Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Really, Toronto?

I must qualify this post right from the beginning. I do not live within the regional boundaries of Toronto that would provide me any say whatsoever in the upcoming mayoral election. That understood, I do live in the massive area known as the GTA where every decision, large or small, petty or important, made down at Nathan Phillips does carry significant impact for my neighbours and me, whether the denizens of the city choose to recognize it or not. Believe me when I say with no irony whatsoever, that we up here in the self-described "City Above Toronto" have our own municipal cesspool to deal with, so fixating on your election follies down there was not something I had anticipated, but I just have to ask-REALLY, TORONTO? What are you thinking?

I realize that the last 7 or so years have not been a bed of roses. The current office holder has been worse than anticipated no matter on which side of the political spectrum you sit. There have been tax increases, traffic bedlam, no truly cohesive transit strategy, bike lanes to nowhere, streetcar lanes from hell, a municipal strike that left garbage rotting in the summer heat, children without camp and parents without daycare. I get it. Toronto is ready for a change, but again I have to ask-REALLY, TORONTO? What are you thinking?

According to the latest poll, the residents of Canada's sixth largest economy are about to elect a loud, often boorish, and totally devoid of any cohesive platform other than save money on the paperclips at city hall, west end councillor as their new mayor. This man has spent more time over the last ten years being called on the carpet for his bad behaviour than a raunchy frat boy. Interviews with citizens around the city over the past few days have revealed a real distrust for politics as usual, and a willingness to try any new formula, no matter the history. They seem to like his in your face honesty and political incorrectness. They like that he supposedly speaks up for them and not for the interests of political machines. They like that he tells it as he sees it and they like that he goes from the gut, rather than studying it all to death. Where have we heard that before? W, anyone?

I would love a politician that is honest too. Believe me, I would. I would love for them to just get down to work and solve the real problems facing our society. I would love somebody-anybody-to actually say that having to pay taxes really sucks but having crappy sewers, gridlock, and potholes suck more. I would love for somebody to stand up to the union bosses and tell them the hard truths that job security is a thing of the past. I would love for somebody to stand up to developers and tell them that the free ride is over. I would love for somebody to push through a cohesive transit solution that isn't so parochial that it only takes into account the boundaries of the 416 area code and doesn't factor in those who actually NEED to drive their cars to work. I would love all of this, but again I have to ask-REALLY TORONTO? Is Mr. Etobicoke the answer? What are you thinking?

We currently find ourselves in a season of anti-establishment candidacies around the world. Chantal Hebert, a national columnist in The Toronto Star wrote just today about how governments from around the world are being turfed and forced into coalitions in order to function. One only has to turn on the TV these days to see the absolute bedlam occurring during these midterm elections in the United States. Voters are desperately searching for alternatives to the status quo and the citizens of Toronto are certainly no exception. But I urge all of you who do have a vote, to use it wisely. If Mr. Etobicoke is really the guy who you think will help address the serious issues facing our city, than who am I to tell you otherwise. But, if you are planning on entering the voting booth with the idea that he couldn't be worse, I urge you to rethink that position. REALLY, TORONTO? Start thinking!!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Jews, Baseball, and Yom Kippur

Every Jewish person I know, knows the Sandy Koufax/Kol Nidre story. It has become part our collective folklore and heritage. In 1965, Koufax refused to pitch Game 1 of the World Series because it fell onYom Kippur. The Dodgers started Don Drysdale instead of their ace and the results were less than pretty. The boys in blue fell 8-2 to the Minnesota Twins while Drysdale gave up 7 runs in 2 2/3 innings, famously remarking to manager Walter Alston , "I bet right now you wish I was Jewish too!"

Jews and baseball. Quite the conundrum. In 1934, Hank Greenberg the hard-hitting first baseman for the Detroit Tigers faced a similar dilemma as to whether to play on yontif. 

