Four buses; many worlds

I had to take four buses to get from my home in Ville St Laurent to McGill University. 25 cents for the whole trip. Payment was made in cash into a simple receptacle, where the driver could see the quarter that you dropped in. The driver would take a look, flip a button, and the quarter would be swallowed up below the receptacle.

The 90 minute voyage started with a short walk to the rue St Louis stop, where I waited for the 116. The bus came once every 20 minutes; there were never many passengers. The driver, in a uniform of the Montreal Transportation Corporation, generally said “bonjour; I always said bonjour. “Two solitudes” meet.

Next to the driver was a sign en francais and English: “Safe Driving Requires Full Attention. Please do not talk to me”. Some drivers & passengers talked; most did not.

The 116 passed Alexis Nihon and weaved its way past Parc Houde (where Fat Guy* cleaned the ice)  and Aubin, until Decarie Boulevard, opposite the Post Office, where I got off and crossed over to wait for the 17, with my crumpled paper transfer in my glove.

Make no mistake, it was often cold. The stop for the 17 (also known as Cartierville) was opposite a Woolworth’s and on the bitterest of days (20 below), I would step inside Woolworth’s, along with other passengers. The ladies of Woolworth’s (in those days, it was ok to say that) had absolutely no problem with that; the adversity of the bitter cold was a common enemy.

For many years, the 17 Cartierville was a street car. The first step up onto the 17 was steep, even for me albeit I have always been very tall. It was especially hard for Lillian, who had had a back operation and was in a cast. We never discussed that, or the fact that she had no mother. Trudy also never had a mother, but she never took the 17. Maxine and Fay also had lost their mother. They were never on line 17 either. Showing my transfer to the driver, I never looked for a seat as it was always standing room only until Garland Terminal; the 17 was packed. French and English speakers; students and lower middle class heading downtown. At Garland, the driver cried out: “terminus, tout le monde descend s’il vous plait”.

Then there was a hot chocolate inside Garland Terminal, and off to the 65. The 65 started at Garland, so I always got a seat. However, it quickly filled up and more often than not; I gave up my seat to a senior citizen, who was probably much younger than I am today. But those were different days.

The 65, also called Cote des Neiges, passed thru Snowdon, turning left on Queen Mary Road and headed downtown. It passed my late grandmother Sadie’s apartment building on Victoria; she has died a few years earlier and my heart was still broken. I often looked her apartment building as the 65 roared by, uphill passing by L’Oratoire St-Joseph/St Joseph Church. Then we passed Pinkerton’s Flower Shop, the graveyard on Mount Royal, and plunged down Cote des Neiges to rue Sherbrooke. There I waited for the 4, also called Sherbrooke, right outside the Medical Arts building where my grandfather Harry had had a gym where he trained boxers, including my Uncle Al.

Sherbrooke at Cote des Neiges was real Montreal: classy, clean, and the wind plus cold smacked me into my then pimpled face. I had real bad acne until I started taking tetracycline during year 2 at McGill. Oh yes, on Sherbrooke was the Academic Bookshop, which had every book under the sun, all in one huge pile, sky high. And the owner, who smoked, did not speak one word of English: just French with a Parisien accent.

It was a short drive to McGill on the 4 and in the summer I walked; as a matter of fact when I wore my Air Canada mechanics coat which Phil (my Dad) got for me from his partner Hank, I also walked to McGill along rue Sherbrooke  in the winter. What a coat!  When I took line 4, it dropped me off at McGill at the Ritz Carlton Stop.

I then threw away my transfer.

4 buses to cross thru three worlds: Ville St Laurent; Montreal; academia.

When I finished McGill at age 19, I took a much longer trip from which I was never to return. 

  • pronounced gee
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Driving Uncle Khil

How can I introduce you to someone who I did not know well; to be honest I hardly knew him at all.

I have already introduced him as an Uncle, but he wasn’t my Uncle. He was my late wife Hadassah’s uncle. Khil, by the way,  is a nickname for Yehiel.

Every year on Passover, Hadassah and I would travel to Haifa from our home in Jerusalem by train and bus (4 hours)  to spend the holiday with her parents and two younger brothers. Hadassah’s family lived in Tivon, south east of Haifa.

