Sunday, May 29, 2011

Walking With Israel

Today was the GTA UJA Walk With Israel.  It is the largest Israel participatory Israel event in the world, outside of Israel.  We've done it every year since moving to Canada.  Last year I walked with the ECRUSY Spring Convention participants.  Every year ECRUSY supports Zareinu as one of its tzedakot.  Last year, since our convention was in Toronto, and coincided with the Walk, we decided to not only support Zareinu financially, but physically.  All participants dressed in ZAREINU MOVEATHON t-shirts, making a big splash as the group moved through the thousands of people singing proudly.

This year convention returned to its traditional Mother's Day Weekend, and moved to London (it rotates throughout Ontario), but the Gorman's made up Team Zareinu, with a little help from our friends (especially a couple of teenagers).  We handed out close to 2500 Zareinu Moveathon ( stickers.  We handed out some t-shirts and brochures to thosands of people.  We began the Walk close to the start, but finished at the end of the line, having stopped at each nosh stop to hand out more.

More on the Moveathon later, but check it out!

The Walk With Israel is amazing.  There are thousands of people (10-15,000 although this year felt larger).  One would think it'd be scary to walk with small children, and you couldn't find anyone in the crowds, but not true.  It's surprisingly comfortable.  There a many, many families, and you see everyone you know.  We bump into friends all along the Walk route, and have no problem finding friends before the Walk.  According to this year's site,, over $430,000 has been raised. 

Nosh stops along the way provide entertainment, refreshment, and porta-potties. 

Inevitably there are protestors, but how disheartened can we be.  There were five Neturei Karta at the start (an extreme sect of Hareidi Jews) at the start, plus about a dozen along the way.  There were probably more at the end, but we didn't see them.  When you see a few dozen versus 15,000 it's hard not to wonder how the voices of those few make a splash.  Actually, on Walk day they don't.  What does make the spalsh is thousands of Jews proud to be Jews and proud of Israel, supporting our land and the work UJA does there.

While my knees still hurt, and I am really glad to have done the 8 km this year with family and friends.  See you there next year!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Navy Versus Marines

This weekend, as with every Memorial Day Weekend in the US, was Fleet Week in NYC.  Thousands of Sailors, MArines, and Coast Guard are in the City, and it creates a great feeling of pride for all who see them, not to mention giving our men and women serving a chance to feel the appreciation of the rest of us.

This year The Navy & The Marines, in great fun, hag a tug-a-war in Rockefeller Center.  Check it out-

First, notice that the Marine Commandant does not answer the question when asked who will win.  I am proud to say...

Spoiler Alert...

 it was the Navy!

A special thank you to all who paid the ultimate sacrifice to ensure our freedoms.

Parashat B'midbar

B’midbar Sinai…- in the wilderness of Sinai.  Our parasha opens after the Israelites have been wandering for some time, on the first day of the second month of the second year since the exodus from Egypt.  It is time to become a people.  How is this defined? Through census, military readiness, and worship to God, but also through transition, a turn over of generations, and spiritual searching. 

Throughout the book of Shemot the Israelites had been reactive.  God was the active party, molding the Israelites through shared experience and covenant.  In the wilderness the Israelites move from reactive to proactive.  They mature from a nascent people to a Nation able to stand on their own. 

The midbar represents both a physical wilderness and a spiritual one.  Throughout history wilderness represents transition.  Avraham leaves the comfort of his home, and takes his family into the unknown for God.  Jacob wanders, finding God where he did not expect.  Elijah and Elisha go to the desert, as do major figures in other religions.  The desert, especially Midbar Sinai, has been, and continues to be a haven for spiritual pilgrims. 

Bruce Feiler, in his research for his book, Walking the Bible, discovers the stark reality of the desert.  But despite the difficulties, he writes of connection to God, of discovering “the spiritual significance of the land and its relationship to the people and to God.”  While following in the footsteps of the ancient Israelites, Feiler “realizes that although Moses is denied entrance himself, it is not the land after all that is important for Moses. It is his meeting with God.” 

Centuries after the Israelites wandered, Henry David Thoreau would write, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise [sic] resignation, unless it was quite necessary.”  Thoreau was not a hermit.  He did not retreat from society, but to the edge of it for spiritual discovery.  

It takes a brave person to step away from his/her comfort zone, but if we are to discover our boundaries, we must wander into the midbar and realize our potential. 

