Monday, 30 November 2009

What to Cook on the Night Before?

What does one cook on the night before entering into self-decreed vegetarianism? Is it incumbent upon me to empty out the refrigerator and the freezer of all things animal? Do I toss the last bits of turkey chili into the trash and do I scrub out the last remnants of chicken curry from a weekend meal? Or do I instead, have a smorgasbord meal. A last blowout of carnivorous indulgence that will probably result in what my dear friend labels "the meat sweats"! It is kind of like getting stinking drunk the night before adopting a dry lifestyle. Does that totally contradict what I am attempting to accomplish, or does it serve to remind me of what I am planning to forgo? It is a difficult choice, considering the fact that I still haven't heard definitively from The Husband if he intends to join me in this new dietary habit. If he cannot enter into the pact free from reservation or qualification, then that leftover turkey chili will come in mighty handy as a meal for him when I am busy experimenting with new dishes that centre around tofu, quinoa and black beans. On the other hand, do I want to become a short-order cook and have to prepare separate meals for each of us?

I think that this vacillating is demonstrative of the questions that I am having about this entire project, and I do believe that this is healthy. If this new chapter in my life has any hope of taking a permanent foothold, I have to be able to reconcile all of the various issues that are certain to crop up. I will need to be able to answer for myself why I choose to do this, and if I cannot be satisfied with the answers, why I will choose to abandon it come January 1. While fascinating on a personal discovery level, it doesn't bring me any closer to the question of what to make for dinner on this the night before. To meat or not to meat? That is the question!

Sunday, 29 November 2009

A New Way of Looking at Food

This post is my 300th since I began this blog two years ago. I decided that in order to fully honour this auspicious occasion, something dramatic and monumental was in order. Okay. So maybe what I am about to say isn't all that dramatic, nor is it particularly monumental, but it is a bit of a change for me. On December 1st (Tuesday for all of you poor souls without handy access to a calendar) I plan to embark upon an experiment in ethical eating and vegetarianism. Allow me to elucidate.

This is not the first time that I have embarked upon a vegetarian lifestyle. I have been a sort of rogue vegetarian off and on since high school. At the time, it was a way to assert my independence and my sense of self. A kind of bumper sticker mentality that would hopefully (and hopelessly, as it turned out!) make this music geek more palatable to a wider variety of high school cliques. The downside of my aborted meat boycott was the 25 or so pounds that I packed on when carbs became the focus of my diet. I was incredibly naive. I thought that I could simply remove an entire food group from my diet and not suffer the physical repercussions that were inevitable. Nobody thought to school me on protein or iron deficiencies, nor did we have a complete understanding on complex carbohydrates and the difference between a good carb and a bad carb. Back then, soy and soy products were things to be ridiculed, rather than embraced. I clearly remember the shunning that took place when an aunt dared to bring a tofu cheesecake to a family dinner. Oh, the horror!! Jews and tofu simply didn't mix. I returned to a meat eating diet, albeit minus most red meat because I simply do not like the taste, in part to pacify my horrified health care professional mother, and in part to better regulate my weight, iron levels and protein issues.

I returned to vegetarianism for several summers while working at camp. Again, my reasons were somewhat less than altruistic. The food at camp sucked! And while this wonderful Reform Jewish camp didn't offer a kosher menu, (it was the Midwest of the 1970s and 80s) it did offer an alternative vegetarian menu for all of us so inclined. The food on the veggie bill of fare was marginally better than the swill emanating from the regular kitchen, so I enthusiastically signed on. The catch was that once one was labelled vegetarian, one had to remain so for the entire summer. No waffling allowed. No sneaking fried chicken on Shabbat. I had no problem adhering to the rules, but the problem was that the camp cook believed that a vegetarian diet was primarily based on the constant consumption of cheese. By the end of the summer, I had honestly forgotten that broccoli was supposed to be green in colour, carrots orange, or that protein could be found in sources outside of the cow.

