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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Yet another game changer

Although I chose a profession which deals in ‘changing’, I am a very conservative person, firmly set in my ways. Perhaps that is the very reason I am in the OD profession, specializing in my own disability.

I try to maintain constant routines: eat at the same restaurants, maintain long friendships, maintain a very small wardrobe, walk my dog on the same path, vacation in the same places, listen to the same songs on my very long list of spotify favourites.

Even Pat had noticed once that I was ‘set in my ways’.

Change is usually foisted upon me by game changers.

These game changers have included receiving a phone call in 1987 from my late wife at work that the diagnosis of her dermatology biopsy was malignant melanoma, and that I needed to come home immediately because she was on her way to the hospital for an existion. Hadassah died 6 years later.

Another game changer was my first few days in basic training when I understood how difficult this was to be for me.  And it was very, very difficult because I had been assigned to  ‘May recruitment’ which consisted of people with very poor levels of education, minor juvenile delinquents, and people who grew up in tough areas. My life in basic training was hell on earth.

Naturally becoming a parent was a massive game changer, and still requires constant change and adaptation. And becoming a good parent, well, that’s a constant game changer which never stops to challenge any person, set in their ways or more adaptive. (I have probably not received high marks, yet ).

And of course, corona is a major, big time game changer. Getting old is something that I have found challenging to adapt to, but I have come to somehow accept my growing limitations, which mainly consist of slowing down, just a bit, due to aches and pains. I have even somehow adapted to seeing doctors from time to time, despite my abject terror at every single visit to an MD. But I cannot seem to get used to the changes that corona has imposed.

The mask, the distancing, the fear, the closing down of theaters and adult education, the death of air travel, the collapse of our government’s ability to function, the endless flow of bad news from fake sources and horrendous panic-mongering journalists, the inability of many sectors of our population to take responsibility , the sickening politicians -it’s truly ghastly and emotionally crippling.

Yes, there are all kinds of people who manage to ‘make the best of a bad situation’, and I guess I do as well, but it is a very dismal and tough period which is not going away. That’s the real rub. It’s not like having pneumonia (3 times) when I was reassured ‘in a few weeks you will be fine’.

Because Corona is not going away,  I find that I need to do one of two things, neither of which is very helpful-to think about it, and not to think about it. Thinking about it gets me nowhere and not thinking about it is impossible, because there is no respite.

For those who are making lemonade out of lemons, enjoy the drink. I am still struggling for a way to adapt to the new reality, which I detest.

 

 

 

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Mr Blackwell’s Latin Classes and our “unseen” passage

Time-1965

Place-Sir Winston Churchill High School,  Ville Saint Laurent, Quebec

At 10.45, we went out to the school yard for morning recess in the -20 weather. Unlike other days during which we played hockey, smoked in a corner, and gossiped about the girls, for example Coral’s hickey, we all appeared shattered by the unseen Latin test that Mr. Blackwell had just given us.

Frank said that he had to guess a lot, but he believes the unseen passage was a description of a battle that took place somewhere in Carthage, and there was a huge use of incendiary bombs. Glen, whose father worked for Air Canada, claimed that the unseen described the act of map making, especially the ways and means of delineating areas not close to a major landmark. Norman said that the piece he translated was about the court of a great emperor of a major naval sea power. I shared my view that a certain military commander was complaining that the chariots his men were using were of poor repair.

Mr. Blackwell was a typical school teacher in the PSBGM, the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal. He had recently emigrated from England; he spoke with a very pronounced accent, and he was stern yet calm. True, Blackwell’s accent was much clearer to us than was that of our history teacher, Miss Chesney, who was from Scotland. No one, I mean no one understood Miss Chesney. But we all knew that her first name was Mildred.

By the time recess was over, we were all convinced that Mr. Blackwell had given each of us different unseen passages so that we would not copy from one another. That theory, however, was devastated after we came back from recess.

