Friday, 23 January 2015

Eugenie Bouchard's twirl should make us all mad

(Published in The Toronto Star, January 26th and The Montreal Gazette January 27th)

During a post-match interview a couple of days ago at the Australian Open, Eugenie Bouchard was asked by an interviewer working for the tourney, Ian Cohen, to “give us a twirl” to show off her outfit. In the clip I saw, Ms. Bouchard looks surprised and reluctant but, at the urging of Cohen and the crowd, performs her pirouette. Then she buries her face in her hand.

Ms. Bouchard is ranked 7th in the world in her sport. Do they make these kinds of requests of male top seeds? We all know the answer to that one.

Apparently, CBC Sports’ called the incident, “very unexpected.” Other media types called it “strange” and “odd.” Egregious is more like it. Why don’t men get how awful this was?

Let me connect the dots between the disrespect shown world-class athlete Bouchard and offenses like those alleged of Jian Ghomeshi. What does the Eugenie Twirl have to do with Ghomeshi? Plenty: both events cut to the heart of our society’s unequal treatment of the sexes and of the way females are socialized in our society. We’re trained to be nice and agreeable, to “go along to get along,” rather than to be autonomous individuals with the (at times prickly) human right to draw lines in the sand, demur, and even retaliate when reasonable boundaries are crossed.

I don't condone violence, but maybe feminists have been going about the quest for equality the wrong way. Perhaps it’s time to give women the physical skills that will empower us to use a little negative reinforcement, if necessary. Knowing we’re capable of cleaning their clocks might make a big difference to the way we are treated, not to mention what we’ll put up with.

Consider the case of Jim Hounslow, according to The Toronto Star, an e-learning specialist at the Winnipeg’s Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. He was the guy who alleged his gonads were grabbed by Ghomeshi way back when Hounslow worked for Ghomeshi while they were both studying at York University:

“With no warning, he just reached over and grabbed my genitals (through Hounslow’s jeans) and started fondling them. I was completely shocked and I reacted,” Hounslow said.

Hounslow, who is roughly the same height and build as Ghomeshi (“I am built like a cyclist and I am a cyclist”), said he grabbed Ghomeshi’s arm, pulled it behind his back and then pushed Ghomeshi hard against the elevator doors.

“I told him, ‘You are never to do that again,’” Hounslow recalls.

Contrast that to Lucy DeCoutere’s account to CBC of her alleged 2003 assault:

They started kissing consensually, but, she said, Ghomeshi soon became violent.

“He did take me by the throat and press me against the wall and choke me,” DeCoutere said. “And he did slap me across the face a couple of times.”… She left within an hour and saw Ghomeshi two more times that weekend, but they did not discuss the incident, and no further violent incidents occurred.

My point is that we (as a society) still aren’t doing enough to ensure girls and women have personal autonomy. Instead of grooming them to be strong, we groom them to be nice, by-the-rule players. Compliant, agreeable, and decorative.

No wonder we so often end up beaten and raped. I believe many people, men and even  women, scoffed at reports that half of all Canadian women have been physically or sexually assaulted. But the virality of #beenrapedneverreported demonstrates that police charges truly are the tip of the iceberg.

Would the risk of being beaten up have deterred the activities of Dalhousie dental student “gentlemen’s club”?

What I want is a world where a small, cute woman is treated with as much respect as The Rock. I want a small, cute woman to be treated with respect because everyone deserves respect. But I'll take being treated with respect because of fear of a punch in the nose if that's all I (we) can get.

Women need to become more powerful as well as more empowered, and part of that means changing our approach to physical fitness, starting with youngsters. We need a revolution, the equivalent of the USA’s Title IX, here in Canada. Among other things, Title IX required American schools receiving federal funds to provide equal funds to both male and female athletic programs. We need self-defence courses, boxing, you name it. Whatever it takes to make us physically more powerful. Because the ability to write strongly worded letters clearly isn’t enough.

Most women understand why Ms. Bouchard pirouetted. Even Lucy DeCoutere’s behaviour is comprehensible, given Ghomeshi’s rainmaker status in the entertainment industry. But I think we can do more as a society to help women just say no to sexism and abuse.