The last many years have been spent outside of the realm of vegetarianism. I have still shunned most red meat, but poultry, seafood and fish are staples. I have an issue with lactose intolerance, so most of my focus has been spent trying to remain healthy after a meal, rather than worrying about the meat industry and its effects on our environment or on my body. Stomach issues are not pretty. I have been continually preaching healthy eating habits in my home for as long as anybody here can recall, but it is true that I am not a saint, and I fall off of the wagon more times than I care to recount. I have a penchant for chocolate and I love french fries. Bread is one of the great inventions in the history of mankind. It is right on up there with penicillin and the wheel, as far as I am concerned. Food is important for so many reasons to me and it is important that healthy eating doesn't forever get in the way of enjoyable eating. That is why I am taking such an intense look at this foray into vegetarianism this time around, and why it is tied up with a heightened interest in ethical eating.

Here are the ground rules as set down by the commissioner. (That would be me!) This experiment will commence on December 1st and run for at least the entire month. I will forgo all animal flesh during that time, but I will continue to consume dairy (lactose-free!) and eggs. Just call me a lacto-ovo vegetarian for the month. I will chronicle the entire process through this blog. I have numerous questions and concerns that I am hoping will be answered either by my own experiences, or by you the readers. I have asked The Husband to join me on this quest of self-discovery, and to his extremely carnivorous credit, he is giving the matter considerable thought. If he chooses not to embark on the journey, there will be no judgement. I have decided to use the month of December for very specific reasons. Firstly, we are only going to be in the northern home for another two weeks and then we head south for three more. I really wanted to live the life in a variety of situations. Secondly, we will be going on a cruise for one week during the month, and I wanted to get a handle on vacationing as a vegetarian. Anybody who has ever been on a cruise knows all too well the importance and centrality of the food. Thirdly, I have a birthday at the end of the month, and the date seemed a logical time to shoot for as a goal. Finally, much of December is food focused. Holidays, family gatherings and vacations are all intertwined with menu preparations. Could there be there a better time to focus on what is going into my body?

I don't expect this to be easy, nor do I expect to feel deprived. I simply want to look at my life and eating habits with a new and hopefully more conscientious focus. I expect the road ahead to be challenging but intriguing. Happy 300th to me!

Friday, 27 November 2009

How Much Longer?

For any of you who have followed this blog since its earliest days, you will recall that it began as a recounting of our kitchen renovations in the fall of 2007. You can find the link for those early posts on the bottom right of this page. Home improvements have been a constant theme throughout the course of my marriage. We are always attending to something. It could be as basic as cleaning the gutters, or as involved as gutting the kitchen. Most of the responsibility for this constant state of redecorating and renovating turmoil definitely lies with The Husband.

I am forever in awe of my guy's abilities. He has a fix-it gene that seems to lay dormant in most Jewish men, and he has a way of looking at a project that can foresee the underlying beauty as opposed to wanting to attack every problem with a sledgehammer and circular saw. The Husband also has an innate need for constant change. I think that it is the curse of the truly brilliant that they bore easily and endlessly, and therefore require the new and improved in order to keep them truly engaged. This defines The Husband to a tee. He is always searching for the next great thing. Often he can satisfy these urges with a new toy. (At the moment, his new iPhone is filling a tremendous void!) Sometimes, a new project can fulfill his needs. (This is an ideal time for a commercial for Still Waters Vodka, now available at a location near you. Please pick up a bottle to help enhance your holiday celebrations.) But, every so often that home renovation urge kicks in and my man has to scratch his itch. Such is the case with our supposedly simple bedroom project.