Year after year, Hadassah would convey a message in the late afternoon  from her father asking if I could drive to Haifa to pick up Uncle Khil (Dohd Khil) who was coming over for the holiday meal.

My father in law drove a white Volkswagen; I had a drivers permit but was too poor to own a car, so I was always glad to have an opportunity to drive. I willingly obliged to drive the white stick-shift car and transport Uncle Khil.

The drive to Haifa was 25 minutes. There were no mobile phones then, so I got exact instructions where to pick up Uncle Khil. And I always arrived on time. To this day, I am rarely late for anything.

Waiting on the corner in Hadar (an area of Haifa) stood a very, very old man, with a full head of pure white hair. He was dressed fastidiously as if going to impress a lady friend. His skin was thin and very ancient-looking as well, yet with just a little bit of imagination; I could subtract 60 years and see a real dandy.

Uncle Khil was missing a finger, which he cut off by himself to avoid conscription back in Europe. Unable to control myself, I often found myself gawking at the surgery. He had done a very good job. There was no stump-he certainly could not have pulled a trigger with that finger.

Now I was an officer in those days and one would think that Uncle Khil and I would be very little to talk about-which is why one “would” think is wrong in this particular case. Khil knew how to cook very well, and his cholent (stew) was outstanding. I cooked tsulent as well, and we used to compare recipes in very great detail. He told me about adding eggplant to the mix, which he had learned from an Iraqi woman.

During the meal, I used to stare a lot at Khil-he spoke impeccable Hebrew without any sloppiness whatsoever. He was cognitively on top of everything. I knew that he as a ladies’ man in the past, and I could see in him the young man, now missing a finger. When we read out loud  Passover prayers which can be tricky at times, Khil never fumbled.

When the holiday meal ended, I drove Uncle Khil back to Haifa in the white Volkswagen. Khil always told me what a sweet girl I had married, and we would exchange a few words on World War Two. When I let Uncle Khil off, I always wondered if I would see him again.

I did.

Hadassah always thanked me for driving Uncle Khil back and forth, but I was the one who should have been thanking her for opportunity to experience an interesting version of a healthy old man, full of stories and full life under his belt.

Hadassah never came with me on these short trips. Although she was very mild mannered, she protested against driving in a German car, having lost all her family on both sides during the war. We never argued about that, as I was smart enough just to keep quiet.

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Tequila

Dorit and I would go to adult education/open university lectures in the early evening. She always carried a thick notebook, and after the lecture ended, she wrote copious notes about the main points  as well as  things she “needed to think about.” Everyone had left the lecture room-as I waited patiently until Dorit finished her detailed notes. If you ask me why  she took notes in an adult education class, then you don’t know Dorit. She was as studious and diligent as they come.

Dorit was a very smart lady, actually probably the smartest person I ever knew. She had a larger than average forehead, and I used to ask her if she stored all her brilliance in her forehead. She had no sense of humour,  but she loved mine.

True, she was only truly interested in clinical psychology-but whatever issue she addressed, she did so with depth and brilliance. I used to love just listening to her analyse people and situations. I could listen to her talk for hours…and I am not a patient person.

Yet she was so serious all the time. At least that is what I thought.

One night, she suggested that we go to Florentine and (one of us) can get drunk. She was the “one”. Three tequilas, and that was both the source of her new nickname as well as the beginning of our romance.

Every Thursday night, we would take either my car or hers, depending on who was driving, and go to an Indian restaurant cum bar in Florentine. Once in a while, Tequila  would ask her friend, an artist, to join us. On the way to Florentine, she was Dorit, and after the first drink-she was Tequila.

We were in Paphos, Cyprus, Tequila and I, on an evening cruise and we saw a couple who must have been in their eighties. They were holding hands and drinking wine. Tequila asked me where I think they were from and I told her that I had heard them speaking Hebrew. Her observation was that they were so “serene and at peace with themselves.” One week after we returned from Paphos, we read in the paper that the couple we had seen on board had committed suicide, as they were both terminally ill. Their trip to Paphos was a farewell cruise.

Dorit had lost her only brother in one of Israel’s wars.

