Tuesday, 27 December 2016

10 Things That I Seriously No Longer Give a Fuck About

**Warning: I plan on cussing extensively in this piece. If you can't handle the language, I suggest you click someplace else.**

2016...yeah...good riddance to bad karma.

I am ready to turn the page on this tortuous trip around the sun and to kick its ass into the netherworld of history. May your misery forever be confined to far-flung recesses of the internet and perhaps the occasional black hole.


I am so over much of what this year has wrought, that it would be impossible to state in just a few paragraphs how little fucks I have left to give to anything right now. This year has so fucked with my psyche that it is kind of amazing that I'm not in a permanently drugged-addled coma. That said, I thought that before my next birthday (Thursday. Get your gift orders in early) I might share those things that have permanently left my "give a fuck about" list in 2016.

10 Things that I Seriously No Longer Give a Fuck About..Thanks 2016!

1) Meetings. Really. I mean it. Don't invite me. I probably won't show up anyway. I am well past my organizational "best-before" date and I have very little left in the tank. I am over it. Let somebody else deal with the shit. I'm kind of done.

2) The Bathroom Scale. I threw it away. I did. Really. And I refused to let my doctor tell me my weight when I went for my recent physical. Unless there is a medical reason for me to worry (and my clothes still fit)...Fuck it!

3) Worrying about eating breakfast foods for breakfast. I hate breakfast foods. I loathe oatmeal, pancakes, french toast, cereal, yogurt, and the like. I want to eat what I want to eat when I want to eat it. So I've started eating leftovers from dinner and Ben and Jerry's vegan ice cream for my morning meal. My metabolism has never been better.

4) Assholes. I have come to the conclusion that my life is simply too short to put up with the toxicity that comes from dealing with miserable farbissenas. (Yiddish. It basically means assholes.) You know that person complaining about their burger at the community BBQ that you spent all week planning? Yah...fuck 'em.

5) Rationalizations. Stop explaining your bullshit to me. If you feel so guilty about your decision that you have to constantly defend it to me, you probably made a poor one in the first place....and you know it. I simply don't care about your guilty conscience. Deal with it.

6) Bigots, racists, and misogynists. Fuck you all and the leaders you've enabled. Corbyn, Le Pen, Bannon, Leitch, Ford, Putin, and.....PEOTUS. Miserable people all.

7) Positive affirmation statements. (And while we're at it...mantras!) If you need them, keep them to yourself. Stop sharing them on social media. Stop posting those fucking idiotic memes. I prefer my realistic view of the world and that includes sadness. It makes me appreciate the happiness even more.

8) Clickbait and fakenews sites. Left and right. They both suck. You know it's bullshit if you haven't seen it in a real newspaper or on a real newschannel. Stop polluting the atmosphere with your fucking sea of information flotsam and jetsam.

9) Junk science. If you come at me with your bullshit, unscientific, and unsupported crap, I will shut you down faster than you can say homeopathy. I just don't have time to give a fuck.

10) People who don't give a fuck about me. I will go to the ends of the earth for those whom I love and care about. If you demonstrate to me by actions, words, or deeds that you aren't one of those...we're done. No anger, no misery, no hostility. Just done. I'm too tired to care about those who don't.

Did I offend you? Sorry...not sorry. If 2016 has taught me anything it's that life is too short to worry about the bullshit. I simply no longer give a fuck.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

There is No Such Thing as Chrismukkah..so Just Stop It!

I had an opportunity this morning to spend some welcome "alone time". Just me, the sun, the wind, the water, and my thoughts. Here are some of those thinks that I thunk.

I am certain that for those who celebrate, Christmas morning is a whirlwind of family, traditions, food, maybe a bit of faith, and hopefully much joy. I wish much yuletide spirit to those who observe and for those who just relish in the connectedness. And while we Jews have had the unusual experience this year of having our Chanukah holiday coincide nicely with this holiest of Christian days, the fact still remains that despite the fun, frivolity, and festivity, our holiday is a minor one both in comparison and in general on our calendar. That said, it is impossible in our Western culture to avoid the season and so Chanukah often gets dragged along as the "Jewish Christmas" and as such we party, gift, overindulge, and like Jews on any holiday... oh boy do we eat.

But, as I sat quietly alone on this Christmas Day/First Day of Chanukah, I was very starkly aware that my holiday is not their "holy day". We who do not celebrate Christmas live on the fringes and in the shadows of this season. We peer through festive windows as outsiders and we watch holiday fare on television with a foreign sense of awe and a bit of wistful pleasure. And you know what? That is perfectly okay with me.

I have never quite understood this need for inclusive equality around this season. I am uninterested in generic holiday greetings. I happily wish anybody and everybody a "Merry Christmas" if they choose to bid me the same. Strangers aren't at all interested in my Judaism and I frankly have zero interest in enlightening them. I am perfectly content to leave the "Happy Chanukahs" or the "Chag Sameachs" to those who know or understand.

Christmas trees? Not in my home, but perfectly fine in the public square.

Santa? He's certainly not a universal symbol of ecumenical giving, but do I really care if he shows up at the local mall without a menorah erected as a token beside his village?

I am averse to ugly Chanukah sweaters, Chanukah gingerbread houses, Mensch on the Bench, blue and white door wreaths laden with gold chocolate gelt, Chanukah bushes, blue and white lights strung across garages, eight nights of gifts, Chanukah Harrys, dumbass Chanukah songs without context, and any other Jewish appropriation of Christmas that you might come up with. I am not waging war on Christmas. In fact, it is quite the opposite. I am giving their holiday its appropriate due and its proper standing. I feel that when we Jews engage in such an egregious elevating of our minor chag, we are in fact being disrespectful to the true meaning of Christmas.

Look. It is perfectly fine for us to celebrate Chanukah in a manner befitting the holiday. Light the shit out of those candles. Eat fried foods until your pores clog. Be joyous with family and friends and revel in the light. But remember that it is Chanukah and not the "Jewish Christmas". It demeans all of us of both faiths to wrongly equate the two.

This morning, I was alone on Christmas morning. I often am on this day. There was no excitement and no frenzy. The Husband was upstairs tapping away on his computer, my parents were luxuriously reading the paper like they do every Sunday, and at home, my children were making plans with each other to go to the movies. And even on this first day of Chanukah, all around me, Christmas was happening. Children were in their homes opening gifts, parents were planning breakfasts, and church-goers were dressed in their finest. For the first day of Chanukah, it felt an awful lot like Christmas....just like it should....for those who observe it.

Merry Christmas to my friends who observe.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Somewhere Out There

When I was a young mother way back in the era of presidential blowjobs, (Ah...those were the days.) it wasn't uncommon for me to find myself play-acting the part of single parenthood. As part of his job, The Husband would travel each week to Boston while I stayed home and took care of the boys. This arrangement went on for well over a year and while it was a challenging time for all of us, it was what we needed to do to stay financially afloat. We were both miserable. The Husband and I, while perfectly capable people as singles, much prefer our lives together than apart. We actually like each other and love spending time together, even if it is in the mundane activities of the every day. When that Boston contract came to a merciful end, we both promised each other that we would attempt to minimize the time spent apart as much as we possibly could.

We have pretty much kept that promise over the years to the best of our abilities. Yes, of course, there have been boys' trips and exclusively girls' excursions throughout the years and yes, I have flown home from Florida for work many times and he has as well. We understand that time apart is just as important to our marital success as is our time together, but we like to minimize those periods as much as possible. And...we always always always call. Every day. At least once. No matter what time, no matter how late and no matter the time zone. And a big high-five to the brains behind texting, Facetime, and Skype.

When I retired and decided to spend as much of the winter as possible in The Southern Home, we both understood that he would come and go as his business demanded. Over the past few winters, he has managed to flip the script and is now hoping to spend more time this year without snow than with. But, he still will have to travel north on occasion and one of those trips was made this week.

He has been infatuated with the moon-risings since we have been here and as we approach the winter solstice, I must say that I understand his attraction. The clear southern skies have made for some fairly spectacular images and this week's full moon reflecting off the water was simply stunning. I have been sending him pictures all week of the lunar waxing and waning. Last night, he returned the favour from his perch in our Northern Home.

I posted my photo on Facebook and he followed suit in the comments. My favourite real estate agent/friend commented: "Nice to see you two can share the moon when a couple thousand miles apart."

It was honestly one of the nicest things I had heard or thought of in a long while. It isn't Facetime, texting, or Skype that has us linked, but rather it is knowing that we can still share an ordinary splendour even though we are at opposite ends of the continent. 

I immediately thought of this clip. Yes it is hokey and yes it is mushy, but give me a break. 2016 has been such a tortured trip around the sun, that sometimes hokey and mushy are exactly what we need. 