Many months ago, it became quite apparent to the both of us that our bedroom required an upgrade. We had been sleeping on a mattress that was well past the expiration date, our threadbare linens dated back to the Clinton administration and the paint on the walls was washed out and depressing. Given the economy, and the knowledge that the changes required were little more than cosmetic, we came up with a scaled back plan of redecoration by which both we and our bank account could abide. The first job was the bed. We had been sleeping (or attempting to sleep) in a worn out mattress that fit in an over-sized wrought-iron 4 poster frame. The frame was far too big for the room and we desperately wanted to scale it back. The Husband went to work on the bed, removing the posts and replacing them with finials that created a much more comfortable and relaxing environment. It wasn't any easy job and it required a few tools that I am still unfamiliar with. It took several weeks to work out the issue, but work it out he did. We were ready for step two; mattress removal and replacement.

A trip to Sleep Country Canada had been on our calendar for weeks, but I hate shopping on Saturdays. For several years I have attempted to keep Shabbat in my own way, and shopping on Saturday is one of the things that has disappeared. The Husband is only available on weekends due to his busy schedule, so finding a suitable Sunday to test beds was a challenge. High Holidays this year all gathered on the weekends, so our mattress dancing journey was inevitably delayed. Just as we were about to venture forth into the world of Sealy, Serta and Simmons, The Husband abruptly decided that maybe we should search for linens at the same time so that we would be prepared when then new mattress arrived.

The white sale was my domain. Anybody who has ever tried to procure decent and beautiful sheets in Canada, does so in the States. We just do not have the same kind of selection that our American cousins have. Since a trip to Buffalo was not in the cards, I did the next best thing. I went south on the internet. After requisite stops to the usual haunts here in the GTA and coming up unsurprisingly empty-handed, I went for a virtual shop. I found what I was looking for on This wonderful company buys up overstocked merchandise from retailers and offers them at cut rate prices on the web. Overstock recently began shipping north of the border and I was able to find wonderful thread count sheets and finishings at a very decent cost. Ordering done, The Husband and I headed to lie horizontally on a dozen or so king-sized. An hour of foolishness later and our new mattress was ordered and scheduled to arrive at or around the same time as the linens. All was going well, and it seemed that the only task left in our mini reno work was to paint the walls.

The inevitable fly in the ointment. I knew that it was too good to be true. I begged The Husband to hire a professional painter. It wasn't that I doubted his abilities to paint. Far from it. I know how good he is at this stuff. I just wanted the project to take a day or two at the most, and I was concerned that if he tackled the job, it would take weeks or months. He laughed and mocked me. "It is only four walls and a ceiling", he sneered. "It won't take me long!!" Famous last words. We picked our colours on October 24th. How do I know the exact date? Well it was Parashat Noach (the Torah portion for the week was Noah) and we ran into a temple choir member at Home Depot who was also doing some painting and had chosen Noah's Ark blue for her basement. Kitsch? Maybe, but the date stuck with me. We bought all of the supplies, save the paint, because The Husband wanted me to bring home the samples to be absolutely certain of the colours. He didn't bring the paint home for another 10 days!! Why? Don't know! But something always seemed to get in the way. I came home from a Saturday morning service a week later to find the trim and doors painted. The next week, he did the ceiling and the following week, he taped the walls. We had decided to paint three walls a honeysuckle gold and one wall, the one with the bed, a cherry red. The gold had to come first. Two Sundays ago, I finally had gold walls. A couple of days later, hoping to finally complete the job, he stripped the tape off of the gold so that he could re-tape on the soon to be red wall. Disaster. (You can't be surprised!) For some inexplicable reason, the tape between the ceiling and the freshly painted walls stuck mercilessly, and stripped huge chunks of gold paint. He was crestfallen and sulked for three days. This past week, he hand painted the entire perimetre of the room. It was frustrating and time consuming, but brilliantly done. Hopefully, the red wall will get done this weekend, but I will believe it when I see it.

It is really amazing what a fresh coat of paint will do for a room. We had decided to spruce up without breaking the bank, and the finished product will look spectacular if and when it ever gets completed. My guy is truly great at this stuff, but speed is definitely not his strong suit. I should have learned my lesson about home renovations and The Husband years ago, but it seems as if I am doomed to live a Groundhog Day existence forever more. Six weeks and counting? It could be worse.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

I Require Remedies for Sore Legs

A few more quick hit thoughts from the final day of the food and wine show.