Training women to be physically powerful—and aggressive as necessary—will hopefully create benefits beyond greater health and wellbeing. Done right, it will give women the confidence to say no—to the sexist treatment Ms. Bouchard experienced this week (though she, persists in calling it “funny”), to the attacks of abusers. Just say no to weak women. It’s time to go beyond slogans, and make sure our girls and women have the muscle that will make men think twice before mistreating us.

Friday, 9 January 2015

What a difference an (almost) decade makes: PEN Canada on Charlie Hebdo & the Danish cartoons

I'm glad to see that PEN Canada has finally decided to stop speaking out of both sides of its mouth with respect to editorial/satirical cartoons. Contrast this excerpt from their January 2015 statement to the one below on the 2005 so-called Danish cartoon controversy.

Freedom of expression is now "a fundamental human right," and presumably remains such even when it is actually exercised:

Maybe PEN should recall the words of that noted french writer Voltaire:

"I do not agree with what you 
have to say, but I'll defend to 
the death your right to say it."

What he actually said was, "What a fuss about an omelette!" But you can see why that didn't exactly catch on...

Well, PEN Canada, all I can say is better late than never.
From 2006: "PEN Canada supports the right of a free press to publish these cartoons, but also believes that a wise consideration of the principle of “voluntary restraint” would have led to better decisions."

Meaning, perhaps, "I'll defend your right to say anything you want, but hope to god you'll never exercise it..."

The 2006 PEN Canada statement, in its breathtaking Canadian niceness, is reproduced below.


Thursday, 8 January 2015

When cartoons aren't funny (from the archives)

Originally published in Toronto's now-defunct The Jewish Magazine, March 2006, at the time of the  Danish cartoon controversy.  I re-run it here in memory of those killed in Paris yesterday.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Review of Tim Johnston's new novel DESCENT: a page-turner!


I received this as an ARC via Librarything.

A well written but strange book. A sort of PG-13 version of the long-term abduction/rape of a young woman...

I've been doing a lot of reading about serial killers the past year or so (don't ask. Okay, it's because of Russell Williams. But that's another story) and I can tell Tim Johnston has read the same Ted Bundy books I have.

For what it is--a thriller with literary aspirations--it is well done. A bit slow moving in spots, oodles of suspense in the last third or so. But I can't escape the glossing over of the horror of two years in the life of a kidnapped 18 year-old woman...for those who couldn't handle the depths of depravity, don't worry: you won't find that in these pages. And I do understand why Mr. Johnston chooses to wrap his story around the daughter about to leave for university (it's on their final vacation as a family that the abduction takes place). It's the same reason that the princess must be rescued in every old video game and movie: the young virginal woman is worth more than rubies (except to Hobbits, maybe).

Still, this sanitized horror uses the pornography of sexual violence to pull our strings.

That being said, I hope he does well with it.

(Find me on Goodreads here)

Friday, 21 November 2014

Guest post: Jonathan Goldbloom, candidate for the Liberal nomination, Mount Royal Riding

Le français suit l’anglais


I prepared the text below in response to a request from the Canadian Jewish News to Anthony Housefather and me to submit brief articles on our respective candidacies. The newspaper is not going ahead with the initiative. I have, therefore, decided to share my contribution with you. 

My commitment is to be a strong voice in Ottawa for the Jewish community while being an effective representative of all residents of the riding. 

Shabbat Shalom.


Mount Royal: A Special Riding
An Article submitted to the Canadian Jewish News

Mount Royal is the federal riding with the largest Jewish population in Quebec.

This brings with it a special responsibility – one that has been admirably fulfilled by Irwin Cotler to be a strong voice on issues of importance to the community, from support for Israel to social justice and human rights.

As your Member of Parliament my commitment will be to build on Mr. Cotler’s work and my own track record to be an effective voice for the Jewish community in the Liberal Party and in Ottawa.
As a member of the Board of Directors of The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and its predecessor, and as a communications strategist, I have worked with our community on key issues including the fight against government efforts to close Jewish daycares and the maintenance of kashrut in health care institutions. I provided strategic advice and support to the Jewish community in the battle against Pauline Marois’ Charter of Values and have helped garner support for Israel in Quebec City and Ottawa. I also played key roles in restoring civility to the Concordia campus in the aftermath of the cancellation of Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech and in reaction to the launch of Israel Apartheid Week.

