“As clay are we, as soft resilient clay, that lies beneath the fingers of the potter”

 

At his will, he molds us thick or thin- from Wiki

In late September or early October every year, Dad would inevitably take me to synagogue for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This was in spite the fact that he sent me to a Protestant school and our home was totally, I mean totally, non observant.

There were three trips (by car) back and forth to synagogue on that day. The eve of Yom Kippur for Kol Nidre (All our vows) -the next morning from 1000 till about noon, and then at 500 PM for Neila (closing of the sky when one’s  fate is sealed), which my Dad called the ‘final stretch’.

Now we lived in Ville St Laurent where there was a synagogue but it was too ‘orthodox’ for my Dad, so we drove to the  Town of Mount Royal, aka TMR, to Beth El Synagogue on 1000 rue Lucerne. We parked quite a distance away and then pretended to walk to synagogue, because you are not supposed to drive, not only fast.

The rabbi, Allan Langer, would often comment that it was ‘so nice to see so many people’, or say something like ‘lots a faces I remember from last year’, alluding to the fact that no one attended during services during the year. My Dad would mumble that ‘that’s a snide f–king comment’. I reminded Dad that he was in a synagogue, and he reminded me to ‘remember who I was talking to’, in good humour.

The prayers included long lists of sins for which we need to repent…sins committed willingly and unwillingly, sins of the flesh, of the bottle, or usury, what have you. As we read this list of sins in unison, my Dad would comment that ‘they are throwing the whole God damned book at me’. I told Dad that he could skip over a few if he was innocent, but he insisted on going thru all of them. I would ask him if smoking was a sin, and he told me to ‘shut up and pray’.

Dad

Every hour or so, Dad would go out for a smoke, hiding in an alley or a sidestreet. He would tell me that if the rabbi asks where he is, ‘cover for me’.

When Cantor Willy Finer got on the podium to sing, it was a different story. Willy and Dad were in the Royal Canadian Air Force together, and Dad told me to show respect, ‘and I’m not kidding’. There was no good humour in that. Dad and Cantor Willy often traded off colour jokes or reminisced about world war two. When Willy died, Dad cried.

Dad had interesting observations during the service. ‘See that guy three rows ahead, the blond guy. He’s with the mob. What the hell is he doing here every year’? Or ‘hear that guy in the back row on the right, he comes from a very observant background, but when his old man dies, he’ll be outta here like a bat out of hell’.

During Yom Kippur services, one must rise and sit down very often. The rabbi calls out ‘all rise’ then you ‘may be seated’. Often it’s an up and down game. My Dad used to tell me that the rabbi should ‘make up his —–g mind’.

During Yom Kippur, my Dad would not answer the question if he ate or not. I knew that he ate by the sound of the fridge opening and closing which I heard from my room, I would ask ‘who’s in the kitchen, is that you Dad?’ And there was never an answer.

As a kid, I tried to fast a few times, but it was hard. Then I fasted from the age of 18 till I was 38, when my wife got sick. I have not fasted since then, and I am soon to be 71.

The only prayer that I really loved was “As raw material in the hand of a craftsman”, a line of which is the tile of this post.

One of Dad’s challenges on Yom Kippur was knowing what the football score was. My Dad was a professional football player for two years, so he used to bring along a transistor radio, and tell me to “go out and get the latest score”.

For years and years, Yom Kippur is just another day and I have no regrets whatsoever about this. But I do miss Dad and his ambivalent relationship with tradition, which I admit rubbed off on me.

