in desperate need of good news stories. Trust me. When baseball is no longer an escape but instead it has a compounding effect on my acid-reflux, you know that I am on a precarious perch. So when I see deeds of loving kindness up close and personal, I feel an overwhelming need to share.

Yesterday, The Husband and I had an appointment in the east end of the city that required a ride on the Queen streetcar. While waiting at the stop, we noticed a gentleman who had obviously spent the frigid night before sleeping in the bus shelter. He was amiably chatting with some other familiar locals and just trying to keep the crisp April morning air at bay.

While we continued to wait, I noticed that the Tim Horton's directly behind us was doing its usual brisk early morning business. Easter Monday is a school holiday here so the place was filled with young families as well as young urbanites who were languidly enjoying the slower pace of the day. Just before our streetcar arrived, two young women exited the shop with several orders of coffee. They approached the gentleman and explained that they had been given a free coffee and were wondering if he would like to have it. He very politely declined their offer and thanked them for their thoughtfulness but he explained that he really didn't care for coffee. However, if they were willing, he would really love to have a chocolate donut. He hoped that they weren't offended by his request. Quite the contrary, they told him that it was not a problem at all and they would be more than happy to get him his treat. They then proceeded back into Timmie's to purchase it.

After seeing so much incivility in the news lately and being constantly led by world and business leaders to believe that being an asshole gets one further in this world, these small and random acts of kindness that I have witnessed lately are helping to fuel my yetzer ha-tov, my better inclination. It certainly doesn't mean that I have lost my cynicism or that I am going to start farting rainbows and unicorns but these episodes do serve to remind me that so many people are inherently decent.

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Ha-Olam
She-natan lanu hizdamnut l'takein et ha-olam

Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, for giving us the opportunity to mend the world. 

**With thanks to Dan Nichols and Rabbi Ron Klotz

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

A Small Act of Tikkun Olam

How about a quick but really nice story?

I spent a great deal of my morning today running pre-Pesach errands up and down Bathurst Street in torrential rains. I swear that I saw raccoons and squirrels marching two by two in midtown in search of an ark, that's how bad the weather was. Drivers were in no mood to slow down and believe me, I saw more than one poor pedestrian get soaked by discourteous cars and buses. It was an all-around icky early morning.

And then I witnessed the best of this city.

As I approached Bathurst and St. Clair, I saw a cab (yes a cab!) pull over to the side of the road in order to disembark its passenger. Drivers, angry at the lane blockage, honked and gesticulated in nasty ways. The cabbie ignored it all and adamantly refused to allow his senior-citizen female passenger to open her own door. Instead, he got out of his driver's seat in the teeming rain, ran around to the curbside, opened the back passenger-side door for the woman, and walked her to her destination with an umbrella. It was a small but very distinct act of goodwill and kindness.

There are so much misery and nastiness these days that sometimes I forget that so many are just decent people at heart. We often forget that we are all responsible for each other and at times a little reminder of how acts of love and kindness can truly repair the world is really in order.

This morning, in the rains and windswept streets of Toronto, I witnessed a small gesture of Tikkun Olam, the reparation of the world. I won't soon forget it.




Friday, 17 March 2017

The Dimming of the Day

וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים | לָאוֹר יוֹם וְלַחשֶׁךְ קָרָא לָיְלָה וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר יוֹם אֶחָד

Va-yikra Elohim La-or yom v'la-chodesh kara laila, Va-y'hi erev va-y'hi boker yom echad.

And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night, and there was evening and there was morning, one day. (Gen 1:5)

I have recently become rather enamoured with sunsets.

I can't really explain this new-found infatuation other than to say that residency here in the Southern Home does afford the opportunity for me to gaze upon some of the most vivid and spectacular twilights. It would be easy to become complacent about the majesty, but so far I have not.



And these are just from my balcony using little to no filter. (The iPhone 7 has an amazing camera.)

Watching the sun do its daily disappearing act to the other side of the world has raised a myriad of existential questions for me, but rather than bore you all with my mid-life panic attacks and angst, I thought I might focus on just one.

Why is watching a sunset so captivating?

So, as is my habit, I turned first to my religious roots.

The highlighted verse above from Genesis is commonly used to explain why we Jews view our days as beginning at sunset rather than at sunrise.

There was evening and there was morning...

Evening comes first.

Some rabbinic scholars have used this text as a metaphor for life itself. We begin our days within the darkness of the womb and burst forward into the light. (A bit too cheesy and grade school for my liking, but what's a good religion without a few heavy-handed metaphors?)

But what if rather than secularly thinking of sunrise as the beginning of our day, we paused to consider that dusk could actually be that point in time when things renew. Perhaps my infatuation with the sunset is less about reflections on the day that has passed and rather it is a rumination on what lies ahead in the coming of the light

As I began to post some of my photos on social media, a friend shared her thoughts with me.