I hope you had a Shabbat shalom.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bored or Just Lazy? has a daily column on sex.  Sometimes interesting, sometimes not.  Sometimes dead on, sometimes not.  Today's column focused on boredom in the bedroom.  Yes, at the end they offered some suggestions for preventing such boredom, and some of it even made sense, but by presenting it as they did, it seems like just one more nail in the coffin for fidelity.
According to (, "Good in Bed Research" presented a study on boredom.  3,341 readers in "committed relationships" were surveyed.  The top five boredom factors were on the board (no pun intended, just the Family Feud reference).  According to this survey, 24% reported having an affair due to boredom.  Top factors included:
  • Moving in together (15.6%)
  • Marriage (13.8%)
  • Getting pregnant (8%)
  • Having kids (32.2 percent)
  • Getting older (38.5%)
So it seems the more committed you become to someone, the more likely you are to be bored in your relationship.  Seriously?!  I understand there's nothing like a first kiss.  The stomach fluttering, blood rushing feeling that he (or she) really does like (or love) you.  It's wonderful.  But infatuation is by its very definition short-lived.  This idea of boredom comes with the ridiculous concept that love must always be burningly passionate, unexpected, and, therefore, new.
My two cents here- this is ridiculous.  There is a hasidic tradition of offering a blessing to a bride.  At every wedding I attend I offer the following blessing: "I wish you laughter."  Being comfortable enough with each other to comfortably laugh at the most ridiculous moments will also offer opportunities to talk at the most intimate.  If you're bored for any of the reasons listed above you have two problems.  First, you're probably bored with yourself.  Second, you've failed to realize that you are supposed to be building a life together with a strong foundation on which to lean.  
I don't know about you, but my life goals include contentment, security ( in the comfortable sense), and peace.  Roller coasters are fun, but not every day, and emotional roller coasters leave you panting on floor holding on for dear life.  But contentment, security, and peace do NOT mean boredom, not in the kitchen, not while we're living life outside the house, and not in the bedroom.  How do we do this?  There are two big factors.  The first is we talk.  We talk about everything.  Does this mean we don't argue?  No, we do a fair amount of that too, but we make sure to let it go.  Secondly, we observe the family purity laws.  That means for half of each month we have to find ways to relate to each other that aren't physical, and yes, absence can make the heart grow fonder.
On the flip side of the FoxNews column, the National Post ran an article promoting early marriage (  Mark Regnerus, a University of Texas professor, has been promoting early marriage.  Sean and I received similar advice from a colleague while still in seminary.  Mel said to us, "If you wait until you're fully ready, you'll never do it."  Mel was talking about children, but it holds true for marriage.  Wait until you've found the one!  Absolutely!  Then, build a life together.  Is it easy?  No, but it will create a strong foundation for you as a couple.  Someday, when your children are grown and out of the house, you'll have a rock-solid foundation built as a couple when they weren't around.  
Sean and I married within two years of meeting each other.  We were engaged within nine months, and we'd only been dating for three.  How?  Why?  In the words of the great film, "When Harry Met Sally," "...because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."  At Brandeis I had a suite-mate my junior year who got married half-way through the year.  She was a junior.  He was a sophomore.  Their reasoning was "We're getting married.  Why wait, and pay for 2 rents, 2 sets of utilities, 2 everything, just because our parents think we're a little young."  Daniel and Rebecca were absolutely right, and yes, they're still together.
People worry that if they aren't independent and financially secure they'll have problems.  I think this is a fear about what if it doesn't work.  Relationships are work, every day.  But when you work together there more hope for the future.  For Daniel and Rebecca, for Sean and me, and for Professor Mark Regnerus and his wife there is a strong foundation built on shared experience.  We know where the hardships were, and we helped each other through them.  We also know that together we can do it again.  
I'd also add (and Professor Regnerus adds too) that after our 18 years together the sexual chemistry is better than ever.  

Jews Are Funny

Tonight an El Al jet had to return to Ben Gurion Airport due to a mechanical problem.  For hours there was no news.  Multiple emergency vehicles waited on the tarmac.  Readers and watchers were kept up to date through the internet.

But Jews are funny.  Yes, we sat watching like any others, but along with the watching came twitter feeds of Jews around the world reading Tehillim, psalms.  Whenever there is danger, you can bet we'll be there to save the world and each other with our twitter tehillim.  For us, it was an issue for all Jews.  There may be nothing we can do from around the world, but then again, it couldn't hurt.

The plane got back, and landed safely.  "Of course," I said to Sean, "it was the Tehillim."

How Shall I Speak to Thee...

Last Thursday Sean & I headed downtown to prove to the nation of Canada that we, although born and bred in the United States, were actually fluent enough in English to become permanent residents of Canada.  Being native-born English speakers, with over 20 years of English schooling from accredited schools, multiple degrees from English-speaking universities, and being published in English, clearly wasn't enough to prove we are as fluent as a middle schooler.

Having to be downtown by 8:30 was our first challenge.  The children begin school at 8:45.  With a bit of planning we managed to get everyone up and dressed early enough.  Sean & I davenned at home; Jesse put on his tallit and t'fillin, and we headed to Beth Tzedec for t'fillot.  Jesse joined the minyan.  Sean and I greeted people.  Keren & Gavi stayed with a couple of young friends who are unfortunately saying kaddish.  They all kept each other busy until breakfast.  (Thanks to Connie who fed us all, along with the minyan crowd she feeds every morning!)

Sean and I lucked into a ride downtown, and by 8:30 we were checking in for our exam.  There were a lot of people registered, and the one language we didn't hear while waiting on line was English.  We were checked in and seated in our assigned seats.  It struck me that the last time I was in this type of situation (a standardized test, seated with others, with my #2 pencils) I was seated at Harvard University taking my GRE's.  I shared this with Sean, and we began laughing over this.  The proctor turned and shushed us.  We questioned the shushing.  After all, the exam didn't begin for another 20 minutes, but we were tersely informed that once seated no talking was allowed.