One day, Dorit  asked me to help her mother move out of her home and into an old age home. When everything was in the truck and ready to go, Dorit and her mother asked me to take her brother’s military cap to the moving van. The cap he had worn during service was neatly folded in a sealed plastic bag. My knees shook and my hands trembled as I took Dany’s cap and brought it down into the moving van. Dorit almost never talked about her brother. But she let me carry his cap.

Things eventually turned sour between Tequila and I and we parted.

I had been invited to the university to critique a certain cirruculum in order to provide an “external’s view” of what should be taught. In the hallway, after the meeting, a professor who apparently knew who I was approached me and asked “aren’t you the late Dorit L’s ex boyfriend.”

That is how I learnt that Tequila was dead. I was devastated. It had been 9 years after her death.

I can hear what she is saying to me now, “we had a great time in Florentine, didn’t we my Shevaty”. (שבטי שלי)

The artist and I are still friends, and we often remember the boundless wisdom of Tequila.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to go about thinking differently about things you feel sure about

Could it be my age that makes me less convinced about things that I took once for granted? Perhaps.

Could it be that having watched certain events unravel unexpectedly push me along the road of seeing things differently?

That’s for sure. The downfall of the USSR, the reforms of Deng Xiaoping, my success as a parent, the peacemaking visit to Israel of Sadat, the election of Trump, the collapse of reliable information on most topics-certainly all of these have shaken previous beliefs that I have held.

However, and it is a big however, I have always made an effort to try to think differently about people, events, and ideas. I do so very systematically as well. I read differing opinions and seek out people who disagree. I acutually get bored speaking with people who agree with me. I love probing the motives and cognitive structure of opposing views.

Here are a few challenges I have posed to myself and sought out, systematically, to understand all points of view. 1) Why do so many Americans oppose abortion? 2) Why was/is Trump appealing? 3) Why does the Israeli right oppose all compromise on the Palestinian issue? 4) Why are so many very smart people so faithful whilst I have no religious faith whatsoever? 5) Why does OD (my profession) not acknowledge that so many of its values are now irrelevant? 6) Why doesn’t political correctness not collapse in face of the facts? 7) Was all colonialism bad? 8) Are some cultures inferior on all counts? 9) Why did so many British spies really identify with ideology the USSR? 

And I can go on and on.

In my profession as well, I try to see why certain axioms may not be so axiomatic. If, for example, everyone is so sure that the Sales force is demotivated, I will generally start by ignoring this and looking at product quality. I never buy the company line until I have crawled into every nook and cranny to disprove it.

I actually love learning all sides of issues. I read a lot of things I do not agree with; I meet with people (and actually like them) who disagree with what I believe in. When someone disagrees with me, I engage more and more.

Have my academic endeavours and personal interactions changed my opinions? Absolutely. The more I studied Middle East history, the more pessimistic I became about any long term settlement. The damages and disadvantages of the global economy are clearer to me than ever. Democracy is so deeply flawed that it may not be sustainable with widespread ignorance-and perhaps better that it should not be under certain circumstances.

And more. Most of my opinions are “for the time being”.

Maybe even once I utter something, it is already outdated.

I consider this mindset, or skill, as one of my better assets, which I hope compensates for my chronic lack of patience, my outspoken manner and infrequent lack of decorum.

And finally, books that have impacted my opinions recently.

Adults in the Room        Yanis Vardufakis (Greek debt crisis and role of Germany)

Stalin’s Englishman       Andrew Lownie   (motivations to support USSR in Cambridge 5)

The Righteous Mind      Jonathan Haidt    (Conservative thinking explained)

The Matrix of Race        Rodney Coates et al  (systemic view of racism)

Motherland                    Paul Therroux (American south as a 3rd world state)

Little Man, what next     Hans Fallada (the impact of WW1 on Germany)

Islam                               Bernard Lewis (basic religious beliefs)

How to be a Conservative     Roger Scruton (core beliefs of conservatives)

Crazy like Us                             Eithan Watters (on exporting mental illness)

Strangers in ther own land        Arlie Hoschchild (on Trumpism)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Some of Dad’s friends

My Dad had a really interested array of friends.  Some were close, some golfing buddies, some neighbours, and one very special friend from the RCAF, who served with him in Iceland on bombing raids at sea.