We will reunite this weekend, but I don't think that any moonrise will equal the one we shared this week. Sometimes, togetherness can happen at a distance. Thanks to my Real Estate Agent/Friend for reminding me.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Dare I Say It...A Company With Heart

I have spent a great deal of time ragging on major corporations and their lack of what I have laughingly referred to as "customer service." Airlines, cable companies, cellular providers, and the like have all found their way into this space as the recipients of my "one thousand lashes with a wet noodle' brand of personal retribution. In most cases, these large companies have been deserving of my wrath and so much more in the way of legally acceptable punishment, but I feel it only fair to offer up a positive story of big business catering to its customers, even if that occurrence is so very rare.

Case in point.

Upon our arrival at the Southern Home, The Husband and I determined that it was time to replace the chairs that had been occupying our balcony for the past fifteen years. Sun, salt, and water had aged the old furniture, and while we didn't want to spend an ungodly sum to replace it, the balcony is our place of refuge and was deserving of an upgrade. I suggested that we consider gravity chairs similar to the ones we used to enjoy when we had the pool. The chairs, while probably not the most artistic or beautiful pieces ever designed are reasonably priced, aesthetically adequate, and truly the most comfortable things I have ever sat in. For a woman of short stature with incredibly short legs, this statement is one you should all take seriously. Seating spaces are usually of great discomfort for me. The Husband was totally onboard with the plan, and after making arrangements to donate the old chairs, he went about the task of ordering the new.

Online shopping is either one of the greatest inventions of the twenty-first century or the one of the most aggravating, depending on individual case studies. In this example, it proved to be the former rather than the latter. The Husband found exactly what we were searching for at Amazon.com. Now before you all wail and moan about your miseries with Amazon and how they are the devil's spawn, hear me out. The Husband ordered a package of two chairs for a charge of about $68.00, delivery and tax included. The chairs showed up two days later perfectly intact and ready for lounging. I was so impressed with them that I suggested to him that the balcony could really handle two more. He readily agreed and went back to his original order and placed another for two additional chairs.

Here's where the story gets interesting.

The second delivery arrived the very next day, even though there were no Prime directive nor special delivery instructions involved. The Husband was amazed by the service and I was thrilled with the new chairs. Until...

Later that evening The Husband informs me that he had just received an odd email from Amazon informing him that our order for two gravity chairs had just been shipped. Remember now. We had just received that order in the morning. Could it really be possible that yet another two chairs were on the way?

The Husband went back into his orders and it was very clear that he had only made TWO purchases. He has no idea how a third order might have been placed and there was absolutely ZERO evidence that we were being charged for three rather than two. We decided to play it cool and hope that the third shipment was an erroneous email.

Well...It wasn't. On Saturday evening the third shipment arrived. I relayed the story to several friends here and they all laughed at our good fortune. Let's face it. Errors in our favour rarely happen. Enjoy the windfall, they said.

But...I just couldn't do it. It simply felt dishonest and I could not live with myself unless we made it right. The Husband felt exactly the same way, and while we had decided to keep the extra set, we needed to rectify the situation and pay for them.

Easier said than done. Upon looking at the emails we received, it became clear that Amazon outsources these chairs to a third party, and given that the orders were so close together, we have no idea which party sent the extra set. The Husband decided to send Amazon's customer service an email in an attempt to sort it out. Here's an excerpt.
After the first order, I decided to reorder as I liked the product. Interestingly enough, the second order (done with 1-click reorder) was fulfilled by a different seller at a slightly higher price. This was not a problem for me. 
However, I actually received 3 deliveries. Clearly, one was in error, but I don't know if the one sent in error was from the first or second seller. I'd like to pay for the extra order since returning it is a hassle, but I don't know which seller the extra delivery came from?Can you help? 
Within two hours, yes two hours on a Sunday, he received the most amazing response. Here's an excerpt. (Emphasis is mine.)
We always like to hear from our customers, and we're glad you took the time to write in; we appreciate your loyalty.
I understand your concern that you've received an extra item.
Please understand that we wouldn't want you to get charged for the extra item. I request you to please accept the item as a goodwill gesture from our end.
We wouldn't want you to go through the trouble of returning the item. You're welcome to keep, donate or dispose of it--whichever option is most appropriate and convenient for you.
It is our privilege to have you as our valued customer & we want to make sure you are always taken care of.
I hope this helps. We look forward to seeing you again soon.
Now I am not deluding myself that Amazon isn't merely writing this off as the cost of doing business, but it is important to note that there was tremendous decency in the response. And while we have decided to keep the chairs, we are also making a donation for the cost of them to a charity that provides furniture for women who have fled from domestic abuse and are now setting up their own homes.

It is easy to be cynical in this world of nastiness and pettiness. This week, a little glimmer of positivity from a major corporation managed to remind me that sometimes the world isn't as shitty as it seems.

Friday, 2 December 2016


As I checked out the calendar this morning in preparation for Shabbat, I was struck by the realization that this week is Parashat Toldot. This week we will read the story of Jacob and Esau, the twins. It is a Torah portion that has always carried special meaning for me for a number of reasons.

Years ago, when I was tutoring B'nai Mitzvah students in preparation for their special days, I had occasion to teach a young man who was recently recovering from a devastating family loss. Because of the turmoil he was facing at home, I suspended my normal practice of having students come to me for their lessons, and instead I went to him. Being a young mother, I would bundle up Younger Son and take him with me. He would busy himself on the floor with toys and books while the young man and I went about the business of learning Parashat Toldot. Many weeks later, Younger Son and I were driving somewhere and as would often happen, I would hear him singing to himself from his car seat. When I listened even more closely, I could make out that he was chanting the first Aliyah of Parashat Toldot, words and trope completely and stunningly correct. He was six at the time. Osmosis-learning is powerful and real, folks

I have often pondered that story of Younger Son with a special nod to the potency of this particular Torah portion and the depths to which I identify with it. Jacob and Esau bore the scars of a traumatic and difficult birth throughout their entire lives. Their mother Rebecca did not have an easy pregnancy, and the twins wrestled each other within her for dominance and birth order. As they were delivered, Jacob had a firm grasp on his older brother's heel as if to say, "This fight between us is far from over."

The boys were as different as they could possibly be. They seemed to share little in common and were always vying for one parent or another's attention. The rivalry between them culminates in theft and deception as Jacob steals from Esau, first his birthright as the inheritor of his father's property and with a final decisive blow, the blessing from father to son.

Jacob, knowing the depths of his duplicity, runs from his brother in fear. When in later years he finally decides to confront his twin, he comes home with an army for fear that his brother has held his anger close. Esau, firmly putting the past behind them, greets his brother with a kiss.

I have often wondered about Esau. As Jews, we spend much time trying to rehabilitate Jacob, mostly because we are the "Children of Israel" and having our dirty laundry aired through this our patriarch is patently disturbing. But what about Esau? I wonder what the brothers' lives would have been like, what they could have had, had they simply succumbed to the unexplainable relationship that is twindom. How much more could they have achieved as a team, rather than estranged?

I know very well the power of this relationship. I lived it. I loved it. I was a part of that special bond that only twins have. My mother and my aunt shared something that is absolutely indescribable for anybody who wasn't a close party or witness to it. Their husbands, children, and grandchildren were adopted into their orbit and together we are the privileged few that are part of a family that is strong, tight-knit, and resolute. Problems? Sure. Difficulties? Absolutely. Nothing on the scale of Jacob and Esau, but unlike them, we have done our level best to weather those storms together.

It is with some degree of irony that this week of Parashat Toldot marks the third English anniversary of my Other Mother's untimely passing. Due to the quirks of the lunar calendar, the Hebrew yahrzeit will be observed later this month. Her absence is still a cavernous hole that will never be filled. There isn't a day that goes by when I don't think of her in some way. It could be her handwriting on a recipe or her voice in my head when I watch a favourite movie. As we begin our winter down in the Southern Home, I am finding her presence here more personal and real. Here was where she was profoundly happy. Here was where she reveled in the warmth and sunshine. Here was where she got to spend so much more intimate time with my mom, probably more than they had since they were kids.

Mom and I had a discussion this week about the emptiness she still feels. She has managed to somehow carry on with her life these three years, but it was a final act she readily admits she never anticipated doing without her sister. She described the ache she still feels as if it were a bone that has badly mended and stings in the rain. That bond that she still shares with her is bigger than even she understood. The power of these twins, my twins, is found in their unbreakable closeness and the legacy of their family that has been their birthright and blessing.

I am left wondering how much stronger we Jews could have been had Jacob and Esau been more like my Mom and my Other Mother. What could they have accomplished had they done it together? What would we as a people have been like had they embraced rather than fought their twindom? The possibilities seem limitless.