For 20 minutes we sat, hands crossed, in our seats, silent and bored.

At 9:00 AM the doors were closed, and the exam began.  Instructions were given.  Answer sheets and exam booklets handed out ("Do not open your exam booklet until instructed to do so.")  There were three sections, one hour each- listening, reading, and writing.  Along with the instructions and collecting we'd eventually spend over four hours taking this test.

The test organization is based in Britain and Australia.  This made the listening piece interesting, as one voice in the first recorded section had a strong Australian accent.  I wouldn't have minded so much if I were trying to move to Australia, but I'm actually emigrating to Canada, where the accent is very different than Australia.  The first three answers should have been easy, but with the accent I cannot say I got them correct.  Oh well, there are 37 more to go.  The third listening piece was a conversation between two scientists (supposedly).  Just as they get into the meat of the discussion, one uses a colloquialism.  Was it a Canadian colloquialism?  No, it was an Australian colloquialism.  Again, fine if I am moving to Australia, but I am in another hemisphere completely.

Second was the reading exam.  Oh what I would have given for a red pencil.  I did this section twice.  First I wrote on my answer sheet.  Then, instead of checking my answers, I redid the exam in the test booklet.  Third, I compared my answers.  With still 30 minutes to go, I began to correct the grammar in the test booklet.  Circling and marking "faulty grammar," "ambiguous pronoun reference," and "awkward" took another 10 minutes.  At some point the proctor came and took away one of my pens.  We were allowed pens and pencils, but one of my pens had an attached highlighter, clearly contraband.  Again, 20 minutes of sitting, hands crossed, doing nothing.  Actually that's not true.  I put my head down on the desk, and I fell asleep.

After my refreshing cat nap I had the writing exam.  There were two parts: short and long.  The short part was a business letter with a minimum of 150 words.  The second was an essay explaining an opinion, 250 words.    I chose the position I thought was the contrary one.  A girl's got to have a little fun.  My first essay was 231 words.  For the second I wrote over 333.  Yes, I did count, three times.  What else was there to do with my time?  I'd already taken a nap.

During the writing section I had time to debate American versus Canadian grammar and spelling in my head.  Do I include the "u"?  (Yes.)  What about the comma rule in making a list?  While I initially left the comma before "and" out, I eventually put one in from force of habit.  Afterward, I opted for consistency, and went through and added them.

After over four hours, we were set free until 5:00 PM, when we had to report for our spoken tests.  We spent most of the 4.5 hours walking through the city.  Upon arrival (a bit early) we kibbitzed with the staff.  I shared with them that I usually get paid $200 for speaking on a given topic for 20 minutes.  Gerrard, our examiner, was fun.  He was good-natured and a bit surprised that native-born Americans had to take the test, but onward we plodded.  My and Sean's answers are recorded in case anyone questions our abilities.  The questions are clearly not meant for North Americans.  One question asked me about the foods of my culture.  I said, "I'm from New York.  Our cultural foods are hot dogs, bagels, and deli."  Gerrard didn't have me elaborate.  Sean was asked about how important native costume is in his culture.  Personally, I think it's important, as a New Yorker, to support our local teams, wearing the blue and orange of many of our teams, or local sports team jerseys and hats.

At the end, Gerrard told us he didn't think we'd be back, smiled, and said he'd enjoyed speaking with us. The lobby had signs saying that we were in an "English only zone.  Anyone speaking another language would be asked to leave."  Sean couldn't resist, and we headed out with a quick "ya'lah."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Parashat B'hukkotai

Parashat B’hukkotai
In the Book of Ruth, when Naomi is about to return to Israel, she entreats her daughters-in-law to return to their parents’ homes.  Ruth steadfastly remains with Naomi saying, “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God….”(Ruth 1:16-17)
These words echo the beginning of the third aliyah of Parashat B’hukkotai.  The third aliyah covers thirty-six verses, called tokhechah, or reproach. Traditionally the tokhechah is read quickly and in a low voice.  It lays out the dangers of, and punishments for, turning away from God and the brit, the covenant.  Immediately prior to the tokhechah, at the start of the aliyah, our parasha reiterates the terms of the brit established between God and the Israelites.  It is a reminder of the eternal connection of A-donai to B’nei Yisrael, and of B’nei Yisrael to A-donai.  “I will establish My abode in your midst….  I will be ever-present in your midst.  I will be your God, and you shall be My people….” Like Ruth’s commitment to Naomi, and to B’nei Yisrael through Naomi, our parasha establishes the basis for our covenant. 