Beth El Montreal

כִּי הִנֵּה כַּחֹמֶר בְּיַד הַיּוֹצֵר
בִּרְצוֹתוֹ מַרְחִיב וּבִרְצוֹתוֹ מְקַצֵּר
כֵּן אֲנַחְנוּ בְיָדְךָ חֶסֶד נוֹצֵר
לַבְּרִית הַבֵּט וְאַל תֵּפֶן לַיֵּצֶר

כִּי הִנֵּה כָּאֶבֶן בְּיַד הַמְסַתֵּת
בִּרְצוֹתוֹ אוֹחֵז וּבִרְצוֹתוֹ מְכַתֵּת
כֵּן אֲנַחְנוּ בְיָדְךָ מְחַיֶּה וּמְמוֹתֵת
לַבְּרִית הַבֵּט וְאַל תֵּפֶן לַיֵּצֶר

כִּי הִנֵּה כַּגַּרְזֶן בְּיַד הֶחָרָשׁ
בִּרְצוֹתוֹ דִּבֵּק לָאוּר וּבִרְצוֹתוֹ פֵּרַשׁ
כֵּן אֲנַחְנוּ בְיָדְךָ תּוֹמֵךְ עָנִי וָרָשׁ
לַבְּרִית הַבֵּט וְאַל תֵּפֶן לַיֵּצֶר

כִּי הִנֵּה כַּהֶגֶה בְּיַד הַמַּלָּח
בִּרְצוֹתוֹ אוֹחֵז וּבִרְצוֹתוֹ שִׁלַּח
כֵּן אֲנַחְנוּ בְיָדְךָ אֵל טוֹב וְסַלָּח
לַבְּרִית הַבֵּט וְאַל תֵּפֶן לַיֵּצֶר

כִּי הִנֵּה כִּזְכוּכִית בְּיַד הַמְזַגֵּג
בִּרְצוֹתוֹ חוֹגֵג וּבִרְצוֹתוֹ מְמוֹגֵג
כֵּן אֲנַחְנוּ בְיָדְךָ מַעֲבִיר זָדוֹן וְשׁוֹגֵג
לַבְּרִית הַבֵּט וְאַל תֵּפֶן לַיֵּצֶר

כִּי הִנֵּה כַּיְרִיעָה בְּיַד הָרוֹקֵם
בִּרְצוֹתוֹ מְיַשֵּׁר וּבִרְצוֹתוֹ מְעַקֵּם
כֵּן אֲנַחְנוּ בְיָדְךָ אֵל קַנֹּא וְנוֹקֵם
לַבְּרִית הַבֵּט וְאַל תֵּפֶן לַיֵּצֶר

כִּי הִנֵּה כַּכֶּסֶף בְּיַד הַצּוֹרֵף
בִּרְצוֹתוֹ מְסַגְסֵג וּבִרְצוֹתוֹ מְצָרֵף
כֵּן אֲנַחְנוּ בְיָדְךָ מַמְצִיא לְמָזוֹר תֶּרֶף
לַבְּרִית הַבֵּט וְאַל תֵּפֶן לַיֵּצֶר.

Like the clay in the hand of the potter-
he expands it at will and contracts it at will-
so are we in Your hand, O Preserver of kindness,
look at the covenant and show thy mercy.

Like the stone in the hand of the cutter-
he grasps it at will and smashes it at will-
so are we in Your hand, O Source of life and death,
look to the covenant and show thy mercy.

Like the ax-head in the hand of the blacksmith-
he forges it at will and removes it at will-
so are we in Your hand,
O Supporter of poor and destitute,
look at the covenant and show thy mercy.

Like the anchor in the hand of the sailor-
he holds it at will and casts it at will-
so are we in Your hand,
O good and forgiving God,
look to the covenant and show thy mercy.

Like the glass in the hand of the blower-
he shapes it at will and dissolves it at will-
so are we in Your hand,
O Forgiver of willful sins and errors,
look to the covenant and show thy mercy.

Like the curtain in the hand of the embroiderer-
he makes it even at will and makes it uneven at will-
so are we in Your hand,
O jealous and vengeful God,
look to the covenant and show thy mercy.

Like the silver in the hands of the silversmith-
he adulterates it at will and purifies it at will-
so are we in Your hand,
O Creator of cure for disease,
look to the covenant and show thy mercy.

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Observations on political leadership in the age of Corona

For the life of me, I cannot understand why people are so disappointed by the quality of political leadership during this plague.

Let’s look at what leaders need to do in order to get elected. They need to distort the truth, promise things and renege, divide and conquer, please as many people as often as possible , explain away complexities and compromise core beliefs in order to build as wide a power base as possible. None of these skills are in any way relevant to the challenges of coping with Corona.