1. I absolutely hate dance music. The constant backbeat emanating from the bartending school directly across from our booth is enough to make me puncture my eardrums with a rusty spoon and relish the bleed! Not only that, they have been playing the same 20 songs on a mix loop all weekend long. I used to enjoy Kid Rock's "Sweet Home Alabama All Summer Long". I think that I have heard the f$&@ing song 50 times in the past 36 hours. Guantanamo could learn a few things from the school of mixology!

2. The world is definitely divided into 2 classes-douchebags and everybody else. Most people coming to the booth have been absolutely lovely. They are kind, respectful, and eager to taste the product. And then there are the miscreants better left in the garbage holes they crawled out from. I have been perpetually stunned by the assholes who cannot seem to grasp the legal mandate of a measured pour. We have had a few belligerents try everything from bribery to threats attempting to induce an extra half a ounce from the boys. Douchebags are douchebags whether they are drunk or sober.

3. There is definitely an underworld of deal-making that happens at these shows. The guys have become friends with our neighbours in the extreme bean/Caesar rimmer booth to our left. Together we are mixing up a wicked Caesar! We are also a bit ticked off at the bartending school for actively pushing our competition, even after a very pleasant conversation that we hoped would even the playing field. No such luck. I believe that money has changed hands.

4. Finally, my legs are screaming at me for relief. After four consecutive days and nights of standing, they feel as though they have been whipped continuously with leather lashes at a high rate of speed and then bathed in vinegar. My knees are as rigid as the tinman's before the oilcan. I am not unused to sore legs. I walk or run several miles a week for exercise, but this is a new kind of misery. Any remedies from the masses are welcome.

Four hours and counting. If you have yet to buy a bottle of Still Waters Vodka, get to a store near you today or check them out at

Saturday, 21 November 2009

A Game to Pass the Time

A few more random thoughts as I try to look useful at the food and wine show, going on this weekend at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

1. Do conspicuous consumers of food and drink really need to feel as though they are indulging inside of a refrigerator? It has been a constant source of amazement to me since we started this marathon at how fricking frigid it is in here. The temperature seems to be inversely proportionate to the amount of people in the room. The busier it gets, the colder it gets. They tell me that this is an ideal environment to sell vodka. I'm just plain cold!! I have been seen several times over the past 48 hours in full winter regalia, gloves included! I feel like I am in Vegas where they purposefully lower the thermostats in the casinos in order to encourage wakefullness and supposed sobriety. Of course, the half-naked refugees from Sex and the City don't seem at all fazed by their trek through the tundra!

2. The Older Son and I have been playing a people watching game entitled "Spot the agent from the AGCO". Apparently the alcohol and gaming commission has been here in full force, but they like to play it cool, discreet, and undercover. Maybe the hidden agent is the middle- aged guy with a pot-belly and silver mullet? Maybe it is the hoser bitch who claimed that the vodka, which has been in an ice bath since yesterday morning, wasn't cold enough for her? Maybe it is the Muslim couple in traditional garb, conspicuously avoiding all alcohol booths? Or, maybe it was the slightly tipsy twenty-something wearing the tell-taled iron ring of all Canadian engineers, who kept coming back for refills with her friends hoping that we would comp her a shot! No dice!! The game continues.

Keep posted for further updates. I need to go find my gloves. My fingers are freezing!

Friday, 20 November 2009

Am I whoring out my children?

A few random thoughts as I sit here as useless as tits on a bull at the food and wine show at the Metro Toronto Convention Cente.

1. Is this any way for a nice Jewish girl to spend Shabos? Here I co-mingle with thousands of would-be lushes as they often pretentiously sniff and snort their way to inebriation, which has to be their vision quest. On the other hand, The Husband's vodka is garnering rave reviews and I still am paying college tuition for one child, so anything that pushes our way into the crowded Canadian bars is a virtous way to spend God's holy day.