Uncle Billy was the special friend. After the war, he lived in Vancouver; Billy  came to visit his mom and my Dad  in Montreal once or twice a year. Dad always told me that “Uncle Billy is too smart to get married”. On another occasion, he told me that Uncle Billy lives “the life of Riley”; he assumed, correctly, that I knew what he meant. Billy called my Dad “Moose” because Dad was tall and had a large frame. When Uncle Billy came over, he and Dad would sit at the dining room table, smoking a lot, laughing even more, and drinking albeit never too much. Uncle Billy would always ask my Dad “what type of fertiliser are you feeding him, Phil, for Christ sake? He’ll become a big Moose like you!” Uncle Billy Cohen died of cancer. And I am even taller than was Dad.

At the golf club, the locker next to my Dad’s was occupied by a guy called Puggy. My Dad always referred to Puggy as “poor old Puggy”. The reasons changed but the nickname didn’t. Puggy was an ex-boxer-hence the name. My Dad claimed that getting hit is “no fucking way to make a living”. Puggy lost many a golf game to my Dad. Poor old Puggy. Then, Puggy died, departing the world with the same nickname. Dad and Puggy were not good friends, but they always greeted one another cordially when they met at the locker-“how the fuck are you, Phil?”

Dad worked with a guy named Martin. Martin weighed about 400 pounds and always had a bag of muffins with him, or even, believe it or not, a squished muffin in his pocket. His worst sin was making long distance phone calls from my Dad’s desk to his ex-wives. Dad would scowl at him and Martin would offer Dad a muffin. Dad was a straight-in-your face guy-he would tell Martin that “I don’t eat muffins, nor should you, adding his “for Christ’s sake, what’s wrong with you Martin.”

Mildred did a lot of business with my Dad. While she had a Jewish last name, she was a Roman Catholic. Every year, Mildred would invite my Dad to bring me and my siblings to her home on Queen Mary Road (av de Reine Marie) to celebrate Christmas. We always got a lovely gift. Mildred and Dad would laugh a whole lot and smoke as well as cough. Mildred had a really mean cough. Upon arriving home, Dad would insist that I write a thank you note and mail it “now”. “Address her as Auntie Mildred”.

On the way home, Dad would always explain that ones’ last name does not indicate religion. “We have a Henderson in our synagogue and Weiss (Mildred’s name) is as Jewish as they come”, another one of Dad’s expressions.  Funny about this Henderson guy, by the way. Dad rarely went to synagogue.

We shared back yards with Uncle Sonny, the two back yards separated by shrubs. He was a butcher and a skier. A man of few words with a beautiful wife (Auntie Rozie) and a winter home in St-Jerome, where we would often spend weekends. It’s funny that Uncle Sonny never talked too much, but I still think of him, and all of my Dad’s friends, more and more.

Dad and his friends lived in the world so well documented by Mordechai Richler. Dad and his cronies, Leonard Cohen and William Shatner are, for me, real characters. I miss them all. Yet at age 16, my life changed and I would never be one of them.

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Letter from Tel Aviv as cease fire comes into effect

Living in an area which was not spared bombing on 3 nights, as well as working on-site with clients which were constantly bombarded, made the last 11 days into a rough patch, to use some British understatement. The British understatement comes from my maternal British grandparents. All in all, I ran to bomb shelters over 50 times.

Yes, the body came back to my thoughts again. I had put it aside for years. In 1973, on the way to the Syrian front on the Golan Heights, we saw the body of a recently killed Syrian soldier. On the way back from the Syrian front the next day, the body was still there. However it stank something awful and there were flies all over it. It was bloated,  about to explode. The sites of that body never really haunted me; but I did think about it as I lay in bed with the sounds of rockets whizzing overheard, now, in 2021.

Last Wednesday, as  I left my client’s site this week (in Ashkelon) and travelled home, there was a huge rocket barrage. On the radio, I heard the warning to “take cover” for the very area I was travelling thru.  Most drivers stopped their cars and took cover. I heard my late Dad’s voice telling me “floor it and get the fuck out of there”. That’s what I did, as I closed the radio and returned to my audiobook Hidden Valley Road, a book about a family heavily impacted by severe mental illness.

Did I think about Gaza? In my military days, during one of the courses, I was stationed there for a few months. Not on the border of Gaza, but in Gaza City. I used to buy myself Seven Up and Hershy Bars, which were unavailable in Israel at the time.