May her memory always be for an abiding blessing.

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

I Miss Those Days

Two very minor and rather trivial incidents close to home this week have made me really think about decent and civil human responses and compassionate interactions.

Incident 1: On Tuesday, I sat with my dad and listened to him argue with the local newspaper delivery service line as to why he hadn't received his home delivery for the past several days. Now before you all start ragging on me with comments about "how very 20th Century it is of him" to still receive a home delivered paper, understand that some habits are difficult to discard after a lifetime of application. He likes his newspaper. He likes to sit outside and read it with his coffee. He appreciates the flyers and he likes the tactile nature of the act. I get it. I am exactly the same way minus the coffee. No matter how many sources I read online, I still enjoy the local morning paper. I feel as though I am, in some small manner, helping to keep the industry afloat with my subscriptions. I know it isn't true, but I don't mind the fantasy for twenty minutes every morning.

But...back to Dad.

After over an hour of haggling, three or more disconnections, transfers to supervisors, angry epithets hurled at probably distant phone bank operators, promises made and promise broken, my dad was no further ahead than when he started. He still did not have his daily newspaper, did not at that time yet secure a promise to credit the missing periodical, and was thoroughly frustrated by a repeated script-based response to his problem. He never did receive his paper that day, even though it was promised to him several times, and in the end received two papers the following day as if yesterday's news somehow matter to him at all. The last I heard, he was still working on getting the credit.

Incident 2: Regular readers of this space are probably sick and tired of my constant complaints about cable companies. Our miserable experience dealing with three separate telecoms trying to facilitate our move during the summer has enough material for several folk songs. These companies have you by the short and curlies and take absolutely no responsibility for any foul that may occur. As conglomerates, they are amongst the worst that big business has to offer as they have totally diversified their customer service departments so that nobody can contact anybody about any problem ever. Try getting a direct phone number for a supervisor. Go on, try! I dare you. It just cannot happen in their world.

But...again...I digress.

Today, we awoke in The Southern Home to discover that after two weeks of smooth sailing, our cable company which shall remain nameless, (hint: It rhymes with Momfast) had decided to switch off our cable and internet access for no apparent reason. After several online chats, two separate phone calls, and a prayer to the Spiritual Deity, The Husband managed to get our internet access back online. Our TVs are another story. He has spoken with no fewer than four separate customer "service" representatives and has had two separate online chats, and the only thing that he has been able to discern is that somebody at MomFast decided to put our account on a vacation hold beginning today and ending tomorrow. When the absurdity of the situation was pointed out to the fine idiot-savants working at MomFast, they openly acknowledge that yes indeed, the interruption in service was indeed their error, but they have no idea how such a thing could have occurred and that we would have to...wait for it...wait 24 hours for the service to resume. It took them all of 3 seconds to disconnect the fucking thing, but apparently, it takes longer to flip the switch on than it does for them to flip it off. (Sidenote. I've been flipping them off all day.) The Husband has tried to be polite and civil in dealing with a wholly impolite and uncivil customer service experience, but I think the moment that sent him careening over the edge was this short exchange this afternoon.

The Husband: "I have been trying all morning to get somebody in authority to talk to me, can you please connect me with a supervisor."

MomFast Zombie: "I'm sorry, but there isn't anybody else for you to talk to. I can escalate the situation for you."

The Husband: "You mean to tell me that this has been your non-escalation mode? Are you seriously telling me that there isn't a supervisor with whom I can speak?"

MomFast Zombie: "Well those people are very busy and have no time to talk through this matter."

The Husband: (Now beet red with rage and the decibel level in his voice at about a 9 1/2) "Busy!! Are you kidding me? (I kind of wish I could put cuss words in here, but to his credit, he didn't swear.) I have spent over three hours already dealing with this garbage. I have taken time off of MY work to deal with your mistake, and you're telling me that they're too busy? Their job is to service ME!"

He was transferred to a MomFast Zombie in Atlanta (we are in South Florida) who told him that the TVs would be on as of 3:00pm this afternoon. They weren't and still aren't. He is presently back on the phone again trying to solve the problem. I am not overly optimistic that anything is forthcoming.

The overtaking of our society by massive corporations hasn't just made us a more robotic society, it has removed the compassionate human element from our daily interactions. There was a time that if you had a problem with a service or a company, complaints would be dealt with by experienced personnel who understood not only what their companies actually do, but that you the customer are paying their salaries and contributing to their profits. Today's drones working in "customer service" are merely phone answering script readers designed to get you off their backs as soon as possible. You the customer simply don't factor into their bottom lines. Solving your problems isn't high on their priority list, so inevitably insulting the consumer, whether intentionally or unintentionally, becomes a natural part of their person to person interactions.

I have been trying to get a better handle on exactly why people are so very angry these days. I have seen folks argue over parking spots, yell at each other in line at the grocery store, and almost come to blows simply because they were on the same path and bumped into each other. I get that there is a myriad of social conditions and factors at play and that every situation is different depending on the circumstances and the people involved, but it cannot easily be dismissed that the lack of care we take with one another has led us to the precipice. We have allowed a denigration of common civility and an inherent lack of understanding that everybody is here for a common purpose to dominate our everyday intercourse. Thus, it becomes perfectly acceptable for our leaders to spew hate from a public pulpit and for total strangers to call me nasty names like "libtard", "leftist hag", or even worse on social media when all we really have is a simple difference of opinion.

Our TV situation will eventually be fixed and I am certain that my dad will solve his newspaper issue, but I am not so sure that we will ever be able to return to a time when civility was a natural part of our discourse and that differences could be settled with a handshake and an understanding nod. I'm sorry about that. I miss it.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Little Things Mattered This Week

I attended Torah study at my synagogue yesterday morning and a friend asked me how I was doing. Apparently, my post-election musing gave her pause to worry about my mental health. After assuring her that I am actually much better than fine, I started thinking about the tsunamis of sadness that have been sweeping over friends and family in light of "the incident". One rabbi friend even went so far as to suggest that we as a liberal community might be sitting a sort of emotional shiva in order to mourn our collective loss. And while all of that might be true, I am heartened by some specks of positive stories that have been trickling in. Increased donations to progressive causes, mobilization of voices that are documenting the hate, and an increased vigilance by those who dedicate their lives and careers to helping the oppressed, are all starting to emerge in the light of last Tuesday's political earthquake. The road ahead will be potholed, but not yet hopeless.

But, I also realized that in the wake of such a soul-crushing and mind-numbing defeat there was real import in taking care of one's own psychological well-being. We can only be strong and resolute in opposition if we find joy in our own lives. To that end, I started thinking about the little things that bring me a small measure of contentment and peace. These aren't obvious things like family, love, and health. These are the things that we rarely stop to acknowledge during our everyday lives that we just flat out enjoy, without judgment. Here are a few of my little happy places that have rescued me this week.
  • Sucking back an ice cold Diet Coke. Please don't lecture me on the dangers of aspartame and caffeine. There exists pure relaxation in my Diet Coke breaks.
  • Watching old movie musicals on TCM. Guys and Dolls was on this afternoon. I think I've seen it over a hundred times and even though Marlon Brando is sadly miscast and Jean Simmons can't sing a note, I was once again happily enraptured by the Runyonesque gamblers and their girls. The Husband looked over at me mindlessly singing along to Luck be a Lady, smiled sweetly and told me how much he loved me in that moment. How bad can the world be when that happens?
  • In the wake of Leonard Cohen's death this week, I spent several hours just quietly listening to his songs. Music is healing and cathartic and I think that Leonard instinctively understood that. The irony of his passing during this week of weeks has not been lost on me. It was as though he cosmically wanted all of us to focus on other things for just a brief moment in time instead of the shit.
  • Dinner with girlfriends on Wednesday. All we did was talk trash and laugh. 
  • The receiving of random text messages from my sons about everyday stuff. Baseball, Broadway, and birthdays. It reminded me that even though the world often feels out of control, my people matter most right now.
  • Last night I went up to the rooftop of our building and looked out over the cityscape. It was all lit up in the cold, clear November moonlight. The tower stood illuminated in bright red as if to remind me that my country is still a beacon in the world and our neighbours to the south can count on our support. 
  • I attended a Remembrance Day event on Friday for the Jewish War Veterans of Canada. About fifty of us stood outside in the whipping winds along with a minyan of Canada's bravest. Old warriors stood straighter than usual and saluted as a solitary trumpet played The Last Post. I nervously fiddled with the poppy on my jacket as my mind drifted to the new struggles that lay ahead and I was strangely invigorated. I found a measure of clarity.
  • We celebrated a family birthday with elegance because sometimes they just need to be marked and marked well.
Healing takes time. Make yourself a priority for a bit and stop to revel in the little things. This week they mattered a lot. 