How do elected politicians communicate? They hammer home simplistic messages and sloganize; they work with professionals who wordsmith away obstacles, stepsidding controversy when needed and create controversy out of non issues. But dealing with Corona presents challenges that are hard to comprehend, involve balancing between complex forces and present  issues that are very hard to communicate.

What drives politicians? Being elected again. Dominating palace intrigue. Pleasing people with populistic garbage. Once again-not all that relevant to coping effectively with corona.

I don’t understand why people expect Trump to tell them to wear a mask. Trump wants to be get reelected, that’s all. And he assumes that telling people to wear masks will not serve his purpose. So why the disappointment? Who are the dumb ones-the leader or the disappointed?

There are very few political leaders who care anything else except for the skin on their own asses. And the sooner that people realize it, the healthier we will all stay. Get smart and take care of yourselves.

 

 

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Israel is losing its battle with Corona-and here’s why

With 3000 new cases a day, Israel is ranked at present as number one in the ratio of corona cases per million inhabitants.

And there are very good reasons why this has happened. I want to point out the major ones,  most of which stem from Israeli culture, which has been a periodical subject of articles in this blog.

  1. Everything in Israel is political. Sports, flight schedules, licensing food outlets, planning bus lines, advertising, accreditation of universities; you name it. Because of our political system, or lack thereof, neither the left or the right can form a government without the ultra-religious factions, and so-most decision making serve as a platform to placate the ultra-religious minority. In the case of corona, religious politicians want to preserve their style of communal life, which means life-as-usual.
  2. Due to their life-style dominated by lots of family-based activities, large families living in cramped quarters and large study halls for religious studies, the ultra orthodox cities and neighbourhoods are petri dishes for breeding corona. Yet the political power that they hold (see 1), prevents decision making which would negatively impact their way of life.
  3. Arab Israelis have a lifestyle rich in family occasions with multiple generations in one home. They also tend to view themselves as victims all the time, and dish out blame and responsibility to the state at the same time as not fully cooperating. This mentality when coupled with religious based fatalism creates a “what will be will be” mentality, which impacts the lack of mask wearing and social distancing.
  4. The secular Israeli community are sprint runners. Creative, highly undisciplined, innovative and short cutters, this community has created a plethora of innovations in telefonia, agriculture, water management, IT solutions, fintech,  traffic control and what have you. Most of this has been done by doing things differently and challenging common accepted practice. This community can solve impossible problems, but cannot deal with problems that need routine and discipline. “We can outsmart problems” is a typical mindset of this sector. Which is the major reason why almost all Israel innovation gets acquired by companies abroad and does not scale up from Israel; our behaviours are not disciplined or scalable. Fighting corona entails following routine with discipline. Need I say more! 
  5. Israel is held together by a state of conflict with our Lebanese, Syrian and Iranian neighbours. Other than that, there is very little cohesion between the sectors of Israelis society. We all go to different schools; we do not pay the same level of tax; the threads which bind us together are very thin. The solidarity needed to fight corona is totally non existent. For example, when the government wants to limit prayer to 20 people, it quickly comes to “we cannot agree to limit prayer participation if people flock to the beach by the thousand”. So no decision gets made.
  6. There is very little enforcement in Israel, except for tax collection and speeding. Everyone has an excuse and the heavy hand of enforcement just isn’t there.
  7. The political elite  initially set down a list of limitations on public behaviour and then were the first to violate them, caught red handed. So leadership lost the trust of the masses. No one believes anything that leadership says anymore.
  8. Israelis have the capacity to live in very tough situations for the longest time. In other words, life can and does go on as we absorb a severe and constant beating. So Corona has become another missile from Gaza or Lebanon, that is, something that you need to live with. This ability to live along side of tragedy is a gift, yet a two pronged sword as well.

So what will happen? My guess is that when the virus subsides, it will subside here as well. Israel is like a boxer with a glass chin. We have a great punch, but corona has landed a left hook and we are out on our feet. Or, when someone finds a vaccine, the nightmare will end. Until then, wish us luck.

 

 

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