“I will establish My abode in your midst” 
“I will be ever-present in your midst” 
“I will be your God”
“And you shall be My people”

“Where you lodge, I will lodge”
“Where you go I will go”
“Your God will be my God”
“Your people shall be my people”

Meaning & Connection:
Together we shall dwell  
Together we will be
A-donai is our God, and we are A-donai’s people
Together we are one nation

This is a covenant for eternity that we share with God and with each other. The echo of these words in Ruth marks them as connecting to God and to each other eternally throughout our generations.  These same words leading into the tokhechah remind us that with our connections to God and to each other we can avoid the admonishment of the tokhechah.  If we remain steadfast to God and to each other, together, we can attain the blessings promised by God at the start of our parasha and throughout the Torah.

Give the Gift of Life

Tonight Sean and I, along with friends, attended a program at Sunybrook on organ donation.  Sponsored by the Trillium Gift of LIfe Network, Rabbi Rueven Bulka interviewed Rabbi Moshe Tendler on halakhic perspectives on organ and tissue donation.

It was a fascinating evening, with Rabbi Tendler explaining organ donation as a halakhic imperative, and offering opinions on those who disagree.

There was much I already knew, but having it confirmed by Rabbi Tendler, both a halakhic authority and having a PhD in biology, solidified my own thoughts and opinions.


  • Not only is organ donation allowed, it is commanded.
  • To allow Jews to receive organs, but not to donate is akin to murder.  If you do not accept brain death as death then organ harvesting is murder.  Therefore to take an organ to save one's life is to murder another to save oneself, which is forbidden by halakhah.
  • Discovering that Rabbi Moshe Feinstein studied brain death in patients at Downstate Hospital to make his determinations on organ donation.
  • The Harvard protocol for determining brain death (aka brain stem death) is more stringent than the rules of the Talmud in determining death.  
  • Listening to Rabbi Tendler stating that those who rule against organ donation do so without any facts at hand, and promulgate lies.
  • Rabbi Bulka suggesting that since brain death is true death, those who would refuse to remove life support, allowing the body to deteriorate slowly are the ones truly being nevul met (disrespectful to the dead) by subjecting the body to prolonged indignity and delaying burial.
Yasher koach Rabbi Tendler and Rabbi Bulka on your decisions to stand up for what is right in halakhah and for the Jewish people even in the face of pressure.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bravo to Doctor Denis MacEoin at University of Edinburgh

Dr. Denis MacEoin, a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly, addressed The Edinburgh University Student Association on Saturday, April 9, 2011.  Here are his words.

"May I be permitted to say a few words to members of the EUSA? I am an Edinburgh graduate (MA 1975) who studied Persian, Arabic and Islamic History in Buccleuch Place under William Montgomery Watt and Laurence Elwell Sutton, two of Britain 's great Middle East experts in their day. I later went on to do a PhD at Cambridge and to teach Arabic and Islamic Studies at Newcastle University . Naturally, I am the author of several books and hundreds of articles in this field.

I say all that to show that I am well informed in Middle Eastern affairs and that, for that reason, I am shocked and disheartened by the EUSA motion and vote. I am shocked for a simple reason: there is
not and has never been a system of apartheid in Israel . That is not my opinion, that is fact that can be tested against reality by any Edinburgh student, should he or she choose to visit Israel to see for

Let me spell this out, since I have the impression that those member of EUSA who voted for this motion are absolutely clueless in matters concerning Israel , and that they are, in all likelihood, the victims of extremely biased propaganda coming from the anti-Israel lobby. Being anti-Israel is not in itself objectionable. But I'm not talking about ordinary criticism of Israel . I'm speaking of a hatred that permits itself no boundaries in the lies and myths it pours out. Thus, Israel is repeatedly referred to as a "Nazi" state. In what sense is this true, even as a metaphor? Where are the Israeli concentration camps? The einzatsgruppen? The SS? The Nuremberg Laws? The Final Solution?  None of these things nor anything remotely resembling them exists in Israel , precisely because the Jews, more than anyone on earth, understand what Nazism stood for. It is claimed that there has
been an Israeli Holocaust in Gaza (or elsewhere). Where? When? No honest historian would treat that claim with anything but the contempt it deserves. But calling Jews Nazis and saying they have committed a Holocaust is as basic a way to subvert historical fact as anything I can think of.

Likewise apartheid. For apartheid to exist, there would have to be a situation that closely resembled things in South Africa under the apartheid regime. Unfortunately for those who believe this, a weekend in any part of Israel would be enough to show how ridiculous the claim is. That a body of university students actually fell for this and voted on it is a sad comment on the state of modern education. The most obvious focus for apartheid would be the country's 20% Arab population. Under Israeli law, Arab Israelis have exactly the same rights as Jews or anyone else; Muslims have the same rights as Jews or Christians; Baha'is, severely persecuted in Iran, flourish in Israel,
where they have their world centre; Ahmadi Muslims, severely persecuted in Pakistan and elsewhere, are kept safe by Israel; the holy places of all religions are protected under a specific Israeli law. Arabs form 20% of the university population (an exact echo of their percentage in the general population). In Iran , the Baha'is (the largest religious minority) are forbidden to study in any university or to run their own universities: why aren't your members boycotting Iran ?