Friday, 11 November 2016

Canada's Poet Laureate

I wonder if the measure of the brilliance of any particular song is not necessarily found in how many copies or downloads it might acquire, but rather how often it is interpreted or "covered" by others. The poetry, the lyricism, the mystical elements all combine with the artist to produce perfection.

Leonard Cohen was just such an artist. And while there is pure beauty in his recordings, I am often struck by just how many magnificent covers there are of his music. 2016 has been an annus horribilis. We have lost so many and so much, it is a wonder that we are still standing given the repeated punches delivered to our psyches. Leonard had a way of cutting through the bullshit with his piercing lyrics. He always seemed to know just what to say. Rest gently dear poet laureate. You have left us with a remarkable soundtrack.

Here are a few of my favourite Leonard Cohen covers.

And then there is just pure Leonard....

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Normalizing the Profoundly Abnormal

I promised myself time.

Time to decompress and time to gather my thoughts following a crushing body blow rendered to all the values I hold dear.

I promised myself that I would take a bit of a break from social media, newspapers, and television. I am not interested in being told that it will all be fine. I am not interested in the punditry informing me of the rhymes and reasons for this nightmare. I am wholly disinterested in the dissection of blame and errors and miscalculation. I am not placated by prayers and I am not solaced by the redemption story that is surely spinning to normalize the profoundly abnormal.

I haven't read a single think piece, blog post, or published letter from any source since Tuesday. I have avoided Twitter and the echo chamber. I know that it is all out there. It always is following times of tremendous upheaval. But I am not eager to read any of it.

But, I do feel the need to express my own emotions. That is why I set up this space for myself, as a vehicle for venting. As readers, you are free to disregard or disagree with any or all of it. So, here goes.

The sun rose as expected on Wednesday and aside from the raging agony of an upset stomach and exhaustion from lack of sleep, my life wasn't profoundly different. My family is healthy and happy. (Thanks to the Divine Spirit.) I am warm and comfortable and living in one of the safest and most progressive places on the planet. I am afforded countless opportunities and I am financially secure. My petty complaints have become fodder for silly pieces and sarcastic jokes in this space. On the surface, all is right in my world.

Except accepting that notion above all else would be to deny the obvious. I am a white, middle-aged, upper-middle class, recently transplanted suburban to urban woman. But...

I am not the person of colour being heckled on the street by flaming racists to return to a country in which I have never lived.

I am not the hijab-clad Muslim woman who fears outwardly for her safety by practicing her religion.

I am not the undocumented student who came to the United States as an infant and knows of no other country to call home.

I am not a Latina child being bullied in the playground of her school being told that in this new America she will be forced to go elsewhere.

I am not lesbian, gay, transgender, or queer and being told that love only matters for straight people.

I am not disabled and being cruelly mocked for that which I am unable to do.

I am not an African-American man who is fearful every single time I see a police officer.

I am not a single woman who attracts unwanted catcalls and sexual assaults masquerading as locker room behaviour.


I am a person of immense privilege who can hide behind a veil of caucasian.

I am a Jew who, in my lifetime, has only seen the very tip of anti-Semitism and is more frightened than ever by the open display of swastikas, Nazi salutes, Auschwitz cartoons, and dog whistles to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. 

I am a woman who remembers what it was like as a girl in high school when some strange boy actually did grab my pussy.

I am a person of faith who spent her career trying to justify and explain her place on the bimah to some very privileged Jewish men.

I am of the generation who has thoughtlessly abused our natural resources and was hoping to help remedy that massive error and leave this planet in better shape for the generations to follow.

I am a Canadian who is very aware that it can happen here too.

You see, the world did change on Tuesday night. It became a place where the now most powerful person in the world has given tacit permission for all of the aforementioned. He has, without apology, made it acceptable for hate groups to actively march again. He has, without a hint of irony,  encouraged these slimeballs out of their hovels and into the mainstream. He has set brother upon brother, he has fostered distrust amongst neighbours, he has encouraged ignorance, and he has denounced science.

Through a campaign of hate-mongering and fear, one man unleashed all of that. One man took the lid off of Pandora's box and he cannot, no matter how much he might want to (Really? who believes that he wants to?) close it back up and return the vermin to their sewers.

For the first time in my life, I am truly afraid. I fear for my friends and family south of the border. I fear that when I visit my other home, my tanned olive skin might make me a target. I fear that wearing Jewish symbols might lead to confrontation. I fear the anger and I fear the hate.

I will undoubtedly move past my fears. I will undoubtedly find a constructive vehicle in which to channel my passion for equality and social justice and to stand resolutely opposed to everything this hate-monger has unleashed. I will undoubtedly find a way to battle hate with love.

Until then, I need the space to vent my outrage. I need for that emotion to be validated and not placated or patronized.

I need you all to understand that what has happened can never be normalized.

Not for me.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

America: May God Have Mercy on Your Soul

Here are some things that I absolutely will not miss from this year's clown car show south of the 49th.
  • Memes on Facebook
  • Any news story that leads with the word "email"
  • False equivalencies of evil
  • Discussions of penis size
  • Use of the word "pussy"
  • The need for fact checking
  • Vladamir Putin's half-naked image on a horse
  • Wikileaks
  • Bernie Bros
  • Pepe the frog
  • The suspension of Godwin's Law
  • Neo-Nazis
  • The KKK and the reemergence of David Duke
  • The word "rigged"
  • Incuriosity
  • Ignorance
  • Bloviating
  • Political surrogates from any party but in particular.....
  • Rudy Guiliani and Newt Gingrich
  • Pantsuits
  • Telling a woman to smile more
  • Irony-impairment
  • Tic Tacs and Skittles
  • Access Hollywood
  • The Apprentice
  • Bill Clinton's parade of women
  • The FBI
  • Hypocrites
  • The Trump spawn
  • "Locker Room Talk" used to explain sexual assault
  • Chants of "Lock Her Up"
  • Super PACs and their ads
  • The need for distractions
  • Stupid nicknames. Adios to Crooked Hillary, Lyin' Ted, Little Marco, and the rest
Feel free to add your own. Racism, misogyny, bigotry, xenophobia, and hate have no place in a civil society. Good luck America. May God have mercy on your soul.

Monday, 7 November 2016

I Apologize For Abandoning My Sunny Ways...The Stakes Are Just Too High

I have thought long and hard about whether or not I would post one more thing about this soul-sucking sideshow Americans are laughingly calling an election. As a Canadian peering over the backyard hedge, it is kind of like watching your neighbour dig a sewer near your house without having a say as to where it goes. That said, we Canadians refuse to pretend that this shitshow isn't affecting us. The old joke about when the US sneezes Canada catches a cold has never felt more relevant or true.

I had promised my readers distractions and generally positive posts leading up to November 8th, but the stakes are just too high. Trump's closing campaign ad which was released this weekend has been widely condemned and criticized by Jewish leaders as being filled with classic anti-Semitic tropes and images of Jewish bankers and monetary leaders.
The Anti-Defamation League has decried the ad for "rhetoric and tropes that historically have been used against Jews and still spur antisemitism.” Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the Director of the Religious Action Committee released the following statement:
We denounce, in the strongest possible terms, the use of contemptuous and historically anti-Semitic tropes in the recent campaign ad of presidential candidate Donald Trump. References to 'the establishment' and a 'global power structure,' juxtaposed over images of Jewish public figures, create thinly-veiled allusions to centuries-old anti-Semitic propaganda.  
This latest ad is, regrettably, part of a pattern of the use of such words and imagery that has been repeated by the Trump campaign over many months. There is no place in civil political discourse for the perpetuation of harmful and baseless stereotypes. It is the responsibility of every candidate for elected office to promote the interests of all Americans, without resorting to dangerously xenophobic and otherwise bigoted rhetoric or insinuations.
If you are a Jewish Trump supporter and you don't hear these dog whistles, then nothing I can do or say is going to change your mind or your vote. I can say that I am thoroughly disappointed that you have gotten so complacent and comfortable in your bubbles that you have neglected to recall the lessons of the past.

Last December I wrote the following post during Chanukah from Florida. It was early in the primaries and Florida was just gearing up for their dance. I am reposting it here because my sentiments from that time have not changed, except to say that I am more anxious and fearful for my friends, family, and neighbours to the south. Tomorrow is a crucial day in world history. I beg you all to get out and vote for the America that we the world know you are. Denounce hate. Renounce bigotry. The choice is clear. When we say never again, we mean for anyone.