To get back to my question! I did, but not the way that many of my readers probably did. I thought about what happens with the people there who have no say whatsoever about how their government operates. I thought about the devastating impact of religious beliefs on the Gazans. I thought how lucky I am to be secular. How lucky I am to have been born on the winning side, although I am aware that the world press is most sympathetic when the Jews lose. 

And I remembered all the time what my fate would be if we were not strong. No dhimi for me, thank you very much.

My daughter called me every day urging me not work. She rarely calls me once a week! My son called me often as well. I reminded each of them where the will is and told them that at 71+, I prefer death by bombing more than other health atrocities which await me.

Am I critical of my own government? It’s hard to expect too much from the thugs who run our show, influenced as they are by their right wing, fascist religious base.

Both sides have their lunatic fringe, yet if you take the most open minded and liberal people on both sides, they are still light years apart. This is a blood/religious/territorial  feud of the worst kind; no end is in site. Would a left wing government acted differently? Well I have a strange answer for that. My guess is that a left wing government would have have bombed Gaza much earlier due to the incendiary balloons  lobbed at us for years. Only a right wing government such as the one we have could have waited so long.

So now it’s back to “normal” for a while, until the next break down of the “hudna” , a must know Arabic word for people who want to know how violence ends in this neck of the words.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Free at last

On Tuesday, I will be 95-98% immune to Corona.

However, were I a better listener, I would not believe this to be the case. My friends have warned me not to take down my guard “because we can never be sure if  this vaccine works.” And it does not matter if I am watching France 24, BBC, Israel TV 11 or Germany’s English language broadcasts, there is always someone warning me that the new mutations may slip by the new vaccine. 

If you ask me, there is a reason for concern, but not about corona. The concern is about the lingering fear that still hangs over our heads albeit the reason for this fear is soon to be gone. The thing we need to fear most is fear itself, and the whole system that has been built up to feed our fear, enhance it and at times cripple our judgement.

Eisenhower was the first to warn us of the military/industrial complex, whose overlapping interests are continuing the conflicts needed to ensure power and profitability.

Once enough people get the vaccine which will probably happen by the summer, the plague will be over.  However, there are interest groups that will try to convince us that “extreme vigilance should last for another few years” or that the “English or Brazilian or South African mutation” will penetrate the layer of protection provided by the vaccine.

This is not to say that we may be unlucky. At age 55, I had flown to Asia, Australia and the US 40 times in one year and  I caught a  very bad case of  pneumonia. I recovered, got a pneumonia shot, yet once again caught pneumonia. The doctor said, “Shevat, it happens. Rare but it happens. Get on with life”.

I have recently read about how 1945 was such a wretched year.  Rebuilding was far more daunting than war. The war was over, the maimed returned home, no one had a pot to piss in, there were no jobs and the hype was gone.

The real issue on the table now is picking up the pieces, making sense of what has happened, and mitigating the fear that has taken over our decimated lives.

Here is how I am going to start. On Tuesday, I am going to hug my daughter and grandchildren for the first time in 10 months.  And plan a few trips to Vienna, Florence, Jordan and the UAR. That’s just the beginning.

Free at last.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Letter from Tel Aviv-Saturday Morning Rantings during 3rd Shutdown

On January 19th, I get my second Corona vaccine; two weeks later I am out of the woods. The phenomenal success of mass vaccination has made me proud again of how some things are done in this country.

I add to this list the Mossad, the high-tech sector, the resilience of the people to maintain a good life under impossible conditions, and that pretty much exhausts my patriotism.

The country is now in its third lockdown, and enforcement is feeble, and that is an understatement. On my daily 9 km walk, I tell the first 20 or so people to put on their mask, and then desist because at 71, I realize I will not change the circumstances surrounding me. Which is the very same reason that in our upcoming election, I do not plan to vote either.

Am I withdrawing from society? Hardly-I just cannot find anyone who represents my views: hawkish on defense, social justice, anti-settlement expansion, anti annexation, anti Palestinian state at this point in  time, and totally secular. Each and every party in some way deviates from what I believe it, generally by caving into the religious rhetoric, kissing some senile rabbi’s ass (ring to be exact), or too much flag waving.

