Saturday 28 January 2012

Empty Bowls Montreal 2012: We're baaack!!

Sunday, April 22, 2012 

one of Congregation Dorshei Emet’s best-loved fundraisers, 
is RETURNING SOON to a shul (or church) near you! 
(If you live in Montreal, that is... )

Empty Bowls is an international project to fight hunger. Each community develops their own ideas and methods to help fill bowls--and tummies!

In our case, for a $20 donation, hand made bowls are sold at our lunch events which feature free soup, bread, and (sometimes!) fruit. 

Everything is donated and 100 per cent of the proceeds go to charities selected by our Empty Bowls Committees. 

Past recipients include our own Hanukkah Food Basket Fund, the Generations Foundation, Multicaf, the NDG Food Depot, Santropol Roulant and other worthy projects. 

As in previous years, Dorshei Emet's (the Reconstructionist Synagogue) Empty Bowls committee has teamed up with our sister organization at the Unitarian Church for mutual support (their event will be held Saturday April 14th). 

Stay tuned for details, recipes, sponsor information, and the like. And thanks for everyone who has supported us and continues to do so. With your help, we've  made a difference to Montrealers!

For more information, to donate or volunteer, please contact us on Facebook, at or

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Darryl Martin: Perseverance is the key

Even while he was shoeing horses, he was always fascinated with "how things work"

Darryl Martin has been working with the Mohawk Bridge Consortium on the Mercier Bridge rehabilition. | Concordia University
Darryl Martin has been working with the Mohawk Bridge Consortium on the Mercier Bridge rehabilition. | Concordia University
Darryl Martin and his wife had four children when she obtained a degree in early childhood education from Concordia. At the time, Martin worked with draft horses, with a sideline as a farrier — a horseshoer. He had never graduated from high school, but he decided it was his turn to go to university.

Martin, now a grandfather, will receive his bachelor’s in civil engineering this June.

“I was always interested in how things work,” he says. Engineering seemed like a natural fit. A friend and counsellor at a school on the Kahnawake reserve suggested Martin start off by developing good study skills. “It was one of the best pieces of advice I was ever given.” So he started by taking courses he felt most passionate about.

The key to his success, Martin says with humour and modesty, is “perseverance, or in my case, bull-headedness.” He kept working full-time as a farrier, taking sociology, psychology and anthropology, and then the math and calculus prerequisites for engineering studies. “I knew I didn’t have a fresh mind so it might be harder for me than for someone else,” he says. He compensated by taking reduced course loads, summer courses, and putting in a lot of late nights. At the beginning, he says, it was “really rocky finding my feet.” He credits Concordia’s centres for Native Education and Mature Students (the latter now part of the School of Extended Learning’s Student Transition Centre) for helping him find his path.

Martin works for the Mohawk Bridge Consortium, which was awarded the first contract in the rehabilitation of the Mercier Bridge. The project involves the federal and provincial governments, along with the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake.

Learning, he maintains, isn’t just about schooling; it goes on everywhere, all the time. “If you can memorize the names of the contestants on American Idol or learn somebody’s phone number, you can learn this other stuff. People always say, ‘Oh, I could never go back to school.’ That’s the kind of statement that just shuts everything down.”

Related links:
•   Concordia's Department of Building, Civil and Environmental Engineering
•   Concordia's Centre for Native Education
•   Concordia's Centre for Mature Students

Originally published by The Concordia Journal.

Sunday 22 January 2012

Submitted to Canada's National Magazine Awards...

I'm pleased to announce that two of my 2011 articles, both published in Montreal's online magazine of arts and culture, The Rover, have been submitted for consideration to Canada's National Magazine Awards. From their website:


"National Magazine Awards

The National Magazine Awards Foundation is a bilingual, not-for-profit institution whose mission is to recognize and promote excellence in the content and creation of Canadian print and digital publications through an annual program of awards and national publicity efforts."

The articles are "Mordecai's Version? Not Quite," from January 2011, submitted in the Essays category, 


"Not Your Bubby's Klezmer," a meditation on CanLit and a Klezmer concert, submitted under "humour," and published in The Rover's February 2011 issue.

This is The Rover's first time submitting to the NMA. My thanks to publisher Marianne Ackerman (no relation!) and her entire editorial team, who labour for the love of Montreal books, music, art, dance, theatre, and other endeavours.

The NMA Nominees--finalists, in other parlance--will be announced May 1, 2012.

Saturday 21 January 2012

Themes From The Meaning Of Children

I've taken a hankering to those subject clouds that appear on some websites. While I haven't figured out how to do one here (yet!), I thought I could at least list all the issues that come up in my short stories.

Probably not complete, but it is a start...please let me know if you have any additions.

English-French Relations in Quebec
Fairy Tales
Foster kids
Marital Discord
Mental Illness
Old Age
Quebec Nationalism
Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses (China)

Maybe that seems like a lot to get into about 225 pages, but I think it works.