Arabs in Israel can go anywhere they want, unlike blacks in apartheid South Africa . They use public transport, they eat in restaurants, they go to swimming pools, they use libraries, they go to cinemas alongside Jews = something no blacks could do in South Africa . Israeli hospitals not only treat Jews and Arabs, they also treat Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank . On the same wards, in the same operating theatres.

In Israel , women have the same rights as men: there is no gender apartheid. Gay men and women face no restrictions, and Palestinian gays often escape into Israel , knowing they may be killed at home. It seems bizarre to me that LGBT groups call for a b oycott of Israel and say nothing about countries like Iran , where gay men are hanged or stoned to death. That illustrates a mindset that beggars belief.  Intelligent students thinking it's better to be silent about regimes that kill gay people, but good to condemn the only country in the Middle East that rescues and protects gay people. Is that supposed to be a sick joke?

University is supposed to be about learning to use your brain, to think rationally, to examine evidence, to reach conclusions based on solid evidence, to compare sources, to weigh up one view against one or more others. If the best Edinburgh can now produce are students who have no idea how to do any of these things, then the future is bleak. I do not object to well documented criticism of Israel . I do object when supposedly intelligent people single the Jewish state out above states that are horrific in their treatment of their populations. We are going through the biggest upheaval in the Middle East since the 7th and 8th centuries, and it's clear that Arabs and Iranians are rebelling against terrifying regimes that fight back by killing their own citizens. Israeli citizens, Jews and Arabs alike, do not rebel (though they are free to protest). Yet Edinburgh students mount no demonstrations and call for no boycotts against Libya , Bahrain , Saudi Arabia , Yemen , and Iran . They prefer to make false accusations against one of the world's freest countries, the only country in the Middle East that has taken in Darfur refugees, the only country in the Middle East that gives refuge to gay men and women, the only country in the Middle East that protects the Baha'is.... Need I
go on? The imbalance is perceptible, and it sheds no credit on anyone who voted for this boycott.

I ask you to show some common sense. Get information from the Israeli embassy. Ask for some speakers. Listen to more than one side. Do not make your minds up until you have given a fair hearing to both parties. You have a duty to your students, and that is to protect them from one-sided argument. They are not at university to be propagandized. And they are certainly not there to be tricked into anti-Semitism by punishing one country among all the countries of the world, which happens to be the only Jewish state. If there had been a single Jewish state in the 1930s (which, sadly, there was not), don't you think Adolf Hitler would have decided to boycott it? Of course he would, and he would not have stopped there. Your generation has a duty to ensure that the perennial racism of anti-Semitism never sets down roots among you. Today, however, there are clear signs that it has done so and is putting down more. You have a chance to avert a very great evil, simply by using reason and a sense of fair play. Please tell me that this makes sense. I have given you some of the evidence.  It's up to you to find out more.

Bravo Dr. MacEoin, and yasher koach.  It begs the the question why do so many seemingly informed and intelligent people close their eyes to the simplicity of the the facts as Dr. MacEoin lays them out.   

Interestingly, a student responded to this letter stating the EUSA did not really speak for the student body.  The students were either unable to attend (due to the regular publicizing of meetings too late to make plans) or uninterested (either they feel the EUSA has no real relevance or they are simply apathetic). 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A New Job

While we were still in Hawaii the Navy Times published a story about military spouses and careers.  The study looked at how easily are military spouses able to maintain jobs and careers.  According to this study, for each year of post-high school education the likelihood of the military spouse being able to find and/or maintain a job drops 10%.

For me, with 10 years of education (4 at Brandeis, 6 in seminary), I have no hope.  Still, there are positives.

I needed to leave my position at United Synagogue to support Sean's deployment.  The job required travel and long hours, often in the evening.  It was not a possibility while acting as the single parent on site.  While difficult to leave, it left me open to take a position that was opening just now.

I am now the Executive Director of MERCAZ-Canada and the Canadian Foundation for Masorti Judaism.  The positions offers me an opportunity to remain connected to the movement.  I believe in Conservative/Masorti Judaism.  I believe in the message that Masorti has to offer, that there is no one, absolute way to do Judaism.  We must maintain our ties to Israel, but also to work to keep Israel a place for all.  This is now my job, and an opportunity opened, perhaps, through the difficulty of a deployment.

Parashat B'har

Parashat B'Har
"And the Lord spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai saying...  "When you come the land that I give to you, and you settle the land..." 
Parashat B'har follows this with the laws of the shmitta and jubilee years.  The shmitta and jubilee are called a Shabbat as a rest for the land and a release for properties and for people.  B'har also includes a guide to attitudes and behaviours as to how we treat each other.  It ends with a reminder that we are not to make idols or images to exalt, but to keep all God's shabbatot, and worship in God's legitimate sanctuary.
We do this because the Lord brought us out of Egypt.  Multiple times we are reminded of our experiences with slavery and with redemption.  It is the reason for our existence as a people, and the reason for our required actions.  Forever we are to remember as a people our collective experience of oppression.  We are to learn from it, and then strive to be better.  Through this endeavour we aim to be Ohr Hagoyim, a light among the nations.  
To be Ohr Hagoyim has seemingly come naturally to Jews and the Jewish people throughout history.  The influence of Jews in history has been noted by historians, novelists, philosophers, and others.  Mark Twain, in 1897, wrote the following words, which still ring true today.
"If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one quarter of one percent of the human race.  It suggests a nebulous puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way.  Properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of.  He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk.
His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine and abstruse learning are also very out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers.  He has made a marvellous fight in this world in all ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself and be excused for it.  The Egyptians, the Babylonians and the Persians rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greeks and Romans followed and made a vast noise, and they were gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, and have vanished.