"I finally figured out in part what my fascination is. It has to do with seeing the beauty in transition. We are often fearful of transition in our lives but the shots remind me of just how beautiful it can be."

And then she sent me this....
Photo: Elaine P
I know...right???

I think that there is merit in her idea. We all seem to struggle with change, but the setting sun seems to reassure us that there is beauty in the struggle and excitement in the coming darkness. The new day is always filled with the possibilities.

I would also like to think that there is a modicum of hope splashing around in there somewhere. These are trying times. Each day lately seems to bring new fears, new anguish, new-found anger, new divisions, new misery. The glow of the sky in the early evening seems to suggest to me that things can get better. Even at my most pessimistic (and believe me when I say that the last few months have seen me at the depths of my cynicism) the renewal of the sunset hints at a confidence and an optimism.

I can't end this rambling without a nod to my own name. Dawn literally means beginning and it is synonymous with the first light of day. I'm am not discounting the optimism that could very surely lay in the rising of the sun nor am I dismissing the beauty of a sunrise, but I do think that both I and the time of day my name is borne from are slightly less mesmerizing than dusk. 

I will leave you all with several photos from my travels. These are all originals and were taken by either The Husband or myself. I ask that if you share them, please give due credit.



Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam, oseh ma-aseh v'reisheet.

We praise you Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, who makes the work of creation.


Key West

Sydney Australia
Uluru
Ketchikan Alaska
Vancouver British Columbia
Bahamas
Key West

Send me your best sunset photos. I would love to see them. 

Shabbat Shalom

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Holy Work on Shabbat

I am spending Shabbat morning watching this scene from my balcony.

Why you may ask?

Well before I answer that question, a bit of backstory is in order.

This is the pool in our building in the Southern Home. Several months ago, the city found several problems with the now almost thirty-year-old structure and insisted on repairs. The condo association tried to put off the fixes for as long as possible (read: until the snowbird season was concluded) but the city would have none of it. If the repairs weren't done in a timely manner, fines would be imposed. So last week, the pool was drained and work began on the removal of tile, the reparation of cracks, lighting replacement, and various other smaller issues. We were told that the project could take several weeks and as such, those who used the pool on a regular basis would need to make alternate arrangements. Yes, there was plenty of bitching and moaning from people in the building, but sometimes there just isn't a choice. 

Given the location of the pool with respect to our condo, the Husband and I have had a front-row seat to the action. And it has been surprisingly and hypnotically entertaining. 

At times it felt as though the job would never get started let alone completed. We saw a lot of standing around by workers. While there were at least four guys here on any given day, it was rare to see more than one work at a time. Granted, we are not pool repair people and are ignorant to the craft, but it did seem that more than a few dramatic domestic issues were being played out on phone calls than actual pool repair. (Yes...we can hear conversations clearly and I really hope that whoever was on the other end of one particularly vile string of expletives was smart enough to leave the SOB.) 

That said, while the work did seem to progress at the pace of a snail racing a sponge, it did progress.  I noticed that I was starting to recognize the various craftspeople and to understand what each particular contribution was to the project as a whole. There were the tile master and the concrete pourer. There were the electrician and the apprentice. There was the one guy who was here for one day and fired the next. (We know he was fired because they talked about it...loudly.) I noticed the particular dynamics of their work environment, how it actually functioned like a well-choreographed dance. I observed how some of the guys had an obvious report and how they might ignore or playfully haze the newcomers. But mostly, I was enthralled by their music.

In the early days, we were treated to the dulcet tones of Luther Vandross and Anita Baker. R&B wafted up to our apartment and it soothed. And the men....they sang along. They sang with passion and they sang with warmth. They sang without even knowing they were singing. It came from their souls. One gentleman, in particular, has a voice that any cantor would kill for and the echoing of his deep baritone off of the empty pool walls cascaded upward like a gift from the gods.

A few days ago, their music choices inexplicably changed to gospel. There were affirmations and holy exclamations. We were witness to a revival and a collective baptism in a pool without water. They were renewed. They were cleansed. Those craftsmen brought God to this place.

This morning, on Shabbat morning, sixteen men came to work. (They are trying to speed up the project and hopefully will finish early next week.) And they came to sing. And, oh how they sing.  These men are most definitely experiencing the presence of the Divine Spirit as they inch towards the completion of their task. These men have found a measure of holiness in their labour, a sense of Kadosh, and they are sharing it with me. I can't imagine a more precious gift.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “The Sabbath is the presence of God in the world, open to the soul of man.” God is not in things of space, but in moments of time.” 

Thank you to these generous souls who gave me a glimpse of The Divine Spirit on this Shabbat.