Representing Mount Royal also brings with it a responsibility to build bridges of understanding with other communities. With over 80 cultural communities Mount Royal is one of the most diverse constituencies in the province. As I have crisscrossed the riding over the past months I have been struck by what we have in common, rather than by our differences.
The economic resurgence of Montreal is at the top of the list for all of us. We all want our children and grandchildren to have attractive opportunities and compelling reasons to stay in Quebec. We have a rare window of opportunity to ensure Montreal regains its vitality. But for that to happen the federal government has to come to the table, investing, for example, in research and innovation and infrastructure. Making this happen will be a priority for me.

Health care is another issue that resonates with everyone across the riding. The Harper government approach is to provide the provinces with a blank cheque. It refuses to establish national priorities and to work to foster collaboration between jurisdictions. Voters are looking to Ottawa for leadership and direction on a wide range of issues from support for our aging population and developing a national cancer strategy to responding to the alarming number of children with autism spectrum disorders. These are areas that I am very familiar with.
I entered this race for many reasons. I care deeply about Israel and the well-being of the Jewish community and will work tirelessly on your behalf. Secondly, I want to build bridges between all communities so together we can tackle the economic, social and environmental issues our city, our province and our country faces. Working together is how we can build a Canada that reflects all of our dreams and aspirations.

My father Victor taught me about the importance of public service. He entered public life because he wanted to serve the community, and I want to carry on that tradition. On November 30th my hope is that Mount Royal Liberals will put me one step closer to serving the Jewish community as well as all the residents of the riding in the House of Commons.


Chères amies, chers amis,

J’ai préparé le texte ci-dessous en réponse à une demande du Canadian Jewish News qui nous a priés, Anthony Housefather et moi, de soumettre un bref article au sujet de nos candidatures respectives. Comme le journal n’ira pas de l’avant avec cette initiative, j’ai pris la décision de vous faire part de ma contribution.

Shabbat Shalom.


Mont-Royal: une circonscription spéciale
Un article soumis au Canadian Jewish News

Mont-Royal est la circonscription fédérale dont la population juive est la plus importante au Québec.
Cela comporte une responsabilité toute spéciale – une responsabilité que Irwin Cotler a admirablement assumée afin d’être une voix forte sur des enjeux cruciaux pour la collectivité, qu’il s’agisse de soutenir Israël, de défendre la justice sociale ou de faire respecter les droits humains.

Si je deviens votre membre au Parlement, je m’engage à prendre appui sur le travail de M. Cotler et sur mes propres antécédents afin de représenter efficacement la collectivité juive au sein du Parti libéral et à Ottawa.

Comme membre du conseil d’administration du Centre consultatif des relations juives et israéliennes (et de l’organisme qui l’a précédé), et comme stratège en communications, j’ai travaillé maintes fois avec notre collectivité sur des enjeux cruciaux, y compris la lutte contre les efforts du gouvernement pour fermer les cpe juives et le maintien de la kashrout dans les établissements de soins de santé. J’ai fourni des conseils stratégiques et mon soutien à la collectivité juive dans leur lutte contre la Charte des valeurs de Pauline Marois, en plus de contribuer à obtenir des appuis pour Israël à Québec et à Ottawa. J’ai également joué un rôle crucial quand est venu le moment de restaurer un peu de civilité et de courtoisie sur la campus de Concordia dans la foulée de l’annulation du discours que devait y prononcer Benjamin Netanyahu, ainsi qu’en réaction au lancement de la Semaine contre l’apartheid israélien.

Qui dit représentation de la circonscription de Mont-Royal dit aussi responsabilité de jeter des ponts de compréhension avec les autres collectivités. Avec plus de 80 groupes culturels, Mont-Royal est certainement l’une des circonscriptions les plus diversifiées de la province. Lorsque j’ai sillonné la circonscription au cours des derniers mois, j’ai été frappé par tous les points communs qui nous unissent plutôt que par nos différences.