The Jew saw them all, survived them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities, of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert but aggressive mind.  All things are mortal but the Jews; all other forces pass, but he remains.  What is the secret of his immortality?"
This week we celebrated Israel's 63rd birthday.  We mourned those who died for our existence, and then, partied hard with the knowledge that Israel continues to be Ohr Hagoyim.  At the Israeli Consulate Yom HaAtzmaut celebration Amir Gissim, Israel's Consul to Canada, Peter Kent, Minister of the Environment, and a representative from Hebrew University announced even more cooperation between Israel and Canada in the areas of medicine, of environmental science, and in the path of peace.  In the next year a fleet of fully electric cars will roll across Israel to be followed up in the following year here in Ontario. 
As we count the days to Shavuot and our opportunity to once again stand upon the mountain looking out, we again have the opportunity to "be the change we want to see in the world."*  Let us embrace it.

Shabbat shalom

*Mahatma Ghandi

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

You can take the girl out of the military...

Strange thing tonight...

At the Israeli Consulate Yom HaAtzmaut celebration Sean and I met Brigadier General Hilton, Commandant, and Major Wiesenfeld of the Canadian Forces College in Toronto.  Although there were many people we knew at the event (some I haven't seen in a while, and was very happy to be with them), I felt most comfortable with Major Wiesfeld.  Somehow being with another military person just feels right.  While I do not wear a uniform myself, over the past (almost) 17 years, I have discovered that I have a definite place in the military community.

Raised by a socialist, Zionist father, a child born in the late 60's and in the shadow of Vietnam, the military, while appreciated, felt foreign in concept, and was far from my mind and heart.  Now, after 17 (almost) years as a military spouse, that same military feels comfortable, eliciting pride.

It was immense pride and gratefulness that I felt upon hearing that an elite Naval Seal team had killed Osama Bin Laden.  Immediately after I felt sorry for Sean, that he could not be in Afghanistan for this, one more thing taken from him in the aftermath of the series of mistakes that changed his deployment.  I feel pride when I see a US uniform, or one of our allies.  I was the one that wanted to introduce ourselves to Major Wiesenfeld.  There is an instant camaraderie among most of the military and the military families.  It should be taken advantage of; old connections maintained, and new ones formed.

Happy birthday to our ally, Israel.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Yom HaAtzmaut

Just spent a lovely evening at the Science Centre for a Yom HaAtzmaut celebration given by the Israeli Consulate.

Highlights of the evening:

  • Delicious food prepared by an Israeli celebrity chef including kebab (there should have been a washing station) and a halvah mousse.
  • The new fully electric car by Greenpower to be rolled out across Israel in the next year and in Ontario, California, and Hawaii a year later.
  • Meeting Brigadier-General Hilton, Commandant of Canadian Forces College, and Major Mike Wiesfeld.  (Glad to connect with other Jews in the military, and Sean's been invited to the mess).
It's a nice night to be out and a good way to celebrate the day.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Flying Humans

I used to love flying.  I don't anymore.  It's not the security checks, although I think we have a lot of hassle without an equal level of safety.  It's not the cost, although it is too high.  It's not the extra fees, although I should be able to bring a suitcase on any long flight.

I flew back from New York last week.  I flew in a commuter jet.  It's not the smallest plane in which I have flown.  Sean and I accompanied friends, Randi and Lewis, while Lewis was getting his pilot's license.  It was pre-9/11, and we buzzed the Statue of Liberty and the Seminary.  We had a great time.  It's not the size of the plane that bothers me.

I used to fly frequently.  It never bothered me.  I flew back and forth to Boston all through university.  I flew to Europe twice in high school.  I flew multiple times to California and to Israel.  I flew twice a year from Hawaii to the mainland and back while we lived there.  Flying never bothered me.

However, over the past ten years my love of flying has diminished.  Part if it is sheer neurosis.  I worry about what will happen if the plane crashes.  I'm not worried about me.  I'm worried for my children.  I think about how they will feel, and what I will miss.  It doesn't matter that my intellectual self knows that flying is safe.  I think the second part is the size of the planes.  More and more I've been flying on commuter jets.  They are much likely to be grounded for bad weather, or prevented from landing.  Once, when I flew to Boston, we circled the city for a couple of hours, and flew back to Toronto.  High winds had caused a small plane to roll off a runway, and the winds blowing across the other runway were too high for us to land.  Invariably, when I fly in a commuter jet the flight will be delayed.  Out of my last 17 flights, only one took off on time, and that was still twenty minutes late.  Small planes also experience turbulence on a different level.  When I flew home last week a young boy, maybe six years old, sat in front of me.  As the plane rocked and bounced he said, "It's scary.  I'm scared."  He was right.  It was scary.  I've felt my stomach drop thousands of feet on most of the flights I've taken in the past few years. More and more my flights have bounced their way from air current to air current, shaking so badly I couldn't even read my book.  I have never taken a flight without reciting t'fillat haderekh (the traveler's prayer), but now, on numerous occasions, I find myself reciting Shema or Psalm 23.