The Detroit media, aware of Greenberg's indecision, sought out the opinions of local rabbis, with the Detroit News running a headline saying "Talmud Clears Greenberg for Holiday Play."
"The team was fighting for first place," wrote Greenberg in his autobiography, "and I was probably the only batter in the lineup who was not in a slump. But in the Jewish religion, it is traditional that one observe the holiday solemnly, with prayer…. I wasn't sure what to do."
Greenberg skipped batting practice that day, thought some more, and finally chose to take the field. He hit two home runs to lead the Tigers to a 2-1 victory.
The next day, the Detroit Free Press ran a banner headline, in Hebrew, that read "Happy New Year, Hank," Also in the Free Press, an Edgar Guest poem celebrated Greenberg's decision:
Came Yom Kippur -- holy fast day world wide over to the Jew, 
And Hank Greenberg to his teaching and the old tradition true 
Spent the day among his people and he didn't come to play.
Said Murphy to Mulrooney, 'We shall lose the game today! 
We shall miss him on the infield and shall miss him at the bat
          But true to his religion and I honor him for that.

More recently, Shawn Green of the Dodgers decided to sit out a pennant race game against the hated Giants that fell on Yom Kippur. But for every Koufax, Greenberg, and Green there are 10 players like Jason Marquis. Marquis, a Jewish 2-8 pitcher with a 6.60 ERA with the Washington Nationals, a team that has absolutely no playoff aspirations, plans to take his regular turn in the rotation this Friday evening-Kol Nidre. Says Marquis, “Your team expects you to do your job and not let your teammates down, and that’s the approach I take.” In fact, this is the approach that Mr. Marquis has taken in past seasons as well.

Now, I have never been one to to tell anybody how to practice or observe their religion. (My children may disagree with that statement, but I reserve the right of motherhood with them!) Religion is a personal matter better left between the individual and their God. If Jason Marquis wants to pitch on Yom Kippur, who am I or anybody else to tell him not to. I will suggest the following, however. When Jews choose to work or go to school on the holiest day of the year, it makes it that much more difficult for those of us who choose to observe the day in a religious manner to explain our choices to a secular audience. "If Jason can pitch, why can't you be here for class or in the office or.........."

I have heard all of the reasons. "I simply couldn't get out of it because I would be docked." or "They told me I would be in trouble." or "What difference does it make, I don't practice anyway." I get it. Your lives are important and your jobs are important. All that I am saying is that your decisions impact all of us who do observe.

A personal story. My paternal grandfather was a practicing atheist. Back in Poland, he had begun studies for the rabbinate, before deciding that it was all hooey for him and finally ran off to join the army. When he came to Canada he was a cultural Jew who had absolutely no interest in God or synagogue practice. It probably was the height of irony for him that his children and grandchildren became so involved. Every year on Yom Kippur my grandfather would insist that his family, including my father, dress in their best clothes. They would be scrubbed and clean and out of the house early, and then he would take them all to the movies for the entire day. They would sit through several features, just long enough for synagogues to conclude their final prayers and then they would return home. When asked why he engaged in this behaviour year after year, my grandfather would respond "I can't insult every other Jew on Yom Kippur just because I don't believe." That is how I feel about Jason Marquis and every other Jew who chooses to work on Yom Kippur.

There is a reason that we Jews so identify with what Sandy Koufax did. He was taking the stand for all of us that observe but, for some reason feel the need to justify it to our employers, our families and to ourselves. It is not easy being Jewish in a modern world. Sandy Koufax made it a bit easier. It will be interesting to see what other Jewish ballplayers choose to do this weekend. Kevin Youkilis, Ian Kinsler, Ryan Braun-are you listening?