Nous avons tous la relance économique de Montréal comme priorité. Nous voulons tous que nos enfants et que nos petits-enfants aient des possibilités attrayantes et des motifs convaincants pour rester au Québec. Nous avons une occasion exceptionnelle de faire en sorte que Montréal retrouve son dynamisme. Par contre, pour y arriver le gouvernement fédéral doit d’abord se présenter à la table en investissant, par exemple, dans la recherche et l’innovation, ainsi que dans les infrastructures. Je m’engage à faire de cet objectif une priorité politique.

Les soins de santé constituent une autre question qui suscite l’intérêt de chaque personne dans la circonscription. La méthode du gouvernement Harper est de donner un chèque en blanc aux provinces. Il refuse d’établir des priorités nationales et de travailler pour favoriser la collaboration entre les juridictions. Les électeurs se tournent vers Ottawa pour que le gouvernement fédéral fasse preuve de leadership et de direction concernant un grand nombre de questions allant du soutien à la population vieillissante à l’établissement d’une stratégie nationale sur le cancer, en passant par le nombre grandissant et alarmant d’enfants atteints d’un trouble du spectre de l’autisme. Ce sont des domaines que je connais très bien.

De nombreuses raisons m’ont amené à me lancer dans la course. Israël et le bien-être de la collectivité juive me tiennent véritable à cœur et je travaillerai sans relâche en votre nom. D’autre part, je veux établir des ponts entre toutes les collectivités pour qu’ensemble nous puissions aborder les enjeux économiques, sociaux et environnementaux auxquels notre ville, notre province et notre pays sont confrontés. Le fait de travailler ensemble est la meilleure façon de bâtir un Canada qui sera à l’image de tous nos rêves et de toutes nos aspirations.

Mon père Victor m’a enseigné l’importance de la fonction publique. Il a lui-même fait son entrée en politique parce qu’il voulait rendre service à la collectivité, et je veux poursuivre cette tradition. Le 30 novembre, je souhaite qu’en votant pour moi les Libéraux de Mont-Royal me rapprocheront un peu plus de mon objectif qui est de servir la collectivité juive ainsi que tous les résidents de la circonscription à la Chambre des communes.

Jonathan Goldbloom

Candidat à l'investiture libérale fédérale en Mont-Royal
Candidate for Federal Liberal Nomination in Mount Royal  





Thursday, 20 November 2014

My Goodreads review of Sean Michael's Giller Prize Winner, US CONDUCTORS

(Just a brief one, not much detail or synopsis)

An extremely accomplished (first!!) novel that imagines, in exquisite detail, the lives of historical figures. Lev Termen was clearly a genius to whom we owe many diverse electronic inventions. I enjoyed this book...but:

--The choppy short sentences, especially prominent in the first half of the book, got on my nerves. Also, the detail was a bit too exquisite (50-100 pages-worth)

--Turns out I find the sound of the theremin quite repellant (though that's hardly Mr. Michael's fault)

--The story was only redeemed by Termen's suffering in the latter half of the book (aka thank goodness for the gulag). Unfortunately all too real.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Money and Jewish community or Dad, meet shul

I would be the first to admit that my Jewish education isn't deep. But it's deeply held, and rests on two foundational pillars: Rabbi Hillel's on-one-foot injuction, "That which is hateful to you, do not unto another: This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary -- [and now] go study." And "justice, justice shall you pursue."

Which is why Rabbi Jay Kelman's article in last week's Canadian Jewish News, "We need not price Jews out of Judaism," broke my heart. It did this by acknowledging the depth of a potential Orthodox convert's pockets as a serious issue. Kelman quotes (without attribution) Rabbi Zvi Romm, administrator of the Rabbinical Council Of American's New York beit din: "One of the considerations we make is, can the person hack it financially?...If a person says I have no money whatsoever, I can't afford the $400 fee paid out over time, the question you have to ask is, how are you going to make it as an Orthodox Jew?"