I miss the luxury of a large plane, of dressing for travel, having a real meal, and a smooth flight.  I miss being treated like a human instead of cattle.  And I miss enjoying travel instead of dreading it.

As we move to smaller and smaller planes, more expensive flights, and what feels like price gouging I wonder if humans were truly meant to fly.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Sometimes my 14-year-old is wonderfully insightful.  Tuesday I walked around the block with Miriam, the kids, and her mother-in-law.  It was Jesse's suggestion.  He said, "I think the chavurah should go and get the Wohl family up from shiva."He was sorry he would be in New York, and couldn't be there for his friend.

The logistics didn't work out.  I was in NY, and Sean was swamped enough that the email didn't go out to coordinate, but it worked out.  Miriam knew the thought, and appreciated it.  And I was there.

After Miriam and I hugged.

I've been hugging friends a lot lately.  A hug is a special thing.  It can convey a million emotions with a touch.  It can be light-hearted, manly, or deep and strong.  It can share need, and love, appreciation, or desire.

I've loved hugs for as long as I can remember.  My friend Mike gave the best hugs in all of METNY in the 80's.  My son, Gavi, is the cuddliest ever, often running over for a quick hug and kiss at the oddest times.

I'm looking forward to hugging without desperation.  I have the greatest friends in the world, some near, some far.  With those close by, we've been hugging at every opportunity.  I'm hugging acquaintances.  I'm hugging the cat.  I'm sending virtual hugs to the people I love around the world.  With them I hope they all can get the message of just how special they all are.

New York in Spring

On Sunday I drove to Manhattan with my parents.  We left at 5:00 AM, and I slept off any if the drive when not behind the wheel.  The day passed quickly, and by early afternoon we were in The City.

Although I live in a city, and may go downtown, to me The City will always be Manhattan.  Somehow, for New Yorkers "The City" refers to only one borough, although New York City has three (Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island).  Every other borough is known by name.  [By the way, The Island will always refer to Long Island.  I don't care how many islands exist where I live.]

There's a feeling I get whenever I enter NY (the city, not the state).  It's a feeling of comfort and belonging. This may seem strange in a city of over 1,500,000 people, but it's there.  I get the warm fuzzies when I see the skyline, and there's a calmness in entering the borders.  [Don't get me wrong, I love living in Toronto.  I have the most amazing chevra here.  We've been lucky to make special friends in many places, but to have such a special group all in one place that supports each other unconditionally is unique and amazing.  There is a great Jewish infrastructure, good kosher restaurants, museums, culture, and more.]

Sunday afternoon we headed to my brother's apartment on the Upper West Side, and ate bagels and lox for lunch.  I love the doughy, chewy toughness of a NY bagel (and I've made my kids into NY bagel snobs, God bless 'em).  For dinner Russ & I walked to a nearby steakhouse.  Being in NY is great.  I asked Russ what he wanted for dinner.  He didn't care, and listed about a dozen kosher restaurants within walking distance.  We walked up about four blocks to the steakhouse, where I saw a bunch of people I knew.  Oddly, walking around the Upper West Side I kept seeing people who seemed to be doppelgangers for people I knew.  It must have been that Jewish look that just seemed so familiar.

Russell is moving soon.  His company is transferring their whole operation to Greensboro, North Carolina (Anyone know a nice Jewish girl there who owns her own tools and wants a great catch?).  Knowing this was the last time I was going to be in Russell's apartment had me thinking of the times I had left NY.

The first time I left NY I was leaving for college at Brandeis University.  It was an exciting time of life.  I'd had my heart set on a Boston area school since I was ten, and Brandeis since I was 15.  I couldn't wait to go, but knew I'd be back in NY before long.

The second time I left NY was post-JTS.  Sean & I headed to Hawaii for three years.  Although I didn't know how long we'd be connected to the Navy, but again, I assumed I'd be back in NY.

Strangely, when Sean left the Navy, we headed back to Long Island.  For two and a half years we were back to being real New Yorkers, living just two miles from where I grew up.  Everything was familiar.  Yet, time doesn't stand still, and while we loved taking advantage of everything NY had to offer, Long Island wasn't the place for us.