2. Am I a crappy mother? We have enlisted the help of all of the offspring to help in this most important show of shows. There is something incredibly unsettling watching one's children describe alcoholic beverages in vivid detail and become animatedly excited at the same time. Twin Son put his lovely daughter to work chatting up the customers and there is no doubt that traffic has markedly increased. Is this what we have become? Vodka pimps?

There will be much more to share as the weekend progresses. Stay tuned. In the meantime, get thee to a liquour store and purchase a bottle of Still Waters vodka. Mama needs a new pair of shoes!

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Bruised But Not Beaten

On my way to Kabbalat Shabbat services on Friday evening, I took a tumble-literally. I know that there are three stairs leading from my home into the garage, but I apparently decided that one was sufficient and completely avoided the bottom two. Consequently, I ended up with cuts, scrapes, and bruises from my right hip to my right ankle, a sore lower back, and a butt decorated with more hues than the indigo end of the colour spectrum. (For all of you long time Blue Jay fans, George Bell's butt has nothing on mine!!) For the most part I was incredibly fortunate. Aside from some obvious discomfort, I neither broke anything, nor did anything tear. I didn't injure my head and the only other thing of consequence that suffered measurable damage was my pride. I mention this Jack and Jill adventure not solely to elicit sympathy, (although a little bit of oohing and ahing from the peanut gallery wouldn't hurt at all!) but to share where I landed and how I think that it has some symbolic relevance. You see, I ended up, butter side down, smack dab in the centre of one of our blue box recycling bins. The backpack I was carrying, filled with my service music, siddur, tallit and song sheets, found a resting place in the green bin used for organic composting.

There is something strangely ironic about finding oneself amongst the recycling. It is almost as if the cosmos were sending me a message. While old ideas and thoughts can be comforting and easy, it often takes a grand leap of faith (or in my case, a tumble!) to venture into the new, provocative and unknown. The new takes work and practice and time. The old and recycled requires little thought or energy. The innovative needs planning and careful execution. The old appears unimaginative, uninspired and pedestrian. It seems to me that we all need to save ourselves from the recycling. We must continually challenge ourselves to try new and sometimes terrifying endeavours. We must never let ourselves become complacent or bored, lest we become boring. Building on the old to develop the new should be exciting, not frightening. We cannot allow ourselves to dismiss that which we do not understand simply because we are too lazy, too old or too nervous to learn anew.

There was also a strange synergy associated with the fact that my religious materials found their resting place amongst the organics. My personal conversation with God is inextricably linked with my being. It is a deeply internal conviction that I wouldn't presume to impose on anybody else, but my faith and my Judaism are living, breathing parts of me. It is that constant searching for religious truth in a modern world that has led me to push myself forward, even when life has been its most challenging, and complacency would certainly have been the easiest course to take.

It was almost as if my little slip down the stairs was meant as a little tap on the shoulder from the powers that be. Be more aware of the actions that I am taking; become more engaged in newness and freshness, lest I become obsolete, and recommit myself to personal and holistic growth. Landing on my ass was just about the best lesson I could have had this week.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Biennial and H1N1

I had my pig flu inoculation yesterday. Now before any of you accuse me of queue jumping or inappropriate health care protocol, I would like to remind you that I am considered high risk due to my chronic asthma. Breathing may be a bodily function that most of us take for granted, but trust me, when it is something that becomes laboured, one truly realizes its importance. My arm is a bit sore, (nothing out of the ordinary from the seasonal flu vaccination that I am subjected to annually) and there is a bit of bruising around the injection site. Again, nothing that a couple of extra strength Tylenol can't address. I should also mention that while my doctor is fairly certain that I have already suffered through a bout with this miserable virus, there is always a chance for a recurrence and I refuse to play host for another pathogen party.