Tonight I lit Chanukah candles with a gentleman from my building who happens to be a Holocaust survivor. Since this is South Florida and it has been unbearably humid, he was suitably dressed for the climate in a short-sleeved golf shirt. As we chatted, it was difficult not to notice the numbers tattooed on his forearm. I have had many conversations with this man over the years and I have always marvelled at his strength and fortitude in keeping his horrific experiences alive in the hearts and minds of the next generations through his participation in education programs, speeches, and countless trips back to Auschwitz on March of the Living. But tonight, we were just a group of Jews lighting candles to recall our people's struggle against another tyrant living centuries before the one he survived.

And then I came upstairs and watched Donald Trump's latest foray into demagoguery. I watched as supporters at his rally shouted "Heil Donald Trump-THE ULTIMATE SAVIOUR"  and it sent shivers up and down my spine. Trump's completely fascist call to ban all Muslims from entry into the United States can no longer be dismissed as the ravings of fringe entertainer. Tonight he and his supporters entered a new realm of right-wing jingoism, Neo-Nazism, and totalitarianism that every thinking person in the United States and around the world should vociferously denounce. Usually, I am loathed to evoke memories of or comparisons to Hitler, and I can't ever remember calling up Godwin's law before, but Trump and his  supporters are definitely skirting a dangerous line. When protestors are physically attacked at his rallies; when overt hatred of Muslims is spouted by his supporters; when white supremacist organizations are now a solid part of his base; we can no longer ignore the comparisons.

I have had several conversations recently with Jews who are ardent Trump supporters and I have to admit to being baffled. Now I am just disgusted. It is no longer acceptable for Jews (or anybody else) to support this dangerous fascist bigot knowing what we know and knowing the extreme consequences of actions like the ones he is proposing. Trump's call to isolate and bar Muslims is one step away from the Judenfrei policies of Hitler's Nazis.

Tonight, in response to Trump's announcement, Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Centre of Reform Judaism issued the following statement:
While we take no position on Mr. Trump's candidacy for president, we condemn in the strongest terms his comments calling for barring the entry of Muslims into the United States. As Jews who too often suffered persecution because of our faith, we cannot abide religious bigotry.
Our nation, founded by those fleeing religious persecution, is rooted in principles of religious freedom. The absence of religious tests for entry or for office and the freedom of every individual to practice their religion are sources of national strength, not weakness.
It is time for Jews of all political stripes to speak up and finally suppress Trump and his dangerous rhetoric. Jewish Republicans need to find another candidate and they need to say this man is anathema to everything that Americans hold dear. At this season when we recognize light over darkness, religious freedom over persecution, and rededication over hate, Americans must commit themselves to vanquishing this dangerous hyperbole before innocent people suffer. It is a debt that this generation of Jewish Americans owes to people like the man in my building. 

Friday, 4 November 2016

A Royal Distraction for Your Weekend

Today's distraction comes just in time for the weekend.

I bequeath upon all of my loyal readers the gift of the resplendent new Netflix series The Crown.

A period drama about Queen Elizabeth II's ascension to the throne, The Crown has been advertised as the successor must-view period piece for all of us still mourning the loss of Downton Abbey from our appointment viewing schedule.

I'm here to tell you that it isn't that at all.

It's better. Far better.

Lavishly and lovingly created by Peter Morgan who has mined this material before in the film The Queen and stage play The Audience, both starring Dame Helen Mirren, The Crown takes historical liberties by peering into the private lives and conversations of Britain's royal family, and it attempts to show just how like the rest of us they truly are. They love, loathe, and lose as all people are apt to do but unfortunately, they must do it all under the microscope of public scrutiny. Claire Foy is a revelation as the young princess cruelly and unpreparedly thrown into the abyss of duty, and Dame Eileen Atkins will almost make you forget the Dowager Countess in her spot-on portrayal of the slightly bitter and very acerbic Queen Mary of Teck. And just for good measure, there is John Lithgow, one of my all-time favourite performers, doing a spot-on Winston Churchill. (Spot-on. Get me! Already speaking like a Brit.)

My only complaint as I watched the first three episodes this afternoon is that Matt Smith, who portrays the suddenly emasculated Prince Phillip, looks far too much like a Trump son for my liking. Maybe it's the pomaded hair or maybe it's just the vicious Aryan scowl, but he had me quite unnerved. Anyway, I find it very hard to believe that Prince Phillip was EVER the doting father that he is shown to be in these first installments.

So, if you are desperately searching for diverting entertainment this weekend, I cannot recommend The Crown highly enough. Binge watching has never been better.

You're Welcome.

Shabbat Shalom to all who observe.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

The Best Distraction...Possibly EVER.

Last evening I retired to my couch, no snacks in hand due to the unfortunate timing of a medically induced fast, in order to watch Game Seven of the World Series. I did this primarily because I am a baseball fan. The Blue Jays are my lifelong love, but I am first and foremost a baseball fan. There are beauty and poetry on that field. Every pitch of every game is a separate contest within the main. It is the only team sport where the individual battles, those of pitcher versus hitter, have the potential of changing outcomes. It is a thinking person's game. The cerebral player can succeed right alongside the physically gifted. Head, heart, and muscle all combine in one perfect incarnation, the baseball player.

So, settling in to watch the seventh game of the World Series, even though my beloved Blue Birds had been eliminated by one of the final two, was a foregone conclusion. I expected to be swept up in excitement. I expected to be entertained. I expected to hear from friends from both Cleveland and Chicago during the game as to the range of emotions they were feeling. I fully expected a collective experience.

I didn't expect it to be a sui generis moment.

It was rare. A once in a lifetime viewing experience, made even more unique with the involvement of social media. For a split second, it felt as though most of North America was engaged in exactly the same thing at exactly the same time. The Husband was texting me what he was going through from a bar in D.C, as he viewed with election-weary Beltway denizens desperate for a distraction. My Facebook feed was clogged with friends from both sides of the diamond. My Twitter feed, which has been filled with ugliness, misogyny, antisemitism, and hate for weeks, suddenly became all about the beauty of baseball. Casual observers were suddenly transfixed. Rabid fans were hyperventilating. Both teams were equal in their excellence. There was a moment during the unbelievably and most certainly divinely inspired rain delay when I mused honestly about not wanting the game to end, even though it was way past my bedtime. I found myself kibbitzing online with friends, as we all recognized the communal joy. It was singular and beautiful and it can't ever possibly be repeated.

I am not a Cubs fan, but I felt their unmitigated joy. I am not a Cleveland fan, but I was absolutely crestfallen for them. For one night in November, baseball was pure again. The outside shit ceased to exist for just a nanosecond, as we all reveled in beauty together.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Wordless Wednesday...A Chance to Remember That There Is Still Beauty In The World

I promised positive images and stories until the conclusion of the American shitshow. I am finding suitable distractions more and more difficult to come by given how saturated the media coverage has been. Thank God for a seven game World Series. A friend remarked this morning that he wished it could be best of eleven so that it would get us through Tuesday.

In any case, this image comes from our recent trip to Alaska. The excitement I felt seeing these graceful creatures in their natural homes was immeasureable. We humans don't always do coexistence well. Alaskans are a gigantic leap ahead in that regard.
Note: I have decided to blog through November as the mood suits. There will be photos, recipes, and music just as in other years, but the stories will be organic and not pressured. I seem to work better that way. If I manage 30 in 30, great. If not, also great. I promise that there will be enough content for all. Thanks to all who support this space. I look forward to a month of interactions. 

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

November is the Cruelest Month or..How To Maintain Sanity In An Insane World

It's November and you know what that means, right?

Well, maybe not.

It is November the first and that means the commencement of National Blog Posting Month. Every November since 2011, I have taken on the challenge of thirty posts in thirty days. It is exhausting, emotionally draining, and frankly it plays havoc with my creativity gene. I have tried to maintain a standard of excellence throughout these exercises, but it is impossible to know if I have ever truly succeeded. As I recently looked back on some of those mid-month posts, I noticed quite a bit of cow dung mixed in with the jewels. The Husband is adamantly opposed to my signing up this year mostly out of his own self-preservation. He frustrates easily by my constant whining about source material and he certainy tires of showing up in these missives.

In addition, I promised my single digit of readers that I would put a more positive face on these blogs at least until after the S&M exhibition to the south has reached climax. This added task of NaBloPoMo just might make that more difficult, but I promise to try.

So what to do?

I'll leave it up to you the "not-so-faithful" readers to decide. If I get more than twenty likes or comments on Facebook or in the comment section on this space, I will endeavour to fill your blog-reading needs. If not, I have my answer and I will relax and watch November pass me by like a normal person. So, basically it all rests on your collective shoulders. I promise I won't take it personally should the groupspeak deem it a non-starter.

So, off you go. Yea or Nay? Blue or Red? Sedate or Crazy?