Mr. Blackwell asked Sharon what the unseen was about. She replied, “it was about the fire department in the City of Nicomedia.” The other brain in our class, Sheila, repeated her answer. Sheila and Sharon were sisters, twin sisters to boot. Then came the final blow. “And what about you, Roberta, what was the “ahticle” about”?  Roberta, class brain number one, who also was a soloist in our choir, chimed in her version about the Nicomedia Fire Department, describing the department in great detail. Or as Mr. Blackwell said, thank you Roberta for describing this ancient fire department in “grey detail”.

Two days later was a Friday, and Blackwell’s Latin class was the last lesson of the week. Just as the bell rang to set us free, Blackwell looked outside and said, “Now look here-what dismal weather awaits us all this weekend. Don’t sit like bumps of a frozen log; go to work on your Latin vocabulary. That’s “appeahs” to me to be a great way to spend a weekend.  Now-out!.”

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Savouring the memories of my sweet Sadie


“For Pete’s sake” was one of her favourite expressions. And occasionally, “for the love of Mike”. Not exactly the everyday expressions of a Jewish grandmother in 1950’s Montreal, where many of the grandmothers, if they existed at all, spoke Yiddish.

Sadie did not speak anything but English. And I called her Nana Sadie, because she said that it was not appropriate to use the Yiddish word for grandmother, “because we are Canadians”.

Sadie was born in Montreal; apparently her parents did not practice contraception all that often. Her sisters and brother who I remember included Edith and Ruthie who had married two brothers; Old Auntie Annie;  single Auntie Laurie, Uncle Henry from Toronto-and apparently several who had passed away before I knew of them. If I remember properly, there were 9 Weiners.

My father never ever had to remind me to call Sadie. I called her every single day, often several times a day. Regent 33304 was her phone number, which eventually became 733-3304.

Growing up, I loved to “spend the day” with my grandmother. I would take 3 buses (116, 17 and 65), arrive at her home at about 9.00 and stay till about 5 PM when Dad picked me up. We would have lunch at Miss Snowden where I would always order grilled liver and mashed potatoes-followed by vanilla ice cream. After lunch, my grandmother would buy “the American newspaper” (The Mirror), after which we would take the one hour Observation Tram, which started and ended at Queen Mary Road and Decarie. It did not matter how cold it was, or how she felt, if I wanted to take the observation tram, so we did.

Returning to her home, Nana would read the Mirror and have tea. Nana Sadie would watch her 2 favourite series, As the World Turns and At the Edge of Night. I would build towers from two decks of cards. At about 4 PM, we would play a game where she “shoots me” with a play gun and I fall dead within “less than 5 seconds” . We would play this game tens of times, until she asked me “aren’t you tired of dying?”

Sometimes, when I was lucky, Nana would do an imitation of Ethel Merman singing “Dearie”. And if I was extra lucky, she would sing an Al Jolson song, imitating him almost perfectly.

On Friday nights, we always ate at my grandmothers. My grandmother and grandfather were (very) poor, but food was never lacking-including many bottles of Coca Cola, several of which my Auntie Laurie used to “down”  during the meal. (My Dad used to called my Auntie Laurie “Mima”, and I never knew why. It turns out that Mima is Yiddish for Aunt. That was probably the only Yiddish word my Dad knew).

Sadie, having given birth to my Dad, could not give birth again. Sadie had plenty of health issue-horrible arthritis in her hands, poor kidneys, and high blood pressure. Her “medicine chest” looked like a fully stacked pharmacy. I used to ask her if she “remembered to take her pills” and she reminded me that she was “old enough to remember, but thanks for worrying about me”.

Sadie suffered quietly, a trait I did not inherit from her. All during World War Two, she worried about her son, who was a pilot in the RCAF. She suffered her own ill health, as well as the long prolonged cancer of her husband.  And she certainly saw that her only son had a very, very poor marriage. She never complained. She was always warm, and positive, and loving and kind, with a heart  bigger than her minute 5 foot stature.

As my Bar Mitzvah approached, she was very ill, in and out of the Royal Vic, under the supervision of the late Dr Alan Kendall. I wanted to dance with her at my Bar Mitzvah, but those were sad years for me, and I do not remember if I did. I do remember however, that I got a Tape Recorder from Nana Sadie as a gift- a state of the art Phillips. It was the best gift I have ever received, until this day. How egoistic of me that I remember the gift and not whether of not I danced with her.