Zionism, which simply means support the existence  of a  nation state for the Jews , was basically a rejection of the Jewish way of life in exile by negating the predominance of faith as a core pillar of Jewish existence. The present political landscape in Israel is anti-Zionist because it force feeds faith and tradition into what was a rebellious, revolutionary movement. That is the only reason I will abstain- and no other. And I do hope that my family members who have lived in Palestine since Turkish rule from 1917 and are buried a few kilometers from my home, would support me. I know they would.

Trump has been banished by Twitter. Good news. There are polluted rivers that need to be cleaned, polluted air that needs to be treated and polluted ways of communication that transmit poison which need to be policed. What about freedom of speech? There is a time and a place for everything. A time to free up and a time to repress. And yes, Marcuse had and has an effect on me.

Those who follow my blogs know that I am a history buff. So I was thinking about how Trump will be remembered. My guess is that his foreign policy achievements will get him high marks a hundred or so years from now, and everything else will severely “drag down” his average making him a less than average but certainly not the worst US president. He will join Kennedy, Truman, Nixon and Bush (dad)  as presidents whose ratings change drastically as decades go by. Kennedy’s do-nothing for civil rights; Truman’s decisiveness in Berlin and Korea; Nixon’s China policy and Papa Bush’s sanity and pragmatism have all become more salient as years go by.

To wrap up my ranting, I think that I have been lucky enough to witness several earth shattering events in my lifetime: the polio vaccine, the Cuban missile crisis where we learned to dive under our desks,  the six-day war, 9/11; the fall of the USSR, the assassination of Kennedy and Rabin, the irrelevance of truth and factuality ,  and now, the beginning of the end of the corona virus by dint of scientific excellence.

These are the best of times, and the worst of times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A letter from Tel Aviv-the end of the plague is in site

Shutdown number three starts on Sunday. Luckily nothing in Israel is as it seems, so little enforcement is expected. The 1000 meter parameter in which one is allowed to wander is not enforced; the police  blockades leave one lane open yet the cops are busy texting in their patrol cars.

Stores are closed, except those that are open. True, it is hard to procure service of any kind, but that has always been the case. Just last week, a technician showed up two weeks after I bought a new washing machine to install it, since I cannot even unscrew a light bulb.

On December 29th, I will get my first corona shot at the Shuali Infirmary, which is situated on land which used to belong to my family, procured from the Turks in early 1917. Right near that clinic, there is a street named after our family. Uncle Jack (my grandfather’s brother) and Auntie Ida (my grandfather’s sister) are heroes of mine. Uncle Jack once went to the province of Syria to buy tobacco seeds in the 1920’s. Auntie Ida spent a lot of time caring for Jewish and Arab orphans in Jerusalem before she married and became a farmer’s wife and mother. Oh yes, and she wrote for the Palestine Post.

Rarely have I been as excited as I am to get vaccinated. All my life, but especially since my wife died, I have suffered from hypochondria, so I always take all my shots right on day one. Nevertheless, it is with great trepidation that I roll up my sleeve and I  always look away. This time, I plan to look at the needle to watch the process, and perhaps yell out, hallelujah bother.

Three weeks after my first vaccination comes the second, and then I am out of the woods. But I’m not going back to the status quo ante. For one, I have stopped watching the news. I stopped cold turkey one month ago; I had no withdrawal symptoms, just relief. I stopped not because of the news, but because of the quality of journalism. I have also decided not to vote again in any election and since I have never voted for a candidate who has been it elected, it’ll be no big loss.

Have I  retired from life and am I slip-sliding away? Hardly. I have a very active professional practice, my two blogs have huge readership, I read all the time, and I hereby declare that I addicted to several Netflix series, including Better Call Saul, Casa de Papel and historical documentaries.

The various shut downs have taught me to enjoy “emptiness” and quiet, to revel in doing nothing from time to time, to rejoice at the lack of pressure in my life, and to cultivate friendships with people all over the world based on preference and not necessarily  geographical propinquity. This is a huge gift.

I miss my grandchildren something awful, but soon this longing  will be over;  when I get my 2nd shot and restrictions are eased , I will wing it to Palo Alto as well as drive over to my daughter (who lives close by)  to sit in her living room, not on the porch as if in in a leper colony.

For me, this plague has brought pain and perspective, in equal measure. The end is near.

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“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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