Kelman insists, "Rejecting a convert is to be done for religious reasons only," saying rejecting converts based on their bank balance "would seem to be sacrilegious." Of course, there is a "but": "with the cost of Jewish life such as it is, financial considerations enter the confusing calculus of the conversion process." 

Which makes a mockery of what I thought I understood about Judaism.

Maybe it's because I'm a writer, but the Bible, though I don't believe in its literal truth, I find filled with moving stories. Like the story of Hannah in the Book of Samuel. Hannah, though much loved by her husband, is barren, which is a great trial to her. She goes to the temple and prays, weeping with intensity. The high priest confronts her, thinking she is drunk. When she explains her situation, he assures her her prayer will be heard and her wish granted. He didn't ask her if she was sure her family could afford another child...


When I was growing up, we were far from wealthy, and my family struggled with this issue of money and community. Which may explain why the attitude toward synagogue membership I absorbed from my father was a riff on the Groucho gag, "I'd never join a club that would have me as a member!"

My dad was raised in a pretty traditional Montreal Orthodox Jewish family; his parents' unhappy marriage was arranged (in Poland) and produced seven children (one died in Canada in toddlerhood). According to legend, his mother did what she could to miscarry each pregnancy, though this may have only extended so far as taking bumpy carriage rides. My father is the sole survivor of this nuclear family.

The first shul I recall is set in my mind, as though I'm one of Erikson's ducks, imprinted on a particular version of a house of worship. Chomedey, a Montreal suburb, developed in the mid-sixties, rapidly transforming from farmland to tracts of "little boxes made of ticky tacky." When we arrived in 1964, fields with ponds and pussy-willows existed round the corner from our modest duplex. Over the next several years, these lovely "empty" spaces, actually teeming with so much life, morphed into apartment blocks and single-family homes. The postwar baby boom had the public schools I attended, nominally Protestant (as opposed to the Catholic ones, from which Jews were excluded), bursting at the seams.

The synagogue I imprinted on, Congregation Young Israel of Chomedey, might have been called "Our Lord of the Turquoise Folding Chairs." A gymnasium-sized room did double duty as a synagogue and community centre (the latter incarnation hosting hypnosis shows by the late Reuben Pecarvé and screenings of Mary Poppins, The love bug, and The computer wore tennis shoes). An Ashkenazi Orthodox shul, which meant most distinctively to me that men and women sat separately, though kids were free to swarm through both sections. And we did. Cleavage was also by tribe, with a Sephardic congregation meeting on the lower level. I never got the feeling that relations between these groups were warm.

We were members there by the good graces of my Dad's youngest brother, Issie (another Young Israel of Chomedey). Issie was an engineer and shul founder, active in the community, who worked hard to make Quebec a unique Canadian jurisdiction where religious schools received government funding for the non-parochial portions of their curricula. So Uncle Issie was a professional and a macher, the only one of his sib-ship to go to university. He went to McGill for his Bachelor's, and to the University of Tennessee for his Master's degree. After that, he took a job with Canada's Department of Defence, working, I believe, on the DEW line.

Family was very close in those days and the locus of socialization for my father, probably for both my parents (I suppose it could still be if there was enough of it). I was friendly with the eldest of Issie's four children, a girl a scant year older than myself. My dad was neither a professional nor a macher; he and his two partner-brothers were furriers who confronted bankruptcy in 1963. At the end of the previous season, they had gotten a deal on mouton, a curly short-haired form of sheep skin, the fashion of the moment. The following season, though, it was "out." The brothers sold a good part of their decades long stamp collection to make ends meet; one of my earliest memories is waking from a nap to an apartment full of strangers, there to peruse proof sheets and first day covers. 

Following the close encounter with insolvency, my family couldn't afford full synagogue membership dues; I'm not sure we could afford even part dues. As long as Issie was around, we went to the Young Israel, and I think my dad imprinted on that financial arrangement. Or maybe he just remembered what being part of a shul community was like when he was young and most Jews lived in poverty: organized Judaism certainly couldn't have been so concerned about money in those days (or am I just being nostalgic?). Issie made aliyah with his family in the early '70s, about the same time our suburban shul--and its increasingly upscale membership--decided to add a more ornate sanctuary to the building, the folding chairs relegated to the basement hall, for bar mitzvahs and weddings. That was when the arrangement broke down for us, whether over membership dues and/or the additional funds needed for the new facilities. So we became peripatetic synagogue-wise, true wandering Jews.