After I turned 13, the end was close.

Month after month Nana Sadie  lay in Royal Vic, one dialysis after another. One visit she would be fine, the next visit quiet, the next visit  swollen and asleep. Then another dialysis, again and again and again. It was a nightmare, an emotional roller coaster.

One day Dr Kendall said, “this is is the last time”. Yet Sadie held onto life for the longest time, no one really understanding how she was “holding on”. I was not allowed to visit her during the three weeks after her last dialysis. Or was it four?

Pat came into my room and announced curtly that “your grandmother died”. Then she walked out.

The day Sadie was buried, it was very very cold. The burial was delayed for two hours because of the snow and ice. As we all stood by the grave, a viscous  Montreal wind whipped into us. The storm was so strong  that we could hardly see.

My late wife Hadassa  had a personality very much like my grandmother, kind, warm and loving. My daughter Sarai is named after her.

The picture which I am sharing with my readers sits above my desk.

I have never loved anyone more than Nana Sadie; and no one ever loved me as much as she did. Rest in peace Nana Sadie. I am an old man now, but not a day has passed without me thinking of you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dear old Dad

He wanted naught

In his books of essays “Figures in a Landscape”, Paul Theroux has an essay about his Dad; I have read this piece many times over always hoping that I could do justice to my Dad even half as well as Paul Theroux. Alas there is no way.

However, my Dad certainly deserves my best modest try.

Dad was a third generation Canadian. He was born into a very destitute family in Montreal, and the poverty into which he was born affected him all his life. He was for many years an angry man, with a terrible temper. This temper, fueled by the years he was dirt poor as well as his horrendous marriage to my mother, was his worst flaw. I have long forgiven him for that.

My Dad had no brothers or sisters. He was an extremely dedicated son. Both of his parents were chronically ill for 14 years and Dad visited the Royal Vic Hospital twice a day for over a decade. The entire burden fell on his shoulders and he bore it like a trooper. He never ever complained. I am sure that the overwhelming burden fueled his anger.

My Dad barely finished high school. He was too poor to get a university education. He did not read a lot, except for the Montreal Star. He did not have an academic mind, yet he was an exceptionally bright man.

My Dad was a fighter pilot in World War 2, a professional football player for Montreal Alouettes,  a designer of ladies lingerie, a salesman and a late life entrepreneur who opened his own very successful business at 61. He retired at 70 and lived like a king with his South American wife, who spoke Spanish to her kids, which drove him crazy. “Estella, how about a bit of English, for Christ sake`.

My Dad had a wonderful sense of humor; He could make anyone laugh at anything, almost at the drop of a hat. He loved hearing jokes, telling jokes and watching comedy. He was a very funny man.

Phil was a man of extreme contradictions. He did not speak one word of French (he could not learn languages at all), and he resented language policing in Montreal, especially at his business. “I served in the RCAF, so I am not about to agree with someone telling me what language to speak, for Christ’s sake”. Yet my Dad added, “If I were French, I would ban English completely.” And he meant it.

Dad also used to tell me about his bombing missions over Germany, of which he was proud, adding that “you need to go to Germany and learn not to adopt any of my biases. Christ, if we all adopt our parents` biases the world would be an ugly place”.

My Dad always, always, stood up for the little guy-the parking attendant, the gas pumper, the newspaper man, the milkman, the cashier. Once we went to fill up gas and the attendant was drinking coffee inside and slow to move, and my Dad said, “I don’t blame him-who the fuck wants to pump gas when it’s 30 below”.

My Dad had something to say about almost every politician-Kennedy was “a stick-man from way back, and his father was anti-Semite”. Nixon was “the poor bastard who got caught.” The Queen of England “did not run away during the war but she stayed put and joined the war effort”. Dad claimed that “Khomeini needs to be knocked off because he is dangerous”. Dad always voted for the Liberals. The New Democratic Party  were “almost communists”; the Conservatives were “not good for minorities ” and the Social Credit Party (that favored printing money to cover the deficit)  were a “bunch of raging lunatics”.