Voting responsibilty is difficulty, isn't it?

Today's relaxing news. I'll see your Basket of Deplorables and raise you a Basket of Gus! Admit it. It made you smile.

Friday, 28 October 2016

My Fortnight of Positivity: Dream or Reality? (Or...My Feeble Attempt to Reclaim My Social Media Feeds)

If you have somehow missed my last two posts, (I'm genuinely stunned into silence!) I am currently engaging in an exercise to bring civility back to our social media feeds by posting ANYTHING that isn't related to the shitstorm of ugliness we all are dealing with leading up to November 8th. Please join me in this exercise by refraining from posting ugly partisan memes, badly sourced pseudo-stories, and nastiness in general. We could all use a healthy dose of nice. Let's put the "social" back into social media.

As we sit and wallow in the eyes of our own personal hurricanes, it is so very easy to forget that there is much to be grateful for. Sometimes that joy can be blindsiding. Such is the case with my nephew's Bar Mitzvah which we will be celebrating this Shabbat.

As a parent of adult children, I've long since put the B'nai Mitzvah "circuit" in the rearview. I've grown complacent when it comes to celebrating these rites of passage of other people's kids and sometimes I have even bemoaned the need to attend and wrongly viewed it as a chore. But, this one feels different. This particular Bar Mitzvah is the second to last in our immediate family and I am experiencing a real sense of life's impermanence and fleeting nature. In the very near future, it is entirely possible that I will ascend the ladder of generations. No longer the parent or the aunt or the cousin, but instead one step removed. That idea has me a bit freaked. My dad used to say that he knew he had aged out when they started asking him to do the Motzi at simchas. That, he says, is the quintessential old man's job.

So this weekend I plan to revel in my family's joy and not take a single moment for granted. I will feel pride as I watch my youngest nephew take a giant leap forward. And...I will bake mounds of chocolate cookies for the occasion because that's what you're supposed to do when faced with good things.

Stop and smell the chocolate.
Shabbat Shalom to all who observe. 

Thursday, 27 October 2016

This Cynic's Continued Attempt At Positivity (or..How to Keep Social Media Out of the Gutter Until After November 8th)

If you missed yesterday's post, I am currently engaging in an exercise to add niceness to our social media feeds by finding ANYTHING that isn't related to the crap we all are seeing leading up to November 8th. Please join me in this exercise by refraining from posting ugly partisan memes, badly sourced stories, and misery in general. We could all use a healthy dose of charm. Let's make social media social again.

Today's posting of good news comes from Sea World in Orlando.

I must admit that this is the last place whose virtues I thought I would be extolling, given their recent negative history with large marine mammals and my natural hostility towards keeping them in captivity. That said, sometimes...and I do stress sometimes...these places can do good work towards the care and protection of vulnerable creatures.

Such is the case of this female Adelie penguin who is suffering from feather loss, the penguin version of alopecia. Apparently, this sort of thing can occur from time to time, but it can be fatal as penguins require their feathers to swim and therefore eat. The good people at Sea World came up with a solution. They made this fine lady her very own, customized, penguin-sized wetsuit.

If you follow the link, there is a little video showing our girl joining in all the normal penguin games and doing all the everyday things that penguins do.

What a remarkable time in which we live whereby we can recognize that all life has merit and that we should attempt to find dignity for all creatures. Please don't kill my happy buzz with talk of how this penguin is taking precedence over more important things. Sometimes, we all need to find some measure of peace. Today, this little Adelie is mine.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

A Cynic's Journey Towards Positivity. (Or...How to Get Through to November 8th Without Committing Mass Murder.)

I am blogging today because, in all honesty, I am finding my social media feeds and television to be downright depressing. If I see one more meme about ANYTHING I might just have to chop down the closest tree, whittle it thinly into toothpicks, and then very slowly insert each one most painfully into my eyeballs and ear canals thereby rendering me blind and deaf until after this shitstorm is over.

Please just make it stop already. All of us. STOP!

So, my pledge to whatever faithful readers I still have left is my unwavering commitment to post nothing but my version of positivity until after November 8th. If I should falter, you all have my permission to inundate me, until the end of my days, with a continuing loop of the most heinous disco music ever recorded. I plan on posting quite a few in this sanguine series, so I apologize in advance for making myself a nuisance. Call it my coping mechanism.

Today's entry into this confirmed cynic's view of "What Makes My World Great" is a brief moment of my day.

You know that feeling you get when a stellar song from a favourite Broadway musical enters into your playlist, and it makes you smile, and you realize that the real reason you're smiling is because you actually saw this person perform said number live, and you recall greatness?

Yah. That.

Today I had that moment while on the treadmill with Andrea Martin singing "Just No Time at All" from Pippin. By the way when we saw it? She flat out stopped the show. A five-minute standing ovation. This is so worth the 8 1/2 minutes you will spend watching it. Trust me. It's Bigly.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

My Canada

In yesterday's Toronto Star, columnist Chantal Hébert wrote one of the best missives I have read this election cycle about the fundamental differences between Canada and the United States and where our two countries are headed politically. I urge you to click on the hotlink above and read it, not merely because I have asked you to, but because I do believe that many of my American friends are fundamentally stunted when it comes to understanding the Canadian psyche. A case in point was the totally vapid and mindless "comedy" essay that Jim Gaffigan did on Canada on CBS' Sunday Morning today.

In his defense, Gaffigan was going for satire and a comical turn basically informing Americans fearing the final election results that Canada is an odd place with odd likes and customs and that fleeing here might not be in an escapee's best interests. He peppered his routine with tired Canadian tropes and stereotypes about poutine and hockey and he finished up by questioning why we have a maple leaf on our flag. Frankly, it was lazy, based on zero research, and fundamentally the worst kind of comedy in that it was profoundly stupid. George Carlin was moaning someplace in the great beyond about the death of the esoteric comedian. And all of this is coming from somebody who really likes Jim Gaffigan.

I realize that there are a lot of Americans who are turning an eye northward in this time of profound schisms and misery. This election has been a holy host of horrors and if I were one of you, I might also be investigating an exit strategy. Of course, realistically most Americans will deal with the fallout of whatever happens because, when you get right down to it, this is what is most endearing about Americans; the strength and resilience to fight through the tribulations. This fighting spirit has kept them on top of the world's stage for almost two and a half centuries and I have little doubt that they will persevere for at least a bit longer.

But, if there really are Americans thinking about Canada as an option, (and please understand that it isn't as easy as merely showing up at the border wearing a Josh Donaldson jersey) and if it is a truly serious thought, it needs to be said that we are so much more than the butt of a hockey stick or the scarlet tunic of a Mountie. We are a people with everyday issues, everyday problems, and everyday feelings of pride.

We are a country who...

Has rallied as an entire country behind a single team, the Toronto Blue Jays because Major League Baseball sent our only other team to Washington. The ratings this fall for Blue Jays postseason games show that more than seven million people watched the final game of the ALDS. Seven million!! In a country of not quite 35 million. This is a rating's number that clobbers even the biggest hockey game of the year, including the Stanley Cup finals. It rivals the number of Canadians who watched Andre DeGrasse win bronze in the 100M at this summer's Olympics. (Yes..we celebrate great achievement, not just winners.) We are a fierce and proud people and we will defend our own with passion and poignancy. Canadians cheer on Canadians, even if they hail from the US, Dominican Republic, and Mexico, no matter what. Yes. It is true that hockey is a national obsession, but our national self-esteem is all about supporting those who display the best of who we are even if they can't skate.

We are a country who...

Values achievement and collective responsibility. In a television program entitled The Greatest Canadian that aired on the CBC back in 2004, Canadians were invited to vote on who they thought best fit the title. There wasn't an entertainer or sports figure in the top five. Coming in at number 1 was Tommy Douglas, the father of universal health care and a former premier of Saskatchewan. (OK. He was also the grandfather of Kiefer Sutherland, so I suppose that there is a wee bit of entertainment value to this pick.) Rounding out the top five were activist and humanitarian Terry Fox, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Dr. Frederick Banting, the co-discoverer of insulin, and environmentalist David Suzuki. We can argue fiercely about politics and there are still people who think that Pierre Trudeau was the devil incarnate and therefore Justin is his evil spawn, but we tend to look at our politics through a uniquely pragmatic lens. I would venture to guess that while there are many who would like to improve upon our flawed health care system, there are very few who would like to abandon it altogether.

We are a country who...