One place I remember attending was a really small, religious shul, a shteibl my parents called it, with a sheet-like mechitzah dividing the women from the men (and, of course, the Torah). I recall candles glowing candles glimpsed through the mechitzah, presumably for Yahrzheit observance.

By the mid-seventies, a new factory-style high school was thrown up and quickly filled with Jewish and Greek kids who were, like us, rejects of the English and French Catholic school boards.2 Other students came from the Indian lands of nearby Oka. I had a number of classes (mostly sciences) in rooms of cinder block, with fluorescent lighting and no windows. It was a bit of a polyvalent nightmare, including some students who ripped mirrors off walls and toilets from floors--and that was just the girls!--some toughies, with blond hair and black roots, skin-tight jeans, and kohl-rimmed eyes. Of course, among the reprobates there were also Jewish kids who hung out at the back doors, smoking dope (or worse), similarly accoutred and behaved. At least one girl came to school pregnant while I was there. I wasn't overly exposed to these kids because I was an excellent student and our classes were streamed:  enriched, regular and general. But I digress.

At that point, my parents were able to swing a small mortgage, so we moved to a suburb even further from Montreal: Pierrefonds. Our family now included a son whose religious instruction was apparently an imperative much stronger than mine had been. We joined Congregation Beth Tikvah, an organization run by the formidable Rabbi Zeitz. His priority one was a Jewish day school and, through force of personality, he got the Hebrew Foundation School up and running almost single-handedly, it seemed. My brother attended school there. And we were still on folding chairs on holidays! 

My brother was bar mitzvahed the year I married my non-Jewish husband, 1981 (please see note 1). And, true to form, once the school was established, and as the community prospered, the membership was assessed to raise funds for a new sanctuary, banishing those folding chairs to the banquet hall anon. This was probably about 1983. My parents decided they could no longer afford membership in this synagogue and wrote the Rabbi, expecting to be offered a fee adjustment. Instead, there was silence. And that was that. We were again cut adrift, and wandered to holiday services in Golden Age institutions with grandparents in varying stages of decay.

In March 1986, we had our first child. A couple of weeks later, I met a woman and her first-born at a new mother's group run by the local public community service centre. We became friendly and ended up at her house for Rosh Hashanah dinner the following year (my mother had pneumonia). She and her husband  told us about the Reconstructionist synagogue. A place, she assured me, that would accept our family and allow me to re-join my tribe, a need which became pressing with parenthood.

My Jewish education had been haphazard; I went to the A.J. Reisen Yiddish school on Sunday mornings for two years, starting when I was nine. I remember singing Lomir zingen for my father's parents on one of our weekly visits. The exquisite mixture of pride and embarrassment that accompanied such occasions is still fresh in my mind. To tell the truth, I felt some combination of those emotions most of the time.

My dad walked me to Yiddish class on Sundays, our dog Lucky trotting on ahead. One late October morning, I was an hour late, victim of a forgotten change to Daylight Savings Time. For an over-weight, overly-sensitive meatball of a child, the effect of all eyes swivelling toward me as I turned the brass doorknob and entered the classroom was profound.

By the end of the second year, we started a Hebrew reader with a red cover. I remember its first page:  an ink drawing of a large extended family group, and underneath, the single Hebrew word mishpacha. But by the end of that school year, I  began objecting, another salvo in the emerging rebellion against my parents, my mother in particular. The following year, I didn't go back.

By the mid-seventies, a new factory-style high school was built, quickly filled with Jewish and Greek kids, rejects of the Catholic boards (please see note 2). Others came from the Indian lands near Oka. I had a number of classes (mostly sciences) in rooms of cinder block, with fluorescent lighting and no windows. It was a bit of a polyvalent nightmare, including some students who ripped mirrors off walls and toilets from floors--and that was just the girls! There were toughies, with blond hair and black roots, skin-tight jeans, and kohl-rimmed eyes. Of course, there were also Jewish kids who hung out at the back doors, smoking dope (or worse), similarly accoutred and behaved. At least one girl came to school pregnant while I was there. I wasn't over-exposed to these kids because I was an excellent student and our classes were streamed: enriched, regular and general. But I digress.