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Spinning Squirrel

It is really a squirrel's world! Finally-karma bit the little bugger in the ass. Happy New Year-even to the rodents. :)

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Al Cheyt

We teach our children very early on that they are fallible creatures; that mistakes are a part of our lives and that with the appropriate amount of remorse we can repair the errors of our ways. In other words, we teach our children the art of the apology. It is never easy. Try playing mediator between two young boys in the backseat, both convinced that the other took his video game, all the while attempting to keep your hands on the steering wheel so that the family fate isn't as roadkill. When they are young, our kids have to be instructed and prodded into apologizing.

"Tell Younger Son that you are sorry that you bit his toes," said I on one memorable occasion.

"Tell Older Son that you are very sorry that you slammed the bedroom door in his face."

This concept of repentance seems so straightforward when we are young. A simple "I'm sorry" seems to do the trick. We apologize, it is accepted and we move on. As our kids age, we hope as parents that we have instilled enough of a moral code so that the prodding comes from within them, and the apology becomes all the more sincere because the error is recognized by the perpetrator. In other words, an apology is of very little use and carries very little weight when one has to be told to apologize.

I have been thinking a great deal over the last few weeks about this concept of teshuva. (repentance) Obviously, the calendar has a great deal to with that. We Jews enter into this time of year hoping for a clean slate. We strive, and most often struggle, to get our repenting houses in spiritual order so that we might enter into the new year with clear consciences that allow us to face our God and ourselves with humility. But, I am struck by a nagging paradox. How sincere is any teshuva that comes as a result of the  annual clock? Does the fact that the Yamim Noraim are on our doorstep inspire the apology, and doesn't that make the apology less worthy?

At this time of year I receive many letters, blog posts and emails. The general theme is one of asking for overall forgiveness. "If I have wronged you in anyway or said anything that was hurtful...." While the sentiment is there and I am certain mostly sincere from the authors, it does always seem a bit too easy, a bit too pat. The governing principle of forgiveness on Yom Kippur is this: for sins against God, the Day of Atonement atones. But for sins against human beings, the Day of Atonement does not atone-until the sinner has sincerely sought forgiveness from the aggrieved party. But what of timeliness? If I wrong someone in February, is it ok to send out a letter in August begging general forgiveness as opposed to apologizing in person for the specific act right away? As a parent, I wouldn't have allowed this behaviour in my children. These half-hearted attempts at teshuva are extremely difficult for me. In Judaism, forgiveness is available only to those who repent, and are willing to face the consequences of their actions. How is that found in an email?

The paradox continues for me. If it is our obligation to apologize and seek forgiveness, must we forgive just because an apology has been offered? Maimonides said: "We should be slow to anger and easily appeased. And when our forgiveness is requested, we should grant it with a whole heart and a willing spirit; we should not be vengeful or bear grudges even for a grave injury."

"This," he said, "is the way of the upright Jew."

But, what if that apology is insincere, ill-timed and halfhearted? It seems the height of self-importance for an individual to ask of God on Yom Kippur "Forgive us the sins we have committed against You," when there are those among us that we refuse to forgive. But, it needs to be acknowledged that the form the apology takes is often just as important as the apology itself, otherwise grudges are borne and ill-will fostered. How do we reconcile this problem? How do we move forward when we know that we are either apologizing or forgiving out of duty, rather than true remorse?

It seems to me that forgiveness should always be granted when true remorse is expressed. My problem is that I am terribly human and I view with tremendous suspicion, those apologies that are given with less than true sincerity. I wish I could be more like the RamBam. He understood forgiveness on a level that is still unattainable to me. I am working on it, though. I hope that the new year will afford me the opportunity to be more open to all those who seek my forgiveness, no matter the transgression, and I hope that when I am in the wrong, I will have the strength and courage of conviction to step up and apologize in a sincere and timely manner. As it states in our liturgy:

"Help me then, O God; help me always, but especially now on this sacred Day of Atonement; help me to banish from myself whatever is mean, ugly, callous, cruel, stubborn, or otherwise unworthy of a being created in Your image. Purify me, revive me, uplift me. Forgive my past, and lead me into the future, resolved to be Your servant."

Shana Tova u'metukah!