Tends to cherish civil discourse even amongst our most polarizing figures. When Rob Ford passed away earlier this year, the entirety of city council was there to pay their respects, even those who voted to strip him of his magisterial powers and his most vocal critics. This weekend, former Harper cabinet minister and conservative Alberta premier Jim Prentice, was tragically killed in a small plane crash. He was praised and eulogized by politicians on all sides of the political spectrum. We are far from perfect. The problems and conditions that allowed for Rob Ford's horrific mayoralty in the first place still plague us, but even those who despised him while in office and the brand of politics he practiced, found some small modicum of decency in the man himself and felt sorrow for his family. We don't always succeed at civility, but we certainly aspire towards it.

We are a country who...

Cherishes our inherent beauty. Mr. Gaffigan asked, "why do we have a Maple Leaf as our national symbol on our flag?" It's because we look upon the beauty of our natural environment with pride and deep gratitude. Yes, it is easy to make maple syrup and pancake jokes and in fairness it is one of our great commodities, but the Maple Leaf symbolizes our deep and abiding love for the earth we were entrusted to protect. Our flag is reflective of that emotion. (I should mention that the final flag design was a compromise representation that consumed Canadian passions fifty years ago. In typical Canadian fashion, neither side was rewarded with the win. Today, our flag is recognized the world over as a symbol of inclusivity and we Canucks don't slap those patches on our luggage simply because we don't want to be mistaken as Americans, but rather because we are fiercely proud of the red and white.)

We are a country who...

Tends to adopt the best of others and make them our own. Ours is a cultural mosaic rather than a melting pot. We encourage diversity and we welcome the changes. It isn't always easy and we have  had major battles from all points on the political and cultural spectrum that has threatened the very fabric of our collective consciousness, but we do tend to move positively and timely with social mores. As Ms. Hébert correctly states in her column,
That is not to argue that unanimity reigns supreme in Canada or that it should. But clashes over the best approach to policy are symptoms of a healthy democracy, as is dissent. The noise that attends both does not alter the fact that on many of the principles that polarize other comparable societies there are Canadian consensus views that stand to outlast the popularity of the current prime minister, just as they did the Harper decade.
Yes, it is true that we are a country who loves our hockey, poutine, Mounties, maple syrup, moose, beavertails, toques, and coloured plastic money. But it is also true that we are an incredibly diverse people who are profoundly exhausted by the ignorance of our closest cousins, neighbours, and largest trading partner as to who we really are. Yes, we have a bit of an inferiority complex brought on by living next door to a behemoth and yes, while we tend to export the best comedians on the planet south of the 49th, we do often have a bit of difficulty laughing at ourselves. But, this election season offers a perfect opportunity for our American friends to lovingly discover just who we are and what we stand for. This country isn't perfect and it isn't a quick-fix for all that ails disenchanted and disenfranchised Americans this cycle, but it is home and I couldn't be more proud of it.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Shana Tova

I have been giving quite a bit of thought over the last week to the upcoming Yamim Noraim (The Jewish High Holy Days) and what it means for people of faith and for people who are questioning. This season is a time of reflection for Jews around the world, and while many of us look inward in order to find a sense of purpose and meaning for our lives, others choose to take a more arms-length approach to self-examination.

But here's the thing.

In whatever manner we choose to observe these sacred days, we need to be less critical of those who do not do as we ourselves might do and those who do not believe as we ourselves might believe. We are a fragmented people, us Jews. Some will attend synagogue this week and next and some may not. Some may have family dinners or break fasts and some may choose to eat alone. Some may pray and some may abstain. Some may be altogether uncomfortable with the notion of God and some may actively attempt to summon a Divine Spirit. Some may hopefully seek to right their wrongs and some may not believe that there are wrongs that need to be righted.

After spending a career trying to understand community needs and responses for these days, I have finally come to the conclusion that there is no cookie-cutter approach that will work. We as a people must seek to discover and actively maintain a sensitivity for those who have become disenfranchised by the product our organized religion has been selling. There is a reason that putting "Jews in the pews" has become so challenging and most of it stems from our lack of listening to those concerns. So, in order to start the new year off with some much-required balance, I offer a few tips for all of us observing over the next ten days. Hopefully, we can put these days into their proper perspective.

For those attending synagogue.

1) Stop worrying about what the people next to you are wearing. This is supposed to be the time when judgement should come from a higher place and not you. Are my prayers any less worthy if I choose to wear jeans? What matters is what is in the vessel, not the vessel itself.
Once Rabbi Elazar son of R. Shimon was coming from Migdal Gedor, from the house of his teacher. He rode along the riverside on his donkey, and was feeling happy and elated because he had studied much Torah.
 There chanced to meet him an exceedingly ugly man, who greeted him, "Peace be upon you, my master!" R. Elazar did not return his salutation but instead said to him, "How ugly this person is! Are all the people of your city as ugly as you?"
"I do not know," said the man. "But go to the craftsman who made me, and say to him: How ugly is the vessel which you have made!"
Realizing that he had done wrong, R. Elazar dismounted from his donkey, prostrated himself before the man, and said to him, "You are right. Forgive me!" But the man replied, "I will not forgive you until you go to the craftsman who made me and say to him, 'How ugly is the vessel which you have made.'" (Talmud Taanit 20a-b)
2) Don't search for fault in the rabbi's sermon and stop with the critiques. You may not always agree with what she/he has to say, but understand that great thought and care went into those remarks. Try and find the meaning beneath the surface.

3) Don't be so caught up in your own experience that you neglect the stranger or the newcomer. Find that person and invite them to sit with you. Synagogues can be giant cliques. Seek out the new person. We make new members when old members remember what it was like to be new.

4) Take five minutes during the service, any five minutes, and close your eyes. Breathe deeply. Listen to your own voice, your own thoughts. Try and remember why you decided to come. Make this place your holy place. You have to do the work if you want the results.

5) Stop looking around for who isn't there and focus on who is. Other people's decisions should have no bearing on your own. Remember that repentance, prayer, and charity temper judgement's severe decree.

For those who gather outside the synagogue.

1) Try and remember that there are reasons for these days that don't only involve food. Have some serious discussions at your tables about the themes and realities of the Yamim Noraim. Jews around the world are facing some difficult realities today. Let's not whitewash them with honey cakes and gefilte fish.

2) Add one extra ritual to your tables. Maybe it is some environmental experience for the "Birthday of the World" or maybe it is simply lighting festival candles that you haven't in years. Let the youngest amongst you hear and try to blow the Shofar. Do something to make the experience more than just dinner.

3) Make an effort to understand why some members choose to go to synagogue instead of gathering for dinner. Their feelings and beliefs matter too.

4) Don't dismiss religious observance as fantasy or fairy-tale. We who find meaning in it have our reasons for prayer, just like those who have no use for it have theirs. We need to respect each other's choices.

And to those who won't be doing anything during these days.

We will miss you. This is a time when all Jews can hopefully find some common ground for our concerns and our experiences. If this is not the year for you to rejoin us, then maybe next year will be. We just want you to know that you are always welcome. We are your people.

Shana Tova U'Metukah. I wish everybody a happy, a healthy, and a peaceful New Year. May we write our own stories and our own pathways, whatever they may be, in the Book of Life. 

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

A Post Debate Hangover Warning

A warning to my American friends.

It was really easy to "hate-watch" last evening's cage-match, mud-wrestling, throw down between your two presidential candidates. The jokes were far too easy and far too obvious. If anybody was hooked into either Twitter or Facebook last night, you probably had the most interactive and enjoyable TV experience since Grey's Anatomy decided it would broadcast a musical episode. (Only me? Ok.)


(C'mon. You had to know there was a but....)

There is a tremendous danger in making jokes about the perceived intellectual and character chasm between the two candidates and what is actually seen by the voters, especially those in critical rust belt swing states where many tend to go with their guts as opposed to consuming multiple media sources for several hours every day. For the sake of argument, let's call these voters "Lower Information Voters".

The Lower Information Voter couldn't care less about fact-checking. He or she is typically a hard working, middle-class, middle-income voter who is fed up with promises made and promises unkept by career politicians. The LIV may or may not have higher education. This is an important point. Not all LIVs are from the great mass that those in ivory towers like to refer to as the uneducated, although some are. But that lack of post-secondary education doesn't make their vote count for any less than the PhD sitting in panelled offices on ivy-covered university campuses, or the CEO of a hedge fund on Bay Street or Wall Street. 

For the sake of comparison, I would like to introduce my American friends to the Toronto mayoral election of 2010 when Rob Ford was swept into power. While the political systems are different and the stakes probably not as high as the upcoming presidential election, the contrast is rather striking. Please note that the Rob Ford who was ushered into the mayor's office in 2010 was not the crack user/alcoholic that most Torontonians saw. Those problems, while probably persistent and hidden during the campaign, came much later in his term as mayor. The Rob Ford that Torontonians elected was the Donald Trump of his day.