Dad loved watching boxing on TV. “Hey, let’s open the idiot-box to watch two people beat the shit out of each other”, he would say to me on Saturday night. Sometimes, he would ask me if I would agree to have “the be-Jesus kicked out of you for a million dollars”.

My Dad was an atheist, through and through. He would often refer to religion as “that religious shit”. Our home was not kosher. I was sent to a Protestant school. Not a Jewish school. He showed no respect for any Jewish tradition. Yet when his Dad and his Mom died, he went to pray at 5 am every single day for 11 months “to show some respect, for Christ’s sake.” Then he added, “When I croak, you don’t need to do that”. I would come with Dad almost every morning during these mourning periods. He would joke with the rabbi or cantor (every day as we arrived, he told the cantor that he was a “pure heathen“), and often complained that “breakfast would be better if there was some bacon around”.

Dad of course went to synagogue on the Day of Atonement, and gave me a transistor radio so I could keep him informed of the sport scores. “Don’t let anyone catch you listening, or I will disown you”. I asked Dad why he went to synagogue to atone if he did not believe in God, and he told me “just in case I`m wrong“.

My Dad did not have good hearing; he claimed it was not his problem. He was scared of doctors and admitted it. He was petrified of dentists, and insisted that no anesthesia be used, because “no fucking way anyone is going to put a needle into my mouth”.

Dad smoked two packs a day of Export A and subsequently developed emphysema and throat cancer. When the news came out that smoking causes cancer, Dad claimed that it was a “communist conspiracy”, but may have “a grain of truth” to it.

Although Dad was very unhappily married, he wanted naught.  He was very tall, he was handsome, and he was a ladies’ man. He was extraordinary charming.

My Dad was a caring father most of the time and a very loving father for most of his later life.  He was a dedicated grandfather who taught his grandson to drink beer and swear. He bought his granddaughter lots of pink dresses! He loved my late wife very much. `She ain`t no housewife, but she is a wonderful woman`.

The longer we both lived, the better our relationship became, and we enjoyed many many good years together. At times, I miss him terribly.

 

Phil and his grandson

Drying his granddaughters’ hair

76 years old!

Dear old Dad

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Remembering Lizzie

Lizzie had the most beautiful smile I had ever seen; and although she was an exquisite woman, I remember her smile most of all. And her voice.  Lizzie had a soft, mellow and slightly deep voice.

To be honest, I remember more than her voice and her smile. She was something else.

I met her in Spanish 200 at McGill, which I had chosen that as my 3rd language requirement. So had she. Over the next three years, we slowly moved from speaking English to speaking Spanish, which both of us did quite well.

Lizzie and I used to meet before class started and  would continue talking after classes ended. I don’t even remember what we talked about. But we talked for hours and hours over the years.

“Do you know who you are talking to?” asked Paul, as we ate at the student union. “She was the most popular girl in school, and she has been seeing this guy Steven for over 4 years. You don’t have a chance”.

One of the things Lizzie and I talked about were concerts at the new Places des Arts. I had seen her there with the aforementioned Steve. I had been with Paula.

Lizzie and I agreed that “wouldn’t it be nice if we saw a concert together” and we never did. As my studies at McGill  ended, I was back in Israel doing my MA and she had gone to grad school.

I was living in Kiryat Yovel, Jerusalem in a student dorm, along with a German PhD student named Hans who was studying the commonalities between Yiddish and Hebrew, and  an agriculture student named Uri, who was almost never in the flat.

One day, I got an aerogram from a McGill friend who stated, by the way, that “Lizzie W from McGill Class of 70 was killed in a car accident on the way to Ottawa. Do you remember her?”

Some people loose their memories with age. I have a memory like an elephant. And when I think of Lizzie 50 years after I met her in Prof Stagen’s Spanish class in Peterson Hall, Room 120 at 1000 AM, I wish my memory was not as good as it is.

 

 

 

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