Contrary to the myriad of conflicting evidence about vaccinations on the internet, I prefer to take my medical advice from trained professionals; namely doctors and public health officials. (With sincere apologies to skeptics like Bill Maher, Glenn Beck, or Jenny McCarthy.) I will not profess to know everything or anything about the composition of said vaccines, or their potential effects on the body, (I will leave that up to the experts!) but I do know a bit about what it feels like to suffer through the swine flu. I do know that it can be devastating on the body and I do know that in the wrong person, the effects can be catastrophic. I do know that it is spreading like wildfire, (According to the Centre for Disease Control the flu is now widespread in 48 out of 50 states and Health Canada reports that it is now in all provinces and territories) and that it is easily spread through cursory contact. (Washing our hands and Purelling is all well and good, but I shudder at the thought of air travel this holiday season with all of the hackers, sneezers and drippers!) I believe that having the shot is a public health issue. If I get the vaccine, then that is one less person that is likely to be felled by this miserable virus. One less person clogging emergency rooms and doctors offices. One less person missing work or school. One less person spreading it around. I choose to stay healthy and I am helping my fellow citizens stay healthy as well. Obviously, vaccinations are a personal choice and I can do nothing to convince any of you to inoculate yourselves or your families. I am simply stating my personal preference.

The Biennial was a little like my swine flu inoculation. It has taken me a few days to decompress from the whirlwind that was the 70th Union For Reform Judaism Biennial. I wanted to breathe for a bit before I offered an assessment of the five and a half days that I spent in the heart of my hometown. Biennial conventions can be like camp. They are filled with great programming, phenomenal music, incredible ruach, (spirit) wonderful friends, and spiritual renewal. But, like camp the glow fades and reality takes over when faced with the truth. Biennials can do nothing to help the overall health of a congregation unless one is willing to take the shot. We must take all that we have gleaned from the convention to renew the health and well-being of our congregations. One cannot become inoculated by osmosis. One cannot simply expect others to do the hard work necessary to make our congregational communities relevant. In other words, many more need to make the commitment to full Biennial participation if the whole of the kehillah expects to remain healthy.

I learned a great deal over the last week at the Biennial. I took home some wonderful new music, some innovative service ideas, some programs that I think might translate well to my congregation and some new friendships. Mostly what was renewed in me was the sense that our congregations are all about relationships. We need to value our people and our programs will follow. We need to understand that our synagogues are not businesses in the traditional model, and that our members are not shareholders waiting for return on their investments. We rely heavily on our volunteers and they need to be made to feel as integral to our success as is the clergy. Simple letters of thanks aren't trite, they are essential. Youth programs aren't a drain on our resources, they are an investment in our future. Technology, websites, social networking and blogs like this one are the new media and we cannot get stuck in old and traditional models that no longer reach or meet the needs of our members. Rabbi Yoffie challenged all of us to update our technology in his Shabbat sermon, and we can no longer use the excuse of lack of time, knowledge, or money to block us in appropriately meeting the needs of our members. We are losing touch, and synagogues should be all about touch.

I will have a great deal more to say about synagogues and community outreach in upcoming posts. It has become a personal passion and I have come to the very real conclusion that in order to survive, synagogues and we synagogue leaders by natural extension, need to radically alter the model. The paradigm is simply outdated and needs a complete overall. If we hope to keep the synagogue at the centre of Jewish life, we need to wholly reexamine our goals, our direction, and our vision. At the top of this list should be to inoculate ourselves with the medication that is already available through participation in future Biennials. It might not be the panacea we crave, but it is a good start.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Flexibility is the key!

It has been a number of years since I sang in a choir. I have sung with choirs, for choirs and conducted choirs. But given my soloist status over these many years, singing with a group of many souls attempting to make various voices sound as one has not been on my radar. So, it was with tremendous excitement and anticipation that I registered to participate in the Biennal choir.

This decision is not one for the faint of heart or the weak of voice. The music is challenging and the hours are long. Participants need to arrive at the conference a day ahead of schedule in order to attend all rehearsals, and they need to be willing to invest several hours in advance of the conclave studying the various pieces. We are a diverse group, spanning many regions, many ages and many vocal stylings, but above all, we are there for the music, and the chance to enhance Shabbat morning worship.