Ford was an obnoxious, bombastic, ten-year sitting councillor representing a small riding in the west-end when he decided to throw his hat into the ring. He had extremely rough edges and was not the "sharpest knife in the drawer" at City Hall.  He possessed no filter and his outlandish and offensive comments about women, gays, and immigrants were often fodder for the 6:00 news. Toronto citizens were still suffering a financial and social hangover of amalgamation from over a decade before, whereby several boroughs and areas were brought together under the city umbrella, merging services and increasing property taxes. There was extreme discontentment felt by the residents of the outer boroughs (which Ford represented) with the very left-leaning and retiring mayor David Miller, who was a product of the downtown "elites" and who often seemed tone-deaf to the pleas from these residents who complained that services like garbage pick-up and subway travel were less than adequate in their areas. It wasn't at all unusual for Ford to be a lone dissenter at council when it came to picayune budget meetings or finding wasteful spending. His mantra of "stopping the gravy train" (Make America Great Again?) at city hall became an easy sound bite that was highly relatable to his constituents. He would often hold massive free community barbeques and Ford Fests where he would personally interact with these disgruntled voters and ply them with free swag like hats, t-shirts, and bobblehead dolls. He was loved and beloved. So when he decided to throw his hat into the ring with outlandish promises like building a massive subway with no raised tax revenues (Hello Trump's wall) or promising to snub civic events like Pride (Hello! Mexicans are rapists and African-Americans are thugs) the dog-whistles were loud and clear. Those LIVs had finally found their voice in a slightly portly, slightly off-putting, very boorish loudmouth. Does this sound at all familiar, my American friends?

Ford was also fortunate enough to run against one of the most disliked career politicians in the province. George Smitherman was a sitting provincial cabinet minister who had served for many years in various portfolios, including a stint as deputy premier whereby he was often tasked with being the province's attack dog. His arrogant demeanour and his dismissive attitude towards LIVs was obvious every time he spoke. (Basket of deplorables, anyone?) And while his passion and commitment to public service could not be denied, he was definitely part of that "downtown elitism" and he had difficulty resonating with LIVs. (Does this sound at all like the way that many people view Hillary?)

Ford also had the advantage on election day of "Third-Party" candidates that helped split the vote. Ford received about 47% of the vote while Smitherman got about 36%. Others took in the rest, with Joe Pantalone (Still thinking of writing in Bernie?) garnering about 11% of that. 11%!! If the polls in the US hold and third party candidates like Gary Johnson or Jill Stein siphon off votes, it will most likely be Hillary who will suffer as millennials and younger Americans search for a palatable candidate. Like Ford, that could easily hand the election to Trump depending on the state/Electoral College in question.

Finally, there are those voters that voted for Ford simply because he was the conservative on the ballot. These people were not necessarily the racists, alt-right, or LIVs. They were highly educated, high earners who couldn't stand Smitherman and the ruling Liberal party of the province of Ontario. Many intelligent members of my own family fall into this category as they hoped and prayed that the boorish, ignorant Ford they saw on the campaign trail would regulate and moderate once in office. They were oh so very wrong, and very few of them voted for Doug (Rob was too ill to run for reelection so his even more loathsome brother stood in his stead) in 2014. (Does anybody really believe that Trump could moderate or regulate once in office?)

Rob Ford is the reason that I think jokes and smugness cannot be allowed to continue when discussing Donald Trump. LIVs are tired of being dismissed and they are highly motivated to get to the polls, especially in the Rust Belt swing states. They saw a very different debate last evening than did I, and they will defend their candidate no matter what he does, just like Rob's supporters still do for him even after all of his scandals and his untimely death. The Republican party has mostly caved and fallen in line behind their nominee and will go down with the ship before they abandon it. The only way to combat this behaviour is to work hard, get involved and get out the vote. If you are a concerned American with a vote this fall, you must vote and take all of your friends and relatives with you to the polling stations. If you are a concerned and disgruntled American young voter, you have to stop pretending that not voting isn't a vote for Trump because it is. If you are in a family with LIVs, it is incumbent upon you to try and talk (not argue) about why Trump is a disaster for the country and the world. If you are a visible minority, a woman, LGBTQ,  or a person of faith, you cannot sit this one out.

And most importantly?

Those memes, those jokes, those John Oliver segments, and the like that we are all so fond of sharing....they are preaching to the choir. You are in a bubble of "happy internet land". They will not sway a single vote. The only way to affect a positive outcome is to affect the turnout. If last night's debate didn't demonstrate the false equivalency between the candidates, nothing will. Politics at this level cannot and should never be left to the destructors. I implore you, America. Do better than we here in Toronto did. 

The world is watching and holding its breath.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

An Open Letter

An open letter to the obnoxious fan who sat behind us last night at the John Prine concert.

Dear Friend,

It was so nice that we could share in the collective experience of seeing Mr. Prine in person at Massey Hall last Friday evening. I'm not certain if you are aware of the fact that since Mr. Prine has suffered two bouts with cancer over the past several years, this tour is one that has great meaning for his fans. My Husband and I have waited over eight years to see him in concert again and we have had to endure several missed opportunities, including a cancelled show due to his ongoing health problems. So it was with great pleasure that we forked over a tidy sum and endured a painfully uncomfortable venue (I think that the springs from my seat are forever and permanently lodged in my right buttcheek) in order to watch and listen to one of our all-time favourite singer/songwriters perform live. We were even more thrilled when local favourite Ron Sexsmith was announced as the opening act. We were filled to the brim with honey and oil as we took our seats and couldn't imagine anything or anybody fucking with our mood, that is until you and your partners showed up and blew our illusions to smithereens. 

I am totally incredulous of people like you. Your insularity and self-centredness are astounding. It wasn't bad enough that you arrived twenty minutes late. Ok. Maybe your boss is a total fuckwad and couldn't find a way to let you leave on time. Or maybe your husband wasn't all that psyched about seeing John and you couldn't drag his aging hippy ass out of the house in a timely fashion. But there were 3,000 of us who did manage to find our seats before 8:00pm despite our personal problems or our shitty days. But no worries. You come first.

It wasn't disrespectful enough that you chatted noisily about your misery and apparently your even worse commute to Massey Hall during the entirety of Ron Sexsmith's eloquent solo set. Isn't it a least remotely possible that some in a crowd of 3,000 actually preferred Ron to you?

It wasn't horribly rude enough that you yanked the back of my already uncomfortable seat in order to squeeze yourself into the packed row.  Late and a fucking menace all rolled up into one tidy little package. Thanks for trimming my hair as you passed through.

Wasn't it miserably impolite enough of you to come in baked and blitzed? God forbid you should have a filter for your arrogance or that you should use your indoor voice. I think they heard you up in the second balcony. 

And that was just the beginning of our suffering.

There was that time when you decided to stand and leave during a critical moment of one of John's most sensitive songs, Hello in There. You decided that that particular moment would be an appropriate time for a refill on your G & T and to purchase a concert tee to cover your middle-aged spread. Thanks for ruining a favourite of mine.

There was the constant verbal molestation of the poor man to play his song Paradise that you barked out in a voice so loud and shrill as to remind us of cats copulating. My ears are still ringing from your tenor. He actually responded to you at one point by stating "I promise you that I'm singing as fast as I can." Imagine my disappointment when he gave into your constant haranguing and closed with the bloody thing.

There was the running commentary that you insisted on giving about each and every lyric as though you were scrutinizing them for a fucking thesis. Tell me something. How is it even possible that every line can be your "absolute favourite of all-time"? 

Madam...people like you are why I have tended to shy away from audience-driven experiences over the last several years. You seem to think that it is perfectly fine to behave at a public gathering as you do in your basement at home. You may think that you have every right to enjoy yourself as you see fit given the fact that you paid a hefty price for the ticket, but here's the thing. You don't. Your right to behave like an asshole ends where my rights as a  co-audience member begin. You see, I too paid for a ticket and nowhere in that transaction did it state that a drunken moron behaving boorishly behind me was included in the price. 

I am not a confrontational person and I probably would have suffered in silence were it not for my friend who confronted you at least once verbally and also with a few death stares lasered in your direction. It brought some emotional relief and we were at least able to laugh, but you are one of those rare individuals who lack any self-awareness. God forbid that you should have altered your behaviour.

I don't know you and I hope we never meet again. I obviously can't stop you from attending other public gatherings, but I do hope that at least you give some thought to what we said to you and that in your zeal to have a great evening, you hopefully understand that you really screwed with at least 4 other people's good time. 

My High Holidays are coming up so I will attempt to forgive you your multiple transgressions. As John, himself would say...

Father forgive us
For what we must do
You forgive us
We'll forgive you
We'll forgive each other
Till we both turn blue
Then we'll whistle and go fishing
In heaven.