As a young teenager, I was active in B'nai Brith Youth Organization, and at CEGEP, in Hillel. I went to Israel for a summer at 17 (and thought I'd return), but despite a smattering exposure to brief courses of Hebrew, I never progressed far beyond that single page of the red-covered reader until my husband and I took a course together during his conversion process. And any facility I have singing and following along at services nowadays is due to the instruction I received during my two sons' bar mitzvah preparations, and from my time spent in shul.

So as a young parent, I felt exquisitely ill-prepared to mother a Jewish family, a Jewish home: by that point, my family hadn't been synagogue-affiliated for about five years, I had married a believing Protestant, part of the fulcrum of that pride/embarrassment seesaw, my knowledge of Hebrew and many of the holidays was vestigial. But despite all this, I still felt deeply that I and my children were and would remain in the fold. There was never any question of bringing them up in both faiths, or of giving them neither. Especially because of the Holocaust, I was determined that we were going to have a Jewish family.

My mother told me how pleased she was to see what a warm and nurturing  mother I'd become. I was a scientist, had never expressed any particular maternal instincts that she could see, so it was a sort of happy surprise to her, she told me. She  tracked down an organization called Parveh, for the children of mixed Jewish marriages. She wrote away for their literature and brought it to me and, for a time, pushed me to join or otherwise subscribe to their newsletters and writings. Which infuriated me: I considered my son Jewish, not half-Jewish, as my mother kept suggesting. It took time to get this through to her, but she finally got the message.

She also had a conflicted attitude toward Judaism, due in part to a simplistic but common interpretation of the place it gave to women. She virtually never went to synagogue, either. Maybe on the high holidays. She continually mouthed the most scathing opinions about the over-emphasis of money in the community, how holidays at shul were mostly fashion shows, how little many of the people attending really cared about spiritual matters. Of course, I had noticed this myself.

By the time Dorshei Emet was suggested to us as a possible spiritual home, I needed it like the desert needs the rain. We went to a new members meeting, where Rabbi Ron Aigen told us he hoped this would be a place to feel challenged rather than comfortable. I suppose he was alluding to that adage of "comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable," but for me, after all these years of spiritual aching, I longed to experience solace, healing and, dare I say it, comfort. I was among the afflicted in that sense, though I wouldn't have put it that way at the time.

My husband went to shul most Saturdays during the year he was studying to convert to Judaism, while my son and I worshipped at that other local Jewish temple, Cavendish Mall. And when our second son was born a year or so later, his brith milah was held at the shul. As the years passed, my father started coming with us to Dorshei Emet's High Holiday alternate service, usually held on folding chairs at a satellite location: a library hall or parochial school gym. This second service was held for two reasons:  the original synagogue couldn't hold the entire congregation (and various hangers-on) when we all decided it was absolutely necessary to attend. Secondly, the shul's originators envisioned it as a space to nurture the adult intellect. The alternate service was a more relaxed place where parents of boisterous young children would receive fewer dirty looks.

The warm-hearted organizers of the alternate services gave my dad various honours; he held the Torah, received aliyot, and was always warmly greeted. All of this gladdened my heart; it was a large part of what I hoped to find in a shul community. But somewhere over the five or so years of his attending with us, the zeitgeist changed. It could have been because paid members found it increasingly difficult to find seats on the high holidays due to an increase in non-paying freeloaders, or because the costs attendant on the second service were rising, or because a larger number of members were changing fee categories (from full-paying adult or family memberships to reduced-fee seniors) or for a mixture of these or other reasons. The synagogue board seemed determined to force those who only bought High Holiday seats to become full members. What had been a celebration open to all unaffiliated Jews in the city morphed into a service with fees of $200, for one year only. Unless you were an out-of-towner, the second year you were expected to become a full-fledged member (with fees for a family at the time in the vicinity of $750, now closer to $2,000).