It is not an easy task to coax 80 individuals to think and sing as one, but our conductor, Cantor Leigh Korn is certainly up for the job. He has been nothing short of a whirling dervish of energy, passion and fun. He has preached musical discipline for certain, but more importantly, he has asked us for flexibility; not to sweat the small stuff and to go with the flow. (Not an easy task for this anal retentive!) With his quick wit and charm, he had us at "Shalom", as we bought into his vision hook, line and sinker. Our first five and a half hour session seemed to virtually fly by.
Biennals are always an amazing musical cornucopia filled with every voice, every styling and every sound there is to offer. The biennial choir has certainly enhanced my passion for Jewish music. I can't wait for Shabbat!

Monday, 2 November 2009

The Circus is Coming to Town

They are about to descend upon my city. 3000 or so of North America's finest, and certainly most committed, progressive Jews are coming to my hometown this week in order to engage in the Union for Reform Judaism's biennial conference. It has been 30 years since the Union has brought its sideshow north of the border, and we Canucks have been anxiously awaiting and planning for the return engagement. For the neophyte amongst you, allow me to explain why this is such a big deal in my world. Every other year the union brings its travelling medicine show, complete with member rabbis, cantors, educators, lay leaders, the finest that Jewish music has to offer, and the best of the best in the Reform movement to a city heavy with anticipation to discuss, converse, study, pray and generally examine the health of progressive Judaism in North America and around the world. The study sessions engage in everything from fundraising possibilities for member congregations, to music workshops, to board training, to political activism, to t'fillah engagement, to outreach programs, and so on and so on and so on. It is a chance for us in the "biz" to recharge our batteries, reconnect with colleagues, re-engage with our chosen work and re-energize our professions. It is a chance for lay members to learn anew, bring fresh ideas back into their congregations and to just understand that others find themselves in similar situations as do they. In short, it is a major undertaking and the fact that all of these Jews will be descending upon the Great White North this week is fairly significant.

Volunteers from our member congregations across the GTA have been working for weeks to prepare for the onslaught. Twin Son's Better Half saw her phenomenal skill-set put to good use as she was anointed the volunteer co-ordinator. It has been her task to assign shifts for all of the 800 or so volunteer workers, and to adequately train said volunteers. Needless to say she has been swamped for weeks. Last week, she half-jokingly said it was a good thing that she wasn't presently employed because then her sleep schedule would have been non-existent. Volunteers from the GTA synagogue choirs have been busy as well. Many have agreed to take part in the biennial choir which will encompass singers from across the continent and which will perform at Shabbat morning services. We were tasked with learning 21 pieces of music in a 3 week time frame, and have committed to 10 hours of rehearsal over the next 3 days. Needless to say, Toronto has responded overwhelmingly to the call for volunteers.

While I am excited for what the upcoming week has in store and I am truly thrilled at the prospect of connecting with old friends and listening to some great new music, I am not blind to the challenges facing our movement. We need to move the model of the synagogue forward into the 21st century. We need to actively re-engage our youth. We need to find a way to blend the spirituality that many crave in a post 9-11 world, with traditional Jewish prayer models. We need to find ways to better reach out to our interfaith families and we need to find ways to honour those who volunteer. The URJ has always been a North American movement, but speaking as a Canadian, its leadership has always appeared to be somewhat tone deaf to the distinct society that is Canada. (Even if that statement is only partially true, the appearance is real!) It will be interesting to pose some of these questions to our leaders this week, and I intend on blogging several times from the conference. Stay tuned.

One last side note. H1N1 has been all the talk around our city, and most others lately. A gathering of approximately 3000 Jews who like to hug, kiss, shake hands and eat copiously, seems a likely breeding ground for the virus, so I will be armed to the teeth with a healthy stockpile of Purell and the hope that friends will understand a hearty elbow bump as a sign of true affection.

See you at the Convention Centre all!