Sunday 15 January 2012

RIP Stephanie Hoddinott: Sad Second Anniversary of Preventable Murder

stephanie h
As part of an homage to those killed and injured last year in Tuscon, while Rep. Gabrielle Giffords lay in intensive care, I re-ran some of my previous gun control-related posts. This piece coincided with the tragic anniversary of the murder of Stephanie Hoddinott. This sad event occurred in Canada, a place with relatively stringent gun control, compared to the United States of gunhappy America.

Still, our laws are clearly not stringent enough, as her disturbed, estranged boyfriend was able to obtain a handgun for "target practice."

Unfortunately, the target was Stephanie. And how much practice is necessary to shoot someone point blank, anyway?

Here is a revamped version of my piece, which originally appeared in The Toronto Star:
It's been just over a year since another senseless handgun-related murder, the case of Stephanie Hoddinott, a 20-year-old woman. Stephanie had a 4.0 GPA in her veterinarian technician program, was smart, beautiful, and well-loved. On January 10th, 2010, she was murdered in her home by an ex-boyfriend who had legally purchased a handgun—supposedly for target-shooting. The crime has understandably devasted her mother, Brenda Passa: “Stephanie wasn’t just my daughter, she was my sister, and my best friend.”

The young man, Jake Ferrier, shot himself in the head almost immediately afterward, lingering several days on life support before succumbing to his self-inflicted injuries.

In a letter to Mr. Harper, Ms. Passa wonders why we permit so many guns in our society, since the vast majority of Canadians are no longer required to hunt for subsistence.

What she finds hardest to understand is why, in her province, an 18-year-old isn’t considered mature enough to legally buy a case of beer, but IS permitted to own a handgun.

It only takes one pull of the trigger to separate the law abiding citizen from the law breaking criminal, she says, pointing out that Canada's handgun restrictions haven't been updated since 1930.

Times have changed, she says: “Being 18 in 1930 is not like being 18 in 2010. Children live with their parents longer; they are younger emotionally and need time to develop before dangerous weapons”  are made available.

She wants Canada's Prime Minister to change the age limits for gun ownership. And she wants target shooters to have their weapons confined to shooting ranges.


“I hope no one ever has to endure what I went through,” she says.
On January 10th last year, Jake texted Stephanie repeatedly (he had texted her 40 times the day before). She didn’t respond, so he showed up at Passa's house. Stephanie's mom met him at the door to say her daughter wouldn’t see him.

He said, “Not even for two minutes?” and Ms. Passa told him, “No, not even for two minutes, Jake. I’m sorry, I can’t make her.” She shut the door.

“I liked him,” Ms. Passa says.

She feels nobody who knew him would have predicted what happened next, insisting there had been no warning signs.

But, she notes, he certainly must have lied on the Possession and Acquisition License (PAL), the form that's completed and (supposedly) assessed before a person is permitted to buy a gun.

Ms. Passa says the PAL asks several significant questions. “Guess what?” she says, “the murderer lied on his application.” Jake Ferrier’s parents were in the midst of a divorce, and he had also recently broken up with Stephanie, facts the form asked for but Jake declined to note. “People are lying on these forms,” she says.

Ms. Passa went to her daughter’s room—Stephanie was packing for Toronto where she’d just started working at U of T (the University issued a heartfelt lament of her passing).

Stephanie had plans for her life: she wanted to attend vet school, and her mother supported her ambitions every step of the way.

On that fateful day last January, her mother asked if Jake had made any threats, but Stephanie said the problem was only his incessant texting. The two women finally decided Ms. Passa would call the young man’s mother to discuss the situation. Ms. Passa decided she'd shower first.

And it was while she was in the shower that she heard two loud bangs.

By the time she threw on her pyjamas and ran to her daughter’s room, Stephanie lay face down on the bed and Ms. Passa’s boyfriend was speaking with 911.

She kept calling her daughter's name but there was no response. Turning the girl over revealed she’d been shot in the head. The 911 technician told Ms. Passa to start CPR. “I blew in her mouth--blood was coming out of her neck and the top of her head. My daughter died in my arms, to the sound of my screaming."

The 911 crew arrived to find her covered in her daughter’s blood.

stephanie h

Ms. Passa is clearly devastated. She has nightmares, she cries every day. She says she herself would legally be permitted to purchase a handgun immediately, asking, “Do you think I am in any state of mind to own a handgun?”

Ms. Passa intends to do everything in her power to toughen the gun laws. She is convinced keeping  guns at shooting ranges would be workable and effective. “Fighting this is the only thing keeping my will to live, that's the only thing I have left now. Stephanie is not dying for nothing.”

Prime Minister Harper, Ms. Passa wants to know, can you help her?

A Facebook page set up by Stephanie’s cousin Tyler Hoddinott, “RIP Stephanie Hoddinott,” has over amassed nearly 4,000 members.