The predictable happened one late fall day (could it have been Halloween?). I was in the synagogue office to settle something-or-other pertaining to our first born's upcoming bar mitzvah. The shul's administrative director announced that she'd just received a $75 donation from my father. She looked at me, clearly expecting an explanation.

I wish I had told her to ask him herself. Instead, I said it might have had to do with his having attended the alternate service, held that year in the gymnasium at the Jewish People's and Peretz Schools. She replied to the effect that that was what she surmised, that he should have paid $200 for the privilege, and that anyway, as a Montrealer, he was required to join the synagogue if he wanted to come to future High Holiday services. And then, the gratuitous stiletto slipped between my ribs: "Next year, I am going to put him on a special list and tell [the two organizers] specifically that he is to be barred from services unless he joins the synagogue."

Now, I know I had, particularly in that period of my life, a sort of aura of perpetual victimhood, a quality that a personality like our then-administrative director's would find impossible to ignore. I cannot imagine her having dealt with most other shul members the way she dealt with me that day. I'm not saying it was my fault, but I'm sure there was something I should have done differently. But such was my precarious perch on my pride/embarrassment seesaw, that I miserably concluded my business with her, and went on my distinctly unmerry way.

And then I made what I still consider my colossal mistake:  I told my father all this. Maybe I should have paid the membership fees for him (which we could hardly have afforded at the time), or I should have called the Rabbi or a board member. I told my father that if it was a question of needing reduced fees, I was sure something could be arranged. But he had already gotten his back up about it, and anyway, simply didn't think even a $200 fee for three days of worship was justifiable.

And so, with a single spell of our own Dorshei Emet witch, a goodly portion of what I had been searching for most of my adult life went up in smoke.

My dad ended up at a Lubavitch-type congregation, where they didn't charge him anything. He took pictures at their purim parties, and at various other celebrations during the year. Their major fund-raising involved--at Rosh Hashanah services, no less--the auctioning of aliyot in the coming year for multiples of chai. My mom, as usual, stayed home.

In the years since then, I've spent too much time thinking about my father and my synagogue. I vacillate in my interpretation, sometimes convinced my father's stubborn refusal to pay to attend synagogue is the cause of all my grief. A number of times, I  considered leaving the congregation, especially when it came time to fund-raise for our new building, and not simply to follow a family tradition. I know there are some very wealthy people in our congregation, and an even larger number of the comfortably well-off. But I am convinced there isn't another religious community in Montreal, outside of ours, that would have the chutzpah, in attempting to raise funds for a building, to tell us that "we can do nothing --NOTHING--with only three and a half million dollars, that we absolutely have to raise $5 million," or the project would have to be scrapped.

I was also at a meeting where we were exhorted to simply take one less vacation each year, and donate the money thereby liberated to the building fund. Well, my family only took one vacation annually in those days, and only once in the nearly eighteen years since we'd had our first child, did it involve plane tickets!

I started this memoir in the hope of finally getting past these difficult feelings. And I recalled my Rabbi's Kol Nidre address to us a few years back, about wanting to acknowledge problems. He said he particularly wanted to know why those of us who left the congregation did so. My immediate family hasn't left, but I have at times felt estranged.

I know it's kind of a long story, but it is one I'm compelled to tell. The inordinate emphasis of money in the Jewish community is an ongoing problem for me--a disgrace, even--and I'm sure this perception is not mine alone.
1Our romance being a whole 'nother story, summarized as: we met at college; within a couple of years, we'd fallen in love, his mother died of metastatic breast cancer, I couldn't just leave him on his own--we were 20--and he didn't believe in "living in sin." So we married at the Reform Temple Emmanuel by Rabbi Bernard Bloomstone, z"l, the only local rabbi brave enough to marry a Jew and non-Jew. "Whither thou goest," as it were. My husband converted to Judaism six years later. Which sort of proves "if you build it, they will come."

2 The government of Quebec reorganized public schools along linguistic lines in the mid-1990s, requiring a constitutional amendment.