Now, knowing my brother was leaving the city, and with my parents and aunts and uncles in New Jersey (A place to which no New Yorker admits s/he could ever move), and my cousins in Westchester (which somehow isn't really NY), Russ is the last tangible connection to NY.  Sean has family there still, and we have friends there, but somehow they don't represent my connection to NY in the same way.  So, I was philosophical as we drove into Manhattan.  I realized that I didn't miss NY as much as the feeling and idea of NY.  This became clearer as I headed to my meetings on Monday morning.  I locked up Russell's apartment, and headed towards Broadway.  I walked about seven blocks when I realized I didn't have the time to walk all the way to my destination.  I walked two more blocks, west this time to hop on the Riverside bus.

An amazing thing the MTA.  Form 106th Street and Broadway to 119th and Riverside I had three choices of how to get there vis mass transit, all sensible.  The bus moves smoothly up the street, and I arrived at my destination (from 106th to 119th) in minutes.  I took the extra time to sit on a bench in Riverside Park, eat my corn muffin (bought in lieu of the black and white cookie I REALLY wanted, but the bagel place was out), and read.  Children from a nearby daycare were running through the part.  People were jogging, and a Parks Service worker was mowing the grass.

I smile a lot in New York.  Walking the streets of the City, looking around, smiling at people, especially around my old stomping grounds, is wonderful.  I love that almost all the museums ask for a "suggested donation" for entrance so anyone can go.  I love Broadway and off-Broadway, and off-off-Broadway.  I love TKTS and twofers, so you can get discounted tickets to almost any show in NY.  I love opera, and Shakespeare, and music in the Park, the Central Park Zoo and all its statues.  I love free concerts at the MET with picnic blankets, wine, kids, and dogs.  I love the MTA, and how wonderfully it works.  I love that at all hours I can get almost any kind of food I want, all kosher.  I love Fairway, and Zabars, and that Westside Market has no doors (open 24 hours/ 7 days a week).  I love the speed at which the city moves, but that people are really very friendly if you simply smile and say, "Hi."  I love the modern buildings built to enhance the old instead of dwarf them.  I love that New Yorkers just know in their heart of hearts that the Big Apple is the absolute best city on earth no matter where they live or how much they love the place they live.  I love that somehow, through no intention of ours, our kids became real New Yorkers, even though they lived there for only a few years.


Parashat Emor

Parashat Emor spells out the ritual life of the Jewish people.  Within Emor the calendar is set forth a second time, now within the context of the holiness of the Israelites.

The frequent reiteration of sacred days and rituals shows that we are a people of ritual, marking sacred time and space through our days, our months, and our years.  God speaks to Moshe, saying, “These are the Lord’s special days, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions.”  These times are ordained by God.

Ritual recreates the profane as sacred.  From birth to death we measure our lives with sanctified moments.  By designating a weekly Shabbat our weeks and days take on special meaning. Through Rosh Hodesh our months take on special significance.  Through the marking of time from Sukkot to Pesach to Shavuot we make our history holy. 

But our calendar and our rituals go beyond simply marking the moments.  Through our rituals we re-experience our history, sharing our collective memory, taking pride and solace in the shared experience of our people.  At Hanukah we recreate the miracle of the oil, modifying it to increase its light, instead of decreasing.  On Tisha B’Av we physically reenact our mourning over the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem.  The Shalosh Regalim reenact our travel from Yitziat Mitzraiyim at Pesach, to Har Sinai on Shavuot, to Sukkot and our forty years of wandering in the midbar.  Through doing we experience.  Through experience we gain knowledge.  Psalm 90 reads, “Teach us to number our days, that we gain a heart of wisdom.” 

If we can do this together there will be no end to the sanctity of our memories, our moments, and our futures together.

Barukh Dayan Emet- A Judgment for Bin Laden

Barukh dayan emet; God is a righteous judge.  It's the traditional Jewish response to news of a death.  Sometimes it is not an easy response, at other times it flows off the tongue and through the lips with ease.

It flowed very naturally on Sunday night.  While I was watching the Mets/Phillies game at my brother's apartment, the announcer broke from the game to say, "ABC news is reporting that Osama Bin Laden has been killed."

My first reaction was a deep sigh of relief and gratitude; my second concern for the team that took him out (They are all fine).  Then, barukh dayan emet.  This was all followed by sadness that Sean could not be in Afghanistan for this.

It's a series of contradictions.  On Monday I heard the phrase uttered in response to the deaths last week of two people I knew.  Both were vibrant individuals.  One was young, with young children.  Both were mentschim, good men.  Were they judged righteously? In death or in life?

Bin Laden's death is filled with contradiction- the respect with which the body was treated in death by the NAVY Seals versus the total disdain with which he treated others in life.  He may have used a woman as a shield even at his end.  Pakistan immediately began to allude to help and intelligence they provided.  However, Bin LAden may have lived in this compound, under the nose and eyes of the Pakistani government, for over three years, and the US did not tell Pakistan of the operation until after it was over.  Is this the picture of a helpful, involved government?

Whether death comes at God's choosing or not, through cancer or a Seal's bullet, for the individual it will not matter.  We can only hope that once on the other side barukh dayan emet, for that is the moment when God will judge.  Last week, God had two easy, easy judgements in Samuel Wise and Michael Wohl.  This week, a very different judgement had to be made, but perhaps equally simple in God's righteousness.